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Damaged Goods: Chapter 1


Age nineteen

“Duuuuuuude. Can you believe Lauren sprained her ankle porking a tourist? I would die.” Katia, my roommate, runs a contour stick under her cheekbone, all the way down the tip of her jaw. She glides her tongue along her upper teeth to get rid of lipstick residue, her eyes glittering as she studies herself in the mirror.

Our Juilliard dorm room is smaller than my walk-in closet back home and haphazardly furnished. Two bunk beds. One rickety desk. An immeasurable amount of Broadway posters, throw pillows, and inspirational quotes scissored into hearts. Daria says trying to make this place look livable is like putting lipstick on a pig: “Only you got yourself a dozen pigs and one stick of cheapo lipstick.”

But Daria is also a high school counselor, not a world-renowned ballerina. She never made it to the Big J, so it’s probably the jealousy falling out of her mouth.

“Hello? Earth to Bailey? Should we send a search party to find your brain?” Katia dumps the contour stick on the desk, picking up a brush to blend in the makeup. “Bitch finished her career because of a Tinder date! It’s more pathetic than Kylie, who gained a bunch of weight and lost her spot at the Bolshoi.”

“Dude, Kylie has lupus.” I rear my head back. Holy mean girl.

“So does Selena, and she’s still hot shit.” She rolls her hazel eyes. “There are always excuses, aren’t there? If you wanna be successful in our industry, you gotta hustle.”

“You know I like Lauren. And that story hasn’t really been confirmed by reliable sources.” I refuse to engage in shit-talking, even if it’s my peers’ favorite blood sport.

“Not confirmed?” Katia shrieks. “Bitch has a cast and a one-way ticket back to Bumfuck, Oklahoma. What more do you need, an in-depth article in The Atlantic?”

I hug a throw pillow to my chest on our bunk bed, eager to change the subject. “Okay, but can we talk about how I love this eye shadow on you?”

“You know throwing shade is my passion.” Katia twists her head and winks, a shock of platinum-blond hair slinging over her shoulder. She straightens her posture and tosses the brush inside her makeup bag. She’s wearing my sequined Gucci minidress. A hand-me-down from Daria.

Katia is on a scholarship here. She migrated to the U.S. from Latvia with her mom eight years ago and got into Juilliard on a full ride. We got paired in the freshman dorm room and now live on a steady diet of ramen, pizza rolls, and motivation, much to her chagrin. She tried to stage an intervention when I canceled the organic, gluten-free food subscription my parents placed on my behalf when I moved in here. But I made a conscious decision to cut myself off from their bank account when I turned eighteen. So far, I’ve been doing pretty well.

Thing is, the more you swim in money, the drier your creativity pool is. Art comes from a place of depravation. In art, privilege is a disadvantage. Art is about bleeding. Dying onstage. Telling your story through a medium—be it paint on canvas, clay, dance, or song. What’s my life story? A couple bad manicures and an unfortunate braces phase?

I read a quote somewhere by an author named Amy Chua: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.” I can’t stop thinking about this. About how neatly and insipidly I’ve always fit into the world around me. With my Valley-girl twang and pastel cardigans and cushy trust fund.

Until now. Until Juilliard.

Ohmygosh, Bails, stop being such a party pooper. I like Lauren too. Even though she’s a bitchbag for hooking up with Jade’s ex.” Katia’s voice daggers through my fog-filled brain. I’m in excruciating pain. I have three stress fractures, one in each of my tibias and one in my spine, and they’re all throbbing, demanding to be acknowledged.

“He gave her a ride upstate.” I scrunch my nose. “This is all specula—”

“It’s just a shame because it was her last year,” Katia cuts me off. “She signed a Broadway contract, you know. Hamilton. Ensemble member. Now she has to go back to Oklahoma—”

“Montana,” I correct, choking on the pain.

“To like…work at her dad’s pig-racing ranch—”

“Her family doesn’t farm.”

“Whatever, Bails. You’re literally the worst person to talk shit with. Haven’t you heard? Nice women don’t end up in history books.” Katia downs the remainder of her pregame beer, slam-dunking the can in the trash.

“That’s not true,” I murmur, knowing I’m being an annoying brainiac prude and still not able to stop myself. “What about Eleanor Roosevelt? And Harriet Tubman, Ma—”

La la la la la.” Katia pretends to block her ears, strutting to the door. “This is college. I’m here to have fun, not learn something new.” She puts her hand on the door handle, stopping to glance behind her shoulder. “Sure you don’t wanna come to Luis’s party? The textbooks aren’t going anywhere.”

“I know. And I’m still positive.” I drop my phone on the throw pillow I’m clutching and gesture toward my ankle. It is currently the size of a tennis ball. “I should probably stay off my feet.”

Katia winces. “Did you at least kill it in the audition?”

More like the audition killed me. Hence why you need to get out of here so I can drown in painkillers, low-stakes reality Netflix competitions, and self-pity.

“Yup,” I pop the P. “You have fun for both of us, okay?”

“Scout’s honor.” She raises two fingers.

“Text me if you feel unsafe,” I say, as I always do whenever she goes out. That’s me. Bailey Followhill. Designated driver. Straight-edged, straight-A mathlete. Charity enthusiast. Voted Most Likely to Become the First Female President. Mommy and Daddy’s pride and joy.

Always there to pick up the slack my older, shinier sister leaves behind. That’s just who I am. Little Miss Goody Two-Shoes.

“See you in the a.m., babe.” Katia finger tickles the air.

She leaves me in a cloud of hairspray fumes and despair. I swing my gaze to the ceiling. The room smears behind a coat of my unshed tears. The pain in my legs and spine is so acute, I have to bite my inner cheek until blood fills my mouth. I know what to do. I’ve been doing it for weeks. Okay, months. It’s a temporary solution, but it works wonders and makes the pain go away.

Inhaling sharply, I fling myself off the bunk bed and skulk my way to my padlocked diary. The one Mom gave me the day I moved into the dorms.

“Document everything, Bailey. Every tear. Every smile. Every fail, every win. And remember—diamonds are made under pressure. Shine always, my lovebug.”

I unlock the diary with the key, which I keep buried under a potted plant—yes, I keep plants here to ensure Katia and I get good, clean oxygen. Inside, there are no pages. No words. No ink. I guess it’s a good metaphor for my existence. The way I gutted the glittery, pink-leathered journal my third week at Juilliard and placed a five-and-a-half-by-eight-and-a-half-inch box containing my pills there instead. I don’t have a prescription drug problem—mainly because my doctor hasn’t been prescribing me drugs for months now. So I found other ways to get them.

Dr. Haddock had wanted me to get a cast on my right ankle and go on a four-week bedrest followed by physiotherapy. “I can’t prescribe you more Vicodin, Bailey. May I remind you we’re in the midst of an oxy epidemic?”

I pleaded and begged, argued and bargained, then dished out anecdotal facts to support my quest for painkillers. He ended up prescribing me some Motrin 800 to pull me through my audition today. An audition that was supposed to redeem my failing grade at ballet and dance composition. I gave it my all. Every ounce of energy. Stretched every ligament and muscle to its limit. But it wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t enough.

I can tell you want this badly, Miss Followhill.” One of the senior choreographers tapped her pen over her clipboard rhythmically, her mouth downturned in dissatisfaction. “But passion without skill is like fuel without a vehicle. You need to work on your Alexander Technique. To relearn how to work your basic movements. You need to revise your plié and tendu. Go back to the roots.”

Slamming my eyes shut, I shake my head, making her words dissipate. Half the time I don’t even know if I want to be ballerina or if it’s the only thing I’ve ever meant to be. My destiny was written for me from the moment I was born, and I went along with it. Mom saw a potential, scouters agreed, letters of invitation from ballet institutions began pouring in when I was around eleven, and that was it. I was on the fast-track to becoming a ballerina.

I reach for the box and pat its insides. There’s only one Motrin left. Not a benzo to pick up my mood or a Vicodin to take the edge off.

“What the luck?” I hiss. Katia must’ve stolen a bunch. She somehow got her hand on my key. I know I had a couple Xannies lying around. No way did I consume all of them in less than a week.

I grab the pill and swallow it without water, then pick up my so-called diary and hurl it against the window with a yelp. It slams against the glass and collapses on the floor. The empty cardboard dislocates, placed face down on the old carpet, like a prima ballerina in dying swan position. The professors’ voices twirled in my head a few minutes after they thought I left the room. Instead, I was still kneeling behind the curtain, holding my ankle and trying not to sob through the pain.

“Not flexible enough.”

“Not enough energy.”

“Isn’t she Melody Followhill’s daughter? Figures. I remember her mother. Wasn’t the brightest star in the sky. If you ask me, she was lucky to break that leg. Got a cushy marriage out of it. Followhill Jr. is better but still no Anna Pavlova.”

That was after I managed to convince them to let me retake the test, go onstage again so I could pass the semester. There’s no way I, Bailey Followhill, brainiac extraordinaire, am going to fail my freshman year of college.

I grab my phone, scroll down my contacts, my thumb hovering over one name. Payden Rhys. The chisel-jawed ballerino from Indiana who got a lead role in La Sylphide without even breaking a sweat. He makes his pocket money selling Vicodin, Xanax, and other party favors. Shadier than a cowboy hat and a man I despise with all my heart, but somehow I find myself increasingly spending more and more time with.

There are only a couple months left before the semester ends, and my grades outside the dance studio are flawless. I can’t go home early. Can’t show the world that my best isn’t the best. Besides, I just need to retake this test, get a good grade, then I’ll have the entire winter break to allow my injuries to heal and ditch my very recent, very manageable drug habit. I text Payden.

Bailey: Wanna party?

He knows exactly what I mean by that.

Payden: How hard?

Translation: How many do you need?

Bailey: Spring break hard.

As many as you got.

Payden: Be there in five.

I plaster my back against the door and slide to the floor, nestling my head between my knees, sobbing noiselessly. I hate that my body is not keeping up with my ambition, with my drive, with my academic grades. And I hate that it gives someone like Payden power over me.

Sometimes I want to unfurl like the satin ribbons of my pointe shoes. To spin rapidly, the layers of my self-consciousness and anxiety uncurling, loosening, until I am left bare. I secretly resent my older sister, Daria. It’s easy to be her because the expectations placed upon her are slim to none. She embraces her imperfections. Wears them proudly like battle scars. She showed her husband, her friends, our parents, the worst sides of her, and impossibly—implausibly—that only made them love her harder.

That’s not an option for me. I’m Bailey Followhill, the perfect little ballerina. No mountain is too high, no test is too difficult.

Got a problem? Ask Bailey. She knows everything.

Well, spoiler alert: I have no idea what I’m doing right now.

Three minutes later, there’s a knock on the door and Payden is standing in my room, a mischievous spark in his brown eyes. He greets me by helping me up to my feet and slapping my ass, leaving a punishing sting. There’s a casual maliciousness to him that always sets me on edge.

“Damn, Bails. I love a good thigh gap, but this is too much, even for me.” And he is a body-negative prick who prides himself on making people feel bad about themselves. Word around is he landed in hot water with his professors last year for telling his dancing partner she was too heavy for him to ballroom lift. She was less than a hundred pounds and he used the F-bomb.

“You look like a mess.” He pulls up his pant leg and tugs a Ziploc bag from his holey sock. Inside it are smaller individual bags with pills. “You been crying?”

“No. Just the stupid injuries bugging me,” I lie, pulling my sleeves over my fists and rubbing at my nose. I want him to leave. I hate him. But he’s the only person who ever sold me benzo that passed my chemical tests and carries genuine Vicodin.

“Those fine legs giving you trouble again, Followhill?” He flicks a small bag full of Vicodin with his thumb and forefinger, a cigarette clenched between his lips. “Well, the offer to wrap them ’round my neck still stands. I’ll be your best painkiller.”

“Been there, done that,” I mutter, trying to suppress the lackluster memory of us together. “You’re no Vicodin, Pay. Barely half an Advil.”

“Oof.” He laughs. “If I gave half a fuck what some spoiled little princess from Todos Santos thinks, I’d take offense.”

“You were the one who wanted in my pants,” I remind him.

“Can you blame me? Fucking a virgin had always been on my bucket list.”

I glare at the Vicodin dispassionately, wondering if it’ll do the trick. I took two Motrin before my audition today and still messed up the choreography. My tibias feel like they’re about to snap.

“Got anything stronger?” I honestly don’t recognize myself in this conversation. I graduated from high school without even trying pot. Lev once had to pick me up from a party because I thought I got too high on the fumes when other people were smoking it.

“Than V?” Payden pauses, a look of confusion painting his face. “Sure. I’ve got oxy if you wan—”

“Yeah, I’ll try oxy.”

His features darken. “I was gonna say ‘if you want to kill yourself.’ I don’t sell oxy to students, and I’m definitely not gonna sell it to your lightweight ass.”

“You’re exaggerating.” I pull my hair into a tight bun, my scalp screaming with pain.

“Nuh-uh. You’re fast approaching tweaker zone, and those assholes tend to die and get their dealers into all kinds of trouble.” He runs a hand through his sandy hair. “Look, I know you’re good for the money, but you ain’t worth the risk.” His eyes lick me from head to toe appreciatively. “Sure you don’t want a repeat of our night of passion, for old time’s sake?”

I’m too polite to tell him his lovemaking skills match those of a dead hedgehog. “Positive. Give me ten of the Vicodin and go on your merry way.”

“Ten? Bailey…”

“Payden.” I arch my eyebrows pointedly, stretching my palm open in front of him. When he remains a pillar of salt, I seize my wallet from a drawer and pull out a wad of cash, fanning it like a magician doing card tricks.

He swallows. “Dude, this is no longer recreational. You’re getting a dependency.”

“Dependency? Don’t be ridiculous. I know WebMD like the palm of my hand. I just need to finish this semester. I can handle it.”

He says nothing.

“Since when do you care about me?”

“I don’t,” he says dispassionately. “I care about me. My ass is too talented, young, and hot to end up in jail. You know what they do to people like me there?” He frames his face with his fingers.

Avoid them, because you’re a horribly annoying human?

“I’ll be fine, Pay.”

Ultimately, his survival instinct trumps his pesky conscience and he sighs, taking the money. He shoves the bag of pills to my chest, raising his finger in warning. “Shit, dude. You’re my steadiest client on campus. Didn’t see that one coming.”

Didn’t see me coming, either. Seriously, why did I ever think sleeping with him was a good idea?

“Thanks so much. Enjoy your night.” I jerk my chin to the door. Which is literally less than a step away from him. “See ya around.”

He shakes his head. “You’re one messed-up chick, Followhill. I’m glad we never got together seriously.”

Feeling’s mutual.

I push him out of my room, though he takes his time looking around, loitering, hoping I’ll change my mind about a hookup. “Done anything to your room? It looks different…”

“Payden!” I chide. “Get out before I tase you.”

After the door shuts, I hop on my bunk bed with the bag of Vicodin pinched between my fingers and take a slow, steadying breath. I could take one and wait for it to kick in, facing more pain and anxiety…or I could take two and get knocked right to sleep. I’ll be able to wake up tomorrow ready to conquer the world. Kill it onstage. Get perfect grades. Payden is wrong. I’m not an addict. I’m just trying to save my career like every other dancer out here. And…maybe forget about how cold, isolating, and unfriendly New York is.

Sliding two pills into my open palm, I knock them back with some water. After twenty minutes of pacing and pretzeling from the pain, I take a third one. Finally, it kicks in. I let my body sink down onto my bed. Only it feels like I’m soaked into the mattress. My head drowning in the pillow.

I’m falling…


Plummeting to a place deep and dark where light can’t break through.

A place where dreams go to die.

I wake up groggy and shivering.

It’s not supposed to be this cold in here. The heater is on full blast, and I’m wearing Daria’s oversized Valentino sweater. Last time I felt this cold was when I got mugged this November and the prick forced me to strip down to my underwear so he could steal Daria’s Vivienne Westwood ivory silk dress. An incident I conveniently forgot to tell my parents about so they wouldn’t freak out. I check my Apple Watch. It’s only been twenty minutes since I fell asleep, yet I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. My breathing is labored, and my arms feel like they’re nailed to the bed. Good news is I can’t feel the pain in my legs. Bad news is I can’t feel my legs, like, at all.

I’ve been to enough D.A.R.E. classes to recognize the signs of an overdose. A violent shudder tears through my flesh. I throw a heavy hand down on the carpet, where my phone is charging. My balance is so off, I twist out of the bed, falling to the floor. I can’t move. I can’t stand up. Holy crap, what do I do?

Somehow, my fingers curl around my phone. I yank it off the charger and aim the screen at my face, shaking, sweating, panicking. A lifetime passes before it unlocks. I think about calling Katia, then realize I can’t afford to waste my one call on someone untrustworthy. Instead, I punch the first name I call when I’m in trouble. Or that I would call if I ever got into trouble. Doesn’t matter that things have been weird between us. Doesn’t matter that I yanked his heart out of his chest, put it in a blender, and set the speed on x4. Doesn’t matter that he pretty much hates me.

Doesn’t matter that all that’s left of us are bittersweet memories and two ragged bracelets. Or even that his absence is the most present thing in my life, and something tells me that if we were still us—really us—I never would’ve gotten hooked on Xanax and Vicodin.

While I wait for him to answer, the world shrinks in front of my eyes. Like a photo being devoured by fire, the edges blurring inwards.


He sounds flippant, disinterested; he has good reasons to be. #Bailev is dead. I killed it with my own hands. His background noise is sultry music, laughter, and beer bottles clinking together. He’s at a party.

“Lev…” My tongue is a half-dead thing in my mouth. I can’t believe I’m saying these words. “I’ve overdosed.”

“What the…?” A door shuts in the background, and the noise fades. He went somewhere quiet so he could hear me. My throat is all clogged. Shitshitshit. “Repeat that?” he demands. “Like, right the fuck now.”

“I overdosed! Drugs. I…I think I’m about to die.”

Even though up until this second Lev has had absolutely no knowledge of my ever consuming anything stronger than Infants’ Tylenol, he catches on quickly.

“What did you take?” His voice turns soft, raspy.

No judgment. No anger. I can’t believe we grew apart. Can’t believe I tore us apart. I can’t believe this is the last time I might be speaking to him. Ever.

“Vicodin, supposedly. But it feels…different. Wrong.” My breathing shallows; my body is shutting down. “I need you to call an ambulance.” I try to swallow. Fail. “And send someone in the residence hall to my room with Narcan. In case…you know…”

Who says being a nerd doesn’t pay off? I listened carefully during those D.A.R.E. classes.

“Actually, I don’t fucking know, but that’s a conversation for later.” The sound of him frantically rummaging through something fills my heart with stupid, unwarranted hope. “Wait on the line…shit! Fuck! Where is it?” he growls. “I’m using Tha—someone else’s phone to make the calls. Count to ten for me.”

Normal Bailey would do it backward, in Latin, just to show off. Current Bailey isn’t even trying. Current Bailey is also dumb enough to wonder who is Tha—? A girl? A girlfriend? Is he hooking up with people now? Now’s not the time to be jealous. My oxygen levels are way down. Everything is going darker by the second.

“Lev, I’m scared.”

“Don’t be,” he barks, but he sounds more scared than I am.

I gulp, and he can sense my panic because he asks, “When have we ever let anything bad happen to each other?”

“Some things are bigger than us.”

“Nothing is bigger than Bailev,” his voice is resolute. “Repeat it.”

“Nothing is bigger than Bailev,” I say weakly.

“Atta girl. No lies detected.”

My eyes flutter shut. I’m too tired. Too heavy. Too numb. In the background, I hear Lev talking to a 9-1-1 dispatcher, then to the Office of Housing and Residence Life. He is calm, in control, and bossy as hell.

Lev is the epitome of a heartthrob. Broad-shouldered, pillowy-lipped, with drowsy sex eyes and a body that makes Adonis look like a dude with a dad bod. But that’s not why I’m in love with him. I’m in love with him because he’s the boy who drags me every first rain of winter to dance among the raindrops, barefoot, since he saw me doing that once when I was six. Because he kisses my forehead when I’m sad and watches cheesy Netflix rom-coms with me when I’m PMSing but also has a side of him that races sports cars and bungee-jumps from cliffs.

He is hardness and softness. Air and water. He is my everything and yet nothing to me at all these days. And I’m ripped to shreds even thinking about it right now.

“I…Lev, I’m…” I croak.

“You’re getting through this is what you are. Help’s on the way. Now, remind me what year did they allow women to start dancing ballet?”

1681. He is trying to distract me, and I appreciate it, but my mouth is too heavy to answer.

“Dove?” His voice is a lullaby, wrapping around me like a wooly blanket. “You there?”

My eyelids droop, darkness engulfing me. Death is cold and quiet and beautiful, and it’s so close, I can feel its breath on my skin. The first thought that pops into my head is how selfish I am for putting him through this, hearing me die, after everything he’s been through.

“Answer me, Bailey!” I hear the smash of glass breaking, followed by a string of curses. A startled voice what-the-fucks him in the background. It’s male, and I don’t know why I’m so relieved, seeing as I’m about to die, but at least Lev has a friend there to take care of him.

I hear Lev tromp out of the party, shrugging off pleas to play donut on a string. “Just wait,” he keeps chanting in my ear desperately. “They should be there any second, Dove. You hold on tight for me, okay?”

“Lev…” I choke. “Come? Here? To Newyeeeek?” I slur.

“Yeah,” he says without missing a beat. “I’m on my way. You just keep waiting, all right?”

Foam coats the back of my throat, the tears making it impossible for me to see. I clutch my bracelet. A black tattered string with a silver turtle dove. Lev has a matching one he never takes off.

No wonder your name means heart in Hebrew, I want to tell him. You captured mine between your teeth and swallowed it whole.

“How’s the sky looking, Dove?” I hear his car door slamming shut.

The last words I’m able to produce before I log off are “Cloudy…with a chance of rain.”


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