Just then, I see Gran coming through the back door from the corner of my eye.
I turn toward her. She looks worried, distressed almost, but as soon as she meets my eyes, she quickly changes her expression and offers up a smile.
I frown slightly, wondering why she looked so distraught just a second ago. She’s trying to hide something from me. I know it. But I also know, that as stubborn and headstrong as she is, she won’t tell me what it is.
As she walks up to us, her attention turns completely to Doctor Frost, and she has to tilt her head back to actually look up at him.
“Well, hello young man,” she says smiling.
He offers a smile of his own, the cold expression he had for Liam just a moment ago completely gone from his handsome face.
“Hello, Mrs. Gallo,” he says, extending his hand to her. “My name is Dexter Frost,” he continues. “I apologize for my timing, but I would be remiss if I didn’t pay my respects to your late husband. He was such a renowned and inspirational icon. Like so many others, I and my whole family have so much respect and admiration for him.”
“Oh, nonsense! You have nothing to apologize for,” Gran admonishes, waving her hand. “Thank you so much for thinking of him and for coming here despite the weather. I know it must not have been easy.” She takes his hand in both of hers and gently squeezes, still smiling in gratitude.
“Of course, Mrs. Gallo. The honor is mine. Really,” he says.
She releases his hand, and her attention turns to me once more.
“Ramona, what are you doing? Offer our guest something to drink,” she says.
Suddenly, I feel flustered by her words. Why does she have to go and put me on blast in front of him like that? As if I don’t already feel self-conscious whenever I’m around him as it is. Granted, I’d completely forgotten to offer him any refreshments, but how could I when my mind’s been busy trying to figure out why he’s here in the first place?
“Oh, I-I’m sorry. Uh, what would you like to drink?” I ask, trying not to show how embarrassed I feel and trying to keep my wacky nerves under control.
“Thank you, but I can’t stay long,” he says. “I should be leaving soon. I have to be at work in a few hours.”
“Already? But you just got here!” Gran admonishes.
“Really, it’s no trouble at all,” he assures her, his voice even and deep. “I just came to show my support.”
I don’t know how he can sound so polite and so firm and assertive at the same time.
Gran eventually nods in understanding. “Well, alright. If that’s the case, then I appreciate you coming even more,” she smiles.
The whole thing is just so confusing to me. She obviously doesn’t know him. It’s just so strange that he’s here, especially when Danny, the only person he claims to actually know, isn’t here himself.
I have so many questions just ready to spill from my mouth, just waiting at the tip of my tongue to pour out of me.
“Ramona dear, would you get me a bottle of water?” Gran says, bringing my focus away from Doctor Frost and my questions surrounding his appearance here.
“Sure, Gran,” I say simply.
I head back to the kitchen and grab a bottle of water from the fridge, and the whole while, my mind remains preoccupied with Dexter Frost.
When I return, the corridor is empty, and neither of them is standing there anymore. I look around for a few more seconds, frowning slightly when they’re still not in sight.
I hear Gran’s voice coming from the living room, and I dash in there. Mr. Dickson is still going on about some story involving an oak tree and a three-legged sheep, and I try to block out his incessant rambling. I look around, but there’s still no Dexter Frost.
“Here,” I say, finally handing the bottle to Gran. “Where’s Doctor Frost?” I ask.
“Oh, he just left, dear,” she says. “He seemed to be in a hurry.”
I realize, with surprising disappointment, that he’s gone. I don’t know why, but hearing that makes my shoulders slump slightly. I can’t believe he left without so much as another word.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s not as if he owes me anything.
But as much as I tell myself that, for some reason, the little stab of disappointment doesn’t go away.
With a sigh, I head back into the kitchen and immediately dial Trixie. I need to talk to someone about something else—anything else—entirely and get my mind out of its current funk.
I know we’re not going to be talking about anything important—mostly mindless chatter that’ll probably focus on her and Jordan—but that’s the whole point. I need to keep my brain busy so that it won’t resort to thinking of Dexter Frost and the weirdly disappointing feeling he just left me with.
It’s a little after midnight. Everyone’s finally gone, and the day really is over. The house has been completely quiet for some time now.
Gran called it a night almost two hours ago, but I decided to stay up and clean up all the aftermath of today despite her insistence that I follow suit and head to bed as well. It’s not like I could’ve fallen asleep if I did, anyway.
I feel way too restless right now. I’ve been on edge ever since I got here, but seeing Doctor Frost again, and so unexpectedly, has made me even more scatterbrained.
With a sigh, I finally place the last dish in the dishwasher and set it to run right before I haul the very full trash bag out to the back porch. It’s way too cold and I’m way too exhausted right now, so I decide to take it to the dumpster in the morning before I leave instead of doing it now.
I lock all the doors, and just before I turn the kitchen light off, I notice one of the drawers is ajar with a few envelopes sticking out of it. I head over to it, nudging the drawer so it can slide back in, but it won’t budge.
I try shoving it a few more times, and on my last exasperated attempt, I finally get it to move, but not in the direction I intended. The entire drawer slides off its support rollers and comes crashing onto the kitchen floor along with everything it contains.
Piles and piles of paper and envelopes are flying everywhere, scattering themselves all over the place. I can’t stop the frustrated groan that leaves my throat.
Ugh, of course this would happen right when I’m about to call it a night. How annoying!
I contemplate just leaving the newly created mess there and dealing with it tomorrow, but this isn’t my apartment, and I don’t want my cluttery tendencies to cramp Gran’s style. I let out a loud, tired huff, right before stooping on my bare heels and gathering the papery mess below me.
I look down to find stacks upon stacks of foreclosure statements, overdue bills, and warnings from collection agencies. Every single one displays information of some sort of debt. And they’re all addressed to Gran. Each and every one of them.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I’m in total shock as I continue to go through them, feeling bewildered when I keep seeing pretty much the same thing again and again. As I keep scrambling through the clutter, I hear light footsteps coming my way, and I look up to see Gran shuffling into the kitchen in her night robe. I don’t waste any time making my discovery known.
“What are all these?” I ask, holding up one of the flimsy letters as if I didn’t just read what the hell was on it. I’m trying not to sound accusatory or suspicious, but I don’t think I’m succeeding.
“They’re nothing,” she insists.
“Nothing?! Are you kidding me?” I feel beyond incredulous right now. Incredulous and livid! She tries to sidestep and brush it off a few times, acting nonchalant about it, but I’m not buying any of it.
“Why didn’t you tell me about any of this?” I demand.
I know I’m raising my voice at her and I’m dead wrong for it, but I’m feeling myself becoming more and more frustrated by the second.
Gran’s voice is quiet when she answers, almost apologetic. “I didn’t want you to worry,” she says.
I sigh. Now I feel bad for yelling. I feel like every ounce of energy I had left just got bulldozed out of me. My shoulders slump on their own will, and my fingers let the envelope slip out of their grasp, suddenly too weak to do anything.
I sit there on the cold floor, feeling so defeated. I can’t help but realize just how similar we both are; so much more likely to suffer in silence than to ask for help.
I want to be angry at her, and for a little bit, I am, but I can’t stay mad. I’d be a hypocrite for expecting her to tell me about her problems when I’m keeping a few of my own from her.
This is seriously ridiculous. We’re seriously ridiculous.
I look down at the pile again and I already feel a headache coming on. I breathe out a tired sigh.
This is not at all how I imagined this night would end.
I hear a car honk from behind me, and I realize the stop light’s green. This is already the second time it’s happened, and I’ve only been on the road for less than ten minutes.
I’m in such a daze, I almost feel like a shell of myself. I didn’t sleep last night. I couldn’t. My mind wouldn’t let me. Worry wouldn’t let me.
I ended spending each and every hour tossing and turning in bed, trying to think of ways to come up with money so that my grandmother—my only living relative who gives a damn about me—won’t lose her house, or worse.
To say I was shocked last night would be a gross understatement. After quite a bit of coaxing on my part, Gran finally fessed up and told me everything. I just hadn’t realized I wasn’t really prepared to hear it all.
I had heard the rumors, as everyone else in this town, but that’s all I figured they were—rumors. Public figures and well-known people often fall prey to scrutiny and negative criticism all the time, so I wasn’t that surprised when folks started slandering my grandfather’s name and reputation. But what Gran revealed last night…I still can’t believe it.
I’ve spent every second since she laid the info on me pondering and trying to understand the hows and whys of it all. There has to be some other explanation. My grandfather wasn’t that kind of man. He just wasn’t.
Gran even confessed that she had completely underestimated just how much ruin grandpa had fallen into before his death, and after looking at the proof, I can’t help but share her sentiments.
He’d made mistakes. Lots and lots of them, apparently. And now, Gran is the one suffering for it. For all of it. Her own husband of fifty-three years did this to her.
She’d actually said those very words herself. I know there’s no way in hell she would lie about something like that, but at the same time, I’m having a really hard time believing any of it. It’s all too much to take in. I just don’t know what to think anymore.
I finally get back to my apartment, still in a daze as my body operates on autopilot. I can’t stop thinking about what Gran had said. I can’t stop worrying. With everything else that’s going wrong in my life, finding out about her financial situation is almost more than I can bear right now.
I just don’t know what to do.
I feel like a complete mess. I almost wish I hadn’t stumbled upon those envelopes. I should have just fucking gone to bed like she’d said and stayed away from that damn drawer.
My phone buzzes a few times, but I ignore it. I don’t bother to even check who it is. I’m so out of it right now the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone. Even Trixie.
The hours pass even as time seems to stand still. The only thing that remains constant is my relentless worrying and overthinking. I can’t stop my mind from racing even when my body is physically drained and exhausted. I’m going to drive myself insane if I keep this up.
When my phone buzzes again, a thought comes to mind; a thought that I immediately push away.
Another couple of hours pass, and the thought keeps coming back, again and again like an annoying bug that you can’t get rid of but can’t ignore either.
When I finally have enough of torturing myself, I close my eyes and take a deep breath, and then another one, and then another, before reaching for my phone.
I realize I’d already made the decision hours ago. It very well may be my only option.
When I scroll through my contacts and finally hit the call button on the intended number, I feel my stomach sink and the threat of bile rising up my throat.
After three rings, the familiar, high-pitched voice that I know all too well comes through.
I struggle to swallow. “Hey, Nicole,” I croak, my voice little above a hoarse, sad whisper.
I can’t believe I’m really about to do this.
“It’s Ramona,” I continue, my restless nerves making me stutter and pause. “I-I, um…I was…wondering…uh…w-what exactly do you do at the Rainbow Service Club?”