If you — like me — fell in love with Sandhya Menon's writing last year while reading When Dimple Met Rishi, I have some good news: she's back this summer with another teenage rom-com about horror movies, secret admirers, and misplaced affections. Her new book, From Twinkle, With Love, comes out May 22, but you can start reading an exclusive excerpt below.
Twinkle is an aspiring filmmaker who knows she has stories to tell, if only someone would pay attention to her. So when film geek and horror fanatic Sahil Roy asks her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is overjoyed — for more than one reason. Yes, she's excited someone is finally paying attention to her art — but she's also secretly hopeful that this will bring her close to Sahil's twin brother, her longtime crush, Neil Roy. When a mysterious boy named "N" begins emailing her, Twinkle is convinced everything is finally coming together: she has her movie — and the love of her life is clearly interested. There's only one problem: she can't stop thinking about Sahil. Told entirely through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, With Love is a sparkling romance about love in all its unexpected, wondrous, and surprising variations.
The book is available for pre-order now (and it comes with special goodies!), and you can start reading it all below:
Chapter Six: Friday, June 5
The Tanakas’ backyard
Dear Nora Ephron,
Tonight was the most fun I have had since... I don’t know when. So Papa dropped me off at Maddie’s place—
Oh, wait. I do know when. Tonight was the most fun I’ve had since that time in fifth grade when Maddie and I were having a sleepover at her place but then sneaked off in the middle of the night (Mr. Tanaka was in his studio, and when he’s painting, nothing gets through to him) and walked around her super-fancy neighborhood drawing “edgy” Dr. Seuss quotes on the sidewalks using sidewalk chalk (my favorite: one fish, screw fish, red fish, fool fish). Then the next morning we watched from the window as Lyla came out and just stared and stared at our artwork, this stupefied look on her face. It was hilarious and we laughed soooo hard. Actually, I peed my pants a little, but then I took a shower and changed into Maddie’s clothes and she swore she wouldn’t tell anyone. (She didn’t.)
Anyway. This was just as fun as that.
So, as I was saying, Papa dropped me off at Maddie’s place, and there was a blue SUV in the driveway. I figured it must be Sahil’s, and then my stomach did this weird fluttery thing, thinking of our conversation in the caf. I muscled through it and rang the doorbell, and Maddie answered wearing a gorgeous pink halter dress and wedge sandals.
“You’re here!” she squealed, and leaned in to kiss me.
“Yeah.” I followed her in. “Are you going somewhere?” Lyla, who had also been an artist and an intellectual in her home country in Eastern Europe somewhere and was now Mr. Tanaka’s creative consultant/household manager, had put some fresh orange hibiscuses in the vase on that big table in the foyer. I knew for a fact she did this only when Maddie had guests over. It was kind of a big deal when she stopped doing that when I visited because she considered me family at that point. Seeing them now hurt my feelings, but I figured — and hoped — she’d done them for Sahil more than me.
“No. I thought I could hang out and watch with you guys?” Maddie darted me a look as we headed downstairs. “If... that’s okay?”
Ugh. It was hideous that we were having this conversation, both because I wasn’t sure if Maddie wanted to hang out with me and because she wasn’t sure I wanted to hang out with her. “No, yeah. I want you to stay.”
She smiled a small smile. “Good. Sahil’s already downstairs.”
"It was hideous that we were having this conversation, both because I wasn’t sure if Maddie wanted to hang out with me and because she wasn’t sure I wanted to hang out with her."
Wow. I’d forgotten how fancy Maddie’s house was. The walls were lined with super-expensive-looking paintings, both Mr. Tanaka’s and from other artists, and there were little lights beaming down on them like we were at an art gallery. Maddie’s basement is bigger and nicer than my entire house. We hung left and then passed through big double doors under a sign that said, THE THEATER in big gold letters.
Sahil was in the theater, making a fresh batch of popcorn with his back toward us. He was wearing a blue T-shirt that hugged his shoulders and shorts that skimmed his hips and fell to his knees. One of his gigantic sneakers was untied, which would never happen to Neil. I felt a squeeze of affection for Sahil.
He looked over his shoulder and his face blossomed into a crazy brilliant smile. “Hey, Twinkle!” He gestured to the popcorn popping behind the glass doors of the machine. “Hope you guys are okay with extra butter, ’cuz that’s the only way I fly.”
“Well, then, I hope you’re okay with M&M’s in your popcorn,” Maddie said, looping an arm around my shoulders, “’cuz that’s the only way we fly. Right, T?”
I was in total shock that Maddie’s arm was around my shoulder and that she’d said "we" about her and me and that she still remembered our popcorn ritual from our sleepovers. We hadn’t had one in more than a year.
I was starting to get emotional whiplash. Maybe a braver person would confront Maddie head-on. But I just wanted to hang on to the moment as long as I could.
“Right,” I forced myself to say, just before the silence became a little too long and awkward. “Definitely.”
"I was starting to get emotional whiplash."
“Hmm, all right. Well, I’m an open-minded dude. I can try that.”
I laughed and walked up to him and the popcorn machine and grabbed a bottle from the lower shelf. “But you also have to add the caramel sauce or it’s no deal.”
Sighing, he said, “Well, they say sugar comas are manageable these days,” as he reached in to grab the popcorn with a scoop. His hand hit the hot metal part, though, and yelping, he jerked back. “Holy mother of kilojoules, that’s hot!”
"Oh my God, are you okay?" Without even thinking about it, I grabbed his hand and closely inspected the red part. “Oh, whew. It doesn’t look too badly burned. You should still run some cold water over it, though, just to be sure.”
Letting go, I looked up at him. His hand remained suspended between us, and he had a goofy expression on his face. “Um,” I said, pushing my braid over my shoulder and feeling self-conscious at the way he was looking at me. I mean, he’s a boy. Who knows why they do half the things they do. He could’ve been thinking any number of unflattering things about me. Though, to be honest, he just looked sort of... amazed. And I was beginning to realize I’d extended unasked-for physical contact. Again. Like I hadn’t learned my lesson with that whole pencil on the thigh thing. I mean, not that Sahil didn’t have nice, big, manly hands that I 100 percent did not regret touching. But still. “Are you okay?”
“N-no, yeah, no. Hundred percent.” He let his hand drop and reached for his popcorn, but his expression didn’t change. Something about the way he kept darting sidelong glances at me made butterflies jam out in my stomach.
Maddie was watching us with a sly little look on her face, so I cleared my throat and immediately put three feet between me and Sahil. Still looking smug, she walked over to the bar and asked, “You guys want a drink?”
"Something about the way he kept darting sidelong glances at me made butterflies jam out in my stomach."
For a minute I didn’t know if she meant a drink drink. So, I just said, “Um... I’ll have a Coke?” and then wished I’d said it less like a question and more like someone who’s completely comfortable in the fact that she doesn’t drink alcohol. I’m usually okay with my choices. But sometimes around Maddie, I forget that.
“Me too,” Sahil said, bringing three bags of popcorn over to the theater seats. He handed one to me and set another one down. “Okay, these have been carameled and M&M’d, so I think we’re just about ready to begin our sugar inhalation.”
Maddie brought us three glasses with little umbrellas in them, all set on a nice glass tray. “Okay. Drinks are a go. You guys ready?”
I smiled at Sahil and then at my ex-BFF as I caught our reflections in the TV screen. Our faces were shiny, three pairs of brown eyes glowing. I took a deep breath. “Ready.”
Okay, so I knew Dracula was a classic. And I knew that Bela Lugosi was an epic actor from the ancient world whom people like Sahil still look up to today. I knew the director of Dracula, Tod Browning, was talented, because people have been talking about his work for decades now.
But somehow, I never connected all those facts with the idea that I’m gonna have to do him justice. And not just that, but I’ve now undertaken the task of gender-swapping this brilliant movie, which means people are going to be doubly interested to see what I do with it.
If I do it right, it could be like this giant coup for the women of PPC and beyond. It’ll say to the world, “Look, a movie by a teen girl of color! Yes, women can direct movies too! And we don’t have to rely on the same old tropes—Dracula can be Dracu-lass!” But if I do it poorly . . . maybe saying I might never want to direct anything else ever again is too extreme, but I might never want to direct anything else ever again.
During the best scenes, Sahil would meet my eye in the dark. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking; I just knew my pulse quickened every time. And one time he looked at me, I smiled, and he almost upended his entire bowl of popcorn.
But during the bad scenes, I’d laugh and roll my eyes at him. That bat? So fake. Also, I had no idea how much people in the thirties liked melodrama. When I did that, Sahil would throw popcorn at me. On purpose this time.
Eventually the credits rolled and Maddie switched the lights back on. I sat there, staring straight ahead. “Um, Sahil?”
“You’re going to hate me.”
He swiveled in his seat. “Impossible.” We looked at each other for a beat, my mouth going dry. “Ah, I mean, why do you say that?” he amended hastily. Maddie snickered, but I chose to ignore her.
“There is no way I can do Browning or Lugosi justice. Zero chance.” I shook my head. “He’s a superstar, you guys. And I’m just some . . . some kid from Colorado Springs. I’ve never even directed a real movie before!”
Sahil came to sit by me. “If anyone can do this, it’s you,” he said, leaning forward. “So maybe you haven’t directed a movie before. But that’s just mechanics. You have the soul of a storyteller, Twinkle. I’ve watched your YouTube videos, okay? You have the ability to make people bare their real selves when you’re holding a camera, and not many people can do that. You and Browning aren’t as far apart as you think.”
I swallowed, touched that he’d checked out my videos. I’d mentioned them in passing at lunch. “You really think so?”
“I know so.”
"You have the soul of a storyteller, Twinkle."
We gazed at each other, the moment stretching on. I forgot Maddie was present, watching everything. I forgot what a Maddie even was. What was happening? Sahil was not the Roy brother I needed. But somehow, when I looked into his eyes, I saw myself the way he saw me: as someone talented and capable, as someone who could do this.
We sat there in silence until Maddie burst into our moment like a rampaging elephant. “Um, excuse me? Did you two watch the same movie I watched?”
We looked at her. “What?” I said.
She laughed. “Oh my God. That was so over-the-top and ridiculous! T, you’re a wayyyy better filmmaker than that guy Brownie ever was.”
Sahil pinched the skin between his eyebrows. “Browning. His name is Browning.” Then he looked at me. “Is she for real?”
I nodded. “Maddie thought Psycho was stupid too.”
Sahil clutched at his chest. “You... you didn’t like Psycho?”
“What?” Maddie said, sipping her Coke. “Anyone could tell there was something very, very wrong with that Norman Bates guy. Like any woman would even stay at his creepy-ass hotel in the first place!”
Sahil stared at Maddie, and I laughed. “Okay, whatever our feelings about Psycho, can we just focus on Dracula right now? Now, Maddie has a point. Some of those scenes were pretty hilarious.” When I saw Sahil open his mouth to verbally murder me, I hurried on. “But others were classic. Like that line, ‘I am Dracula. I bid you welcome’? We have to shoot that.”
Sahil’s face lit up like Dadi’s face at Diwali. (It’s all about the sweets for her.) “Yes! That’s exactly what I was thinking!”
I nodded, pointing to the notebook page on my lap, which was filled with scene-blocking diagrams, bits of dialogue, and costume ideas. “We need to keep it creepy, but charismatic creepy. Whoever our Dracu-lass ends up being, she needs to be just as captivating as Bela Lugosi.”
“You mean like this?” Maddie asked, whipping a throw around her shoulders and tying it at the hollow of her throat. Her entire persona transformed. Suddenly her eyes had a flinty look, and her smile was predatory. She shook out her hair and stalked over to Sahil. He pretended to swoon, just like Mina in the movie, and Maddie bent close to his throat, pausing just short of putting her mouth on his skin.
I was enchanted.
Okay, so if I’m being completely honest (which I think is the point of a diary), I felt two things. Enchanted was 99 percent. I was also . . . well, if you wanted to put a label on this sort of thing, I guess you’d say jealous. Just 1 percent, though. I think it was something about seeing Maddie so close to Sahil after we’d just shared that moment, which was ridiculous, obviously. But I was definitely not more than 2 percent jealous. Three percent tops.
"Enchanted was 99 percent. I was also . . . well, if you wanted to put a label on this sort of thing, I guess you’d say jealous."
So, anyway, I sat up straight and stared at Maddie. Sahil was doing the same thing. She tucked a lock of straight, shiny black hair behind one ear and laughed. “What, you guys? Was it bad?”
“Um, Maddie?” I said, my voice sounding all faint, even to myself. “Can you pretend to be Dracula and say, ‘I am Dracula. I bid you welcome’?”
She took a deep breath and that steely-eyed, creepy seductress was back. “I am Dracula,” Maddie said, her voice reverberating with power and dominance. “I bid you welcome.”
She paused, and then she was just Maddie again.
“Sahil?” I said, and this time my voice was squeaky. “I think we’ve found our Dracu-lass, don’t you think?”
“Um, yeah we have,” he said, his voice full of awe. We were both staring at Maddie, our mouths hanging open.
She clapped her hand over her mouth. “Are you serious? I’m going to be the lead in your movie?”
I nodded. “Do you have any other hidden talents you aren’t telling us about? Can you build a stage using your bare hands? Manufacture a full house out of thin air?”
She laughed. “I don’t think so.” Then, after a pause, she squealed, “I’m going to be an actress!”
That sort of broke Sahil’s and my paralysis, and then we all began jumping up and down and shouting and yelling until Lyla came downstairs and shushed us, saying that Mr. Tanaka was on the verge of a breakthrough about how his latest piece might be about the Dadaists’ unwitting altruistic donation to the modern zeitgeist. He absolutely could not be disturbed, she said. Then she bribed us with homemade strawberry lemonade slushies if we’d go out in the backyard for the next hour. So that’s where I am now.
I can’t believe it. Our lead actress, and she was hiding in plain sight. Also? I get to work closely with my ex-best friend again. Do you know what this means? Maddie’s going to see how much fun we have together, she’s going to remember all the good times, and things might just go back to normal. This is going to rock.
Friday, June 5: My Room
Dear Mira Nair,
Holy crap. This night just keeps getting better.
So, out on the balcony, we were all so excited that we kept discussing what we were going to do next. So Maddie said, “Costumes! We need costumes!” And I said, “Well, okay, but Thoroughly Thespian is the only local place that sells theater costumes that don’t look like Halloween rejects, but you have to be famous or have an agent to shop there because all their stuff is so professional.” So Sahil pulls up the Thoroughly Thespian website and we were all drooling over the stuff they have to offer, right?
I said, “See? It’s perfect. It would take our stuff to the next level.” Then I sighed. “Oh, well. Guess we’ll have to go to Goodwill or something.” I know I sounded like a brat when I said that because there’s nothing wrong with Goodwill and I shop there lots, but for such a life-changing project, I wanted something a little more special.
Then Sahil studies my face and he says, “Hey, it’ll be okay. We’ll come up with something good.”
So I sort of shrug and force a half smile and say, “I know.”
Then he nods, picks up his cell phone, and begins typing something.
“What are you doing?” I ask, frowning.
He smiles super mysteriously. “They’re open till ten tonight.” Then he pushes speaker and I hear, “Good evening. Thank you for calling Thoroughly Thespian. How can I help you?”
And I stare at him and then at Maddie, who’s staring at me, and then I stare at him again and he puts one finger on his lips and says in a confident but snooty voice, “Yes, hello. This is the Zenith Talent Agency calling on behalf of Twinkle Mehra. Ms. Mehra is in the Springs for just a few days and would love to stop by to sample your wares for her newest movie.”
I clapped a hand over my mouth to keep from laughing, and Maddie giggled and stepped away to get ahold of herself.
“Right,” the female voice on the phone said, sounding suspicious. “Who did you say you represent again?”
“Twinkle Mehra, darling,” Sahil said, sitting back and kicking his feet up on the table. “She’s very avant-garde, very new, but so up-and-coming. You know, there’s already Sundance buzz for this project and you would be credited. Of course, if you’re too busy, Karen at Perfect Props in Denver already has her scheduled first thing tomorrow.” It was like watching a magic trick. Sahil had completely transformed, his confidence like new clothes on him.
“No, no,” the voice said quickly. “We would love to have, er, Ms. Mehra come look at our, er, wares. What time is good for you?”
I almost peed my pants just like that one time at Maddie’s. I couldn’t believe Sahil was pulling this off. “Let me check her schedule...” Sahil said, riffling the pages of my notebook, which was on the table, and looking at me questioningly. Anytime is good, I mouthed. He nodded and got back on the phone. “How does eleven a.m. tomorrow sound?”
“Perfect,” the voice said, sounding relieved. “We’ll see you then.”
“Excellent. See you soon.” Sahil pressed end, swung his legs back down, and we all burst out laughing at the same time.
“Oh my God,” I said, kicking his shoe. “I can’t believe you did that!”
“I think you need to be in the movie,” Maddie said, almost choking with laughter. “You were so smooth! ‘Twinkle Mehra, darling’!”
“No, no, I’m just the producer,” Sahil said, chuckling. “And part of being the producer is taking care of my director.” He winked at me.
“This is so cool of you,” I said.
“I just want to make a great movie,” he said, reaching for his lemonade slushie and shrugging. “And I want to support you so you can bring your vision to life as much as possible.”
"'And part of being the producer is taking care of my director.' He winked at me."
Something inside me blinked awake. Here was someone who was so passionate about his art, he refused to let small things like obscurity hold him back. He just leaped into it, somehow knowing he’d make it all work.
I want that, I realized. I want to be honest and brave and confident in my art.
Laughing a little, I said, “You know who you reminded me of a little right then, with your legs on the table and everything?”
He grinned. “Michael B. Jordan. I get that a lot, actually.”
"I want that, I realized. I want to be honest and brave and confident in my art."
“No,” I said, swatting at him. “Neil. You had that same confident, ‘you will do as I ask’ air that I could never pull off in a million years.”
His smile got dimmer and dimmer as I spoke. “Oh,” he said, itching his ear. “Right.”
I glanced at Maddie and then back at him. “Are... are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He forced another smile, but I could see his heart wasn’t in it.
There was a beat of silence, but no one rushed to fill it. I looked at Maddie again, but she shrugged lightly. Sahil was looking off into the distance.
“You guys,” I said finally, eager to break this weird little moment. “We could have costumes from Thoroughly freaking Thespian tomorrow! We’re so legit!”
“We’re so legit it hurts,” Sahil said, holding up his glass of lemonade, thankfully having shaken himself out of that stupor. Maddie and I clinked it with ours. “To new partnerships,” he said, but he was looking just at me.
“To new partnerships,” I said, grinning. “And fabulous costumes.”
“And lead actresses!” Maddie said, and then we all laughed again and happily slurped our slushies.
Things are finally falling into place and I’m over here like, Is this life? I can’t wait for tomorrow! Saturday-morning costume shopping—huzzah!
Chapter Seven: Saturday, June 6
21 days until Midsummer Night!
Dear Valerie Faris,
I should not be allowed to talk to boys. There should be a federal law. The Twinkle-Versus-Cute-Boy-Communication Act. You may think I’m being dramatic, but I assure you I’m not.
This is what happened: Sahil picked me up at ten thirty this morning. He came in and said hi to my parents and Dadi and called them “Uncle and Auntie,” which made their day. Dadi offered him some of her Parle-G biscuits, which she only does to the most deserving visitors—and Oso. (That’s because we have to go all the way to the Indian market in that shady plaza with the exotic fish store. It’s owned by this guy with orange hair and gold teeth who freaks Dadi out.)
He looked nice today too. He was wearing a cool Blair Witch Project T-shirt, which I secretly coveted the entire day. And his hair was gelled. I’d never seen it like that before, but it suited him. I kept sneaking peeks at him as we drove from my house to his place.
It was hitting me, for the first time, how... um, attractive I find Sahil. I mean, I know he and Neil look alike. That’s the whole thing with identical twins. But it wasn’t just about his nice shoulders or his hair or his square jaw. It was like something happened last night. I saw what Sahil’s made of on the inside, and... I don’t know if this is gonna sound gross, but his insides match mine. I don’t know how else to explain it. I see what he’s made of, and it’s the stuff I’m made of too, I think.
But that doesn’t help me with the whole “leave the groundlings behind and get on Maddie’s level” plan. Only Neil fits into that plan. It’s not that I need him to get to Maddie. It’s just that if I date someone like Neil, things will be so much easier between me and her.
I saw what Sahil’s made of on the inside, and... I don’t know if this is gonna sound gross, but his insides match mine.
We drove past the city to this tiny town north of the Springs. It’s where Sahil and most of the other, richer people live, and I realized something.
“Wait. Is this where Thoroughly Thespian is?”
“Yep, just five minutes away. Why?”
“Don’t you live up here, too?”
Sahil nodded, looking a little confused.
“You didn’t have to drive all the way down to get me and then come back up here. I could’ve asked my dad to give me a ride.”
“Nah, it’s okay, Mehra,” Sahil said, grinning at me. “I couldn’t leave my director hanging like that.”
My face felt hot and sweaty. “But... I mean, I can get my own rides. Just because I don’t have my own car doesn’t mean you need to bail me out or anything.” I swallowed. I half couldn’t believe I’d said all that out loud—actually calling attention to the fact that I don’t have much money. But the other half of me was proud for speaking out.
“Twinkle.” Sahil looked at me as long as he could without driving off the road. “I just wanted to hang out with you. I like spending time with you. All right?”
My cheeks were still hot now, but for other reasons. “All right,” I said softly, feeling a little shy.
He smiled at me, and even though I knew it shouldn’t, it felt like moonbeams straight through my heart.
We pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the store, which is this weird warehouse-looking thing with rusted metal steps leading up to it. “Huh.” I tipped my head back and took it in. “Are you sure we’re in the right place?”
"He smiled at me, and even though I knew it shouldn’t, it felt like moonbeams straight through my heart."
Sahil checked the GPS on his phone. “Yeah. Unless the Google gods have steered us wrong.”
Shrugging, I reached out and pulled the door open. It creaked like we were in a haunted movie. I stepped into the space—and gawked.
I was expecting something dinky and dark, to match the outside. But this space was enormous, all of it brilliant white. It was like being stuck on Iceland. Not that I’ve ever been to Iceland. But the name implies a land of white ice, and that’s exactly what this looked like.
Along the wall, oversize mannequins with blank white faces stared at us with their eyeball-less eyes. They were all dressed in gorgeous costumes, with Victorian-era thick, brocade dresses and fancy, elaborate hats with fake fruits and birds on them.
“Yikes,” I said at the same time that Sahil said, “Awesome!”
I shuddered as he ran up to one and poked it in the face. “Those things are so freaking creepy.” I sidled over to a shelf along the wall and picked up what looked like a solid gold staff with rubies encrusted on the handle. “This, on the other hand, is cool.”
Sahil bounded over to me. He was an oversize puppy in a pet shop, running from toy to toy. “It is!” He reached behind me, his arm sliding over my shoulders, to grab something else off the shelf. “And look at this!” He showed me a hypnotizing mask that looked like it had raindrops (made out of crystal and light-blue gems) pasted in an ombré pattern down the right side.
“Wow,” I breathed, running my fingers along the bumps of the rhinestones. “That is stunning.”
Suddenly it hit me. We were here, in this fabulous warehouse with all these incredible things surrounding us that we could pick and choose from, because of Sahil and what he’d done last night. I reached out and squeezed his arm on an impulse.
He looked at me, surprised.
“Thank you,” I said, grinning up at him. “This is...” I shook my head. I needed a thesaurus. “What’s a word for 'so awesome it makes you speechless'?”
“Hmm,” Sahil said, a small smile at his lips. We were so close I could smell his soap. Focus, Twinkle. “Grab?”
I laughed. “This is extremely grab, then.”
We were both looking at each other, and slowly, our smiles faded. My heart trip-hammered. Sahil took a step toward me.
And then I remembered.
I had a secret admirer — N. And he might just be Sahil’s twin freaking brother. Also? I have a grand, master plan to leave my current self behind by joining the ranks of the silk feathered hats. And I’m beyond tired of being a groundling and blending into the walls all the time. What about N/Neil being a part of that dream? What about all of that?
"We were both looking at each other, and slowly, our smiles faded. My heart trip-hammered. Sahil took a step toward me."
I put my arm down quickly and stepped away, doing that tittery-nervous laugh I do when I’m super uncomfortable, like that one time I walked in on Mummy and Papa and I’m pretty sure they were doing it. (In my defense, none of the Mehras knock because Mummy, Papa, and Dadi say that is a silly Western rule that has no place in our house). In that case, I’d wanted an extra pillow out of their closet, but I’d just done the silly tittery laugh thing and stumbled backward, closing the door behind me super quick. Here and now, I ran over to the other wall and began to stare at a peacock-themed tapestry as if it were the lost treasure of Tutankhamun.
Sahil cleared his throat, like he was going to say something, and I just thought, Please, Sahil, there cannot be anything between us, so can we just ignore that ripple of electricity between us? when someone behind us said, “Hello? Can I help you?”
I recognized the voice from the phone call yesterday. We both spun around. Sahil straightened his shoulders, and I could see him morphing into Agent Sahil again. “Hello,” he said, all snooty. “I’d rung yesterday. This is the talented Twinkle Mehra, come all the way from Sweden just for a few days.”
Sweden? Did he think I could speak Swedish? At least I was wearing these cool skinny-fit black trousers and a mustard-yellow polka-dot top that Maddie had gotten me once for a gallery showing we went to together for one of Mr. Tanaka’s girlfriends, so I looked the part of worldly European filmmaker. Even if, inside, I was a trembling mound of teenage insecurity.
“Oh, yes,” the woman said, eyeing both of us up and down like we were trolls who’d come tearing out of the forest—a little disgustedly, but also warily, in case we were a big deal. “I am Violet Hayes.”
That could not be her real name. Violet Hayes? Like Purple Haze? Anyway, focus. It was time to play the part. I squared my shoulders, held out my hand, and said, “Enchanté.” Crap. That was French, wasn’t it? “Um, bienvenue.” Nope, still French. And also not making sense anymore. “Uh . . . thanks for having us.”
Violet, who was tiny and thin and had a lavender-colored pixie cut, smiled haughtily. “It is my pleasure.”
Why do you look like you ate a rotten lemon, then? I wanted to ask but didn’t. I don’t have a problem communicating with women. Just cute boys.
“Miss Mehra’s working on her first movie, which will explore gender relationships in old cinema,” Sahil said, stroking an imaginary beard.
I bit the inside of my cheek and tried not to laugh. Ms. Haughty Smile turned her icy blue eyes on him. “Indeed,” she said. “Well, I could escort you around or..."
“No, we can find our way,” I said, a little too quickly. Then I added more coolly, “Gender relationships are a very... private matter for me.”
She nodded, bowed—bowed!—and then left us.
Sahil and I grinned at each other and then whispered, “Yaaaay!” and then we began to explore.
We quickly found that everything we wanted would be on the second floor. Instead of white floors, this level had black stone floors with threads of red glinting in it. Very Dracula-y. All the props were dark and mystical too. Sahil was immediately drawn to a cyclorama—a curved backdrop—of a landscape that had a moon painted on it that looked like it was screaming.
“Oh my God, I need this,” he said, his eyes lighting up. Then, when I looked at him, he said, “Um, I mean we need this?”
I laughed. “Are you joking? I think something like that is the one that fits our vision.” I pointed at a flat scene, this one with just a regular moon. “It even has lights from a distant village against those hills.”
“Oh, well, we can talk about it,” Sahil said, because he obviously disagreed with my artistic vision, which is a huge mistake, but whatever.
I left him to drool while I went off to the far-right side, where tons of racks of costumes were hanging, all of the clothes in shades of deep purple or inky black or blood red. I’d riffled through about fifteen different dresses and was just about to give up when... You know how TV shows have brides shopping for these overpriced white dresses and they always say some variant of, I knew the moment I saw it that it was the One? And it sounds like they’re talking about their fiancés but they’re talking about a frothy mixture of tulle and lace? And it feels sort of ridiculous? Well, I apologize to all the brides I ever judged before because I so felt that.
My heart beat faster. My palms got sweaty. And I knew. It was the One.
“Sahil?” I called, my voice quavery. He came over, and I held the dress against me. It was tight to the ankles and then flared out in a swath of purple-black silk, and it came with a little faux-fur capelet. It was perfect.
“That’s it,” he said, a slow smile spreading across his face. “That. Is. It. You found it.”
"My heart beat faster. My palms got sweaty. And I knew. It was the One."
“And look,” I said, pulling the capelet off the hanger to show him. Unfortunately, because I’m a total klutz, I dropped it on the floor.
Sahil and I both went to get it, and as I reached over, his legs got tangled in the long dress I was holding. He began to fall, his eyes wide and panicked, and he reached out and grabbed my arm.
I yelled out some expletive or other, trying to find my center of gravity, but it felt like I was on an ice rink without skates on. Stupid, slippery dress.
And then we were lying on the floor, and somehow I was on top of him. My hair made a curtain around his face. In the hazy corners of my mind, I knew I should be completely and utterly humiliated. I mean, my boobs were pressed into his chest. I could feel his thigh muscles under mine.
His face was flushed, his eyes wide, like a cornered bunny. “I—I am so sorry,” he said. “That was just, um... I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s — it’s fine,” I said, my own face getting hotter and hotter as I tried to get off him. Only the dress had somehow trapped both our legs inside it and all I was doing was gyrating uselessly on top of him. Oh my God, Twinkle, my brain yelled. Could you make this any more awkward? “Sorry,” I said now. “I’m really... I’m trying...”
He kind of turned his head away and bit the inside of his lips like he was trying to maintain some semblance of control. Ahhh. Did he think I was being a total perv? What was that look about? “It’s — it’s okay,” he said, his voice strangled. “Um, take your time.”
Thankfully, my legs broke free and I was able to scramble up to a sitting position off of Sahil. I couldn’t look at him as I gathered up the dress and the capelet.
He was on his feet in half a millisecond, straightening his shirt without looking at me either. (I could see him from my peripheral vision.) “So!” he said, his voice high and squeaky. “I’m just gonna... pick out some props.” And then he walked off to the other side of the room.
“O-okay.” I stood looking after him, a giant tangle of feelings inside me.
Disappointment. Relief. Confusion. Exhilaration.
What was happening between us? Why did those annoyingly persistent butterflies hang out with me every time he was around? Why couldn’t my brain just remember that he was Neil’s brother and therefore 100 percent off-limits?
I put the capelet up to my face and made a long, tortured groaning sound.
“Are you... okay?”
Oh crap. Whipping the capelet away, I stared. Of course. Of course Sahil was back, and he’d seen me acting like the mayor of Freakville. “Oh, sure,” I said, smiling brightly. “Just... you know, I wanted to check if we needed to dry-clean these, but nope. Downy fresh!”
"What was happening between us? Why did those annoyingly persistent butterflies hang out with me every time he was around?"
“Oh, okay.” He looked a little confused, but had the grace not to call me out on my dubious behavior. “Um, I was gonna go tell Violet some of the stuff we wanted. That cyclorama okay with you?”
He was talking about the curved backdrop with the evil moon. Arrrgh. I super didn’t want that one, but things were awkward and uncertain right now and I was feeling even more “puddle of embarrassed goo” than usual. “Sure,” I said, wishing I could rent a backbone from here too. “That works.”
While Sahil was downstairs, I finished picking out the rest of the costumes and a couple more props. We didn’t talk about what happened; the ride home was almost completely silent. It’s obvious Sahil thinks I’m a huge pervert and can’t stand me anymore.
The good news is we’re all set up to begin making our movie. The bad news is I’m turning my room into an airtight container from which escape will be impossible.
The Reel Deel Blog
Posted by Rolls ROYce
The good news is Sparkle made full-on-body contact with me and didn’t run off screaming disgustedly. The bad news is I was so shocked I morphed into a wax museum exhibit of myself.
I can’t help but feel optimistic anyway. Because something happened today. Something shifted.
I’m not one to make up crap in my head. I can see reality pretty plainly. For instance, I know my brother is the epitome of the golden boy: He’s athletic and smart and Harvard bound and does SAT practice tests “for fun, dude.” Girls regularly swoon over him like he’s... oh, what’s that character who died because Kate Winslet wouldn’t scoot the hell over on that door? Oh yeah. Jack. Which is hilarious because we are the exact same from a genetic perspective, but I digress. Basically, everything has always come easy to him, and okay. Am I bitter? Nope. Do I like it? No, but I accept it. We all have our roles to play and stuff.
"I can’t help but feel optimistic anyway. Because something happened today. Something shifted."
So you’ll believe me, then, when I say that something was definitely happening between me and Sparkle today. I’m not deluded. I know girls usually just dismiss me as "that geeky dude who has a thing for horror movies." But she didn’t. The way she looked at me...
Okay, so I was having a hard time, no pun intended, when she was on top of me. I wanted to say something to her in the car, anything that would let her know that I was on board. Like: Sparkle, I am a lovelorn fool, so could you just put me out of my brain-numbing misery already by telling me what you’re thinking. Just a sliver of a thought would be nice.
But instead I sat there in silence. I’d glance at her occasionally, but that girl is a closed book.
That’s okay, though. I’m gonna make a game plan and go with it. What I need to do is come up with a campaign to approach this in an organized fashion so I don’t blow it. Oh! I just thought of a slogan: “I like you, too, Sparkle, but not in a needy way. Also, I’m the cool, geek-chic guy you never knew you always wanted.” Or something with less suckage, but that’s essentially the heart of the message. Never again will she say I remind her of my brother because he will remind her of me, instead. A subtle but very important difference, my friends.
"Like: Sparkle, I am a lovelorn fool, so could you just put me out of my brain-numbing misery already by telling me what you’re thinking. Just a sliver of a thought would be nice."
I can do this. I am so there. I’m feelin’ it, as my friend Slide would say. Sparkle, here I come.
Sunday, June 7: My Room
Dear Nora Ephron,
Eep! Another e-mail from “N.”
Subject: An ode to you
Twinkle, Twinkle little star
Right now you might be oh so far
But soon in your beauty my eyes will bask
And then at last you’ll see me unmasked
—Your Secret Admirer, N
There’s no doubt in my mind: It has to be Neil. Let’s dissect this poem, shall we?
First, my secret admirer says that we are “oh so far.” Ahem. Neil is away at a pre-Olympic summer swim camp. I never get to see him.
Second, N says “soon our eyes will meet again,” because Neil is coming back to school at the end of the month.
And third, “unmasked”? Neil couldn’t be more obvious if he tried. He’s trying to tell me he remembers that one time we danced at the masquerade ball back in sixth grade, just like I do! (Or maybe it was fifth? And did I dance with Neil? Minor details.)
This has to be Neil. It just has to. And if it is, then... I don’t know. I think I might expire from happiness or something, because if it is him, my shiny future self might be materializing before my eyes. The movie stuff is going well so far, which means my message will get out to way more people than ever before. With Maddie as the lead, maybe most of the rest of the cast could be silk feathered hats too. Maybe they’ll finally begin seeing me. Maddie’s and my friendship will hopefully be back on the right track. And now Neil? It feels like the last piece of the puzzle has just landed in my lap.
" And if it is, then... I don’t know. I think I might expire from happiness or something, because if it is him, my shiny future self might be materializing before my eyes."
Okay, so there’s a tiny part of me that’s like, okay, cool. Maybe Neil is e-mailing me. But...do I really want that anymore? I mean, my life is already pretty sweet right now for the first time in forever. I have new friends I click with. And... I like hanging out with Sahil. A lot.
But that’s crazy, isn’t it? This, Neil, is what I’ve wanted for so long. The part of me that isn’t ecstatic about the e-mail just needs to be squashed. Maybe the problem is that I’ve become too unfocused. Maybe I’m spending too much time thinking about Sahil when I need to be thinking about his brother instead. Sahil needs to remain just a friend. I can’t let it progress any further. No more looking deeply into his eyes. No more falling on top of him. Focus and maintain my balance. That’s what I need to do.