And then they walked toward the doors, leaving a heavy silence behind them.
• • •
Outside, the evening had turned even colder. The stars were erased by the fog, and Dimple felt a pang. That was one thing she loved about her backyard in suburbia—she could always make out at least a few stars.
“So,” Rishi said, buttoning up his jacket. “That was interesting, no?”
Dimple snorted but remained silent, cinching her hood tight around her head.
“Come on, Dimple Shah,” he said, gently hitting her shoulder with his. “What’d you really think?”
“Were you the donor?” she asked quietly.
There was an infinitesimal pause, just one tiny breath. Then: “You must think I’m way more generous than I am. Did you see how much those Aberzombie boys ate? And they didn’t even have brains on the menu.”
“Har har,” Dimple said, thinking, You didn’t answer my question. She wondered if it should bother her more, if she should challenge him. But she realized, even if the donor had been him, she was just grateful that Mamma and Papa wouldn’t be footing the bill.
She switched tack. “Okay, so answer me this, then: Do you really believe all of what you said? About your family’s ancestral home in Gujarat? Seeing all the history? Or was that all just for their benefit?” She rubbed her arms against the chill, and Rishi, seemingly unthinkingly, scooted closer so they were touching arms. She’d protest, but the boy put off an insane amount of body heat, even through layers of fabric.
“You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”
She shook her head. “It’s just, my mom. She says the same thing. ‘No one likes a nosy girl, Dimple.’ ‘You’ll never land a boy with that mouth of yours.’”
“Huh.” Rishi cocked his head to the side and studied her face as she watched him in confusion. It was sort of hard to do while they walked, but they managed somehow. “I don’t know . . . I think your mouth is perfect the way it is.”
The air between them felt suddenly charged somehow. Heat rushed to Dimple’s cheeks. Suddenly, she wasn’t so cold anymore, and she moved away from Rishi. His face went blank for a second, and then mortification overcame everything. Even his eyebrows looked embarrassed, somehow. Dimple felt a little bad for him. But not that bad, because he was the one who’d said it.
“I didn’t mean—I meant, your questions—”
Dimple waved her hand, keeping her eyes steadfastly on the sidewalk. “Anyway. Answer my question.”
“Right.” He rubbed the back of his neck, which she found strangely endearing. “Yeah, I do. I totally believe that.”
“For real.” She raised an eyebrow at him.
He chuckled. “For real. When you think about it, our families are back in India, about eight thousand miles away. And they’re still so intricately connected to us. We have their names, their rituals, their traditions. Their dreams sit behind our eyelids. I think it’s beautiful.”
Dimple was silent as they rounded the corner to the stoplight. “I don’t know. I guess I think it’s sort of stifling. All those rules. You can’t date people who aren’t Indian. You can’t date, period, until you’re thirty.” She gave him a look and said, “Unless, of course, your parents are trying to set you up with a marriage partner. Girls can’t be interested in a career more than they’re interested in marriage. Wear makeup. Grow your hair out.”
When the WALK sign beeped, they began to cross. Rishi laughed. “That does sound annoying. I guess I haven’t been through those rules, except for the first and second. But the thing is, those are tangential things. I’m talking about the big picture. The idea that we’re connected by this thread to people who live in the place where we came from. Where our parents came from. We have a blueprint for our lives. I think that makes it all seem comforting somehow. Safe.” He pushed a hand through his floppy hair before stuffing it into his pocket, like he was embarrassed for all he’d said.
“I think having a blueprint makes life boring. Maybe I don’t want to get married or have kids or any of that. Maybe I just want a career and that’s all.”