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Damaged Goods: Chapter 6


“How was it?” Mom peers at me behind her oversized designer shades, clutching the steering wheel.

I slip into the passenger seat and buckle up, ducking my head down. The last thing I need is to be seen exiting a rehab center.

“Great. Can we go home now?”

“Okay, okay.” She slides out of the parking space and into traffic while I glide farther down my seat, desperate to go undetected.

My outpatient meeting in rehab was a lot of things: eye-opening, depressing, horrifying…but it wasn’t great. The first portion was a one-on-one meeting with a counselor who asked a ton of invasive questions about my life.

I kept explaining to him that I wasn’t an addict, not according to the Merriam-Webster definition nor the clinical one, but he kept on nodding and jotting down notes. It was the first time someone didn’t take me seriously in a decade, and I didn’t like how it felt at all.

Then there was the support group. I didn’t speak a word there. They called us “survivors.” I felt like I was in an episode of The Last of Us. Even though I found some people’s stories heartbreaking, I couldn’t relate to any of them. They were actual addicts. One girl miscarried while going on a cocaine bender. Another guy DUI-ed, and his mom, who was in the car, lost an arm in the accident. Then there was the veteran who drank himself into a three-day coma. Me? Drug-free for almost a week and I’m doing just fine.

I mean, my injuries are killing me, and I wouldn’t put me in a closed room with my enemies and sharp objects, but other than that—totally great.

“Let’s go shopping!” Mom yelps. “And before you say anything, I actually found us some great sales, so you won’t have to use my credit card. All affordable stuff, I swear.”

I check the time on my watch. Lev should be getting out of school in the next hour or so.

He’ll probably stop by to check in on me after yesterday’s debacle, and I’m in the mood to see him grovel a little for his holier-than-thou attitude toward me. “Thanks, Mom, but I’m kind of tired.”

“Tired from what? You were home all day.”

What is she, the time police? “From the semester.”

“You have been working yourself to the bone…” She worries her lips, a tiny frown denting her forehead.

“Speaking of, did you hear anything from Juilliard?”

I know Mom is trying to shelter me from bad news. From any news. But this is my life we’re talking about. Or whatever’s left of it, anyway.

She hikes her Gucci shades up her pert nose. “No, and anyway, you should be focusing on your recovery.”

“From what? Your overprotectiveness?” I try to lighten up my tone, but it is obvious I’m annoyed.

“I’m not being overprotective. I’m being cautious.”

“You’re going through my text messages,” I hit back.

“If you act like a child, you’ll be treated as one.” Her head twists, and she gives me a disapproving glare. “I’m just trying to keep you safe, okay?”

No. Not okay. The opposite of okay.

She was the one who made me fall in love with ballet. The stage. The costumes. The dexterity of the human body. She sold me her dream, and I bought it with my last emotional penny without reading the fine print.

Mom put me on a pedestal as the talented ballerina, and I’ve spent every waking moment of my life since then trying to prove to her I was a fine investment.

It was all nice and dandy when I brought in championships, awards of honor, and medals. Now that the expectations are catching up with my body, all of a sudden, I can’t be trusted with a phone. That’s so hypocritical.

“You were the one who pushed me to choose Juilliard.” I fold my arms over my chest. “You literally threw away all other acceptance letters the minute we got in.”

And it was a we.

My journey was hers. I didn’t have a choice. She wanted me to fulfill the dream that slipped between her fingers, and I was too broken down to pirouette in another dream’s direction. Where Daria fought to discover her true self, I was content being molded by mom.

Even enjoyed it. Being the chosen one. The girl who succeeded.

“Well, my priorities changed.” She purses her lips.

My anxiety is a tide rolling over my entire body, sweeping me away until my head is about to go under. I’m drowning in my own fear, gasping for air. For relief. For drugs.

Then words fill the air, and horrifyingly, it seems like they’re coming from my mouth.

“Your priorities seem as fickle as your morals. And you slept with a student of yours, so that says a lot.”

I slap a hand over my mouth as soon as the words leave it. Mom flinches visibly but doesn’t answer.

What in the world did I just say to her? I’m horrified and disgusted with myself. But honestly, my anxiety is so bad, I feel like I’m trapped in a stranger’s body, and that body is lit on fire. Kind of how I was with Lev yesterday.

When we get home, I go downstairs and close the door. Our basement is a makeshift dance studio and a gym. Mom converted it when she gave Daria and me private ballet lessons.

There’s a ballet barre along the mirrored wall. I practice here, but my body is in excruciating pain since I’m off the heavy-duty painkillers. I blast classical music that shakes the walls and push myself to the limit, ignoring reason, and logic, and my body.

I check my phone and notice three missed calls from my sister, along with some text messages.

Daria: Hey <3

Daria: Answer :/

Daria: Bitch don’t pretend like you have a life outside of school/charity/being creepily, bound-to-implode-one-day perfect.

Daria: Heard you went from goody two-shoes to trainwrecked stilettos in less than one academic year.

Daria: Oh, come on, I’m KIDDING.


She keeps calling and I keep dodging. I’m not ready for the shift in dynamics where she is the responsible adult and I’m the wayward daughter who has more issues than Teen Vogue.

At three thirty, the doorbell chimes. Lev took his time, but I’m glad I didn’t text him first.

He was wrong to poke into what happened yesterday.

It’s only when I fling the front door open that I remember Lev never knocks or rings. He barges and swoops in, like the sports car he uses for racing every weekend.

My heart sinks. Don’t people know it’s rude to exist and call upon someone when that someone is pathetically in love with another someone and waits for them? Common courtesy, people.

At first, I think I’m looking into a mirror. Then I remember I’m wearing plaid PJ pants, a sports bra, and have dark circles around my eyes. A pint-sized blond, extremely muscular and lean in a navy cable knit sweater, white tennis skirt, and matching Air Force 1 sneakers is standing in front of me.

She’s my vibe and a half—Old Bailey’s style, at least—and seems familiar, but I can’t place her in my memory bank.

“Bailey?” She beams, shoving a plate full of oatmeal cookies to my chest. “Ohmygod, hi! Thalia. Mulroney!”

Not wanting to seem impolite, I take the plate and smile back. Dang it, why don’t I recognize her? I’ve met her before.

“Hey. Thanks so much. Did I…mentor you at dance camp?”

The answer to that question is a resolute no because Thalia’s hopeful expression crumbles like one of the cookies she just gave me.

“No. I was a junior when you were a senior at All Saints High. People always mistook us for one another?” She tries to jog my memory, giggling with adorable awkwardness.

The penny drops. “Thalia, of course! I am so sorry. Come on in.”

I open the door wider. She sashays in, following me to the kitchen. We’ve never been formally introduced, but we shared grins and eye rolls from time to time when others would tell us how alike we looked.

I don’t know what she is doing here, but I’m grateful that she’s here since my parents put me on house arrest. Actually, I’m not even sure I’m allowed guests, but I’m going to play dumb if my parents give me grief about it.

“Want some iced coffee?” I chirp.

“I’d kill for some caffeine right now.”

“Triple shot it is, then.”

“Aww, Bailey. Still an angel.”

Who is currently going through hell, but whatever.

I start making coffee, ignoring the persistent feeling that I’m only pretending to be normal, alive, and an actual person. I don’t know what’s up with my anxiety, but I feel like I’m acting out a role in a tacky coming-of-age show, not actually experiencing this moment.

Mom is on a Zoom call upstairs—she’s on this committee that grants low-income students scholarships to dance schools—and Dad is in Seattle for work.

Daria lives in San Francisco with her 49ers-star husband, so I’m lonelier than a saltless french fry.

“So, um, how are things at school these days?” I ask, instead of asking the obvious question—what are you doing here?—as I dump heart-shaped ice cubes into Mason jars and flick our Nespresso machine to life.

I usually take a lot of pleasure in making people feel right at home and doing nice things for them. But right now, I’m just ticking boxes.

Making coffee—check.

Making small talk—check.

Thalia props her elbows on the butcher block island, studying her surroundings with puckered, glossed lips. “You know, the usual. Cheerleaders be mean, jocks be stupid, people who aren’t peaking in high school be hatin’. How ’bout you? The Big J! I’m so jelly.”

I add blue agave and cinnamon to the oat milk and top it with fat-free whipped cream.

I know why she’s asking. I’m not stupid. People in my former high school found out about my so-called overdose. I heard there’s a TikTok going around, but supposedly Daria reported it enough times to bring it down. Guilt spears my heart.

I really should call my sister back.

“I’m actually super okay.”

“I bet you are!” Thalia claps chirpily. “That’s what I told everyone—drugs? Bailey? Nuh-huh. Honestly, people’s gossip is out of control these days.”

Feeling validated, I nod. “It was just an accident. Like, you’re in volleyball, right? You know how it is. I took a painkiller. And…guess there was something in it.”

“Gymnastics,” she corrects, accepting the drink I made for her. We both suck on pink paper straws. She bats her fake eyelashes. “And gosh, I totally get it. I went through an intense Tylenol phase last year. Tore a ligament and had to push through for the state championship.”

I snap my fingers. “There you have it.”

“And from looking at you now, I also disagree that you are gaunt. You look totally fine to me.” People think I look gaunt? Thalia flips her hair. “Honestly, the toxicity in competitive academia is insane. I hope when they fall—and they will fall, we all do—there’ll be dozens of cameras recording the whole thing too.”

Smiling tiredly, I say, “I hope not. Just because people suck doesn’t mean we have to stoop to their level.”

“You’re right.” Thalia chews her lower lip thoughtfully. “Truth is, I’d love a shot at Juilliard, but there’s no way my parents can foot the bill for something like that. They’re not…you know, like yours.”

“The Kovner Fellowship gives you a full ride,” I say encouragingly. “I know lots of people who are there solely on merit.”

She snorts. “I don’t make a compelling enough story. Plus, my grades are trash.”

“There’s always hope.”

“Oh, I have hope. Hopefully, I’ll marry up.” Thalia shimmies her shoulders, and I let out a laugh. Then she turns all serious and leans across the island, a conspiratorial smile decorating her lips. “Look, I know it must suck to be stuck here away from college. If you ever wanna hang out, I’m game.”

“Thanks.” I grab one of her cookies and nibble on it. I lower my guard, even though I’m not quite sure what is up with this girl. “Everyone around me thinks I have a drug problem.”

She fake yawns. “If passing judgment were a sport, this town would have a record number of Olympic athletes.”

“Right?” I huff.

Gosh, it feels good to finally talk to someone who isn’t looking at me like I escaped the cast of Euphoria. “My parents are being completely overbearing. Locked all the alcohol and medicine in their bedroom…” I don’t add that I actually attempted to get my hands on some of those things during a particularly desperate and sleepless night. “And they don’t let me out unchaperoned.”

“You’re nineteen. You can do whatever you want,” Thalia points out. “And you look completely healthy and normal to me.”

“Is that why you came here?” I ask. “To check if I’m okay?” Gotta love girls who genuinely want to fix each other’s crowns.

She breaks a cookie in half, sliding a piece into her mouth as she shrugs. “When I heard about what happened, it kinda hit me hard. I always looked up to you at school. If you got into trouble, what hope is there for the rest of us?”

“Plenty of hope.” I smile sadly. “Even the shiniest apple can be full of worms.”

I think about the person I had sex with. About the drugs. About the way I’ve been treating my family and Lev since I got back. I keep trying to do better but feel so raw. All pink flesh and exposed nerves.

“Plus…” Thalia drops her gaze to her lap. “You’re super important to someone who is super important to me. I want you healthy and thriving.”

“Oh?” This grabs my attention. I straighten my back. “And who’s that?”

“Lev Cole.”

I bend down like she kicked me in the stomach.

She might as well have cut me open with a butcher knife and poured alcohol all over my inner organs.

I don’t even know why I’m so upset by what she said, but I am.

Did I expect Lev not to have any friends? Sit at home after school and pine for me?

I mean, that’s kinda what I did at Juilliard, but Lev and I are different breeds. He is a replica of his brother and father. Effortlessly gifted, crazy athletic, hotter than the ninth circle of hell, and honestly way out of my league. He can light up Vegas with half a smirk. Girls stuff their panties and love letters into his locker. He was voted Most Fuckable Jock on All Saints High’s anonymous gossip blog. He has honest to Marx fans. What did I think? That he’d ignore the fairer sex for infinity and beyond?

But did she have to look like me?

“Lev. Of course. Yeah.” My coffee goes down the wrong pipe and I start coughing. “I’m so glad you’re friends. He’s a good guy to have on your side.”

“Preach it, girl. And All Saints High’s boys are usually gross.”

“Extra,” I agree with a sigh. “A lethal combination of too much money and hair product.” Why am I talking shit? Why am I being awful? Who even am I anymore?

“Oh, and I’m not Lev’s friend.” Thalia bunny-ears the last word.

“Is he your tutor?” I ask hopefully.

She shakes her head. “Boyfriend.”

That alcohol she was pouring into my insides? Yeah. Turns out it’s battery acid.

“Ohhh, Lev’s your boyfriend!” My voice is so high-pitched, I’m pretty sure they heard me on Mars.

“Wow. That’s… Wow. So…” Terrible. Depressing. Soul-shattering. “Amazing!” I accidentally fling the plate of cookies to the floor with an unintentional wild hand gesture.

A little voice inside me snarls, You’re the one who left him. Even though you promised you wouldn’t.

“Oops! Clumsy you. Let me get that.” Thalia glides from her stool like an erotic mythical creature. She drops to her knees—a position I’m sure my ex-BFF is familiar with—and starts collecting the cookies. I join her on the floor.

She clears her throat. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to, like, spring this on you. I just—”

“Don’t apologize!” A shriek that’s supposed to be a laugh tumbles out of my mouth. I totally forgot how to human in light of this news. What are even words? My vocal cords are their own entity and I’ve lost all control of them. “I’m not mad. Just a little surprised he hasn’t mentioned you.”

“Oh, he hasn’t?” She sounds like she’s about to cry, and now I feel like a bitch. We both pour cookie crumbs back onto the plate. Our heads bump together. Our hair is the exact same shade of yellow.

I’m going to throw up.

Thalia says, “I’m guessing he wanted to tell you in person. Which is why I’m, like, majorly mortified right now.”

“Never be mortified to tell the truth.”

“I don’t want to cause any problems.”

“Trust me, you’re not. Lev and I aren’t even that tight.”

“Oh, you aren’t?” She sounds way too perky hearing that. “How come?”

Well, I broke his heart and ghosted him, breaking every promise I made to him because my feelings for him overwhelmed me.

“You know, nothing special. Life happens, right?” I snicker.

There are five million thoughts running through my head. Now I’m thinking about how Thalia and I look the same and how creepy that is, and ugh, ugh, ugh, it’s like Lev had sex with me, but I didn’t get to have sex with him. So unfair.

Wait, do they for sure have sex together?

Of course they do, Bails. They’re seniors. And hot. And with pulses.

This is almost as painful as watching Vaughn, my childhood friend, taking a stab at mingling.

I can’t let Thalia see how hurt I am.

Not because I’m too prideful, but because it’s not this poor girl’s fault I have unresolved, deep-rooted issues with my ex–best friend. I cannot believe he didn’t say anything yesterday.

I reach to hug her while we’re both on our knees. I pat her back awkwardly. “I am so happy for you two.”

“Yay. Thanks. He’s just so perfect, you know?”

Trust me, I know.

After it is clear I’m not going to release my hold on her anytime soon (what is wrong with me?), she gently breaks apart from the hug and rinses the plate in the sink.

I watch from the sidelines, like it’s her home, not mine. She licks her lips, drying the plate with a towel and slipping it into a dish rack. “I really do want to become friends. Lev cares about you so much. And…there’s something else.”

“What?” Marx, please don’t tell me they’re engaged and planning a wedding. I refuse to be her bridesmaid. I swear, “The Show Must Go On” by Queen was written about me. My whole life consists of pretending everything is okay. Know that dog sitting in a fire, this is fine GIF?

Hello, my entire personality. Nice to meet you.

Thalia hesitates on the seam between the kitchen and hallway, her face crumpling like a paper napkin. “I worry about Lev sometimes. I feel…I feel like he isn’t where he wants to be in his life.”

My soul slumps with relief. Phew. No wedding. Yet.

She’s right. Lev is trying to please his dad by playing college football, even though he’s been dreaming of becoming a pilot ever since we were five or six. Lev’s always been this living-on-the-edge thrill-seeker.

Does that mean he opened up to her? Told her about his weaknesses, his secrets? Is that worse than them sleeping together?

I am falling apart like a house of cards. That he would share his body with someone else was something I prepared myself for in the past few years. But his soul, I thought, belonged to me. Or at least, it did. When did he retrieve it? How hadn’t I noticed?

“I’m not going to pretend I know him like you do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to help him.” Thalia shoots me a sad smile. “Is it okay if I sometimes reach out to you? I know you guys were best friends growing up and I just wanna make sure we’re both there for him.”

I want to say no. It’s too painful to hang out with Lev’s girlfriend.

Truth be told, it’s too much to share a state with her. But this girl cares about him so much, she paid a visit to a complete stranger. And she did bring me cookies. Just because the situation is shitty, doesn’t mean she is. She is opening the door to friendship, and I’m not gonna slam it in her face because of petty jealousy.

Forcing a smile that feels like a rubber band stretching across my face, I say, “Absolutely. You can come to me anytime.”

And if I’m being honest, I could kinda use a few more allies right now.

In response, Thalia flings her arms over my shoulders and gives me a hug. She smells of jasmine, black cherries, and amber. And suddenly I hate all flowers and red fruit in the world.

We stand there for a few moments before I detangle from her and head to the door. She gets the hint and leaves. After I wave her goodbye, I watch through the dining room window as she struts her ass to Lev’s house. This time the pain is so bad, I can’t even breathe.

Lev opens the door for her. Tall, broad, chiseled everywhere. The definition of esthetic perfection.

For the first time since I’ve known him, it truly hits me. Not just the idea that he is gorgeous—I always knew he was beautiful—but now I’m letting it all sink in. It’s like I’ve always been aware of the ingredients for a delicious cake, but I’m sinking my teeth into it for the first time. Everything about him is alluring. His soot-black eyelashes—thick and curly and wrongfully placed on the eyes of a boy.

His eyes that look like a capsule of entire rainforests. The carefully drawn planes of his jaw and cheekbones. I study with the most talented athletes in the world, and still, I’ve yet to meet a guy as cut as Lev Cole.

His shoulders—muscular, bronze, and Photoshop-smooth—are draped in a muscle shirt. A tattoo peeks through it on his ribs. The one I’ve brushed my finger over so many times—of a rose, made out of thorns instead of petals. A reminder that the most beautiful things need to be protected.

Okay, Bails. You’re officially a Peeping Tom. Not a good look.

He gives her a half hug, but they don’t kiss.

He smiles at her, and it feels like he punched me in the gut.

Look away now, psycho.

She walks in.

Was he the one who sent her to check on me? Is he giving me the same silent treatment I’m giving him? Are they going to have sex?

They close the door.

They’re definitely having sex. Probably right now. On the entrance floor. In front of Dean. Perverts. I hate them both. Have they no shame?

Lev has a girlfriend and he didn’t tell me.

Lev keeps secrets from me.

What’s more, I keep secrets from him. For the first time since we stopped being best friends, the consequences of what happened really hit me.

I need something to make everything go numb. To fall into the feathery, loving arms of numbness and feel like I’m floating through all this.

Mom’s in her office, not in her room. I can get away with it.

I tiptoe my way to the primary bedroom upstairs, yank open the bathroom door, and retrieve the medicine they shoved to the back of Mom’s cabinet, behind all the face masks she never uses. I slide three extra-strength Tylenols into my palm and swallow with some faucet water.

You know how the sky is looking today, Levy?

Like you’re a fucking traitor.

This is the point where most people would stop and ask themselves why Lev and I never happened.

He wants me. I want him. That much has always been clear. There must be a good reason for the devastation I caused and am still causing to both of us. And there is—Lev loves me, but he isn’t actually in love with me.

Hear me out: I’m all Lev has ever known. I held his hand during his most traumatic experiences. Shared a bed with him throughout puberty. I slayed his demons for him, babied him to oblivion and back while we were kids, and taught him to depend on me to a point we literally couldn’t fall asleep unless we were in each other’s arms.

This wasn’t Knight and Luna’s sweet friendship. This was an all-consuming, jealous, possessive, destructive codependency.

It took me time to realize the amount of damage I’d caused to both of us, but eventually, I did.

Which is partly why I’m in this situation in the first place. Craving drugs. I’d spent so long wanting to know who I was without Lev Cole in my life that I didn’t take into consideration that person might be a weak teenager who isn’t good enough to make it as a ballerina.

Running back to Lev now would be like running to a different kind of drug. I would slow him down, and he has enough people in his life doing that to him. Not to mention, I’m addicted to taking care of him. Obsessed with making him need me.

So even though there’s nothing I want more than to be with him too, I have to turn my back on this thing. On us.

He deserves a clean slate. A fair chance at a healthy relationship. Not damaged goods with a side of bad habits.

They say if you love someone, let them go. If they don’t return, they were never yours.

Lev took a semester and some change to find a girlfriend. He seemed happy before I arrived.

Pushing him into Thalia’s arms will be doing him a favor, and I’ve always been the charitable kind.

He’ll thank me later, and I’ll smile through the pain. After all, that’s what good ballerinas do.


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