While picking out his outfit for tonight’s dinner party, Kush had this sudden urge to ring Kia and ask her to pick out an outfit that matches his.
Before she had a chance to say hello, Kush very enthusiastically asked, “What are you wearing tonight?”
She paused for a second and then said, “I don’t think I can make it tonight; I don’t feel up to it anymore.”
He knew what was bothering her but being the dramatic, supportive friend that he was, he ended the call with some blunt advice and a sad goodbye.
Kush hoped things would work out for Kia. Vandana sounded like a great person and he desperately needed someone to complain to, about Kia. Kush knows how hypocritical he might sound, giving someone advice about how to pursue their love and act on their feelings, all the while he remained single and unable to change his relationship status. He tried to not let the thought bother him and busied himself with choosing his outfit. Did he function mindlessly to try and distract himself from the gaping void of loneliness he felt everyday? Well, he would rather choose to ignore that question than deal with what comes with the acceptance of it.
Checking the time on his phone, Kush saw that it was 7:00 pm and he was, as usual, late. Just like always, he’d gotten carried away while singing for his imaginary crowd of a thousand fans. His cab arrived on time and he quickly hopped in. During the ride, Kush fussed around nervously; he’d be meeting Dhruvika and Venkat after so long, and on top of that, other people who he had never met before would also be there. He was worried that, without Kia, it would be extremely awkward to sit through this dinner party.
He somehow managed to reach the restaurant only ten minutes late, but found everyone else already seated. It looked like they were all in the middle of a fun conversation when Kush interrupted with, “How dare you all start without me?” Without giving them any time to react, he blabbed incredulously, “Were you all talking about me?”
Dhruvi laughed. “Obviously! You are the center of the universe, aren’t you?” He just smiled, withholding his general comebacks; he assumed he’d be good to Dhruvika only for today, so as to not make fun of her in front of new people.
He took a seat after hugging her and Venkat, and as Kush sat, he heard a rather deep voice greet himself quietly. He looked to his right and came face-to-face with the most charming guy he’d ever seen.
“Hey! I’m Prateek.” He said. Kush knew he was supposed to reply, but apparently his mouth had forgotten how to move. He felt himself completely mesmerised by the beauty of this man. It felt as if two hours had passed when Venkat noticed and quickly jumped to rescue him, by introducing Kush himself.
Dhruvi pinched his hand slyly and said, “Jesus, star struck much, eh?” He slapped her hand lightly and shocked himself back to his senses. A red blush crept up on his face as he held his hand out to properly introduce himself. Kush felt silly, he had never been so flustered by someone’s looks before. Sure, he’d seen his fair share of pretty people, but this guy – he was different.
After the awkwardness had seeped out from Kush’s bones, talking to Prateek became a little bit easier. There was still a giddy feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he had mastered the art of ignoring it. Upon further casual chit-chat, he realised that Prateek was Venkat’s friend and was visiting the city for a few months. Kush mentally made a note to thank Dhruvika later, for meeting Venkat and hosting this party, because for the first time in a long time Kush felt like he belonged – belonged at this party, with these people, and right beside this beautiful stranger.
The evening went well with delicious food and lots of drinks, but as everyone else was busy enjoying their meal or cracking jokes, Prateek and Kush had their own conversation going about the most random things one could imagine. They exchanged socials and numbers, stalking each other’s profile shamelessly. Their conversations went from favorite artists to cringe Bollywood guilty pleasures, to a discussion about their exes, which also ended up being hilarious. His stories about his exes were the kind one might watch on YouTube; Kush was thoroughly entertained, but most importantly he got to know that Prateek had dated quite a few guys in the past.
As he finished talking, he asked Kush, “What about you, got anything that matches the crazy I had to go through?” He was tongue tied. His brain ping-ponged over the thought of lying about his past. He hadn’t ever been in a relationship – a few crushes here and there, but nothing serious at all.
“I haven’t been in a relationship” Kush blurted, looking away to hide his embarrassment. He didn’t understand where this feeling was coming from. He hadn’t been embarrassed about being single ever. A little sad about it sometimes when he got a bit too drunk, but never embarrassed.
“I’d like to issue a correction, your Honour. You haven’t been in a relationship yet. It’s all chill, Kush, it doesn’t matter if you’ve not dated someone. There’s no rush whatsoever,” Prateek said with a calm smile, demeanour emanating warmth. Kush felt his heart skip a beat at his genuinity and averted his eyes from Prateek’s face, lest they betray too much of what he felt. Even he didn’t understand what he was feeling. Where those feelings were suddenly rushing in from.
The evening went on and they continued talking about everything and nothing, reality passing them without a second glance, as they both went on and on about their lives and opinions. Kush had become so comfortable in Prateek ‘s presence that he barely felt time move. It was only when Dhruvika poked his arm and asked, “If you’re done, then let’s leave?” that he remembered where they were. ‘How has it been three hours already?’ he thought to himself.
They all walked out of the restaurant, Prateek and Kush walking closely. Kush could feel that Prateek wanted to ask him something but was hesitant. Even Kush didn’t want the night to end, he wanted to sit at the gate of the restaurant and spend the whole night talking with Prateek, but there was something that was holding him back from making a move. The tension in the air was thick.
Everyone went off to their cars after saying their goodbyes. Prateek, being the gentleman that he was, waited beside Kush for his cab to arrive, looking more and more fidgety. Kush felt a strong urge to hold his hand and calm the nervous energy that radiated off of him, but he kept himself focused on the task of finding a cab.
Just then, Dhruvika and Venkat pulled up in their car and asked them if everything was okay. “Oh, yeah it’s fine. I’m just trying to find a cab.” He explained.
“Why don’t you let Prateek drop you?” Dhruvika suggested. Her eyebrow raise made Kush wonder whether she did it out of concern for him or just to make him even more miserable and awkward. Either way, Kush wanted to dissolve in a puddle.
Prateek looked relieved upon hearing that and quickly convinced Kush to let him drive him home. They got to his car and Prateek, again, like the gentleman that he was, opened the door for him. That small gesture made Kush’s heart flutter in his throat and a nervous giggle escaped his mouth.
“The city looks so beautiful at night,” Prateek said as he pulled on to the main road. Kush nodded his head in agreement and smiled in Prateek’s direction. Prateek turned on the music and a familiar beat blasted through the speakers.
“I love this song!” Kush exclaimed loudly and started singing along. Prateek cackled and joined Kush, as they both screamed the lyrics. Maybe it was the alcohol in his system or the intoxicating atmosphere of the car that made Kush feel the way he was feeling. But truth be told, he felt free tonight. He looked at Prateek while he sang and saw joy radiating off of his skin; he found himself glistening in the same glow that Prateek’s face reflected. They jammed to his playlist and suddenly the GPS declared that they had reached their destination. The realisation that their night had come to an end hit Kush hard, and he thought it hit Prateek as well.
The atmosphere went from exhilarating to somber and they both sat there, basking in each other’s silence. Kush dared a look at Prateek and found him already staring back at him. Time was suspended in the air like a thick cloak, making its presence felt in every second that passed without words.
“Guess I gotta go now…” Kush whispered, softly.
“I really had fun tonight. We could maybe do this again sometime?” Prateek whispered back, his eyes sparked in the dim surroundings of the halted car. Somehow these words seemed genuine coming from him.
“We could, yeah,” Kush muttered back, sending thanks to whatever entity that resided above them for helping him conceal his blush in the darkness.
A minute passed without anyone moving at all. Kush wanted to stay here, just breathing in his perfume, feeling his warmth. But, when he broke out of his trance, he noticed Prateek leaning in. He’d reached halfway across the console before Kush also leaned to meet him in the middle. As soon as their lips touched, sparks fired in Kush’s stomach. He closed his eyes and moved his lips against Prateek’s soft ones. The awkward angle at which they both found themselves did not seem to deter them. Kush held his hand up to put it on Prateek’s left cheek, caressing his frame as Prateek deepened their kiss. Kush’s nerves were near combustion when he felt Prateek’s hand on his thigh. He inched his hand up Kush’s thigh, going higher than Kush had anticipated and that was enough to jolt him back to reality. He parted their lips abruptly and snatched his hand off of Prateek’s face. He gasped for air and ran a hand through his hair nervously.
“Thanks for dropping me off.” He said hurriedly, before he ran out of the car, into his apartment building without looking back at Prateek’s confused face. He was breathless by the time he opened his door and sank down on the floor beside his couch. Tears pricked his eyes and he tried to calm his breathing down, preventing the probable anxiety attack that was inching closer. Kush felt horrible doing this to him – to end the night on such a note. It wasn’t the kiss or the fact that it happened so abruptly, Kush had wanted to kiss him. Wanted to taste his lips and feel his breath upon his cheeks. It was just that, his entire life, he had been so guilt ridden and awkward about his sexuality, he never allowed himself the chance to act on his feelings and have something to cherish. He had run so far away from any prospects that came his way that the only way he could sleep at night was to convince himself that he was unlovable. That by running away, he was only helping other people.
But after tonight, the fear and the lies that enshrouded his brain had started to become dismissible. For the first time in forever, Kush had let himself fall in the scary abyss. And he had found the abyss to not be dark at all, in fact it held the light he saw in Prateek’s eyes. He did not want to stop himself from falling anymore, he’d been alone for too long. He took his phone out of his pants and went to call Prateek when Prateek himself rang him up. He breathed out a few times before answering it.
“I’m so sorry!” “I’m sorry!” They both said at the same time. Kush smiled and continued, “You have nothing to apologise for, it’s me who needs to say sorry.”
“No, Kush, I should not have done that. It was wrong of me to push you like that. I am very sorry.” Prateek said, sincerely.
“It’s okay, you didn’t know I’d freak out like a bumbling fool. It’s okay, I’m okay,” Kush reassured. They were both silent again, just listening to each other’s breathing. Kush’s heart was beating in his throat, he had so much to say, so much to explain but words rushed out of brain as soon as he had heard Prateek’s voice.
“If the offer still stands, I would love to see you again,” Prateek said, and Kush’s face split into a blinding smile. His nerves settled down and he hid his face in the cushion on the couch.
“Kush? You there?”
“Yes, yes I’m here. And…I’d love to see you again too. Promise I won’t run out like that again.”
Kush giggled lightly as he spoke. From how Prateek spoke, Kush heard a smile in his words and sent a million thanks to Dhruvika for inviting him and to Kia for missing this party, otherwise he would not have found what he just did.
Funny how things work out.