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Damaged Goods: Chapter 19


Lev wasn’t kidding.

He’s been shadowing me everywhere ever since we got off the plane. The 7-Eleven.

Ski equipment store.

The slopes.

The cabin.

Even the bathroom.

None of the grown-ups like him running the helm, but he gives major head-biting vibes when anyone tries to pry him away from me.

He was there when I unpacked, then dragged me to his room to watch him unpack, then patted me top to bottom before and after I got into my ski gear.

He also makes me chug enough water to fill a pond. Every time I finish a bottle, another one magically appears in my hands.

I think I’ve peed fifty times since we’ve landed.

My bladder is one water bottle away from filing a restraining order against him.

My parents seem on board with Lev’s Soviet-prisoner gig, which means I can’t blow him off and spend an intimate, romantic vacation with my Vicodin and Xanax.

I am bullied into skiing. Not only am I not a good skier, but my body is broken, which means my injuries are bothering me even more.

At the end of day one, I’m so wiped, my body feels like I’ve been run over by a motor grader. Thrice.

“Remind me how I’m supposed to go for a number two with you always on my ass?” I mumble as I get out of a steaming-hot shower, squeezing my hair dry above the sink.

“Whenever nature calls, Dove.” Lev is slouched on the edge of the clawfoot bathtub, watching porn on his phone so I won’t think his boner is from my general nakedness. “I’ve changed Cayden’s diapers dozens of times. Nothing you can do I haven’t already seen and smelled.”

“I’m not a baby.” I yank my hair straight with a brush.

“Debatable.” He doesn’t raise his head from his phone screen.

“And when will you take a shower?” I drop my towel and start slathering myself in body lotion.

His throat bobs as he hikes up the volume on his phone, filling the bathroom with moans and grunts.

“Any second now. Your mom’s gonna spot for me while I get washed and tug one out, then everyone is going out for a drink and I’m on babysitting duty.” He finally looks up from the phone, clicking it shut.

“Thanks. I really needed to hear that you’re going to masturbate.”

“Don’t pretend like you didn’t want to the entire time you were taking a shower. We have that effect on each other.”

Lev stands up, sashaying until he is toe-to-toe with me. I’m naked. He is…not.

We hold each other’s gaze. He looks predatory, menacing, and sadly—delicious.

I’m not high, but I am irritated and flustered enough to ruffle his feathers.

“Go ahead. Take a peek.” I smile sweetly, stepping back to allow for a better view. “See what you’re missing. What you’ll never get your hands on.”

“Big words from someone who begged me to fuck her ass with my fingers not even two weeks ago.”

Snorting, I murmur, “I was high. Now I’m sober, so all your flaws are on display. And there are many, Lev Cole.”

Rather than verbally spar with me, he leans back, having his fill. His jade irises skate down my body slowly, halting everywhere they land.

I can almost feel him clasping his teeth over my tight nipples, grazing them along my stomach. The way his tongue swirls around my navel and dips south, to the holy triangle between my thighs.

I’m shivering all over, and I know he can tell. Finally, he opens his mouth and says, “Your body is full of blues and purples.”

My heart somersaults to the pit of my stomach. This is what he noticed?

Huffing, I answer, “Welcome to college sports. That’s what your reality is going to look like unless you get the balls to apply to the Air Force Academy.”

He doesn’t say anything. Just swallows. And now I’m embarrassed because Sober Me remembers Lev has a huge problem on his hands—his future—and instead of helping him, all I do is sulk and give him whiplash.

Our hands find one another—mine wet, his dry and rough—and our fingers lace and play with one another, doing the soothing thing we used to do when we were BFFs. Somewhere between a thumb war and piano playing.

“Come on,” I whisper, stroking his thumb with the pad of mine. “If you won’t tell Uncle Dean he is overstepping, I will. You were born to become a pilot. Your résumé is flawless.”

More staring. I don’t know what he’s thinking, and that scares me because I always know what Lev’s thinking.

Used to, anyway.

“Marx, point taken. I look haggard.” I disconnect our hands, grabbing the towel from the sink and wrapping it against my body to hide it. “Anyway, about the Air Force Academy—”

“You don’t look haggard.” His voice comes out thick and gruff. Honey soaked.

My throat dances with a swallow. “I don’t?”

He shakes his head.

“What do I look like, then?”

“You look like the love of my life, who I’m scared to death of losing.”

My heart.

My dang mangled heart is about to be vomited out of my mouth and onto the floor.

Lev is telling me he is in love with me.

I open my mouth to confess the truth. That I’ve always been in love with him.

That I want to get better. But as soon as the first syllable slips out of my mouth, loud bangs fill the bathroom. The door shakes on its hinges from the force of a fist.

“Bailev!” It’s my dad, and he sounds exactly like what a dad should sound like when he knows his naked daughter is locked in a bathroom with a sexy football captain who spends twenty-five percent of his awake time watching porn. “Get your asses out, pronto. I thought Mel was watching Bailey.”

“No. She is taking care of Sissi while Penn and Daria show the sitter around,” I shout back.

“Well, evidently.” Dad sounds pissed. “Open the damn door before I break it, then use it as a weapon against Lev.”

Hurriedly, I put on panties, a pair of Lululemons, and a 49ers hoodie.

Lev adjusts his hard-on before opening the door. His sharp cheekbones are stained pink, and his Adam’s apple is rosy.

Dad is wearing a death glare, standing on the other end of the threshold with his fists curled.

“Bails, did he act inappropriately?” He is asking me but staring at Lev.

I sigh. “No, unfortunately.”

Lev gives me a really? look. I counter with a private grin only he can see..

“Did you take a look?” Dad thunders at Lev.

“No, sir.”

“Are you lying to me right now?” Dad’s eyebrows shoot up.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. It’s not my fault you make good-looking kids.”

Dad shakes his head with a sigh. “She okay?”

“She’s right here,” I say through gritted teeth. “Still capable of answering a question, thank you very much.”

“Bitching and complaining but sober.” Lev ignores me.

“Good. Enjoy your very cold shower, Lev.”

“You’re welcome, Jaime.”

“Apparently, you’re welcome,” Dad bites out after Lev’s back. “Also, what happened to Uncle Jaime?”

“With the things I want to do with your daughter, safe to say we’re not family.”

Then he whispers, almost inaudible, “yet,” and again, I want to kiss this guy hard.

Dad starts after Lev with every intention of shaking him but then thinks better of it when he realizes I would be left alone for a few minutes.

I rearrange the hoodie to cover my wet hair and skulk out of the bathroom.

Dad follows me. He looks dapper in a striped navy suit, his blond-gray hair pulled back into a bun.

“Where are you guys off to?” I toss today’s clothes into the laundry basket, incredibly aware of how close I am to my suitcase—and the drugs inside it.

“Drinks with this Yellowstone-type bullshit cowboy.” He blocks my way to the closet.

My fingers itch to rip the seam of my suitcase and take my pills out.

Marx, can’t I have one moment for myself?

“Do you want me to stay and keep you company?” Dad suggests. “We can catch a movie. Veg out in front of the TV like we used to.”

“Lev and I have some stuff to talk about.” I shake my head. “Thanks, though.”

“You’re sure he isn’t overstepping?” Dad studies me intently. “Just because you grew up together and he means well, doesn’t mean kid’s got any idea what he’s doing.”

“Yes, Dad, I’m sure. If he were bad for my psyche, I would tell you.”

“I love you, Bails.”

“I love you too, Captain Rando.”

“You’ll get through this.” His voice is steady, solemn. “Impossible is basically possible with some redundant letters.”

“Um, this is not how language works.” And then, because my head is a jumbled mess and I truly do feel lost in these bones I grew up in, I say, “It just feels so stupid that I made it this far without any issues, and at age nineteen I’m about to lose everything I worked for.”

“It’s not the years that age us, baby. It’s the experience that comes with them.” The look he gives me is disarming. “You’re evolving, honey. And every up has a down. Smart people turn those downshifts into learning curves.”

Dad studies me for a beat, then shakes his head.

He fishes his phone out of his pocket and puts “Be Alright” by Dean Lewis on, and now I really want to cry because he remembers. Remembers this was the first slow song I ever danced to. With him.

He was a chaperone at a freshman ball and the song came on and I loved it so much, but no boy wanted to ask me to dance in front of my father…so he did.

Dad did it right too. No shortcuts. Walked over. Asked me gingerly. Timidly.

All my girlfriends swooned. He spun me on the dance floor, dipped me down, making me laugh, and told me I was the most beautiful girl in the room.

And I believed him.

Because to him, I knew I was.

Dad opens his palm in my direction, a humble smile on his face. “I know you’re a professional dancer and I’m just an old man with his heart on his sleeve, but would you do me the honor?”

Wordlessly, I put my palm in his. He drops his phone on the bed, and I press my head to his chest, burrowing into his warmth.

I close my eyes and move to the rhythm of the song, feeling so heavy with emotions, the moment so bittersweet it takes my breath away.

“Are you mad I stole your first dance?” His breath tickles at the baby hair fanning my forehead.

“Are you kidding me?” I squeeze him tight. “What a privilege, to have your first dance with the one boy you’ll always love the most.”

“What about Lev?” he asks after a beat.

I think about my first kiss. My first time. All with people who weren’t Lev. “I think my destiny is that Lev will be my second everything.” I sigh.

“Second,” Dad says. “And if you wanna know my prediction—last.”

For one moment—just a brief one—there are no painkillers.

No pain.

No Juilliard.

No Thalia.

No anxiety, panic attacks, crippling expectation, and confusion.

There’s only Dad and me.

And the silent promise everything will be okay.


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