The Obsession Page 16

Harry gave the wiggling dog to Seth. “Do you hear everything?”

“Mostly, I do. And Mama won’t go to the prison from New York. I know you’ve only been a few times since . . . since you signed those papers, but when you did you came back sad. New York’s farther away. The farther away, the better.”

“I’m trying, Naomi.”

“Mama, you’re doing so much better. Just like you said.” Out of love, and out of duty, Naomi got up to squeeze into the chair with her mother, wrapped around her. “This will be even better. I just know it.”

“New York, here we come?” Seth said.

“New York, here we come!” Mason shook his fists in the air. “Can we go to see the Knicks? Can we?”

“Nick who?” Seth said, and made Mason laugh and laugh.

The house sold within two weeks, and for ten thousand over asking price. They stayed busy packing up. And Naomi heard how Seth paid the movers extra to come at night, take things off in small trucks, a bit at a time.

In March, when spring break came with sweeping winds and some spitting snow, they left Georgetown in the middle of the night, like thieves.

She watched the house recede through the windows, felt a hard tug. But then she faced forward, flipped her fingers through the hair Seth had dubbed “Naomi: The Short and Sassy.”

A new look, she thought, a new place, a new start.

She wouldn’t look back.


New York, 2002

At sixteen Naomi Carson lived a life Naomi Bowes could never have imagined. She had a pretty room in a lovely old brownstone in a city full of color and movement. Seth and Harry spoiled her with a generous allowance, shopping trips, tickets to concerts, and most of all with trust that gave her freedom.

She did her best to earn the indulgences. She studied hard, got exceptional grades—with an eye focused on Providence College in Rhode Island and a degree in photography.

They’d given her a little point-and-shoot Fuji for her first Christmas in New York, and her love affair began. Her interest blossomed, her skill improved—and netted her a serious Nikon for her sixteenth birthday.

With it, she’d joined the yearbook committee and newspaper at her high school as official photographer, and racked up experience and an impressive portfolio she hoped to use to get into the college of her choice.

She’d worked hard to lose her accent, wanting more than anything to be just like the other girls, to have nothing left of those first twelve years. Hints of it could slip through, but by the time she’d started high school, the slips were rare.

She had friends, dated now and again, though unlike most of her contemporaries she didn’t want a steady boyfriend. Too much drama, from what she’d observed.

And while she liked kissing—if the boy was any good at it—she wasn’t ready to be touched. Thought maybe she never would be.

She had let Mark Ryder touch her breast—she’d finally grown some, but accepted that they were never going to amount to much. She’d wanted to see what it felt like, but instead of making her excited, it just made her nervous and uncomfortable.

Mark hadn’t been happy that was all she let him do—and not much of that. Naomi figured that was his damage and ignored him when he accused her of being a tease, being frigid, being a freak.

At sixteen she hit five-ten—most of it leg—and was willow slim and pretty enough that boys wanted to touch her breasts. She’d let her hair grow to shoulder length, mostly so she could tie it back when she took pictures.

When she won a photography competition, Seth rewarded her with a trip to the salon for highlights and lowlights in her dark blonde hair.

Mason hit a growth spurt around twelve and was first-string center of his school’s basketball team.

Sometimes it irritated her to know that her little brother was smarter than she was. Sometimes it made her proud. Either way, he was whip-smart, good-looking, and affable. So he enjoyed the attention and admiration of the girls who fluttered around him, and he had a core circle of guys to hang with.

Days could go by without her giving Pine Meadows and all that had happened there a thought. For days she was just a regular teenager, worrying about her grades, her wardrobe, listening to music, meeting friends for pizza.

She kept in touch with Ashley, mostly through email. Ashley had never gone back to Morgantown and lost a whole year before she’d transferred to Penn State.

When she’d graduated, Naomi sent her a card and a framed photo she’d taken herself of a cherry tree full of pink blooms and promise.

On her twenty-first birthday, in the first spring of the new century, Ashley gave herself a gift. She took the train to New York to spend a whole day with Naomi.

Whenever she looked back at that day, Naomi remembered her own nerves—what should she wear, what should she say—and the speechless pleasure of seeing Ashley waiting, as promised, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

So pretty, Naomi thought, with long, long blonde hair dancing in the crazy spring breeze. All the nerves, the sudden shyness, vanished the instant Ashley saw her, rushed to her, arms wide.

“You’re so tall! You’re taller than me. Half of everybody is, but I— Naomi.” She held tight, swayed back and forth, back and forth.

“You came. It’s the most special birthday there is, and you came here.”

“I’m having the most special birthday there is because of you. I wanted to spend it with you. I wanted to meet you here, even though it’s awesome corny, because I wanted to say that everything I can see from here is because of you. And I wanted to give you this.”

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