Home > 99 Percent Mine(19)

99 Percent Mine(19)
Author: Sally Thorne

It’s what he does.

* * *

TOM IS WRITING JAMIE SPORTS onto a box of my brother’s sports gear. We are attempting the impossible: emptying his room. “So, how was your night? You must have come in pretty late.”

“Barely midnight. I guess that’s pretty late for an early bird like you.”

“Did you have a good time?” He’s quite formal.

“Sure.” Not even for a second did I have a good time. I didn’t see Vince, or anyone I knew. I travel alone overseas, so I’m used to my own company. But something has changed.

I was desperate to get back home. I wanted to lie on the couch with a movie on, listening to Patty’s claws clicking and Tom padding around. His fingers tousling my hair and the clink of a teaspoon in a mug. To quash this weird domestic fantasy, I sat in McDonald’s and ate hot-fudge sundaes, then I got a cab home when I felt confident he was asleep. I’m a McCoward.

I need a new place to sleep tonight, Tom said as I was brushing my teeth this morning, and I’m glad my mouth was full of toothpaste. I might have reflexively replied, No you don’t.

He has charitably erased that weird moment last night. He’s good like that.

I try to do the same. “Jamie’s sitting at his desk, poking away at a calculator. Witness me, officially working harder than him. He sure does like books about dudes being framed by the government.” I’m stacking them into a box.

“Books with short chapters and briefcases of cash,” Tom says, dragging crap out from under the bed. He’s read plenty of Jamie’s discarded books in his time.

“Women with glossy red lips. Speedboats in Monte Carlo.” I pick up one with a revolver on the cover, and it flips open a little too easily to a dirty bit. I read it, leaning against the bed frame.

Tom looks up from stacking some dumbbells together. “Your hard work didn’t last long.”

I hold my finger up. There’s a foaming, grunting climax and I wrinkle my nose. “And now Jamie and I have read the same sex scene. It’s in both of our brains.” I have a full-body shiver. “Why can’t I stop disturbing myself?”

“No idea,” Tom laughs. He takes the book, and to my surprise he reads the entire scene too, flipping over the page with a crease on his brow like he’s studying for an exam.

I watch his eyes move side to side, sweaty words in his head.

My heart wrings itself out, gives me a new flush of blood, and I think I have pink cheeks. If I’m this scandalized just watching Tom read a sex scene, I’d better not let my brain take the logical next step.

Too late. Look at those big hands. Knuckles like walnuts and nice clean nails. They’re the kind of hands that you want all over. And now I’m picturing the huge upward push of his body, locking himself into me, 100 percent deep—

He snaps the book shut and snaps me out of my reverie.

“Well, that was remarkably straightforward.” He tosses the book in the box, his eyes giving me no clues. Is that scene a reasonable proposition to him?

“The guys in these books are drilling for iron ore.”

Tom laughs. “And the ones written in the seventies always mention a brassiere. I was at least seventeen when I realized that was just a bra.”

“You were quite a naïve boy. There are always puckered peaks and nests of curls,” I grunt, lifting a second half-empty box up. “And the women all orgasm after eight hard thrusts. Oh, Richard! Give me a break.” I write on the box: JAMIE’S FUCK BOOKS.

Tom takes the marker and crosses out the middle word. “I seem to recall that Loretta liked her books on the spicy side.”

I snort. “While you guys were off being wholesome and skiing, I was here, warping my brain on her soft-core porn novels. Explains a lot, huh. I’m the person most likely to have a thousand dollars’ worth of sex toys in her dining room.”

“I peeked in her books occasionally,” Tom confesses, the corner of his mouth curling.

“You didn’t.” I laugh in delight. “Well, good for you, Tom Valeska, you dirty kid.”

“When Jamie was in the bathroom or Loretta was making sandwiches, I’d just read a paragraph. I got my sex education right in this house.” He’s stacking junk into a new box. “A bit disjointed, but I eventually pieced it all together. It did give me some … unrealistic expectations.”

I want to know what he means very badly, but I just say, “You and me both, buddy.”

I write a lot of checks that my body cannot cash. A heart like mine doesn’t let me get too vigorous, and the guys I choose have no idea. I write on the second box of books: JAMIE’S TWISTED FANTASIES. I hoist the box onto my hip and the edge of the box snags my nipple piercing. I grab my boob and howl.

“Are you okay?” Oh dear, he thinks I’m having a heart attack.

“It’s the piercing. No matter how much time passes, it likes to remind me that it’s there. I’m pretty sure it’s hot-wired straight to my brain.” I watch Tom process this information. I can’t tell if he’s repulsed. “It’s a pain you feel in the roots of your teeth.”

Faint, he says, “Why get it?”

“It’s pretty.”

Tom plucks the box out of my grip with uncharacteristic violence. He walks out to the garage with me trailing him. “There’s no point in wrecking yourself. You’ve packed most of these. Not even Jamie could accuse you of not putting in effort today.”

I walk back into the house for the other box.

“I’m taking it. I’m-taking-it.” I do a quick systems check. Heart’s rock-solid. Everything’s fine. Except Tom’s parked his muscles in the doorway. “Move it.”

He takes the box. “Yeah, yeah. I’d rather you be mad than unconscious.” Off he goes.

In defeat, I fill a box with Jamie’s shoes. “Maybe I can handle a box of fucking shoes,” I say to Diana, who has jumped up on the windowsill. I bet she has big plans to sleep on Tom’s bed. “Live the dream, girl.”

I don’t bother packing these carefully; Jamie would have a whole new wardrobe of shoes by now. When he left, it was with one suitcase. That’s how fast he had to leave before he committed homicide.

Tom returns. “Thanks for letting me use your room. I don’t think I’ve slept so well in years. Your mattress is …” He can’t even think of a word. I know what he means.

“If I marry anyone, it will be that bed. It’s why I sleep so much.” I’m getting more wiped out by life. When I travel, I have to lie down in the afternoons. Together, we flip the generic mattress on Jamie’s old bed, and we make the bed with fresh flowered sheets. “When I travel, I miss my bed more than most people I know.”

“You must love traveling to leave a bed like that.”

“As hard as it is for you to believe, yeah. I do. I swear, if Jamie took my passport I am never going to forgive him.”

“Sure you would,” Tom says tentatively. He’s got a rawness in his expression. “You’re exaggerating, aren’t you?”

“Anyone who knows me, knows that that would be the worst thing to do to me. I hate being forced to stay.” I wish my brother would stop intruding on my limited time with Tom. “Are you even going to fit on this little bed?” Jamie didn’t get a lot of action when living here; hence the books.

“I’m sure I will. Don’t forget, I’ll be out in my tent when the renovation starts,” Tom says after a beat. “Hey, what’s this?” He’s pulling out a large canvas from under the bed, and we lean it against the wall. It’s my Rosburgh Portrait Prize–winning portrait. Of who else but my brother.

“He really worked the room like a celebrity that night,” I say as we stare at Jamie. He stares back at us.

Objectively, it’s a phenomenal image. I clicked the camera, but I didn’t do it alone. That’s just the way Jamie’s face interacts with light. That night of the award, he was drunk on his own beauty and cleverness. And champagne, naturally. I felt like he’d won the prize, not me. I had to give short interviews as the youngest award winner and watch Tom fading into the sidelines, Megan hooked onto his arm.

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