Home > All the Little Lights(2)

All the Little Lights(2)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“I’m sorry?” I offered.

“You missed dinner,” she said, opening the screen door. I walked inside, and she followed me. “Your plate’s in the microwave. Eat, then you can tell me where you’ve been.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, making a beeline past her. I passed the wooden, oval dining table to reach the kitchen, opening the microwave to see a foil-covered plate. My mouth instantly watered.

“Take that o—” Aunt Leigh began, but I had already ripped it off, shut the door, and pressed the two on the number pad.

I watched the plate turn in a circle under the glow of a warm yellow light. The steak began to sizzle, and the gravy on the mashed potatoes bubbled.

“Not yet,” Aunt Leigh snapped when I reached for the microwave handle.

My stomach gurgled.

“If you’re so hungry, why did you wait so long to get home?”

“I was stuck in a tree,” I said, reaching in the second the microwave beeped.

“Stuck in a tree?” Aunt Leigh handed me a fork as I passed and followed me to the table.

I shoveled the first bite in and hummed, taking two more before Aunt Leigh could ask another question. My mom was a good cook, too, but the older I got, the more starved I felt. No matter how many times I ate during the day or how much I ate at a time, I never felt full. I couldn’t get food—any food—in my stomach fast enough.

Aunt Leigh made a face as I hunched over my plate to create a shorter trip from the plate to my mouth.

“You’re gonna have to explain that,” Aunt Leigh said. When I didn’t stop, she leaned over to place her hand on my wrist. “Elliott, don’t make me ask again.”

I tried to chew quickly and swallow, nodding in compliance. “The huge house down the street has an oak tree. I climbed it.”


“So while I was up there waiting for a good shot with my camera, the people came out.”

“The Calhouns? Did they see you?”

I shook my head, sneaking another quick bite.

“You know that’s Uncle John’s boss, right?”

I stopped chewing. “No.”

Aunt Leigh sat back. “Of all the trees to pick.”

“They seemed nice . . . and sad.”

“Why?” At least for the moment, she forgot about being mad.

“They were burying something in the backyard. I think their dog died.”

“Aw, that’s too bad,” Aunt Leigh said, trying to muster up sympathy. She didn’t have children or dogs, and she seemed okay with that. She scratched her head, suddenly nervous. “Your mom called today.”

I nodded, taking another bite. She let me finish, waiting patiently for me to remember to use a napkin.

“What did she want?”

“Sounds like her and your dad are working things out. She sounds happy.”

I looked away, clenching my teeth. “She always is at first.” I turned to her. “Has her eye even healed?”

“Elliott . . .”

I stood, picking up my plate and fork, taking them to the sink.

“Did you tell him?” Uncle John said, scratching his round belly. He was standing in the hall, wearing the navy-blue pajama set Aunt Leigh had bought him last Christmas. She nodded. He looked to me, acknowledging the disgust on my face. “Yep. We don’t like it, either.”

“Just now,” Aunt Leigh said, crossing her arms.

“About Mom?” I asked. Uncle John nodded. “It’s bullshit.”

“Elliott,” Aunt Leigh scolded.

“It’s okay for us not to like her going back to someone who hits her,” I said.

“He’s your dad,” Aunt Leigh said.

“What does that matter?” Uncle John asked.

Aunt Leigh sighed, touching her fingers to her forehead. “She won’t like us discussing this with Elliott. If we want him to keep coming back—”

“You want me to keep coming back?” I asked, surprised.

Aunt Leigh folded her arms over her chest, refusing to toss me that bone. Emotions made her mad. Maybe because they were hard to control and that made her feel weak, but for whatever reason, she didn’t like to talk about anything that made her feel anything but angry.

Uncle John smiled. “She hides in the bedroom for an hour every time you leave.”

“John,” Aunt Leigh hissed.

I smiled, but it faded. The sting from my scrapes reminded me of what I’d seen. “Do you guys think that girl’s okay?”

“The Calhoun girl?” Aunt Leigh asked. “Why?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. Just some weird things I saw while I was stuck in the tree.”

“You were stuck in a tree?” Uncle John asked.

Aunt Leigh waved him away, walking over to me. “What did you see?”

“I’m not sure. Her parents seem nice.”

“Nice enough,” Aunt Leigh said. “Mavis was a spoiled brat in school. Her family owned half the town because of the zinc smelter, but the smelter closed, and one by one they all died of cancer. You know that damn smelter contaminated the groundwater here? There was a big lawsuit against her family. The only thing she has left is that house. It use to be called the Van Meter Mansion, you know. They changed it once Mavis’s parents died and she married the Calhoun kid. The Van Meters are hated around here.”

“That’s sad,” I said.

“Sad? The Van Meters poisoned the town. Half the population is fighting cancer or some complication from cancer. That’s the least of what they deserve, if you ask me, especially if you take into account how they treated everyone.”

“Did Mavis treat you bad?” I asked.

“No, but she was awful to your mom and Uncle John.”

I frowned. “The husband is Uncle John’s boss?”

“He’s a good man,” Uncle John said. “Everyone likes him.”

“What about the girl?” I asked. Uncle John offered a knowing smile, and I shook my head. “Never mind.”

He winked at me. “She’s a pretty one, huh?”

“Nah.” I passed them and opened the basement door, walking down the stairs. Aunt Leigh had asked a billion times to rearrange it, buy new furniture and a rug, but I wasn’t there enough for it to matter. All I cared about was the camera, and Uncle John gave me his old laptop so I could practice editing the photos. I uploaded the shots I took, unable to concentrate, wondering about the weird girl and her weird family.

“Elliott?” Aunt Leigh called. My head snapped up, and I glanced at the small, black square clock that sat next to my monitor. I picked it up, in disbelief that two hours had passed.

“Elliott,” Aunt Leigh repeated. “Your mom’s on the phone.”

“I’ll call her back in a minute,” I yelled.

Aunt Leigh walked down the steps, cell phone in her hand. “She said if you want your own cell phone, you need to talk to her on mine.”

I sighed and pushed up from my seat, trudging over to Aunt Leigh. I took the phone, tapped the display for speakerphone, and sat it on my desk, returning to my work.

“Elliott?” Mom said.


“I, um . . . I talked to your dad. He’s back. He wanted to say he’s sorry.”

“Then why doesn’t he say it?” I grumbled.



“You don’t have anything to say about him coming home?”

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