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Damaged Goods: Chapter 18


We’re all crammed inside a Bombardier Global on our way to Jackson Hole.

Dad co-owns a hedge fund company, Fiscal Heights Holdings, with his friends.

The firm owns the jet, which is about as environmentally friendly as setting dumpster fires in a rainforest, but I’m too tired to launch into a save-the-planet speech right now.

It’s the first time I’m seeing the entire cul-de-sac clan since I got home from New York, and I’m self-conscious to say the least.

My skin is gray, my eyes are sunken, and I’m hiding my frail body under an oversized pair of Costco pj’s.

Not exactly the symbol of beauty and sophistication.

Even though everybody is trying to act normal, I know they’re curious.

Why wouldn’t they be? Bailey Followhill—everyone’s standard—overdosed and now looks like she’s spent the last year taking a lengthy vacation in hell.

Uncle Dean and Dixie are on a love seat, locked in an intense conversation.

Uncle Vicious and Auntie Emilia are semi-making out, which would be awkward if they weren’t still mega-hot.

Uncle Trent and Auntie Edie are sipping organic juices, glancing my way with raw interest.

Racer, their son, is playing with Cayden. Knight and Luna are studying me too, waiting for a heroin needle to drop out of my sleeve or something.

Then there’s Vaughn, Lenny, and their newborn twins, Auggie and Maggie.

Lenny is tandem-feeding them while Vaughn sends violent, demonic glances at everyone, as if this entire trip were a ploy for the chance to look at his wife’s breasts.

Daria, my sister, is also here with her husband, Penn, and their almost-two-year-old, Cressida.

We haven’t spoken to each other since she tried to see me that day with Thalia.

Not for her lack of trying. And now that she is right in front of me, the guilt is so much, I can hardly breathe.

Lev is in the cockpit and hasn’t said a word to me the entire plane ride.

I keep thumbing the dove bracelet, trying to convince myself we’ll get through this, but I’m not sure anymore.

Daria is the first to penetrate the tension in the air. She tosses a hand, rolling her sapphire eyes. “Is everyone going to pretend Bailey isn’t the current bane of our existence? For Marx’s sake, she is still a Selena, even if she pulled a Hailey!”

“Was that in English?” Uncle Trent turns to Auntie Edie.

Edie sighs. “Pop culture reference.”

“Daria,” I whisper, horrified. “I’m sorry about…you know.”

Daria grins. “Apology accepted. It’s time I break the ice. Missed you, sissy!” She lunges in my direction, butting into my narrow seat.

I coil into myself, pressing my nose into my Rupi Kaur paperback.

My socked feet dig into the plush crème leather.

“Here! Ice broken.” Daria holds me as passionately and tightly as she usually holds a grudge. Which is to say I am being suffocated to death right now.

“More like you Titanic-ed right into the iceberg.” Knight sucks on his Smoothie King beverage. He literally made us all stop in Utah to get it. “Nice floats, by the way.”

“I’m going to make kirigami out of your ass using the charcuterie knife if you make another boob joke about my wife,” Penn announces sunnily. “Make it extra bloody too.”

“Mind the beige carpet,” Uncle Vicious snarls.

“You guys, can we focus on how Bails has mastered the RBF? I never thought I’d see the day.” Daria sniffs.

“What’s RBF?” Mom frowns. My insides turn inside out because my sister only has filters when she uploads a photo to Instagram.

“Resting Bitch Face,” Knight provides, at the same time sweet Luna singsongs, “Running Barefoot Foundation!”

Bless her.

“Do you mind? I’m reading.” I scowl at my older sister. I hate that Lev is in the cockpit. I always feel calmer when he’s around. I hate that too, right now.

“Whatever, bitch. It’s poetry. You don’t have to follow the plot.” Daria rolls her eyes. “Also, Sissi wants to say hi.”

Cressida, her not-so-secret weapon, stumbles into my lap, smashing through my mental barriers. I adore my nearly two-year-old niece.

A mass of blond curls tickles my chin. Sissi climbs up my body, pudgy fingers and ruddy cheeks drawing me close.

She tries to grab my nose with her dimpled hand. “Bayblee! I thteal your nose.”

“Oh no! I can’t breathe now!” I put the book down and snuggle her close to my chest.

She giggles, pretending to screw my nose back onto my face.

I don’t know how something so innocent came out of someone so devious.

My sister is the epitome of the smoke-show villainess. Fresh-faced and long-legged, her bombshell body is swathed in a pink tennis dress, her shiny, canary hair arranged in a high, sleek ponytail.

She always looks like she just finished shooting a double spread for Vogue, and she never apologizes for who she is and what she wants.

“How’s it going, Bails? You’ve been ghosting my ass like I’m a dating app date who asked you to split the bill after one drink.” Daria wraps a dainty arm around my shoulder, and I roll my lips together to prevent myself from bursting into tears. If nothing else, she doesn’t hold a grudge for how I treated her the past few weeks.

“I really am sorry, Dar.” I start braiding Sissi’s out-of-control curls just to keep my hands busy. “I’ve been swamped.”

“Doing what, rearranging all your poetry books alphabetically?” Daria arches a fluffy, perfectly shaped eyebrow.

“No.” They’re already arranged by spine color, author, and date of publication. Duh. “I have a ton of schoolwork to catch up on.”

And there it is again—the look of pity and concern.

She shakes her head. “Never mind, I’m not here to lay into you. I’m sure Mom and Dad are ripping you new ones every single day.”

“What are you here to do, then?” But I don’t want to know. Because I already do. It’s written all over her face. Laced into her elegant features.

“You don’t want to go to rehab, and I totally get it. You don’t want to give up Juilliard,” she says matter-of-factly. “Which is why I came up with a better idea.”

I sit straighter, a glimmer of hope flickering like a broken flashlight inside my chest.

The prospect of being treated without going off-radar tempts me. “Yeah?”

“A live-in sponsor!” She opens her arms wide.

I finish braiding Cressida’s locks and send her on her way to show Cayden. Daria grabs my poetry book and uses it as a fan, beaming. “Someone to keep you on the straight and narrow, be with you twenty-four seven. I spoke with this friend from college—she was a total cokehead;

you could make a snowman with the amount she snorted a day—and she told me her parents had refused to send her somewhere at the time because her dad was running for senate or whatever.” Daria rolls her blue eyes. “Anyway, I zoned out—honestly, people who take longer than twenty minutes to tell their life story are so high maintenance. Hello, you’re not Jennette McCurdy; no one wants to read your autobiography—but she mentioned she had a live-in sponsor and that they work with doctors and cardiologists and whatnot to ensure you don’t go all cold turkey while you’re in withdrawal. They’re professional. With degrees and all that jazz.”

I’m digesting her words, which keep on coming at the speed of light. “It’s not cheap, but Penn and I have decided to give you a very early birthday present. Or maybe you can call it an extension of your last birthday’s present. That Miu Miu skirt did nothing for your knobby knees, honey.” She pats one with a patient smile.

“Didn’t that Miu Miu skirt make her look like an English schoolboy about to run away from his prep school to join a dark-magic academy?” She twists her head to look at her husband.

“Uh-huh, absolutely, Skull Eyes,” Penn agrees. He’d agree if she said I looked like the Loch Ness Monster.

“Daria, I—”

“No, don’t shut it down. It’s going to be so much fun, I promise. A nice and easy rehabilitation. It’d be like having an au pair, but for—” She sinks her teeth into her lower lip.

“Junkies?” I pop an eyebrow.

Daria huffs, giving me an exasperated look. “People who need help overcoming their addiction. Anyway, most agencies get their personnel from overseas. We can get you an Italian stud, Bails! A Magic Mike. Ohmymarx or we can get someone from South Korea. They have the hottest men.” She wiggles her brows.

“Pretty sure you’re not supposed to dance the horizontal tango with your sponsor.” Butterflies flutter their delicate wings inside my stomach.

It is a good idea. I want to get better, I truly do. I just don’t want the stigma and setback of rehab. “I mean, why not? I can try the at-home thing.”

Having some kind of plan makes me feel better. Plus, if I say yes to a live-in sponsor, I’ll have to binge on all the pills I packed up for this trip to get rid of them.

Of course, Mom and Dad thoroughly checked my suitcase. Turned it upside down and shook hard. And of course, I hid them in a small, inner pocket I sewed with my own two hands.

I grew up to be way too resourceful for my own good.

“Really?” Fire ignites in my sister’s eyes, and I can see my parents glancing our way hopefully, on high alert.

This is not an intervention; this is a full-blown coup. They all planned this. I nod anyway, trying to feel grateful instead of railroaded and trapped.

“We’ve got a green light, folks.” Daria stands up, sending two thumbs-up my parents’ way. “Excuse me while I go find you the hottest sponsor possible so they can start next week!” She claps excitedly.

“I don’t know why you’re so happy, seeing as I’m gonna make sure you’re never gonna meet him.” Penn pins her with a look.

“Aww, someone is jelly.” Daria struts toward her husband, landing on his knee with a giggle.

“I may be jelly, but he’s going to be straight up liquid if he ever looks at you the wrong way.”

“Please choose a woman.” I rub my face tiredly. “A calm, collected, friendly-looking one.”

“Party pooper.” She pouts. “Whatever, your funeral.”

After Daria is off to start the research on her laptop, I get up and walk into the lavatory.

I pull my jammies down to pee. When I finish my business and stand up, a sharp pain slices through my spine.

Shit. Tears spring into my eyes. My spine injury is worsening because I keep on dancing and using painkillers, pushing myself to the edge, and not stretching or recovering.

I’ll have to take some serious time off if I want to get better.

I wobble to the sink, mentally happy-talking myself into this new sponsor idea. I mean, I have to start somewhere, right?

When I finish washing my hands, my phone pings. I look down, and my breath catches in my throat. An email.

From Juilliard.

I open it so fast I can’t even make out the words at first. But then they focus back into coherent letters, informing me that I am formally invited to retake my practical exam four weeks from now.

I’m getting a second chance.

This is kismet, right? A sign from above.

I’m so happy, I clamp my elbow over my face and joy-scream into my hoodie.

I’m going to kill it onstage. Reclaim the narrative. I’m back in the game, baby.

How, exactly? a voice asks in my head. You’re going to get a sponsor and get off the painkillers, remember?

But maybe accepting this kind of help has been premature. What’s four more weeks in the grand scheme of things?

I’ll survive. Painkillers aren’t crack. It’s not even oxy. And Xanax is a recreational drug that literally every famous person I know has used.

I just need to pull through. And then, I’ll get a sponsor. Actually, moving out of my dorm room to an apartment with a live-in sponsor next year sounds like a perfect plan. So it’s not like I’m rejecting Daria’s idea; I’m simply postponing it.

With a cheek-splitting grin on my face, I get out of the bathroom and waltz back to my spot.

“Dude, what’d you do in there for twenty minutes?” Knight narrows his eyes at me. Marx. He thinks I took drugs?

“Number two.” I smile sweetly, determined not to let them get to me when I actually didn’t do anything.

“Bullshit.” He laughs.

I shrug.

“Thanks for killing the mood,” Penn mumbles into my sister’s lips, trying to make out with her while she’s on her MacBook.

Can everyone just get a room here? And some manners to go with it?

Vaughn screws his nose up in distaste, his arm slung over Lenora. She’s holding a sleeping Auggie, and he is embracing a half-awake Maggie. “Speaking of shit—Knight, how’s your football team doing?”

Knight coaches middle school football and is also a model. Spoiler alert: He and Luna just bought a five-bedroom beach house with a private ADU and a pool because of his Armani contracts, not his coaching side gig.

“We actually just won an away game, thanks for asking. How ’bout you, bro? Still sticking needles in Play-Doh and calling it art?” Knight coos.

It seems like I managed to get away from a public conversation about my bowel movements. I tiptoe to my seat, silently thanking my lucky stars.

My sister decides to unglue her lips from her husband’s and yelps, “Bails, I found you a live-in sponsor! She’s a woman, middle-aged, with a bunch of degrees, and looks about as fun as filing your tax returns. You’re going to love her!” She winks, trying to seem flippant when really, the way her right eye tics tells me she is nervous. “Aww, and guess what? She is available to start this Monday, as soon as we get home.”

Everyone congratulates me, other than Lev, who is still in the cockpit. I put a stop to it before they get their hopes up.

“Actually, I think I’ll wait a few more weeks. I just got an email from Juilliard. I have a bunch of academic work to catch up on and the setup at Mom and Dad’s is just gonna throw me off. It’d be majorly crowded. She’ll just be standing in my way.”

The entire airplane goes quiet. Uncle Vicious gives me a don’t-bullshit-a-bullshitter scowl. I want to duck under my seat and hide out the rest of the journey.

Mom blinks rapidly, and I know she’s trying not to cry. Dad can’t even look at me.

By the way everyone is looking at everyone, I know what just happened here was an orchestrated intervention.

Mom says, “Juilliard emailed you?”

“Yeah, they did.”

“They usually send letters.”

There’s nothing I can say to that, so I shrug feebly as my own plan feels like it’s crumbling beneath the weight of their stares.

“But a sponsor…a one-on-one person—” Edie clears her throat.

“I think Jaime and Mel should probably broach this with Bails privately once we land, don’t you?” Auntie Emilia coos in sympathy. “This is a lot to take in, in a public setting.”

But I won’t change my mind. I won’t miss this chance.

Then I hear a familiar voice behind my back. A beautiful voice that right now feels like a blade licking down my spine.

“She’s still in the contemplating stage.” Lev. He is talking about the five stages of recovery. “Hundred bucks says she didn’t take a dump because she’s still full of shit. Don’t worry, Dove.” My nickname sounds like blasphemy rolling off his tongue, and I feel his arm hook around my neck.

His lips skim over my ear, and I know everyone is looking, so I try not to show him how much his touch affects me. “I’ll make sure you kick the habit this trip, whether you want to or not. You saved me, Bailey Followhill. My turn to repay a favor. Get ready for a fucked-up vacation because I’m not letting you relapse again.”


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