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Love Redesigned: Chapter 5

Julian

“Nice of you to show up an hour late,” my mom whispers as she corners me in the empty dining room.

I should have known her request for me to help set the table was a trap. “I was finishing up something for work.”

“On a Sunday?”

I stay quiet as I arrange the cutlery.

She rocks back and forth. “I’ve been meaning to ask you…”

“You lasted a minute longer than I expected.” I tap the face of my million-dollar watch. It’s the most expensive thing I own, all because I bet against Rafa, who believed we would become billionaires after our Dwelling app was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

I’m glad Rafa was right all along, although I nearly cried after buying us matching watches worth more than my current house and car combined.

Ma’s lips purse. “Mijo.”

“Yes?”

“I wanted to talk to you about Dahlia.”

“What about her?” My voice lacks any inflection.

“I know you have your differences, but can you set those aside and be nice to her while she is getting back on her feet? She’s in a fragile place right now.”

“So I’ve noticed.” It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that Dahlia is one comment away from falling apart, but I want to know why. Oliver was a pretentious ass, but he seemed to respect Dahlia, according to my mom, so why call off a successful relationship after nine years?

Ma’s voice drops as she says, “Rosa wants Dahlia to stay for a while.”

I shut my eyes.

She continues, “I’m thinking it would be nice for you to team up on a project to help get her mind off everything.”

I shake my head. “Dahlia and I don’t work well together.” Whatever the activity, we were sure to take opposing sides. Field days. Debate club. Model United Nations. If there was an opportunity to go up against each other, we rose to the occasion and duked it out every single time.

“Please think about it.” Ma presses her palms together.

I pause for three seconds. “Done. Still going to be a no.” Having Dahlia around again is hard enough after years spent avoiding her. Working with her would open myself up to a whole list of problems I have no interest revisiting in this lifetime.

Mijo: My son.

She tucks her arms into her chest. “Mijo.”

“I’m not trying to be difficult, but we have completely different mindsets when it comes to design.”

“So? I think shaking things up will be good for her. Rosa says Dahlia has been in a creative rut for the last two months, so maybe taking on a different kind of job will inspire her,” she pushes.

“Except you seem to have forgotten the time Dahlia called one of my projects an ugly gray box.”

Ma makes a sour face. “To be fair, she wasn’t exactly wrong.”

It’s my turn to glare. “You told me you liked it.”

“I did because you made it, mi amor. As your mother, it’s impossible not to love everything you do.” She pats my cheek with bright eyes.

I make a noise in the back of my throat.

“Imagine what could happen if you put your two brilliant minds together for once.”

There is only one woman in my life I would do anything to please, and she happens to be looking at me like I can singlehandedly save the world if I go along with her request.

“Please?” she asks in that hopeful voice of hers.

I shake my head, hoping to knock some sense back into my brain in the process.

Mi amor: Motherly term of endearment.

Her shoulders fall. “Oh.”

You could use her request to your advantage…

A plan falls into place. “Actually, I’ll consider it under one condition.”

Her mood instantly perks up. “What?”

“I want you to stop trying to set me up with all your friends’ daughters.”

“How else do you expect to meet someone special with the crazy hours you work?”

“That’s my problem.”

“I thought you were interested in getting married and starting a family?”

I hold my tongue.

She frowns. “Don’t tell me Rafa scared you away from marriage.”

“He didn’t.” Shocking, given his current view on life and all.

“I’d like you to have a child while I’m still young enough to chase after them.”

“About that…” While marriage is a part of my plan, having a kid is not—a fact that scared away half the women I dated.

Growing up with parents who struggled with years of infertility had a huge impact on me, and I don’t expect a lot of people to understand what it was like to watch my father silently suffer while my mom went through depression, miscarriages, and a stillbirth that had her flatlining on an operating table.

Since my mom nearly died in the process of giving me a sibling, I don’t plan on having children unless the woman I marry is willing to adopt.

My mom sucks in a breath. “Qué?

I rub the back of my neck. “You know I’m not a kid person.”

“But what about Nico?” Her pitch rises.

“An exception to the rule.”

“Is this because of what I—”

No.”

Her glassy gaze passes over my face before she looks away. “Okay. I’ll respect your wishes.”

A heavy weight pressing against my chest lifts.

She gnaws on her bottom lip. “I’ll agree to your request, but you need to promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“Please make this process enjoyable for Dahlia. You might not be interested in making me a mother-in-law anytime soon, but Dahlia—and Lily too—are the closest people I have to daughters, and I won’t stand for you upsetting her when she is already down.”

My mom manages to make me feel two inches tall despite me towering over her.

I tuck my chin in shame. “I won’t.”

She brings her hands together with a loud clap. “Great! Now, be sure to make it seem like this was all your big idea when you approach Dahlia about it.”

Ma.”

“I better go check on Rosa before she burns down the house. ¡Te quiero!” She kisses my cheek before dashing toward the kitchen.

Te quiero: I love you.


Sundays at the Muñoz house haven’t changed since I was born, although a few people have come and gone over the years, like Mr. Muñoz and my dad, who both passed away within a few years of each other. Rafa became a permanent member at the table after he was unofficially adopted by my mom when we were younger, once my dad’s brother died.

My godson does a good job of keeping the conversation going with stories about his upcoming Halloween costume and his friend’s birthday. Lily, Dahlia’s twenty-seven-year-old sister, follows along with Nico’s tales, while the rest of us easily become distracted by the empty chair and plate of untouched food beside me.

At one point, Lily takes a tray to Dahlia’s room, only to come back fifteen minutes later with most of it left behind.

“She wasn’t hungry?” Rosa stands and takes the tray from Lily’s hands.

Lily shakes her head. “She ate some of it.”

Everyone stares at the leftovers like a critical piece of evidence. Dahlia grew up like the rest of us, following three main rules: don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t leave any food on your plate.

Ma kicks my chair. Go talk to her, she mouths.

I rise from my chair. “I’ll be back.”

The wrinkles etched into Rosa’s face smooth out as I comb through my mental list of pros and cons.

Pro: You’re doing the right thing.

Con: It doesn’t exactly feel that way.

The quick shake of Rafa’s head and his fierce scowl has me questioning myself.

Pro: Your mom will no longer set you up on dates.

Con: You’ll be stuck working with Dahlia.

I tell myself to shut up and take a deep breath.

Thank you, Ma says by lifting her two thumbs in the air.

Before I lose my nerve, I walk away. The sound of my heart pounding fills my ears as I stop in front of Dahlia’s door. I lift my fist to knock, only to hover above a hand-painted flower.

To describe Dahlia as talented would be insulting. She has a God-given gift to turn the most mundane objects into works of art, although I never stepped out of my comfort zone and praised her for it.

Once I lift my fist to knock, her door flies open.

“Julian?” Dahlia gapes at me with puffy eyes and a red nose.

I tuck my clenched hands into my pockets. “Hey.”

“Is there a reason you’re lurking around outside my room?” She checks the empty hall.

“I need to talk to you.”

She squints. “Since when do you willingly want to speak?”

“Since my mother asked me to.”

Her hollow laugh is chilling. “Still doing everything your mom asks? No wonder you’re still single.”

“I knew coming over here was a mistake,” I grumble to myself. Dahlia will never agree to the idea of working on a project together if I come out and ask her.

My trap forms quicker than my mouth can move.

“Feel free to get lost.” She reaches for the door.

I stop it from slamming shut with my hand. “Wait.”

A wrinkle runs down the center of her forehead. “What?”

“Oliver and you are done?”

Her eyes turn into slits. “Are you only asking me so you can gloat?”

“No.” Although her false accusation makes me want to.

Don’t be petty, Julian.

She breaks eye contact first. “Yeah. We’re done.”

“Might want to get rid of that ring, then.” I can’t help but glare at the tacky piece of jewelry with a frown.

“I’ve tried.” Her hand forms a shaky fist.

“Clearly not hard enough.”

Something flashes behind her eyes. “I’ve been waiting to hear back from the Creswells’ lawyer first before I got rid of it.”

Rich people and their lawyers. While I might be one of them now, I’d never have one handle my personal business like that. My parents taught me people who want respect need to earn it first, and nothing says spineless quite like depending on a lawyer to do my dirty work.

“And what did this lawyer say?” I ask before I think better of it.

“I got the news an hour ago that I can do whatever I want with it.”

“How convenient.” My voice remains flat, although my words hits their target.

Her nostrils flare. “Are you insinuating that I’m lying?”

The silence following her question answers for me.

“You know what? I’m in the mood to prove you wrong.”

Some things never change.

While I’m busy remembering the countless times she tried to do that, she catches me off guard as she slides the ring up her finger and holds it out for me. “Here.”

I take a long step back. “What am I supposed to do with that?”

“Heck if I know, but I’m sure you’d be more than happy to get rid of the ring given how often you glare at it.”

Fuck. While I was busy cataloging her next move, she was busy doing the same.

Checkmate.

I reach for the ring without the slightest tremble, although my heart beats wildly as our fingers graze.

I pluck the ring from her grasp and assess the tacky display of wealth that fits anyone but the woman in front of me. Although Dahlia loves jewelry—that much is obvious based on her endless rotation of rings, earrings, and necklaces—she hates gaudy wedding rings that can be found at any local jewelry shop.

I want a vintage ring like Mom’s, she said once to her sister while they gawked over a cousin’s engagement ring during a birthday party.

No way! I want a ring like the mayor’s wife has. Lily beamed.

But it’s so basic. Dahlia’s nose scrunched.

Who cares so long as it’s big, Lily snorted.

Dahlia clears her throat, yanking me away from the memory.

“You want me to get rid of it?” I ask.

She nods.

I’d like nothing more. Although…

An idea hits me. A terrible, stupid idea that has me acting first and thinking about regrets later.

“Fine, so long as you join me in the process.” Getting her out of the house would probably do her some good. My dad always pushed my mom to do the same whenever she was deep in one of her depressions, so I know it works.

Plus, I have a feeling she will be more willing to agree to a working relationship if I play my cards right.

Her gaze bounces between me and the paused TV screen in her room. “I don’t know. I’m a bit busy at the moment.”

“Oh, my bad. Feel free to carry on with your pity party.” I make a show of glancing at the mess on her bed. The purple comforter can barely be seen beneath the mountain of used tissues and discarded chocolate wrappers.

Her eyes widen. “Excuse me?”

I tuck the ring into my pocket. “I’ll send you a video of what I end up doing with it. Hopefully you can make time to watch it in between binge-watching episodes of The Silver Vixens and crying your eyes out.”

“I am not crying my eyes out.”

My eyes flicker over her face for an extra beat before I turn around.

“You’re a real asshole sometimes,” she calls out.

“See you next Sunday. Or not. I’m sure you’ll be real busy and everything.” I don’t bother looking back, although I throw her one last goodbye wave from over my shoulder.

She mutters something inaudible before saying, “You know what? I’m going with you.”

Gotcha.

I kill my smile before turning around. “What happened to being busy?”

“Consider my calendar cleared.”

I hope this doesn’t blow up in my face.

Famous last words.


“You redid the interior.” Dahlia runs her hand across the leather dashboard of my dad’s old truck.

“Mm-hmm.” I place my hand on her headrest and reverse down the Muñozes’ driveway.

My dad was my hero, best friend, and future business partner, so I had no clue what to do with my grief when he passed. Restoring my dad’s truck was eventually was one of the best ways to process his loss, although it came a few years too late.

She brushes her palm down the smooth leather bench. “How many times did he say he was going to do it? A hundred?”

Maybe a thousand, but he never lived long enough to see it through.

My dad had many dreams in his short life, including fixing up his truck, but he died before he could make them come true.

The same dull ache in my chest reappears, like a wound that never fully healed. Thankfully, Dahlia stops talking about my dad, giving me room to think without his memory distracting me.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, including her silence after five minutes.

“Wait! Stop!” Dahlia nearly yanks my hand away from the steering wheel.

“No.” I continue driving past the nieve de garrafa food truck located near the Lake Wisteria Park Promenade. Helping her get rid of the ring is one thing, but stopping for nieve along the way? Absolutely not happening.

“Please?” She actually presses her hands together. “I haven’t had Cisco’s in years!”

“It’s October.”

“So? There could be a blizzard outside, and I’d still want it.”

My muscles tense even more. “This wasn’t part of the plan.”

“So help me God, I will literally jump out of this car right now if you don’t pull over.”

“At least let me speed up first to make it worth the trouble of another police report.” I press the accelerator harder. Unlike my McLaren, my dad’s old truck whines as it switches gears.

Her glare quickly devolves into the worst kind of weapon she carries in her artillery.

Puppy eyes.

“Please, Julian. I’m not above begging you for Cisco’s.”

Fuck me. Every cell in my body lights up at the sound of my name in that voice.

“I’ll do anything. Please.”

Good luck saying no to her when she looks and sounds like that.

“Let’s start with shutting up.” I slow down and make a U-turn at the next median.

Nieve de garrafa: Handmade ice cream native to Mexico

“Yes!” She does a little victory fist pump.

I squash the urge to smile as I drive back toward the park and stop in front of Cisco’s. A few families sit on the benches while some kids run around, probably enjoying the last few weeks of decent weather.

“Make it fast.” I pull out my phone and begin reading through the thirty emails I’ve received in the short amount of time since I last checked.

She reaches for the door handle, only to hesitate. “Actually, you’re right. It’s too cold for Cisco’s.”

I stop my scrolling. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. Let’s just keep going.” She motions toward the steering wheel while scanning the park. The tension in her shoulders combined with her darting eyes gives her nerves away.

While Dahlia has always struggled with anxiety since we were younger, this feels different.

She is different.

With a sigh, I open my door.

“Where are you going?” Panic bleeds into her voice.

To do something stupidly nice. “I’m in the mood for Cisco’s.”

I walk away before I come to my senses and remember all the reasons why Dahlia is bad news.


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