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Page 27

“Who is that Energizer Bunny?” Dimple asked as they began to make their way over.

“That’s Kevin Keo, the guy who invited me,” Rishi said. “He’s pretty cool. If it’s okay with you, I’ll just say hi really quick, and then we can go.”

“Yeah, sure.” As they got closer, Dimple saw that Kevin’s booth was dedicated to comics and manga. There was even a sketchbook open in front of him, and he looked like he was drawing a cross between a space alien and a girl in yoga pants. It was actually really cool; the whole thing looked 3-D, like it was climbing out of the page. Dimple glanced at Rishi, but he was looking at everything in that weird, impassive way again, as if none of this had anything to do with him. What was his deal?

Even Dimple thought the sketch was extremely cool, and she wasn’t really into artsy stuff. “That’s amazing,” she said, leaning over to study the detail. From up close, she saw that the alien creature’s tentacles were actually made of words, tightly packed together, looping lazily over each other.

“Thanks!” Kevin said. “It’s dialogue from One Piece .” He gestured to the banner behind him and then his own costume. “I’m dressed as Monkey D. Luffy, the main character. It’s one of my favorite shows of all time. Do you watch it?”

Dimple shrugged. “Sorry. I know absolutely nothing about manga.” She glanced at Rishi. “Have you heard of One Piece ?”

“Yeah.” He nodded, but it was halfhearted, like he was already itching to go. “I watched a few episodes one summer.”

Kevin, oblivious to Rishi’s lukewarm mood, rubbed his hands together. “I like how your gada turned out, man. Really sweet.” He paused, and when Rishi muttered a faint “thanks,” he powered forward. “So? What do you think of LCC so far? Meet any cool people?”

Rishi smiled, a closemouthed thing. “Yeah, Leo Tilden. That was neat.” He held up the graphic novel he’d bought. “Got a signed copy.”

“Dude is sick!” Kevin said, his entire face lit up with passion and excitement and fire. “Are you subscribed to his YouTube channel?” When Rishi nodded, he went on, “I tune in every week. I heard he might start taking user subs, and if you go here in the fall—”

“Listen, man, this has been cool, but I gotta say, I don’t think I’m gonna be going here. I’m already in at MIT .” Rishi shrugged. “Just don’t want to lead you on.”

“Oh.” Kevin’s face fell. Then he frowned. “MIT ? But I thought you were into comic art.”

“I am.” Rishi paused. “I was. It was more a passing hobby in middle school and high school. But I’m not going to have time for all that. I have a real career to focus on, you know?”

Something passed over Kevin’s face. More coolly, he said, “So what are you going to be studying at MIT ?” The way he said it, Dimple could tell he thought Rishi was a pretentious douche nozzle. But he’s not! She wanted to yell. I have no idea who this weird, serious zombie is!

“Computer science and engineering,” Rishi said.

Kevin nodded. His eyes flickered over Rishi’s kurta and gada . “So you didn’t go into details before, when I saw you. Who are you dressed as?”

Rishi looked down. For a moment, he seemed like he wanted to tell Kevin about Aditya. There was a look, almost like longing, that passed over his features like a soft cloud. Then his expression cleared. “No one. Just an obscure Indian comic from when I was a kid.”

CHAPTER 24

Kevin looked over at Dimple. Clearly, he’d dismissed Rishi. “So.” He smiled. “Are you into comics or any kind of art? I don’t recognize your costume.”

“This is Daria, the ’90s cartoon. You should check it out if you get a chance. But as far as creativity goes . . .” Dimple made a face. “I think I was out sick when the artsy genes were being doled out. The extent of my creativity is app development and some website design. Coding is sort of like telling a story, I guess, but nothing other than that. Seriously though, I think what you’ve got going on here is pretty sweet.” She gestured around at the building. “I love all the color! And everyone’s costumes are just amazing.” A girl in a gorgeous gold retro dress, blue braids, and makeup that looked airbrushed on walked by, proving her point.

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