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Love Redesigned: Chapter 30

Dahlia

While Julian’s carnival competition kept my mind occupied last night, I wake up on Sunday at four a.m. with a heavy weight pressing against my chest. I battle between wanting to get out of bed and wishing I could disappear into the dark pit of despair threatening to swallow me whole.

That’s the depression talking, I remind myself.

I’ll be damned if I let myself sink into deep sadness today, no matter how tempted I am. So instead, I reluctantly slide out of bed, throw on some workout clothes, and head out for a run like my therapist suggested once.

Good for you for getting out of bed, I chant to myself as my sneakers smack against the pavement.

No one but you defines your life’s purpose. I wipe my sweaty forehead.

There are plenty of ways to have a child. Julian’s words from yesterday ring true, erasing the last bit of self-doubt.

By the time I return home an hour later, I’m feeling loads lighter after challenging every single one of my negative thoughts.

And now that my mind feels clearer, I’m able to take on the second day of the Harvest Festival.

But first…

I pull out my phone and get to work, planning something much more worthy of my time and energy.

After Julian tricked me into losing yesterday’s carnival games, I have one goal in mind. Thankfully, Lily, Josefina, and my mom are all on board for my prank since I’m down one arm and need all the help I can get.

“He’s never going to forgive me.” Josefina unlocks the front door to his office building.

Mom’s face pales. “Will he be mad?”

“Mom. Relax.” Lily grabs her shoulders and gives them a squeeze. “You’re so tense all the time.”

She does a quick prayer under her breath before passing over the threshold with bags filled with Christmas decorations.

My prank is silly and unexpected, which will only make the whole thing that much better when Julian enters his office tomorrow morning.

“Do I need to ask?” Lily pulls out a nutcracker smoking a joint.

Josefina and I break out into a fit of laughter while my mom covers her eyes.

Ay, Dios. ¿Dónde está la natividad?” My mom searches through the plastic bags of stuff I bought.

I cringe. “I forgot to grab one.”

“No, no, no. That’s unacceptable. I think I have a spare one from the flower shop.” Mom rushes out the front door and toward the store.

Josefina steps outside and returns with the fake Christmas tree. “Where do you want to put this?”

“I’m thinking Julian’s office.”

She steers me in that direction. “He’d absolutely love that.”

“Wait until you see the ornaments I bought. They’re truly one of a kind.”

Her cackle bounces off the tall ceilings, making Lily and me burst into laughter too. Mom shows up with a nativity scene and sets it up on a coffee table in the waiting room while Lily gift-wraps Sam’s desk.

Josefina and I enter Julian’s office and get to work assembling the Christmas tree in the corner opposite his desk.

“What gave you this idea?” She plugs in the cord in a socket, and the bulbs covering the tree flicker to life. The twinkling lights reflect off every shiny surface, nearly blinding us with their sheer intensity.

“Well, it all started with finding the Christmas tree at the art store in Detroit, and the plan kind of spiraled from there.”

Ay, Dios. ¿Dónde está la natividad?: Oh, God. Where is the nativity?

“Does Julian know?”

“Vaguely.”

She laughs while shaking her head. “You two and your pranks.”

“Do you think he’ll hate it?”

“Maybe for a moment. He hasn’t decorated his house for Christmas, let alone his office.”

I gasp. “Like ever?”

She nods.

“That’s blasphemous.”

“I know. I bought him a fake tree because of his allergies, but it’s still in the garage gathering dust.”

“Why?”

“I haven’t wanted to ask. But I know this”—she motions at the pile of ornaments waiting to be hung—“will be good for him.”

“How so?”

“Because this is what life is all about.”

My brows tug together. “Decorating?”

Living rather than going through the motions.”

Her comment hits far too close to home, so I thrust myself into the task of hanging the first ornament.

Ho for the Holidays.

Josefina breaks out into laughter at the cartoon image of Santa wrapped around a candy cane stripper pole.

“I love it.”

“My mom would have a heart attack.”

“Should we bring her in to watch her gasp and clutch at her cross?”

I laugh. “Tempting, but we’re on a time crunch.”

Josefina grabs one of an elf smoking out of a candy cane bong. “Classy.”

“Wait until you see the other ones I got.”

The twinkle in her eyes has little to do with the lights of the Christmas tree reflecting off them. “I’m so happy you’re back.”

Her sentence has two meanings, one of which has my throat getting all scratchy. If anyone understands the ups and downs that come with depression, it’s her.

“I’m happy I’m back too.”

She wraps her arms around me. “I’ve missed you.”

My sniffle could be misconstrued as an allergy to the Christmas-scented candle I lit, but I know the truth. I lost myself over the years and became a fraction of who I was meant to be, all because I thought that was a part of growing up.

I don’t plan on making that mistake again.


According to a late-night Sunday text from Sam, Julian wakes up at five a.m. and works out at his home gym before stopping by the Angry Rooster Café for a cup of iced coffee. Sam, who was sworn to secrecy about the surprise, promised me that the best place to intercept Julian would be at the coffee shop.

So I begrudgingly wake up at the crack of dawn, get dressed, and head over to the coffee shop before he gets there.

“Hey.” I wave from my spot at the back of the empty café.

“Dahlia?” Julian stares at me with a pinched expression.

“Morning.”

“What are you doing up this early?”

I take a long sip of my iced coffee. “I’ve decided to take a stab at being a morning person.”

“And how’s that going for you?”

“Ask me again after my next cup of coffee in ten minutes.”

“How many have you had?”

“Not enough to make me want to talk to you at six a.m.” He heads over to the register and places an order for two iced coffees the way I taught him while I drain the rest of mine and dump the empty cup in the nearby trash bin.

He returns with our two drinks. “Here. Can’t risk you starting off the morning with only one cup.”

I could blame my escalating heart rate on the steady stream of espresso pumping through my veins, but then I’d be lying.

“Thanks,” I manage despite the tightness in my throat.

The gesture is as sweet as the drink I take a sip of. While I chalked up his taking care of me the other night to being nice, this feels like so much more.

Go with the flow, Dahlia.

Easier said than done. I’ve never been that kind of person, thanks to my anxiety and chronic overthinking, so I’m not exactly one to roll with the punches and throw caution to the wind.

If I’m going to crash and burn, Julian isn’t my first choice for an eyewitness, but at least he knows me well enough to expect the worst.

Nice job finding the silver lining.

I have an extra bounce in my step as I follow Julian out of the coffee shop. Main Street is dead, with a majority of the shops remaining closed for the post-Harvest Festival blues, also known as cleanup day.

By the time we make it halfway to Julian’s office, I’m trembling from the slight chill in the air and the iced coffee in my hand.

“You good?” He peeks over at me.

“Yup. Just cold.” I struggle with a button on the front of my pink tweed jacket.

His suggestive gaze explores my body. “Where’s your coat?”

“It clashed with my outfit.”

Julian catches me off guard as he places his iced coffee on a nearby bench and sheds his coat. He grabs my cup and does the same before helping my right arm into the sleeve of his jacket.

Two sweet gestures in a span of ten minutes? If this is the kind of treatment I get after a make-out session, I can’t imagine what will happen once I finally suck his cock.

“Do you plan on sticking around for winter now that the TV deal fell through?” Julian’s loaded question seems to kill two birds with one stone as he fixes the jacket to cover my broken arm.

I nudge him with my hip. “Why? Are you trying to get rid of me already?”

“I haven’t gotten started with you yet.” His tongue darts out to trace his bottom lip.

My body floods with warmth, banishing the chill.

Who needs a winter coat when a few sentences from Julian have my temperature spiking like I’m running a fever?

When we stop outside his office building, he doesn’t make a comment about the blinds being closed as he pulls out a set of keys from his pocket and incorrectly interprets the reason for my trembling fingers, swapping my iced coffee for his key.

“Open the door.”

Despite my shakiness, I unlock the door on the second try. I step inside and flip the switch as Julian crosses over the entryway.

The Christmas lights reflect off his dark eyes and face, basking him in a warm glow as he takes in the lobby. “Holy shit.”

Out of all the pranks we have pulled on each other over the years, this might be my absolute favorite, and that’s saying something since I managed to temporarily dye his skin blue during high school.

“When did you do all this?” He walks up to Sam’s gift-wrapped desk.

“Lily and our moms helped yesterday morning before the festival.”

“My mom was in on this?”

“How else would we have gotten a key after you banned Sam from lending me his?”

He tries so hard to frown, but it’s a losing battle against the smile slowly stretching across his face as he takes in the array of decorations mounting the walls, furniture, and fireplace behind Sam’s desk.

“Do you hate it?” I ask.

“With every fiber of my being.”

“Will you tear it down?”

“Come January first.”

I laugh. “Wait until you see your office.”

He ditches both our coffee cups on Sam’s desk before taking off down the hall toward his private office suite. I have to run to keep up with his long strides, but luckily, I make it in time to see his face as the door swings open.

His eyes widen. “Damn.”

Julian’s office looks like the bargain bin section of a holiday store, with the obscene nutcrackers lining the shelves behind his desk and the eight-foot inflatable lawn decoration of Santa riding a dinosaur.

A nice touch, if I do say so myself.

He quickly turns his attention toward the tree standing in the corner beside the window facing the road.

He shakes his head hard enough to ruffle his perfectly styled hair. “This is the tackiest setup I’ve ever seen.”

“I know.”

“It could be your best prank yet, but I have to check my list.”

His admission makes my cheeks warm. “You think so?”

He smiles at me, and I lose all train of thought.

“Not better than the time I snuck your car onto that floating dock and anchored it to the middle of the lake, but close enough.”

I grin at the memory. “You haven’t seen the ornaments I picked out yet.”

Julian motions me toward the tree, and I spend the next five minutes showing off all the ornaments I chose, earning a couple of deep chuckles from the formidable man beside me.

He carefully places them back on the branch. “I can’t believe my mother was in on this.”

My laugh steals his attention from the tree. “In on it? She was practically running the whole operation once I told her about my idea.”

“Did you have fun?”

“Tons.”

“Good.” He steps toward me.

“What are you doing?” I take a step back.

“You had your fun, so now it’s my turn.”

“Julian…”

He wraps his hand around the back of my neck and slams his lips against mine, killing my protest with a single kiss.


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