“We’re leaving in three weeks.” The fog sucked the tremor of inflection in his voice, and the sentence came out sounding flat, lifeless. Rishi tried again. “I mean . . . Insomnia Con’s going to be over then. It’ll be back to real life.”
Dimple’s voice was tiny when she spoke. She was pointed forward so Rishi couldn’t see her face at all. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that too.”
“You have?” He couldn’t figure out whether she was happy or sad or what. It felt like there was a rock in his stomach, slowly grinding away at his internal organs. “And what have you been thinking, exactly?”
She glanced at him then and quickly looked away. “I don’t know,” she said quietly.
“Right.” The rock was now on his chest. “You don’t know. . . .”
“You’re going to MIT . I’m going to Stanford. Those are on opposite coasts.” Each sentence she spoke was devoid of emotion. She sounded like she was reading an instruction manual. Karl the Fog burned Rishi’s nose, and he felt suddenly, irrationally angry at a weather pattern.
“Right.” He swallowed, his hand still loosely clasped around hers. He didn’t want to be the first to pull away, but was he making things weirder for her? “So you . . . you’re saying . . .”
“I’m saying they’re on opposite coasts.” Dimple looked at him full on, her eyes searching behind her glasses even as she kept walking. “So it’d be stupid, right? To attempt to continue this?” The way she said it, like she wanted him to argue, made his heart lift. The stomach/chest rock shrunk hopefully. She turned back toward the street. “I mean, everyone says long-distance relationships are the worst. Like, it’s just an idiotic way to go into your freshman year at college—attached to someone.”
“Right, right,” Rishi said, as if he were seriously considering her points. “But, I mean, people say all kinds of stupid crap about college. Like, you’ve heard about the Freshman 15, right?”
She snorted. “Yeah. Dumb.”
“Exactly. Exactly. ” Rishi grinned. “And what about the whole fraternity/sorority thing? People actually think joining one of those is the only way to go through college.”
“That’s true,” Dimple said thoughtfully. “Like paying to make friends really deepens the college experience.”
“Right!” Rishi laughed and looked at Dimple until she glanced at him, too. She was smiling. The rock turned into a blob of warm, gooey honey. He tugged gently on her hand. “So . . . ?”
She shrugged. “I guess, um . . . I guess we can try to make it work or something.” But she was smiling so big she couldn’t finish her sentence as nonchalantly as she’d started it.
Rishi grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to him, lifting her up by the waist while she shrieked indignantly. He set her down again and cupped her cold face in his hands, aware that Ashish was now watching them, most likely with a judgy expression on his face. “So we’re doing it? We’re making a serious go of this thing?”
“As long as ‘this thing’ doesn’t involve shaadi for the next decade,” Dimple said, pushing a finger into his chest.
He laughed and kissed her softly, breathing in jasmine and coconut. “Dimple Shah,” he said, his mouth still against hers, “if I get to do this with any regularity, I’ll gladly put marriage on the back burner for the next century .”
Rios was a cozy restaurant with blue and white ceramic tiles lining the walls, cork floors, and windows that looked out over the city streets. Lamps were lit on all the wooden tables, and Dimple sighed happily in the warmth as she fluffed out her damp hair and sank into the velvet booth. Rishi sat beside her, and Ashish plonked into the seat opposite.
A small, almost hysterical thrill ran through Dimple as she looked at Rishi’s and her hands on the table, side by side. They’d agreed to date long-distance. Long-distance. She’d come to San Francisco so relieved to get away from it all—Mamma and Ritu auntie’s constant prattle about makeup and clothes and the I.I.H.—and now she was leaving with a serious boyfriend. One her parents had actually chosen for her. One whom she’d flung a cold beverage at the first time they’d met. It felt like forever ago, but really, it had been less than a month.
Are you sure about this? a tiny, annoying voice asked, slithering around in the back of her head.
Of course I am , she thought, smiling at Rishi in the flickering lamplight. This is good. This is perfect.
You just lied to him. That’s not what I’d call “perfect,” the voice said, with a definite passive-aggressive edge this time.
But she hadn’t really lied so much as withheld information. Sending those drawings to Leo Tilden was a good thing. Rishi would thank her later, when Leo wrote back to confirm what Dimple already knew—that Rishi was a genius.
Even if we put aside the lie—which I don’t think we should—there’s still the matter of this relationship, which you never wanted in the first place. Do you honestly think this is ever going to be a casual thing? For you or for Rishi? Are you ready for this? Really ready?
Dimple wished the voice would choke on its own spit and die.