The Obsession Page 17

Ashley took a small wrapped box out of her purse.

“But it’s your birthday. I have a present for you.”

“Let’s save mine for later—over lunch maybe. I really want you to have this now, and here, high in the sky. You brought me out of the ground, Naomi, and now we’re standing high in the sky. Open it, okay?”

Overwhelmed, Naomi opened the box and stared at the pendant. Three thin silver chains held an oval with a purple iris suspended in its center.

“It’s beautiful. It’s just beautiful.”

“I have to say it was my mom’s idea. She said how flowers have meanings. This one, the iris, it has a couple of them. One of the meanings is valor, and another is friendship. You qualify for both. I hope you like it.”

“I do. I love it. Ashley—”

“Let’s not cry. I want to cry, too, but let’s not cry today. Let’s put the necklace on, and then you have to show me some of the city. I’ve never been to New York.”

“Okay. Okay.” It was as hard, she learned, to hold back happy tears as tears of misery. “Where do you want to go first? It’s your special day.”

“I’m a girl. I want to go shopping!” Ashley laughed as she helped Naomi fasten the necklace. “And I want to go someplace where I can have a glass of champagne at lunch. I’m legal!”

“I love you,” Naomi blurted out, then flushed. “That sounds weird, I—”

“No, no, it doesn’t. We’ve got something between us nobody else does. We’re the only ones who really understand what it took for both of us to get right here, right now. I love you back. We’re going to be friends forever.”

The therapist—she had gone back for nearly a year after her mother hit one of those deep dips—asked Naomi how she felt when she saw Ashley; Naomi said it made her remember the light.

Her mother worked as a waitress in Harry’s restaurant. She did all right—except when she didn’t. Her mother sometimes went into the dark, and forgot to remember the light. But she had a job, and when she went into the dark, Harry held the job for her.

Her doctor called it depression, but Naomi knew that as bad as depression could be, the dark times were worse.

In the dark times her mother took too many pills. Once when she’d taken too many she’d had to go to the hospital. She’d taken the too many pills right after Simon Vance’s book came out, and there were big ads for it all over the city.

He’d titled it Blood in the Ground: The Legacy of Thomas David Bowes, and all the bookstores had big displays. Vance, a serious man with a polished, academic style, hyped it all over the talk shows, did in-depth interviews in magazines and newspapers. In those interviews, on those talk shows, Naomi’s name came up as often as her father’s.

That tie, that blood and bloody tie, brought back the nightmares.

Whenever Naomi saw those ads, those displays, she knew a terrible part of her life beat inside them.

It made her afraid, and it made her ashamed.

So she understood her mother’s fear, her mother’s shame, and trod carefully.

But when her mother remembered the light, things were good, even simple. Her favorite picture was one she’d taken of her mother dancing with her uncle, at a party in the summer. The light had been good, inside and out, and her mother had looked so pretty laughing into her brother’s face. She’d given it to Susan, along with one she’d taken with a timer of her mother, her brother, and herself sitting on the patio of the brownstone in the springtime.

When the dark came back, and her mother needed to stay in bed with the curtains shut tight, Naomi would take her food on a tray. She’d know how deep the dark was if she saw those pictures lying facedown, as if her mother couldn’t bear the sight of her own happiness.

Still, weeks would go by—sometimes even months—when everything seemed as normal as normal could be. When it was all about studying or fretting over a test; bickering with Mason, who could be the bane of her existence; or wondering what she should wear to a movie date.

She was at the movies—not on a date, but with a big group of friends (and Mason with a group of his) getting ready to see Spider-Man. She had popcorn and an orange soda and settled down to enjoy the previews when the houselights dimmed.

Her friend Jamie immediately started making out with her boyfriend of the moment, but Naomi ignored them—and the smacking noises Mason’s group made in the row behind her.

She loved movies, and truth be told she liked movies like Spider-Man and The Lord of the Rings more than the love stories her girlfriends sighed over.

She liked movies where people had to do something, overcome something. Even if it meant getting bitten by a radioactive spider to do and overcome.

The screen filled with the point of view of someone driving a truck. She knew about point of view from studying photography. A man’s point of view, she noted—one wearing a wedding ring.

She liked noticing the details.

Then others began to catch her eye—catch her by the throat.

She knew those roads. She knew that truck. When he veered off into the woods, bumping over a rough trail, she felt that crushing weight in her chest.

Scenes flashed—the root cellar, the photographs, a woman bound on the mattress, eyes full of terror.

She couldn’t breathe.

Flash to a house near the edge of the woods. And it was their house. God, God, their house. A long-legged girl, thin with long hair, looking out the window on a hot, storm-waiting night.

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