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Damaged Goods: Chapter 25


Lev

Miserable Fact #2,016: The human body is reduced to between 3 and 9 pounds once being cremated.

The blowup with Dad and Knight in Jackson Hole changed something in me.

Made me snap out of my autopilot existence.

It is time to do right by the people I love.

I started out with Dove, by redirecting her attention to getting sober, as opposed to getting dicked.

Yeah, we messed up a little by fooling around, but she’s managed to do so well.

I don’t want her to switch one obsession with another, so I’m giving her space.

And Bailey was right. I am jealous of her passion for what she does.

I am cruising.

I play ball and don’t apply to the Air Force Academy because of Dad and Knight. I don’t move on because of Bailey. I fake a relationship with Thalia because I don’t want her feeling embarrassed or used.

By trying to please everyone, I end up pleasing no one, so maybe the answer is doing what’s right for myself.

Maybe being authentically yourself spares everyone else around you a whole bunch of pain.

The next person on my to-do good list is Grim Kwon.

He wants to be captain. And I want to…be left the fuck alone. And that includes never playing football again after high school.

This is the one resolution I decided to do for myself. Grim is right—I’m not the right man for the job. I never was. Passion is merit.

Maybe I can’t follow my dream of becoming a fighter pilot, but I’m also not going to break my back playing football just so Dad can have something to talk about with his buddies at his country club.

And I’m certainly not going to cock-block Grim’s actual dream to do it.

So here I am, in the locker room after practice, ready to corner Coach Taylor and tell him I’m stepping down as captain but will still fulfill my commitments as a player for the remainder of the year.

Everyone is still in the showers.

“Dude, personal space,” I hear Mac telling Ballsy in the showers while soaping his own ass. I’m clean, dressed, and ready to leave.

My duffel bag is hung over my shoulder. Bet they all think I’ve already left. “If I can see each individual hair on your ball sack, that means you’re too close.”

“Or in Ballsy’s case, in the same town,” Finn quips.

I should probably give them one more warning about being assholes to Todd before I pass the captain title along.

I’m about to walk from behind the row of lockers and do just that when Austin’s voice makes me freeze in my spot.

“Seen Bailey Followhill at the beach yesterday.”

What was she doing at the beach? Who was she with? How did she find her way out of her house?

“Yeah?” Finn asks. “Is she still hot?”

“Bro, flammable is an understatement. Bitch must be pissing lava or somethin’, she’s so hot. She wore a tiny yellow bikini and looked like she ran out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. She’s more bangin’ than ever.”

“And just as unattainable, I’m sure,” Grim drawls. Atta boy. “She didn’t notice your existence when you both attended the same school for three years. Doubt she changed her mind now that she’s in college and you still look like what happens when steroids and my left nut decide to procreate.”

I’d make him captain of the Miami Dolphins if I could right now.

“Au contradictoriany.” Austin takes a stab at French…and murders the entire language in the process. “I’m hearing she is, indeed, a tweaker, so there’s a lot of room for error on her part. Easy prey.”

The only thing stopping me from popping his kneecap off with my Swiss army knife right now is that I want to hear more about their meeting.

“For real? She gave you tweaker vibes?” Ballsy gasps.

“She isn’t a tweaker,” Mac grunts. “Her rich parents would detox her ass in some 5k-a-night Swiss village if she was doing anything harder than weed.”

“She’s on something, all right,” Austin snorts out, stepping out of the stream of water, toweling himself. “Apparently, she’s been grounded or some shit until a couple days ago. Her parents are now testing her for drugs, and as long as she’s clean, she’s allowed to go out. That’s what she told me anyway.” She confided in him? Why? “Needless to say, I invited her to all of the parties this weekend.” Austin flashes a shit-eating grin of the douchebag variety. “Including the one going on in my pants.”

My head feels woozy. Are Mel and Jaime kidding me? They’re making her piss into a cup and letting her do her thing?

Yeah, why not, asshole? Because you love the idea of Bailey locked up where no one can reach her or hit on her? a voice inside my head scoffs.

It’s been real easy for me not to pretend Thalia and I are still an item since I knew Bailey wasn’t in a position to revenge-fuck someone else.

But that’s no longer the case, and Bailey has never been more volatile and vindictive in her entire life.

“Mark my words.” Austin steps into his chino pants and J.Crew shirt—the international I am a mediocre white man uniform. “By the end of this week, I’m going to be balls deep inside Bail—”

“Shut the fuck up, Austin.” My tone is acerbic enough to cut his face to shreds. “Or I’ll fuck you up and finish the job Grim started last year.”

We don’t talk about it, but last year Austin called some freshman a slur for holding hands with his boyfriend or whatever, and Grim went so batshit crazy on his face, it took three of us to unplaster him from Austin.

We only did it because we didn’t want Grim to get arrested. I’ve met STDs more lovable than Austin.

“You got the balls to come here and say it to my face?” Austin bares his teeth, looking flustered. He didn’t know I was still here.

“I thought I did. Damn, your ass looks uncanny.”

“Speaking of ass.” Austin’s lips stretch into an ugly sneer. “Bailey’s—”

He doesn’t get to finish the sentence. I slam him against the floor.

I’m on top of him, straddling his waist, plowing my fists into his face. I hear the crack of bones shifting but don’t stop. There’s blood everywhere. It splatters over the sleek, wet tiles.

Over the flawless track record I maintained the past twelve years at school.

Who cares? It’s not like I’m headed where I want to be. Austin is screaming, trying to raise his arms to wrap his hands around my neck, but I’m bigger, faster, stronger, and I have the most potent weapon of all—anger.

Finn, Mac, and Antonio try to pull me off of him. They’re grabbing at my arms, tugging me away, pleading for me to stop before I kill him.

Ballsy and Grim each grab one of Austin’s arms and haul him to the other side of the room. Austin is still protecting his face with his hands.

His designer clothes are soaked scarlet, and I’m pretty sure I broke a few small bones in the process.

We’re both pushed to opposites sides of the room. Mac and Antonio nail my arms to the wall, blocking me from getting in his face again. I’m panting, rage oozing out of me in currents.

“Do you have a death wish?” I’m genuinely curious because trashing Bailey in the same zip code as me is nothing short of suicidal.

Austin laughs, his teeth pink from blood and saliva, the bruises under his eyes swollen with my punches. “You think so fucking highly of yourself, Cole. Just because you like a girl doesn’t mean she’s off-limits for the rest of us mortals.”

“What’s your problem with me?” I demand.

Austin has been a pain in my ass ever since we met. As far as I can tell, I’d never done anything to deserve his constant ire.

Freshman year, I even helped him with calc and tossed ball with him ahead of scrimmages.

“My problem with you,” Austin spits blood and maybe even a tooth on the floor, “is that every Cole man I’ve met is a total ass face.”

I stare at him vacantly, momentarily confused. “There’re only three of us.” Four with Cayden, but come on, kiddo is barely potty-trained.

“Three more than there should be,” he snarls. “And your brother, Knight, just happened to steal the captain title from my brother. Stole his girlfriend too.”

“Luna?” I ask, surprised.

Austin shakes his head. “Poppy.”

Holy blast from the ice age past. Poppy—Lenora’s older sister—dated my brother for two seconds. Maximum.

And I don’t even remember who Knight competed with for the captainship at All Saints High.

Which I guess cements that the resentment Austin is feeling is tribal and not personal right now. His family was pretty much invisible to mine.

“What’s your brother’s name?” I ask. I don’t know why.

“Alvin.”

Eh, shit. He even has a chipmunk name. Can’t help but feel bad for the guy.

“Alvin is a bookkeeper in a real estate office by the way. All because your brother stole what was his,” Austin accuses. “He could’ve been big.”

My jaw works from side to side. “Listen. Sorry, but…this has nothing to do with Bailey. Stay the fuck away, yeah?”

Austin shrugs off the hands around him, flashes me a bloody smile, and shakes his head as he walks off. “If you want something, you better fucking know I’m going to beat you to it and get it myself. Consider this payback, Cole. The thing about turning everything you touch to gold…” He trails off, stopping a few inches from me. “Is that you end up with a bunch of soulless, lifeless shit.”


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