Dimple held out the evidence, one eyebrow raised. “So. Bird drool, huh?”
They stared at each other for a moment before bursting out laughing.
“I had you going for a minute, admit it,” Rishi said, once he’d caught his breath.
Dimple stuck her tongue out at him. “Never.” She wouldn’t admit it to him, of course, but Rishi Patel was sort of a fun guy. She might even miss him when he left tomorrow.
• • •
Yellow and blur turned out to be the easiest when Rishi snapped a picture of a yellow cable car going by while they walked. “Boom. We’re all finished. And we still have”—he consulted his watch, a Gucci; she remembered reading once that when they were that expensive, they were timepieces , not watches—“seventeen minutes to go.” He handed her the picture, and she slid it into their envelope as they began to walk back toward the Spurlock building, now about three quarters of a mile away.
“Awesome.” Dimple glanced sidelong at him. The oblique late afternoon rays turned the ends of his hair a chocolate brown. “So what do your parents do?”
“My parents?” Clearly confused at the question, he said, “My dad’s a corporate executive, and my mom’s a housewife. Why?”
Dimple wondered if the Patels’ wealth had been a reason her parents had chosen Rishi for her, and then was immediately ashamed. Mamma and Papa were many things, but they weren’t mercenary. “Just curious. Do you think our parents will remain friends, even after you leave tomorrow?” Dimple kept her tone light, but the question felt like jagged rock in her mouth. She tried to imagine goofing off with another partner like she had today with Rishi and supposed it was possible. She could possibly be matched up with someone whose sense of humor she’d also instantly get, whom she found just as easy to be around. It was definitely in the realm of possibility. And yet.
“Oh, I think so,” Rishi said. “I get the feeling that when you’re bound by decades, a couple of foolish kids aren’t enough to dissolve that.”
She heard the smile in what he was saying, but there was a hint of regret, too, tinting all his words blue. Was she being foolish? Rishi had already agreed that they weren’t going to be an item. Papa had already said he didn’t expect anything of her except that she win Insomnia Con. So why did she want Rishi to go away? What would that accomplish, really? Who said that if she got reassigned to a partner, they’d be anyone better or more invested in her idea than he was?
“So what are—”
“I think you should stay.”
They’d both spoken at once, and Dimple turned to face Rishi. He frowned a bit, a wary hope shining in his eyes. “What?”
“Don’t go. Tomorrow. I think you and I should be on this team together.” Dimple realized she was twisting the envelope as she spoke and forced herself to hold still.
“Really?” A smile began to edge around his lips.
“Well, I mean, as friends.” Dimple looked down at her feet and then up at his open face. Crap. She hadn’t meant to give him the wrong impression.
His face crumpled. “But . . . but I thought you meant you wanted to get married!”
She stared at him, her heart sinking. And then Rishi burst out laughing, apothecary bottle–colored eyes crinkling up at the corners. Her hands itched for the camera, but she swatted him with the envelope instead. “You’re not funny, Rishi Patel.”
Rishi laughed again, running an easy hand through his hair as they resumed walking side by side, sleeves brushing lightly. “Be that as it may, I would love to be your Insomnia Con partner, Dimple Shah.”
When Dimple and Rishi walked back into the lecture hall, they first noticed the throng of people milling around on the east side of the cavernous room. Someone had hung up long, thin steel cables, on which were mounted clothespins. Poster boards hung at equal intervals with signs that read, GROUP 1 , GROUP 2 , and so on all the way to GROUP 25 with the partners’ names listed right below. A few groups had already hung up their five pictures.
Rishi returned the Polaroid camera to Max’s desk at the front of the room and then jogged back up to where Dimple stood, studying group 8’s (Tim and José’s) pictures. “These are really good,” she said, pointing to a close-up of a banana. The pits and bruises looked like craters on a large yellow planet.