Skin of the Night

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Chapter 83: You Think Love Ends?

It was Patrick who opened the door to William’s building for me the next day. I knew he worked part time, and only on the weekends, since that was when Garrick was off duty. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I’d met him first, but I preferred Garrick. He was more familiar to me than Patrick was, because the latter was far more reserved in his demeanour. I reckoned he was in his mid-twenties, but I’d never asked.

He was a skinny lad, but quite tall. Not as tall as William, but tall nevertheless. His droopy brown eyes never smiled at me when I arrived, even if he was always polite. Like Garrick, he was formal, but Garrick had an old-fashioned aura about him that I rather enjoyed. Patrick just came across as cold whenever he addressed me by my surname, as if it wasn’t an act of genuine respect, but rather that of duty.

“Miss Darby,” he greeted.

“Hello, Patrick. How are you?”

“Great, thanks. And you?”

“Just fine.”

“I’ll let Mr Night know you’re here,” he said and headed for the intercom on the desk that I passed.

“Thank you,” I quietly said and wondered if he could sense my anxiety from my behaviour.

As I stepped into the lift, I was hyperaware of my pounding heart. It simply wouldn’t calm down no matter how hard I tried, and it was making my hands shake.

I’d no idea what to expect.

Gazing into the mirror, I noted how pale I looked. I’d neglected wearing make-up today, because I was quite sure I was going to cry at some point. I just hoped he’d simmered down by now. If he hadn’t, things were bound to turn ugly. Uglier than they already were.

Once the lift stopped on his floor, I had to focus on steadying my breathing. I reminded myself before I mustered the courage to ring his doorbell that I had to remain levelheaded at all costs. Adding fuel to the fire was out of the question. If I didn’t manage, we might both be annihilated in the heat of the explosion.

My breath hitched when he opened the door. For a moment, we just stared at each other. Since my feelings were so loud, it took me a while to pay attention to his. But once I did, I swallowed in dread. The light blue colour of his eyes resembled frost while he glared at me, and it occurred to me that he might not mean to let me in.

I’d texted him before I left my flat that I was coming over, and he had replied only with, ‘Do’. I’d gotten the impression that he was willing to talk, but from the way he was standing, deliberately blocking the way, it seemed possible that the sight of me had changed his mind.

He was the first to break the silence, “Have you slept at all?”

Of all questions, I hadn’t expected that one. “A few hours.”

“I haven’t. Not for a second.”

I wondered if it had been his intention to stir my guilt when he chose to ask me that, as if he’d purposefully set the trap, knowing I’d walk straight into it, or whether it was only an accident.

The crack in my heart grew. Was it his intention to break it completely?

My throat contracted. “I’m sorry,” I said and swallowed again.

His glare persisted.

“Are you going to let me in?”

His hesitation was blatant. “I already have, Cara, but you seem determined to leave. Are you?”

I flinched at his vile insinuation. “No. William, please. We need to talk.”

His eyes narrowed accusingly, but at last, he stepped aside to allow my entrance. He didn’t wait for me. I noticed resolve in his steps while he headed into his living room as I removed my jacket and shoes. There was no affection to be found in his behaviour. I hadn’t ever witnessed this side of him, and it was only increasing my concern. Gone was the tender lover I’d given my heart to, and present was a character I’d never met before.

It was strange how loud his love suddenly seemed, now that it was absent.

“I heard you fell out with Jason last night. I’m sorry about that, too,” I said when I followed after him.

“So am I,” his voice lacked any trace of emotion, and that impassiveness disconcerted me. “The last thing I need is his useless opinion about a matter he simply cannot begin to comprehend.”

At there it was. His fury. The storm hadn’t passed in the least. I realised with dread that I might have arrived in the eye of it.

“What do you mean?” I dared to ask.

For a moment, he eyed me so condescendingly that I felt both utterly contemptible as well as pathetic. “He’s got no idea what I’m dealing with. He really isn’t qualified to breathe as much as a word of objection. Had he been inside my head – had you been inside my head – you’d both turn mute.”

I opened my mouth to respond when he cut me off before I could, “You see, the problem is that you’re unable to empathise.”

That fucking hurt. What outrageous audacity he had. “Excuse me?”

I immediately regretted my defensive tone. Stay calm, I reminded myself and folded my arms as I drew in a deep breath.

“Yes.” He sank into his sofa. “Neither of you know what it’s like to contain this,” he paused and frowned to himself, “this unbearable amount of jealousy. You’re both treating it like it’s a rational emotion. It’s not. It doesn’t adhere to reason. In fact, it’s the very enemy of reason.”

We stared at each other while I tried to comprehend his statement.

Eventually, a strange smile formed on his mouth, as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Do you think I want to feel this way?” he asked, and his question left me speechless. “Do you think I enjoy losing nights of sleep worrying about whether my girlfriend will stay faithful?”

I couldn’t bear the sight of him just then. Turning my head away, I barely uttered, “No.”

“I’m possessed by it, Cara. If I could, I’d abandon the emotion in the blink of an eye, but it’s not a choice. It’s hardwired in my brain, like a demon that just won’t leave. And it fucking hurts. It’s exhausting, and it’s relentless. I absolutely despise this part of myself. It’s a conscious battle every single day.”

During a moment of silence, I found my seat in the sofa opposite of him. I still hadn’t the strength to look him in the eye, so I fixed my gaze on my folded hands in my lap.

“Do you actually believe that I don’t want to trust you?” he queried.

I grimaced while I shook my head. He was being awfully rhetorical.

“I do, Cara. It’s all I want. I want to trust you so much that how to achieve it bothers several hours of my day, because if I could, I know I wouldn’t have to experience all this doubt and the pain that comes with it.”

“I understand what you’re saying, Will, but I’m asking you to take a leap of faith. You’ve never really presented an opportunity for me to prove myself worthy of your trust. This could be just that.”

His inhalation prompted me to look at him, and during the glimpse I saw anger swell in his features. “Then you clearly do not understand, because if you did, you wouldn’t ask me that.”

Desperation found me. “William, I’m begging you. I can’t just leave him to go through this on his own. He needs me.”

I flinched when he suddenly yelled, “I need you!”

Several seconds went by before I dared to speak again. “I can be there for you both.”

“No. You can’t.” He leaned forward and bent his head, hands revealing his exasperation as they ran back and forth through his hair. “It’s impossible,” he quietly said. He wasn’t looking at me when he continued, “I’ve been contemplating it all night. I want to trust you Cara, but I can’t. I’m incapable right now.”

As I’d expected, tears climbed to my eyes. Was this really happening? “Trusting people doesn’t make you a fool, Will. It’s those who betray it that are fools.”

“No, it doesn’t work quite like that, Cara. Not for me. Trust doesn’t just come about over night. We’ve only been together about a month, and now that he’s... I fucking hate him!” He shot up from his seat and turned his back to me, fingers weaving together behind his neck in visible frustration. “Of course this had to happen now. I mean, in a sense, it’s actually ludicrous. It’s just so fucking typical.”

A tear fell down my cheek, and I didn’t bother to wipe it away, as plenty more were soon to follow if this didn’t take an unexpected turn sometime soon. “His mother is dying, William. He never meant to come in our way. He’s not even aware he is.”

He turned toward me then, and the viciousness that his eyes contained made my blood run cold. He was livid. “So his mother is dying. That’s unfortunate, and obviously not something I’d wish for anyone. But surely he’s got other friends who can look after him through this difficult time? Someone who doesn’t have a jealous boyfriend who’s currently dealing with trauma of his own! Or have you forgotten I was beaten to within an inch of my life mere weeks ago?”

He might as well have punched me in the gut. “William,” I whimpered. “Please. You know I couldn’t ever forget. I’m asking you to let me be there for you both.”

“And I’m saying that’s impossible!”

“William, Heather is the only parent he’s got left, and she’s dying. I’ll never forgive myself if I shut him out when he needs me most. You’ll be forcing me to betray not only my friend, but myself and my morals, and I’ll resent you for that. And that resentment will ultimately ruin us. Can’t you see that?”

His eyes widened as if he were in shock. The clock on his wall ticked the seconds away while he continued to stare at me, seemingly at a loss. “Are you listening to yourself? You’re essentially saying that betraying me when I need you most is something you’d rather do! Are you seriously prioritising his pain as though it’s greater than mine? Is that truly something you can live with?”

“No, William. It’s not like that at all.”

“Do you not understand that you will betray me if you choose him?” he shouted. After heaving for air, he continued at a quieter volume, “That resentment you speak of, that’s mine to grow as well. If I go along with this, I know I’ll grow to resent you, because I’ll be in pain every hour of the day wondering if you’ll stay loyal to me.

“I can’t share you with him, Cara. He was your lover for three fucking years! And now he’s in a vulnerable place that I’m seriously scared will stir your compassion and sympathy to the extent that you might return to him! I don’t trust that you and I are strong enough yet; strong enough for you to be immune to his influence and your past. Surely you have to understand why I can’t accept this? It will drive me insane. The mere idea already is!”

I watched him vigilantly as he paced restless around. It looked as though he didn’t know what to do with himself.

“I can’t stand his touching you,” he declared. “I can’t stand even the idea of his speaking to you. You have so much history, Cara. He knows you so well, and I’m jealous even of that. I should know you best. Not him.”

I buried my face in my hands and surrendered to quiet sobs.

“I refuse to compete with him.”

“You’re not competing with him!” I exclaimed. “There is no competition, William! You’ve got all my love! All there is – it’s all yours!”

“If that were true, we wouldn’t be having this argument.”

“No, you’re confusing this. You’re getting it all wrong, Will. He’s my friend. That’s all he is and ever will be.”

“Strange to pick friendship over your relationship.”

“You are forcing my hand!”

He looked away from me and gripped his hips. “I understand that’s how you see it, Cara, but you’re not listening to me. We’ve reached an impasse,” he said and shook his head to himself in blatant disbelief. “I can’t believe this. I really can’t.”

His sarcasm was overflowing when he referenced to the law under his breath, “Irretrievable breakdown? Really? I’d have thought us above that.”

I sniffed. “Why have you got such issues with trust, Will?”

He grimaced as if in agony. “I’ve already told you, Cara. Please don’t make me repeat it.”

“But we weren’t together back then. It’s hardly fair to hold that against me. Ever since we agreed to be exclusive, I’ve done nothing to constitute your mistrust.”

“Because I’m cynical, Cara!” his voice broke. “I’ve never had to trust anyone but myself before, and surely not with something so important.”

“William,” I uttered his name as though it were a plea, “I’m not going to let you down.”

“You already are.”

Instantaneous anger unfurled within me, and with it came bitterness. “You’re being intolerably self-centred. Egotistical, even. I’ve done everything I can to support you, and yet you appear totally unwilling – if not even blind – to acknowledge my efforts and recognise my pain in all this.”

His jaw clenched as he studied me in evident revulsion. “That’s rich, coming from you.”

My lips parted. Had he truly meant that, or was he only looking to hurt me right now? Before I could speak, he continued, “If you choose him, I don’t feel remotely sorry for the pain you’ll endure. And you should know I won’t forgive you. If you choose him, that’s a final decision, Cara. I won’t take you back.”

It was as though time stopped while I suffered under his words. That single moment of agony seemed to extend for an eternity.

Through trembling lips, I managed to say, “You think love ends just because we’re not together?”

As if I’d struck his Achilles heel, he collapsed onto the sofa and collected his head in his hands.

The silence that ensued seemed to last an age.

“There’s nothing more to be said,” he finally murmured. “You’ve made your choice, and you can bring it with you out the door.”

Reluctant couldn’t possibly describe what I felt. “William, please. Don’t do this. Don’t leave me. I love you.”

“Not enough, Cara. You don’t love me enough.”

“How can you say that? I can’t possibly love you any more than I already do.”

His eyes captured mine, rendering me paralysed.

“Because I’d gladly take a bullet for you, Cara, and yet you can’t even neglect your ex for me.”

“Whether I’d sacrifice myself for you has got nothing to do with this. To be honest, sacrificing myself would be easier than sacrificing my friend, William, because there would be no guilt for me to endure. And he’s not my ex.” I choked on a sob. “Will, I can’t possibly love you any more than I already do.”

“Then it’s futile, because it’s insufficient. I need you to love me at least enough to choose me."

I sat there for another while, disbelieving. How could he do this to us?

I asked, “Is it really so impossible for you to try? To take a leap of faith?”

“Cara Jane Darby, I have been fighting for this relationship since the day that I met you. You have some fucking nerve to accuse me of anything else. And it’s not about taking a leap of faith. The reality is that my jealousy will poison my every thought while you two interact. Especially under these circumstances. He’s vulnerable, and I’m worried he’ll exploit your compassion.”

“Then what if you were there? Would that help?”

He watched me incredulously. “No, Cara. That wouldn’t help at all. It will only inspire me to resent you faster, because I’ll be reminded of how well he knows you and how much you care for him. What’s worse, it will stock my head with disgusting images of the two of you naked and lusting, and that makes me feel sick. The mere sight of him making you laugh would be enough to drive me crazy.”

I’d never dreamed the extent of his jealousy could be this ferocious. It truly was unfathomable. “I wonder, Will,” my voice trembled while I wiped my cheeks, “how do you live with yourself? All this jealousy... It must be unbearable.”

He looked surprised at me, as if my ability to pity him right now was the last thing he’d expected. “I sometimes wonder that myself.”

The clock continued its ticking and I wished it would stop. I didn’t want to leave. I desperately wanted for time to halt right in this instant, rendering me incapable of doing anything at all but remain here with him. There would be no consequences, then. No actions necessary to be made. How ironic it was that time was said to have healing powers. All it ensured now was injury.

A heart-wrenching thought dawned on me while I sat there in my utter despair. Had I only been a number in his row of lovers after all?

“When I told you in that ambulance that I’d never stop loving you, I meant it,” I said as I stretched from my seat. “So if you change your mind, you’ll find me waiting. Stupid as it sounds, I’m prepared for that to mean for ever, because there won’t be anyone else for me, Will. I’ll be damned if you waste our love, assessing whether it’s true, only to realise years down the road, years into my fidelity, when we’ll have less time to spend together, that it is in fact true.”

He looked up at me with a strange sort of peace that couldn’t possibly be genuine. “And I meant what I said. I won’t forgive you for this, so you shouldn’t wait. There’ll be nothing to wait for. I’m not coming back.”

In that moment, however brief, I thought I might hate him.

He left me to see myself out, and it wasn’t until I was home again that I allowed myself to feel. All at once, the crack in my heart reached a full split. My world turned dark, consumed by eternal Night.

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