Skin of the Night

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Chapter 74: Pillow Talk

Shivers and quiet whimpers blended with the noise of heavy rain and occasional bursts of thunder. Wide-awake and secluded in the dark, I stood by the curtains and peeked out at the dramatic weather from his bedroom window. It looked like it was building up to quite the storm out there. Drops of water as big as my fingernails hammered onto the streets.

“No,” I heard behind me. Though it was only a mumble, the protest it contained was loud and clear, and so a sigh escaped my mouth while I folded my arms to embrace myself. Turning my head, I glanced his silhouette and saw how it trembled in the faint light. Every now and then, he’d toss and turn. If I switched on the light, I was certain I’d discover him drenched in sweat again, even if his skin would be cold as ice. I would have to change the sheets tomorrow. That would be the third time this week.

For a moment, I considered spending the rest of the night in his guest bedroom, but I didn’t have the heart. If I couldn’t help him in his dreams, I hoped that at least my nearness kept the terrors at bay more than they otherwise would have been. Perhaps his nightmares would have found him more often if it weren’t for my presence in his bed. I liked to believe that I had a soothing effect on him: that I instilled him with a sense of safety the way he never failed to do to me.

Steering my eyes to his alarm clock, I saw that it was half past two in the morning. In four hours, I would start my actual day, and as it looked now, I would spend it sleep-deprived. Again.

Well, it didn’t bother me. I could survive on scarce sleep. What mattered most was that I was present to care for him if anything critical were to happen. Unfortunately, that didn’t pertain to his nightmares. There was nothing I could do about those but wait them out.

I hated to see him like this. I hated to hear him shiver and whimper in his sleep while he battled his demons. How badly I wanted join him there, in his dreams, where I would do anything in my power to conciliate the battle. I’d mollify him, cradle him, kiss his nightmares away.

Was Oliver present there?

The potential enraged me. Was he threatening the man I loved in a place I was powerless? Where I could neither defend nor help him?

I faced the windows again, and this time, I was glaring out of them. I saw nothing in particular, because I was blinded by my hatred for Oliver. All I could see was the dark emotion that swathed my mind.

I wished I knew what he was dreaming about. Whenever I’d asked, he’d refuse to say. ‘Only a nightmare, Cara. Leave it.’

It wasn’t like him. Usually, he excelled at communicating his thoughts and feelings, but about this particular matter, he reserved himself. That only increased my concern, because it was a deviation from his normal pattern. It told me that this was something that bothered him more than he was willing to admit. So why was he really holding back? What could be happening in his dreams that he didn’t want me to know of? Was he trivialising them deliberately, or was he being sincere when he labelled them ‘only a nightmare’?

At least he had confirmed that he was speaking to his therapist about them. While that was reassuring, I’d essentially had to drag that piece of information out of him, since I had implored him to do it if he refused to speak to me about their content. At that point, he’d been so emotionally overwhelmed that I’d had to remind myself not to push him too much. Last time I’d queried him about his nightmares, he had gotten genuinely upset, and that had reminded me to practice caution. It was obviously a more sensitive topic than he displayed.

It placed me in a tricky spot. I was desperate to help him, so naturally, it was difficult to accept that, sometimes, doing nothing at all was the best help I could provide. It went against all my inclinations, but for him, I would keep my instincts reined. His pace was the one I needed to follow. Not mine.

After another sigh, I shut the curtains and walked on my tiptoes toward the door. I couldn’t listen to him anymore. It broke my heart to witness him like this and know that there was nothing I could do, except let him be. So with a chest dense with heavy emotion, I headed into his living area to settle on my favourite sofa - the one by the windows. With my gaze on London city, I hugged my legs to my chest, reclined until my back rested against the arm of the furniture, and surrendered to wandering thoughts while I waited for his nightmare to pass.

I had no idea of how long I’d been gone by the time he made his presence known.

“Cara,” he called, and as I looked over to find him in the doorway to his bedroom, I got the feeling that he’d been standing there for a while, watching me. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Did I wake you again?”

I paid him a spiritless smile. “Don’t be sorry. How are you feeling?”

He released a loud sigh before he moseyed over. When he reached the sofa, he took a seat so close that my toes poked against the fabric of his light grey boxers. At first, he gazed straight ahead, and I appreciated the sight of his profile, because this side of it didn’t include his bruised eye. For a moment, I could pretend he’d never been assaulted.

But it didn’t last for long. Sooner rather than later, he directed his entire attention to me and stared soberly into my eyes. “Perhaps you should move back in with Jason, Cara. The critical period is over. I don’t really need to be looked after anymore. I don’t appreciate that I’m depriving you of proper sleep. You keep insisting that I need my rest. Well, you need yours, too.”

I frowned at him. “If you want me to move out, that’s one thing, William, but if it’s solely inspired by selfless reasons, I’d rather stay for a while longer. You’re still rather useless with your arm in a cast, not to forget a stab wound that means you shouldn’t move your arm much, or lift anything heavy. I’ll be fine. I don’t mind losing sleep over caring for my boyfriend. Worry about yourself.”

He released another sigh as he grabbed my ankles, one by one, to move my legs across his lap. Then, after sliding even closer, he draped his arm across the back of the sofa and leaned in until our noses nearly touched. “Cara, that’s unfair. You know I prefer to have you here.”

“It’s not unfair. I want to stay, and if you want me to as well, there’s no problem, so don’t make one up.”

A chuckle slipped through his crooked smile. “Fine. But promise me you’ll consider sleeping in the guest bedroom instead, and if you don’t want to do that, promise you’ll move out if it starts to seriously affect your work-performance.”

I placed my hand to his cheek and brushed my lips over his. “I promise.”

“Thank you. With that out of the way, let’s get back to bed.”

“Did you wake by yourself?”

“Yes.”

"From the nightmare, or after the nightmare?”

Brooding thoughts claimed his eyes before they fled my gaze. “Does it matter?”

Whilst wearing a pout, I dragged my hand through his hair and felt how moist it was at the roots. Settling at the nape of his neck, I played with the strands there and studied him for a beat. “I wish you’d tell me what your dreams are about,” I mumbled almost inaudibly.

He grimaced. “Why? They’re only dreams, love.”

I wanted to tell him that they weren’t ‘only’ dreams. I wanted to tell him that they could oftentimes act as an essential part of psychology, that they could be considered a coping mechanism, and that they could reveal signs of underlying issues he hadn’t or wasn’t dealing with. Dad had always used to say that dreams were the mind’s way of processing memories, the emotions linked to them, and general impressions. He’d say that dreams happened when the conscious actively cooperated with the subconscious, and that it was where fantasy indicated reality. Were his dreams recurring, for instance? Were the themes the same?

But I didn’t tell him any of that, because part of me suspected that he already knew. Either way, I doubted telling him would have changed his reservations. He didn’t want to tell me, and that wasn’t going to change unless his perspective did.

“If you say so,” I murmured instead and dropped my gaze to my lap. Soon enough, he moved his index finger under my chin and made me look at him again.

“You don’t need to worry about them. Dr Fielder says they’re something to be expected, and he’s supporting how I handle them.”

My pout intensified. “I just find it worrisome that you’re not telling me about them. You’ve been open with me about your therapy in every other aspect. That’s what’s making me so worried. This isn’t like you.”

I hadn’t expected the soft smile that poured over his lips. “It’s because I’m positive you’d misunderstand the content and overthink things. Even Dr Fielder supports my decision not to tell you about them unless I find it necessary for my therapy, and I don’t. Please, you need to trust me, darling. This is one of those rare times when not saying something is actually best. I am rarely certain about things, but about this, I am.”

I eyed him incredulously. “William, you’re Mr Certain.”

He laughed. “I might come across that way, but that’s not what’s going on in my head most of the time. There’s usually a trace of doubt. It’s just that when I’m seventy per cent sure about something, I go with it. Those remaining thirty, I keep to myself.”

“Suppose that stems from your assertive nature.”

“Suppose. Anyway, before we start going on and on about everything and nothing again, let’s go to bed. You look tired. Are you absolutely sure you don’t want to sleep in the guest bedroom tonight?”

“For now, yes. If you have another nightmare, I’ll consider it. It’s just a bit hard to... know, because obviously I prefer to sleep with you, and it’s not every night you have them.”

“If I have another nightmare tonight, I’ll actually lock you out of my room. How’s that?”

“Please don’t do that.”

“Cara.”

“Consider me warned,” I sulked.

After taking my hand in his and offering it a peck, he stretched up and guided the way back to his bedroom. Once his huge duvet covered the both of us again, he switched off his night lamp and snuck his arm under my head to hold me close.

I had just closed my eyes when a sudden burst of thunder startled me, leaving me to flinch. “Bloody hell, it’s so close! I didn’t even see the flash!”

Endearing laughter of the soft variety spilled out of him while he hugged me tighter to his side. “God’s having a serious piss, isn’t He?”

“Oh, my God, William.”

“Imagine if thunder is the sound of His fart.”

“William, stop it! You’re disgusting!”

He laughed so loud then that my ears ached. “What an epic trip to the toilet!”

“I can’t deal with you,” I grumbled and turned my back to him. “You’re disgusting.”

He kept laughing and laughing, and I suspected that my reaction only made it more amusing to him.

“In Norse mythology, thunder is the sound of Thor’s hammer when he’s angry,” I countered.

“I believe Zeus will have a problem with that.”

“Maybe they’re duelling over the throne.”

“Meanwhile, the Christian God is just having a piss and a fart.”

“William!”

“That’s what I call being a boss. He’s not even bothered.”

“You are unbelievable. At this rate, you’re going to hell.”

“I don’t believe in hell, unless the concept of it could be transferred to current reality, in which hell would be to lose you, or my family, or something along those lines. No, I believe in science. That’s my religion.”

“Finally,” I turned to face him, “you provide a clear answer to the question. I’ve asked you this countless times, and you’ve never answered seriously.”

He chuckled. “Well, I don’t like the question. I’m an agnostic atheist, meaning I neither believe nor disbelieve. I don’t think we’ve got enough evidence to trust that there is an actual God, whom furthermore exists the way society has come to believe over millennia. I actually find it sort of conceited of those men who, throughout time, believed they were God’s channel to humanity, and imposed on us a set of rules we had to heed. But I won’t deny the possibility that there might be a greater force out there, since I don’t believe we’ve got enough evidence to support that conclusion, either. Simply put, I don’t believe we have enough rational information about a so-called divine presence to declare that it actually is, or isn’t; much less how that presence behaves, or what it wants.

“I’m also doubtful that we, as humans, can ever actually perceive such a metaphysical concept, much less its entirety. In principle, it’s not a discernible deity. Now, according to the theory of relativity, we understand reality within four dimensions, although this is of course a simplification. So, we’d need to move beyond those four dimensions in order to comprehend a divine existence. It’s also worth mentioning that how we understand the universe, and the world, is entirely subjective, and therefore flawed. That’s why I think it’s impossible to know. We’d need a clear, objective perspective, and that’s impossible for us - as of now. I mean, to top it all off, all the intelligence we’ve gathered in the name of science is still entirely subjective, too. Yes, mathematics is a universal language, and objective at that, but the questions we seek answers to are entirely motivated by human perception. Everything we know, we want to know based on human conception. Am I making sense?”

I lifted my head to eye his alarm clock, and when I saw that it was four in the morning, my soul withered. This day was going to be painful. “Yes, you’re making sense, and I’m agreeing with you – Kant and Hume would’ve been very proud had they heard you – but I can’t believe we’re discussing this at four in the morning.”

“Well, you asked. But yes, we do have a serious problem when it comes to that. We’re too good at talking,” he agreed. “Our minds stimulate each other too well. And I’m turned on by the fact that you know your philosophers.”

“William, everything turns you on. Anyway, perhaps we should set a rule that we’re not allowed to talk to each other past midnight.”

“Everything about you turns me on, yes. That matter aside, I don’t want to set that rule. Our pillow talk is the best. I love our pillow talk,” he objected.

“So do I, but I love sleep, too, and productive days,” I argued. “Thank goodness we don’t actually live together, or else I’d seriously have to wave my career goodbye. This little sleep isn’t good for anyone. You’re completely messing with my focus, even if it’s as much my fault as yours.”

“It’ll pass. This is only a phase. The excitement will subside and we’ll be fine without talking to each other twenty-four-seven. Until then, I can understand you don’t find it ideal to live together. The last thing I want to be is a distraction in that sense. I’m supposed to be a support system to you. Not a method of destruction.”

Another strike of thunder rumbled from the angry sky. “All the gods are coming for you, now,” I teased. “I warned you.”

“Just another fart. What a shit-show.”

I couldn’t help it then. I started laughing and laughing, because I hadn’t seen his response coming for the life of me.

“There it is,” he chuckled. “The sweetest sound I know.”

“I tend to hate toilet humour, but this is just above and beyond.”

“Pun intended? Nice one.”

“God,” I snickered.

“Another pun? You’re on a streak, love.”

“Go to sleep!”

“As you command.”

While wearing a stupid grin on my mouth, I snuggled up to his side and exhaled content. How I loved his goofy side. Whether it was on purpose, I did not know, but he’d successfully diverted my attention. Gloomy thoughts had completely abandoned me, so falling asleep happened in a matter of seconds.


“Good morning, Cara,” Jason greeted when he found us in the kitchen the following morning. After directing his attention to William, who sat beside me, he planted his large hand atop his head and ruffled his hair. “How’s our pet doing this morning?” he teased and proceeded to pull his hair. “You need a haircut. This is becoming a bloody mane, and you are no lion.”

“This is abuse,” William claimed and slapped his hand away.

“Animal abuse? But I love animals,” Jason playfully replied. When he refocused on my person, his eyes widened considerably. “Cara,” he said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you look awful. You feeling all right? You’re as pale as a ghost.”

“Slept poorly. Anyway, there’s breakfast for you,” I murmured and reached for my cup of coffee. The writing on it did not slip under his radar.

“What’s it say this time?” he enquired and grabbed the vacant spot beside me.

I watched him reach for a slice of toasted bread, some butter, as well as the scrambled eggs William had made. My boyfriend hadn’t lied. His scrambled eggs were just as delectable as Jason’s. Now I wanted to taste Daphne’s, since she was the mastermind behind the recipe.

“As if you don’t already know, it says, ‘Unfair we’re not somewhere misbehaving for days’. It’s from ’R U Mine?’, but apparently, which song isn’t vital information, and William is being a dick about it. He promised he’d reveal the enigma today, but he still hasn’t.”

“I said today. I never stated a specific time today,” William interjected. “I gather you can work on the codes while you’re at work, and if you still haven’t cracked it by the time you get home, I’ll guide you through it.”

“You’re going to love it, Cara,” Jason claimed. “I found it cunning, in every positive way.”

“So you do know.”

He snorted. “’Course I do. I helped him out with the details. His idea, though.”

“You two shits have conspired behind my back since day one. So much for being a trio. And you said you wouldn’t take any sides, Jason.”

He eyed me ruefully. “I tried not to. I truly did. But I changed my mind about remaining passive after he’d been a complete dick to you when you brought Robby home with you. At that point, I realised I’d have to intervene, so I called him the next morning, before you woke, to tell him straight away that his behaviour was completely unacceptable and that if he meant to stand a chance, he’d have to seriously reconsider his methods.”

Surprised, I only blinked at him.

“He’s not lying,” William murmured beside me. “He’s never been as angry with me as he was after that incident. Not that I needed to be told. I realised the second Robby left that I’d overstepped.”

Jason nodded. “Yeah, you did. But you were an idiot about how to proceed. You were about to head over to apologise, which she would not have approved of.”

William sighed. “True.”

“Exactly,” Jason replied on a mouthful. How he was able to look remotely attractive while talking through a mouth full of food was beyond me. Only he could manage something like that. “So, when I realised how serious William’s feelings for you actually were, I gathered things would go tits up - for me as well - if it didn’t work out between you, so I had to play cupid. And look at us now. All thanks to me.”

He patted his own shoulder while I laughed at his playful last remark.

“On another note,” he continued and swallowed his bite to have another huge one, “Livy texted me yesterday.”

Instantaneously, my heart contracted. It demanded all my strength to remain composed and not reveal any sign that she’d been with another man on Friday, a man she was adamant to meet again. Though, in her own words, ‘for casual but mind-blowing sex.’ I did not want to imagine what that piece of information would do to Jason, as he didn’t seem to have come far in recovering from his feelings for her. Then again, if he’d been in love with her for two years, it wasn’t going to happen in the blink of an eye. It would demand time and patience, and I would be there to support him through the entire process.

I held my breath when it dawned on me that I’d told William about it. For a second, I was sincerely worried about his uncontrollable mouth. I wouldn’t put it past him to throw the information in Jason’s face with the excuse that it was something Jason would ‘need to hear’.

So when my boyfriend was about to speak, I whirled around, and I was certain my glare was scorching. “Do not,” I mouthed mutedly. Bewildered, he frowned back at me.

“What is it?” Jason enquired suspiciously.

William focused on him. “I’ve no idea. Honestly.”

I turned around again. “She texted you?”

Jason’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinised me. “You sound surprised, which is deceiving, because she told me you’d talked about it.”

I pressed my lips together for a beat. “Well, I’m trying to choose my words carefully, because I know this is a sensitive topic for you.”

I could easily have been a politician, couldn’t I? Whether that was a good thing, I didn’t care to think of, since it probably wasn’t.

Seeming to find my reason viable, he relaxed and shrugged his shoulders. “There’s no need for that. Anyway, we’re going to meet up later today to discuss things properly. Hopefully we’ll patch things up and move on, to salvage our friendship.”

“You want to be friends with her, now?” William asked. “That’s a U-turn. I hate to say I’m not surprised.”

Jason sent him a scowl. “You know as well as I do that I’m incapable of staying angry, and quite useless at severing ties like that. I’m not you, Will. I don’t work that way.”

“You make it sound as if I find it easy. I don’t. I find it necessary,” William defended himself.

“Yeah, well, I want to remain friends with her. She’s a good person. I want her in my life, one way or another.”

“If that’s what you think is best for you, I’m supportive,” I said. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s most important to me - that you’re doing what’s best for you.”

“Thanks, Cara,” he cooed and wrapped his arm over my shoulders to bring me in for a brotherly hug. “She also told me she’s broken up with Colin. This time for good.”

William spoke before I was able, “And what are your thoughts on that? Did it make you hopeful?”

Jason released me. “Nah. She’s definitely not in a frame of mind where she’s able to entertain the idea of a relationship with another man already. That girl needs to be single for a while, and I plan to respect that. Just because she’s single it doesn’t mean she’s available.”

“Nicely said,” William complimented him. “Accurate.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m glad you’re determined to get over her,” my boyfriend continued. “While chasing a love interest shouldn’t be underestimated, it’s futile in this case. She’s not interested, and I don’t think she ever will be. You’d be better off with that belief as your baseline.”

“I am growing quite sick of being told what to think and do, Will. You should learn from your girlfriend. She knows when to listen and when to tell.”

I blinked to myself at his outburst, as I hadn’t expected it.

William grimaced. “Yeah, I know. Sorry. I’m working on it. If it’s of any consolation, I haven’t said half the things I want to say.”

“Bloody hell,” Jason mumbled under his breath and looked away from us. “You and Dad are intolerably similar sometimes.”

“Jason,” I murmured. “Don’t be so narrow-minded. He only wants what’s best for you. You know he’s a bit clumsy about expressing it.”

“And you sound like Mum now,” he moaned.

“Please don’t say that,” William protested. “Do not say that. I do not appreciate Cara being compared to Mum.”

That lightened Jason’s mood. “Ah! Hilarious! This reminds me - Cara accused you of sleeping with Mum when you two first met! In essence, you now are!”

“Jason, I’ll gut you,” William threatened, but it was ineffective, because his brother laughed until he cried.

“I’m only joking,” he eventually managed to say when his laughter quieted. “Cara and Mum aren’t that similar.”

“You repulse me,” William muttered. “Revolting.”

“Good thing we’re spending most of today together, then.”

“Speaking of that, I need to get a move on it or I’ll be late,” I said through an extended yawn. “Be nice to each other. Love you both. And Jason, keep me posted on Livy, yeah?” I leaned in to peck his cheek, and then the other way to peck my boyfriend’s.

“Of course, though I reckon she’ll call you about it anyway.”

“She will, but I’d like both sides of the story.”

“Understandable.”

To my surprise, William slid off his chair to follow me to the front door of his flat. Confused, I looked up at him while I fetched my shoes.

“What were you on about earlier?” he whispered when I stretched up again.

I reached for his collar while I whispered back, “Don’t tell him about Livy and Caleb. It’s useless information. He doesn’t need to know. He only needs to know she’s not interested - not how she’s spending her nights as a single woman. It’s only going to hurt him unnecessarily.”

His head tilted. “I hadn’t planned on telling him.”

“Well, I was worried you would, since your mouth has got no filter whatsoever.”

“It does have a filter. Just not a standard one.”

“If you say so.”

He cupped my cheeks in his warm palms as he descended somewhat. “I would only tell him if it were paramount that he knew. It isn’t. In his shoes, I’d never want to know. It would kill me to know, so of course I won’t say anything.”

I gulped, because I couldn’t help but hear that he was referring to an incident involving me. “Speaking from personal experience, are you?”

Upset, his eyes flickered. “Yeah. It felt like you stabbed me when you told me you’d spent the entire night with Robby that time.”

Guilt flooded my system as I stared at him for a moment. Even if my reasons for doing it had seemed justified back then, I still couldn’t forgive myself for having done something so tone-deaf. “I’ve apologised for that, and I meant it. It’s something I’ll probably always regret, but at that time, it felt like you forced my hand, since you weren’t taking my rejections seriously.”

He chuckled, but it was lacklustre. “I was taking them seriously. I was simply determined to change your mind. And I wasn’t looking to guilt-trip you by mentioning this. You’re with me now, and that’s all I care about.”

“Good.” Stretching up, I planted a firm kiss on his mouth and patted his chest. “Have a nice day, then. I’ll see you after work. Treat your brother well. He’s the only one you’ve got.”

“As he likes to remind me. Have fun solving the enigma.”

“Sod off.”

He laughed and opened the door for me. “Love you.”

“You too. And I love you, Jason!” I shouted.

“You better!”

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