Sandhya Menon: writer of things for teens.

From Twinkle, With Love Extra Scene!!

Tuesday, July 21st

My room

Dear Sofia Coppola,

So my big summer shindig is over. And the entire time it was happening I just kept thinking, This isn’t real. There is no way I am actually sitting here, in a backyard in LA, wearing a pretty summer dress and heels. There was only one explanation: I was dreaming.

Only then Sarah Juleah called my name. Yeah, that Sarah Juleah. Aka sarahjewelsxoxo. You know, the blonde, blue-eyed, major YouTube star who has like 4.3 M followers? She’s always splashed across the Style pages of the New York Times and she even just did a spread in Vogue and everything.

You might be wondering what I, a working-class teen from Colorado Springs, was doing in Sarah Juleah’s personal backyard (that quite frankly looked like twelve luxury resorts stitched together).

It turns out Sarah Juleah had seen my remake of Dracula from the Midsummer Night festival (Sahil—my producer and also my, um…actually, that’s not important right now—had the idea to call it Draculass). Then Sarah Juleah actually went to my YouTube channel and watched all my movies. My homemade movies. The ones I poured my heart and soul into. The ones I almost deleted when Draculass got such a great reception. And not only did Sarah Juleah watch them, she loved them. She actually said they “looked like something Mira Nair might’ve made when she was a teen.” Can you believe it?? Mira. Nair. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, just reading that in her email.

So imagine how I felt when I got an invitation to go to a private screening of Draculass at Sarah Juleah’s house. I think the Rocky Mountains actually shook, I screamed so loud.

I walked up to Sarah Juleah when she introduced me, my knees knocking together in the July twilight. There must’ve been at least two hundred people there. Everything looked so swanky and perfect. There were hundreds of twinkle lights wrapped around all the palm trees in her yard and tiki torches burning everywhere. Sarah Juleah even had this giant canvas movie screen and super-comfy bean bags, endless bowls of popcorn, and elaborate drinks being made by an actual bartender person. I’d never seen a fancier setup. Not even my friend Maddie (who lives in a gigantic mansion, thanks to her famous artist dad) has a backyard like this.

I really wished Sahil was there, just so I could’ve caught his eye in the audience. He’d probably have winked at me or something, just enough so I knew someone there had my back. But Sahil was in Rhode Island visiting his relatives. My parents and Dadi—my grandma and one of my fave people in the whole entire world—couldn’t afford to fly out with me. (Sarah Juleah paid for my ticket—first class. OMG.)

I looked out across the audience as Sarah Juleah talked about my movies and me, and that’s the first time I saw them—the young Indian couple. They looked only a couple of years older than me. The girl had this super serious, almost threatening expression on her face, her eyes glinting behind her glasses. The guy, though, looked like one of those strangers you smile at just because they seem like they’re enjoying life so much and you want a small part of that. Total opposites, right? But the way they sat—their hands entwined, so close together even though there was plenty of room to spread out—I could tell they really loved each other.

Then my movie was playing. I kept looking at the audience, all jittery and stuff. Was my movie LA material? Or would they think I was just some silly kid from Colorado Springs with nothing to say? At least everyone seemed like they were paying a lot of attention. The Indian couple kept whispering to each other, and then the girl caught my eye and gave me a little wave. Not gonna lie, I was totally surprised by this gesture of friendliness from her (she could seriously be an apex predator in the Amazon rainforest if she wanted… There was just something alpha about the way she held herself). I waved back, but she’d already looked away by then.

When Draculass was over (I’d been so nervous I hadn’t eaten even a bite of my caramel popcorn…dang), everyone clapped really loudly. Sarah Juleah stood up, beaming at me, and then everyone rose to their feet, too, and gave me a standing ovation. The Indian guy wolf whistled using his fingers, and his girlfriend elbowed him. I laughed, delighted. I guess I was LA material after all.

There was a long line of people to talk to me, and after everyone had melted away, the Indian couple came up, both of them holding coffee drinks.

“Oh, hi!” I said, smiling.

“That was amazeballs,” the guy said. “Seriously, from one artist to another—I am in so much awe.”

The girl pushed up her glasses and rolled her eyes. I noticed she wasn’t all decked out like the other people here (including me). She hadn’t done her hair or anything, and she wore zero makeup. I kind of admired her chutzpah. “Rishi, maybe you want to introduce yourself first before you scare her away.”

I laughed even though she probably wasn’t trying to be funny. It was just that she was by far the scarier of the two. The guy was a giant bunny in comparison. (Although giant bunnies can be kind of creepy. That’s why Easter freaks me out.)

“Twinkle Mehra,” the Indian-American girl said seriously, “I’m Dimple Shah and this is my boyfriend, Rishi Patel. And like Rishi already said, fantastic job. It’s about time a woman of color remade those ridiculously sexist, whitewashed classics.”

I knew by the words she was saying that she was trying to give me a compliment. But the severe way Dimple spoke, it was almost like she was telling me off. “Um…thanks.” I think.

Rishi laughed. “That really was a compliment,” he said, reading my mind. “You’ll get used to it after a while.”

“So what’s next for you?” Dimple asked. “Are you working on more films?”

“Oh, yeah, totally,” I said, happy to talk about it. I never felt more in my element than when I was speaking filmmaking. “I’ve got a bunch more projects lined up. I just hope I can get the word out, you know. Everyone’s talking about Draculass, but I want people to know about my future things, too.”

Dimple and Rishi exchanged glances. Rishi was practically rubbing his hands together and giggling, but Dimple still had her super intense poker face on. She turned back to me and said, “Well, it’s funny you say that because that’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m a coder—well, I’m in college, but I’m working with Jenny Lindt. Actually, Jenny’s the one who gave me her invitation to this thing—”

“Wait. Jenny Lindt?” I asked, my eyes going all wide. “Wow. Wasn’t she just in Forbes or something for being the richest woman in tech?”

“Yeah, and she hand-picked Dimple to work with her because Dimple’s so talented,” Rishi put in, grinning broadly.

Dimple shook her head and smiled. Just a little, though. It was more a “sm” than a full-on smile. “Sorry. He loves to brag about me. I haven’t found the ‘off’ button yet.”

I laughed. “My—um, my producer, Sahil’s the same way.” Why was I calling him my producer? Because I am the most awkward human on the planet. And because it wasn’t a lie. He was my producer. “Anyway, you were saying you’re a coder?”

“Right.” Dimple took a sip of her iced coffee. “So, anyway, my thing is making apps that make a difference, you know? Right now I’m working on an app that curates art by marginalized creators in one place.” She smiled a little shyly at Rishi, and I noticed her smile for him was completely bright and genuine. It made her look like a different person. Less apex predator and more…second-tier predator. Almost unconsciously, she took a step closer to him so their arms were touching. “Rishi’s a phenomenal comic book artist, and he kind of inspired it.” They were so cute I was going to combust.

“I was moaning to Dimple about how little visibility there is for artists, you know, especially marginalized ones. And the next thing I knew she’d somehow wrangled this big grant from Jenny Lindt’s organization and had this idea all planned out.” Rishi put an arm around Dimple and squeezed her against his chest. “It’s going to be huge. They’ve already decided to buy ads for it in all the big tech magazines and websites. The artists featured in it will be getting some major eyeballs on them.”

“Wow. And…you want to feature me?” I asked, still not completely sure.

“Oh, definitely,” Dimple said, all matter-of-factly, pushing her glasses up again. As if she wasn’t offering to help blow my career up. I was beginning to see why Rishi was so obviously madly in love with her. “We’re going to have different categories for art, you know, and you can be our headliner in the film section. I already have about eighty artists lined up, all of them immensely talented. Some have a big following already, like Rishi’s hero, Leo Tilden. Others are up-and-coming, like you and Rishi.”

“That would be so…oh my god, thank you,” I said. “Seriously, you’re…that’s…it’s…” I scratched my neck, my cheeks getting warm. “I can’t word right now.”

Rishi laughed. “Dimple has that effect on people.”

Dimple waved a hand. “You guys are the ones doing it. I’m just helping you showcase what you can do.” She dug around in her purse, pulled out a business card, and handed it to me.

Dimple Shah, it said. Coder. There was a Stanford University email address listed. I looked up at her. “You go to Stanford?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah,” she said, like she was saying she liked milk in her tea. “Anyway, hit me up and I’ll send you more info, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, grinning. “And Rishi, I’d love to see some of your comic book art. If you want to share?”

“Oh man, I’d love to!” He reached into his pocket and brought out a circular business card. It had a cartoon drawing of him on it, along with his website and contact info. It didn’t surprise me that the quality of art was, like, Miyazaki level. “It looks like Sarah Juleah wants to talk to you,” he said, nodding over my shoulder.

I turned to look and sure enough, she was waving her hand at me. “Oh, okay, I should probably go.” I turned back to them. “Thank you guys for coming. Seriously. And for this.” I raised Dimple’s card. “It’s so nice of you.”

“Ah, we Desi feminists gotta look out for each other,” Dimple said. “Take care, yeah?”

“And keep in touch!” Rishi said as they began to walk away.

“I will,” I said, smiling after them. I had the feeling a long-term friendship had just blossomed. “I definitely will.”