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She needed some caffeine in her system before she called home to tell her parents she’d arrived. Mamma was sure to have another litany of questions and warnings about American college boys. Dimple had to actually roll up the car window while Mamma was talking this morning so she could leave on time. Even Papa had given up and gone inside after twenty minutes. The woman was relentless, with the jaw muscles of a jungle predator.

The upside was that because she’d been so worried about being late, Dimple had driven ten above the speed limit the entire time, refused to stop for breaks, and made it early.

“An iced coffee, please,” she told the cute male barista with the septum piercing. The coffee shop buzzed, college students mingling like showy tropical fish with their brightly colored hair. The sheer scope and number of tattoos and piercings would have Mamma fainting. Dimple adored it.

Clutching her iced drink, she made her way outside and meandered over to a stone fountain of the SFSU gator (which was turned off; thank you, drought conditions). Dimple sat on the lip of the bowl and tipped her face up to the sky, soaking up the sunshine and thinking about how she’d spend the next hour. Should she go by the Insomnia Con building now or do that with Celia later? She wanted to stop by the library, too, to see if they had the new Jenny Lindt memoir. . . .

Man, the freedom made her feel almost drunk. She really did love her family, so much, but being at home was starting to feel like wearing an iron corset, painful and breathless and pinchy in all the wrong places. Although, she had to hand it to them: sending her here was unprecedented.

Dimple didn’t know what had brought on her parents’ sudden change of heart about Insomnia Con, but maybe she was having more of an influence on them than she thought. Maybe they were finally beginning to realize she was her own person, with a divergent, more modern belief system that renounced the patriarchal dynamics of their time—

There was a sort of scuffling sound nearby, and Dimple opened her eyes, startled. An Indian boy about her age was gazing down at her with the weirdest, goofiest grin on his face. His straight, jet-black hair flopped onto his forehead.

“Hello, future wife,” he said, his voice bubbling with glee. “I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives!”

Dimple stared at him for the longest minute. The only word her brain was capable of producing, in various tonal permutations, was: What? What?

Dimple didn’t know what to think. Serial killer? Loony bin escapee? Strangely congenial mugger? Nothing made sense. So she did the only thing she could think to do in the moment—she flung her iced coffee at him and ran the other way.

CHAPTER 5

Oh, crap. Oh, no, no, no. He’d been kidding .

As Rishi watched the rapidly retreating back of his possible future wife, he realized he’d totally freaked her out because of his poorly executed joke. This was why he usually left the humor to Ashish.

Wringing out the cold coffee from his shirt, he considered running after her, explaining himself. But he knew by the mileage she was clocking right then that she was probably not in the head space to really listen.

Shoot. What if she called her parents to tell them what a psycho the Patel boy was, and then they called his parents? Rishi whipped out his cell phone and dialed home to warn Ma and Pappa.

“Hello?” His mom answered, breathless, anticipatory.

“Ma?” Hearing her voice made him feel even guiltier, more ashamed at how he’d handled the first meeting. All that hard work they must’ve put into arranging this . . .

“Haan, beta! Did you arrive safely?”

“I did, but—”

“Wonderful!”

“No, no, it’s not.” Rishi hung his head, inhaling the smell of coffee wafting off him. He sank down on the sunbaked lip of the fountain where a moment before, his future had been perched.

A pause. “Kya hua?”

“You might get a phone call from Dimple Shah’s parents soon. I just met her.” Rishi’s voice was a croak. “And it didn’t go well. I totally blew it.”

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