The Obsession

By: Nora Roberts

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.”

“I cut the ropes off her myself.”

“No, you didn’t. You’re going to stop this lying right now, and tell everybody how you made it all up.”

A dull throb filled Naomi’s head so her own voice sounded flat and hollow through it.

“I pulled the tape off her mouth. I helped her get out of the cellar. She could hardly walk. She didn’t have any clothes.”


“He raped her.”

“Don’t you say such a thing.” Her voice pitching high, Susan shook Naomi. “Don’t you dare.”

“There were pictures on the wall. A lot of pictures, of other girls, Mama. There were knives with blood dried on them, and rope, and—”

“I don’t want to hear this.” Susan clamped her hands over her ears. “How can you say all this? How can I believe all this? He’s my husband. I lived with him for fourteen years. I bore him two children. I slept in the same bed, night after night.”

The fierceness shattered, like glass. Susan dropped her head on Naomi’s shoulder again. “Oh, what are we going to do? What’s to become of us?”

“We’ll be all right,” Naomi said again, helplessly. “We’ll be all right, Mama.”

They couldn’t go home. Not until the police and now the FBI cleared it so they could. But Lettie brought them all clothes and their own toothbrushes and so on, and made her guest room theirs—hers and her mother’s—with Mason bunking in with her son.

The doctor gave her mother something to make her sleep, and that was good. Naomi took a shower, put her own clothes on, tied her hair back, and felt more herself.

When she walked across the hall from the bathroom and cracked open the door to check on her mother, she saw her little brother sitting on the bed.

“Don’t wake her!” Naomi hissed, then felt bad for the sharp order when he turned his head to look at her.

He’d been crying, too, and his face was splotchy from it, his eyes red-rimmed on the outside, lost on the inside.

“I’m just watching her.”

“Come on out, Mason. If she wakes up, she’ll start crying again.”

He did what she said without arguing—a rare thing—and then walked straight into her, wrapped his arms tight.

They didn’t hug much anymore, but it felt good to have somebody to hold on to, so she hugged back.

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