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Love Redesigned: Chapter 48

Julian

When Rafa texted me ten minutes ago, letting me know that Dahlia stopped by his place, I headed straight over. Something about his cryptic message made me worry.

I lift my fist to slam it against the door again, only for it to swing open before my hand makes contact.

Dahlia steps outside and shuts the door behind her. “Rafa texted you?”

“Yes. Are you okay?” I scan her face for any telltale signs of distress.

“Umm…yeah?”

“He told me you were crying.”

“Crying?” She sounds as confused as she looks.

“Or not?”

“He was goading you.”

Damn him.

“You came all the way out here because you thought I was upset?”

I rub the back of my neck. “Yeah.”

Her unreadable expression has me speaking up again. “So you’re okay then?”

“Yeah. I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask him.”

“About what?”

She tucks her hands in the pockets of her winter jacket. “Mind if we walk and talk for a bit?”

“Sure.”

“Could we check out the animals? It’s been a while since I’ve seen Penelope.” Dahlia tilts her head in the direction of the barn.

The sound of our boots crushing the grass beneath our feet fills the quiet, although it only lasts a minute before I ruin it.

“Does he know about your test?”

“Yeah.” She stares straight ahead.

“For how long?”

She doesn’t miss a beat. “Since I came back.”

While I respect him for keeping her news a secret, I selfishly wish he’d told me. “He never said anything.”

She glances at me out of the corner of her eye. “I’m kind of surprised he didn’t.”

“He’s trustworthy.”

“Funny, seeing as he said something similar about you.”

“Do you believe him?”

“I want to believe you.”

I stay silent as we walk into the barn. Dahlia stops by the first stall and holds her hand out.

“Hey there, pretty girl.”

Penelope, a retired racehorse Rafa saved a few years back, nuzzles her head against Dahlia’s palm. I stand behind her, trapping her between my body and the gate to the stall.

“I don’t want to end up like Rafa.” Her whisper can barely be heard over the horse’s heavy exhale.

I stop breathing.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life bitter and questioning everything and everyone. I want to trust. I want to love. I want to live freely without worrying that I’ll get hurt, left, or betrayed.”

I turn her around. “My cousin will get better, and so will you.”

She leans against the stall. “I’m scared.”

I kiss the top of her head. “I know.”

She wraps her arms around herself. “How can I be sure you will be happy adopting a child?”

“Because I always admired my parents for adopting Rafa.”

Her sniffle is the only reply I get.

“They treated Rafa and me equally. Attention. Discipline. Love. Not once did they make either of us feel like we weren’t both their kids. But deep down, I knew Rafa filled a void in my mom’s life that I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Something inside her changed after years of struggling through miscarriages and a stillbirth, and Rafa became that missing piece in her life. In all our lives.”

She blinks up at me with glassy eyes.

“Adoption will never be a second-best option for me. Never has been and never will be, because to feel that way would go against everything my parents believed in and what made our family whole.”

The seconds tick by painfully slowly, and I nearly give in and say something to fill the dreadful silence until Dahlia stops me.

She places her palm against my cheek. “I believe you.”


After last night’s talk at Rafa’s place, I know Dahlia and I are moving in the right direction, despite her flying back to San Francisco to meet with Archer Media later this week.

I have some pent-up energy to kill, so I head to my dad’s woodshop to start working on a new project. My Saturday is nothing but a rush of cutting, shaping, and sanding different pieces of wood. My phone buzzes every now and then, but I ignore the incoming messages, knowing Ryder will handle whatever needs to be done come Monday.

I immerse myself in my task, easily losing track of time until loud banging against the door has me nearly slicing my finger open on the circular saw.

“Julian! Open up!” my mother yells before slamming her fist on the door again.

I rip off my safety goggles and mask before unlocking the door. “What are you doing here?”

She waltzes inside with a plastic container. “I brought you dinner.”

I grab it from her. “How did you know where I was?”

“Got an alert from the driveway camera you installed a few years ago.” Her eyes shimmer from unshed tears as they flicker around the shop.

I brush my hand across my sawdust-covered shirt. “It’s a bit of a mess.”

She blinks a few times before turning to face me with a watery smile. “I was wondering when you would finally come back.”

“I saw you kept it nice and clean for me over the years.”

“Your dad would have hated it,” she says.

“With every fiber of his being.”

We both laugh.

“I knew it was only a matter of time before you returned, so I didn’t want it to be a mess for you.”

My chest swells with emotion. “You think of everything.”

“Now come and eat before your food goes cold.” Mom ushers me over to a stool and forces me to try some of her famous pozole.

I pause mid-bite. “You didn’t pass by only to bring me food, did you?”

She swipes her finger across the table, collecting sawdust and debris. “I wanted to see what my felonious son was working on for Dahlia.”

“I never said it was for her.”

She snorts. “Right.”

My mom can’t sit still, so she shuffles through my plans and notes while I finish eating.

She holds up the paper marked with a bunch of measurements and notes. “You’re building this?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“For the Founder’s house?”

“Yup.”

Ma releases the happiest squeal. “She’s going to love it.”

“Don’t mention anything to Dahlia.”

She holds her hands up. “I wouldn’t dare.”

While I eat, she quickly becomes distracted by the shelf near the back of the shed.

“Oh Julian. This is beautiful!” She runs a hand across the top of the jewelry box I made before spinning the hand crank a few times. “You got it to play music!”

The first few chords of the song play, and her eyes widen. “It’s perfect.”

I rub the back of my neck. “You think so?”

“Of course.” Mom places the finished jewelry box back on the shelf before kissing the top of my head. “I’ll let you get to your secret project, then.”

“Do you want to help me?” My question rushes out.

“You want my help?” She checks my forehead’s temperature with the back of her hand. “Are you feeling okay?”

I push her hand away with a laugh. “Forget I said anything.”

“No! I’d love to help you.”

“Do you remember how to use a circular saw?” I hold up a piece of unfinished wood, only for her to steal it with a huff.

“Don’t insult me like that in your father’s place of worship.”

My chest rumbles from my deep chuckle.

She points at me with the wooden post. “I helped your dad in the shop long before you were born, so it’s best you remember that, mijo.”

Mom and I work side by side for hours after I finish eating. She corrects me a few times, reminding me of my dad when she reprimands me for my joinery technique and wood selection for the more intricate pieces.

Reluctantly, I call it a night once my mom is ready to fall over and I can no longer properly operate the saw without trembling.

“That was so much fun!” She wraps her sweaty, sawdust-sprinkled arms around me. “Thank you for including me.”

I hug her back, ignoring the slight twinge of guilt. “It was nice to have your help.”

“You can ask me anytime.” She looks up at me with glassy eyes. “If only your father were here with us. He would have loved nothing more than to help you create something special for Dahlia.”

My lungs stall.

She untangles herself from my arms and reaches for one of my dad’s old tools with a shaky hand.

“I’m glad you’re using these.”

I can’t speak, let alone breathe.

“He would have wanted you to have them.”

I clench my hands to stop them from trembling.

She follows the movement before glancing back at me. “He planned on passing them down to you once you graduated…”

But he never had a chance.

“I know he is watching us and wishing he wasn’t the reason you never graduated from Stanford.” Her breath catches. “But I also know he would have been so incredibly proud of you for stepping up and taking care of me and his business. You accomplished more than we ever dreamed of in such a short amount of time.”

My heart lodges itself somewhere in my tight throat.

She unclenches my fist before wrapping my fingers around the handle of the hammer. “Te quiero con todo, mi corazón.”

After one last kiss on my cheek, my mom leaves the shed, giving me the space I desperately need.

I hold my father’s hammer with misty eyes.

Te extraño mucho, Papi.

I head toward the back wall and return the hammer where it belongs. The lights above me flicker twice, and goose bumps spread across my arms.

Could it be…

No, Dahlia must have poisoned my mind with all her conversations about the Founder’s house ghost.

Yet despite everything I believe in, I end up speaking aloud regardless.

Te quiero, Papi.”

Te quiero con todo, mi corazón: I love you with everything, my heart.

Te extraño mucho, Papi: I miss you so much, Dad.


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