3. rivals and romance

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My sister Simran finds it hilarious that I'm going to be working fin to fin with Ian, of all people

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My sister Simran finds it hilarious that I'm going to be working fin to fin with Ian, of all people. Sometimes it feels like she's my warty, wicked step-sister—and the one time she got enormous pimples on her chin and nose, she looked every bit the part—but I've seen our birth certificates. We share DNA, even if we don't share anything else.

"If you're just going to laugh, get out of my room," I say, not looking up from the henna design I'm practicing on a paper trace-out of my hand. The black sharpie swirls and careens across the palm, the nib fresh and inky and pungent.

She has a retort for everything. "Don't talk so loud on the phone with your friends, then. This is like the third time I've heard you whining about it since you got back from the Playhouse yesterday."

Another reason Simran is perfect step-sister material, as if I needed one. Total and utter lack of compassion at my misfortunes. I push away from my desk and swivel my chair to face her. "Don't you have a boyfriend to bother?" I ask, the words tart and meant to hurt.

I don't even get the reaction of a flinch or a scowl. Her face is impassive as she walks out. A second later, Mom exclaims Arey! from the hallway and I figure the two almost collided. There's a low rumble of voices before the light rap on my door. Mom enters without breaking stride, arms laden with sweet-smelling laundry.

She casts her kohl-rimmed eyes over my rumpled, unmade bed, the copious towers of library books pushed against the wall, and last year's backpack, still untouched, on a patchworked and embroidered Jaipur pouf stool.

I'm proud of her—she doesn't bat an eye. She's used to my disarray, or my organized chaos, as I like to think of it.

She places the stack of clothes at the foot of my bed with a quiet admonishment to put them away, but doesn't leave. She hovers, uncertainly, and I know something awkward is about to happen from the way she's pinching the trumpet sleeve of her silky blouse.

"Kavya, do you want to tell me why my maushi said you haven't accepted her friend request yet?" 

And there it is.

Mom's maternal aunt is a pro at getting people into trouble with her innocent confusion about why X person hadn't done Y thing yet. The problem with Facebook's helpful People You May Know is that it hinges on the expectation that I want to know them back.

"Um, because if I have another aunty posting on my wall, I think I will have an actual aneurysm." I already know this won't be the end of it, and that my tone would take Mom over the edge. There, she's already frowning.

She straightens her back and shoulders like she's in the military. She thinks if I talk like this, I'll jinx myself to the hospital. "Don't talk rubbish."

Frustration makes my voice gravelly and loud. "I was already guilted into getting WhatsApp," I say. "There are no words for the torrent of good morning and good night greetings, and the dumb jokes and memes that somehow keep circulating even though they're five years old." Mom's eyebrow twitches, but it's too late and I may as well see the rest of this through. "It's annoying. They type in Hinglish and it's just embarrassing that everyone can see it all over my wall." I exhale, then say, "I just want privacy."

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