The Obsession Page 19

“Same house, same father.”

“I thought . . . I thought it was different for you because he wanted a son. It was so clear he wanted a son more than a daughter. More than me.”

“He wanted himself, and I wasn’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Naomi murmured.

“For what?”

“I was jealous because I thought he loved you more. And it’s horrible to think that, feel that, because he’s . . .”

“A psychopath, a sexual sadist, a serial killer.”

Each almost-flippant term made Naomi wince.

“He’s all that, Nome. But he’s still our father. That’s just fact. So forget it. I guess I was jealous some, because he let you be more. You were Mama’s deal; I was his. Anyway. Mama talked to the movie people, too. He pushed her into it, just kept asking and making it like it was the best thing for us—you and me.”

They kept their hands linked, leaned toward each other over the table now. “Why would he want it?”

“The attention, the fame. He’s right up there with Bundy, Dahmer, Ramirez. Serial killers, Naomi. Pay attention.”

“I don’t want to pay attention. Why do they want to make a movie about him? Why do people want to see it?”

“It’s as much about you as him. Maybe more.” He turned his hand over, gripped hers harder. “The title’s you, not him. How many eleven-year-old kids stop a serial killer?”

“I don’t want—”

“True or false? He’d have killed Ashley if you hadn’t gotten her out.”

Saying nothing, she reached for the pendant Ashley had given her on top of the world. Nodded.

“And when he’d finished with her, he’d have gotten another. Who knows how many he’d have killed.

“I look like him a little.”

“No, you don’t! Your eyes are the same color. That’s all.”

“I look like him some.”

“You’re not like him.”

“No, I’m not like him.” And the determination, the bright intelligence in those eyes spoke as truly as the words. “I’m never going to be like him. Don’t you be like Mama. Don’t let him twist you up. He tried to do that to us all our lives, just like with her. It’s praise and punish. It’s how they get you to do what they want, how they train you.”

She understood it, or some of it. And yet. “He never hit us.”

“He’d take things away—promise something, then if we didn’t do something just the way he said, he’d say how we couldn’t go or couldn’t have. Then he’d show up with presents, remember? He put up the basketball hoop for me, brought you that American Girl doll. I got that brand-new catcher’s mitt, you got that little heart locket. Stuff like that. Then if we did anything even a little out of line, he’d take what he’d given us away. Or we couldn’t go to a party we’d been counting on, or the movies.”

“He said we were going to Kings Dominion, and we were so excited. I didn’t get my room picked up all the way, so he said we weren’t going because I didn’t respect what I had. You were so mad at me.”

“I was seven. I didn’t get it wasn’t you. He didn’t want me to get it wasn’t you. Maybe we’d give Mama a little sass when he wasn’t around because we knew she wouldn’t tell him, but we never bucked him. Never. We lived by his moods, just like you said, and that’s how he liked it.”

She’d never left so much as a pair of socks out of place in her room after that, she remembered. Yes, he’d trained her.

“What are you reading to come up with all this?”

“A lot of books in the library on psychiatry and psychology. A lot of stuff online, too. I’m going to study and be a psychiatrist.”

From her vast advantage of twenty-three months, she smiled a little. “I thought you were going to be a pro basketball player.”

“It’s what Seth and Harry, and Mama, need to hear now. And I like basketball. I’ll play my ass off if it helps me get into Harvard.”

“Harvard? Are you serious?”

“They don’t have scholarships, but they have like incentive programs. I’m going to get into Harvard, study medicine, get my degree. And maybe I’ll use it to get into the FBI, into behavior analysis.”

“God, Mason, you’re fourteen.”

“You were three years younger when you saved a life.” He leaned forward, those golden brown eyes intense. “I’m never going to be like him. I’m going to be somebody who helps stop people like him, who learns to understand so they can. You stopped him, Naomi. But he’s not the only one.”

“If you do all that, you’ll never put it behind you.”

“You put something behind you, Nome, it’s got its eyes on your back. I’d rather keep it in front of me, so I can see where it’s going.”

It scared her, what he’d said, and more the coolheaded logic behind it. He was her baby brother, often a pain in her butt, regularly goofy, and a slave to Marvel comics.

And he not only had aspirations, he had lofty ones he spoke of as if he’d already checked them off a list.

He’d spied on their mother. Naomi could admit to watching her mother—and closely. Living with Susan was like carrying around something delicate. You watched every step so you didn’t stumble, drop the delicate so it shattered.

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