The Obsession Page 12

“I don’t know where to start.”

“Pack. And we’ll take it a step at a time from there.”

She heard her mother crying when Seth left the room. But after a while Naomi heard drawers opening, closing.

Packing sounds, she thought.

They were leaving in the morning. Leaving all of this.

Closing her eyes, she said a special prayer of thanks for her uncle. She understood that she’d saved Ashley’s life. Now she thought Uncle Seth was saving hers.


Naomi lived in D.C. for five months, two weeks, and five days. That narrow slice of time brought so many highs and lows, so many jolts and joys she couldn’t keep track.

She loved the house in Georgetown with its high ceilings and deep, rich colors, with its pretty backyard patio and little fountain with its own tiny pool.

She’d never lived in a city before, and could spend hours sitting at the window in her room watching the cars and cabs and people. And her room was so beautiful. The old cherrywood dresser—an antique, not a hand-me-down, because there was a difference—had a big oval mirror framed in the same wood, and with little curlicues. She had a double bed, a luxury that had her rolling around in it or stretching her arms wide just because she could. The sheets were so soft and smooth she’d stroke her fingers over the pillowcase to lull herself to sleep.

The walls were sunset gold and had pictures of flowers grouped together in their own little garden.

She liked her room even better than Mama’s, which was fancier with a pale green canopy draped over the big bed, and a chair with strange and beautiful birds flying over it.

Mason slept on a pullout sofa in what her uncle called the upstairs parlor, but most nights in the first few weeks, he’d end up crawling into bed with her or curling up on her rug like a puppy.

Harry took them to his restaurant with its tablecloths and candles and flowers, and gave them a tour of the big kitchen that was all noise and rush and heat.

Starting school brought nerves and excitement. A new school, a new place, where no one knew her. That was both scary and wonderful. She got to use a new name, too. Here she’d be Naomi Carson—the new girl—and some made fun of her accent. But none of the other kids knew her daddy was in prison.

She didn’t much like going to the therapist. Dr. Osgood was nice—young and pretty, and she always smelled really good. But it felt wrong, at least at first, to say things to a stranger about her parents, and her brother, and more than anything about what had happened that night in the woods.

Mason went to another doctor, a man, and liked it fine because his doctor let him talk about video games and basketball. At least Mason said he did, and after a few weeks of talking about video games and basketball, he stopped coming in to sleep in Naomi’s bed.

Her mother went to another doctor altogether, when she went. A lot of times she said she wasn’t feeling up to it, and went to bed with one of her headaches.

Once a week she borrowed Uncle Seth’s car and drove to the prison—United States Penitentiary, Hazelton—on visiting day. It took nearly eight hours for the trip up and back, for the little bit of time she had to visit through the glass. And she always came back looking beaten up and with one of her headaches.

But she wouldn’t stop going.

Still, everything settled into a kind of routine, with school for her and Mason, the restaurant for Harry, the office where Seth worked on investing other people’s money, and her mother working part-time as a waitress.

Then Seth came home from work one night with a tabloid paper in his hand, and there was hell to pay.

Naomi cringed. She’d never seen her uncle angry, never heard him raise his voice. Now she didn’t know what to do as she was making chicken and rice like Harry had shown her on the big gas cooktop while Mason sat at the eating counter dawdling over his homework, and Mama sat staring off into space and pretending to help.

Her mother jumped up to stand when Seth slapped the paper down on the counter. And Naomi saw that the front of it had a picture of her father and, oh God, one of her from picture day back at Pine Meadows Middle School.

“How could you? How could you do this to your children, to yourself?”

Susan clutched at the little gold cross around her neck. “Don’t yell at me. I didn’t say hardly anything.”

“You said enough. Did you give them this picture of Naomi? Did you tell them you were living here in D.C.?”

Now her shoulders hunched together, the way, Naomi thought, they used to when Daddy gave her a mean look.

“They paid me five thousand dollars. I’ve got to earn my way, don’t I?”

“Like this? Selling your daughter’s picture to the tabloids?”

“He could’ve gotten it without me, you know it, and they’ve been writing about all this for weeks now. It never stops.”

“They didn’t have her picture, Susan.” As if weary, Seth pulled the knot of his red tie loose. “They didn’t know y’all were living here.”

When the phone rang, he held up a hand to stop Naomi. “Don’t answer it. Let it go to the machine. I had six calls at my office already. It wouldn’t take long to dig up an unlisted number. Unlisted to protect you and the children, Suze, from what’s going to happen now.”

“They’re always at the prison, pestering at me.” With her shoulders still hunched, Susan pressed her lips together.

There were lines deep around her mouth, Naomi noted. Lines that hadn’t been there before that hot summer night.

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