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Love Redesigned: Chapter 14

Dahlia

Although I planned on heading home after finishing up with the final bedroom, I quickly changed my mind once I found a set of stairs leading up to the attic.

I love exploring attics, although not many people understand, thanks to their bad rep for being creepy and haunted. There is something special about appreciating a home’s history, whether it be old diaries, letters to a lover, or a discarded trunk full of worldly treasures.

“Wow.” I take a look out the round porthole window facing the valley and lake beyond. The sheer size of the attic itself is incredible, with enough space to create a whole in-law suite if I wanted.

Wood planks creak beneath me as I search all the nooks and crannies for anything worth salvaging. Unfortunately, I find nothing of value during my sweep.

“Huh.” I turn in a circle. Usually, I find something—even a random journal or a forgotten Christmas present gathering dust.

The loud chime of my cell phone echoes off the high ceiling. A photo of Julian holding his Second Best trophy on graduation day covers the lit screen, along with his nickname in bold beneath.

I slide my thumb across the screen and answer. “Julian.”

“Did you lock up?” he asks while a door shuts in the background.

I snort. “You can’t trust me to do that right?”

It’s not difficult to imagine him glaring as he answers, “You Muñozes can’t be bothered to lock your front door at night, so forgive me for making sure.”

“I’ve been locking doors since college, so never fear. I’ll do so when I’m done.”

“You’re still there?”

“Yeah. Is that a problem?”

His silence only lasts a beat. “What are you doing?”

“Exploring.”

“Couldn’t that have waited until Ryder is there tomorrow?”

The wooden floorboards groan from all my pacing. “There are some things I like to do alone.”

He pauses. “Like what?”

“You’re going to think it’s stupid.” At least that’s what the producers thought whenever I dragged a film crew around during my searches.

“What’s stupid is you making assumptions about me without asking.”

“Umm.” When did Julian become so assertive, and why am I finding it kind of hot?

He huffs something to himself before speaking louder this time. “Be careful.”

Two little words have my thoughts reeling and my pulse skyrocketing.

Shit. I’m not equipped to handle feelings right now. In fact, I wish I could replace my heart with a motor that runs on iced coffee and paint fumes while I work through my issues.

I fight the tightness in my throat. “When did we start caring about each other’s well-being?”

“Since you’re not covered under my liability insurance.”

I fake a sniffle. “For a second, I thought you had feelings for me.”

“Only the negative type.”

“Please stop now before I swoon.”

His chuff of air could be interpreted as a laugh. “Jokes aside—” He is interrupted by someone in the background calling out his name. “Sorry. I gotta go.”

“It’s fine. I should get going anyway.”

“Dah—”

“I’ll be careful. Bye!” I hang up before Julian has a chance to expand upon whatever he wanted to say.

It’s for the best. I sigh at the ceiling.

And blink.

Is that…

I rub my eyes to make sure they’re not deceiving me.

My heart thunders as I take off downstairs in search of the ladder Julian left behind for me. I teeter and nearly lose my footing twice while hauling the heavy thing up the flight of stairs, but I power through and make it up to the attic without any slipups.

I set the ladder beneath the wood beam and climb the steps toward the rolls of paper tucked between two support beams.

Gotcha. I swoop in and grab them before making my way down the first few steps.

A faint tickling sensation on my right hand has me looking up to find a gray spider crawling toward my elbow.

“Ah!” I scream as my foot slips. The rolls of paper go flying, along with the spider, as I do everything in my power to catch myself.

Wrong move.

My arms flail in a wasted attempt to secure my balance. I fall with a gasp, only for all the air to be knocked from my lungs as I crash against the floor on top of my left arm.

I nearly pass out from the sharp pain that shoots up. The idea of rolling onto my back so I can check out the damage seems impossible, especially once shock kicks in and my body goes numb.

You need to call for help.

My vision blurs and my body trembles as I pat my pocket with my right arm, only to remember I placed my now-fixed phone on the window ledge before I went to retrieve the ladder.

“Fuck.” A tear slips out. Anxiety builds within me like a nuclear bomb waiting to detonate.

Please don’t have a panic attack right now.

My brain ignores my plea as questions pummel through my last bits of sanity.

How am I supposed to call for help when I don’t have my phone?

How many hours will it take for someone to notice I’m missing?

Will they know where to find me?

With every unanswered question, my anxiety grows. Black spots fill my vision, and my deep breaths do little to stop the panic clawing at my chest like a wild beast.

Think.

That’s the thing. I can’t think when I feel like this. I’m taken hostage by my thoughts, and there is nothing I can do but wish for this feeling to end soon.

Try grounding yourself.

I start the exercise my therapist taught me, but I’m interrupted by my obnoxious ringtone. How the hell can I reach the damn thing to call for help when I can barely move?

Think. Think. Think.

“Hey, Siri. Answer the call.” I copy the way my mother talks into her phone whenever her hands are occupied at the shop.

“Help! I’m hurt and can’t get to my phone to call anyone. Call Julian and tell him I’m stuck in the Founder’s attic. He knows where it is.” I repeat the number I know by heart twice in hopes that the other person gets it.

While I can’t receive any confirmation from the other person, I know they’ll figure it out or call someone who will.

I refuse to believe otherwise.


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