• • •
The dorm was a tiny rectangular room, just big enough for two twin beds and two desks. The inexplicable scent of wood shavings hung heavy in the air. The walls were institutional gray-brown; the carpet, ditto. On the headboard of one of the beds, some past student had inscribed, with a Sharpie and a careful hand: ipsa scientia potestas est. Dimple loved it, all of it, instantly and with an unadulterated passion.
It was beginning. Her freedom, her independence, her period of learning—about herself, about the world, about her career. She was finally doing it. Here she wouldn’t be Dimple Shah, wayward, Americanized daughter of immigrant parents; she’d be just Dimple Shah, future web developer. People would judge her on her brain, not her lack of makeup. There would be no cliques like high school. Everyone was here of their own volition, to learn, to teach, to work together.
She sent a quick text to Mamma and Papa:
Got here safely! Dorm is nice. Papa, please take your medicine—and no more sweets today!!
Then, smiling, she shut the door behind her and made her way past chattering students, here for various summer programs, down to the main lobby.
Rishi spotted her again in the main lobby, looking at the rack of dusty campus maps. He hadn’t even checked into his room yet; he was so nervous he was going to miss her, he’d run to his car to get the gift and then run back here to find her. All the Insomnia Con students had been given rooms in the same dorm, so it wasn’t hard to figure out where she would be.
But now, standing in the somewhat empty lobby, he wondered if she’d freak out again. She didn’t seem to be holding beverages of any kind, which was good. This time, Rishi thought, he’d be sedate. Chill. Breezy.
Rishi smoothed his hair back, adjusted his shirt collar, and started forward.
The maps all looked ancient, but Dimple supposed they would have to do. She grabbed one at random and turned around.
And there he was again, mouth open, staring at the back of her head.
“What the heck?” Before she’d even fully thought about it, Dimple had reached out and sliced him with the edge of the map.
“Ow!” Clutching his forearm, the psycho staggered backward a few steps.
Huh. Not much of a predator if all it took was a paper cut to deter him. “Why are you following me?” Dimple took what she hoped was a menacing step forward, map held out as a weapon.
The boy eyed it warily, letting his arms drop. He was dressed pretty sanely for a psychotic attacker, Dimple thought, in a button-down blue shirt (sporting a wet patch still; her coffee, she guessed proudly) with the sleeves rolled up and well fitted jeans. His eyes, the color of deep caramel, were almost innocent-looking. It just showed, you could never trust appearances. “Well, I was about to explain that when you attacked me.”
“I attacked you ?” Dimple said slowly, eyebrows raised at his indignant tone. “Are you serious? You’ve been following me, being totally creepy—”
He hung his head a little, the tips of his ears pink, the same way Papa’s got when he was embarrassed. “I’m sorry. ‘Creepy’ wasn’t what I was going for.”
“Sure, buddy, whatever.” Dimple stepped carefully around him, alert for any lunging. “Just stay away from me, or I’ll call the campus police.”
“I mean it!” She turned again, brandishing the map.
“Dimple, please, just let me explain. This isn’t what—”
She lowered the map and frowned. “How do you know my name?”
Man, she was taking a really long time to put two and two together. Weren’t Stanford students supposed to be bright?
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” Rishi said patiently. “It’s me. Rishi Patel.” He waited for the light to dawn, for her to smile, smack her forehead, and say, Of course! But she just continued to frown at him, thick eyebrows knitted together. She was actually kind of scary.