Home > 99 Percent Mine(18)

99 Percent Mine(18)
Author: Sally Thorne

I think about Loretta’s ring again and hold up my left hand to study my bare fingers.

He snorts in disbelief. “You’d never get married.”

“I would.” I hide the little paper cut his incredulous tone gives me. “Why the hell wouldn’t I? Am I too much to take on?” I drag both hands through my hair so it’s up and pointy. I hope it’s horns.

“I just never pictured it.” He sighs and the shape of his body droops as he looks up at the house, like a switch has been flipped off inside him. I take a few cautious steps toward him. He’s sad?

I can’t imagine what kind of bad news he’s heard today. “What did the electrician and plumber say?”

“What do you think they said?” He’s desolate. “They would be the most expensive jobs of their careers. It’s a tear-down. Most of the pipes need replacing. New waterproofing. Then new tiles. Then new wiring. New everything. I cannot name one thing so far that doesn’t need replacing.”

“Will Loretta’s budget cover it?”

He stalls. That means, Probably not. “I’m going to put everything into a spreadsheet for you guys.”

“Unspeakably expensive then. So expensive that formulas and cells are involved. And it’ll all be spent on chrome and gray paint. Jamie will get his way. You know he will. You’re his.”

Tom gives me a wry look. “He’s way out of my league.”

“One hundred percent his.” I tap his pinky fingernail. “Jamie would maybe let me have that much of you.”

He shrugs. “He’s not here now. I hereby gift you this.” He holds out his other hand and I realize he means his other pinky fingernail. I now have two. I’m absurdly pleased.

“I’ll treasure them always.” We go inside together, collecting Patty along the way.

“What do I get in return?”

“You know, heart, soul. The usual.”

“Oh, Darce.” He sighs like I’ve learned nothing. “You’re messing with me again.”

Chapter 8

I inexplicably wish for Jamie. He’d walk in and fill this expanding awkward silence with talking, jokes, and insults. I feel like I’m fast-tracking a total implosion of my relationship with Tom. When it happens, I’ll have lost another person.

Loretta, my parents, Jamie, Tom, Truly. How many more special people do I have left? I itch to walk out. No one can leave me if I’ve left first. This disturbing thought knocks a little air out of my lungs. Loretta died when I was suspended over an ocean in an aisle seat. Maybe my strategy sucks.

Maybe I should be holding on to people I love with white-knuckled intensity.

Tom checks his phone. “Are you going to be here tomorrow afternoon? The power’s going to be off for a bit.”

“Not sure.” I consult the calendar on the fridge. It’s been refreshing to go analog. “I’m helping Truly do some sewing late in the afternoon.”

“So you’re sewing tomorrow? Not losing your temper and hightailing it to the airport?” Tom sounds so hopeful that it puts a little crack in my hard old heart.

“Am I that impulsive?”

“You are the most impulsive person I know.”

What did he say before? He likes making me happy. Let me try it.

“No, I still can’t find my passport.” It doesn’t ease that tension in him. I try again. “I’ll stay a little longer.” It was the right thing to say. I can’t handle it when he looks at me like this. Right now, in this moment, the rest of the world fades away. We’re suspended in a golden, fragile bubble. Pleasure is glowing in his eyes, candle-bright.

He clears his throat and now I’m his client again. “I really think I need you to stay until we’ve all agreed on how this place should look.”

I nod. “I’ll start packing the house tomorrow morning. Maybe I can get some of the guys at work to help move the furniture.”

Now I’ve altered the ions in the air. He looks at my bruised wrist and says in a bass snarl, “Are you kidding me?”

“Most of them are fine.”

“Would you dig a grave for me?” He repeats my earlier joke without humor.

“You know I would.” I go into my bedroom and tap a few of my chalky pills onto my palm. They have indeed expired. I’m sure it’s better than nothing. “I’ll dig it real slow so I don’t aggravate my crappy old heart.”

Behind me, Tom is still vibrating. “I’m moving the furniture.”

“Well, you clearly feel very passionate about it, so go ahead.”

He’s in the doorway now, leaning on the door frame, watching me sort through my wardrobe. “Where are you going?”

“Up the ladder. I’m going to go sit on the roof for a bit.” I pull a short dress out and shake the wrinkles out of it. My little smart-ass quip has him relaxing a little.

“It’ll be cold up there.”

“Of course that’s your first thought.” I circle my finger.

He twirls on the ball of his foot to face away. He knows this drill by now. “You were never very good at closing your bedroom door,” he says, voice heavy with resignation. “Who’s this guy, then?”

“What guy?” I quickly pull the dress on, tug on my boots, and treat myself to a few dots of the perfume oil Loretta made me. She didn’t use recipes, so it’s irreplaceable. A label on the base of the bottle, in her handwriting, reads: LIQUID DYNAMITE.

“Who’s the guy you’re putting perfume on for?” He rotates to face me again. He hasn’t fully shape-shifted back into human form yet.

“I’m putting it on for myself, not wasting it on male nostrils. He’s no one,” I say more forcefully when I see the frustration on his face.

“I’m trying to make conversation with you, about what’s going on in your life. Who are you dating?” He sounds like he’s reading from a script. At gunpoint. Did Jamie tell him to report back?

“Someone you wouldn’t like, and I wouldn’t call it dating,” I reply flatly, and duck out of the room under his arm. “You can sleep in my bed again tonight. I’ll take the couch when I get home. There’s a Thai place that delivers, the menu’s on the fridge. Say hi to Megan for me.”

Behind me, his boots are following.

I grab my keys, bag, and jacket in fluid swings of my arms and keep on walking. There’s no way I want to stay and marinate in this awkward tension. I’ll flag down a cab from the main road near the convenience store. Out the door, up the path, he’s behind me.

“You look like you’re running away from home, Darce. Worried you’re actually going to have to think about the wine bottles and your heart?”

If he keeps pressing me, I’m going to tell him what the problem is: Primarily, that I want to unzip his pants. Second problem, I’m the worst fucking person to be having these thoughts about an almost-married man.

Third: I’m so jealous of Megan I’m going to rev the engine of a combine harvester and convert her into a bag of bloody grain.

But these have always been my problems.

“I think you should stop following me.” I turn and walk backward. “Unless you want to come out. That might be too much fun. That might actually classify as living life.”

Valeska badly wants me back behind the picket fence where nothing bad can happen to me. I can see it in him—the strain of his body, the hands folded at his sides. Guard and drag, that’s what he wants to do.

“I have to start early. Darce, please stay in tonight.”

No way am I going to indulge myself in his overprotective Princess Mode. It’s too succulent, too lovely. I can’t be under the same roof as him alone. “Nope.”

“I promised everyone I’d look after you,” he tries again, before realizing what he’s done. Saying that will only make me walk faster.

“I can’t,” I call back to him. “I don’t trust myself anymore.”

I turn as his jaw drops, and now it’s just the sound of my boots. I don’t have to look back to know he watches until I’m out of sight.

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