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Everything Looks Beautiful (When You're Young and Pretty): The Mindy Project HS AU, 1/8
cutiepie, danny castellano, peekaboo, romance savant
innie_darling
Hi, everybody!

So remember when I posted a teensy bit of a co-authored The Mindy Project fic? It's now being posted, huzzah! It's been a long time coming, but blithers, Diaphenia, and I, excellently assisted by Ghostcat, are putting together a high-school AU of TMP's first two seasons. There are tons of pairings and characters, obviously, taken from the show itself, and it's been a blast to write. I'm only responsible for three of the eight chapters, so that's all I'll be posting here, but the whole shebang will be up as a single fic on AO3. I hope you enjoy it!



"Everything Looks Beautiful (When You're Young and Pretty"


"Who’s this girl, Tom?" Mindy asked, brushing the dust from the church's stone steps off her jeans. She wasn't going to jump to conclusions just because she'd seen him walk out of CCD with his arm around some random girl’s waist. There were lots of perfectly innocent reasons he might have done it – romantic comedies taught her that the heroine always had to get something totally wrong about the hero, and that he was a better guy than some of his actions might make him seem. So, maybe the girl had hurt her leg and Tom was helping her walk? No, the legs Mindy could see under the girl’s short and obviously not regulation plaid skirt were obviously fine. And thin. And white.

Okay, so maybe the girl had had a skirt-related mishap, and it was only Tom's arm that kept it from falling down? No, there had been some definite ass-wiggling on skinny-girl’s part, so she couldn't have been worried about flashing the whole world. A-ha! Number one romantic-comedy misunderstanding, all the way back to Jane Austen: the girl was his sister! True, Mindy had never met her, but didn't all Catholics have like crazy large families? What was one extra sister here or there? Even if she did have – Mindy had to take a step back in horror – serious dental issues.

Mindy smiled at Tom, just in time to hear him say, "I'm dating her now. She's my girlfriend."

It was like a record-scratch in her head. "You're dating this girl? With the teeth?" she screeched. Tom – beautiful, perfect Tom who she'd been planning to lay her first kiss on at the dance tomorrow night – stepped back, his eyes getting wide.

Ugh, she had to get out of there. She turned blindly and walked away from the church, of course crashing into Danny and Stevie – it was like she was in some weird Catholic version of pinball, the way all these idiots kept popping up just to get in her way – and pushed through.

"Hey!" one of them said. Whatever, like she wasn't in a crisis situation.

Of course she had no tissues on her, so she stopped at the Duane Reade around the corner and bought a pack and a magazine and settled onto a park bench for some cheap therapy. "Hey, Mindy," she heard, and she looked up to see Hot Cop Charlie, who'd moved in down the hall a couple of months ago, fueling a recurring fantasy about going to the laundry room with a basket of delicates and finding him in just his pants, like, hand-wringing his soapy shirts.

"Whoa, you okay?" he asked, which obviously meant she still had tears on her face.

She wiped her face with the last tissue in the pack. "Yeah, totally. Relationship drama," she said, waving it off, even though Charlie was all tall and handsome in his cop's uniform, because he had a hand on his nightstick like he could totally be down with some police brutality if she gave the word – with great power came great responsibility.

"'Relationship drama'? What're you, like ten?" Charlie asked. "Wait till you're my age for all of that garbage." He stopped leaning against the tree and went off on his rounds again.

Whatever. She was fourteen, and totally mature. She'd been taking Cosmo quizzes for over a year now without laughing, except for that one time when her blood-sugar level had been totally whack.

*

"Gwen, please," Mindy said, waiting for Beverly to dump chicken fingers on a plate and hand it over. She could see Beverly taking the time to pick out the smallest, least-breaded chicken fingers and gave her the stinkeye while she waited to hear her BFF's response.

"Mindy, I can't. I finally got Carl to agree to take me to an R-rated movie tonight."

Ugh, being a senior had in no way made Carl Grandy any more of a catch. He was still that weird, serious guy who never cracked a smile and called Gwen by her full name all the time. Mindy shaped her hand, hovering above her totally unsatisfactory plate of chicken fingers, into an L. Gwen smacked her hand. "Don't."

"Fine, I won't. It's fine, nobody loves me. It's cool."

"I'm sorry about Tom, I really am," Gwen said when they found a table, shaking her peach iced tea. "Come over after school and help me decide what to wear?"


"Are you serious?" Mindy asked.

"Totally serious, Miss Lahiri," Mr. Shulman said. "And yes, I've seen that Buffy episode, and there's nothing demonic about these eggs. Take a seat with Mr. Castellano."

"It's Ms. Lahiri," she said, just to get the last word in, and took an egg from the carton.

Danny was easy to spot, the only one sitting up straight instead of slumped over because of the Mondayness of it all. Of course, if he'd been slumped over, he'd be so small she probably would have missed him entirely. Dude was a shortass – only an inch taller than her, and she was nicely petite. She bet he prayed every night for a growth spurt.

"This is ridiculous," she said, sitting in the seat next to his with a huff.

"What, you don't want to be my partner?" he asked, and she looked at him, really looked for the first time since they'd graduated middle school. Definitely not tragic, maybe even cute, with those big eyes and long eyelashes. But he hardly ever smiled, and if she was, like, through osmosis or something, picking up Gwen's terrible taste in super-serious dweebs, then she needed to snap out of it and reverse the process.

"No," she said, and he sat back, looking away. "No, that's not what I meant. You're . . . fine." He nodded, his eyes down on his notebook, where he was doodling something. "I don't need a fake baby to take care of when we've got a real baby at home."

"You do?" He looked up suddenly, like he was interested, so she spilled.

"Yeah, Rishi. He was born months ago, and I have not had a good night's sleep since." Still, the little brat was pretty cute. He'd actually kicked excitedly when she'd tickled him, smiling up at her, and then, of course, he'd let loose with a monster crap that she had to deal with, cutting into her four-way call with Gwen and Alex and Maggie.

"It does get better," Danny said. "My little brother Richie's five now, but I remember all the stuff I had to do to get him to stop crying and go to sleep."

"Got any tips?" she asked, and he actually cracked a half-smile, but then Mr. Shulman finished pairing everyone off in boy/girl couples – heteronormative much? – and started class.

*

Danny followed her out of Health and into the cafeteria like a total stalker, holding their egg carefully. Didn't eggs go rotten and start to stink really quickly? Hopefully it would be at Danny's house when that happened.

"Do you wanna go over our schedules for this project?" he asked, picking up a tray and getting behind her in line. He made it sound like he didn't know where her locker was, like if she slipped out of his sight now, he'd never find her again, and he'd be left raising their egg as, like, some unshaven single dad.

"Seriously? Are you that worried about your grade in Health?" She scanned the options – ooh, sloppy joes. Beverly, thank god, was nowhere to be seen; maybe she was in the back, spitting in the next vat of ground meat. There was a big, weird-looking kid who was maybe 17 loitering behind the counter, half-wearing a hairnet and kind of lifting the serving spoons and watching food drip off them – maybe he was the substitute lunchlady? "Hey, man," she said, "could I get some of this sloppy-joe action?"

His eyes focused on her with a frankly unnerving intensity. "Of course you may." He bowed a little. "Morgan."

Maybe that was the proper greeting wherever he was from? "Morgan," she repeated solemnly.

"That's his name," Danny said from behind her, sounding like what he really wanted to say was that she was an idiot. "I'll have a sloppy joe too."

Morgan, already plating her lunch like he was on Iron Chef, just nodded. He presented the plate – which was hot, how had he not burned his hands? – with a flourish. "For you, my queen."

"Thanks, man," she said. It was nice to be admired. She picked up an orange soda and turned to look for Gwen, but there was Danny, a can of root beer rolling around on his tray along with their egg, trying to sheepdog her toward a nearby table. She sighed. If only actual hotties were trying to corner her. "What, Danny?"

"It sounds like your nights are pretty full, so I'll take Junior after school, if you want." She looked up, surprised, and saw him already nodding in agreement with himself like a total weirdo. "So you want to take him now?" His voice dipped but didn't quite crack in the middle of his question. Maybe that was why he didn't talk that much, because it sounded ridiculous.

She could deal with an egg during school hours, absolutely. And she could decorate it and make it a little silly-putty perch on her desk and go full-on domestic even if she hadn't wanted to take Home Ec, because, barf. Oh, and she could maybe use it as an excuse to get out of gym next period, if she could convince Mr. Lockley that she needed to keep a close eye on it. Who scheduled gym right after lunch, anyway? Sadists, that was who. "I do," she said, picking the egg off his tray. "Chloe will be happier with me anyway."

Danny's smile went away. "Chloe Castellano? No way," he said, but she tuned him out and went to find Gwen.


"Did you guys hear?" Mindy asked, interrupting Maggie's story about how she'd broken her leg at soccer tryouts, and how much it sucked being on crutches when she should have been decimating the competition and earning a spot on the Olympic team. Like they hadn't all heard Maggie's story like a billion times by now – wasn't the season basically halfway over? Plus, Mindy could think of worse things she'd endure than a broken leg to get out of changing for gym in a locker room full of girls as pale and thin as Q-Tips.

"About Gwen?" Alex asked, looking up from giving Gwen a pedicure. Mindy silently vowed to help Gwen remove that brownish nail polish and go for something pinker. Why would anyone actually buy a shade called Montparnasse Mud?

"Wait, what about Gwen?" Mindy asked.

"Gwen's right here," Gwen said. "Carl asked me to Homecoming!"

"You're gonna need the best dress ever," Alex said.

"Gwen, that's awesome and all, but I have actual news, not just confirmation that Carl nadded up."

"Mindy!" Gwen protested, but couldn't keep herself from laughing. "Don't say that about Carl!"

"What's the news?" Maggie asked from the floor, where she was sprawled on some complicated arrangement of beanbag chairs that meant everyone else had to pile on her insanely soft bed that always sank in the middle.

"That guy, Morgan?" Mindy started.

"What guy?" Alex interrupted.

"The new lunchlady guy! It turns out he's working at East Park to get out of juvie!"

"What's juvie?" Gwen asked. She was so naive.

"Like, juvenile prison!" Mindy looked around at her friends, not understanding why none of them got how huge this scoop was. "He was stealing cars!"

"Whoa!" Alex said. "Is he seeing anybody?"

"You," Maggie said dramatically, pointing a finger at Alex, "are a crazy person. There's no dating of felons on my watch! Mindy, you know she has a problem – why would you even tell her that?"

"So now I have to censor myself just because Alex likes bad boys?" Mindy protested.

"Just be smarter about what you say, like this," Maggie said. "Guys – did you hear the other news? There's a new guy, who just transferred in, and it's hard to understand him sometimes and he keeps calling it football, but he's awesome at soccer – like, maybe national squad good."

"I don't want to hear about a retarded guy," Alex said decisively. "Tell me more about the guy with the record."

"Come on, don't use that word," Gwen said. "You know I want to teach Special Ed, and that word is so demeaning."

"Mags just said he talks weird and can't remember the game is called soccer," Alex protested.

"Yeah, but if he's really good at it, maybe he's like Rain Man? Autistic, not retarded?" Mindy said, trying to focus on the positive. "Like, can he count all the balls on the court?"

"There's only one ball on the field!" Maggie shouted. "And he's British, not retarded!"

"'Mentally challenged' is the term –" Gwen started.

"Eh, same diff," Alex said, not spilling a drop of nail polish even when Gwen swatted at her. Mindy thought back to countless viewings of Bridget Jones' Diary, remembered Colin Firth's smooth British voice, and thought she might need to investigate further.


Mindy would admit she'd had a pretty good run. Her parents were so wrapped up in Rishi that she could basically get away with murder, though the worst she did was stay at Gwen's an hour past curfew. She totally wasn't even hanging around the laundry room in hopes of catching Charlie in his skivvies, or pulling an Alex and getting a secret tattoo. But now, ugh, stuff her mom had volunteered for was suddenly becoming her problem, since Mom was still too worried about the kid's feeding schedule and weekly colds to leave him to fulfill her own obligations. Like the PTA wasn't going to notice that one of their volunteers was basically thirty years too young to be there, even if she was stuck in her ugly-ass granny glasses because her new contacts hadn't arrived yet.

"Mindy, honey, how is your mom, and that new baby?" Mrs. Riley asked, handing her a rake without even waiting for an answer, like, rude. "Okay, ladies, we're due at the high school at noon, so let's get this playground done." Like there wasn't an entire custodial staff that was paid to do things like rake and clean and garden, and Mindy groaned at the prospect of losing her whole morning to this volunteer nonsense.

She made her way to the far edge of the elementary school's yard and started raking. It wasn't so bad, actually, though the rake was ancient and only like half its claws hit the ground at any given time. Still, before too long, she had a pretty decent-sized pile of leaves near the little jungle gym and swing set.

"An' I wanna go high on the swings!" she heard a little voice saying, and then she saw a small boy, all curls and eyes, running ahead and tugging at someone's hand. Danny's hand. There was Danny, in a hooded navy-blue sweatshirt that looked even older than her rake, with some dumb sports logo mostly peeled off, looking at her in surprise.

"Hey, Mindy –" he started to say, before his brother dropped his hand and raced forward. "No, Richie, don't!" he said, but it was too late, because Richie Castellano had taken a flying leap and landed in the middle of her big pile of leaves, scattering them everywhere. Richie was giggling and rolling around, and Danny was looking at her with his mouth hanging open. "Sorry," he finally said, grabbing the rake out of her hand. "Richie, out," he said, his voice cracking in the middle of the order, but he was re-forming the pile a lot quicker than she had. "Richie," he warned, like their old-man principal saying he was going to count to three.

"It's fine, whatever," Mindy said, because Richie really was a cutie, and it wasn't like she hadn't jumped in leaf piles before. Danny's face had gone pink, either from the exertion or the cold, and she was standing close enough to him to see that his hair would be just as curly as his brother's if it got any longer. "Thanks," she said when he held the rake back out to her, but he didn't pick up on her attempts to civilize him; he just grunted something and led his brother over to the swings.

Way to be a Neanderthal, Castellano.


Gwen's dad never said no to anything Gwen or her mom wanted, which was how Gwen ended up with the perfect dress for Homecoming, a pale-green sheath that made her look like Grace Kelly, while Mindy was stuck in the black-and-white polka-dotted thing with the poofy skirt that had been on the clearance rack and looked like it had been intended for some life-hating employee of Johnny Rockets. "You don't think Mags is really mad at me, do you?" she asked.

Gwen, armed with a hairbrush and heavy-duty Aqua Net, didn't even pause in her spraying and teasing of Mindy's hair. "That you got assigned to be Jeremy's East Park orientation guide and then you conned him into asking you to Homecoming by saying that it was a mandatory assignment? No, why would she be?"

"She's still on crutches!" Mindy protested. "It's not like she'd be able to dance with him anyway. If anything, I'm being an awesome wingwoman and scoping him out for her."

"Really," Gwen said, smiling and bobby-pinning a white silk orchid in her hair, just over her left ear. "You're not excited to take tall, dark, and British to a dance."

"He's cute, right?"

"More Hugh Grant than Colin Firth," Gwen judged.

"Ugh, how does Hugh Grant even get enough food past those teeth to survive?" Mindy asked, then turned to fix Gwen's French twist, already coming out of its silver clips.

Mr. Riley came in while they were doing post-primp selfies, carrying his video camera – he still didn't get that there was a better one on his phone – and saying they looked beautiful. It sounded even better when Jeremy said the same thing in his suave accent and put a white-orchid corsage on her wrist. Poor Gwen – Carl just stood there like a lump, looking at her, and it took him two tries to get the pink-rosebud corsage around her wrist.

*

Ugh, it was seriously lame, having the principal there to welcome all of them to Homecoming and announce that the East Park Thunder had won their game. The dance was the important thing, not some football game; really, if football was so great, why did there need to be cheerleaders to induce boners in all the gross old men?

At least Jeremy looked slamming, and he even had a little bit of stubble going, so maybe he really was old for a freshman, but Mindy wasn't about to ask if he'd been held back and raise the whole question of whether he was retarded again. He didn't seem to get that he was supposed to ask her to dance, which pretty much settled the question in Mindy's mind, but he got her some party punch – that tasted like cherry and lime Kool-Aid mixed together, gross – and tried to make small talk, which was entirely and relentlessly about soccer. Who cared?

Mindy spent the time that he was babbling looking around and occasionally throwing an "mm-hmm" Jeremy's way; she recognized Mom's artistic touch in the decorations, and overall it looked like the PTA really stepped up its game for high-school events because there was no comparing the middle-school dances to this. Jeremy was saying something about the offside rule when she saw Gwen and Carl right in the middle of the dance floor, wrapped up tight in each other's arms, like they were in a private bubble, and really, was it too much to ask that she get to do the same with a hottie with a body?

Jeremy finally stopped with the verbal diarrhea and pulled it together for the random whiny oldie that was the last song the DJ played; Mindy swayed in his arms while he did that side-to-side shuffle that guys thought was a slow dance even though it just looked like they had to go to the bathroom. God, he smelled great.

"Ah, I love Eric Clapton," he said. "Do you want to hit the afterparty?"

"Yes," she said. Gwen would absolutely back her play on this, and Carl might finally come in handy and be able to use his advanced age to get them into whatever club it was. The night was turning into a dream.

A really weird dream, apparently, because the first thing she saw when they got into the club, which had been rented out by one of those totally snotty UES private schools where all the girls wore headbands and all the guys were basically Chuck Bass date-rapists in the making, was Danny in a sweat-soaked black button-down and jeans that clung to him, dirty-dancing with a tall blonde headband girl. She was wearing the most micro of all skirts, she had her bare thighs locked around one of his, and her arms were draped around his neck, her fingers up to play in his hair; Danny's hands were low on her hips and his own were moving fluidly, exactly in time with the pounding bass. Was he kidding with this dance-floor prowess? Danny Castellano moved like a jungle cat, and Mindy bit her tongue.

"Bold choice, polka dots," she heard someone say next to her, and she looked over to see a blond dude with little silver glasses giving her the elevator eyes. "You here with anyone?"

She scanned the crowd for Jeremy and found him talking to that weird girl, Betsy – she'd only been home-schooled before, which made her basically Lindsay Lohan circa Mean Girls, only way less of a hot mess – who made her own clothes and had never worn jeans or a blouse without a Peter Pan collar. "No," she said, smiling at Mr. Abercrombie.

"I'm Josh."

"I'm Mindy. Over there, sucking face with her stupid boyfriend, that's Gwen."

"Very nice," Josh said, looking at Gwen for a long moment, "but like I said, I like the polka dots."

"You didn't say that," she corrected, liking the way his eyes widened behind those adorable glasses; it made her feel powerful and surprising, like he'd been expecting Beyoncé but had gotten Sasha Fierce. She was so going to work this.

"I'm saying it now. Wanna grab a slice? You look like you'd rather be eating."

"Oh, uh," Mindy said, stalling for time. Gwen would kill her for going off on her own with some rando, even if he was brutally hot.

"Don't worry, I can get us right back in," Josh said. "I kind of run this place."

"No, I can't." Stupid conscience. Stupid Gwen, who still hadn't even come up for air to appreciate her sacrifice. "Wait, you run this place? The club?" Dude had to be loaded.

"Well, my dad does," he said with a dismissive little wave, cutting off her follow-up questions. "Let's hang here, then. The power of the polka dots compels me."

Abercrombie was seriously, seriously adorable. She smiled up at him, her skin tingling, and let him crowd her back to a dark corner, and then he put one hand on the wall next to her head and did the slow-motion Jordan Catalano lean, so she lifted her chin just like Gwen had taught her, and then she was being kissed. Correction – she was being frenched like there was no tomorrow. She didn't really know what to do, but she must just have had natural kissing instincts, because Josh was totally going to town on her mouth, and he seemed to know and like what he was doing.

Homecoming was awesome.

*

Having a boyfriend was the absolute greatest. Josh sent the cutest texts when he was in study hall, which seemed to be basically every other period – Harbor Prep was clearly a weird place.

Alex was obviously jealous of her for landing an out-of-bounds hottie and Maggie still wasn't really talking to her because of Jeremy; they said they didn't want to hear any more dramatic reenactments of Josh's texts or look at any more of the pictures of him on her phone. Gwen, meanwhile, only wanted to talk about the fact that Carl had told her that he loved her, so Mindy was reduced to reading the texts again during Health class and trying to get Danny's take on them.

"What are you doing?" he asked in his weird croaky whisper when she sneakily turned her phone on while one of Mr. Shulman's boring-ass filmstrips played – as if she needed infographics from the seventies to tell her that STDs were bad.

"Duh, texting my boyfriend."

"You have a boyfriend?" Danny had the nerve to sound surprised, but maybe he'd been too Johnny Castle, all up in that skinny girl's business, to take a look and see love blooming across the dance floor.

"Yeah, he's tall and blond," she said, seizing the opportunity to do some quality snooping. "Totally my type. Is that your type too?" He still hadn't breathed one word about the queen bee he'd been grinding on the night of Homecoming, and they were sort of getting to be friends; he had no right to hold out on her.

"What?"

He played dumb really well, she'd give him that much. "Do you like –"

"Put that away," Danny said, all old-man disapproval, and she rolled her eyes at his fussiness. "Shulman'll confiscate it if he sees it." Like Shulman would do anything of the sort to her, especially since he'd given them an A+ on the egg project, almost definitely because of the awesome diary she'd written for Chloe Lahiri-Castellano.

She sent a kissyface emoji to Josh and powered down the phone just so Danny wouldn't pitch a full-on fit while the girl in the filmstrip discovered the horrors of genital herpes.


Oh, god, what fresh hell was this? Mom had way too much energy early in the morning, and she bustled in and dumped Rishi in the bed with a, "Take care of your brother." Ugh, did no one get that she needed her beauty sleep? Rishi certainly didn't, cooing and crawling all over her and Brown Bear, and fine, he was being super-cute, but she was still totally charging her parents for this impromptu round of babysitting.

Tossing Brown Bear to the side, Mindy rolled over on her back and plunked Rishi down on her chest. She kept one hand on his back and smoothed the other over her baby brother's soft hair, calming him down until his eyelids grew heavy and he tucked his big head into her neck. Peace at last, she thought, and settled in for another hour or two of sleep.

When she woke up and wandered out to the living room, probably looking like a child bride with Rishi on her hip, one of his fists knotted firmly in her nightie, the apartment was empty. Nice. Was it too much for them to ask her if she had any plans before assuming that she'd give up her entire weekend to watch over her brother? She might as well make the most of it. "Rish," she said, holding him up to look him straight in the eye, "today you're going to meet the residents of Seattle Grace." He blew a spit bubble at her, which she took for agreement.

She turned him away from the screen and covered his eyes when Meredith and Derek were naked on the floor, just in case, but soon his soft weight was settled on her lap, and it was nice, being curled up with him.

Just when he was starting to get restless – right around the time George figured out what "007" meant – Mom walked back in, carrying at least four bags, all of which smelled like spices and incense, which meant that she'd gone to the Indian grocery. Mindy handed her Rishi, ignored the fact that Mom was stripping down right at the kitchen table to breastfeed him, and went through the bags. Ew, there were all the weird little silver-topped sweets and then pouch after pouch of savory mixture, and there was enough to feed an army. Did Mom not get that there was an occupancy limit to their apartment?

"Kondai," Mom said, finally doing the decent thing and heading into her room to feed Rishi, "look in my purse. I picked up a blouse for you."

A blouse? There, hanging from one of the kitchen chairs, was Mom's little woven crossbody bag, and inside Mindy found a small black square of folded fabric no bigger than a handkerchief. Her pavadai blouses were a lot bigger than that, but that was the only cloth in the purse. "Mother?"

"You know you can't wear a pavadai now," Mom said before she could really ramp up to a satisfying rant. "You're a woman, not a child, and you'll be wearing a sari for the Diwali party."

Ugh, she'd forgotten the one drawback of finally getting her period was having it broadcast to the whole world by the fact that she was supposed to wear saris now, and it definitely wasn't like she wanted to be parading around in front of the entire South Indian population of Manhattan with her stomach hanging out. She'd just have to get Mom to do some judicious wrapping of the sari, because who knew why, but they didn't make Spanx you could wear with one.

*

It wasn't just Manhattan – every South Indian in the tri-state area was crammed into their apartment, which was kind of good, because Mindy knew if she'd had the space to move a muscle, she'd have trod on the hem of her sari and had all those yards of silk unwind and fall to the floor in a heartbeat. And then she would have had to die. So this was good; she could just stand in the corner looking decorative in her new pink sari and Mom's Lakshmi chain and diamond earrings that dragged her earlobes down, and all she had to worry about was keeping her pallu out of the flames from all the Diwali lamps.

She'd forgotten about the cheek-pinchers who came out of the woodwork for occasions like this, because Diwali only came once a year and it was all about the new clothes and pretty lights, and Mom and Dad didn't force her to do anything for any of the other seven hundred and fifty holidays in the Hindu calendar anyway.

Seriously, there was no way her parents actually knew this many people. After the fifth pinch of her cheek – it was always the old dudes who kissed their fingers after pinching her – and repetition of, "How is school? Are you at the top of your class?" Mindy decided to get smart. She squeezed her way over to Mom and took Rishi from her. Rishi, all sleepy-eyed and dressed up in his little embroidered kurta, was totally irresistible and had enough cheek to satisfy even the most insatiable pinchers.

She hauled him around until her arms grew tired, and then, to make up for throwing him to the wolves, she slipped into her bedroom and cuddled him until he was smiling his gummy smile at her.


"Mindy, you have to keep me away from Carl," Gwen said, with a totally straight face, like Mindy hadn't been trying to do that for, like, forever. "His midterm grades are the last ones that colleges see, and he really needs to study."

Carl was such a drama queen. He was pulling straight A's and already had early admission to a couple of Ivys, so this was a little much. Still, more time with Gwen was never a bad thing, especially since Josh had said he'd be in San Antonio for all four weeks of Harbor's winter break, visiting with his grandparents, like he could get any cuter.

"Want to study for Bio and watch You've Got Mail tonight?" Mindy offered. "No, wait, I have to babysit tonight, my parents are going out. Do you want to come over anyway?"

"Yeah," Gwen said. "I'll bring over Korean. But we actually have to study, not just have a movie marathon."

"Yeah, totally," Mindy said, with a wave of her hand, already anticipating the sizzling pork belly from the place near Gwen's. It wasn't like Bio was hard, and anyway she really wanted to pick Gwen's brain about what she should get Josh for Christmas. She absolutely had to keep babysitting if she was going to have enough money to cover all the gifts she had to buy.

*

"No, this is horrifying," Mindy said, covering her eyes. "I'm not ready to see Colin Firth as a dad! Take it out, take it out!" she squealed, her post-midterms high nearly extinguished.

"Alright, alright," Alex said, pressing the eject button on her DVD player. "I thought you'd like the movie, but I guess not. What do you want to watch instead?"

There was nothing in Alex's weird DVD collection that Mindy ever wanted to introduce her eyeballs to, not after Alex had tried to sneak Sid and Nancy into the rom-com rotation.

"Or we could just talk," Maggie piped up, trying to wiggle her toes. Her cast had gone beyond grungy and was quite possibly the grossest thing around, but no one wanted to say anything. "About Jeremy. He's so cute."

"He does clean up nice," Mindy admitted. She hadn't forgotten how suave he'd looked at Homecoming even if Josh had looked even better.

"Can he dance?" Maggie asked, a predatory gleam in her eye, and Mindy recognized that she was settling in for some Torquemada-style questioning.

"Not really," she said, "but it's kind of hard to remember. Maybe if you'd asked me the next day instead of holding a weird grudge for six weeks, two of which I've spent cramming, I could've given you more detail."

"Mindy," Gwen said repressively, because she was always the mom of the group. "Come on, think back."

"Jeremy only asked me to dance once, and that was to a slow dance, and he was okay, I guess. Not like Carlton levels of tragic, but not doing anything special either. You know who can really dance, though, is Danny."

"You never told me you danced with Danny!" Gwen said, looking up from the latest issue of Bitch.

"No, I didn't. I just saw him getting all Channing Tatum with some blonde with a negative body-mass index. See what you miss when you've got Carl's tongue down your throat?"

"Really?" Alex asked, scrunching up her nose. She'd raided Sephora on Black Friday and had every cosmetic in the world now, so she had a pretty good smoky eye going on her left eye. "Danny Castellano?"

"But back to Jeremy. Spill, Lahiri. Leave nothing out if you want to live," Maggie said, counting questions off on her fingers. "A, what did he smell like; B, what did he talk about; C, did he ask about me; D –"

"Hey, no more third degree," Gwen protested, then ducked the pillows they threw; it was easy for her to talk, when she had the guy she wanted to spend forever with planning the same thing in his mind. Even if no one could figure out what exactly she saw in him.

*

"Dad," Mindy said, panting a little as she raced to keep up with him, "slow down a little!" She was excited to go skating with him, she really was, but it was ungodly early and she hadn't exactly planned on being awake before noon at all over the break.

"We have to be there early, if we want proper time on the ice," Dad said, like it wasn't the crack of dawn the day after Christmas.

"I don't think there'll be lines today," she pointed out; all the WASPs would probably be nursing epic hangovers, and the Catholics would be on their knees again, some more.

Dad just smiled at her and hugged her to his side. The burgundy scarf she'd bought him looked great on him, of course, but she knew he'd have worn it even if she'd had no eye for fashion. There were times when her parents were hard to beat.

They were pretty much alone on the ice, and just doing loops around the Bryant Park rink made her smile. Dad held her hand while she tried a couple of spins, and she took a picture of him gliding along, glasses glinting in the early-morning light, that replaced yesterday's picture of Rishi, looking confused and adorable in the personalized Santa hat she'd made him, as the most recent one in her phone. She frowned, scrolling back, seeing how long it'd been since Josh had sent her a picture of himself. No texts or calls from him, either.

Skating up and stopping with that cool little spray of ice shavings he always managed, Dad said, "Thangam, shall we go home?"

"Yeah," she said, tucking her phone into her pocket, smiling because it seemed like forever since she'd heard him call her by her favorite pet name, "but one more loop first?"




[TBC]

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There's more coming, but as always, I'd love to hear what you think!

This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/449950.html.

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