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She saw Rishi suppressing a smile and said, “Sorry. Too many questions.” She jabbed at the elevator button, knowing she should feel embarrassed. But somehow, strangely, with Rishi, she didn’t.

“Not at all.” It sounded like he meant it. Leaning against the wall, he crossed his arms and said, “My brother, Ashish, is sixteen. You couldn’t find two blood relatives more different than we are. Sometimes I think Ashish wishes he’d been born into another family. He’s like a different species than the rest of us.”

Dimple pulled a face. “Ashish and I would probably have a lot in common, then.”

The elevator doors dinged open and a few girls got out, talking animatedly about some poetry reading they were going to for their summer literature program. Rishi and Dimple were the only ones going up.

As the doors slid closed, enveloping them in solitude in that tiny metal chamber, Dimple’s mind somehow kept reverting back to that moment in the antiques store. When she’d tried to take the camera and they’d ended up so close together. The way the air had shifted.

She tried to think about more important things, like the upcoming Insomnia Con prep they had to do in the morning, but her mind stubbornly kept interjecting that scene, playing over and over the memory of her pulse quickening, the way Rishi’s smile had slowly faded. . . .

• • •

He watched her surreptitiously. She was lost in thought, and the emotions on her face were sort of amusing. There was something dreamy, and then a flash of irritation, and then more dreaminess before irritation erased it again. His lips twitched; he wondered what she was thinking about.

Rishi cleared his throat. “Hey, it’s, uh, only nine thirty. We could work on a little bit of the prep if you want. Or, you know, do it tomorrow morning too, if you have other stuff going on.” He didn’t want this night to be over. Which was ridiculous, because he was sure there were about a thousand other nights they could both name that would probably have ranked much higher than this one, thanks to the Aberzombies.

Dimple glanced at him, her lips parting a bit, like he’d caught her out at something. Now he really wanted to know what she’d been thinking. “Um, no, yeah. That sounds good. I’m just going to go take a shower and change into some comfier clothes. I can meet you at your room, if you want. I’m not sure I’m ready to face Celia when she gets home.”

He grinned, his heart singing that she’d said yes. To a study session , Patel, he reminded himself. To her, he said, “Yeah, that’s cool. I imagine I’m not her favorite person right now anyway, so she probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to see me in your room.”

The doors pinged open on the fourth floor. Stepping out, he put one hand against the slot so they wouldn’t close. “So, say ten fifteenish?”

She nodded and smiled. “Works for me.”

And Rishi, gods help him, thought, I could look at that smile every day and never get tired of it.

CHAPTER 18

Back in her room, Dimple loaded up her shower caddy and took a quicker shower than she strictly wanted to. She didn’t want to be there when Celia got back. She hadn’t fully processed all that had happened at Elm, and she needed some time to do that. When Celia asked her why she and Rishi had been so hostile to her friends, she wanted to have a proper response. Dimple was excellent at arguing with Mamma, but when it came to confrontations with other people, her backbone somehow became jellylike. One way to fix it, she’d learned, was to take her time thinking of responses to various arguments.

Sorry, Celia, but those Aberzombies can suck it.

Nah, too confrontational without any constructive stuff in there.

I’m sorry you thought I was unfriendly, but you didn’t see all the stuff they said before you got there.

Too “telling Mommy on you.”

Sighing, Dimple shampooed her curls, taking care to massage her scalp. It was something that could consistently lower her blood pressure and erase the crap out of any day. If she had the money, she’d just go sit in a salon and have them shampoo her hair for a full day.

As the smell of coconuts and jasmine filled the shower stall, she thought about the anonymous donor who’d paid for the meal. She was 95 percent sure it was Rishi, though he’d never admitted it. He was different from what she’d expected. Rich but not showy about it. Goofy and easygoing, but with a backbone. Utterly sure of himself in a really comfortable way. There was something about people who were that secure; they made you feel better about yourself, like they accepted you for everything you were, imperfections and all.

Dimple rinsed her hair out and got out of the shower, making her way back to the room in her gray terry cloth robe. She opened the dresser drawer and looked at her pajamas. All she’d brought were some ratty old T-shirts and sweatpants she’d had since freshman year of high school. For just a beat, she felt intensely self-conscious and considered going through Celia’s drawer for something more . . . girly. But then the rest of her brain caught up to her and annoyance replaced self-consciousness. Seriously? Rolling her eyes at herself, she threw on her Silly Boys, Coding Is for Girls T-shirt and plain gray fleece pants. They’d lost their drawstring eons ago and were baggy in all the wrong places, but whatever.

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