Home > 99 Percent Mine(16)

99 Percent Mine(16)
Author: Sally Thorne

I click the camera, turn the mug slightly on the little white turntable, take another shot, and then record a three-hundred-sixty-degree rotation. Then I transfer the digital files and label them with serial numbers. I tick the checklist. If I lose track of which mug is which I will lose my mind. It’s slow, boring, meticulous work.

If I think about the fact that I won the Rosburgh Portrait Prize when I was twenty, I get a shake in my hand and have to redo the set. Why did Tom have to remind me of that? I’d nearly left the memory under Jamie’s bed, along with the canvas print.

“Number one asshole. Maybe I need this one,” I tell Patty, who is asleep on a cushion. “I’m pretty sure it’s my mug.”

I pick it up and spy out the window at Tom, who is currently looking professional and competent, all slid into his clothes in the right way, pointing up at the roofline with a saggy tradesman nodding by his side.

I have lost my goddamn mind in a short period of time. If I had my phone, I’d look at the photo of Megan’s engagement ring again to recalibrate myself. I close my eyes and I can picture it: cushion cut and colder than ice. Like she could press a button on the side and a white lightsaber would come out.

I wouldn’t want something like that. I’d want something like Loretta’s ring: a black sapphire. I should clarify: I want Loretta’s ring, full stop. The fact she left it to Jamie in her will is inexplicable to me. She knew I loved it. She let me borrow it for weeks at a time and said to me, Oh, sweetness, doesn’t it suit you. Was it her way of punishing me for something?

I offered in the solicitor’s parking lot to buy it from him, which was a tactical error. His gray eyes shifted into blue. “No,” he replied with relish.

Now that he knows how badly I want it, that ring is worth more than the Mona Lisa. Luckily for me, no one would be insane enough to marry Jamie either.

It’s sunset when I decide I should grow up and get things back to normal. I find Tom in the backyard alone, writing in a notebook. The tip of his tongue is caught between his teeth.

“Look at you, being all meticulous.”

“Sure am.” He takes a photo of the back stairs with his phone. I’ve never really noticed them before, but they are beautifully rustic. I clomp down them, feeling them bounce.

“I’m so sorry—” he begins what is probably a rehearsed statement. I wave him silent.

“It’s fine.” I take his phone and look at his last shot. “You could probably win an award with that shot. How annoying, I should have been the one to see that. Is there anything you can’t do?” I’m not really joking.

“Plenty. Why don’t you get your camera and do it? Or maybe you could start taking photos of people again.” This might be the closest he’s going to get to asking me to shoot his wedding. He hesitates, and I know it’s about to come. The request that I won’t be able to say no to. “If taking a photo of me—”

A big wave of don’t fucking ask me almost knocks me over. I interrupt him instantly.

“I’m taking more photos than ever, and I’m never going back to people again. Mugs don’t complain. They don’t have little mental breakdowns and ruin their mascara. They don’t write reviews online.”

“Did someone do that?” Googling me would never occur to him.

“Scathing” is all I can say. Apparently, I very much deserve those empty screw holes by the front door.

Unprofessional. Late. Hungover—possibly still drunk? Distracted. Poorly presented. Surly and rude to guests. Blurry. Badly framed. Ruined my memories. Contacting my lawyer.

Tom wisely tucks the impending request back in his pocket. He shouldn’t risk getting his memories ruined, too. “Maybe if I’d gotten the studio done, you’d still be doing portraits.”

He is now looking at the long, narrow building beyond the fishpond, against the fence line, that has had a lot of plans attached to it. It was once Grandpa William’s carpentry hideout, and it still smells like cyprus pine. Loretta used to sit in there on a folding chair, drinking coffee and thinking about him. It was going to be my photography studio, and before that, Loretta’s tarot room. One summer, Tom got as far as cladding the inside walls and putting down carpet before Aldo sent him on to his next job—then the next, and the next. An unfinished project would weigh heavily on Tom.

“Don’t feel bad,” I warn him, but I think I’m too late. “You’ve been busy. You are not the cause of my career change.” I mean, technically yes, but he doesn’t need to know that. I was already on a long downhill slide.

“If you’d called me, I would have come,” he says with the barest hint of accusation. “You know I would.”

“Don’t worry about that. You’re here right when I need you most. Like always.”

Patty is standing on the edge of the slime-filled fishpond. One foreleg lifts. I pick her up and kiss her little dome head. From the laundry window, Diana’s aghast face is like the feline version of The Scream.

I tilt her up to me. “Patty, you’ve gotta stop flirting with danger.”

“Says the girl living in a house with fire-hazard wiring.” Tom gives me his notebook and begins unfolding a ladder. “I can’t believe Loretta lived in this place. Why didn’t she get me to renovate years ago?” He’s getting mad. “She shouldn’t have lived with these issues.”

I have to laugh.

“She couldn’t be bothered packing. She said, and I quote, You can deal with it.” I flip through the last few pages of his notes. I almost forgot his handwriting: square blocks, flat lines, and intriguing shorthand. Arrows up and down, measurements, estimates of cost. Page after page of bad news. “And she thought the issues were quirks. Which they are.”

“You are so similar to your grandmother that it’s scary.” Tom hooks the ladder on the side of the house. “Please, just promise me you won’t touch any of the outlets. Or tell my fortune.”

“I know how to manage this house. I’ve lived in this house part-time for most of my life, remember? Every single ski season.” My parents are obsessed with sliding down snowy hills in matching padded onesies. I wonder what it’s like.

“Did you used to hate me?” He took my place on those ski trips. I stayed with Loretta, took photos until I lost the light, and read books by the fire, my hand in a candy bowl. Lovely, but it was no black-diamond run.

I shake my head. “No, I was glad you went.”

I’m glad you all got to live a little, unencumbered by my shortcomings.

“Glad for me because I was poor,” Tom says in a wry voice. He looks up the ladder and puts a foot on the bottom rung. “Glad that your parents are incredibly generous and took me everywhere.”

“No, glad for you because staying behind sucked, and I wouldn’t wish it on you.”

I remember Loretta saying to me, Wave goodbye for God’s sake, they might all have a plane crash. You’ll regret it if you don’t. That kind of statement is even more startling when said by a fortune-teller. Smile and let them enjoy themselves.

The only translation I could possibly make from that was: Who could relax around me, the ticking time bomb?

“I’m glad you all got a vacation from stressing out about me.”

“We weren’t vacationing from you,” Tom says, surprised. He begins climbing up the ladder. “Loretta let you believe some things that weren’t true.”

For one sharp moment I feel like he knows that I confided in Loretta and she got me the hell out of town. But there’s no way he could. I’ve never told a soul. His eyes are mild and have no bad memories in them when he looks down at me.

“If you need anything switched on or off inside, ask me. I hid your hair dryer.”

“That just means you put it up somewhere high, out of my eye line? Your hiding skills are terrible.” I watch his butt as he climbs higher. “What are you doing up there, anyway?”

“Just looking at the gutters back here.”

“Me too.” I grin breezily up at him as he glowers back down at me. “What? I’m interested in the state of my house.”

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