And then—Celia pushed Evan.
He barely moved, but she stumbled with the effort. Ashish moved forward, like he wanted to run onstage. Then Celia was yelling, “Screw you!” and running offstage, right toward them.
The song stopped. After an intense moment of silence, the audience began to boo.
Celia came bursting through the wings just as Dimple moved out of the way. When she saw Dimple, she began to cry harder. Without thinking, Dimple wrapped her arms around Celia and pulled her close. Even though Celia was wearing six inch heels, she managed to fold herself down and put her face in the hollow of Dimple’s neck.
Dimple patted her back. “It’s okay,” she said. “You did the right thing. I’m proud of you.”
The Aberzombies burst through then. Hari hollered, “You totally screwed it up, Celia!”
Isabelle said, quietly, “Don’t yell at her.”
“Back off!” Dimple said, glaring at Hari.
“Or what?” Evan crossed his arms and stepped forward so he loomed over Dimple and Celia. “How about you stay out of this?”
Rishi put himself between Evan and Dimple. “How about you step back?”
Evan glared at Rishi, and then Hari said, “Is there a problem?”
Suddenly, Ashish was by Rishi’s side. Dimple pulled Celia farther back, away from the crowd. Isabelle followed them.
Celia said, her voice tiny, “They’re not going to fight are they?” just as Evan said, “It’s not my fault the bitch couldn’t follow through.”
And then Ashish punched him.
It was chaos for a few minutes as Hari lunged at Rishi, and Evan and Ashish went at it. Dimple looked around, her throat tight, her heart racing. She waved to Max, who was walking toward them, his eyes widening at the sight. He and a couple of the bigger Insomnia Con students pulled the guys apart. “Break it up!” he yelled. “Right now!”
When the four guys separated, Dimple noted with horror that Rishi’s nose was bleeding. Celia whimpered when she saw Ashish’s lip was cut, the front of his T-shirt splattered with blood.
“I can’t believe this,” Isabelle said from beside them where she’d been standing. She turned toward Celia, her cheeks red. “You were right to stop. I didn’t want to do this either, but they . . .” She swallowed, the blush in her cheeks deepening.
Dimple looked from Isabelle to Celia. It had always been clear that Isabelle wasn’t completely on board with Evan and Hari. But this open admission was more than Dimple had expected.
Celia swiped at her eyes and nodded. “It’s okay. I almost went along with it too. I guess sometimes it’s just hard to find that line and stick to it, even when something feels totally wrong to you.”
Isabelle let out a breath. “Yeah. I’m sorry, Celia.” Then, turning to Dimple, she said, “I’m sorry . . . for everything.” And then she walked off to the dressing room without looking back at any of them.
“Get out of here right now,” Max said, glaring around at them. “All of you. Just go.”
Rishi and Ashish walked toward Dimple and Celia. “Let’s go,” Rishi said, his voice low and tight.
And they did.
The women set up a makeshift clinic in Dimple and Celia’s room, with Rishi sitting on Dimple’s bed and Ashish on Celia’s. Rishi’s nose wasn’t bleeding anymore, but Dimple kept insisting he put an ice pack on it. (She’d gotten one for each of them from the first aid kit at the front desk.) Rishi wasn’t even sure an ice pack was how you treated a bloody nose, but he was enjoying the attention too much to tell her.
Across the tiny room Ashish grinned at him. Celia was hovering near him, dabbing at his cut lip with a wet washcloth. She’d scrubbed her face free of the thick makeup, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and pulled her voluminous hair back into a ponytail. She looked much more like herself, and Rishi was glad.
“Totally worth it,” Ashish said.