Skin of the Night

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Chapter 84: I'd Thought Love Had To End

William

Jealousy, as I had come to understand it, bloomed only in the presence of desire and survived only on desire. Without desire, jealousy could not exist. It was the sole thing on which it depended.

Like its accomplice, jealousy was a complex emotion consisting of several torrents leading into its final form. There was the crushing feeling of inadequacy, the nerve-wrecking fear of abandonment, as well as the green envy and the resentment that came with it. It totalled to a state of feeling entirely helpless, and like I’d once said, being powerless was my greatest fear.

At the root of jealousy there is always a minimum of one rival. Robby was mine and I was powerless against his influence on her, yet I had handed her over to him on a silver platter.

Part of me could hardly accept that fact, but I knew that if I’d kept her, my jealousy would have destroyed us anyway. Regardless my course of action, her returning to him would have been inevitable, so I’d known before she arrived that if she meant to choose Robby, I would have to leave her.

What I’d omitted, however, was where I placed the blame.

In a desperate attempt to make her stay, I’d – while subconsciously using tools of manipulation – intentionally provided the illusion that I solely blamed her, but in my mind, I blamed myself equally. Along with that desperation there had been vicious bitterness, and it had ruled my tongue so that I could hurt her like she had hurt me by picking him.

I hated losing, because it made me feel inferior and inadequate. There it was again, that detestable word ‘inadequate’. I’d been an inadequate lover. It was the only explanation. Had I not been, she would not have made the choice she did. My love should have been enough for her to neglect him, but it wasn’t. And so it fed my jealousy, because Robby was not inadequate in the battle for her devotion. He had managed what I had not: to keep her. I now hated Robby for the very qualities that had allowed room for our love to bloom in the first place, because now they had brought her back to him. It was quite the feat, and I envied him so terribly it made me feel sick.

I’d once alleged that my way of loving her was the closest to ideal, because why else would she want to be my lover? How arrogant I’d been, to think that. Now it was glaringly apparent that my way of loving her had instead ensured our ruin. Meanwhile, Robby’s approach had secured my defeat.

But in the end, it was truly because of my jealousy that our love had to end, and not because she had betrayed me, because if I hadn’t been so jealous, I might not have felt betrayed to begin with. The tragic irony of it all was that if I had not been so preoccupied with searching for signs of betrayal (I’d seen and supposed I still saw betrayal in even the most casual gesture she could make toward him) I might have avoided this outcome.

Had I believed in God, I knew He would deny me entrance to His kingdom. Only the gates of hell would be open to me, for jealousy was indeed a sin, and I its most dependable sinner. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why I didn’t believe.

If it were true that He had created me – like He had created perfection in the form of the woman I’d so egotistically destroyed with my greed – then surely He was responsible for me like a parent to a child. Why else would they call Him ‘Father’? If He abandoned me to rot in hell, I’d – like an unforgiving orphan – disown Him in turn. And He had certainly abandoned me now, while taking her right along with Him, because Cara did not belong in hell.

So there was no God, I told myself. Only nothingness awaited me, and I found consolation in that fact. Perhaps then, I’d be ridden of this unbearable jealousy that I contained. It was tearing at the seams of me, threatening to break me.

In all my life I’d never known its full extent until now. It had surfaced every now and then, but never had it struck with such overpowering violence before.

Ever since Cara entered my life, I often found myself analysing my jealousy until night died and day was revived. Suppose there was something in the saying of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. I’d tried to get close to my jealousy by studying it till the very last detail, hopeful I could find a point of weakness, an artery I could slice. Then I would watch it bleed to death with nothing but satisfaction and relief. Alas, it seemed made of concrete, and it weighed just as heavy.

Perhaps if she had chosen me it would have instilled me with the security that I required; perhaps even enough for me to at least be able to try and take the leap of faith she begged me for, but she had failed me the moment she chose him. I hadn’t meant to test her, but in retrospect I supposed it had served that purpose nevertheless.

My hatred for Cara and my hatred for Robby had consumed me, but it was no greater than the hatred I harboured for myself.

In my fear of losing her I’d forced the pace, pushed her to be someone she wasn’t with the misguided belief that we might be happy together then, but all I’d managed was to push the only thing I’d ever loved out of my life. It had proven to me the one thing I’d always suspected; I was unlovable.

At a certain point she’d asked, with pity in her voice, how I could bear to live with all this jealousy. I had not expected her sympathy after I’d so brutally rejected her. It had dawned on me then, when I’d just revealed my ugly core to her, that her capability for compassion – being one of the traits that had cemented my love for her – was also what cemented her to Robby.

I now hated her for the very same traits that I loved.

“I’m trying to understand, Will, but it’s hard,” Alex said from my sofa. Beside him sat Andy, and neither of them seemed to know what to say. I’d tried my best to explain, but it was difficult to convert my reflections into words.

“Yeah, it really is bloody hard to understand, because you’re being a fucking idiot,” Andy found the courage to add, “and I don’t speak that language anymore.”

Alex turned toward him with a look of incredulity that I much appreciated. “That’s not the way to go about it, Andy,” he chastised. “Can’t you see he’s beside himself?”

I wondered what he meant by ‘beside himself’. I was sitting perfectly unaffected, was I not?

I only realised that I’d been glaring at the blonde party when he directed his eyes to mine and glared straight back. “It’s illogical,” he argued. “You’re essentially saying that instead of facing just the risk of losing her, you’d rather ensure it by sending her on her way.”

There it was again, that intolerable logic. Jealousy didn’t adhere to reason, I’d told them. It created its own truth. Hadn’t he heard a thing I’d said?

“Have you listened to him at all?” Alex responded with a tone of impatience. “He’s saying it doesn’t work like that, Andy. Will would know best what triggers his jealousy and how it works.”

Andy drained the remainder of his glass of wine before he asked me, “Aren’t you speaking to a therapist?”

“Not about her.”

The condescendence was blatant from the arch of his brow. “You ought to.”

I leaned forward and folded my hands together very hard, because the urge to strike him for his cheek was enormous. “What’s your problem?”

“That you’re self-sabotaging. And you’re bringing her down along with you. I like her, Will. She suits you better than anyone. I was hoping you’d keep her around.”

“Can’t you understand that I resent her for what she’s done?”

He sighed and watched me for a beat. “What I can’t understand, Will, is how you can let that overrule everything else. You’ve been hung up on her ever since you first met, and now you’re just going to let her go?”

I was nearly tempted into asking him to leave. He clearly could not see my perspective, but then he’d also never been a jealous man. “Andy, I have to let her go. It’s the only solution. Loving her is... it’s driving me mad. And it’s only going to get worse under these circumstances.”

She’d asked me that day, now a week ago, if I thought love would end just because we weren’t together, and I’d nearly fallen apart. Holding it together until she left had demanded tremendous effort, because I’d thought in that moment that love had to end. There was no other solution. If it didn’t, life would be unendurable.

If jealousy thrived only in the presence of desire, then I could only kill my jealousy if I killed my desire for Cara.

“Will, about one thing I’ll have to agree with Andy,” Alex murmured apologetically, as if he was ashamed of himself for potentially causing me more pain by disagreeing with me.

“What?” My tone was harsher than I’d intended for.

“I think you ought to speak to your therapist about this. It can’t possibly be helping your situation,” he always referred to my trauma as my ‘situation’, “to have this happen, and I’ve got to admit that I’m finding it hard to grasp the depth of your jealousy. It sounds unhealthy. If not for her, then do it for yourself.”

That he labelled it unhealthy did not surprise me, but the idea it provoked certainly did. There he sat, happily in love and enjoying a prospering relationship with the perfect woman for him. He had the prerequisite ethos to justifiably label my relationship unhealthy only because of that. In that moment in time, I envied him so hard for being secure in his woman that I stopped breathing for a few seconds.

In hope to escape the green emotion, I turned my attention to Andy but saw only the same. Like most couples, he and Chloe had faced their fair share of trials, but they had the satisfaction of having come out of them together. So well too, in fact, that sometime soon I’d be seeing his brown pair of eyes in the face of a child that I would grow to adore.

So what did it mean? It couldn’t possibly be true that my love for Cara was any weaker than Andy’s love for Chloe had been when they a decade ago had first started seeing each other.

“Perhaps I should,” I said, but I wasn’t sure I meant it. I’d been aware of my jealousy from quite a young age, right from the moment I’d experienced desire for the first time, even if it hadn’t been as vicious back then. That had led me to establish quite an interest in it, because I despised feeling that way, so I’d searched for ways to counter it. It troubled my focus. I’d learned over time that the greater my desire, the greater my jealousy.

Since Cara, I’d come to view jealousy as a mark of true love, and for that reason I could neither believe nor trust any other form than mine. Under that conviction, Cara couldn’t possibly love me at all, because she’d never expressed jealousy, and yet she insisted that she loved me.

In my quest to enlighten – or perhaps change – her perspective, so that she might understand me better, I’d tried to trigger it several times, but to no avail. I’d verbally praised Violet on any occasion that I could, even spent time with her alone, and yet she hadn’t as much as twitched, much less expressed symptoms of the emotion.

I’d said that jealousy only bloomed in the presence of desire, but Cara’s ways had inspired me to wonder whether desire could still exist in the absence of jealousy. Was jealousy desire’s inferior, or did one always equal the other?

“Have you spoken to Jason at all?” Andy asked me then.

The mention of my brother saddened me, because he was no more understanding than Andy. He’d never been as angry with me as he was now, but in his anger there was also disappointment, and that was what struck me the hardest. I’d disappointed him.

Over the years he’d looked up to me as though I were his most prized role model, as if I held all the answers, and now my actions had severed that notion apart. It upset me because I hadn’t thought his affection could be conditional. I wasn’t proud of this part of myself, that was for certain, but I found it painful to realise that a trait that was so deeply embedded into my character, one of the traits that made me who I was, could create such distance between us.

“Yelled more than spoken.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Have you?”

“Just today.” His tone insinuated that there was more, and so I waited. “Invited me to his birthday three weeks from now.”

“Yes, he rang me about the same,” Alex informed.

Knowing what they were aiming at, I blew out a loud breath. “Right. The surprise party.”

“It’s not a surprise anymore,” Alex corrected me. “Cara told him your plans since he’d started to make some of his own.”

Andy added, “He’s worried you won’t come, Will.”

I snorted. “I’ll have to see her at work in two weeks, won’t I? Surely I’ll survive her presence for a few hours at a birthday party.”

“He’s inviting Robby,” Andy warned.

Had I heard him right? “Come again?” but he didn’t.

At a total loss, I ran my hands through my hair. What on earth would possess my own brother to do such a thing? I’d thought there was no limit to his compassion, but apparently I’d just discovered it. Was it his intention to punish me for hurting Cara? No. That couldn’t be it. Jason didn’t work like that. He wasn’t vengeful like myself. “Did he say why?”

“He did. Said it wouldn’t feel right to exclude him. Like Cara, he also wants to be there for Robby. Mentioned he needs his friends now more than ever,” Alex elaborated.

I could hardly believe this. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! Would he rather have Robby there than his own brother? Is that what you’re saying?”

Andy sighed and refilled his glass. “He knew you’d say that, and the answer is no, Will. He’s hoping you could act mature for a few hours.”

“Mature,” I echoed sarcastically. “Like I need it rubbed in my face.”

“I’m sure he’ll ring you about it and explain. I don’t want to, because I’m afraid I might inadvertently leave important things out,” Alex murmured.

“Then I’m not coming,” I declared. “I will not subject myself to that.”

“Don’t decide that now,” Andy retorted. “It’s in three weeks. If you’ve spoken to your therapist by then, you might’ve calmed down.”

I couldn’t stand the way he’d phrased himself, as if I’d been reduced to a pitiful patient. “Andy, you ought to leave.”

He shook his head at me. “You’re overreacting.”

“No, you’re not fucking listening. Where’s your sense of compassion?”

“Andy, he’s right,” Alex scolded. “You’re being a bloody dickhead. Don’t kick him when he’s already down.”

“You mean the way he kicked me when I fell out with Chloe?” Andy calmly countered.

It occurred to me that my decision to leave Cara had cost me not only Jason, but was also about to cost me Andy.

In an attempt to sway his mind, I said, “Andy, you and Chloe have been together for a decade. You know her ways as well as you know your own. To understand this, you need to step outside from your perspective of a long-term relationship. Cara and I have barely started. The amount of trust you expect me to already have established is truly unfair. It’s not like my concerns are unfounded. She’s comforting her ex.”

“I’m honestly sympathising, Will,” Alexander assured me.

“That’s ’cause he’s a fucking lawyer who knows how to speak for himself,” Andy grumbled.

“Of course it’s not,” Alex replied as though he had just received an insult. “The three of us have known each other for as long as we can remember. I can see through his rhetorical tricks just fine, Andy. I feel sincerely sorry for him. Taking Cara and Robby’s history into account, I wouldn’t like it either. Ivy’s managed to make me jealous the once, by accident, and that was only because she accepted a date with somebody else before she was aware of my interest in her.” He turned his gaze at me. “In your place, I’m sure I’d be uncomfortable... to say the least.”

“But you don’t know Cara as well as I do, Alex,” Andy continued to argue. “You haven’t seen her at work since he left her, and you didn’t see her when she saw Will on the floor of the men’s room at that function – how beside herself she was.” His brown eyes focused on me. “How she looked then is all I can think about when you claim she might return to Robby. She won’t, Will. That woman loves you with all her heart. He’s just a friend to her. Don’t you think she would have taken things further ages ago if she’d ever actually fancied him? Instead, she jumped on the train that was you. When are you going to get that through your thick skull?”

I refused to bite, “I am not having this debate again. I’ve had it enough times already, and it’s exhausted.”

“We’re speaking in circles anyway,” Alex complained. “We’ve already reached a conclusion. William needs to bring the issue of his jealousy to his therapist. We really aren’t qualified to advise him. It’s too complex.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “I can’t believe he’s inviting Robby. Honestly.”

The mere idea of seeing the two of them together was excruciating. I couldn’t even bear the thought of her as much as touching him. I’d see intimacy in the most innocent gesture. I was sure.

“I think it might do you good to see the two of them together,” Andy said. “As things are now, you’ve got no control. Your mind’s running wild with ideas. Seeing them together might eliminate at least some of them.”

I folded my arms. He had a point. The lack of evidence wasn’t working in my favour. On the contrary, it was only inspiring my imagination.

“Consider it an opportunity for disclosure,” he added, ever the lawyer.

Alex unsettled me by laughing long and loud then. “It never gets old when you two do that.”

“Do what?” Andy questioned.

“Speak your native language to each other. I mean look at Will’s face! It’s like he’s just had an epiphany!”

Gazing over at me, Andy soon joined his amusement.

“Idiots,” I labelled them under my breath, but it was with affection. “Suppose it might not be such a bad idea after all.”

“I’ll be there to catch your fist if it happens to fly in his direction,” Andy assured me. The crooked smile I sent him was genuine, because it was a response to impulse.

“I’ll hold you to that.”

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