Actions

Work Header

Yellow Champagne

Chapter Text

A warm breeze rustled my jacket as I shut the door behind me. The sky was a deep blue, save for the west horizon which held a soft yellow glow as the sun slipped out of sight. A pit settled in my stomach as I began walking towards the glowing mansion next to my tiny cottage. I watched cars pull into the driveway one by one, loud and excited party goers climbing out, ready for a night that no one will remember in the morning. For them, I suppose it was a pleasant escape from reality. For me, it was a night of nerves and nausea that meant nothing to me save for one thing: a Mr. Jay Gatsby. I still remember in vivid detail the afternoon I found an invitation at my door for the party. According to Jordan, I was the only one to ever receive such a letter. My first impression on him was less than savoury I’m sure, but, nonetheless, he was incredibly friendly towards me. He was perhaps the only friend I had in New York besides Jordan and Daisy—not that I had had many back in Minnesota, but that’s neither here nor there. 

Anyhow, I came to the parties only because of Gatsby. I felt it would be rude to decline his offers since I was apparently the only one he extended them to. Well, that and I did have a certain fondness for him despite his aloof disposition. Not that he was unkind; in fact, he was extraordinarily polite. He just wasn’t the type to be genuine very often. Sometimes, though, he would smile at me like I’d never seen before. A passing glance here or there—his lips gently turning up and his eyes softening—it was a smile that made you feel instantly understood and appreciated in that moment. I longed for that look, perhaps a little too much. I say “too much” because I let it guide me here. 

 To a place I would never be if given the chance; I didn’t drink, smoke, or… consort with women. Some might call me uptight, but such reckless hedonism always feels hollow—though I suppose that’s how most of my life felt.

I stood, staring up at the grandiose columns and light pouring out from the divine windows. It was absolutely magnificent, and I absolutely detested it. I reminded myself that I was doing this for him. It was simply a charitable act, and if I didn’t see him I would feel worse. As I stepped into the house, I immediately felt like a blow had been shot to my chest. Light glimmered from the chandelier and danced on the faces of the guests below. A woman laughed a little too loudly, spilling some yellow champagne onto the mahogany floor. My eyes shifted from guest to guest as I walked towards the spiral staircase leading to the second level of the castle. I heard a melody sing out over the noise; I assumed it was Klipspringer performing one of his pieces. Before I could climb the last stair, I looked around me and realized Jay was nowhere to be found. My heart dropped. He would always wait for me here; what had happened? Had I offended him unknowingly? Was he called out at the last moment? 

As I stood, bewildered, at the top of the staircase, I saw Phillip, one of Jay’s servants standing in front of one of the many doors. I ducked my head and approached him.

“Excuse me, sir, but where could I find Mr. Gatsby?”

“Ah, good evening Mr. Carraway. Mr. Gatsby is unfortunately ill this evening, but I can ask him if he feels well enough to see you.”

Oh.

“No, no, that’s, uh, not necessary.”

Phillip raised his eyebrows.

“Are you certain, sir? I’m sure he’d be more than happy to see you.”

I paused at this. 

“Well, alright, ask him. —But please make it clear that I don’t wish to intrude on him.”

“Of course, sir.”

With that, he turned the corner and disappeared. I leant against the wall and twiddled my thumbs, staring at the floor to avoid making eye contact with anyone passing by. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. 

“You’re welcome to join him, although he did say to keep your distance just in case.”

“Ah, thank you, Phillip.”

He smiled and nodded, and I followed him to a far room that I didn’t recognize. Phillip opened the door and took his leave. 

 Jay’s eyes met mine and I suddenly forgot my previous discomfort.

 “Well, hello there, old sport! I heard you were looking for me,” he smiled. He was sitting at his desk, pen in hand. I took a small stride into the room as I replied. 

 “Yes, I was. I didn’t realize you were sick. I hope I’m not bothering you, Jay.”

 He laughed. “Oh no, if I hadn’t wished to see you I wouldn’t have sent you in. How have you been doing since I last saw you?” As I noted the hoarseness of his voice, his hand patted the sofa, beckoning me to sit next to him. I sat.

 “I’ve been doing alright.”

 “Just alright, Nick?

 I shrugged. I knew he was trying to goad me into talking more personally; he always called me by name when he was looking for something. I didn’t want to discuss my recent struggling, though.

 “Do you have any idea what you’ve come down with?” I said, trying to shift his focus off of me. Still, he looked searchingly at my face.

 “A simple cold, that’s all. I hope you’re doing well, though?”

 “Yes, although a little stressed, I suppose,” I confessed. 

 At this, he sat down beside me. Not close enough to pass any illness, mind you, but close enough to make it clear he had something on his mind. 

 “Anything I can help with? Perhaps we could arrange a lunch together to get your mind off of work.”

 My face flushed at the suggestion. 

 “Oh, I, um, I wouldn’t want you to… to take time out of your schedule for me,” I stuttered, “I’m sure you’re busy enough as it is.” I attempted a polite smile to persuade him.

 “Ah, nonsense, old sport. I can always make time for a friend. Would Tuesday work?”

 I thought for a moment.

 “Yes, I suppose so. Noon, perhaps?”

 Jay flashed me a smile.

 “That’ll do, Nick.”

 If I had been a woman, I’m sure I would have swooned.

 “But—but, you, Jay—will you be well enough by then?”

 “Certainly. I’ve been keeping myself okay, and my staff has been taking care of me well, as always. I’m glad you came; it’s frightfully lonely up here. Though I suppose I’m not one to ever be in the middle of things.”

 “Neither am I,” I smiled. “It’s a solitary lifestyle, to be sure, but I don’t mind it.”

 “Do you ever feel like you’re… missing out on something?”

 I furrowed my brow, and Gatsby shifted uncomfortably. 

 “I—I mean, like you are just observing everyone else’s lives, never quite living  your own?”

 Boy, did I ever.

 “Yes, actually. Quite often. Do you think it’s a bad thing?”

 “Well, I do feel like it’s a bit of a waste. To have a life and do nothing with it.”

 “Yes, but you’ve done so much! I would hardly say you’ve done nothing,” I responded.

 Jay looked at the ground and twisted his ring.

 “Yes, yes, that’s true.” 

The room fell silent apart from the ticking clock. I studied his face, trying to ascertain what grief he had with himself. It was of no use; I didn’t know him well enough. Sure, we were friends, and I was quite fond of him, but he was indeed a mysterious man. It felt like every time he spoke about his past, the less clear his life became to me. Something about it all felt… off. I dismissed any rumours of relation to the Kaiser or ties to the bootlegging industry, but his stories didn’t quite sit with me. The more I heard, the less I knew. I just wanted to see Truth, but she wasn’t ready to face me yet apparently. Or perhaps I to her. I wouldn’t be deterred, however.

“Well, Jay, if you really feel that way, perhaps we should be solitary together.”

Immediately, his eyes flicked up to meet mine. I had said it half-jokingly, but I realized the possible innuendo. But he spoke before I could correct myself.

“Say, that’s not such a bad idea. Though I worry you should get tired of me rather quickly, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not the most conventional person.”

“I think the most interesting people are unconventional.”

“Ah, you want to study me, old sport?” he joked. “Perhaps write a memoir of me?” 

“You know, I’m not much good at it. You might be disappointed,” I responded.

“Well, how can I know unless you let me read some of your work?”

I grinned.

“Perhaps you should mind your own, Jay.” I nodded to his notes.

“Oh, that? Merely journaling, old sport. Nothing immense or meaningful, I’m afraid.”

“Not all writing has to be meaningful. In fact, Oscar Wilde himself practiced ars gratia artis.”

“Ah, an intellectual, are we?”

“I do try to be well-educated, Jay. Whether it shows or not is an entirely different story.”

“I think it does.”

 I turned from him and waved the compliment. I couldn’t help it; I felt as though he were only patronizing me. Such words of praise for me from him seemed unbelievable. 

 “No, really, Nick! You’re too hard on yourself. This is precisely why I suggested lunch in the first place. You’ll work yourself to death if you keep going on like this.”

 I paused for a moment and considered it.

“I suppose you’re right. Did you have a place in mind, by the way?”

“I was thinking Leslie’s?”

“Oh, I’ve never been.”

“It’s wonderful, I’ll take you there!”

I grinned and ran my hand through my hair.

“Thanks, Jay.”

“Anytime, Nick.”

Looking out of the window, I saw that the stars were breaking through the night globe. I stood up and turned to Jay.

“It seems I’ve kept you long enough; I ought to head home and allow you some rest.” 

His face seemed to shift towards a sort of nostalgia. He stood and shook my hand rather formally.

“Right. I’ll see you Tuesday then.”

I nodded and began to leave.

“Oh, Nick?”

“Yes, Jay?”

“Don’t be afraid to phone me if you wish.”

“Sure thing, Jay.”

Chapter Text

I stood in front of the mirror, adjusting my tie. For a reason I couldn’t quite place, I felt nervous. 

You’re just having lunch with a friend.

I knew this, and yet I felt that there was something much deeper than that. I had plenty of meetings with other friends for lunch, but this was different. Everything felt tense, even the air I breathed seemed to be trying to tell me something that I couldn’t figure out. 

A sudden honk from outside my cottage threw me out of my stupor. 

I pushed back the dingy lace curtains over the window and saw Jay beaming at me from his little yellow automobile. The feeling hit me even harder, but I smiled back almost involuntarily. My legs carried me out the door and towards Jay, who was practically glowing in the sunlight. 

“Hello there, old sport! Lovely day for an adventure, wouldn’t you say?”

“Beautiful,” I responded, opening the car door and stepping inside. I saw that Jay was wearing his pink suit today. It suited him wonderfully.

The wind caught me by surprise as Jay began speeding down the road. Apparently, Jay noticed because he glanced over at me and smirked.

“Too fast, old sport?”

“No, no, just a little startled, that’s all,” I spluttered. 

I watched the flora and fauna become a blur as we breezed through; light glittered through the verdant leaves and bushes as it leapt onto dazzling red poppies that flecked the countryside. Jay was right—I needed this. I was struck with how content he seemed. Looking at him, he certainly didn’t seem as lonely or disconnected as he usually did; in fact, he blended with the bright background perfectly. Looking at him conjured up images of great Romantic works with lavish greenery and smiling courtesans. For a brief moment, I silently wished that I had been a painter rather than a writer that I could have done the scene justice. 

Soon enough, however, the natural world fell behind us as we approached the heart of the city. The organic forms were replaced with silver slats and geometric lines creating something something so artificial, yet familiar. People peppered the sidewalks, keeping a brisk pace as they went about daily life; going to the office, grabbing lunch at a tucked-away restaurant, shouting to friends about bedside gossip. I wondered if they felt the same as me.

“You ever seen the city at night when it’s all lit up by neon?” Jay’s voice shook me out of my thoughts.

“I mean, I’ve seen it from a distance.”
“Ah, I’ll have to take you down here one night then. The energy of this city is entirely different under the stars.”

“Really? How so?”

“Oh, I can’t describe it. It’s something you have to experience. Besides, I’m not as articulate as you anyhow.”

“Me? Articulate? I think you have me mistaken for someone else, Jay.”

He smiled to himself and shook his head.

Soon enough, we arrived at a small storefront stuck in between two towering business offices. The facade of the building was dark, yet warm. There was a black marble trim along the length of the plaza, further separating it from the earth it laid upon. Figures sat and chatted on a small patio over soups and salads. A businessman with a hefty briefcase waved at Jay and yelled a greeting to him; Jay smiled and shouted back. I suddenly felt insignificant.

Jay allowed me to enter first and I took in the interior of the building. A deep blue pervaded the walls and dim Edison bulbs added a yellow glow to the room. I guessed the building itself was rather small, so it made sense that it felt so intimate. Old recruitment posters hung up on the walls, looking down on the happy patrons who indulged in their coffee and other people’s company. 

I started at someone’s touch—Jay had placed his hand on my elbow as to guide me through the space. We walked toward the back to a small table for two.

“Is this alright with you?” Jay asked.

I nodded. He pulled out my chair and I sat down, quietly thanking him. 

I attempted to make small talk: “So, your health is better, I see.”

“Yes, old sport; I told you I’d be able to make it. How’s the old business working out?—though, I suppose you don’t really want to talk about it.”

I waved my hand and furrowed my brow.

“That’s alright, Jay. It’s… not what I want. But that’s a job for you.”

“Well, what do you want?”

I paused.

“I don’t know. I wish I knew.”

That divine smile spread across his face and he inclined his head towards me.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

“If only I could be so sure,” I responded.
A waitress stopped by our table with notepad in hand, quickly jotting down our requests and dashing back to the kitchen. 

Jay began, “You moved up from Minnesota, right? What do you think of New York so far?”

“It’s… certainly different,” I responded. “The city is so immense I don’t think I could see every aspect of it in my entire lifetime. It’s quite different from the tiny town I lived in before.”

Jay smiled.

“Is that good or bad?” he asked.

“Both. On one hand, there’s great freedom to be found here. But on the other, I don’t think I’ve quite found it yet.”

He laughed and glanced down at the table. The waitress came back to set down our coffees, and we thanked her. Jay took a stirrer and began absentmindedly twirling it in his drink. He was oddly gentle, almost subdued. I nearly didn’t recognize him; there was a vulnerability about him that I hadn’t seen before. I fidgeted with my hands, nervous to say anything should I call him back to his façade. His eyes looked up to meet mine and I felt an odd surge in my chest. I cleared my throat.

“So… how have you been?”

He smiled at my awkward attempt to make conversation.

“I’ve been well, Nick, thank you. I finally made a deal with a cohort of mine after a long two months of negotiating.”

“Oh, congratulations!”

“Thank you, it was quite the ordeal,” he laughed. “You wouldn’t believe how excruciating it was; I was talking to Wolfsheim just about every day.”

“You two are friends, aren’t you?”

Jay hesitated and glanced at his hands.

“Moreso business partners; I wouldn’t really choose to spend time with him over someone else,” he laughed. I decided not to press it further.

Jay quickly changed the subject: “Have you spoken to Jordan lately?”

My mind flickered to Jordan and what she was up to.

“Not since last week.” 

“Well, that’s more recent than I have,” he laughed. “How is she doing?”

“Oh, she’s alright. Last I heard, she was off to Philadelphia to meet up with some college friends.”

“Good for her! How long will she be there?”

“Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea. Could be a couple days or 6 months knowing her.”

Jay giggled and his face flushed. My eyes were fixed on him; I shifted in my seat uncomfortably and placed a hand on my neck.

“That’s a fair guess, old sport. Jordan isn’t the type to stay put, huh?”

“Indeed. Honestly, I do worry about her sometimes. She’s rather… unpredictable.”

“Hmm. I was going to say reckless, but that’s also true,” Jay responded.

I smiled and took a sip of the coffee in front of me. 

I need to call her soon.

My eyes connected with one of the printed faces, a smiling aviator with cherry red cheeks and lips. White streaks against a soft blue occupied the space behind the quixotic figure. “Defend Yourself By Defending The Country!” shouted the bold, red letters. He stared at me, expression of gaiety with nothing to support it. 

Don’t fall in.

I blinked back.

“Fall where?”

Don’t fall in.

“Nick.”

Jay’s voice reached my ears.

“Are you alright?”

Disoriented, my eyes slid from object to object, trying to discern the space between them. Reality suddenly felt as two-dimensional as that damn poster.

“Yes, yes, I’m… I’m fine.”

He raised his eyebrows at me.

“Nick, you’re paling. Should I take you home?”

I shook my head and flung my hand about my face.

“No, no, that’s quite alright. I just… my mind wandered.”

His brow furrowed and I saw the skepticism on his face.

“Come on, I’ll take you back,” he spoke, rising from his seat. I couldn’t meet his gaze, but stood up anyhow; I had no willpower to speak against him. He left the payment on the table and guided me out of the building.

My chest felt heavy; I felt like a child being taken care of by an older brother. I kept my eyes to the floor, unable to speak, or perhaps simply unwilling to. 

Jay’s hand laid on my back as he opened the passenger door to let me sit down. He climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Should I take you home, Nick?”

Anywhere but there.

I shook my head, and Jay exhaled. He started the car and pulled away from the building, dark and hollow.

And then we were on our way to the countryside.

The wind against my face awoke me to the world around me, and I began to take in the scenery around me. Out of my peripheral, I saw Jay glance at me concernedly. Neither of us spoke at all, preferring to leave the air unbroken.

Jay turned a corner and stopped the car. My eyes perceived glassy water glittering under the sunlight, and I briefly wondered where we were. 

“You ever been to this side of the lake before?”

I blinked. 

“No, I haven’t.”

Yellow rays filtered down through rich leaves to fall upon the warm brown roots laced through the soil. A breeze brushed against my skin as if in an effort to comfort me. I looked over at Jay, whose attention was focused on the mirrored sky. His hair was rustled by the wind, as was mine. We sat in silence on the shore, letting the birds sing their merry sonatas uninterrupted. What was there to say, anyway? 

A squirrel darted in front of us, taking a pause to stare at us to see if we posed any threat. When he found us amiable, he bounced away up the bark of a sturdy tree. Geese took flight against the sky towards the Valley of Ashes, and something stirred in me to shout to avoid it. No sound came from my lips, however. 

Jay began, “This part of the lake is absolutely gorgeous in summer. It’s quite isolated as well; I don’t think I’ve ever seen another soul out here.”

I looked towards him and realized he was looking back at me. Those esoteric eyes of his seemed to search my own, practically glowing in the light. 

“Yes, it is.”

Jay softly tugged his jacket off and laid back on the sand. I followed suit beside him.

“Do you come here often, then?” I asked.

He tilted his head towards mine and smiled.

“You could say so. It’s a nice place to get away from everything.”

I nodded and looked back up at the neverending aerial sea. My spirit felt as though it was oscillating in the air around me, and I was content. No emotions whirled in my head to burden my body; no ache sent pangs to my nerves. My lungs took in air driven towards us by the water. The seconds melted away on the shore, inattentive and indifferent to us. 

That nervous feeling from the morning began to return as I regained my senses. Turning my head, I saw Jay watching the sky. His eyes flickered over to meet mine.

“Are you doing better?”

I nodded, unwilling to speak should my voice break.

“That’s good,” he smiled.

He propped himself up on his elbows and broke away from my gaze. His face had a rosy complexion to it that seemed rather out of place on him; I wondered if my eyes were still adjusting to the sunlight.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve sat here and watched the sun rise and set,” he began. “With everywhere I’ve been, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as beautiful. I’ll have to take you out here one of these mornings before dawn.”

“I think I’d have to take you up on that offer. Minnesota isn’t exactly known for its beauty.”

Jay giggled and placed his hand over his lips. 

“What is Minnesota known for, exactly?”

“Being unknown, I suppose. It had its charm, of course, but there’s only so much you can do in one small town before it becomes stifling.”

Jay nodded knowingly.

“Maybe we could go down together sometime; New York gets stifling too. You could show me around, introduce me to the locals,” he smiled.

I sat up and fidgeted with my fingers.

“That’s not such a bad idea. Minnesota is probably much more fun with a traveling companion, anyhow,” I replied frankly.

Jay smiled warmly at me and stood up. He offered me a hand and I took it, pulling myself off the ground. 

“I ought to drop you off at home; we’ve been out here for—” 

He peeked at his watch. 

“—nearly 45 minutes.”

I suppose my face betrayed my inner feelings about the matter because he assured me that he could join me out here any time I wished. 

“Thank you,” I stuttered out. 

Jay nodded, and we began walking along the bank towards his beaming automobile. 

 

Chapter Text

Rain pelted my windowpane, begging to be let into my study. I glanced outside. It was Sunday, two days after Jay’s most recent party, and I was sitting alone, going over paperwork. Rather, I was trying to go over it, but I was distracted by the storm unfolding outside. The sky was tinted a sickening yellow; heavy clouds hung over the distant skyline of the Valley of Ashes. I shivered and quietly thanked God that I had my cozy cottage in times like this. A dim fire was crackling in the mantle, and I had a desk lamp to illuminate the papers that I was currently ignoring. I hadn’t even bothered to get dressed; I sat in my nightclothes and had no intention of leaving. 

I need a new job.

A ringing disrupted my gazing; I reached over to grab the telephone.

“Nick Carraway speaking.” 

“Nicky, dear, how are you?”

The honey-sweet voice dripping with insincerity instantly gave the caller’s identity away.

“Daisy, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m doing alright. You know how it is living with Tom, never a dull day,” she giggled. I didn’t respond.

She continued.

“I was wondering if you would be up for a dinner together sometime this week?” Sensing my hesitation, she added, “You could bring your friend, the eccentric one. What’s his name? Gatsby?”

My eyes widened.

“Jay? I wasn’t aware you two were acquainted. Or knew of our friendship, for that matter.”

“Nicky, don’t you remember the night you convinced Tom and I to come to the party? You followed him around like a lost puppy, sweetheart.”

“That’s... not true.”

“He didn’t seem to mind, dear. Don’t worry about it. So, dinner?”

“Uh, it depends. What night?”

“How does Wednesday sound for you?”

I searched for my notebook and flipped through the pages.

“That’ll do. Do you think Tom will mind another man coming in for dinner?” I joked. A giggle came from the receiver.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. Goodbye, Nicky.”

“Goodbye, Daisy.”

Ah, yes. Exactly what I wanted. Another night of discomfort as Tom rambled on about how “those damn Negroes are trying to overpower our race” while Daisy just batted her lashes and snuck secretive glances at me that I could never decipher. But at least Jay would be there. That is, if he accepted the invitation.

***

“What was the name again?”

“Daisy. Daisy Buchanan, my cousin.”

No sound came from the receiver for a brief moment.

“Ah, Daisy! Yes, you know, we were acquainted before the war, actually.”

“Really?” 

How long had they known each other then?

“Yes, yes. Quite the sweethearts, she and I were.”

My heart dropped and my voice caught in my throat. Jay was quiet for a second.

“But I suppose that’s neither here nor there, now.  That was… many years ago,” he continued uncomfortably. “I would love to join you, but I fear that I might not be the most welcome guest to her husband.”

I was too dumbstruck by his words to respond properly.

“I… well, I suppose if you’re uncomfortable…” I tried to carry on.

“Oh, but Nick, I wouldn’t want to leave you there by yourself. There is, as they say, safety in numbers.” 

“Thank you, Jay. I just—You’re too kind to me.”

“Nonsense,” he replied, “I’m simply being a friend.”

Something about that last word felt lacking; I knew we were friends, of course, but it still felt somewhat unfitting of our relationship. Maybe I was just more fond of him than he was of me. It was definitely plausible; he was much more interesting than I, and certainly more charming.

“Regardless, I appreciate it. I’m sure it’ll be fine as long as you’re with me.”

I heard a quiet chuckle from the receiver.

“Of course. Wednesday, you said?”

“Yes, Wednesday.”

“Alright, I’ll see you then, Nick.”

“Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

 I set down the phone and bit the inside of my cheek. I noticed heat in my ears and face and nervousness within my ribs and suddenly felt insecure.

What is wrong with me?

Jay held such divinity in my eyes that I could hardly stand to be around him. I wanted nothing more than to be at his side continually, but simultaneously I felt far too insignificant to ever mean anything to him. What had I done to deserve such a cruel desire? I only wanted to matter to him, and yet even that I couldn’t seem to manage. But the way he looked at me felt as though he truly understood me and cared for me like no one ever had. 

Was I created only to suffer at the hands of the stock market and… whatever this feeling is?

Not to mention his previous relationship with my cousin. Did he still love her? Am I just a replacement for her? I desperately tried to shake the thoughts out of my head, but the feeling persisted. There was only one thing left to do.