Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. The Great Gatsby and all its splendor, the creations of Fitzgerald.
It's only fitting they be introduced. Edward was, after all, just a Lost Generation boy hoping to one day deserve his love.
The next evening, in emerald green silk, Bella descended the stairs to the group of partygoers.
"I should send you shopping with Rose and Alice more often." With those words, Michael turned and hopped into the car with the boys, the last quivering trace of Bella's optimism disappearing with him.
"Was that a compliment?" Leah asked innocently.
Rose and Alice realized just how not-so-innocent their new friend was.
Bella produced a flask from her handbag. "Am I the only one in need of some courage this evening?"
"No, sugar. You're gonna need to pass that around." Rose was pleased to see something—anything—affecting her friend enough to make her need a nip of gin.
The drive to Cullen's place was shorter than Bella was comfortable with. He'd been so close and she hadn't even felt it. Shouldn't she have felt something? Wasn't that how these things worked? The air shimmered and the light at the end of a strange dock called to you inexplicably, if you believed the novels.
And yet Bella had existed ignorantly across a mere sliver of water from her Edward. If she'd really wanted to, she could have swum the distance.
She began remembering the kind of want that had propelled her around Mobile Bay for him. The thin sliver narrowed even more.
Their chauffeur opened the car door, severing her train of thought. The girls stepped out in a juniper cloud and the boys in a literal one.
"No wonder you four wanted to ride together. How many cigars did you manage to burn through in that short ride, Emmett?"
"Just the one."
Rose rolled her eyes at her husband.
"What? I shared the other three. And I don't know why you feel so free to hound me; you smell like a Christmas tree."
She leaned over and whispered something filthy in his ear about being the angel mounted on top. He whispered back that no angel left the house in that shade of red.
They ascended the grand steps and entered Mr. Cullen's home as if they owned it themselves. Rose didn't allow her girlfriends any gawking, however gorgeous the packed entry and ballroom they forded to get to the festivities outside. Bella didn't need to be overawed; the jitters she arrived with were sufficient for any heartbroken girl, thank you very much. Rosalie guided the other three away from the throngs and towards the sparkling bar, gilt-tipped orchestra and gleaming guests.
Their husbands followed a few paces behind, unaware that gawking wasn't permitted.
Leah caught on quickly to Rose's jig and, with a twist and a bob that made the fringe of her dress wrap around her curves, grabbed Michael by the hand. "Your wife says that you are the best dancer on the East Coast. I have a hard time believing that."
Never one to back down from a dare, it didn't occur to him that anyone with a face so beguiling could be disingenuous. Michael followed her to the dance floor as if she'd pulled him by the golden ring in his purebred snout.
Partygoers shifted like the sands, blown by nothing at all and everything at once. One moment, the glittering beads of a skirt were tossed and abused by knobby knees; the next, they were smothered between damp skin and brocade beneath the weight of two bodies. Twinkling crystal, half-emptied of its potion, awaited fingers that would never return. Those fingertips had moved on to other glasses and other potions.
Peals of laughter decorated every conversation, declaring it beautiful regardless of its depth. The exchanges were seldom more than shallow puddles but they were thoroughly entrancing to guests dressed to the nines.
Mrs. Newton, unlike her husband, was slow to be tempted to dance. She watched warily for any sign of her old beau. After a second sloe gin fizz, she allowed Alice to pull her onto the parquets to Charleston. Satisfied that his wife wouldn't be an embarrassing wallflower, Mr. Newton stepped away to sniff out a game.
The four girls flitted from spot to spot on the lawn. They danced; they drank champagne; they walked to the water and nibbled caviar.
Two stories above the fray, Edward Cullen watched it all. He'd just been informed by Seth that his latest debtor was currently sitting at the poker table, spending money he couldn't possibly have. After another moment pondering what to do with the man, he turned away from the glass.
As they walked back towards the merriment, Bella wondered if she'd been looking so hard that she'd imagined the familiar silhouette retreating from an upstairs window.
The party was in full swing but she'd already begun calculating how soon she could acceptably request to be taken home to her bed.
She found a quiet spot on the porch.
Edward watched her from just a few feet away for most of a song. If he took a single step forward, he could reach out a hand and stroke her hair. He wanted to and, more than once, his arm floated up to do so without permission.
She was so much more serenely beautiful than he remembered, curved against the column, set against the writhing glitz below, looking for him. He wondered how he'd gone so long without her, his peace amidst a seething, tawdry world. No matter the battle raging around him, it was her face, her voice, that kept him focused on getting back safely.
The striking green dress cut into a deep "V" in the back. He imagined following the slope of the fabric with his finger, tracing from her shoulder blade down to the dip and back up again.
Finally he decided they'd waited long enough.
Edward took two steps forward and allowed his face to hover beside her neck. "I haven't asked you for a dance this evening. I hope I haven't squandered my opportunity."
Her own words, murmured in hauntingly familiar tones, washed over Bella in a kaleidoscope of half-registered emotions. She wondered if there was any shade of feeling left without representation. Democratically, she chose none. It seemed so much easier than all of them.
"I'm sure the orchestra waits for you to beckon. They would let you have whatever you wished."
He nodded at the band leader. "I'm only here for you."
Without asking—he never had before—he picked up her hand and led her to the dance floor. She never could tell him no.
The descent from the portico to the rest of the dancers felt infinite; Edward's hand itched to hold her. All those years of waiting suddenly seemed so short in comparison. The mind was a tricky place like that, full of quicksand and disappearing oases. Maybe it was heat causing the transparent rippling he saw when he looked directly at her.
When he turned her in to dance, they faced one another finally. She pulled in a resigned breath and her chin dropped to her chest.
"I don't know what to say, Bella. But I'll tell you anything you want to know. Just ask. Please ask."
She looked back up, the corners of her eyes ornamented with a sparkle that caused him shame. "Not tonight."
His hand tightened at her waist, clinging to the center of his universe for all that he was worth. He mistook her defeat; his heart broke because he'd squandered his chance for more than this. She doesn't want to know where I've been, she only wants to pretend for an evening and move on. I must convince her otherwise.
If this was their last twirl, it should be a rosary worth running his fingers over every day, and that fear, the fear that maybe he couldn't change her mind, sharpened the points spurring him along.
They spun and swayed, gliding through the first song. Being held by him was a form of torture for her as well. They were as close as seemed appropriate and yet, if he would just pull her closer, she wouldn't have to suffer through his eyes watching her so reverently. She felt so guilty, but not guilty enough to ask him to let go.
His thumb rubbed up and down the curve of her waist, teasing a memory from her skin. The gentle pressure of that hand on the small of her back as they moved around the dance floor brought back instincts too strong to repress, even under the mass of her husband.
For the first time that night, Bella was thankful for the happy racket of partygoers. It ruled out conversation and left her to her own thoughts. She wasn't ready to talk to Edward yet, anyway. She wanted to be worshipped for a moment longer.
She began to think she'd only believed she lost her innocence in consenting to become Mrs. Newton. That had been nothing compared to what she knew she'd feel when her Edward found out what she'd done.
Every step on the dance floor felt like the culmination of a sacred longing, an answer to a prayer even amidst the debauchery.
By the second song, Bella wondered how she could let his driver take her home. She felt like she was home. The nightmare of the last few years was just that and she could wake up at any moment.
A tide of awareness washed through the dance floor, and then the grounds at large, bouncing from tittering girls to tottering drunks, spilling from the mouths of the less discreet.
Glasses were adjusted. "Is that—?"
Judgment was meted out. "But with whom…I mean, she's exquisite, but there are dozens of beauties here."
Seeds of doubt were planted. "It can't be. I just heard him in the library and he never dances."
But not even the fiction of rumor could conjure a dream more lovely or fraught with danger than the one Bella found herself navigating.
Her wake-up call arrived in the possession of a gangly man, barely more than a teenager.
"Mr. Cullen? I'm so sorry to interrupt but it seems we have a problem." He indicated the tuxedoed gentleman behind him.
Cullen was thoroughly angered at himself because he didn't recognize the chap until he saw the chin gash. It was no longer bleeding.
He didn't want to let go of Bella—God only knew when her husband would return to take her home—but he couldn't expose her to trash like this.
He turned to excuse himself, summoning every ounce of courage he possessed to choke out the desperation already creeping back in. He could come right back to her, he kept reminding himself; she was no longer an ephemeral glow to pine for night after night. "I'll make sure we run into one another again. It's been a singular pleasure. I just need to see about getting one of my guests home safely."
Before Bella could respond, her husband took care of it. "If I am leaving, my wife is leaving with me."
As the situation dawned on Edward, Bella introduced him to her husband, Michael Newton.
Mr. Cullen cursed his own magnanimity. His good deed would not go unpunished.
Author's Note: I just can't leave Gatsbyward alone. Let me know what you think of him.