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Page 43

Rishi’s messenger bag, hanging open from the bedpost. Peeking out was his sketch pad, full of his art, brimming with his talent. Dimple hesitated for just a second before walking to it.

She ran her fingers along the spiral top, letting the cool metal press into her flesh, turning her fingertips white. Rishi was protective of his sketches. He didn’t like anyone to see them, but he was doing such a great disservice to himself and other people. He didn’t know how much the world needed his art. Society was practically crying out for people who poured their heart and soul into work that was bigger than them. Besides, he had let her see his pocket-size sketch book. Surely he wouldn’t object to this.

She slid out the sketch pad and began to riffle through it. The earliest sketches dated back three years, and as she progressed, Dimple felt like she was holding a guidebook to Rishi’s talent, of the time and effort he’d put into carefully and lovingly honing his craft. His characters became more lifelike, more real. Although he sketched a variety of things and people—buildings, his house, what looked like students in a posh school cafeteria—he kept coming back to Aditya. As time progressed, Aditya became more and more fleshed out, more substantial. His expressions changed, became more fluid and dynamic, more complex. In the most recent ones, Aditya had begun to fall in love with a girl with wild, curly black hair. They were dated before Dimple and Rishi had even met. Kismet?

There were fewer sketches as Dimple moved through the sketchbook, and she felt a pang. His art was disappearing. No one was telling him how good he was, how much he needed to keep going, and so he was letting it die. She saw the pain in the pages—when he did come back, he drew detailed scenes, every leaf on every tree vivid and trembling with life.

Aditya looked reproachful in these later sketches, his eyes beckoning the artist to stay with him for just a while longer, to not forget, to not relegate him to these empty pages. Dimple felt an actual lump in her throat. This was wrong. She couldn’t, in good conscience, just stand by and watch Rishi’s talent wither away like some poor plant in a dark basement.

Before she could talk herself out of it, Dimple pulled out her phone and began to take pictures of Rishi’s latest sketches, focusing on Aditya. She was about six pictures in when she heard Rishi’s and Ashish’s voices in the hallway, raised in argument. Heart hammering, Dimple slid the sketch pad back into Rishi’s messenger bag, crossed the room, and sat back down at the laptop. She slid the phone back into her pocket and took a deep breath, trying to rearrange her facial features into a not guilty of snooping or any other illicit activity expression.

She shouldn’t have bothered. When the guys burst in, they were in such a heated argument, they didn’t even look at her.

“You’re such a brownnoser,” Ashish said, thrusting his hands through his hair as he walked in, leaving it sticking up in every direction. “Did you seriously have to call them the minute I left the room? Tell me, was it like a physical impulse? Goody-goody syndrome manifesting itself?”

“Brownnoser! Really!” Rishi thundered, his eyes flashing with a temper Dimple hadn’t seen yet. “You can call me names all you want, Ashish, but our parents had no idea where you were. Do you know how worried Ma is about you? Does it ever even occur to you to think about anyone besides yourself?”

Oh God. She seriously should’ve just gone to her room. Dimple had a sinking feeling they had no idea she was there and that she was witnessing a very, very private fight. She would leave now, but the two of them were right in the middle of the room, blocking access to the door. Should she clear her throat so they knew she was here? Should she get up and leave anyway, just push right through them? Dimple decided on the clear my throat strategy, but the sound was swallowed by Ashish’s bitter laughter.

“Oh yeah, I’m so selfish for wanting to live my life! For wanting to have a modicum of space without my parents breathing down my freaking neck all the time! So sorry, bhaiyya , but not all of us can be self-sacrificing, dutiful sons who belong in one of Ma’s cheesy Ramayan sagas!”

“Have some respect!” Rishi roared. “Ma and Pappa are our parents! You can’t talk about them like that!”

“Says who?” Ashish said, and immediately, Dimple could see them as elementary school kids, having a very similar fight about whose turn it was to pick the cartoon they were going to watch. “This might come as a surprise to you, but you can’t control what I do!”

“This might come as a surprise to you, but I don’t want to! ”

In the lethal silence that followed, both brothers glaring at each other, Dimple’s phone blared to life. “Crap.” She scrabbled in her pocket, aware that both Rishi and Ashish were now watching her, their faces slightly slack, like they’d completely forgotten her existence. Which they probably had.

“Sorry.” Dimple smiled sheepishly. “It’s my roommate.” She pressed answer. “Hello?”

“Hey! I realized we never actually set up a time for when we were gonna do dinner. Or, like, even figured out where we were gonna go get said dinner. You said the dining hall before, right? Is that still the plan?”

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