Skin of the Night

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Chapter 73: Mr Night

A quarter past two, I headed through the main door of William’s building with the key he’d given me for the time being. I was a bit tipsier than I’d meant for, but since Olivia had welcomed the company of three random lads about three hours ago, we’d been bought drink after drink, and I hadn’t had the heart to turn them down, as it would have affected Olivia’s fantastic mood. While she’d been the one to propose a girl’s night out, it was obvious that the lad named Caleb had changed her mind. I could understand where she was coming from, as he was quite the gorgeous man and had obviously set his eye on her.

Taller than average, he was quite skinny, but nevertheless lean in his build, and sported dark brown hair that was tousled atop his head in an intentional, and therefore orderly, chaos. He had big and warm brown eyes that summoned attention, and lips that any sane woman would want to kiss. He was also an architect, and I’d been amused at that point, because I’d never known Olivia was interested in that field until Caleb had revealed he worked in it. That newfound ‘interest’ of hers was all the confirmation I’d needed. I’d barely been able to stifle my sarcastic urges, but since it was for her, of course I’d manage.

Initially, I hadn’t meant to leave before she did, but when I’d returned from the bar after fetching a new round of drinks with one of the other lads, whose name I thought was Martin, I’d changed my mind. There she had sat with her tongue down Caleb’s throat. The remaining lad, namely Walter, had sat awkwardly beside them, facing away. Upon the sight, I’d been struck speechless for a good minute. Martin had been the one to help me out of my state of mild shock when he proposed another game of table tennis to provide Olivia and Caleb with some privacy.

I’d politely rejected his proposal at that point, because I’d gathered that if Olivia meant to spend the rest of her night with Caleb, I’d rather go home to my boyfriend, whom I hoped was fast asleep by now. So after checking in with Olivia – and how awkward that moment had been, since I’d essentially been forced to push their faces apart – I’d been free to go home. And so I had, with the silent promise that I’d be calling her first thing in the morning to get the details on her night.

I was wearing a nervous expression when I entered the lift to take me to William’s floor. Guilt interfered with it, too. The fact that he’d been alone for so many hours had inspired my bad conscience. What if he’d had any nosebleeds, or any headaches beyond that of what was reasonable to expect in his condition, while I’d been away? I felt like the worst caretaker on the planet in that moment, as the sheet of instructions that the nurse Alice had provided kept popping up in my mind. Had I neglected my boyfriend’s – for the moment – extraordinary needs?

So yes, William was well aware of what he would have to do if anything on that sheet were to happen during my absence, but the idea that he would have to do it alone made my heart plummet, so it was with a loud sigh that I finally opened the front door to his flat. The darkness of it relieved me; he’d gone to bed.

After I’d locked the door behind me, I hurried to remove my shoes and jogged on my tiptoes toward his bedroom, careful not to wake him. As quietly as I possibly could, I turned the handle and then released a long, loud groan when light streamed out from inside.

“William!” I moaned. “You promised you’d go to bed!” I scolded and pushed the door wide open to scowl at him. There he lay, tucked into his duvet with a book in hand.

A huge grin spread his lips apart while he shut the piece to leave it on his nightstand. “But I am in bed."

“You literal fool.” I released a sound that sounded like a sob. “Could you stop being a lawyer twenty-four-seven? You’re so technical about things sometimes. You know that’s not what I meant when I texted you to go to bed. Now I feel shite for staying out so late. Had I known you’d do this, I would’ve come home sooner.”

“Which is why I didn’t say anything. You've got no reason to feel bad. I wanted you to have fun, which I knew wouldn’t happen if I told you I meant to stay awake until you were safely home. None of this is your fault. I make my own decisions, Cara. I'm a grown man.” He resorted to studying me, and after a while, his eyes narrowed. “Are you drunk?”

I sighed and approached the bed for a quick snuggle. “The world isn’t spinning, but I’m not sober, either.”

He groaned when I placed a kiss to his mouth. “You reek of alcohol.”

“Sorry.”

His nose wrinkled while he bent his neck away from me. “If you want another kiss, you’ve got to brush your teeth first.”

“All right.”

I was on my way to the bathroom when I asked, “How was your evening?”

“Was great. What about yours? I’m very happy for Olivia, by the way. Good for her.”

“Yes, and do you know what the best part about it is? The break-up was her initiative.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Well, I’m proud.”

“So am I. I didn’t see it coming, honestly. I’m a bit shocked though, because at a certain point, we were playing table tennis, and these three lads started to chat her up. One of them caught her attention, and just before I left, she necked on with him.”

A disbelieving chortle spilled out of him. “What? Already?”

With my toothbrush in my mouth, I walked to the doorway to regard him. “Yeah, which is why I’m a bit shocked. I hope she’s not doing it merely because she needs validation after breaking up with Colin. I hope she did it because she genuinely felt ready to be with another man.

“Anyway, his name is Caleb, and he’s an architect. I’ve never seen Livy care so much about architecture before. It was seriously comical. I barely managed not to laugh at her. You would’ve died.”

He arched a brow at me. “Didn’t you say there were three of them?”

“Yes, Martin, I believe it was, and Walter. Walter was ginger – I named him ‘Ginger Walter’ in my head, which is why I remember him best.”

“So Martin and ‘Ginger Walter’ were left to battle for your attention instead, then?”

I rolled my eyes at him. “William, please. I can’t deal with your jealousy right now. I’m exhausted after having been ‘Melissa’ all night while I entertained Caleb’s friends in order to help Olivia out. And just so you know, ‘Melissa’ has got a boyfriend, so you haven’t got anything to be worried about. Like Cara, she’s also faithful.”

He pressed his lips together. At first, I thought he looked angry, but then jolly laughter rolled out of him for a long while. “Melissa?” he echoed in his amusement.

I passed him a lopsided smile. “I can’t help myself. It’s just so much fun. You should try it sometime.”

“You have dissociative identity disorder when you’re drunk, Cara.”

My head tilted. “What, like multiple personality disorder?”

He chortled. “Yeah.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, it makes me feel safer to give a fake name. I’m scared of psychos. And I like pretending to be someone else, just for a night. It’s fun.”

“You could be categorised as an imposter, you know.”

“Well, duh. That is essentially what I’m doing. But it’s not because I want to be someone else. The main reason I do it is because I want to protect my actual identity. The rest is just a bonus.”

“Never knew you were this paranoid.”

“I’m not paranoid. Only precautious. My privacy is sacred to me.”

“What’s giving your first name going to hurt? If they ask for your surname, I can understand your inclination to lie, but lying about your first name seems a bit extreme, don’t you think?”

I turned for the basin to spit out the toothpaste and rinse my mouth. “Have you listened to me at all? I’ve been hunted down on Instagram before, okay? And Snapchat, and Facebook. I’ve no idea how they do it, but it freaks me out, so I’m going out of my way to prevent it. Giving a fake name has severely diminished the amount of creeps getting a hold of my contact details.”

“Can’t blame them for trying. You are bewitching. I mean, I’ve tried that route myself, so I suppose I understand what you’re on about.”

Nonplussed, I lifted my face to find my reflection in the mirror. “You what?”

“Yeah, after we first met, I searched up ‘Sandra’ on Facebook as well as Instagram. Fruitless mission, though. Even filtered the Facebook search to UCL. Came up empty, obviously, since it’s not actually your name.”

I closed the tap. “See, this is what I mean.”

“Which is what I said.”

With a make-up removing wipe in hand, I returned to the doorway. “I can’t believe you did that.”

He studied me. “Is it really that surprising?”

My eyes squinted as I pondered over it. “You know what’s better food for thought? The fact that I find it charming that you’ve done it, but crazy when other blokes do it.”

He chuckled. “That’s because you love me.”

“So? You had the same starting point as they do, and yet I judge them for being stalkers, and praise you for being romantic. Makes me question my own beliefs. So are you a stalker, too, or are they simply being romantic as well?”

He waved his hand in the air. “It comes down to whether the attention is desired or not, I reckon. Since you don’t want their attention, you label them as creeps. But since you want mine, you label me romantic. I’m glad you find it romantic, by the way, because I didn’t. At that point, I was sincerely worried about my mental health.”

Laughter surged out of me. “What? You were?”

He folded his arms. “You’ve no idea. I vividly remember that I shut my computer and walked into the bathroom to stare shocked at my own reflection. I even reminded myself, out loud, that you’d made it clear you didn’t want to be contacted.”

My heart ached a bit upon this piece of information. “I wonder how I would’ve reacted, if I woke up to a friend request from you one morning.”

He ran his left hand through his hair and looked away from me. “I’ve realised I’m obviously a rubbish stalker. If only I’d stalked Jason’s profile, I would probably have been able to find a photo of the both of you. But I hardly ever use social media for anything other than messaging people, so I never really find myself stalking anyone’s profile – not even my friends’.”

I snickered. “In your defence, I’ve only got about two or three photos with him. I hardly have any images on Facebook at all. I don’t like having my photo taken. I never look good. Alas, I’m not photogenic.”

“I find that hard to believe, gorgeous as you are. But now that we’re on the subject, don’t you think it’s about time that we add each other on social media?”

I grinned at him. “I am extremely amused that we’ve entered a relationship before adding each other there.”

His eyes were radiating of the same amusement, though tinted with a layer of appreciation. “Just goes to show how social media isn’t a priority to us, and I quite like that fact, if I’m honest with you. I don’t approve of how it runs certain people’s lives.”

While wiping my face, I headed toward my purse, which I’d left in the bed during our quick cuddle earlier. When I’d fished my phone out, I had a seat with my legs crossed on the mattress and searched him up on Facebook. Without further ado, I sent him a friend request, but to my surprise, his phone didn’t light up with a notification on his nightstand. He hadn’t switched on notifications for his social media accounts? If that were true, we were more similar than I’d initially thought, as I didn’t have them on either. I simply didn’t want to be available round the clock, or have my attention spontaneously disturbed. I wanted to be able to choose when I would be available. If anyone truly, imminently needed me, they could always call or send me a text.

“I’ve just sent you a request,” I informed him patiently while I pressed his profile to stalk him, even if the access to it was rather limited. I could only click his profile picture, which looked at least four years old.

“Oh, my God!” I gasped when I saw it. “William, you look well funny without stubble!” I blurted out and snickered to myself. He was wearing a suit and was standing next to Jason, surrounded by what resembled a party.

“Rude,” he grumbled while he reached for his phone.

“No, not in a bad way. You just look so young. Look at that baby face!” I showed him his picture for a quick second before I turned my phone around again. “Though, your jaw is still as sharp as a razor blade, but wow! So... boyish! When was this?”

“Dad’s sixtieth birthday.”

“So it’s three years old?”

“About.”

“Hilarious! You need to update it. You don’t look like this anymore.” When I stole a glance at him, I found him smirking to himself while he stared at the screen of his phone.

“What’s with the smirk, mister?”

“I’m having my ego boosted at the sight of my girlfriend,” he teased, eyes flickering in my direction before they returned to his screen. “It’s a lovely profile picture.”

“Thanks. Livy took it after we’d completed our bachelor degree and were about to head out to celebrate it. Though, it’s an honest picture. I’m not posing in it. Like I said, I’m not photogenic. If I know I’m having my picture taken, I end up looking like a troll.”

“You’ve got a wonderful smile, Cara. Especially when it’s genuine.”

“Thanks. I was smiling at your brother in that photo.”

“That explains the genuine vibe of it. Though,” he focused his attention on my actual person, “I’ll admit I find you even more beautiful as you are now, wiping your face clean of make-up with your hair in slight disarray, and the corners of your mouth white with toothpaste.”

While smiling, I rolled my eyes at him. “And that’s how you know you’re in love with me.”

“Sure, but I’m positive most men would agree with me. It’s a misconception that we prefer women painted in make-up and such. Well, that’s the general opinion of the men I interact with, at least.”

“Well, here’s a reality-check for you. Maybe we’re not dressing up for you lot, but rather for ourselves, because we like ourselves better that way.”

He smirked at me. “Ever the feminist.”

“Only saying.”

“Suppose you’re right.”

“Yeah, I find it annoying when I hear men say things like, ‘she’s wearing too much make-up’ blah, blah, as if they’re doing it solely for the purpose of receiving male attention, and have miscalculated how to achieve it. Honestly, let a woman live. It’s okay if it’s not your taste, but keep it to yourself. I’m all for freedom of expression. I personally don’t like to wear much make-up, but that doesn’t mean I judge those who do. People are different, and thank God for that, or else this world would have been extremely boring.”

He was watching me with a stupid smile on his mouth, eyes miles away, so I frowned. “What?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Then what’s with the look on your face?”

He chuckled. “Well, forgive me. I was merely enduring a moment of serious admiration for you. I love your beautiful mind to bits, Cara.”

I leaned forward to kiss him. “And I love yours, Will.”

“Even when you’re drunk, you’re more fascinating and charming than what’s good for anyone.”

“Well, Melissa’s one of the charming one of my characters,” I bantered.

His laughter breezed my face until I leaned away again. “Surely not as charming as ‘Sandra’, though,” he countered.

“No. After all, I had to pull out my best card when I met you.” I winked at him.

“Slick. I’m honoured I got to know ‘Cara’ as well, though. That’s more than can be said for the other lads.”

I pointed to him. “That response proved you’re the epitome of slick, Will.”

Smug, he shoved his left hand beneath his head and grinned at me. “I know.”

“Obviously, I reserved ‘Cara’ just for you.”

“Like I said, I’m honoured.”

After I’d finished removing my make-up, I headed for the bathroom to wash my face, empty my bladder and have a quick shower before I returned to bed.

I’d just snuggled up to his side when I grabbed my phone again. “I’m only going to send Livy a text to make sure she’s all right,” I explained when he uttered a sound of disapproval in the dark.

“You’re excused,” he murmured and pecked my temple.

While I waited for her response, I opened Facebook again to continue stalking his profile now that I had better access to it. I didn’t need to go far through his scarce amount of pictures before the sight of another woman made my heart jolt. The surroundings were a pub I’d never been to before, and smiling at the camera were William and this mysterious and average-looking woman. I would’ve assumed their relation to be purely platonic if it hadn’t been for the fact that William had his arm draped over her shoulders in a manner only a boyfriend could manage. They were also sitting rather close to one another. It struck me as intimate, mainly because I knew William and how he worked. Had I not known him as well as I did, I wouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion that they were a couple.

Immersed in the potential, I studied the woman in detail. There wasn’t a trace of make-up on her face, and her eyes were quite small, but kind and brown. For some reason, they reminded me of a mouse. There was a patient aura about both her smile and face, though she struck me as slightly submissive, for lack of a better word. Insipid, perhaps. From this photograph, I couldn’t imagine her as a fiery lady about to put William in his place. That intrigued me intensely.

Was this Kate?

I continued to study the rest of her heart-shaped head. Her lips were quite thin, though her diamond-shaped nose was proportionate to the size of her head. Like myself, she was a brunette, but her hair was shorter and thinner than mine, and also straight. I’d always had waves. She wasn’t hideous at all, but she wasn’t a beauty like Violet or Francesca either. She was simply ordinary.

After ogling her for another two minutes, I checked the tags to see if it was she, but I found no name. Had she untagged herself? Bollocks. I thought I’d have to ask William to find my answer, but the comments below soon answered my questions.

A few girls, whom I gathered were friends of Kate, had written things like ‘love you two’, and ‘yous two make me smile’. It had to be Kate. My heart skipped a beat when I read that Jason had commented as well, ‘Looking forward to meet her, Will.’

I pressed my lips together to hide my smile, since I vaguely recalled Jason stating that William had refused to introduce Kate to the family while they’d been together, and here was I, essentially already part of it. I did pity her for a short second, since I found that to be a dick move on William’s front, but that didn’t prevent me from appreciating that I was being treated completely different. Why she had put up with it, I did not know. Had I been seeing a man for two years and he still didn’t want to introduce me to his family, I’d scold his ear off while seriously reconsidering the relationship. I wouldn’t put up with that at all, unless he had a solid explanation for it. She must have been terribly in love with him, I gathered, to be willing to see past something like that; to be willing to ignore her self-worth for the sake of a man.

“Why didn’t you want to introduce Kate to your family?” I asked. To him, it must’ve seemed entirely out of the blue.

He tensed against me while he warily said, “I’m tempted to pretend I’m asleep.”

“Why?”

“I’m scared my answer might get me into trouble, and I’m too tired to fight with you right now.”

“Is it terrible, then?”

“Cara, listen, it’s a pronounced part of your personality to defend other women. You’ve done it with Francesca, and you’ve done it with Violet. You tend to take their side over mine, even if your reasons for doing it are perfectly valid. Though, there’s an expression for this. Curiosity killed the cat. You might not always like the answer. I don’t think you’re going to like this one, either.”

“Tell me, William.”

He sighed. “What’s brought this on all of the sudden?”

I turned my phone to show him the picture, and his face instantly fell.

“I’m still tagged in that?”

“Yes.”

“Right. I should’ve cleansed my profile before I accepted your request.”

“You’d only be postponing the question. I’ve wondered for some time.”

After another sigh, he locked my phone for me so that we were secluded in utter dark.

“Because I wasn’t at that point in the relationship,” he began. “I didn’t feel ready. The relationship didn’t feel like it was... it for me, and I didn’t want to introduce her to my family when I wasn’t sure it was going to last. I had hopes it would change, but it never did, so eventually I decided to cut my losses. I told her, and we mutually decided to end it as a result of that.”

I was quiet for a moment, somewhat incredulous. “You might have mutually decided to end it, Will, but you were obviously the one who initiated it.”

“It was still a mutual decision.”

“Had she said no, would you have stayed?”

“No, but that doesn’t matter. She wanted out as well, when she heard where I was at.”

“Right.”

“Are you cross with me now?”

A faint chuckle slipped past my lips. “I’m not exactly impressed, but I actually find myself having a harder time understanding Kate. Had I been in her shoes, I would have left long ago if my boyfriend were that slow. I mean it’s not a good sign, is it? I wouldn’t want my boyfriend to be that unsure about whether I qualified for meeting his family. Had I been Kate, I would have read the situation as you failing to recognise my worth. Suppose she must have been in denial for a while, which tells me she must have been awfully in love with you.”

“Yeah, well, personality-wise, you and Kate are poles apart, Cara, so it’s not weird you’re having a hard time understanding her.”

“How so?”

“Well, Kate wasn’t much of a challenge. She’s a mild person. Remarkably clever, but mild nevertheless, so when we weren’t merely sharing information, my opinions or decisions weren’t questioned, and they were obeyed as though they were a universal truth. She just accepted them without anything to add. It used to drive me mad during the last few months of our relationship.

“In the beginning, I appreciated the harmony it generated, but after a while, I just found it boring. Everything was so awfully tame. She was so tame. I had her wrapped around my finger, and that, slowly but surely, made me lose respect for her – in that aspect, at least. I remember I used to encourage her to stand more up for herself and her own opinions. I even changed my tactics and started asking for her opinion about things before I shared my own, but she’d only say things like ‘I don’t really have one’, or ‘I don’t really care’, or ‘I’d rather hear yours’. God, how that frustrated me.

“Then I met you, and you were everything I’d first seen in her, being wit, intellect, benevolence and a liberal outlook on the world – no idea why, but I’ve always been attracted to liberal women – but you also had everything I thought she lacked, like opinions, a strong sense of identity, a strong personality, backbone, integrity, and... you’re more sociable than her. You’re great with people, even if you don’t like them. You’ve got an agreeable, likeable personality, and I adore that about you. You’re remarkably skilled at adapting according to whom you’re with. I love that you’re able to charm everyone I’ve ever cared about as easily as you do.

“For instance, Andy’s as much your friend as he’s mine, and the same applies to Elisabeth and Violet, not to forget Jason. You’re not hiding behind my back. You’re not... How should I put this – your identity, when you’re with them, isn’t linked to me. You don’t make yourself known as ‘William’s girlfriend’. You make yourself known as ‘Cara’. You’re much more independent than Kate was, and I absolutely relish that about you. It blows my mind how refreshing it is. You’re your own, first and foremost, and I will never stop appreciating that.”

My heart was sprinting. “Wow, William,” I whispered. “That was quite the speech.”

“Sorry. I got carried away. It was hard to put a word on things.”

“No, I loved it,” I peeped. “That was truly heartfelt.”

He was just about to speak when my phone received a text. “I was finished anyway,” he muttered and returned my phone to me.

“Sure?”

“Yeah. Check her status. I’m worried about her, too.”

“Aw.”

“The fact that that warrants an ‘aw’ is outrageous. It’s the bare minimum, I’d say. She’s a woman alone with a stranger at night. Of course I’m worried.”

“Mm, you’re right,” I replied while I unlocked my phone. “Still charmed, though.”

My eyes widened considerably when I read, ‘OMG, Cara, I just had the best sex of my life. I am safe and sound, and hopefully on to have some amazing sex in the morning as well. Don’t worry. I’m all right. I’ll text you his address in a second if you’re still worried, but you don’t need to be. He’s treating me like a princess xx’

Looking at the time, I reckoned she couldn’t have stayed there for much longer than fifteen minutes after I’d left if they’d already managed to have sex.

“Will,” I wheezed.

“Mm.”

“Livy’s had her second ever one-night-stand.”

“They’ve had sex?”

“Yeah.”

“Was he any good?”

“Amazing, apparently.”

He scoffed. “She’s clearly never slept with me.”

I burst out laughing and pushed his left shoulder. “You twat!”

Soon enough, his laughter joined my own. “Only joking,” he claimed.

“Sure you are.”

“I seriously am.”

“Humble doesn’t suit you, Will.”

“It was worth the shot. But she’s all right?”

“Yes.”

“Then go to sleep, Cara. I’m knackered now.”

“Okay,” I purred and placed my phone aside before I cuddled up to him. “I love you,” I whispered and kissed his chest.

“You too. See you in the morning, love.”

“Yes. Will you reveal the enigma, then?”

He shook against me with quiet laughter. “No. Monday.”

“Why Monday?”

“Because. Go to sleep, Cara. Christ, you’re a talker when you’re drunk.”

“Sorry. Night, then, Mr Night.”

“Ha-ha. Haven’t heard that one before.”

“You do own the night, though, sensual as you are. Talk about taking ownership of your full name.”

“Cheeky. You trying to seduce me?”

“I am seducing the night.”

“I’m dying over this wordplay. Go to sleep, for the last time.”

“Fine. I shall surrender to the night.”

“Oh, my God.”

“You’re right. I already have, haven’t I?”

“Cara Jane Darby, do I have to gag you?”

“Mm, kinky,” I purred. “What other sinful secrets may the hour of night have in store?”

He sobbed in comic despair. “You’re unbelievable.”

Complacent, I turned my back to him. “Learned from the best.”

“Unbelievable,” I thought I heard him whisper before the night conquered us both.

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