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All the Little Lights(11)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“I’m going to travel with my camera. Take pictures of the earth and sky and everything in-between. You could come with me.”

I laughed. “And do what?”

He shrugged. “Be the in-between.”

I thought about what Dad had said earlier. I wanted to prove him wrong. I smirked. “I’m not sure I want to travel the world with someone who punches trees.”

“Oh. That.”

I elbowed him. “Yes, that. What was that about?”

“That would be one of the times I didn’t listen to Uncle John’s philosophy on anger.”

“Everyone gets angry. It’s better to take it out on a tree. Just maybe wear boxing gloves next time.”

He breathed out a laugh. “My aunt has mentioned installing a punching bag downstairs.”

“That’s a healthy outlet if you ask me.”

“So if you’re not going to travel the world with me, what will you do?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “We’ve only got three years left. I feel like I should at least have an idea, and at the same time, it sounds crazy to think that I should at fifteen.” I looked away, frowning. “It’s stressful.”

“Just hold my hand for now.”


I looked up to see Owen, letting my hand slip away from Elliott’s. “Hey,” I said, standing.

Owen took a few steps, wiping sweat from his brow. “Your dad said you might be here.” His eyes kept bouncing between Elliott and me.

“This is Elliott. He lives down the street,” I said.

Elliott stood and held out his hand. Owen didn’t move, warily watching the tall, dark stranger.

“Owen,” I hissed.

Owen’s blond eyelashes fluttered. He shook Elliott’s hand and then returned his attention to me. “Oh. Sorry. So . . . I’m leaving for camp tomorrow. You wanna come over tonight?”

“Oh,” I said, glancing up at Elliott. “I, um . . . we sort of have plans.”

Owen frowned. “But I’m leaving tomorrow.”

“I know,” I said, envisioning hours of munching on popcorn while Owen gunned down countless space mercenaries. “You can come with us.”

“My mom won’t let me go anywhere tonight. She wants me home early.”

“I’m really sorry, Owen.”

He turned, frowning at me. “Yeah. See you in a couple of weeks, I guess.”

“Yes. Absolutely. Have fun at science camp.”

Owen flicked his sandy hair out of his eyes, stuffed his fists in his pockets, and walked in the opposite direction of my house, toward his street. Owen lived in one of the nicer neighborhoods, his house tucked into a woodsy cul-de-sac. I’d spent one-third of my childhood there, sitting on one of his beanbags vegging out in front of the TV. I wanted to spend time with him before he left, but Elliott had a lot of layers, and I only had a few weeks of summer break to peel them.

“Who was that?” Elliott asked. For the first time, the unaffected, small smile that had been perpetually on his face was absent.

“Owen. He’s a friend from school. One of two. He’s in love with my friend Minka. We’ve been hanging out since first grade. He’s like this . . . avid gamer. He likes Minka and me to watch him play. He’s not much of a two-player fan. He doesn’t like waiting on us to figure it out.”

One corner of Elliott’s mouth turned up. “One of three.”


“Owen is one of your three friends.”

“Oh. That’s . . . a nice thing to say.” I looked down at my watch to hide the flush of my cheeks, noticing the time. The sun had stretched our shadows to the east. We’d spent two hours at Beatle Park. “We should probably eat something. Want to come over for a sandwich?”

Elliott smiled and followed me through the shade to Juniper. We didn’t talk much, and he didn’t reach for my hand again, but my palm tingled where his had been. I stopped at the gate, hesitating. Mama’s car was parked behind the Buick, and I could hear them arguing.

“I can make a sandwich at home,” Elliott said. “Or I can come in with you. Your call.”

I glanced back at him. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.”

Elliott tucked some hair behind his ear and then made the decision for me. He pushed back through the gate and walked toward his aunt’s, wiping sweat from his temple and then readjusting his camera strap.

I walked up the porch steps slowly, cringing when they lowered their voices.

“I’m home,” I said, closing the door behind me. I walked into the dining room to see Dad sitting at the table, his fingers interlaced in front of him. “You didn’t get the job?”

Dad’s underarms were stained with sweat, his face ashen. He attempted a small smile. “There were a hundred other guys up for that position, all younger and smarter than your old dad.”

“I don’t believe that for a minute,” I said, walking past Mama to the kitchen. I made two glasses of ice water and then sat one in front of him.

“Thanks, Princess,” he said, taking a big gulp.

Mama rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Listen to me. It could work. We have all this room, and—”

“I said no, honey,” Dad said, sounding final. “No tourists come to this town. There’s nothing to see except closed businesses and a Pizza Hut. The only people who stay the night are coming off the interstate or oil guys. They’re not going to pay extra for a bed and breakfast.”

“There’s only one hotel,” Mama snapped. “It’s full almost every night.”

“Not every night,” Dad said, patting his brow with a napkin. “And even if we got the overflow, it wouldn’t be enough to sustain a business.”

“Dad?” I said. “Aren’t you feeling well?”

“I’m okay, Catherine. Just got too hot today.”

“Take another drink,” I said, pushing his glass toward him.

Mama wrung her hands. “You know this is something I’ve always wanted to do with this house.”

“It takes money to start a business,” Dad said. “And I’m not comfortable having strangers sleeping next to Catherine every night.”

“You just said we wouldn’t have guests,” Mama snapped.

“We won’t, Mavis. If this house was in San Francisco or anywhere with a tourist attraction, it would, but we’re in the middle of Oklahoma, not a thing within two hours of us.”

“Two lakes,” she said.

“People who go to the lake either make a day trip or camp. This isn’t Missouri. We’re not on the edges of Table Rock Lake, with Branson ten minutes away. It’s not the same.”

“It could be, if we advertised. If we got the city to work with us.”

“To do what exactly? You can’t argue this. It’s just not fiscally responsible to start that kind of business when we’re already facing being a month behind on bills.” Dad glanced at me as if it were an afterthought.

“I could get a job,” I said.

Dad began to speak, but Mama cut him off. “She could work for me at the Juniper Bed and Breakfast.”

“No, honey,” Dad said, exasperated. “You couldn’t pay her for a long time, and it would defeat the point. Look at me. You know this isn’t a good idea. You know it’s not.”

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