Damaged Goods: Chapter 38


Bailey

I stay in the hospital for ten days before they let me go.

Lev doesn’t visit me once.

Actually, that’s not true. He does arrive here daily, but he doesn’t come in. I keep hearing him outside of my room, talking to Dad and Penn and Mom and Daria. Asking how I’m doing.

I want to yell at him. Tell him I’m happy to email him my hospital chart first thing every morning and save him the time and traffic, since he isn’t here to see me anyway.

But I know I have no right to be a brat.

Why doesn’t he come in? I think I know why, and the reason is frightening to me.

Good news is, I’m officially accepting visitors.

Knight and Luna arrive with Cayden and a stack of books Luna purchased especially for me.

Vaughn and Lenora arrive sans the twins and stay over for a DoorDash dinner and a two-hour conversation about art.

Daria and I watch movies every night and talk about the past—always the past, never the future. The future is too big, too vast, too threatening. We don’t touch it.

I arrive back home in a wheelchair. My leg is in a cast and I can technically use crutches, but my parents are told I have to take it easy.

It is an extremely humbling experience to sit in my backyard and crochet beanies for NICU babies without being able to jump to my feet and dance every time a song I like comes on the radio.

I’m not sure why I don’t contact Lev. It’s not pride—I’ve never been a prideful person.

I guess a part of me understands why he put distance between us. Why he let go. I treated him horribly and put him through hell. Then to top all of it off, used again, despite his valid and healthy pleas. Mom always says love is an exercise in endurance, but I think she means general curveballs life throws at you.

Not when one of you decides to become abusive and not themselves.

Still, I know we’ll talk before he goes off to college, wherever that might be.

Before I enter rehab. Whenever that might be.

How’s the sky looking, Dove? his voice asks inside my head.

The sky fell on me and crushed me whole. And still, I survived.


I end up choosing a rehab center in the same way I used to choose ice cream flavors when I was a kid. Squeeze my eyes shut real tight, run my finger along a curated list, and halt at a random place.

Mom, Dad, Daria, and Penn are sitting next to me. My built-in support group.

“No peeking!” Mom coos, trying to make the whole ordeal fun, rather than horrifying.

I stifle a smile. I let my finger slide along the handwritten list and stop.

Silence. My heartbeats are drumming between my ears.

“Is it good? Is it bad?” I ask, eyes still closed. “Can you even tell? Daria’s penmanship is awful.”

“Hey!” Daria laughs.

“Aww! This one looks so good. We loved the pictures,” Mom says finally. “Open your eyes now, Bailey. It’s the beginning of the rest of your life.”


The rehab center is in Pennsylvania.

My decision to go out of state stemmed from my need to cut off the invisible cord running between me, my parents, and Lev.

I wanted to focus on getting better, not on expecting weekend visits with my loved ones.

Sometimes you have to live without people to remember how much they’re worth keeping in your life.

Though, I guess Lev could be crossed off the list of hypothetical visitors. He doesn’t even visit me from across the street.

Three days after I chose a rehab program, I’m sitting on the front porch of my house, surrounded by suitcases and duffel bags.

“You better come back clean, happy, and chill as fuck,” Daria warns somewhere above my head, shoving my pink headphones and favorite glittery socks into my carry-on bag and struggling with the zipper. “This thing cost Mom and Dad sixty grand. Are they handing out bachelor degrees at the end of it?”

“Dude, guilt trip much?” I tilt my head up to glare at her. But I’m not mad, not really.

She is right. Plus, she dropped everything to be with me for this entire duration since I OD’d.

“Much.” She tosses her Rapunzel hair to one shoulder. “You deserve to feel guilty—not ashamed. I had to take time off work. And stop a juice-cleansing stint.”

“I’m sure you and Penn can still pay the bills.” Her husband gets paid a gazillion dollars per season for the 49ers.

“It’s not about money. It’s about my responsibilities. Aspirations. My passion.”

“Are you talking about your job or the juice cleanse?” I frown.

“Both.” She laughs. “My hot-girl-shit routine is perfected down to an art, and I miss my students sooo much.”

Is she really that passionate about her role? I hadn’t realized. Possibly because I’ve always secretly believed Daria took this job out of necessity, to do something with her life.

“Do you really like what you do?” I can only imagine the type of pep talks my sister gives the youth of America. There’s tough love and then there’s whatever Daria Scully is giving people. Which is more like…BDSM affection.

“Love it.” A tender smile traces her lips, and her eyes soften. “You know, Bails, there’s life after the glitz and glamour of professional ballet and cheer. It’s really nice to do something quiet and rewarding. To work out because you want to, because it’s fun, and not because it’s your job.” This, I can believe. “I make more of a difference as a counselor than I did as cheer captain. My positive footprint on this world is greater. Don’t look at this as failure.” She shakes her head.

“We all fall. Those who get back up—they’re the real winners. And once you’ve been down, you learn to appreciate the ups so much more.”

Her eyes snap from mine to the mansion across the street. She arches an eyebrow and swivels toward the front door. “This is my cue to make myself scarce. Dad’ll start the car in about ten minutes, so that’s how much time you’ve got to say goodbye to lover boy.”

Daria disappears into the house. I stare ahead and watch Lev crossing the cul-de-sac from his house to mine.

He is wearing a black hoodie and low-hanging gray sweatpants. His sharp jaw tics when he sees me fenced by my suitcases and bags. He doesn’t smile when his forest-greens meet my ocean-blues.

My heart is in my throat. I know this is goodbye, at least for right now.

But what if it’s goodbye forever? What if too many things have happened for us to move on?

He jogs the few steps of the ivory marble leading to my door and stands in front of me.

“Is now a good time to talk?” Despite everything, his voice is sweet and familiar.

“No better time, since I’m leaving for rehab in…” I check my phone. “Nine minutes and twenty-three seconds.”

I can’t keep the bitterness out of my voice. I don’t blame him for wanting me gone after everything I’ve put him through. But it still rips me to shreds.

We both made so many mistakes ever since I came back, and I don’t know how to move on from all the bad memories that muddied up all of our good ones.

Lev takes a seat next to me. I don’t dare look at him. At his sharp, straight nose or delectably symmetrical lips.

There’s a mountain of unspoken words wedged between us.

Lev closes his eyes, swallows, letting those words collapse like rubble.

“Since the moment you overdosed, all I’ve been doing is trying to find the right words to say to you when you woke up. It took me all these days to realize there are no right words in our case, so instead of saying what’s right, I’m going to focus on saying what’s true.”

The truth is always a sucker punch. I hold my breath.

“I’d like to start by apologizing to you. This apology has been a long time coming. When my mom died, I looked for someone to replace her energy. You were the easiest choice. I put an unfair burden on you. Expectations no kid should be faced with. You were my everything—mother, sister, mentor, best friend, potential lover. You were the whore and the saint. The illness and the remedy. You made my favorite food, you slept in my bed, you prepared my backpack the night before school, and also starred in every fantasy I’ve ever had. There is something about you, Dove. You’re very dependable. So people just throw shit at you, thinking you’ll succeed.”

I watch him in horror. I have a feeling I know where this is going.

He continues, “When you put the entire world on someone’s shoulders, don’t be surprised when they break their back. And when you sank, Bailey, my love for you began turning into hate.

I don’t want to hate you. I don’t want to dread every moment with you. But I am. Around you, I’m acting like a fuckboy who don’t keep himself in check. I break my own rules. I…” He rakes his fingers through his hair, which has grown. “I do shit with you I would never do with someone under the influence. There are no boundaries. There are no norms. I spent my entire life trying not to fall into the same life of thrill-seeking addiction my dad and brother struggled with. I don’t want to lose myself, even if it means gaining you.”

I know exactly what he means, even if I don’t want to. Normal Lev would die before taking advantage of someone who is high or drunk.

I made him loathe himself.

“We’ve done everything together ever since we were born. I think it’s time we stand alone.”

“I…I’m sorry for what I’ve put you through—”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s not,” I insist.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says flatly.

My gaze lingers on my sneakers. I can feel him slipping away from me. From us.

“What were in the boxes you gave me?” I blurt out. I’ve been meaning to ask, but it was never the right time. “I mean, nothing, obviously, so I guess I missed an important gesture there.”

“A piece of the sky.” His smile is like a lick of sunray over my skin. “I’d go up to the roof of my house and cut you a piece every day. I wanted you to remember you have limitless options. Endless possibilities. Doves are good at finding direction. Ballet isn’t the beginning and the end of your life. And you’re my dove, so I know you’ll find your way. The sky is yours, Bailey.” His voice is so sad, so full, I can’t breathe. “Yours to find your way again. So just…just forget about Juilliard and ballet and competitions for a second and think about you.”

Feelings clog my throat, and everything is beautiful and ugly at the same time.

“I need you to do me a favor while I’m in rehab,” I hear myself say.

“Of course,” he says. “Anything.”

“Payden.” I turn to look at him, gathering my knees in my hands.

Lev’s face clouds. “I’m not doing Payden, no matter how fond I am of you.”

Attempting a smile, I explain, “Payden was my dealer. My guess is he isn’t dealing anymore, but…I can’t be certain.”

“Oh shit. He might be still doing that,” Lev murmurs under his breath.

“For months, I’ve walked around with this hole in my chest that I’m letting him get away with what he did. My last thought before I go to bed every day is—has he killed anyone yet? So I did a thing.” I lick my lips, reaching for the duffel bag next to me and pulling out a preprinted stack of papers. “I typed out my entire statement for you to give to the police, including my contact number in rehab. All his details are there too. I’m going to be available to them.”

Lev grabs the papers, tucking them under his arm. “Consider it done.”

“Thank you.” I try to smile again. Fail—again. “I really appreciate it.”

There’s an awkward silence.

This is brutal. I’ve never experienced awkward silence with Lev before. Maybe before we learned how to talk.

“I’m glad you’re going to rehab,” he says.

“So am I,” I huff, adding bitterly, “It helps that my schedule is all cleared up, now that Juilliard kicked me out and my parents refuse to let me stay in their house unless I graduate rehab.”

He doesn’t crack a smile. “You need to go in there knowing you’ve lost everything. To fight for it back, you understand?”

“Not everything.” I hang my gaze on his face anxiously. “I still have you, right?”

It is in that moment that I do lose everything.

In the moment when Lev fingers his dove pendant, then slowly removes it from his wrist.

We’re both watching, mesmerized. It is like he is cutting off a limb or something.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without it since the time he gave me mine. I hurry to touch mine, then realize Thalia stole it. The doves are gone.

When we look up at each other, we both have tears in our eyes.

His nose is red. He is that close to crying. And if he realized my bracelet is not with me anymore, he hasn’t said anything.

Maybe it’s best. Maybe I don’t want to know what he has to say about my losing it.

“I’m sorry, Dove. We’ll always have the past, but your present needs to be yours, and you can’t have my future.”

“Lev…”

He stands up. I do the same. This time, I feel my tibia pain in all its glory—even through the cast—and even though fresh tears spring into my eyes, it’s oddly satisfying to feel again.

For the longest time, the pills made me so numb to reality.

“I love you, and for me to continue to love you, I have to let you go. You need to do the same.”

“But Rosie made me promis—”

Lev cups my cheeks, bringing me close to his face. Our noses touch. His breath skates along my face, and I shiver with pleasure, like a junkie stealing a hit.

“I know what Mom asked. I’m asking you to disregard it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s that we need to try to rebuild our lives around the hole my mom left. I have to move on. Let. Me. Go.”

My nails sink into his arms, and I do the opposite of letting him go as I sob into his chest.

His breaths are labored and I can feel his heart jackhammering, threatening to pierce through his rib cage.

“I hate you,” I croak out, balling my hands into fists and pushing him away from me.

The garage door slides open. Dad is going to come out any minute now to start loading my stuff into the trunk. “I hate you so much.”

But I don’t hate him. I love him. I’m just angry that I lost him.

Lev wraps his arms around me, absorbing my punches. Even now, seconds before we say goodbye, I’m hurting him and he is taking it.

“I hate myself.” I change my tune, finally saying the truth now. “I hate myself so much.”

Lev angles my head down and presses a kiss to my scalp. “I love you.”

“Thalia stole my dove bracelet,” I hear myself sulk. Fuck, I’m such a big baby. “I would never have taken it off!”

He loosens his grip on me, stepping backward, toward his house. Before he turns around, he touches his lips again with his fingers. “Maybe you didn’t need it anymore.”

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