Skin of the Night

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Chapter 82: I Can't Fucking Believe This

It was nearing midnight when Robby finally showed signs of drowsiness. Considering his ordeal, I didn’t overlook the fact that he was generally drained these days; perhaps even fatigued.

We were still in his living room. He slouched on the sofa while I sat in his lounge chair. Quiet music was humming in the background, but neither of us paid it any attention. It was just there to fill the silence. Glancing over, I could tell his eyelids were growing heavier. It was convenient for me that he looked ready for bed, because I knew that I had an anxious boyfriend to take care of as well, but I didn’t want to ring him until I’d left Robby’s, and I didn’t want to take my leave until I was sure that Robby would find proper sleep.

“You should go to bed, Robby,” I said.

Regretfully, my statement appeared to wake him somewhat.

“I’m all right.”

“I really think you ought to get some rest.”

He turned toward me, and the bags under his eyes were quite apparent as the dim light shone on his face. The sight made me wonder whether he was forcing himself to remain awake because he didn’t want me to leave.

“Will you stay?” he brought himself to ask. I gathered his courage stemmed from the wine in his system. He’d finished the whole bottle by himself after I’d politely declined a second glass.

I hoped my eyes portrayed the sympathy his question prompted. “No. I don’t want to disrespect William like that.”

“Disrespect him?”

“He wouldn’t like it.”

He gazed away. “Because of our history?”

“Yes.”

He only nodded his head.

“Come on.” I stood. “Let’s get you to bed.”

“I’ll go to bed, but I’ll walk you to the door first,” he replied and swung his legs out of the sofa. “You don’t need to tuck me in.”

I didn’t argue because I preferred this course of action. So instead, I headed for the hall to put on my shoes and jacket. Once I was set, I turned toward him and opened my arms to invite him for another hug. This time, I was the one to pull away first.

I reached for the handle behind me while I said, “I’ll see you on Sunday, yeah?”

Tucking his hands into his pockets, he offered a grateful smile. My focus shifted to his mouth, and it invoked a quick memory of him kissing me mere months ago. It was surreal to think that had happened. It seemed so distant, like it had happened during another life. I remembered the motion of his lips like I remembered my childhood. We’d been intimate with each other, and now I regarded that idea with a strange sense of wonder, as if I couldn’t recognise who I’d been back then. In the end, that only convinced me of how unsullied my platonic feelings for him were. Our moments of intimacy had never been the seed of our relation. Our friendship had.

“Yeah. Are you heading to... him?”

I shook my head. “Was supposed to, initially, but I’d rather be alone tonight, everything considered.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your evening.”

“Robby, an apology is just plain wrong right now.”

“I’m still sorry.”

“You haven’t ruined my evening. I’m only upset you have to go through this. You don’t deserve it. But at the end of the day, I’m grateful to have you back.”

“I’m glad to have you back as well.”

“Sunday, then.”

“Yeah.”

On my way to the tube, I decided to phone Will to tell him I wasn’t coming tonight. I’d no idea how to handle the conversation, but I reckoned I’d go with the flow this time around. Unsurprisingly, he picked up immediately.

“Well?” his voice was etched with anxiety.

I took a deep breath. “It didn’t go as I’d expected.”

“What do you mean?”

“I need to clear my head before I explain, Will. I’m really not capable of discussing this with you right now. I’m... I’m shocked.”

He was quiet for such a long time that I wondered if the line had been cut, but once I eyed my screen, I saw that he was still there.

“You didn’t tell him, did you?” It wasn’t really a question, but rather an accusation. His anger was loud and clear, and for once, I wasn’t affected by it. Robby’s news had rendered me quite stoical, or perhaps it was nihilism that currently ruled my conscience.

“No, William, I didn’t, but I’ve got valid reasons. I’ll explain tomorrow, all right? I need to think. I feel very weird right now. Out of touch with reality.”

I heard his exasperation in his breathing. “You’re not coming over?”

“No. I love you, but I need to be alone tonight.”

“Cara, this is completely unacceptable. You’re being extremely vague, and it’s honestly just making things worse. Are you with him right now?”

“No, I’m on my way home.”

“Are you lying?”

“No.”

“Did he kiss you?”

“No. He didn’t as much as try. It’s not like that, Will. His mother is dying.” Suddenly, and unexpectedly, tears surfaced in my eyes, but they never made it down my cheeks.

Heather was dying.

“What?”

“Yes. She’s got breast cancer, and it’s spread to her brain. It’s terminal.”

Deafening silence occupied the line until I heard him curse to himself for a long while. I didn’t think I’d ever heard him curse so much in such few sentences, if they could even be considered such.

“I can’t fucking believe this. I honestly can’t fucking believe this,” he said, and then surprised me by hanging up.

My first thought was that it had gone better than I’d expected. But upon further reflection, I realised it might not be the case at all. For all I knew, hanging up could have been an act of punishment just as well as it might have been an act of respecting my boundaries. But I experienced no desire to seek answers. All I had the capacity to care about was that I’d let him know I wasn’t coming.

The journey home seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. It was like I’d just stepped out of Robby’s door and straight into my flat. The first thing I noticed was Jason’s figure in the sofa, watching me arrive while the sound of the telly played in the background. His expression was apprehensive, and I wondered if mine was the cause of it.

Without a word, I kicked off my shoes, removed my jacket and charged into the bathroom to get ready for bed. Since I hadn’t shut the door behind me, I heard his footsteps approach. Entering the doorway, he folded his arms and, awaiting my report, leaned against the doorjamb.

When our eyes met in the mirror, it came all at once. Tears spilled down my cheeks while I paused brushing my teeth, and the view inspired him to act. Heading toward me, he wrapped his arms around me and hugged my back against his chest, stubbly chin finding rest atop my head.

“Cara,” he cooed and squeezed me for a breath. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Yes,” I cried with white foam trailing down my chin.

“Take your time, sweetheart,” he soothed and turned me around to press my face against his warm chest. I trembled in his arms, overcome with confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared of how William was going to tackle this. In fact, I felt nearly as scared now as I had been when he’d been skipping around death, because in a way, the result could be similar: I might lose him.

No matter which way I looked at the situation, the outcome was unbearable. Unless William found it in him to trust me.

Since I wasn’t capable of forming coherent sentences just yet, Jason took the liberty to inform me that, “Will called just before you came in. He told me about Robby’s mum.”

I looked up at him, and although several sobs interfered with my sentence, I managed to say, “Is he coming over?”

A flicker of anger crossed his eyes, but he was quick to conceal it. “No. He’s not.”

My heart clenched as agony seeped through. Catching my breath, my whole body tensed. Alarms were going off in my head. “Because I asked for space, or because he’s angry?”

His jaw clenched and unclenched. “He didn’t say.”

My breath hitched. Acting on impulse, I fisted his black t-shirt and gazed vulnerably up at him. He must have seen the desperation that swirled in my eyes, because his face twisted with pity.

“I’m scared, Jason. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do. I can’t just abandon Robby like that. Not now. Not when he needs me most.”

Cupping my head in his lovely pair of hands, he lowered his own and stared deep into my eyes. “No, Cara. You can’t.”

His words worked like a strange form of magic. In a heartbeat, my chest felt somewhat lighter; as if he’d removed some of the weight on my shoulders by assuring me I wasn’t wrong to feel this way.

“Jason,” I croaked out, and it was a sound of pure affection.

“I’ve got your back, Cara. You’re doing the right thing. Robby needs you, and you’re right to be there for him. He’s your friend. That’s all he is, and I know that as well as you do.”

If only William could believe the same.

We stood there for another while, and never once did his hands cease to rub my back.

“Would you like me to keep you company in bed tonight?” he eventually asked.

“Yes,” it was a plea.

“All right. Finish up, then, and I’ll get ready as well.”

“Did Will say anything else?”

He pulled away to reach for his toothbrush, and I noticed with dread that he was avoiding my gaze. “We had a bit of a fight, actually. Now that you mention it, I should probably text him that you’ve arrived. That’s why he rang in the first place, to check if you were home yet. He didn’t trust that you weren’t going to spend the night at Robby’s.”

I found that both insane and incredibly nasty. “I don’t deserve that,” I feebly said.

He’d always harboured these striking contrasts. At one time – really most of the time – he was the sweetest man I’d ever known. But whenever the smallest opportunity presented itself, his inherent jealousy found a way to taunt his insecurities, turning him into a vile man I hardly recognised.

How I hated his jealousy. I hated it completely, because it was pushing us apart. Could he not see that himself?

“No, you don’t, and you can be sure I told him. That’s how we started to argue.”

“Is he very angry?”

“William can piss off,” he snapped, and I jumped at the volume. “He's being completely unreasonable. I’m furious with him.”

“Jason, I need to know,” I answered collectedly.

His eyebrows furrowed, and he squeezed the tube of toothpaste so hard that an exaggerated amount landed on his toothbrush. “Yes, Cara, he’s livid. But you know he’s got an awful temper. He’ll have calmed down by the morning.”

Tears stung my eyes again, because I wasn’t sure he was right. William was furious, and that could only mean one thing. He wasn’t about to go along with this.

It was barely a whisper that escaped my mouth, “What if he doesn’t?”

“Then you’re better off without him, and I sincerely mean that.”

The instantaneous crack that spread apart the fibres of my heart made me lose my breath. I didn’t want to be without him. I loved him. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to love anyone like I loved him.

“Jason, I don’t want him to leave me. I love him,” I uttered, and the profound fear in my voice was unmistakable.

He sighed, eyes glancing in my direction. “I know, Cara. I know.”

“He needs to understand.”

“You both need to sleep on this, Cara, and then you need to talk. Whatever the outcome, I’m on your side.”

My lips trembled. This had been one of my fears when I first started seeing William. There wasn’t a chance I would let Jason become collateral damage in this. “Jason, no. Don’t pick sides. I’ll hate myself if this somehow ruins your relationship.”

“It won’t. I love him, but that doesn’t mean I’ll agree with everything he does. And I certainly don’t agree now. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. I won’t support him in this, and he’ll forgive me for that. Unless he goes mental and kills someone, our bond’s not breakable.”

I stared at him, fixated on a thing he’d said. “I hadn’t thought our bond was breakable, either.”

He turned toward me then, and his eyes conveyed his compassion. “I don’t think it is, Cara, but he might not have realised that yet.”

I headed into my bedroom without another word. Confused was both too narrow and shallow a word to describe my state. So many emotions were colliding, compressing into something indescribably complex that I’d never experienced before. All I knew was that I felt completely paralysed. As things looked now, I was going to lose someone precious one way or another.

I’d settled into bed when I realised that the way to filter down my options was to ask myself in which outcome I was more likely to keep at least myself.

If I chose Robby, it might cost me the love of my life. But if I chose Will, I knew I’d never be able to forgive myself for betraying my friend. In fact, I was scared I might even grow to resent William if it came to that, because I would blame him for forcing me to commit the crime. Was our love doomed either way?

I hadn’t found the answer by the time Jason joined me. After undressing until only his boxers remained, he crawled into my bed and turned onto his back beside me.

“Come here.”

I snuggled up to him at once and let my head rest on his chest. His heartbeat pounded against my cheek, and I wondered if it was because he was nervous on my behalf, or just angry with his brother.

“Listen,” he said after some silence. “I can be trusted when I say this, because I’m speaking against my bias. If Will can’t trust you, Cara, he doesn’t deserve you. If he’s blind to your loyalty, that’s his error. Not yours. If he truly understood you, or even wanted to, he would both acknowledge and recognise that you’re entirely faithful. You do not deserve to be punished for his insecurities. You need to let him go if it comes to that, and that’s bound to make him reflect. It might just be the push he needs. He’s got some serious demons he needs to deal with. Until he has, you’re better off without him. It’s not your job to fix him, Cara. It’s his.

“Ever since you got together, you have gone out of your way to express your devotion. I’ve witnessed that myself. And not for a second will I tell him anything else. I will remind him time and again what I’ve seen, how you’ve acted whenever he’s not there, and I won’t stop until he listens.

“So yes, you were fickle in the beginning, but how you’ve behaved ever since you chose him over Robby is what should matter. You made your decision, and you’ve stuck with it.”

I couldn’t reply. While I both appreciated and agreed with his reflections, it didn’t help the pain I felt upon the thought of losing him over something like this. It seemed so meaningless, and the solution so simple. All he had to do was take a leap of faith, provide some leeway, so that I could prove my loyalty to him once and for all.

When my eyes finally closed, there was only one thing I knew for certain. If he left me because of this, it was not the end. And I knew that because my love for him had no end.

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