“Really? You’d like my advice?” Ashish grinned triumphantly and looked at Rishi, who rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Whatever,” Rishi said. “She’s just saying that to be nice. And fine. Since you’re being totally juvenile right now, I guess we’re going to have to do that.” He glared at Ashish, who was still grinning.
“I’m really not just saying that to be nice,” Dimple said, relieved that they both seemed on board. “We need a lot of help, in case you hadn’t noticed, Rishi. The talent show’s not that far away.”
Ashish sat on Rishi’s bed and spread out his legs. “So how much longer do you guys have left in this program anyway?”
Dimple felt something hot in her throat and blinked fast. “Um, just over three weeks.”
She saw Rishi shift in her peripheral vision, but he didn’t say anything. Maybe at the end they’d just . . . leave. Go their separate ways. She’d made it pretty clear she didn’t want anything too serious, right? So, why would he want to do anything but that? She should be fine with it. It was for the best.
Dimple turned to Ashish, trying to push the swirling thoughts out. “Just tell us what you think. Where can we improve? What looks too awkward?”
He nodded and held up his phone. “I can even video you guys if you want. Seeing yourself can really help. That’s what I do for my games.”
“Great.” Dimple smiled. She wasn’t thrilled about the idea of watching herself, but whatever. She needed the prize money. “Let’s do this.”
• • •
Thirty minutes later, when Dimple and Rishi had fallen on the floor in a big pile yet again, Ashish hit a button on his phone to pause the recording. “Can I give you guys some advice?”
“Yes, please,” Dimple said from under Rishi. He rolled off her and helped her up. She rubbed her arm—she’d banged it against his chin, which turned out to be surprisingly pointy and weaponlike.
“Okay, look.” He turned his phone so they could all three see it and queued the video to the part where Dimple had her three second solo. They all watched her thrust her hips this way and that, her arms waving through the air. Dimple flushed. Ashish paused the video and looked expectantly from Dimple to Rishi and back again.
“What?” Rishi asked, frowning.
“It’s pretty clear to me,” Ashish said, looking at them like they were idiots, “that Dimple is the real talent here? This isn’t working because bhaiyya —Rishi—has the majority part. We need a song where Dimple gets to do most of the stuff.”
“Um, no ,” Dimple countered right as Rishi said, “Oh my gods, you’re right.”
They looked at each other. Dimple sharpened her look into a glare. “I’m not dancing on that stage by myself.”
Rishi put a hand on her arm; it was hot and sweaty. “You don’t have to. We’ll just get a song where I get a really tiny part instead.”
“That’s still people looking at me for most of it.” Dimple felt the beginning of stress hives breaking out on her face just from the thought of it. “I can’t do that. I can’t. I can’t.” She looked helplessly from Rishi to Ashish.
Ashish looked thoughtful for a moment, and then he smiled. “That’s okay. I have an idea.”
Rishi watched his brother choreograph the new dance, getting 360-degree video shots of Dimple and Rishi dancing. Ashish even kept the video running when they had stopped dancing to talk about the steps, to “capture this crazy experience,” as he put it.
When Dimple wasn’t sure she could do something, Ashish took on the role of coach, bolstering her confidence by joking with her, without even letting on that that’s what he was doing, until Dimple agreed without knowing she’d agreed—and all Rishi could think was, Wow. He hadn’t seen his little brother this engaged in something that had nothing to do with basketball in years. He’d never seen Ashish so pumped about something that would net him nothing. He was acting . . . selfless.
The thought caught Rishi so off guard that he stumbled, and Dimple, who’d been about to twirl into his arms, went twirling off into the room without him. “Oops, sorry,” he said, smiling in what he hoped was a winning way when she stopped and glared at him.
“Ah, maybe it’s time to take a break anyway,” she said, the annoyance in her eyes dimming. That was something he’d been noticing more—that he was able to soften her, to rub out those hard edges of hers, when he smiled. The thought made him deliriously happy, mostly because he hadn’t thought it possible for Dimple’s hard edges to be softened at all, let alone that he’d be the one to accomplish it.