The Obsession Page 8

“That’s all right. So you followed him.”

“I thought maybe he’d think it was funny. I could tell if he did before I let him know I was there. But he didn’t go to the creek, and I just wanted to know where he was going. And I thought when I saw the old place, and the cellar, maybe he was putting a bike together for my birthday.”

“Is it your birthday, honey?”

“Monday is, and I asked for a bike. So I waited—I was just going to take a peek. I hid and I waited until he came out, but—”


For a moment, she thought it would be easier if she floated again, just kept floating. But the sheriff had kind eyes, patient ones. He’d keep those kind eyes on her even if she floated away.

And she had to tell somebody.

“He didn’t look right, Sheriff. Sir. He didn’t look right when he came out and it scared me. But I waited until he was gone, and I just wanted to see what was down there.”

“How long’d you wait?”

“I don’t know. It felt long.” She flushed a little. She wasn’t going to tell him she’d peed in the woods. Some things were private. “There was a bolt on the door, and I had to work some to push it, and when I opened the door I heard something like whimpering. I thought maybe it was a puppy. We weren’t allowed to have a dog, but I thought maybe. But then I saw Ashley.”

“What did you see, honey? It’s hard, but if you can tell me exactly, it’s going to help.”

So she told him, exactly, and sipped at the Coke even though her stomach jittered with the retelling.

He asked more questions, and she did her best. When he was done, he patted her hand.

“You did real good. I’m going to bring your mama back.”

“Is she here?”

“She’s here.”

“And Mason?”

“He’s over at the Huffmans’ place. Mrs. Huffman’s keeping an eye on him, and he’s playing with Jerry.”

“That’s good. He and Jerry like to play together. Sheriff Franks, is my mama all right?”

Something shuttered down over his eyes. “She’s had a hard day, too.” He said nothing for a moment. “You’re a steady girl, Naomi.”

“I don’t feel so steady. I got sick, and I had a faint.”

“Trust me, honey, I’m an officer of the law.” He smiled a little. “You’re a steady girl. So I’m going to tell you there are going to be other people asking questions. The FBI—you know what that is?”

“Yes, sir. Sort of.”

“They’re going to have questions. And there’s going to be reporters wanting to talk to you. You’re going to have to talk to the FBI, but you don’t have to talk to any reporters.”

He hitched up a hip, took a card out of his pocket. “This is my phone number—the number here, and the one at home I wrote on the back. You can call me anytime—doesn’t matter what the time. You need to talk to me, you call. All right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Put that away safe. I’m going to go get your mama now.”

“Sheriff Franks?”

He paused at the door, turned back to her. “Yes, honey?”

“Is my daddy going to jail?”

“Yes, honey, he is.”

“Does he know?”

“I expect so.”

She looked down at her Coke, nodded. “Okay.”

Her daddy was going to jail. How could she go back to school, or church, or to the market with her mother? It was worse than when Carrie Potter’s daddy went to jail for two months for getting in a fight at the pool hall. Even worse than when Buster Kravitt’s uncle went to jail for selling drugs.

She’d be going into seventh grade in just another week, and everyone would know what happened. What her daddy did. What she did. She didn’t see how she could—

Then the door opened, and there was her mother.

She looked sick, like she’d been sick for days, and bad sick so it had eaten away at her. She looked thinner than she had when Naomi had gone to bed the night before. And her eyes were all red, swollen, and tears still stood in them. Her hair was every which way, like she hadn’t taken a brush to it, and she wore the baggy, faded pink dress she mostly wore for garden chores.

Naomi got shakily to her feet, wanting nothing more at that moment than to press her face to her mother’s breast, find comfort there, find promises she’d pretend to believe there.

But the tears just rolled out of her mother’s eyes, driven by guttural sobs. She sank right down to the floor, covered her face with her hands.

So the child went to the mother, gathered her in, stroked and soothed. “It’ll be all right, Mama. We’ll be all right.”

“Naomi, Naomi. They’re saying terrible things about your daddy. They’re saying you’re saying them.”

“We’ll be all right.”

“They can’t be true. This can’t be true.” Susan pulled back, grabbed Naomi’s face in her hands, and spoke fiercely. “You imagined it. You had a bad dream.”

“Mama. I saw.”

“No, you didn’t. You have to tell them you made a mistake.”

“I didn’t make a mistake. Ashley—the girl he had—she’s in the hospital.”

“She’s lying. She has to be lying. Naomi, he’s your daddy, he’s your blood. He’s my husband. The police, they’re going all over our house. They put your daddy in handcuffs and took him away.”

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