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He stopped short when he saw Ashish sprawled on the couch, mantislike legs splayed out so he took up every inch of space on the love seat. His hair had grown out, and it curled over his forehead and into his eyes. He was dressed, as usual, in his basketball uniform.

It didn’t matter that it was summer: Basketball and Ashish had been in a serious relationship since he was in elementary school. Now, eight years later, he was good enough to be the only rising junior on the varsity team. He’d been training at a special camp for athletic prodigies like him all summer.

“Dude, get your nasty feet off the pillows. How many times does Ma have to tell you before you’ll listen?” Rishi thumped his little brother’s shoe, but it didn’t budge.

On the TV someone scored, and Ashish groaned. “Ah, man. You’re bad luck, bhaiyya .”

“That may be, but I think my luck’s about to change, my friend. I’m doing it. I’m going to San Francisco.” Rishi’s stomach swooped. If he was telling Ashish, it must really be happening. Whoa.

Ashish muted the game and sat up slowly. Rishi tried not to be too jealous of his little brother’s bulging muscles; they just had very different interests, he reminded himself. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

Rishi shook his head and flung himself into the empty spot next to Ashish. “Nope.”

“You’re actually going to go meet that . . . girl dragon?”

Rishi punched Ashish’s arm and tried not to wince when his fist stung. “Hey. Don’t forget, the first time Ma and Pappa met—”

Ashish groaned and sank back against the couch. “Yeah, I think I have the gist of that story after hearing it four million times.” More seriously, he said, “Look, man. I know you . . . you and I don’t always see eye to eye on everything. You’re, like, some weird thirty-five-year-old teenager. But don’t you think you’re rushing things? First MIT , and now this girl and Insomnia Con . . . I mean, what about your comics?”

Rishi’s shoulders tensed before his brain had fully processed what Ashish was saying. “What about them?” He was careful to keep his voice light, casual. “Those are just a hobby, Ashish. Kid stuff. This is real life. It’s not high school anymore.”

Ashish shrugged. “I know. I just think, I mean, college doesn’t have to mean you just let go of everything, does it? Like, I plan to play ball in college. Why can’t you do what you want too?”

Rishi smiled a little. “What makes you think this isn’t what I want?”

His brother’s eyes, the same color of dark honey as his own, searched his face for something. Finally, apparently not finding it, Ashish looked away. “Whatever, man. As long as you’re happy.”

Rishi felt a pang of something, looking at his little brother. Ashish was now taller than him by a full inch. They were so fundamentally different. And to Ashish, he was just some weird relic, something that belonged in their parents’ time in India, not here in modern America. Maybe this is the beginning of us growing apart , Rishi thought, and his heart hurt. But he forced himself to get up, because he knew they’d said all there was to say for now.

He made his way up to his room, to pack for San Francisco. For Dimple Shah, whoever she was.

CHAPTER 4

“What about this one? The color will really suit you, Dimple.”

Dimple couldn’t resist rolling her eyes at the voluminous salwar kameez Mamma was holding up. It was swaths of gold brocade, with a vibrant peacock blue dupatta . It looked like a costume for a Bollywood movie. “Sorry, Mother, I cannot wear that to Insomnia Con.”

Mamma lowered the offending garment, looking outraged. “Why not? You should be proud of your heritage, Dimple.” From around the tiny shop full of imported Indian clothing, parents gave Mamma approving looks. Dimple could see her practically preening for the crowd. “Papa and I have held on to our culture, our values, for a quarter century! When we came to America, we said we would never —”

“Yeah, but I didn’t come to America,” Dimple interrupted, darting a defiant glance at all the shoppers. “I was born here. This is my home. This is my culture.”

Mamma clutched the gold salwar to her bosom. “Hai Ram,” she said faintly.

Dimple sighed and grabbed a few kurta tops hanging on the rail next to her. They were all variations of the same color and pattern: black with grayish-silver accents. “What about these?” she said. She could pair them with her skinny jeans and Chucks and look almost normal.

Mamma made a face, but Dimple could already see she was going to agree. “I suppose that will do, but a little bit of color would really be nice for your complexion. Since you refuse to wear makeup . . .”

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