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Damaged Goods: Chapter 2


Three days later

My cheek is pressed against the cool window of Dad’s Range Rover. I watch as the Californian spring bursts forth in greens, yellows, and blues. The flight from JFK to Lindbergh Field was so quiet, the three of us could’ve easily passed as strangers. The few words that were exchanged were emptier than my stomach.

Mom: Would you like some lunch, hon?

Me: No, thank you.

Mom: You haven’t eaten properly in days.

Me: I’m not hungry.

Dad: Sure about that, Bails? Mom bought you sushi from the airport. We know you hate airplane food.

Me: It’s not the food, it’s the environment. The humidity and pressure in the cabin at thirty thousand feet changes our sense of taste and smell.

Dad: Roger that, Einstein.

Me: Pasterski.

Dad: What?

Me: “Roger that, Pasterski.” After Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski. A genius female physicist. How do you expect us to break the walls of patriarchy if every notable figure in cultural reference is a man?

Dad: Oh. Kay. At least you’re back to sounding like Old Bailey.

Mom: How’s the pain now, Bailey?

Me: Better, thank you.

I don’t think the pain from the fractures and back injury is actually better. It’s just numbed by everything else that went down these past three days. Since my call to Lev, a few things happened. Someone busted down my dorm door and shoved Narcan up my nostril. I came to, then started vomiting everywhere—floor, walls, carpets, you name it. They hoisted me onto a gurney and took me to Mount Sinai Hospital. The student hall was crammed wall-to-wall with curious bystanders. They hooked me to machines. Stabbed my veins with needles. Ran a ton of tests. Pumped my stomach clean.

Mom and Dad got there in the middle of the night, ghostlike in texture. The first few hours, I pretended to sleep just so I wouldn’t have to face them. Mortification didn’t begin to cover it. OD’ing is the kind of messed-up even Daria didn’t bring to their doorstep. A drug problem is something that happens to other people’s children. Children who don’t grow up in one-and-a-half-acre Spanish colonials with two swimming pools, a timeshare in the Hamptons, and monthly shopping sessions in Geneva.

By the time the morning rolled in, I reluctantly opened my eyes.

When they bombarded me with questions, I lied. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d lied in my entire life—honesty is a no-brainer when you never do anything you’re ashamed of. But, I realized, this was no longer the case. Now I did have a secret—I craved downers and painkillers all the time. Depended on them to push through my daily anxiety and injuries. Thus, my affair with dishonesty began. In truth, affair was an understatement.

Bailey Followhill and Dishonesty are now in a steady, all-consuming relationship.

I told my parents it was a one-off. The first time I bought painkillers.

“I thought I was buying heavy duty Motrin, not Vicodin laced with fentanyl!” I explained earnestly, trying to look as scandalized as they were. “You know I’d never do something stupid, Mom.”

She gave me a you’re better than that look. But honestly, right now? I’m not so sure that I am.

Now here we are, three days later. Back in my hometown of Todos Santos. My second semester was cut short, and Mom told me the board was going to reevaluate my enrollment and give us an answer by the end of the academic year. See if I’m good to retake my physical test.

A million thoughts hysterically run inside my head, arms flailing, bumping into one another. What if they don’t take me back? What about my failed grade? And all the classes I’ll be missing? How am I supposed to face the people who have seen me ushered out on a gurney, trails of my ramen and stomach acid dripping down my chin? Does Daria know? Does Uncle Dean? And what about Knight? Vicious, Millie, and Vaughn?

One thing is for sure—Katia knows and turned out to be a fair-weather friend, judging by the messages she left on my phone.

Katia: I can’t believe you did this in our ROOM.

Katia: You vomited all over my clothes, FYI. Like, I need to borrow leggings from Petra to go to the laundromat.

Katia: You could’ve gotten both of us into so much trouble, wtf.

Katia: Honestly I feel SO slighted rn. Fu.

Katia: Is someone coming to water your plants? I have too much on my plate right now.

My head is spinning. I want to throw up, but there’s nothing inside my stomach but water and anxiety. And that anxiety? It feels like a mythical creature that devours my inner organs hungrily. Slithering, growing, taking up more space.

The Range Rover glides into downtown, past the hilly golf courses and palm trees dancing in the wind. The surf shops, cafés, and pastel-colored storefronts scream familiarity and comfort. The thin cord where the ocean kisses the sky glitters with promise.

Ruthless motivation stabs at my chest. No. This can’t be the end. This break is going to help me get my big break. I will practice harder and go back to Juilliard better than ever. It’s far from over. In fact, it’s only the beginning. I’m not gonna let Mom down. Or myself. I’ve been wanting to be a ballerina since I learned how to walk, and a little setback isn’t going to kill my career.

“Bails, baby, want an orange?” Dad asks, peering at me from the rearview mirror. Jaime Followhill is the best dad in the world. He is also Captain Random, which I normally adore. It’s fun to be offered fruit out of nowhere or wake up to your dad jumping on your bed, announcing, “Legoland today. Last to make it to the shoe rack is the placeholder in the lines for the rides!”

“I’m good, thanks.” I seize a lock of blond hair from behind my ear and run my fingers through it, looking for fuzzy, damaged hairs to pluck. I don’t deal with imperfections well.

“So I did find something interesting.” Mom is going for chirpy but sounds off-key and panic-stricken. “A wellness center just outside Carlsbad. Gorgeous setting. All luxurious suites. Looks just like the Amangiri. Michelin-starred chefs, massages, yoga, energy-healing. Honestly, I would check in myself if I could take the time off!”

She wants me to go to rehab? Is she high?

“You can’t be serious, Mom.” I press my lips together, keeping my temper at bay. I never lose my cool. Never yell, never talk back, never rebel. My parents and I don’t have arguments. We have mild disagreements. “That so-called ‘overdose’ was a one-off.” I air quote the word.

Rehab is for addicts, not for people who meddle with painkillers and Xanax during super stressful, short times. Not to mention, Juilliard isn’t going to sit around and wait for me while I namaste with desperate housewives who went too hard on their drinking habit.

“You ended up in the ER with your stomach pumped,” Mom retorts.

“Yeah. And they pumped nothing.” I fold my arms. “I took one pill.” Three, but that’s practically semantics. “I’m not a druggie.”

“Don’t mock substance abuse victims, Bails. Druggie isn’t a term we use in this house.” Dad’s voice has a jagged edge. “Sure you don’t want an orange? They’re sweeter than sin.”

“Your daughter has been doing enough sinning for one decade, judging by the last three days,” Mom mumbles, swiveling her body to me. “Look, I don’t know how you ended up with fentanyl in your system, but—”

“You don’t believe that I thought it was Motrin?”

I don’t know why I’m genuinely offended, considering I’ve been popping pillies like I’m a Post Malone song. “The guy who gave it to me said they were a European brand.” That’s my third lie in a row. I need to write them all down somewhere to keep my version straight.

“You still haven’t told us who it was.” Mom’s eyes narrow on mine in the rearview mirror. “He could get someone killed, you know.”

“I don’t know his name!” Fourth lie. Wow, I’m on a Molly-less roll here.

In one of her texts, Katia said Payden skipped town and went to dance on a cruise ship after what happened to me. He probably knew his wrongdoings were about to catch up with him and decided to bail. As long as he doesn’t hurt anyone anymore, it’s none of my business.

“All I’m saying is—” Mom starts.

“This is the first time I’ve ever let you down. Like, ever. My first oopsie—”

“Okay.” Mom slaps her thigh, looking ready to explode. “Let’s not pretend me picking up my nineteen-year-old daughter from a hospital across the country is an oopsie. It’s a travesty. We’re not trivializing what happened this week, missy.”

“Did you limber up before stretching that far? It was a mix-up! I thought it was Motrin.” I throw my hands up in the air. “It’s not like I’m gonna go score heroin on the streets when we get home.”

“Why not?” Mom bites back, and this is different.

Mom never bites back. She coos. She fawns. She giggles happily whenever I breathe in her direction for Pete’s sake. She makes me feel so cherished, it gives me more drive and fuel to stay perfect. “You did it in New York. And please, don’t embarrass yourself with the Motrin excuse. I don’t recognize my daughter in this action. Getting drugs off the streets. Getting drugs at all.”

“I wasn’t going to make it a habit.”

What am I saying? I’m blowing my own Motrin cover. “I just needed something to ease the pain for my practical exam.”

“Is this about your fractures?” There’s an edge of panic in Mom’s voice. “Are you struggling to perform?”

“No!” I lick my lips, piling up the lies like dirt over a coffin. I can’t tell her I’m broken. That it was me against ballet, and ballet won. “My performance is fine.” My throat bobs. “Great.”

“Honestly, that you didn’t get a leading role in the recital is obscene. I’m tempted to give them a piece of my mind about this. No way do they have a more talented ballerina—”

“Mel,” Dad clears his throat. “Off topic.”

And herein lies my problem. The pressure is so suffocating, I feel like I’m crushed under the rubble of expectations, broken dreams, and hopes. Mom forgets herself when we talk about ballet. There’s no room for failure—only for success. And I want to be everything Daria wasn’t—the best ballerina to come out of Juilliard.

In the back seat, I’m slowly peeling a dry scab off my knee like it’s apple skin. In a long, curly line of scar tissue. Pink, raw flesh pops beneath it, and I know I’ll be left with a scar from this car ride home.

“I got a bagful of these oranges,” Dad tells no one in particular, eager to change the subject. “From Florida. They don’t last as long as the California ones, but they’re sweeter.”

“Well.” Mom rummages through her purse, popping a Tylenol into her mouth. “If you don’t have a drug problem, I don’t see why going to rehab for eight weeks is such a biggie.”

“I’m not going to spend two months in rehab to prove a point to you.”

“Then expect some less-than-ideal conditions under my roof while I assess your situation, missy.”

“Are you sure you don’t want an orange?” Dad singsongs.

“Fuck, Dad, no!” I bang the back of my head against the leather seat in frustration.

Holy cannoli. Did I just drop the F-bomb? I never say fuck. Fluck, frock, frap—rarely. Our household has iron-clad rules about profanity. We don’t even say God’s name in vain. We use Marx instead. The antithesis to God. The father of atheism.

Dad stares at me through the rearview mirror like I slapped him. My knee is bleeding. And I could really use some Vicodin and Xanax right now.

Realizing I veered too far off character, I sigh. “Sorry. I overreacted. But seriously, I’m okay. I get that you’re scared, and your feelings are valid, but so is my experience. You’re right, Mom. I asked someone for a painkiller, and I thought they were going to give me a hospital-grade pill. It ended up being off the street. Lesson learned. Never again.”

I recognize the silence that follows. It’s the same one they gave Daria every time they thought she was being difficult and unreasonable. Which was always. Homegirl straight up almost ruined her now-husband’s twin sister’s life. I stood on the sidelines and watched her drama unfold.

But I’m not Daria.

I’m responsible, smart, level-headed. I could’ve gotten into any Ivy League university I wanted.

I decide to take a gamble.

“Look, I’m good with doing the outpatient program until I go back to Juilliard if it puts your mind at ease.”

As expected, Mom pulls the “you shouldn’t be doing this for us, you should do this for yourself” card.

I’m the first to admit I got carried away with the drugs these past few months, but it’s not like I dropped the ball. My grades are still amazing, I do charity work volunteering in a soup kitchen, and never dog-ear my books. Still a civilized human being all in all.

“I’ll do the outpatient program,” I repeat. “And use the rest of the time to train so I can retake a studio exam.”

“You failed?” Mom clutches her pearls.

“No!” My pride, like my knee, is bleeding all over the floor. My anxiety is a ball of poison sitting in my throat. “I just…want a better grade, you know?”

“Good news is, you’ll have plenty of time to practice because you sure as heck ain’t getting out of the house unsupervised,” Dad announces in an end-of-story tone.

“You can’t hold me hostage!”

“Who’s holding you hostage?” Dad drawls. “You’re an adult and free to go. Let’s go over your options, shall we?” he says conversationally, raising a hand and starting to tick off people with his fingers. “Your sister’s? Tougher than military school. Forged in adolescent hell. Also lives in San Francisco, so good luck with the fog. Dean, Baron, Emilia, Trent, and Edie? Will send you straight home after they hear what landed you back in town. Knight, Luna, Vaughn?”

He is on his second round of ticking off people with his fingers. “Have young kids and—no offense—not gonna host a substance user under their roof if you paid them. Which brings me to my final point—you can’t pay them or a hotel because you’re flat-out broke.”

He’s right, and I hate that he’s right. My new reality closes in on me like four walls that keep on inching toward one another.

“From now on, you’re under our watchful eye. When you leave the house, it’s either with me or Mom. Never alone.”

“Or Lev,” I bargain breathlessly. “Lev too.”

I’m not sure why I’m insisting, since Lev is no longer my prince in Bottega Veneta. He never arrived at the hospital, even though he promised he would when we talked on the phone. And even though he texted sporadically these past three days, he’s sounded more pissed-off than worried.

Has he given up on me? On us?

Mom sighs. “That boy loves you way too much.”

“Agree to disagree,” I mutter, looking out the window.

“Lev ain’t dumb and knows what’s gonna happen to him if Bailey takes something under his watch,” Dad argues. “He can keep an eye on her.”

“Fine. And Lev.” Mom scrubs her face tiredly. “He did save you. Oh, and, Bailey?”

“Yeah?” I bat my lashes innocently. Perfect Bailey resurfaces. Or at least, I’m trying to drag her back to the light, kicking and screaming.

“Stop scratching your knee. You’re bleeding all over. That must hurt. Can’t you feel it?”

I can’t, actually. I’m numb and in excruciating pain all at once, all the time.

“Sorry, Mom.” I tuck my hands under my butt to stop myself. “I’ll take that orange now, Dad.”

He flings it behind his shoulder and watches in the mirror as I peel it methodically, in one go, then sink my teeth into it like it’s an apple, rather than break it into slices. A rumble bubbles from his chest. Laughter fills the air-conditioned car.

“Love you, Bails.”

“To the moon and back, Captain Random.”


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