Flora watched Gatsby as he flitted from couple to couple, from woman to woman. He laughed. He talked. He talked a lot.
He seemed to be the life of the party.
Flora was not convinced.
There was something desperate and needy in his gregariousness. It was as if he were telling each person in the room, “Like me! Please like me! I’m so much fun! I am so likable! So, like me!”
She took a sip of her champagne.
Gatsby threw his head back and laughed. The women around him twittered pleasantly.
“Who is he?” Flora asked. “Who is this Gatsby? What is his story? Where does he come from? Why is he so desperate for approval?”
Flora’s husband gently elbowed her. “You could keep staring at him. Or you could talk to him.” He smiled. “That would be a good way to get some answers.”
“Indeed.” She took another sip, which strengthened her resolve. “Indeed, I will talk to him.”
“Should I worry about you falling prey to his charms?”
She smiled lovingly at her husband. “Never, dear. I could never fall for someone who is so patently fake. Fake through and through.” She gave him a quick kiss. “I’ll be back shortly, dear.”
Flora approached Gatsby. The alcohol in her blood made her feel like steel, like a ramming rod, like a dangerous army clanging obnoxiously on their shields.
She was ready for a battle.
A battle she was certain she would win.
Gatsby smiled at his cluster of admirers. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I would never say that. I am sure I have never said that.” He winked at a droll-faced red-head. “But I wouldn’t swear that I haven’t said it. Because you know. Sometimes words are fleeting things. They leave one’s lips without any warning.”
“Oh, that is so true.” the red-head said passionately.
“And one wakes up the next day with no recollection of ever having said such and such a thing.”
“I wouldn’t know that.” Flora said.
Gatsby turned around. “Oh?”
“I say what I mean and I never forget.”
He looked her over in admiration. “I can believe that.” He flashed a bright smile and held out his hand. “Jay Gatsby, ma’am.”
She took his hand. “Flora Watkins, sir.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
She smiled enigmatically. “Maybe it is. We’ll see by the end of this evening if you still feel that way.”
He laughed. “I’m sure I will.”
Flora felt like Brunhilde getting ready for war. “We’ll see, Mr. Gatsby.”
“Oh, please. Call me Jay.”
“I shall call you Mr. Gatsby until I know you better, sir.”
He smiled affably. “Then, I will call you Miss Watkins until I do.”
“Actually, it’s Mrs. Watkins.”
Flora could have sworn she saw a flicker of a challenge in his eyes. Her dislike increased. “Yes, Mr. Gatsby. Mrs. Come with me. I have a few questions for you.”
His eyes seemed to dim a little. “That’s fine. As long as they aren’t too personal.”
Flora sparked at the challenge. “We’ll see, Mr. Gatsby. Please. Come with me.”