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Love Redesigned: Chapter 3

Julian

Dahlia gawks at the street sign. “Lopez Lane?”

I stay quiet as I drive past the street I grew up on before turning onto hers.

“Why would they name a street after you?”

Dahlia’s reaction is exactly why I protested against the mayor wanting to publicly honor my monetary contributions. While I don’t regret my ten-million-dollar donation, I do wish I had gone about it anonymously.

Dahlia unbuckles her seat belt as I pull up to her childhood ranch-style house. It holds many memories for our families, including my dad and I working on remodeling it together when I was a teen. While the flowers and decorations change depending on the season, the light blue paint and white trim have remained the same since the redesign.

The house might be a far cry from my current projects, but it still represents everything I love about construction. It was during the Muñoz renovation project that I realized how, like my parents, I have a passion for fixing things.

Houses. Problems. People.

It’s a character flaw I’ve spent years trying to eradicate, only to have it resurface at the most inconvenient times.

Like now.

My inability to ignore Dahlia’s unusual silence is the only reasonable explanation for why I took a stab at having a conversation with her twice.

And look how well that went.

I pull on the parking brake with enough force to make it tremble.

The tightness in Dahlia’s muscles matches mine as she reaches for the door handle. “Thanks for the ride.” Her chest rises and falls with a long exhale. “And I’m sorry about your car.” The small scrunch of her nose has me biting back a snarky reply. “I should have pulled over and waited things out.”

“Is everything okay?” The earlier edge in my voice is gone, replaced by something far worse.

She shakes her head. “Just tired.”

“Keeping up false pretenses must be exhausting.”

“Do you have something else you want to ask me?”

A beam of light from the porch bounces off her monstrosity of an engagement ring, nearly blinding me.

How’s Oliver? I want to ask with every ounce of vitriol I have toward my ex-roommate.

Have you picked a wedding date yet since you’ve been engaged for two years already?

Out of curiosity, did he admit to stabbing me in the back by pursuing you?

Questions linger on the tip of my tongue like poison arrows. “Nope.”

“Perfect. Now if you don’t mind, I have a date with The Silver Vixens and don’t want to be late.”

The Silver Vixens?

Shit. Things must be worse than I thought. Dahlia only saves binge marathons of The Silver Vixens for the shittiest occasions, like when her dad died or when that asshole football player she liked called her a prude bitch when she didn’t have sex with him after their first date.

Before she has a chance to open the door, I grab her hand. The physical contact makes my palm tingle, so I drop it like a stick of burning dynamite.

We both speak at the same time.

“Umm, I should—”

“You need to—”

“I better get going so you don’t miss Nico’s performance.” She rushes to get the words out before bolting from my car.

I help remove her luggage from the trunk. With a grumbled “thank you,” she takes off toward her house, her designer suitcase kicking up dust behind her.

I’m not sure what possesses me to speak again, yet I can’t help myself as I ask, “See you around?” My heart hammers against my rib cage while I wait for her reply.

She stops at the stairs leading up to the porch. “Why?”

“I’m curious.”

“I hope you’re not planning all the ways you can torture me already.” Her half-hearted tease lacks any oomph.

“Torturing you is my favorite pastime.”

A spark flashes in her eyes before it is snuffed out like a fire in the middle of a snowstorm. “Have you ever explored your need to turn everything into a competition to make up for your massive inferiority complex?”

Dahlia makes me feel more exposed in a custom-tailored suit than I have while naked, because where most people see a reserved guy one bad interaction away from becoming the town asshole, she sees me.

The real me.

The self-conscious me.

The me I have spent the last ten years loathing because he represents everything I hate about myself. He was weak, shy, and too damn prideful to do anything but suffer in silence while he fumbled his way through life.

It’s best I remember that she knows everything about me, including the parts of myself that I’ve spent a decade erasing.

Effective immediately.


Fall-themed bulletin boards blur as I rush past the dark classrooms of my youth and head inside the newly renovated auditorium.

Somehow, I make it in time to see Nico walk out in a tailcoat tuxedo and a pair of his most colorful prescription glasses. The crowd claps loud enough to drown out my cousin’s huff as I settle into the empty chair between him and my mom.

With Rafa’s overgrown hair, worn-out jeans, and wrinkled button-down shirt, I wouldn’t guess the man is filthy rich. He still drives the same pickup truck from high school and refuses to upgrade his outdated cell phone, despite being a tech geek. He only splurges on Nico, but even that has a hard limit because he doesn’t want to spoil him rotten.

All the tension in Rafa’s body bleeds away once Nico takes his seat in front of the grand piano and runs his hands over the ivory keys. I’m not one to brag, but my godson is going to be up there with all the most renowned musicians one day. The kid is only eight years old and can already play three different instruments, one of which he learned by watching YouTube tutorials all on his own.

A standing ovation follows Nico’s performance, and my cousin flashes a rare smile as he whistles and shouts his son’s name.

I expect Rafa’s good mood to disappear once the curtains close, but it remains after the lights turn on and my mom disappears into the crowd to search for Nico.

“I’m glad you could finally grace us with your presence, given your busy work schedule and all.” Rafa gives my shoulder a squeeze.

“Aren’t you the same guy who spends all day every day in front of a computer, coding until his eyes cross?”

He shrugs. “Not anymore. Unlike you, now I make time for other things beside work.”

It’s not like I want to spend most of my days working, but what else am I supposed to do with my free time? Go on dates my mom sets up?

No, thanks. Been there, done that, and made an enemy out of a town deputy in the process after my mom’s last matchmaking attempt with his ex.

We rise from our seats, and my cousin nudges me toward the exit. “Remember when we got drunk at that cabin in Lake Aurora?”

“Which time?”

His smile only grows wider. “The weekend Dahlia got engaged.”

Somehow my strides remain steady. “I’m struggling to recall.”

He pokes me in the back. “That’s probably because of all the alcohol you consumed.”

“A good cousin would have gotten drunk with me.”

“And risk you dying in your sleep after choking on your own vomit? No way. Your mother would have never forgiven me.”

“I’m sure you would’ve been happy stepping in as my replacement.”

His dark brown eyes roll. “Anyway, I’ll never forget what you said that night.”

My lungs stall.

He clasps my shoulder. “You wouldn’t shut up about how if you got a second chance with Dahlia, you’d do things differently.”

It takes everything in me to keep my voice neutral as I say, “I was drunk.”

And?

“She’s engaged.”

“According to your mother, not anymore.”

Mierda. “How did she find out?”

“How else? Rosa told her.”

“And so the chisme begins.” I don’t expect anything less from the two best friends who have been attached at the hip since kindergarten.

His scowl deepens. “It’s hard to keep it a secret when it’s all over social media tonight. Dahlia has her own trending hashtag and everything.”

My stomach churns as questions bounce around my head, making it impossible to come up with a reply.

Why did they break up?

Is there any chance they will get back together?

Was Oliver the reason Dahlia was crying earlier today before I crashed into her?

Rafa shoots me a look. “No.”

I blink. “What?”

“Whatever you’re thinking, don’t.”

“You’re the one who brought her up.”

“Because I wanted to be the one to break the news before your mom started whispering in your ear about how now is your chance.”

“My mom whispers a lot of things into my ear about who I should date, yet you don’t see me giving in to her.”

“Dahlia is different, and you know it.”

“Doesn’t matter anymore, because whatever feelings I had for Dahlia are no longer relevant.” Something twists in my chest.

Mierda: Shit.

Chisme: Gossip.

Rafa’s reply is cut off by Nico’s shout.

Papi!” Nico abandons my mom and runs down the hall.

My cousin gets down on his knees in time for Nico to launch himself into his open arms.

“I’m so proud of you.” Rafa fixes Nico’s glasses so they sit right.

Nico’s forehead wrinkles from his frown. “But didn’t you hear me mess up?”

Rafa scoffs. “You were perfect like always.”

Nico, who must have inherited his perfectionistic tendencies from me, attempts to recount his slipup, only to be stopped by Rafa tickling him.

“No!” Nico wiggles in his father’s embrace.

“Sorry. I can’t hear you. What were you saying?” Rafa reaches for the spot under Nico’s arm, making him squeal and squirm.

While Rafa might be closed off to the rest of the world, he is nothing but warm with his son. The way he acts with my godson despite all his issues gives me hope my cousin will heal one day.

I might have experienced nothing close to what Rafa has gone through, but I know it isn’t easy to get over someone. Dahlia taught me that lesson a long time ago, and it’s one I don’t plan on forgetting anytime soon.


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