“A true story of the American dream,” Dimple said, smiling and taking a sip of her water.
“And the Indian dream,” Rishi said. “Pappa gained a real family, which is what he’d wanted. They stood by him from the beginning. He and Ma have this fairy-tale marriage.”
“Is that what you want?” Dimple said softly, her palms going sweaty. “A fairy tale?”
He glanced at her, his ears pink. “I’d originally wanted a practical partnership, but now I think I’m getting the fairy tale anyway.”
Dimple felt the heat bloom in her cheeks. When she smiled up from under her eyelashes at Rishi, she found him pink-cheeked and grinning too.
• • •
The waiter tried to foist Toucinho do Céu and Mousse de Chocolate on them, but Dimple declined for the both of them. “I have something for us instead,” she said after Rishi had paid the bill. (He’d insisted, even though she’d tried her best to split it evenly.)
They walked out into the fog, Dimple’s belly heavy and full of hot food. She zipped up her hoodie just as Rishi buttoned up his coat, both of them retreating a little farther into the warmth of fleece and heavy cotton. Dimple reached into her bag and pulled out a red cardboard box.
“What’s that?” Rishi asked, squinting to see in the haze of streetlights the fog had smeared.
“These, my friend, are Pocky sticks.” Dimple smiled as she opened the box and the foil package inside, sliding three of the chocolate-covered sticks onto Rishi’s palm. “Delicious, just the right amount of biscuit and chocolate, light as air.”
She watched as Rishi bit into one, her gaze automatically riveted on his mouth, her cheeks heating. Blinking, she forced herself to look away. That had been happening more and more now, her noticing the sheer physicality of him, how he was so different from her, how his jaw had that beautiful smattering of stubble on it, how rough his skin was compared to hers. . . .
“Wow, these are good!” Rishi ate the remaining sticks in a couple of bites.
Dimple smiled, swallowing to dispel the warm, liquidy feeling in her bones, and handed him the box. He ate three more before holding it out to her. “Oops, sorry. Want some?”
“No.” She waved a hand. There was no way she could eat now, not when her stomach was so flippy and her eyes kept latching on to details like how much bigger Rishi’s feet were than hers, or how broad his shoulders were beneath that coat. You’d think she’d never even seen a boy before.
“Hey, you okay?” Rishi asked, dropping the box into a trash can they were passing.
She looked up to see him frowning slightly, watching her face. “Yeah, fine. Why?” She was still having trouble meeting his eye. She felt shy suddenly, like . . . like there was something new between them, something different. Now that they’d agreed to make this work long-term, it felt heavier, more serious. And she was allowing her brain to go places it hadn’t quite gone before.
Rishi reached over, grabbed her hand, and pulled her into the darkened alley between a shuttered jewelry shop and clothing store. Dimple leaned back against the wall, and he braced his palms on either side of her. Her heart thundered in the best way, her breath quickening.
“What’s wrong?” Rishi asked, searching her face. “Is it . . . because of what we talked about before? Doing this long-distance?”
Dimple started to shake her head and then stopped. “Um, sort of.” She was having trouble getting the words out with his woodsy smell swirling all around her, with his heat pressing closer to her than the fog.
“So, what is it?” Rishi reached out and casually tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, and without meaning to, she sucked in a breath and leaned in to his touch.