Skin of the Night

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Chapter 62: They Say You Should Live Fast

“Cara?” John’s familiar voice called. Out of touch with reality, I didn’t hear him as I sat in the waiting room of the hospital. Blank in my expression, my eyes stared at the white floor beneath my feet. It wasn’t until a familiar set of hands cupped my cheeks and tilted my head back that I managed to return to the present.

The light blue colour of Jason’s eyes felt to stab my heart repeatedly, before twisting inside of me. My face contorted with my anguish. His resemblance to William was increasing my agony. It was a beautiful face, and as much as I loved him, it wasn’t the face I needed to see right now. It was only an imitation of it.

“Cara, dear, what are you doing here? Have you received any updates regarding William?” Daphne queried and squatted by my feet to wrap her hands over my thighs. Meeting her blue eyes, I swallowed. While she hid it well, I could tell she was beside herself. It must have been the practiced doctor in her that prevented her from losing her mind entirely.

Like I, John and Daphne were formally dressed. John was wearing a navy blue dinner suit while Daphne wore a deep purple gown. They must have arrived straight from the event that her hospital had hosted, and had likely picked Jason up on their way.

I reeled in a deep breath, determined to soothe William’s family to my best ability. “Why I’m here is a long story, and not important right now. But his doctors told me that his condition is stable, though he’s still unconscious. I don’t know what Andy told you, but he was attacked in the men’s room at the function. We have no idea who did it, but I was told that security has got a hold of him. He’s probably in police custody by now.

“William was stabbed in his left bicep by a knife, so there was a lot of blood at the scene. He was also subjected to a severe beating to the head, which the doctors told me was what sent him into a coma. When I saw him...” It was hard to talk when the urge to choke was a constant, so I had to pause for a quick second to compose myself. The grim images were still so fresh in my mind. “I saw that he had a bruised eye, for instance. He’s been unconscious for about an hour now, and they haven’t told me whether he’s woken up yet. But they assured me his condition was stable, and that his prognosis looked promising, even if they can’t be sure until he wakes.

“At best, they suspect he’s suffered a severe concussion. At worst, there might be a case of amnesia, and he might struggle with motor skills, but they’re still examining the damage inflicted upon his head, so there’s really no way to be sure yet. They said the sides of his head looked unharmed, so it’s unlikely that he’ll suffer from amnesia because of that.

“Before the paramedics arrived, a staff-member of the event tended to William with first-aid and placed him in recovery position after getting his blood loss under control by tying a band around his arm above the wound. I was told the knife just barely didn’t touch his artery, so that’s good. I don’t know anything else yet.”

Utter silence ensued while Jason collapsed in the seat beside me. It took Daphne several seconds to rise again before she turned to look at John, and when she did, she started trembling.

“John,” she whispered. “Not our boy.”

His face twisted with anguish before he hooked his arms around her figure and tucked her head under his chin to hold her tight while she started sobbing into his embrace.

“I don’t understand,” John murmured to me. “I really can’t understand what William could have done to provoke such malice. Jason, has he voiced any concerns to you about anyone as of late? Has he received any threats?”

When I looked over to my flatmate, I watched him wipe his cheeks dry. Only then did I realise that he had been crying silently beside me. Dismal and pensive, he shook his head. “No. He hasn’t mentioned anything of the sort,” he replied through a hoarse voice.

Responding to impulse, I reached out for him and dragged him into my arms where he sobbed quietly. I squeezed my eyes shut while a new row of fresh tears trailed down my cheeks and dripped into his dirty blonde hair. He quivered and shook within my arms, and it was tearing me apart to sense the extent of his pain.

“They’ve caught the bastard, Daphne,” John said to his wife. “He’ll see his punishment, and you know our dear boy. He’s going to be fine. He’s strong. You know he is.” Even though he was speaking to her, I could tell he was also trying to reassure himself. From the look of him, William’s state wasn’t something he had fully comprehended yet. He was likely still in mild shock.

Only ten minutes had lapsed by the time Andy and Chloe arrived, and shortly after came Alex and Ivy. Jason and I zoned out when they began to speculate amongst themselves, wondering what the motive was. It wasn’t until the police arrived that I was forced to return to reality again. They spent quite the amount of time questioning Andy some distance away from us, and it was likely because he’d been the one to intervene. I could tell Chloe was growing anxious the more they questioned him, so I forced a reassuring smile onto my mouth when she eventually glanced in my direction.

When they finally finished their inquiries of Andy, it was my turn. We sat separated from the rest of the group, out of hearing range. I appreciated that.

“Hello,” the female officer introduced herself. “I’m DCI Shelby Thorton, and this is my partner, Nathan Daniels.” She gestured toward the man of beautiful dark skin beside her tall frame, and when our eyes met, he paid me a small, reassuring smile.

“I’m Cara Jane Darby,” I quietly greeted and folded my arms over my breasts to hug myself.

“Andrew tells us that you’re William’s girlfriend,” Shelby said.

I chewed on my lower lip for a moment. “Well, not yet, but nearly. We’re seeing each other unofficially. His parents aren’t aware, but his brother is,” I explained honestly.

Shelby stole a glance at Nathan before her eyes returned to mine. “Are you seeing each other exclusively?” she queried. From her tone, it sounded like it was important to distinguish this fact. Was William’s romantic life related to this incident? Was mine? The latter potential was horrid. If what had happened to him was somehow my fault, I’d never forgive myself.

I nodded nervously.

“I see. Cara, does the name Oliver Flander sound familiar to you?” she continued. My lips parted and my eyes widened. Aghast, I stared back at her. Oliver? The banker I’d briefly spoken to earlier tonight?

Blood drained from my face when I suddenly recalled that I’d seen him head toward the men’s room shortly after William had entered it. I’d been busy speaking to Alexander at the time. Was he William’s assailant? What on earth could be his motive? They’d been friendly toward each other when they’d spoken, had they not? And William hadn’t even commented on him after our conversation had ended. Had he been keeping me in the dark of something?

“I...” I closed my eyes to gather my thoughts. “The name Oliver does ring a bell. He was among those attending tonight, if I’m not mistaken. Not sure we’re talking about the same Oliver, though. Either way, William and I briefly spoke to an Oliver earlier this evening.”

She presented a photograph from a folder that rested in her lap, and my heart faltered when I recognised him as one and the same.

“Is this the same man you spoke to?”

I swallowed and nodded my head. “Yes.”

She stowed away the photograph. “Did you notice anything when you conversed with him? Was there any tension between the two? Anything you found... conspicuous or odd?”

Had I been blind to something? “N-no. Their tone was friendly. I got the impression that they hadn’t spoken in a while, and that they weren’t too close. Merely acquainted. They briefly discussed work and such. Trivial things.”

Nathan leaned forward, toward me, and folded his hands between his long legs. “William didn’t say anything to you afterward?”

“He didn’t even comment on him. He seemed unfazed. Nonchalant, even. He was preoccupied with introducing me to Alexander’s mother. I honestly got the impression that the second we stopped talking to Oliver, he left William’s mind completely.”

Shelby passed me a nod. “Do you and William share personal secrets, would you say? Would he have told you if someone was posing a threat to his life?”

I blinked. That was quite the sizeable question. “I... I hope so. We do have a very profound relationship. Intimate. He hasn’t expressed signs of holding anything back, so I do believe he would’ve told me if anyone were after him.”

Nathan sighed and sloppily rubbed his big hands together between his spread thighs. “We’re asking you this to gauge whether William could have seen this coming before it happened. We’re trying to understand the relationship between the two men leading up to this incident.”

I gulped, and bravely said, “In particular, you’re trying to establish whether William can be trusted if he says he was blindsided.” I couldn’t help myself. I was getting protective of him.

Shelby’s lips twisted while she sent Nathan a glare. “I understand you’re a law student, Cara, currently an intern working for William. Andrew told us.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, you needn’t be worried. We’re not here to worsen William’s situation. We’re only trying to find the truth behind the incident. If William has got nothing to hide, that will show itself.”

I pursed my lips at her. “You know as well as I do that anything can be angled.”

“I’m a police detective, Miss Darby. Not a lawyer,” she replied patiently.

“Should I demand a lawyer before I answer any further questions you might have?” I retorted, both annoyed and defensive.

“That won’t be necessary. You’re not obligated to answer any of these,” Nathan countered, equally patient to his partner.

Shelby leaned forward to place her pale hand on my thigh. “We’re only trying to help your boyfriend receive justice for the crimes acted upon him, Cara. You don’t have to answer any questions if you don’t want to, but it would be of great help to us.”

Now somewhat reluctant, I reclined in my seat and hugged myself tighter. “What’s the next question, then?”

“You say you spoke to Oliver. Did William mention anything about the nature of their relation afterward? How they knew each other?”

I shook my head. “No, he didn’t mention him at all.”

“How long have you been seeing William for?” Nathan queried of me.

I frowned, thinking. “Um... That’s a difficult question to answer. Our story is a bit of a mess, but exclusively? Two weeks, perhaps? Three? I’m not sure. I see him every day, so I get a bit lost when trying to put a timeframe on it. But I’d say about two.”

Nathan and Shelby looked between each other, before Shelby refocused her attention on me. “Do you know if he was seeing anyone else before you came along?”

“Yes. He was.” I didn’t want to elaborate, because I feared that something I might say could paint the wrong picture of him. Moreover, I was scared of revealing anything that could be used against him in a potential trial.

“Have you met them?”

“Yes.”

Shelby presented another photograph, and I gaped when I recognised Francesca. “Is this her?”

One of them. “Y-yes. That’s Francesca,” I confirmed with a nod of my head. What did she have to do with this?

“And how would you describe William’s relationship to her?”

I stared blankly at her for a beat. “Shallow? He told me they weren’t exclusive, and that he never wanted anything serious with her. He also said that he’d given her fair warning of that; that he wasn’t stringing her along. He ended things with her this past week, I think it was, because she was out of the country when he and I decided to be exclusive. He wanted to do it in person, so he postponed it till he could.”

“Did he mention any boyfriends or exes of Francesca to you?” Nathan queried.

I looked toward him with a frown on my face. “William hardly ever spoke about her. I was usually the one to mention her. But no, it’s my impression that she was single during their... arrangement, and knowing William, he would not sleep with a woman who was in a relationship with somebody else. He’s very principled. His morals are a pronounced part of his character. Everyone who knows him will say the same.”

Nathan nodded. “I believe you.”

“No exes either?” Shelby probed.

“No, nothing. What’s this got to do with anything?”

Shelby held my gaze. “Oliver’s been Francesca’s boyfriend for the past two years,” she said, and her statement struck me like a cannon to the chest. All air poured out of me. What?

“What?” I choked out. They stared at me while I collected myself. “There’s no way William was aware of that. He would never have slept with her had he known. I could swear to that in court.” A second later, I fell entirely mute. Suddenly, things were starting to make sense. If William had been sleeping with Francesca while she were in a relationship with Oliver, the motive behind this incident was clear. Oliver had been seeking revenge.

I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from saying something I shouldn’t. Not without a lawyer to consult first. In the end, William might have been aware of their relationship at some point in time, provided he was acquainted with them both, but... No, it didn’t make any sense. William would never do such a thing. Francesca must have lied to him, or something along those lines. She must have told him they’d broken up, and since he hadn’t met Oliver in months, he wouldn’t know whether she was lying or not. Nothing else could explain this.

“Anything on your mind, Cara?” Nathan probed when he noticed my stiff reaction.

I shook my head. “No, it’s nothing. I’m only surprised. I am certain William thought she was single when he was sleeping with her.” I wanted to pat myself on the shoulder. I was doing a brilliant job with choosing my words carefully, and it was all for him. I would do anything to protect and defend William’s case.

“Thanks for answering our questions, Cara,” Shelby said.

“Is Oliver being held in custody?” I asked of her, frantic in my expression.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “We were able to interrogate him before we arrived just now. Fortunately for William, he was caught red-handed. When William wakes up, we’ll make another visit to hear his side of the matter.”

“Have you pressed charges? Is he going to make bail?” I asked.

Nathan shook his head at me. “We can’t speak to that so early in the investigation,” he replied. “We have further interrogation to be completed first. Though, off the record, he’d do best to plead guilty as it looks now. He was caught bang to rights. Whether he’ll be granted bail is up to the magistrate when or if the time comes.”

“We best be on our way. We have to pay a visit to Francesca,” Shelby said and stood from her seat. After they had both shaken my hand, they wished me well and expressed hope that William would wake soon.

In a daze, I returned to my seat. While it was positive that what had happened to him wasn’t my fault, I found little comfort in it. It didn’t change the fact that he was currently unconscious, and that his prognosis was relatively uncertain.

“What did they ask?” John anxiously queried of me and leaned forward to stare into my eyes when I’d found my seat beside Jason again. “Did they reveal anything?”

I met his gaze and swallowed a lump in my throat. I wasn’t certain how much I should say, so I went with, “They said the name of his assailant.”

“They did?” Andy’s eyebrows arched. “They only showed me his snapshot to confirm that it was the same man I’d subdued.”

I inhaled sharply. “Oliver Flander.” I browsed their faces for a reaction, but there was none. Judging from Alexander and Andy’s puzzled expressions, the name wasn’t familiar to them. William must have been the only one acquainted with him.

“I met him earlier,” I continued when no one spoke. “They seemed to be on friendly terms.”

“They spoke?” Jason asked of me, shocked.

“All three of us, yeah. Hardly, though. I didn’t get the impression that they knew each other well,” I quietly replied and rested my head on Jason’s shoulder.

His familiar scent drifted into my nostrils as a reminder of solace in this chaos. I hoped mine had a similar effect on him. I was desperate to console him, however way I could.

William might be the love of my life, but I couldn’t imagine the pain of walking in Jason’s shoes right now, much less his parents’. John and Daphne had seen him grow from an infant to the striking man he was today, and I had always thought that the worst pain a human could know would be to lose their child. I also knew that William had always served as guiding light to Jason. The extent of my condolence couldn’t be expressed with mere words. No family should have to go through this.

We sat there for another while. I wasn’t certain how long. Time was an alien concept to me in the wake of this mayhem. I had no notion of it anymore. All I could think of was William.

Silent tears resurfaced when I reminisced to our short, but nonetheless extensive, past. They say you should live fast, but I say to hell with dying young. When it came to the former, William and I had done that to a fault together. Even though we’d only just begun, I had felt like I’d known him for a lifetime since our first week together. In fact, that was the very reason as to why I loved him so profoundly. I’d thought it before – I’d never met a person I had connected with as instantly, and as profoundly, as I had connected with William. If there existed such a thing as fate, our love was fated.

My face contorted when I thought back to only hours ago. In the bed of our hotel room, we had made love time and again before getting ready for tonight, both unaware of the horror we had in wait. If I’d known then what I did now, I would have told him I loved him. I regretted it profusely. Why hadn’t I told him?

Upon a particular memory, my throat contracted and my eyes squeezed shut. I saw him clear as day, smiling down at me with his handsome hands tucked under his head. Sprawled across his bare front, skin to skin, I had admired the view of him while we basked in the comfort of our union. He was beautiful. We were beautiful.

I continued to wander down memory lane, torturing myself with bittersweet memories. I thought of the time I’d met him after the first night we’d spent together, in his office, and how shocked I was. There he had been, the love of my life, and I hadn’t had a clue. I’d rejected his efforts time and again in the wake of it, and oh how silly it seemed now – trifling, even. Compared to now, those days had been carefree.

How I missed the times when he would bring me his stupid coffees, always accompanied by an inappropriate and cryptic message. We had flirted nonstop, in our own unique way, and we had bickered like an old married couple when we had hardly known each other. Since day one, we had been ourselves around the other, hideous sides included. And just as he had welcomed every flaw of mine, I had grown to love every flaw of his. Together, we were perfectly imperfect.

I thought back to how he had somewhat relented his pursuit before I came onto him in that club – how he had intended to respect my wishes and restrain himself before I contradicted myself and falsely gave him the green light on a drunken whim. He had protected me from Brian’s bastard friend like a knight in shining armour, and he had kissed me afterward with such resolve that I had tasted euphoria. Shrouded by the dark, his fingers had entered me along with his love, and he had made me feel more beautiful and desired than I could even dream possible.

He had cared for me when I drank myself to oblivion later on, brought me home and held my hair while I was sick in the toilet. God knows how awful I must have looked, and how unimpressed he must have been. There sat the woman he hoped to woo, retching after a shot too many which he had tried to prevent me from having. But that hadn’t hindered him from taking care of me. I had been a chaotic mess in the beginning, but he had stood his ground and, just as he’d done with Andy, battled my demons with me, loyal to a fault. I had revealed my ugly core to him time and again, and yet he had embraced it with affection.

A whimper escaped my mouth when I recounted that I’d fallen asleep in his arms that night, only to bring Robby home with me the day after. Now that I was aware of how profoundly I loved him, I could only imagine how painful it must have been for him to witness that. After the night we’d shared the day before, I was certain it had nearly destroyed him. No wonder he’d lost his head. He’d been an idiot about it, but I found beauty in it now. There was no doubt in my mind that his actions stemmed from love. He had merely been a man beside himself with grief, because the woman he wanted had sought another man’s company in bed. It must have broken his heart.

Thankfully, I had glued it back together the Monday after. That day, he had knelt for me. He had descended straight onto his knees, just for the chance to bring me on a date. Looking back to that moment, I realised what a fool I had been. Here was a real man, willing to go the extra mile simply for a chance to make me happy. I had been so blind, acting as though men of his kind were of rich supply. They weren’t. There would only ever be one William Night. But he was currently unconscious, clinging to life.

I could hardly breathe. My fingertips tingled while I imagined myself caressing the soft skin of his bare back while we lay naked beside each other, savouring our pure moment of love while we bared not only our bodies to each other, but also our core. I hoped I would get to do that again. If not, I would completely lose the plot. What was I supposed to do? I had taken all those beautiful moments for granted, hadn’t I? I had underestimated his place in my life. It wasn’t until I was posed with the threat of actually losing him that I realised how important he was to me.

I was ripped out of my agonising thoughts when the doctor I had spoken to earlier, presumably of Indian origins, entered through the doors. Jacinta Patel, her name was.

“Daphne Night?” she called and gazed around. At once, Daphne stood, and I couldn’t ignore the crestfallen look in her eyes. How I pitied her. I couldn’t imagine the strain she must have been suffering.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been told you’re a doctor.”

“That’s right. An oncologist, however.”

“I’m in charge of overseeing the care of your son. My name is Jacinta Patel. Please stall me if you’re uncertain about the terminology I might use. Your son has just woken up.”

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