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The Golden 20's

Chapter Text

The roaring twenties, as we called them, were just that. Music and chatter anywhere you went, dazzling colors everywhere you looked. It was like walking through a dream. The neon and technicolor lights made the people beneath them glow. There was a lamp illuminating every street corner, as if expecting even the busiest passerby to join in on the fun. Sparkling essence trailed behind the laughing crowd like an afterthought, making you wonder if you were already tipsy without having been drunk at all.

 This description applied to the city, as well as Gatsby’s mansion.

 As his neighbor I knew of all the fuss made about his parties. I’d attended many of them myself. This time however, I was much too tired to attend. I didn’t think much of it, assuming Gatsby had plenty of party-goers to entertain him.

 This is why I was genuinely surprised to see hear a knock on my door so early in the day. I was still in my nightclothes when I answered it. A concerned looking Gatsby was the sight that greeted me. His hair was disheveled. He seemed out of breath, as though he'd ran, yet he didn't show any other signs of exhaustion.

 “Mr. Gatsby?”

 “Please, call me Jay. We are friends, are we not?” He interrupted in a way that seemed more desperate then friendly. I didn’t know what to make of that. We had met on several occasions, spoken often, yet I hadn’t realized his immediate attachment.

 “Of course. What troubles you?”

 “You didn’t come to my party last night.” His accusation was hasty and worrisome. “Are you well?”

 “Yes, I’m fine. I just had a lot of work that evening and was much too exhausted to leave my house." A hidden bird sang from a nearby tree. "In all fairness, you do host these parties every weekend. I simply cannot attend all of them.” I had hoped to come off as courteous, but sounded indignant to my own ears.

 Gatsby blinked a few times, opening his mouth before closing it again. His hands fluttered at his sides like he was stifling their erratic movements. He was normally composed when confronted with any issue, yet was taken off guard at a matter this miniscule.

“Yes… Right, yes, of course. I wasn’t trying to… I didn’t mean to harass you on the subject.” His voice sounded different. It was as if the chime of coins that sounded at the end of his syllables had disappeared. The very tone of wealth had diminished.

 “No, no, you aren’t harassing me! You have been nothing but generous.” I noticed that we were still on my porch, and the sun was causing perspiration on Gatsby’s forehead. “Please, come in. I was just about to make tea.” I held the door open wider as a gesture for him to walk forward.

 He hesitated, before giving a closed mouthed smile.

“Thank you, Old Sport.”

 My living quarters was still a bit cluttered from moving in just a month before. Books were scattered amongst the loose-leaf papers and random belongings. I shuffled into the kitchenette and set the kettle on the stove.

 “Apologies for the mess, I wasn’t expecting any visitors. The people I interact with have much more splendid estates than I, so I’m usually invited over. I haven’t had the motive to pick up around here.

 Gatsby waved the concerns away dismissively with his decorated hand. The ring on his littlest finger glistened as it caught the light.

“Don’t worry about it, Old Sport. It was rude of me to drop by unannounced.”

 “Not at all!” I assured him. “You are always welcome.”

 He smiled and sat himself down on the cushioned armrest of my favorite chair, glancing around the room and taking in every detail.

“You are a kind, honest fellow, aren’t you, Nick?”

 The way he said my name made my hand still in its motion to reach for the sugar. The sound of it rolling off his tongue was enchanting, in a much different way than the nickname, Old Sport.

 “Well, I certainly try to be.”

It was the only modest answer I could reply without sounding arrogant or self-depreciating.

 “Yes, I think so.” He nodded thoughtfully. “I try to surround myself with honest people, it makes life much more… Invigorating.”

 I couldn’t help but ask, “If you are searching for stimulation, why not surround yourself with interesting people?”

He laughed, softly and within himself.

“Honest people are the most interesting type of humans man kind has ever known. Many people are blind to that. They think the interesting ones are the ones that have crazy stories to tell and lives that are beyond compare, but the honest people will tell you exactly what they think of you and of this world, and that is the most fascinating thing there is.”

 The kettle whistled, saving me from having to respond. It was an odd concept, but as a writer I loved hearing things I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. It was refreshing.

 I poured us both a cup.

“How do you take it?” I asked Gatsby. He didn’t reply, staring out my window, across the bay. “Jay?”

 He whipped his head towards me. “Yes?”

 “How do you take it?”

 His eyebrows furrowed together. “How do I take what?”

 I gestured to the cup on the table. “Your tea.”

 He glanced down at the cup.

“Oh, yes, of course. Plain.” He looked to the window again, before turning back to me, tacking on, “Thank you, Old Sport.”

 I pushed his cup and saucer over to him and he accepted it contently. As he brought it up to his lips I added three spoonful’s of sugar and one dollop of milk to my own. I had no idea how Gatsby could drink his plain, especially since I’d come to notice his love of sweets.

 I realized then that I had learned a lot about Gatsby, while learning nothing of great importance. Sure he had admitted a few items of his past to me, but the things I remember are small details; footnotes on the pages of his chapter in my life. He always went to bed at eleven thirty, unless it was a weekend. He was constantly on the phone, arguing with an unnamed caller. He had a sweet tooth and tended to drop by pastries at my doorstep after one of his famous parties. All these tiny strings tied together to make Gatsby; the Gatsby that I knew. Not the Gatsby mentioned in rumors or in the tabloids, but the Gatsby that was my charming, mysterious neighbor.

 “Why do you always do that?” I ask, unable to contain my outburst.

His gaze shifted.

“What do you mean?”

 “Why do you always stare out at the water?” He looked as though he were going to object. “Don’t deny it, I saw you a fortnight ago out on your dock. I wasn’t spying or anything. I was just about to go inside when I saw your silhouette. You had your arms stretched out, reaching towards the tiny green light—“

 “That is enough.” Gatsby stopped my words like they were hurting him. I’d just crossed a line. “I think I should be going.”

 “Wait.” I stepped in front of him. I could tell by his scowl that he wasn’t used to not getting his way. “I’m sorry, but I don’t appreciate your hypocrisy.”

 “Excuse me?”

His voice was the definition of offense. I could practically hear the coins filling his throat, his tone regaining its air of wealth. It wasn’t the same as Daisy’s but it eerily began to resemble hers, the soothing accent of those with money lining their pockets, those who look down on others with less. It almost made me resent him in this moment.

 “You say you prefer honesty, then get upset when I ask you a question. I do not appreciate that.”

 Gatsby fell silent at this. I could feel his eyes sizing me up. He was only a head or two taller and a few sizes larger, but he didn’t seem like the type of man to attack. He was judging me, I could feel it, but I could not understand why, nor why my stomach flipped when his eyes bore into mine.

It wasn’t fear. It was something entirely different. We were standing so close that if I wanted to I could just… I didn’t know where that thought was leading but it wasn’t important. I didn’t dwell on it because Gatsby inclined his head, closing his eyes and sighing.

 “You’re right, Old Sport. I apologize for my behavior. There are some things I don’t prefer to talk about.” He paused for a beat, the money draining from his lips. He seemed to decide something, searching my eyes in a way that made it oddly difficult to breathe. “I had actually come to invite you to lunch in the city this afternoon but lost my nerve.”

 The sudden change of subject accompanied with the fact that he still hadn’t stepped away made me dizzy with confusion. I could smell his cologne, expensive and spicy with a hint of citrus, like cinnamon sticks in a glass of ice-cold lemonade. I’d actually seen him drinking a similar concoction at one of his parties. I never asked but I assumed it must have been good. Gatsby had only the best.

 I breathed, finally stepping away and averting my eyes.

“Yes… I think I’d like that very much.”

I grabbed my tea from the table and took a sip, though it was lukewarm.

 Gatsby’s eyes sparkled familiarly. “Great. I’ll bring my car around at noon.”

 He downed the rest of his tea, before leaving. I got changed and spent the rest of my morning in silence, waiting for the horn of Gatsby’s car to wake me from my reverie. 

Chapter Text

The restaurant we went to was different then the places I frequent. It was so much grander in every respect. The windows touched the ceiling and the floor, its blue curtains parted to show the city streets below, drawn back by white ribbons like the world was a play and we had front row seats to its grand debut. The backs of the chairs were made of painted white wood in the shapes of twisted vines, though they weren’t as uncomfortable as they appeared.

There was a glass wall to my left, mirroring our reflections in a way that made the establishment feel twice as large. I supposed people must have enjoyed being able to see themselves just by turning their heads a bit, but I found it unsettling. That place, though extravagant, was built for those who wished to watch themselves splurge on foods and drinks more expensive then they were flavoursome. It was a perfect place, I thought to myself, for a man like Gatsby.

He sat in the chair opposite of mine and, though the city looked exquisite in the midday sunlight, he kept his eyes on me. I’d seen him do this before at very many of his parties. He was watching for my reaction as if it would make or break his day. I put on my most sincere smile.

“This place is magnificent. I can see Wall Street from here.”

He gave a small smile of his own, clearly content with my praise.

“I’m glad you think so.”

“Though, if I may be honest,”

“Of course.” He interjected, somehow expecting me to have a criticism. It made me wary and more conscientious of my politeness.

“It isn’t that I mind it so much as It makes me uneasy, but the mirrors…” I trailed off, glancing over my shoulder to get a good look at them. My face stared back at me from the glass, my eyes meeting my own in an eerie way. The elegant backdrop made the reflection look like a painted portrait one would find in a tastefully intricate frame, hanging on the wall of a house like Gatsby’s.

I saw Gatsby’s confusion in my peripheral vision, his bright blue eyes narrowing as his mind caught up with mine. He did a double take at the glass, but not in a way suggesting he had just noticed it was there. He reacted as if it had just sprung into existence, out of limbo, and never existed until he laid eyes on it.

“Ah, I see what you mean; but frankly, Old Sport, I hadn’t paid it much attention.”

That was one of those moments when I felt a small stir of emotion in the pit of my stomach. Gatsby surprised me yet again, but this time with the tiniest of things. The fact that he hadn’t noticed the mirrors when I had been sure that was why he’d chosen that particular establishment. The more I thought about it, the more my assumptions had turned out to be wrong. I had assumed him to be the type of man to take a great amount and return with nothing, but he hadn’t confirmed any of my theories.

“Sorry, I’m just being oversensitive about the whole thing. You see, I used to be a writer.”

“A writer?” Gatsby’s interest peaked. “Why are you in bonds then?”

“I wasn’t a very good one.” I answered, twirling one hand with the palm facing up to accentuate my point. The corners of Gatsby’s eyes crinkled in amusement.

This wasn’t the truth but I wasn’t about to admit to the most hopeful person, the biggest dreamer of this century, that I’d given mine up for money.

“Having been a writer,” I said, getting to the point. “I tend to look more in depth at things then I should. I find myself searching for the literary elements in everyday things, describing people and places in my head like I’d describe them in a book. It’s a habit, and an annoying one at that, I imagine.”

Gatsby shook his head, looking rather awestruck.

“Not at all, Old Sport! That is a talent, if not a gift. I find myself doing something of the sorts, though I was never interested in writing my own stories.”

I nodded, not really knowing what to say to that. He saved me the trouble by continuing his train of thought until it reached its station.

“You say you describe people, yes? If I were in one of your little stories how would you describe me?” His eyes glowed with a childish light. I could tell he was expecting something eloquent, but the word bank in my head regarding Gatsby made it so I couldn’t choose just one.

How would I describe Gatsby? I’d done it on several occasions, yet this time it was different. Every tiny granule of information I learned about him altered my perspective entirely. From that meal alone I had gained more knowledge of Gatsby then I had in the short time I’d known him. He became three dimensional, no longer just a drawing set in motion to the rumours accompanied with the thought of him. He was more alive then I had originally thought; more outgoing and headstrong. If I were to write a character he would be my muse.

Earlier I had described that place as one for people like Gatsby, but that idea faded as quickly as it had come. He was not interested in staring at his own wealth in the reflective glass. He did not look out over the streets and bustling people below. His eyes were on me. His attention was focused on me. He was only there to impress me, for reasons I did not yet understand. He was so real, unlike those falsities concerning him that spread around New York faster then a plague. He was more genuine then I hoped to believe he was.

This was not a place for people like Gatsby.

There was no one else like Gatsby.

“If I were to write about you, I would first describe you as mysterious, then charming, and, finally, I would come to regard you as ‘The Great Gatsby.’”

Chapter Text

I wish I’d known what I did wrong, for then I could never do it again.

After I’d made that remark, Gatsby had, for lack of a better word, shifted. He wasn’t the man I described. He switched personas so quickly I had only mere seconds to adjust. He was like a snake shedding its skin or a chameleon changing its color.

“That is very kind of you, Old Sport.” He said stiffly, his eyes no longer containing the childish delight they had moments ago.

I didn’t know what I did, but I flipped a switch, changing Gatsby from the man I knew to a man I didn’t wish to know. Every false rumor spread about him suddenly seemed plausible. The only thought on my mind for the rest of that silent lunch was: Why did I, Nick Carraway, have the power to do that?

Lunch ended and Gatsby drove me back home. We spent twenty minutes engaged in mindless chatter, which was nearly the opposite of the conversations we had on the ride there. I knew as well as anyone that Gatsby did not enjoy talking about the weather, yet he did. It was almost like he was torturing himself and boring conversation was penance for his sins. There was a feeling in my gut, but this one was not comfortable. It was like something was twisting my insides.

It was guilt, and I didn’t even know what I felt guilty for.

He left me at my doorstep with a barely passible farewell and drove back to his mansion.

It was four days, four restless days, until he spoke to me again.

There was a knock on my door and when I opened it I revealed the dark complexion, kind eyes, and sophisticated demeanor of Gatsby’s favourite butler. He had arrived with an invitation, which could only be from Gatsby, inviting me to tea that afternoon. I accepted it gratefully, admiring Gatsby’s John Hancock. It’s swooping lines showed that the even the smallest pieces of Gatsby, his signature, gave indication to his grandiose lifestyle.

As I walked down the narrow path connecting my property to Gatsby’s I noticed the gravity of the situation. He’d been avoiding me for some time and now he was willing to speak with me again. Whatever I’d done had either been forgiven or driven him to warn me away. I approached the medieval iron gates that separated my recluse neighbor from the rest of humanity. They parted, like the jaw of a hungry lioness, and I walked through them, into the stomach of the beast.

I followed a butler who led me around the palace to the patio at the back, facing outwards toward the bay. I saw him sitting coolly with a pair Aviator sunglasses perched on the bridge of his nose, his head tilted down to read the newspaper. He was wearing a white suit jacket, just elegant enough to show off his fortune, but it was business casual. It was the most somber outfit I’d seen on him and I was honestly startled by the sight.

His eyes flicked up, hearing our footsteps, and rested on me. He smiled warmly, as though he hadn’t just left me in silent solitude for a good part of the week, and set his now folded paper down on the ground beside his chair.

“Glad you could make it, Old Sport!” He greeted cheerfully. I had to remind myself that the isolation hadn’t been a dream, though the more he spoke I could hardly persuade myself that it wasn’t just my imagination. “Please, have a seat.”

As I sat down, he snapped his index finger and his thumb, and pointed at the teacup he’d left out for me. A servant filled it immediately, asking me if I would like Lemon or sugar. I told them that just sugar would be fine for the time being.

“So what is the occasion?” I asked, before thanking and dismissing his servant.

Gatsby kept his closemouthed smile though his eyebrows were knitted together in confusion, tilting his head slightly. “Occasion? Must there be an occasion to invite you for tea?”

“I don’t know if you’ve forgotten,” I said, bitterness creeping into my voice. “But you haven’t been very approachable lately. I haven’t heard a word from you since Monday afternoon. I assumed there was an occasion you didn’t want to spend alone and therefore wanted me to join you.”

Gatsby nodded solemnly. “I understand, I am sorry, Old Sport. There has been a lot going on recently and I figured I wouldn’t bother you with the weight of it. I’m sorry to have caused you—”

“Stop apologizing.” I cut him off quickly, with more edge then I’d intended. “You always apologize instead of giving me an actual response. Have I done anything to insult you or make you feel not at ease with my company? If so I would prefer you tell me so I can be more wary of it.”

That was when Gatsby hesitated. I dislike hesitations; they were for times when people needed to take an extra second to censor their reply. Hesitations made for unreliable people and dishonest conversation.

“Nothing like that, Old Sport! Like I said, its business. You’ve done nothing wrong, I can assure you.” His words were meant to set my mind at ease but I knew as plain as day that Gatsby was lying to me.

Instead of questioning him further I sat back and sipped my tea, sighing at the freedom from posture. I could feel the heat of his gaze remain on my skin like a stray beam of sunlight. I could hardly ignore the attention he gave me. He acted as if he was studying me. It was so odd, even for him. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was memorizing every pore on my skin or shade of blue in my eyes. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. I felt a buzz under my skin, more of a warmth then an itch, yet the vibrations emitting in my bones were surely the result of something foreign. A taste I had not yet acquired. A question I have not yet answered. A truth I had not yet accepted.

“Nick?”

My eyes flicked towards him, the small jolt of panic searing through my veins. I hadn’t realized he’d been speaking to me. I ignored the thrill of having heard his rich accent coating my name in the wealth that had put Gatsby’s name on the map.

“I’m sorry?”

He used his free hand to gesture at my house.

“I asked why you decided to move here, of all places, what with your family just across the bay.”

“It was a place I could afford.” I said simply. “I do have family money, but to make a life for myself was the goal. How do you know of my family?”

Gatsby bites his bottom lip, thinking a moment before returning to his trademark smile.

“Why, who doesn’t know of the Buchanan’s or their heritage? Most people in West Egg know who you are. You would be surprised at your stardom, Old Sport. You got yours by default.”

I swore I could almost hear wistfulness in his tone. I wonder what he’d done to earn his wealth and if it were so horrid that he would wish my luck upon himself.

“Well, I do love my cousin, but we aren’t as close as we may seem. I don’t mean Daisy or Tom any disrespect, I assure you, its just that…” I chose my words carefully. “They have so much and don’t care enough to mind themselves. They can afford to be careless, so they are.”

I could feel the gravity of my words being weighed in Gatsby’s mind. Tipping the scale could mean offence to him and his wealth, which was not my intention.

Thankfully he nodded, considering this.

“Good point, Old Sport. A fair point.”

Only a few sips later did the butler insist that Gatsby had business to attend. He apologized profusely for his impoliteness, but I dismissed it, saying I had my own work to deal with. He promptly invited me to tea tomorrow afternoon and insisted I call him at the earliest convenience.

One thing I realized was that Gatsby rarely formed bonds with people, but when he chose to do so, he was very persistent. I wish I could say I minded but as soon as my name, not the ever so formal nickname, “Old Sport”, left his lips I found it nearly impossible to deny him. How could the enunciation of my one single syllable cause me such inexplicable joy?

It just added to the inconstant and unpredictable enigma that is Mr. Jay Gatsby.

Chapter Text

It had come as something of a surprise when I found my life so closely intertwined with Gatsby’s. Somehow, I could tell from the moment we’d met that he didn’t often make friends. Sure he had acquaintances and “allies” in his field of work, whatever that field may be, but he did not seem to have friends. I never pointed this out to him, fearing the far too easy task of overstepping my boundaries, but it whispered through my mind often enough to make it known.

I found it so strange that Gatsby would pick me, of any one of his many party guests, to connect with. We hardly seemed to be a part of the same crowd. The old money and new money folks didn’t generally mingle; but maybe that’s why he was so enticed by the idea of me. There were times when I considered the fact that he was my friend out of convenience; that it was simply easier to grow fond of your neighbor.

Once or twice, however, an unsettling idea crossed my mind that there was an ulterior motive. I couldn’t help but wonder how Gatsby was benefiting from all of this.

Regardless, Gatsby was relentless in his extravaganzas. Last Tuesday, while we lay tanning on his boat, he’d lowered his sunglasses and insisted that his next party was going to be his best one yet. Something inside of me was desperate to believe it. There was a creature festering in my being that devoured every thought he confided in me. It was alarming to say the least, when I could feel myself melting under his gaze, primitively hungry for every last syllable; but it was an enjoyable agony. The entire notion was masochistic, but I failed to find a part of me that cared.

So then came the party.

I’d attended many of these before and never once truly enjoyed them without the numbing and coercing assistance of illegal alcohol. I was an introvert, an independent thinker and a cynic. This time, however, Gatsby seemed determined to impress.

He had opened up the courtyard, sectioning off different parts for different activities. There were waiters handing around enough liquor to get a jail sentence and flappers dressed so scandalously that I felt the need to look away for the sake of decency. The main hall was lined with tables and chairs that were left unused as couples, as well as large, rambunctious groups, danced in the middle of the floor. A woman next to me spilled golden champagne on my arm, but I wasn’t bothered. The estate was packed, as per usual, but the openness of it had thinned out the crowd. A warm feeling spread at the thought: He did this for me.

I wiped my mind clean of that egotistical inkling and pushed my way to the third balcony, where Gatsby was supposedly lounging.

I heard him before I saw him. Usually Gatsby was withdrawn during these parties, but this time he was laughing loudly at something an old statesman was yammering. His eyes crinkled around the edges in the sincere way they did when he was talking with me, but there was something off about his demeanor.

It took a trained eye to spot it, and let it be known that I have skill for this, but Gatsby was uncomfortable. I could tell by the lopsided way he gripped his martini glass. I could see his discomfort clearly by the look in his eyes; the way his smile didn’t widen as much as it did when I’d made a joke about the stock market yesterday.

As his friend, I knew my obligation to save him.

“Mr. Gatsby!” I exclaimed loud enough for him to hear me over the noise.

His eyes flicked in my direction and landed on me, spotting me in the crowd. I saw the almost blatant relief on his face, and wished I could communicate with him telepathically, to tell him to keep up his poker face for one minute more. He clapped the elderly man on the shoulder, dismissing himself politely before walking a tiny bit too quickly in my direction.

“Nick!” He greeted warmly, grabbing my shoulder in a friendly, cheerful manner. “Thrilled you could make it!”

“As am I.” I agreed. Then I leaned towards him to conceal my voice. “You could have been less apparent about your escape, you know. That statesman—”

“Has been offering me a business proposal for the last twenty minutes.” Gatsby interrupted, his voice equally as low. “And this was after he’d spent the good part of an hour trying to set me up with his daughter.”

For reasons I could not explain, the agitated being inside of ribcage bristled. “He did, did he?”

“Yes. While I do admit his daughter is lovely, she is approximately fourteen years younger then I. Though some men may think this a good thing, I’m not appealed by the idea that I’m old enough to be her father.” Gatsby laughed, and I tried to laugh too, but I was too unsettled to participate convincingly. “Enough of this boring talk; lets get you a drink!”

I wish I could recall how many drinks I had, but once the numbers faded from single to double digits, it was much too difficult to keep track. I did notice that Gatsby hadn’t drunk a single one, but by that time I was too intoxicated to care.

Gatsby’s party was fun after that. I danced for long hours that melted together like liquid chocolate, sometimes with women, other times with men. I remember laughing loudly at a joke no one had told. I remember glitter raining from the sky in a shower of silver and gold. I remember Gatsby’s eyes trained on me hungrily, and when I caught them and smiled encouragingly, he’d looked away, staring at the ground wistfully until it faded to something of shame.

The night sky had been lit up with fireworks before the dawn replaced the brilliant sparks of color with pastel hues.

Car motors rumbled as guests began to leave, one by one, and then in a wave. I fell asleep on the piano and that was all.

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Gatsby’s party and he hadn’t thrown another one.

Reporters flocked outside of his mansion, begging entrance, shouting questions and accusations at the tall stone walls. I could see them from my window, circling the entrances like piranhas waiting for their pray to enter a closer proximity. If I looked up to the room where Gatsby usually took his important work calls, no familiar figure stood in the window. When I rang, a butler would pick up, saying that Mr. Jay Gatsby was ill and had requested to be left alone for the time being. This did not put me at ease.

After another day of radio silence from Jay, I came to realize the quiet in my home. There was very little to do besides sit and read. At one time, that had been enough. It had been more then enough; the simple life used to be my paradise.

Now I longed for a speedy car ride, a commotion to observe or be a part of. I craved the adrenaline, the spontaneous impulsiveness of reckless behavior. I wanted everything that would break me.

Part of me hated Gatsby for ruining me.

Another thanked him for bringing me to life.

It was Wednesday afternoon when I received a call from Daisy. Through the light static, I heard the jingle of her expensive bracelets over the line.

“Nick, Darling! How are you?”

“I’m great.” This was a lie. I reveled in the fact that Gatsby would despise it— I drowned in his potential disgust with a smile. “How are you? And Pam and Tom?”

“We’re doing marvelously!” Daisy said. If it had been a lie I wouldn’t have been surprised; Daisy had never been stopped by a moral compass before. “I was wondering if you might come by for dinner! I miss you, Nicky! We really must catch up!”

“I couldn’t agree more.” I said cheerfully, glancing at the calendar in my notebook. Gatsby and I had planned on sailing this evening, but his personal confinement seemed to clear my schedule. “What time should I be there?”

“Five on the dot!” Daisy giggled, as if she were toying on an inside joke with the wrong person.

“Splendid.” I replied harmoniously.

There was a good few hours between the call and dinner, so I busied myself with tidying up. It was a larger project then I’d anticipated, but a much needed one nonetheless.

As I moved up my armchair to sweep underneath it, I saw a tiny folded piece of paper. I picked it up quizzically and unfolded it. On the paper there was a teacup ring and a few words jotted down with an unfamiliar messy scrawl. The letters were crossed out, but after a minute or so of studying I came to the conclusion that they spelled: Jordan Baker. Then, underneath it, in a pen of different ink, was my name, circled twice and perfectly legible. A shiver tore its way down my spine, raising the hairs on my arms.

I shoved the paper in my pocket; the mere idea of its mysterious existence was inexplicably unnerving. I kept sweeping, forcing the theories from my mind. Stress was not good for the body or the soul. I would keep it at bay.

An hour and a half later there was a knock on my front door. It was friendly but loud, rattling the flowery wreath I’d hung to look over my home like half of Janus. I set my book aside and smoothed down my pinstriped trousers.

The door revealed Gatsby, looking flushed and out of breath, dressed in a fairly causal outfit, his bathing suit strap peaking out from underneath his jacket.

He looked over his shoulder towards his front yard where the paparazzi had taken camp. “It took some skill and a clever disguise but I managed to sneak away.” He was smiling when he looked turned back, but his eyebrows drew together in confusion as he examined my attire. “Why are you dressed so sharply, Old Sport? Not that it is a bad thing to look one’s best, but this isn’t ideal for sailing.”

“Sailing?” I repeated incredulously.

Gatsby thought he could drop off of the earth for a week and a half and I would just be there, waiting for him, on an arbitrary Wednesday, to go sailing?

Filled with fury, and ignorant of my conscience, I dragged Gatsby inside by the lapels. His eyes were wide with confusion and shock, obviously not expecting such bold action. I shut the door briskly and loudly, taking cruel pleasure in the way he jumped at the sound.

“You were gone for a week.” I accused. To my delight, Gatsby winced. “Do you have a sense of object permanence? Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I stop existing. You disappeared— I made plans. I am not your lapdog.” My tone was far more ferocious then necessary, but I needed to get the point across. I was angry and, for once, Gatsby would face consequences for his actions.

Gatsby stood there a moment, collecting himself. “I know that, Old Sport. I never meant to give the impression—“

“Well you did.” I stated bluntly. “You did, and you can’t undo it or say you didn’t, so you may as well apologize.”

Gatsby met my eyes fiercely. I could tell he was soaking in my confidence, storing away my words and actions for later use. I didn’t care. For the first time, Gatsby would be held accountable for his actions.

“I’m sorry, Nick.”

Nick. He had addressed me by my name. He had not forgotten how to say it, but rather had saved it for the occasion of being genuine.

I nearly missed the way he stepped closer to me. I would have missed it entirely had I not seen the curious look in his eyes or sensed the speed his breathing. That feeling again, the one that is ever so irritatingly present, was surfacing again.

His limpid blue eyes locked furiously with mine and the white noise in my brain shifted to: Make me feel something.

Whatever could have happen next— didn’t.

I tore away, stepping backwards and dropping my eyes. Gatsby swallowed, looking away as well, blinking a few times and nodding as if he’d woken from a trance.

“So you do have plans then.” He croaked.

“Yes.” I managed through my blazing confusion and embarrassment. “I’m going to my cousin Daisy’s house for dinner.” I thought back to the reporters surrounding Gatsby’s estate. There was no way he could get back in there without being harassed or threatened. I swallowed my irritation. “You could join me, if you like. Since we had made plans before.”

Gatsby’s face lit up, but then dimmed slightly. He seemed to be in mental combat, a civil war in his head. I recalled how often I felt the same and wondered what Gatsby’s subconscious was fighting for.

“I would appreciate that very much. Thank you, Old Sport.” A smile flickered to his face, but he continued to avoid my eyes.

I sighed. “Your jacket seems nice enough. You can borrow a shirt and some trousers to make yourself look more presentable. I doubt they will fit perfectly, but I can stretch the hems.”

Gatsby bowed his head in gratitude and I went to fetch him some clothes.

The pocket housing that troubling scrap of paper froze sharply like ice against my side; reminding me once again that things weren’t what they seemed.

Chapter Text

It was early into the evening when I realized that I never should have invited Gatsby to dinner. He didn’t do anything flamboyant or embarrassing. In fact, he was a perfect gentleman.

 He did absolutely nothing wrong and it enraged me.

 We sat in the main, entertainment dining room of the Buchanan residence. The chandelier glistened overhead, reminding me of its wealth whenever it caught the light. The crystals cast tiny multicolored diamonds all around the room— becoming more apparent as the sun sunk below the water.

 We passed around the wine, laughed, made polite chatter. It was nice to see Daisy again. Not so nice to see Tom.

 “You must tell me, Nicky, how is your writing?” Daisy’s eyes sparkled with genuine interest.

 I took a jerky sip from my glass, hardly tasting the expensive crimson. “Its not something I’m working on, at the moment.”

 Daisy’s face fell the slightest— her teardrop eyes fell solemnly to her lap. “How unfortunate.”

“This is a good thing.” Tom Buchanan said, nodding approvingly. He was smirking with his arms crossed, like he was inconvenienced to be there, yet pleased. “Now you can focus on more important things like bonds and paychecks and women.”

Gatsby didn’t move or snicker or glance my way, but I felt his sudden attention like a spark zapping my collar. I wanted to backhand him for nothing more then being there.

“Oh hush.” Daisy said, tapping Tom’s arm playfully. “Nick is much less materialistic then the likes of you.  He doesn’t care about fancy things.”

She eyed Gatsby. The look was sudden but searing; too intense to be mistaken for a passing glance. There was nothing of the negative sort stirring inside of me until I turned my head and saw Gatsby return the look with the exact same intensity.

 I felt the breath catch in my throat, but I didn’t understand the origin of my emotions.

 “Maybe I should leave you lot and run off with someone like Nick.” Daisy teased, twirling her drink elegantly. Tom snorted and Gatsby continued his calm silence.

 Every time I looked over, he was staring at Daisy. I knew infatuation when I saw it. That alone was mildly unsettling.

 But aside from that, I saw recognition. I would have sworn on my own grave that this was not their first encounter. Was I always surrounded by liars?

 “Jay!” I said suddenly and loudly enough for his knee to jerk under the table, rattling the silverware. I grinned, all teeth. “Why don’t you tell my cousins a little bit more of your parties? I don’t think they’ve ever attended.” My tone was merciless, but no one said a thing about it. I don’t think either betrayer noticed; too busy being intoxicated with each other’s company.

 Gatsby cleared his throat. “They’re every weekend over at my place across the bay. I would be delighted if you were to attend.” He locked eyes with Daisy for a few passionate seconds, before looking over to Tom and adding with a terse smile, “Both of you are welcome any time.”

 “Parties seem like a waste of time.” Tom said in disgust, as if he’d been craving another opportunity to chide someone.

 “On the contrary!” Gatsby seemed to return to himself. He passionately waved his hand in dismissal of Tom’s comment. “They are the very foundations of life! If you talked to anyone in this city, you would find hundreds upon thousands of people who were affected by the terrible terrible war. Atheists everywhere you turn! When your country has nothing to live for, you see, you have parties. You have grand old times every weekend. You light up the earth to rival the stars and you give people something to live for.” His eyes were light with fierce determination and pride. “If anything, Mr. Buchanan, my parties keep this city alive.”

 Tom didn’t say anything, just shrugged. He was not amused with Gatsby’s theatrics, but unable to come up with a counter argument on such short notice.

 “Well I think what you’re doing is wonderful.” Daisy chimed from the other end of my vision, leaning forward to draw the attention away from her husband. I wanted to scoff at her obvious reach for Gatsbsy's attention.

 Gatsby allowed his eyes to flicker to her, full of tenderness, but then they rested on me.

 I don’t think either of us expected it. I hadn’t had time to prepare myself, and I don’t suppose Gatsby had either. I saw his Adam’s apple bob twice as he swallowed his anxieties. It was tantalizing in a way so extreme that it came over me like rolling waves, tugged by a remorseless current.

 He frowned, his brow drawing down in severe mental conflict.

 I wished I could jab my steak knife into his eyes to stop the madness.

 “Gatsby?” Daisy said, confused by the silence but not caring to read it.

 The spell broke as he turned to face her, but his gaze didn’t contain the longing it had before— only sadness, matching the forlorn expression he wore as well as Flappers wore glossy makeup, but not nearly as flashy. He looked like a blessing; no matter what expression he bore.

 I needed to leave.

 “I need some fresh air,” I choked, getting up from my seat. “It will only be a moment. Excuse me.” Gatsby looked around wildly like he wanted to object, not wanting to be left alone. I enjoyed his panic almost too much to ease the tightening in my gut.

 I wandered through the long hallways until I came to the back entrance and shoved open the French doors, delighting in the punch of cool wind. The night freed me from the agonizing warmth that had rushed to my skin a minute prior.

 I walked out onto the balcony, gripping the railing and dipping my head down, closing my eyes, breathing in deeply. It felt good to be free from probing eyes.

 There was one thing that unsettled me; a thought that I couldn’t un-think now that it had breeched my mind:

 I could tell his little tangent about parties wasn’t just to persuade Tom, but to impress someone. I couldn’t decide whether that person was Daisy or myself.

 I wanted it to be me.

 I never wanted anything so badly.

 That was the problem that had sent my mind reeling. I was losing my grip, but the worst part was that it was myself, letting go on purpose, like I wanted to fall... 

 I did. There was no "like" about it; I wanted desperately to fall and Gatsby was helping me. I was Icarus and he was the sun.

 I was doomed from the start.

 A breath tore itself from my lungs. My grip tightened on the railing as I managed to hold myself together, repairing the seams that had burst. Then I stood up straight, collected myself, and walked back to the dining room.

 

Chapter Text

A Newspaper headline caught my attention as I made my way briskly down the city streets. I nearly knocked over a young girl in a yellow dress, halting suddenly in my daze.

 Jordan Baker: Golf Champion Returns to New York City Residence

I snatched it off of the stand to get a closer look at the article. My vision had not failed me. It was the name on the paper scrap that had made a permanent home in my pocket. I dug out a few cents and purchased the newspaper, tucking it under my arm as I hailed a cab. 

The cab ride home was pensive. I barely noticed when it pulled up in front of my house. I thanked and paid the cab driver, my mind elsewhere. 

I was definitely more surprised as I should have been to find a crisp, white letter stuck to my front door. It was an invitation from Gatsby, indicating a welcomed admittance to the party that was to occur that night. I had known Gatsby long enough by that time to know that I was invited to every party; but received invitations when he truly insisted on my presence.

 I stuffed the letter in my pocket and dug around for my key.

Ever since the dinner party at Daisy’s mansion, Gatsby had been acting differently— flightier then usual, never comfortable staying put. He was never one to sit still in the first place, but he was notably jumpier; like someone was always a step behind with a gun aimed at his neatly trimmed head. I didn’t know what to make of it.

As soon as I had stepped back into the Dining room, that fateful Wednesday night, the air had grown tight with overbearing tension. The polite chatter turned stale, and the food was no longer appetizing. I could sense some irritation emitting from Tom’s end of the table but it couldn’t hold a candle to Gatsby’s. I had not so much as a single clue as to why Gatsby was so irate. I’d asked him if Tom had provoked him but he’d denied anything being wrong at all. Knowing him like I did, I could tell he was lying. Maybe it was my absence that angered him. I wasn’t about to allow myself the luxury of considering that.

 I paused with my hand on the doorknob.

 When had being the object of Gatsby’s attention become a luxury?

 I shook my head to clear the thought.

 It didn’t work.

I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment that Gatsby hadn’t spoken with me directly since dinner.

Not that I expected it to change anything between us; though it did feel a lot like I was bringing a girl home to meet my parents. Which seems ridiculous because Daisy and Tom weren’t my parents. And Gatsby wasn’t a girl. Nor my girl. Not that I had a girl. And not that I would marry one similar to Gatsby, by any means. Not that I was attracted to women like Gatsby. Not that Gatsby was a woman at all, for that matter.

This thought process is chaos

 I shouldered the door open and stepped in to freshen up, willing to attend one of Gatsby’s ridiculous parties once again.

 After twenty minutes or so of preparation, I shoved my hands into my pockets and whistled, walking up my driveway towards imminent disaster.

 Things were fine up until a guest pushed me to the ground on my way in the door.

 I should have been more cognizant, in retrospect, but the impact of the pearl linoleum flooring really jarred my brain.

  I stumbled, getting up. The room was spinning and my stomach lurched forward. People pushed me out of their way like I was feather light, and just as compliant.

 As I spun from one direction to another, a glimmer of green caught my eye. Through the window, from across the bay, was the light.

 The damnable light that has Gatsby’s eye when I don’t.

 I blinked a few times, trying to rein in my thoughts. This was worse then being drunk. My head was throbbing and though my mind was slipping, my nerve endings weren’t.

 The hot crowd constricted around me and I felt a sudden need to find space. The exit was out of the question; people flowing in like waves rolling across the bay. I pushed forward, knocking aside a couple that was well on their way to love-making in the center of the floor. As indecent as it may have been, I didn’t spare them a second thought. Or a first thought, for that matter.

 I shoved and maneuvered and dodged until I reached a large oak door. I ducked inside the room and tugged the door closed with a bang!

 Leaning against the door inside, I groaned and closed my eyes. The noise of the drunken crowd was muffled now; the throbbing began to subside. I gathered enough function to open my eyes and take a look at the largest collection of books I’d ever seen.

 The library towered over me, looming in a way that should have been impossible unless it were taking up most of the mansion. It was beautiful. I caught my breath and the writer in me nearly cried.

 I wanted to run my fingers over the million dusty leather-bound journals in view. I stepped further into the room, scanning the rows upon rows of yellowing pages and covers dulling from primary colors to sepia brown. I wanted to browse the whole night; I probably wouldn’t even make a dent in the sheer multitude.

 The ache in my head had all but vanished, too overcome with excitement for the pain to linger.

 The party continued going strong and the music thrumming like a distant, yet constant, heartbeat.

 I spotted a private desk towards the back and couldn’t prevent myself from investigating. It was oak like the door, but darker and more worn down. There were intricate carvings of boats being tossed amongst towering waves. I felt each groove with the pad of my index finger. Beautiful, I thought. It must be Gatsby’s,

 There was a journal on the desk, newer then the collection I had observed on the shelves. There was a pen sitting in the folds of the pages like a makeshift bookmark, causing the paper to curl.

 I couldn’t describe the urge that came over me, but I needed to read an entry like a drowning man would need air. My neighbor was so secretive; this journal was a potential holy grail.

 I was careful not to disturb the pen’s placement, not wanting any indication that I’d infiltrated Gatsby’s privacy.

 There was the date from the day before written neatly in the corner of the left page. Beneath it in a slightly messier scrawl was the sentence:

 

I am inconceivably lost in my own head.

 

I drunk those words like the finest liquor and took an extra moment to savor them. I couldn’t possibly relate to anything more. It was both comforting and alarming that Gatsby would feel the same.

 The last page was tagged with today’s date. The writing was barely legible, almost like he was hiding it from himself, rushing to get the words out before he lost his gall:

 

Lord, help me. I’ve fallen for the wrong person.

 

These words rendered my lungs useless.

 My eyes flicked from word to word, stringing them together over and over and coming to the same selfish result.

 Is it me?

 I wanted it to be me more then I wanted anything else life had to offer. The gravity of my emotions lowered me to the ground. I grabbed onto the hardwood table for support. My thumbs found the sailboats.

 My head throbbed again, the pain returning with full force.

 I knew that handwriting, but the ringing in my ears was too loud to ignore. I had intruded Gatsby’s thoughts, his journal, his mind.

 Once I could stand without seeing dark spots, I closed the journal carefully over the pen and moved away from the desk.

 The library was no longer intriguing. It was festering with my guilt. It was not meant for my eyes, yet my eyes found it still. I was convinced that I was the most despicable human being the universe had ever conjured.

 Especially because of my thoughts as I returned to the glitter filled havoc.

 Who is the person Gatsby deems as “right”? Why is it not me? Why do I want it to be?

Chapter Text

 My head throbbed as soon as I regained consciousness. I groaned, twisting in my sheets.  My eyes screwed shut and I sheltered them from the light.

 Hangovers were the Devil, but why was I awake?

 A shrill sound grated against my eardrums. I clapped both hands over my ears.

 “Genevieve?” I called out, before remembering that the maids from home hadn’t accompanied me to my personal residence. Cursing wildly to myself, I threw off the covers and staggered over to the phone.

 I held the awkward cone shape to my ear.

“Hello?”

 “Nicky!” Daisy greeted so shrill that I had to pull the phone away from my ear. “I was wondering if you and that sharp fellow from the other night would want to come over for tea this evening!”

 Sharp fellow? “You mean Gatsby?”

 “Oh, yes, of course!” Daisy laughed delicately with obvious pretense, “It must have slipped my mind. He was so polite. I thought you might want to bring him!”

 Her lies hurt my head more than the loud telephone rings.

 “I can certainly ask if he’s available,” I said against my better judgment. I nearly asked her bitterly if her husband would be present or should Gatsby bring his nightclothes— but I do have my limits.

 “Perfect! I’ll see you soon!”

 She hung up before I could reply, leaving the dial tone to pound against my temple. I set the phone down quickly, pinching the bridge of my nose in despair.

 The party did a number on me. I remembered snapshots, mainly involving ridiculously expensive cocktails and doting women in skimpy outfits. I stood next to my phone a minute more. Shame settled in. How could I have been so horrid, so dishonest? I’d never been attracted to a woman in my life. Those girls… I was so utterly fake.

 As well as a terrible friend, I thought to myself, I never went to find Gatsby.

 I couldn’t bring myself to find him. How was I to look him in the eyes when I knew of his journal? Not that he was guiltless in this, but I was the main perpetrator.

 I took a few quiet hours to make myself presentable enough to walk out of my home unattended. By the time I shut the door behind me, I felt slightly more like a living person than a creature of the undead.

 Shoving my hands in my pockets, I sauntered along the narrow road that widened upon the mouth of Gatsby’s perfectly demarcated cul-de-sac. There were at least twenty servants cleaning up the remnants of last night’s fiasco. I felt slightly guilty for having participated in such a mess.

 “I’m here to see Mr. Gatsby?” I requested to one of the butlers at the main entrance. He nodded and led me into the mansion without a word.

 During the night I was never able to fully admire the ornate richness of Gatsby’s estate. There were marble columns and statues, many stain-glass windows that cost more than my entire cottage, and long, draping curtains along the walls.

 Not curtains, I realized as we passed them, but rugs. Intricately woven rugs with colorful designs depicting scenes from classic Greek and Roman myths. One of them had a castle straight out of a fairytale. I wondered which Grimm story inspired it.

 The butler shoved open two large doors.

“Mr. Gatsby? Mr. Nick Carraway is here to see you.”

 “Wonderful! Send him in!” Gatsby’s voice echoed through the barren, high ceilinged room.

I stepped forward tentatively, distinctly remembering myself disrobing a young woman from her sequined gown in that far corner, just the night before. Her smile, her laugh, tore its way through my mind. I hoped to God the room didn’t remember me. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to.

 “Welcome, Old Sport!”

Gatsby grinned at me from his seat on the floor. It surprised me to look down when I saw him. He was seated haphazardly, legs spread out, in the center of the room, just under a glistening chandelier.

“As you can see, the furniture is out being cleaned at the moment. Come join me. Klipspringer is just about to rehearse.”

 I walked over and sat down on the floor next to him. The thought of sitting on the cold, hard floor in the middle of a mansion fit for a king was absolutely peculiar. It was somehow… Humbling.

 A spritely man, with spectacles perched on the end of his long nose, sat down at the organ overhead. He began to play an elaborate piece that I had most definitely heard before— maybe at one of Gatsby’s fateful parties.

 There we were, two grown men sitting on the floor like children, listening to classical music. It was nothing I’d ever experienced. Surely he felt it too— The strangeness of it all. The rich sounds of the organ filled the room so that there was barely any space for Gatsby or myself. I found that I was sitting closer to him then before. I wasn’t sure which of us had moved. Maybe it was both of us. All I knew for certain was that my heart was pounding in my chest.  Gatsby didn't seem at all frazzled by the lack of space between us. I wanted to shove him away and pull him closer all at once.

 “I didn’t come to find you last night,” I blurted over the melody, “I’m sorry.”

 “Its quite alright, Old Sport.” He then lowered his voice. “Although, I did find you.”

 “You did?”

 “Yes. You seemed… Otherwise preoccupied.”

There was something accusatory in Gatsby’s tone. I knew exactly to what he was referring. My shoulders felt tight. 

 “I don’t normally… I had too much to drink. And I hit my head when I arrived.”

 Gatsby nodded, but I could tell he thought I was making up my excuse. It sounded ridiculous, even to myself. 

 “Its fine. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”

 But I didn’t. It was a delirious haze. The women enjoyed it, but I felt as though I was a toy. I wasn’t entirely present for most of it, how could I have enjoyed it?

 “Daisy wants you to join us for tea this evening.” I said in a swift attempt to drop the matter as the music slowed.

 Gatsby’s face lit up, and then dimmed. He bore a strangely pained expression, like he knew he should be thrilled, but couldn’t muster up any emotion beyond the conflict. 

 “Do you want me to come?”

The question was so faint that I thought I’d imagined it until he peered at me for an answer.

"I..." 

 Did I want him there, so daisy could flirt mercilessly with him while I sat back and watched? Not in the least.

 But… Maybe that wasn’t what he was asking.

 Did I want him present? To arrive with me and leave with me. To be there with me?

 “Yes,” I said finally, a bit out of breath in spite of myself.

 Gatsby was so close that I could feel his heat on my skin. There he was, in front of me, alive. I wanted nothing more than to be his secret. The one he hid from himself, only to discover in the deepest of dreams. I wanted to be that one thing that kept the flame by his bedside burning long into the night... Even if that meant I was to be the wrong person. Whoever the right person was, I didn’t care. It was irrelevant. I didn’t know what I wanted from him. All I knew was that it blazed inside of me, as bright as Gatsby’s eyes.

Eyes which dropped to my lips.

 “Mr. Gatsby!” A loud voice rang out as the door banged open.

 Gatsby whipped away toward the door. Klipspringer stopped playing.

 “Mr. Meyer Wolfsheim is on the phone. He is insistent that he demands your attention. It cannot wait.”

 Gatsby rubbed his face with his hand.

“I’ll be there in just a moment.”

He stood up, brushing off his suit.

“I apologize,” He said, directing his words to me now, though unable to meet my eyes. “It seems I have business to attend to. I would love to join your cousin for tea. Let me know the time so I can arrange a car for us.”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. I stood as soon as Gatsby was out of the room.

 Whatever was there had vanished. I felt empty, like a clockwork piece lacking some vital part. I didn’t know what my actions were meant to accomplish, but that didn’t matter now.

 Nothing did, I was hollow

Chapter Text

Gatsby’s car arrived much too early. I was worried our strange tension might have put him off tea— or seeing me at all, for that matter. But it seemed that he wasn’t fazed, if arriving an hour and a half early was anything to go by.

 He summoned me outside and opened the passenger seat door, ushering me inside in a gentlemanly fashion. He mentioned having to go into the city for a brief errand, if I would indulge him. I agreed, but only because I was in a blushing stupor. I wondered how he did it. How he managed to stay composed when we’d been so close to engaging in… some form of romantic act.

 Was that what it was? Romance? I was not selfish enough to assume—only enough to hope.

 The car ride was dreaded on my part. I found that keeping my hands at my side, or on my lap, was excruciating with the man I was magnetized to sitting so close. I despised feeling this way. The women that night were supposed to be a jolt of clarity, a wakeup call. Unfortunately, though they had a joyous time, mine was spent in discomfort. I recalled a brief memory that flashed through my head. The two women pouting at me, slightly angry that I wasn’t physically interested. My body wasn’t cooperating with their plans of seduction. There was more to the memory, but it was cut short.

 I stared out onto the road, past the glossy cars and into the dust of the grey in-between. As we passed through the valley of ashes, a few things stuck in the forefront of my mind. The large sign overhead, Advertising the services of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The wide billboard eyes glowered at the town, glowered at me.

 What? I wanted to shout. What do you expect me to do?

 The sign just stared.

 Maybe I was already doing what it wanted. Maybe I already knew deep down what it wanted, but was too afraid to accept it.

 But the sacrifice the sign was asking of me was too great. To let Gatsby be? To leave him with Daisy of all people? My cousin?

 To be perfectly honest, I didn’t care about Tom in the least, but, with some consideration, I could see how this arrangement would hurt him.

 If Gatsby asked me to, would I assist him in alluring Daisy?

 “No.”

 “What was that, Old Sport?”

 “Nothing,” The word shot out a bit too quickly. “I was merely wondering aloud.”

 “And what is it you’re wondering about that deemed important enough to leave your mind?”

 Gatsby was flirting. I saw this blatantly now. He must have known how difficult this made everything. For me, for Daisy, for himself. It couldn’t be real flirting anyways. His interest lay in Daisy, not myself. So why torture me at all?

 He was mocking me, I was sure of it. My hands tightened to fists in my lap.

 “If the eyes of T. J. Eckleburg could see everything,” I watched him carefully. “If they could see into our minds. See past the lies.” He knew I was implying a deeper meaning. It disconcerted him to not understand fully to what I was referring to. With pitiful satisfaction, I saw him shift in his seat the barest amount, his hands tightening around the steering wheel.

 “And you say no?” He clarified, never taking his eyes off of the road, which, in itself, was out of character.

 “Maybe,” I said, “I haven’t decided what I believe.”

 That wasn’t what Gatsby wanted to hear. I could tell by the slight frown he bore, the twitch of his eyebrow. Had he expected an optimistic view? Or, perhaps, a straightforward answer to this riddle? Was that why he kept me around? Was that why he flirted? To appease me? To make me stay? I did not exist to clear his convoluted mind.

 His gorgeous mind.

 I turned to the window and we drove out of the sight of God and into the city.

 When we finally approached the barbershop Gatsby was so keen on visiting, I knew there was something strange going on. I got out of the car before he could help me. I didn’t think I could stand being close to him again. He eyed me warily as he shoved the doors open.

 I stared, confused. It was a barbershop. There were men in chairs, getting a proper shave. One extremely attractive man caught my eye in a passing glance. I cleared my throat and looked away, flustered for no precise reason.

 Either Gatsby was pretending not to notice, or he was the most unobservant person on earth.  

 We walked to the back and an elderly man winked at Gatsby.

 “Aye, lad. Couldn’t stay away long, could you?” His Irish brogue was thick and it took a second for Gatsby to decipher.

 "Everyone knows you run the best place in town.” Gatsby complimented with a charismatic grin.

 The best Barbershop?

 The old man laughed, clapping Gatsby and myself on the shoulder.

“Anyone who matters, anyway. Who’s your friend?”

 “Nick," Gatsby introduced with an elegant hand gesture before I could speak.

 “First time here, Nick?” To this, I nodded. “Well, I’ll tell you this is where the action is.” He knocked on the wall a few times and a door opened from the woodwork. “Don’t have too much fun.” He winked again and pushed us towards the chatter.

 We were at the top of the stairs, looking over a large party of sorts. It wasn’t much like Gatsby’s over the top, flashy parties, but something darker. The music, the women, and the smoky haze— everything about this place was seductive.

 “Come on, Old Sport” Gatsby beckoned, hopping down the thin iron staircase. “I’ll introduce you.”

 I followed him into the crowd. The music thudded in my chest as the trumpets blew melodies into deaf ears. Everyone was snappily dressed, gossiping amongst themselves. There were a few men throwing dollars at the dancing women on the stage. It seemed vulgar and base, but everyone was having a good time. I certainly wasn’t going to ruin it for them.

 “Gatsby,” I grabbed his shoulder, spinning him towards me and halting his steps for a moment. “What are we doing?”

 “I,” his eyes trailed certain dancers in the shimmering mob, “am here to sign a business proposal. You,” he looked back over at me, his lips parted slightly, “are networking.”

 “Networking?” I asked as he dragged me along through the dancing mass of sex and whisky. I wondered what Gatsby thought I’d have in common with these people.

 We stopped in front of a man with a cowboy hat and expensive cufflinks. He had leathery tan skin, old and wrinkled, but stood taller than the both of us. I was nervous just looking at him.

 “Wolfsheim!” Gatsby exclaimed with a smile. The man, who was apparently the angry man on the phone from earlier, grinned back at him.

 “Jay! Glad you could make it!” He looked me over. “Who is this?”

 “My pal, Nick,” Gatsby said smoothly.

 Wolfsheim’s eyes lit up.

“I see. So, do you want to make a quick dollar?”

 I had no response to that, but I didn’t have to.

  “He already has a job, Old Sport,” Gatsby said. His voice was altered slightly. Defensive.

 “Pity.” Wolfsheim nodded solemnly. “He’s an attractive fella. Would work well in a new position I got opening up downtown.”

 Gatsby let out a short breath of irritation.

“My contract?” he reminded with a hint of force.

 “Ah, yes!” Wolfsheim snapped his fingers and the man standing silently behind him dropped a briefcase on the table. The old man’s deft fingers flicked through the combination. He pulled out a few papers and a pen, passing it all to Gatsby. “Just like we discussed.”

 “Excellent.” Gatsby began signing quickly, flipping to the designated pages.

 Wolfsheim caught my eye and winked.

“If you ever find yourself in need of a job, I’m always hiring.”

 “Oh, Thanks,” I croaked, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

 Gatsby shot a look at me that clearly said, you will not, but I was a grown man. Gatsby was not my boss, nor my commander. I would not be controlled, no matter how dashing Gatsby may have been.

 The people bustled by as Gatsby slid the papers across the table.

 “Thank you, Jay.” 

 “Always a pleasure,” Gatsby said through tight teeth.

 We walked away swiftly, shoving past the glittering people. Gatsby leaned over to talk into my ear.

 “Don’t concern yourself with Wolfsheim, Old Sport. He may be charismatic, but he is a very dangerous man.” I felt his breath in hot puffs on my neck. My breath caught. I hated myself for it.

 Before I could do something immensely stupid, my name rang boldly through my ears.

 “Nick? Never thought I’d see you in a place like this!” Tom spoke loudly over the noise. Gatsby drew away from me, smoothing down his suit. Tom’s voice lowered notably. “Ah, Mr. Gatsby. Fancy seeing you here.”

 “Please,” Gatsby said, his voice a little too sugary to be genuine, “call me Jay.”

 Tom nodded, seeming reluctant.

“What brings you to this place, Nick? Finally taking my advice on the women?”

 My stomach twisted.

“Something like that.”

Gatsby side eyed me, but I paid him no attention. He could translate that however he pleased. He caused me enough trouble as it was. I considered it payback.

Tom laughed.

“I’m proud of you, Nick!”

In spite of myself, joy fluttered in my gut. To hear those words from anyone was a blessing to my ears, but to hear them from a mouth as handsome as his...

Tom added, “Oh, and Daisy enjoyed dinner. She wants to do it again sometime.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Actually we were just—“

“—were just leaving.” Gatsby cut in sharply, a false smile cemented in place. I looked over at him and used the letters in my eyes to ask what he was doing. His eyes didn’t answer.

 Tom looked back and forth between us, rightfully suspicious.

“Alright then. See you soon, boys. Drive safe.”

His smile was venomous.

 “Thank you,” I said before Gatsby could comment.

 Gatsby then tugged me through the room and didn’t stop until we were out the door, out of earshot.

“What the hell was that?” I demanded as the door closed behind us. I ripped my arm out of his grip. A car nearby honked repeatedly at another in a frenzy of road rage.

“What do you mean, Old Sport—?“ 

“Oh, quit that! Why did you lie to Tom?" 

“I didn’t lie to him. I simply avoided the truth, you see. There’s a difference.” He started to walk towards the car.

 I stuck out my arm and blocked his way, my hand halting his chest. “There’s no difference. What on earth were you hoping to accomplish?”

 “I don’t know!” He said finally, exasperated. “Listen here, Old Sport. Regardless of what you might think, Tom hates me. I just wanted to get out of there as soon as I could, all right?”

 Not quite a lie, not quite a truth. He disgusted me. 

 He pushed my arm away, firmly.

 “Time to see your cousin.”

Gatsby’s tone seemed to be aiming towards excitement, but fell short, and landed in the realm of apprehension.

 I buckled my seatbelt, contemplated the wrath of universe, and let him drive.

Chapter Text

Daisy was outside waiting for us when we arrived. She peered over her sunglasses and waved a delicate hand when she saw Gatsby’s car. Her floppy sunhat cast a shadow over her face, but I could still see her shining grin.

 I couldn’t muster up a smile to return, but I didn’t need to because Gatsby was the obvious object of her attention. I didn’t scowl, but I was damn near tempted.

 Her estate was, if possible, larger than Gatsby’s. My neighbor’s home, however, definitely had more character. Where Daisy’s mansion was a gift of the modern architectural styles, Gatsby’s was a tribute to the classics. While Daisy’s was towered and tall, Gatsby’s was open and inviting. Though it was long into the summer, Daisy’s garden hadn’t bloomed. I suppose the flowers must have died in the heat.

 I looked over at Gatsby as he pulled into a vacant spot, right in the very front of the mansion. His yellow car stood out like a bumblebee on a bouquet of white lilies.

 The look on his face concerned me. He was looking directly at Daisy, ignoring the resilient summer sun, with a strangely wounded expression. I’d never seen anything like it. It was like looking at her physically pained him. A thought shot through my mind: Maybe that was how one looked at their true love. I’d never seen the famous look that all poets and romantics wept over. Maybe that was it. Maybe true love came hand in hand with pain. It did for me.

 “Nick, Darling!” She greeted as we stepped out of the car. “So wonderful to see you!”

 “Same to you,” I said cordially. “Like always.”

 She enveloped me in a perfumed hug. Her long white beads clacked against my chest.

 As she pulled back, she held a hand out to Gatsby.

 “Charmed to see you again, Jay.”

Her tone and knowing smile was more flirtatious then I’d ever known her to be. I felt surprisingly numb, knowing how their story would end. If my hunch was correct, it was never going to end any other way.

“Likewise, Mrs. Buchanan,” He replied warily, narrowly avoiding her eyes.

 Daisy looked as though he’d spat at her.

 “Shall we go inside?” I suggested, too exhausted to get worked up over… whatever was happening between the two. Daisy managed a smile and agreed, leading us towards her home.

 “Pam’s sleeping upstairs,” Daisy apologized as she led us through the hall. “She would have loved to see you, Nick, but I dare not wake her. She never allows me a moment to think!”

 “Children.” I sighed knowingly to mollify her, as if I had any knowledge in that department.

 “I never fancied having any myself.” Gatsby commented on a breath. “A good thing too. I haven’t got the anatomy for it.”

 I snorted, completely unprepared for the bout of the laughter this side comment would induce. Daisy threw me a look over her shoulder, confused as to why I was laughing at all, but presuming it was something rude. Gatsby stood up straighter, proud.

Daisy led us into a room made of windows; a table with a few chairs around it was set for tea. We all took a seat— Daisy beside Gatsby, and Gatsby beside me. There was an empty chair to my right. Daisy explained that an old friend might be dropping by.

 A servant filled our teacups and refilled the biscuits when we ran low. We were chatting mindlessly about stocks and the weather. All very peculiar to Gatsby’s tastes, but he’d been acting odd lately. It wasn’t my place to ask questions.

 Daisy told a long story about Tom’s new riding gear and the idiot who mixed up his order. The tale spun for what felt like hours, but we were all laughing after a bit. Then Daisy slipped up.

 “We were so much more fun, back in the day, weren’t we Jay?” Daisy sighed wistfully.

 The laughing stopped. Daisy’s eyes were wide. She realized her mistake. Gatsby turned to face me.

 I was right.

“Back in the day?"

 “Old Sport…“ Gatsby started, his eyes a bit wilder than usual.

 I set my down my teacup. I couldn’t believe it. I was right. This one blasted time I was right.

“So you do know each other.” 

 Daisy shot an apologetic look to Gatsby, but he never received it. He was too preoccupied in looking at me, studying the fine lines of hurt on my face.

 “Nicky, darling—“

 “Why all the lies?” I asked, genuinely distraught. Over what, I wasn’t sure anymore.

 “Because, Old Sport.” Gatsby began, looking down at the table as he spoke. “Once, long ago, Daisy and I were engaged.”

 I’d be damned if that wasn’t a stab to the heart.

 “We were separated.” Gatsby continued. Daisy reached for his hand and held it.  If Gatsby felt it he didn’t show it. “By life. By the war. The very same war that we both fought in, Old Sport. That war was the divide between Daisy and I. We wanted to become reacquainted, but I was poor. We didn’t want to start trouble with Tom, you see?”

 My theories were proven correct and I’d never been more heartbroken. I hated the truth. I hated it.

 I shook my head. “I still don’t understand…”

 “Well—“ Gatsby began, when a butler interrupted.

 “Mrs. Buchanan?” Came his haughty voice from the corridor. “Ms. Jordan Baker has arrived.”

 Jordan Baker.

 “Let her in.”

 Jordan Baker.

 A woman with short brown hair and stunningly sharp facial features stepped into the room. She was dressed for golf, prim and proper. Her posture held her tall enough to match Gatsby’s normal height.

That name. That face.

 Jordan Baker.

 There was a burning sensation in my pocket.

 “Gatsby?” Jordan wondered aloud in shock. “Well look at you, you fine devil! I never thought I’d have the pleasure to see you again, but here I am, taking a fresh gander!”

 “Flirtatiously spirited as always, aren’t you, Ms. Baker?” His heart wasn’t in the banter. His eyes were on me.

 “Only for you, Jay. Only for you.” She winked, her eyelid shimmering. 

 Gatsby. Jordan. Daisy.

 Their names spun circles around my head.

 Gatsby’s hand braced the table, ready to lean forward in an instant. Probably because I was paling so much it seemed that I might faint.

 “You know her?” I asked Gatsby, my voice a steely calm.

 “Yes.” Gatsby said honestly, slowly choosing his words with care. “She’s Daisy’s best friend.”

 That was all I could take.

 “I have to go.”

 “Nick, wait!” Daisy exclaimed as I stood up from my seat and bolted to the front door. Why would I have waited? There was nothing to wait for.

 “Hold on just a moment!” This voice was Gatsby’s. I was sick of hearing his voice, his lies. “You came in my car. Let me drive you.”

 “I wouldn’t want to cut your reunion party short.” I snapped bitterly, facing him and walking backwards to his car, my palms spread. “Go join your fiancée.”

 Gatsby stared at me like I’d just backhanded him. I was glad.

 “Nick, please. You’re angry that we deceived you, I understand that, but you aren’t fit to drive.”

 He thought the lies were the only reason. I could have laughed.

 I wanted to strangle him until he choked on the realization of how I really felt, how I've always felt toward him. I wanted to squeeze the answer from his lungs and force the truth to escape his lips one syllable at a time. 

I stared into the car, at the controls. My anger muddled up the functions in my head.

I knew he was right. I hated when he was right.

“Fine,” I spat, climbing into the passenger seat.

I heard him hurry over to the car and take the driver’s seat. I didn’t look at him as he started the ignition. I just stared out the window. The engine purred and hissed. Daisy’s estate grew smaller and smaller in the span of my vision. I grew tenser with every space between me and that dreaded place.

Gatsby’s gripped the steering wheel.

“Do you want me to—?“

“I want to you to be quiet.”

Gatsby’s mouth snapped shut.

 As we drove, the sun began to set over East and West Egg. Lost New Yorkers were painted in a backdrop of canary yellow, like Gatsby’s car, and violet, like the sugary sweet drinks served at his goddamn parties. No one paid the sky any mind, too caught up in their own worlds to see it— but I did. I always did.

 And I, being ever so observant, also saw a napkin by my foot. There was writing on it. A scribble. It reminded me of the journal in the godforsaken library. The hastily written entry was formatted in a nearly perfect match to this napkin. I reached down and picked it up, holding the light fabric between the pads of my fingers. It was a memorandum. Not noteworthy in any way.

Then it clicked.

The clock started ticking again.

I fumbled through my coat, hurriedly digging around for that blasted piece of paper. I tore it out of my pocket and held the offending scraps together. Sure enough, the writing was exactly the same. I was such an idiot, taking this long to figure it out.

 “Nick?” Gatsby ventured a look over at me every once in a while, trying to see what was so important. His voice had lost its luster. My name was just my name. 

 “Stop the car,” I commanded. He did, so readily that it wounded something deep in my chest.

 Gatsby pulled up in the space between his driveway and mine. I shoved the car door open. He followed suit and walked around the car to meet me at the front. My rage clouded my sight. I had to blink a few times to see the devil who stood before me.

 “What the hell is this?” I demanded, holding up the paper that ruined me.

 His face dropped.

 “Where did you get that?” His voice was hoarse.

 “You dropped it.” I said, feeling very far from sympathetic. “In my living room. Care to explain?”

 “I…”

For the first time, Gatsby was at a loss for words.

 I answered for him. “You have Jordan’s name written next to mine, but my name is circled. Do you know what I think? I think it looks like you chose me for something. Doodling your schemes like an idiot. Why?” Then I got it. The cut stung. “Its because I’m Daisy’s cousin, isn’t it?” Gatsby’s face was open, ashamed. “You were going to decide between Daisy’s best friend and her cousin. That was how you planned to get to her. You used me!”

“No, Old Sport…You don’t understand—”

 “I understand plenty. I understand that everything you’ve ever said to me was a lie. Every time you threw a party and invited me— All for Daisy. You know, I bet, I bet, that day you hid from the reporters had something to do with your elaborate scheme!” 

 Gatsby stayed quiet.

 My chest heaved.

 “Jesus... Jesus Christ, it does!” I ran my hands through my hair in disbelief. “You conniving— you knew I would feel bad for you and invite you to Daisy’s for dinner. You knew, and you used me."

 “Nick, please stop and listen.”

 “I’m tired of listening to you.” I crumpled up the paper. “But you know what, Jay? I’m glad you chose me to play the fool.” I shoved the wad of crushed paper against his chest. He flinched, his eyes begging me to be still, to breathe.

 I didn’t want to breathe. Not if the air was contaminated by him.

We were illuminated only by headlights. In the bright light his face was washed out; imperfections airbrushed out of the picture. He stood there, disarmed and perfect. I hated my heart for loving him.

That’s what this was. Love and pain and everything terrible that could possibly exist in the world. I stalked away to my house, never elaborating on my last comment.  

Leaving him to stand there alone, as the world went dark.

Chapter Text

I sat in my living room, pensive, unmoving for hours on end until the sun rose and the birds began their morning songs. The phone rang several times, but it was Gatsby every time so I hung up immediately. He stopped calling after a while, a lull in his apology. I knew by midday his efforts would redouble.

I considered a great many options. I pondered calling Daisy, giving her a piece of my mind, but that would’ve just made matters worse. I thought of phoning Wolfsheim about his job offer, just to spite Gatsby. That temptation had led the phone to my hand, but I never ended up calling.

I stared at the cone shape, wondering how my choices could be so condensed.

The clock ticked. Then was midday. I never knew the sun moved so fast. Gatsby would be calling soon.

 I couldn’t think about Gatsby. I needed to stop thinking.

 So I phoned the last person on earth that I ever thought I’d call.

“Hello?” Tom’s gruff voice ground through the holes in the speaker like salt from a saltshaker.

“Tom,” I greeted, sounding more put together than I’d hoped. “I’m calling to take you up on that offer you made earlier this month.”

“Offer… Oh.” He sounded somewhat surprised. “You are?”

“Yes. I’d like to meet Myrtle and the others.” I paused. “Honestly, I’m in great need of a drink and you’re the only one I know who’d be interested in having a beer with me this early. 

I heard a low chortle over the line.

“Be at the train station in twenty.”

He then hung up, leaving the dial tone to sing in my ear. I sucked in a breath and let it go as I stood.

I didn’t know why I thought this would be a good idea. Tom had offered many weeks ago to introduce me to his mistress, and show me the secret apartment he’d been keeping for her. I’d never been interested before in the unfaithful acts against my cousin. Everything was different now. I figured this would… Distract from my heartbreak long enough for me to breathe again.

The train smelled strongly of smoke and sweet perfume. Tom’s cologne was horribly potent, but I didn’t gag. It was blocking out the scent Gatsby’s car had left on my clothes and skin. 

The dull grey of the Valley of Ashes became a gradient of vibrancy as we neared the city. The train zipped past back alleys where a young woman was making a quick dollar by hiking up her skirt for a businessman. There was a blur as billboards advertised a number of gender specific products that everyone seemed to ignore upon purchase. A famished homeless man grumbled prayers to a stone-faced passerby, waving a collection jar that was distinctly disregarded. A boisterous priest ten blocks away mimicked these prayers in hopes of a different outcome. The sad sounds of saxophone and trumpet masterpieces filled the air. We’d reached an area I hadn’t ventured often. It made perfect sense in the cosmic scheme of things that Tom would house his mistress there, among the street rats and the common folk.

The apartment was full when we arrived.

“Hey, Doll.”

Tom dragged forward a woman in a bright frilly dress. Her lips were the same cherry red as her cheeks. She kissed him and then slapped his arm lightly.

“This is Myrtle. Myrtle, this is Nick. Daisy’s cousin.”

She extended a bejeweled hand, which I accepted carefully.

“A pleasure! Tom’s mentioned you! Said he doubted you’d come, but I’m certainly glad you did!” Her eyes raked over my torso and wandered the slightest bit lower. “My… He’s gorgeous. Don’t you agree, Cat?”

“I believe I do,” said a woman draped on a lounge chair, fiddling with a long pearl necklace. “I’m Catherine. Myrtle’s sister.” She dropped a glittery wink and I felt my throat close up. “You can come sit with me whenever you like, sweetheart.”

“Let him alone, Ladies,” Chided a disembodied voice from a room to my left.

Then the voice’s owner entered my line of sight. He was tall, yet slightly feminine in his features and posture. Pale as alabaster and freshly shaven, he was a sight.

“I’m Chester.” He extended his hand. I shook it, apprehensively. “McKee.” He smiled wryly.

“Chester’s a photographer.” Catherine chimed, as though proud of her companion’s line of work. McKee’s eyes dropped bashfully. His hand lingered in mine. “He lives in the flat just below this one." 

“Enough with the introductions.” Tom declared, sounding irritated and moderately aggressive, similar to his normal tone. “Nick came to drink, for whatever reason, and we are not going to disappoint our guest.”

His jackal smile would have normally sparked fear in my gut, but now I wanted risk. I craved it. I needed to get drunk with these peculiar characters and forget.

So I did.

We drank and laughed and the music never stopped for a moment. People outside were dancing on the street below to a hundred different melodies. I could see into every window of the apartment next to us. A young woman stared longingly at a black performer below. A tall man was punching a bag full of sand, hands wrapped in white boxing tape. Everyone seemed stranded in their own lives, bubble next to bubble, pressed together, but never popping. A symphony of a million stories being read at once. The crowd of humans roared every hour of the day. It was louder than Gatsby’s high-class celebrations. 

I lost count of how many glasses of Scotch passed my lips. Catherine had placed a pill in my hand that I’d set on my tongue without a second thought. Colors seemed brighter, the music clearer. My head was light. Laughter filled my ears. Perhaps it was my own. Everyone was beautiful in the saturated neon lights. Catherine grabbed my chin harshly and forced our lips together. It was pleasant, similar to a pillow. When she drew away she laughed at the stray red that had imprinted on my lips. I laughed too.

Myrtle and Tom were loud in the side room, sparing no one the details of their shared experiences of pleasure. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks.

Suddenly, or maybe not so, Catherine’s body was replaced with McKee’s and a soft hand found its way to my hair. I felt his breath hot on my neck. I hadn’t realized that his lips had been there, bruising the spot just below my ear. I was drunk and high and life was a glamorous canvas that I had yet to plaster with paints of all colors.

He muttered something about going back to his room. I could feel myself nodding, but nothing else processed in my mind. I felt the cold railing as we half-consciously tumbled down the stairs.

The next thing I felt were silky white bed sheets firmly in my grasp. The ceiling was a blur of white. I tasted metal. There was burning on every inch of my skin and I felt my clothes tear as they fell unceremoniously to the floor.

I tasted the lips on my own and recalled the bitter taste of vodka that resonated there.

“Jay!” I blurted when fingertips found my hips. I imagined the ring Gatsby normally wore on his littlest finger, and was surprised when I didn’t feel its cool touch.

No. Gatsby didn’t drink vodka. 

My eyes fluttered open. McKee stared back at me, half lidded eyes prodding. In a daze I opened my mouth to apologize, but was halted by a shudder as he grabbed my belt. He smiled, clearly insinuating that I could call out anyone’s name I pleased as long as I didn’t stop. The world was spinning. I was grateful.

I then remembered the girls at Gatsby’s party. It was just as powerful as the flashbacks I got about the war.

Their hands had been just as soft as McKee’s, but nowhere as skillful. Their laughs more like tiny bells than distant grumbles. I remembered wishing to God that I could feel the same desire they felt. I’d drunk so much, in hopes that the alcohol would help, but it just made it harder to focus. The experience hadn’t been bad, I just wasn’t responding as vivaciously as I should have been. Countless men would have killed to have been in my position.

Then I saw Gatsby. Just over the shoulder of the blonde girl who’s husband was just a room away. Gatsby had rounded the corner and came to a halt, a full glass of champagne in his hand that his lips hadn’t touched all evening. He stared at me, at my position, and stiffened. His spine straightened into a military stance. I’d never seen such hurt in his eyes. Then he turned around briskly, and walked back the way he came.

That was like a cold shower that I hadn’t needed in the first place. The girls pouted and complained, offended when I pulled away. I was desperate to get some air, to shut my eyes and feel peace. They called me names I was too dizzy to comprehend as I stumbled away, fixing my clothes.

Long drawn out sounds left my throat without permission when I felt McKee’s hand firmly grab my thigh. The actions from then on were a blurry mix of overstimulation and heat. Aggression, which I’d never thought could come from a man that delicate, seemed to fill the room. I rode the current, imagining Gatsby’s sharp eyes and military jaw. I imagined that they were his hands I felt threading through my hair.

Gatsby…” I sighed, tugging the other man closer to me.

I understood what Tom loved about this part of the city. It was a snapshot of real life. It wasn’t a coated with the glamor romanticists insisted upon. It wasn’t simple or single faceted. It wasn’t just vulgar; it was real, raw, and beautiful.

 

Then I woke up.

 

The second my eyes opened, they slammed shut again in agony. The morning light that seeped through the windows was blinding. There was a loud banging in my temple and a ringing in my ears. I groaned, shifting, trying to move, but my body was covered in a sticky layer of sweat that had dried overnight. I shivered when I realized there are no blankets concealing me. I also realized that I was indecent.

I cracked an eye open painfully and didn’t recognize the room. The bed was empty with only myself to occupy it. So who’s room—?

 

Chester McKee.

 

Shit!” I swore, jerking upright.

The room swayed alarmingly and my stomach lurched. I grabbed a waste bin by the nightstand and vomited. I’d never felt worse in my life. My body ached; my nose was filled with the smell of sex and McKee’s laundry detergent. McKee was nowhere in sight. Most likely ashamed of our actions and allowing me to depart without further discussion.

Good Lord.

I wanted to stop existing.

 

Chapter Text

 

“You know that Gatsby fellow?” One particularly boisterous feminine voice inquired. 

I did my best not to lower my newspaper. We were in a public café. Eavesdropping was not my forte. I did my best to ignore them, absentmindedly rubbing a fading bruise on my neck.

“Sure I do. Who doesn’t?” A more delicate voice responded. “What about him?”

“He’s having another random celebration tonight,” She lowered her voice in a futile attempt to be discreet. “I hear he invited the Buchanan’s! It’s to be his biggest one yet! Must have got some complaints about his last one being too small...”

“Ha! That’s a riot! I can’t believe that man hasn’t run outa champagne with all the parties he throws! And his house! With a place like his, that man could have anyone he fancied!” She smiled dreamily at the thought.

“Don’t get your hopes up, Bernice. I hear he’s a queer.”

My knee knocked against the table, rattling the metal. Thankfully they didn’t seem to notice my reaction. I lifted my coffee and attempted to seem unaffected.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, trust me.

“Nah, I don’t believe that for a second,” Bernice scoffed.

“Believe whatever you like… Oh! I also heard that Jordan Baker is gonna to be there! I’ve always wanted to meet her! She’s my inspiration! We have to go!" 

I stood up and made my way to the exit swiftly.

I despised the fact that I couldn’t get a damn coffee without being reminded of my troubles. That night with McKee… However much of a drastic mistake that had been, was supposed to be a sufficient distraction. Instead, it blew up in my face. There was no escape when your problems were the talk of the town.

I pulled my collar up against the wind and opened my umbrella. The rain tapped against the thin material. I supposed the downpour would stop before Gatsby’s party began. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had an arrangement with God to hold the rain back long enough for him to entertain his guests.

This was ridiculous.

I needed a drink.

 Gatsby never drinks—

  Good lord, make it stop.

 The bell chimed as I stepped into the Speakeasy. I didn’t realize how far I’d walked— It was a hole in my memory. The guys in the barbershop barely spared me a second glance. I closed my umbrella and knocked on wood.

 Stepping into the party was different this time. No longer a surprise. Without Gatsby to lead me, it lost its glamour. I shoved my way through the crowd, feeling the sounds of the trumpets in my chest.

 I found an empty stool at the main bar in the far left corner. If I turned my head, I could see the table where Gatsby and Wolfsheim signed an agreement. The table was empty. I faced forward.

 The man behind the counter had a large greying moustache and kind brown eyes.

 “What can I get for you?” He asked, wiping down a martini glass.

 “Anything to stop the pain.”

This came out by accident. Words never meant to reach the ears of a stranger.

 He heard me over the noise. His eyebrows rose. “Pain on the inside or the outside?” At my undoubtedly despondent expression, he nodded. “Here ya go, son.” He slid me a fresh pint. “Its on the house.”

I nodded my gratitude, but he was already looking away.

 I was there for hours. Longer than I intended to stay. It was different than getting drunk in Tom’s secret apartment. Nothing there was beautiful. Being drunk somehow made it more gut wrenching. I wanted to see splendors, the luxury I could find at Gatsby’s estate— 

I was suddenly furious.

Gatsby. All of this was his doing. He ruined me, turned me into this. I’d spent the last few days attempting to forget him, but what I really had to do was think about him, the ruinous monstrosity who destroyed me.

For a second I couldn’t remember why I ever loved him.

 And then I did— In screaming color. Everything about him was imperfect and flawed— I loved him for the devil he was.

The problem was myself. Love had turned me into a hypocrite. I had become a liar with dirt under my fingernails. A man who succumbed to the basest desires and developed a craving for agony.

You are a kind, honest fellow, aren’t you, Nick?

 Not anymore. Not since Gatsby.

A woman with a long fluffy coat leaned against the bar next to me. Her striking green eyes were dazzling surrounded by a frame of curly brown hair.

“Hey there.” She greeted, a flirty smile playing on her lips.

“Hey.” I said, sounding much more sober then I actually was. “Come here often?”

She laughed, a gentle breeze. “Has that line ever done you any good? You’re lucky you’re good lookin’.” Alarm bells sounded through my brain. I could feel that this conversation was scripted; written by some higher power that hadn’t accounted for the way I felt about men. “Say, I’m going to a party and I need some arm candy. Wanna come with?”

“Sure.” I replied because it was the only correct answer. 

She hooked her arm through mine and tugged me away from the bar. 

“I’m Carolyn.” She informed as we pushed through the dancing mass.

“Nick.” 

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Nick. Tell me, are you always this chatty?” 

I could tell through the haze that fogged up my brain that she was joking with me. 

“You’ll have to forgive me. I’m not at my peak.” 

“Heartbreak?” The way she suggested this wasn’t with normal sympathy, nor did she seem pleased. She seemed to suspect it, sounding interested. 

“You could say that.”

Was it really heartbreak if your heart was never whole to begin with? 

Carolyn nodded, seeming satisfied with this answer.

 “What about you?” I managed as we hopped up the steps, toward the exit. “Are you heartbroken too?”

Her laugh was a second too late as the bell jingled overhead.

“You could say that.”

Fair enough.

She hailed a cab and we climbed in. Usually, I’d have noticed every aspect of the scenery we passed, and probably remarked on the social and societal concerns and concepts that we encountered. But there, in my drunken state, with a beautiful woman on my left whom I could never love, I didn’t see much use in detail.

Then the area swiftly became familiar. The sun began to set a few minutes prior, but I hadn’t noticed. I recognized the shadowy row of mansions as we drove along my very own neighborhood in West Egg. My first thought was that she was dropping me off at home, the party dismissed, before the cab turned.

Gatsby’s driveway was full and illuminated. Even from the back seat of the taxi I could hear the laughter and music deep in my chest and the soles of my feet.

I shouldn’t be there. I couldn’t be there. Not then, not ever.

I opened my mouth to say just that, when Carolyn spoke.

“Oh my word… This is beautiful!” Her filed nails dug into my arm as she leaned toward my window. “I’ve never seen this place. I’ve only ever heard of parties like these! Like a ball for a king! I’m from Jersey, so I’ve never… Oh, Nick, isn’t it wonderful?" 

I couldn’t reply. I couldn’t tell her that I knew this estate better than most. I could already feel the itching under my skin from being so close to these memories. Even in my drunken state, I couldn’t ruin it for her. 

Carolyn had a steady grip on my waist as we stepped up the large marble staircase. I kept my head down, glancing at Carolyn to avoid eye contact with those whom I might recognize.

 We passed the ballroom; the space where Gatsby and I nearly kissed was no longer empty. So many people treaded over the spot where we’d sat. No one knew. It was a secret between the two of us, much like everything else. We made our way to the yard and pool where the entertainment was. I was nearly knocked over by a distracted couple, but steadied myself on Carolyn’s thin shoulders,

I smiled down at her and she smiled back, but this time, surrounded by romantics and lovers, there was no flirtation. I saw recognition in her eyes at the platonic indications evident in my own. Her lips opened a fraction but nothing came out.

She wasn’t interested in me. I didn’t need to be sober to see that.

The question of why she was there with me remained…

 Then I understood. She was using me the same way I was using her. 

She sighed in relief as we made a silent, mutual understanding. We would pretend. Two queers protecting each other, as we should. I considered for a moment how she knew about me, but my mental clarity hadn’t extended that far.

She snatched a tall glass of sparkling champagne from a passing waiter and pressed it into my hand.

“To those we want,” She said raising her own.

 “And to those we can never have,” I agreed.

She smiled brokenly and drank the entire thing in one swallow. She was dreamlike in the golden light, and I was happy to have met her. I knew that we would never see each other again after that night. She knew it too. It was a sad form of safety.

After an hour or two of drinking and dancing, I found myself pulled in through the current of the drunken swarm.

I worried at the passing thought of where Carolyn was— before I remembered that I’d left her in a darkened lounge with a lingerie model. I smiled to myself, happy for her present, terrified for her future.

 I stopped, stepping out of the stream of people, in front of the large oak doors. I remembered the sailboats. I needed to see them one last time, to feel them against my skin before this mansion was nothing but a memory. I shoved the doors open and staggered in. They shut heavily behind me, the room swayed a little bit, but I kept myself upright, muttering about sailboats. 

“Nick?” Came a too familiar voice.

I looked up and blinked the room into clarity.

Gatsby was leaning on his desk.

No.

 “I can’t believe you came, Old Sport.” He walked towards me, his mouth hesitant to smile. 

I cringed at the nickname.

“I was hoping you would come so I could explain—“

“What are you doing in here?” I interrupted, not realizing that the words were actually slipping from my mouth. “Why aren’t you with Daisy?”

It was his turn to grimace. He stopped, five feet away, and cleared his throat. “I-I’m taking a… Break from the festivities. But listen, Old Sport, I understand that you’re still angry with me for lying about knowing Daisy—“

"Knowing her?” I tried to remember why, the alcohol clouding my thoughts. Ah, yes, the lies, the heartbreak. “You think that’s why I’ve been drinking myself into a stupor every night? You pride yourself in being perceptive, yet you’re somehow so idiotic. How is that possible?”

“What—?“

“I’m mad because you love her.” It was simple. Everything was so simple. “I’m livid that you used me as a bridge to get to her, because you love her. You let me see parts of myself that I never would have seen otherwise, and it was all for my cousin. How can you not see what’s so fucking sadistic about that?”

Gatsby was silent for a long moment. “Nick… You can’t possibly mean—“

“I am in love with you, Jay.”

I heard him suck in a sharp breath. Simple.

“I have been since the moment you reeled me into your scheme,” I laughed, forgetting momentarily what I was supposed to be sad about. Gatsby’s eyes were wide, so wide. “But you have Daisy. You’ve always had Daisy, even when she was with Tom. She was the right one, wasn’t she? Well, there you go! You get the one you’re supposed to love and the rest is history. Are you enjoying yourself, Jay?”

Nick, thats enough.” His voice was terse; my name was suddenly a command I didn’t wish to follow.

"Enough? Says the man who has everything."

 “You’re drunk and hysterical.”

Was I? I hadn’t noticed. What I had noticed is that Gatsby was in pain. I heard the bartender’s voice in my head.

Pain on the inside or the outside? What did it fucking matter? 

My vision tunneled. My legs began to fail me. 

“I’ve been so honest with you, Jay," I hissed out in a single breath. "Are you invigorated yet?”

As I fell to the ground, I saw him lurch forward in an attempt to catch me. In my descent to the ground I realized what I’d just confessed.

The reality of it hit me harder than the impact. 

I then knew why Gatsby never drank. He had too many secrets.

Chapter Text

I woke up on a bed made of clouds. It took me a full minute in my aching stupor to conclude that they were metaphorical clouds, and that the bed was, in fact, just a bed. The room was unfamiliar, large enough that my short, startled breaths echoed as if I were not alone. As if instead a ghost— a phantom, accompanied me.

I sat upright. A glass of water and two pills to heal my hangover had been left out on the nightstand. I swallowed the pills gratefully and sipped the water, squinting against my numbing headache.

I was horrified to see that my clothes had been stripped off of me and laid out, folded. I felt bare, exposed. The situation reminded me briefly of my morning at McKee’s. I shook that thought away, desperate to place a great deal of space between that memory and myself. I took moment to check if I were in bed with another fellow (hoping desperately that this was not the case). To my relief, the bed was vacant save for my own dazed self. I was wearing nightclothes, I discovered, which was a gracious relief.

I then saw a tiny green light somewhere in the dim, moonlit darkness. This bed belonged to Gatsby.

My stomach filled with rocks and a dagger plunged into my heart. All air was extracted from the room and I felt the tight strain of my throat working to cough away the emptiness.

All that I’ve been keeping inside of me for weeks had escaped. The words that hadn’t even made it onto paper had somehow left my brain and tainted the world around me. My struggle to press my emotions deep within was all for nothing. When had I begun to play the part of my own enemy?

I sat there for what felt like hours, but could have been minutes. The throbbing in my temple subsided gradually and was nearly gone when I was startled out of my thoughts again.

I heard something shatter down the hall. The distant crash ignited the silent darkness and jumpstarted my pulse. There were hushed voices, strained in desperation. I could breathe again, but now it was rapid. Oh, how useless my lungs always seemed to be.

Concerned, I got up from the mattress to investigate. My bare feet slapped against the cold wooden floor. I felt on edge, venturing toward the soft scraping sound of someone collecting glass.

I reached the room at the end of the hall. The door was ajar and a figure stood in the bleak candlelight. 

Gatsby. He was next to a large bed, cupping a hand full of broken shards. His eyes were wide yet expecting, as if he’d known of, and feared, my arrival.

I didn’t say a word. I just lingered in the doorway as his eyes caught sight of me. I couldn’t for the life of me think of something practical to say. What could one say in that situation? I had just revealed the most distasteful secret one could possibly share. Yet there I stood in Gatsby’s household, dressed in his spare nightclothes like a welcomed guest.

“I apologize for waking you,” Gatsby said sincerely. Nothing more and nothing less.

I stood there, staring like a lunatic. In all honesty, I wasn’t prepared to face such earnest emotions at that late an hour. 

“Why?” I asked finally. Why the apology? Why the clothes? Why the geniality? Why the hospitality? Why the forgiveness? An answer to any would do. 

Gatsby looked around a moment before walking to a rubbish bin and disposing of the glass. He then made his way to the double doors of his terrace and motioned with his chin for me to follow. I did so, mindful of where I stepped in case he’d missed any glass. I noticed that the floor wasn’t wet. The glass he’d been holding must have been empty.

I stepped onto the terrace. The air was cool against my skin; the weather warm, the wind chilled. It was the very definition of a summer night bordering on a summer day. Gatsby was leaning against the railing with his elbows bracing the metal. He too was wearing pajamas, though his were pale grey silk. I wished to roll the fabric between my fingers. Such hopes were abandoned, reminded of the impurity.

I followed suit and stood facing the bay. The green light blinked and faded out once more, sullen like a dying heartbeat. It grew faint as a curtain of early morning fog dropped to smother the waves. The way Gatsby had looked at it— I’d never seen the light as a fragile thing. Now as it paled, dispersing into green embers in the mist, I’d never seen something so delicate. It was as if it were merely a dream that we both shared, but I knew deep within my chest that the light meant something much different for Gatsby.

He cleared his throat, his crystal blue eyes squinting in the hazy dark.

“I met Daisy on a cool night like this one.” He said. I was swallowing knives. “She wore lace and pearls. I was infatuated by her mere existence… As if that were something tangible, light and airy. Everything about her was beautiful and tranquil like a pool of water without a single ripple; untouched.”

There was a lag in his story. I feared that he was done. That he had made his point and would now cordially request that I left without a trace and never ventured there again.

“I met Clark Simmons on a night like this as well.” The name fell from his lips like it had been decades since he’d played the melody of its syllables. I noticed his body shift so his hands were gripping the railing, his arms locked. He looked out over the bay. The fog masked the green light. He sighed, as if he were grateful it wasn’t present for the moment— as if he were free. His tongue loosened. “He was… He was as radiant as the midday sun. I was mesmerized by his charisma, his sheer force of will. He made me want to believe, to fight the war with genuine patriotism. He once showed me a picture of his kid brother and cried in my arms when homesickness became too much. He’d pointed at the picture—“ Gatsby jabbed the air with his finger, ”—and cried, ‘this… This is what I’m fighting for.’” Gatsby’s voice broke. “I was the only man alive who could call him by his first name. It took me nearly a month to understand why. It took me another month to realize that I returned the feeling. By the time I finally understood all there was to understand he was blown to pieces on the battlefield.”

The world was quiet. The waves mourned.

“When I came back home, I thought I’d at least have Daisy… That the war hadn’t cost me everything I valued most…”

I didn’t think my heart had ever felt fuller than in that moment. I thought maybe it was filling with unshed tears. Maybe they were Gatsby’s. 

“It was then that I realized that I must have valued the wrong things. I thought that no God could ever be so cruel. So I developed a fortune. I thought if I could just get Daisy back then I could resume the life I paused to join the war.“

There was a new taste of sympathy in my mouth.

“I used you, Nick.” His expression was impassable. “I was heartless and used you to get to Daisy. I did the unforgivable for stale, unsatisfactory love.”

The sympathy was gone in an instant, replaced by anger.

“I played an elaborate game to befriend Daisy’s cousin and finally achieve the goal I’ve been set on for years…" He was silent only a moment more before saying, "I never intended to fall for you.”

The wind stopped. 

“I had convinced myself that my emotions toward Clark were a fallacy constructed by my own convoluted mind, but then I grew to know you. I didn’t have to act or pretend, and it terrified me. I thought Daisy was the end; the last chance of love the fates would ever allow me. When I saw you with those girls, I thought I’d been proven right.” There was a sharp twist of discomfort in my gut. “When you figured out the truth, I thought I'd lost the last shred of hope I possessed. But now you say the words I’ve been dying to hear for decades, and I can’t help but think that it was just alcohol’s influence on your tongue. Please understand… I couldn’t bare it if that were the case.”

I didn’t look at him or respond. I stood, facing forward, collecting my thoughts. I glanced up but there were no stars out. It was too close to morning. I felt Gatsby’s eyes on me, like I always did.

I thought of his sweet tooth. I thought of how he took his tea plain. I thought of the contradictions that made up Gatsby.

“I understand if you hate me for what I did, Nick. You shouldn’t forgive—“

“I love you.”

Gatsby’s mouth snapped shut. I heard him take a deep breath and release it. I thought of the sailboats.

“Say that again,” He whispered.

I ducked my head in his direction, not risking eye contact that might steal the last of my composure.

“I love you, Jay,” I complied, enunciating every word. “That is what I said. That is what I meant. That will never change.”

His hand slid down the railing slowly and tentatively. Our fingers brushed. I looked down at our hands in sheer disbelief, before flipping mine, palm up. An invitation. It was a hesitant one, but an invitation all the same.

He looked down at the pale flesh of my palm. He took it, gingerly threading our fingers together as if I was made of glass and he would drop me. That something would shatter for the second time that night. The temperature of his ring seemed out of place on his warm hands. 

What we were doing, what we were confessing, was entirely forbidden.

“Look at me, Nick,” Gatsby requested. He hadn’t used the name Old Sport all evening. His voice as fragile as it was when recounting his story of Clark. I thought of McKee. There were too many ghosts on one terrace.

I looked up. Our eyes met immediately. It was a soft click as everything fell into place. I heard a short breath escape him. Suave, composed Gatsby, who could have anyone he desired, was nearly shaking with nerves. His eyes dropped to my lips, just as they’d done in his empty ballroom. There was so much want reflected in them. I heard klipspringer’s music in the hollows of my memory.

The golden sun peaked out slowly from below the horizon. The green light sparkled. Gatsby licked his lips. He looked as if he were in agony. 

 

Damn that blasted light.

 

I leaned in and captured his lips with my own.

 

I felt him jump, startled and taken aback. His eyes were wide for a moment. I couldn’t tell if he was horrified or just surprised.

Then they closed.

And he pressed forward.

I felt his kiss in every part of me. It was a dull ache in my joints, a weakening in my knees. It was a shock of heat down my spine, coursing through every vertebra. It was a pressure at the base of my skull and a tingling in my fingertips. Every nerve ending was alive.

His free hand cupped my face. The hot pressure against my cheek rivaled the cool wind of dawn. A tiny shudder rolled through me. Every action was involuntary. I was purely instinct. Purely me.

His lips were softer than I could ever imagine. There was a passion that seemed reserved for me. Gatsby, in all his elegance, was kissing me with desperation. I thought briefly of McKee— then immediately shot that thought from my mind. This was the most brand new, shining thing that life had to offer and I was not about to taint it with my own impulses.

Trial after trial, Gatsby grew bold and took my bottom lip between his own. I sighed. It was the relieved sound of: Finally…

He pulled his mouth away, though kept his grip on my hand and cheek, as if he never wanted to be apart. He caught his breath, searching my eyes wildly, passionately. His lips were parted and I barely resisted the urge to catch them with my own once more.

“Nick,” He croaked, swallowing thickly. His neck was red and the color was creeping toward his face. “I have grown accustomed to wanting that which I cannot have.” His gruff voice caused me a shiver of longing. “But I…” He trailed off.

I stared back at him, expectantly. 

He exhaled and stepped away, extracting his hands. 

“You should go back to bed.” He sounded tired, emotionally exhausted. A request sizzled on the tip of his tongue, but he refused to reveal it. He rubbed his eyes and turned out to face the bay. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock had subsided and the morning birds had begun their songs. The sky was pink and purple, burning with a dull red around the horizon like a bruised rose petal. 

“It’s morning," I replied softly. He blinked a few times, his hands tightening around the railing, his knuckles turning white. “I will go home, Jay, if that is what you—“ 

“Come lay with me,” He snapped finally, as if he had planned to stop himself from saying exactly that. His eyes screwed shut. He breathed in and out. I understood then how hard this must have been for him. His eyes opened after a long moment and he turned his head to address me. “Please?” His request was soft and imploring. I thought of Carolyn's heartbroken eyes and forsaken dreams.

I nodded.

He took me by the hand and led me to his bed. He sat first, awkwardly, and I followed. We lay there forever, my head in the crook of his neck, his arm around my shoulders. He traced words and patterns against the skin of my arm and lulled me to sleep.

I dreamt of sailboats.

His bed was made of clouds.

Chapter Text

This was the start of the end of the world, but before I knew that, I was at peace.

Of course it wasn’t true peace to lay at Gatsby’s side— what with the constant threat of being discovered looming in the periphery of my vision. But it was the closest I’d ever gotten.

I stirred when the midday sun was high in the sky. I was groggy with the remains of a hangover. An accidental groan slipped through my teeth before I remembered whom I was lying with, and became conscientious of waking him up. It was too late. He’d already started moving. We had shifted in our sleep to a somewhat more compromising position. I had flipped to my left side. Gatsby’s arms were wrapped around my middle. His body was a warm shield, protecting my spine from the unforgiving world. He had a broad hand spread over my stomach that was now smoothing over the expensive fabric of my borrowed nightshirt. Gatsby was awake.

 He was a light sleeper. I filed that away.

 “Nick,” He sighed, hot breath against my neck. 

 I felt the press of lips on the soft skin behind my ear. Unthinkable.

 “Your mind has not changed,” I said in a statement rather than a question. I must have sounded hesitant without meaning to because, to my utter disappointment, Gatsby’s hand stopped in its soothing ministrations.

 “Has yours?” 

I shifted in his arms, turning to face him. I could tell he wasn’t expecting this. There was blatant wonder on his face that I was sure he hadn’t intended for me to see. I pressed forward, catching his lips just as I did at dawn.

 It became clear to me that I would never tire of kissing him, whether heated and passionate like the first, or gentle and caring like the second.

 I pulled back a fraction, and daringly spoke against his mouth. “No. Nor have I had a change of heart, which is, frankly, the more important change. Wouldn’t you agree?”

 From our close proximity, I couldn’t see if his eyelids were fluttering or if he was showing any other signs of content, but I felt his hands grab at my hips, gripping with raw force. I heard and felt him swallow. Obviously I was doing something right.

 “I think you’re correct,” He rasped, visibly restraining himself. He hadn’t figured out that he could kiss me whenever he pleased. I would have to correct that.

 I closed the gap again, drawing his courage out from hiding, slowly and deliberately. The kiss was languid— far more luxurious then what I was used to, but this was Gatsby.

 Kissing Gatsby was a concept that had once seemed so outlandish that I hadn’t been able to fathom it until it became a reality. He tasted much different then his scent. No citrus, no spice. The taste of his lips was so mellow and sweet, like the pastries I knew he enjoyed— much different than the way he took his tea. Kiss by kiss I pieced him together.

 I never thought I would be the one to pull away, but I did. I got the feeling that Gatsby would easily lay there with me all day. Not that I would truly object to that, but I had other facets of my life. Unlike Gatsby, my romanticism had its boundaries.

 “I have to go to work.” I pushed his chest away from me gently. He moved back, but made sure to keep contact with my hands, obviously missing the point.

 “I can pay for any expenses this morning costs you, Old Sport.” The nickname was different this time. Overnight, it had become a term of endearment. Perhaps it always had been but I failed to notice. 

 I brushed stray hair from his forehead, brimming with warmth. My voice dropped to a near whisper.

“I have to go, Jay.” 

He took a moment, and nodded.

 I smiled softly and swung my legs off of the bed. I caught my reflection in a half full glass of water on his bed stand. I was disheveled and my cheeks were notably flushed, but there was something else. Something about me had changed. I couldn’t name it for the life of me. Gatsby stood on the opposite side of the bed, straightening his nightclothes and smoothing his golden hair. He was different too. Something about the way he stood— less military, more civilian.

 He looked at me over his shoulder. His eyes dropped somewhere at my side, and his expression faltered for reasons I couldn’t explain.

 “What is it?” I asked.

 He blinked, shook his head, and tugged on his normal smile once more.

 “Nothing, Old Sport. Thought I saw something, that’s all.” He began to unbutton his silky shirt, and I took that as a silent cue to gather my belongings.

 I meandered down the long hallway and found my original guest room. My clothes were still folded in the same spot. I picked them up and glanced out the window. The bay was calm. Bad for sailing. Tom would be displeased at the lack of wind. A brilliant summer day nonetheless.

I changed swiftly into yesterday’s clothes, folding the soft cotton nightclothes and placing them on the neatly made bed. I pitied Gatsby’s servants, who had to clean up after every single one of his wild parties. It was the least I could do to tidy up.

I met him at the top of the stairwell. He was dressed sharp as ever, a blue suit this time. He grinned when he saw me. Our interactions were somehow much smoother now, without the fear of revealing taboo feelings. It was almost too relieving to see the unfiltered adoration in his face, knowing that I could portray the same without judgment. This was much different then how he looked at Daisy. He looked at her as if it hurt to exist around her. The way he looked at me… Like our intimacy healed something in his soul. Both were different forms of love, I supposed. Though both were equally as dangerous.

“Allow me to fetch you some breakfast before you leave?” Gatsby suggested. “Working off a hangover on an empty stomach will be quite a difficult task at the office, Old Sport.”

“A mild hangover, but alright,” I complied. “Since you bring up such a convincing argument.”

We started down the stairs. My fingers brushed against his so lightly it could have been interpreted as an accident. His sudden attention and sideways glance suggested he knew all too well that it wasn’t. I smiled to myself. 

Everything about this was better then I could have hoped. Maybe a bit too easy in its entirety, but I wasn’t about to jinx that. Whatever this was, it was new and fragile. A nagging voice reminded me to cherish it while it lasted. 

A butler, not Gatsby’s favorite, approached us at the bottom of the stairs.

“A call for you, monsieur,” He informed with a thick French accent. “Madame Jordan Baker.”

“Tell her I’ll return her call later.” Gatsby dismissed, a thin layer of irritation in his voice that didn’t go unnoticed.

The butler nodded and promptly returned to the phone.

I was determined not to let this reminder ruin my morning. I grabbed Gatsby’s hand and tugged him forward, ignoring his instant look of panic.

“Come on, Jay.” I stopped a moment, allowing him to catch up. “In all your splendor, you must have coffee in this place.”

He gave me a leveled look, almost as if to say, you’re holding my handSomeone may see us. But said nothing of the sort. He nodded, even rewarding me a half smile, and gestured the direction with his chin. I followed him down the spiraling corridors and was once again taken aback by how correct it felt to exist by his side. The love inside me had almost become a tangible thing. 

Gatsby led me out to the patio where we’d enjoyed tea a few weeks ago. I remembered it vividly as I sat on the familiar hard plastic chair. I wondered if he also remembered the time we’d sat there before.

He asked a servant to fetch us breakfast and coffee, before settling into his seat.

“Jay?” He looked up immediately. “The last time we sat in these chairs, why hadn’t you spoken to me?”

He looked puzzled.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

 “It was a hot day like this one,” I said, gesturing to the sunlight glinting off the smooth bay. “We’d gone out to lunch. Afterward, you didn’t contact me for nearly a week. You summoned me later and never explained the silence.”

He showed signs of nervous understanding as he recalled the days I spoke of.

“Ah, yes. That… I warn that the answer is quite the embarrassing one, Old Sport.” He lowered his voice and inclined his head to be closer to me while speaking. Though the nearness, he struggled to meet my eyes. “At the lunch, you’d called me Great. You, a writer, who could clearly see more detail in life than most, had spared that adjective on me. You hardly knew me and yet… You thought of me as something more then what I was…” He looked around to make sure we were truly alone. “Old Sport, I’ve been so afraid of… Of loving you that I hadn’t allowed myself the opportunity to entertain any minor shred of hope on the subject.”

The wind took a deep breath and exhaled.

“It was the same for me,” I replied, light headed in spite of myself.

Gatsby wasn’t able to comment because a few servants returned with dishes and mugs. We dined in silence, shamelessly enjoying each other’s company. It was more than I could have dreamed. Perhaps my imagination wasn’t as expansive as I’d thought.

It wasn’t long before I had to depart. He’d smiled tentatively as his favorite butler saw me out, raising his coffee in a wordless farewell. It was seldom that I left a place with the unbridled longing to return. What if it wasn’t the place? I decided that, regardless of any place, as long as Gatsby was a factor, I would want to come back.

Chapter Text

Daisy had never bothered me at work before. The walls of the stock building were practically enchanted to ward off the entrance of mega-rich folks— especially women. The wealthy were to remain on the other ends of our phone lines, falling perfectly into our palms so we could coerce them to invest. The moment Daisy stepped through the doorway, every one of my coworkers knew, standing alert. There was a pause, a lull in our practices. Time was money, so it didn’t last very long— but within that gap I sensed a social catastrophe, an oncoming storm in the form of a woman.

 She stepped by the cussing men in pinstriped suites, treading steadily over the loose flyers and statistics. Her hair and clothes were perfect, the only flaw being the stern expression on her face.

 “Nick!” 

More than half of the men around me were watching intently from the corners of their eyes. A true spectacle if there was any.

“Daisy? What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”

I couldn’t help the searing shock of panic that bolted through me at the thought that my relationship with Gatsby had been discovered. There was too much to lose and I’d only just obtained it a few days prior. 

“My dear cousin, something dreadful has happened and you are the only one I trust. The world has flipped entirely upside down and there is little I can do but confide in you. There is so much to say that I am simply spilling with it—!” She eyed the office around her as if just noticing her location. “But not here. Are you free for dinner?”

 “I’m afraid not.” I answered apologetically. “I already have arrangements with Carolyn.” This was only partially true. She was to accompany me to another of Gatsby’s parties. I hadn’t yet told her the outcome of the last.

 Daisy’s thin eyebrows shot up.

“Oh! Well, look at you! A real date! I’m proud of you Nicky!”

A few of my coworkers snickered. A large part of me wanted to toss her out the window and end my misery. 

“It’s not—“

“Tomorrow then? It truly is urgent. Jordan is out celebrating another golf tournament victory. I have no one else I can speak to about it. Certainly not Tom.”

“I’ll call you.” I promised before gesturing apologetically to the ringing phone at my desk. She nodded tersely and managed her way to the door with a sour disapproving expression that didn’t quite match the elegance of her rose petal earrings.

 

A thousand dollars worth of stocks later, I was home— finished dressing and tying my shoes when Carolyn knocked on my front door. She was colorful and beaming, hugging me upon entrance.

“You clean up well!” She tugged at my bowtie endearingly. “I’ll have to swat the ladies off of you.”

“You can have them,” I replied, making her laugh.

I hadn’t realized how comfortable it would feel to make such jokes with ease. To refer to our feelings as commonplace. It was an indescribable phenomenon just short of a miracle.

She continued chattering about the many stories she had yet to tell me, after complimenting my neighborhood. I’d missed her, but my mind was elsewhere.

Ever since Daisy had come to visit me at the office I had the strongest sense of foreboding. A rapid flutter in my gut like birds fussing before a storm. I could almost taste the oncoming disaster in the air, past the petrichor.

I elected to ignore it.

I escorted Carolyn up the driveway, an arm wrapped fondly around her shimmering sequined waist. The many guests paraded toward Gatsby’s home in a similar fashion, though most of them had taken the liberty of getting drunk beforehand and acted in the typical drunken manor. Carolyn found this hilarious. I was reminded of my own slip up’s, and decided that I might refrain from drinking if I could help it.

“What do you think?”

“Sorry?” I snapped out of my thoughts and looked down at her. 

Carolyn rolled her eyes. “I was asking if you think I might see Gatsby this time! Everyone knows of him but only a handful of people can say that they’ve met him. I’m as curious as a cat, Nick! I can hardly stand it!”

I considered it briefly, wondering if I should share my news. I decided against it because of the crowd of people who could potentially overhear.

“I’m sure you’ll see him. I’ll find him for you, if you like.”

“Oh, would you?” Carolyn looked up at me, wide-eyed and as excited as a child.

“Anything for you.”

“You spoil me, Nick.” She shook her head before resting it against my shoulder as we walked.

I felt a warm comfort that I hadn’t felt since the war. A friend, an actual friend—connected to me by choice rather than money or necessity. The friends I made after the war were hardly real people at all. Gatsby had been the closest, but there was always that layer of attraction that I couldn’t shrug off. Carolyn was a different force all together. A friend… I could hardly believe I got by so long without one. 

We parted ways once we reached the main corridor. Carolyn recognized a few people from last time and wanted to greet them. I told her to have fun and meet up with me later. Gatsby’s butler tapped my shoulder almost a second after Carolyn departed and requested that I head up to meet Gatsby on the third balcony. I’d been on that balcony before. The set up was different. This time, rather than rows of tables, there were jugglers who could somehow breathe fire. 

I saw Gatsby watching the jugglers with ardent curiosity, his back to the far wall. The crowd was admittedly suffocating, but I endured it on my way to meet him.

“Jay,” I said, resting my hand on the small of his back to inform him of my arrival. He jumped the slightest at my sudden appearance. “Tell me I haven’t missed all the excitement.”

“On the contrary, Old Sport!” He glanced behind us and relaxed when he discovered that no one could see my hand. “You haven’t missed a thing. The dancers are arriving shortly, and at midnight you can expect another fireworks show. The last one was ever so popular. I got requests.”

“Sounds particularly exciting,” I said, politely waving away a servant who offered me a drink. Gatsby looked the faintest bit disappointed. It occurred a moment later that it was a result of me dropping my hand.

“No alcohol tonight, Old Sport? Finally learned your lesson?”

“I learned why they’ve made it illegal,” I responded with my eyes on the juggler who was preparing to test out a new act involving a volunteer. “I’d rather have my wits about me tonight.”

“Any particular reason?” Gatsby’s voice was edged with something. An insinuation lay under his words, but it was more innocent than I would have liked.

“You—" 

“Nick?” Came a voice so familiar I could have sketched the face without needing a name. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Mr. McKee,” I addressed the man approaching, sharply dressed with a champagne glass in his left hand that his lips had hardly touched.

“Won’t you introduce us?” McKee requested sweetly.

I shook my head and succumbed, “Jay, this is Chester McKee. Mr. McKee, this is Jay Gatsby, the host of this brilliant ensemble.”

“So you’re Jay Gatsby,” McKee smiled knowingly. I remembered suddenly, in detail, why introducing them would be a profoundly bad idea. I wanted badly to toss McKee (or myself) over the side of the balcony. “I’ve made Nick’s… acquaintance a week or so ago. I believe he may have mentioned you. He’s quite fond.”

“He did, did he?” Gatsby cast me a befuddled look. I couldn’t believe this interaction was truly happening. “I’m afraid he hasn’t mentioned you.”

“Well,” McKee drawled tellingly, “not you, really. More-so your name…”

“That’s enough,” I commanded, scanning the crowd for an escape. I spotted Carolyn again among the approaching flashy dancers and my heart soared. I loved her more and more by the second. “Excuse us, Mr. McKee. Enjoy your evening.” With that, I dragged Gatsby away from the imminent chaos.

“Nick?” Gatsby sounded a bit flustered, which didn’t match his general stature in the least. “What did he mean by that?”

“Nothing,” I answered sharply, plagued with panic. “Pay it no mind… Ah, Carolyn!” I greeted her with a warm smile and hoped she would recognize my implied cry for help.

She looked up from her conversation and somehow knew instantly of my distress. She politely excused herself and stepped closer to us.

"Nick?" She looked Gatsby up and down, particularly my grip on his forearm, and sent me a look. “Who is this?”

Gatsby stuck out a cordial hand, his charming charismatic mask in place.

“I'm Jay Gatsby.” Carolyn took his hand in unadulterated awe. “A pleasure to meet you. I hope you are enjoying my party?”

“Oh, of course!” She clamored. “And the pleasure is mine, Mr. Gatsby!”

“Please, call me Jay.”

Carolyn all but melted.

“Carolyn accompanied me to your last party,” I chimed in. “I promised I’d introduce you two.”

“She must be an impressive lady to win you over,” Gatsby mused, hinting at his own discomfort with this arrangement.

“She’s a wonderful date.”

“Oh, stop that! I couldn’t hold a candle to you, Arm Candy.”

She winked at me playfully for the second time that night and we both laughed in harmony. Gatsby was smiling tightly, confused and mildly jealous. I made a mental note to fill him in later on her sexual preferences.

His jealousy hit me stronger then I thought it would. A surefire sign that my feelings were mutual. The reminder alone would have been enough for me to kiss him again, had there not been an audience. It had been hours since our last and I felt that I couldn’t stand to live much longer without one.

A tall, dark skinned woman with long dangling earrings pulled Carolyn away so we found ourselves alone in the crowd once more.

I felt a tug on my sleeve. Gatsby wasn’t looking at me, but summoning me in his direction all the same. His breathing was odd, like he was too stressed to function properly. I followed his uneasy stride. The party dragged on beside us. The rhythm of the band matched my heartbeat.

He led me down a vacant corridor and once we turned the intersecting corner, he breathed deeply.

“I understand why you despise my parties, Old Sport. I can hardly stand them myself. Too much, too loud, too crowded.” He rolled his head back, cracking his neck and running a hand through his hair.

 I didn't despise his parties. Of course I was uncomfortable, but I had no real hatred. I opened my mouth to tell him so, but he cut me off.

“What did Chester mean earlier about you mentioning me? About my name?”

I felt my face heat up. There was no other topic that could have ruined my mood to a greater extent. My night, which had been going so smoothly, just had to be tainted by a figment of my lonesome expeditions.

“I will tell you the truth, Jay, but you should prepare yourself for the answer.” He nodded stiffly, so I began. “I was heartbroken when I discovered that the list was yours, so I met with an odd assortment of people— Tom’s friends. It was supposed to distract me from my troubles and from you. We drank and danced. I spent the whole day there, and well into the night… I left the next day.” I took a breath. “McKee and I… We…”

Gatsby seemed to attempt at a blank face, but a scowl slipped through.

“You took him to bed.”

I’d never heard his voice like that. Even as a writer I couldn’t describe the tone that somehow breached the confines of bitter and edged lightly into the territory of miserable.

“I was drunk and high, Jay,” I commended, as if that could somehow make the situation better. “I hardly remember a thing.”

“And what.. What is all this about my name?” He requested tightly.

I swallowed and took a long pause before answering.

“In my non-cognizant state, I may have channeled some of my affections toward you…” There was no use putting it delicately. “I said your name to— no… with McKee.”

Gatsby blinked, his hurt gone, replaced with confusion. “My name?”

“Several times,” I sighed. It was better that he knew, in a way. It felt as though, in letting this secret free, I could finally move past it.

“You…” Gatsby stared blankly as if I’d just handed him a half finished puzzle. “You thought of me… While…” A faint blush crept up his neck. I wanted to stab Chester McKee repeatedly— 

 

Then Gatsby grabbed my face and kissed me fiercely.

I grunted against his lips, undignified and surprised. My hands scrabbled at his clothes, searching for a good place to settle. I’d never known him to be so direct or to allow his passions to propel him in this way.

He pressed me back against the closest wall. I grabbed his hips hungrily and I let my head fall back as he descended. Hunger was the only word that could be applied to these actions. I tugged him impossibly closer.

There was something real about Gatsby’s touch. McKee had been a wisp of smoke, a thought—My mind convoluted with the assistance of drugs and alcohol. Gatsby’s lips and tongue against my neck was infinitely more defined than McKee’s hazy touch of suggestion. 

His mouth found my pulse thrumming in a vein near my jugular. There was little to say for myself, for I was embarrassingly weak in the knees. Without thinking, I pulled his hips flush against my own and Gatsby strangled out a breathless moan.

 

Like the snap of a rubber band, Gatsby pulled back—suddenly, breathing hard.

My head spun, rattling with irritation and concern. “What’s the matter?”

“My… My apologies, Old Sport.” He straightened his suit jacket. “I shouldn’t have… I should have shown more restraint. We can’t just… We shouldn’t…” He closed his eyes, rubbing his face with his hands. “There are too many… I can’t…” He couldn’t seem to pick a sentence, but I understood what he meant. 

“Don’t worry,” I said, my breathing labored as well. “You’re hesitant. I understand.”

“No, I just…” He yanked at his hair, his eyes closed in frustration. He couldn’t seem to find the words. There was so much to factor in at this point. Daisy. Clark Simmons. Chester McKee. Time. Gatsby and I.

I couldn’t find it in me to be mad at him.

“I’m going to go find Carolyn,” I said, dismissing myself calmly.

Gatsby looked up at me, wrecked.

“She’s a lovely girl.”

“Quite so,” I said, walking away. “A lovely girl, who has wonderful taste in women.”

In the corner of my vision, Gatsby slumped against the wall letting out his relief and frustrations in a long sigh. He let his head fall back with a mellow thud that timed perfectly with the pounding of my heart. Despite all that had happened, I couldn’t help but smile.

Chapter Text

The night was long and the morning that followed felt impossibly longer. Carolyn had stayed at my cottage, much too intoxicated to return home. I woke to find her still sprawled out haphazardly on my sofa. I let her sleep to her heart’s content, laying out pills and water on the coffee table. She had an exhaustingly fun time last night, I was sure.

We’d left soon after the fireworks, sparing no one a goodbye. That’s how rumors start, and we needed the surfacing rumors of our affair to keep us safe. Interesting how that worked.

I sat pensively at my typewriter. The metal keys beneath my fingers provided a source of comfort that had remained dormant for years. Writing was something I longed to do. It made my skin itch when I wasn’t able to preserve my ideas on the page— fleeing my mind as soon as I had the opportunity to write them down.

I was Tantalus. I attempted to understand why I deserved to suffer as he did. Perhaps it was my penance for being Queer. Carolyn would oppose that suggestion, but I thought it anyhow. I couldn’t ignore this blaring factor, now that it was featuring so prominently in my life.

The more often I thought of Gatsby, the more paranoid I became. Something like this was unheard of, simply unthinkable.

I began to type.

 Though there is a sort of serendipity in my internal affairs, I am nevertheless ingrained with a certain dread. A gloom, much like fog off of the bay, looms nearer and nearer with each passing day. There are times like this one during which I feel the walls narrowing, the curtains closing, the tides churning. The woman dozing on my furniture is no devil, though the world may disagree. She is certainly no angel, and neither am I. I suppose none would think it possible to claim position in the gracious space between, and yet there are two in this one cottage alone.

There was a knock on my door. I could see Gatsby’s outline through the short curtain.

Make that three.

I unlocked the door and it swung open energetically. Gatsby, plainly dressed and ready for the day, opened his mouth to speak. I stopped him with a silencing gesture, stepping out onto the porch and closing the door softly.

“Carolyn is asleep.” I explained at his thinly veiled puzzlement and concern. 

“Ah.” He said in clarity. He looked me up and down. “I hope I didn’t wake you.” 

“I’ve been awake, but only a short time.” I was about to let him continue, but I added further, “I was writing.”

I couldn’t say exactly why I felt the need to share this with him. Our newfound intimacy should not have been a direct influence on my tongue.

“Oh! That’s wonderful, Old Sport! May I—“

“No.” I closed the matter swiftly. “It’s private. I’ll write you something else.”

Gatsby nodded tersely in understanding. I realized then that he still didn’t know that I read his journal. The seeds of guilt begin to sprout in my chest. My hypocrisy was growing.

Gatsby regained his footing in the conversation, charm intact. “I was hoping to wander the city today, and longed for someone as dashing as yourself to accompany me.”

His flirtatious compliments did a number on my self-control, but there was something nagging, pulling at my brainstem.

“Jay, you know I would love to, but—“

“It’s all right, Old Sport. You have a guest.”

“No… Not just that.”

I had his attention fully now. He could sense something was wrong, his hand lifting my chin. How could he think I needed assistance to meet his eyes?

“What then?”

“We need to be careful, Jay.” My thoughts were disorganized. “You were right; the kiss last night was a mistake.”

Gatsby’s face dropped and so did his hand. “I never said—“

“Anyone could have rounded that corner and the entire city would have known before sunrise.” I knew my voice was stern, but I couldn’t stop myself. I was angry, though not with him. “Daisy wants to meet with me tonight for dinner, meaning I’ll have to filter every word. I would be worried about Chester McKee, but he would have to confess his own actions in order to disclose mine. There are so many factors to keep up with, Jay. We shouldn’t be adding more to the mix.”

Gatsby was quiet as he assessed this.

“I severely hope this is not a farewell.”

My panic surged. “Not at all, Jay! I’m just trying to be cautious. You know fully well why this situation is… difficult. I want to make sure our time together isn’t over as quickly as it began.”

He nodded again; a small smile flickered on his lips. “I don’t know about that. I’m quite content with things moving quickly.”

Of course he would switch to humor in the midst of a serious discussion. It was, to put it simply, a deflection. I supposed we had covered everything for the moment. I would appease him.

I managed to keep my humor dry. “Why, Mr. Gatsby! Are you making sexual advancements? I’ll have you know that I am both appalled and unwilling to reciprocate these inappropriate suggestions.”

His voice lowered slightly, his body shifting. “It appears your morals have changed since I saw you last.”

My pulse betrayed me.

 “Well, I guess it’s just a matter of—“

 

The door swung open. Carolyn shielded her eyes against the sunlight.

“Mornin’ fellas.” She remarked, her tone somehow both light and miserable. “If you would stop your flirting and make me a cup of tea, I would be delighted.” She smiled at a baffled Gatsby. “A fine morning, isn’t it, Jay? I wouldn’t know. It seems the universe wants to beat me to a pulp.” She tried to laugh and gave up with a groan. “I’ll see you inside, Nicolas Carraway. That is your full name, correct? Good Lord, I can’t think for the life of me.” She staggered back inside, her dress a wrinkled mess.

I laughed and sighed. “The lady awaits. Phone me tomorrow, won’t you, Jay?”

“Of course.” He waved me away in good humor. “Go, tend to your mistress.”

We parted ways and I felt indescribably lighter.

 

I doted on Carolyn until she was able to hail a cab, explaining the Gatsby Situation to her. She claimed to have figured it out, yet was absolutely livid that I didn’t tell her before the party. Regardless, she understood why we would be keeping it out of any gossip.

Later, I was undisturbed. The phone rang a few times while I was in the bath, but I didn’t answer, irritated that someone would try so desperately to bother me. Other then that it was quiet. Something about it felt like the calm before the storm. I let the hot water soak into my skin.

I couldn’t help but ponder the inevitable. It was an annoying tendency on my part, but I couldn’t help it. It wouldn’t be long before a societal trap would ensnare Gatsby and I. Someone would eventually ask a question we wouldn’t be able to answer— Something seemingly insignificant. That’s what would ruin us.

My mind instantly jumped to the glass of water on Gatsby’s bed-stand. I never thought about it deeply, but its existence was strangely off-putting.

Why would he already have a full glass of water, when a glass had freshly shattered on the floor? I sat, thinking about it. He wouldn’t have fetched a new glass without having the other cleaned up. Why would he have taken two drinks to bed? Something wasn’t adding up. It was small and unimportant, but didn’t sit right in my head. My overanalyzing writer’s instincts would be the death of me.

 

A driver, one of Daisy’s, stopped by at the start of the evening to escort me. I felt more nervous about this dinner than any other meal. The last time I ate at Daisy’s table, I’d been suppressed and weighed down by my emotions. This time I was weighted for different reasons.

We arrived sooner then I thought we would. There was no traffic.

Tom wasn’t there, I noted. The look on Daisy’s face as I arrived told me not to ask.

She took my hand and practically hoisted me out of the car. “Finally, you’re here! Come, I have so much to say and so little time to say it.”

I followed her into the house. We passed the dining room. Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t place it, but Daisy’s shoulders were tense and the air around her seemed rigid.

She led me into the nursery and closed the door.

“Daisy, what are we—“

“Tom had this room checked for bugs before Pammy was born.” I knew she didn’t mean actual bugs. Spy equipment. The hairs on my neck rose. “This is the only place I know we can talk freely.”

The blush pink walls and scattered toys felt ominous. The baby was sleeping in the cradle, but Daisy didn’t seem worried about waking her.

“What do you need to tell me?”

“You have to stay away from Jay.”

The words echoed in my ears. Whatever was happening was something I’d been dreading for a while without knowing exactly what I was dreading.

“What do you mean?”

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her eyelashes were long and dark against her cheek. When she opened them, I saw her alertness, her intelligence.

I understood at that moment how someone as golden as her could have secrets. She played a fool. She played an unknowing feminine shadow, when really she was the blaze that cast it. I never feared anyone more then my cousin at this moment.

“He isn’t the same man I knew from my life before.” I couldn’t drop her eyes. “I knew since the first time he joined us for dinner. After you fled the room to, understandably, escape Tom’s rudeness, Jay had attempted to follow. I’d chased after him to make sure he didn’t get lost. He looked like a mad man, Nick. I told him to call me when he got home. I wanted to see him again. He seemed… conflicted. Tom made fun of him when we sat back down, suggesting you two were codependent. I had to stop Jay from reacting in a hostile way.”

 

I’d asked him if Tom had provoked him but he’d denied anything being wrong at all. Knowing him like I did, I could tell he was lying.

 

My heart was in my throat. The baby didn’t wake up. Daisy continued her tale.

“He called me later that night while Tom was out. He told me about his journey through life in pursuit of me. It was the most romantic I’ve ever heard. I remembered why I loved him. I remembered what that love felt like.” Daisy’s eyes shone with tears. The sword was unsheathed. “I insisted that I meet him again, so I invited you both to tea. He sounded so conflicted on the phone. He was acting so different— Especially when accidentally let our past relationship slip at tea. I apologize for surprising you like that, Nicky, I hadn’t expected you to be so upset about our lies.” She blinked back tears, resting her hand on my arm. “But that’s why I’m telling you this now, you see?” Her voice was full of hysterics. She was desperate. “I’m tired of lies being passed between you and I.”

I wanted to swat her hand off of me, but I couldn’t move.

“There were a few days after that when I was too ashamed to speak to you. I spoke to Jay every night. He was closed off and jumpy. I was so worried about him, Nick. The war changed him.”

The war didn’t change him. I thought. I did.

“He threw a party the same night Tom mentioned a woman named Myrtle by accident. I knew… who she was to him by the way he said her name. I called Jay and he told me to meet him in his library. I couldn’t find him. I searched the whole night.”

She looked over at Pammy, who was still sound asleep.

“Then, as the night drew to a close, I saw him, in his room. He told me to keep my voice down because… because you were asleep down the hall.” Her voice was shaky now, scared. “It was then that I asked him to run away with me.” She paused, giving me a second to process this. “There is nothing for me here, Nick. Tom is a brute and a liar. I wanted to take Pammy and run away with Jay. I thought that, since I was able to remember our love, we could start fresh! Oh, but He looked so sad, Nick, I’d never seen him like that before. He told me that he couldn’t come with me, that there was something greater than us now.” Her despondency twisted my heart. “I didn’t understand. I asked him to explain again and again. It wasn’t long until he finally snapped. He…” Daisy choked on her words. “He said he was in love with someone else.” She stopped like it was torturing her. 

“Who?” I knew the answer. I held my breath.

You!” She burst into tears. The sword ran me through. “He’s insane, Nick, you have to understand! When he told me that, I was so shocked that I dropped my glass! Do you know what he did instead of comforting me? He told me to leave! He said I woke you and that I had to get out! Like I was his shameful secret! Can you believe it? I told him that he was hysterical! I knew that he couldn’t possibly be in his right mind! Jay isn’t a Queer! He can’t be!” She was breathing quickly now, panicked. “I left and went straight home. I haven’t heard from him since. I had to warn you, but I couldn’t say anything in public. Jay is confused, Nick. I don’t want people to think that about him. It would ruin him. He needs to heal.”

I felt like she’d just turned me inside out. My stomach felt sick, like I was going to vomit any second. I struggled to keep my voice even and my face blank. 

“Why are you telling me this?” 

“Because you need to stay away from him. He thinks he’s— he might… I don’t know, but you aren’t safe! Move in with me or that girl you’re seeing. Please, Nick.”

I tasted metal. I realized that I’d bit my tongue. 

What could I say? I couldn’t possibly mention my own feelings. This was a brash reminder that not everyone was like Carolyn. I couldn’t tell her about Gatsby and I. Frankly, I didn’t know if there would be a Gatsby and I after I left that meeting with Daisy. There were too many lies to consider.

How had he felt, speaking about loving me while Daisy, the girl he pursued for decades, was retreating out the front door in tears? How easily could that have been me?

“I’ll move in with Carolyn.” I heard myself saying. Of course, I wouldn’t— but I’d rather have her think that then move in with her. Even looking at her beaded dress and alabaster skin repulsed me. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”

She smiled through her tears, grabbing my hand. It burned to touch her.

“I care about you, Nick. I want what’s best for you.”

A brief flash of anger made me consider strangling her.

I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I wanted to.

“Thank you, Cousin.” The words were acid on my tongue. “I have to go.”

Daisy seemed horribly distraught. “What about dinner?”

“I apologize. I’ve lost my appetite.”

“This is disturbing news.” She sniffled in understanding. “I’m sorry you had to find out this way.”

The baby stirred in her crib, babbling softly.

 

I remember waking up against Gatsby’s chest, his arms around me— my name on his lips.

I bitterly recall his expression when he saw the water on his side-table. It’s uncanny that I was thinking about it earlier— a prophetic thought in a quiet bath, only interrupted by a ringing phone.

The caller was Gatsby, I realized.

He was calling from somewhere in the city. It had taken him some time to register why going to see Daisy would be a bad thing. He was calling to make sure I didn’t go to her. How many times in my life would I allow him to manipulate me? I wanted to laugh and cry and everything in between. 

He knew I would find out. That was the source of his horror. He knew that I would see the tiniest clues and piece them all together in a matter of time. He knew and he let me believe the waters were calm. He let me believe that everything was fine, that no one knew.

Now we were trapped, just as I feared we would be.

 

“I am too.”

Chapter Text

I didn’t go straight home. When one needs a drink, it is vastly dissimilar to wanting one. To want a drink is to be in the correct mindset of obtaining your desires, namely, a drink. Needing one is a guiltless action of drowning out things you desire and can never have. I was in dire need of any substance that would put my overactive mind to rest for even a few seconds at most. I needed to forget this jumbled up mess for a minute even. Was I not allowed that much? 

The speakeasy Gatsby introduced me to was far enough away that I could do without it. Instead, I asked a stumbling drunk man on the street where I might find a closer one.

 The venue was much less classy than the other— which was like hitting rock bottom and insisting to dig deeper. Where the other one was dark and mildly questionable, this one was loose and barely hygienic. Rather than dancers, there were active sex workers of all genders and, horrifically, ages. Rather than tables there was a giant wrap around bar and the liquor was wildly underpriced. Watered down and not contained properly, I guessed. I hated myself for being so desperate.

 I took a seat next to a mustached man wearing baggy overalls. Only overalls. I kept my gaze on the countertop as I ordered my drink. Everything about that place was discomforting. It was a petri dish of festering disease and the lowest of human standards. Unlike the other bar, there was nothing beautiful about the base human desires that flooded the darkened tavern.

A woman climbed onto the overall man’s lap. I didn’t look up to see what she was wearing or doing. I kept my eyes on the worn mahogany. There were words etched into the countertop that made my ears burn. I regretted my decision immensely.

 “Here you go, pretty boy.” Said the old bar tender in a smoky tone. I forced myself to ignore the fact that he was flirting and fought down the urge to flee or vomit.

“Thank you.” The words came out as a near choke, which made him laugh and resume his illegal duties. 

Nicky.” Hissed the man next to me with the voice of Chester McKee. My entire body jerked as I snapped my head toward him.

He wasn’t talking to me. He was busy with the woman seated on his thighs. Her name was probably Nicole or some variation.

The nickname was unnerving. The voice was impossible.

He spoke again, something indecipherable and filthy. I must have been imagining it, because his deep voice sounded absolutely nothing like McKee’s. I turned back to my beer and attempted to take a swig.

“Come here often, Doll?” Came McKee’s voice from my far right. It was distinct this time— couldn’t possibly be my imagination. Unfortunately, it had to have been, because the person speaking was a woman.

 I hopped off of my bar stool, shaking more than I though was possible. I had to get out of there. I hadn’t even taken a sip of my drink. I may have still needed it, but I didn’t want it. Sometimes balances shifted and wants took power. Flight had the tendency to beat fight when the war was in your head.

 I hailed a taxi. It was the safest option when compared with wandering aimlessly through New York City at night. I dragged myself in and breathed deeply a few times, rubbing my face.

 “Where to?” This time it was no true surprise when McKee’s sultry tone infiltrated my ears, but it remained alarming. I backed away to the far side of the seat, ready to jump out. In the mirror, I saw a stranger with grey hair and a large birthmark on his chin. My pulse wouldn’t cooperate. I was losing my mind— my grip on reality. My anxieties and mistakes were getting the best of me. I needed to go home and sort everything out.

 I gave the driver my address and kept my eyes out the window for the entire ride. I watched the city lights go on as the sun was buried below the skyscrapers.

 

Gatsby was waiting for me on my porch. If God truly existed, I would not be faced with problems such as this.

 “Nick!” Gatsby’s voice erupted from Gatsby’s lips. That was a relief at least.

 I ignored him as I walked down the cobblestone pathway. He stood upon my arrival. Who was I, a king? I hoped he didn’t think of me as one.

 “Nick? What is it? What did she tell you?”

 I slammed my fist against the door. Gatsby froze in surprise. I couldn’t get myself under control and Gatsby was testing the last of my patience.

 “You know exactly what she told me. That’s why you called me earlier.”

 Gatsby’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know it was—?“

 “You didn’t want me to go tonight because you didn’t want me to find out that Daisy had been in the room before me. Daisy was in love with you again and you turned her away.”

 I busied myself with unlocking the door and shoving it open. He followed me inside without waiting for an invitation. He knew damn well I wasn’t going to give him one.

 “I… I wanted to prepare you so you wouldn’t…. I hoped that you might take it as a compliment—“

 “A compliment?” I boomed, tearing off my coat. Could he really be so dense? “You want me to take my cousin’s heartbreak as a compliment?”

 “Because I chose you instead!” He said, bewildered. “I don’t understand why this bothers you so deeply, Old Sport.”

 “Don’t call me that!” I snapped. I was facing him now. He was taller by a few inches and I was too angry to care. “You loved Daisy for years! You obsessed and planned decades of your life around her! You left, let her lead an entirely different life, and still managed to charm her back into your arms within a matter of days— and you want to know why that bothers me?” I couldn’t truly see him past my shroud of anger, but I could never ignore the wounded look he bore. “You caused her so much pain, you let her think you still loved her, and then threw her aside! You’re capable of doing that to a girl you once deified— what’s stopping you from doing that to me?”

 “Nick—“

 “You can’t promise me that you wont find someone else, fall in love, and leave me as you left Daisy.” I picked up a box of matches and lit a few candles. I needed to see the culprit in front of me and this was the only way to occupy my shaky hands. I feared I might strike him otherwise. “You made her into an angel in your mind and you were still able to leave her in pieces. Forgive me for losing trust.” The flame burned bright on the end of my matchstick.

 “What I shared with Daisy is different than what we share.” Gatsby insisted. “It’s a different entity all together, I promise you.”

 “I knew about your lies hours before Daisy told me. If you wanted a lover you could manipulate, you shouldn’t have chosen a writer.”

 “Nick, can you just stop for a second and look at me—“

 “Why should I?” I Exclaimed, “So The Great Gatsby can have whatever he wants? Fine!”

 

I whirled around to face him, the match in my hand still burning. I slipped a bit on the carpet, altering my trajectory. The steady flame neared a draping curtain— a very flammable curtain. Imminent disaster flashed before my eyes. I saw my house up in smoke, flames licking their way through every room. I gasped sharply, waiting for it to—

 

Gatsby had caught my wrist centimeters away.

 

We were locked in that position. Gatsby’s hand was firmly closed around my wrist, positioned halfway between our bodies. The flame of the match, and all the candles I had lit, flickered on his broken face. I could only imagine how pathetic I looked if my expression was comparable to how I felt. I knew at that second how much we had changed.

 Earlier this month I was passive, sullen maybe, but soft. Gatsby’s influence had hardened and battered some part of myself— turning me into this. I wished I could blame him, but that would mean I’d regretted it. I couldn’t regret how alive I felt, how much energy I knew was inside of me. He taught be to be dissatisfied with the bare minimum and to take chances rather than wait for them.

 Gatsby wasn’t spared in this. He was different in an entirely opposite way— calmer, more humble. I could tell he actually felt remorse. It ached in him and reflected in his eyes. His firm grasp was made less menacing by the fact that he was shaking as badly as I was. He was beautiful and disastrous, just as he always has been, but more of a controlled chaos. A ship in a bottle locked within a storm.

 

I spoke first, my tone soft, my voice quiet, yet my words loud. A test.

 

“I can’t figure out if your downfall was lying to me or simply loving me.”

 

Gatsby blinked away his hurt, coming back to himself solemnly.

 

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

 

His voice, the silver voice that could convince the rain to fall, the one that had enamored me with its importance and wealth, was shrouded in fear. He was afraid to lose me, something he had faced with both Daisy and Clark. I could see now why he thought Daisy’s news would be hopeful rather than upsetting. He thought I would recognize his vow. If he could give up Daisy, after losing everything, his love for me was truer than any shining aspect of his life thus far.

 

“I want the truth.”

 “You can have it.” He promised.

 

He loved me beyond question. I knew that clearly now. I loved that about him. 

 Another thing I loved was that as soon as I leaned in, like instinct, he shut his eyes.

 Before our lips met, I rid myself of lingering turmoil and blew out the match.

 

 

Chapter Text

An urgent knock on the door woke me effectively. The sound meant I was to be denied the simple pleasure of waking up slowly and enjoying Gatsby’s close company, and for that reason I woke up angrily.

Untangling Gatsby’s legs gently from my own, I rose from the bed, careful not to wake him. I shrugged on a robe, understanding how odd it would be to answer the door in yesterday’s dinner clothes. I snatched a mint from my bedside table and prayed it would kill my morning breath. The clock on the wall chimed an early six— much to my dismay. I closed the door to my bedroom softly, concealing my dreadfully imperfect lover. 

It was Daisy, in all her golden, star spangled glory. I wondered why she felt the need to ruin my morning.

“Nick!” She greeted; though it wasn’t much of a greeting, more of an accusation. She was surprised to see me. Or not surprised, but vastly irritated. 

“To what do I owe this visit?” I managed as cordially as possible. Her lips pursed.

“I was checking in with you. You seemed frazzled by my… information.” She looked around, the sour look seeming to stick to her face. It dulled the brilliance of her wardrobe. “I was hoping you would be speedier about moving out. You’ve spoken with Carolyn, haven’t you?”

It was much too early to deal with this conversation.

“Daisy,” I sighed, “of course I was frazzled. That’s why I went home immediately and attempted to get some rest. I plan to soon speak to Carolyn on the subject.”

Daisy shook her head in contempt. “Oh, Nick…” She sounded more exhausted than she had any right to be. “Do take care of— What was that?” Her eyes were fixed on a point just over my shoulder. “Do you have a guest over? Is it Carolyn?” She brightened. “Do introduce us, Nicky! I’ve been tickled pink over the idea of your new relationship!” 

Daisy attempted to step around me. Alarm bells rang in my ears. My arm jutted out to stop her path.

“You can’t go in!” I searched my tongue for a reasonable lie. “Because… Um… Because she is indecent!”

The words took a moment to soak in. Then Daisy was glowing.

“Nick! You absolute menace!” She looked me over. “That explains the clothes.” She tacked on thoughtfully. My cheeks were burning.

“Right. So. Um...” I stammered aimlessly.

“Oh! Yes, of course.” Daisy smirked. Of all women, why must I have been related to an utterly shameless one? “I’ll let you get back to it.” 

“Thank you.” I said stiffly. It was easy to act embarrassed. It was hardly an act. I would have to mention this bit to Carolyn. She’d laugh for days.

With a wink and a whirl, my cousin departed. Closing the door after her provided a relief that outmatched that of drugs or alcohol. I slumped against the door with a sigh. 

“That was entertaining.” Gatsby commented from the kitchen, startling me into an upright position. He was leaning against the counter while a mug of tea was seeping, left of his elbow. He took a mindful sip.

“Jesus, Jay.” I said with a hand over my heart. “We need to be more careful. I have no idea what I would have done if she’d come in here and seen you instead.”

Gatsby hummed in agreement. He was more relaxed this morning. It was plain to see. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how he could be so at ease.

“It’s a good thing she didn’t. You’re getting better at that, Old Sport.”

“At what?”

“Story telling.”

“You mean lying.” I refused to indulge him by admitting the appeal to his dishonest lifestyle. I wasn’t an idiot. I knew lies kept his wealth safe. Right now, they were the only things keeping us safe. It didn’t mean I had to confess it.

“You weren’t quite lying, though, were you?” Gatsby’s eyes beckoned. I joined him cautiously. “You changed the names, the pronouns, but you did have a lover in your bed last night.” His teasing smile was poisonous, but lovely all the same. “You’re a fox, Nicolas Carraway.”

It was all I could do to rein in my emotions.

“Hardly so, Mr. Gatsby.” I lifted his mug a bit, inspecting the contents. “If I remember correctly, there were no scandalous activities that took place under this roof.”

When I looked up at him again, his eyes were dark, pupils blown. It was as if the thoughts running rampant through his mind were struggling to break free.

“We could—” He said, no louder than a whisper. He cleared his throat. “There could be.”

The blood roared in my ears. I had to read his lips to double check.

“That’s up to you.” I commended, passing the metaphorical baton. It was clear that the last time we engaged in anything remotely sexual, Gatsby was not ready in the least. It would be his choice 

“I…” Gatsby trailed. He seemed to be searching for something within himself. To his pleasant surprise, he found it. “We could start off slow.” There was red creeping along his collarbone that I wanted to taste.

“Show me.” The words were not my own. I did not choose them. They selected themselves. “Show me what you mean.”

Gatsby reset his posture, no longer reclining against the countertop. I was not prepared when he placed a hand on either side of me, cornering me. His blue eyes were so deep, but it was his lips that piqued my interest.

“I want to kiss you. May I?” He requested. I nodded silently. 

It seemed that his list of wants did not end there. The kiss was tender and slow, and then it relocated. The last time Gatsby and I had done this sort of thing, he’d rushed to get his mouth on my neck. This time, he seemed to find his patience. He was kissing a slow, easy trail across my jaw, below my chin, just under my ear. I momentarily forgot I had hands. When I remembered their existence, I set them on his hips. I mindlessly slid them under his shirt, feeling the warm skin under my palms. I traced the batch of scars and natural stretch lines on his side. He made a soft noise that I wanted to bottle up and keep with me forever.

“Nick.” He mumbled. He was breathing heavily, speaking softly in my ear. “There are so many things that I...”

“Go on.” I rasped.

Gatsby’s voice seemed trapped behind a layer of bashfulness that he wasn’t accustomed to.

“I want… to kiss you. I want to know what you sound like.”

Show me became tell me in a blink of an eye and I couldn’t find it in me to complain.

“I want to touch…” He couldn’t seem to make up his mind on the ending of that.

“Where?” My voice was so small, but undeniably effective.

He pried his hand from the countertop. There was a slight tremor in his pulse (or maybe it was my own) as he slid his hand under my collar.

“Here,” the answer was finite, simple and honest. “Here,” He dragged his fingertips feather light across my skin. I was going to catch fire any moment.

I withdrew my hands and Gatsby looked down, confused. I untied my robe and shrugged it to the ground. His lips parted in understanding as I calmly unbuttoned my shirt. I’d forgotten to put on an under-shirt. His eyes chased my fingers.

“Wouldn’t want to get in your way.” My voice was soothing yet surprisingly seductive. I couldn’t explain it.

Looking at his lips, my thoughts clouded. I wasn’t aware of our location or the fact that Daisy had just stopped by. I could only concentrate on Gatsby in front of me, and the fact that he was too far away. 

So I fixed that with a tug.

He stumbled forward in the small space between us. Our lips slotted together urgently but the kissing itself was languid, slow— a discovery. He moved closer, daringly so, and he was flush against me. The countertop dug into my spine, but that became irrelevant when Gatsby groaned. It was a more airy sound than expected, half shudder. Whatever it was, I was absolutely delighted to the point of dizziness.

I pulled back a fraction. “Is this all right?”

His response was a nod and an unexpected rut forward. His hands were in my hair, but I wouldn’t let him kiss me. As much as it pained me, I wanted to see his face.

And good lord was that the correct choice. His golden hair, messy from sleep, was drooping across his forehead. His eyes were wild and intense, the blue of his irises clashed with the pink hue in his cheeks. It tore the breath out of me.

“Jay—“ I breathed. It wasn’t a part of an extensive thought, but he still managed to cut me off as he grabbed my thighs and hoisted me onto the countertop. My breath hitched and I somehow found enough clarity to mind the steaming mug.

I’d forgotten about my unbuttoned shirt until he dragged his fingertips across my bare sternum. The noise I made was embarrassing to say the least, but Gatsby must have heard it differently if his breathless, “Good God, Nick.” was any indication.

He pressed his lips to a scar on my stomach and I tensed, fighting down the instinctual bubbles of laughter. He looked up at me quizzically, through the fog of our actions, concerned. 

“Did I… Do you want to…?”

“No! No, don’t worry about that. I’m just—” He kissed the scar again and I jerked, hissing, “Sensitive.”

His eyes narrowed. He seemed apologetic until it clicked. His mouth tugged up in the corners.

“Why, Mr. Carraway, are you—?”

“Jay, if you tickle me I swear you will understand the full extent of my military training.” I threatened hastily, my ears burning.

Gatsby complied mercifully, taking the time to ease the dress shirt from my shoulders. It hardly seemed fair to me that he remained fully clothed. He was, undoubtedly, wearing more layers than I had been in the first place— truly unfortunate. I did enjoy the sight of him looking up at me. It was a vast change, and a pleasant one at that.

I snatched his lips again, delighting in Gatsby’s sharp breaths and wandering hands. I hooked my ankles around him, keeping him close enough to provide friction. 

I couldn’t stop myself from comparing Gatsby to McKee. In all fairness to McKee, I was entirely too intoxicated to fully participate. Somehow these moments with Gatsby were more tangible. It was less of a cloud of hormones and more of a scientific imbalance. Each spark of arousal was stronger than the last. Any moment one of us was going to combust.

“We should move.” I said, forcing my mind to clear enough to form a sentence. “Not that I don’t enjoy this angle, but the counter is hard. I might loose feeling in my legs.”

In spite of my strange reasoning, Gatsby laughed, a wholehearted chuckle. The lust did not disappear from his face. If anything, it was reinforced.

“Your bed then?” He suggested, giddy. I was happy to see how amused he was at the notion, for someone who’d been anxious for quite some time. Maybe that was how he dealt with nerves. Charm had served him well in past endeavors, so this was no leap.

“If you would be so kind...?”

I’d intended for this to request his repositioning so I could get down. He translated it differently— scooping me up and holding me tightly against him. He carried me to my room. I laughed at his enthusiasm and eccentricity. I stopped laughing when I landed on the bed, Gatsby looming over me.

How long had we been like this? Time was an abstract concept. Was it daybreak? Had Daisy departed mere seconds ago? I could only feel the weight of Gatsby’s arousal on my skin, in my hair, in each shuddering breath. All the pent up frustrations we’d been holding back were allowed to roam free and it was almost too much to bear.

It was then that I saw the perplexed look on Gatsby’s face, and raised my eyebrow to question it.

He swallowed. “I’m not sure what to… I’ve never…” 

I knew what he meant. Daisy was his main conquest and my anatomy… differed. I could see in his eyes that he was unintentionally remembering Clark. There was a lot to consider.

“Don’t worry.” I mollified, running my fingers through his hair and mussing it up further. Reckless and haphazard was a good look on him. “We don’t have to do everything. Like you said, take it slow. Do what feels correct.”

Relief lingered on his face for a millisecond, before it was replaced by single-minded determination. He hooked his finger on my belt loop.

“I want these off.”

“You first.” I replied thickly.

He looked down, as if just noticing his own clothing. “Ah, yes.”

He sat up, straddling me, and lifted off the various layers concealing his torso. He did his best to keep eye contact, but had to look away with a frown to undo a clasp or two on his suspenders. Somehow his struggle, his humanness, made him more attractive. I couldn’t hide the appeal of his weight on me. There was something very real and honest about the entire interaction. Gatsby was a weighable, measurable thing. He was bare and vulnerable above me, just as I was below him.

Propped up on the pillows, my eyes lingered on Gatsby’s skin. Sun-kissed was, perhaps, the phrase to describe it. His wealth had been good to him in this way. I could see his minor discomfort when noticing his weight in comparison to my slightly more petite form. I didn’t let him deal with that concern, too busy leading his mouth back to mine— a gentle guiding hand on his jaw.

There wasn’t really much to the act. I had been, of course, overthinking everything, expecting more complications than I received. To be fully conscious during the act was infinitely better. Where my interaction with McKee was all numb heat and overwhelmingly conceptual aggression, Gatsby was a clumsy provider of honesty and overstimulation.

I will never forget the look on his face as I reached between us and took him into my palm. I didn’t look down at his arousal— I couldn’t bring myself to. I just watched his face. His erratic breathing was the more telling than his words. Me, being the wordsmith I was, could find no poetic way to describe his weight in my hand. I hadn’t really searched for one. I guess I could say plainly that it felt powerful. The way he uttered my name was fascinating— a drawn out collection of syllables that reminded me that his undoing was mine. I’d caused that. Every stutter of his heart and choke of my name was because of me. That was more satisfactory than his final broken moan. 

Not long after he returned to himself, he noticed my contented grin as I mindlessly wiped my hand on the bed sheets. With a faux vindictive agenda, he lunged forward and kissed me deeply and unapologetically. He tasted like chamomile. I could hardly believe that the simple motions of my hand had stripped him of his gentlemanly physique, down the basest fundamentals of a sexual human’s behavior.

“It was good then?” I asked coyly as Gatsby took a much-needed gulp of air.

He shot me a look that answered quite explicitly. His reddened lips were parted and his eyes were hooded. I’d often heard the use of “glowing” to describe post-orgasmic bliss. Looking at Gatsby, I didn’t see evidence of that. He wasn’t glowing so much as pulsating with energy. The vibrations that fell from him were demanding and fresh.

Gatsby looked down like he wanted to return the favor, but his actions differed greatly from my own. Instead of reaching like I expected, he scooted down and pressed a hot kiss to my hipbone. That drew a gasp from me that I wasn’t prepared for.

“Jay? What are you doing?”

I knew clearly what he was doing, but somehow my distorted mind could only demand clarification. I was blistering under the heat.

Gatsby looked up at me. The bastard was smirking.

“My damnedest to get you to call out my name.”

The magma in my veins churned even faster, reaching my curling toes.

Jesus, Jay.” I sighed as he continued his trek.

He was mindful of my sensitivity and polite to a fault. I hadn’t realized how slow he was determined to be, until he pressed his lips to my inner thigh. Part of me was trembling, terrified to let him continue. The other, more demanding part was keen enough on the intensity of his actions to summon my hands. I felt his hair between my fingers as I gripped tightly. If this was an issue for Gatsby, he didn’t show it. In fact, it seemed to spur him on even further, making him bold enough to cut to the chase.

I didn’t remember a time before that moment when I was truly aware of every cell in my body. It was his hand first. I knew then why he had finished so quickly. If he had gone at the speed I had, there wouldn’t have been much difference in timing. Then I felt the chapped skin of his lips and my jaw went slack.

Jay,” I gasped.

He grew bolder and slid me along his tongue. I couldn’t breathe. It was obscene.

I was wound so tight that I barely lasted a few seconds after he applied suction, liberally tonguing the slit.

I blurted his name through gritted teeth, warning him, my head falling back. He pulled off immediately and watched with wide eyes as my orgasm rippled through me. I couldn’t think for a second. It was a long time since I’d done that successfully. I’d almost forgotten the hazy after-effects.

I opened one eye and observed his astonished staring. Generally, I would hate being studied in such a lewd way, but I was much too exhausted to care.

“Was that to your satisfaction?” I asked weakly.

“Very much so.” He shook his head in wonder. Then he paled, looking up at me with an awkward expression. “Would you be upset with me if you knew I was recalling my lost time with Clark? Not in a wistful way,” He amended quickly, “but in a fond remembrance?”

I put my hands behind my head, relaxing into the pillows. “Not at all as upset you would be with me if you knew I was comparing this to my time with Chester.”

Even with my eyes closed I could see him bristling with offense. I knew it was fleeting. I smiled at his poorly concealed jealousy.

“In case you were fretting,” I added, “I prefer you.”

“I wasn’t,” He said in an indignant and admittedly childish tone, showing that he was, indeed, fretting. “I’m happy you think so, at any rate.”

“Good.” I said, sitting up for a moment to pull him down on top of me. We would definitely have to bathe later to rid of the strange odor and stickiness of sex, but for now, I could tolerate it.

I thought about the outside world. I thought of Daisy who wanted us kept apart. I thought of the millions of people that would have us killed if they knew what we were. I thought of the conversation I would have with Carolyn. I thought of my inevitable doom.

I forced myself to forget. I held him. He held me. We slept.

Chapter Text

 

“Oh for God’s— You’re making me anxious, Nick.” Carolyn said, eyeing me over her sunglasses. “I know you’re antsy, but pacing is dreadfully annoying. Take a seat before I chain you down and throw away the key.”

 I begrudgingly took a seat. My leg bounced regardless of her sharp glances.

“I don’t know what to do.” I confessed, tugging at my tie to loosen it. “I can’t stand the thought of Daisy breathing down my neck. She almost caught Gatsby and I the other day!” Carolyn raised an eyebrow at me and I reddened. “Not like that…” I remembered the later occurrence and swallowed. “Well, sort of.”

Carolyn sighed, dropping her fan, “Nick, Darling, find your source of inner peace and visit it for a moment. Breathe.” She waited until I’d sufficiently exchanged inhales for exhales. “Tell me again why you’re so worried?”

I closed my eyes, putting the problems in order once more. “Daisy thinks you and I seeing each other. She wants me to ask if I can move in with you to avoid Gatsby, whom she doesn’t know I’m seeing— for obvious reasons. If I don’t do that, she wants me to move in with her. She’ll suspect something is happening between Gatsby and I, or she’ll realize I don’t have something with you. But I can’t just move in with you! ”

“Yes, I hardly think that would be the best idea.” Carolyn agreed and gestured to the measly apartment behind her.

There was hardly room for the two of us between all the book stacks and sheets of music littering the floor. In the spaces there weren’t books, there were plants and scattered, rolled up maps. We had made camp out on her fire escape, battling the heat. The view was a drab brick wall, lacking any graffiti or character. It was down the street from Myrtle’s hidden apartment, but I didn’t mention that.

“She thinks... we are a couple?”

“Yes.” I dropped my head to my hands miserably. “She’s going to suspect something if I don’t act soon.”

Carolyn pursed her lips in thought. The fan in her right hand started moving again. 

“It’s a good thing we’re a couple.”

I lifted my head, confused. “Pardon?”

“I said it’s a good thing that we, the two of us, are romantically involved.” Her voice held no hint of humor. There was no line of mistake on her face.

For a half moment I considered this a large misunderstanding and pondered my gentle response.

Then I understood.

“Carolyn, I could kiss you.” I gaped, leaning over the makeshift table between us to hold her rounded face in my palms. She was smiling, freckles rising higher on her cheeks.

“You may if you like.” She offered, her sunglasses slipping down her nose. Her green eyes were bright with amusement. “I fear it wont be the most enjoyable for either of us, but I am happy to oblige.”

I laughed, indeed leaning forward and pressing my lips to her forehead— just to hear her chuckle above the rush of traffic bellow. 

“We’re quite a team, aren’t we Mr. Carraway?” 

“I would say so, Ms. Bradbury.”

I remembered something and had to battle a smile from my face. Clearing my throat I announced, "I may have told Daisy that we've become... intimate."

After a second of processing, Carolyn swatted me with her fan. Her blood red lips broke into a mischievous smile.

"Why, Nicolas!" She teased, flicking her fan open once more in a coquettish fashion. "So bold! My delicate virgin heart is aflutter!" She then proceeded to cackle, letting her sunglasses slip onto her lap. 

Our glasses of scotch clinked together, chiming perfectly. Friendship was an entity I hadn’t paid enough respect until then. I swore to never undervalue it again.

My time with Carolyn was short, yet well spent. We planned answers to inevitable questions and plotted stories to tell the ignorant. I hadn’t seen this before in my young age, but there were very many instances that Lies were the most beautiful things the world could hold. It was a bright display of my descent from a humble truth teller, to a man made of falsities.

 


 

 

I got a call from Tom that afternoon. He sounded happy. No, that wasn’t quite it. There was mild disgust behind his words, but an over-all theme of victory in his tone. He asked to meet with me immediately after my shift. It was an odd occurrence, but I agreed nonetheless. I couldn’t ignore the nagging fear in my gut all through the day. Too many surprises had come my way, I was wary of what more I had to deal with.

Tom was dressed much more... dapper than I was expecting. He outshined me with his muscular physique and fitted suit jacket. I remarked that I wasn’t dressed up, but he brushed my worries aside, ushering me down the street.

We ended up at a familiar restaurant. It was the one Gatsby took me too at the start of this whole enterprise— the one with pale twining vines and breathtaking view of the city. Also, of course, the mirrors. Tom seated himself across from them, dusting off his suit with it and fixing his cufflinks.

“This place is real nice, Nick.” Tom began, gesturing with his menu. “The cob salad is fantastic and the—“

“I’ve been here before.” I interrupted as cordially as I could manage. I never mentioned Gatsby, but somehow Tom looked as if I spoke his name.

“Ah.” He glanced between my face and his reflection. “I see.”

We placed our orders and Tom got down to business.

“My wife has a wild imagination.” He cracked the knuckle of his index finger and I winced. “You know that as well as I do. It’s something I will never understand about women.” Tom rubbed his wedding band as if it were unfamiliar. “However, after enduring her drunken ramblings, I noticed a theme. I saw there was some truth to the bullshit she was spouting— so I did some research. “ 

There was an uncomfortable pause as he gathered his words.

“I knew there was something off about that Gatsby character from the start. You knew of my suspicions. It turns out I was correct.” He made eye contact for effect. “He’s a homosexual.” I hated how triumphant he sounded.

“Now,” He continued, not even expecting a response from me. “I was as shocked as you are, but there’s more. Daisy suspects, and this awful, that he might be interested in you, Nick.”

I could feel the blood draining from my face. I could taste the thrum of my pulse. My happy interactions with Carolyn that morning seemed like years ago. Waking up, with Gatsby in my arms, felt distant by centuries.

This could not be happening— not with the sky so beautiful, and the world so bright.

“I understand your disgust.” Tom said with a satisfactory tone, largely misinterpreting my reaction. “Listen, Nick, I love you like my own brother. If he lays his filthy hands on you, just ring me up and I’ll unleash hell on that thing.”

There it was— the loss of Gatsby’s personhood on the whim of a half-truth. 

The room was suddenly so cold. I was shivering in the middle of July.

 “Daisy wants you to move in with your new girlfriend. What’s her name? Casey? Karen?”

“Carolyn.” I said, though my tongue felt swollen.

“Yes, well, I agree that that would be a good idea… If you were a sissy.” Tom chortled, nudging me with his elbow. “But you and I are men. Daisy forgets you were in the military. There’s no use running away when you can handle your own.” He leaned back in his chair. “Anyway, I wanted to tell you before it went public.”

What?” I demanded; my blood turned to ice.

Tom rolled his eyes. “I’m telling the papers next week. I wont mention your name so don’t worry.” He patted my shoulder in a way that was meant to comfort. “I wouldn’t want you to be tied into this. The thing is that you must get them out of the way while you still can. He shouldn’t be around people, spreading his… lifestyle.” He examined his rounded fingernails. “Its an epidemic, Nick, the more we can get rid of, the better.”

The waiter brought our food and I put myself on autopilot. The rest of that meal was a false version of me. I was somewhere else, drifting, holding tight to all the beautiful things I once had that were about to fade to dust.

 

Chapter Text

I’d never left a luncheon faster in all my life.

As soon as we finished our meals, I announced that I was late for a meeting, and rushed out with a poor farewell. I couldn’t meet Tom’s eyes on the way out. I deeply hoped that wasn’t suspicious.

The way I felt, stepping onto the busy street outside of Gatsby’s favorite restaurant, was unlike other instance. It was like waking up from my dreams of war. My heart pounded, trying to exit my ribcage. I was sweating and shivering at the same time, leaving my brain incapacitated. A tall man shoved me on the way past, muttering for me to “Watch it!” But I couldn’t manage an apology. How ridiculous I must have looked.

I couldn’t begin to explain how exhausted I was about treading delicately through every situation. Yet, there I was, a brand new predicament laid out in front of me like a bow wrapped Pandora’s box. It seemed that my life was made up entirely with lies, leaving no room to breathe. I was the captain, holding the wheel steady as we sailed into a torrential storm. One slip of my hand and the entire ship would fall to pieces under the hammering waves.

One thing was clear. I needed to see Gatsby.

There were so many horrors rattling inside my skull. I thought of how it might look if I were to go home rather than into the city. I considered what would happen if Tom followed me out of suspicion.

My lungs felt compressed under heavy stones, and my vision began to spot in strange places. I couldn’t go to Gatsby.

He would have to come to me.

With a blur of motion, and the repetitive sequence of stop and go, I made it to the train. There was definitely something eerie about a spacious train cart. There were only a few other people headed into that part of town at that time of day. They eyed my work clothes warily. I didn’t have a thought to spare them.

What am I going to do?

That was where my mind kept halting. That one line of mental block was making it difficult to keep tears from spilling. I was stuck. The world was not built for people like Gatsby, Carolyn, and I. I understood why half the population gave up on God.

And there I was, riding towards misery. What would Carolyn say? Would she have an answer? She always seemed to, but I couldn’t imagine she’d have one for this. There was too much to deal with, too little time to do so.

I had a week, a blasted week, to figure out how to save everything I’d suffered for. 

I arrived at Carolyn’s apartment with shaking hands. She was rounding the corner just as I approached the building. She smiled when she saw me. Then it dropped. One look at me and she was rushing her key into the lock and dragging me inside. As we moved down the hallway she put her hand on my forehead.

“What’s wrong?” She whispered, “You look like hell frozen over.”

I just shook my head. I couldn’t tell her yet. She led me into her cramped apartment and let me settle on her cluttered couch. She reentered the room with a steaming cup of tea. It felt warm in my hand, instantly comforting. English Breakfast was the brand. I took another attempt at breathing.

“Gatsby’s in danger.” I finally squeezed out. Carolyn’s green eyes were as wide as saucers. She took my free hand. “Tom knows. He’s going to tell everyone.”

It felt odd to see Carolyn’s face shatter. I knew how it looked on Gatsby, but never her. Carolyn was the positive force. Never her.

“Oh, Nick.” She closed her eyes tight and fought to open them again. “What… Why aren’t you with him?”

“I couldn’t. Tom was with me. I— He’d know where I was going.” I grimaced. “Lord, Carolyn, the things he said at lunch. It was horrible.” My voice broke.

She reached forward and wiped a tear from my cheek. “I know, Shh, I know.” Her voice echoed her words. She was familiar with hatred. I wondered then if that was why she’d left New Jersey. My heart broke in a hundred new ways.

“I need to call him.” I said finally, clearing my throat and remembering my main objective.

Carolyn brought over her phone and set it on the table. I lifted the receiver to my ear and brought each number around clockwise. Every second it took for the dial to spin back around was a lifetime. Gatsby’s butler answered after a few rings.

Bonjour. Gatsby residence.” He stated. 

I managed to make my voice as normal as possible. “I need to speak with him immediately. Tell him its Nick Carraway and that this is urgent.” 

There were a few muffled scuffs and scraping noises, before Gatsby’s voice emerged.

“Nick?” His voice was low, crackling over the line. “What is it, what’s wrong?”

“Tom knows about you.” Gatsby drew in a sharp breath, but I didn’t let it deter me. “He told me at lunch. You aren’t safe. I’m at Carolyn’s apartment. I need you here. Please.”

“Of course, Old Sport, of course.” He answered, his voice a bit shaken now. “I’ll be there. But Nick,” He lowered his voice. “Are you okay?”

The fact that he would even inquire that made me burst into tears. I felt Carolyn’s hands on my shoulder blades, rubbing circles meant to calm.

“No.” I replied. There it was, at the base of it all, the last shred of my honesty. “I’m not. Be here soon.” 

“I will.” Gatsby said affirmatively. “I—“ That thought was cut short when he remembered who was in his presence. “I will.” He said again. I knew what he meant.

Carolyn put more tea on the stove for Gatsby. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. I jumped to my feet when the kettle whistled. Carolyn shot me a withering look as I lowered back down. 

“Jay should be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you rest your head on the armrest and take a breather?” 

The moment I shut my eyes all I could see was Tom’s bitter smirk, his eyes on himself the entire meal. Mirrors were created with the devil in mind. And this particular devil had a vice grip on my throat.

 

I had no way to make him let go.

 

Let go...

 

Let go!

 

  

“Nick! Nick, its alright. You’re okay, no one’s restraining you.”

I woke to a warm hand on my cheek. There was a sliver of ice within the touch. A pinky ring.

My eyes shot open. Gatsby was sitting next to me, a mug of tea in his other hand. 

“Jay,” I said, sitting up in a daze. “How long have you been here?” I whipped my head toward Carolyn in frustration. “Why didn’t you wake me?”

Carolyn tilted her head apologetically. It was Gatsby that replied.

“I told her not to. You needed the rest. I’m sorry about your nightmares.” He continued before I could protest. “You’ve been dealing with this stress all on your own.” He was hesitant to deliver the next part. “We’ve come up with a plan while you were asleep."

That certainly caught my attention.

I couldn’t believe it. There was no way I could adopt such hopes. I believed in them as individuals, but I couldn’t make myself believe in their scheme, whatever it may be. Life would not hand me the answer so easily, I was sure of it. 

“Tell me.” I demanded regardless.

Carolyn set her tea on a stack of worn Encyclopedias.

“There are several things we must do for this to work.” Her tone was business. What was her occupation? “First: You and I are engaged.”

I glanced between the two of them.

“… Excuse me?”

“You and I are engaged. You will introduce me to your family. It will be smooth sailing, but we aren’t sure when the wedding will be. We’re madly in love and believe that a wedding isn’t necessary to prove that. Your folks will resent it, but they view you as a reserved man, so it will fit quite nicely.” 

I wiped my palms on my trousers. “Okay. What else.”

Carolyn looked over at Gatsby, her eyes imploring. She seemed keen on making him say it. Gatsby, reluctant and dismayed, turned to me, failing to make eye contact.

“I have to die.”

I froze. There was a tightening in my stomach that seemed to spread and engulf all of me.

“Jay Gatsby, I’d better have misheard you.” I threatened sharply.

Gatsby looked up, exasperated. “Not like that, Nick. I just… So we can get away.” 

“What on earth is this preposterous—?“ 

“Nick!” Carolyn interrupted, aggravated. “Why must you both always be so cryptic? He means he’s going to fake it.”

“Fake it.” I repeated.

“Yes.” Gatsby confirmed. He sounded so tired. “I’m going to get into a fake accident. It will reveal my association with several illegal organizations—exposing them to the public— and thus giving the papers a more pressing story than Tom’s baseless claims.”

“Tom’s still going to release the story, though.” I pressed. “What then?”

Carolyn lifted her mug, a catlike gleam in her eye. “Let me take care of that. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.”

I didn’t want to know what she had in mind, so I moved on swiftly.

“What next?”

“We figure it out from there.” Gatsby said quietly. “You’ll have Carolyn for protection, and vice versa. I’ll have a clean slate.” He paused, reaching towards me again— this time stopping at my hand and threading our fingers. “We can do this together. Do you trust us?”

I looked back and forth between them. My two closest friends. My lover and my protector. The sun was still high in the sky but it felt like waking up to a new day. That was the general feeling of these two, the dawning of hope.

I didn’t need God. I believed in them.

“Of course.”

Chapter Text

My hands trembled more than the rattling engine as we approached the Buchanan residence.

The marble pillars keeping it upright were daunting, tall and stiff like soldiers of the enemy line. This was one of those moments when I had to consider a fate other than simply my own— even with the siren blaring on in my temple and the storms raging in my bones.

“Hey.” Carolyn’s bright lips parted encouragingly. “Breathe.”

I inhaled and exhaled accordingly as she squeezed my hand. Truth be told, the stripe of Gatsby’s profile that was visible from the back seat provided more comfort than her reassuring grip. His sunglasses were perched on the bridge of his nose and he had on the faux confident smirk he wore when driving. It was a comfort.

We’d argued against allowing him to escort us, but he bargained his way into at least being our chauffeur. I was secretly glad. My nerves were hellish as it was.

As we pulled up out front, a butler approached to open my door. I stole a last look at Gatsby, who’d lowered his sunglasses a moment to send me a final wink. My mouth kicked up on the left side, unable to control the bout of joy he brought me.

Gatsby is on my side. I repeated internally like a mantra.

Carolyn is capable. We have a plan.

It’s going to work.

“Nick!” Tom greeted at the top of the stairs. I’d been walking on autopilot and Carolyn’s arm was in mine, which Tom eyed approvingly. “What a nice surprise!”

I opened my mouth and, just like I feared, nothing came out.

Carolyn chimed in seamlessly.

“I’ve been begging him for weeks to let me meet you all!”

Tom’s eyes glinted with something. I would name it suspicion, but I couldn’t tell what was reality and what was a product of my paranoia. Instead of confirming my suspicions, he just slapped my arm in good humor, releasing a playful chuckle.

“Come on in! We’ll give your lady a proper tour.”

As he ushered us through the door, he gave Carolyn a filthy once over. His hand was on my shoulder, halting me for a second so he could whisper, while licking his lower lip.

“You picked a real fine one, Nick.”

My blood boiled at the base analysis of my friend. Instead of objecting, my mind took this as inspiration and conjured an image. It was Gatsby, his head thrown back in laughter, his golden hair reflecting the sun, and his skin still damp with pool water. The memory was accompanied by the distinct urge to tangle my fingers in his hair and kiss the grin off of his face.

“Yes.” I answered with honesty that surpassed Tom’s knowledge. “I did.”

Carolyn didn’t seem to be acting as she gawked at Tom’s mansion. The smug grin never left his face as she cooed over each and every facet of this giant expanse of wealth.

“Is that a female voice I hear?” Daisy’s voice erupted from the stairwell. “I certainly hope so. Too many men around to keep my head on straight.”

She descended a staircase, Pammy wiggling in her arms. I heard Carolyn’s breath catch as my cousin came into view. I couldn’t blame her. Daisy was glowing in a violet gown, draped in a golden sash.

“You’re tellin’ me.” Carolyn murmured under her breath. I elbowed her half heartedly. 

Had I not known of Daisy’s internal villainy, I’d have been awestruck as well. Tom, on the other hand, seemed unimpressed.

“Nick’s brought over his girl. Don’t get too chatty.”

Daisy’s expression burst into joy. She snatched Carolyn’s hand, standing lopsided with a loose grip on her baby.

“Oh, I am so very pleased to meet you! You have no idea how grateful I am for your troubles.”

“Sorry? What troubles?”

Daisy recollected herself, standing upright and bouncing Pammy on her hip.

“Keeping a close eye on Nick, of course! I’m grateful for your comforting presence in this dark time… His psychotic neighbor…” She shook her head, clearing it. “I don’t want to dwell on it. A tour!”

We followed her toward the massive dining hall. My skin tingled from her comment about Gatsby. What shook me the most was her distance from him. Not even two weeks ago they’d been ex-lovers. Now the only title he carried was Psychotic Neighbor. I’d been furious with Gatsby for how swiftly he’d moved on from her. Now, it seemed, that was a trait they shared.

“So, how long ago did you two meet?” Daisy sang a half hour later, draped over an elegant sofa.

“Oh, can I tell it?” Carolyn pleaded in my direction, her eyes begging. Her acting skill was absolutely phenomenal to the point where I myself was convinced. “Pretty please?”

“Of course, my love.” I replied. She glowed at the pet name.

“Nicolas and I met in the oddest of places! You see, a few months ago there was a party at a speakeasy in uptown Queens—“

“Months?” Daisy echoed in disbelief.

“Nicolas?” Tom repeated with distaste.

Carolyn’s easy laughter was like a soothing spell.

“Don’t blame Nick for keeping it hushed. It was my request. You see, about a year ago I was the interest of a gang lord named Byron Fitz. He had his people trailing me for blocks no matter where I went. My family was very Christian; the most God fearing, righteous souls you ever met. Even when my darling brother was drafted and never came back, they thought he was in the arms of Jesus. Now, Byron didn’t like my rejection, not about to accept the fact that I wasn’t interested in tall, dark, brooding types.” (Tom glowered at that.) “So he sent his thugs to my parents. They told them I was a—“

The word stopped short as if her past had reached out of her memory and snatched it from her tongue. She blinked once, hard, before relaxing into her story again.

“A whore.”

I saw in her eyes that it wasn’t the truth. Though that title was bad, it wasn’t the honest word. I filled in the blanks myself and drew my own word from the depths of her tale. My hand rested on hers and squeezed.

“I couldn’t go home. New Jersey was plagued for me. So I fled, hopped on a train, and rode all the way to Queens.”

“Oh, honey, that’s terrible!” Daisy’s hand rested over her heart, Pammy remained asleep in her lap.

Carolyn smiled tightly at this sympathy, but continued forward in her tale.

“Nevertheless, I was in a bad place when I got to the city. It was weeks before I could step foot in public, fearful that Fitz’s men might turn up. Once the coast seemed to be clear, I attended a party in a higher end part of town, the first speakeasy I’d ever attended. That’s where I met Nick,” she shot me a grin. “We chatted all evening, both of us feeling a little out of place for one reason or another. We ended up going back to his place so he could show me his writings! Oh, he is truly marvelous! The one about a songbird in June brought me to tears! I think that’s when I truly fell for Nick.”

My two fanciful cousins stared for a moment, shocked and the slightest bit impressed.

“Wow.” Tom offered, shifting in his seat. "A songbird in June."

“Oh, Nicky! I knew something wonderful would come from your writing! I just knew it! I’m so proud!”

“Thank you, Daisy.” I said with a surprisingly low amount of disgust. I even managed a shy smile. I thought perhaps Carolyn’s acting abilities were contagious.

Carolyn’s bright lips parted, starting again.

“I’m so glad Nick has such supportive family members! It will make this engagement much smoother, don’t you think?”

That’s when the floodgates opened.

Daisy’s jaw fell slack, her arms mirroring this.

Unfortunately, these arms were cradling her baby, which was now slipping toward the ground.

Part of my brain saw this scene in slow motion. The pink blanket slipping and the thin alabaster skin of a human so new that sunlight had left it untouched. My heart leapt into my throat, every muscle in my body convulsing. It was pure instinct when my arms jutted out, catching the baby in my shaking palms.

Time starting working at a normal pace.

“Damn it, woman!” Tom roared in outrage as I cradled the baby.

“I…” Daisy stammered, horror filling her features. “Goodness, look at me! You shocked the life out of me with an announcement like that!”

Carolyn, now quite pale, stared at the golden woman through her curly brown locks with a new look of reproach. How swiftly an action can wipe a beautiful creature of its beauty.

“Very sorry, Mrs. Buchanan. I assumed Nick had shared this with you already. I forgot our agreement to share the news together.”

Daisy held out her arms in question for me to return Pammy.

I hesitated.

Everyone in the room felt and understood my hesitation.

No one said a word.

The baby left my arms and I knew what it was about these people that bothered me all these years. I’d told Gatsby it was because they were careless regarding what they owned. Though true, that wasn’t the only part of my hesitation.

They harbored a dangerous sort of carelessness, a lack of respect for all that life allotted them. Their combined hatred toward Gatsby’s homosexuality, Daisy’s lack of respect for the life she bore from her own womb, Tom’s obsession with claiming more lovers than he could keep up with— it was what made them a team of abominations, destined for a life lacking entirely of living.

Carolyn explained our engagement with a newfound vigor, but I wasn’t helpful in the least.

“I’m so thrilled for you both!” Daisy cooed as we stepped through the front door a number of hours later. “Truly I am. We’ll be here to help with any finances you may need for the wedding! Shimmering and gold, fireworks galore!”

“Thank you, cousin.” I said, placing my hat atop my head. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Carolyn hooked her arm with mine. “Wonderful meeting you all!”

“Aren’t you going to wait for your car?” Tom asked.

Carolyn’s grip on my arm tightened in warning.

“No,” I replied, “Its nice weather, we’ll walk and take a ferry across.”

We walked away from the scene, our eyes straight ahead. We kept composure until we heard the heavy doors slam shut. Carolyn released a long weary breath and closed her eyes.

“That was atrocious.”

I held her arm tighter.

“I know. I can’t thank you enough for doing this. You’re a phenomenal actress.”

She smiled weakly. “Thank you, dearest.”

I remained quiet a moment longer, allowing the squawk of seagulls to fill the space until a question surfaced.

“Your past, the bit about New Jersey and Byron Fitz. Was that real?”

Carolyn stayed silent. She turned her head toward the bay, just visible through the trees. I felt the goose bumps rise on her forearms.

“I wanted to be an actress, you know.” She confessed. “I went to schooling for it until I couldn’t afford it any longer. I bought countless books on the art of performance. I thought one day I could be a household name— My original name, that is.” Her eyes darted away a second. A name change hadn’t occurred to me, but I didn’t press. “This was a foolish dream in the eyes of my parents… Not in Byron’s.”

The wind shifted and I saw a distant buoy disappear past Carolyn’s trembling lip.

“One thing I learned from my schooling is that stories are more convincing when you draw from your own experiences. It was not a difficult story to tell, Nick, because most of it was true.”

I hadn’t realized we stopped walking. Her arms were crossed over her chest. There was a peer ahead with four fishermen. They didn’t pay us any mind.

“I left out the part where I accepted Byron’s help. It was terrible of me, but the choice was clear. He knew I wanted to be an actress and would give me money for schooling if I gave him a chance. I took the money and lived with him for a few months. I would let him do with me what he wished, knowing that my education was the most important thing. I fled town a day before the wedding. My parents knew I was queer long before Byron’s people told them.”

My suspicions about the word were confirmed. My stomach churned. Of course the word was one I used myself, positive, but the transfer from vile lips to hateful ears could turn any word to poison.

Carolyn turned to me and met my eyes. Her green ones were shining and her face harbored a darkness I would never understand.

“The funny part is that they were making it up. They had no real suspicions. The rumors were meant to ruin my name. They didn’t know they were correct.”

“You did what you had to do.” I said, in a poor attempt to soothe. “You had no one to turn to. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I know that already, trust me, Nick. I know. It’s the only way I can sleep at night.” Her eyes trained on the water, her voice suddenly hollow. “I know one day he’ll find me. It doesn’t matter where I go. And when he does, he wont be content with simply marrying me.”

I vowed, then and there, to never let him lay a finger on her again.

I grabbed her hand and coaxed her closer to me. She looked down at my hand and up at me like a frightened animal. I forced my expression to soften, despite my anger with her demons.

“You have me now. And Gatsby. At the end of it all, I’ll be here. We’re a team.”

A moment later, she rushed toward me, demanding a crashing hug. I held her there, in my arms. She wasn’t crying. I could tell that the world had drained her of all wet emotions. Tears would indicate helplessness, shock, and despair. Carolyn grew up knowing her fate. The shock was never an obstacle. All that was left was ghastly echoes of a life she’d fled. It wasn’t enough to bring her to tears, but it was enough to need my arms caging her, protecting her spine from the unforgiving world. I knew then that I loved her. I had many cousins and close relatives, but Carolyn’s blood, though distant, intertwined with mine. My fraternal instincts coated me in a layer of brotherly affection that I would wear as a shield, standing between her and all that wished harm upon her.

I wondered if she could feel it.

She stepped away from me, collecting herself. We walked further, remarking on the weather and the unnecessary height of sunflowers. The ferry brought us to a port near my house; the wind off of the bay swept Carolyn’s dark curls away from her face and brushed the sunshine around her skin. Walking toward my house lead us past Gatsby’s.

I thought for a moment and stopped in my tracks.

“Would you like to see what the mansion looks like without an ongoing party inside?”

Carolyn’s eyes widened, her hands fluttering at her sides.

“Of course! Are we allowed to?”

“Lets see if Jay’s home.”

The butlers allowed us through the gates at first glance, which made me realize that I was a familiar face to them. I wondered if they knew or cared about Gatsby and I.

The front walkway was the only rival to the Buchanan residence. Gatsby’s castle was dazzling, even when illuminated by the sun and lacking fireworks. Knocking on the front door of his estate always seemed like a mediocre gesture in the presence of such grand architecture. To my surprise, I didn’t have to knock. The door opened as we approached, and revealed Meyer Wolfsheim exiting in a rather large, leather cowboy hat.

“Take care now, Jay.” He was saying before catching a glimpse of us. “Ah! Nick, my boy! Who is your friend?”

“Carolyn Bradbury.” She introduced.

There was an edge to her voice, but I didn’t draw attention to it.

Wolfsheim tipped his hat at her.

“The name’s Wolfsheim. Say, you’re gorgeous. Give me a shout if you’re in need of some… work downtown. Same goes to you, Nick. The offer hasn’t expired.”

He looked her up and down in an ironically wolfish fashion. His eyes narrowed, as he looked her over a second time.

“Have we met?”

Carolyn’s face paled. “No, Sir. This is my first month in town.”

Gatsby stepped out of the doorway and his face brightened, rivaling his cufflinks.

“Nick! Carolyn! A lovely surprise!”

“Hello, Jay,” I greeted amicably, but less enthusiastically than I normally would. “I brought Carolyn by because she hasn’t seen your estate in the daylight. I was hoping you could give her a tour.”

“Of course! Of course! Come right in. Thank you again, Wolfsheim, for your assistance.”

“My pleasure, Jay.” He replied, though keeping his eyes on Carolyn. He lowered his voice as he passed her. “Are you sure we’ve never met?”

Carolyn’s hands were steady.

“I’m certain, sir.”

Wolfsheim hummed, passing by with a wave. We trailed Gatsby inside and the large doors thudded shut behind us. I was about to ask Carolyn what that all was about, but she quickened her pace to match Gatsby’s and allowed him to link her elbow.

“Here,” he said, knowingly as the intricate doors splayed, “we have the ballroom.”

“This is amazing, Jay!”

Carolyn’s face was bright and open; she spun in a circle admiring every detail of the room. I agreed with her that this room amazed me every time. Carolyn stepped into the very center.

“I love everything about it!”

I looked up at Gatsby and he met my eyes. We both recalled the time we sat there. When we nearly kissed. Gatsby’s face turned flushed and he looked away, bashful.

“I’d have music for you, but Klipspringer is away at the moment. Family troubles.”

“No apologies! I don’t need music.” Carolyn held her palm out to me. “May I?”

I smiled and accepted her hand. We assumed waltzing position and began to whirl around the room. Neither of us had proper form and it was a messy engagement. Her twinkling laughter, and the baritone rumbles of my own, replaced the need for music. Gatsby looked on in amusement, his hands clasped behind his back. He had the butler bring out some champagne in three tall glasses. Carolyn and I parted. She curtseyed enthusiastically and I bowed deeply.

“A pleasure dancing with you, ma’am. I’m quite parched.”

Gatsby handed me my glass and I accepted it gratefully. Then he handed a glass to Carolyn.

“Thank you, Old Sport.” She said, accepting the glass from Gatsby’s hand and drinking the whole thing in one swig.

I choked on my drink, laughing at Gatsby’s stunned face. I was glad he got a taste of how impersonal that nickname felt. The bastard deserved it.

“Well,” Gatsby said, straightening his suit jacket. He then looked up at me, “May I request a dance, Mr. Carraway?”

Carolyn replied for me, “You sure can. If you want this to be private I’m more than happy wandering around your estate.”

I felt a blush rise in my cheeks. I opened my mouth to dismiss her offer, but Gatsby beat me to it, clearly assuming otherwise.

“My butler will show you the library. Don’t break anything.”

Carolyn kissed my cheek and the left without another word. I could tell she loved this distraction from the activities of earlier that day. It was a retreat from the confines of Daisy and Tom and all of the societal restraints they represented.

Gatsby and I were alone then. The room seemed to echo more than it did a moment ago. I was hyper aware of every centimeter between us.

“So,” He gestured to the center of the floor. “Shall we?”

I nodded, wiping my palms on my trousers.

The sun had just started going down and the room was blanketed in elegant rays of deep gold. I stepped close enough to him that he could put his hands on my waist. I wrapped my arms around his neck reaching up only slightly because of his height.

We had a good deal of space between us as we swayed back and forth. Originally I assumed it was just in case a butler walked in, but then I saw the hesitation on Gatsby’s face and realized that he was waiting for me to close it. I smiled, feeling a warm fondness in my chest as I stepped closer. Our chests were faintly touching and I tangled my fingers in the hair on the back of his head.

His shoulders relaxed and he tipped his head forward resting his forehead against mine. We swayed back and forth, only our footsteps and the churning bay echoing through the room. It was a moment that made my lips want to form amen.

“Do you ever think about the future?”

I rolled my eyes. He knew me too well to be asking that question.

“I’m rarely thinking of anything else.”

“No, I don’t just mean the immediate future. I mean, after we get out. After the plan works and we’re out of the country. What then?”

I pulled my head back. His voice had wavered just enough that I had to meet his eyes. His expression was impassible, but his eyes showed the wheels spinning in his brain. I replied as honestly as I could.

“I don’t know. I intend to figure that out when we’re done. You’re going to drive yourself crazy if you don’t limit your focus to the present. I should know.”

Something in Gatsby’s face told me that my answer wasn’t what he wanted. But, like our drive past the eyes of God, I do not exist to give him what he wants.

“Should we join Carolyn in the library?”

I shook my head and pressed a kiss to his lips. I felt his hands tighten once in surprise and again to pull me closer. After a second I broke a millimeter away.

“Just a minute longer. Please.”

We stayed as the sinking sun disappeared and emerged behind a steady pink cloud. I kissed Gatsby’s cheek and I felt his hands smooth over my sides before holding onto my hips once more. The room smelled faintly of oranges. Everything about this was ethereal.

The golden light fell to Gatsby’s eye and made him wince. We stepped away from each other and left for the library. The large oak doors reminded me of my drunken confessions and I was immediately embarrassed. Gatsby didn’t seem to notice.

“Your books are beautiful, Jay!” Carolyn praised, admiring the far shelves.

“Thank you. It’s an old collection. Many of these are original prints.”

She stepped toward his desk.

“Is this your diary?”

Gatsby surged forward in an almost panic and blocked her path. Carolyn staggered back a few steps. When his voice came out it was slightly strained.

“Yes. It’s private. Any other book in here is accessible. This one is off-limits.”

My guilt boiled in the pit of my stomach. If he knew I betrayed his trust, would he still wish to run away with me? Would it be worth it for him to hold me at such a high esteem, when in reality, he’d made a liar out of me?

“Well, that’s fine,” Carolyn pacified, stepping away. “I wouldn’t want to read your sappy ramblings or… length calculations anyway.”

Gatsby’s face turned the slightest bit red at that accusation. When he looked towards me, I suddenly stopped breathing.

“Nick? Everything alright?”

I gathered myself and forced a reassuring smile.

“Yes! Yes,” I started inspecting the closest shelf. “Everything is quite alright. Lots of. Um. Lots of books.”

Gatsby stood up straight, adjusting his jacket and nodding.

“Indeed.”

Carolyn grew bored of the Library so we took her out to the back yard. She gawked at how bright and beautiful the bay was in the light of the setting sun. Once the stars started appearing, Gatsby had his butlers bring out a few chairs and some tea. I sat between them. Carolyn had hers with lemon, sugar, and honey. She wretched at the idea of Gatsby’s plain, bitter tea, and he laughed along in good spirit.

Gatsby’s hand found mine.

We watched the stars slowly climb the sky.

 

 

Chapter Text

“A bit to the left!” Carolyn called out, gesturing exaggeratedly to a disgruntled worker. He tilted the banner in the direction she indicated and paused, raising his eyebrows to ask for confirmation. Carolyn tilted her head in thought, before shaking it. “Tiny bit to the right again! Yes. Yes. Okay stop! Right there. Perfect, thank you.”

I stood at the base of the stairs, ducking my head to avoid collision with a silver serving-platter being escorted to the buffet by a maid. I straightened up and caught Carolyn’s eye.

“You should have been a general.” I mused, nodding toward the banner. “They could have used your skills in the army. I feel you’re much better at giving orders than any commanding officer I followed.”

“Oh, ha ha.” Carolyn rolled her eyes, tugging me toward her by my collar and wrapping her arms around my neck. “Wise guy.”

It was much less awkward than I pictured to feign our romance. Carolyn was naturally a very physically affectionate person. Slipping my hand around her waist felt more jovial and platonic than it usually would, mainly because it was commonplace. Her smiling eyes were the best part of this fake marital ceremony.

Though it was a rouse, Carolyn was having a ball with decorating and creating the most extravagant event I’d ever seen. The church was in the city—A beautiful specimen of religious and artistic capability. It was understated enough that it reflected my own lack of faith, while nodding to my parent’s wishes. The reception was to be held at the Buchanan residence. Daisy insisted. My cottage was much too drab and Carolyn’s apartment was out of the question. Fortunately, this provided Carolyn and the decorating committee with a stunning blank canvas.

“The flowers just arrived.” Carolyn informed, brushing dust off of my shoulder dotingly. “I peeked in the truck. There are hundreds.”

Hundreds?” I repeated, “Didn’t you decide against flowers?”

“I did. Someone else we know sent for them. Someone dashing.”

Gatsby.

Of course it was Gatsby.

I turned my head to meet a loud clanking sound. It was the truck’s door opening. One by one, a butler carried out bushels of flowers. Every color imaginable filled the courtyard. It was incomparable.

“It seems your fella is keen on turning this reception into a greenhouse.”

“It does seem that way,” I agreed.

She let me go to tend to my business while she inspected the centerpieces. I strode through the large mass of flowers, caressing a petal here and there. They were beautiful, even in their enormity. I imagined Gatsby with determination in his brow selecting each flower and the stunned look on the florist’s face when learning the quantity.

A bearded butler joined my side a moment later.

“Mr. Carraway, your cousin sends for you,”

“Thank you,” I replied despite the sour taste it left.

Daisy was fussing over the wedding almost as much as Carolyn was. She seemed to beckon my presence every time a streamer was out of place or a fountain needed approval. Though she knew Carolyn was the main overseer of this event, Daisy was obsessed with this newfound family time. I didn’t know how much I was capable of tolerating. The brevity of this entire affair was the only motivation I had to spend countless hours with my cousin. Once the wedding was through, there would be no more shrill phone calls and questionable wine tastings.

“Nick!” Daisy announced upon my arrival. My name was a familiar sound in this echoing hall.

“How can I help you, Daisy? Do you need me to select silverware?”

Daisy rolled her eyes, “Your attitude is noted.”

She sauntered over to the table and picked up a cigarette and a bulky lighter. I hadn’t noticed her unease until I saw her hands visibly tremble, lifting the lighter to her lips and igniting it. After taking a draw, she exhaled slowly.

“I was wondering if you heard from Gatsby.”

My tongue weighed a million tons. This was a strange bout of questioning for three in the afternoon. Luckily, Daisy saw my hesitation as confusion and attempted to clarify.

“I know this is a dreadful thing to bring up a few days before the wedding, but I wanted to know if he resurfaced recently.”

“Not recently.” I lied, “I see him weekly, as he is my neighbor, but we haven’t spoken in a number of days. Why?”

Daisy shook her head, blowing out smoke.

“Something is just… putting me off. I don’t know what it is. Nick… I just feel like he’s planning something.”

I raised an eyebrow in shock, as if my heart wasn’t pounding.

“What do you presume he’s doing?”

“I don’t know! I was hoping you’d say that he’s been lurking around. Or maybe that he’s been completely under the radar! Knowing things seem normal… it just doesn’t feel right.” She sighed; biting her lip as the truth slowly escaped her. “I feel like—I feel like he’s going to try to stop the wedding.”

I stared at her, completely amazed by her complete observational failure.

“Daisy, I think you might be a bit too paranoid about this. I’m fairly certain that he isn’t going to interfere with the wedding.”

Daisy set her cigarette down, eyes narrowing. I realized my mistake.

“Really? And how can you be so certain?”

I grasped my brain for something. Anything.

“Because he cares for Carolyn.”

My words echoed and I pieced together how I would dig myself out of that hole.

“He… Cares for Carolyn? When have they ever met?”

“He was the one who invited her to the speakeasy where we met. He found her on the street after she fled New Jersey and practically took her in until she was back on her feet. He helped her hide from Byron.”

Daisy was silent as I spun my web of complete and utter bullshit.

“He feels fatherly toward her,” I continued, “Caring for her wellbeing and happiness. He would never try to sabotage her wedding.” I looked down the hallway. “Even with his… interest in me.”

Daisy thought for a moment.

“Well… That’s certainly a surprise. I wouldn’t have thought a queer could experience the fatherly instincts of a true man.”

I gritted my teeth.

“A shock to us all, I assure you.”

Daisy clasped her hands, still processing this. I made a note to fill Carolyn in on this immediately.

“This is surely a stroke of luck. I don’t blame anyone for being affectionate toward Carolyn. Your wife-to-be is an absolute rose.”

“No! No more roses, you mad woman!” Tom bellowed, trudging into the room. “Don’t even think the word rose for the next thirty years! Our courtyard is overflowing! How can I live a respectable life with this many flowers! There are hundreds! There’s hardly any space for the lawn! Lord, Think of all the bees!”

Daisy’s eyes were wide.

“Hundreds?”

I coughed to hide a smile, turning toward the window.

Somewhere out there beyond the trees, I imagined Gatsby smiling too.

Thank you for the flowers. I love them.


 

Chapter Text

I’d often imagined the prospect of my own wedding.

Even as a child, it was a learned concept. I would one day grow up, meet a beautiful woman, and we would bind our souls for eternity in front of a crowd. My family discussed it as if it were as simple a task as picking up the morning paper from the shop on the corner. I saw my siblings get married, all claiming the front page with their extravagance. My cousins, first or second, third or twice removed, also shared in this. I wasn’t the youngest, so there were still those who lagged behind me, but it had become commonplace.

A fact rather than a suggestion.

One thing I never truly imagined was the physical act of being there. I couldn’t fathom standing at the alter and watching my bride ascend the aisle. It was a distant dream, a concept beyond reach. There was a distinct longing in my soul, but searching for its roots brought me to a suffocating dead end.

That was why the present simply could not be.

And why standing there, truly there, I couldn’t feel my feet.

There was a soft buzz of human noise before the piano beckoned Carolyn to emerge from behind tall wooden doors. The church was filled to the brim with family I couldn’t recognize. They all turned their empty faces toward the back of the church. They were floating algae, pulled by the force of an encouraging current.

Carolyn was draped in white. Like a ghost. Or a dream.

She was a lustrous queen, slowly moving toward her throne, adorned in diamonds and slight green accents that made her eyes glow. Her hair was long and pinned away from her face with pearls. Her natural hair was kept much shorter.

A wig.

A reminder of the façade we were conducting.

I could feel the pride of my family, radiating from the crowd as they wept. I imagined most of the tears were that of relief. The little boy who’d never been interested in women, the one they all presumed would spend his years alone, a disgrace, was to be wed to a gorgeous woman.

My dad was in the front row, chin tipped up proudly. I’d never seen my mother this happy. Neither of them, in fact.

For an unearthly moment, I felt my own relief.

Finally, they were proud. I was marrying a woman. I was doing the impossible and it was the only moment of my life where I felt equal to a hundred people in one room.

A deep, itching, gripping part of me woke for the first time in years.

I recognized its familiar ache.

It swallowed my vision and took me by the throat and growled, “Look! Look at what you could have! See how simple this all is? You’ve been your own barricade for years. Jay Gatsby has been the venom in your veins for so long that you’ve forgotten how normality could feel. Lap up this ichor of approval while it lasts. Tell me how it tastes, Nick. Are you ready to give that up? Are you?”

“Nick?”

Carolyn was at eye level. My blood pressure spiked. I’d become unaware of my surroundings and now the entire congregation’s eyes were on me. Carolyn seemed unfazed by the spectators and took my hand, looking deeply into me.

“Breathe. It’s just you and me.”

She squeezed my hand, filling me with warmth, before letting go.

We repeated each stanza after the priest. We spoke our respective parts. It reminded me of the number of times we’d practiced on Carolyn’s balcony, tossing popcorn tauntingly at each other to correct mistakes. The juxtaposition gripped hard, jarring me. 

I heard the priest say to kiss the bride.

I did. 

And something inside of me wilted. 

Chapter Text

The wedding occurred without a hitch.

My family and work acquaintances gathered, showering us with gifts and a barrage of questions that we answered in turn. It was a dizzying ordeal. The sense of ease never settled and I was a mess of nerves, even after our plan proved to work smoothly. Carolyn was, admittedly, in her element, keeping up the façade flawlessly. I considered, perhaps, my unease was furthered by Gatsby’s absence.

As the reception started and Daisy’s mansion flooded with guests, I found my gaze settling on the green lantern on her dock. It wasn’t illuminated, not needed at the time. It was strange to see an enchanted object put out of use.

“Nick!” My mother called, her hands on her hips. “Stop being so standoffish and join your guests!”

I forced a smile and walked up to her. She took my hands for a second, her face lined with age and pride. She straightened my bowtie.

“This is your day, my dear.”

I felt a swell of guilt.

She patted my shoulders and sent me off to mingle. It was bearable for the first half hour, but after a while it became mind numbing. Mid conversation about golf with a Scottish gentleman, I flagged down Carolyn and gracefully excused myself.

Thankfully, she had news for me.

“You have a message.” She quietly told me, smiling politely at one of my cousins.

I put my arm around her waist and drew her into a half embrace.

“Oh?”

“Yes,” she pressed into my side, planting a kiss to my cheek. “Front gardens. Five minutes. You have a gift.”

“A gift?”

"Some flowers."

I stared incredulously at her.

"Carolyn, I think we have enough flowers—"

"You'll want to see these ones." She insisted, "They're tall, blond, and mysterious, just how you like them."

She smiled at me in a way that filled in any remaining gaps, and walked away.

 After five minutes of situating myself in front of the desserts table, I snuck wordlessly to the front yard. Daisy’s mansion was winding and crawling with guests, but I somehow made it out unnoticed.

 Oddly enough, my wedding reception didn’t feel like it was about me. They all brought me gifts and came with congratulations, but they seemed like empty gestures. My uncles barely sent me a glimpse as I passed. I couldn’t name half of them. It was clear that my introversion rang true even today. I’d had them all in the practice of overlooking me for years that they were unable to flip the switch for my very own wedding. It was a blessing disguised as a curse.

The large doors thudded shut behind me and I trotted down the front steps. I nearly began down the main path, when I saw a shape in the corner of my eye. Doubling back, I could see Gatsby ducked behind a neatly trimmed hedge.

 “Jay?” I said softly enough to be heard from his distance.

Gatsby’s head perked up, jolting toward the sound. He was wearing his usual getup, formal as always. His handkerchief was a deep blue, offsetting the light grey of his suit jacket, and calling attention to his eyes. He stood up straight and leaned against the hedge, mocking any sort of carelessness.

 “There you are, Old Sport. I was hoping you’d get my message.”

“What are you doing here?” I asked, approaching. “You know this isn’t—“

“I needed to see you.”

 He smoothed his hands down my arms, landing on my hands and holding them. My chest released. When he kissed me it was nearly crushing, brimming with impatience and urgency.

He exhaled with his eyes closed.

“Nick… We’ve spent so much time apart. I can’t help how much I’ve missed you.”

 “Soon enough we’ll be away from here and you’ll surely be sick of me.”

 “Never.”

I shuddered. Never was a big commitment. For Gatsby to never lose interest would be a large feat. The way he said it had my lungs in knots.

I noticed that his eyes were sadder than I’ve seen them. I noticed that his hands were gripping tighter than they normally would. I tried to soften the crease between his eyes with my lips, but the lines remained.

“Jay? What’s wrong?”

He opened his mouth, but only air came out. He shook his head, smiling in spite of himself. It seemed scornful. Then I saw sorrow.

“You’re a married man now, Nick.”

 I hated the way his voice broke on married.

“A farce,” I reminded him, “To complete our plan.”

To my horror, his eyes began to fill.

“I know. It’s just… Never mind, its foolish.”

“Don’t say that, Jay. It isn’t foolish; you can tell me.”

He dropped my hands and clasped his own together, clenching his jaw.

When his voice emerged, it lacked all existing energy.

 “Its… It’s just unfair. We… couldn’t have that. I couldn’t give you that.” He took a step away from me, further into the shadow. “Nick, you don’t understand how hard it was to sit at home, knowing that the love of my life was marrying someone else.” His voice caught and it took a moment to tug it free, “This… This isn’t the first time. Daisy too… I thought it would get easier.”

 I could see his hands shaking, strands of his hair were in his eyes.

“Jay—“

“And now I have to die,” He bit his lip, “Last time, part of my soul died. This time it’s every ounce of me.”

I cupped his face in my hands and forced him to meet my eyes.

“A fake death. Not real— Just like this fake wedding. None of it is real.”

“But—“

“The only real thing here is you and I.” I gestured between us, touching his chest and mine. “We are real. This is real. If I could have married you in that church instead, I would have.

 

And there it was.

 

Another blinding confession, yet this time delivered sober.

 

Gatsby stared down at me, eyes deeper than any ocean. The laughter and music from Daisy’s mansion carried along in the background, no one sensing a change.

 

But there it was.

 

I met his endless never and returned it in full.

 

“Do you really mean that?”

I thought back to the voice that had torn me apart inside as Carolyn ascended the aisle. I recalled how it scratched, ripped, and dug, but never settled. It was something that ate at me for as long as I could remember, every time a distant concept came into reach. The idea that I wasn’t allowed to have something than countless others were. Daisy and Tom’s marriage was an act of blasphemy, constantly denounced by Tom’s idle cheating and Daisy’s straying love. Yet, I was excluded from that population?

Throughout life, most of what I truly wanted had been held out of reach or sliced from me. There was so much that I wished I could do, and one of them was to be able to admit my love to Gatsby without fearing for my life. It was the simplest request. Anger and sadness surged through me, and I understood then why an eternity seemed different with him.

I remembered how that cursed voice wasn’t my own.

It was never my own.

The sun shone through the leaves, casting patterns on our skin and the ground around us. I pulled back, slipping the ring off of my finger and pressing it into his palm.

 

“I do.”

 

 He looked down at me, down at the ring, before taking my hand and slipping it back on my finger. He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed my palm, then the ring. Birds sang sweetly nearby and boats churned loudly from the bay, but alone behind that hedge, Gatsby and I were bound forever.

This would always be the anniversary of my wedding, but not with Carolyn.

It felt refreshing and terrifying, somehow finding a way to electrify me, while filling my soul with light. It felt like my entire body was buzzing like a swarm of bees, warm and tingling.

It felt the way a union should.

I kissed him, my heart full, and then pulled away.

“I should go back. They’ll be wondering where I’ve gone.”

Gatsby nodded, his cheeks flushed.

“I agree. We’ve spent too much time out here as it is,” He fixed his hair, “Onwards to my death. I’ll see you soon.”

My heart sank a bit at those words, but I smiled anyway.

 “See you soon.”

I walked up to the doorway and, as I entered the house, caught sight of Daisy. When she smiled at me, I didn’t have to fake one back.

 

I was keenly aware that my ring finally held meaning.

 

I waited to hear the gunshots.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

They never came.

It was an hour past when Gatsby had scheduled for the gunshots to fire. Our original plan was to have one of Wolfsheim’s men fire off a round of bullets, causing enough commotion that everyone on our side of the bay would hear it. His connections with the commissioner would come in handy, summoning cops to show up just for the added staging. Gatsby would get into a cop car and they’d drag a fake body to the Ambulance. It was all meticulously thought through.

I made steady eye contact with Carolyn from across the courtyard. She returned it, sharing my concern. Every second that passed lowered a heavier weight onto my chest. It was hard to focus on the empty conversation with my aunt about the numerous flowers. My mind spun more webs than I could carry.

It was an hour and ten minutes. The weight on my chest sank, filling my stomach with acidic fear. There was something undeniably wrong. The air around me tasted stale, as if I were consuming the silence from across the bay. 

It was then that I made a decision. I could already feel the future version of myself regretting it, as if time had bent backwards and I was deciding once more. The sun was just beginning to set. Soon the world would be engulfed in darkness.

 

So I left.

 

I snuck out of the house like I had before, but this time I didn’t stop at the front gardens. One of Daisy’s drivers was polishing her windows. I could see his large mustache reflect off of the shiny door. I waved to him, trying to keep my face as neutral as possible.

“Excuse me! Would you mind terribly? I need to borrow this car. I left a very important wedding gift at my house across the bay, but I don’t want my cousin to know how foolish I am to have forgotten.”

The driver’s eyebrows shot up, recognizing the urgency. I could tell he’d been on the receiving end of Daisy’s wrath numerous times before. He nodded, promising his secrecy, and opened the driver’s door for me. Thanking him, I set off.

I don’t think I’d ever driven that fast. It felt dangerous, like the wheel in my palms was a weapon I had not yet wielded. Perhaps, in a different life, this car would prove to destroy worlds. The writer inside of me clawed at my ribcage, but I didn’t listen.

The gates were wide open, eerily inviting. I wasted no time parking. When I knocked on the door, no one answered. There wasn’t a single shift from inside that could indicate a butler. I clanged the giant metal doorknocker and received absolute silence. The acid in my stomach rose.

In my state of panicked frenzy, I couldn’t think of another option. The world was starting to shrink and swell, a heat building on the back of my neck. It was only when I heard a loud crash that my vision cleared. Adrenaline rushed through my veins and every thought was suddenly crystalized.

I ran around the trees to my driveway, searching for the path to his smaller gate’s side-entrance. My bowtie felt like a boa constructor, but I didn’t have time to shed it. As I rushed to the gate, I saw the state of his back yard. 

It looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned up from the last party, though I knew that was days ago. Furniture was turned over and broken. The glass windows were shattered and its glittering shards littered the ground. 

My hands shook as I let myself through the gate.

Then I saw movement.

There was a tall figure lecherously tossing a body down the stairs. My breath escaped in horrified certainty. That wasn’t just a body.

 

It was Gatsby.

 

And he was alive. Barely.

 

As he landed on the cracked marble landing, he let out a low groan of agony. I could see his deep bruises and fresh wounds from my position. His golden hair was slicked back with blood. It was as if someone had reached their clawed hand into my chest and ripped out my heart.

“Jay!” I exclaimed as the tall figure descended the steps.

As he reached Gatsby, he pulled his leg back, kicking him in the ribs with an almost gleeful passion. The choke that escaped Gatsby’s lips was louder than any firework.

Rushing toward them, I was fueled with unmatched fury. I was brought back to my time on the battlefield. My hands balled into fists as I neared, pulling back and letting everything go, as it impacted the perpetrator’s jaw. His head reared back, clearly shocked. He stumbled, but not as much as I would have hoped. He held his ground, bringing his hand up to his mask. When he drew his fingers away, I could see blood on his thumb from where it soaked through. My entire body was buzzing.

“Mr. Carraway,” Came the silvery voice that met my ears, jarring me. I could only see his eyes, blue like T.J. Eckleburg. He knew my name. “I had an inkling you might make an appearance. Don’t you have festivities to attend to?”

Instead of replying I grabbed his arm and used my leverage to shove him against the stone pillar at the end of the staircase. A breath escaped his body upon impact, but he didn’t seem phased. Up close I could smell blood and gunpowder.

“How was the wedding?” The man heaved, keeping a light tone. His accent was distinctly from New Jersey. I couldn’t think past my anger. “Where is your beautiful bride?”

I snarled at him, accentuated with my fist against his cheekbone. When I drew back, there was blood on my knuckle. Behind me, I heard a soft wheeze followed by my name.

“Nick,” Gatsby gasped out, his arm shaking as he tried to lift himself. “Go.”

My confusion overwhelmed me.

“What?”

The impossible man in front of me chuckled under his breath. Instead of staying still as I pulled back, he knocked my feet out from under me. I felt the earth shift as I fell, landing on my side. My arms failed me as I tried to get back up. What seemed like a millisecond later, the man grabbed a fist full of my hair and bashed my head against the stone.

I felt a blast of searing pain and saw floating white specks in the corner of my vision. The metallic taste of blood was unmistakable. It was like falling at the party. Instead of finding the sailboats, I kept my eyes on the heavens, looking for God.

Gatsby’s voice croaked out, drenched in misery and horror, “Nick!”

A boot impacted my side, forcing me to roll. A pained yelp escaped me. Even through my shifting vision I could see the man grab Gatsby by the meat of his shoulder and hoist him up. My brain screamed for me to go after him, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. I was completely still as the world lurched and Gatsby was dragged to his execution.

As they neared the pool, Gatsby regained some capability and knocked the man’s gun aside. His fist connected with the man’s stomach, sending him down like a pile of bricks. Gatsby limped around the pool, struggling toward me. Time was speeding by and every gust of wind felt like a new breath. He would be with me, holding me until we withered away to dust. I could feel the brightness of our future like sunlight kissing skin.

 

Then there was a bang.

 

Gatsby looked directly at me, frozen in time.

 

From the ground, the devil had located his gun. His bullet buried itself in a place I couldn’t see. It was invisible— like a curse, like death.

 

Two more piercing bangs— as if the first wasn't satisfying.

 

Gatsby’s lips parted.

 

“Nick.”

 

The love of my life landed with a splash.

 

My eyes slammed shut. The darkness swirled, threaded with a million undiscovered colors. I heard distant clamoring from across the bay, but it didn’t match my inward screams. My chest stopped working. My lungs gave up. Every molecule of my body screamed all at once. I was prepared to follow my lover into the light. 

A hand grabbed my chin, forcing my attention. The man, the demon, loomed over me. The eyes above his blood soaked cloth were smiling. He pulled off his mask and I was met with the oddest sense of familiarity. His face was distinct; jagged nose, strong chin, dark hair. He was a stranger, but perhaps I’d met him in a dream.

“Annabel thought she could outrun me,” He shook his head, his eyes wild. “But thanks to you, her face was in the daily paper. I don’t usually perform these tasks myself, but this was a special occasion… Please, give her my sincerest congratulations.”

He dropped my chin and my head dropped to the side. Sliding his mask back on, he looked down at me. If I were capable of feeling anything, I would hate him deeper than anyone I’d ever known.

“I don’t make a habit of trusting Wolfsheim,” He admitted, walking away, “He’s a good informant, but he lacks loyalty and morality. His betrayal tends to leave disaster in his wake… Your friend is proof of that.”

 

Friend.

Even in the midst of death, his love was torn from me.

 

I heard the man’s shoes crunch the earth below as he walked away.

I then heard the scrape of boots getting closer, followed by a loud splash. My synapses refused to fire; my brain couldn’t connect sound to action. There was a pulsating pain on the right side of my head and it consumed me.

There were more splashes and the sound of labored breathing, followed by grunts of exhaustion. After my brain tilted the earth, causing me to heave, I heard wet, spluttered coughing.

A set of hands found their way under my armpits and hoisted me up. Being lifted sent a bolt of pain though my skull. I cried out and I heard the faceless person whisper soothing words, going through one ear and out the other.

 

From a distance I heard Carolyn call out my name.

 

Then I fell from reality.

Chapter Text

 

Once, when I was young, my cousins and I ventured into a bog on the outskirts of my uncle’s land.

It was dark and damp, and the air was thick as it sucked into our lungs. We laughed and cramped, frenzied with the thrill of adventure. From one second to the next, we went from invincible to trapped. 

The ground beneath us broke. We dropped like bricks, crying out tersely in shock. My ankle had been tangled in the long swindling grass, so it twisted sharply as I fell. The pain soared up my leg and I lost consciousness. The next thing I knew, I was in the emergency room. It wasn’t long until I received the most vigorous scolding from every relative I could name.

 

That was how I recognized the sterilized scent of the hospital room.

I blinked my eyes open, finding it difficult. The light from the window was horribly bright, especially since most of the room was white and reflective. My first instinct was to speak, but my vocal chords felt rusty and all I could manage was a dusty croak of aimless sound.

“Oh good, you’re awake!”

I knew that voice. I tried to lift up my head, but felt the mistake in that as my neck burned. I winced. It was like someone had played jump rope with my spine and stuffed it back in.

My voice was weak as I tried again. 

“Carolyn?”

A warm hand slipped into mine, squeezing tight. I managed to roll my head enough to the right to see her. Her brown hair was tucked into an array of jeweled clips, held tight against her scalp.

Her words were laced with stress but her tone was gentle. I could see her glassy eyes and her physical effort not to cry.

“Hey there, tough guy,” She said, a thumb stroking my cheek. “Don’t ever do that again, or I’ll kick your sorry behind into the next decade.”

“I wont… What did I… Do exactly?” I asked. I was too disoriented to piece it together. It was a blur of static, no memories filling in quite yet.

A new voice answered. I knew this one too.

“You danced with death,” McKee stated, “And you nearly lost.”

I ignored the agonizing pain sprouting from the base of my neck, craning to see him. He was seated against the wall directly in front of my hospital bed. His arms were crossed tightly over his crisp vest and his legs were crossed loosely, clad in pinstriped trousers. His face was no longer clean-shaven, dusted with stubble. His eyebrows, though thin, were raised expectantly.

All theories failed me.

“Chester?”

“The one and only,” He checked his pocket watch “You’re extremely resilient, my friend. Only two days and you’re already awake. With your head trauma? All speculations were: eternal coma.”

My friend? There was a lot my brain couldn’t catch up on, but that was the most difficult. I felt the strangest inkling that there was a vacancy in this room— a space that’s been left empty.

There was a lot to sort through, starting with the number of fingers on each hand. It seemed like an easy exercise to start with. I tried moving them, and to my surprise, they worked. While counting, I didn’t notice I was dozing off again, but Carolyn pinched my wrist.

“No way are you going back to sleep,” Carolyn declared sharply, “get used to it.”

I made a whining sound in the back of my throat. Carolyn didn’t budge.

“Tough luck, arm candy. If you ever want to heal, you’d better stick it through. Wife’s orders.”

 Wife? Oh… yes.

The pieces started filtering in like sunlight through colored glass, one by one the array of colors glowed brighter every second.

 The wedding. My parents were there. We had a reception. We—

 

All the air left my chest at once.

 

I sat up, my body rejecting this sharp movement. Every part of me screamed in pain, but I stayed upright, breathing heavy. Carolyn seemed to sense what was happening as it occurred and kept a hand on my chest and back. Chester sat forward in his chair, eyebrows furrowed, ready to leap to action.

I looked around the room.

 

No Gatsby.

 

My husband.

 

The missing presence, the void, had a name.

 

“He’s dead,” I heaved. The blood rushed to my head, making me see stars. The world shifted and turned on its side before returning to normal. No, not normal. The world could never be normal again. “Oh my God, he’s… He’s gone. ”

Carolyn cupped my face, pushing herself into my line of sight.

“No, Nick. He isn’t.”

I shook my head, not hearing her. Not believing her. Why would she say such empty words to me? Why would she—

 

“He’s alive. Jay Gatsby is alive.”

 

I stared into her eyes, searching for truth. 

“But—“

“He survived. It was— can you lay back down?”

She propped up my pillow, so I wouldn’t have to crane my neck, and eased me down.

“It was a long, intensive process. The bullets went through his shoulder, missing any vital organs. Only one got stuck, which took a hell of a long time to get out. But they did. He had broken ribs and a nasty cut in his leg, but they stitched it up and set his bones. He’s in the intensive recovery unit.”

I took a moment to process this. The gory depiction was offset by how tremendously incredible the news was. There was still a missing piece.

“What about the pool? He drowned.”

Carolyn shook her head, “If he’d been under water for a minute longer, he would have died of asphyxiation and shock. But he was fished out and revived,” she paused, her gaze shifting. “By Chester.”

McKee, who had been silent, looked up at me. His eyes were shifting, uncomfortable under this scrutiny.

It took him a moment to speak.

“Ever since you introduced me to Mr. Gatsby at that party, I knew there was something more going on. When I heard about your wedding announcement, I had a strange feeling that… there was something greater behind it. Not to say that I haven’t considered wedding a woman myself, just to renounce the rumors.”

His eyes flicked to the door instinctually. 

“There was just… something about that Gatsby fellow. I knew something was happening, though I didn’t know what.” He paused to lick his lips nervously, “So I attended the wedding, getting an invite from Tom who wanted a drinking buddy. It was a while later when I realized that you’d disappeared. I couldn’t find you anywhere. I bumped into Carolyn, who was also searching for you. She seemed so shaken, I figured that I could be honest.”

Carolyn took over for a moment as McKee caught his breath.

“He pulled me aside and told me that he knew what we were doing.” As she said this, she smoothed my hair away from my forehead. “He briefly mentioned your… history,” (I blushed a tad at that),“and made it clear that he simply wanted to help. After searching the house, I knew that there was only one other place you could be.”

“So we stole a car,” Chester began, once more, “we parked it your driveway and as we got out we heard your voice call out, then gunshots. Gatsby’s front door was locked, so we ran all the way around the house. I got there first, seeing a cloud of blood in the pool. I knew someone had to have fallen in. So I dived in and pulled him out. I…I had learned basic resuscitation in the navy.”

I watched McKee fold his hands in his lap, clearly uncomfortable boasting. 

“He was incredible,” Carolyn, gushed, “I’d never seen someone move that quickly.”

It occurred to me that I had vilified this man for months.

Why?

Because of sex? Because of my regrets? Because he was involved in my bad decisions? Because he was ashamed of our time together, leaving me to clean up alone? Or because he eventually grew unashamed of our time together, and I handn't?

He was still a Queer man, the very same as me. I had tossed him aside, turning him into the voice of my anxieties.

I had maligned the mirror image of myself.

I had tossed aside a friend.

“Come here,” I requested, my voice steady.

Slowly, he rose, joining Carolyn on the right of my bed. I could tell he was afraid, though I wasn’t sure of what. 

I held out my hand. My arm protested with dull throbs of pain.

Carefully, he placed his hand in mine.

“Thank you,”

He nodded in acknowledgement, his lips pressed tightly together. I could tell he was on the brink of tears. It saddened me that he was ashamed to let them fall. He should never have to be ashamed of any fragment of himself. He was a hero. I would never be able to repay him.

I looked over at Carolyn.

“When will I be allowed to see him?”

 “The doctors aren’t sure when he’ll be recovered. It could be weeks. But, as soon as you heal up, you can visit him. He’s in a different hospital, as not to arouse suspicion.”

Something occurred to me. 

“What does my family think happened to me?” 

Chester answered this one.

“You were overwhelmed by the amount of people at the party so you and I snuck off to drink into oblivion.” He smirked, a small bit of amusement leaking through. “Tom would have been suspicious of us if he weren’t so busy panicking about how to explain my existence to Daisy. Turns out mutual friends isn’t always the ideal answer from a serial adulterer.”

For the first time in a long time, a genuine laugh bloomed in my chest.

I ignored how much it hurt in favor of how much I deserved this small dose of happiness.

That alone felt sparkling and new.

 


 

 

Gatsby lay in bed, his leg bound tight with bandages, and in his hand he held the daily newspaper. The front page had a large photo of his proud face and bold, unmistakable text across the top.

 

LOCAL MILLIONAIRE MURDERED IN WEST EGG ESTATE

 

Even though the headline was false, I still felt a tremor in my pulse. That was so close to being the truth, our plan gone haywire. It seemed like the gunshots had fired mere seconds ago, not entire days.

I stood silently, lingering in the doorway, taking in the way his eyes scanned over the contents. His left eye was still a bit swollen, but he seemed unfazed. His hair was messy and wild, his expression was solemn and thoughtful, and his chest was rising and falling, the way that the universe intended.

 

He was alive.

 

I opened the door the rest of the way and his eyes darted up at the sudden motion.

His expression blossomed into something grander than I’d ever thought life would allow.

 

“Interesting, isn’t it, Old Sport?” Happiness crept into his voice, “Can’t always trust what you read in the paper.”

 

“I agree,” I replied, closing the door behind me, “Honesty makes life much more invigorating.”

 

I couldn’t suppress a smile any longer.

The newspaper dropped to his lap.

It seemed like barely a second had passed before he was in my arms. I held him as tight as I thought he could bear. It was endlessly exhilarating to feel his body in my grasp, warm and alive. His heart pounded and I never wanted to be away from that sound. 

“Nick,” He rasped, his relief evident. “Thank goodness you’re alright. I— They wouldn’t let me see you.” Tears fell from his eyes like they’ve been on the brink of falling for days. “Last I saw you, your… Your head… Your eyes just stared…I thought you were dead.“ 

“I’m alive. I’m okay,” I soothed, rocking us back and forth. “I could say the same about you, you bastard. You were shot. Three times.”

“Well, if you hadn’t landed all of those punches, his aim might have been better,” Gatsby admitted, “so thank you.”

“Oh, shut up.” 

I pressed my lips to his forehead. 

Then he tilted his head up and I met his lips with my own.

I never wanted to release him from my grasp, but a nurse knocked insistently on the door, so we begrudgingly unlocked our hold. I sat in the chair by his bedside and he called for her to come in. The nurse had a tray with some food and medication. Her eyes didn’t rise from the ground as she delivered the tray and exited once more.

Gatsby sighed. He seemed exhausted.

“This is what its like servicing a dead man. There’s a tall price to pay for deniability. Buying their silence isn’t my preferred method, but I couldn’t hire any of Wolfsheim’s people like I had planned. That deceiving snake can’t know I survived.”

That brought me to the question that’s been rattling in my head for hours.

“What happened, Jay? We had a whole plan. What went wrong?”

Gatsby’s eyes fell shut a moment.

“I honestly don’t know. It happened so fast. Wolfsheim was to send a man to play my killer, so it would appear more convincing. But the man came too early. When I got home from your party, my staff was gone. I used the back door to get in and found blood on the floor of my ballroom.”

His tone chimed with sorrow. I pressed a kiss to his hand and he sighed.

“Everything was torn apart and broken. Priceless items were stolen. I suspected that a large group of men had come to destroy the place. I thought they all had left… Then he attacked me from behind. We wrestled, yanking and shoving, then he stabbed my leg with a kitchen knife and I…”

He stopped, gaining his composure. I attempted to relieve him.

“You don’t have to talk about all of this now.”

“No… I… I want to. Its been eating at me for days. He cut me a few times. Beat me. I didn’t know who he was, but he kept repeating the same things over and over again about how I’m… the next best thing. He talked about a girl who had wronged him, who had run away. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said you’d be there soon and as much as I wished he were wrong, you came. He was waiting for you. He wanted to… Make an example of me. ”

It hurt like a crushing anvil.

 

Gatsby was bait.

 

For me.

 

“I just… wish I understood what it was all about. It was like he chose you for something. What if he isn’t done with you?”

I thought back to Gatsby’s list, even though I wished I didn’t.

I shook the whole thing away, refusing to let that man ruin our reunion.

“It doesn’t matter now,” I promised, brushing the fear aside, “You just… Heal. Feel better.”

He tried to protest but I hushed him, stroking the blonde strands above his ear.

“Jay, listen, listen to me. We are so close to getting out of here. Even after all that happened, the plan worked. You did it. Now all we have left is one more façade. Then we’re free from these people, this city.”

Gatsby nodded, his eyes glossy.

 

“One more.”

 

I kissed his cheek, then his ear, and then the bridge of his nose. 

 

“One more.”

 

I cupped his cheeks in my hands and promised over and over again,

until the words were just words and sleep overtook him.

I sat, watching him exist.

 

One more.

 

God, let it be true.

Chapter Text

We wasted no time packing up our belongings once Gatsby was discharged from the hospital. We were already behind schedule, but that was much less important than Gatsby’s health. He was to remain concealed in the empty flat below Carolyn’s until the journey overseas was underway. Though he mercilessly complained about feeling unhelpful, we insisted and threatened him into solitude.

It was with great care that we avoided the Buchanan’s for several days on end. After the wedding, the fateful attack, Daisy seemed to hone in on our constant whereabouts. She was still furious for what she believed of me fleeing the party to drink. Tom hadn’t been anywhere in sight for at least a few hours, but he’d come round less often. There was a sour look on his face, almost as if there were something massive looming behind his conventional features.

Carolyn took an entire afternoon sorting out her books. Prying away some from her hoard was like pulling teeth. My cottage was much simpler to go through. The wedding gifts were the main challenge, consisting of ornate furniture and fragile glassware. For the moment, we focused on Carolyn’s clutter. 

“Nick,” Carolyn warned, threatening me with a clothing iron, “If you don’t put down that box I swear to you I will off you myself.”

 With a huff, I set it down. My recent injury hadn’t done me many favors and was contributing to the long duration of this process.

“You have to let me help,” 

“Like Hell I do.” 

“Carolyn,”

“Not one more word about it. Nothing heavier than a hatbox, you hear me, Carraway?” 

I sighed and complied, unwilling to admit how much exhaustion rippled through me. She was usually right, but that didn’t mean I had to enjoy it.

We were nearly done packaging Carolyn’s sheet music when Tom Buchanan entered the premises. Just as if someone had let in a cold draft, the hairs on the back of my neck stood alert. He was smartly dressed, but more so than usual. His Myrtle-visiting clothes were made to suit his form in the most complimentary fashion. It felt like a puzzle piece out of place to see him in Carolyn’s apartment.

“Caraway’s, I see you’ve made a dent of progress. I hardly understand how, with Nick all torn up.”

Carolyn set down a box, her mouth set in a hard line.

“Can we help you with something?”

“Yes, first, mind your attitude when addressing your superior.” Carolyn’s eyes darkened immeasurably as he continued, “Second, I want to know just how long you anticipate this Honeymoon is going to be.”

I brushed off my pants, lifting up from my knees.

“What do you mean?”

Tom presented his specific smile, adorned with petty self-confidence, all too knowing. My stomach churned. I could see Carolyn shakily picking up a blue teakettle.

“Well,” he started, putting his hands in his pockets and nonchalantly wandering the room, “It just seems to me you’re packing for much more than a few weeks. You’ve emptied your… Cabin, and now you’re sorting books. I can’t help but wonder if this change is much more… permanent than you're letting on.”

“Nonsense!” I insisted shrilly, “Surely you see we have far fewer items between the two of us than to ever compare with you and Daisy. Just because it seems we’re packing more… Well, I can hardly believe there is anything overseas that would suit us. 

Tom nodded, furrowing his brow in mock consideration. I felt my blood pressure spike. He wasn’t convinced. This became clear as day when he cornered me. 

“I know what you’re doing,”

The air felt sinister and the cars zooming along the street below captured a more intense ambiance. I considered Tom’s build and knew from the first thought that I could never take him down in my fatigued state. 

“I know,” he breathed, stepping closer, “Whom you’re bringing with you.”

I stepped back, hitting the wall and swallowing down any outburst.

“I’m not familiar—“

“Damn it, Nick!” Tom bellowed, hammering his fist against the wall beside me. I cringed. He sniffed, and collected himself, lowering his voice, “You can’t lie to me. I know he's alive. I know... what you are. I know what you both are— All Fairies, the lot of you. You think I didn’t notice you missing at the reception? You think I invited McKee to your wedding as a friend?” He spat that out as if it disgusted him. “He was there to prove a point. To get him drunk enough that he’d admit to sleeping with you. I needed proof. He’s as much of a fag as you are.” 

Any words I planned to say had evaporated. I was reduced to a verbal punching bag, and, maybe soon, a physical one.

In all honesty, I was afraid.

 “Now you think that you can just run off? Move away for good? And Gatsby, oh don’t get me started on that bastard.”

He pressed his index finger harshly into my chest. I knew within moments he’d try to harm me and I wouldn’t be able to fight back.

“You give a damn about that queer, don’t you? You sympathize with that Monster? Wherever he is, I’m glad he survived. So I can put him down myself—“

“Stop it,” Carolyn demanded, her voice cold and final.

She then shoved her way between us, forcing Tom to stagger back. She had a kitchen knife in her left hand and it was poised toward Tom’s heart, ready to strike. He was caught entirely off guard. This was assertiveness from a woman Tom had never truly been exposed to, never expecting.

“What the Hell—“

“If you ever speak to Nick, Gatsby, or myself, or Chester for that matter, you will taste the end of your already fraying reputation.”

Tom processed her words before barking a laugh.

“You’re crazy! You—“

“Myrtle Wilson’s secret apartment is two blocks down from me, sixth floor, room 312.”

I held my breath. Carolyn continued, unblinking.

“Her husband is George B. Wilson, who lives out above the auto repair shop in Mount Corona, near the Ash dump.” 

Tom wasn’t laughing anymore. The tension was so thick, not even the diamond on Carolyn’s trembling hand could slice through.

“My cousin works for the New York Times. I’ve already given him the story. He’s going to release it the day before we depart… Unless I tell him not to.” She stepped forward. “You see, Mr. Buchanan, unless you’d like everyone and their mother to find out about the extent of your affairs, I’d suggest you keep your  mouth shut.”

I stared through the back of her head in awe as Tom gaped.

“I’m afraid you’ve overstayed your welcome,” She added, her voice growing colder, “You’ll excuse us now, or your reputation will end faster than you can think the word Queer.” 

Like a thunderstorm, Tom rolled away, backing slowly out of the room in disbelief and confusion. As he departed he shook his head, eyes filed with fury. 

“This illness will kill you in the end.”

When the door closed behind him, Carolyn’s knife clattered to the hardwood floor.

Carolyn and I slumped to the floor alongside it, victims of gravity. The cars below ceased their mournful song. A flock of birds ascended from the roof across from us. Tom Buchanan’s words had left scorch marks on the carpet, on the wall, on our minds. There were tears in Carolyn’s eyes and in mine. I tugged her toward me and held her.

I just held her.  

It wasn’t long until knocks on her door made my blood freeze. It took a moment for me to register the pattern of knocks. It was Gatsby.

“Come in,” I called out, my voice clearer than I thought it would be.

Jay peeked his head in first, his face already contorted with puzzlement.

“I heard yelling from down… stairs…” He trailed off, seeing us in our fragile state. Gatsby shoved the door open and limped in, closing it swiftly behind him. 

“What happened? Tell me.”

It took a lot of effort, but he lowered himself to the ground beside us. I leaned my head against his chest and he caressed the side of my face with his thumb soothingly.

“It was Tom,” Carolyn said, angrily wiping a tear from her cheek, “He came by with a rather horrid tirade of accusations. He knows about all of us, but I had enough leverage to keep him quiet, at least until we leave.”

Gatsby stayed silent above me, but I could feel the gears turning rapidly in his brain.

“Alright... So we move the plan forward.”

“We can’t,” I rasped, “The boat doesn’t leave until Friday. We can’t rush a trip this big, no matter how much money we’re willing to spend. We won’t be done packing before then.” 

His hand tensed against my jaw for a second.

“Alright, well, we just make sure to keep our heads low. We heal, we pack, and we regroup. Friday, we leave.” 

He was right.

But for the moment, surrounded by half empty boxes, we simply existed.

Chapter Text

Had I never followed through with this plan of escape, I’d never know that one could grow tired of boxes. Shelves upon shelves, stacks upon stacks, and we were traveling what was considered light! Do humans truly need this many things? It appeared so, in the eyes of everyone with a say in the matter.

Carolyn’s apartment had been emptied out, along with my cottage. We were leaving behind empty homes faster than a businessman would litter cigar cases. It became clear after a few dragging days that staying in the flat below Carolyn’s was too great a risk. Gatsby was separated from the world by one thin wall. It wasn’t safe. To our good fortune, Chester McKee and Carolyn had spoken over the phone, providing a new option for safeguarding our undead man. 

“Welcome,” Chester greeted, fondly ushering us into his apartment. “Do mind the carpet.”

The apartment appeared the same as I remembered. Dull color schemes and simple furniture made this residence ideal for leaving. It was clear Chester hadn’t made a home of this place, though we all smiled politely when coming through the narrow doorframe.

It would be a blatant lie to say the memories of this apartment didn’t strangle a gagging choke from my throat. Only Gatsby noticed the sound, lifting an eyebrow at me. I had no interest in elaborating on that.

Chester may have noticed I was avoiding his eyes, but nothing revealed his acknowledgement except for the slight knowingness of his smile. I glanced quickly into his bedroom and regretted that mistake as my stomach churned.

Carolyn pressed a kiss to Chester’s cheek, leaving a slight pink print.

“Thank you so much for having us, dear.”

“Of course. I’m always happy to have Queer Company… And I would hardly like for Jay to be spotted after all of my effort in keeping him alive.” 

Gatsby, lowering himself onto the sofa, nodded at Chester with a great deal of gratitude.

“Sorry,” I chimed in, hating to spoil the mood with my paranoia, “But Myrtle stays in the floor above. Should we worry?”

“She did, but we aren’t expecting Tom’s presence any time soon. She hasn’t visited their secret den of fornication in a few days. Someone in the lobby was gossiping that her husband caught her cheating and has her stuck in the house.”

Carolyn’s mouth pursed sourly at this, pity in her posture.

“Terrible that she would lay with Tom of all people, but… How negative that punishment must be. I feel horrid.”

I thought back to my party with her, wrapped in the remaining warmth of the memory’s swirling colors. She was so charismatic and flirtatious. It stung to think of her being subjected to sorrow, her face red from beating and not from rosy blush.

“Awful,” I agreed. 

I noticed my proximity to Chester, both of us lingering by the radio. It made the hairs on my neck prickle, despite our newfound friendship, so I moved to sink down next to Gatsby. It felt safer, more stable. His hand made a home in the dip of my waist. 

Chester crossed his arms, leaning nonchalantly against the counter on his left.

“Where will your journey take you?”

“South of France,” Carolyn replied, picking something out of her teeth with the nail of her index finger, “Gatsby has friends from Oxford whom we plan to bother for a night’s stay until we can make our way north.”

“What’s north?”

“Exquisite anonymity.”

Chester nodded, his eyes transfixed on a thought he could only see just outside the window.

“Well!" He announced, snapping his gaze away from that spot, "Congratulations! Your excitement must be unmatched.” 

“Indeed,” Gatsby replied, clasping his hands together, “Which is why we’d like you to come along.”

I felt a spike in my own blood pressure, trying to keep my reaction to a minimum. I could tell Carolyn was doing the same. We hadn’t properly discussed this, though the option had gone unsaid and I held no opposition to it.

 It was Chester who gaped, open mouthed and stunned. Gatsby had obtained his full attention, in the way he did best. 

“Why… I couldn’t possibly—“

“Oh, but you could, Old Sport!”

I’d recognize that tone anywhere. I could almost hear the same words enunciated at the Buchanan’s dinner table months before—talk of parties and keeping the city dancing long enough into the morning to ward off nightmares. 

“You’re a kind man, full of purpose and promise that is wasted in this city. There is plenty of room aboard the ship that it really wouldn’t be any trouble at all! Pardon me saying so, Old Sport, but you have very little here to pack. It would take perhaps an extra hour or so to box up your belongings.”

“I appreciate what you’re saying Jay, but I couldn’t just leave on a whim. I’d just slow you down.”

Gatsby sprung up from his seat despite his limp, motivated by the energy of life. At the sharp movement, Chester took an instinctual step backwards, hitting his hip on the radio table and using it to steady himself. I smiled instinctively, knowing every shade of that bewilderment myself.

My lover grabbed Chester’s hand with the vigor of a man who had tasted death. Gatsby’s bright eyes were remarkably hard to ignore.

“You’re a photographer, correct? Now, I don’t want to see your potential wasted here among the grey and the ash. No, no, you should be across the sea with us, photographing cathedrals that are centuries old and fields of wildflowers beyond description. Come with us.”

Beyond overwhelmed, Chester showed remarkable composure. His eyes were still glinting with the impossibility of it all. 

“I… I don’t know what to say…”

“Say yes,” Carolyn supplied, merriment in her features though her tone held the insinuation of teasing boredom, “The welcoming committee is just us three so don’t expect balloons.” 

Contrary to my expectations, Chester turned his gaze to me. There was something in my approval that would somehow make the opportunity okay for him to seize.

So I smiled.

“We would be delighted to have you.”

Gatsby beckoned his attention once more.

“I owe you my life, Old— Chester. The least I can do is return the favor. Don’t waste yourself in this city. There’s more for you in the world than signing contracts written by those who want you to fade.”

Without the words to reply, Chester’s eyes welled up with tears and he simply nodded. A choked laugh escaped him. He then threw his hands up in a way that said: What have I got to lose?

I learned much from this. Or, at least, I hoped to. Only time would tell. 

 


 

 

It was cloudy that afternoon. I made myself a cup of tea in the kitchenette. The chipped mug in my hand was a deep familiar blue; making me homesick for somewhere that my memory had long since discarded.

The floorboards behind me creaked under the weight of human presence. Upon looking over my shoulder, I was intercepted by the most familiar warm embrace. A laugh bubbled up from my chest as I felt his body align with my spine.

“Fancy seeing you here,” I toyed, relishing in the contact before reaching for the honey.

Gatsby’s arms wrapped tight around my middle as he hummed, “Charmed, I’m sure.” 

As I stirred, his head fell forward on my right shoulder. I could hear him inhaling deeply and felt his exhale like a hot puff on my collarbone.

“Are you feeling alright?”

Gatsby snorted, “As alright as I can be in this state.”

We lingered in silence for a long moment, taking in the muffled sounds of Chester and Carolyn boxing up shirts in the other room. Then Gatsby’s arms tightened and his voice emerged tentatively.

“I have something to ask you.”

“Oh?” 

“I would like to do something. It’s a severe risk, and the others can’t know. But I think… I’d like to do it.” He paused, nuzzling closer to my neck. His voice returned a tad bit colder, “I… I’ve thought a lot about this, so I’m… I’m not asking for your permission— But I would like your blessing. I would also like if you would join me, but I understand any resistance to the notion.”

Jay,” I exhaled, ignoring my stress to put my hands on top of his in a reassuring manor, leaning in to his touch, “Tell me.”

He took a second to organize his thoughts before replying.

“I want to say goodbye to Daisy.”

My eyes fell on the tea in front of me. I watched the steam curl out of the mug like the coils of Gatsby’s request escaping his subconscious. He said it was a severe risk, but this was more than severe and definitely had the highest stakes of any risk we'd ever considered.

I closed my eyes. It was strange to me now that I didn’t have to force the calm. Part of me just deflated inward with exhaustion. Gatsby with his turbulent emotions and impossible requests had become so commonplace for me now.

“You know I need you to elaborate before I can answer that.” 

He let out a guilty sigh, and I could tell he was exasperated by his own complexities.

“There are so many things I wish I’d done differently, Nick. So many things I wish I could have said. Our last interaction was so…”

Betraying Daisy, forcing her to leave, breaking her heart. 

“I wasn’t fair to her, and I see that now. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try.”

Despite the sinking feeling in my gut, I knew what he meant.

I gently pried his arms away and spun to face him. He looked down at me with a sort of defeat in his face. With how much this man expresses with his eyes, I knew why he wanted to have this conversation with my back turned. I could see his sadness clear as day. This was haunting him. 

“You have my blessing,” I said, confidently. “And I’m coming with you.”

Gatsby reached behind me, confusing me for a moment, before I realized he was picking up my tea. He brought it to his lips and took a sip, cringing at the taste.

“Much too sweet for me,” he shook his head, extending the cup to me.

When I took it from his hands, he leaned in and kissed me with a light airiness I’d always hoped from him. Under my lips I could feel him changing. Into what, I didn’t exactly know.

 


 

 

My cottage somehow appeared both bigger and smaller with the lack of personal belongings. On one hand, it echoed more deeply, every footstep amplified. The papered walls at my fingertips were bare of decoration as I walked past. It seemed that there was so much emptiness, like a blank canvas. On the other hand, the walls felt closer somehow, more present. No longer adorned with decor, they were reduced to barriers that held up the ceiling. Having spent so much more time lately in grand mansions and spacious city apartments, the size of this place was incredibly quaint and I remembered in that moment exactly why I’d bought it. I thought that maybe my ideas and experiences would far surpass the limits of life I’d set up for myself and I would need something grounding and compact to come home to. In a sense, I was right, but this cottage had served its purpose. It was a shell of a home with one final use.

I waited in the living area; skin itching at every rustle of leaves outside my window. The panicked butterflies in my stomach seemed intent on wearing themselves out, and my palms were sweating with their efforts. I knew the error of what we were doing, as did Gatsby, who sat restlessly in my bedroom. I’d gone over it in my head a million times and trusted that this once, the results would outweigh consequences.

It wasn’t until I heard the car pull up outside that the weight of the night sank in.

I opened the front door to reveal my cousin.

The golden girl, who often found less to grieve about than needed grieving, was expressionless. I had always favored visiting her when I was young. She was warm and jovial, always making you feel that there was no one in the world she’d rather be speaking to. It was a magnificent quality to have, especially if you were reckless with every delicate thread. 

I opened the door wider as a silent invitation to come inside.

She stepped through the doorway, after motioning for her driver to come back in an hour. Her gloves slipped off her hands one finger at a time, and then were placed on the hallway table.

“I was worried when I got your call, Nicky,” Daisy admitted, wandering around the living room. She lightly rested her index finger on the windowsill as she paced by. “Why did you want me to come at this hour?”

I sat down on my armchair, trying to remain neutral.

“Did you tell Tom?”

She laughed harshly at that, turning to face the double doors that lead to the back porch.

“I don’t talk to Tom about much of anything these days.”

 

“Good,”

 

That voice wasn’t mine.

 

Daisy’s head whipped around in complete shock.

Gatsby was standing in the kitchen doorway. His three-piece suit was pristine and his hair was slicked back with expensive oils. It occurred to me then that this Gatsby was nothing like the Gatsby that had visited me on that fateful morning, inviting me to lunch. The backdrop was the same, though less barren, and Gatsby’s eyes weren’t as tired as they were now. He was the same man; he just cast a different shadow.

The look exchanged between Gatsby and Daisy was nothing like our first dinner party. 

Daisy’s arms came up to cross over her chest. She laughed once with shock, but it faded to anger just as quickly.

Gesturing to him, she spoke to me. 

“So this is why we haven’t heard from you?” She looked back to Gatsby, her body language was tight and defensive. “You’ve been playing with dead things.” 

Gatsby removed a hand from his pocket, his expression unreadable, “I needed to speak with you and this was the only way I could think to do it.” 

Daisy shook her head furiously, eyes shining with tears and anguish.

“I don’t want to hear any more from you. You’ve taken my cousin. You and your disease and your… imagination, all have corrupted him. Nick probably isn’t even going on a honeymoon at all. He's running away with you like I was supposed to. Aren't you, Nick?” 

I didn’t answer that. This was their wound to mend.

When Gatsby spoke, his voice was gentle. 

“I don’t want you to think I lost all love for you once I loved Nick.”

Daisy scoffed, but he didn't allow her to slow him.

“The last night we spoke, I made you believe that my adoration for you had vanished. That wasn’t the truth. That was a simpler lie of which I was trying to convince myself. All of those years I spent dizzied with obsession were about to receive an unsatisfactory conclusion.”

I didn’t know what to make of this speech. His expression was now open, and I could feel every ounce of his pain as if it were my own. Worn like his suits, his skin bled all the years he’d spent waiting for her. There was nothing but history behind his tongue.

“But then I realized that obsession was the correct word. I’d become obsessed with you, Daisy. What I felt for you was not love in the same way I thought it was. It was a deeper, more venomous kind. Nick had once confronted me about it, justifiably scolding me for tossing you aside."

I remembered that day vividly. The match burning between us.

I had seen him as sociopathic. What a fool I was. 

"I didn't understand him then like I do now. I did it because I was hurt and confused so deeply about what love was supposed to be— so much so, that I pushed it down until it was a speck and I couldn't see it from where I stood. I thought it would be easier. That was a mistake. This trauma was only possible because of how I deified you.”

 Daisy’s mouth was sewn tight and tears fell silently down her cheeks. Her crossed arms were bound tight around her body, but she listened.

“I made you out to be much more than any person could be in order to love you in the way I thought you wanted me to. For that, I’m deeply, truly sorry.”

The waves of the bay crashed as we neared the latest minutes of midnight. Behind Daisy the world was shrouded in darkness. It made the few dimly lit candles glow like searchlights.

Gatsby took a step forward into the room and Daisy flinched.

“I love you still, to this day. When I think of life without you, it pains me to my core. I built my life around you for six years. That isn’t something you grow out of so easily.” 

He paused and took half a step in my direction, making a chill run down my spine.

“But when I look at Nick, I see a human. He is nothing more, and nothing less, and I love him the way you’re supposed to love someone. There are things I wish I could have done differently, but loving him is not one of them.”

I didn’t think my heart could feel heavier in my chest than in that moment.

“Why are you telling me this?” Daisy snapped, her demand made tragic by the sob in her voice.

Gatsby walked towards her, each step closing the space between them. His broken voice was the only sign of his own sobs emerging.

“I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. For both my sake and yours.”

Daisy’s hand was shaking as she lifted it too her pink mouth, covering the bottom half of her face for a brief moment. Her last shred of composure was used, as the grandest lie dropped from her lips.

“I gain nothing from this.”

A tragic smile flickered across his lips.

He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her cheek. 

“Goodbye, Daisy.”

He then turned his back to her and walked toward the kitchen. As he passed my seat, he stopped and extended his hand. I hesitated only for a millisecond before taking it. As we walked out the front door, I glanced back at my cottage that was once empty, and now the most full it had ever been. I pictured Daisy standing there with her hand on her cheek, finally allowing herself to cry the way that Gatsby did as he crumbled in my arms hours later. I thought of all the nights Daisy would lay awake realizing that he’d given her closure in the kindest form he could.

I wondered a lot of things about the future as we took our taxi back into the city, but for the moment, I focused on Gatsby’s hand gripping mine like a lifeline.

When we got back to Chester's apartment, I laid with Gatsby on the old sofa and pulled down the window shades, keeping the darkness locked out.

There was already enough darkness inside to drown us.

I just held him tighter. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 I woke to a sunbeam in my eyes.

 It couldn’t have been earlier than seven o'clock, but the weight in my eyelids begged for another hour. My legs were heavy too, tangled with Gatsby’s. He was deep in the thrall of sleep, head tucked in the crevice between my neck and shoulder. I could feel that the events of the night had drained us of all energy. 

It came back to me in pieces, like collecting scraps of paper from the surface of the bay. The first thing that returned was the sob in Gatsby’s voice. The second was the way Daisy’s wedding ring glittered, covering her mouth. The third was the door to my old home as it creaked shut behind us. 

I was certain of a few things. We were lucky Daisy held her word and arrived alone. Had there been any interruption or, heaven forbid, Tom to deal with, we may not have made it out with our lives. The risk wasn’t entirely barren, however. Gatsby agreed with me that the house was most certainly being watched by Wolfsheim’s men. No issues arose on that end, but I felt it more as the distant crack of thunder rather than the absence of a storm. 

Finally, I knew that Gatsby’s lungs were filling deeper in his sleep than I’d ever felt them. His breath came easier, his face more relaxed. Even the warmth of his palm, felt through the fabric of my shirt, had changed. His goodbye to Daisy wasn’t just symbolic; it was the antidote for a lifelong heartache. 

The sun still painted my inner eyelids a bright red. I groaned, throwing my arm over my face. 

“Oh good, you’re awake,” Came a voice from the kitchen. “Coffee?” 

I lifted my head groggily, squinting to find Chester. His hand rested on a cabinet door. 

An impolite grunt left my lips in affirmation. (Had I been more awake, I would have amended that.)

Chester assembled the required tools and coffee grounds needed as I managed to slowly untangle myself from Gatsby’s hold. I stretched out my neck and reached out to shut the open window and close the blinds, thinking of Gatsby’s comfort. The movement was so familiar, like deja vu. I could have sworn I’d done it the night before. 

The millionaire gave a nearly inaudible, sleepy mewl of disapproval as I broke from him, but it was a lone product of the subconscious. In the absence of my side to cling to, his arms yanked the blankets in a bundle against his chest. 

“Precious,” Chester mused, tossing Gatsby a look over his shoulder. 

“Until he’s awake,” I said.

He laughed, watching the steam rise from the hot water as it spilled through the coffee grounds. His brewing equipment was clearly not the newest model, but I wasn’t bothered. 

I leaned against the counter, arms half crossed as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. 

“Thank you again for letting us stay here. I know we keep saying that, but—”

“And I keep telling you, I’m glad to have you.” Chester’s look was pointed. “I should be the one thanking you for inviting me on your journey east. I still have trouble believing it.”

“In all honesty, I feel guilty having sprung it on you. It seems you were able to pack the essentials though.”

Chester nodded, letting the remaining water drip through. 

“Carolyn is remarkably good at packing. She has an eye for it; we made great time.” He paused. “Speaking of we , you fellas were out late. Didn’t even hear you come in.”

I shifted a bit from foot to foot. 

“Ah, yes… I hate to keep secrets, and I promise it was for good reason. Gatsby prefers I keep it private.”

Chester’s lips pursed, humor seeping into his face. 

“Fret not, I have no interest in hearing the details of your… Excursions. Though, you could have at least brought Carolyn back with you.”

I looked up after a moment. 

“What—?”

“Good morning, Gentlemen. Any coffee for me?” Gatsby interrupted, already stretching as he stood up from the sofa. 

Chester nodded, producing a mug from seemingly thin air. Gatsby took it graciously, kissing the side of my head before taking a sip. 

“Morning, Dear.” 

“Morning,” I replied, but my mind still ticked. “Chester, what did you mean? About Carolyn?”

Gatsby looked around. 

“Yes, where is that dazzlingly bold mistress?” 

Chester blinked at us mid sip. Then he drew the cup away from his lips.

“You don’t know?” We looked back at him, stares equally as blank. He stayed quiet a moment longer, setting his coffee down on the counter. “I was sure— A sound woke me at about four in the morning and she wasn’t here. I presumed she’d gone to collect you both?”

A seed of worry planted itself in my gut. 

“We arrived here earlier than that. We never saw her leave, Chester.”

Gatsby’s drowsiness slipped away, stiffening up at this realization. 

“So we don’t know where she is now? None of us know?”  

We stood there motionless. It was Chester who spoke first. 

“I’m sure there’s a logical explanation. I doubt she’d be—”

He was interrupted by a shrill ring. The phone’s sudden demand nearly had the three of us jumping out of our skin. Chester put a hand over his heart as he reached for it. 

“Oh, for heavens— Chester McKee residence?” 

The answer drew an impatient silence from our side of the line. Then Chester leaned forward, eyes closing as he sighed. 

“Thank Goodness, we were discussing you just now. You had us worried!” He stopped again, waiting for her to speak. “Yes, yes. All well and good, but where the Devil have you been?” 

A pause. He then pulled the cone away from his ear and stared down at the receiver, brow furrowing. 

“I believe she just hung up on me.” 

Gatsby and I exchanged a glance. 

“That doesn’t seem like something Carolyn would do,” I said.

Chester shrugged. 

“Well, she did. And it was definitely her voice. She told me she left early to prepare the boat and to meet her on the docks as soon as we can. She’s worried about delays.” 

Gatsby exhaled, gently rolling his hurt shoulder. 

“Now we know where she is. Crisis averted.”

He clapped me on the shoulder and wandered over to get dressed, but I stayed.

“That just doesn’t seem like her at all. And why would she be up so early?”

Chester shrugged again, picking up his coffee once more. 

“I don’t know, Nick. Maybe she’s anxious. Today is the day you’ve all been planning for. Hell, it’s a miracle the plan worked well enough for it to complete. She’s probably just paranoid, making final checks. This means a lot to her.”

As Chester disappeared into his room to collect the last of his things, I stared into my coffee. I took a metaphorical page from their book and urged myself not to overthink. 

I spent the necessary amount of time to ready myself, dressing and brushing my teeth. I knew this journey would be long and unbearable at times. I knew how easily days can turn into weeks with bad weather. But, in all honesty, the open sea seemed like heaven. 

 

We took a taxi to the shore. 

We passed so many locations and I felt a dull buzz in my chest at the finality of it all. This place, the place I’d spent a transformative amount of time in, was falling behind with every mile. I grew to hate this city. I knew I’d dealt New York City and unfair hand by equating it to the terrible people within it, but what is a city if not a culmination of its people? What am I if not a reflection of the people I hold dear? 

Buildings towered behind billboards and, yes, I will miss them. I will miss them the way you miss the hand of someone who did you wrong. Their wrongdoing doesn’t remove the warmth of their touch. You can miss the serenity of a hand once held without missing the person it belonged to. 

I felt Gatsby nudge against my shoulder reassuringly. He could sense my introspection. A writer’s brain never takes a moment. Truly, a mind cannot be seperate from the world if it’s job is to translate reality into written word. 

The harbor we pulled into was only as familiar as the two times I’d been there. I saw our boat. My heart took that moment to leap into my throat. It was one thing to be close to freedom, it was another to stare it down. 

Carolyn’s figure stood by the boat, hands on her hips as she faced it. A few people walked over to her and she gave them whatever answer they desired. Her hair was braided behind her ears, only stray wisps carried by the wind. 

“I always find myself waiting for you fellas,” Carolyn said as we approached. “Next time I’ll light a fire under your ass and maybe you’ll make it here on time.”

Gatsby laughed and patted the top of her head in good humor. He had a hat pulled low over his head and sunglasses to conceal his eyes. 

“Now, dear, some of us needed to sleep rather than inspecting a boat’s trajectory at the crack of dawn.”

Carolyn laughed as Chester passed her. She watched them approach the boat, her eyes trailing them, before jerking over to me. 

“Hi there, Nick.”

“Hello,” I said, allowing only the slightest suspicion to creep into my voice. “You must be tired.” 

Carolyn smiled, but it was a gesture. I knew her smiles. I knew how her eyes creased, how her cheeks tucked tiny dimples. She knew I knew this. She knew that I knew her smile was false.  

“Oh, you know me, Nick.” There was a pause. “Say, can I say something really off the wall? Something bizarre?”

“Of course.”

“What if… What if we didn’t leave.”

I had nothing to say to that. I looked up at Gatsby helping Chester load a trunk onto the boat. I looked down at Carolyn’s unnerving vulnerability. I placed a hand on her arm and spoke as softly as I could.

“What do you mean?”

“You know how… The weather can be on trips like these.”

I didn’t like the fragility of her tone one bit. 

“The weather?” 

She smiled but her eyes were glossy with tears.

“Yes,” She said weakly, “The weather.” 

The boat’s horn ripped through the air, pulling our gazes out to the ocean. Gatsby and Chester waved from on deck. The wind nearly swept away Gatsby’s hat. 

Carolyn turned back toward me with newfound energy. 

“Oh, look at me. I’m being so silly. It's nerves, I tell you! I’ve never been on a ship like this before. Come, let us not keep them waiting.” 

I followed her as she walked ahead, keeping my grip on the railing as we boarded. 

I had a gut feeling that something was very, very wrong. 

It was not simply because she was visibly lying to me, pulling out a flimsy excuse, but because her lie was so obvious. How could an actress with her experience and caliber lie so elegantly with everyone but me? If she wanted to be convincing she would have been. 

Clearly she wanted me to know something was wrong. 

To make matters worse, I noticed something as she disappeared into her cabin. Throughout our conversation, she never made direct eye contact for longer than a moment. Her gaze was always flicking to something just over my shoulder—

“Nick,” Gatsby said, beckoning me around a corner toward the ship’s interior. “I need to show you something.”

Just like a handful of coins, all of my worries seemed to sink away into the sea when he grabbed my hand, pulling me through the door. He tugged me all the way inside, closing the door behind us, and pushed me back onto the bed. The boat’s horn sounded off once again and we both felt a forward surge. 

The boat had set off. 

We were really leaving. 

I didn’t notice when I started laughing but once I started, I couldn’t stop. Even when he was kissing me breathless I had to pull away. He looked down at me, eyes bright. He was laughing too but it was echoes of mine, a mirror of the joy he saw in me. 

I gathered myself, tugging him into a kiss before saying, “We’re really going. Can you believe it?”

“I can hardly think straight,” he admitted, hazy eyed. His gold hair flew away from his face as he offhandedly blew it upwards. “I feel like my heart is going to burst from my chest.”

I laughed again at his poetic assessment. His emotions replicated my own. 

“Oh,” Gatsby said, lifting himself to prop up on his hands, “You want to know something else?”

“Always.”

“We’re in the ship’s Honeymoon Room. Originally, it was ordered under Carolyn’s name.”

I lifted my head and glanced around. It was marginally bigger than any other room we passed. The bed was large and the furnishings were an angelic white. I hadn’t noticed in our hurry to get inside, but it was perfect. A romantic setting beyond one I’d ever pictured.

I took an honest breath. 

“Wow. I never thought I’d be able to share something like this with you.”

Gatsby smiled even with the sad undertone. There’s a big difference between smiling when sad and smiling in spite of sadness. 

“Also,” he added, “I was hoping to run something by you. I’ll need a new name. I once studied at Oxford. I was well known and respected. Jay Gatsby, by all known reports and resources, is dead and buried. 

“You could use your old name to avoid confusing yourself. Gatz.”

Gatsby wrinkled his nose. 

“No, no. I left that name behind for good reason. I’m not that man anymore either.”

Gatsby tucked himself along my front, allowing my arms to wrap around him and hold him close.

“Alright, keep the first name then. James . It suits you better now. Besides, I don’t want you to entirely forget who you were.”

He traced a shape along my arm.

“You think so?”

“I think it’s enough past to keep around.”

Gatsby nodded, drumming his fingers along my chest now. 

“I still need a last name.”

“Any ideas?”

“I’ve always cared for yours.”

I knew he couldn’t feel my heart swelling at that, but he definitely felt my breath catch. 

“Well… James Carraway has a nice ring to it.”

“And if we get any invasive questions, we can pretend to be cousins.”

I whacked the back of his head lightly. 

“Menace. I don’t want to think about that. We’re in a honeymoon suite. It is more important that you use this time wisely and kiss me.”

He propped up and smiled.

“Roger that.”

His lips met mine. 

 

I should have known this moment was too pleasant to last.


Somewhere in my memory was the missing gunshot from my wedding reception. Like a fragment of history, carved out and placed somewhere new, it came, interrupting our kiss. 

The gun’s loud BANG! rang through the boat. 

Followed by a scream. 

All at once, the calm— the relief I’d finally allowed myself to indulge —dispersed like a drop of blood in the ocean. 

Gatsby and I stood up quickly, a soldier’s instinct. I led and he trailed, shoving the door aside as we followed the sound of chaos. 

The upper deck, once the setting of Gatsby and Chester’s eager waves toward the shore, now the scene of nightmares. A crew member lay dead at the feet of Byron Fitz. He had a gun pointed to Carolyn’s temple, steady. The man next to him had Chester at the barrel of his. 

Chester was shaking, but kept a brave face.

Carolyn met my eyes and mouthed: I’m sorry. 

Gatsby’s hand was iron on my arm, stepping in front of me. I pulled him back. His interest in protecting me was not a compliment, nor anything I was interested in. I stepped in front of him. 

“Byron.”

“Hello, Mr. Carraway,” he said with knowing voice of the upper hand. “We always meet under these circumstances, don’t we? Are you feeling well, Mr. Gatsby?” 

“Much better,” Gatsby snapped.

“How lucky for you both.”

I felt my pulse hammer. 

“Please. I know there isn’t any point in asking you to let them go.”

Byron smiled, pointing to me. 

“You’re a smart man. I have no interest in your requests. This isn’t about you.”

I felt a sudden force against my back. Gatsby and I were yanked apart and held in place by two more large goons. I heard Gatsby’s sharp gasp and felt his own shoulder pain as if it were my own. A horrified sound escaped Carolyn’s throat. Byron’s grin only spread. 

“Now that we’re appropriately arranged… How are you since I last saw you, Annabel?”

Carolyn spat at him. He shifted his jaw in anger, but didn’t let it break his cool. 

“Come now, that’s no way to behave. This morning you were much more compliant. I wonder if it’s the presence of your friends that grants you hostility. I could easily get rid of them for you.” 

He stepped closer to her. I remembered the open window. Her absence became clear and I felt the disgust claw at my insides. My mind spun at the possible interrogation and abuse. What had he said? What had he done to her? She had tried to tell me sooner, the threat looming just over my shoulder. Her desperation was clear.

He smiled with eyes far too kind to shine behind a pistol. 

“I will forgive you for that, and for running away, and for marrying this poor excuse for a man. I am ready to forgive you for all of it, if you come home with me.”

My stomach dropped. I saw the fear in her eyes even when she fought it from showing on her face. When she finally spoke, her voice was hollow.

“I don’t want your forgiveness.” 

Byron’s gaze shifted. His gun at her forehead never faltered. 

“I’m not certain that’s true.” 

I felt myself being pulled suddenly. The men holding Gatsby, Chester, and I yanked us all in a row. The smell of the ocean wasn’t as alluring as it had been the minutes prior. The salt in the air tasted like danger. 

“I’ll make it simple. If you don’t choose to come with me, you have to decide which of your friends will die. Today is a day of choices, My Love.”

I understood now. This was why he had her lure us. She was the bait for her own punishment, her own trial by fire. 

I made eye contact with Carolyn. It was quick, fleeting, but loaded with everything I wished I could say. I read the fear in hers. I read the flood of memories of her life before, the severity that made her leave. I read the true promise of freedom now taken away. I read her future suicide if she were to return with Byron. 

 In my eyes she read my full and complete forgiveness. If she were to kill me, I would never wish for her to feel the guilt of that. She read that if she chose to return with Byron, I would not think her weak. She read my love and my sorrow and my fears all at once. 

“Choose. Now.” 

“I…” Carolyn’s voice refused to emerge. 

She blinked back tears. Her panic filled my lungs and in the corner of my eye I could see Gatsby’s hand twitch in my direction. In my heart, I held it. In my soul, I promised a way out for us all. 

“I said now , Annabel.”

That name again. Every time he said it, it sliced the air. Her past hung above us, teetering with years of turmoil. It threatened to fall with every breath. 

 

When faced with a choice such as this, it would be easy to forgive Carolyn for breaking under the pressure.

 

Instead, her eyes met Byron’s.

 

“You are repulsive.”

Her hand jutted out in his half second of surprise. With speed I’d never seen her possess, she disarmed him. Knocking the gun from his grip, she twisted his wrist hard enough to hear a pop. He let out a bellow of pain as she turned the barrel around and cocked it right between his eyes. 

“You disgust me.” She took a step forward, forcing him back.

I heard Chester swear with pride under his breath. 

This wasn’t acting. This was the same Carolyn who held a kitchen knife level with Tom’s heart. 

“You know my position towards men. Don't pretend you don't.” She took another step. Her voice still shook, a reminder of her tears.“Yet you chase me here, you threaten the only people who care for me, and for what?” and another. “If I leave for New Jersey today, you are condemning yourself to a life trapped with a woman who will never love you. I will never love you.”

“Annabel-” 

Call me that again,” She shouted, “and I will put a hole through your skull.”

He took a faux calm breath. 

“My Dear, don’t do this. Think about what you’re doing, what has become of you.” 

“Save your breath. I have thought in detail about what you’ve turned me into.”

The grip on my torso tightened. The goon spoke, gruff and solemn.

“We still have your friends.”

“And I have your boss.” She replied without a beat. “Make any movement and I’ll shoot him between the eyes.” 

“My Love,” Byron started again, wincing when she pressed the gun harder. “Are you really going to leave the country with these men? You treat me like the villain when I’m simply trying to bring you home... We’ve already lost our daughter, I can’t lose—”

“Not another word.” Carolyn’s words were sharp enough to draw blood. “Don’t you dare.”

I felt a dull horror churning in my stomach. A daughter. Carolyn had never mentioned that. 

“Let them go. Now.” 

Her command hung in the air for a moment.

“You’ve made a mistake,” Byron said, spine against the edge of the boat. “These threats don’t work. You think I’m afraid to die?”

“We are all afraid to die.”

“Wrong. And for his sake, I hope he doesn’t fear it either. Arlie, shoot him.” 

A bang louder than any fog horn rang through the air. I turned  my head so fast I pulled a muscle in my neck. 

Chester McKee slumped to the ground. 

 

No! ” Gatsby cried out, tugging against the hand binding his wrists. 

A memory pushed forward. I heard a remnant of Gatsby’s voice in my head, charismatic and bright. “Come with us,” he had said. Now, in the present, his face was as pale as the ghost he’d invited. 

 

Carolyn turned back toward the smiling Byron and shot him through the head. 

 

His body fell backwards off the boat, splashing into the dark waves.

 Carolyn aimed her gun at the men holding Gatsby and I. They looked up, startled, and we used this opportunity to throw our weight against them. We shoved them back against the side of the boat, crushing until their arms loosened enough to break free. Years of training surged forward and I stole the gun from my captor. I spun around and looked up. Gatsby was already standing, breathing heavily with a gun in his hand. 

We all stood there, drowning in waves of horror, until Carolyn crumpled to the ground with sobs that could tear open the sky.

Reality crept to the light. I looked around, finally able to see without the fear of death tightening my vision. Chester, my dear friend, lay there in a pool of his own blood. I couldn’t look at him. Gatsby began to cry his own silent tears. 

I reached out. 

“Hand me your gun,” I said softly, meeting his look of confusion. “Give me your gun. Go tell the captain to turn the boat around.” 

No ,” Carolyn pleaded from the ground, “No, no, no, please . I can’t go back. I can’t go back.”

“We’re only going back to switch vessels,” I soothed as best I could. “We need to bring Chester’s… We need to bring him to shore.” 

She nodded slowly and vacantly. Gatsby gave me his gun without a second glance. 

I walked the two captors to the closest room and locked them in. I then gently removed the gun from Carolyn’s hand and threw it overboard with the two I had. 

 

The afternoon from that point on was a thick haze. 

We paid off the captain and crew, and hired a new ship. We had crewmen move our luggage to a new vessel, which took some time. Carolyn and Gatsby hid in a nearby hotel. I helped them get situated and then took care of Chester’s body. 

There was a dark alley near the dock where I hid him. It was a humbling task to reach out to the only family member he had a record of. They came to pick up his body, barely sparing me a glance. Clearly they knew of his attractions and his affiliation with me was undesirable knowledge. I allowed them to think what they might. 

My mind was far too busy logging the unmoving features of his face. I had once shared intimacy with this man. He’d saved Gatsby’s life. I spent so much time defaming him in my head that now even a shred of those foul memories stung. 

Heroes always die, don’t they? Of course, we all die, but doesn’t it feel like more than just death? 

Heroes meet an end. 

I took the long way back, trying to avoid any relation to the area. Concealing a body was one thing. I couldn't risk being spotted immediately after.

I passed my reflection in the window of an empty car and couldn’t understand the expression of the man who stared back. Reality felt so far from me. I didn’t have time to ponder. I could feel Gatsby and Carolyn’s paranoia grow with every second I stayed away. 

I kept walking, but my shoulder bumped a passerby. 

“Sorry!” They said, and then: “Nick? Nick Carraway?”

I saw their face. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts.

“Jordan Baker?”

“It’s been a while hasn’t it? Weren’t you supposed to leave for your honeymoon today?”

I hadn’t the slightest idea what to think. The severity of the day’s events held me in a numbing cloud, but I managed to squeeze out some intelligible words. 

“I’m on my way there now. Had to do some last minute farewells.”

“I see. Well, I’m glad I caught you. I hadn’t had the opportunity to say goodbye. Your cousin and I don’t speak much anymore after, forgive me for saying, after the wedding. Tom and Daisy have never been average people, but they’re not themselves. I can’t speak to Daisy without feeling as though her mind is miles away.”

“I feel similarly,” I said. It was vague enough to fill the gap.

Jordan adjusted her hat. 

“I think this departure to Europe will be good for you though! A breath of fresh air. Some time away from the city, from the Buchanans.” She offered a reassuring smile through painted red lips. “New York can be beautiful and disastrous all at once, don’t you think?”

It was this statement that made me wish I knew her better, that I had made her acquaintance. I supposed if I were to need one person to miss, Jordan Baker and her endless potential could be that. Perhaps a person could hold a city, more so than a city could hold a person.

 

“Yes,” I agreed, awake for the first time in hours, maybe years, “I know it better than most.”

Chapter Text

I looked out the window for the eighth time that morning. 

“You’re going to get sick of the view if you keep doing that.”

Gatsby’s comment was muffled as he bit into a slice of watermelon. 

I narrowed my eyes at him from across the kitchen table. His eyes matched the deep blue tones of the curtains to his left. They billowed and bloomed with the sweet wind that drifted in from the fields. He sat there, just as beautiful as the day we had the curtains installed.

“I look at you every day and I’m not sick of you yet.” 

“Aha,” he said, tone growing victorious. “ Yet .” 

I broke off a small piece of my bread and threw it at him. He laughed, catching it and popping it into his mouth. That bastard. 

 

I looked out the window again, ignoring Gatsby’s huff of exasperation. I couldn’t help myself. Our cottage overlooked a beautiful meadow and distant fields of tall grain. From our hill we could see farmers tending to their crops, birds flying in elaborate formations, and the outline of the nearest city on the horizon line. 

It wasn’t just the view itself that kept me captivated, but also my access to the view at all. 

It was months since the day we left America. I still had a trunk under our bed with trinkets and memorandums I dared not remove. Neither Gatsby nor I were ready to revisit that. Not yet. 

Gatsby stood up and retrieved the kettle from the stove. He poured me a new mug without asking and set a scone on a dish for us to share. I saw the small curve of his smile from the side. Be it as cliché as it was, we still fell victim to giddiness. Domesticity had never felt attainable until we were drenched in it.

Carolyn lived within the city. We called and visited often, making time to visit her and her new lover. She had wanted a similar seclusion, hoping to find solace like ours, but found the quiet life too dull. Her relationship was harder to conceal with so many eyes around. I didn’t worry about it too much, however, as her acting classes held her afloat.  She now lived in an apartment not far from the city center. 

 I couldn’t blame her. I would often head into the city and wander, just to catch a glimpse of busyness. New York City was vastly different. Nothing could compare, but a city is a city. Of course, the calm is what I was built for. The fact that Gatsby’s riches allowed this life… It felt like a dream. I still missed the billboards. I had no reference point for a life without the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg overseeing the entirety of my journey. 

 

“Are you going to write today?”

I looked down at my stacks of paper, my typewriter left abandoned just ahead. 

“Undecided. I hope to, but hoping doesn’t always do me any good.”

Gatsby bit the scone. It was a gift from our field tending neighbors, convinced that he and I were cousins. I was endlessly grateful for Gatsby’s passable French proficiency. 

“You need to do less hoping and plant your hands on the keys until something happens.”

“Wow. Your writing advice is unparalleled,” I deadpanned, “ Please do future generations a favor and write an instruction manual.”

“You first,” Gatsby said with a cheshire grin. 

As playful as we seemed, his smile faded quickly. I knew why we were so dully whimmed and introspective today. We made the mistake of checking our old calendar the night prior. Today would have been Chester McKee’s birthday. 

I’d called Carolyn when I woke up and she’d already cried through the night. 

Our boat ride abroad was tainted with the shock of his death. We managed some light moments, even some romantic moments, moments that would squeeze a laugh out of me even now. But in its darkened gloom, Chester’s absence was a constant ache. 

Carolyn cried the most, but Gatsby handled it the worst. His guilt ate him away all day until his sobs shook his core under moonlight.  

There were many ghosts on that ship. Byron’s spirit kept Carolyn awake for days until I begged her to let me trace her forehead until she slept. Her trigger finger held her guilty conscience captive. Taking a life isn’t something you deal with in one night.

 We didn’t fully discuss the third spirit, the secret. Carolyn’s daughter, a still-born as I came to discover, remained a shielded story. Her only bits of clarity were whispered in the dark. 

“I can’t bare thinking of it myself. But in a cruel, cruel way, I’m happy I’m not a mother to any child of Byron’s. He used it against me, as I knew he would, but my hatred for him out-burns any maternal love I could have had. Maybe that makes me a villain, but that wouldn’t be the only thing. If I am a devil then I won’t pretend otherwise.” 

I didn’t once hold it against her. I told her exactly that and she offered a weak smile.

I learned a lot from knowing Carolyn. I learned about friendship, kinship, familiarity of circumstances. I learned to trust what you can’t see. That people aren’t always how they appear, but sometimes it’s a good thing. I would much rather the false Carolyn I knew than the true Annabel she fled from. 

I learned that there are different ways to care for one’s self. 

 

So I knocked my foot against Gatsby’s, hooking my ankle around his. I watched the rare sight of him putting sugar in his tea. It was one of his tells. Living with Gatsby had allowed me to spot his moments of feeling sentimental. He’d eat and drink the same as me, simply for the benefit of tasting what I taste. His emotional side presented in its own odd way and I loved him more for it. 

“I will write something,” I decided. “I’ll write something just for you.”

Gatsby raised his eyebrows with interest. 

“For me? The one and only James Carraway?”

“The very same. I will refer to you as Gatsby, however. It’s more mysterious.”

“I do love a good mystery. I’d prefer a love story.”

“Who says a love story can’t be a mystery? Ours was.”

“Fair point.” He took another bite. “Don’t make me the suspect.”

“No promises.”

Our cottage together was perfect without outside influence. I could call him whatever I’d like within these walls, and that was true sanctity. Even at the base of it, names held power. 

I had once spoken with Carolyn about hers. 

“Who is Annabel?” I had asked

“A ghost,” she’d replied simply,  “Like Jay Gatsby.” 



I wrote for most of the afternoon, typing until the sound of keys blended in with the background noise. Gatsby read a book outside, enjoying the lingering warmth as autumn arrived. Every one of my senses fell into my writing, captured by the absolute freedom of it. I always forgot how much I needed to write. Breathing came less naturally.

The loudest sound was the last key I’d hit before I sat back, reading over what I’d written. I plucked the paper out of its slot and set it aside on the table. Gatsby could read it before bed. I hadn’t written a mystery, not a true crime story, but I had written a mysterious love story. It was a poem, a page long, but full of everything.

I wrote about mirrors that doubled as windows into wealth. I wrote about a match that could have burned down a home but didn’t. I wrote about the feeling of waking to the sound of shattered glass. I wrote about hidden places where everyone shared the voice of a saint disguised as a devil. I wrote about the sound of someone’s heartbeat sounding different when they’re miles away from danger. 

I made a mental note to kiss the smile off of his face when he finally read it. Like his need to match my tea, I wanted to taste his happiness. His illustrious parties felt like distant memories, but the happiness they brought the city was unmatched. It was time he received some of that in return. 

Standing, I stretched my arms above my head and grunted. I left my poem on the table and pushed the back door open, joining Gatsby where he sat in the backyard. If I could paint the scene of him below a low hanging tree with a book in hand, I would. 

I pressed a kiss to the top of his head. He looked up at me the way I always dreamed of being looked at. 

“Write anything interesting?”

“You’ll see.”

My words could wait.