The Obsession Page 6

Ashley met Wayne’s eyes over Naomi’s head. “It was her father who did this to me. It was Thomas David Bowes who did this. And it was Naomi who saved me.”

Wayne let out a breath. “Sheriff, you better get in here right quick.”


When the sheriff came, Wayne took Naomi into another room, bought her a candy bar and a Coke. She’d never been allowed such indulgences, but she didn’t argue it. He got a first-aid kit and began to doctor the cuts and scratches she hadn’t realized she’d inflicted on herself on that long hike through the woods.

He smelled of Juicy Fruit gum—she saw the yellow pack of it sticking out of his breast pocket.

And she would always, from that morning on, associate the gum with simple kindness.

“Honey, you got a favorite teacher?”

“Um. I don’t know. I guess Miss Blachard maybe.”

“If you want, I could call her, ask her to come in, be with you.”

“No. No, that’s okay. She’s going to know. Everybody’s going to know.” It made her chest hurt, so she looked away. “But I don’t want to be there when they do.”

“All right. We got a nice nurse coming in to be with Ashley, to go with her when she goes to the hospital. Do you want somebody like that? Maybe who doesn’t know you.”

“I don’t want anybody. What’s going to happen?”

“Well, the sheriff’s talking to Ashley right now for a little bit, and then they’ll take her into the hospital in Morgantown and fix her up.”

“She hurt her ankle.”

“They’ll fix it, don’t you worry. You want a different kind of candy bar?”

Naomi looked down at the Snickers she hadn’t opened. “No, sir. I just never had candy first thing in the morning.”

“How about Easter?” Smiling, he put a Band-Aid on a small, deep scratch.

“That’s a holy day. It’s for praying, not for candy rabbits.”

Even as she echoed her father’s words, she saw the pity in the deputy’s eyes. But he only patted her legs. “Well. We’ll get you a hot breakfast soon as we can. You be all right here for just a minute?”

“Am I under arrest?”

Not pity now, but that Juicy Fruit kindness again as he laid a hand on her cheek, gentle as a mother. “For what, honey?”

“I don’t know. You’re going to arrest my daddy.”

“Don’t you worry about that right now.”

“I saw him. I saw him when he came out of that cellar in the woods, and he looked wrong. I was afraid.”

“You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

“What about my mama, and my brother?”

“They’re going to be fine.” He glanced over as the door opened. She knew Miss Lettie—she went to their church. But she’d forgotten she worked in the sheriff’s office.

Lettie Harbough came in with a red tote bag, and a sad smile on her plump face.

“Hey there, Naomi. I got some dry clothes for you here. They’re my girl’s, and she’s not as tall as you, and not so slim, but they’ll be clean and dry.”

“Thank you, Miss Lettie.”

“You’re more than welcome. Wayne, the sheriff wants you. Naomi and I’ll be fine. You can change right out in the washroom, all right?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The clothes were too big, but there was a belt so she could cinch the jeans.

When she came out Lettie sat at the tiny table sipping coffee out of a big blue mug. “I’ve got a brush here. Would it be all right if I brushed your hair out? You got it all tangled.”

“Thank you.”

Naomi made herself sit, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to be touched. Still, after the first few strokes of the brush, she relaxed.

“Such pretty hair.”

“It’s dishwater.”

“No, indeed. It’s like deer hide, all the tones of blonde mixed up, and all sun-streaked now from summer. Nice and thick, too. I’m going to ask you a couple of things, maybe hard things, sweetie. But they’re important things.”

“Where’s Ashley?”

“They’re taking her to the hospital now. She asked after you, asked if we could bring you in to see her. Would you want to?”

“Yes, ma’am. Please, I want to.”

“All right. But now, I have to ask you if your father ever hurt you. I know that’s a hard thing to ask.”

“He’s never laid a hand on me or Mason. My mama gives out the hidings if we need it, and they don’t count for much. She doesn’t have the heart for a real hiding, so we pretend, all three of us. Because Daddy says, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’”

“I never liked that one myself. The harder one is asking if he ever touched you in a bad sort of way.”

Naomi stared straight ahead while Lettie ran the brush through her hair. “You mean like he did to Ashley. He raped her. I know what rape is, ma’am. They raped the Sabine women in the Bible. He never did that to me. He never touched me wrong.”

“All right, then. Did he ever hurt your mama?”

“I don’t think so. Sometimes . . .”

“It’s all right.” In practiced moves, Lettie used a little band to pull Naomi’s hair back into a tail. “All you have to do is tell me the truth.”

“Sometimes he looked like maybe he wanted to hurt her, but he didn’t. If he got really mad, he’d just go off for a day or two. Cooling off, Mama said. A man needs to cool off on his own time. She didn’t know, Miss Lettie. Mama didn’t know he hurt people, or she’d have been afraid. More afraid.”

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