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Page 25

Rishi’s mouth twitched, but he nodded seriously. “Yes. I’m Ganesha’s Witness. Has a bit of a ring to it, don’t you think?”

They cut across the lawn and headed west, toward the building marked by a star on the Little Comic Con map Rishi was holding. In the distance someone honked.

“I can’t tell if you’re exceptionally eccentric or just really passionate about the cultural stuff,” Dimple said after they’d walked a little ways in silence.

Rishi chuckled. “My brother, Ashish, and I have had that conversation many times.” He said it lightly, but something hard and dark flickered beneath the surface. “I don’t know how I can explain it . . . it’s just this need inside me. I guess I just feel it stronger than most people our age. I feel like I need to speak out, because if no one speaks out, if no one says, This is me, this is what I believe in, and this is why I’m different, and this is why that’s okay , then what’s the point? What’s the point of living in this beautiful, great melting pot where everyone can dare to be anything they want to be?” He shrugged. “Besides, haven’t you gone to India and just stood among your relatives and listened to their stories and felt like . . . I don’t know, like you wanted to tell more people?”

Dimple fiddled with the zipper on Celia’s hoodie, avoiding Rishi’s eyes. “I don’t know. I haven’t been to India since I was twelve; the tickets are too expensive for my parents. But even when I did, the thing I remember most is feeling like I didn’t belong. I mean, I was already going through that phase at my school where I felt like my family was weird and different and I just wished they’d be like all the other parents. But then I went to Mumbai and realized that to all the people there, I was American. I was still the outsider, and still strange, and I still didn’t belong.”

She tucked a curl behind her ear, feeling that pinch of realization again, just like when she was twelve. It had really been driven home when her cousin Preeti, who was the same age, had introduced Dimple to her neighborhood friends as her cousin from America. One of the girls, hearing Dimple’s accent, had laughed and called Dimple firang , which Preeti had explained, red-faced, meant foreigner . Preeti stuck up for her, but she could see it was halfhearted. Even Preeti thought Dimple was a firang . She just didn’t belong.

“Interesting,” Rishi said, a small breeze lifting a tuft of his hair so he looked, adorably, like an Indian Dennis the Menace. “I guess I’m the opposite. I feel like an Indian American here, and when I’m in India, like just an Indian. I see them both as equal and valid for me.”

“How are you so well-adjusted?” Dimple grumbled.

Rishi snorted. “It’s taken time, I swear. I went through this whole emo phase in middle school where I played with the alias ‘Rick.’” He winced. “I’m just glad it didn’t stick.”

Dimple laughed. “Yeah, I like Rishi much better.”

“To be honest, even if I feel like I culturally belong, I don’t really feel like I socially belong. I mean, just like you were saying . . . I’ve never belonged with the private school crowd. I’ve never really had good friends in high school I wanted to keep in touch with. There’s no one I’ll miss.”

Dimple didn’t want to admit how much what he was saying resonated with her. Loneliness. That’s what he was describing. And she’d felt it so much it had become like a constant presence in her life, curled up against her like a sleeping cat. “I know what you mean,” she said softly. “Unfortunately.”

“I don’t think it’s unfortunate. It’s probably why we get along so well. Even if you did viciously attack me when we first met.”

Dimple laughed, and Rishi beamed at her, the way he seemed to every time she laughed. It was like he was basking in her happiness. Instead of looking away like she usually did, she smiled back.

Something flickered in his eyes. She itched her elbow and dropped her gaze. “What?”

“Nothing.” He looked away, but a small, secretive smile played at his lips.

Dimple punched him lightly in the ribs. “What , Rishi?”

“Ah . . .” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at her sidelong. “That’s just the first time you haven’t pretended to be oblivious to the fact that you have a certain . . . effect on me when you laugh.”

Dimple felt her cheeks burning, and she looked down at her boots. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

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