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99 Percent Mine(10)
Author: Sally Thorne

“Okay, it was like eleven A.M., and I was hungover as hell. On the doorstep was some good-looking hotshot giving me his business card. I thought I was having a sex dream.”

“So far this is matching Jamie’s version exactly.” Tom unlatches the kitchen window, lifts it a fraction, then jiggles it all the way open. Only someone who practically grew up in this house would know that little trick. “I always meant to fix that for her.” Sad eyes now. He never met his own grandparents. I’m glad he could share ours.

“Loretta would have told you that window isn’t broken.” The wine is warm satin in my veins. I’m somehow pouring my third glass. Tom thinks it’s my second. Heh.

“So you were possibly having a sex dream …,” Tom prompts, and I realize I’m standing in the refrigerator light, staring at nothing. What am I going to give him for breakfast? A body like that needs protein. A Viking banquet table, mugs of ale, a crackling fire. An animal skin draped low on his hips. Me, lying boneless and spent in the crook of his elbow, still asking for more.

I fill my mouth with wine and shut the fridge.

“A sex dream,” Tom prompts again.

I spray the mouthful of wine onto the fridge door. My overdue phone bill is now a watercolor.

“Yeah, so he’s got me out on the front path. He’s telling me how sorry he is about Loretta, blah blah. He was talking like he knew her. Even though he was flirty, I knew it wasn’t a sex dream, because his clothes were still on. He was bumming me out about how bad the cottage looked. Then I realized. He was a developer.”

“Douglas Franzo from Shapley Group, right?”

“Yeah.” Jamie’s probably ranted this to Tom a hundred times before. Douglas fucking Franzo! The son of the CEO! Important! Rich! Powerful! “I asked him to leave.”

“According to your brother,” Tom says on a grunt as he pulls the stiff window back down, “you went ballistic and he tore up the written offer. Then you chased his car down to the corner of Simons Street, barefoot, wearing nothing but a robe.”

“So that’s a detail you remember, huh?” I try my alpha-dog eye-contact stare but he doesn’t look away this time. One second ticks into two. Three. I look down into my wineglass. “You know I hate when you compare our stories. Why even ask me if you already know how it went? Jamie came jogging around the corner in his sweatbands bellowing, What the fuck, and the rest is history.”

I hope my twin didn’t finish telling it. World War III happened in this very kitchen. After he left, unable to trust himself to not kill me, I knelt on the floor and picked up the pieces of the Royal Albert dinner set we’d smashed. We’d thrown it at each other, plate after plate.

Another beautiful thing the Barrett twins could not deserve. Who do you think you are, anyway?

Tom gives me a don’t get grouchy look as he toes his boot around the skirting boards, wiggling and loosening everything he touches. “I don’t believe all the things your brother tells me about you. They always sound made up.”

“Then you find out it’s true, and your illusions are shattered, yet again.”

“I don’t know about illusions, exactly. I’ve known you a long time.”

My third glass of wine goes down the hatch. “Jamie crawled around the front path finding the torn-up pieces of the offer. He taped it together. Can you believe that?”

“Yes. There would have been a dollar sign motivating him.”

“He set up a meeting with the guy, tried everything. He literally sent him a fruit basket. But I’d fucked it up.”

“Knowing you, you don’t regret it,” Tom says. I watch his expression settle into thoughtful, and I lean on the broken oven and watch him move around the room. What’s he looking for? The one thing that is salvageable? “What’s your next big adventure, then?”

“I’ll help pack up this place. Then I’m going to get on the first plane I come across.” I shrug when he looks dubious. “I mean it. I’ll probably just get a good deal on somewhere warm that doesn’t need a visa. And what’s your next big destination?” I can’t say honeymoon because it will come out like a burp. I picture Tom and Megan lying on a beach. Then I crop Megan out of the image.

“I’ll find something cheap and flip it. That’s what I’m always doing next.”

“Enough work! Make sure your hotel has a fabulous pool,” I suggest through my teeth. Teenage Darcy used to sit on the edge and count his laps. I’d lose count, hypnotized by his rhythmic gasps of air. It took me a few years to realize they gave me the stomach shivers because they were hopelessly erotic. “You’re still swimming, right?”

He rolls his shoulders reflexively. “I haven’t had time. Not in probably two years. Where are you moving after this? Getting a rental?” His nose wrinkles. “Do me a favor, get a nice place.”

“I don’t know. I’ve only just gotten used to having a mailing address. I’ll put my stuff in storage and I’ll stay at the beach house when I’m back.” I hope that didn’t sound like, I’m traveling like a big spoiled baby forever, and when I’m not, I’ll be in Mommy and Daddy’s house eating breakfast in bed.

“I rebuilt their back deck. It was too small for them.” Typical Tom, sweating for the Barretts whenever required. “I’m sure they’re out on it right now, kissing under the moonlight.”

“Ugh, gross. Probably.” Mom and Dad have chemistry. I will leave it at that. “You didn’t even swim in the ocean while you were there?”

“I didn’t even think of it,” he says, looking a little surprised. “Whoops.”

“You belong in water. Next time, swim.” I go back into the living room and throw myself onto the couch. Patty hammers in from nowhere, louder than a T. rex, a pencil clenched between her teeth. I’ve got to ask the hard questions, to get them out of the way.

“Where are you going for your honeymoon?” No answer. I’ll try again. “I’ve been everywhere. I can give you guys help with your itinerary.” He avoids my eyes and I slump down into the cushions. Maybe if I don’t agree to be his photographer, I’ll be lucky to even get an invite. I can imagine Mom explaining it to me now. Small. Intimate. Only their closest family and friends.

Holy shit. That’s it. I’m not invited and he’s trying to work out how to tell me.

Tom moves to the dining room and risks turning the light on. It’s my little photography studio now. Boxes of merchandise sit against the wall. “This is what you do these days?”

“Yep.” I dig in my bag of marshmallows. Time to plug this aching void inside. I hit shuffle on Loretta’s retro stereo and the Cure comes on. The void gapes wider in a delicious way.

“Mugs.” He says it doubtfully. “You take photos of mugs so they can be sold on websites? I definitely thought Jamie had made that up.”

“It’s true.” I pack my mouth with sweet white foam and sip some wine to dissolve it all. “Not just mugs. Don’t look in that one,” I warn Tom when he goes to look in the boxes.

“What is it?” He flips open the box lid. “Okay then.”

“It’s surprisingly hard to get the lighting right on a ten-inch purple dildo.”

“I’m sure it’s impossible.” He is scandalized to the core. It is adorable. He looks back down, unable to resist.

“Don’t go digging in that dirty box, Tom, you’ll need brain bleach.” I have the strongest feeling he wants to.

I’d give my left ventricle to know what he thought about all that silicone. Disgusting? Interesting? On par with what’s in his navy cargo pants? It’s so hard to tell when he looks up. He rearranges his expression into prim disapproval.

God, such a good boy. I grin like a shark. “They let me keep stuff sometimes.” I watch as he skitters around the room off walls and furniture like a big pinball. Then I relieve him. “I’ve got so many mugs.”

“Mugs,” he says again like it’s the cause of all that is wrong in this world. “I don’t think this is very … you. You’re an award-winning portrait photographer.”

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