Skin of the Night

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Chapter 90: Do I Hear Jealousy?

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you,” I said as I stood next to Jason by the basin in the bathroom later the same evening, removing my make-up.

Jason brushed his teeth like a savage. He peed like a woman, in which he always sat on the toilet – ‘Have you got any idea how much urine you spill on yourself when you stand and piss? I’ve never understood men who stand and piss. It’s bloody unhygienic’, he would defend himself – but he brushed his teeth like a caveman. White foam covered his entire toothbrush, hand and mouth while he cleaned his teeth as if he thought getting rid of them was the ultimate solution to never having to clean them again.

“Wha do you wah fo fell me?”

I just barely understood him. “I see you don’t study dentistry,” I commented after a glimpse at him in the mirror.

He laughed and proceeded to spit into the basin, huge body bending forward in a way that really expressed his dedication to this particular routine. With jutted lips, he rinsed his mouth under the tap and spat again.

“Although I’m no dentist,” he paid me a wry smile through the mirror whilst he opened the top drawer beneath the basin, “I always remember to floss.” A wink.

A short, loud laugh launched out of my mouth. “You should’ve been an actor. You are quite the entertainer when you want to be.”

“It’s my plan b,” he joked. “But what did you want to tell me?”

I placed my wipe aside to wash my face. As I dried myself off with a towel, I said, “Will and I bumped into each other just as we were leaving the office today, and Robby was waiting for me at the reception. They met.”

When I removed the towel to peek at him, I found him standing perfectly still and staring worriedly at me with the thread between his pearly white teeth. “Wha?” His hands moved to free his mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“It slipped my mind since there was so much to do with the preparations.”

“How did Will react?”

I hung up the towel and reached for my own toothbrush. “Beyond all expectation. He was civil and polite. They even shook hands.”

He puffed out a breath of relief before a slow, warm smile climbed onto his handsome face, and when I stole a glance at him, I saw in his eyes that he was miles away into a mental space where he did nothing but adore his brother. “See, I knew he wasn’t a complete cunt. I’m proud of him. He’s clearly working on himself.”

“He is. And the best part about it is that Robby means to help me out. You see, even if Will behaved far better than I’d expected him to, Robby’s always been very perceptive, so he could tell from Will’s demeanour that something was off. So he guessed William didn’t like him much, and when I explained why, Robby made it clear he means to reconcile with him. Even build a bridge.”

He didn’t look remotely surprised. “I’m not sure how open William is going to be to that, but it can’t hurt for Robby to try. Either way, I think it’s important we don’t push Will too hard either. He needs to learn how to walk before he can run. So don’t expect them to become best mates just like that. If at all.”

“Yeah, my expectations are low, but like you said, it can’t hurt. It made me rest a bit easier about everything.”

“Which is understandable. Another good thing to come out of it is that they’ll most likely be able to stand each other’s presence tomorrow. I was a bit concerned, but I gathered I’d give Will the benefit of the doubt.”

I was about to reply when his phone rang in his back pocket. “Speaking of the devil,” he murmured as he eyed the screen. My heart took a leap. What time was it?

“Oh, how sweet of you to remember me,” Jason greeted, “I was afraid you’d forgotten you had a brother since I haven’t heard from you in weeks.” I blinked to myself at the bitterness that poured from his tone.

His eyebrows furrowed while he listened to Will’s reply, but sooner rather than later, they relaxed with his ensuing grin. “Yeah, thanks. Means a lot coming from an old geezer like yourself.”

Since this was the first time they’d spoken in a while, I hurried to brush my teeth to give them privacy, and once I’d settled into bed, I smiled to myself upon the occasional burst of laughter that erupted from Jason in the bathroom. It was the only thing I could hear of their conversation, but the sound of it made a warm and soothing sensation spread throughout my body under the duvet.

Wearing a grin on my mouth, I fetched the medal William had given me after our first date from under my pillow, a place I’d been keeping it ever since he left me. Sometimes, when my fear of permanently losing him became too intense, or my fear of ever forgetting him grew unbearable, I’d clutch the medal to my chest and reminisce no matter how bittersweet it was. I’d torture myself like that for hours on end, refusing to let go.

He might have taken my heart and gone AWOL with it, but he couldn’t ever take from me the memories we had crafted together. Those would always be mine to have and to hold, and I would treasure them as my most prized possession until the day I ceased breathing.

This golden medal was a solidification of those memories, and its value priceless, sentimental as it was. I was lying on my back, absentmindedly flipping it between my fingers, when there was a knock on my door some time later.

I quickly stowed it under my pillow again. It wasn’t that I wanted to hide it. I just couldn’t be bothered to elaborate on the piece right now, and knowing Jason, he would certainly ask.

“Yes?”

He opened the door. “Just thought to say good night.”

“How was speaking to him again?”

He leaned against the doorjamb. “I don’t think we’ve ever talked for that long on the phone before. He had a lot on his heart, mainly involving apologies for being so distant the last few weeks. We’ve agreed to set some time aside next week to talk it out properly.”

Again, that warm feeling spread through my veins. “That’s good,” I replied through a soft smile.

He pouted for a beat and turned his profile to me. “Yeah. I’ve missed him, you know?”

“I’m sorry.”

He groaned and tossed his head back. “Stop saying that. None of this is your fault.”

“You warned me this could happen, and I didn’t listen.”

“And I’m glad you didn’t. William loves you. He deserved a chance with you.”

My heart took another leap. ‘William loves you’. That was the closest I’d come to hearing it from the man himself in too long, and it made me realise how much I missed hearing it. I wanted him to tell me that he loved me again, and I wanted him to keep reminding me until the end of my days.

“Jason, come here for a sec.” I waved him forward.

He moseyed over with that, frankly, sexy grace of his, much like a lazy lion who was always casually majestic. Once he’d taken a seat on my bedside, I attacked him with a hug.

“Happy birthday!” I exclaimed and smothered him in my embrace while I ravished his face and hair with kisses. Jolly laughter poured out of him the entire while.

“Thanks. I’m nearly fifty now.”

I groaned. “What? You idiot.”

“Just watch. I’ll blink, and then I’ll have wrinkles all over and a beer belly.”

I giggled. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re in your prime!”

“Don’t remind me. It stresses me out. There’s so much I’ve yet to do, but time is just running away, innit?”

“Oh, my God. Stop sulking. Age happens to everyone and everything.”

“I just wish I were the exception.” He pouted up at me, and I found him so adorable that I squeezed him yet again.

“God will want his angel back in due time, I’m afraid.”

“Slick. What’s next? You going to ask me if it hurt to fall from heaven?”

“I wasn’t. You see, with you here, heaven is a place on earth, so there was nowhere for you to fall from.”

He chuckled. “You’re unbelievable. You’re just like Will sometimes.”

“We do share the same humour, with minor differences.”

“And what are those?”

“Mine’s darker, whereas his is usually sexual. But we go about it the same way.”

“I’m hoping to see that in action tomorrow.”

“Me too. I love bantering with him.”

“You love banter in general, Cara. You feed off of it.”

I laughed wholeheartedly. “Touché.”

“Anyway, I need to hit the sack. Long day tomorrow.”

“Yes,” I crooned. “I’m looking so forward to celebrate the twenty-five years one of my favourite human beings has spent on this planet.”

“Let’s make it unforgettable.”

“Let’s.”

He paid my cheek a kiss, leaned away and walked out of my room. As soon as he’d shut the door, I fetched my phone from my nightstand. It was a quarter to one, but since Jason had just spoken to him, I had hope he was still awake. It had bothered me all evening that he’d said he hated that I would be spending the day with Robby. I had promised myself that I would be there for them both, so if he had spent his evening overthinking, I hoped a phone call could soothe him at least somewhat.

In the end, I wanted to be his girlfriend, and that meant that it was my responsibility to reassure him whenever he was feeling insecure. That was a job I meant to take quite seriously, so without further ado, I found his name in my contact list and opted for a FaceTime call.

It rang for an entire minute before he picked up, and once he did, there was notable silence on his end, as well as a wall of darkness. Had he fallen asleep that quickly?

“Hello?” I said, my tone puzzled.

I heard him shift before his night lamp illuminated his handsome face. He was in bed, and the view of his bedroom, however limited, had my undivided attention for a few seconds. In that moment, I missed him intensely. We’d made love on that bed so many times, and now that reality seemed so distant that it was hard to comprehend that it had actually happened. In fact, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to feel him within me.

“Were you asleep?” I asked when I eventually focused on his face.

“No.”

“Then why’d you take so long to pick up?”

“Because I was in minor shock. I hadn’t expected you to call. I thought perhaps I might be dreaming.”

My lips tucked up. “Oh. Well, you’re not.”

“I know. You would have been naked if I were dreaming.”

Since I had not expected such a comment, I blushed profusely, and the new colour of my face left a complacent smile on his mouth.

“Why’d you call?” he yawned.

“I just thought you might appreciate to hear from me since you said you didn’t like that I was spending time with Robby today.”

He closed his eyes, but his smile never left his mouth. “That’s sweet of you. I do appreciate it.”

“Were you worried?”

“Seeing Dr Fielder helped a lot. I did wonder whether he would be staying over with you, but I’m glad to see that’s not the case. I should say that Jason did tell me just now that it wasn’t the case, though.”

“You asked him?”

“I wanted to be certain.”

I sighed and lay down again. “How was talking to him again?”

He was quiet for some time. “It made me feel like shit. I’ve treated him terribly. Selfishly.”

“He’s happy to have got you back.”

“He told me.”

“He’s not angry with you.”

“I know he isn’t. But that doesn’t make me feel any less shit.”

“William, please don’t feel like shit. Jason understands you’re going through a difficult time and that you’ve needed some time alone.”

“Yeah. How are the preparations coming along?”

“Smoothly. We were mainly decorating today and setting up the tables and things like that, getting the liquids sorted. I sometimes forget how filthy rich you are. I can’t believe he can afford an open bar.”

He chuckled. “If there’s one thing Jason allows himself to spend money on, it’s his birthday.”

“Still. I do not want to see the final cost of everything. I mean he’s even arranged for tables at the club he wants to go to afterward. He’s pulling out all the stops.”

“Midlife crisis.”

I burst out laughing. “He was actually just sulking about turning twenty-five! Said he’ll reach fifty in the blink of an eye!”

“Jason’s been sulking on his birthday ever since he grasped the concept of time. I vividly remember when he turned sixteen. He was brooding the entire day. Mum and Dad thought he wasn’t happy with his presents, but he explained he was only upset time kept moving. Gave Dad a good laugh. So he’s always been hyperaware of time. He’s scared of not living enough while he can.”

“Curious. I love that – because of you – I get to know sides of him I otherwise might not have.”

“Sure. Anything to help foster that sibling bond between you,” he joked.

“Did Dr Fielder say anything of interest today?”

“Aside from routine procedure, he provided some tools to help me cope tomorrow. Suggested I should speak to Robby, for instance. Not about us, but just to get to know him a bit.”

“That sounds like a very good idea, Will. Have you considered it?”

“I am considering it. I want to. I just badly want to smash his face in at the same time, so there’s that issue standing in my way.”

“Christ, Will.”

“I was exaggerating. I wouldn’t go that far. Just a slap, maybe.”

“I don’t find this funny.”

“Sorry. I won’t touch a hair on his head, Cara, unless he does something that warrants it.”

“Would you actually hit him? Are you capable of violence like that?”

He was quiet for such a long time that I was starting to fear the worst, but his eventual reply soon assuaged me. “No. I’m not capable of something like that. Especially after what happened with Oliver. I’ve been comparing myself to him a lot the past few days. In the end, jealousy is what inspired him to assault me, and I refuse to follow in his footsteps.”

Chills crawled down my spine upon his ghastly comparison. “William, you are nothing like that piece of shit.”

“No, I don’t think I am. But even so, I can relate to him on some level. I understand where he came from somewhat better these days, even if I’d never react like that myself.”

“I’m honestly upset at hearing this. Please don’t compare yourself to that despicable existence. I get what you mean, but in no shape or form can you ever be placed in the same boat.”

He sighed. “We should go to bed. We’ve got work tomorrow, and from Jason’s plans, a long night, too. We need to be rested.”

“But we are in bed,” I fired his own joke back at him, earning myself a raised eyebrow.

“To sleep, then.”

I looked away from him while a pout landed on my face. “I don’t want to hang up.”

A lovely smile formed on his lips just before he switched off the lights again. “I can stay on, if you like. My phone’s connected to the charger.”

Relief gripped me. “You’d do that?”

“’Course. It’s the next best thing to sleeping beside you, isn’t it?”

He’d been unbelievably sweet this entire conversation, and it made me wonder why. Was it something I had done, or did I only have him to thank for it? Perhaps Dr Fielder. Supposed it might be a good blend.

“I wish you were sleeping beside me,” I mumbled.

“Yeah. But we need to learn to walk before we can run, Cara.” Funny. His brother had just said the same thing. “I think it’s best we take things slow for a while.”

“Yeah, that sounds wise.” I connected my phone to my charger and switched off my night lamp as well.

“Are you going to sleep as well?” he asked, and I relished having his voice this near to my ear. In the dark, I could pretend he was actually there, lying beside me. All that was missing was his weight pressed against the mattress, his limbs wrapped around my figure, and his scent filling my nose.

“Yes. I need to wake up earlier than usual. I’m surprising Jason with breakfast in bed for his birthday. I plan to play the birthday song off of youtube, because I can’t sing for shit.”

“You’re such a great friend to him. I’m very grateful to you for that. Jason deserves it. And you’re right, you know. You two do treat each other like family. Your friendship reminds me of the way I view Alex and Andy.”

“He’s the brother I never got.”

“Did you want a brother?”

“Yes, even if I wouldn’t trade Phoebe for anyone.”

“It’s very obvious from your personality that you’re the eldest sister. And here’s a fun fact for you: I’ve always had a weak spot for the eldest sister in families.”

“What? Why? That’s strange.”

“Don’t know. I’ve just always admired the eldest sister in families. There’s something very nurturing about them, and something very wise and solid. They almost automatically earn my respect. Like Chloe, for instance. She’s the eldest out of five, and I absolutely adore her. Andy wouldn’t be half the man he is without her.” Sudden laughter broke out of him. “This sounds ridiculous, but I consider them a second mother in their families, so I suppose I’ve just always regarded them as wife material.”

“You’ve regarded Chloe as wife material?”

That killed his laughter rather quickly. “No, of course not. Don’t be silly.”

“Violet is the eldest sister out of two,” I recalled aloud.

There was a pause. “Do I hear jealousy?”

I snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. But it should explain some of your interest in her. And me.”

“I was never actually interested in Violet. She’s a good friend. That’s all.”

“Whom you used to fuck,” I reminded him dryly.

“I understand the point you’re trying to make.” His calm tone surprised me. Dr Fielder must wield some serious magic. “But Violet and Robby can’t be compared for several reasons.

“One, Violet and I didn’t spend half as much time together as you and Robby. We had sex for about a year, not even that, and rarely met outside of work. We didn’t have sex all that much, either. A couple of times a month, at most.

“Second, Violet never had feelings for me. Robby has feelings for you.

“Third, I would have cut Violet out of my life in a heartbeat if you told me to. But you never did, even when I specifically asked if you were truly fine with me meeting her, so I didn’t. Had you changed your mind about that, I’d do it right now.

“And I’m not saying this to guilt-trip you. I understand we’re different people and that you love differently to me. Lately, I’m just trying to accept that fact, because it’s hard for me to understand that you can work that way, and it also feels unfair every now and then. I sometimes mistake it as a sign that you don’t love me as much as I love you, but I’m learning now that that might be wrong.”

My pulse spiked at his last statement. He’d said it indirectly, confession wrapped into a larger point he was trying to make, but he’d still said the words ‘I love you’, and that was all I could think about. I hoped it wouldn’t waver. I would build a bloody fortress around that seed, to protect it, and I would keep guarding and nurturing it until it was capable of withstanding even the coldest of winters.

“I love you, too,” I whispered.

“So that’s what you extracted from that. Brilliant.”

“No, I heard you. I’m sorry.”

He sighed. “Slowly, Cara. Please.”

“Yes, slowly. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. But we need to sleep now. I mean it.”

“Yes. Good night, Will.”

“Good night, darling.”

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