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we'll never talk it out this time

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Nick was back home after what he could only describe as a day — sometimes there are just those days where so many things happen and you could describe it in so many ways that you end up simply calling it a day. He was soaking wet, summer rain sliding down his cheeks, getting into all the unpleasant places. He’d just left Gatsby’s house. There was a picture still in his mind of Gatsby and Daisy sitting together in one of Gatsby’s endless rooms, in Gatsby’s endless mansion, catching up on the last five years.

It was right for Nick to leave. It wasn’t his place to stay with them. He had a role to play and he had executed it successfully. He knew how he was meant to feel: he didn’t have to be elated or anything, but he knew he had to be at the very least satisfied that he had done what should be done.

And yet he didn’t. He didn’t feel much of anything at all. He certainly didn’t want to feel like this — or rather, un-feel like this — but he was unable to will himself into the quiet, accepting contentment he was accustomed to. It was as if he’d somehow been removed from everything he had done that day, as if someone else had briefly taken over his body and enabled all of it to happen, and he’d just spent the whole time sitting on the sidelines and watching it unfold. He was still surrounded by the garden’s worth of flowers that Gatsby had ordered, vases upon vases, and it was making him sick to his stomach. He was alone in the house but the plants made it feel overcrowded, overwhelming.

The rain made the windows shake in their frames, trying to pummel its way in. His damp clothes clung to him and were becoming cold. He didn’t want to be wearing them but he didn’t want to change, either. There was nothing to do but stand dumbly in the parlor, rainwater dripping off him and puddling on the floor. He hadn’t worn his jacket to Gatsby’s place. He should’ve.

Nick shuffled over to the couch. He wanted to sit down but he couldn’t without ruining the upholstery. The side table nearest to him held a pot of ranunculus and his phone. And, still feeling like there was some unseen hand guiding his own, Nick dialed East Egg.

Nick waited. Tom picked up. Nick knew Tom was alone. He knew this because he was also alone.

“Tom,” Nick said.

“Nick,” came the voice on the other end. There was an edge of suspicion in Tom’s tone. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you today. How are —”

“I’d like you to come over,” Nick heard himself say.

There was a silence.

“Oh,” Tom said. “Now?”

“Yes. Whenever you can get here.”

“You can’t come to my house?”

“I am not asking,” Nick said, “I am telling you to come over.”

Another long pause. Then: “Alright.”

Tom hung up and Nick felt a panic set in. He had to get rid of the vases as fast as possible. He crammed them into the kitchen, which was still visible from the parlor, but it was better than them just being shamelessly out in the open like that. Did Tom know where Daisy was? What she had been doing all afternoon? He couldn’t have. He had to. There were still flowers all over the living room, squished into corners and parked behind the couch and spilling off of the mantel in swaths of white and pink.

Nick’s hands were slick from the water and what he thought was maybe an emerging bout of sweat; soil dug beneath his fingernails, into the lines of his palms. There was a knock at the door. Three confident raps. “Be there in one second,” Nick called, and washed his hands at the kitchen sink. He took deep breaths all the way to the door and opened it.

Tom was wet, too. Not as wet as Nick, but his face shone with the fine mist of the rain. He slicked his hair back from his forehead to prevent it from dripping down, only to have it fall forward again. Nick had not realized how strange it would be to come face-to-face with Tom after everything that had happened, everything that he had done without Tom’s knowledge. Nick was destroying Tom’s marriage, in multiple ways — pushing Daisy towards Gatsby while simultaneously closing in on Tom himself — and, in a very efficient move, he was getting most of that work done in a single day.

Something about that equation seemed off. He didn’t care to explore what part.

“Hello,” he said.

Tom nodded back and invited himself in. He started taking in the foyer, eyes falling on the flowers through the kitchen doorway. His eyebrows went up but he said nothing to acknowledge them. “So, this is the place,” he said. “Awfully cramped. And yet so cold.”

“It’s comfortable,” Nick said. He wanted to warm up. The smell of cologne cut bitterly through the clean, clear rainwater, and he felt himself drawn to it. He stepped towards Tom. “Can I take your coat?”

“Oh. Yes, thank you,” Tom said, and shrugged off his jacket and handed it to Nick, who hung it up on the coat rack. Nick’s back was turned to Tom but he could sense Tom’s gaze, scanning him up and down. “Were you just out?”

Nick faced him and nodded. Tom stalked over to him again, enveloping Nick once again in the smell of him, the presence of him. It constricted. But it was familiar in its constriction. “Without your jacket,” Tom said, skeptically.

“I was in a hurry,” Nick said.


“I had to run out. I was — getting my lawn trimmed, and I had to run out for just a moment to make sure they weren’t… cutting it too short.”

Part of this was true, technically. Nick did get his lawn trimmed recently. Tom was about to say something, and Nick cut him off. “You know, it’s interesting. There was almost two of us living here,” he said. “I almost rented the place with a friend of mine. A man at the office in Minnesota.”

“A friend,” Tom repeated, sounding interested. Nick was grateful he didn’t care enough about his life to be offended at his obvious lie about the lawn, and that he moved past it so quickly. Tom’s arms were folded across his chest. Nick couldn’t bring himself to reach out yet, to unfold them, to bring them around his own shoulders and envelop him, but he knew he would soon.

“He couldn’t come,” said Nick. “He was the one who found it. And then he couldn’t come. So I’ve just been here by myself.”

“What a shame.”

“I guess it is,” Nick said. He thought about this man, who he hadn’t thought about in a while. They’d been carrying on something of an affair, if you could call their furtive fumbles in the dark of Nick’s bedroom an affair. The house in West Egg was meant to be a vacation for the two of them, where they didn’t have to tiptoe through every interaction like they did back home, but Nick had been so caught up in everything Long Island had to offer him that the other man’s absence barely registered.

He supposed the void of that absence, that had opened up when he came to New York by himself, had been replaced with whatever he and Tom were doing now. Back in Minnesota, when he and the man were seeing each other in secret, Nick had been keeping up contact with a girl who was convinced that he loved her, something he knew he was incapable of and yet had her believing otherwise — perhaps he had been the Tom to this man’s Nick, albeit a much less antagonistic version of him. His jaw tightened with repulsion for even thinking of himself like that.

“Well, it’s worked out for me,” Nick said. “The rent’s fine. I can afford it without him.”

Tom pulled away again, walking briskly past Nick into the living room, inspecting it as if he were a detective at a crime scene. “How much does it go for?”

Nick watched him from the doorway. “It’s not bad.”

“You’re getting a raw deal, then,” Tom said. He wasn’t even looking at Nick and yet Nick felt scrutinized. Like he was being interrogated. Nick followed a step behind him, worried that Tom would somehow find out the reason for the flowers, about Gatsby and Daisy.

“I didn’t even tell you the amount.”

“Well, I just know these things. I know that you get what you pay for. I know what ‘not bad’ means in this area,” Tom said. “Our place in East Egg cost a fortune. The number of zeroes on that price tag would make you faint. And I don’t regret spending a single penny of it.” Nick recoiled at the word our. Any mention of Daisy, even if not by name, was enough to unnerve him.

Nick remembered what he had said to her: Don’t bring Tom. And she’d said, voice like trilling bells, who is ‘Tom?’

He’d found it charming then. Now, confronted with the man himself, he felt implicated. Tom, despite all he and Daisy were doing to each other — all he had done to her — still considered them an our. Although, in full honesty, Nick was more annoyed with Tom than sympathetic to him for this, knowing he only considered them to be a single unit because he saw Daisy as some kind of thing he owned.

Tom then turned around to face Nick, leaning on the mantel. “I mean, really, Nick. I’d call this a shack but that would be generous. You ought to find somewhere better. I’ve got a man I can get you in contact with, so remind me to do that — the houses on this side of the island are more affordable for a reason, you know, you should come over to our side of the bay —”

And then he didn’t say anything else, because Nick was kissing him, and he was kissing back. This, this was what Nick wanted — Tom’s hot breath, his warm hands, his unyielding body. He liked the way Tom kissed him. Like he wanted to punish him for something. Nick wrapped his arms around Tom’s shoulders only to find them immediately pulled off again.

“Cold,” Tom said, raggedly. “Take it off.”

Nick got his sweater over his head, a damp and heavy weight in his hands, and tossed it to the couch. He started to undo his shirt buttons. The cool air hit him as he peeled it off his body. He moved back in towards Tom, who now accepted him. Tom kissed along his jawline. They knew how this went by now.

“Not even going to offer me a drink,” Tom said in his ear. “I should teach you how to be a good host. Give you some private etiquette lessons.”

“Do you want some water?” Nick asked. Tom barked out a dry, brutal sound that almost resembled a laugh. His shirt was nice and pressed. Nick pushed his hands up Tom’s forearms, rucking up the fabric. It was plain white, plain cotton, a far cry from the veritable rainbow of silks in Gatsby’s closet.

Suddenly he didn’t want to think about shirts anymore. He had gotten tense without even realizing it. Tom stopped for a moment. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing,” said Nick. “I, um — I want to move to my bedroom.”

Tom had to process this for a moment. They’d never done it in a bedroom. Nick had never set foot in Tom’s, the one he shared with Daisy. They hadn’t even used a guest bedroom. Nick’s house was different, though. The place was removed from their marriage entirely, as far as Tom knew, which Nick was hoping made it safe.

Tom finally said, “okay,” and allowed Nick to lead the way.

Nick’s bedroom was upstairs. It was a nice, quiet little room, with green walls, and a bed and desk and dresser all made of dark wood, and a jutting window with a limited view of the Sound, small glimpses of the bay peeking through a sparse brush of treetops, the same bay that Tom’s study looked out onto. It was still raining out, and the bay was being pelted with it, small ripples beating the normally-calm surface like the stiff roll of a snare drum. Tom settled on the bed and reached out to Nick, popping open the buttons on his pants.

“Separate bedrooms, you and your friend?” Tom asked, hands slipping beneath the hem of Nick’s boxers. He pressed too hard on Nick’s hips. Nick wanted it harder. It was rousing his cock and he could see that it was having the same effect on Tom.


“You and your… friend. From the office,” he said. Nick loosened the laces on his shoes and kicked them off, stumbling forward to straddle Tom. He fell forward, Tom fell back, and they lay down on the bed, for the first time. The skin of Tom’s hands was thick and warm and dry, and Tom ran them down Nick’s body, tracing up the small of his back, the curve of his shoulders. The intimacy of it was novel and it was wrong. He wished they were back in Tom’s armchair — it felt, to Nick, like the only way they should be doing this.

Nick kissed him if only to shut him up, bearing his still-clothed groin down on the other man. “Don’t wanna talk about it,” he murmured.

Tom pushed Nick beneath him, gripping his upper arms. “What is going on with you?”

“Nothing,” Nick said. He hated Tom’s concern. It disgusted him. It was his fault, really — he’d come into this in a bad mood and Tom was feeding off that and responding in kind. “I —”

Nick pressed his mouth into a tight line. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say. Or he was, and he wasn’t sure what would happen when he said it.

“What?” Tom asked.

Before he could stop himself from speaking, Nick said, “Gatsby and Daisy spent the afternoon together.”

Tom quieted. His hair was still damp, and small droplets of water splashed onto the bedsheet beside Nick’s head. “No, they didn’t,” he said.

It always felt like a guessing game, when they talked about Daisy going out somewhere. Where, oh, where has Daisy Buchanan gone today? It was not a game they were playing today, and Nick realized he preferred how they used to do it, when they could dance around the subject as much as they wanted because they were confident that the other would never directly address it. He wished for a return to the old way but he knew he could not go back.

“How —” Tom started, and then, abruptly, accusatorially, said instead, “you don’t know that.”

“I do know, though,” said Nick, “because they spent it here.”

Tom’s eyebrows furrowed. “What?”

“Gatsby ordered the flowers in the kitchen. I offered my house, and he did my lawn, and he and Daisy had tea.”

Nick realized in this moment that it wasn’t guilt he felt — Tom was simply the kind of person that Nick was unable to feel guilt towards — but loss. Daisy was not with Tom, so Gatsby was not with Nick, and this thought brought on a certain heaviness in Nick’s chest.

“You,” Tom said. He let out that not-laugh again.

“Me,” Nick said. And then, stronger: “me. They sat in my living room for a while, talking, and then they went to his house, and I went too, and I just had come back when I called you.”

He felt like he was speaking over the wail of the wind outside. It was one thing to do it and never talk about it ever again, it was another thing for Nick to discuss it, and yet another for him to say it over and over again, practically reveling in it. He had not only admitted to Tom that Gatsby and Daisy were, in fact, having an affair, he’d also just exposed his own involvement in it, and he could not shut himself up.

It was freeing to say this to someone else, even if that someone was Tom. Tom was a thing right now, a body, acted-upon rather than actor. Tom was a blank slate on which Nick wrote his confession. The irony — that this must be how Tom felt, all the time — did not escape him.

But while it took a weight off him, none of this made Nick feel good. It would’ve felt better if it were not Gatsby with Daisy, but there was nothing he could do about that. He hated this moment, the moment after he’d told the truth about everything but before Tom could distract him by getting upset at him over it.

“My God,” Tom said, incredulous. “You just let them walk all over you. Not only that, you helped them do it. My God.”

Nick blinked in disbelief. “You realize that Gatsby and I, we’re not — like that. It isn’t like that with us.”

Tom looked unmoved, and Nick reminded himself that he and Tom were not the same. He did not feel that he possessed Gatsby, by any means, not like how Tom felt about Daisy. Everything Nick did, he did to himself, and sitting around feeling sorry about it would have been a completely useless exercise. Gatsby had no obligation to harbor — whatever it was Nick was feeling towards him.

“So what happened after? You just left them like that? Alone?” Tom asked.

“Yes,” said Nick.

“Where are they now? Are they still together?” His voice was turning urgent, demanding.

Nick shrugged. “I would imagine they are.”

Tom was silent. His hands tightened around Nick’s arms, and then let go; a dull pain remained.

“Turn over,” Tom said. Nick tried. He did not do it fast enough, and Tom got him by the shoulders, rough, and forced him onto his stomach. Nick’s pants were already slipping down his thighs. Tom got them off the rest of the way and Nick felt the press of his hard cock against his backside.

He let his head sag down, onto the cool sheets, but Tom’s hand dug into his hair and pulled back, forcing him to look at the green wall, the mahogany dresser. “It’s you. You’re doing this to me,” Tom said. “You, of all people, are the one blinding her. Making her think that I’m not a good enough fucking husband for her.”

Nick had nothing to say to this, although it wasn’t as if he needed to. Tom pulled particularly hard on his hair and he moaned, and Tom kept talking — “it’s not even that I trusted you. I just didn’t think you’d do it. Didn’t think you had the spine for it. The one time you make a choice, the one time you don’t stand there fucking hemming and hawing while life actually happens around you — that’s when you choose to let that thief, that con man, ruin what I have with her. The whole time, you’re the one doing this to me.”

And then, without any joy in it, Tom said, “and you’re doing this to you, too — you’re pathetic. You know that?”

Nick instinctively went to nod. He couldn’t.

“Do you have any oil on you?” Tom asked.

“Vaseline,” Nick said, “side table. Right near you.”

The hand in his hair let go and his head dropped again. He heard a wooden drawer sliding open, the clink of a glass jar sitting on a table, the thin pull of a cap coming off, and then two of Tom’s fingers were prodding at him, pushing inside. “I love her,” Tom said.

A small laugh escaped Nick, into the fabric of the sheets, but Tom heard him. The fingers pushed with more force, filling him up. “Do you have something you want to say to me?” Tom asked.

“You can’t stand her. If you loved her you wouldn’t keep trying to get away from her, you wouldn’t be seeing —” Nick said, and was cut off. Another finger had entered him. It had not been prepared enough.

“That isn’t how it is.”

“— and you definitely wouldn’t be here —”

“Don’t you dare compare what I have with Daisy to… this. You don’t understand what we have. Don’t understand a thing about love,” Tom said. “If you understood it, you wouldn’t be doing this. If it were me — oh, what am I saying, if it were me, it is me — I’d be at that hideous fucking house, right now, I’d be —”

“Don’t love him,” Nick got out, protesting, “Gatsby, he and I, we’re not —”

“Christ, I don’t care,” Tom said. The fingers were pulled out and there was the soft sound of fabric rustling, then dropping to the floor. Tom had taken his shirt off. Then — Tom was slicking himself up. Nick girded himself for something he knew he wouldn’t be ready for.

He felt a sharp pain when Tom slid inside him, the dragging burn of it making his own cock even harder. Nick’s head was again being held by the hair, lower, by the scruff of his neck, instead now he was being pushed — no, driven — into the sheets. Tom was big, big enough for Nick to be completely engulfed. Swallowed whole. It was coming at him from all sides; it was suffocating. He never wanted it to end. His hand squeezed under his stomach and he started to touch himself.

“His house,” Tom was muttering under his breath, hands latching onto Nick’s hips to hold him steady as he pounded into him — “they’re really at his house, you went with them — you did this —”

The rain was letting up now, and the late-afternoon sun was beginning to strain its way through the clouds. Nick turned his cheek and felt a wetness on the fabric; his vision was going blurry, the image of the headboard becoming waterlogged, and he realized he was crying. He wasn’t sure why. He blamed it on his body, on Tom’s body inside his. A physical reaction to the pain. Overstimulation, maybe. He buried his face in the blanket and took labored, heaving breaths.

Tom leaned close over Nick until he felt the press of Tom’s bare chest against his back, and shoved harder, deeper. Then — Tom’s teeth, digging into his shoulder, and the vibrations of Tom’s voice on his skin as he stifled a groan. Nick recognized the sting and welcomed it. His body went slack with orgasm; he found no relief in it.

“Oh my God,” Tom said in Nick’s ear, choked-off, and he came shortly after. Nick turned around. He looked up at Tom.

Nick didn’t want to ask what Tom was going to do now, where he was going to go. It was clear that he himself didn’t know. He stood over Nick, locked in place, the light casting warm shadows on the angles of his cheeks, his jaw. Nick remembered he had once thought Tom looked like a Greek statue and it was still true. His face traced the lines of a forgotten civilization, one that had reigned millennia ago and was now just a shell. An ever-diminishing echo of its former self.

Nick knew he could not continue like this.