Home > All the Little Lights(6)

All the Little Lights(6)
Author: Jamie McGuire

Juniper Street was only busy with cars trying to avoid after-school traffic. After everyone had clocked out and reached home, we were back to being the quiet edge of town.

I heard a click and a winding sound behind me and turned. The boy with the camera was standing on the opposite side of the road, his odd contraption still in his hand. He lifted it one more time and snapped another photo, pointing it in my direction.

“You could at least pretend not to be taking pictures of me,” I snarled.

“Why would I do that?”

“Because taking pictures of a stranger without her permission is a creepy thing to do.”

“Who says?”

I looked around, offended by his question. “Everyone. Everyone says.”

He placed the cap on his lens and then stepped off the curb into the street. “Well, everyone didn’t see what I just saw through my lens, and it was anything but creepy.”

I glared at him, trying to decide if he’d just complimented me or not. While my arms remained crossed, my expression softened. “My dad said you’re Miss Leigh’s nephew?”

He nodded, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his shiny nose.

I glanced back at the parent-size shapes in my window and then back at the boy. “Are you here for the summer?”

He nodded again.

“Do you speak?” I seethed.

He grinned, amused. “Why are you so angry?”

“I don’t know,” I snapped, closing my eyes again. I took a deep breath and then peeked from under my lashes. “Don’t you get mad?”

He shifted. “Just like everyone else, I guess.” He nodded toward my house. “Why are they yelling?”

“My, um . . . my dad lost his job today.”

“Does he work for the oil company?” he asked.

“He did.”

“So did my uncle . . . until today,” he said. He suddenly looked vulnerable. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“I can keep a secret.” I stood, brushing off my shorts. When he didn’t say anything, I begrudgingly offered my name. “I’m Catherine.”

“I know. I’m Elliott. Want to walk down to Braum’s with me for an ice-cream cone?”

He was half a head taller than me, but by the looks of it, we weighed the same. His arms and legs were too long and skinny, and he hadn’t quite grown into his ears. His high cheekbones protruded enough to make his cheeks appear sunken, and his long, stringy hair didn’t help the appearance of his oval face.

He stepped across the cracked asphalt, and I pushed through the gate, glancing over my shoulder. The house was still watching me, and it would wait for me to come back.

My parents were still yelling. If I went inside, they would stop long enough to take the fighting into their bedroom, but that just meant I would have to listen to Mama’s muffled wrath for the rest of the night.

“Sure,” I said, turning to face him. He looked surprised. “Do you have money? I’ll have to pay you back. I’m not going back in there for my wallet.”

He nodded, patting his front pocket as proof. “I’ve got you covered. I mow the lawn for the neighbors.”

“I know,” I said.

“You know?” he asked, a small, surprised smile on his face.

I nodded and shoved my fingers in the shallow pockets of my jean shorts and, for the first time, left home without permission.

Elliott walked beside me but at a respectable distance. He didn’t speak for a block and a half, and then he wouldn’t stop.

“Do you like it here?” he asked. “In Oak Creek?”

“Not really.”

“What about the school? What’s that like?”

“I liken it to torture.”

He nodded as if I’d confirmed a suspicion. “My mom grew up here, and she always talked about how much she hated it.”


“Most of the First Nation kids went to their own school. Her and Uncle John got a lot of guff for being the only two native kids at Oak Creek. They were pretty mean to her.”

“Like . . . like what?” I asked.

He frowned. “Their house was vandalized, and so was her car. But I just know that from Uncle John. All Mom has told me was that the parents are small-minded and the kids are worse. I’m not sure how to take it.”

“Take what?”

His eyes fell to the road. “That she sent me to a place she hates.”

“I asked for luggage for Christmas two years ago. Dad bought me a set. I’m filling them the second I get home from graduation, and I’ll never come back.”

“When is that? Your graduation?”

I sighed. “Three more years.”

“So you’re a freshman? Or were? Me too.”

“But you’re here every summer? Don’t you miss your friends?”

He shrugged. “My parents fight a lot. I like coming here. It’s quiet.”

“Where are you from?”

“Oklahoma City. Yukon, actually.”

“Oh yeah? We play you in football.”

“Yep. I know, I know. Puke on Yukon. I’ve seen the Oak Creek banners.”

I fought a smile. I’d made a few of those banners with Minka and Owen during Pep Club meetings after school. “Do you play?”

“Yeah, like seventh string. I’m getting better, though. That’s what the coach says anyway.”

The Braum’s sign loomed high above us, giving off a pink and white neon glow. Elliott swung the door open, and the air-conditioning blasted my skin.

My shoes stuck to the red tile floor. Sugar and grease saturated the air, and families gathered in the dining area, chattering about summer plans. The pastor of the First Christian Church stood next to one of the bigger tables with his arms crossed over his middle, trapping his red tie, while he caught up with some of his flock about church events and his disappointment in the level of the local lake.

Elliott and I approached the counter. He gestured for me to order first. Anna Sue Gentry manned the register, her bleached-blonde ponytail swinging when she made a show of assessing our relationship.

“Who’s this, Catherine?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at the camera dangling from Elliott’s neck.

“Elliott Youngblood,” he said before I could answer.

Anna Sue stopped addressing me altogether, her big green eyes sparkling when the tall boy next to me proved he wasn’t afraid to speak to her.

“And who are you, Elliott? Catherine’s cousin?”

I made a face, wondering what about us drew her to that conclusion. “What?”

Anna Sue shrugged. “Your hair is about the same length. Same awful haircut. I thought maybe it was a family thing.”

Elliott looked to me, unaffected. “Mine’s longer, actually.”

“So not cousins,” Anna Sue said. “Did you trade in Minka and Owen for this one?”

“Neighbor.” Elliott shoved his hands into his khaki cargo shorts, already unimpressed.

She wrinkled her nose. “What are you, homeschooled?”

I sighed. “He’s staying with his aunt for the summer. Can we order, please?”

Anna Sue shifted her weight from one hip to the other, gripping each side of the register. The sour expression on her face didn’t surprise me. Anna Sue was friends with Presley. They looked alike, with the same shade of blonde hair, style, and thick black eyeliner—and they made the same face when I was around.

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