Love Her or Lose Her

Page 17

He’d followed in his father’s footsteps, making the move that would give Rosie security, happiness. The way it had done for his family. But when Dominic had finally saved enough money and purchased the house overlooking the water, doubts had begun burrowing their way under his skin. Rosie had always dreamed of owning a restaurant. He’d known that, but he’d believed the house was more important. It would be their foundation. A place to expand their family. A place to grow old together. On some level, Dominic wondered if he’d elevated the importance of the house to satisfy his own needs.

He could have given her what she really pined for a year ago, but he hadn’t.

Now he couldn’t.

Forcing his breathing under control, Dominic paced along the dock, looking toward the two-story house where it sat elevated on a small hill, hugged on either side by pine trees. Twilight was his favorite time of day to come here and formulate renovation plans. Come up with ideas and discard them as not good enough. Rosie would want a back patio with a pergola. A fire pit. Some Latin touches, for sure, to honor both their heritages. He might have been born and raised in the Bronx, but with two Puerto Rican parents—one first generation, one second—the island’s influence had been sprinkled into most customs, meals, and holidays. When he was young, his mother would have her side of the family over for birthdays or simply because the weather was nice. The party started in the kitchen, expanding until, most nights, they ended up on the porch of their house. But he’d moved from the Bronx at a young age. His parents had entertained less with the distance between Long Island and the city, so he’d grown used to the relative quiet. The first time his parents came to the new house, though, he would love to see pride reflected in their eyes. An echo of the upbringing they’d given him, which included a place to gather. To be together.

His wife was sentimental about her mother, too. Come to think of it, she had a photo album stored in the closet with pictures of her mother’s childhood home in Buenos Aires. Maybe he could get some ideas for the renovation from there . . .

His thoughts trailed off and he gave in to the impulse to light a cigarette, taking a long drag and leaving it clamped between his lips.

“You have to tell her,” came Stephen’s voice from behind him, and Dominic turned to find his boss and friend joining him on the dock. “‘Hey, honey, I bought you a dream house.’ Problem solved. Separation over.”

Having heard the same song and dance from Stephen on numerous occasions, Dominic shook his head. “It wouldn’t solve the problem.” He sighed. “At this point, it might even make the problem worse. I waited too long.”

His friend was the only living soul who knew about the new house, out of necessity. Five years ago, Dominic’s initial plan had been to surprise Rosie with a house. To that end, he’d begun giving Stephen a small percentage of his paycheck each week to set aside, until he’d hit his goal. He didn’t want Rosie to miss the money or worry about all the overtime he worked to make up for the missing funds. He’d just wanted to give her something she could see. Something that would serve as proof that he would never let her down. Or forget about their mutual goals.

In playing the silent hero, though, had he ruined Rosie’s chance of reaching her own?

“Why are you waiting to tell her?” Stephen leaned against the post opposite Dominic. “I mean, I know you want it to be perfect when you bring her here. But you can’t decide on anything. I’ve drawn up nine sets of plans.”

An unsettled feeling weighed heavily in Dominic’s stomach. One he’d learned to live with. It had moved in during his time overseas and never left. He’d met so many soldiers during his service who had bigger, more elaborate plans for the years ahead. The money to make them all a reality. They’d put rocks—instead of small, simple diamonds—on their fiancées’ fingers before being deployed. They’d gone on weekend getaways with their in-laws and already had plans for tech startups or to take over the family business. While Dominic had . . . nothing to give. Just himself.

His father’s work ethic had once been more than enough, but the harder Dominic worked, the more the results seemed unworthy of his wife. The house included.

Especially now, when it was becoming obvious a restaurant could have made her happier.

Dominic took another drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke upward, making it look like it had come from the chimney. When this house had shown up on the market, priced to sell fast, Dominic had taken a leap and asked Stephen for the money he’d been setting aside. He could still remember writing the check and sliding it toward the realtor, thinking, I won’t let our engine stop roaring.

But he had. He fucking had.

Acutely aware of Stephen’s scrutiny, Dominic looked back out at the water—and he let disappointment wash over him. Those men he’d served with in the marines who didn’t make it home . . . what would they have done with this time? These last five years? They probably wouldn’t have bought a house and hidden it from their wife out of fear it wouldn’t be the right one. The one that would make her happy.

That memory of Rosie at the bottom of the airport escalator snuck in and made him swallow hard. He could feel the weight of those extinguished futures on his shoulders the closer he got to her, could feel how unprepared he was to make them count. Nothing had changed since then, either, had it? Now it was extremely possible he’d waited too long to make every day of this life with Rosie count.

“You ready to pick a set of plans? Things are quieting down for the winter. We could get a lot of interior work done . . .”

It was on the tip of Dominic’s tongue to say, Yes, the fourth plan you drew up, with the Spanish tile floors and wide, arched doorways. That’s my wife. My wife would love that.

Instead, Dominic ground out the cigarette under the toe of his boot, gave one last look at the house, and strode toward his truck. “Not yet.”

Rosie pressed a finger to the center of her crumbly biscuits and deemed them cooled enough. She peeled the plastic wrap off two bowls containing a homemade blackberry jam, another brimming with fresh dulce de leche. She’d added a touch of lemon zest to her alfajores, trying to put her own twist on her mother’s recipe. If the sighs of pleasure coming from the living room were any indication, they were going over amazingly well. She couldn’t get them out of the oven, cooled, and sandwiched with homemade topping fast enough.

“Let’s begin, ladies!” Bethany said, clapping her hands in the center of the crowd of women. Their Just Us League meetings continued to expand every time they got together. Some of the newbies weren’t even residents of Port Jefferson, having driven from neighboring towns to be there. Since Rosie happily did most of the cooking—and now baking—for the meetings, Georgie had been thoughtful enough to start a weekly collection to fund her food supplies.

Rosie was loving every second of it. Being selective over the freshest meats for her empanadas, adding her own twist to classic chimichurri dipping sauce, testing out new recipes in Bethany’s kitchen. It was a built-in weekly focus group for her skills, and tonight . . . yes, tonight she felt a little bit closer to setting foot inside the empty restaurant off Main Street. Originally, her idea had been small. An indoor empanada stand. A counter where people could order and take meat-filled pastries to go, but the more Argentinian dishes she tested and perfected, the more her dream expanded and took on new life.

“Who had something good happen to them this week?” Bethany asked her rapt, wine-sipping audience, a smile stretching across her pretty face. She held her dry-erase marker in front of the whiteboard she’d erected—or the Positivity Board, as they’d collectively begun referring to it. “Anyone?”

“I got a good deal on having the brakes replaced on my Chevy,” said one of the women. “The mechanic tried to highball me. I turned him down and he started singing a different tune.”

Bethany wrote “brakes” in loopy script on the Positivity Board.

“Er—um, a new position at my job,” piped in another member who rarely spoke up. As soon as everyone turned to look at her, she tried to sink into Bethany’s plush white couch. “I was promoted. You’re looking at the new head loan officer at Town and Center Bank.”

“Oh shit! That’s amazing.” Bethany did a little dance as everyone applauded. “Congratulations. Did you ask for the promotion or was it a surprise?”

“I asked for it.” The loan officer sat up a little straighter, visibly bolstered by everyone patting her on the shoulders. “I don’t mean to be sappy, but I don’t think I would have if it wasn’t for this club.”

Rosie smiled to herself as she moved the alfajores onto a serving plate and carried them into the living room. She set them down on the coffee table, laughing as Georgie pulled her backward into an empty seat on the couch. Their resident clown was slightly tipsy tonight, but she was charming. Earlier, she’d greeted newcomers with a juggling act on the porch until Bethany dragged her in from the cold.

“You smell nice.” Georgie sighed, laying her head on Rosie’s shoulder. “I love you.”

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