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Page 29

But that complete rapture was nothing compared to what she was feeling now.

As Rishi sat there, hunched over his sketch pad, the stub of a pencil in his hand, the other hand curled around the corner of the paper, Dimple knew he wasn’t really there. He’d checked out; he was on some floating island made of graphite and paper where this reality didn’t exist. The only thing he saw was the bizarre ballerina sloth in his head, the one that was taking shape pencil stroke by pencil stroke on paper. His lines were confident and sure, the emerging picture comical and twisted and breathtakingly mesmerizing all at the same time.

Dimple noticed people nudging each other, leaning in to get closer, to really take in the little details. Like how the sloth was wearing a monocle. Or the fact that Rishi was drawing it with a perfect ballerina’s bun, except the bun happened to be a croissant.

A few minutes later, the MC called out, “Time!”

Rishi set his pencil down and flexed his fingers. His eyes searched for Dimple’s in the crowd, and when they locked gazes, he grinned, big and happy. Dimple felt something flutter in her chest as she smiled back.

It was almost unanimous—Rishi won. Lola stood. “Great work,” she said, nodding seriously. “You go here?”

Rishi shook his head. “No, I’m just here for a summer program.” He darted a glance at Dimple.

“Too bad,” Lola said as she gathered her sketch pad and adjusted her skirt. “You kick butt.”

“Who wants to go head-to-head with our new champion, Rishi?” MC boy asked, but Rishi stood up and shook his head.

“No, thanks, man. I’m done.”

People groaned and booed, but Rishi held up his hands—sketch pad and all—and made his way over to Dimple.

She felt suddenly shy. It was weird, but it was like . . . like she’d seen a part of him she’d never knew existed. Most people wouldn’t have this kind of reaction to a sloth in a monocle doing ballet, she knew. It was hard to explain, even to herself. Rishi had a gift. A serious gift that he didn’t seem to like to share with people. Dimple knew why now . . . it was so intimate. He became someone else, stripped down, unself-conscious, unaware. She’d seen what his soul was made of. And she’d liked it.

“So,” he said, smiling at her, tucking his sketch pad into his messenger bag and snapping it shut, “what do you want to do next?”

She rubbed her arm. “Um, I’m not sure. . . .”

“Dimple!”

They both turned at the voice to see Kevin Keo coming into the house, followed by three other artsy types. One of the girls, Dimple saw, was the one with the piercings she’d seen earlier, putting brownies into the oven. “You came!”

She smiled. “Yeah. Thanks for inviting us. This is a cool party.” She nudged Rishi. “He just won a sketch-off.”

“Really?” Kevin eyed him a little warily. “Great.”

The girl with the piercings set the plate of brownies on the table where the lemonade was. “You guys want one?” she asked, taking a square herself.

“Sure!” Dimple said, reaching for it.

Rishi grabbed her elbow. “Um, Dimple, are you sure those brownies are safe to eat?” he whispered in her ear.

She tried to ignore the tickle of his breath in her ear, or the way it sent a little delicious shiver up her spine. “Yes, it’s fine,” Dimple said, aware that her voice was two octaves too high.

Rishi didn’t seem to notice. “But you don’t know for sure,” he repeated, raising his eyebrows for emphasis.

Kevin Keo watched this interaction in interest.

CHAPTER 26

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