Home > All the Little Lights(4)

All the Little Lights(4)
Author: Jamie McGuire

“I was thinking,” Dad said, pulling open the screen door. “Maybe this weekend we can take the Buick for a spin.”

“Okay,” I said, wondering what he was getting at.

He twisted the knob and pushed open the door, gesturing for me to go in. “I thought you’d be excited. Don’t you get your learner’s permit soon?”

“So you mean I’m taking the Buick for a spin?”

“Why not?” he asked.

I walked past him into the foyer, letting my bag full of remnant supplies and notebooks from the school year fall to the floor.

“I guess I don’t see the point. It’s not like I’ll have a car to drive.”

“You can drive the Buick,” he said.

I looked out the window to see if the boy had moved on to assaulting trees in our front yard. “But you drive the Buick.”

He made a face, already impatient with the arguing. “When I’m not driving the Buick. You need to learn to drive, Catherine. You’ll have a car eventually.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, conceding. “I just meant I’m not in a big hurry. We don’t have to do it this weekend. You know . . . if you’re busy.”

He kissed my hair. “Never too busy, Princess. We should clean up the kitchen and start dinner before Mama gets home from work.”

“Why are you home early?” I asked.

Dad playfully mussed my hair. “You are full of questions today. How was the last day of ninth grade? I’m guessing you don’t have homework. Any plans with Minka and Owen?”

I shook my head. “Mrs. Vowel asked that we read at least five books this summer. Minka is packing, and Owen is going to science camp.”

“Oh, right. Minka’s family have that summer home in Red River. I forgot. Well, you can hang out with Owen when he gets back.”

“Yeah.” I trailed off, not knowing what else to say. Sitting in front of Owen’s enormous flat-screen to watch him play the latest video game wasn’t my idea of a fun summer.

Minka and Owen had been my only friends since the first grade, when we were all labeled as weird. Minka’s carrottop and freckles earned her enough grief, but then she’d made the cheerleading squad in the sixth grade, and that provided her with some reprieve. Owen spent most days in front of the television playing Xbox and flicking his bangs out of his eyes, but his true passion was Minka. He would forever be her best friend, and we all pretended he wasn’t in love with her.

“Well, that won’t be a problem, will it?” Dad asked.


“The books,” Dad said.

“Oh,” I said, snapping back to the present. “No.”

He peered down at my backpack. “You’d better pick that up. Your mama will fuss at you if she trips over it again.”

“Depends on what kind of mood she’s in,” I replied under my breath. I grabbed the bag from the floor and held it to my chest. Dad was always saving me from Mama.

I looked up the stairs. The sun was pouring through the window that was at the end of the hall. Dust motes reflected in the light, making me feel like I needed to hold my breath. The air was stale and musty as usual, but the heat made it worse. A bead of sweat formed at the nape of my neck and streamed down, instantly absorbed by my cotton shirt.

The wooden stairs whined, even under the pressure of my 110-pound frame, as I climbed to the upper hallway and crossed straight to my bedroom, putting my bag on top of my twin-size bed.

“Is the air-conditioning out?” I asked, trotting down the stairs.

“No. Just turning it off when no one’s here to cut costs.”

“The air’s too hot to breathe.”

“I just turned it on. It’ll cool off soon.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Your mama will be home in an hour. Let’s get a move on.”

I picked up an apple from the bowl on the table and took a bite, chewing as I watched Dad roll up his sleeves and turn on the sink water to scrub the day off his hands. He seemed to have a lot on his mind—more than usual.

“You okay, Dad?”


“What’s for dinner?” I asked, my question muffled by the apple in my mouth.

“You tell me.” I made a face, and he laughed. “My specialty. White bean chicken chili.”

“It’s too hot for chili.”

“Okay, shredded pork tacos, then?”

“Don’t forget the corn,” I said, setting down the apple core before taking his place at the sink.

I filled the basin with warm water and soap, and while the water bubbled and steamed in the background, I made one sweep around the rooms on the main floor for dirty dishes. In the back drawing room, I peered out the window, searching for the boy. He was sitting next to the trunk of the oak tree, looking at the field behind our house through the lens of his camera.

I wondered how long he was planning to hang out in our backyard.

The boy paused and then turned to catch me watching him. He pointed his camera in my direction and snapped a picture, lowering it to stare at me again. I backed away, unsure if I was embarrassed or creeped out.

I returned to the kitchen with the dishes, put them in the sink with the rest, and began to scrub. The water sloshed on my shirt, and while the bubbles washed away the mess, Dad marinated the pork roast and put it in the oven.

“Too hot for chili in the Crock-Pot, but you’re okay with turning on the oven,” Dad teased. He tightened Mama’s apron around his waist; the yellow fabric with pink flowers matched the faded damask wallpaper that covered all the main rooms.

“You look dapper, Dad.”

He ignored my jab and opened the fridge, sweeping his arm in dramatic fashion. “I bought a pie.”

The refrigerator hummed in reaction, accustomed to the struggle of cooling its contents whenever the door opened. Like the house and everything in it, the fridge was twice as old as me. Dad said the dent at the bottom added character. The once-white doors were covered in magnets from places I’d never been and dirty splotches from stickers Mama had placed when she was a girl only to remove as an adult. That fridge reminded me of our family: despite appearances, the various parts worked together and never gave up.

“A pie?” I asked.

“To celebrate your last day of ninth grade.”

“That does call for celebration. Three whole months without Presley and the clones.”

Dad frowned. “The Brubakers’ girl still giving you trouble?”

“Presley hates me, Dad,” I said, scrubbing the plate in my hand. “She always has.”

“Oh, I remember a time when you were friends.”

“Everyone is friends in kindergarten,” I grumbled.

“What do you think happened?” he asked, closing the fridge.

I turned to him. The thought of recalling every step along the way that changed Presley and her decision to be friends with me did not sound appealing at all. “When did you buy the pie?”

Dad blinked and fidgeted. “What, honey?”

“Did you get the day off?”

Dad sported his best painted-on smile, the kind that didn’t touch his eyes. He was trying to protect me from something he didn’t think my barely fifteen-year-old heart could handle.

My chest felt heavy. “They let you go.”

“It was time, kiddo. The price of oil has been down for months. I was just one layoff of seventy-two in my department. There will be more tomorrow.”

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