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Damaged Goods: Chapter 39


Lev

Miserable Fa… Nope. Not doing this anymore. Life is too short to be obsessed with death. It is time to live without feeling like it’s somehow betraying Mom.

Dixie is waiting for me when I cross the street back to my house.

I can see her through a screen of unshed tears, peering through the kitchen window, like it’s amateur creeper hour or something.

I’ve always liked her, but recently she’s really been growing on me. What she did with the Air Force Academy application should win her a Bad Bitch award, even if I am now perpetually anxious I won’t make the cut.

Honestly, my chances aren’t looking great. I could’ve fluffed my résumé a lot more. Sent out more references and letters of recommendation.

When I push the door open, I hear Dad telling her, “…can’t believe you’re screening my calls when you’re right fucking here in my house. That’s some next-level bullshit, Dix.”

Eh. I see he is back to Dicks.

“I’m here for Lev, not for you. Besides, you never did call Jessica for that appointment,” Dixie explains wryly, strolling from the window to the patio, following my lead.

“Well, you’re here now, so—”

“Not for long. Knight is picking Lev and me up for dinner in ten minutes. Lev is having a day, you know. With Bailey going to rehab and everything.”

“You’re unbelievable.” Dad shoots her a glare. “Of course, I know! He’s my son! I should be the one taking them to dinner, not you.”

“Dude, no offense.” I down a Gatorade and smash the empty bottle in my fist. “You’re not much company right now, and I need to lick my wounds.”

Dixie turns to Dad with a serene smile. “You seem angry. Would you like me to return the keys to you?”

“No,” he bites out acidly. “Keep them. It’s only a matter of time until your rundown apartment needs something else fixed and you have to move in here again.”

“I happen to like my ‘rundown apartment’ quite a lot.” Dixie air quotes his miserable choice of words. “Every penny used to lease it was hard-earned and symbolizes my financial independence.”

Dad blushes. “Poor choice of words. That’s…that’s not what I meant.”

He loves her like a sister. Like she is family. And she feels like family, too. I realize that I might have created a monster that wasn’t really there with Dad and Dixie, pushing them together, pretending they could ever be a thing.

On the patio, Dixie hands me a cup of that bomb-ass bakery coffee. My usual order.

I accept it and take a sip.

“I did it.” I fish my dove bracelet from my sweatpants’ pocket. “She says Thalia stole hers.”

Fucking bitch. Thalia is high if she thinks I’m not getting it back.

Dixie gives me a sympathetic look. “I’m proud of you. I know it wasn’t easy, but she needed to know she has to fight for everything she’s ever taken for granted. The more you have at stake, the harder you fight.”

I’m taking her word for it because she started from the bottom too.

Sometimes it takes a fighter to make a fighter. Bailey needs to use her teeth and nails to claw her way out of this addiction. Breaking her heart was the hardest thing I had to do, and still, I did it because it means helping her mend her life.

Dad joins us on the patio, sulking. With his hands tucked inside his front pockets, he asks, “So how was saying goodbye to Bails?”

“Awesome. Thinking of making it a daily occurrence.”

“Jaime told me she signed up for a ninety-day program.” He toes his loafer over the dirt, refusing to look at Dixie, like a preschooler. “Seems like a reputable place. You should be happy.”

Happy? Not in this lifetime. Hopeful, sad, exhausted, and relieved, however? Yeah.

Honestly, my thoughts are a tangled mess. I won’t be able to truly tell what’s going on until we’re on the other side of this and Bailey is out of rehab.

Pressing my lips into a hard line, I admit, “It fucking sucks being in love with a girl and not knowing if she is going to make it through the night.”

“I know,” Dad rasps. “I’ve been there. It’s also the best to wake up and see that she is still there, breathing.”

I can practically hear Dixie swallowing hard, glancing between us. “I’ll leave you two to it.” She disappears back into the house.

I stare at Dad, and he stares back, and for a moment, I think he is going to go after her.

But he clears his throat instead. “The Air Force Academy? I hope you get in. I can’t think of anyone more capable. Knight…I always knew what he needed from me. A father figure. A mentor. Not you. I always kind of felt like you could be more of a father figure to me than vice versa. And that scared me. So sometimes…” He heaves a sigh. “Most times, I just left you to your own devices, trusting you’d do the right thing. I’m sorry I wasn’t more involved. More alert to your needs and wants.”

Chewing on my upper lip, I say, “It wasn’t just your fault. I saw an opportunity to make you happy, and I have this awful savior complex since I couldn’t save Mom. And you wanted to be saved.” I shrug. “I sometimes miss Mom’s family gatherings on your bed. We’d sit there and talk for hours about our feelings. Doesn’t work so well, though, with three six-foot-three dudes.”

Dad laughs. “Not so well, no. I’ll need two California kings to squeeze the three of us together. But you can still always talk to me.”

“I know.” I screw my mouth sideways. “I mean, now I do.”

“And for my part, I promise not to hang all my hopes and dreams on you and Knight. I have a few ideas in mind, though.”

My eyes travel to the glass door, and I raise an eyebrow. Dad shakes his head. “It’s not what you think, but yeah. Guess Dixie is a part of that plan too. We’ll never be together. It’ll just have to be…unconventional. Hug it out?” Dad suggests.

Mom always used to demand we hug shit out before we parted ways.

She didn’t like it when we left on bad terms with each other. Said it is a trait of people who took life for granted because you never really know if you’ll see the other person again.

You just assume. She even went as far as calling it a god complex when Knight and I would brawl about shit like who ate the last Nakd Bar (always Knight. Also, side note: I’d never felt so cheated as when I was fourteen and Knight teasingly offered me a Nakd Bar, and I thought he was taking me to my first titty place).

Now, Dad steps into my space, gathers me in his arms, and squeezes me so hard, my bones are grinding against one another.

I laugh into his shoulders. “Cut it out, psycho.”

“What are you gonna do if…?” He leaves the rest of the question unfinished. If I don’t get into the Air Force.

“Enlist. Prove myself while I serve. Then reapply.”

His body goes rigid against mine, but he doesn’t argue.

“I love you, Levy.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

“She’ll be okay,” he says, and I know exactly who he means.

I let my forehead drop on his neck and take a deep breath. “I know.”


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