Home > All the Little Lights(7)

All the Little Lights(7)
Author: Jamie McGuire

Elliott didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he pointed to the board above Anna Sue’s head. “I’ll have a banana fudge sundae.”

“With nuts?” she asked, apparent that her question was obligatory.

He nodded and then looked at me. “Catherine?”

“Orange sherbet, please.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fancy. Anything else?”

Elliott frowned. “No.”

We waited while Anna Sue lifted a clear lid and dug at the sherbet in the freezer behind the clear barrier. After she’d rolled it into a ball with a silver scoop and steadied it onto the cone, she handed it to me and then began Elliott’s sundae.

“I thought you said we were just getting cones?” I said.

He shrugged. “I changed my mind. Thought it’d be nice to sit in the AC for a while.”

Anna Sue sighed as she placed Elliott’s order on the counter. “Banana fudge sundae.”

Elliott chose a table by the window, and he passed a few napkins across to me before digging into the vanilla and fudge sauce like he’d been starving.

“Maybe we should have ordered dinner,” I said.

He looked up, wiping a smear of chocolate from his chin. “We still can.”

I looked down at my dripping ice cream. “I didn’t tell my parents I was leaving. I should probably get home soon . . . not that they’ve noticed I’ve left.”

“I heard them fighting. I’m sort of an expert at that. Sounds like an all-nighter to me.”

I sighed. “It won’t stop until he finds another job. Mama is sort of . . . neurotic.”

“My parents fight about money all the time. My dad thinks if he’s not making forty dollars an hour, he can’t work. As if a dollar isn’t better than zero. Then he gets laid off all the time.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s a welder, which is awesome because he’s gone a lot.”

“It’s a pride thing,” I said. “My dad will find something. Mama just tends to freak out.”

He smiled at me.


“Mama. That’s cute.”

I sank back into my seat, feeling my cheeks burn. “She doesn’t like it when I call her mom. She says I’m trying to pretend I’m older than I am. It’s just habit.”

He watched me squirm with amusement, and then he finally spoke. “I’ve called my mom Mom since I could talk.”

“I’m sorry. I know it’s strange,” I said, looking away. “Mama’s always been particular about things.”

“Why are you apologizing? I just said it was cute.”

I shifted, sliding my free hand between my knees. The air-conditioning was on full blast like most businesses in Oklahoma during the summer. In winter, you layered because it was too hot inside. In summer, you wore a jacket because it was too cold.

I licked the tangy sweetness from my lips. “I wasn’t sure if you were being condescending.”

Elliott began to speak, but a small group of girls approached our table.

“Aw,” Presley said, dramatically touching her chest. “Catherine got herself a boyfriend. I feel so bad that all this time we thought you were lying about him being from out of town.”

Three carbon copies of Presley—Tara and Tatum Martin and Brie Burns—all giggled and tossed their bleached-blonde tresses. Tara and Tatum were identical twins, but they all strived to look like Presley.

“Maybe just outside of town,” Brie said. “Like a reservation, maybe?”

“Oklahoma doesn’t have reservations,” I said, appalled by her stupidity.

“Yeah, they do,” Brie argued.

“You’re thinking of tribal land,” Elliott said, unfazed.

“I’m Presley,” she said to Elliott, smug.

I looked away, not wanting to witness their introduction, but Elliott didn’t move or speak, so I turned to see what was holding up their exchange. Elliott offered me a small grin, ignoring Presley’s outstretched hand.

She made a face and crossed her arms. “Is Brie right? Do you live in White Eagle?”

Elliott raised an eyebrow. “That’s the headquarters for the Ponca tribe.”

“And?” Presley sniped.

Elliott sighed, seeming bored. “I’m Cherokee.”

“So that’s an Indian, right? Isn’t White Eagle for Indians?” she asked.

“Just go away, Presley,” I pleaded, worried she would say something even more offensive.

Excitement sparked in Presley’s eyes. “Wow, Kit-Cat. Are we getting a little big for our britches?”

I looked up at her, anger blazing in my eyes. “It’s Catherine.”

Presley led them to a booth across the room, continuing to tease Elliott and me from afar.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “They’re just doing it because you’re with me.”

“Because I’m with you?”

“They hate me,” I grumbled.

He turned his spoon upside down and stuck it in his mouth, seeming unaffected. “It’s not hard to see why.”

I wondered what about my outward appearance made it so obvious. Maybe that’s why the town hadn’t stopped blaming Mama and me for my grandparents’ mistakes. Maybe I looked like someone they should hate.

“Why do you look embarrassed?” he asked.

“I guess I was hoping you didn’t know about my family and the smelter.”

“Oh. That. My aunt told me years ago. Is that what you think? That they’re mean to you because of your family history with the town?”

“Why else?”

“Catherine.” My name sounded like a soft laugh tumbling from his mouth. “They’re jealous of you.”

I frowned and shook my head. “What could they possibly be jealous of me for? We barely have two pennies to rub together.”

“Have you seen yourself?” he asked.

I blushed and looked down. Only Dad had ever complimented my looks.

“You’re all the things they’re not.”

I crossed my arms on the table and watched the warm hue of the corner streetlight blink between the branches of a tree. It was a strange feeling, wanting to hear more and hoping he’d talk about anything else. “What they said doesn’t bother you?” I asked, surprised.

“It use to.”

“Now it doesn’t?”

“My uncle John says people can only make us angry if we let them, and if we let them, we give them power.”

“That’s pretty profound.”

“I listen to him sometimes, even though he thinks I don’t.”

“What else does he say?”

He didn’t hesitate. “That you either get good at rising above and meeting ignorance with education, or you get really good at being bitter.”

I smiled. Elliott spoke his uncle’s words with respect.

“So you just choose not to let what people say get to you?”

“Pretty much.”

“How?” I said, leaning in. I was genuinely curious, hoping he would unveil some magical secret that would end the misery Presley and her friends loved invoking in me.

“Oh, I get angry. It gets old when people feel the need to tell me their great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess, or that stupid joke about if I got my name from the first thing my parents saw after they walked out of a teepee. I can get heated when someone calls me chief, when I see people in headdresses outside of our ceremonies. But my uncle says we should either be compassionate and educate or leave them alone in their ignorance. Besides, there’s too much ignorance in the world to let it all get to me. If I did, all I’d ever feel is anger, and I don’t want to be like my mom.”

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