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Damaged Goods: Chapter 3


Age eighteen

Miserable Fact #2,398: Roughly 67.1 million people die in the world every year.

“Trash offensive game today, Cap.” Austin barrels into the locker room bare-chested, spitting his mouthguard to the floor. I peel off my gear and dump it on the bench. I amble into the showers dead-ass naked, even though the door to the field is wide-open and a bunch of sophomores can probably see me during PE. I shake my head. Austin ain’t worth a response. Grim joins me on his hoverboard, also bare-assed.

“You can’t ride that inside the locker room, you creepy fuck.” I scowl.

“How’s a hoverboard creepy?” He pops popcorn-cola gum. His signature scent is smelling like an AMC’s sticky floor and first base in the dark. “Please enlighten me.”

“Your balls are flapping in the wind like a flag on a cruise ship.”

“It’s a free country.”

“It’s not the only thing that’s free is the problem.”

Grim jumps off the board and kicks it back. It crashes against the wall noisily. “Aye, aye, Captain.”

My being the captain of the All Saints High football team is a point of contention between us.

Not because he is a better player, a better leader, a better anything—he’s none of those things. I’m God’s gift on and off the field, and that’s indisputable. Grim’s second best. Everyone knows that. But because I don’t give a quarter fuck about the game and he wants to play college football, I’m supposed to bow down, step aside, and give him all the glory. In his warped mind, hunger trumps merit.

I turn the faucet on and shove my head beneath the water, rubbing my face. I haven’t heard from Bailey in four days, which is screwed up considering our last phone call. Austin isn’t wrong. My head’s not in the game. It’s not even in the same fucking state. It’s in New York.

An overdose. What the fuck? The Bailey I know doesn’t drink caffeinated beverages after two p.m.

I’m also wondering, Why did she call me when we’ve been practically strangers since the day she left for Juilliard? I’ve been living the past year in a coma since she left and was fine with it—if you love someone, let them go, right?—but what if you love someone, and the idiot decides to accidentally kill themselves and they reach out to you? What’s the protocol on that?

Grim and Austin join me on either side of the showers. Around us are Finn, Mac, Antonio, Ballsy, and the rest of the squad. Ballsy’s real name is Todd Ostrovsky, but he has this weird condition that makes his balls gigantic. Like, so big his run times are affected.

I grab curd soap and rub it over my body and my hair, letting the bubbles slither down my abs. “Instead of being butthurt about not being captain, worry about our game with St. John Bosco next week.”

“How ’bout I’ll do both?” Grim Kwon—a certified smartass, extra tall, extra dark, extra handsome, extra fucking period—grabs the bar from my hand and shoves it in his ass, rubbing. “Ever heard of multitasking?”

“Ever heard of boundaries?” I hiss out. “That was my soap.”

“That was my captainship,” he retorts. “You didn’t even put your name forward. Coach did.”

“Maybe because he didn’t think your sorry ass should lead,” I tease. Captainship aside, we’re good friends. Best friends, actually, now that Bails isn’t in the picture.

To say I’m on edge is putting it mildly. I’m off the goddamn cliff, spinning rapidly down a deep, dark abyss.

Grim offers me the soap back, and I remove one of my Versace slippers and hurl it at him in retaliation.

“I’ll take that as a no.” He shrugs, tossing the soap to Finn, fingering his chin thoughtfully. “There ya go, buddy. I have a spare.”

“Thanks, bro.” Finn starts scrubbing his body with the soap. Everybody gags and laughs.

“What? What’s happening?” He eyeballs Grim nervously.

“Nothing, man.” Grim pops his gum. “You just smeared my skid marks all over your body. We’re bonded for life now. Soapmates.”

“I see you woke up and chose violence today, Kwon.” Finn drops the soap and launches at Grim. They wrestle naked on the wet tiles while the showers spray their bodies. Too bad they aren’t hot chicks. Anyway, I root for casualties in this fight.

I see why getting a full ride to a good college is important to Grim.

Even though he’s loaded, his parents are pretty clear about their expectation he becomes a lawyer and takes over their family business. Unfortunately for him, he barely has the grades to graduate, let alone get accepted to a good university. So either he sneaks in through football or his name comes off his grandfather’s will.

“Break this up before you break his spine, Grim,” I order tonelessly.

Despite the fact that I hate football, I still care about being a good captain. And Finn won’t win this fight. Grim is a lineman the size of a tractor.

“Aw, you’re not my real dad, Levy.”

“That what your mom said? I’ll ask for a paternity test.”

Everyone laughs. So does Grim.

But because he knows me well, he can hear the edge in my voice.

Grim untangles himself from Finn and slips back under the showerhead next to me. Other than being a Bitter Betty about the captain thing—a title I snatched sophomore year—we get along pretty great. We’re off to the next topic on our agenda—which parties are worth crashing this weekend—when I overhear Austin telling Ballsy, “Confirmed, man. Saw her beat-up Toyota driving down Spanish River yesterday, her hot momma in the passenger seat.”

There’s only one person in town with a Toyota Corolla older than the Bible—which is also eggplant purple with a mismatched yellow door—and that’s Bailey Followhill.

Senior year, she insisted on saving up the money she made working summer camps and bought her own vehicle. She’s been financially independent since she was eighteen and probably the only person in our zip code to drive a non-luxury car. Uncle Vicious once threatened to sue Jaime for the eyesore that is his daughter’s vehicle parked in our cul-de-sac.

But since Bailey is supposed to be in New York, locked up in some rehab, that can’t be her he’s talking about. Maybe Mel took the car to the shop?

Ballsy says, “Dude, impossible. She got into Juilliard or some shit.”

Austin sucks his teeth. “Nah, bruh. She’s back in town. Saw her with my own eyes, getting Froyo from that place near Planet Fitness.” YoToGo. Bailey’s favorite. She always gets the Irish coffee and red velvet cake. Every hair on my body, head to balls, stands on end. Grim notices the shift, glancing at Austin and Ballsy with sudden interest.

“I always thought she was a seven outta ten.” Ballsy tugs at his dick roughly, lathering it with soap. “Too Goody Two-Shoes for my taste. But I’d tap that because she is…ya know, legacy. Daria Followhill’s sister.”

Bullshit. She’s a goddamn hundred out of ten, and everyone with a working pair of eyes knows it.

Bailey is a legend in All Saints High.

Her grades. Her pedigree. Her president of the debate team status that won us the nationals. She is kind, put-together, smart as a demon, and fuckable to a fault. I don’t know one guy who wouldn’t want a piece of her. Which coincidently makes me want to butcher half the people in my life into microscopic pieces.

“You sure she’s back in town?” Finn wonders. Same.

Austin nods. “OD, man.” He turns off the faucet and my mouth is bone fucking dry.

He plucks a towel and slaps it between his thighs, wiping back and forth. “My cousin’s girl goes to Juilliard. That fall from grace was from a fucking skyscraper, man. She was ushered out of her room on a gurney foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.”

“Shut up.”

“It’s all over social media.”

Ballsy laughs in disbelief. “Bailey Followhill? OD’ing? I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Who the fuck would buy that?”

“Dude, I’ll send you a TikTo—”

“That’s enough,” I roar.

Austin turns to me, a crooked, sadistic grin on his face. “What’s the problem, Cap? It’s not like I’m trashing a teammate. You can’t do shit.”

“I can do a whole lot of shit.” I step in his direction.

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Fuck around and find out.”

A shit-eating grin on his face, Austin drops the towel to the floor, walks over to the bench in front of our lockers, and picks up his phone, sliding his thumb over the screen. “Y’all gotta see Bailey Followhill getting picked up by the EMS—”

The video starts playing, and that’s when I lose it.

Every ounce of self-control in me dissipates. She’s my blind side. My weak spot. She is my Achilles’ heel.

I dart toward him faster than an F-22 Raptor and slam his back against the lockers. My nose touches his as I get in his face. We’re both naked and dripping water. Not ideal, but I want him to know I am going to make lasagna out of his inner organs if he speaks about her like this ever again. Don’t ask me why, but Austin’s favorite hobby is pissing me off until I can no longer see straight.

He steps back, chuckling. “My bad.” He raises his palms in surrender. “Maybe it’s someone who looks just like her and attends Juilliard and drives the same car.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” I pluck his phone from between his fingers, direct it at his ugly face to unlock it, and report the video. “There.” I shove the phone into his mouth, deliberately slamming it against his teeth. “All better now, yeah?”

I secure a towel around my waist and pick up my duffel bag, digging for my clothes.

Unlike Bailey, I can lie through my teeth any day of the week. I’m not necessarily a good person. I’m just good to the people I love. Morally fluid, and damn proud of that.

“So did she overdose or not?” Finn, who I swear is slower than a sleeping sloth, pokes.

The lie slides out of my mouth effortlessly. “No, fuckface. She got ushered into the ER last week.

But she fainted, not overdosed. She is taking some time off because of her sports injuries.”

“Sure, man. Sure. Just like I’m taking time off from Margot Robbie because she is too sexually demanding to keep up with.”

Austin grabs his junk, laughing. That’s strike two, and I’m not waiting for the third. He bends over to pick up his shirt from the metal bench. I grab him by the back of the neck and slam him face first against the blue metal lockers so roughly I leave an asshole-shaped dent on the fucking metal.

“Let’s try this again,” I taunt into his ear. “Shall we?”

“You’re handling this whole situation tremendously well,” Grim points out dryly from the bench, rolling his socks on. “Twelve out of ten for self-control. Supreme captain material.”

Ignoring him, I crash Austin’s head against the locker again. He spits out blood.

I don’t care. I’m past seeing red. This is somewhere between burgundy and black. “Promise me you’ll never utter this bullshit again to anyone with ears.”

Austin struggles, flailing as he tries to escape my hold, attempting to throw a punch in to save his pride.

“Hey, hey!” Antonio and Finn rush to get between us, trying to deescalate the situation. Grim is the only one not to butt in. He loves tea so much, I’m surprised he didn’t bring biscuits. Plus, if I fall, he’s next in line to step into my shoes.

“Dafuq are you doing, Cole?” Antonio shrieks but doesn’t put an effort into pushing me in the opposite direction. He knows Austin overstepped.

Austin gurgles on a mixture of blood and saliva, thrashing against my death grip. “Jesus, Cole. That ego of yours has gotten too big for the rest of you.”

“Stop spreading lies about Bailey,” I repeat, voice flat, eyes dead.

“Just because you can’t handle the truth doesn’t change it.”

“One thing I can and will change is your fucking face if you speak about her ever again.”

I grab him by the neck and hurl him to the floor. He falls down with a loud thud, shimmering, fuming eyes directed at me.

Lifting my finger up, I hiss, “This is your last warning. Next time I hear you say her name, I’m feeding Ballsy’s nuts to you with a spoon.”

“It’s a medical condition!” Ballsy kicks my duffel bag angrily as he scurries out the door.

“That doesn’t make it any less funny, bro.” Finn claps his shoulder, trailing after him.

It’s only when Austin, Finn, Mac, Antonio, and Ballsy are gone that Grim opens his smart mouth again. He’s slouched against the door with his arms folded, looking smug. “I ran out of Royal Canin.”

“Huh?” I shrug into my varsity jacket.

“Your version of Snickers. You know, because you’re acting like a little bitch right now.”

I swear this is his version of a pep talk.

“Fucker had it coming.”

“He goaded you to get a reaction, and you fell right into his trap.” Grim pushes off the door, ambling toward me. I know he’s about to lay into me, and he has every right to. “Bailey isn’t God.”

“Never said she was.” I hoist my backpack over my shoulder.

“She didn’t even tell you she’s in town.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not her fucking parent, and I don’t actually care all that much.”

I’m glad there isn’t a lie detector attached to me or the graph would jump so high, it’d hit the fucking moon.

Grim runs a hand over his overgrown hair, looking like a commercial for an eighty-buck shampoo. “All I’m saying is she’s not yours to protect. Every time she’s near, you lose yourself.”

“And?” I sneer.

“And right now? You have too much to lose.”

Fully clothed now, I grab my bag and leave without sparing him a glance.

Cupid botched the job. He only hit one of us.

But that arrow? It pierced through my heart and stabbed at my back.

A few hours later, I walk into the Great Hall.

We call it that because All Saints High legit has the best cafeteria space in the whole of SoCal. Probably the West Coast. While it’s a public school, it’s in the most affluent county in the state. Parents and donors hemorrhage money into it, throwing themed balls and charity events to subsidize whatever their aristo-brat spawns desire.

Personally, I think it’s the ultimate cop-out. Sending your kid to a public school because you’re an upstanding citizen fighting for equality but paying through the nose to make sure said school stays bougie as fuck.

The lunch lady piles a Kobe burger with swiss cheese and coleslaw, and lime and chili-flavored tortilla chips onto my tray.

Grim is getting a four-cheese quesadilla with truffle fries and fruit. A pair of slender arms wrap around me from behind, hugging my waist.

A hot, lollipop-scented mouth latches on to the side of my neck. “Hmm. Smells like teen spirit.”

“Sweat, spunk, and crushing expectations?” Grim asks blandly, cracking open his can of La Croix as he slides his tray along the conveyor belt of the lunch line.

Thalia nudges her small body between us, grinning from ear to ear. “Opportunity, youth, and ambition!”

I call Thalia my girl-something because she’s more than a friend but less than a girlfriend.

Someone I’m casually seeing to pass the time. We have this unspoken agreement she can never have my heart.

My dick is a different matter, though.

Thalia pulls at the elastic holding her messy bun together to release her long blond hair.

Grim shoots me a look that says, I know you see it too, cum-hole.

And I do. I see it.

Thalia looks kinda like Bailey.

Okay, fine. Exactly like Bailey, if you look at her from behind.

Which happens to be my preferred position when we tumble into bed.

Last year, when Bailey was a senior and Thalia a junior, people would mix them up all the time.

But that’s not why I’m dating Thalia. I’m dating Thalia because she is cute, fun, and doesn’t mind verbally sparring with Grim whenever he’s being an asshole.

Also because she is the only girl who was persistent enough when I turned her down the first hundred times.

“You getting something?” I unfurl my fingers from hers when she tries to hold my hand, my thoughts traveling back to Bailey.

Bailey. She has no clue I have a girl-something. Things have been weird between us. Now that she’s here unexpectedly, she’s in for a surprise.

“Hey, by the way, I’ve been dating Thalia Mulroney for two months. Yup, your hologram with a heartbeat.”

“Got my own, thanks.” Thalia raises a bag of kale chips and a Diet Coke.

I suspect Thalia doesn’t have a ton of money for lunch every day and I don’t want to offer to pay for her because I don’t want to embarrass her, so I slip her favorite kale chips and soda in her locker a few times a week.

“You know, your eating disorder really complements your eyes,” Grim says in a fake Valley-girl drawl.

“Why, thank you.” Thalia puts a hand to her chest. “But does it go together as well as the chip on your shoulder and in-desperate-need-of-cut hair?”

We all pivot and grab a seat. A sophomore sitting three benches down from us shouts, “My ideal weight is Grim Kwon and whatever his duvet weighs!”

Her friend stands up and flashes us her bra. “My ideal weight is three Lev Coles on top of me!”

The entire cafeteria erupts in laughter.

Thalia perches her ass in my lap, joining in on the laughter. She turns to Grim, looking slightly annoyed. “I eat a light lunch on Wednesdays. I have back-to-back practice from one till three.”

Thalia is on the varsity gymnastics team that won us the district championship and third place state championship last year.

Grim stares at her vacantly. “Shit. You’re still here.” He yawns. “I muted you out somewhere between chips and shoulders.”

She turns to me. “You’re gonna let him talk to me like that?”

“Hey, at least he talks to you. Most people, he doesn’t even acknowledge.”

She laughs and swats my chest. “Asshole. You’re so lucky you’re hot. And a jock.”

I didn’t always hate football.

In fact, once upon a time, I even sort of liked it.

But then the competitiveness, expectations, and In Lev Cole I Trust bumper stickers became a thing, and it got out of control.

I now do it out of obligation. To my family. To my community. To my never-ending guilt trip.

Thalia grabs my turtle dove bracelet. Or whatever’s left of it. “When will you let me get you a new string? The dove’s gonna fall off any day now.”

I gently pull away. Having her fingers on it feels wrong. “I’ll get to it.”

“So. Grim. Found a reaper to mate with yet?” Thalia wiggles her brows, turning her attention to him. I chuckle, finishing half my burger in one bite.

“No, why? Do you know another gold-digging, social-climbing, semi-hot gymnast in need of a rich boyfriend?” His eyes mockingly light up. “All I ever wanted was someone to love me for my bank account.”

I kick Grim under the table. “Cut it out.”

Thalia blushes, throwing a kale chip at him, and he catches it in his hand without looking up from his plate, shoving it into his mouth. “Hmm. I just love the taste of nothing.”

Having enough of Grim’s bullshit, Thalia turns to me. “Are we still on for today, babes? Early dinner at yours?”

Grim’s gaze snaps up from his food, a taunting smile on his face. “Yeah, babes, are you still on?”

I’m going to break his pretty nose one day. My misery seems to be his favorite comedy genre.

I run a hand over my buzzed head. “Sorry, T. Bailey’s back in town. I gotta see her.”

Lay into her, more like it.

If she’s even here. I’m going off Austin’s word, which is slightly less trustworthy than that of a Nigerian prince-astronaut stranded in space with a fifteen-million-dollar fortune he wishes to share with complete strangers.

Ohmigod, she is?” Thalia’s eyes twinkle with excitement. “Wait, is she okay?”

Alarm bells blast in my head. “Why wouldn’t she be?”

“It’s just…” Her shoulders hitch up. “I heard some stuff.”

“From Austin?” My brows furrow.

Thalia bites down on her lower lip. “No…from Lakshmi.”

The video’s been doing the rounds already. The whole school probably knows.

Good job, Bails. Ruining a nineteen-year flawless reputation on one drug binge.

Thalia smooths my shirt over my pecs. “Will you let me know how she’s doing?”

“Why?” I ask. They weren’t friends or anything.

“Because she wants to know what she’s competing with,” Grim coughs into his fist.

“Because I’ve always liked her.” Thalia glares at Grim with a scowl, shaking her head like he’s a lost cause.

“Sure,” I say, because it seems extra shitty both to bail on her ass and not keep her in the loop. Especially since I blew her off twice this week to work on a vintage car Dad bought.

“No. Let’s open this up. Why do you like the girl your fuck buddy is in love with, Thalia?” Grim pops a fry into his mouth, looking between us with a sinister grin. “Is that because she’s you but with a personality?”

“Speaking of personalities, you should use all that money to buy yourself a new one,” Thalia sasses back.

The barb doesn’t land. Grim doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t get even, either.

He normally just gets bored.

“Are you capable of saying something without sarcasm?” I grind out at him.

“Hope not. That might invite a real, meaningful conversation.” Grim shudders.

“Hey, do you want me to come with you? To see Bailey, I mean?” Thalia puts a hand on my shoulder.

“Yeah, Lev, do you?” Grim blinks expectedly.

Rather than throw a tortilla chip at him, I hurl the entire tray and everything on it.

He dodges quickly, and my food ends up splattering over Raul Ortega’s back. A varsity wrestler with a taste for shenanigans.

He turns around, death in his eyes.

“Fooooooooooood fight!”


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