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Page 40

There was scattered applause, although some people—those of the introvert persuasion—groaned. Needless to say, the Aberzombies all looked like they might tear off their clothes and dance on the tables right then. Dimple pulled a face at Rishi.

“The talent show is important because it’s a chance to really get a leg up on your competition,” Max continued, over the noise. “Historically, we’ve had a five-hundred-dollar prize for the pair of winning partners. However, due to the generosity of a donor this year, the prize has been upped to a cool grand. Remember, the goal is to get your project as finished as possible by the time Jenny Lindt looks at it, and this will go a long way toward helping you put your most polished foot forward.”

Celia groaned and stood. “I guess I should go talk to my partner, figure out what we’re doing,” she said.

Dimple waved to her and turned to Rishi. “Wow. We’re almost at the talent show already.” Her heart fluttered in a strange, unpleasant way.

Rishi nodded, his face slack. “Yeah. Halfway through. Just three more weeks and we’ll be going home.”

She waited for him to say more. To acknowledge what they hadn’t spoken about yet. What happened when this was all over?

He opened his mouth and leaned in, his eyes serious and sharp. Dimple’s heart thundered. But then his eyes dimmed and he sat back. “So . . . do you have any idea of what you want to do for this thing?”

Dimple swallowed her disappointment and nodded. Okay, focus. The talent show. That’s what was important now. “Yes,” she said firmly. “We’re doing a Bollywood dance.”

Rishi stared at her. “What? You want to get up on a stage in front of a bunch of strangers and dance?”

“I know. It doesn’t sound like me. But look at this.” Dimple clicked to open a spreadsheet and turned her laptop around. “I went back ten years—since the inception of Insomnia Con—and plotted out all the winners of the talent show. Look: 2007: dance; 2008: dance; 2009 and 2010? Dance. 2011 was a singing year, but 2012 again was dance, followed by magic in 2013, but in 2014, we have another dance! 2015 and 2016 were juggling and singing, respectively.” She looked at Rishi. “Do you know what this means?”

“That . . . you’re a little too obsessed with Insomnia Con?”

Dimple punched him in the ribs, and it was a testament to him having acclimated to her that he didn’t even flinch. “No. This is a dance year! I can feel it in my bones. The judges are clearly biased toward the dance category. And look, about a third of these winners were ethnic dances, but no one’s done a Bollywood dance yet. We have to do it.”

“Okay, but you do realize this means we’ll have to get up onstage? And actually dance?” Rishi leaned forward in his chair. “Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’re sort of an introvert.”

“Yeah, I thought about that.” Dimple pulled her hair up into a bun and stuck her pen into it, dropping her gaze. “That’s why I picked a song where, um, I have a very small dancing part. It’s mainly all you.” She winced and darted a sidelong glance at him.

“What! So you’re just going to sell me down the river so you can ride off into the sunset with your prize?” Rishi laughed. “I don’t think so.”

“Look.” Dimple turned in her chair so he could get the full effect of her eyelash batting. Not that she was very skilled at it, but still. “You just look like one of those people who can dance well.” When he opened his mouth, probably to argue, she hurried on. “Okay, so not well, but decently?” He made an eeeh face. “You’re our big shot, Rishi. I can’t dance. I just get too nervous and weird and—I had this one performance, when I was nine? My mom made me do a bhangra dance for the Indian Association’s Diwali party. And I puked. Onstage. In front of everyone. It was humiliating.”

“Oh, okay.” Rishi nodded, like he understood, and Dimple relaxed. “So you just want me to be humiliated instead.” He raised an eyebrow. “No, Dimple. This is your idea. Let’s do a dance where you have to do most of it.”

Dimple hung her head and scratched at her scalp. “Uggh, then I guess we’ll just have to do something else.” She looked up at her Excel sheet, her heart sinking. Dancing was what would win the first place prize. She knew it in her heart. It would take her that much closer to Jenny Lindt. She’d been counting on Celia—who loved performing and attention and everything that made people exceptional at talent shows—to do the dance. But Rishi? Rishi was too much like her. She sighed. The truth was, she was still glad they were partners. They’d figure out a way.

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