Home > All the Little Lights(15)

All the Little Lights(15)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“I leave tomorrow,” he grumbled.

“You’ll come back, though, right?”

“Yeah, but . . . I don’t know when. Christmas maybe. Maybe not until next summer.”

I nodded, looking down at my lunch and putting it down, deciding I wasn’t that hungry after all. “You have to promise,” I said. “You have to promise you’ll come back.”

“I promise. It might not be until next summer, but I’ll come back.”

The emptiness and despair I felt in that moment was equal only to when I had lost my dog. It might’ve seemed like a silly connection to anyone else, but Goober lay at the end of my bed every night, and no matter how many times Mama had a down day or an outburst, Goober knew when to growl and when to wag his tail.

“What are you thinking about?” Elliott asked.

I shook my head. “It’s stupid.”

“C’mon. Tell me.”

“I had this dog. He was a mutt. Dad brought him home from the pound one day out of the blue. He was supposed to be for Mama, to help cheer her up, but he took to me. Mama would get jealous, but I wasn’t sure which of us she was jealous of, Goober or me. He died.”

“Does your mom suffer from depression?”

I shrugged. “They’ve never said. They don’t talk about it in front of me. I just know she had a tough time as a kid. Mama says she’s glad her parents died when they did, before I was born. She said they were cruel.”

“Yikes. If I’m ever a father, my kids will have a normal childhood. One they can look back on and wish they could go back to, not something they have to ride out and recover from.” He peeked up at me. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you, too. But . . . not for long. Because you’ll be back.”

“I will. That’s a promise.”

I pretended to be happy and sipped from the straw in my pop can. Every subject after that was forced, every smile contrived. I wanted to enjoy my last days with Elliott, but knowing goodbye was just around the corner made that impossible.

“Want to help me pack?” he asked, cringing at his own words.

“Not really, but I want to see you as much as I can before you leave, so I will.”

We gathered our things. Sirens sounded in the distance and then drew closer. Elliott paused and then helped me to my feet. Another siren was coming from the other side of town—the fire station possibly, and it seemed to be heading in our direction.

Elliott rolled Mama’s blanket and tucked it under his arm. I picked up the lunch bags and threw them away. Elliott offered me his hand, and, without hesitation, I took it. Something about knowing he was leaving made me stop caring if things between us had changed.

As we neared Juniper Street, Elliott squeezed my hand. “Let’s drop off this blanket, and then we’ll pack my stuff.”

I nodded, smiling when he began to swing our hands a bit. The neighbor across the street was standing on her porch with her toddler on her hip. I waved at her, but she didn’t wave back.

Elliott’s pace slowed, and his expression changed, first confused and then worried. I looked toward my house, seeing a police cruiser and an ambulance, red and blue lights twirling. I let go of Elliott’s hand, running past the emergency vehicles, and tore at my gate, missing the latch while I panicked.

Elliott’s steady hands unlatched the gate, and I burst through, stopping midstep when my front door opened. A paramedic walked backward, pulling a stretcher with Dad on it. He was pale, and his eyes were closed, an oxygen mask on his face.

“What . . . what happened?” I cried.

“Excuse me,” the paramedic said, yanking open the back of the ambulance while they loaded Dad inside.

“Dad?” I called. “Daddy?”

He didn’t answer, and the ambulance doors closed in my face.

I ran to the police officer walking down the porch steps. “What happened?”

The officer looked down at me. “Are you Catherine?”

I nodded, feeling Elliott’s hands on my shoulders.

The officer’s mouth pulled to the side. “It appears your father’s had a heart attack. Your mom just happened to take a half day and found him on the floor. She’s inside. You should . . . probably try to talk to her. She hasn’t really said much since we arrived. She should consider going to the hospital. She could be in shock.”

I sprinted up the steps and into the house. “Mama?” I called. “Mama!”

She didn’t answer. I looked in the dining room, the kitchen, and then ran down the hall to the living room. Mama was sitting on the floor, staring at the rug beneath her.

I knelt in front of her. “Mama?”

She didn’t acknowledge me or even act like she’d heard me.

“It’s going to be okay,” I said, touching her knee. “He’s going to be okay. We should probably go to the hospital and meet him there.” She didn’t answer. “Mama?” I shook her gently. “Mama?”

Still nothing.

I stood, touching my palm to my forehead, and then ran outside to flag down the officer. I caught up to him just as the ambulance pulled away. He was plump and sweating buckets.

“Officer, um . . .” I looked at the silver nameplate pinned to his pocket. “Sanchez? Mama . . . my mom’s not well.”

“She’s still not speaking?”

“I think you’re right. She should go to the hospital, too.”

The officer nodded, looking sad. “I was hoping she’d answer you.” He pinched a tiny radio on his shoulder. “Four-seven-nine to dispatch.”

A woman answered, “Copy four-seven-nine, over.”

“I’ll be bringing Mrs. Calhoun and her daughter to the ER. Mrs. Calhoun may need medical assistance upon our arrival. Please advise hospital staff.”

“Copy that, four-seven-nine.”

I looked around for Elliott, but he was gone. Sanchez climbed the steps and walked straight back to the living room, where Mama remained, still staring at the floor.

“Mrs. Calhoun?” Sanchez said with a soft voice. He crouched in front of her. “It’s Officer Sanchez again. I’m going to take you and your daughter to the hospital to see your husband.”

Mama shook her head and whispered something I couldn’t understand.

“Can you stand, Mrs. Calhoun?”

After Mama ignored his question again, the officer strained to get her on her feet. I stood on the other side, steadying her. Together, Officer Sanchez and I walked Mama to his police cruiser, where I buckled her in.

As Sanchez walked around to the driver’s side, I looked once more for Elliott.

“Miss Calhoun?” Sanchez called.

I opened the passenger door and ducked inside, looking for Elliott as we pulled away.

Chapter Five


Mama? Mama!” Catherine’s face contorted into an expression I’d never seen as she ran up the porch steps. She disappeared behind the door, leaving me to wonder if I should follow.

My instinct was to stay with her. I took a step, but a police officer pressed his hand against my chest.

“Are you family?”

“No, I’m her friend. Catherine’s friend.”

He shook his head. “You’ll have to wait outside.”

“But . . .” I pushed against his hand, but his fingers sank into my skin.

“I said wait here.” I glared up at him. He breathed out a laugh, unimpressed. “You must be Kay Youngblood’s kid.”

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