I thought Dominic was talking about how he’d set up the house for me being sick, which didn’t make much sense. I was still who I was, just a bit sicker.
They were changing the meds, we were going to regulate better, things would progress the way they were supposed to. Or so I hoped.
I’d driven forward the last few months on hope, and I was going to keep going on it. Sometimes hope shows in the day with the sunrise or the sunset, sometimes it shows in the tasks you complete or the ones that are left, sometimes it shows when you push yourself hard enough and you see still that you have the strength to keep going. And sometimes it shows in others.
In him. Dominic Hardy.
He opened the door for me, and there were no lights on, but candles with gold petals on the ground—so many I couldn’t even see the white flooring. “Dominic?” I didn’t walk forward.
“It’s one of the only colors I enjoyed before you. Follow them, huh?”
I followed them forward into the living room to see the wall he’d had a few pictures hung on was now filled with them. Tons and tons of snapshots. Framed photographs of us in the bakery, of us in the club, of us everywhere. “Why?”
“Why not? They’re for the girl who puts up pictures of everyone but herself. I figured she needed a wall with her in them.”
“Where did you get all these?”
“Mostly the press. They can capture us in the best lighting, but when I offered them six figures for the photos along with a lawsuit in exchange for printing them, they agreed pretty easily.” He scooped up Spice when she meowed by his leg and petted her as I squinted at the wall connected to the study.
It was a soft peach pattern, not black or white at all, and it appeared familiar like a spotted sweeping mountain that sort of reminded me of the California horizon. He hummed. “It’s not done but I’m considering keeping it just like that.”
“What is it?”
“Your freckles babe. Just your freckles. One of my favorite parts of you.”
“But why?” It was all I could ask. “When?”
“We worked on it all week since you’ve been gone. If I couldn’t have you, I wanted the idea of you.”
I shook my head because tears burned at the back of my eyes now, and my heart beat faster, and my mind was going a mile a minute. “Dominic, this is—”
“This is our home, and I wanted you to feel that when you’re here healing.”
“You don’t have to take care of me, you know that? I can take care of myself.”
“Right, but if I don’t take care of you, who’s going to take care of the shell of a man I become, Clara? Who’s going to take care of me being a complete asshole all the time? I need you as much as you need me.” He pointed to his study. “Don’t forget to look at the study.”
I chewed my cheek. “Why did you do all this?”
I knew before he answered that this was how Dominic proved he loved me. He showed people through action, not words.
“I wanted it this way. And I want my girlfriend back. Is that a good enough reason?”
All I could do was nod because I already saw color so vibrant and brilliant in that study that I hurried to push the double doors open and stare at it. Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall books, all colors of the rainbow, sorted beautifully to match one another row by row by row.
“What did you do?”
“Made my study your study, I guess.”
“Oh my God.”
“Do you like it?” he asked, and I genuinely think he needed to know, as he stood there with his brow actually sweating.
“If I said I didn’t?” I turned to him finally as I pried my eyes from the bookshelf.
“I’d stay up all night changing it like you did for me.”
“Right. You hated that I’d changed it.”
“You hated me and a lot of the things I did when I first moved here,” I reminded him but a smile was forming on my face that I couldn’t hide because a feeling was growing in me that I couldn’t hide either: trust and comfort along with my love. I realized Dominic created perfection for me, did all this for me. And he did it for me despite the hell I gave him.
“Hated you?” he asked, taking a step toward me.
“Well, yeah. I don’t know.” I shrugged.
“Don’t know?” He smiled as he rocked back on his heels and stuck his hands in his trouser pockets before he said quietly, “You know, when I heard the will being read, I hated that I couldn’t get rid of your bakery the second it was put in my resort. I hated that you tried to infect the rest of my resort with your flair. I hated how I agreed. I hate that now whenever I walk in that place, I smell your signature cupcakes and your damn coffee that I literally crave. I hated that I went to bed wondering where you were, I hated that I woke up searching for your body next to mine, I hated you. I hate that I hurt you, I hate that I can’t take it back, that I can’t let you go, that I’m not even considering it at this point. I hate that you deserve someone better than me.”
I tried to stop him there with tears streaming down my face at his words.
He held up a hand. “But you’re not going to get it, Clara, because I’ll kill another man. Do you get that? I’m no better than the men I’ve judged who lost their tempers in jealousy. And I’m not joking with you about it.”
“Dom—” I started.
He paced back and forth now. “I mean it. You think Valentino will survive without his precious restaurant up there? You go on another date with him, I’ll close it down. I’ll destroy him in any way I know how.” I tsked to chastise him but he wasn’t listening. He was still pacing. But then he stopped to glare right into my eyes. “You’ve brought out my emotions, good and bad. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve owned it. I loathe you, little fighter, and that’s how I know I love you.”
“You hate that you love me?” I whispered.
“Absolutely. I loathe how much I love you, Clara. I hate color, and yet I’m obsessed with everything you wear. I don’t like to eat sugar, but I’ll devour anything you put on a plate in front of me. I’m exhausted, but I’ll stay awake thinking about you just to catch one more thought of you running through my mind. What is that? Love? Because I loathe it. Loathe that I know I can’t live without it, that I want it for the rest of my life with every fiber of my being.”
“Well, I loathe that I love you too.” I said it softly, feeling everything that he was. He was as scared to lose himself to this feeling of love we were both feeling. I pushed him away because I didn’t want to find out later he loved me for something I really wasn’t or couldn’t be. Really, though, I was just scared to love him without that love back.
Love is a risk. We might hate taking the risk but we won’t feel the love unless we do.
“So, when I get down on one knee, will you loathe saying yes?”
I bit my lip and then smiled as I said, “I will. But at least I’m owning it.”