Home > 99 Percent Mine(17)

99 Percent Mine(17)
Author: Sally Thorne

There’s a loose rattling noise. Tom shakes the entire gutter about a foot away from the roofline. Slimy leaves splatter down onto me. Patty and I both yap like seals.

“You asshole.”

“You deserved that, you deviant.” He rattles the gutter again.

“Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Do you want to climb up this ladder while I stand down there looking at your butt? See how it feels?” Busted again. If he registers every time my eyes are on him, I’m doomed.

“I’ve got nothing on you, babe.”

“You sure did hide in the shower a long time. Didn’t know the water heater could handle that.” Tom’s hand goes to his back pocket and he pulls out a screwdriver.

“That water heater is a tin can. It was freezing by the end.” I just let it go cold, numbing me down to the bones, cooling the strange restless energy inside me to manageable levels. I’ve never actually taken a cold shower over a guy before.

He looks across at the neighbor’s roof, and in his profile, I see him swallow. In his mind, he thinks, Ew, gross. Darcy Barrett, a shivering drowned rat, boy hair flattened to her skull.

He hoists himself a little higher onto the edge of the roof. There’s a tile-scraping sound and the ladder trembles. I leap on the base of the ladder and wrap my entire body around it. “Fuck! Be careful.” Another wet leaf plops down on my face.

“It’s fine,” he says, treading down the rungs. He doesn’t turn, but instead spends a lot of time pulling the ladder down, folding and refolding it. I’m glad. I can hide my sudden heart jolt.

“I thought I was going to have to catch you then.” I move to the fishpond, my back to him. My heart has jumped up into my throat. I swallow again and again, but it won’t budge. Blood begins sliding the wrong way in my veins.

My heart says, Oh hey, did you just have a little fright? Cool, I’m going to make a big deal out of it. And now we’re pumpin’. Palpitations, pixelation, it’s all cranking into gear.

Quick, think about something else.

Aside from my heart situation, a worse pattern keeps repeating. I tease him like always, he calls me on it, and I remember Megan. I crush myself down inside like an empty beer can. Then I look at him and that joyful feeling expands, and the cycle happens again.

I know what the solution to this problem is, and it involves a cab to the airport.

“I bet you would catch me. You’d just …” He holds his arms up to the sky. “Get squashed flat. Hey.” He’s noticed my stillness. “What’s happening?”

“Nothing,” I say on a slow exhale. My heart is climbing up out of my body, fluttering and struggling in the base of my neck.

Tom’s hands are on my body. “Your little spool of thread,” he says with deep empathy. “Aw, it’s rattling around in there, isn’t it?”

“Stop it. Don’t fuss.” I tug away but he steps with me. “It will stop if I can just take my mind off it. Your hands are making it worse.”

He drops them like he’s been scalded.

He smells like he always has: a blown-out birthday candle, sharp and smoky. It’s that smell in your nostrils when closing your eyes and making an impossible wish, and your mouth is watering for something sweet.

“Breathe,” he says, encouraging me just like Jamie would. When I give myself one glance up at his beautiful face, the stark look in his eyes reminds me of why I stayed behind at the airport as a child. I am stress. Fear. Uncertainty.

I am a liability.

I make myself fake a big breath out. “Don’t worry. It’s nothing a little time on a beach somewhere can’t fix.”

He eases away and the chilling air fills the space between us. I step completely out of his reach and then put the fishpond between us. I pat my chest like I’m burping a baby. If I do it firmly enough, I can’t feel the individual off-kilter beats.

Tom is a little wretched. “I’m sorry about what I said before. You know that, right? You’re not a liability. This is your house, and you have every right to work on it.” He turns back to his notes, but he’s looking at them without seeing. “But I don’t think you should travel. You’re clearly not okay.”

“I’ve been like this for years. Don’t,” I warn, and he sighs heavily.

“So, my ladder wobbles and you can throw yourself on it like it’s a grenade, but you turn into a wax statue and I’m supposed to, what? Just ignore it?” You know he’s getting close to the end of his tether when his hand is on his hip. “You’ve got a set of rules that I can’t agree to.”

“I’ve had a lifetime of fussing.” I put my hand up to grip my plait and my hand finds nothing but air. It’s a good reminder. I’m a new person now. “Just worry about this house.”

“I’m worried about you,” he says in a cut the shit voice. “Tell me what’s really going on with you. I have never seen so many empty wine bottles in my life.” He jerks a thumb at the recycling bin at the side of the house. “You are not doing well.”

“Don’t start,” I begin, but he silences me.

“You’re drinking when I know you shouldn’t. Your medication’s so old it’s expired, did you realize that? You’re working somewhere where guys grab you. Bruise you. Drive past all night.”

“It’s not like that—”

“Your fridge is empty. You’re not taking real photos,” he says in a tone like it’s a tragedy. “And you’re trying to keep me at arm’s length, as usual, by doing that thing you do.”

“What do I do?”

“You know exactly what you do. You mess around with me.”

“Well, what is it like being messed with by me?” I can’t stop looking at how his short, neat fingernails are pressing into the cotton at his hip. I’m sweating now. I need to press my sleeve to my brow, but he’ll see.

“Being messed with by Darcy Barrett?” He considers the question. “It sounds like she’s joking with me, but it feels like she’s telling the truth. And I never know which is right.”

Whoa. He really has my number. “You’re a smart guy, you’ll work it out.”

He puts a hand into his hair. That bicep. Those lines. He’s art. “See, you’re doing it again. It’s your technique to put me off track, so you won’t have to actually answer me.”

He turns back to the house like he’s looking for its moral support. Patty obliges, running to him and standing up on his shin. He looks down at her. “I’m just a chew toy, Patty. Aunt Darcy likes hearing me squeak.”

“If I were Megan, I’d punch me in the face.” I ball up my fist and give myself a soft uppercut. “I’m really sorry. I don’t know what comes over me. If it’s any consolation, I don’t do it to anyone else. You’re … special.”

“Really?” His eyes have a new light in them when he looks back at me. It gives me a bad little flashback to Keith. Tom’s heart is the Rock of Gibraltar, but I shouldn’t risk it.

“You shouldn’t like hearing that,” I remind him. “Face-punching, remember?”

“She wouldn’t care.” It’s the same phrase he used before, when I asked about his tent. He’s trying to tell me something about her, and I don’t know if I want to hear it. She’s clearly as cool as her ice-white diamond. She’s secure in herself, and she has the most trustworthy man alive.

He confirms it. “We’re not like that.”

“No jury on earth would convict her.” I seem to be using my messing-with-you voice. Sounds like joking but I’m serious. “If I bagged and tagged a beauty like you, I’d turn vicious. I bet she’s the same.”

He laughs and it’s not a happy sound. “I guess it’s redundant to point out that you’re already pretty vicious.” A pause, then he says awkwardly, “She’s not like you at all.”

“That much is obvious.” I run a hand up and down my inferior face and body, and he’s confused. “Well, I won’t push my luck with her. Like I said, I’m going to find someone new to torment. You’re off the hook. Pity my doomed future husband.”

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