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All the Little Lights(12)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“I’m calling the bank in the morning. Sally will give us a loan. I know she will.”

Dad slammed his fist on the table. “Damn it, Mavis, I said no.”

Mama’s nostrils flared. “You got us into this! If you’d done your job, they wouldn’t have let you go!”

“Mama,” I warned.

“This is your fault!” she said, ignoring me. “We’re going to be penniless, and you were supposed to take care of us! You promised! Now you’re staying home all day while I’m the sole income! We’ll have to sell the house. Where are we going to go? How did I get stuck with such a screwup?”

“Mama!” I yelled. “That’s enough!”

Mama’s hands shook while she picked at her nails and fidgeted with her messy hair. She turned on her heel and rushed up the stairs, sniffling as she climbed.

Dad looked up at me, embarrassed and remorseful. “She didn’t mean it, Princess.”

I sat down. “She never does,” I grumbled under my breath.

Dad’s mouth pulled to the side. “She’s just stressed.”

I reached across the table, grabbing his clammy hand. “Just her?”

“You know me.” He winked. “Falling is easy. The hard part is getting back up. I’ll figure this out, don’t you worry.” He rubbed his shoulder.

I smiled at him. “I’m not worried. I’ll walk down to Braum’s and see if they’re hiring.”

“Don’t get your britches in a bunch. We’ll start talking about that next month. Maybe.”

“I really don’t mind.”

“What did you eat for lunch?” he asked.

I simply shook my head, and Dad frowned.

“Best get in there and make yourself something. I’m going upstairs to calm your mama.”

I nodded, watching him struggle to get up and then nearly lose his balance. I held his arm until he was steady. “Dad! Are you sun sick?”

“I’ll take this with me,” he said, picking up the water.

I watched him slowly climb the stairs, crossing my arms across my middle. He looked older, feebler. No daughter wants to see her dad as anything but invincible.

Once he reached the top, I went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It kicked on, humming while I searched for lunch meat and cheese. No meat, but I found one last slice of cheese and some mayonnaise. I pulled it out of the fridge and looked for bread. Nothing.

A full box of saltines was in the cabinet, so I slathered on some mayo and tore apart the cheese in small squares, trying to spread it out across as many crackers as I could. Mama had been so worried she’d forgotten to go to the store. I wondered how many more times we could afford to go.

Dad’s dining chair creaked when I sat. I picked up the first saltine and took a bite, the cracker crunching loudly in my mouth. Dad and Mama weren’t fighting—she wasn’t even crying, which she usually did when she was this stressed—and I began to wonder what was going on up there and why she wasn’t at work.

The chandelier above me trembled, and then the pipes began to whine. I exhaled, knowing Dad was probably running a bath to help Mama calm her nerves.

I finished my lunch and washed my plate, then sauntered outside to the porch swing. Elliott was already swinging there, holding two large brownies wrapped in cellophane and two bottles of Coke.

He held them up. “Dessert?”

I sat next to him, feeling relaxed and happy for the first time since he’d left. I pulled open the clear plastic and bit into the brownie, humming in satisfaction. “Your aunt?”

He squinted one eye and smiled. “She lies to her women’s auxiliary group at church and says it’s her recipe.”

“It’s not? She’s made them for us before. The whole neighborhood raves about Leigh’s brownies.”

“It’s my mom’s. Aunt Leigh keeps me very happy so I don’t rat her out.”

I smiled. “I won’t tell a soul.”

“I know,” he said, pushing off with his feet. “That’s what I like about you.”

“Which is what exactly?”

“Did you tell anyone about my uncle losing his job?”

“Of course not.”

“That.” He leaned back, cradling his head in his hands. “You can keep a secret.”

Chapter Three


I visited Catherine the next day, and the next, and every day for two weeks. We walked for ice cream, walked to the creek, walked to the park . . . just walked. If her parents were fighting, she wasn’t home to see it, and if I could do nothing else to make that situation better, she was happy about that.

Catherine was probably sitting on the porch swing like she did every afternoon, waiting for me to wander to her section of the neighborhood. I’d been mowing lawns all morning, trying to get all my accounts caught up before the dark, puffy clouds that had begun to darken the southwestern sky reached Oak Creek.

Each time I came home for more water, Uncle John was glued to the news, listening to the meteorologist report on pressure changes and wind gusts. Thunder had been rolling for the last hour, growing louder every ten minutes or so. After my last yard, I ran home and showered, grabbed my camera, and tried very hard not to look like I was rushing when I reached Catherine’s porch.

Her thin, sleeveless blouse stuck in different spots to her glistening skin. She picked at the frayed edges of her jean shorts with what was left of her chewed nails. I struggled to breathe in the muggy air, glad for the sudden chill in the air as the sky darkened and the temperature dipped. Leaves began to hiss as the cool wind from the storm weaved through and blew away the heat that had danced above the asphalt just moments before.

Mr. Calhoun rushed out, straightening his tie. “I have a couple of interviews, Princess. See you this evening.” He trotted down the stairs only to hurry back up. After planting a quick kiss on her cheek and then giving me a look, he ran for the Buick and backed out, stomping on the gas.

The swing bounced and the chains shuddered when I sat next to Catherine. I pushed off with my feet, sending us in an uneven back and forth. Catherine sat quietly, her long, elegant fingers catching my attention. I wished I could hold her hand again, but I wanted it to be her idea this time. The chains of the porch swing creaked in a relaxing rhythm, and I leaned my head back, looking up at the cobwebs on the ceiling and noting the pile of dead bugs inside the porch light.

“Camera?” Catherine asked.

I patted the bag. “Of course.”

“You’ve taken hundreds of pictures of grass, the water flowing at Deep Creek, the swings, the slide, trees, and the railroad tracks. We’ve talked about your parents a little bit and mine a lot, at length about Presley and the clones, football, our dream colleges, and where we want to be in five years. What’s the plan for today?” she asked.

I grinned. “You.”


“It’s going to rain. I thought we’d stay in.”

“Here?” she asked.

I stood and held out my hand. So much for waiting for her to do it. “Come with me.”

“What? Like a photo shoot? I don’t really . . . like getting my picture taken.”

She didn’t take my hand, so I hid my fist in my pocket, trying not to die of embarrassment. “No pictures today. I wanted to show you something.”


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