Home > All the Little Lights(10)

All the Little Lights(10)
Author: Jamie McGuire

Elliott smiled, looking sheepish. “I might be a little nervous to meet you.”

Dad’s eyes softened, and his shoulders relaxed. “Did you know her first name is Princess?”

“Dad!” I hissed.

Dad winked at me. “Be home by dinner.”

“Yes, sir,” Elliott said, stepping to the side.

I passed Dad, giving him a quick peck on the cheek before leading Elliott down the porch steps and out the gate.

“It’s already hot,” Elliott said, wiping his forehead. “This summer’s gonna be brutal.”

“You’re here early. What are you up to?” I asked.

He nudged me with his elbow. “Hanging out with you.”

“What’s with the camera?”

“I thought we could go to the creek today.”

“To . . . ?”

He held up his camera. “To take pictures.”

“Of the creek?”

He smiled. “You’ll see.”

We walked north toward Braum’s and turned a street before. The road turned to red dirt and gravel, and we walked one more mile up to Deep Creek. It was narrow, and apart from a few ten-foot sections, I could jump over it with a running start. Elliott led me along the bank until he found a section running over stones.

He stopped talking to me and started tinkering with his camera. Elliott snapped one picture quickly, checked the settings, and then took several more. After watching him for an hour, I walked around on my own, waiting until he was satisfied.

“Beautiful,” he said simply. “Let’s go.”


“The park.”

We headed back toward Juniper, stopping at Braum’s on the way for ice water. I pressed my thumb to my shoulder, leaving a temporary white spot before it turned red.

“Sunburn?” Elliott asked.

“I always do in June. Burn once, and I’m good for the summer.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” he teased.

I scanned his bronze skin with envy. Something about it looked soft and touchable, and those thoughts made me feel uncomfortable because I’d never had them before.

“We should keep sunscreen on you. That’s gonna hurt.”

“Nah. I’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

“I’ll see what?”

“I just meant that I’ll be okay,” I said, pushing him off the curb.

He fought a smile and then pushed me back. I lost my balance too close to the fence, and my blouse somehow ended up hooking and twisting on a protruding wire. I yelped, and Elliott held out his hands as the wire sliced through the thin fabric.

“Whoa!” he said, reaching for me.

“I’m caught!” I said, bent in half. My fingers were woven into the chain link, trying not to fall over and rip my shirt further.

“I gotcha,” he said, unhooking the fabric from the fence. “Almost got it,” he said, straining. “I’m so sorry. That was stupid.”

My shirt released, and Elliott helped me to stand up straight. I checked the rip and chuckled. “It’s fine. I’m a klutz.”

He winced. “I know better than to put my hands on a girl.”

“You didn’t hurt me.”

“No, I know. It’s just that . . . my dad gets mad sometimes and just loses it. I wonder when that started or if he was always that way. I don’t wanna be like him.”

“Mama loses her temper, too.”

“Does she hit your dad?”

I shook my head. “No.”

His jaw worked under his skin, and then he turned for the park, gesturing for me to follow. He was quiet for the next few blocks until we heard the faint laughter and squealing of children.

Beatle Park had been neglected but was still overrun with tiny humans when we arrived. I wasn’t sure how Elliott was going to get any pictures without a slobbering, snotty, dirty-faced munchkin in his shot, but he somehow found beauty in the rusted barrels and splintered seesaw that no one played on. After an hour, the moms and day care workers began to corral the kids, calling them back to the vans for lunch. Within minutes, we were alone.

Elliott offered me a swing, and I sat, giggling when he pulled me back and then pushed forward, running beneath me.

He picked up his camera, and I covered my face. “No!”

“It looks worse when you fight it.”

“I just don’t like it. Please stop.”

Elliott let the camera rest against his chest, shaking his head. “That’s weird.”

“Well, I guess I’m weird, then.”

“No, it’s just . . . that’s like the setting sun wishing it wasn’t so beautiful.”

I swung back and forth, pressing my lips together in a hard line so I didn’t smile. Once again, I wasn’t sure if he was complimenting me or if it was just the way he saw the world.

“When’s your birthday?” Elliott asked.

I frowned, caught off guard. “February—why?”

He chuckled. “February what?”

“Second. When’s yours?”

“November sixteenth. I’m a Scorpio. You’re a . . .” He looked up, thinking. “Oh. You’re an Aquarius. Air sign. Very mysterious.”

A nervous laugh tumbled from my lips. “I have no idea what that means.”

“It means we should stay far, far away from each other, according to my mom. She likes all that stuff.”


“Yeah,” he said, seeming embarrassed by sharing that tidbit.

“Is astrology a Cherokee thing? Sorry if that’s a dumb question.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just for fun.”

Elliott sat on the swing next to mine, pushing back and then using his legs to swing forward. He grabbed the chain of my swing, taking me along for the ride. I started to use my legs, too, and before long I was so high that the swing was bouncing when I got to the top. I stretched my toes toward the sky, remembering that same exhilarating feeling as when I was little.

As our swings slowed, I watched Elliott watch me. He held out his hand, but I hesitated.

“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” he said. “Just take it.”

I hooked his fingers with mine. Our hands were sweaty and slippery and felt awful, but it was the first time I’d held a boy’s hand besides my dad’s, and it sent a ridiculous thrill through me that I’d never admit to. I didn’t think Elliott was that cute or that funny, but he was sweet. His eyes seemed to see everything, and yet he still wanted to spend time with me.

“Do you like your aunt and uncle?” I asked. “Do you like it here?”

He peered over at me, squinting from the sun. “For the most part. Aunt Leigh is . . . she carries a lot around with her.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“They don’t talk about it to me, but from what I’ve heard over the years, the Youngbloods weren’t receptive to Aunt Leigh at first. Uncle John just kept loving her until they were.”

“Because she’s . . . ,” I began, stumbling over the words.

He chuckled. “It’s okay. You can say it. My grandparents had a hard time with it, too. Aunt Leigh is white.”

I pressed my lips together, trying not to laugh.

“What about you? Are you really leaving after graduation?”

I nodded. “Oak Creek is okay,” I said, drawing circles in the sand with my sandal. “I just don’t want to stay here forever . . . or a second longer than I have to.”

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