Love Redesigned: Chapter 4


My first official day back in town was quiet, most likely because I never went into town at all. With my mom and sister, Liliana, busy working at the floral shop, I did nothing but stare at the ceiling.

It’s strange going from not having enough time to eat lunch and use the restroom to barely leaving my room unless absolutely necessary. My suitcase packed with expensive, trendy outfits sits untouched on my floor, a warning sign in itself.

While I’ve always had anxiety and perfectionistic tendencies since high school, depression is a newer struggle for me and a lonely battle I fought for months before getting help.

My therapist, Dr. Martin, is a wonderful woman who charges a small fortune for each session. While money isn’t an issue for me anymore, I was hesitant about the emotional commitment, but she was highly recommended by my agent, so I took a chance eight weeks ago and have no regrets.

I’m not sure where I would be without Dr. Martin. She has endless patience, the calmest voice, and ends every session with a Jamaican proverb I don’t understand until I look it up afterward.

Today, she barely speaks for the first half of our telehealth session, allowing me to go off about my mistakes and shortcomings.

She clasps her hands together, making her gold Cartier bracelets jangle against her deep brown skin. “What made you stay with Oliver for so long?”

Her never-ending patience is put to the test as I sit and think. I’ve been asked this question before, but at the time, my view on life was tainted by bitterness, self-loathing, and a thick cloud of depression.

“Things were good for a long time.” Which made the loss that much harder.

Her tiny nod gives me courage.

It takes me another sixty seconds to come up with five words. “He made me feel special.”

He never deserved you. Oliver pulled me into a hug after I broke out in tears while packing up Julian’s dorm room, for which I never received even a simple thank-you text.

I like you…a lot more than any friend should, Oliver told me right before the holiday break during our junior year after we spent a year keeping things platonic.

Before that, it was easy to put him in the friend zone after Julian hurt me, but his blue eyes, blond hair, and effortless smile grew on me.

You’re so talented, and you deserve to be appreciated. He encouraged me to post my first photo on the Designs by Dahlia social media page. It was a grainy image of my first apartment, and one I have kept pinned at the top of the page to this day because of everything it represents.

I was vulnerable and searching for reassurance in all the wrong places, including Oliver’s family, who became immersed in my business once they started helping produce our TV show.

“Was it always like that?” Dr. Martin probes.

“Before we got engaged, we had seven years of typical relationship stuff. There were plenty of good moments mixed with some bad ones. He made it seem like he was the misunderstood black sheep of his family, only for me to realize he was actually the wolf.”

If Dr. Martin is surprised, she doesn’t show it.

“He made it seem like we could do anything together, but when we were finally put to the test, we failed.”

I failed. Instead of valuing myself enough to walk away, I stayed because I stupidly didn’t want to quit a relationship that I had invested so much time into. But it didn’t matter anyway because little by little, Oliver pulled away, leaving me to grapple with my grief over never having a child of my own.

I pick at my cuticles. “Things took a turn for the worse after the prenup and the medical test, although I put on a brave face and shelved my pain while the cameras were rolling because I love my job and the people I work with, and the last thing I wanted to do was give it all up because of him.”

Yet you lost it all anyway.

I have no show, no friends besides a few crew members, and no hope that someone will want me after I was dumped because I “wasn’t the woman he wanted.”

Oliver might as well have admitted I didn’t have the womb he wanted, but I digress.

Dr. Martin bows her head in understanding. “It’s human nature to avoid anything that will cause us pain.”

“It was so easy to throw myself into work, but while my business thrived, a part of my soul died.”

The skin beside her eyes softens.

I’ll tell my parents you’re not coming. Again, Oliver emphasized with a huff before taking off for the Creswells’ mansion, leaving me to blankly stare at a wall for hours until I cried myself to sleep.

It’s not too late to break things off and find someone more suited for your future, Oliver’s mother had whispered to him while she thought I was still in the restroom.

Thankfully, someone will carry on the Creswells’ name, Oliver’s dad said as his wife passed their daughter’s ultrasound photos around the dinner table.

After my test, it felt like our relationship had taken a gunshot wound to the heart, and I was the only one trying to fix it.

Dr. Martin ends our session with another Jamaican proverb I don’t recognize, and I spend the next ten minutes researching Rockstone a riva bottom nuh know sun hat instead of crying myself to sleep, which is a win.

Rockstone a riva bottom nuh know sun hat:
Sheltered people don’t know hardship.

My second day in town goes about the same, although my psychiatry appointment put me through another emotional wringer. Hopefully the increased dosage of my antidepressants and my new commitment to engaging in more enjoyable activities will help boost my mood, although I’m still a bit skeptical since I barely want to leave the house, let alone decorate one.

I expect my third day back in Lake Wisteria to follow the same pattern of being left alone, but when I finally crawl out of bed at two p.m. in search of food, I’m startled to find the Lopez family spread around our house for our families’ Sunday get-together.

My sister taps at her phone like the screen personally offended her while my mom and Josefina busy themselves chopping vegetables in the kitchen. Rafa completely ignores “Robarte un Beso” blasting from the portable speaker beside him as he watches a Mexican League game on the TV.

¿Madrina?” Nico notices me first and takes off running in my direction. It’s been a couple of years since I last saw him, except for video calls, and he has grown about two feet.

“You’re back!” Nico throws his arms around my legs.

“Hi.” I didn’t realize how much I needed one of Nico’s bone-crushing hugs until now.

My godson peeks up at me with his big brown eyes. “I’ve missed you.”

Madrina: Godmother.

“I’ve missed you too.” I fight the darkness threatening to creep back in. “How’s my favorite godson doing?”

He giggles. “I’m your only godson.”

“For now.”

“No! You’re not allowed.” He squeezes my legs harder, and a soft laugh escapes me as he lets go of me in a rush.

“I’ve been playing the drums you got me for my birthday! They’re the best!” Nico smashes the air with an invisible set of drumsticks.

“Yeah, thanks for that one.” Rafa shoots me a look.

“Maybe I’ll have to get him an electric guitar and an amp for Christmas.”

Rafa’s eye twitches while Nico throws his fist in the air with a “Yes!”

Spoiling my godson comes naturally, although my last gifts have been delivered by courier rather than personally handed over. I know an expensive drum set or pricey guitar won’t make up for my absence, but Nico deserves the best regardless, especially after everything he and Rafa have been through.

I didn’t know Rafa’s ex-wife well, and not for lack of trying on my part, but I do know she didn’t make an effort to integrate with our family.

Rafa gets up from the couch and pulls me into a hug. “We’ve all missed you.”

My first attempt at an honest reply fails, so I stick to humor. “At least your manners didn’t disappear along with your fashion sense.”

My comment earns an eye roll from the surly man dressed in a flannel shirt, faded blue jeans, and a worn ball cap. On anyone else, I’d find the lumberjack-inspired outfit hideous, but on Rafa, it works, thanks to his good looks and muscle mass.

Rafa is basically my older brother, so I’d rather suffer through a stomach flu before calling him attractive, but that doesn’t stop all the women in town from stating it loudly.

He releases me from his hold. “How long do you plan on sticking around this time?”

“Not sure. Depends on a few things with work and stuff.”

“You’ll have to stop by our house and check out Nico’s drum set.”

Nico beams. “Yeah! You can watch me play them, and then we can build that special Lego set you got me—oh! You can meet Ellie too. She’s so nice, and pretty, and the coolest.”

“Who’s Ellie?” The crack in my voice betrays my emotions. As much as I want to spend time with my godson, I don’t feel remotely ready. Because being around Nico always made me yearn for my own family one day, and now…

“She’s my best friend!” Nico’s eyes light up.

“She’s his nanny.” Something dark passes over Rafa’s face before he schools his features.

Mom said Rafa has changed since his divorce and Nico’s retinitis pigmentosa diagnosis, and the truth couldn’t be any more obvious given Rafa’s stern expression and haunted eyes.

Nico grins at me in a way that reminds me so much of his father, missing teeth aside. “Yeah, sure. Anyway, do you want to play a game with me and Tío?”

Tío: Uncle.

I’m hit straight in the chest with a burst of anxiety. “Uh…”

“Please!” He presses his hands together.

“Well—” I choke on my reply.

Rafa’s head tilts.

Nico tugs on my hand. “Come on. We need another person since my dad doesn’t want to play with us.”

Rafa ruffles Nico’s hair. “Only because Julian always wins.”

Nico drags me toward the unopened Monopoly box waiting at the kitchen breakfast table while his dad returns to watching the game. My godson pulls out my chair like a gentleman and waits.

When I don’t move, he pats the seat with a furrowed brow. “Sit.”

His request widens the crack in my chest until I find it difficult to breathe.

“I can’t.” The pain in my heart intensifies with each beat.

Nico’s brows crinkle. “Why not? It’ll be fun!”

I wrap my arms around myself and take a long step back.

The puzzled look on his face adds to his charm and my distress. “Are you okay? You seem sad.” His bottom lip wobbles.

Rafa glances over his shoulder. “You good?”

“I need to use the restroom.” I bolt toward the hallway with blurred vision. I’m disoriented as I pass my bedroom and rush down the hall toward the guest bathroom my sister and I share.

So much for the antidepressants doing their job.

Tears fall in a frustrating act of betrayal. I went from suffering with never-ending numbness two months ago to feeling too much all at once now and crying more in the last few days than in my whole life.

Be patient with yourself and trust the process.

Screw the process. I don’t plan on leaving my room until—

Someone yanks on my elbow, and I gasp as I’m pulled backward.

“You better have a good reason for upsetting my kid.” Rafa’s rough voice startles me.

I recoil. “What?”

“Are you…crying?” He squints with a frown, throwing me back into the past.

I’m so sick of you feeling sorry for yourself. Oliver’s lips curled with disgust.

You can fake it for the cameras just fine, but when it comes to me, you can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum. His words were venomous, flooding my system with paralyzing self-loathing and hopelessness.

Call me when the Dahlia I fell in love with is back, he texted me later that night, only to come back a week later to let me know we were done.

Dahlia.” Rafa’s rough voice tethers me to the present.

I wipe my face with the sleeve of my sweater. “I’m sorry for upsetting Nico. You know I would never do that on purpose.”

Rafa’s harshness melts away. “What’s wrong?”

I’m not sure what possesses me to open up to Rafa of all people, but I can’t let him think I made Nico upset for no good reason.

“I… You see…” Shit. “I’ve avoided being around kids since I found out I will never have any.”

He blinks a few times. “And then you saw Nico…”

I nod, unable to finish his sentence, mainly due to the tightness in my throat. “It’s only been a few months since I got the news—” I’m cut off by my sob.

Rafa yanks me into his arms like my dad did whenever I got hurt or was sick. “I’m sorry.”

I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear those two words until the tears start rolling down my cheeks. I’m not sure how long Rafa holds me there while I cry, but he doesn’t let go until my breathing evens out and my tears no longer soak his shirt.

“Can you…” I sniffle. “Will you please keep this between us?”

He pulls away with a frown. “No one knows?”

I shake my head. “Only Oliver and his family.”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

My shoulders slump. “Thank you.”

With one last parting glance over his shoulder, Rafa leaves me standing alone in the hall.

I head to the bathroom, and the deafening click of the door shutting adds to the emptiness growing inside me.

It’s been two months, and I’m no better off than I was the day Oliver pulled the plug on our nine-year relationship. He didn’t care about our show or the life we made together. Shit. He didn’t care about anything except what he wanted. The perfect wife. A picturesque house overlooking the bay. Two kids and a dog all playing together behind a white picket fence, like some ’50s sitcom.

It was a future expected of him and one I threatened to ruin.

Unlike the grief I struggled with after I lost my dad, this is different.

I am different.

I grip the edge of the porcelain sink and force myself to face the person I’ve become.

Disheveled. Damaged. Depressed.

It’s difficult to acknowledge how far I’ve let myself go over the last few months. The broken person I’ve become is a far cry from the woman who woke up every morning full of energy, excited about choosing her outfit and doing her makeup regardless of whether she had plans to be on camera or not.

I miss the person I was. I miss her so damn much that I’m willing to put in the work to bring her back, even if it means attending extra therapy sessions and following through on difficult homework I’d rather avoid.

“You can bounce back.” My cracked whisper fills the silence. “You can prove to him and everyone else that they didn’t break you.” I speak with a stronger voice this time, letting the words sink in. “And you can fight this battle against yourself and come out stronger because of it,” I add with a sense of finality as I roll my shoulders back, fix my posture, and run my fingers through my messy hair.

From now on, I’m going to start living again. I only need to remember how.


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