Tom and Nick had become something of a pair now to Daisy. They were just that, Tom and Nick, a package set, like they were a vaudeville act of some sort, Tom and Nick as old Yale friends reconnecting over glasses of spirits in Tom’s study, Tom and Nick agreeing to play polo but never getting around to it and letting Daisy poke fun at them for being lazy.
They were not talking as much as Daisy liked to think. Nick, in fact, wanted to avoid talking to Tom as much as possible during their time together. It would be a few terse words over the phone — Tom implying that Daisy was gone, that Nick could come over — and Nick would be driving to East Egg straightaway. It was the same situation tonight. Tom had called him rather late, but Nick was alright with that. Gatsby was throwing a party and Nick was tired and as much as he felt all kinds of affections for Gatsby, he wanted to skip it and didn’t want to feel guilty for it.
It was later in July, slouching steadily towards the weary dog-days of summer, and Long Island was in the midst of a crushing heat wave that not even the cool blue nights could fix. Nick entered the study after the sun had set and found Tom with glass in hand, sitting in near-darkness save for a small lamp on his side table. He’d evidently taken to drinking all afternoon, swallowing himself up in his own bitterness, and the lamp cast a dim ring of light that brightened nothing in the room farther than his face. It was all, in Nick’s opinion, a bit melodramatic, and he stood in the doorway, not sitting down.
His spine felt rigid, moreso than usual. He looked from Tom to the doorway back to Tom again.
“Daisy welcomed me in,” he said. She had. She’d never been there with them, while it happened. “I… I didn’t know she was home.”
“She’ll be leaving soon,” replied Tom. He was staring, plaintive, out at the bay. The bay window was flung open and the dark water was visible only through the reflections of the lights bearing down on it, of the moon and of the mansions. “Off spending time with — I don’t know, Jordan, I suppose.”
Daisy was always out with Jordan nowadays, it seemed. Jordan could really mean Jordan or it functioned as a kind of secret code, translating into a name that neither of them wanted to say but both of them were thinking nonstop about — Jay Gatsby was almost tangible in the room with them, thought made flesh and pale linen shirt fabric. His house was across the water from them, a shining bastion on the hill.
“Don’t just stand in the doorway like that, come in,” Tom said. Nick stepped farther into the room and he went to take his seat in the other armchair, the one with the itchy floral print that had become designated for him at that point.
“If you’re sure she’ll be gone,” Nick replied, settling into the chair. He glanced at the door again.
“Do you want a drink?” Tom asked. He always asked this.
“No thank you,” said Nick. He always refused.
“What a shame,” said Tom. “I guess I’ll drink alone.”
Nick was about to respond and then paused. Tom’s words were slurring together and his nose and his cheeks looked flushed in the lamplight. Tom was never usually drunk — a bit tipsy, to be sure, trying to act without thinking as much as possible, recklessness nudged along by the slight buzz brought on by alcohol, but it wasn’t ever like this.
It was a strange night and Nick felt that, felt strange. The stars had yet to come out.
“I’ll have one, too, on second thought,” he said, and figured it was alright. He might as well be drunk with Tom if not to feel like he was taking advantage, and besides, he was going against principle by getting himself into this situation with Tom anyway. In the past he’d proven to be a nothing drunk — not really sad, not angry, but malleable, able to be molded into whatever shape Tom wished.
“Oh,” Tom said. He sat up to face Nick, swaying a bit as he did this. He was wearing a pair of nice wool trousers that had become rather rumpled. “What will it be, then?”
“You decide,” replied Nick. Tom got up. Nick heard the clinking of glass bottles behind him, the quiet slosh of liquor of some kind. The sounds felt less hazy at night but still they pressed, they persisted, heavy down on him and he could not hear anything else. He squinted in front of him in an attempt to make out the titles of the books on the shelves, but he wasn’t able to.
Tom put the drink — some ambiguous clear brown liquid — down on the side table with the harsh click of glass on hardwood. Nick looked to it in the low light. The lamp caught the rim, turning the reflection white.
Nick said, “thank you,” and took a large swig, regretting it immediately after. It was something strong, that Tom had gotten him. It burned his throat going down, plummeted straight into his chest.
“What is this stuff, if you don’t mind me asking?” Nick said.
Tom had sat back down now, and his face drew together in thought. “Some variety of… rye whiskey, from — I don’t know. Somewhere in the Midwest, I think.”
He was sitting across from Nick with his broad shoulders drooping and drawn in together, face red and damp. Nick thought he looked like a retired boxer. Tom’s hand shifted on his armrest, slightly. It was towards Nick, and then it pulled itself back in a movement both graceless and intimate.
“Ah,” said Nick.
“How have you been,” asked Tom.
“I’ve been alright.” Nick shrugged. His body felt heavy and his mind felt light. He added, “How is Daisy? And — and… Penny?” The daughter, she was Penny or Tammy or something like that. He’d hoped he’d gotten the name right, and if he hadn’t, that Tom wouldn’t fault him too badly.
“They’re fine,” Tom said.
The last time Nick had gotten drunk with Tom had been the second time in his life. Two times out of three now, with Tom. The last time was in Harlem with Myrtle Wilson sitting on Tom’s lap and her sister yelling in Nick’s ear, and this time was in East Egg doing — whatever it was he did with Tom, they hadn’t ever put a name to it. They hadn’t thought about it. New York, it seem ed, was a place to stop thinking.
He felt like he was betraying something, someone. The thought that Jay Gatsby never drank crossed his mind for a moment. Nick shuffled in his seat, forward, towards Tom, to eye his spread thighs with interest. He was not going to pretend he was here for anything else any longer.
Tom, on the other hand, seemed to be more anxious for a change in routine, because he suddenly said to Nick, “Let’s talk about college,” in a startling display of tactlessness. Nick was taken aback. He sat up.
“Okay,” he said.
“I miss Yale,” said Tom. “Did you have very many friends there?”
It was a rude question. Nick answered, less offended than he normally would be — “I wouldn’t say so. Others may have seen me as someone to… support them, I guess, but I wouldn’t say I had many.”
“No, no,” said Tom, “did you have — friends, men, those kinds of friends.”
Men, which was of course what Tom wanted to know about. Tom held Nick’s sexual history in a position of esteem and distaste all at once, something he wanted but found incompatible to his own life. Nick, in college, had been with other men, and he didn’t care, and the men didn’t care. Tom cared very much. Too much.
“Sure,” he said.
Tom slumped down in his seat. He looked up at Nick. His eyes were dark and full in the lamplight, heavy with a grasping, insecure, nascent kind of desire. “Tell me about them,” he said to Nick.
“Oh God, don’t — don’t ask me that,” Nick said, and laughed. He took another large sip of his drink, again unprepared for the burn in his throat. He shivered. He went to take a third sip and realized he’d finished it off. “I can’t remember. I don’t remember. Get me one more of these, won’t you?”
Tom wasn’t laughing with Nick. The light washed out his features and lent to his face a kind of sallowness, a hollowness in the cheeks, a tired desperation in the forehead. His eyes begged to Nick to make something up.
Nick’s throat dried. “Get me another and I’ll tell you, then. I’ve got it.”
Tom stood and retrieved another drink for him. Nick took a sip of it and waited for Tom to sit again. He was starting to feel dizzy. “I can recall one man I met in an elevator when I was twenty-two,” he lied. Tom had been with him when he saw Mr. McKee — he wondered if perhaps Tom would catch on. He wondered if Tom would care. “He asked me to come up to his room and see some — photos, that he’d taken, he was a photographer.”
Tom asked, “did you see his — photography?”
“Tom.” Nick laughed again, nervously. “I don’t think — must we do this?”
“We’re talking about college,” Tom said. “We’re talking, aren’t we. Can’t we simply talk. About Yale.”
Nick stayed silent.
“I miss Connecticut,” said Tom.
“Well, you live in New York, now,” said Nick, and he looked towards the bay as if to show Tom all that lay before him, as if to imply that he owned it.
“It’s Long Island.”
“It’s East Egg,” Nick said.
Tom played polo in college. He had a great deal of girlfriends, sometimes several at the same time. Everything at this point must have just been a reflection of those Yale days, like a multifaceted mirror in a department store dressing room, the same version of himself going back and back and back, becoming ever more distorted.
“Daisy always thinks we just sit and talk,” Tom said, and smiled morosely. He laughed too now, a sad little huff. He patted his lap. “Sitting and talking. You can sit here and we can talk. C’mere.”
He was usually a little more dignified about these manners, a little less upfront, at least putting on the pretense of old-money manners, but tonight he seemed too tired to keep it up. Nick didn’t mind, or maybe just found himself not really caring, and he got up and shuffled into Tom’s lap. Tom’s body was warm and hard around Nick, Nick could feel the muscle underneath him and in front of him, and he yielded slightly; he felt a hand on his waist and he leaned in towards Tom’s chest. The evening was much too hot for this, Nick felt the sweat, felt the heat coming off of To m. Nick looked down on Tom from the way he sat on Tom’s lap but Tom still seemed to engulf him.
“I’ve got you,” Tom said. It sounded more like a threat than a reassurance. Nick felt a jolt course through his veins right to his dick. Nick knew it wasn’t right, what Tom was doing, what he was saying, but he had become eager underneath Nick — his cock was hardening, Nick could feel it — and so Nick gave in to him.
Nick brought his face up, to look at Tom and then to kiss him. Tom’s mouth eagerly met his own, tasting like the Midwestern rye whiskey they’d both drank earlier. The kisses were deep and rough, carrying an intensity within them. Tom seemed to attack him. Nick closed his eyes but the lamplight bloomed a soft red underneath the lids.
The hand on his waist stuttered over the fabric of his shirt, and a few of Tom’s thick fingers crept underneath Nick’s waistband to untuck the hem. Nick had his arms wrapped around Tom’s broad shoulders. He shuffled one around to undo Tom’s shirt buttons. It felt good, much too close but it felt comfortable that way, it felt — it didn’t feel scary now that Tom wasn’t so sad anymore. Nick hated to see him sad. It brought out a discomfort within him that he didn’t care much to explore further.
Nick pulled away for a moment and caught his breath. He ran a hand down Tom’s sweat-damp chest, continuing to get the buttons on the way. It was a new moon and the sky was bruise-blue outside, unlit save for a few errant stars that had now emerged, peeking in at them like searching eyes.
And then there was Gatsby’s house. There was always Gatsby’s house, most nights done up in silver floodlight and filled to the gilded brims with all kinds of guests, with the light at the dock blinking green. Nick felt Tom mouthing at his neck.
Daisy wasn’t with Tom tonight. Daisy could be anywhere in New York. And Nick also knew, as he reached Tom’s groin and began to handle it through the fabric, that he wasn’t with Gatsby tonight. Or rather, Gatsby wasn’t with him tonight. He wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it.
“What are you looking at?” said Tom. His hand moved up to the back of Nick’s head, to pull him back in case he needed it.
“I dunno,” said Nick.
Tom’s head turned towards the window, towards the mansion. He frowned. Nick put his hands on Tom’s flushed cheeks and kissed him again, sloppy and deep, and ground his hips down onto Tom’s cock. Tom didn’t respond. Nick withdrew from him again.
“Is there something wrong?” Nick asked.
“There’s nothing wrong,” replied Tom, defensive.
Maybe he’d put Tom in a mood again, by having him look at Gatsby’s place like this. Things were going so well. Nick said, “We don’t have to do anything tonight, if you don’t want to, or if it’s too late, or you’re too tired —”
Tom seemed to take offense at this suggestion, because he grabbed Nick by the hips and pulled him in with renewed strength, moving to an attempt to yank Nick’s shirt over his head. Nick helped him with it. Tom’s hands were hot on his skin, and he still wasn’t touching Nick, and a dull ache started in Nick’s cock. He wasn’t sure how long it would last. The alcohol was giving him a head rush.
It was tradition to stop talking at this point. They usually let things happen in the same way every time and neither of them minded. There were roles and rules that they were careful to respect. But the alcohol had marked tonight as different, more lonely somehow, and certainly more careless, and Nick said, “You know it might be more difficult for me, with the — rye whiskey, whatever you gave me, I may not be able to —”
“Shut up,” Tom grunted. “It’s — fine, it will — it’s fine. Get the — the, you know,” and went to his wool pants, undoing the buttons and withdrawing himself. It was growing fuller and thicker against his clothed thigh. Nick wanted to touch it and then remembered his orders — by the “you know,” Tom meant the small plastic tub of Vaseline they’d begun storing under the cushion.
Nick nodded. Tom had put his hands on the armrests of the chair, and his breathing felt strained beneath Nick with his chest rising and falling tightly. There were still certain things Tom couldn’t do or say outright, even with his inhibitions this lowered. This was something new and strange for Tom, though, and Nick understood that. The Vaseline was part of the novelty. It was wrong. Tom cared too much about it, much more than anyone else Nick had ever been with. Outside of their trysts, Nick couldn’t picture Tom with another man, and it was oddly attractive to him.
Nick pushed past Tom’s thick waist and dug underneath the cushion, finding the jar, and he took it out and placed it on the side table next to them. He knew his hair was curling up with sweat and Tom’s hands messing with it, out of the places where he’d combed it down that morning. Nick started undoing his own pants.
“This is,” Tom began to say, and then stopped talking. His head tipped back, looking up at Nick where he sat settled on his thighs and then it lolled to the side again, to the windows, to the water. To Gatsby’s house, shining at them from West Egg in the night, glaring across the water in shades of bright gold. Tom’s jaw tightened.
Nick felt that maybe this was his fault, for bringing up the mansion again, but then he reasoned that maybe this was the whole point of tonight: Tom looking mournfully out at the bay, trying to drag Nick down with him.
And then Tom said, “Get up.”
“Get up, get — get off of me,” Tom said.
Nick got up off Tom’s lap.
“Tom,” Nick said.
Tom said nothing. His face was glistening with sweat and his eyes were full and dark, concentrating hard on something.
“Tom,” said Nick, louder, like Tom was in a trance and he could snap him out of it.
“I think she’s — there,” Tom said, with sudden drunken anger. “I think she’s there and they’re — Goddamn. He could be doing whatever, you know, whatever he wants with her, and I wasn’t able to stop it. I know it’s true now, I — I didn’t know if it was true or not at first but I know now—”
“Tom?” Nick asked, for the third time, because he wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Goddamn,” Tom said again. He looked at Nick. “You were — you’ve been with Gatsby, haven’t you? You’re both, you know. Like that, with each other. Aren’t you mad? That he’s with someone else?”
“I don’t know,” Nick said. He was drunk. Both he and Tom were drunk. Tom was getting to him and he couldn’t let him.
“Surely you get — it’s alright to get mad,” said Tom. “If something of yours has been taken it’s fine to be angry about it. We can both be mad.”
“I don’t — Gatsby hasn’t, he and I —” Nick was unable to finish his thoughts.
Tom’s body was rigid, thick blue veins on his arms popping out slightly, face filled with a grotesque mixture of rage and resignation. He buttoned up his pants again, and stood up as he continued doing his shirt. His image was slightly blurry around the edges. He spoke to Nick like he was speaking through water. “Goddamn. I don’t know — she’s, I’m, I don’t now where she went or where she goes. I don’t know where she could be. You don’t know, either.”
Nick wanted to tell Tom to shut up.
“I get so — God, I get mad,” Tom said, plainly, like a child. He blinked once, twice. “I get… mad.”
Nick felt something in him, a burst of — he didn’t know what. Not sympathy, but pity, maybe, from deep within his alcohol-addled brain.
And then Tom stepped forward and slapped him across the face and repulsion came flooding right back into him, along with a raw, stinging pain, and Nick doubled over, clutching his cheek.
“Oh my God!” said Tom. His face was flushed completely with anger and rye whiskey and his residual arousal. “Oh, Jesus — oh my God.”
He staggered a few steps back until the backs of his knees hit the chair and he turned away from Nick, shoulders hunching in on themselves, head buried in his hands. Nick hated seeing him like this. There was something about Tom’s display of weakness that felt off, and even more than that there was something about it that scared him.
“Stop it,” said Nick, almost scolding Tom, his words still slightly slurring together. It felt unconscious. It was something he didn’t want to be saying but he didn’t not want to be saying, either. “Come on. Don’t — don’t do that, don’t be like that.”
Tom looked over his shoulder at Nick, eyes glazed and wild and wide.
Nick felt a pull in his chest, in all directions, in Tom’s direction, and he spoke again: “Get up. Slap me again.”
“What?” Tom said.
“Want you to slap me again,” Nick said. Maybe it was the liquor that made him bold. Maybe he was just too afraid to see Tom like this, and was acting to calm his own nerves. Or it was just a night for recklessness, and they were all making bad decisions left and right, and the entire point was that Nick didn’t need a reason.
He thought, briefly, of Gatsby. Of where he was and what he was doing.
“You haven’t gone soft since your Yale days, have you, old friend?” Nick asked Tom. “You used to throw me around like it was nothing. Like I was nothing. Do it again.”
“Oh my God,” Tom said again. He seemed nervous.
“You’re thinking too much. Don’t do that, we don’t have to — to think at all right now,” Nick urged. “There’s no one here but us. No one. It doesn’t matter what’s going on out there, just — do what you feel like you want to do right now, to me.”
He’d never been this brave in his entire life. Nick was used to being quiet and amenable and furtive, lurking on the outskirts and watching others drown in themselves in the way that an audience watches a good play. But he knew what Tom needed right now, and more than that he knew what he needed.
Tom’s face turned hard then, like something in his mind suddenly switched off, and he lunged at Nick with a renewed blitz of energy. Nick felt satisfied in those few seconds, like he’d allowed Tom to unleash himself in a newer and truer sense.
And then Tom struck him again, and he cried out.
Again and again, the blows rained down upon him, ringing on his skin, with Tom’s voice accompanying them, words spewing out loud and quick and cruel into the churning, lonely night — “That’s for you, that’s — shit, you deserve this, coming here all the way from West Egg just to let me do what I want with you —”
Nick’s face stung. He felt tears draw up at the corners of his eyes, and he clenched his fists beside him and took it. He wasn’t sure if Tom was directing these insults at him or at Gatsby but either way he didn’t mind — he actually realized he was strangely aroused. His cock throbbed with every harsh word, every hit Tom struck on him, and there was a warmth thrumming in his chest. It could have been the alcohol, making him think things that were stupid and do things that were even stupider.
“You aren’t anything,” Tom was saying, yelling over the rush of the water, of Nick’s head, of the dark air. “You always knew you weren’t fucking anything and — you like this, you’re being put in your place —”
His face was red and wet and his eyes were all lit up, and he was panting heavily, his shoulders moving up and down tracing a jagged path. Nick could see his wool trousers, the thickening bulge in the groin of his pants. Tom was a mess. He was absolutely obscene. This was a situation that was already wrong gone even worse, and for that Nick wanted him.
“Yes, yeah, I do,” Nick said, weakly.
“You need this, you do need this, you need someone to tell you where you belong — Jesus, oh my God,” Tom said. Nick moved his arms up from where he was holding them tightly at his sides, feeling the sweat gather at the inner elbows. He didn’t know if Tom was starting to think again, or — what he was doing, really, he retreated from Nick and collapsed back into the chair. “Oh my God. That was —”
He cut himself off and said then, “get over here, get down here, get on my lap,” and Nick did, resettling onto his thighs and tangling himself with Tom. Tom was shaking beneath him. He leaned in towards Nick and clutched his jaw with one hand and kissed him, biting at his lip.
Gatsby was with Daisy tonight. Gatsby was with Daisy tonight and there was nothing either of them could do about that. Nick couldn’t tell if he was angry about this. He kissed Tom back.
Tom traced his hands down Nick’s hips and brought Nick’s cock down against his own, through the pants for both of them. He’d gotten better at dealing with another man’s anatomy, although not good enough to make either of them uncomfortable with it.
“Get off,” Tom said, “take your — get your clothes off.”
Tom liked to give orders. This was his favorite one to give. Nick obeyed and broke away from Tom, standing to remove his pants and sliding his boxers down his hips. Tom drew his own cock out.
“That’s good,” Tom said. Nick wasn’t sure if he was still fully lucid, if either of them were. He stumbled back into Tom’s lap, straddling him, and Tom was on him again. The night was boiling, the hum of the heat colliding with the sounds of the bay lapping at the shore, and Nick felt like he barely heard himself gasp into Tom’s mouth. The window was open but the air was heavy with arousal.
Tom got his face pressed into Nick’s neck, where it met the shoulder, and Nick’s still-stinging cheek leaned into Tom’s mussed hair, inhaling the thin scent of pomade. Tom groaned low in his throat. Nick felt the vibrations of Tom’s voice in his fingertips. Nick enjoyed it all again, less guiltily than a few minutes ago, this part where it was just Tom and he had no idea how to deal with himself and solved it with more awful decisions. Nick was aware he should have felt bad about it, but it was hard to feel bad around Tom Buchanan.
Tom got his own pants undone and snatched the Vaseline off the side table. He applied it to himself and put it back, and he kissed Nick trying not to look at him first as he reached to prod one, then two oily fingers into Nick’s hole and pumped them in and out and in again. Nick moaned, embarrassingly high. He grasped at Tom’s shirtsleeves with damp hands and peered down between them, at Tom’s flushed cock, and put his hand on Tom’s groin, almost touching it but not quite.
“You can add another one,” he said, and added, “please,” his words running together from drunkenness and arousal. Tom did as Nick said. Nick breathed in sharply at this, breathed in Tom, more of the pomade smell and the scent of old leather and the bay, all that was so obnoxiously East Egg about him. He wanted his hands in Tom’s hair, on Tom’s chest, and he wanted Tom’s hands everywhere on him, more than what he was getting, which was already quite a lot. Tom’s fingers were filling him up nicely, stretching him a little too wide, burning a little too much, and he ground his hips back against them.
“Okay,” Nick said. “Okay — take them, take them out, let’s —”
“Okay,” Tom said. He allowed Nick to take control of this part, if only because his inexperience became a point of pride for him. He grunted in assent, removing his fingers with a wet noise. Nick felt empty. He put a hand on Tom’s chest to steady himself and eased onto Tom’s cock.
Nick hissed as Tom entered him, and he dug his head into the juncture between Tom’s neck and shoulder, grabbing at his sleeve. Tom’s pants would be stained after this, he knew, with Vaseline and bodily fluids. It’d be evidence. He’d have to hide it. Tom gave an experimental thrust upwards, and Nick keened.
“You like that,” Tom said, almost with amusement. “Absolutely filthy. You like this?”
Nick nodded as slightly as he could. He didn’t want to inflame Tom’s ego. But he did like it — Tom was good at fucking if little else. Tom was holding Nick’s waist steady as he pulled back out and gave another sharp thrust in. He was flushed, his face, his mouth, his arms, and Nick was sure his cock, red with exertion and the thick blood of arousal. He was still shaking slightly but he seemed more certain of himself now. Nick began stroking his own cock. Neither of them would be able to last much longer.
Gatsby was far away right now. Daisy was far away. The window overlooking the bay was far away. The lamp next to them, the only thing that allowed Nick to see Tom’s face in any detail, that was far away too. Nick felt Tom thrusting into him and the squeaking leather armchair and nothing else. There didn’t need to be anything else. He wanted there to be something else, he wanted to reach out and touch Tom and feel something else or someone else instead, maybe —
Nick felt a pressure on him, mounting and mounting, an inward force that he was afraid to let go of.
And then he did. Nick came, collapsing onto Tom’s chest. Tom was there with him soon after. Nick felt his breath hitch and choke up, and could feel him pulsing, come flooding into him. He wasn’t going to cry, he couldn’t cry in front of Tom, but he felt everything empty out of him until he stopped feeling anything, internal or external. His face still stung. Every nerve in his body felt raw.
The lights were dimming over at Gatsby’s place. Nick pulled himself away from Tom and felt that renewed but familiar sickness. Tom’s dress shirt was thin and their combined sweat had bloomed right through it, and his skin appeared a soft golden-pink shade in the lamplight.
“I should go,” said Nick. He didn’t get off of Tom’s lap. Daisy would be home soon. He looked Tom up and down again. “You should change.”
Tom grunted. They granted themselves another few minutes, until the lights at Gatsby’s were dark enough for the both of them.