Skin of the Night

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Chapter 79: Define 'Punish'

After having showered and eaten, Jason and I lounged on the sofa together. The telly was on, but unlike Jason, I wasn’t watching. I was mustering courage to ring William and inform him about Robby’s message. Since I dreaded it intensely, I’d postponed doing it for two hours by now, and for each second that ticked by, I was only growing increasingly nervous.

I still had no idea why Robby had contacted me, and the lack of answers to that question was messing with my heart. I sincerely hoped he’d moved on, and I sincerely hoped we could link up again, this time platonically. Our friendship was precious to me, so if the option to keep him in my life existed, obviously I’d want to take it.

However, William’s jealousy made the whole thing quite problematic. How was he going to react?

“Stop biting,” Jason scolded and gripped around my wrist to drag my hand away from my mouth. “What’s gotten into you? I’ve never seen you bite your nails before. Do you know how much filth you’ve got under there?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m scared,” I said and turned my head to pout at him.

His expression softened immediately. “Just ring him, Cara. You’re only postponing the inevitable. Get it over with. If he acts like a dick, I’ll have your back.”

I reeled in a long, deep breath and fixed my gaze on my phone, which rested on the coffee table in front of us. Without further ado, I leaned forward to fetch it before I charged up from my seat.

“You’re right. I need to get it over with. Wish me luck.”

“Call for me when or if you need to talk, yeah? I’ll stay here, trying not to eavesdrop.”

I glanced at him across my shoulder as I headed for my bedroom to get a version of privacy. “I won’t mind if you eavesdrop, but thanks. I love you.” I swallowed when I heard how my voice trembled.

“You too, Cara. You’ll be fine. A tip would be to remain calm even if he unleashes his temper. I would know, seeing as I’ve grown up manoeuvring around his short fuse.”

“Yeah, but the man knows how to rile me better than anyone else, so I’m not sure I’ll be able. I’ll try my best, though.”

As I reached for the doorknob, I saw that my hand was shaking. A split second later, I laid notice to how fast my heart was beating.

I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t blow this out of proportion, but I wouldn’t put it past him. In essence, I knew he viewed Robby as his archenemy. His nemesis.

It was with a clenched jaw that I shut the door behind me and journeyed for my bed. On my way there, I found his name in my recent log and opted for a Facetime session. I wanted to be able to see his face while I told him, so that I could better gauge his thoughts.

He answered while I was bringing my duvet over my shoulders in search of some comfort, and the smile he wore made me reconsider whether to pull through with this. It was a beautiful smile, and it made my heart throb, but it wouldn’t be there for long, I reckoned.

“Hello, beautiful,” he greeted and brought his arm behind his head. From the background, I could tell he was lounging on the sofa in his living room. Shortly after taking note of that, I dawned on me that the arm he’d brought behind his head was ridden of a cast.

“Hiya. Did you have your cast taken off today?” I immediately asked.

He nodded. “Yeah. Feels great to be able to use my arm again. Look.” He leaned forward to place his phone on the table before him, and then proceeded to bring his acoustic guitar into my field of vision. After positioning it across his lap, he played the strings of it, and I instantly recognised the riffs.

“Knee Socks!”

He chuckled as he placed the instrument away. “In your honour.”

“That was faultless, Will.”

He rubbed his neck, “Thanks. I’ve been playing all day. Not much else to do. Alex did pay me a visit, though. You just missed him, actually. Left about a minute ago. He brought dinner, which was nice. ”

That left a small smile on my mouth. “That was sweet of him.”

“Yeah.”

“He and Ivy still going strong?”

“Stronger than ever. She’s really good to him, and for him. He’s in a much better place now. I haven’t seen him this generally happy in a very long time. He’s all smiles and laughs.”

“I’m happy for him.”

“So am I. He deserves it.”

Some silence lapsed between us, and I spent it growing anxious again. Meanwhile, he fetched his phone off the table to bring the screen closer to his face, and I welcomed the fine view. His black eye was gone, at last.

“How was your day?” he asked.

“Good. Went to the gym with Jason after work, and then we had burgers for dinner. My breath stinks of garlic after I had aioli with chips on the side, so you should be glad I’m not with you.”

That made him laugh, and how I adored the sound. However, right now, it wasn’t as elating a melody, because it only reminded me of the news I had yet to deliver. He surely wouldn’t be laughing then.

“Speaking of unhealthy diets,” I continued, because I just didn’t feel ready yet, “could you lift your shirt up, please?”

Confounded, he watched me for a second. “Is this your way of proposing phone sex? Because while I’m up for trying new things, I’d rather come over and do you properly.”

I chuckled. “No, that’s not it.”

“Collecting material for lonely sessions, then?”

“Not a bad idea.”

“Be my guest.” He only lasted a second before he commanded, “Tell me the actual reason.”

“Just do it.”

Perplexed, he lifted his shirt to reveal his torso. As I investigated his abdominal muscles, my eyes narrowed.

“Bring the camera a little closer, please.”

I heard him sigh before he obeyed. “This is bloody odd. You better have an explanation.”

I cocked my head from side to side. While they were still defined, they weren’t as pronounced as they’d once been. “Just checking to see if you’ve been training behind my back.”

Immediately, he lowered his shirt again and angled the camera back to his face. He was not impressed. “Cara, I’m not an idiot. If the doctors tell me not to work out, it’s for a reason. I wouldn’t sabotage my healing process like that. I want to get well, the sooner the better. Training would stall my progress.”

A faint smile covered my lips. “Just making sure is all.”

He rolled his eyes, but he did smile again. “I find your nurturing side quite charming.”

I laughed. “Do you mean to say I qualify for mothering your children?”

“One hundred per cent.”

“Glad we got that established,” I joked. “Now we can rest easy for another few years.”

“Now we can practice for another few years.”

“You have yourself a solid deal, sir.”

“Can I have that in writing, please?”

I burst out laughing again. “No!”

“Gutted.”

Once my laughter ceased, I leaned back against the headboard of my bed and resorted to admiring him.

“Was there a reason why you called, or did you simply miss my face?” he eventually asked.

That prompted me to look away from him. Since I was quiet for some time, spent gathering my thoughts, I sensed him grow worried, but was difficult to decide how to start.

“Cara.”

“Something happened today,” I murmured and stole a quick glance at him.

His brows furrowed. “What did? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I think. It’s nothing too dramatic – or at least I don’t think it needs to be, but I thought you ought to know, so I decided to call you before I do anything.”

“Before you do anything?” he quoted me suspiciously. “From your phrasing, it sounds like you have a choice. What that is I don’t know, but quit beating about the bush and tell me already. I’m growing worried.”

I inhaled sharply and forced myself to look at him. The words just about printed out of my mouth when I said, “Robby sent me a message on Facebook today. I haven’t opened it yet, because I thought I should inform you about it first, so I have no idea what he wants, but last we spoke he said he wouldn’t reach out until he’d moved on, so I reckon he might have moved on if he’s trying to link up again.”

Dead silence. Dead, utter silence. In fact, it was so quiet on his front that the silence was shrieking. What made it worse was the fact that his expression was completely unreadable; not a single twitch of his eyebrow or a faint tug of his lips. The only thing that could hint toward his current thoughts was his icy stare.

When around thirty seconds had passed, I grew so impatient that I prompted him to speak. “William, say something, please.”

“Actually, Cara,” he replied so coldly that my heart skipped a beat, “I’d rather hear your thoughts.”

Clearly, his guard was up, and the walls were looking so tall and thick that I wondered if I’d be able to make them tumble during the lapse of this conversation. I would need to choose my words carefully. As such, I didn’t find his request remotely fair.

“You’re not being fair, Will. I know you’re testing me now, and I’m not all right with it. I specifically tried to take preventive measures by telling you this before I did anything. I’m trying to maintain the health of our relationship here, but you’re making it unfairly difficult when you’re acting this way.”

That pissed him off. “How am I not being fair? Full transparency is just as important in maintaining the health of this relationship.”

“Not if you’re going to overanalyse what I say, or judge me somehow. I’m not going to overlook the fact that I might say something wrong inadvertently, and I’m not interested in fucking up like that when I can prevent it.”

“Cara, if you’re going to start hiding your thoughts from me, that’s something worth being concerned about.”

“Then you have to promise me that you won’t punish me for them,” I demanded.

“Define ‘punish’.”

This bloody lawyer. I was scowling at him now. “Punish in which you’ll use whatever I might say against me in order to make it out like I’m not truly invested in this. Because I am, Will, and I’ll have your balls on a platter if you dare angle it any differently. I’m going out of my way not to enable your trust-issues here.”

He inhaled sharply. “You’re more perceptive than I give you credit for,” he mumbled, and I could tell he was irritated. “But you’re also being sagacious, so yes, I promise.”

I only realised I’d been rigid and defensive when my shoulders sank with my relief. “Thank you.”

“Go on, then.”

“Right, well, like I said, I don’t know why he’s reached out. All his message says is ‘hey’ as far as I can tell. I’ve decided that I’m going to open it, to find out what he wants and whether he’s moved on.”

He groaned and leaned forward to rub his face. “Cara, you’re truly testing my patience. The man is definitely not over you. I mean how long has it been? A month?”

He was only saying what Jason had now.

“Yes, I get that it’s not been long, and you might be right, but I don’t feel comfortable establishing that as a fact before I’ve spoken to him. Perhaps his feelings for me weren’t that deep. Perhaps he’s found someone else he wants to give it a go with. Or perhaps he only means to ask me a trivial question, like the title of a song only I’ll know about or something. What I’m trying to say is that I really don’t know, Will.”

“And what if he wants to meet? What if he wants to get back in your life?”

I grimaced and looked away from him again. “From your tone, it sounds like that’s still off limits.”

“Oh, my God,” he moaned. “Cara, are you being serious right now?”

“William, besides Jason, he was my very best friend for bloody three years. I hate to say this, because I’m worried you’ll misunderstand or miscalculate the gravity of it, but I actually miss him. I miss the platonic parts of our friendship, and honestly, I have him to thank for several of my grades. He’s the ideal study partner. If we can’t study together next term, it might actually affect my marks.

“I never loved him like that, and you know that. Surely you must see that. Otherwise, I would’ve tried to take things further with him ages ago! You’re the only man I’ve been in love with, William.”

“Cara, no. I’m not ready. I can’t deal with that. I really can’t. We haven’t been together officially for even a month yet. You can’t expect me to have learned to trust you so implicitly just yet, and especially when I know how precious he is to you.

“I need more time. I know you claim never to have loved him like you love me, but he knows you far better than I do right now, and I’m not comfortable with that at all. If you meet up with him, I’m scared you’ll be reminded of just comfortable he makes you feel, and I’m scared it will inspire you to reconsider your choice. And I won’t recover from that. I really won’t.”

To maintain my equilibrium, I took deep, slow breaths while I processed his take on the matter. One question kept repeating itself in my mind, and that was, “Do you think you’ll ever be comfortable with the idea of us being friends, Will?”

When I looked back to him, I found him staring soberly at me, and he did for a long time.

“Since I can tell it’s something you really wish for, I’ll try. For you, I swear I’ll try, Cara – I really do. How long it’ll take really only depends on how much effort we’re both willing to put into this. If you don’t do anything stupid like act fickle again, that’s likely to speed up the process. Likewise, I’ll try to understand things from your perspective – really try.”

“Then how do you think I can help you see things from my perspective? Because telling you clearly doesn’t help much.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately for you, I’m not prone to trusting people’s words. I trust actions. For instance, the fact that you called me before you opened his message was a brilliant choice on your end. Had you gone behind my back, this would have turned out much worse.”

Pouting, I toyed with the edges of my phone case. “Suppose I’m learning.”

“You obviously are. Things like that are what I take into account when I consider giving my trust when it comes to you and him. So while I’ll admit I’m angry he’s reached out to you again, I’m grateful you thought to tell me before you did anything. That you’re predictable is extremely important to me. I need to know what to expect, and where I have you, in order to be able to trust you.”

“Yeah, I get that. So the conclusion being, if he proposes being friends again, I’ll have to turn him down. For now.”

He released a loud breath. “The fact that you’re willing to do that, Cara, honestly means the world to me. I hate to ask it of you, especially when I can see how much it bothers you, but it’s necessary if this relationship is going to stand a chance, because if you don’t do it, I’m quite sure that, as of now, my jealousy will inspire me to resent not just him, but you both and how you are together, and that’ll lead to the end of us.”

“I’d like to tell him face-to-face if it comes to that.”

He rubbed his face before he turned his profile to me while he contemplated my request. From the way his jaw clenched and unclenched, I could tell he was experiencing conflicting emotions. My heart thundered while I waited for him to make up his mind. In fact, I even held my breath.

“See, part of me is scared of that, since I’m worried seeing him will render you into a coward, or that it will somehow inspire you to change your mind, but I’m going to take a leap of faith here, because you truly deserve it, and say that yes, I’m all right with that.”

My heart filled with relief. “Thank you, William. I seriously appreciate that, and I won’t abuse your trust.”

He didn’t reply, so after a while, I decided that I had to ask, “If he asks why we can’t be friends for the moment, would you mind if I explain to him that you’re not comfortable with it because of our history?”

“Sure. Whatever you think is necessary.”

“Thanks.”

He released an exasperated breath. “I really hope he’s just looking for the title of a bloody song, like you said.”

I’d no idea why – perhaps it was his tone – but I smiled, albeit faintly.

“Do you want to stay on while I open his message?”

“I’d actually like to come over.”

It was obvious he needed to be reassured, so I’d never dream to deny him the satisfaction. “Then do. I’d fancy if you did.”

“Will you wait with opening it till I’m there?”

“Only if you stay till the morning.”

His responding grin melted my heart, particularly because it proved I’d said exactly what he needed to hear. “It would be my absolute pleasure, love.”

“Then be quick about it.”

“I’ll pack my things straight away.”

“See you soon, then.”

“Yeah. And Cara?”

“I love you, too, Will.”

He chuckled at my perceptive response. “Good.”

After we’d hung up, I lied back and stared at the ceiling of my bedroom for a good fifteen minutes, processing our conversation. While we still weren’t on the same page regarding Robby, I could fully understand and respect William’s way of assessing whether someone could be trusted. Like he’d said, he trusted actions, and that was perfectly rational. So far, we hadn’t been together long enough for me to prove myself worthy of it by acting accordingly.

In essence, our problems boiled down to requiring more time. That was all it was, and given enough if it, I knew I’d be able to deliver. Besides, Robby would wait for that. If he prized our friendship like I did, he’d wait years if he had to.

Eventually, a smile covered my mouth. Our dialogue had turned out better than I’d expected, because it had been exactly that. A dialogue. It hadn’t been a screaming match, no tears had been shed, and we hadn’t gone for each other’s throats. We’d been constructive, honest and open. It had started out somewhat aggressively, but in the end, he’d felt heard, and so had I. This was promising.

A few minutes later, I decided to update Jason, so after bringing my legs out of my bed, I walked back to the living area where I found him waiting. Upon noticing my arrival, he reached for the remote and lowered the volume before he turned toward me, apprehensive.

“Well?”

“That went quite well, I thought.”

Surprise took to his features. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Well, that’s great, then.”

“Yeah. He’s coming over, though. We agreed that I’d open the message while he was here.”

He passed me a winsome smile. “Look at you two. Communicating. Well done. I’m proud.”

“Yeah, you know, I think I’m getting good at this girlfriend thing.”

“Cara, you’re every lad’s dream girlfriend.”

“Don’t be silly.”

He chuckled and shook his head at me. “I’m really not.”

I dumped my body beside his on the sofa and proceeded to snuggle up to him.

“Do you think you’ll be having sex?” he asked then.

“If it comes to that, I’ll keep it down.”

“Please do. Obviously I’m glad you can’t get enough of each other and all that, but I don’t need to actually hear it.”

“Jason, I got the memo.”

“Just making sure.”

“Now that we’re on the subject, have you had sex since I last asked you?” I teased.

He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “You are forever intrigued by my sex life, aren’t you?”

“I just don’t want you to get prostate cancer. Apparently, not ejaculating often enough is the main cause of it. I sincerely hope you wank a lot.”

Loud laughter erupted from his lungs. “Cara, I’m a med student. Mum also happens to be an oncologist. I’m well aware of this. She practically – however indirectly – encouraged me to masturbate once I hit puberty.”

“Well, then. Just putting it out there, like you ought to be doing.”

“Witty mouth.”

“Thanks. Anyway, no pressure, but have you?”

His lips twitched, revealing his amusement. “Yes, Cara, I have.”

I gasped. “When?”

“While you were living with Will.”

“Really?” I couldn’t hide my excitement.

“Really.”

“Lucky girl.”

“Nah, I was proper drunk. Bad case of the whisky dick.”

I laughed so hard then that I snorted. “I’m so sorry for laughing, but oh, my God.”

“Laugh all you want. I’m not bothered.”

“Who is she?”

“No idea. She said her name was Steph. I’ve forgotten just about everything else.”

“Where did you find her, then?”

“I was having a night out with Jon and Stephen. Jon started chatting up one of her friends, so they all joined us eventually. Steph was among them, and she seemed nice. I wasn’t actually looking to get laid, though, so it wasn’t until she kissed me that I realised it was an option. I remember I was still very hesitant, but she was a pushy one, and being completely off my face didn’t aid my case.

“By the time we were leaving, I didn’t even know we were headed to hers. To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t know where I was until the next morning, much less what I was doing. I’ve felt like shit about it ever since, because I left before she woke. I feel like I’ve used her.”

My mood had quickly turned sober. “Jason, from the sound of it, she was the one who took advantage of you."

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself, but still.”

“Why did you get that drunk?”

He sighed and shrugged, but offered no reply.

“This is the shittiest sexual endeavour I’ve ever heard of,” I stated.

“I can tell you plenty more stories about my mates that are far more grim, if you like. For instance, one time, Jon went down on a girl who was on her period. We called him ‘Jon with the bloody mouth’ for months after that.”

I shuddered, and my nose wrinkled with my disgust. “I did not need to know that. Poor Jon. No more stories, please.”

“Told you there were grimmer cases.”

“Have you told Will about Steph?”

“Yeah, I always tell Will straight after I’ve had sex.”

The sarcasm was scorching, and it made me snicker.

“Right. Dumb question.”

He chuckled. “Sorry. No, I haven’t told him, and I don’t plan on it unless it somehow becomes relevant.”

“Hm. Big of you not to resort to apps like Tinder in search of some action, though.”

He cringed. “Yeah, no, that’s not for me. Tried it, hated it, never touching it again. Not judging those who use it, but it’s definitely not for me.”

“Although, I have to say, taking your last endeavour into account, I reckon Tinder would’ve been better.”

“Plausible. We’ll never know.”

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