“Watch out!” Varun screamed.

 

Karan swerved his small Maruti 800 in an effort to avoid hitting the man that had just appeared in front of the car. He applied the breaks at the same instant, sending the car into a spin. Fortunately for the two passengers, the car came to stop just inches away from the man.

 

“Where the hell did he come from? Thank God the road was deserted or else we would have been dead by now,” Karan hissed angrily as the man fell down on the hood of the car, panting to catch his breath. Getting out of the vehicle, Karan and Varun rushed to the man’s aid.

 

“P…Pl…Please h…help me,” the man gasped and fell down unconscious. Perplexed at the situation, Varun and Karan didn’t know what to do.

 

“Karan, look.” Varun pointed behind the car, where close to a dozen men were running toward their location. “I don’t think they are here to make friends.”

 

Agreeing with Varun’s assessment, Karan made a move to get inside the car, but was stopped by the incredulous look that crossed Varun’s face. “What?” he asked him.

 

Putting an arm around the unconscious man’s waist and hauling him up, Varun replied, “We can’t just leave him here to die!”

 

Shaking his head, more at the predicament they were in rather than his disagreement with Varun’s decision, Karan helped Varun get the man inside the car. They both then hurriedly got in the front seats and drove safely away.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Nakul Gupta woke to a splitting headache. His eyelids felt like lead and when he tried to open them, piercing pain shot through his eyeballs to his brain. He could feel the presence of other men inside the room, but couldn’t muster enough energy to even open his mouth to speak.

 

“When do you think he’ll wake up?” one of the men asked. He had a kind voice, friendly and welcoming; one that could put anyone at ease.

 

“I don’t know. It all depends on how serious that bruise on his head is,” another man with a heavy, baritone voice replied.

 

“Is he alright?” a third man asked; his deep voice filled with concern.

 

“Yes, Varun, he is alright. Even though the wound is nasty, it shouldn’t do any lasting damage; at least that is what I hope. At the moment, all we can do is wait for the boy to wake up,” the second voice replied.

 

I am not a boy! I am nineteen, for God’s sake. Nakul made a loud groan in an effort to gain attention. He was successful because he felt whatever he was lying on depress from three different positions; the men were by his side in an instant.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Does it hurt?”

 

“What is your name?”

 

“Do you need something?”

 

“Arrggh!”

 

Everyone became silent upon hearing the frustrated growl from Nakul. Nakul looked around, realizing that he was in a bedroom with three other men, who were sitting on the bed Nakul was lying on. “Water…Please,” he managed to croak.

 

Karan immediately rushed out to get a glass of water while the doctor checked Nakul’s pulse. “Hmmm… everything seems fine with you, young man. You should be up and about in no time.”

 

“Here, have some water,” Karan said, entering the room with a glass and a bottle of water in hand. Varun helped Nakul up into a seated position and handed over the glass. Nakul gratefully took the glass and gulped the water down in an instant.

 

“I hope you are feeling better now,” Karan said in the same affectionate voice, refilling the glass with more water. Nakul opened his eyes wider to get a better look at the man and almost choked on the drink he had just taken, delivering water to his parched throat; the man was breathtakingly handsome.

 

“Should I get you anything?” Varun asked.

 

Nakul looked at him now and for the second time, caught himself before he gasped out loud. Have I died and gone to a place filled with gorgeous men?

 

“No thanks,” he replied. “Ummm…do you mind telling me where I am?”

 

“Oh, how silly of me, I forgot to introduce ourselves. This is Varun Kumar, I am Karan Mathur, and he is Dr. Shastri. And you are in Lajpat Nagar. This is our home-cum-office.”

 

Nakul looked around at his surroundings. He was propped up on a nice and comfortable dewan. The room was well furnished and paintings adorned the walls. Though modest, the house was clearly well-maintained and tended to.

 

“Oh…I…um…I am Ishaan. Ishaan Gupta,” he said, noticing that the others in the room were staring at him.

 

“So…Ishaan… Care to tell us what, or rather whom, were you running from last night?” Varun asked.

 

“Err…Those were some nasty men sent by my father.”

 

“Why would he do that?” Dr. Shastri asked, perplexed.

 

Nakul was getting uneasy with all this questioning. Sensing this, Karan tried to put a stop to it. “It’s alright, dear. You get some rest; we’ll come see you later.”

 

Giving a pointed look toward Varun and Dr. Shastri, Karan walked out of the room, the others following him as well. Left alone, Nakul sighed in relief. He needed to get out of here, fast. If his father found out that he was here, these helpful people would be in danger. He needed to escape to someplace safe, somewhere where his father would not be able to reach him.

 

He threw back the sheet that covered him, got up from the dewan and looked around for his shoes. He found them near a dresser that was in the corner of the room. Quickly putting them on, he made his way to the door and peeked out. He could hear voices coming from downstairs.

 

So I am on the second floor. Damn! I’ll need to get past them if I have to get out of here.

 

Not finding any need to be quiet anymore, Nakul descended the stairs and entered a hallway. He opened the door to his left and entered into what appeared to be the dining room. He went back to the hallway and took the door right in front of him. Finding it to be the kitchen, he exited again and went to the final door, the one in front of the staircase.

 

The scene that greeted him was not at all pleasing. Standing at the front door were three policemen who were frantically arguing with Karan, Varun and Dr. Shastri.

 

“I told you that there is no one by the name of Nakul here. You have come to the wrong place,” Karan said to the policemen.

 

“Let us search this place, then.” The policeman was clearly not in a mood to give up.

 

“Officer, if you have to search our house, you need to show us the search warrant,” Varun said curtly.

 

The policeman could see that these men would not budge. With a nod of his head, he signalled his men to follow him and left the house. Nakul, sure that his cover was blown, quickly hid behind a life-sized statue.

 

“Phew! Those policemen were hard to deal with,” Karan complained.

 

“Yeah, but what do we do with Nakul now?” Dr. Shastri asked.

 

How do they know my name? Wait a minute! He searched his pockets for his wallet. Realization dawned on him when he found that his pockets were empty. Why didn’t they say anything when they obviously knew I was lying to them?

 

“I don’t know. We can’t hand him over to them, at least,” Karan retorted.

 

“No, obviously we cannot. What I meant was, what do we do with him?” Dr. Shastri said, pointing towards the statue behind which Nakul was hiding.

 

Sensing that there was no point in hiding any more, Nakul came out from behind the statue. “Why?”

 

“Because we really want to help, and we couldn’t help you unless you wanted us to. Had we confronted you when you lied, you would have pushed us away,” Varun calmly replied.

 

“You’re right, I would have.”

 

“Now can we know why those policemen were ready to knock our doors down?” Dr. Shastri asked.

 

“Fine, I am Nakul Gupta, and my father is Abhishek Gupta.”

 

“You mean, the Abhishek Gupta?” Karan asked, shocked at the revelation.

 

“Yes, the cricketer Abhishek Gupta,” Nakul replied sarcastically.

 

“I’m sorry. But why would your father send men after you and then the police?” Karan asked.

 

Nakul hesitated. This was the hardest part and he wanted to be prepared for the reaction that he was sure he’d get once he told them. Taking a deep breath to compose himself, he said, “Because he thinks that I am gay.”

 

Varun opened his mouth to say something but Nakul cut him off, “But I am not. Well, not exactly…I think I might be bi. But he thinks I am gay because I have a lot of gay friends and…”

 

“And what?” Karan asked when Nakul did not continue.

 

“And…and he caught me when one of them was sucking me off.” Nakul couldn’t control his emotions any longer and broke down, falling to the floor in a crying mess. The others rushed to him and Karan patted his back.

 

“C’mon now, that doesn’t sound so bad. You could’ve just told the same thing to your dad as well,” Karan said.

 

“He wanted to kill him, for God’s sake! You think I could talk to him while he was like that?” Nakul cried out. “He had said that he had such high hopes for me and that I made him so proud, with me following in his footsteps; but I let him down with that one act of stupidity. And you know what? It was an act of stupidity!”

 

“Nakul, control yourself. I am sure that if your father hears you out, he’ll cool down,” Varun told him.

 

“You don’t understand, he wants to kill my friend for potentially ruining his reputation as well as mine.”

 

“But you yourself said that he wasn’t opposed to you having gay friends, and you aren’t gay; so what’s the big problem?” Karan asked.

 

“Karan, I think his father is not ready to listen to his side of the story. You, as well as I, know that letting your son have gay friends and knowing that your son is gay are two entirely different things. His father thinks that Nakul is gay, and that is clouding his judgment,” Varun said in a somber voice.

 

“Varun is right, Karan. I think, for now, Nakul should go back to the guest room. He is not yet fit to be roaming around in the house,” Dr. Shastri said to all of them. Turning to Nakul, he continued, “You should go get some rest, son.”

 

Nodding, Nakul went back to the room he had earlier intended to run away from.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Once they were alone, Karan went to his own room and retrieved Nakul’s wallet. Taking out the boy’s ID, he noted the address written on it.

 

“What are you doing, Karan?” Varun asked hesitantly.

 

“Isn’t it obvious? I am going to go have a word with the boy’s father and knock some sense into him.”

 

“Karan, this is not the best option to take. Shastri uncle, say something.”

 

“I don’t know, son. On one hand I agree with Karan, but on the other, I think we should not be getting into all this.”

 

“Uncle, you know when I joined Dost, I promised myself that I would not let anyone else suffer what I went through. I know Nakul is not going through what I did, but it is similar. And Varun, don’t give me the ‘not the best option’ talk. Who was the one who went behind my back to talk to Dost about my problem? Didn’t it solve everything? So how can you say that this won’t work either?”

 

Varun thought over what Karan had said. He though back to the time, a year ago, when he too had gone and had a word with Dost’s members to get help for Karan. Dost, an N.G.O., was a gay-rights organisation. Karan was being blackmailed into performing sexual acts for some bullies from his college and Dost’s team had helped him get rid of these tormentors.

 

“Alright, let’s go then,” Varun said, acceding to Karan’s wish.

 

“Great! Shastri uncle, you stay here and make sure that Nakul is alright, while we go and have a word with his father.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“You don’t understand, it is very important for us to meet Mr. Gupta,” Karan pleaded with the security guard outside Nakul’s house. “Tell him that we are here to tell him about his son, Nakul.”

 

The guard was aware of the fact that his boss was indeed looking for Nakul. He immediately got on the intercom and dialled his boss’s number. “Sir, there are two young men outside the gate who say they have information about Nakul baba.”

 

“Let them in,” a gruff voice said from the speaker.

 

“Very well, you may come in,” the guard said to Karan and Varun, and opened the gate.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“What! He’s with you? That little runt…”

 

“Please Mr. Gupta, let us say what we are here to say and then you can berate your son as much as you want,” Varun told the angry man.

 

“Nakul has told us everything, sir. He is afraid to come and stand in front of you because of your anger. He…”

 

Abhishek Gupta cut Karan off in mid-sentence, “He should be afraid. That bloody homo!”

 

“Sir, Nakul is not gay,” Varun said, emphasising on the word ‘not’. He deliberately left out the part about Nakul probably being a bisexual. “He has a lot of gay friends, but he himself is straight. What you saw was a result of teenage experimentation and nothing else. Please sir, don’t let an issue as petty as this come between you and your son. He is a budding sportsman and you should be proud of what he has achieved in the world of cricket.”

 

Karan took over and continued, “Nakul is feeling depressed because he thinks that he let you down. Those men you sent after him gave him a serious head injury.”

 

Mr. Gupta’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “What? But I had specifically told them not to hurt him, just bring him to me. How is he?”

 

“Well, Nakul is okay, right now. But he thinks that you’ll have the boy he was with murdered,” Varun said.

 

“Rubbish. I would never do such a thing. Whoever gave him that idea?”

 

“I don’t know sir, but it is up to you now to clear things up with your son. We have done our job,” Varun stated.

 

“Sir, don’t let him go; he is your only son. Trust me when I say that he needs and loves you very much. Forgive him, sir,” Karan finished.

 

“Thank you, both, for opening my eyes. I will speak to my son. How can I reach him?"

 


I’d like to thank Sharon for her help with this story.