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The cardboard cover was falling apart, and the pages were bent and soft from age, especially the ones in the front. It was like a flip book of his talent—at the front were the sketches he’d done about three years ago, still a bit blocky and dull from their creator’s lack of experience. As the months progressed, they’d morphed into something warm and alive, liquid and vibrant. He’d gotten pretty good at keeping his characters consistent, at developing their unique characteristics and his own style. He smiled at the iterations of Aditya as the months went on. Silly and inconsequential as all of this was, drawing had always been a tempering balm. Art was a way to quiet his brain and lose himself in a place where he didn’t even really exist.

Rishi slipped the sketch pad back into his bag and then slung the bag over his shoulder. Maybe going to Little Comic Con later tonight wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. He could figure out what people who went into this looking for careers as comic book artists actually did. His bet was that most of them ended up teaching in programs like this or working in advertising, neither of which appealed to him on any level.

He wasn’t going to lie, though, he thought, as he grabbed his dorm key and let the door shut behind him—the idea of Dimple Shah accompanying him to the Con made it all that much more alluring. He had one more stop to make, and then he’d pick her up at her dorm room.

The thought of seeing her again made his stomach flip in a very impractical way.

“What are you wearing?” Celia said from in front of the dresser/vanity where she’d just finished slathering foundation all over her face and neck with a sponge.

Dimple looked up from her computer and shrugged. “Jeans?”

Celia groaned and clutched at her hair before meticulously smoothing it back down. Popping on a black headband with a big glittery bow on it, she said, “This is Little Comic Con. I’m guessing people dress up in costumes? Go all out?” It was Friday night, and apparently the Aberzombies had invited her to some party.

Dimple chewed on her lip. She hadn’t even really thought of that. “You think so?”

Celia began drawing on her face with what looked like a chubby brown crayon. Seeing Dimple’s quizzical look, she said, “Concealer. And yes, I definitely think so. Why don’t you Google it? See what they’ve done in the past? The flyer says ‘third annual,’ so I bet they have pictures online.”

“Good idea.” Dimple pulled up the website for the art department and groaned. “Oh no.” She clicked from picture to picture. People didn’t just go all out—they went freaking crazy. There was a write-up on a guy who’d actually built his own Iron Man costume out of junkyard parts and then spray-painted them an amazing iridescent pink. Another student made her own Predator costume, and it took her an entire year of hand-sewing everything. It was Oscar-worthy. Or, you know, whatever the award was for costumes. There were group costumes, and costumes made out of interesting materials, and eco-friendly costumes, and glow-in-the-dark costumes. . . . Dimple stared. “Why the heck didn’t Rishi tell me?”

“Um, maybe he doesn’t know? You should probably text him.” Celia smoothed a mermaid-hued eyeshadow on her lids. It looked amazing with her hazel eyes; even makeup averse Dimple could appreciate that.

She grabbed her phone.

Did you know everyone is going to be wearing costumes? Really elaborate ones?

Her phone beeped a few seconds later. Yeah, it’s like Comic Con, no? Only smaller.

Dimple groaned. Did everyone know stuff like this automatically?

Her phone beeped again. But you don’t have to dress up. You’re my guest.

Well, what are you going as?

Aha. That’s for me to know and you to find out.

Dimple rolled her eyes. Great. She looked at Celia. “Do you have anything in your closet I could wear that would pass as a costume?” Celia had brought virtually everything from her closet back home. She was actually using part of Dimple’s closet because all her stuff wouldn’t fit.

She made a face as she applied a pale gold lipstick using a brush. Who applied lipstick with a brush? No one Dimple knew. “You can look. All I have is regular clothes though. . . . Who are you planning on going as?”

“I don’t know!” Dimple threw her hands up. “The only cartoon I even remember being interested in—” She stopped, a thought forming. “Celia, do you have anything green and long sleeved?”

“Hmm . . .” Celia set her lipstick and brush down and turned to her closet. After a second she pulled out a long-sleeved hoodie with a zipper. “What about this?”

Dimple smiled slowly. “I think that’ll do really well. And can I borrow a short black skirt too?”

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