Damaged Goods: Chapter 43


Bailey

Seven months later

I ended up staying an extra four months in rehab.

I didn’t feel ready when it was time to say goodbye. Honestly, it felt right to give my injuries the rest they deserved.

My body is repaying me in kind. I’m no longer weak, dizzy, nauseated, and frail.

I’m waiting for my parents to pick me up from the San Diego airport, encircled by my worldly possessions and a mild case of anxiety.

I’m wearing a cropped, pink argyle sweater, a white tennis skirt, and knee-high socks along with my black Mary Janes. The persistent drizzle threatens to ruin my perfect bow-tied ponytail.

Lev and I haven’t spoken to each other in seven months, and the way we parted ways suggested there was nothing to come back to.

The only update I’ve been given about him from Mom was that he got accepted to the Air Force Academy.

Can’t say I’m surprised, considering the effort Dixie and I went to, paired with his own unquestionable merit.

This means I’m not exactly sure if he is still in Todos Santos anymore, but there’s a teeny, tiny part of me that hopes he’ll come to the airport with my parents to pick me up.

Hence why I’m dressed like a blow-up doll ready to rock some lonely virgin’s world.

A Porsche Panamera pulls curbside in front of me. Being kidnapped by a rich man with a midlife crisis isn’t a lifelong dream of mine, but it still beats a Lev-less life.

The passenger door flings open and I step back instinctively, expecting a stranger, but come face-to-face with Mom.

Dad slips out of the driver’s seat. My heart tumbles down my chest to my stomach, then splits and rolls to both my feet.

“You got a new car!” I put on a fake smile (where is Lev?). “Congrats! It looks…” Green. So green. Radioactively green. “…cool.”

“Oh, honey, you don’t have to pretend.” Mom is clutching me like she doesn’t believe I exist, she hugs me so tightly. “We both know that car is entirely too green for its own good. It’s your father’s age.”

“Better a neon Porsche than a twentysomething secretary with daddy issues.”

Mom flashes him a tender smile, smoothing a hand over her cardigan. “Oh, but, honey, she would look so good next to your prenup-less divorce papers!”

“Wow. Two hundred hours of intensive therapy down the drain in two minutes. You guys are the best.” I erect two thumbs-up.

They grin at each other, then burst into laughter. It was their way to break the ice, apparently.

(WHERE IS LEV?)

“Bails! My goodness, how we’ve missed you.” Mom gathers me into her chest again.

Dad enfolds me from behind. I eventually untangle myself from their octopus arms.

WHERE. IS. LEV?

Dad hoists my bags to the trunk of the Porsche, while Mom is pushing me into the back seat like I’m about to make a run for it.

I’m in a daze. He’s really not here. Foolish as I was, a part of me was certain Lev would show up. That he’d had a change of heart while I was away all these months and realized he still wants me to be a part of his life, despite everything.

A gaping, ravenous hole tears open inside me. It feels like my emotions are devouring my inside organs. Which is…not fun.

But I’m fresh out of rehab with a bevy of coping mechanism tricks and tools.

So I just take ten calming breaths, redirect my thoughts, and…yup, life still sucks.

But my sobriety isn’t at risk. I can be sad and still resist drugs.

“I’m starving,” I announce as I buckle myself up. Dad slides into the front seat. He and Mom exchange more knowing grins.

I scowl. “Something funny?”

“Nope,” Dad says at the same time Mom explains, “You hadn’t been hungry for months before you went to rehab. I had to chase you down and shove energy bars down your throat. You look terrific, Bailey. You look like…well, you.”

“I’m me, and I’m starving, definitely not for energy bars.” I sniff. “Can we stop at Pizza My Heart on our way home?”

“Can an eighties baby sport a fanny pack without feeling embarrassed?” Captain Random, aka Dad, pumps the air with his fist. “I thought you’d never ask.”

The car slides back into traffic, weaving out of the San Diego airport.

We’re ten minutes into a journey before I break down and blurt out, “Is Lev already in Colorado, or…?”

I feel pathetic asking, considering all signs show he has forgotten about me.

So I hastily add, “I wrote him an apology letter as a part of our seven stages to recovery, but I haven’t sent it yet. Should I slip it into his mailbox or…send it to his school?”

This is actually not a lie. My lying days are over, now that I’m sober.

“He’s in Colorado,” Dad says regretfully, and my entire soul slumps in disappointment.

Dad tugs at his lower lip. “If it makes you feel any better, Dean says they’re chewing him out like a squeaky toy. Fire-hosing info and ripping him several new ones every day. Apparently, being practically a pro athlete ain’t enough there. He throws up every day just from the physical strain of it. Most of his peers are Sea Cadets, Young Marines, or previously enlisted, so they’re used to a lot of the stuff he’s now adapting to.”

“That is…not comforting at all to me.” I wince, thoroughly PTSD’d from Juilliard.

“It is to me.” Dad taps the steering wheel. “Considering he makes my daughter sad.”

Now’s not a good time to confess his precious daughter made Lev literally crawl to her feet in front of his entire class so she wouldn’t hook up with his enemy.

“I’ll send the letter to the academy,” I say decisively.

I want to ask if it looked like he missed me. If he asked about me at all.

But the truth is a powerful weapon, and I don’t particularly want it to blow up my fragile ego right now.

“Oh!” Mom snaps her fingers, mustering excitement again. “Daria said she is bringing her family down for a visit this weekend. Sissi learned how to spell Yves Saint Laurent.”

“That’s…”—I’m trying to come up with the right word—“frightening.”

“And Luna got you tickets to see Ali Wong.”

“That’s amazing. Thanks for telling me, Mom.”

“Sure thing!” Mom squeaks. “She also mentioned something about being swamped admin-wise. She is writing another book, you know. She asked if she could use your top-notch organizational skills and ability to turn everything into a bullet-point list. And pay handsomely for it, of course.”

That is the nicest pity-job offer anyone has ever extended to a recovering addict, so of course, I feel complied to reply, “I won’t charge her a penny. And I’m happy to. It’ll keep me busy.”

“Great!”

“Fun.”

Ah, crap. Lev may have been relying on me, but I have been living for his attention.

Now that it’s gone, who am I anymore?

It’s not just the three of us sitting in the car. There’s also a million-dollar question nestled somewhere between my pile of duffel bags and me.

What are you going to do with the rest of your precious life, Bailey?

Competitive ballet is not on the table. Heck, it’s not even in the same zip code as me.

Even without Juilliard giving me the boot, every battle scar on my body reminds me I’ve survived once—best not to tempt my luck.

If I’m honest, I don’t even think I want a second chance at becoming a ballerina.

These past couple years, I’ve been miserable. Overworked, overstressed, and underappreciative of my good fortune.

I’m not one hundred percent sure what I want to do, but I know what I don’t want to do: chase a dream that punishes you for hoping.

We stop by Pizza My Heart and I get three greasy slices with mushrooms and pineapple (don’t come at me for it), along with a milkshake.

I devour everything before the car slides into the garage, which is less than ten minutes. It does nothing to fill the hole inside of me.

When we get to the house, I don’t unpack right away.

I walk over to my bedroom window and watch Lev’s house. It is amazing how inanimate it looks now that I know he doesn’t live in it anymore.

I now understand that before, when he was always a breath, one text message, one pebble thrown at a window away, his house felt like a person. Like a body. Like a friend.

Staring outside, I lift the hem of my sweater and finger the dove-shaped scar on my hip bone. Our doves are sitting on a branch in front of his window, waiting for him to come out. To feed them.

Doves always know their way back home.

I pull the edge of my sweater down and go in search of food to give them.

I’m home now. Back on shore.

I decide pretty quickly that I don’t want to live with my parents.

The house, which used to harbor my favorite childhood memories, is now soaked with flashbacks of broken glass, hidden drugs, and nasty arguments.

I rent a small studio apartment in La Jolla, about twenty minutes away from my parents’ house. Close enough that they can get here in time if I need them—Marx forbid—but far enough that I don’t feel like I’m strangled by their worried gazes.

My apartment is tiny, simple, and clean. It overlooks the beach, and I wake up to the seals yelling at tourists to leave them the heck alone.

Every day is an opportunity. Each morning—a blessing. And I try to fill those days with things that will build me back up. Not to who I was before—that girl is never coming back.

But to the girl Old Bailey and Addict Bailey made together. She’s a stronger version of both. And yes, she still craves drugs, but when she does, she hops on the phone with her sister.

Goes shopping with her mom. Or reads a really good book.

Mom and Dad paid for my rehab stint, and I’m determined to pay them back every single cent of it.

Which is why, as soon as I take Luna’s offer as her organizational guru and realize she really is in need of a full-time employee, I agree to take payment from her.

I go to her house every day for five or six hours, doing her filing, answering emails, processing book orders, and managing her social media.

“You’re a godsend.” Luna collapses her head on my shoulder every time she walks into the game room, which she converted into my makeshift office.

She is pulling crazy hours trying to write her next motivational book, and Cayden only goes to daycare three times a week.

“Marx-send,” I correct with a wink.

To supplement my income, I also tutor high schoolers in the afternoons.

Finally, the one hundred thousand APs I took in high school come in handy. Precalculus is my love language, and statistics is my game of seduction.

Daria says this place is my Geekdom Come. She also says ever since I got out of rehab, I’m “hotter than a tomato in a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Which—let’s admit it—is a legit compliment.

I attend biweekly support group meetings and actually have a sponsor I text every day.

I no longer feel alienated and defensive during those meetings, like I don’t belong in them. I one hundred percent do.

My sponsor, Will, tells me what I already know—that I have to send Lev the letter of apology. That it has nothing to do with my tangled feelings for him.

It’s about moving on and paying one’s dues. About dismantling action from the human.

I know he is right, but I can’t help but feel like I’d be pestering Lev.

He has obviously moved on and doesn’t need this added complication when he is laser focused on succeeding at school. Not when it seems like things finally settled down for him now that I’m no longer in the picture.

One day, as I make my way from the support group back to my car, I stop by a storefront.

Pointe Made. I’ve been to it a thousand times before. Mom is big on buying from small businesses, so we always got our supplies here and not online.

Behind the shiny glass is a six-layer platter tutu skirt. Neon green, with a thick satin wrap. It catches my eye immediately, and my heart starts thumping in an uneven tempo in my chest.

Just keep swimming, Bails. This life isn’t for you.

But I can’t move from my spot. Can’t stop staring.

You know you want to feel me on your body, the green, hilarious tutu says. You know how good I’d feel wrapped around you.

File under: things both the tutu and Pedro Pascal can say and would still be true.

If there was only a way to reenter the world of ballet without competing…without putting my heart on the line…

Feeling dangerously close to the point of no return, I fish my phone out of my backpack and call Will. He answers before the first ring stops.

“Everything okay?” He sounds alarmed. I love that I have him.

“Yes! Not to worry. I just…I’m having a weird, impulsive reaction to do something I shouldn’t.”

“Talk me through everything that’s happening.” I hear him sitting down. “I’m here. I’m present. I’m with you.”

Will was a star baseball player in a prestigious private school in NorCal.

His cocaine addiction lost him not only an amazing spot at an Ivy League school but also his baseball career, his girlfriend, and eventually his parents, whom he had stolen from repeatedly.

It took him six years to get where he is today. And still, not all of his relationships are mended. Plus, instead of being a pro baseballer, he is here sponsoring other recovering addicts and working a nine-to-five job selling solar solutions. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing that. But it wasn’t what he wanted to do.

Clearing my throat, I admit, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a tutu at a storefront, asking herself not to walk in and buy it.”

The cultural reference flies right over Will’s head, because he isn’t Lev and didn’t watch Notting Hill with me while massaging my feet after I won a ballet competition in eighth grade.

“Remind me why it’s bad for you to wear a tutu dress?”

I huff out the obvious response: “Because dancing led me to use.”

“No,” Will replies solemnly. “You led yourself to use. Not ballet. Ballet was an innocent bystander. Ballet didn’t force you to go pro. Ballet didn’t force you to push yourself to the brink.”

“But I did.” My knees buckle and I hang my head down. “I did all those things, and now I will forever associate ballet with my downfall.”

“Disentangle those two, then. Doing something you love is good, Bailey. I coach the little league baseball team for the elementary school near my house. And I don’t even have a kid!” He laughs miserably. “Which is kind of creepy when you think about it. Sometimes your downfall isn’t really your downfall. It was just something that happened in the background when you were in a very dark place.”

I’m silent for a moment. I can’t look away from that tutu.

“And hey!” Will says desperately. “Remember you told me when we first met that one of the reasons you loved rehab so much was because they let you teach a dance workshop to other patients one hour a day, five times a week? Your eyes were shining when you said that. Maybe it’s time to rethink your passion, you know?”

They say those who can’t, teach, and maybe that is true.

But it is also true that some people can perform but find the experience of giving back more fulfilling. Not everyone wants to be the flower. Some blossom by being the gardener.

I’m that kind of person. A nurturer. A giver. Watching a thirty-five-year-old surviving alcoholic doing her first arabesque, to me, was more fulfilling than taking the stage when I competed in the nationals.

Teaching people the joy of dancing, the beauty in the body language, is no small feat.

And if I can show one or two Baileys in this world that it is okay to love something without letting it kill you—then I’ll have done my part.

“Teach,” I mutter under my breath. “I should teach.”

“There she is.” I hear the smile on Will’s face. “You’re already teaching, aren’t you? Tutoring. Helping. Assisting where you can. This is your calling, Bailey. Don’t ghost it. Answer it.”

Resolute, I step into the store, buy the tutu, and purchase a new pair of pointe shoes.

Old man Gaston, the owner of the store, tells me he missed me. That he is happy I dropped out of Juilliard. That ballet is a passion, and passion can’t be taught.

When I get back to my tiny apartment, I flatten my back against the door, slide down to the floor, and press the shoes against my nose, inhaling.

The scent of glue, leather, and hope hits my nostrils and I hum with pleasure. The satin gleams, the shank untouched and full of promise.

For the first time in a long time, I know what to do.

I slide the shoes on. Wrap the tutu around my everyday clothes.

I’m air. I’m fleeting. I’m everywhere. I’m invincible.

And start to move for the only person whose tune I dance to from now on.

Myself.


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