The Obsession Page 13

“And Tom said we could make some good money. He can’t do it himself, it’s the law, but . . .”

“You can funnel it to him.”

Susan flushed deeply, the way she did when deeply embarrassed or angry. “I’ve got a duty to my husband, Seth. They got him locked up, and in what they call the special area. He said how he needs money to pay the lawyer to work out getting him in general population.”

“Ah, Christ, Suze, that’s just bullshit. Don’t you know bullshit when you hear it?”

“Don’t use that language.”

“The language bothers you, but this doesn’t?” He slapped a hand on the tabloid as the phone began to ring again. “Did you read it?”

“No, no, I didn’t read it. I don’t want to read it. They—they kept pestering me, and Tom said he’d start getting more respect if he could tell his story, and I could back him up.”

“Nobody respects tabloids. Even he’d know . . .” He paused, and Naomi snuck a look, thought he seemed more sick than angry now. “Who else pestered you? Who else have you talked to?”

“I talked to Simon Vance.”

“The writer. True crime.”

“He’s a professional. His publisher’s going to pay me twenty-five thousand dollars. It says so right in the contract.”

“You signed a contract.”

“It’s professional.” Eyes glazed, lips trembling, Susan threw her arms out as if to ward off an attack. “And there’ll be more when they make the movie deal. He said.”

“Susan.” Naomi knew despair now, and heard it in her uncle’s voice. “What have you done?”

“I can’t get by waiting tables. And that doctor you make me go to, she said how I need to work on my self-confidence. I need to get a place closer to the prison so I don’t have to take your car and drive so far. Tom wants me and the kids closer.”

“I’m not going there.”

Susan spun around at Naomi’s voice, and the heat of anger seared through the tears. “Don’t sass me.”

“I’m not sassing, I’m saying. I won’t go. If you take me, I’ll run off.”

“You’ll do what your daddy and I tell you.” Hysterics—Naomi had heard them often enough in the last four months to recognize them—spiked into Susan’s voice. “We can’t stay here.”

“Why is that, Susan?” Seth spoke quietly. “Why can’t you stay here?”

“You live with a man, Seth. You live in sin with a man. A black man.”

“Naomi, honey.” Seth’s voice stayed quiet, but his eyes—full of noise—stayed on Susan’s face. “You and Mason go on upstairs for a bit, will you?”

“I got dinner on.”

“Smells good, too. Just take it off the heat for a bit, all right? You go on up, help Mason finish his homework.”

Mason slid off the stool, wrapped his arms around Seth. “Don’t make us go away. Don’t let her take us away. Please, I want to stay with you.”

“Don’t you worry now. Go on upstairs with your sister.”

“Come on, Mason. We’re not going anywhere but upstairs.” Naomi looked back as she gathered up Mason’s books and papers. “Harry’s not a sin, but I think it’s one for you to say so.”

“You don’t understand,” Susan began.

“I understand. I started understanding that night in the woods. It’s you who doesn’t understand, Mama. Come on, Mason.”

Seth said nothing as Susan began to cry, just opened the wine fridge, chose a bottle. He let her stand, hands over her face, while he opened it, poured himself a glass.

He turned off the ringer on the phone that hadn’t stopped.

While she wept he took two careful sips.

“You’ve known I was gay since I was fourteen. Probably longer, but that’s when I got up the nerve to tell you. It took me a little longer to come out to Mom and Dad, and they took it pretty well, all things considered. But I told my big sister first. Do you remember what you said—well, after you asked if I was sure?”

When she just kept crying, he took another sip of wine. “You said, well, don’t go putting the moves on anybody I’ve got my eye on. Where’s that girl, Suze, the one who could say just the right thing to me when I was so scared I had jelly in my knees? The girl who made me laugh when I’d be trying not to cry. The one who accepted me for what I am.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine, Susan. But I’m going to say this to you, and you hear me. You hear me, Susan. Don’t ever talk about the man I love that way again. You understand me?”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Harry’s been everything kind and good to me and the kids. And I can see how good he is for you. I’m sorry. But . . .”

“We’re still an abomination? Is that what you really think? Is that what your heart tells you?”

She sat again. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know! Fourteen years. He wasn’t so strict at first. It all came on so gradual I didn’t notice. He didn’t want me to work anymore, and I was just pregnant with Naomi, so I thought that would be fine. Being able to make a real nest, and stay home with my baby. Then he didn’t want to go see Mom and Dad—had excuses. Then he didn’t want me going. We were a family, and he was head of the house. Then he didn’t like them coming to our place either. Holidays maybe—at first.”

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