• claudialymari

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Are you guys ready to say goodbye to Sunny Pines with me?

I give thee the prologue don't worry its a long one.


NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Girls like you deserve a love that always feels like summer.


Prologue

Jess

Everyone was buzzing over tonight's game. The halls were filled with my peers all excited to see him play. Every town had someone like him. A superstar—someone you just knew was going places. Quincy, or “Q”, as everyone called him, was ours. He was a big deal in our hometown, hell in the whole county, maybe even the state. Quincy has had scouts after him since he was in middle school. He could have had a better chance at the big leagues if he had moved down south where they breathed Friday night games and watched kids throw a pigskin like it was a religion.

Q liked to do things his way, and Sunny Pines was home, this was where he chose to stay. It was a place that welcomed him with open arms. Our town was small and not very diverse, but that didn’t play a role in his life. Just like Q, I was also in the minority, but unlike him, I wasn’t loved.

I walked the halls, not worried that I was going to bump into anyone because people usually avoided me. Maybe it was the pitch-black way I dyed my hair or my dark eyes and liner and all-black clothes. I scared my peers; they didn’t know what to do with me. I was satanic, in a cult, a witch, totally a bitch. Some even went as far as to say I cut myself.

The truth was, I didn’t have time to be careless with my life. Unlike my classmates, I had real-life problems. My responsibilities included a three-year-old toddler whom I adored but was a lot of work.

The sound of the school alarm startled me, bringing me out of my thoughts, and I did what I was best at, and that was compartmentalize. I was an expert at putting all aspects of my life in neat little boxes and not letting them spill over.

I came to school, and I could pretend like my father wasn’t a drunk who didn’t give a shit about my sister, my mom, and me. When I was home, I could pretend like the fact that I had no friends didn’t bother me. And when I was at work, I could act like nothing ever fazed me, and I was just working for a little extra cash.

Perfect little boxes.

My only friends were my boss, Emma, a barista genius, and the new woman she hired, Freya Pratt. It was pathetic, I knew, but when you grow up with nothing, you learn to give thanks to the things you do have. And someone to talk to was a blessing even if it wasn’t the people you wanted.

“Glooms.” A voice greeted me, followed by a small tap on my desk. I looked up, giving Q a small smile, but he wasn’t even looking my way when he passed by my desk. The local superstar and I were friends…kinda…not really.

Still, I watched him talk to his friends, and for one second, I wondered what it felt like to be adored by everyone in the whole school. How would it feel like when you passed by them, that they would line up to talk to you, instead of whispering about you.

I put my bag down and focused on the teacher. I had grades to maintain and a scholarship to win. My whole life depended on it.

***

“You coming to the game Gloomy?” Quincy wrapped me in a headlock, and I felt a rush of warmth run through me. Part of me wanted to stay this way forever, and another part needed his hands off me. “It’s my last year here, and you gotta come see your boy win.” He gave me his cocky grin, and If I were the mushy type like Emma and Freya, I would melt.

The way his white teeth shone against his chocolate skin was beautiful. A lot of things about Quincy were beautiful. Like his jade eyes and dark lashes. The form of his lips, his height, and his body.

We both were closing today, so Emma and Freya could take the night off. I liked Freya; she made Emma laugh. She was the type of friend to make her friends happy. A part of me envied that. I wanted someone other than Rosie to make me happy.

“Do I look like one of your groupies?” I said as I threw a dirty rag at him.

Quincy caught it and smirked at me. He came closer, and I took a step back, my back hitting the counter.

I was sure I was about to have a panic attack from his proximity.

“Baby…” he whispered, and I felt it, then—my stomach dropped at such a stupid pet name. I wanted to hate myself for reacting like a pathetic little girl at the first sign of affection. “I’m everyone’s type.”

I didn’t get a chance to come back with a smart reply, because the bell chimed, and Quincy took a step back. He was a superstar, and I was the weird goth chick. When I heard the heels, I knew Freya was the one who had walked in. She looked like a model, and Quincy noticed because that was the type of girls he liked. Girlie, girls. Girls who were the exact opposite of me.

He was right about one thing; he was everyone’s type.

Freya said hi then went and locked herself in Emma’s office.

“Any ideas on the senior prank?” Q asked, and I was surprised by that as well. No one ever asked me any school-related questions. Not my mother, certainly not my father. Not when the seniors all picked a shirt to wear on spirit day (I wasn’t told about it), or when they played a game of tag in the halls (I wasn’t included), or when they had a mini assembly in the auditorium. I was part of the graduating class, yet it was like I wasn’t even there.

“Something epic,” I replied and hoped like hell I got to be a part of it.

***

Two months later

“Jessa—”

“Shut up.” I glared at Blake Carson before he could say another word. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my name. I just wasn’t a Jessamine. That was a feminine name. It sounded weak and so unlike me. I was Jess, something short, dull, and boring.

A lot of things had changed in the last few weeks.

Like most people, I hated change, but Rosie embraced it, and with change came Juliet, our new neighbor. I liked her. She was kind to my sister and me. She genuinely cared, but with her came the Carsons. Jake, Jules's boyfriend, had a family that didn’t know the meaning of personal boundaries. Don’t get me wrong—for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of belonging, but they were just too much.

The weather was lovely which was rare for the annual Sunny Pines Tree lighting. The weather tended to be gloomy and snowy on the day the whole town gathered by the kiosk on main street to light up our big Christmas tree.

Since my boss, Emma, didn’t believe in unfairness, all of the employees took shifts working her coffee-shop booth. We served cookies, hot chocolate, and the most requested coffees.

If I wasn’t in the booth, I might have hit Jake’s younger brother Blake, or Cubie as people called him because, for some reason, they called Jake Bear. Again, that family was nuts.

“Quincy, can I have a cookie?” I glared at my little sister and her sweet voice. Juliet and I specifically told her that she couldn’t have sweets until after lunch.

“Don’t you dare,” I mumbled under my breath as Q gave Rosie a grin. The types of smiles he gave all the girls at school, the types of grins that made you weak in the knees.

“You know I can never say no to a pretty face,” he told me.

I don’t know why that comment made the pit of my stomach sink, but it did because I was no one’s idea of a pretty face. Hell, I didn’t even like looking at myself in the mirror because every time I did, I saw everything I tried to hide beneath the dark makeup and baggy clothes stare back at me.

“Come one, Rosie Posie, let's spend some money,” Blake said as he reached a hand for my sister's hand. I know most people would be protective before letting their baby sister leave with a guy you just met, but this was Sunny Pines, and nothing bad ever really happened here.

Not that I had just met Blake. We were in the same grade, but before Juliet started dating his brother, we never had a reason to talk before.

“Stay with Juliet,” I told both Blake and my sister. Juliet was too awestruck looking at her boyfriend, Jake, to hear me yelling her name.

“We’re not cockblocking.”

Just as I was going to scold Blake for saying that, my sister asked, “what’s a cockblocking?”

“It’s just a saying when someone doesn’t let you do something fun.” I rushed the explanation before Rosie could ask louder.

Quincy started to laugh; I would have laughed too if my sister didn’t throw me under the bus.

“Jess is a cockblocker; she never lets me do fun things.”

Quincy doubled over laughing his hands, hitting the table, and Blake hid his laughter as he led my sister away. He did, however, mouth bye, cockblocker, while I glared.

My life was so much simpler before Blake became my friend. Okay, that was a lie. My life was miserable before Juliet moved next door. She gave us a safe place to hang out without my father’s angry voice following us around. Thanks to her, Rosie was able to experience a real Thanksgiving. Thanks to Juliet, I was starting to remember what it felt like to be happy.

“Your sister is a cutie,” Quincy mused.

“She’s the best part of my parents.”

Rosie had blonde hair like our dad, my mother’s brown eyes, but her eyes weren’t small like mine. Once in a blue moon, my grandmother acknowledged Rosalie. I was all my mom, according to mom, I looked like her older sister. Whom I’d never met.

Traveling to the Philippines was expensive, and even though it was mom's dream to one day take us, we never had enough money.

Maybe now that our dad was out of the picture, we would do better. I don’t remember loving my father, but I remember when I started hating him. I was seven years old on my way to my first sleepover when dad got home drunk.

My mom was trying to get me ready; she told him to give her five minutes.

It was just five minutes.

But in those five minutes, my life completely changed.

“Don’t get all gloomy on me, you know I got loves for you.” Q gave my shoulder a light punch, and I gave him a forced smile. I looked at him, and I wondered how it felt like to be envied by all the guys his age, adored by all the girls, to know that he was about to grab hold of his dreams and live this place in the dust.

I didn’t do sports, but I even knew Q had scouts coming to his practice since he was a freshman. Still, none of the football fame mattered to me. Q was a decent guy. A big flirt, but he was friendly, considerate, compassionate. He liked his clothes but didn’t want to ask his parents for extra cash. He talked to everyone because he genuinely cared to know about what you had to say. He volunteered at the retirement center because he said one day that was going to be him, and since he’s an only child, he wanted someone to visit him. That was his way of paying it forward. Under all the cockiness was a decent guy.

“Glooms,” Quincy said as he gave my head a light smack.

“I will cut you.” I grabbed the butter knife and pointed it at him.

“Oh my Gawd, should we call Detective Hendrix, I think Jess finally lost it.” Avery, Quincy’s girlfriend, screeched when she reached our booth. I didn’t roll my eyes. I just put the knife down and turned around to make more coffee.

“Did Emma hide the real knives so you wouldn’t cut yourself?” She said loud enough so that I could hear her.

“Ave,” Q growled at the same time I pretended not to hear her. My cheeks flamed. I’m not going to lie and said I didn’t think about it because more than once when I showered Rosie, and I put the headphones on her ears while she played with her dolls, and I had to endure my father yelling at my mother, the thought crossed my mind. I thought of causing myself pain, to pour out all the ugly that was inside me. To release some of the frustration that coursed through my veins, but all I had to do was turn to look at Rosie singing a lullaby, and the edge would go away.

I could pretend with her.

So I did my best to hide the ugly with Rosie. I didn’t want her to grow up hating our dad as I did. I didn’t want her to know what it was to be so utterly disappointed in our parents and wish we had never been born. There was ugliness in the world she was too young to know about. I wanted better for Rosamie. I wanted everything that was never meant for me.

Maybe with dad out of the picture, I could do that for her.

“Hey, I’m going to take a quick break, okay?” I didn’t turn to look at Q I because I didn’t want him to know what his girlfriend had said hurt me. I just nodded and acted like it didn’t faze me.

Emma came in with her boyfriend, detective Dex Hendrix. I heard they just moved in together, and I was happy for her; she deserved that. Before he moved into town, I knew she was lonely, I could see it in her eyes. Loneliness called to loneliness. I guess that’s why she gave me the job, she saw something in me too. When I found out about her financial troubles, I had offered to quit. It was going to hurt like hell not having my income, but it was the right thing to do since she had hired me out of pity. In the end, that hadn’t mattered because Freya came to the rescue.

“Where’s Q? Emma asked, putting on an apron.

“Quick break.”

“Take one.”

“You’ll need help, the mayor is about to give his speech, and you know everyone is going to rush to get something to drink before they start to decorate,” I replied. She should be part of the festivities to make happy memories.

“It’s cool, Jess, I got her, go put a wish ornament on the tree,” her boyfriend said.

Dexter pushed me out of the booth and gave Emma a kiss on her forehead that made her melt.

For the longest time, I thought love wasn’t real. I had years of watching my parents fucked up relationship; it left me with the wrong impression. Looking at Freya with Max and the way Dex adored Emma, I knew love was real, but I also knew it wasn’t for girls like me.

I was a witch, not a princess.

Mrs. Riordan, the local florist, smiled at me as I made it to her booth. Every year she sold clear ornaments, and she had glitter, dried petals, marbles, and feathers. You put a wish in your decoration, then filled it up, and you put a dream in it before sealing it. I gave her my five dollars—that excuse you, was a total rip off—and as stupid as I felt I wrote my wish. Then I filled it with white fathers and black glitter. Something pure for the wish, and black for everything that represented me.

As stupid as it made me feel, I went with the rest of the town's bimbos to line up watch our total asshole, but handsome, mayor Prescott give a speech. Boring. All so, I could hang my hopes and dreams on a stupid tree.

“I don’t see why you are friends with her?” Averie’s voice made me halt my step.

“She’s right, Q, aren’t you afraid if you piss her off, she’s going to make a voodoo doll of your face.” Roger’s laughter followed. My heart was stammering, and I wanted to force myself to move and not let them get to me, but I was rooted in the same spot.

“Come on, guys, stop.” Quince pleaded with his friends, but that made them laugh harder.

“Why are you always defending her? She’s such a freak, like is she color blind? I mean, I get that she’s poor, but even the homeless have more color than she does.”

“Her black lipstick, what the hell is up with that? But I guess when you follow Satan, that’s like your wardrobe.”

“Guys,” Q said again. I took a step forward, careful to stay hidden from all of them. Quincy was sitting down, Avery on his lap. Avery’s posse around them, Roger on Quincy’s right, and all of them were laughing at my expense.

All but Quincy.

“Seriously, Q, I don’t know why you’re friends with her,” Roger smirked.

“We just work together; it’s not like I can ignore her,” Quincy said almost defensively.

What was left of my heart finished shattering at that moment. I knew that never in a million years Quincy would look at me like he did all the other girls, but I at least thought we were friends.

When I turned around, I dropped the ornament in the snow. Wishes were stupid. Wishes and dreams were not meant for people like me; they just served as a reminder of something that would never be. Sometimes our dreams were a good thing to have, but you had to know when to let go. They were a once in a million kinds of things, and if they were easily accessible to everyone, they wouldn’t be called dreams.

***

A few weeks later.

My mother was dead.

My mother died.

My mother is dead.

My mother was killed.

My mother was murdered.

My mother was no longer living.

My mother…

It didn’t matter how many times I said it. The answer was the same. My mother was gone, and she was never coming back. Rosamie was holding my hand while she sat in Cynthia’s lap as she cried. Blake was next to me. I don’t remember when he grabbed my hand, but his tight hold was the only anchor I had of knowing that I was still in this room and this body. I wanted to claw out of my skin and scream. Nobody here really cared. Not about me, and not about my sister, certainly not about my mother.

My father was a drunk.

My father was an alcoholic.

My father was abusive.

My father was a killer.

My father had killed my mother.

My father was now in prison.

My father was dead to me.

My throat clogged up, just thinking about him. My mom’s face was so bad they wouldn’t even let us look at her face. It was better this way. I closed my eyes and pictured her the morning before everything changed. I was five and happy, looking forward to my first sleepover. My mother made me pancakes, bathed me, and sang for me. My mother was full of life that day. Now she was dead. I didn’t dare look around me. The parlor was full of people, all who came to show their support. All of them pretending to care. For once, I was wearing something appropriate. For once, my clothes showed mourning. For once, I had an excuse to feel sad. I’d been mourning my life since I was five. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t shed a tear, perhaps deep down I always saw it coming. Wordlessly, I let go of Blake’s hand and made my way to the bathroom, ignoring all the stares I was receiving.

They didn’t really care.

When I came out, Quincy was outside waiting for me. Maybe if my mother weren’t dead, I would feel betrayed by what he said, but I just didn’t care. His hands were inside the pockets of his jeans. I looked up at him, and I couldn’t remember when he got so tall. Dark curly lashes framed his green eyes, and he looked sad.

He didn’t care.

What the hell was he sad for? My mother was dead, and my father was a killer, and even though I felt like an orphan all my life, it was now real.

“Glooms…” he took a step forward, trying to hug me.

Taking a step back, I put my hand to his chest, stopping him. He actually had the audacity to look hurt.

“Were not friends. We just work together, right? You can ignore me just fine,” I spat at him.

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