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Damaged Goods: Chapter 11


A few months later

“Would you throw a fit if I hook up with Declan Abela?” Grim takes a pull of his beer as we sit on the edge of Austin’s pool.

To say the party is weird is the understatement of the century. “Victim in Pain” by Agnostic Front rages through the surround system, making the ground shake. Austin is balls deep in this anarcho-punk chick these days. He put her in charge of the playlist, and it’s all Dead Kennedys and Anti-Flag and nobody is dancing and everyone is tanked, so he just feeds us more alcohol and weed so we’ll forget about the music.

I don’t even know why I’m here. I hate Austin. Maybe because everything tastes like nothing ever since Bailey left. At least when I’m surrounded by people, I can pretend I’m not alone.

I think I’m on my third bottle, which is way too much for me.

But this is what happens when your heart is broken and the girl you love is not your girl nor your friend anymore.

“Stop flirting with me,” I murmur into my beer bottle in a deadpan.

Grim snorts. “You wish. Answer the question, asshat.”

“Why would I be mad?” I drawl, knocking back the last of my beer and accepting whatever’s left of Grim’s bottle. Grim came out of the closet to me two weeks ago.

No, that’s not true. He didn’t come out of anywhere. It was me who barged into his shit with the finesse of a circus clown. I had stopped by his house to give him his wallet that he forgot in my car. When I walked into his room, I found him trying to scoop some dude’s tonsils with his pierced tongue.

“Didn’t see anything.” I had tossed his wallet on the dresser, unsure if he was open about his sexuality or not.

“That’s because I haven’t dropped my pants yet. You know my dick is monstrous.” Grim had laughed into his kiss with the dude. “I’m not in the closet.”

“Oh.” File under: stupid shit that comes out of my mouth.

Guess technically he wasn’t, since he always made comments about dudes and girls. And I just thought he was being…I dunno, progressive? Edgy?

“I’m not gay.” His hand slid under the guy’s shirt and it was obvious he couldn’t give half a shit about being caught.

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. “Clearly.”

He laughed. “I’m bisexual. And you’re staring. So kindly get the fuck out.”

Now he’s asking me if I care if he hooks up with Declan like I’m the sex police.

Grim explains, “Because you never get ass. Not for the lack of All Saints High’s population trying.”

Months into the stinging rejection from Bailey, and I’m still hardcore abstinent. No one does it to me like she does, so why try?

I slap Grim’s thigh. “I live vicariously through you.”

Grim frowns at me. “You need to Band-Aid this shit, Cole.”

Putting his beer to my lips, I down it too.

“I mean it. You’re mentally blocked. Just get it over with. Fuck someone else. Sex is a carnal urge, not a marriage proposal. Just because you choose to play the field, doesn’t mean your endgame isn’t Bailey.” He stands up and saunters Declan’s way.

I watch them talk and flirt and do all the things I should be doing right now.

I wrench my phone out of my pocket and text Bailey while someone miraculously puts a fourth fresh beer in my hand.

We’re barely on speaking terms these days. She mainly communicates with me via DoorDashing me food and vitamins. I text her weekly to check she’s alive. She sometimes answers but mostly doesn’t.

Lev: Doing something fun tonight?

Surprisingly, she answers after a few minutes.

Bailey: Neck deep in comparative politics of North Africa. You?

Lev: Balls deep in a boring party.

I’m a little drunk and a lot unbalanced, so I snap a picture of the pool party and send it to her along with: Ever go out over there?

Bailey: Sure. Maintaining a healthy social life is a huge part of one’s mental well-being.

She is so fluent in nerd talk; it is so cute.

Lev: Yeah? You go to parties?

Bailey: Yes.

Lev: And hook up?

She types and deletes and types and deletes and types and deletes and my heart is in my mouth, clenched tight between my teeth, and I really shouldn’t have asked a question I’m not prepared to hear the answer to.

Too late now.

Bailey: Yes.

Yes. She does.

And maybe she is lying, but even if she is, that’s a clear push for me to move the fuck on and stop hanging on to this stupid, improbable hope we are ever going to be together.

I’m being unfair to both of us. I look up and suddenly realize everyone is paired up.

People porking in the pool, making out on sun lounger, holding hands, kissing, grinding. I glance at Grim. He has a fresh beer in hand, and he is tracing the sweaty, cool glass over Declan’s arm as he whispers into his ear.

I’m about to stand up and call it a night—watching others getting off is too depressing—but then my mind decides to melt into piss because suddenly I see Bailey.

She is standing with her back to me, talking to a bunch of people from the track team. I rub at my eyes, blinking away the confusion, but she is still there. Athletic legs, long sunshine hair, tiny purple bikini.

I’m hallucinating now. Perfect.

She swivels her head in slo-mo and my heart sinks. It’s some girl named Thalia who’s been on my ass about tutoring her even though we have zero classes together. It’s kind of mean to say, but I consider her a fangirl.

She catches me staring. Her eyes twinkle in surprise and she slices through the crowd, advancing my way.

Great. Now I have to be social and shit. She plops down beside me and wipes invisible dirt from my bare shoulder. Her skin feels not-awful on mine, and maybe Grim has a point.

Maybe it’s time to Band-Aid Bailey out of my system.

“Hi, Lev! What’s up?”

“All good. Thalia, right?”

“Aww, so sweet of you to remember!” She beams.

Talk about having a low bar.

My eyes dip to her cleavage. Bigger than Bailey’s. But not better. Definitely not better. “You liking the party so far?”

“Loving it! Different kind of music for sure, but I enjoy trying new things!”

Jesus fuck, she can’t finish a sentence without an exclamation point.

But she does kinda look like Bailey too. My best friend has a similar kind of sunniness, though with Thalia, it’s more glaring than warming.

“Aww, dope bracelet.” She touches the dove pendant.

I pull away instantly. “Thanks.”

“Sorry!” She bites her lip, looking mortified. “Is that…like…expensive?”

I massage the flimsy string, wondering how much to tell her—if at all—then decide it’s probably best if she knows the truth. No better chick repellent than confessing my love to another, and I’m really not in the mood for chitchat. “Me and my best friend have matching bracelets. I like to think of it as something that connects us. Like the two people who wear these pendants in this world have a speed-dial to each other’s hearts.” As I listen to myself, I start chuckling at the dorkiness of it all. “As you can see, I’m shit-faced right now.”

“How much did you have to drink?” She laughs too, and instead of filling my gut with something warm and fuzzy, I feel cold.

“Enough to drown the Titanic.”

“That friend is Bailey Followhill, right?”

I nod. I don’t think there’s one person on this planet who isn’t aware of how much I love her.

“Everyone says I look just like her,” Thalia points out.

“Don’t see it.”

“Maybe you should take a closer look.” She winks.

“My eyesight’s fine.” Damn, I’m a shitbag. I’m usually nice, but not right now. Not after Bailey just told me she hooks up with people.

The conversation comes to a halt before Thalia refuels it.

“Hey!” She lights up. “I heard Austin’s parents have a waterfall Jacuzzi.”

Subtle, she is not. It’s basically a synonym for Do you want to come on my face or in my mouth when I blow you?

For the first time in my life, I give fooling around with someone who isn’t Bailey some consideration. What am I proving by waiting here? Bailey doesn’t want me. Do I want to die a virgin?

“Yeah?” I take a slow sip of my beer. “Bet you there are people doing the nasty there as we speak.”

Thalia shakes her head, grinning from ear to ear. She produces a small key from her bikini top. “Austin gave it to me.”

My eyebrows slam together. “Why?”

“I made a bet with him.”

“That you could get him grounded until he’s thirty?”

She laughs, and her laugh feels so wrong in my ears. “That I could hook up with you.”

That’s definitely a turnoff. “Pass. I’m a little tipsy.”

“I’m dead sober,” she says. “So I’m making the decision for both of us. We should totally check out the Jacuzzi.”

I stare at her, unsure. She puckers her lips and shimmies her shoulders. “I have a new nipple ring, and I need you to tell me if it looks good on me. You’ll be the first one to see.”


There’s only so much a guy can take. And somehow, the fact it’s so un-Bailey-like—and, okay, she does look a lot like Bailey—makes her suddenly more appealing.

We both stand up and walk up the stairs to Austin’s parents’ room. Seeing as they saddled the world with the human answer to a chia pet, I’m not feeling too bad about the prospect of having my jizz circulating in their two-hundred-grand hot tub.

Thalia unlocks the glass door to the waterfall tub. It’s a big-ass white thing, surrounded by crème tiles, with a blue-LED cascade that makes it look like a giant toilet.

Thalia hops inside. I slide in after her. She swims my way and starts kissing me and I let her. With her hair framing our faces and my eyes closed, I imagine she is Bailey, and maybe it’s the beer and maybe it’s because I’ve been fantasizing about my best friend since I was thirteen, but somehow, it’s easy to pretend.

She wraps her legs around my waist and runs her tongue down my neck.

“I don’t have a condom,” I grunt. A last-ditch to stop this.

“I do.”

“Why?” Maybe I am the sex police because what do I care if she walks around with a jumbo, Costco-brand variety pack of johnnies? More power to her.

She keeps kissing her way down my chest. I keep reminding myself Bailey is hooking up with other people. That stupid yes haunts my brain.

“Because I’ve been hoping to get together with you for two years now.”

“Didn’t you wanna show me your pierced nipple?”

“Oh, I lied just to get you here.”

She pushes me back and pulls my trunks down. I sit on the edge and let her suck me off.

I’m softer than Mother Teresa’s heart. In my head, I hear Bailey tsking, “Mother Teresa was an opportunist whose missions were in such poor condition, people compared them to concentration camps. Her heart wasn’t that soft.”

Way to kill the mood, Dove.

Lips clasp around my balls, and I’m sucked into a wet mouth.

I run my fingers through golden hair. “Bailey,” I croak. “That’s it, Dove. Just like that. Graze your teeth on them.”

She freezes for a nanosecond. I suck in a breath.

Shit, I’m an asshole.

A hasty apology, followed by pulling my junk out of Thalia’s mouth nearly escapes me, but then she pulls her lips in and does as she’s told, moving her teeth over my balls.

I’m about to throw up but also can’t make her stop. I’m miserable and vindictive and annoyed and getting turned on all at once.

Thalia works me until I’m semi-hard, then stands up and reaches for her little purse and takes out a condom.

I put my hand on her wrist before she rolls it on my dick. “I’m not looking for a relationship,” I say gruffly.

Thalia looks up, and the more I see she isn’t Bailey, the faster my dick wilts.

“Relax, no one’s expecting a wedding ring.” She rips off the condom wrapper with her teeth. “I’m not after a boyfriend, Lev. I have goals, dreams; I’m getting out of the shitty neighborhood I grew up in. No boy is gonna slow me down.”

“We can fuck around but no hearts and roses,” I add. Better to be a clear dick now than an asshole later. “I mean it.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’ll try to live through the heartbreak, Cole.”

I park my elbows on the edge of the Jacuzzi, ready for her to ride my cock.

“I do have one condition.” She presses her finger against my chest.

The word no is on the tip of my tongue, but because we’re already deep into whatever this is, I say, “Yeah?”

“Exclusivity.” She bats her fake eyelashes. “I want every girl at school to know the only girl you fuck is Thalia Mulroney.”

No problem there. I doubt I’m even going to dip into her twice.

“Word,” I nod.

She rolls the condom on me and plants a knee on either side of my waist on the surface of the water, wanting to ride me cowgirl-style. But her face is in front of mine and it’s hard to imagine my best friend when the eyes looking back at me don’t hold all my secrets, memories, and darkest desires.

I know she isn’t a virgin because I know at least two guys who’ve been with her.

Which is fine. But that means I don’t necessarily have to be extra careful.

Thalia leans in for a kiss, but I break away, pick up her tiny waist, and turn her around so all I can see is her hair. Then I drive into her in one go, hissing when I’m balls in.






From this moment on, we slide into a routine.

Me, pretending she is Bailey.

And Thalia, pretending we’re not a complete and utter mess the rest of the time we’re together.


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