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All Roads Lead Home
Author: C. Lymari




As we got older, there were some things we knew we should not do. Life had a set of rules and a few big no-nos. Let’s see…there was stealing, cheating, killing, and what I was currently doing: following a man in the dead of night.

Logically, I knew I shouldn’t be doing this, but logic and catching your next big break didn’t always go together. He was my great white whale, and for that kind of thing, it was an all-or-nothing situation. So, rules be damned, right?

Ever since I was a little girl, I had been very inquisitive—not nosey, like my peers suggested. I was just curious by nature. Nancy Drew and Carmen Sandiego had nothing on me. If there was something that needed to be investigated, chances were my nose was already there trying to dig up some dirt.

Growing up, I had the perfect small family: my mother, my father, my sister, and me. Until one day, my father left, and I was left wondering why.

My father leaving led me into a spiral that, to this day, I had not been able to get out of. That was figuring out why things happened the way they did. My mother, bless her heart, tried to protect my sister and me. I swear she did, but I was dead set on finding the answer as to why my dad left. My sister was older, so my father's departure messed her up in a different way than it did me.

While his departure broke her heart into bits and pieces, I was there trying to make them all fit so I could get the answers I needed.

When I was twelve, I discovered the real reason my father left, and that finally broke me. I couldn't understand what made him run away with his lover and leave the life he had behind. Leave me behind. Why had a man who had it all decided to toss it all aside for someone new? Why would he leave a perfectly good family for a new one? I knew that there were no dumb questions, but why did men do the things they did? Just like getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

That day had also led me to my almost death. I was so distraught over my world falling apart that I didn’t think or see where I was going. All I had wanted to do was run. I’d wanted to get away, but that didn’t mean I wanted to get six feet under. In my state, I hadn’t even thought to look at the road as I ran out.

The only reason I was alive was thanks to Clark Carson, the boy next door. Well, not next door, but on my block.

It had been a while since I’d let myself think about Clark. He was the love of my life. I’d certainly thought so at twelve. I mean, come on, the guy was twenty with the body of a model and the face of a Roman god. Or was it with the body of a god and the face of a model? My young brain couldn't put it together. All I knew was that Clark had saved me from dying, and therefore, I was irrevocably in love with him. I’m sure it took Lois Lane one good save for her to fall in love with Superman.

Oh, how my young heart had loved him. I became obsessed like a kid with Stockholm Syndrome. I had been attached to him to the point that I had deluded myself that I would one day marry him.

This is the part where I admit I was a dork. My crush grew into…I say love, because if I don’t, I’ll cringe for a straight week thinking about what a stalker I was.

For Christ's sake, the guy was twenty-three when he finally told me to fuck off. Not in those words, but my fifteen-year-old self took it pretty hard. The man I thought I would marry, my white knight, had rejected me, and my world was crumbling right before my eyes.

Leaving dramatics aside, my world would really end tonight if I got caught.

Sunny Pines had stopped being home the moment I graduated high school—one year early, might I add. So I left and had not stepped foot back there.

As I said, I was inquisitive, and when my newspaper editor, Ronnie, gave me a story that would make headlines, I jumped at the idea. This wasn't just any story; this was the kind of story that could make a career. The one that would get the big dogs to finally know my name, and with that would come the kind of money that could pay off all kinds of debts.

I used to be comfortable with what I was making. It was more than enough for me, myself, and I, but things had changed. Reason number one why I left Sunny Pines was because my father humiliated my mother, and as soon as I graduated, she was more than ready to move away. I was grateful she held off so I could finish my schooling in the only place that had ever been home. Reason number two was my sister, who was the reason why I needed way more cash than I had budgeted for.

One day, my sister decided she wasn’t fit to be a mother and just dropped my nephew off and never picked him up. I called her, and she ignored me for a few days. When she finally answered, she said she couldn’t do it. That was it, nothing more as to why she couldn’t. Must have been nice to drop her responsibilities on someone else's shoulders.

The world was unfair.

Some women would have killed to have a baby in their womb, and then there were people like my sister who had a baby, decided it wasn’t for them, and cast the kid aside. Not that I judged her for not wanting to be a mother. That wasn’t it. She had options that she had ignored because, at the time, things were great with her baby daddy. It was the fact that she was only a mother based on the happiness of a man. To say I hated her was an understatement.

Don't get me wrong. I adored my nephew; he was amazeballs. The best little two-year-old that ever existed. But I had no idea how to be a mother. My only consolation was that I was better at it than my stupid sister. The only reason Mom didn't take him in was that she was old, and a baby was too much for her. She had done her job with us. She had held it together when my father broke all our worlds apart, and she was tired.

When I arrived at the location, I hastily parked my car.

I looked down at myself and grimaced at my overdressed state. I wore black jeans that came to my ankles, black oxfords, and a black blouse with a white Peter Pan collar and mesh sleeves. I hated wearing contacts because my eyes always got too dry. My frames used to be considered granny glasses, but now they were hipster cool. It was safe to say I stood out like a sore thumb in this place. Everyone else looked like they were ready for a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Heavenly, the strip club on the outskirts of Sunny Pines, was the last place I’d ever thought I'd be seen. But now it was my first stop since setting foot in the county.

My job was simple: find evidence that the mayor of Northern Willow was a shady mother trucker and get my career-breaking story. Sounds easy enough, right?

Rumor had it he was stealing money from charity fundraisers held by the city, but nothing could be proven. Rumors also said he liked them on the younger side. Here I was, on the younger side and ready to play a sugar baby if it got my bills paid. And by that, I meant from my career break, not by being his actual sugar baby, because yuck.

Heavenly was packed. Since the towns around here were on the smaller side, with Sunny Pines being the biggest, the club was in the outskirts and in the middle of all of them. The club was nothing like I thought it would be. Heck, I had never set foot this way. I’d had no reason to before. The building wasn’t too big, with white brick that looked dull, pink neon lights all around that said “women,” and silhouettes of naked women—tacky.

The person at the door looked me up and down as I handed him my ID.

"Amateur night is Tuesdays, little darling," he said in a voice that cracked from all the smoking he probably did.

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