“Yeah,” Dimple began. And then she stopped. “You know what? Why is this awkward for us ? The only people it should be awkward for are my parents.” She pulled out her cell phone right there in the lobby. “I’m going to give them a piece of my mind.”
Rishi nodded slowly. “Okay, well, I guess I’ll leave you to it then.”
She grabbed his arm. “Oh no. You stay right there. You’re their victim too.”
Dimple dialed home and wasn’t surprised when it went to voice mail. “So. You two think you’re being clever, do you?” she said in her most biting voice, her breath coming hard and fast. “What did you think was going to happen? That I’d get here and fall into his arms?” She saw Rishi blush and hurried to add, “I’m sure he’ll make some girl very happy someday. But that girl is not me.” She jabbed righteously at her own chest. “So I hope you know you’ve ruined everything . I hope you’re ready to tell your friends—” She covered the cell phone mic and spoke to Rishi. “What are their names?”
“Kartik and Sunita,” he whispered back.
Dimple turned back to the phone. “—Kartik and Sunita that you’ve effectively ruined your decades-long friendship because you decided to deceive your only daughter. Good-bye.”
She hung up, heart still racing, adrenaline coursing through her veins. “Ridiculous,” she muttered, hands on her hips. Then, looking up at Rishi, she said, “So, what, do you live in San Francisco?”
He shook his head. “I live in Atherton, with my parents and brother. I’m here for Insomnia Con, like you.”
“Oh.” At least he wasn’t here solely for her. “So what are you going to do now?”
Rishi shrugged. “I had planned for us to get to know each other, but obviously that’s not going to happen.” He smiled a little crookedly, and Dimple saw the strain in it. He was trying hard not to show how disappointed he really was. She felt a stab of sympathy for him and a harsher, meaner stab of anger at her parents. “I’ll probably hang out in my room for a while.” He raised his hand stiffly in good-bye and began to walk away toward the elevators.
Something inside her sank at the sight of his retreating back. She didn’t want him to go just yet. Dimple heard herself call out, “Wait!”
Rishi turned, eyebrows raised.
“If you want, you could, you know, come to lunch with me and my friend Celia. If you’re hungry, that is.” She stopped short, unsure where, exactly, the invitation had come from. It was obviously just that she felt some sort of kinship with him because of what had happened, Dimple told herself quickly. They were like two trauma survivors, the victims of her parents. She was just being a decent human being. Nothing more.
Rishi smiled again, but fully this time, unrestrained. It was like watching the sun rise, Dimple thought, or the streetlights come on at dusk. Gradual, powerful, brilliant, in a way.
“Thanks,” he said, walking toward her. “I’d like that.”
They walked to Little Gator Pizzeria side by side, the silence stretching on. Rishi was hyperaware of everything; the way Dimple felt walking beside him. How he could see the top of her head. How the curls on her left side were invading his personal space, and how he didn’t mind, not one bit. When the breeze blew, he could smell her shampoo, like coconuts and jasmine. Oh gods. He’d just inhaled deeply, and now she was looking at him funny.
Rishi tried to smile casually. “So, who’s this friend? Do you know each other from Fresno?”
Dimple shook her head and adjusted her messenger bag. “No, we met in the Insomnia Con forum and decided to room together.”
He stared at her, waiting for the punch line. “You’re kidding. Right?”
She raised an eyebrow. “No?”
“You seriously met a stranger online and decided you’d live with . . . ‘her’ for two months, sight unseen?”
She sighed. “It’s six weeks. And there’s no need to make the air quotes around the word ‘her.’ It really is a she. I checked her out on Facebook.”