It was the second day of that week and you were already tired. Your muscles ached and pulled with each movement you made, and you were aware that Antonio wasn’t feeling any better. You had tried your hardest to make your boyfriend of twelve years comfortable in the condition he was in coupled with his ailment.
“I’m home, Antonio!” You called, stepping in your home from the freezing cold that blanketed the wintry night, letting the omnipresent scent of roses in the house bathe you from the outside smells. “I brought tomatoes! Spaghetti’s for dinner!”
“What time is it?” He called back hoarsely. He still hadn’t defeated his cold. Antonio always claimed he had the strongest immune system out of anyone that ever lived, but all his body did was betray him.
“It’s almost nine!” You laid the bag of fruits and herbs down on the kitchen counter as you heard Antonio’s weighted steps coming down the large staircase. “How are you feeling today?” You quickly occupied yourself with preparing a late dinner, as you often did with your work being so time consuming. You were an evening concierge at a four star hotel just outside your city and the drive to and from your work was the most tiring thing of all. You heard Francis following close behind Antonio and you heard his vibrant humming before you saw him.
The pair drifted into the yellowish light of the kitchen and both greeted you, a strained and sniffle-tied, “Buenosera,,” from your boyfriend and a jubilant, “Bonjour,” from Francis. The overly-romantic Frenchman stayed around to help Antonio while you were at work or out doing errands, and he was more than happy to do so.
That day, Francis’ hair was tied back in a loose ponytail and he wore his signature – almost poofy – white button-up shirt with the top button undone, revealing a bit of his chest hair. His baby blues glimmered under the light as he gave you a slight wink. “Would you like some help preparing dinner, mon ami?” He quickly located a knife from the silverware drawer, not even waiting for you to respond as he tossed a tomato in the air, swiftly catching it in the same hand.
“You really don’t have to,” Chuckling, you reached out to touch Francis’ wrist, as if to halt his movements. As he rose his eyes to yours, he gave you a knowing look. “I don’t want to keep you with the weather this harsh and the roads becoming slick.”
“No, let Francis stay!” Antonio pled with a childlike element to his accented tone as he smiled feebly. His white orbs stared past the kitchen floor then began to travel elsewhere. “He just wants to help you, chica, he knows you’re tired from work. Let him help.”
Francis smiled at you and you smiled back, taking your fingertips away from his wrist as he went to retrieve a cutting board.
Truthfully, you felt horrible. You didn’t want the Frenchman in the house, nor did you want to endure the sensations you had when you were near him. Detesting the memories that flooded through your mind, you found the herbs and began separating them from their stems, letting the shameful thoughts of you and Francis rush in and out of your brain. As much as you didn’t want to admit it to yourself, you had only stayed in the relationship with Antonio out of pity for the unable man. You didn’t want to see him hurt, especially since you had lost interest in him about three years beforehand.
You were still young, a woman of twenty seven, having been with the jovial Spaniard since you were fifteen, and you had much exploring to do outside of caring for the then blind and disabled Antonio. He had immediately lost his sight at the age of twenty one due to excessive nerve damage. You loved Antonio, you truly did, but you were no longer in love with him. You felt like a cheater. Mostly because you were a cheater. You had developed a strong love for Francis, a love that deserved and strove for acknowledgement. And you had acted upon it.
The Frenchman was gorgeous – everyone knew that, even Antonio and what he remembered of Francis’ smooth jawline that was spotted with thin stubble and his deep blue irises that just knew the other side of anyone he laid them upon – and you forced yourself upon him. But he took it as an invitation to stay around at all hours, almost taunting you with his slightly open button-up shirts and his messily tied blond hair. He knew it got you hot.
“So, _______________ , how’d work go today?” Antonio spoke up, leaning his head against his balled fist that rested on the tableside as he let his heavy eyelids eclipse his white irises.
You sighed, familiarizing yourself with the tenseness of your neck as you rolled your head on your shoulders and said, “It was tiring, as usual. How was your day with Francis?”
“He read to me. I also wrote, as to be expected, but for most of the day we enjoyed a novel.”
“Yes, ah, we read The Great Gatsby. It’s a great novel, ________________ , albeit a tad dry in the visualization category. So romantic though, it makes one’s heart ache. For Jay, not for that disreputable woman, Daisy. Ever read it?” His eyes lingered on you for a moment too long. You sneered accidentally at the way he checked you over and he looked away, biting his lip a bit to keep from laughing.
“Never read it.”
“It reminds me a little of me and you, _______________ ,” Antonio said.
“How so?” You responded, running water into a large pot as you retrieved a box of angel hair spaghetti noodles from one of the high cabinets.
“Well, if I could explain it readily in good words without sounding like a complete fool,” He paused to clear his throat of hoarseness. Antonio had come down with the common cold a week earlier so he was a bit tough on his way of speaking. “I could tell you that it’s about a man named Jay Gatsby and a woman named Daisy Buchanan. It just reminds me of us because of how much they love one another, but see, Daisy is married to a rich man, his name is Tom.” You thought about Francis when he mentioned the character of Tom and you shuddered. “I’m sure you’ve heard multitudes about this, what with the new movie having come out just a while ago, but Jay throws all these huge parties on Long Island in this castle-like house and no one knows why. No one knows exactly who Jay is either, nothing of his past or anything really, just lies! There are never any invitations and it seems like a free-for-all. Anyway, long story short, all the parties he throws and the house he had built – they were all for Daisy. Everything was for Daisy. And guess what happens?” He waited expectantly for you to respond.
“What happens, darling?” You removed the pot from under the sink nozzle, turned it off, and set it down on the burner, igniting the stovetop. You rested your hips against the counter as you leaned forward, giving Antonio some time to clear his throat again.
“Daisy wouldn’t admit that she’d never loved Tom for Jay! The story’s too complicated to really explain in my horrible choice of words, but I think you get it halfway.”
“Daisy, meh,” Francis made a noise and shuddered himself as he clenched his eyes closed, slicing a tomato to occupy his hands. “She was a putain.” He quickly made up for his swearing and said, “Whoops.”
“Careful,” Antonio admonished, his mouth turning up into a grin. “It’s really great, ______________ , you should read it.”
“Beware of Daisy, she’s a hard pill to swallow.” Francis grabbed a plastic bowl from underneath the counter and began sweeping the tomato slices into the bowl. Leaning over in front of you to retrieve the herbs you had de-stemmed, the Frenchman whispered to you, “Just like you, mon cher.”
You cringed at his words and how close you were to Antonio, suddenly fearing your boyfriend had heard. Seeing as he was quietly humming something to himself and tracing strange patterns with his index finger on his pajama pants, you quieted your worries, knowing he hadn’t heard.
After he had mixed the chopped tomatoes and herbs, he turned to you, “So, ________________ , could I have a word with you?” Francis placed his hands on his hips and tilted his head at you. “About Antonio’s new medication.”
“If you’ll excuse us, Toni,” You turned the burner down a bit, patted Antonio’s shoulder softly as you pecked his cheek lovingly, and exited the room with Francis.
“What about his medication?” You faced him with a stern expression on your face. “Is it making him hallucinate again?”
“No,” Francis smiled, a bit too devilishly for your liking. “I just wanted to be alone with you for a moment.”
“Listen, Fran-“ Before you could get your tetchy rebuttal out in response to his advance, the Frenchman had crashed his lips to yours and he had wrapped his arms around your waist. Your groan of discomfort was distorted and muffled against his lips that tasted of wine. Bringing your hands up to his chest, you pushed him away. He looked discomfited as he tried to straighten himself from your forceful shove. “Francis!” You whispered angrily. “Listen to me, there is nothing going on between us anymore, you hear me?”
He appeared saddened by your words.
“Not a thing. You are here to help Toni out and nothing more. We once had a sort of sick, behind-the-curtains relationship but that’s over now. I love Toni. I would do anything and everything for Toni.” The lies rolled off your lips like they were the easiest thing you had ever said – and you hated that. But it was true, you did love Antonio and you would do anything for him. “He has done so much for me. Before he lost his sight, you know what he did.” You then acknowledged your large house and the beautifully decorated interior with a broad gesture of your arms. Antonio had the involute house built for the both of you when you had consummated your relationship a year before he suffered the nerve damage. You had planned on marrying but due to the massive expenses to try and reverse Antonio’s nerve damage without costly corneal transplants that you’d be paying for the rest of your life, your marriage had been majorly postponed.
The house was a luxurious ecru throughout, and every room had a different theme from different periods of Spanish and Italian history. Everything about the house screamed, “I had this built for my soul mate!” concerning the number of dramatically posed couples displayed around the house on canvases and in sculptures and the delicacy of the bedroom. And it always smelled faintly of roses. You had accused Antonio of using roses as the insulation in the walls and you recall the sweet smile that spread his lips. The smile no one else had the ability to make.
“Yes, he showered you in beautiful things and provided you a wonderful house. I see that. But I know you’re no longer in love with him. And that’s the hardest thing to see: a gorgeous, young woman under the pressure of pitying her ailing significant other. With another man, a perfectly healthy, equally as gorgeous, willing man waiting at your feet. And you deny his advances. You know that Antonio could make it by himself, look at his job! He makes more than you sitting around and thinking up fiction novels!” Francis’ cheeks had flushed red. He didn’t even hear what he had said.
You had grown to a level of anger you weren’t sure you had ever experienced. And you burned with a new distaste for the Frenchman and his once alluring baby blues. “It is not pity. I love Antonio. I love him with everything I am. This house…it’s part of us, it represents our love. It’s not the money, or the house, it’s mine and Antonio’s relationship!”
“You are just like Daisy in that aspect.” Francis sighed, pinching his temples.
“Gatsby’s half-witted lover. If Antonio’s condition worsened or he became unable to provide for you, if you lost this house due to a sudden need for corneal transplants, if you were taken away from this wealth you were given so generously, I bet my own money you’d do anything to escape your obligation to him. You are just a gold digger.” His words hit you like daggers through your chest plate. And the truth presented itself to you as you took the house in for the second time that night. You knew what Francis meant. He knew of your unhappiness. “If Antonio died and you had the undeniable notion that I still longed for you, even with who you are and what you think is love, you wouldn’t even attend his funeral. Would you? Just like Mrs. Daisy Buchanan. You're just a beautiful little fool who doesn't know what she has, and she'll be too selfish to realize it even when the circumstances lead to death. You would come crawling to me, begging for me to take you away to my wealth. And you would fuck me on the day of his funeral, laughing at his naivety in his life, wouldn’t you?”
Tears stung your eyes and you felt the truth becoming apparent. Francis had just explained you like the back of his hand. He knew you and what you thought love was. Even with his lewd choice of words and his inability to portray how much you really loved the Spaniard, you both knew.
And you were too perfect and sheltered to sit around waiting for Antonio to get better. You didn’t want to wait.
“Leave,” You pointed to the door, your words betraying your emotions. “Now. I don’t want to see your face here again. If you wish to continue to care for Antonio, I suggest you make yourself extremely scarce while I’m here, if not around at all. And you had better get the hell out of my house before I throw you out myself. Go.” The blood heating your cheeks vanished and turned cold, sliding coolly through the veins in your body, freezing your heart into an arctic state. You had just banished the man you truly loved from your heart, the man you somehow loved inside and out, no matter how shallow you both were; you told him to make himself “scarce” while you were around. Your heart palpitated when you heard the front door slam behind him.
“ ___________________ , did Francis just leave?” Antonio called from the kitchen. “I think the water’s boiling over.”
“Damn,” You rushed to the kitchen to see the water boiling over the rim of the large pot. “I’m sorry, Toni, I just had to speak with Francis.”
Antonio sighed. “Are you changing my medication again?” His words sounded pained.
“I don’t think so, are they making you sick or anything uncomfortable?” You patted the wet sides of the pot with a towel, wincing when the heat became too much for your fingertips.
“No, they’re fine,” You heard him standing up and pushing in his chair. “I feel a bit faint. Would it be okay if I went on to bed? Save me some dinner for in the morning?” You looked at him as he smiled, and his vacant eyes that once glowed emerald dropped to the floor.
“Sure,” You forced your best grin on your face as you watched him turn to leave.
“You know, ________________ , I just see shadows, right? Little flickers of grey against the black?”
You nodded, lifted your gaze to him, then said, “Yes, I know. Why?”
“I may just be able to see shadows, but I can hear what you desire I not.” Antonio left your sight, his tan fingers holding the doorframe. “I love you.” He said loud enough for you to hear. “And I want you to be happy too.” You heard him climbing the stairs, slight coughs emanating from his sickness-weakened body. “I’ll talk to you in the morning. Goodnight.”
And you wept.