The Obsession Page 21

And saw the glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes from joy instead of sorrow when she and Anson dutifully posed for pictures before she could get out of the house.

On Halloween Susan dressed up as a flapper, coordinating with Seth and Harry in their zoot suits to hand out candy to the ghosts, goblins, princesses, and Jedi knights. As it was the first time Susan had dressed up for the holiday, Naomi browbeat Mason into spending part of the evening at home instead of out with his friends doing God knew what.

“It’s like she’s turned a corner, and she’s really moving forward now.”

Mason, who’d made himself into a vampire hobo, shrugged. “I hope you’re right.”

Naomi gave him an elbow in the ribs. “Try to be happy because I am right.”

But she wasn’t.

The third week of January, in a quick cold snap that blew in some thin snow, she rushed home at lunch. Anson came with her.

“You didn’t have to come,” she said as she dug out her keys.

“Hey, any excuse to get out of school for a half hour.”

Anson Chaffins was a senior, gawky and on the geeky side, but he was, to Naomi’s mind, a good editor and a really good writer. Plus, he’d done her a favor at homecoming.

He’d put what she thought of as half-assed, clumsy moves on her that night, but hadn’t pushed anything.

As a result, they got along just fine.

She let him in, turned to the alarm pad to key in the code.

“I’ll go up, get my camera bag. Which I’d have had with me if you’d told me you wanted shots of the drama club rehearsing.”

“Maybe I forgot so we could get out for thirty.” He grinned at her, shoved up his dark-framed glasses. He shoved them up constantly, as if his eagle-beak nose served as their sliding board.

Behind them his eyes were pale, quiet blue.

He glanced around. “Maybe you’ve got like a Coke or whatever. No point leaving empty-handed.”

“Sure, we’ve always got Cokes. Do you remember where the kitchen is?”

“Yeah. This house is totally cool. You want a Coke while I’m at it?”

“Grab two.” She yanked off her gloves, stuffed them in the pocket of her coat.

He gave her that half-smirking grin, the one that curled the side of his mouth. “Maybe you got chips?”

She rolled her eyes, plucked off her cap. “Probably. Get whatever. I won’t be long.”

“Take your time—we got twenty-five left on our pass. Hey! This yours?”

He walked up to a black-and-white photo study of an old man dozing on a park bench with a floppy-eared mutt curled beside him.

“Yeah. I gave it to Harry for his birthday a couple weeks ago. And he put it up right in the foyer.”

“Excelente work, Carson.”

“Thanks, Chaffins.”

Amused—he called everyone by their last name, insisted everyone use his—she started upstairs.

It surprised her to see Kong sitting outside her mother’s bedroom door. His habit was to wait in Mason’s room, or, in better weather, belly out through the dog door to sun on the patio—or do what he had to do in the corner designated for it.

“Hey, boy.” She gave him a quick rub as she passed, glanced back when he whined. “No time. Just passing through.”

But he whined again, scratched at her mother’s door. And Naomi felt something flutter and drop in her belly.

“Is Mama home?” Had the good stretch come to a dip?

Her mother should be at work, with Harry and Seth. There was, she knew, a party of twenty-two coming in for a retirement lunch, so it was all hands on deck.

Naomi eased the door open, saw that the curtains had been drawn closed—a bad sign. And saw in the dim light her mother lying on top of the bed.


She wore the red sweater they’d bought on their shopping spree rather than her white work shirt and black vest.

Kong jumped on the bed—something he was only allowed to do in Mason’s room—licked her mother’s hand, and whimpered.

Her mother lay so still.

“Mama,” Naomi said again, and switched on the bedside lamp.

So still, so pale—and her eyes weren’t quite shut.

“Mama. Mama.” Naomi gripped Susan’s shoulder, shook. Took her hand, found it cold. “Mama! Wake up. Wake up!”

The pills were right there, there by the lamp. No, not the pills, the bottle. The empty bottle.

“Wake up!” Gripping her mother’s hands, she pulled. Susan’s head lolled, fell forward. “Stop it. Stop it.” She tried to get her arms around Susan, pull her off the bed.

On her feet, on her feet, make her walk.

“Hey, Carson, what the hell are you shouting about? You need to chill— What . . .”

“Call an ambulance. Call nine-one-one. Hurry, hurry.”

He stood frozen for a moment, staring as Susan’s limp body fell back on the bed, and her eyelids opened like shades to show the staring eyes behind them. “Wow. Is that your mom?”

“Call nine-one-one.” Naomi laid an ear to her mother’s heart, then began to press on it. “She’s not breathing. Tell them to hurry. Tell them she took Elavil. Overdosed on Elavil.”

Staring, he fumbled out his phone, punching in 911 with one hand, shoving up his glasses with the other, while Naomi did CPR, puffing out her breath as she worked.

“Yeah, yeah, we need an ambulance. She overdosed on Eldervil.”

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