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Damaged Goods: Chapter 36


Bailey

The first thing I hear is the steady rhythm of the EKG machine.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Calm and comforting, it lulls me in and out of consciousness.

I’m cold. My mouth is dry. I slowly come to, realizing by the overwhelming pile of sensations returning to me that I was probably in a medically induced coma.

I know why doctors log you out and put you on blue-screen mode. I took premed before going to Juilliard. Whatever they did to me, I couldn’t have endured it consciously.

I don’t remember much. Actually…I don’t remember anything at all. But my gut is telling me bad things have happened.

This wasn’t a close brush with death. This was kissing its cold, blue lips, an inch from being swallowed by it.

I blink my eyes open, wondering how long I’ve been out for, and the first thing I see is my sister, napping on a recliner in front of me.

Behind her is a blue, generic wall. My hoodie is draped over her chest, and it looks like she’s been sniffing it for comfort.

My pupils turn to my right. Mom is sleeping in an upright position next to me. I avert my gaze to the left. It’s stark black and crickets are chirping.

I try to swallow. Fail.

How long has it been?

What the hell did I do?

The memories of Thalia and the Juilliard letter tsunami back into my mind. I block them best I can.

I’m not ready. Not yet.

Gingerly, I try to make a sound. Open my mouth and let out air. I can croak. I am grateful for this small miracle. For the simple pleasure of not losing my voice.

I close my eyes and take a greedy breath. This simple, involuntarily action fills me with hope.

I can breathe.

I can still breathe.

After everything I put my body through.

Punishing it relentlessly.

Yet I am still here.

“Bails?” Daria croaks. My eyes are closed, so I’m guessing she knows I’m awake by the tears streaming steadily down my cheeks. My hospital gown is wet and I want to wipe my face, but I’m hooked to so many machines, it hurts to move my hands.

Daria stands up and pads on socked feet toward me. She joins me in bed, curling her long, agile limbs around mine and wiping my face gently. She kisses my cheek. She smells like our childhood—fluffy pillows and hot cocoa and sunshine. Her blond hair tangles in my own, and she hugs me like I’m a broken thing. Because I am.

Damaged goods are still goods, Bailey, Lev’s voice reminds me in my head.

“I’m so happy you’re here.” Her voice sounds hoarse from crying. I cry harder, my body trembling with my sobs. This can’t be good for my health. This flood of emotions that’s drowning me whole.

“Shh.” Daria strokes my head soothingly. “You’ll wake Mom, and she’d been awake for over seventy hours. As you can clearly see on her skin.”

“How long have I been out?” I whisper.

“Two days.”

I breathe in sharply. Close my eyes. Oh Marx.

“I’m so sorry,” I say.

“So am I.”

Why should she be sorry? She didn’t do anything. Unless…unless she isn’t sorry for something anybody did. But for the situation. The realization must be painted on my face because Daria sucks in a breath.

“Bailey…” My sister hesitates. “Don’t look down, but…”

I look down instinctively. Because that’s what people do when you tell them not to look down.

Plus, my leg is hurting really bad despite a monstrous amount of painkillers, I’m sure.

My eyes widen when I see the huge bump poking from the thin hospital blanket. “What is it?”

“They had to put a rod in your tibia. You injured yourself pretty badly, practicing through the pain. The painkillers probably allowed you to push through, but you literally broke your bone clean.”

My chin is trembling. Rather than being mad at myself, or at Juilliard, or at Thalia, or at the world, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ve put myself through a lot and I’m still here.

I can’t believe it.

“Ballet…” Daria starts.

I shake my head violently. “I can’t. Not right now.”

“Okay.” She sits upright, tucking me under her arm. “You’re right.”

“Are Mom and Dad angry with me?” I bite down on my bottom lip, feeling like a small child all of a sudden.

Daria rolls her tear-filled eyes, trying to look strong. “That’s not even going to be their fiftieth emotion when they find out you’re awake. But, Bailey…”

I know. They want me to go to rehab. To stay there. To be serious about getting better.

Stupidly—and perhaps unbelievably too—I can’t contemplate doing something like that right now. Being away from my family. I just want to bury myself in Mom and Dad’s bed and never leave their sides.

“Can we not talk about this, either?”

This time Daria doesn’t say anything. We stare at each other for a few beats before my sister asks, “Can I show you something?”

I nod slowly.

She pulls out her phone from her pocket. Her screensaver is Penn and Cressida making faces to the camera, with Sissi’s fingers painted red. They were making Daria a card for Mother’s Day.

Sissi. If I had died, I wouldn’t be able to hug her anymore.

Daria unlocks her phone and gets into her video gallery. She scrolls up for long moments, searching for something.

“I had some time to burn on the plane from San Francisco to Todos Santos, so I went through our old childhood videos. The ones Mom showed us last Christmas?”

“Yeah,” I croak. “Yeah, I remember those videos.”

Kind of. I was too busy ogling Lev and popping pills.

“Ah. There it is!” Daria jacks the volume all the way up and sticks her AirPods into my ears.

I don’t recognize this video, but I know where it was taken. It’s a video of me, when I was four or five, in a ballet class.

I am tiny and wearing a bright neon-green tutu and leotard, against all the pale pinks and whites of the other girls around me.

“Stand in line, Bailey,” I hear the teacher in the background—I can’t even recall her name—but instead, the camera follows me as I hop on the ballet barre and hook the back of my knees against it, dangling upside down with my arms stretched, giggling.

Mom laughs behind the camera. A real laugh, a rich laugh, that dances in my own lungs as if it comes out of me. Something warm fills me.

“What are you doing, Bails?” Mom coos.

“Getting ready for my big number!” I flash my nonexistent guns at the camera, like I’m a superhero. My two upper teeth are missing, and I look ridiculous yet so confident and happy, carefree.

“Oh, I cannot wait to see what that looks like.” I can hear the grin in Mom’s voice. “Which song do you wanna dance to?”

“‘Smooth Criminal’!”

“It’s not a ballet song,” Mom points out.

“Says who?” I challenge. “Everything is a ballet song if you’re good at it.”

“Bailey, are you coming?” the teacher reproaches in the background.

“Yes, Ms. McFadden!” I hop down to my feet and throw a sassy smile behind my shoulder. “Mom, check out my dance moves!”

And then…then I break into the Fox dance. I kid you not. With the groovy smile and ridiculous moves. Mom snort-laughs now, following me with the camera.

The video goes on for a few more seconds. I stand in line with the rest of the girls—stand out with my outfit and uneven ponytails—and dance with all of them.

I’m not the best in the class. I’m not even the third best in the class, to be honest. But the entire time I’m dancing, I look…thrilled. Filled with joy.

The smile doesn’t drop from my face, not for one second, even when Ms. McFadden corrects me over and over again.

The video ends, and immediately I want to watch it again and never watch it again at the same time. It is so bittersweet to see the way it all started—not with the pressure of Mom’s projected dream. With the pure simplicity of a girl who simply loved to dance.

Untucking the AirPods from my ears, I deposit them in Daria’s open palm.

“You always enjoyed the journey and didn’t care so much about the endgame,” Daria says quietly. “Remember when we went on vacations, to resorts, and there would be lame dance parties at night for the kids? You always danced in those. Everybody else thought they were too cool for it. Not you. You did the Macarena like nobody’s business.”

“I did,” I croak out. “It’s such a catchy song.”

Both Daria and me burst into a laugh-cry sob.

“What happened?” Daria croaks.

My gaze flutters to where Mom is asleep. Only she isn’t asleep anymore. She’s been listening to this entire exchange, judging by the tears in her eyes.

She is watching us, pressing a tissue to her nose.

I happened.” Mom leans forward on her elbows, grabbing my arm. “I did this to you. The same way I did it to Daria. Put so much pressure on you. Once I realized you were both so talented, I wanted you to have everything I hadn’t been able to get. Daria was more assertive, though. She stood her ground when I tried steering her in the ballet direction. But you, Bailey…”

Mom looks down, wrecked. “You always aimed to please. I should have been much more careful with you. I pushed and I pushed. And look what happened. You ended up with a broken leg too. Only in my case, it was an accident. In yours, you did it to yourself. They put a rod in your tibia, Bailey.” Wow. They’re both really bad at pep talks. “Because of me. I—”

“Not because of you,” I cut her off. “Because of me. I have to take accountability for what happened. Yes, you pushed me to succeed. To go to Juilliard. But I could’ve shut you down at any point. You wouldn’t have put up much of a fight.”

“Yes, and lived your adolescent years feeling like a complete failure,” Mom says, not ready to let herself off the hook. “I’ve been a terrible mother to both of you.”

Daria tips her head back and laughs. “Marx, Mom. So dramatic.”

“One of my daughters ended up being abused by her principal, and the other became a drug addict,” she reminds us.

“We’re a family of winners.” Daria pumps the air.

I have to smile a little too. Because if she finds it amusing, maybe I could one day too. I mean, Daria seems happy with her life, and back in the day, it seemed like hope was gone for her.

This is my moment of epiphany.

Apparently, motivation doesn’t come from rock bottom. It comes from seeing all the things I’m going to lose if I don’t turn my life around. My family. My passion—yes, dancing is still my passion, even if it didn’t work out with Juilliard.

Lev. I’ve been so horrible to him. To everyone around me.

I want to be that girl in the video again. To dangle upside down, break into silly dances, wear neon-colored tutu dresses.

I want to be happy. Even if happy means not being the most successful girl in the room.

Even if my happily-ever-after doesn’t include big stages, a shelf full of trophies, and worldwide recognition.

The door opens, and Dad walks in. As I suspected, he is holding a coffee cup holder with fresh coffees for him, Mom, and Daria.

At the sight of me awake and at all three of us crying, his eyebrows shoot up.

“She’s awake.” He drops the coffee on the floor. All three cups explode, brown liquid spilling everywhere. No one in the room even bats an eyelash.

Somehow, I find it in me to smile. “I’m back, Dad, and I’m never ever doing this to you again.”

He rushes to me, dropping to his knees by my bed, kissing the back of my hand, even with all the needles inside it.

My dad is crying now. The big Jaime Followhill. The rulebreaker. The man who pissed all over tradition, and expectations, and married his high school teacher.

The man who built an empire. The man who raised two firecrackers. Married one, too.

Crying. Like a child.

You have too much to lose, Bailey.

This is worth fighting for.

This is worth living for.

We all gather into a group hug. When we disconnect, I clear my throat.

“Juilliard…” I start.

Mom jumps in. “I’m so sorry I opened your letter. I didn’t mean to overstep. I was just so worri—”

“Mom, let me finish.” I touch her wrist.

She makes a sign of zipping her mouth shut. She’s shaking. So am I.

I can’t do this anymore. I can’t ruin everyone’s lives just because mine didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.

“Juilliard wasn’t a good fit for me. I wanted to succeed but didn’t draw one ounce of satisfaction from it. I hated New York. Hated the cold. Hated the competitiveness. I was so good at excelling at things—school was always fun for me, dancing used to be a piece of cake—”

“All right, Miss Humblebrag, we get it,” Daria mumbles. We all laugh.

I continue, “So when I started doing badly at something, I didn’t admit defeat. I kept pushing and pushing through. And I ended up making friends with the wrong type of people.” I think about Payden. “I’m ready to go to rehab. I need to do this right. I have to. I’ll always be an addict. You can’t turn the wheel back. But I want to be a sober one who is safe to be around. I don’t just owe it to myself but to the people I love.”

Hands enfold me from all angles. A flurry of tears and kisses ensues.

And I know, in this moment, surrounded by the loved ones I’m probably not going to see for a long time, that somehow, I will be okay.

Because that’s the thing about damaged goods.

They’re still good. They just need a little fixing.


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