Skin of the Night

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Chapter 72: I Am The Enigma

After a quick shower and redoing my hair and make-up, I decided to walk to Olivia’s favourite cocktail bar, Eve, from William’s flat. Since it was located in Covent Garden, the journey would take me twenty minutes top, and I was in the mind for a solitary stroll. With my earphones plugged into my head, I searched through Spotify on my iPhone to locate Arctic Monkeys’ album AM while I walked along the pavement.

Though Arctic Monkeys’ songs always made me want to sing until my throat ached, I was mindful of the fact that I was out in public, so instead, I merely mouthed Turner's words discreetly to myself every now and then. I’d reached ‘Snap Out Of It’ when my heart skipped a beat and my feet paused walking. For half a second, I stared blankly ahead of myself, puzzled. Then, I hurried to rewind the song a few seconds, and pressed play.

My eyes widened while I mouthed the lyrics to myself, “If that watch don’t continue to swing, or the fat lady fancies having a sing, I’ll be here waiting ever so patiently for you to, snap. Out. Of. It.” I pressed pause again and, in my mind, recounted all the strange phrases William had left on my coffees as of late.

“Are you being serious?” I then uttered aloud, just as a bloke passed by on my right. Short and chubby, he cast me a curious glance. “Sorry,” I hastily said. “Not you.”

A chuckle escaped him. “Cheers, then.”

For a moment, I merely frowned to myself, utterly bewildered. Why on earth were William citing lyrics from Arctic Monkeys to me? Then, a huge, triumphant grin gripped my mouth. I’d solved part of the puzzle. There was only a question of time before I’d figure out the rest now, as this was definitely a paramount clue. Or was it?

Confused again, my frown returned. If at all, this made little sense. I’d only mentioned Arctic Monkeys to him once, a few days ago, when I’d told him how I’d first met Jason, and I surely hadn’t told him it was one of my favourite bands. So the timeline didn’t add up, seeing as he’d started with the phrases before then. And how would he know that Arctic Monkeys were one of my favourite bands if I hadn’t told him? Why had he chosen this specific album to cite lines from? Could Jason have told him?

Even so, I could now understand why he’d told me not to Google it. The band would have showed up as the top result, no doubt.

I chewed on my lower lip while I contemplated whether to pursue this further by calling the mastermind himself. Then again, he was having dinner with his friends. It could wait until later. Had he even meant for me to find out at all?

Responding to impulse, I decided to phone Jason instead. I just couldn’t stifle my curiosity. Were the two scheming something behind my back?

“Evening, love. I miss you, too, even if I saw you just a few hours ago,” his soothing voice greeted almost immediately. “William all right?”

“Jason, have you told him that Arctic Monkeys is one of my favourite bands? Because I haven’t.”

He was quiet for a beat. “And she asks this as if the context should be intuitively understood,” he murmured to himself. “That’s got to be one of the more interesting ways someone’s started a conversation with me. Not sure if that means my life is boring as hell, or whether you’re just bonkers. I gather it’s a bit of both. Aye! Stephen! What you doin’, man?!”

While I was aware that Jason was hosting a lads’ night, I’d no idea how they were spending it, so his outcry left me flummoxed. “Jason.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, sweetheart,” he responded high-pitched.

I rolled my eyes. He couldn’t lie to anyone to save his life. He could omit – he was an expert at that – but to straight out lie when confronted? Never.

“Jason, come on. Don’t play me for a fool.”

“I’m hanging up. This is none of my business.”

“Wait, wait,” I urged. “So you have told him. Right?”

“Bye, Cara.”

“I don’t understand. What’s your scheme?”

“My only scheme is to keep my balls right where they are. Aye! Got you there, Jon!”

What? “What?”

“If you’re so desperate to know, ask Will how he knows. Leave me out of it, yeah? Now, I’ve really got to go. I’m bloody close to beating Jon and Stephen at Mario Kart.”

“Are you being serious?”

“Dead serious. Bye, Cara. Love you. Forgive me. And... When you see Livy, tell her I hope she’s doing alright, and that I miss her.”

My heart ached at his last sentiment. I was quiet for a few seconds until I carefully enquired, “Should I, really?”

“If she asks. If not, don’t mention me.”

“She’s going to ask.”

I heard his loud huff before Stephen roared victoriously in the background.

“Ah, mate! That’s cheating!” Jason yelled, audibly riled. I wondered vaguely if he’d lost because the mention of Olivia had distracted him. “Cara, I just lost ten quid and my title of undefeated. It hurts. I’m hanging up now.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled amused.

He sighed. “God, I turn into such a bloody twat when I’m playing this game. Sorry.”

“It’s a grave deal, I get it. Suppose there will always be a boy in the man.”

“It’s ’cause Stephen’s Bowser, so he weighs heavier. Bloody prick pushed me off the bridge right before the finish line.”

“Wild guess, you were Yoshi again?”

“He’s cute, all right?”

I grinned to myself and started walking again. “Have fun, Jason. Tell the lads I miss them.”

“Yeah. You too.”

“Go for Donkey Kong next time, maybe?”

“Nah, it’s about loyalty, innit? Faith. I ain’t casting Yoshi aside just because he fell short this time round.”

“Such devotion.”

“Yeah. They may have won the battle, but Yoshi and I will win the damned war.”

A short laugh burst out of me at the sound of his ensuing battlecry.

“Right, lads, I’ll get you for this when it’s FIFA later on. You’re finished, you hear me? Finished,” was the last thing I heard before he hung up.

Still wearing a grin on my face, I brought my screen into my field of vision and decided to send William a text.

‘Good evening, Mr Turner. Yes, I’ve decoded your cryptic lines. AM? What’s your scheme?’

I’d hardly walked for a minute by the time he replied.

’Later than expected, to be honest with you. Glad your slow wit finally picked up pace. And you dare call yourself a fan... I should add that if you think you’ve solved half of the puzzle, think again. I am the enigma.′

I chortled when I read the last sentence.

‘Then I shall be Alan Turing.’

‘I wish you luck with that.’

‘How did you know they were among my favourite bands?’

‘Are they? I’d no idea.’

‘Sarcastic twat.’

‘Rude dick. Any other body parts you’d like to add? I’m running out of tits to give.’

Again, I laughed. What an arse. ’How about, you’re an arse. With that attitude, you won’t be seeing my body parts again, mister.′

’Empty threats get you nowhere, my lady. You need my dick to survive. I still recall you literally chasing it in my kitchen not too long ago. Beautiful memory, by the way. Thanks for that. I’ll treasure it till the grave; gaping for me on your knees, as you were.′

I not only gaped when I read his text, but my cheeks burned so hot I worried they’d burst. The way he phrased it was just so vivid. ‘Fuck you.’

‘That the best you got? Well, that really hurt my feelings. I’m all welled up.’

“Ugh!” I growled to myself, frustrated. This sarcastic spawn of the devil. My fingers were punching on my screen as I replied, ‘Why Arctic Monkeys, William?’

So it’s William, now. Strict. I like that – kinky. Could actually hear you say it as I read it. Made me laugh. You’re cute when you try to be strict. And what, I thought you said you’d be Alan Turing. Get to work, then. The enigma doesn’t reveal itself. That would completely obliterate the point of it. Idiot.′

I was just about to respond when another text of his poured in, ’I feel bad for calling you an idiot, so I’d like to remind you that I love you, idiot or not.′

"This idiot,” I said to myself, through a grin, and stowed my phone into my purse instead of replying. He didn’t deserve one, and since he clearly wasn’t going to spill any details, I gathered it would have to wait. Perhaps some sexual teasing would loosen his dangerous tongue.

The hue of her blonde hair was the first thing that caught my attention when I entered the lush place, and it surprised me, because she’d cut it into a bold bob. Gone were the long locks that curled at the ends, and present were a girl that had turned into a woman in what seemed overnight. Was it really she?

She sat at the very end, in her favourite spot, already accompanied by her favourite cocktail, a cosmopolitan. When our eyes met, the smile that spread across her lips warmed my heart. There sat my dearest female friend, and she looked to be radiating. Even if I adored the sight of it, I did wonder if Colin had anything to do with her elated spirit.

“Livy,” I called through a smile of my own, and it sounded like an endearment.

“Cara,” she spread her arms apart as I approached, “you look lovely.”

“So do you, love,” I reciprocated and swept her in for a tight embrace the second I reached her. The familiar scent of her Chloé perfume was something I’d missed more than I’d been aware of.

“You look like you’ve swallowed up the sun,” I commented as I took my seat beside her. Whenever we were here, we preferred to sit next to each other rather than in front of each other. It was more intimate that way, and our conversations weren’t always appropriate for accidental eavesdroppers.

“Really?” she asked, but it wasn’t actually a question. She knew what I was on about. However, did I know what she was? After another look at her, a frown bothered my face. She looked about to spill something serious.

“What’s going on?” I probed through narrowed eyes. Instead of replying, she smiled complacently to herself when a waitress arrived with my favourite cocktail, a gin and tonic. Olivia must have ordered it for me before I arrived.

“Thank you,” I said to the woman, then paid her a smile, and refocused on Olivia.

She digressed instantly, “How have you been? It feels like it’s been years since I last saw you.”

“It does, actually, but then again, a lot’s happened on each our own fronts. You been doing all right? Colin treating you well?” I lifted the glass to my lips while I studied her, intrigued. “And what’s with the hair? It looks amazing, Livy. You look... older, but in a good way.”

She combed her fingers through it while she continued to smile at me. “I needed a change. Did it this morning. I quite like it.”

After a sip, I said, “I can see why. It’s gorgeous. But I have to say I’m quite surprised. You’ve always been so scared of cutting your hair. What’s brought this on?”

She sighed, but it was a content sound. “I ended things with Colin last night. Permanently ended them. And it feels great, Cara. I feel liberated.”

I froze for a second, succumbed to disbelief. Had she really? “What?”

“Yes. He was quite upset. Begged me to stay and whatnot. And I know it’s cruel of me to say this, but it actually felt quite nice to see him grovel like that. It felt... well, it felt like justice.”

I placed my drink aside. She had made a complete U-turn since last, and I was struggling process it. “May I ask what happened?”

She nodded excitedly. “It’s hard to explain, but I can try. We went on a few dates, and he was really trying this time around – trying to do better, but I just realised... Well, it was quite odd, actually. I realised it in the kitchen Wednesday evening when he was too lazy to do the dishes after himself – said we could leave it for tomorrow. That lazy attitude of his was just a solid reminder of so much shit I’ve put up with during our relationship. It was seriously the last drop. I can’t explain it – it was just an instantaneous paradigm shift, like pieces finally falling into place. Because of that utter bagatelle, I glimpsed my future with him so clearly, and it wasn’t a happy one. I just saw piles of dirty dishes, piles of dirty laundry, and an unfaithful husband who had left me to care for the kids again when I had a time-consuming job of my own, all so he could serve his own egotistical inclinations.

“It’s just dead for me now, and I couldn’t revive it even if I tried. What I’ve been clinging to for the past few months has been the memory of us, before Jessica Flynn was ever involved. I’d forgotten about the hardships we’ve endured, about his annoying habits and his manipulating tendencies. I’d forgotten all of the bad because my ego just hadn’t healed yet. I was focusing on all the wrong things. So now that we tried again – well, it just became so clear to me."

She sent me a nervous look. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it was actually Jason who made me see it in another light. I’ve never been in love with Jason, and I don’t think I ever can grow those sort of feelings for him, but how he treats me... well, that’s how I ought to be treated, innit? When I think of Jason now, and how he looks at me, how he’s always looked at me – well, that’s how I used to wish Colin would look at me. That’s what I deserve. Not from Jason, but from a man I love back.”

My body was entirely still as I digested her profound reflections. She clearly hadn’t lied, when she’d said she had been distant from me because she had been giving my lecture a thorough thought or two. “Livy, I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say,” I murmured in my disbelief. “May I tell Jason this? It would delight him to hear that he’s helped you out, however unintentionally. I think he deserves to hear it. He’s been worried about you.”

She grimaced. “Actually, I’d rather tell him myself, if you don’t mind. I need to apologise to him, and reject his affections in a more... compassionate manner. I feel really bad for how I went about it, but I was drunk at the time, and you can only imagine my shock.

“I just need to make him see that I’m not rejecting him because he’s not desirable. I’m rejecting him because we’re not compatible, and I mean to tell him why. He’ll understand after that, hopefully, but he needs to hear it from me. At the very least, he might respect my decision more than he does now. I was cruel to him, and I’ve been beating myself up for it. I didn’t treat him with the respect he deserves. He’s always been incredible toward me, and I feel like I took that for granted when I rejected him in the way that I did. It wasn’t right, the way I did it.”

I pursed my lips for a beat and exhaled through my nose. I wondered whether to tell her that Jason meant to cut ties with her, but since he had said it when he had been caught up in hurt emotions, I gathered his view was liable to change. “I get that. Text him about it, though. Don’t call. He might not pick up. He’s been... low lately.”

Her inhalation was long and quiet, as if she was trying to remain composed. “Yeah. It blows, you know. I wish he didn’t fancy me that way. Breaking his heart is the last thing I ever wanted to do. Jason deserves the world. I sometimes hate myself for being unable to give it to him. I really do.”

“That makes two of us,” I joked, to lighten the solemn mood.

She passed me a half-hearted smile.

“Hey,” I cooed and wrapped my arm over her shoulders, “people often forget to pity the heartbreakers. They forget it’s just as heart breaking to break somebody else’s heart; it’s just a different version of the pain. And I think they forget because they think, ‘but you were loved, and you threw it away’, as if we can pick and choose who to love on a whim. We can’t. It’s not your fault you don’t love him back, Livy. You’re a victim, too. I see that. It’s not like you meant for any of this.”

Her head took to rest on my shoulder. “I really needed to hear that.”

I kissed her hair and rubbed her arm. “I’m here for you. Besides, I essentially had to do the same thing to Robby that you did to Jason, except I did worse; I picked another man over him.”

She tensed against me before she slowly withdrew from my embrace to face me. Now, her brown Bambi eyes portrayed vigilance. “Have you spoken to him since?”

I shook my head. “He said he needed time, but I don’t know if he’ll ever reach out to me again, to be honest with you, and... perhaps it’s for the best. William–” I paused, unsure of how to phrase myself, “Well, Robby triggers William’s demons.”

She frowned at me, visibly confused. “What sort of ‘demons’?”

I reached for my drink again, uncertain about whether I wanted to confide in her about this. It was an intimate subject, and I wasn’t sure whether William would want her to know. Then again, this was Olivia Clark. She’d never once spilled a secret of mine to anyone but her mother, and that was after asking my permission.

“Will has a problem with jealousy when it comes to Robby,” I murmured and stole a glance at her.

She reclined in her seat. “Oh.”

Silence passed between us for a few seconds, and I realised she was waiting for me to elaborate.

“I believe he sees Robby as competition, so he doesn’t want us being friends.”

She looked a bit nervous now, if not even tense. Something was clearly on her mind.


“It’s just... I sort of get where he’s coming from,” she blurted out without looking at me.

My eyebrows arched with my surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

She inhaled sharply. “Well, if you try and see it from his perspective... You and Robby have been sleeping together for three years, he was your very best friend aside from Jason and myself, meaning he’s obviously special to you, and he’s got feelings for you. I get why that would make Will feel insecure about things. You two haven’t been together all that long.

“I’d feel the same way if Colin wanted to stay friends with a girl he’d slept with for the better part of three years when we started dating, and she had feelings for him. I mean – it’s a threat to the harmony of the relationship, innit? I wouldn’t want him to be that close to another girl, because I want to be the sole girl who knows him best. And if Colin kept her around, that wouldn’t be the case, would it? She’d know him better than me. She’d have the advantage in that sense.

“But don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s right. I’m just saying that from his limited knowledge, it’s understandable that he would feel that way. He doesn’t know you like I do. He doesn’t understand that you are perfectly able to separate sex from feelings, and he doesn’t understand that once you decide upon something, you stick with it. Only time can help him see that, and you two haven’t had that much time together yet. Maybe it’ll pass, after a while – his jealousy, I mean.”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “What about trust?”

“Trust takes time, Cara. That’s what I’m trying to say. You don’t know each other that well yet. You’re in love, yes, but it has to stand the test of time. It’s mainly chemicals right now – infatuation. It’s not really love. Not the matured version, anyhow. So it’s not weird that William would want to take precaution at such an early stage in your relationship. I’d see it as a good thing, if I were you. He wants you to last. Otherwise, he wouldn’t say that he doesn’t want you to be friends with Robby. I actually find it quite admirable that he’s standing up for himself like that, and especially so soon. I mean, at the end of the day, stating such a demand goes hand in hand with the risk of losing you. Had you not agreed, then...

“If he starts making such demands about men in general, that would be a red flag, but this? This is understandable. Your case with Robby is unique, and not like the friendships you’ve got with other lads. You know it is. So I actually think it’s brave of him to be that honest with himself, and with you. It’s more than I can say for myself.”

I looked away from her because her last sentence made me realise that she was viewing this in the light of her personal and past experiences. Even if a few of her points were valid objectively, I had to take that fact into account; her opinion was biased.

After a short moment of silence, she asked, “Do you miss him? Robby?”

Since I hadn’t expected her question, my heart started beating rather hard, and I had to fight back the grimace that wanted to scrape through my features.

So much had happened since we parted ways that I hadn’t had time to digest it. William had struck my world like a storm, and it had only raged wilder when we started dating, as I’d been caught up in the whirlwind of lovesick feelings. I’d barely been able pay Robby as much as a thought in the wake of that, and then William had been assaulted, so there hadn’t been any room for minding him then, either. This was the first time since I’d broken his heart that I allowed myself to spare him an extended thought, and it wasn’t pleasant.

Did I miss Robby? Of course I missed Robby. I missed the sound of his cheerful laughter, how it would climb impossible octaves the more heartfelt it was, until it turned mute and I would worry for his wellbeing. I missed how he’d encourage me to read at university, and reward me with either chocolates or orgasms, all depending on the amount of pages I’d managed to cram or write.

I missed how well he knew me, how easily he read through my pretence. I missed how attentive he was, how terrific he was at listening, as well as the invaluable guidance and reflections he shared in turn. We had debated politics, finance – just the world in general, and friends as well as strangers, whenever we were together. Robby and I had been able to talk about everything. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I missed his embrace, too. Even the scent of him was something I found myself wanting to smell again. It had used to be so familiar to me, like my personal tranquilliser, and now I could hardly remember it. I remembered only its past effect.

But most of all, I wanted to see his patient smile again. I did, because the last time I’d seen him, I’d broken it to pieces.

I found it difficult to accept, or even comprehend, that he might only have been supposed to be a chapter of my life, and not part of the remaining ones. It seemed so odd a thought. We had so many memories together, and it felt like I wouldn’t do them justice if this was it for us. Theoretically, it seemed senseless to cast such a precious friendship aside just because William didn’t trust me. However, realistically, I knew it was necessary. William needed time, and I would have to give it to him. He deserved as much.

I’d found an irreplaceable friend in Robby that most people could only dream of, and I’d sacrificed him for the sake of the man I wanted to build a future with. It was a high price, but I’d made my choice, and I intended to stick by it. I loved William, and I knew in my heart that everything I’d had with Robby, William could provide in ten folds, given enough time.

“Of course I miss him, but I wasn’t the one who needed space, Livy. He did. So while I hope we can be friends again, it would be difficult as things are now. William needs to learn to trust me first, and Robby needs to realise that he deserves better than what I gave him, so that he can move on from his infatuation with me.”

She sipped on her cosmopolitan for a while. Then she said, “I met him, yesterday.”

I stiffened. “What?”

She steered her eyes to mine and nodded once. “Yes, by accident, sort of. I was going to meet Colin to end things with him, at his regular pub. I wasn’t aware Robby would be there, but Colin had invited him, as well as Tyler and a few others, without informing me. He asked how you were, but I didn’t mention what had happened to William. I haven’t even told Colin, come to think of it. Only Mum.”

I blinked a few times over, utterly surprised. “What did he say?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Not much. You know Robby. He’s a reserved lad. He looked all right, though, so that’s good. He did mention that he hoped you were happy. I think Colin’s told him you’re seeing Will now – since I’ve told Colin as much – but he was still genuine when he said it. I could tell he really meant it. He wishes you well, Cara. He didn’t seem bitter.”

My heart ached, and sudden tears I had not expected threatened my eyes. Peculiar as it were, part of me wished he hated me. That would have made maintaining this distance between us so much easier, but of course, Robby was too good a man for a petty reaction like that.

“That hurt,” I admitted and looked away from her. “He deserves better.”

“Yeah, Robby’s brilliant. He’ll find his woman, though. I’m not worried about him. Or Jason. They’re a bit silly for thinking we’re deserving of them when neither of us can give them what they want. Bet they’ll look back in a few years time and wonder what they were thinking.”

I sent her a half-hearted smile. “I hope so.”

“Me too.”

I stared at her for a moment. “It’s so lovely to see you again, Livy. I’ve missed you.”

Immediately, joy returned to her eyes. “Right back at you, Cara. Has Will given you a curfew or can we get a bit silly tonight? I want to celebrate that I’m actually single this time, mind and body.”

“Not a curfew, but he told me not to stay out too late.”

“For a lawyer, that’s not very clever nor precise of him. ‘Too late’ is up for interpretation, isn’t it? I’d say ‘too late’ is around dawn.”

I laughed at her. “Listen to you. A lawyer in the making, indeed.”

“Seriously, though. I’d like to grab a few drinks here, and then perhaps go someplace else where we can play table tennis or something. Just us girls tonight. And now that you’re no longer single, I won’t have to worry about you abandoning me for a man, like you did last time.”

I scowled at her then. “I’ve never done that without your permission, and that man is currently my boyfriend, so it wasn’t for nought.”

She snickered. “Only teasing, Cara. Calm your tits.”

“If we mean to stay out late, I need to text him a warning. He’ll worry,” I said, and fished my phone out of my purse. I didn’t notice her stare while I wrote him,

‘Enigma, there’s been a change of plans. Livy’s single (YES!) and wants to celebrate it, so I’ll probably get back a bit later after all tonight. Don’t wait up. I’ll stay safe. Love you x’.

Only when I looked up again did I catch her eyes on me. Bewildered by the look on her face, I asked, “What?”

A slow smile reached her lips, but it was of a soothing variety. “Being a girlfriend suits you, you know.”

“Um, thanks. I’m trying.”

“I can tell. He doesn’t know how lucky he is. It truly is a shame that he didn’t know you as you were before he happened.”

“Yeah, well, there’s nothing to do about that, is there?”

She shook her head. “I’ll drink to that. Hell, I’ll drink to anything. I’m bloody single!”

“Cheers to that!”

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