Skin of the Night

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Chapter 30: Cactus

Earlier today, I had been suffering a tremendous hangover, which William’s presence had amplified. Around five o’clock, he’d left with Jason to buy groceries for their poker night, which Stephen was going to be hosting this time around. Once a month, Jason and William, as well as Andy and Stephen reserved a Saturday for poker night. I had been living with Jason for about two months, during which time he hadn’t been in charge of hosting yet, but he’d warned me that next month was his.

I hadn’t thought anything would be capable of plastering a smile onto my mouth today, but somehow, Robby managed it. Now seated in his living room among the rest of Tyler’s thirty-or-so mates, I watched him present a self-made crown to Tyler, which he was forced to wear the remainder of the evening. It looked like a five-year-old had made it, which was what charmed me so. It consisted of thick pink paper, with purple glitter all across it. Below the golden letters of his name, the number twenty-four resided.

“Seriously?” Tyler chuckled while he placed it atop his head.

“You always wanted a crown,” Robby answered through a cheeky smile and paid him a wink. “Princess that you are.”

I giggled and shook my head to myself. Tyler was as proud as they came, and that was precisely why Robby had decided to do this, I gathered.

“You look like a fairy, Tyler,” Rosaline, Tyler’s girlfriend, commented from beside me. “All you need is a wand.”

“I’ve got it right here,” Tyler twitted and pointed to his crotch. Rosaline giggled beside me and raised her hand to cover her mouth, something she always did when she laughed. I had met Rosaline on several occasions when I’d slept over at Robby’s. Two years ago, when she had started seeing Tyler, she’d been utterly bewildered about my relationship with Robby. We’d had several heart-to-hearts when we hit the town together with our lads, which had lead me to adore her.

Rosaline was a woman of bright ginger hair, cut into a statement of a bold bob. Her sense of dress style consisted of bright colours and alternative designs, something I’d always admired about her. But I hadn’t expected anything less of a girl that worked with fashion. Personally, I always opted for a classical look, which she had complimented several times. And coming from her, I’d taken it to heart.

Tyler was similar to his girlfriend in his tastes. He was the sort of man to wear hilarious colours on his socks and always sported ridiculous boxers. I’d even seen him wear the comical white boxers with red hearts printed all across it. Carefree, laidback, and self-assured, I was certain that Tyler would become the students’ favourite teacher once he got started teaching maths and physics in A-levels.

A few hours into the festivities, the level of intoxication had reached its peak. That was when Tyler grabbed the vacant spot beside me and pointed to the boxers I’d bought him. They were all flamboyant in colour, and I’d even gone so far as to buy him a pair with Scooby Doo printed in the textile, because I knew Tyler had been obsessed with Scooby Doo as a child.

“Cara, your present made my day. You know me too well,” he declared. “Honestly, once I put those on, I doubt I’ll ever take them off.”

I laughed wholeheartedly and tossed my head back as I did. While Tyler wasn’t typically attractive, he boasted a charisma that was magnetic. A yellow star surrounded the pupil of his marine blue eyes, and his hair resembled a bird’s nest atop his head, colour darker than the night. I’d always found his appearance intriguing. His nose was long and diamond shaped. Sharp, prominent cheekbones poked out beside the bridge of it.

“Robby told me you were out last night. I’m impressed. Twenty-three years old, and you manage two days in a row? I haven’t been able to do that since I was twenty,” he murmured when my laughter softened in volume.

I sent him a crooked smile and raised my wine to my mouth. “They say the best way to counter a hangover is to get drunk again.”

He scoffed at me. “No wonder the entire of England has got a drinking problem.”

Again, I laughed. There was always wit to be found in Tyler’s words. “No, but really, I feel fine. Jason took good care of me this morning.”

“I’m sure he did. That lad is a living saint,” he answered amused.

“Yep,” I agreed with a nod of my head. My eyes flickered around the room for a moment, until they landed on Robby. He was chatting with a girl I hadn’t met before, and from the look of it, they were quite familiar with each other. Brunette that she was, her eyes were slanted and pretty, of a warm brown colour. Her head was heart-shaped, and there was an innocence about her appearance that hypnotised me for a minute. A few freckles covered her child-like nose, and below it, a small mouth resided. But when it spread apart with her dazzling smile, it looked much bigger.

When I studied her for another breath, I saw that her hand was resting on Robby’s thigh. Like I’d assumed, they were clearly familiar with each other, but after a second glance, I realised that it wasn’t in a platonic way. There was an interest in her eyes that I recognised all too well. If she hadn’t seen him naked yet, she certainly wanted to.

“That’s Cassie,” Tyler murmured, seeming to have followed my gaze. “You don’t need to worry about her. He’s not interested. I’ve asked.”

I frowned and turned to look at him. “Why would I worry? He can do whatever, or whomever, he fancies.”

Tyler’s black left eyebrow arched when he faced me again. “Sure, but not in front of you. Wasn’t that your deal? You can sleep with whomever you like on the side, but you’re not supposed to flirt with other people in front of each other.”

I shrugged my shoulders. That was true. Just as I was about to reply, Rosaline approached and found her seat in Tyler’s lap. She circled his neck with her arms and placed a loving kiss to the spot between his eyebrows. Afterward, she rested her cheek against his forehead and sent me a grin.

“How’s the shape, Cara?” she queried. Had Robby told her about my night out as well?

“I’m a wee bit drunk. Getting there, at least. Have we decided where we’re going today?”

Tyler swept his arms around her slender frame and sent me a wolfish grin. “To my favourite pub, of course. I want to play shuffleboard. Robby and I against you and Rosaline.”

“Sure you want to ruin your day by surrendering your dignity?” I teased and sent Rosaline a wink. “You know I’m a pro at that.”

“Spoken like a true feminist,” Tyler replied through a loud laugh.

“We’ll tear him to shreds,” Rosaline agreed. “I’ll mend him back into one piece when I shag his brains out later.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I replied and giggled again.

Rosaline browsed the room before a frown became of her gorgeous face. “Is he drunk?” she queried and pointed in Robby’s direction.

As Tyler and I turned our heads to look, we found Cassie seated in his lap while she snickered like an infatuated young girl. My nose wrinkled. During the three years I’d spent with Robby, I’d never seen him treat another girl like that, and especially not in front of me. It made me feel weird, but I was confident it was only because I found it surprising.

Yes, a small part of me had always worried he’d fall in love with someone else, because that would ultimately result in losing him as my shag-mate. And I didn’t think I’d ever find another Robby. He truly was the ideal shag-mate. I’d be gutted if I lost him before I was ready for it to happen, but I had also always known there was a potential for it. And I wasn’t so selfish as to get angry with him because of it.

If he fell in love, I’d be the last person to stand in his way. Though I didn’t love him romantically, I did love him as a friend. And that meant I’d always place his happiness before my own.

“What the fuck?” Tyler uttered through a deep frown. “This is completely unlike him.”

“Yep,” I agreed. “You’re sure he doesn’t fancy her?”

“Well, when I asked earlier today, he said no,” he replied bemused. “Either way, he’s being a dick. Has he forgotten you’re here?”

“I don’t think so,” Rosaline murmured and played with the hair of Tyler’s neck while she continued to study Robby. “He’s always been shy of conflict though, and Cassie does strike me as an aggressive type. That, or he’s trying to stir Cara.”

“He knows I’m not a jealous person,” I muttered in response. “So that’d be futile. Besides, he’s not evil like that. He’s quite compassionate whenever I’m involved. He makes a point to take good care of me. So I’m leaning toward the first option.”

Suddenly, his green eyes darted in my direction. I looked away too late, because he caught me staring at him. I whipped my head around and lifted my bottle of white wine to my lips, pretending not to exist. I was embarrassed I’d been caught spying, and I feared how he might interpret it. I wasn’t possessive, and I begged with all my heart that he wouldn’t misread it as that.

“He’s coming over,” Rosaline mumbled and lowered her face in search of Tyler’s mouth. They started snogging beside me, deliberately tossing me to the wolves. Damn it. I could have used their support.

His black jeans entered my field of vision when he reached a halt in front of me. While staring at them, I had another sip, before I turned my eyes up at him and blinked innocently.

Amused, he shook his head and smiled to himself. “Mind getting up? The seats are few, and you can sit on my lap instead.”

“Um,” I uttered and paid him a frown. “Is this because of Cassie? Because I’m not jealous. I do not need to be reassured,” I informed him.

He rolled his eyes at me. “Cara, you need as much attention as a bloody cactus. I know you don’t need to be reassured. But that’s not it. I just don’t fancy her, and I could really use your help in sending the message.”

Tyler started laughing against Rosaline’s mouth when he heard us.

“Right,” I stammered and stretched up to offer him my spot. He slumped down and spread his arms apart to welcome me, and I dared not look in Cassie’s direction when I took my seat on his lap. While facing Tyler and Rosaline, he wrapped his arms tightly around me and pressed his cheek to my back.

He felt so familiar that it made me smile. How I adored Robby’s embrace. It soothed me. In a moment of weakness, I compared it to William’s. Unlike Robby, William’s embrace didn’t soothe me. On the contrary, it made me tense, because it triggered such extreme emotion. Ultimately, it exhausted me.

“So, I was thinking,” I murmured after another mouthful straight from the bottle. “Since it’s your birthday, Tyler, why don’t I bring Robby home with me? If he wants to, of course. I reckon that you and Rosaline should have the place for yourselves tonight. Consider it another birthday present.”

Rosaline and Tyler looked wide-eyed toward Robby, clearly eager to hear his verdict. I felt him shake behind me before he placed a tender kiss to my shoulder blade. “Do you need ask, love?”

“Settled then.” I beamed.

Tyler exhaled in gratitude before he turned toward his girlfriend with a lustful gleam in his eye. “Cheers, mate.”

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