Home > 99 Percent Mine(13)

99 Percent Mine(13)
Author: Sally Thorne

Or, most realistically, he’s exhausted. But still, he gives me a look that makes my inner thighs quiver. And when he pulls up the comforter, it’s low on his hips. He looks like a beautiful big Viking, even under candy stripes.

“I shouldn’t.” He leans back against the headboard and contemplates my nightstand with sideways eyes. I don’t feel too worried. This here is a cast-iron moral compass. Mine, on the other hand? Not so much. I need to get out of this room. Out of this country.

“Jamie would kill me if I let you sleep on the couch or the floor. Consider me the hostess with the mostess.”

I sound incredibly drunk. How strange; I’m starting to feel very sober indeed. I dig around in the big wooden chest at the foot of the bed, searching for a quilt. I hear an uneasy mattress squeak. The sound seems to come from his soul.

I tsk at him. “What? Sleeping in my bed isn’t cheating on Megan. And they’re fresh sheets, before your mind goes there.” In my peripheral vision, he regards the empty space where Vincent would go with slack-jawed horror.

I avoid looking in his direction as I snatch up a pillow. I don’t have to look to know that Tom fits my king-sized bed like a dream. One of those dreams you defile yourself after.

“Okay, good night.” I retreat backward down the hall, knocking my elbows on everything, and fall onto the couch.

I cocoon myself, knowing it’ll be icy in this room by morning, and then I decide to set myself an impossible little target.

It’s nothing too aspirational. It doesn’t involve my finding the courage to loosen my fingernails from the edge of this couch and walk back down the hall. Skin-on-skin-on-sweat physical contact isn’t in the realm of possibility.

Not now, not ever, not Tom.

I thought that having just 1 percent of Tom Valeska’s heart feels like hitting the jackpot, but I think I was wrong. It’s now not enough.

I’m going to make him 2 percent mine.

Chapter 6

I didn’t sleep much last night, because I kept thinking about that time a long time ago when Tom told me exactly how he felt, and I didn’t understand. That time when I was possibly at 100 percent and didn’t know it.

I was eighteen, putting black platforms on over my fishnets to go hang out with a bad crowd, and Tom had leaned on my door frame and asked me not to go out. It had been no secret that he didn’t approve of all the black-clad guys and how I stayed out all night. I thought it was typical Valeska-in-the-snowdrifts stuff. Tug, tug, away from danger.

In my careless way, I’d snapped at him. Why not? Why shouldn’t I go?

Tom told me in a steady, reasonable voice: Because I love you. And I’d replied without thought or gravitas, I know, because I’d always felt it. How could I not? How many times had he saved me? I’d have to have been a moron to not know it. To this day I know he loves me, in that old, stitched-into-my-family way.

Turns out, I know wasn’t the right reply.

He’d rusted over with embarrassment and left. He wouldn’t turn around as he walked down the front stairs, through our front gate. He wouldn’t stop even as I chased him across the street and he shut the door in my face.

That was the very first time I tore up a once-in-a-lifetime offer.

I bailed on my friends and I went to Loretta’s house instead. When I told her what had happened, she said, I saw that coming. What else would I expect from a fortune-teller? She shook her head. That’s not what she meant.

That boy would take a bullet for you.

We sat outside and shared a joint, and it was a thrill. Don’t tell your father! How’ d I birth such a prude? It grows in the earth, for God’s sake. She told me about her first husband, way before she met Grandpa. I never knew she had been married twice, so I was gobsmacked.

I was just a kid, she mused, eyes narrowed on her inhale. Maybe if I’ d met him ten years later … it was a terrible mistake. I hurt him badly, because I was too young and immature to love him right. I still regret it. Let yourself grow up and live your life. You’re a wild one, just like me.

I’d laughed and said there was no risk of me getting married. This was just me and Tom kissing, if it didn’t feel weird.

Loretta hadn’t been remotely amused. He loves you more than that. I can see you don’t take this seriously.

Like it was an emergency, she bought me my first plane ticket and gave me some cash. A few days later, under the cover of darkness, she drove me to the airport. It was a transformative moment. I was suddenly completely responsible for myself and not part of a set of twins. It was like all the turmoil I’d caused was released out of a pressure valve, and I knew it was the right thing to do.

Loretta handled the fallout from my parents and brother, and I threw my first coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, completely addicted to this new reckless anonymity. Nobody saw a girl with a heart condition and a more electric brother. They saw me for the first time, and even better, I could walk away from anything I didn’t like.

My wish, when I threw that coin into the fountain? That Tom wasn’t too bruised by my carelessness.

I drift off now, on the couch with the quilt over my face, imagining myself walking down the carpeted jet bridge from the gate into an airplane. That’s my favorite part: walking out of real life so that everyone I love can exhale.

Except that first time I did it, I walked out a little too long. When I returned, ready to look into Tom’s eyes and be guided by what I felt, I was pulled up short by the sleek, composed girl at his side who would one day wear his beautiful ring.

And here’s the real kicker: Jamie introduced them.

* * *

“ALIVE?” THERE’S A voice above me. I wake with a snort, flip the quilt away, and open my eyes. “Ouch.” Tom has sympathy in his voice, so I must look pretty bad. He puts a takeout cup on the coffee table. Next, a takeout box.

I attempt to speak with my dead mouth. “Have I mentioned that you are the world’s best person?”

“A few times. Waffles. That’s still right, isn’t it?” Just like his cheese-lettuce lunch, my hangover food hasn’t changed. I nod and pull myself up onto my elbows. I’m glad he doesn’t know about my trip down memory lane.

“What time is it?” The coffee is the most perfect temperature and sweetness and I drink it in a series of gulps. I’m a hummingbird. “Oh my God.” I tip the last drops into my mouth. I lick the inner rim. “How was that so good?”

Does everything taste this good when delivered by his hands? Megan, you lucky bitch. He could make a cold toast crust succulent, I swear. He takes the lid off his own coffee, pours in a bunch of sugar sachets, and gives it to me. Such charity. Such goodness.

And I tore it up. I tore it all up.

“Don’t cry, they’re just waffles,” he says, smiling. “It’s heading toward lunchtime. I’ve got stuff to show you before we call Jamie.” His phone begins ringing. “Speak of the devil.”

I take the ringing phone and hit speakerphone. Even with tears in my eyes and a regret-thickened throat, I can still say: “Hello, you’ve reached the micro-penis counseling service.”

There’s silence on the other end, then a deep sigh that I’d know anywhere. I heard it before I was born, probably. Tom grins, teeth white, and it’s probably a better feeling than a stadium of people laughing. He’s 2 percent mine. It’s official.

Jamie speaks. “Hilarious. She’s just hilarious.”

“I thought so,” Tom replies.

I stay in character. “How small is your penis, sir?”

“Don’t encourage her,” Jamie orders as Tom breaks and begins laughing. “Darcy, where’s your phone?”

“Women’s bathroom at Sully’s. Second stall from the end.”

“Well, get a new one, dimwit.”

“I’ve got an old one in my car you can have.” Tom’s all about solutions, especially when his boss Jamie is within earshot.

“No, I think I like things better this way,” I tell him. Coffee, waffles, Tom, Patty leaning against my shin, and my brother is calling me dimwit again? Tom’s fixed everything.

Jamie says, “So, let me guess. She’s so hungover she’s a ghost.”

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