I went a little overboard with this one, but by the time I got all of my thoughts written down it was almost twice as long as the last chapter. Have a happy weekend!
The train tracks were dark and worn from use, and browns and grays littered the paper like it really was from the dirt. The train was a huge beast. It was cold and metal, and the plumes of smoke filtering up and into the sky looked like they could swallow something whole. It was dreary and depressing, and by the time that Nicole left the valley the night before that was all that she had on her canvas. When she got home it was an entirely different picture. The image in her head had changed.
In front of the plumes of smoke and ash was color. She put in shops that were painted in blues and oranges, with lines of people chatting and lounging. There was a dog chasing after a yellow ball, two boys playing on the dirt path. A handful of railroad workers were sitting around an oil drum drinking soft drinks. There was grass peppered in, hints of green poking out of the otherwise barren ground. There were flowers on the sides of the businesses. It was lush with hope. Even the sky, which was a nasty shade of brown before had blue sprinkled in the corners. It made her feel like anything was possible.
The only way that anyone would be able to tell that it was the Valley of Ashes was the distinctive sign painted in behind the train. It was a tall sign, the overseer of the valley. The pair of eyes was distinctive - it was the sign of Doctor TJ Eckleburg. No one would be able to question it.
Nicole chewed on her lip lightly, nervous for her first critique. They were standing in her front room, and cans of paint brushes and jars of linseed oil and paint were scattered around carelessly. She should have cleaned up her mess. Mr. Gatsby didn't seem to notice. He took in the detail of the painting, his eyebrows drawn together. Perhaps he was deep within his head. Maybe he really didn't like it and didn't know what to say to her. Maybe Nicole should stop overthinking it.
"So," Nicole thought, tapping on the counter behind her. She wasn't quite sure of what to say. It was terribly quiet, and it made her head loud with wild ideas of his distaste. She let out a quiet breath. "So, what do you think?"
His light eyes found hers, and a moment later he shook his head with a small smirk. What was bouncing between his ears?
"I think that the Journal better be paying you handsomely for your work."
His voice was kind, a certain softness behind it that had stolen her attention. Her smile blossomed before him, and Nicky was overcome with happiness. "I do hope they like it." She agreed politely, but she was beaming.
"They would be fools not to." He affirmed, his gaze shifting from hers down to his hands. He was composing himself.
There was honking at the front gate outside of Nicole's home and she stepped over to the window as the noise persisted. The cars were driving past her place and continued to Mr. Gatsby's. It was never ending.
"Do you have plans tonight, Miss Carraway?"
Nicky turned back to him with a lingering smile. Mr. Gatsby looked so cool and confident, even in the middle of her humble home. It seemed so easy for him.
"I'm afraid I do. You see," she started again, holding back a grin, "I think there is a party tonight here in West Egg, and I can't miss it." She was playing coy, and she could tell that he caught on by the way the corners of his lips turned up. "What about you, Mr. Gatsby? Do you have any plans for the evening?"
"I do." He hummed, walking his way over to the door. "I'll see you then, Nicole Carraway."
The way that he said her name made the hairs on her arms stand on end, and Nicole could feel her cheeks burning red. He nodded again with a charming smile, it was hard not to mimic it. His smile was one of those rare smiles you may come across four or five times in life. It seemed to understand her, and it made Nicole feel as if anything were possible.
Butterflies flew into her stomach as he left, and Nicole's eyes widened in realization.
She liked Mr. Gatsby.
If her mom could see her now, Nicole would be called the most bashful flirt to make her family look ridiculous. Her behavior was far from proper, but she couldn't help but let her mind wander. He wouldn't have played along unless he felt something too, right? He wouldn't have freely given his jacket or taken her painting or shared playful banter with her if he didn't feel a certain way about her. Right?
How could she let this happen? She was usually so calm and collected with these kinds of things, but the way that he looked at her? It was the way that all women wanted to be looked at.
"Oh no." Nicole whispered with a giggle.
She filtered through her wardrobe for something a little less modest than her day to day wares. It was a bigger challenge than she thought it would be, but she did have one dress that came to mind. It was the dress she wore to Daisy's wedding. Nicky couldn't afford the standard silk that she was confident that the other ladies would be wearing, but she did have rayon. It looked like a money drooler, but was far from it. It was a dark merlot with a neckline that dipped into a v, and it stopped just at her calves. There was lace at the neckline to hint at saving her modesty, but Nicole was grinning ear to ear. Times had seemed to change so drastically in the last couple of years. At the wedding she wore cream gloves that went up to her elbows and matching stockings to cover her legs. She decided against wearing either of them. The dress was loose and the sleeves cascaded around her shoulders, but stopped at her arms. It was freeing.
Her hair was her prized possession, and Nicole kept it long even after so many ladies decided to lob it all off. It was a big part of her, a safety blanket. So she curled it and let it fall down her back, pinning a few pieces back to keep them from falling into her face. Even the pins were fake, and they had pearl like beads on the end to add a little flair. No one would know. She painted her cheeks with a soft pink and her eyelashes were garnished in black ink. By the time she looked in the mirror at the finished product she hardly recognized the lady staring back at her. Perhaps she could put in an effort more often. She was in Long Island after all. Socialites paradise.
"Ha!" Nicole scoffed at her own thought. "That'll be the day."
She took a turn about her room, waiting for the time to pass. What to do? She looked back towards her painting with a content smile and decided to call her contact the Journal and tell them good news. She couldn't wait another week.
"You've finished it already?" Her boisterous boss, Mr. Bannon laughed. She was surprised to hear that he worked weekends, but he affirmed that it was the most pivotal time of the week. "That's great news! Can we send our photographer out to take pictures of it for the paper?"
"Of course, sir. Anytime after today works for me." Nicole complied happily. She looked longingly at the painting, happy with the outcome. It was going to turn heads.
"Perfect. I'll give him your number to schedule a time. His name is Mckee, Chester McKee."
Nicole expressed her thanks and they said their goodbyes, the metal click pulling her back into the moment. Things were moving swimmingly for Nicole, and she couldn't help but feel like it was all starting to come together. Maybe her trip to New York was the best thing that could have happened.
It wasn't long before automobiles were roaring to life down the road and the laughs and cries of joy from guests were hard to miss. It was time for a party. Now when Nicole was younger and she was first out in society she had been to house parties with her parents, but they were formal, civil. They would have never been able to prepare her for this. She sat down to put on her black buckle pumps before bravely walking next door.
The house was alive with people, with lights and sounds that burned her senses. The crowded entrance was unbelievable. Half of New York was there, young and old, rich and broke, famous and powerful alike were scrambling up the steps of Gatsby's house. Had Nicole stepped into a dream? She bumped into a group of young men, college defectors that were more than happy to help her inside. They were laughing and joking, and while everyone was pushing into the house their enthusiasm was contagious.
It was an absolute zoo.
She made it to the pool, and it was unrecognizable from the morning she first stumbled upon it. There was so much dancing and jumping and drinking that it made her head spin. She didn't want to talk to everybody, just one person captured her interest. She wanted to find Mr. Gatsby.
Nicole had asked if anyone had seen him, and in a moment everything she thought about him had changed.
"No one has ever seen Mr. Gatsby."
"He is a Russian spy."
"I heard that he killed a man once."
"He's a cousin of Caesar Willems, you know. The evil German king."
What wild accusations. Everywhere she turned was a different story. Even his employees had never seen him. Was he a ghost at his own party? Was any of it real? Nicole felt hopeless and embarrassed, lost in the maze of people enjoying the free alcohol and trying to climb each tier of the social ladder. A number of men had passed by asking her to dance or asking to get her a drink but she declined with a sad smile. She didn't want to dance with any of them. She had dressed to impress, but it wasn't for any of them. Maybe she had gotten her hopes up.
"I'm convinced that you are the only woman here brave enough to wear your hair down. Is that what you'd call vintage chic?"
Nicole knew that striking if not condescending voice, and turning she came to face Jordan Baker. She was tall and elegant and absolutely terrifying. Her makeup was sharp and dark against her porcelain complexion, and her black dress fell to the floor like it could swallow anything up in its path. Nicky didn't know whether to be relieved that she knew someone or distraught that it was the sour companion that she met at Daisy's house. Jordan was sipping on a martini, a bored look on her face.
"I didn't realize it was going to be like an amusement park." Nicole admitted, waiting for Jordan to show any expression. "Are you having a good time?"
"Oh yes." Jordan found Nicole's gaze, and her dark eyes pierced through her. Jordan didn't even crack a smile. She was a force to be reckoned with. "I love large parties. They are so intimate, wouldn't you say? Small parties are the opposite. There is no privacy at small parties."
She was thrown off by Jordan's assessment - Nicky thought that it would be the other way around. But Jordan looked on and out towards the dancing and singing, and even Nicky could admit that no one was paying attention to them chatting off on the sidelines.
"I've been looking for my neighbor. Have you seen him?" Nicole asked, watching as Jordan finished off her drink and grabbed another one of a tray passing by.
"No one sees him at his parties. And I don't think anyone knows anything real about Mr. Gatsby."
"Isn't that strange?" Nicole mentioned with a frown, and Jordan shrugged.
"Well why don't we go find him and we can ask him ourselves?"
Jordan had a mischievous look in her eyes, and a small smirk was forming on her face. She moved past Nicole and nodded at her to follow, and Nicole followed blindly. Even though she wasn't fond of Miss Baker, she decided that it would be better than sitting and waiting around all night. They slunk back into the house, past the orchestra, up the marble stairs, and away from the laughing and cheering from the party. It was a welcome change.
They happened upon a library larger than Nicole had ever seen, and she spun around in a circle at the sheer size of it. Jordan seemed distracted looking out the window, a contemplative look on her face. She seemed unhappy.
"Are you alright?" Nicole stepped up towards her, and Jordan shook her head to dispel her critical thoughts. She turned back to Nicole with a forced grin.
"I've met him, you know. Mr. Gatsby." Jordan took another turn about the room and Nicole watched on. It seemed like every move of Jordan's was calculated, but she was trying to figure out why. "I imagined him to be old and fat, but he wasn't."
"He is quite agreeable." Nicole offered quickly, and she watched as Jordan agreed with a wholehearted nod.
"It just doesn't make sense. Young men don't just come out of the blue and buy a castle on Long Island. There must be more to it."
"Is Detective Baker on the case?" Nicole jested, and she watched as Jordan held back a smile. Maybe she wasn't as cold as Nicky originally thought.
"He told me he was an Oxford man, but for some reason I don't believe it. I just don't believe he went there."
"Is that a gut feeling?" Nicole questioned, leaning against the bookcase. If Nicole had learned anything it was to follow a gut feeling, and it had not let her astray. Jordan offered her another contemplative look, and she tapped along the books as she passed by them.
Maybe Jordan was right about Mr. Gatsby, and a wave of uncertainty settled in her belly. Nicole didn't know anything about him. Her attraction was quick and fleeting in their two interactions, and suddenly she felt silly. She had probably gotten all dolled up for nothing. He wasn't going to show.
There was a knocking at the door, and both women shared a quizzical look. Who on Earth would be knocking at a party? There was giggling, and the door opened slowly. It was a young couple of kids who could hardly keep their hands off each other, and Jordan rolled her eyes.
"Oh, honey it looks like this room has already been taken."
"We were just leaving." Jordan deadpanned, and both she and Nicole shared a grimace and the giggling continued. They retreated back down the stairs, but Nicole grabbed onto Jordan's arm to whisper to her.
"I suppose the mystery continues."
"I think you're right." Jordan agreed, watching as people slipped past them back out to the pool. She overheard that there was going to be a fireworks show. She watched as another silver tray passed, and with a lack of their host and a multitude of prohibited alcohol, Nicky thought of a terrible idea.
"How about we get some drinks?"
Nicole only been drunk twice in her life, and the second time was that night.
She and Jordan drank and danced under the fireworks. They danced with men, they danced with each other, they danced by themselves. It was harmless fun, and the giggle water didn't stop coming. She lost track of time, and her brow was damp with sweat. Her hair must have looked a mess of curls, getting tangled with each jump and each step. Nicole was having a great time though, and she almost didn't register the light tap on her shoulder at the end of one of the songs. Turning quickly with a smile, her breath hitched in her throat. It was him. He had found her.
Gatsby grinned, and maybe it was the alcohol, but Nicole had seemed to forget all of the dreadful words that she had heard about him. Surely he wasn't a second cousin to the Devil himself. He wasn't a murderer. But he was standing there, charming as ever. He offered his hand and she let him take hers, leaving an impressionable kiss on the back of her hand. It was proper, polite, but Nicky let her imagination run away with her again.
He was dressed to impress in a black suit, and as always he looked flawless.
"This is a spectacle." She breathed out quickly. He was the spectacle. "This is quite the party." What else could she say? Nicole was at a loss for words. She was half afraid that after all of the drinks she had she would easily make a fool of herself if she kept talking.
"You are too kind." He smiled again, and turned to Jordan with a nod. "It's nice to see you again, Miss Baker." She nodded back to him and said a quick hello, and Nicky was awestruck with how collected and kind he was. He seemed so sincere.
"I'm afraid I haven't been a very good host." He addressed them both apologetically. "I've been busy with work tonight, but if there's anything you need let me know." Both women smiled at him, and as if it were clockwork, an older gentleman cleared his throat behind him.
"Mr. Gatsby, sir. I'm afraid to interrupt, but Louisville is on the phone." The man whispered, and if Gatsby was unhappy about the news he didn't show it. He looked to Nicole and Jordan with a bow.
"Excuse me, ladies." He was gone again in a flash, quickly disappearing into the crowd. Jordan raised a brow.
The ladies stepped to the side away from the dancing and Jordan let out a small hum. Nicole could tell Jordan was deep in thought, but she was trying hard to focus on not wobbling on her feet. She had way too much to drink, and now that she was away from the action, her body could feel the effects of it.
They walked towards the garden to the side of the pool, and discarded the rest of their drinks into the grass. They had their fill for the night. The garden was quieter, and the hedges were shaped into various animals. There were flowers too, and they were surrounded in purple and white. Lavender and daisies surrounded them, and it looked like a fairytale. He must have more money than God. Their solace was broken by the same gentleman that had originally come up to Gatsby by the pool.
"Excuse my interruption." his baritone apologized. "Miss Baker, Mr. Gatsby would like to speak with you. Alone." Jordan raised her brow, giving Nicky an incredulous look. The shock in her eyes was evident, and Nicole must have shared a similar look. Did she hear him right? "Me?"
Nicky couldn't believe it herself, but she nodded to Jordan urgently. It must have been important if he sent someone out to collect her. "You must go. I'll be fine." She urged, and she watched Jordan closely as the gentleman escorted her away.
"A mystery is afoot." Nicole hummed to herself.
She floated down the stairs towards Gatsby's beach and watched the water move quietly against the light of the party. Streaks of pink and white flooded the water, and Nicole was entranced. The light was beautiful. She was still trying to figure out the mystery of Gatsby's castle. How could he acquire such a place? He had such nice things, and everyone was invited to be a part of it. Was he that selfless? Nicole had noticed his nice boats and his nice house and his clothes. A breeze swept past her so quickly that she hardly had time to register the chill that had run down her spine. He had nice jackets. Nicole wished that she had held on to his jacket for a little while longer.
She knew it was a silly thought, and shaking her head Nicole sat down in the sand, bringing her legs up to her chest. It had turned out to be a good night, right? She got all dressed up, saw the man that she wanted to see, and had plenty to drink. Nicole could check off all her boxes.
With another exhale she looked back over the water and there was an interference to her light show. The white and pink lights had all but faded away, and a blinking green fell over the water. It was a luscious, greedy green, and Nicole quickly turned back to the party to see where it was coming from. She couldn't find the source. Turning back to the water she spotted it off in the distance. It was a light from a dock across the bay. It was an intruder to the party, flashing all the way across the water. It was constant, almost mocking her. Mocking her? Nicole was drunk. She shook her head with a groan, but looked out across the bay one more time.
She didn't like the green light.