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Damaged Goods: Chapter 27


Lev

Miserable Fact #5,522: Washington Square Park in New York used to be a graveyard, and it is believed that about 20,000 people are still buried there.

I hit every single motherfucking party that week, worried about Thalia putting drugs in Bailey’s hands.

I attend those I’m invited to and those I’m not invited to because it’s clear that on a normal day, my ass wouldn’t grace these fuckers with my presence.

All to make sure Bailey isn’t in attendance. By Saturday night, I think I’m out of the woods. There’s only one party left, by a guy named Donnie. A total dudebro who thinks acting like a dick would somehow make his bigger.

Donnie is a fan, so I’m not worried about crashing his party.

Or, you know, burning it to the ground if need be.

What I am concerned about when I slip out of my car, parked in front of Donnie’s house, is Thalia.

She skipped school the entire week and wouldn’t answer my messages or open the door for me. Something’s up with her, and if I wasn’t so pissed, I’d be worried.

Donnie’s parents are both architects, which means his house has twenty-foot ceilings, a handcrafted fireplace, and a swim spa the size of an Olympic pool.

As soon as I walk through the door, people clamor to congratulate me on another football win. “Hotel” by Montell Fish plays through the surround system coming from the ceilings, floors, and fuck-knows where else.

I spot Austin doing a keg stand—still fully committed to being a waste of environmental resources—and Grim leaning against the glass doors overlooking the pool, holding a red Solo cup and talking to Mac and Antonio.

I’ve been meaning to tell him I spoke to Coach about the captainship, that I’ll be stepping down soon, but between Bailey and Thalia, didn’t get the time.

Birdie hangs on my arm like we’re friends or something, pressing her lipsticked mouth to my cheek. “Ohmygod, Lev! You made it.”

“Superb observation skills, Birdie. Is Thalia around?”

Someone bows their head and slips a beer bottle into my hand silently as I stride deeper into the room full of people dancing, talking, and making out.

“No.” She makes a sad pouty face. “She’s really under the weather.”

And I will be under house arrest for breaking and entering if she continues dodging me.

I shake her off me. “Let me know if you hear from her.”

Waltzing straight to Grim, I butt into his conversation with the guys. “Seen Bailey?”

Grim turns to give me an ice-cold look.

“Hi, Grim, how are you doing? I’m doing good, thanks. How are you, Lev? Yeah. It is indeed a fine evening,” he sarcastically plays out the conversation we should have had were I not on edge and if we weren’t in the fucking twenty-first century.

“You sound like a Rosetta Stone tutorial for learning English.” I take a swig of my beer. “Where is she?”

“On my dick.” Antonio points his hand to his groin, in case anyone had any doubts as to its whereabouts. I impale him with a deadly gaze. He laughs into his beer. “Damn, Cole. Look at your face. Someone have any anal bleach? I know an asshole in need of lightening up.”

Shouldering past these idiots, I descend the stairs to the pool.

Some people are playing water volleyball, others are making out on sun loungers, and I’m immediately relieved when I can’t spot Bailey anywhere in the water.

Then my relief turns into rage when I do spot her in the corner, perched on the same lounger as Austin, laughing and smiling and existing in full color, her new, sexy persona on full display.

What. The. Fuck.

She is wearing a see-through fishnet minidress with a tiny black bikini underneath.

Guess she is pissing into cups and coming up clean every single time.

I hate the dysfunctional, drug-addict version of her, but I can’t deny she turns me on.

There’s something dangerous, wicked, and unhinged about her, and help me God, I want to tame her so that she’s bad only for me.

Austin is beyond eye-fucking her.

I’m there to see the foreplay, the oral, and the spooning afterwards. The whole damned show.

He snakes his arm around her, placing his palm on the small of her back as he dips to yell into her ear through the music.

I can’t figure out what he says, but he fishes something out of his pocket. A wad of tissue with what appears to be pills in it.

Bailey sees them and I swear her eyes look like a slot machine jackpot sign.

Ding ding ding.

He uses his knuckles to gently push her hair away from her face, murmuring into her ear, and she nods and stands up.

My pulse is through the roof as she tosses her head back, her sunshine hair running free down her back and tan shoulders.

There’s not a trace of shame or embarrassment as her muscular, lean thighs clasp Austin’s knee and she begins moving seductively, throwing her arms in the air and giving him a lap dance.

At first, I’m too stunned to realize what’s happening. My dick applauds her courage, stiffening in my pants, while my brain is plotting to cut Austin scrotum to groin and sell his inner organs to the highest bidder.

Once I digest what’s happening, I force myself to stay still, knowing damn well I could really, genuinely, literally kill the prick.

As if on cue, someone changes the song to “Freak Me” by Silk.

I whip my head to see Grim standing next to the phone connected to the Bluetooth, giving me a cheesy grin and a thumbs-up.

I’m going on a fucking killing spree in about two seconds.

Bailey is oblivious to the fact all eyes are trained on her.

She’s in her own little world, a prisoner to the music, rolling her hips over Austin’s thigh, her gaze locked with his, riding and dry-humping him to the rhythm like she was born to do it.

I can’t stop looking. Watching this stranger dancing for Austin for drugs.

Yeah, she isn’t perfect, sweet, funny, and smart like Old Bailey.

But she is sexy, daring, carefree, and frankly, fucking infuriating. She isn’t safe and I’m starting to see I like that she isn’t. How fucked up is that? Very.

Austin plucks a pill from his palm and puts it between his teeth, half pushed out.

Bailey takes the bait, leaning forward to kiss him and steal the pill. That’s when my self-control crumbles like a stale-ass cookie.

I white-knuckle the beer, toss it back in one go, and head over to them.

I’m not sure on what authority I am acting right now—I’m not her boyfriend—so I feed myself a bullshit story that Austin is going to hurt Bailey, even though Dove will sooner get her heart broken by a lukewarm cup of piss than this shit-for-brains nobody.

“Show’s over, everyone.” I grab a handful of her lousy excuse for a dress and pull her off of Austin, slinging an arm over her to protect her modesty. “Grab your shit, change the song, and get the fuck out.”

Austin swivels toward me, his face a map of scars and broken blood vessels. My handiwork. “Enjoyed the view, Cole?”

He doesn’t have a pill in his mouth right now so I take it Bailey already swallowed it.

Does she even know what it was? Does she even care?

Ignoring the asshat, I turn to Bailey. “I need a word.”

She smiles sunnily up at me, while jerking away from my touch. “I’ll give you two, then—fuck off.”

A few weeks ago, I’d be stunned that she cursed.

Now I’m low-key happy she didn’t knife me to prove her point.

Austin slaps his thigh, cackling like a hyena. “Man, what a humbling experience, huh, Cap?” I swear he is coming in his pants, he looks so happy. “Always wanted to see someone bringing you down a notch or two. But that’s a whole damn skyscraper you’ve fallen from.”

Keeping my gaze focused on my best friend—and yes, she’s still that; she will always be that—I drawl, “The way I see it, you have two options, Dove. Either you come with me willingly, or I call your parents and tell them to pick up the trash because the bag is almost broken.”

Her mouth hangs open in shock. “Are you calling me trash?”

“Sweetheart, you treat yourself like it. Why wouldn’t I call you that?” I tsk, then look around me, adding, “Plus, this place is full of drugs.”

She looks around, confused. “No, it isn’t.”

I produce a bag of weed from my pocket, a borrow from a pothead skater dude I know here, and dangle it in front of her. “Sure ’bout that, Dove?”

She can’t win this argument, and she knows it. I can see it in her eyes. They burn with hatred toward me, and I can’t help but suck my bottom lip and wish she were the one to do it.

Because Passionate Bailey is my newest addiction.

“One word,” she hisses. “Wait here, Austin.”

“Baby, you don’t have to ask twice.”

I turn around and make my way upstairs, to a secluded bedroom. Bailey follows me.

In the upstairs hallway, I catch a glimpse of Maria, who is both on Power of the Pen and Model United Nations teams with me.

She also happens to be one of the other girls at school whose lifelong mission isn’t riding my dick. “Maria, can you come with us real quick?” I ask.

She frowns, ripping her attention from the group of her nerdy friends. “What for?” she asks. “I’m not having a threesome or whatever.”

“Crushed,” I deadpan. “Follow me.”

“What’s in it for me?” Maria thunders. I can feel Bailey’s glare burning a hole through the back of my shirt, wondering where all of this is going.

“A hundred bucks,” I say.

“Two hundred.” Maria folds her arms, tilting her chin up. “Inflation, Cole. Oh, and I want Todd’s number.”

Ballsy? I suppress a snort.

“Why not?” Her face falls as she reads my reaction as a dig at her. “You think he’s out of my league?”

“Nah, I… Never mind. Not my story to tell. You got yourself a deal. Come.”

The three of us file into one of the rooms. It looks like a guest room by the sheer lack of personality, but come to think of it, it could easily be Donnie’s.

I close the door behind us. The two girls in front of me look pissed.

“Switch clothes,” I order.

Bailey offers me her vacant, dopey stare. “Drop dead.”

“I will, probably soon from the heart attack you’re gonna give me from looking like a slut, but you’ll switch clothes with Maria first.”

“Excuse me?” Bailey screeches. “You’re wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a thumb ring. You’re the epitome of a male slut.”

“I’m actually uncomfortable with this word in general,” Maria mutters, glancing between us in confusion.

“Bailey, change your fucking clothes,” I growl impatiently, shoving my hands into the front pockets of my dress pants.

I’m overdressed for sure, but I came here from a country club dinner with Dad for one of his big investors.

Maria and Bailey glance at one another. Maria wrinkles her nose. She is wearing a pair of baggy jeans and a plaid long-sleeved shirt.

I can tell Bailey doesn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable.

At her core, Dove is still a considerate person.

Bailey turns to me. “No,” her voice is resolute. “There’s nothing wrong with my outfit.”

“Yes, there is,” I counter. “It’s torn.”

“What are you talking about? It’s not—” But before she can complete the sentence, I step into her personal space, grab the collar of that stupid fishnet dress, and tear it from her body.

It falls behind her back in a tattered pile. “See? A total mess. You should be more careful next time.”

“What am I supposed to wear?” Maria shrieks. “Now that you destroyed her Pretty Woman costume?”

I unbutton my Brunello Cucinelli shirt and toss it Maria’s way. “It’s long enough to reach your knees and worth five Benjamins. You’re welcome.”

“And you’re delusional,” Maria growls in frustration.

Bailey whimpers, “Sorry,” to her. Then adds, “I’ll wear his shir—”

“No, you’re not,” I cut her off. “Be thankful I’m not wrapping the entire bed linen around you.”

Then I turn around to give them some privacy. After a couple minutes, Maria announces, “We’re done.”

I turn around, give her a couple hundred bucks and a promise to connect her with Ballsy, and send her and her soon-to-be crushed vagina on their way.

This leaves me with Bailey, who is currently two things:

1. Modestly dressed.

2. Fucking fuming.

“What are you doing here anyway?” She collects her yellow hair into a high bun. “Austin said you don’t even like Donnie.”

“Fun, in case it isn’t obvious.” My voice is dryer than David Duke’s wife. “What are you doing here?”

“None of your business,” she informs me. “As long as I’m sober—which I unfortunately am—I can do whatever I want.”

“And the pill you shared with fuckface?” I arch an eyebrow.

She shakes her head. “Gummy bear.”

Even after everything and all that was said and done, this still makes my heart dance in my chest.

“I’m happy to hear that,” I say softly.

“Is Thalia here?” She looks around the room, like the latter could crawl from under the bed and ambush her. I know what she’s really asking, and there’s nothing I want more than to assure her Thalia and I aren’t involved anymore. But maybe it’s best to clear things up with Thalia first.

“Not that I know of,” I answer, hoping, wishing, praying she can read between the lines and see that she has nothing to worry about.

Thalia isn’t competition. She never was. The only thing ever standing between us was fear of losing one another.

Bailey nods somberly. “Can I go?” She sniffs. “I really don’t want to talk to you right now.”

I can’t blame her, and I’m not even sure what to tell her right now, so I just gesture for the door, letting her know she is free to leave.


An hour later, I’m playing beer pong in the game room. Shirtless.

Grim and I split the football squad into two teams and are competing against each other.

If that’s not the height of irony, I don’t know what is. My team is winning, even though I got paired with Mac, who is just a little less capable than a wet fart.

Bailey is in my periphery all throughout the game, sipping from a can of Diet Coke and talking to her girlfriends.

“Wanna make this interesting?” Austin, who is on Grim’s team, asks.

“Strip beer pong is not a thing,” Finn chides him flatly. “And not everyone wants to see Ballsy’s two beach ball testicles.”

“Well, this is disappointing,” I hear Maria mumbling from the crowd.

Austin doesn’t miss a beat. “If we win, Cole gives Grim the captain badge.”

The entire room falls silent. Grim stares at me, blank-faced. The stakes are nonexistent to me, as I already told Coach I’m stepping down.

I just needed to officially loop Grim in, which I’d been meaning to do officially on Monday. Why the fuck not?

But I can’t be too obvious, so I ask, “And if I win?”

“You won’t win.” Grim doesn’t miss a beat. “But on the off chance that you do, I’ll give you a blank check. An open favor. Anything you want. Anytime. No questions asked.”

I shrug. “Sure.”

“All right.” Ballsy claps, then rubs his hands together. “Shit just got a whole lot more interesting.”

The entire party gathers around the beer pong table, which is actually an air hockey table I’m pretty sure we’re destroying.

The Solo cups full of beer float left and right to make it difficult for us.

It’s Mac’s turn, and he misses the beer cup, and everyone hoots and cheers and laughs.

I spot Bailey from the corner of my eye drawing closer, peering at the game curiously.

“My turn!” Austin steps forward. “Bailey, give us a good luck kiss, baby.”

He shoves his cheek to her line of sight, and she grins, making eye contact with me before giving him a peck.

Austin slides the ball effortlessly into a floating cup. I’m shaking with rage.

When it’s my turn, I put the ball in.

Grim misses and curses. He is agitated and sweating. I wish I could break the news to him right now, but to be honest, I think he would draw much more joy from it if I win this game, quietly step down without anyone knowing, and have it appear like he one-upped me on the field and was given the captainship directly from Coach Taylor.

I’m three points ahead, losing steam from my initial edge on Grim, when Bailey props a hip against the air hockey table.

She is right beside me. I don’t look at her, already bruised from the verbal whiplash from earlier.

Grim slam-dunks the Ping-Pong ball into a cup, and everyone roars in ecstasy.

He just might win after all.

“You can do it, Grim,” I hear Dove say, reminding me of the good times when she would cheer on every game of mine. Home field and away.

How I took all we had for granted, and still, greedy me, wanted more.

Now she is on whoever-isn’t-me’s team.

“Stay close, Bailey. He loses his mind every time you breathe in another guy’s direction,” Grim instructs her, popping another ball into a beer cup.

Bailey grins at him, perching her ass on the hockey table, her back to me and looking at Grim. “How’ve you been, Grim?”

“Yeah, not bad. How’s Juilliard?”

“Awesome.”

Awesome my ass. I bite my tongue and breathe through my nose, popping balls into cups.

“You look good,” Grim flirts. “Even dressed like an aging cowboy from a bad eighties flick.”

“Hey!” Maria protests from the back of the room. “I heard that.”

“Good,” Grim barks back. “Now you can do something about it. You’re welcome.” He redirects his attention to Bailey. “Is Lev giving you trouble?”

“What else can he give a woman?” Bailey scoffs.

The little liar. I could bring her to climax without laying a finger on her.

“My patience is running thin,” I warn both of them.

“Aw, that makes one of you.” Bailey examines her pretty nails with a pout. “Because your ass sure isn’t moving faster than a jog on the field.”

“Burn!” All the football squad laughs in unison. “Holy damn, Cole!”

“Bailey, move away,” I clip out.

“You’re not the boss of me.” She’s in rare form.

She might be on one of her post-withdrawal mood swings. I read those can last for months after.

And normally I’d be sympathetic to her situation, but not when she’s grilling my ass and I’m already raw.

“Maybe not, but we both know I still own your ass, so you better listen.”

“Buuuuurn!” People laugh and crumple their Solo cups.

“At least I pay my way through most of my stuff,” she taunts back. “Remind me how much your car costs?”

“Less than the rehab you’re headed to,” I bite out.

The insult lands straight where it’s supposed to, and her breath catches.

Her cheeks turn red. We stare at each other for a second.

“Someone just lit a bonfire in Donnie’s backyard!” a stoner from my class hollers from the terrace. “It’s pretty awesome guys, come see.”

“Sorry, the best show in the state is right in front of us.” Grim laughs. I swallow hard, doing what I’ve never done before—I lose on purpose.

Pretend to aim the ball in front of the cup. Swallow hard. And throw it slightly to the right.

It misses by at least three inches.

People roar and holler in excitement. “Yo, Grim is the new football captain, everyone!”

Grim is legit jumping up and down he is so happy, and though I pretend to be a sourpuss about it, I’m actually pretty happy.

“Oof.” I puff my cheeks, spinning the Ping-Pong ball on my finger like it’s a basketball.

“Always thought losing was a part of your DNA makeup. But apparently there is a ball game you’re good at.”

Grim’s nostrils flare, and I know I deserve to get my ass kicked for the bullshit I spewed out.

He keeps it classy, though, smiling wide and big again to show me that he doesn’t care.

“See, kids? That’s what happens when you live your life as a coward. Too chickenshit to claim the girl you love, too scared to tell Daddy you don’t wanna play ball.” He takes a step toward me, the tip of his nose almost touching mine. “One day you just…” He snaps his fingers between us. “Explode. I’m going to let you detonate, Lev Cole, so that in the end, you’ll be left with nothing but ruins.”

Before I do something I regret, like beating the crap out of him, I turn around and stride outside to find my best friend.

Time to deal with my own personal natural disaster—Hurricane Bailey.

I remember the stupid fire outside and walk straight over there. It is next to a hilly curve that stretches over the land Donnie’s parents own.

There is a group of people dancing to “Boom” by X Ambassadors. Among them, I spot Bailey. It’s her hair that gives her away.

The dazzling yellow that sprawls like a sunflower over a varsity jacket.

An All Saints High varsity jacket.

One that isn’t my number—sixty-nine—an homage to Knight back when he played.

Austin’s.

She’s now sitting in his lap, giggling at something he says. There’s no way on planet earth a girl of Bailey’s IQ could laugh with, not at, guys like Austin.

This is the same idiot who asked in class how old Leonardo DiCaprio was when he painted the Sistine Chapel.

She’s definitely getting back at me for our little exchange during beer pong. And it’s working.

Shit, Austin must be having a field day, having the girl I love perched on his thigh like that.

I slice through the crowd, straight to where they sit by the fire.

I grab the back of that stupid jacket and hurl Dove up to her feet, letting her back fall against my chest so she doesn’t trip. She yelps in surprise.

“Didn’t I say show’s fucking over? I’m taking you home.”

She swivels and pushes at my chest. “Get off of me, you two-faced douche!”

“Take his jacket off.” I’m so nauseous seeing her in this thing, I’m surprised I haven’t vomited yet. She knows what varsity jackets mean at ASH. I told her.

“I’m cold.”

“I’ll give you my jacket.”

“You don’t even have a shirt, Lev.”

“I’ll let you wear my fucking skin. Now take the jacket off before this trainwreck derails into a cliff.”

Pouting, she hisses, “If you want me to lose it so bad, beg for it, Levy Boy.”

Everyone awws and ohhhs. My ears go deaf for a few seconds, like I’m underwater.

She lost the plot, and I’m about to write her into a painful thriller where Austin would be lucky to survive.

Asshole looks so smug right now.

“Yeah, Levy,” he coos. “Get your knees dirty for a change.”

Rolling my lips, I turn to Bails again. “Grab your shit. We’re leaving.”

“No, really.” She throws her hands in the air, laughing throatily. Sexily.

She is not Normal Bailey right now, but that Bailey is still stuck inside of her somewhere.

“If you want to order me around like I’m your little lap dog, then it’s only fair you should be mine too, right? Crawl to me, Lev Cole. Come on. It’s only, like, what? Three steps?” She steps back a little, putting distance between us. “Beg me to come with you.”

In this moment, I swear I could do something really dumb and really violent to the person who first introduced her to drugs.

“And if I don’t?” I ask in boredom. There’s not one eyeball in SoCal that isn’t staring at us right now.

“If you don’t”—she licks her lips, her eyes leveling with mine—“I’m going to screw Austin tonight.”

Austin howls and laughs in the background, and I know she’s not lying.

She will one hundred percent bang him, and there would be nothing I could do to stop her. Even if I hurl her ass to my car—which I technically can do—she’ll find a way out and do it just to spite me.

She’s not being herself, not thinking clearly. The demon inside her wants his pound of flesh, and I’m about to tear a chunk off my goddamn heart and feed it to its satisfaction.

Or am I?

I’ve never begged anyone and not about to start doing so. I’m setting a dangerous precedent.

But then Bailey sees my inner struggle, the pure hatred in my eyes, and sighs. “Got a rubber, Austin? Actually, I’m not picky. Anyone else with a condom will do too.”

She is deep in the arms of a withdrawal spiral. I can tell from how she is sweating, how her eyes are empty, sad.

No one is actually that dumb as to take her up on her offer. Saying yes here in front of me is a sure way to an early grave.

But I know the temptation would be too much for Austin when I’m out of sight.

And I can’t have that. I can’t let Dove be with someone else. She’s mine.

Slowly, I lower myself to my knees.

Her breath hitches. I bend my head so I don’t have to see anyone’s face.

Then I begin to crawl in her direction.

I know this is screwed up and that word will get out to Thalia.

I know people are recording this with their phones.

I know I’ve done more damage to my reputation in the two months she’s been here than I have my entire existence.

My knees brush the dirt, the ground hot from the fire. People are laughing and whispering and fuck,

I am never going to forgive her for this. Not Sober Bailey and not Drugged-up Bailey.

All versions of her are mixed together into a person I really should fall out of love with.

When I finally get to her feet, I lift my gaze to meet hers. I can tell she has somewhat sobered from her initial request—maybe she never thought I’d go along with it—because suddenly she looks full of remorse.

Her eyes are wide, red and tinted with sorrow.

Ignoring her unspoken apology—un-fucking-accepted, by the way—I rise up to my feet and pin her with a death glare. “Happy?”

She swallows but doesn’t say anything.

“Good. Now get out of his goddamn jacket.”

She does as she is told, shaking and trembling. I should be more self-conscious about what’s happening, but maybe Grim is right.

Maybe I am imploding. As soon as the jacket isn’t on her anymore, I snatch it from between her fingers and chuck it into the fire. The flames devour it before it even hits the ground. Austin snivels, “What the shit, Cole!”

Tackling Bailey’s midriff, I throw her over my shoulder and march right out of this stupid place.

Donnie trails behind us. “C’mon, Cole, the party’s just getting started! More kegs are coming, and I’m about to open my dad’s Macallan!”

Everyone follows us with their eyes as I get out the front door.

Bailey erects two middle fingers in no particular direction, laughing tiredly. “Yup. Take a good look at the perfect Bailey Followhill. Not so perfect anymore, huh? Don’t use drugs, kids.”

Jesus Christ. She is more unhinged than Austin’s jaw.

“How’d you get here?” I bark.

“Mom gave me a ride, and my friend Avery vouched she’d keep an eye on me. I’m still not allowed to drive.”

“Shocking. I’m taking you back home.”

I shove her into my car. It’s only when the engine roars to life, and the air-conditioning blasts out arctic air, that I remember I’m shirtless.

I back out of the parking spot and start driving. Dove doesn’t say anything, and thank fuck for that.

I’m still processing tonight. She humiliated me publicly. I guess I did the same to her too, in a way. In all of our time together as friends, we’ve never crossed these boundaries before.

We’re both messing with our bracelets. I’m about to rip mine off, I’m so mad.

“Sorry abo—”

“Shut up, Bailey.”

“I…um…” She scratches her cheek nervously, staring into space.

“You what?” I bark impatiently.

“Before we went to Jackson Hole I, um…borrowed some of your RCs from your collection to pay for…uh…”

“Drugs,” I finish for her. My remote control planes are my pride and joy.

She knows it more than anyone else. She bought me some of my most expensive pieces with her hard-earned money.

“Yeah,” she says quietly. “Mom keeps tabs on everything I own because she knows junkies steal and sell things for drugs, and as you know, I refused any of their credit cards and wanted to be financially independent…” She trails off.

I close my eyes briefly when we reach a red light. I just hope she didn’t sell one of the really good ones. Knowing her, she didn’t. But still. What a shitty thing to do.

“How do you pass their drug tests?” I demand.

“I…well…” She looks around, doing anything other than meeting my gaze. “I’m not actually taking anything anymore. Which is why I’m being so horrible to everyone. Sobriety sucks.”

“You’re clean?”

She nods. Then starts crying. Hard.

I bite my lip until blood oozes out. Well, at least it explains her behavior tonight.

“Lev, I’m sorry,” she hiccups, sobbing harder. “For everything. For tonight, for your RCs—”

“Please, please,” I growl. “Just shut up and let me drive before I hurl us both off a fucking bridge.”

The rest of the journey is spent trying to calm myself and her down.

I keep reminding myself she is suffering. In pain. One of her legs is so swollen I’m pretty sure her bone is about to poke out. I have to give her a little leeway here.

We’re almost at the cul-de-sac when Bailey opens her mouth again. “Take me to the woods.”

“No can do. I’m planning to take Austin there after I tear him limb from limb and make his family play scavenger hunt to put-together his body.”

She doesn’t crack a smile. Just turns to me, her eyes pleading. “Lev.”

As always, I can’t deny her.

I start driving toward our secret spot. I’m so confused, my head’s about to explode.

Yet I always knew we’d be here. In this moment. On the seam between enemies and lovers.

“The pills…” Bailey clears her throat. “I didn’t start using because of the pain and the injuries. Back at Juilliard. I mean, of course, they played a part. But it wasn’t just about that.”

“No?” I ask. She is opening up to me. Explaining how she got from being the nerdiest person I know to a drug addict.

“No.”

Her head drops to her hands, and her back is shaking.

I instinctively put a hand on her arm, trying to comfort her.

“The drugs were a coping mechanism. It was mainly the pressure to be perfect. Honor student. Prodigy ballerina. Prized daughter. I felt like I didn’t have room to fail. At anything. Ever. I thought I could handle it…but the smallest thing ended up tipping me over the edge.”

The silence between us sits like a ten-ton wall, and I want to break it with my fist until it bleeds out.

“I wanted to forget something that happened to me. And some things that didn’t happen but maybe should have. Everything just reached a boiling point. I spent my entire life being perfect and working hard for it, and at Juilliard, my best wasn’t enough. So I was constantly grinding, working harder, ‘turned on.’ I had to start supplementing with Xanax to keep myself alert and energetic and motivated. And then the injuries happened, and Xanax wasn’t enough anymore. Enter benzos and Vicodin.”

“Perfect is overrated,” I croak. “It’s unrelatable, unsustainable, and boring.”

One question plagues my mind now—what did she want to forget?

WHAT DID SHE WANT TO FORGET?

WHAT DID SHE WANT TO FORGET?

I park on the edge of the woods and kill the engine.

“You said you wanted to forget something.” My voice is pure gravel. “What was it?”

Her lips part and the world stops spinning.

“I’m no longer a virgin.” She stares down at her thighs, digging her shell-pink nails into them. “The way I lost my virginity…it wasn’t ideal. I think a part of me had always believed we were gonna lose it to each other, no matter how pathetic that sounds.”

“It doesn’t sound pathetic at all.” I pull her hands away from her thighs before she makes herself bleed. “I believed that too. Some days, it was the only thing that kept me going.”

“Remember the night you asked me if I partied? If I ever hooked up with people?” She sniffles.

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s the night I gave up on us. Kind of. Temporarily.”

When I made the biggest mistake of my whole damn life.

“Then I achieved my goal.” She licks her lips. “That night, I really was studying. But earlier in the afternoon, something happened.” That something better not be a someone forcing himself on her, because there’s no bail sum to convince a judge to release me after what I’d do to that person. Bailey reads what’s written on my face because she shakes her head fervently. “No, nothing like that. He had my consent.”

“Okay.” Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

“He was a ballerino. Talented. Funny. Charming as heck. And he was accepted, Lev. Everybody liked him. You know how much I crave approval. And I was angry with you.”

“Angry with me?” My brows shoot up. “Why?”

We’d drifted apart by the time she moved to New York, but I never figured out why.

It couldn’t have been because I semi gave her head that day we won the state championship. Because we were giving each other semi-orgasms long before.

“Because you seemed unsupportive about Juilliard. And then when you confessed your love for me…I thought it was another ploy to keep me here. To deprive me of my dream. I resented you for it.”

I rub my palm over my face, groaning. She had every reason to be upset with me.

I robbed Bailey out of her childhood in a sense. She put all of her emotional capital in me, so I wouldn’t grow to be a fuckup after what happened to my mom.

And when it was time to reciprocate, to celebrate Bailey and her achievements, I failed.

But I’m not failing her now. I’m here, and I’m going to push through tonight’s humiliation because she’s finally opening up to me.

“So this guy. Payden—”

“Argh.” I grind my teeth. “He even has a made-up name. Who names their kid Payden and thinks they’d grow up not to be a mega douche?”

A miserable smile grazes her lips. “We went out a few times. I wanted to forget all about you. He was also the campus’s designated drug dealer. But I never touched anything, not really. Well, maybe a Xanax here and there. I told myself everyone was doing it. That it was time to lighten up.

“That afternoon, we got a little drunk in my dorm room. He said all the right things. That I was beautiful. Born for greatness, an amazing ballerina. That he wanted something real. Flattery and Xanax are a lethal combination. So…I fell for it.”

“He got you high on his supply,” I say matter-of-factly, feeling my jaw clenching tight. “Addicted.”

She presses her lips together. “I knew what I was doing. One thing led to another, and…”

A whoosh of air leaves her lungs and she stares down at the crescent-shaped dents she left on her thighs. “Next thing I know he’s on top of me. Inside me. And he doesn’t sound like you and he doesn’t smell like you and his weight feels too light, too casual, too not-Lev. Then he pushes deeper, and it hurts. It felt like he was stabbing me. But I was too embarrassed to stop him.” Tears begin streaming down her face.

“And I already had a certain reputation. Cold. Frigid. Too uptight. So I just laid there and took it—I wasn’t fucking him; I was fucking my reputation, if that makes sense. And…and when he was finished…” She starts hiccupping, crying and upset. “I said my head hurt because I wanted him gone. So he gave me some painkillers.”

“He used you,” I repeat.

She licks her lips, dropping her gaze to the floor. “Did he, though? Because I came back for the drugs even when he shoved that night in my face over and over again. Maybe it was my way of punishing myself, showing myself just how far I’d spiraled. Every time he’d stop in my room to give me drugs—which was weekly—he’d offer more. He wasn’t subtle about it, either. He’d touch me sometimes in an inappropriate way. But my love for drugs always won the battle against my hatred toward him. I know it’s not some great trauma, that I’m being silly—”

“You’re not being silly. You gave your virginity to someone who didn’t deserve it. It’s like…it’s like donating to a charity for people who you find out were drowning kittens…or something.”

The grief that impales my heart threatens to drown it with sorrow.

My out-of-character awkwardness makes her snort out a laugh. “The problem wasn’t him.” Her stare swings and our eyes lock together. “The problem is he wasn’t you.”

I reach to grab her waist and she hops between the center console. She is on top of me and we’re hugging and my face is in her hair, and for a fraction of a second, I can breathe deep and clean and feel like myself again.

I rub her back. Kiss her tears away.

“Can we just…make our seconds count?” she asks, lips shuddering against my skin.

“Second dance. Second time making love. Second everything.”

I rear my head back, so she can see me. “The second time is more important. First times are overrated. They’re often just mistakes.”

“What?” She wipes her eyes with the sleeve of the plaid shirt, confused.

“Thalia didn’t count. Padlock didn’t count. Our first times were diversions. Not the real deal.”

“It’s Payden.”

“Still not a real name,” I say tonelessly. “Let’s have a do-over. This will be our first time. Nothing else counts.”

“It doesn’t work that way.” She shakes her head sadly.

“Says who?” I buck, giving her my disarming smirk. “There are no universal rules here. One of the best parts about being in our own minds is we get to make the rules.”

And as I lead her out of the car, I internally bleed to death because I’m starting to see that Bailey’s wounds are much more than skin-deep.

She’d been hurt and betrayed by her peers. Used by other students. Pressured by her family, her friends.

Her troubles are not a phase. They’re distractions.

And unless she treats them…they’ll destroy her.


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