The Obsession

By: Nora Roberts



“They came right into the house, and we were still sleeping. I heard Daddy yelling, and other people, and I ran out. I saw Daddy fighting with the deputy, and they pushed him against the wall. Mama was screaming and crying, and they put handcuffs on Daddy, just like on the TV. Did he rob a bank? Nobody will tell me.”

“No, he didn’t rob a bank.”

If they went downstairs, Miss Lettie would be there, so instead she sat down with her brother on the floor.

“He hurt people, Mason. Ladies.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, but he did.”

“Maybe it was their fault.”

“No, it wasn’t. He took them to a place in the woods, and locked them up and hurt them.”

“What place?”

“A bad place. They have to put him in jail for it.”

“I don’t want Daddy to go to jail.” The tears started up again. All she could do was wrap an arm around his shoulders.

“He did bad things to people, Mason. He has to go to jail.”

“Does Mama have to go to jail?”

“No, she didn’t hurt anybody. She didn’t know he was hurting people. Don’t go pestering her about it. And don’t go fighting either. People are going to say things about Daddy, and you’re going to want to fight about it, but you can’t. Because what they’re going to say is true.”

His face went belligerent. “How do you know what’s true?”

“Because I saw, because I know. I don’t want to talk about it anymore right now. I talked about it enough today. I wish it was over. I wish we were someplace else.”

“I wanna go home.”

She didn’t. She didn’t ever want to go back to that house again, knowing what was back in the deep woods. Knowing what had lived in those same rooms, eaten at the same table.

“Miss Lettie says they’ve got Nintendo down in their family room.”

Belligerence changed to a look of hope mixed with doubt. “Can we play it?”

“She said we could.”

“Do they have Donkey Kong?”

“We can find out.”

They didn’t have video games at home—or a computer—but they both had enough friends who did to know the basics. And she knew Mason dearly loved video games. It was simple to set him up in the family room with Miss Lettie’s help—and better yet when she hard-eyed her teenage son into playing with Mason.

“I’m going to make some lemonade. Why don’t you come in the kitchen with me, Naomi, give me a hand with that?”

The house was so nice. Clean and pretty, with lots of colors on the walls and in the furniture. She knew Mr. Harbough taught English and literature at the high school, and Miss Lettie worked for the sheriff. But the house looked rich to her.

And the kitchen had a dishwasher—which was her name at home—and a counter of snowy white in the middle with a second sink right in it.

“Your house is so nice, Miss Lettie.”

“Why, thank you. It makes me happy. I want you to be comfortable while you’re here.”

“How long will we be here, do you think?”

“A day or two, that’s all.” Lettie put sugar and water in a pot to boil. “You ever made lemonade from scratch?”

“No, ma’am.”

“It’s a treat. Takes a while, but it’s worth it.”

Lettie puttered around. Naomi noted she didn’t wear an apron but just tucked a dish towel in the waist of her pants. Daddy didn’t like Mama to wear pants. Women were supposed to wear skirts and dresses.

Thinking of it, of her father, hearing his voice in her head, made her stomach tie itself up again. So she made herself think of something else.

“Miss Lettie, what do you do at the sheriff’s office?”

“Why, honey, I’m the first woman deputy in Pine Meadows, and still the only one after six years.”

“Like Deputy Wayne.”

“That’s right.”

“So you know what happens next. Will you tell me what happens next?”

“I can’t say for certain, as the FBI’s in charge now. We assist them. They’re going to gather up evidence, and take statements, and your daddy will have a lawyer. A lot of the next depends on the evidence and the statements, and what your daddy says and does. I know it’s hard, but it’d be best if you try not to worry about all that just yet.”

“I can’t worry about Daddy.” She’d already figured that out. But . . . “I have to take care of my mama, and Mason.”

“Oh, baby girl.” Lettie sighed, and after giving the pot a stir, she came around the counter. “Somebody’s got to take care of you.”

“Mama won’t know what to do without Daddy telling her. And Mason won’t understand what Daddy did. He doesn’t know what rape is.”

On another sigh, Lettie pulled Naomi into a hug. “It’s not for you to hold everybody else up. Where’s your mother’s brother now? Where’s your uncle Seth?”

“In Washington, D.C. But we’re not allowed to have anything to do with him because he’s a homosexual. Daddy says he’s an abomination.”

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