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Damaged Goods: Chapter 41


Lev

I check our mailbox religiously, because Mel told me the rehab center Bailey is in encourages them to write letters to their loved ones.

I never get one, and it always surprises me, even though it shouldn’t.

I took off our goddamn friendship bracelet. Then told her we’re done. Expecting a letter is some next-level bullshit. I should be happy she didn’t set my house on fire.

A letter with the Californian government logo catches my attention. It is addressed to yours truly.

I’ve no idea what I could have done to piss the entire state of California off. I’m one of the only citizens in this damn place who knows how to separate all the recycling into the colored bins correctly.

Maybe they want to celebrate me for that. A street after my name sounds like a good idea.

Maybe jury duty?

I pluck the letter from the mailbox and walk inside. Leaning a hip against the dining table, I rip the envelope open. My mouth slacks and dries up when I see its contents.

It’s a copy of a letter of recommendation from the mayor of Todos Santos, Graham Bermudez. My eyes skim over the words frantically.

“…as per your request, we have sent the original to the United States Air Force Academy. We wish you the best of luck. Please let us know if we can do anything else…”

Holy shit.

Along the years, Bailey had encouraged me to volunteer with the city to clean up trash from the beach and hand out leaflets during election months.

I mainly did it so we could hang out because she did that, never because I thought a letter of recommendation could come out of it.

But Bailey must’ve remembered. Because I sure as fuck didn’t. This letter of recommendation is huge.

But…how did Bailey know I applied to the USAFA? That makes no sense.

I dial up Dixie’s number. She answers before the first ring.

“The answer is yes.” She sighs. “I had to ask Bailey for help, Lev. I knew you needed all sorts of things you didn’t include in the application and Bailey knows your life better than I do.

What’s more, did you know she keeps an entire folder with your résumé and potential places to get your recommendations from? There are, like, ten more letters like that coming.”

I’m bracing the dining table with white knuckles, about to lose it.

Bailey did this. Even while she was fighting her own demons, she went and collected letters of recommendation and whatnot to support my application.

She helped me chase my dream while hers was dying in front of her very eyes.

And I, in return, told her she doesn’t have me anymore. Dick move. Definitely a dick move.

The road to hell is full of good intentions and all.

“How do you know I called about that?” I ask Dixie, stunned.

“I knew you should be getting an answer back any day, so I figured your nerves were shot.”

“What did Bailey do exactly?”

“To my knowledge?” Dixie asks. “Got you ten letters of recommendation, including one from the mayor and another from the director of that airplane museum you volunteer at. She also did your extracurricular composite—I’m sure she padded it a little—and contacted your teachers for the teacher evaluation portion. Basically, she gathered all the things your application was missing.”

“But she must’ve done it after the deadline.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line. My heart is pounding so hard, I’m surprised it hasn’t jumped all the way to Pennsylvania.

Finally, Dixie answers. “She called to explain your…uh, circumstances. They gave her twenty-four hours to submit the additions to your application. Don’t ask me how, but she made it happen. One thing’s for sure—when this girl wants something, she gets it.”

I close my eyes and breathe through my nose. I feel like I’m falling apart. Bailey did the undoable. She moved mountains for me. If she can only overcome her own struggles, the sky will be the limit for us.

Dixie must know what’s going through my head. “You did the right thing, Lev. You gave her a shot at claiming her life back. It’s not too late for you two.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ve seen the way you look at each other,” she answers, her voice steady and resolute.

“And?”

“And the fire you ignite together vanquishes every shadow around you.”


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