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By a Thread: Chapter 72

ALLY

Things kept happening. Good things.

On Tuesday, the Foxwood police contacted me to tell me my weasel of a contractor had been arrested for fraud, theft, and some other charges that sounded like general douchery. Apparently I hadn’t been the only client he’d skipped out on.

The detective wasn’t confident that I’d get my money back, but she had recovered my father’s pocket watch that the guy had helped himself to.

On Thursday, I got an email from a design firm in Manhattan. They’d seen my work in Label and somehow got a direct line to Dalessandra, who sang my praises. They wanted to know if I was interested in a job doing design work.

Friday was bittersweet goodness. The closing on my father’s house went off without a hitch. The buyers signed over power of attorney to their agent, so I didn’t get to meet them. Over a sun-dappled oak table, I traded keys for a check that would not only keep my father in Goodwin Childers for the next several years but would rebuild some of my own savings and clear my debt to Dominic.

I swung by the bank and deposited the check before anyone could change their minds. Then I wrote out a check for every dime that I owed Dominic Russo, dropped it in the mail, and treated myself to a Lyft to Mrs. Grosu’s. I was staying in her guest room for a few days until I could figure out my next move.

I was also hoping to get a glimpse of the new buyers next door.

Halfway to Mrs. Grosu’s in a spotless Prius, my phone gave one actual ring and then a half-hearted vibration. It was a Label office number. I hesitated. I’d ignored all calls for the last month, afraid it would be Dominic. Afraid it wouldn’t be.

I was so tired of being afraid. I was so tired of missing him.

“Hello?”

“Ally, it’s Jasmine from HR,” the caller announced briskly.

Grumpy Jasmine, bad picture taker.

“Hi,” I said.

“I’m calling about where to send your last paycheck.”

I was too sad, too depressed, to get excited about money I’d forgotten about.

“Oh, sure,” I said and rattled off Mrs. Grosu’s address.

“Great,” she said. “By the way, I have some information you might find interesting.”

I doubted that very much.

“Actually, Jasmine, I don’t think—”

“I received a call from this cute junior peon in accounting named Mickey, who I make out with sometimes.”

“Uh.” Grumpy Jasmine had just officially broken my brain.

“He was talking about this audit of the credit card statements or some other boring stuff that I usually don’t hear because I’m too busy staring at his biceps.”

Apparently she was into the arm porn.

“Anyway, he mentions that there was this weirdness because the creative director kept buying food for the admin pool.”

“The creative director?” I said slowly.

“In January, Dominic started buying food for the admins almost every day.”

“Wait. Wasn’t that like a thing? Like a thing that they did before…”

Before what? Before me? Before me and my poor ass with my expired salads and rationed leftovers started showing up for work?

“Nope. It started the day after your hire date.”

I felt like I needed to sit down.

Okay, so Dom paid for some food. Big deal. That didn’t make up for him not trusting me.

“And then there’s the phone and laptop,” Jasmine continued.

Oh, shit.

“What about the phone and the laptop?”

“Did you ever notice other new hires weren’t getting free tech?”

Yes. “Not really.”

My neck started to flare up.

“There was no record of the purchase. So I checked with Gola, who handles some of Dominic’s personal bills. He bought them out of pocket and had IT set them up for you.”

I thought of Buddy and his wife. How they still didn’t know that Dominic Russo was their secret health insurance Santa.

“I don’t understand,” I began.

“Look, maybe I’m just a romantic at heart,” she said.

I doubted that very much.

“The guy screwed up. Big time. But numbers don’t lie. He clearly cares about you. Anyway, I’m totally coming to dance this week. See you there!”

“Yeah. See you,” I said lamely.

Something occurred to me, and I couldn’t get it to un-occur.

Almost every good thing that had happened to me since January had been at the hands of Dominic Russo. The food. The phone and laptop that I desperately needed. The job. The renovations. The closetful of couture. The freaking piano.

It was a pattern. A consistent one. Dominic recognizing a need and quietly filling it.

I was not a lucky person. I didn’t win on scratch-offs. It was more fun for me to set dollars on fire than to put them in slot machines that never paid off. And I sure as hell didn’t win grants that I didn’t know about.

I dug into my backpack in a frantic search. I finally found it at the bottom under a banana and last month’s issue of Label.

The letter from the foundation.

Lady George Administration Memory Care Grant.

Lady. As in Faith’s club, Ladies and Gentlemen, where he’d first touched me.

“Please, no,” I whispered.

George. George’s Pizza, where we’d first met. My stomach dropped.

Administration. The admin pool. Where I’d fallen in love with him.

No. No. No. My head didn’t want to believe it. But my heart, that stupid forgiving traitor, was fluttering with idiotic hope.

I dialed the nursing home. “Sandy in the office, please?”

I waited impatiently while the transfer went through.

“This is Sandy,” she answered brightly.

“Oh thank God. It’s Ally Morales. I have a very important question.”

“Yes, of course, Mr. Swanson. I’m happy to help.”

“Is Deena there?” I guessed.

“Absolutely. That’s confirmed.”

“I’ll keep this short. Did Dominic Russo have anything to do with the grant for my dad?”

“Uhhhh…” Sandy’s nonanswer was damning. “I don’t think I have that information currently,” she said in a voice two octaves higher than normal.

“Sandy, are you lying to me or Deena right now?”

“Sometimes both options are viable,” she said.

“Has Dominic Russo visited my father?” I asked.

“Well, with HIPAA, I’m afraid I can’t answer that,” she said lamely.

“Oh my God.” I rolled my eyes. “Call me when Deena goes for her blood of children break.”

I put my head between my knees and tried not to barf everywhere.

“You okay back there?” the driver asked nervously.

“Fine,” I lied. “Absolutely fine.”

I sat back up and grabbed the sale paperwork out of my bag. The buyer’s entity was listed front and center.

Alominic Trust.

I made a half groan half whine.

The driver swerved to the side of the road. “Lady, please don’t barf in my car.”


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