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Damaged Goods: Chapter 29


Lev

Miserable Fact #9,228: People are more likely to die by suicide than by homicide in New York City.

I stare at my laptop screen, snakes slithering under my skin. I’m trembling, even though I have no reason to be.

I’m wearing a hoodie, it’s a thousand fucking degrees outside, and I’m one hundred and ninety-five pounds of pure muscle.

Still, my guts are twisting inside out. Because I can’t bring myself to click on that little blue button. The one that would send my application to the Air Force Academy.

APPLY

It’s the day of the deadline. My last chance. I’ve filled it out carefully, uploaded all my shit—SAT, grades, résumé—all I have to do is hit send. Then why can’t I?

It was last night’s encounter with Bailey that gave me the strength to even think I could do this. She was strong, resilient, open, hopeful. She’s a true fighter—and who knows? Maybe so am I.

Click on the apply button.

“You should do it,” a feminine voice encourages me behind my back, and I almost hit the fucking ceiling jumping in my seat.

I’m in the kitchen. Dad is at Uncle Vicious’s place, so I figured I had a few hours to myself.

Of course, Dixie is here. Dixie is always here, on a silver platter, in case Dad changes his mind about getting his dick sucked.

Fine. That’s not fair. She’s good people. I just wish she’d stop the recent trend of shoving her nose into my business.

I minimize the browser, shooting her a sideways glance. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

“The deadline.” She produces that egg-shaped moisturizer from her bag, running it over her lips. “Isn’t it soon?”

“Today,” I grumble. Guess she already saw the website. No point in being coy.

“You’re going to miss it if you don’t apply now.” Captain Obvious breezes past the door to the kitchen table, which is when I see she has a tray with two cups of coffee from that bomb-ass bakery down the street.

She slides one to me from across the table. “Three shots, two sugars, a dash of half-and-half. Did I get it right?”

“Yeah.” I bring the coffee to my lips and take a sip, frowning suspiciously at her. Why does she know my coffee order? “Do you have a crazy wall with my fingerprints, saliva sample, and surveillance footage of me in your office?” I squint.

She shakes her head. “No, no.” Then, after a pause. “I keep it at home. I’m not an amateur.”

I force out a laugh.

“You’re Knight’s brother, and anyone who’s important to him is important to me,” she explains.

“I see we reached the cheesy Hallmark-speech portion of this visit.” I lean back in my chair.

I really ought to stop being such a tool bag to her. It’s not her problem I have unresolved mommy issues brought on by anxiety about my best friend.

“I’ll wrap it up quickly.” Dixie drums her burgundy fingernails over the table, smiling brightly. “As I said, you should do it. Your dad will understand.”

“Like hell he will,” I snort. “You heard him yourself. He said—”

“Who cares what he said?” she interrupts, surprising the crap out of me.

“Umm…you?” I smirk tauntingly.

“It is your life, not his. You’ll be the one who has to live with the consequences. Trust me when I say, the burden of your decisions will always squarely fall on your shoulders, nobody else’s. I should know. I gave up my son, and every day, the pain of missing out on moments with him chases me.”

“It hasn’t been just about Dad and Knight recently.” I lick my lips.

It feels good, talking about it with someone. Dixie tilts her chin down, studying me.

She is low-key hot. I really don’t understand what Dad’s problem is.

“Tell me why,” she says.

“First off, there’s Bailey. I have to keep an eye on her. Until she’s in an inpatient rehab center, I can’t just fuck off knowing she’s still using.”

“Helping someone—even the person you love the most—should never come with the price tag of ruining your own life,” she says simply. “If you’re starting to think about ways of sabotaging your own dreams in order to keep hers possible, you’re heading in the wrong direction for you both. If Bailey was truly ready for help, I know it would be available to her.”

All the things she says are making sense, but she doesn’t have the full context.

Bailey made all these sacrifices for me when I needed her the most.

“I’m worried someone will sabotage her efforts. Someone like…” I take a big gulp of the coffee. “Thalia.”

“Why would she do that?” Dixie makes a face.

“She kind of threatened to if I don’t stick around with her. Not sure what the big-picture endgame is.”

The room falls quiet. The only sound audible is my heartbeat as the fucker tries to rip its way through my rib cage and skin, and run to a non-extradition country to assume a new identity.

Dixie nods slowly. “I know exactly why Thalia wants to stay together. You’re too much of a catch to lose. But going back to our original topic.” She leans over the table, tapping her finger over the edge of my laptop screen. “All you’ve given me are potential problems. Not actual obstacles. It’s now or never. Choose now, or regret forever.”

I stare at her blankly. “You need to stop sounding like a bad Hallmark movie.”

“It’s stronger than me. They’re just so wholesome. Especially the holiday ones.” Her laughter floats around the room like a ray of warm sunshine. She stands up. “If you need to talk, you know where to find me. I’m gonna go get the keys to your dad’s 1964 Ferrari.”

“You what?” I growl.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on that puppy since I got my license.

She shrugs. “He said I could borrow it for an open house that’s going for thirty-four million. The garage is on the roof, so it’s gonna look supercool.”

“He’s letting you borrow Fifi?” I’m surprised my eyes aren’t rolling on the floor.

Hot damn. Dad won’t even let Knight and me touch Fifi. As the legend goes, he and Mom used to have crazy, dirty sex in there (thanks, Daria, you gross reptile), and we’re not allowed to taint it.

Dad barely uses it himself, other than a drive around the block to keep it running.

“Didn’t realize he is so pussy-whipped.” I laugh to myself.

“It’s not like that.” Dixie does her best impression of a beetroot. She actually touches her burning cheek, suppressing a smile.

“It can’t be any other way. He wouldn’t even let me clean dust from the interior. Fifi is holy to him.”

“He just wants me to sell the house so I can get the commission. There’s a place I’ve got my eye on and I could use the bonus as a down payment.”

“Why aren’t you asking him for a loan?” I frown.

Her expression darkens. “I’d never do that. It’s bad enough I enjoy going on vacations with you guys on private jets and in fancy mansions.”

She is too modest for her own good.

Dixie does a shit-ton for this family. She is not some freeloader.

I stand up and grab my car keys. “All right. I’m heading to Thalia’s. Maybe if I ambush her, I can hammer the point home that I’m not one to be blackmailed.”

“So romantic,” Dixie coos. “Hey, you haven’t pressed the apply button yet!”

I pretend not to hear her as I walk out the door.

My future can wait.

I need to be present for Bailey.


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