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Love Redesigned: Chapter 9

Dahlia

“Do you get cell service in that little hometown of yours?” my agent, Jamie, asks as soon as I answer the phone.

I wince. “Sorry about not returning your calls.”

Avoiding Jamie was easy after listening to her first voicemail, when she asked me how my planning was going for my next décor launch, but dodging my other friends’ texts and calls has been more challenging. Reina, Hannah, and Arthur—the three TV crew members I befriended on Bay Area Flip—send messages in our group chat daily despite me only sharing an occasional I’m still alive text.

While that statement is true, I’m not exactly living, so until I am, I plan on keeping away from everyone.

Jamie makes a soft chuffing noise. “I’m only teasing you. How’s the R and R going?”

Seeing that I got out of bed before noon, took a morning walk around the neighborhood, and helped my mom make breakfast, I’d count today as a win despite it only being ten a.m.

Look at you finding the bright side.

“Good. I needed the break,” I reply.

“After wrapping up that last season, I don’t blame you.”

“Yeah.”

“How are you doing mentally?”

I loosen my tight grip on my phone. “Some days are good, and some days are…”

“Absolute shit?” she finishes for me.

“Exactly.”

“I know life sucks right now, but things will get better. I promise you that.”

The ball in my throat grows larger. “I hope so.”

She speaks after a brief pause. “I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but a reporter reached out with questions about your breakup.”

My body turns to stone. “Oh.”

“My team gave them the response we approved together.”

Stomach acid bubbles, rising in my tight throat. “Right.” Besides Oliver and his family, Jamie is the one and only person who knows the real reason why my engagement failed, and I hope to keep it that way, regardless of how many times Lily and my mom try to pry the answers out of me.

“I re-sent the signed NDA to Oliver and your ex-agent just in case.”

My laugh comes out hollow. “You’re the best.”

“You might not be saying that in a minute.”

I swallow back my fear. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not the kind of agent who wants to bother you while you’re on a much-needed break, but the team at Curated Living has been asking a bunch of questions about the plans for next fall’s collection, and I can only deflect so many times.”

My breathing quickens. “Right.”

“They reported record-breaking numbers for your last launch, so they’re excited to start planning your next one.”

“Of course.” I clench my hands to stop them from shaking.

“The team wants to know when you will be sending the preliminary sketches for it. If you want to launch by September and capitalize on your momentum, they’ll need to start production before the end of February.”

I haven’t made it through this fall, let alone started thinking about the next, but no big deal.

Liar.

Panic swells in my chest. Every time I open my tablet to begin sketching, my energy levels tank, making me feel defeated before I have a chance to start.

“If you need to pull back for a season—”

“No,” I blurt out. I’ve been working with Curated Living for the last few years, and I refuse to lose the last partnership I have left. “I’ll get them the initial sketches before the end of the year, so you can go ahead and schedule our meetings for January.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yup.” I rub my pulsing temple.

“Great! I’ll let them know.”

“Awesome.” My heart pounds against my rib cage as I ask, “By the way, do you have any pitch updates for the new show?”

While I was originally optioned to film another season of Bay Area Flip with Oliver, our broken engagement ruined any chance of that happening, so I’m hoping Jamie can secure me a new network contract. I love my job, and not a day goes by when I don’t miss it and the people I helped.

“No, I haven’t heard back yet, but it’s only a matter of time before I call you with a new TV deal.” Her voice seems uncharacteristically chipper.

“Oh.” I fall back onto my bed. “Do you think no one is interested because the pitch is different from my last show?”

I appreciated the Creswells and their connections, which helped me land a show to begin with, but their tight grip on the production process left me wanting for more.

More control over the show’s narrative. More clients from all socioeconomic backgrounds. And more freedom to discuss topics like grief, loss, and big life changes such as divorce.

While I didn’t expect production companies to drop everything to sign with me, it’s been a few weeks already without any follow-up meetings.

What do you expect when your personal life has become an internet meme?

My eyes sting, but I blink away the tears.

After Jamie hangs up, I’m tempted to crawl back under my covers and fall asleep, but instead, I make a conscious choice to get up, unzip my luggage, and search for my makeup bag.

Un Muñoz nunca se rinde, my dad always said.

And it’s time I remember how to live like that.


I don’t want to leave the house, but I choose to do it anyway because my mom and sister need my help with a large order of wedding centerpieces.

My mom’s shop, Rose & Thorn, is located in the famous Historic District on the north side of town. The area was adequately named after the brick-and-mortar buildings and surrounding cottage-style neighborhood dating back to when the town was first founded in the late 1800s.

The Historic District makes up the heart of Lake Wisteria. A majority of the original buildings are located within the five blocks, including the library, bank, town hall, post office that once used carrier pigeons, and a tiny schoolhouse the size of a shoebox. We weren’t wealthy enough to grow up there, but my mom was able to open up a tiny flower shop thirty-five years ago when my grandparents moved here because of a job.

It would be hard to miss Rose & Thorn with the pink paint covering the exterior brick walls and the fall window display full of red, orange, and yellow flowers of all shapes and sizes.

You can do this, I chant to myself as I exit the car and walk toward the sidewalk.

At least you look good, I add. In honor of getting my shit together, I picked out my best outfit, hoping the pop of color and dash of accessories would boost my mood.

You don’t need to seek everyone’s attention all the time; that old comment made by Oliver’s mother about my clothing rears its ugly, unwelcome head.

I nearly twist my ankle at the memory.

One day I hope you feel comfortable enough in your own skin to stop covering it up, she said before handing me a bottle of anti-aging cream.

You should stop—

“Dahlia? Is that you?” a woman calls out behind me.

My mom stops next to me and turns with a smile.

Nope. Can’t do this. Screw the meds and my therapist’s advice to get out of the house. Helping my family with flowers is one thing, but having to face people is a whole different issue I’m not ready to tackle now that the news has broken about my failed engagement.

Mom grabs my shoulders to stop me from escaping. “It’ll be good for you to catch up with old friends.”

Except I don’t have any friends at Lake Wisteria anymore. The two close ones I made in elementary school live in different states now, and although we call one another to catch up every now and then, I haven’t been able to talk much since I found out about my genetic test. They’re both pregnant and excited about having babies, which leaves me feeling like the odd woman out.

Mom turns me around before I have a chance to bolt for the store. “Nos vemos adentro.” She kisses my forehead before locking the door to the shop behind her.

“I knew it was you! Only you could turn Main Street into your own fashion runway.” Alana Castillo, one of my high school classmates, waves.

Of all the people from my past I could have run into, Alana is the best option. Not only is she nice, but we actually got along pretty well in high school despite being part of different friend groups.

Nos vemos adentro: We’ll see you inside.

Her dark hair shines under the sun, bringing out the different brown tones. A tall, handsome, blond man beside her whispers something in her ear before taking off toward the Pink Tutu with her daughter, who is dressed in a leotard, neon green ballet skirt, and combat boots.

I fight the usual oppressive sadness as I force out a casual “Hey.”

You can at least try to sound excited to see her.

Alana wraps her arms around me and presses her cheek against mine. “How are you?”

“Fine.”

She pins me in place with a single, knowing look. “I see.”

I kick an invisible rock with the toe of my boot. “I’ve seen some better days.”

“Is that why you’re back in town?”

“That and my mom’s cooking.”

Ugh. I regret the words as soon as I say them. While I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral service the town had for Alana’s mom because of my filming schedule, I should have known better than to bring up mothers and cooking.

Her warm smile lessens my anxiety. “Not a single day goes by when I don’t crave my mom’s pandebonos, so I get it.”

“Those were the best! My mom still kicks herself for never asking your mom for the recipe.”

“If you want, I can teach you both one of these days.”

My brows rise. “Really?”

After living in San Francisco, I forgot what it was like to be surrounded by people who care. I was lucky if my barista spelled my name right, let alone asked me how I was doing because they genuinely wanted to know.

Alana’s melodic laugh could warm the coldest of hearts. “Of course. Anyone is welcome in my kitchen, so long as they’re not Missy.”

“Don’t tell me she’s still trying to steal your recipes after all this time.”

She lets out a huff of air. “That girl has been trouble since high school. She has good intentions and all, but she won’t rest until she wins a Fourth of July Bake-Off.”

“Dahlia!” Lily pops her head out of the shop. “We need your help in here!”

I offer Alana an apologetic look. “Sorry. I better get going.”

“No worries. I should get back to Cal and Cami before they get themselves into trouble.”

“Does that happen often?”

“Only when I leave them alone together for more than five minutes.” Her eyes sparkle.

I pull her into a hug. “It was nice seeing you.”

“Likewise. And remember that you’re welcome to come hang out and cook with me any day.”

“I might have to take you up on that.”


After an inventory count gone wrong, my mom ran to Lake Aurora’s flower farm, leaving Lily and me alone to finish up as many centerpieces as we can with the flowers we have.

“So…” my sister interrupts my mission to get through today’s tasks without thinking or talking.

I look up from my half-assembled bouquet. Lily’s eyes remind me of our dad, with the brown color nearly blending into her pupils. While I take after Mom with my shorter, curvier frame, lighter brown eyes, and softer features, Lily inherited her height, sharpness, and short temper from our dad. With genes like hers, she could have graced the covers of magazines had she not wanted to spend her entire life in Lake Wisteria, running the flower shop.

Lily continues when I don’t speak. “I noticed something interesting.”

“What?”

“You’re not wearing your engagement ring anymore.”

I swallow the thick lump in my throat. “No.”

“Where is it?”

“You’d have to ask Julian.”

“Excuse me?” she screeches.

“I have no idea what he did with it after he threw it in the concrete mixer.”

Her gaze flicks over the faint white line on my finger. “A concrete mixer?”

I can’t help laughing. “Yup.”

“Wow.”

“I know. Crazy, right?”

“Most definitely. But it’s nice Julian helped you get rid of it.”

“Don’t tell me you’re calling him nice now.”

She raises her hands. “To be fair, he’s matured a lot since you were both in college.”

I press my fingers against my ears. “I can’t hear you.”

Her eyes roll. “You’re a child.”

“What happened to the sister who helped me with recon missions to score some blackmail on him?”

“She grew up.”

I shoot her a look that she serves right back.

“Seriously. Why is he the enemy? And don’t give me some lame excuse about you two having a rivalry since childhood because I know it goes beyond that.”

I jerk back. “What?”

“I might act oblivious, but that doesn’t make me stupid. Something happened between you two while you were at college, so what was it?”

“Nothing.”

“You’re such a bad liar.”

I focus on the centerpiece. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You know you can tell me anything. I’m like Fort Knox.”

A whole minute goes by before I speak again. “We kissed.”

She squeals like a damn kid at Dreamland. “I knew it!”

I glare.

“What else? Tell me more!”

My entire face feels like it might burst into flames. “No.”

Her eyes bulge. “You guys had sex, didn’t you?”

A flower stem snaps between my fingers. “Lily!”

She throws her hands in the air. “Come on! I’ve waited years to ask you about this. At least take pity on me and entertain a few of my questions.”

“Why didn’t you ask me about this before?”

“You were avoiding him for some reason, so I wasn’t about to bring him up.”

“Yeah.”

“So what happened? I have my suspicions and everything, but I’m not sure.”

My gaze drops. “It’s complicated.”

“When did you realize you liked him?”

“Probably toward the end of our freshman year of college.” Homesickness and a psychology project forced us to rely on each other like never before, and little by little, the two of us became friends.

“And then what?” my sister asks.

I kissed him a few weeks before everything in his life went to shit.

My shoulders drop. “His dad died.”

“Oh.”

Yup.

“Makes sense. I assumed the sex was bad or something—”

I choke on a laugh, and Lily gasps.

“Ahh! It was good?”

I can feel the heat blooming across my cheeks.

“Great?” she squeaks.

“I refuse to talk about this with you.” Mainly because there is nothing to talk about. Julian made sure of that during a five-minute call that destroyed any hope of us having a future together.

You’re a distraction I don’t need, he told me over the phone after I offered to put the semester on hold and come back to Lake Wisteria after his dad died.

It was only a kiss, he spoke with a flat tone, making me feel like the dumbest girl in the world after I wanted to help him with his dad’s company because I was passionate about design too.

I’m sorry I don’t feel the same way, he said once I poured out my heart and admitted I cared about him in a real, raw, and scary kind of way.

I need time, he replied before ending the call.

It was the last time I spoke to him over the phone. All my other calls went to voicemail, even after I helped Oliver pack up his dorm.

Funny how confidence can take years to build and only a few interactions to destroy.

My sister cuts through the memories by speaking up. “Fine. I can respect your wishes. I’m just happy the two of you can be in a room together again.”

“Me too,” I admit.

“Josefina and Mom never said anything, but I know they missed having everyone under one roof. Things were never the same once you—” She catches herself.

“Moved to San Francisco?” I finish the thought for her.

She flinches. “Yeah.”

“I thought you liked spending holidays there?”

“I did, but I won’t lie. Nothing beats all of us getting together for Christmas, and no number of big-city holidays could replace how it feels to be home.”

My head drops. “I’m sorry.”

She walks around the table and pulls me into a tight hug. “I’m glad you’re back. For now, at least.”

“Likewise.”


My mom and sister drop me off near the cemetery with a promise to come back in thirty minutes. The three of us have visited this dreary corner of town plenty of times over the years, although it’s been a while since I last stopped by.

The bouquet of yellow roses trembles in my hands as I walk past the main gate.

Few people love yellow roses as much as my father did, and anyone who knew him heard the story of how he met my mom while searching Rose & Thorn for flowers before his date with another woman.

His memory makes my heart heavy with sorrow. Losing a parent is never easy, but being present at the young age of sixteen when mine flat-lined in an ambulance was devastating.

Luckily, I had a school counselor who cared enough to help me through the grieving process, and I poured the rest of my energy into getting a full ride to college like my dad and I always talked about.

I bend down and place the bouquet in front of his tombstone.

Hector Muñoz. Devoted husband. Proud father. Beloved friend.

Hola, Papi.” My chin trembles. “Ha pasado un tiempo desde la última vez que hablamos.”

Birds chirp in the distance as a gust of wind hits me. I zip my jacket all the way to the top before taking a seat on the ground. “I wish you were here more than ever.”

Ha pasado un tiempo desde la última vez que hablamos: Some time has passed since the last time we spoke

I pluck a blade of grass and wrap it around my finger. “Although maybe it’s for the best that you’re not around. I would’ve hated for you to overreact about the broken engagement and get thrown into jail for assault charges because of Oliver.” My laugh comes out all wrong thanks to the tightness in my throat.

A few leaves in the distance get picked up by another breeze.

“I made a big mistake.” My voice cracks. “I was so stupid, Papi.” Tears flood my eyes, although I fight to make sure they don’t fall. “I knew it too, but I still kept trying to make things work porque un Muñoz nunca se rinde.”

My father raised us to follow his motto of ser fiel a ti mismo—stay true to yourself—and I tried my hardest to stick to his values.

Yet you failed anyway.

“But the problem was that while trying to keep my relationship intact, I forgot myself. I gave up all the things that made me special because I thought it was the right thing to do to make the person who supposedly loved me happy.” The tightness in my chest becomes unbearable.

“I realize now that the only person I was letting down was myself. I stopped trusting myself and the gut instinct that told me I deserved better.” My head hangs.

Porque un Muñoz nunca se rinde: A Muñoz never quits.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been around much in the last few years. Between us, I was kind of lost.” I tear the blade of glass to shreds before ripping another off the ground. “I’m going to find myself, though. Because Muñozes never quit—not even on ourselves.”

And by the time I leave Lake Wisteria after the holidays, I hope my soul will be fully healed.


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