Home > All the Little Lights(13)

All the Little Lights(13)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever photographed.”

Catherine followed me out the gate and down the street to my aunt and uncle’s house. It was the first time in weeks we had walked somewhere without our clothes being soaked with sweat.

Aunt Leigh’s house smelled like fresh paint and cheap air freshener. The fresh vacuum markings in the calico carpet told a short story of a busy housewife and no children. The ivy stencils and plaid came straight from 1991, but Aunt Leigh took pride in her house and spent hours a day making sure it was immaculate.

Catherine reached for a painting on the wall of a Native woman with long, dark hair, adorned with a feather. She stopped just before her fingers met with the canvas. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”

“It is beautiful, but not what I brought you here to see.”

“She’s so . . . elegant. So lost. Not just beautiful . . . the kind that makes you want to cry.”

I smiled, watching Catherine stare at the painting in awe. “She’s my mother.”

“Your mother? She’s stunning.”

“Aunt Leigh painted it.”

“Wow,” Catherine said, looking over painted plates with similar styles. Landscapes and people, all looking like any minute the wind would make the grass sway or a dark hair would brush against rich, bronze skin. “All of them?”

Elliott nodded.

The flat-screen television hanging high on the wall was on, the news anchor talking to an empty room before we’d arrived.

“Is Leigh at work?” Catherine asked.

“She leaves the TV on when she’s gone. She says it makes the burglars think someone is home.”

“What burglars?” she asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Any burglars, I guess.” We walked past the TV down a dim hall to a brown door with a brass knob. I opened it; a rush of air with the subtle hint of mildew blew Catherine’s bangs from her eyes.

“What’s down there?” she asked, peeking down into the darkness.

“My room.”

A steady beat sounded on the roof, and I turned to look out the front windows, seeing pea-size pellets of ice bouncing in the wet grass. As they fell, they grew bigger. A white ball the size of a half dollar made contact with the sidewalk, breaking into a few pieces. As quickly as the hail came, it vanished and melted like I’d imagined it.

She returned her attention to the darkness. She seemed overly nervous. “You sleep down there?”

“Mostly. Wanna see?”

She swallowed. “You first.”

I chuckled. “Chicken.” I tromped down the steps and then disappeared into the darkness, reaching up exactly where I knew a string would be for the single bare bulb above.

“Elliott?” Catherine called from halfway down the stairs. Her calling for me with her tiny, nervous voice made something inside of me click. I only wanted her to feel safe with me. “Hang on, I’m getting the light.”

After a click and a jingle, the bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated our surroundings.

Catherine descended the remaining stairs slowly. She looked down at the large green shag carpet centered in the middle of the concrete floor.

“It’s ugly, but it’s better than stepping on a cold floor first thing in the morning,” I said.

She peered around at the small loveseat, a console television, a desk with a computer, and the futon I slept on.

“Where’s your bed?” she asked.

I pointed to the futon. “It lays flat.”

“It doesn’t look . . . long enough.”

“It’s not,” I said simply, pulling my camera out of the bag and pinching the memory card from the bottom. I sat in the lawn chair that Uncle John had bought for me to use at the desk Aunt Leigh found sitting on the side of the road, and pushed the tiny square in my hand into a slit in the desktop.


“I just have to pull it up.” I clicked the mouse a few times, and then a faint, high-pitched wail sounded above us. I froze.

“Is that the . . . ?”

“Is it the tornado siren?” I said, scrambling to stand and then grabbing her hand, pulling her to the top of the stairs. The sound was coming from the television; a meteorologist stood in front of a map splashed with reds and greens. A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for the whole county, and it was going to hit us at any minute.

“Elliott,” Catherine said, squeezing my hand, “I’d better get home before it gets bad.”

The sky was getting blacker by the minute. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. You should just ride it out here.”

A small map of Oklahoma, divided by counties, was nestled in the top right corner of the flat-screen, lit up like a Christmas tree. Names of towns streamed across the bottom.

The meteorologist began pointing to our county, saying things like flash flood warning and take immediate precautions.

We stared out the window, watching an invisible force blow the trees and scatter leaves. Lightning flashed, splashing our shadows onto the wall between two overstuffed, brown leather recliners. Thunder rolled over Oak Creek, and it began to hail again. Rain hammered the roof, accumulating so fast that water spilled over the gutters, splashing on the ground. The streets were turning into shallow rivers filled with what looked more like chocolate milk than rainwater, and soon the overloaded drains began to gurgle and regurgitate it back into the street.

The meteorologist pleaded with viewers not to drive in the torrential rains. The wind howled through the window seams as the glass rattled.

“My dad’s out there. Probably driving. Can I borrow your phone?” she asked.

I handed her my phone, unlocked and ready to dial. She frowned when her dad’s voice mail picked up.

“Dad? It’s Catherine. I’m calling from Elliott’s phone. I’m at his house and safe. Call me when you get this so I know you’re okay. Elliott’s number is . . .” She looked at me, and I mouthed the numbers. “Three six three, five one eight five. Call me, okay? I’m worried. Love you.” She returned the cell phone to me, and I stuffed it in my pocket.

“He’ll be okay,” I said, hugging her to me.

Catherine’s hands gripped my shirt, and she pressed her cheek against my shoulder. She made me feel like a superhero.

She looked up at me, and my eyes fell to her lips. The bottom one was fuller than the top, and I imagined for half a second what it would be like to kiss her before I leaned in.

Catherine closed her eyes and I closed mine, but just before my lips touched hers, she whispered, “Elliott?”

“Yeah?” I said, not moving another inch.

Even through my closed lids, I could see lightning light up the entire house, and a crack of thunder immediately followed. Catherine threw her arms around me, hugging me tight.

I held her until she relaxed, letting me go with a giggle. Her cheeks flushed. “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“For . . . being here with me.”

I smiled. “Where else would I be?”

We watched the hail turn to rain that splashed against the ground in large drops. The wind forced the trees to bow before the storm. The first snapping sound surprised me. When the first tree fell, Catherine gasped.

“It’ll be over soon,” I said, holding her. I’d never been so thankful for a storm in my life.

“Should we go to the basement?” Catherine asked.

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