Skin of the Night

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Chapter 64: Dear

Hours spent in dreamless slumber had passed by the time a familiar touch brushed my hair away from my face. The instant after I recognised the sensation, I was made aware of how wet my cheek was. Jerking backward, I stared straight into William’s healthy and smiling eye.

“Even when you drool you look lovely,” he hoarsely said, leaving my heart to skip a beat. For a few seconds I merely stared at him, processing. I was trying to comprehend the reality of his existence. There rested the man that I loved, brittle and feeble, but at least he was alive. The horror I had endured only hours ago hadn’t subsided, but it had diminished in its intensity following my hours of sleep. Nevertheless, seeing him with his healthy eye open impacted me tremendously.

“Will,” I whispered and reached for his left hand to sandwich it between my pair. A faint smile formed on his dry lips while his open eye darted in the direction of his younger brother, who was still fast asleep with his forearms tucked under his head.

“How are you feeling?” I enquired softly and paid his hand a squeeze before I raised it to my lips. I didn’t kiss the skin of it, but rather brushed my mouth over it repeatedly.

“Mentally deficient,” he muttered through a frown. “Retarded.”

Had our circumstance been different, I would have teased him right about now. “That’s to be expected. Shall I call for the nurse? How long have you been awake?”

“About two seconds longer than you,” he replied and looked to the remote controlling the angle of his bed. “Would you pass me that?”

I released his hand to tuck the device into it, and while he struggled for his desired position, Jason woke up opposite of me.

“Will, how are you feeling?” he immediately queried while he rubbed his face.

“Shit. My right arm hurts like hell.”

“I’ll call for the nurse. Cara, fetch him some water,” Jason ordered and pushed his seat out. I blinked back at him, nonplussed by this commanding side of him. Was I seeing a glimpse of the doctor he aspired to be? It would appear so.

“O-of course,” I finally managed to say and ascended from my seat to oblige. Grabbing a plastic cup by the basin in the room, I tore off the surrounding plastic and turned the tap. After allowing the water to run for a bit, I then checked the temperature with my index finger and filled the cup when I found it optimal.

“How’s the confusion? Any dizziness? Nausea?” I queried when I headed back to William’s figure.

He smirked up at me while I handed over the cup. “You’d make for the sexiest nurse, Cara.”

Confounded, I studied him. “You’re unbelievable. How is your head even capable of producing thoughts like that at a time like this? All injuries considered?”

“Looking at you makes it rather easy.”

I rolled my eyes before I sized myself up. I was still wearing the silver gown I’d worn to the banquet yesterday, and I did not want to know the state of my make-up. I was confident I resembled a cheap prostitute at the very least, and yet William appeared to see past it all. His brain had surely suffered a severe beating if he found me even remotely appealing right now.

“Answer my questions, please,” I dryly murmured and grabbed the cup, after he’d chugged the content, to refill it.

“I’m feeling slow. I experience every second as quite odd. It’s hard to explain. But I’m honestly feeling more pain than confusion at the moment. Merely breathing hurts,” he replied disinterested. “I can’t believe I was stabbed,” he added, and when I turned to steal a glimpse of him, I saw him examine his wounded arm with a mystified expression on his face.

He sighed. “This has fucked up everything. There’s no way I’ll be able to return to work like this, and that’s bound to fuck up the case I’m working on. I’m seriously gutted. That case was going to have a tremendous impact on my career, and now I’ve got to wave it goodbye. The idea of that actually hurts. I’ve worked so hard to reach this point, and now this rubbish situation is getting in the way.”

I shut the tap after refilling his cup and hesitated by the basin for a beat. William had always been remarkably driven in any aspect of his life; so naturally, I could understand that this would burden his mind. He loathed being stalled, or even remotely thwarted. However, in the end of it all, I couldn’t express much sympathy toward it, because I was still at a point where merely his breathing life was something I was infinitely grateful toward. Yes, he would probably have to wave the case goodbye, but at least he was still drawing air into his lungs. In all honesty, being deprived of his case seemed insignificant compared to that.

“Violet’s likely to get it instead,” he stated when I failed to provide a reply. “That makes me rest a little easier. If anyone deserves it, it’s her.”

I locked eyes with him upon that note, and couldn’t help the smile that claimed my mouth. Regardless of their intimate history, it was charming to hear that he cared for her in that sense. Vaguely, I wondered if Violet potentially being drafted for the case meant she’d supervise me in William’s stead. If it turned out that way, I hoped it wouldn’t be an awkward experience. Then again, taking Violet’s character into account, I highly doubted it. She had already proven that she wasn’t a petty person.

“You’ll get another chance, Will. There’s no point in brooding over it, because you can’t do anything about it,” I replied as I approached with his refill.

“Hey, let me sulk,” he muttered annoyed. “I know you’re right, but my gutted feelings have to catch up first.”

I was still smiling while I took my seat beside his bed again. “Sulk all you want, dear. I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Dear,” he quoted and paused with the cup to his mouth. Lowering it again, he turned his head toward me and eyed me suspiciously. “Was I dreaming, or are you truly my girlfriend now?”

I chuckled. “I am most definitely your girlfriend, William.”

His expression turned smug. “At least something good came out of this clusterfuck.”

My heart sprinted when I continued to look at him. It was urging me to utter three words, because I’d been proven last night that time was always of the essence. My breath caught in my throat when the latter contracted.

“Listen, Will, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say,” I murmured and fiddled nervously with my fingers in my lap. I couldn’t believe I was about to say this. I’d never told a man I loved him before – not like this. While the idea was accompanied by extreme emotion, I wasn’t intimidated by it. It was merely odd. Novel.

It didn’t matter if this wasn’t the ideal place to tell him. To hell with the perfect spot and the perfect time. To hell with stupid, romantic ideas about when to confess. I had come to realise that there would never be a time more perfect than now, because time didn’t stop for anyone. It didn’t care about romantic ideas, circumstances, feelings, or even people. It kept moving, and didn’t bow to anyone. I had to bow to it. The present was all it offered for certain, and I could only choose whether I would grab the opportunities it provided, or not.

I bloody would.

“I sort of already told you, in the ambulance, but you were unconscious, so I doubt you heard anything, but... When... Last night...” I started, reeled in a deep breath, and shut my eyes. When the ghastly images of his state the prior night marched into my mind, my heart felt to shatter yet again. There had been so much blood on him. Limp and lost to oblivion, he had lain there, and hadn’t as much as stirred upon the sound of my voice. The fear I had endured had been unlike anything else I’d ever experienced. It had been devastating in its intensity.

“I just...” I nearly choked on a sob and opened my eyes to look at the ceiling. “I just... For a while, I really thought I might lose you, and all I could think of was what I’m supposed to do if that happened. I couldn’t bear even the thought, William. I would seriously lose the plot. I was such a mess, and I still am. I was so scared. Last night made me realise your importance in my life; your truly irreplaceable part in it. It hadn’t dawned on me until last night how intensely I feel about you. Faced with the threat of losing you, I... It just became crystal clear to me. And because of that, this one thing kept bothering me above all the rest, and it’s the fact that I feel like I haven’t recognised us for what we are. I just need to say it now, because I learned yesterday that I can be too late, and if I am, I’ll never forgive myself. So I’m not going to let this chance slip away.”

Tears were welling in my eyes when I finally directed them to his open one. He was watching me in evident anticipation, eyebrows raised while his mouth was slightly agape. He didn’t appear to be breathing.

“I’m completely in love with you, William. I love you, utterly, and I’ll never stop. My feelings for you are so ridiculous that words fall short. I love your drive, I love your sense of humour, your flair for sarcasm, your unapologetic way of life, and even your sometimes dark and very twisted mind. I love how deep you are, how clever and cunning, how you treat those dear to you, and I love how you continue to push me out of my comfort zone to help me become the best version of myself. I’ve always considered myself a strong woman, but when you have my back, I honestly feel invincible.

“I can’t imagine my future without you in it. That was made abundantly clear to me last night, when I was forced to entertain the idea, and it broke my heart, Will. I don’t just want you in my life, William; I need you in my life. You are the first man I’ve ever loved like this, and nobody else will ever be able to replace you,” I declared, and once the words were out, a moment of pure serenity descended upon me.

Seemingly speechless, he gazed back at me until I saw his eye turn wet. To keep his tears at bay, he closed it for a moment and cleared his throat. He was just about to speak when we heard Jason’s voice, speaking to the nurse, float through the open door.

“That brat has got the worst timing,” he muttered and placed his cup aside to reach for my hand. While squeezing it, he stared resolutely at me. “Let’s get back to this once we have privacy, okay? And you needn’t be worried.”

I nodded, agreeing with his decision, and lifted his hand to my mouth to peck it repeatedly. While I wanted to hear if my feelings were reciprocated, it could wait. I’d told him what I needed to, and I was still enjoying the relief it had prompted. I could last another few hours on that.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Jason arrive with the nurse, but was startled when I saw the police detectives that were Shelby and Nathan trail behind them.

“Hello, William,” the nurse greeted through a maternal smile. Middle-aged with long, thick and very curly black hair, she seemed like a nurturing spirit. “I’m Alice. How are you feeling?” she queried and walked over to the machine monitoring his vital signs.

“Everything hurts and I’m dizzy as hell,” he replied bluntly. How I loved my blunt lover. He was yet himself, and that wasn’t something I took for granted.

“What hurts the most, would you say?” she inquired while dribbling down some numbers on a sheet of paper.

“My ribs and my arm.”

“How’s the vision?”

“Right eye is great, but I can’t see through my left.”

While nodding, she tucked the document under her arm and leaned over him to gently spread the swollen skin surrounding his left eye with her gloved fingers. Using a flashlight that she presented from her pocket, she checked his injured eye for a response. “How about now?”

“Yeah, I could see fine until you just blinded me,” he muttered, leaving Jason to chuckle and Alice to join in.

“The swelling will decrease,” she said, “but I’ll be back to replace your icepack with a new one, and I’ll fetch you some breakfast as well. In the meantime, two police officers are here to see you. I’ll tend to your pain after you’ve spoken with them, all right? Since the drugs are quite strong, I won’t do it beforehand, because it’s likely to reduce your mental capacity.”

“Right,” he replied and steered his healthy eye to the two officers.

“Hello, William,” Shelby immediately greeted through a small smile. “May we call you that?”

“Yes.”

“I’m DCI Shelby Thorton, and this is my partner, Nathan Daniels. We’ve been assigned to your case. We have some questions we’d like to ask of you.”

“I’d like to give a Victim Personal Statement by the end of this,” he instantly stated.

Nathan looked sideways while he struggled to fight back a smile. I was positive he was amused by William’s obvious solicitor-mind.

“We thought you might, so we brought the equipment to record you,” Shelby responded professionally and patted her black bag.

“Excellent,” my boyfriend replied pleased. I could read on the entire man that he appreciated their efficiency.

Nathan looked between Jason and I. “We’d prefer to speak to him alone, if you wouldn’t mind,” he stated politely.

I squeezed William’s hand again and sent him an affectionate glance. “We’ll be just outside.”

“Give me a kiss,” he commanded softly. Leaning forward, I obliged with a tender smile on my mouth.

“I love you,” I whispered as I pulled away from his dry lips and watched a grin brighten his face. It filled me with hope that it was very much mutual.

When I approached the door, Jason wrapped his arm over my shoulders and joined me outside. After placing a supportive and brotherly peck to my temple, he rubbed my arm and said, “Let’s get some breakfast while they try to roast my brother, shall we?”

I grinned up at him, touched by his confidence in his brother. “You have complete faith in him.”

“I’ve always had utter faith in him,” he replied with a proud nod of his head. Upon a second look of him, I noticed the dark bags under his eyes, and I wondered if I had them as well. In all likelihood, we resembled ghosts were we walked, but nevertheless, our spirits had been lifted after interacting with William again.

Five minutes later, we were seated in the cafeteria. Since our appetites had been restored, we were eating servings large enough to feed a horse each.

“Alice gave me a sheet of instructions earlier, regarding how to care for Will the next few weeks,” he said after swallowing a mouthful. Fishing a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket, he handed it to me. “He shouldn’t be alone much in the beginning, given his concussion and skull fracture, so I gather we can partner up about it. I’ll care for him while you’re at work in the daytime, and you can take care of him during the night. Seems most practical, all things considered, since I’m on holiday and all. And I reckon he’ll want you to mind the nights, since you’re his girlfriend now,” he couldn’t resist passing me a wink when he said ‘girlfriend’, “so you’ll probably have to move in with him for a short while. And once you leave for work in the morning, I’ll be there to take over.”

I nodded. “Sounds good.”

“Glad you’re on board. On another note, because of his concussion, he’s not allowed to read, watch TV or anything of the sort. Anything that can strain his brain, basically. I feel terrible for him. He’s going to be bored out of his mind. Imagine your body being your personal prison like that.” He shuddered. “Anyway, I’ll try and entertain him to my best ability. I’ll take him for walks, feed him, and things of the like during the day. He’ll be our shared custody pet.”

I smiled at the humour he added to it. Caught by mine, he smiled, too, before he continued, “And since he’s also physically disadvantaged for the time being, he’ll need us around to help him out with basic chores like cooking and doing his laundry and etcetera. Good thing he’s got a cleaning lady coming over once a week, so we won’t have to mind that.”

“It’s all here?” I asked and patted the folded paper.

“Yeah.”

“Did she mention anything about when he’s going to be discharged today?”

“Around three, she said. So I suggest I bring him home to his while you head back to ours to shower, change, and pack your bags.”

“Good plan, Jason. I’ll need to stop by the hotel to pick up our things as well, but I’ll do that on my way to William’s after having packed and everything.”

“I should probably ring Mum and Dad to update them as well,” he thought aloud.

“You should. They weren’t happy to leave earlier,” I agreed and had another bite of my huge chicken sandwich.

“And Andy, and Alex,” Jason continued to himself.

I smiled on my mouthful. “You’re a saint, Jason. I meant to thank you for thinking of my place in all this, like when you asked if I could come along to see Will, for example. I seriously don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I seriously don’t know what I’d do without you either, Cara. And you know – if all goes well between you and Will, you’ll actually be my sister one day. Not just my wannabe sister, but my actual in-law. I’ve got my fingers crossed.” His ensuing grin split his face apart.

“I’ll do my best to make your wish come true,” I responded affectionately. “Right before you arrived with Alice, I let the cat out of the bag and told him I love him. He didn’t look surprised, but he did look affected.”

He froze entirely and stared shocked at me. “You did?” he exhaled.

“Yes. He didn’t reciprocate though, because you arrived. Said he’d rather talk about it in private, but that I needn’t be worried,” I murmured, now slightly anxious. Part of me wondered if he wasn’t quite there yet himself, but even if that were the case, I’d be patient. It didn’t matter to me if he didn’t love me back yet. My feelings would remain the same nonetheless. They wouldn’t change regardless of his take on things. I loved him irrevocably, and that was just it. There was nothing I could do about it, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could. Even if he didn’t return it, William deserved my love. He was a remarkable man, and because of that, I was proud to offer my heart to him. I wouldn’t settle for anyone else. If he wouldn’t have me, nobody would. I was reserved for him alone. Finally acknowledging it, and confessing it to the man himself, had been liberating.

“Shit, Cara. I’m so sorry,” Jason mumbled upset and rubbed the back of his head. “I didn’t mean to ruin the moment.”

I shook my head. “You didn’t. You truly didn’t. I was desperate to tell him while I still could, and now I have. Hearing it back isn’t what matters most to me. I just needed him to know, and now he does.”

He smiled lopsided and reached over the table to playfully pinch my nose. “Well, while it might arrive from the wrong brother, I love you.”

I beamed at him, touched. “I love you, too, Jason. Always.”

“Always.”

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