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Damaged Goods: Chapter 10


Lev

Age seventeen

Miserable fact #9,492: Left-handed people die three years earlier than right-handed people.

It’s a week before Bailey goes to Juilliard, and I’d be shitting bricks if I had any appetite.

The term now or never has never been more accurate because if she turns me down now, it will never happen between us.

She’ll go off to her fancy dance school and meet fancy dancers and they’ll all have fancy acrobatic sex, and now I want to break the legs of hypothetical faceless people with little derby hats. Awesome.

I honk in front of Bailey’s house, which is also in front of my house, which is also in front of Uncle Trent’s house. He’s outside with his son, Racer, throwing the ball.

“Hey, Lev, you got legs?” Trent asks from his front lawn, tossing a football to Racer, who catches it effortlessly.

I sling an arm over my window. “Not the kind you’re into. Why?”

“Use ’em and go knock on Bailey’s door next time.” He pauses, giving me direct eye contact. “And don’t put yourself down, kiddo. Your legs are fantastic.”

A chuckle bubbles in my chest. “Dude, you changed my diapers.”

“Not in the last sixteen years.” He deliberately winks at me, and I think my soul just detonated.

“Scarred for life.” I pretend to gag.

Trent grins, tossing the football back to Racer. “Don’t doubt it. Your dad is Dean Cole. You never stood a chance.”

“Hi, Uncle Trent!” Bailey darts outside her door, waving at him.

“Hey, Bails.”

She hops into the passenger seat and plasters a lip-glossed kiss on my cheek.

“Levy! I made us a slushie. Probably messed it up, but I know green grapes are your favorite, so I gave it a shot.” She passes me a foam cup. I just stare at her.

I wish she’d stop making my favorite slushies, my favorite cookies, my favorite everything. I appreciate her taking care of me, but I don’t like how she treats me like I’m her kid.

How am I going to move on if she rejects me? But I already know the answer: I won’t.

I’ll be a hermit. I’ll die alone. With, like, twelve dogs to keep me company. I’m not a cat person. They’re actual certified selfish assholes. Science says so.

Man, picking up dog shit twelve times multiplied by three times a day means thirty-six times. That’s a ton of crap. The future stinks if she isn’t into me.

No pressure, though.

To make shit even more awkward, ever since The Night We Don’t Talk About, she’s been pretty off me. Not cold, per se, but definitely keeping her distance.

Like she’s practicing how to not be friends anymore. Part of it is my fault for what happened, but I never thought my being shitty to her one night would result in a total breakdown of #Bailev.

I take the slushie wordlessly.

“Is everything all right?” She rubs my shoulder, an encouraging smile on her face.

She’s wearing a pair of denim cutoffs and a tiny white Earth Liberation Front: You Can’t Control What’s Wild shirt that shows off her tan abs.

It occurs to me that if she ever gets married to someone who isn’t me, I might go to prison for first-degree murder. At least California doesn’t have the death penalty. Fuck, I hate needles.

We drive to our place in the woods. Neither of us talks. We haven’t talked since The Night We Don’t Talk About, and not for my lack of trying. Bailey completely gave up on us as friends, and instead she just treats me like I’m her flower project or some shit.

We get to the woods. I park. We drink our slushies on our hammock. Silently. Time is running out. So is my patience. My pulse hammers against my neck.

Bailey is telling me proudly how she kept all of her notebooks and cheat sheets from senior year so I can use them—we both take a gazillion APs for credits—when I decide to go for it. There’s no right or wrong way to confess your everlasting love to someone you’ve known since before you were potty-trained.

“I have something to tell you.”

She puckers her cherry lips in confusion. “This is not about how you want to drop out of Human Geography, right? Levy, you need it for your Air Force Academy applica—”

“I love you.”

Silence.

Bird chirp.

A river rippling in the background.

Her face splits into a smile, and for a second, I’m so happy I can’t breathe.

Then she pats my shoulder and says, “I love you too, you silly goose! Goodbyes are so hard, but I’ll be here every holiday. And if you ever have a question about how I do your laundry—”

Great. Laundry talk when I’m trying to be the man of her dreams. That’s going well.

“Right. No. Take two.” I shake my head. “I’m in love with you.” Then, to bring the point home, I artfully add, “Like, I love you as a person, as my best friend, as my soul mate. But also, I wanna suck your tongue. And shove my dick into you.” Pause. “Basically.” Pause. “Obviously, when you’re ready. If you’re ready. At some point in the near…or far…future.”

Yeah, that’s not going down as the smoothest love confession on planet earth, but it came straight from the heart.

In my defense, I never had to talk my way into the fairer sex’s good graces.

Girls usually throw themselves at me. Not a week goes by without a half-naked girl ambushing me in the locker room, lab, or at a party.

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, I’m Bailsexual. Meaning I don’t find girls or guys attractive. Just Dove. Which significantly narrows down my hookup options.

She blinks rapidly. “I…Lev, thank you.”

Thank you? Oh, fuck. Thank you is the opposite of what I wanted to hear.

I was hoping for I love you too but would’ve settled for I, too, want your dick shoved inside me.

“You’re welcome.” I sprawl back on the canvas, dying from the inside. “Now put me out of my misery and tell me what it means for us?”

Bailey tucks her sunshine hair behind her slightly pointed ears—and yes, it is the most adorable thing ever, hands-down—scratching the pink nail polish off her toenails distractedly.

She looks anguished. “I love you. So much it’s hard to breathe sometimes. But…I think you’re just confused. You look at me like a mom, like a sister. You always have.”

I arch one eyebrow, refraining from reminding her about The Night We Don’t Talk About, when she did very unsisterly things to me. Unless you’re from West Virginia.

“Okay, not like a brother-brother.” She rolls her eyes, pinking. “But I made a promise to Rosie to always be there for you, and I can hardly keep it if I go off to college and one of us cheats on the other and we have to break up.”

That is the dumbest excuse I’ve ever heard in my entire life why not to be with someone.

“That person isn’t going to be me, so unless you’re planning to arabesque in someone else’s bunk bed, I don’t see the problem.” I feel my nostrils flare. “Plus, in the last few months, there’s not much left of our friendship, wouldn’t you agree?”

She rubs her face, looking tired and frustrated, and this is not at all how I hoped this would go down.

We were supposed to be dry-humping at this point. Her nipple was supposed to be in my mouth for God’s sake.

“Look, it doesn’t matter how we feel. Our families view us as siblings. They treat us like we’re twins or something.” She squirms.

“Fuck our families,” I raise my voice, then add, “Not literally. We aren’t blood-related in any way. Our parents are friends and we’re neighbors. This is stupid.”

“Lev, I’ve been taking care of you ever since you were a baby.” Her tone is begging now.

I can’t force her to be with me. She looks as shattered as I feel, shrinking on the dirty canvas of our forest fort, and I’m torn between pressing her for a real answer and giving her some mercy.

She grabs my hands and we’re both so cold even though it’s summer. “I tended to your wounds, dried your tears, slept in your bed. If we get together and you change your mind…if you wake up one day and decide you don’t want me anymore…”

“I won’t.”

“You feel that way now. But I told Rosie—”

“Don’t bring Mom into this. If she knew how I felt about you, she’d want us together.”

Dove’s mouth clamps shut. I feel like I’m losing her. Lacing my fingers in hers and playing them like a piano, I peer into her face. “Forget our families. My mom. What other people think. Forget about The Night We Don’t Talk About. About the world. About expectations. How do you feel about me?”

And I can feel her wanting to tell me the truth. It’s on the tip of her tongue.

Our fingers curl and twist around one another. It’s our thing. We always play each other like pianos.

“I…I love you,” she chokes out.

But she already said that and I need more. “Love me or are in love with me?”

“I don’t know.”

NO, BAILEY. THE CORRECT ANSWER IS “BOTH.”

“Do you want to try to figure that out?” My gaze clings to her face desperately.

She looks up, shaking her head with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I think I’m the problem. I’ve treated you like a brother for too long to make you my boyfriend. I’m sorry.”

I close my eyes and inhale through my nose.

Fuck. Twelve dogs.

Thirty-six shits a day.

This is gonna suck so hard.


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