Home > All the Little Lights(14)

All the Little Lights(14)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“We can if it’ll make you feel better.”

Catherine stared at my bedroom door, then her grip on me relaxed. “Maybe not.”

I laughed.

“What’s funny?” she asked.

“I was just thinking the opposite.”

“It’s not that I . . .” She stood next to me, hooking her arm in mine and holding tight, pressing her cheek against my arm. “I’m just going to say it. I like you.”

I leaned my head to the side, resting my cheek against her hair. She smelled like shampoo and sweat. Clean sweat. It was currently my favorite smell in the world. “I like you, too.” I stayed facing forward when I spoke. “You’re exactly like I thought you’d be.”

“What do you mean?”

The hail began again, this time blowing in the direction of the windows that ran along the front wall of Aunt Leigh’s living room. A section of glass cracked, and I stretched my arm across Catherine’s chest, stepping back. A bright light flashed from across the street, and a loud boom shook the house.

“Elliott?” Catherine said, fear in her voice.

“I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise,” I said. We watched the trees outside thrash in the wind.

“You want to be out there, don’t you? Taking pictures,” Catherine said.

“I don’t have the right camera for that. Someday.”

“You should work for National Geographic or something.”

“That’s the plan. There’s a whole world out there to see.” I turned to face her. “Have you changed your mind yet? You’re packing a bag after graduation, anyway. Why not just come with me?”

The first time I’d asked, we’d just met. A wide grin stretched across her face. “You’re asking me again?”

“As many times as it takes.”

“You know, now that we’ve spent time together, the thought of traveling the world with you feels more stable than staying at home.”

“So? You in?” I asked.

“I’m in,” she said.


She nodded, and I couldn’t control the stupid look on my face.

The hail stopped all at once, and then the wind began to die down. Catherine’s smile faded with the rain.

“What’s wrong?”

“I should probably go home.”

“Oh. Yeah, okay. I’ll walk you.”

Catherine cupped both of my shoulders and then leaned in, just long enough to kiss the corner of my mouth. It was so fast, I didn’t even have time to enjoy it before it was over, but it didn’t matter. I could have climbed a mountain, run around the world, and swum the ocean in that moment, because if Catherine Calhoun could decide she wanted to kiss me, anything was possible.

The sun had just begun to peek out from behind the clouds, the darkness moving on to the next town over. The neighbors began to wander out to check the damage. Despite a few broken windows, a lot of detached and scattered shingles, broken power lines, and downed trees and branches, the houses mostly seemed to be intact. Green leaves littered Juniper Street, bordered by two streams of dirty water racing for the storm drains at the end of the road.

Catherine noticed the same time I did that her driveway was empty. I opened the gate and followed her up the walk, and we sat on the wet porch swing.

“I’ll wait with you until they get home,” I said.

“Thank you.” She reached over and slid her fingers between mine, and I pushed off with my feet, swinging and hoping that the best day of my life so far would pass slowly.

Chapter Four


The rest of the summer was filled with triple-digit days and the constant staccato of nail guns as various companies repaired rooftops. Elliott and I spent a lot of time laughing under shade trees and taking pictures on the banks of Deep Creek, but he never invited me to his aunt’s again. Every day, I fought the urge to ask him to finally see the photograph in his basement, but my pride was the only thing stronger than my curiosity.

We watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July together in camping chairs behind the baseball fields, and we made sandwiches and shared picnic lunches every day after, talking about nothing important, like our summer together would never end.

On the last Saturday in July, it seemed we had run out of things to say. Elliott had shown up every morning at nine o’clock, waiting faithfully on the swing, but the past week he’d grown sullener.

“Your boy is on the swing again,” Dad said, straightening his tie.

“He’s not mine.”

Dad took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. Being unemployed had taken a toll on him. He’d lost weight and hadn’t been sleeping well.

“Is that so? Where’s Owen been?”

“I’ve stopped by his house a few times. I’d rather be outside than watching him play video games.”

“You mean outside with Elliott,” Dad said with a smirk.

“Did you eat breakfast?” I asked.

Dad shook his head. “No time.”

“You have to take better care of yourself,” I said, gently pushing his hands to the side. I adjusted his tie and patted his shoulder. His shirt was damp. “Daddy.”

He kissed my forehead. “I’m fine, Princess. Stop worrying. You should go. Don’t want to be late for your creek date. Or park date. Which is it today?”

“Park. And it’s not a date.”

“Do you like him?”

“Not like that.”

Dad smiled. “You could have fooled me. He doesn’t fool me, though. Dads know things.”

“Or imagine things,” I said, opening the door.

“Love you, Catherine.”

“Not as much as I love you.”

I stepped outside, smiling at the sight of Elliott swaying back and forth on the porch swing. He was wearing a pin-striped button-up and khaki cargo shorts, his camera hanging from the strap around his neck like always.

“Ready?” he asked. “I thought we’d grab some biscuits and gravy from Braum’s.”

“Sure,” I said.

We walked the six blocks to one of our favorite places and sat down in the booth that we’d made ours. Elliott was as quiet as he’d been for the past week, nodding and replying in the right places but he seemed a thousand miles away.

We walked downtown, not going anywhere. As we’d done for the past couple of months, we walked as an excuse to talk—to spend time together.

The sun hung high in the sky by the time we’d made it back to my house to make sandwiches. A picnic lunch had become our ritual, and we took turns picking the spot. It was Elliott’s day, and he chose the park, under our favorite shade tree.

In silence, we spread out a quilt Mama had made. Elliott unwrapped his turkey and cheese as if it had offended him—or maybe I had, but I couldn’t think of a single moment of our summer that had been anything but perfect.

“No good?” I asked, holding my sandwich in both hands. Exactly one bite was missing from Elliott’s sandwich, even though mine was half-eaten.

“No,” Elliott said, putting down his sandwich. “Definitely not good.”

“What’s wrong with it? Too much mayo?”

He paused, then offered a sheepish smile. “Not the sandwich, Catherine. Everything else but the sandwich . . . and sitting here with you.”

“Oh,” I managed to say, even though my mind was falling all over Elliott’s last sentence.

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