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Life is a struggle

Norma is 10 years old, but if she has learned anything by now, then this is it. She knows where to hide when her father comes home drunk, looking for his next victim so that he won't find her or how to duck when it's too late to hide, his fist already aiming for her face so that he won't knock her unconscious again. On the days her father isn't home, she has perfected herself in being invisible so that her mother forgets she is even there because otherwise she and her brother might end up being locked in a room for hours or days without food or water.

There has not been one single day in her short life that hasn't been characterized by neglect, violence or pain, but Norma knows how to survive.


Love is a lie

Norma is 15 years old and has found love. She and her brother have always been close, and at some point, that closeness became more. She loves him. Simple as that. He is the only person in the entire world who cares about her, protects her. Caleb doesn't talk nonsense like her teachers when they ask about her bruises and say they want to help her but do nothing in the end. Useless hypocrites. Norma has understood not to let herself be deceived by friendly faces or kind words. People are generally disappointing. Caleb, however, does something, his massive body a physical shield against both of their parents. He takes hits for her, gets locked in in her stead and endures all of this without complaining. So she loves him, loves this body that has many more scars from abuse than her own because he puts himself in the line of fire.

Deep down Norma knows this isn't right, that it can't last but here and now, their way of life is her safe haven, as wrong as it might be.


Life is a cesspool

Norma is 20 years old, married for the second time, pregnant from her new husband and has a son of the first marriage. Well, not really, but that's what everyone believes, especially both men. As it turned out, pretending to be in love with her classmate from high school was much easier than admitting to the world that the father of her firstborn is her brother. The boy, a man these days actually, she had loved until he raped her. That was the day her safe haven ended, the day she realized no one would ever help her. At least not without wanting something in return. Even now with her second child not born yet, she is aware this marriage is a mistake. Again. Soon she will have two toddlers to take care of from two different men she has never truly loved. At an age when her former classmates go to parties or college or both, she has to save up every penny to be able to buy enough food for her children.

As long as she can remember, she has been clawing and scratching to try and swim out of this hellhole that is her life, but Norma is about to accept that she will never get to the top.


Love is pain

Norma is 30 years old, trapped in an unhappy marriage, estranged from her firstborn and deeply worried about her younger son she loves with all her heart. He is the bright light in an otherwise dark world. Norman is different, though, and not in a good way. It scares her when he drifts off to a place inside she can't reach, sees people who aren't there and even talks to them sometimes. There is no one she can share that information with. Not Sam. Ever since her husband started to collect disability, he has been taking his moods out on her. Not Dylan. The older her firstborn gets, the more often he stays away from home. It's not his fault. She wishes things were different, however they are not. Why would he want to be around her when she can't look at him properly, let alone touch him since he is the spitting image of the person who hurt her the most? And she for sure can't tell Norman's pediatrician. He would arrange further examinations that might result in Norman being taken away from her and what will she have left to live for then? Norma has so much love to give. She had that dream when she was little of a home where the door was open and friends could come and go and stay for dinner and talk and everything would be lovely. Instead she got this. Love is part faint memory, part burden, her home an empty shell compared to what she imagined it would be.

She is still standing, but she's broken and the cracks begin to show.


Life is a second chance

Norma is 40 years old and suddenly everything is different, everything possible. It's due to a terrible deed and now her husband's dead, but this deed has freed her and Norman. Sometimes the end justifies the means. Suddenly she had money, could spend it the way she wanted to and bought a motel and a house. And despite a bad start in this weird city they moved to, a very bad start actually, events that made her wonder whether she is cursed wherever she goes, things seem to turn out all right eventually. The motel is booked, she will find a way to handle the effects of the bypass as well as the fallout of Norman's blackouts. Plus Norma even gave men the one or other try. It didn't work out, but there is still the sheriff.

Maybe this time, the odds will be in her favor and something is bound to begin. It's got to happen, happen sometime. Maybe this time, she'll win.


Life is over

Norma is 41 years old and dead. Life really has to be kidding her because it happened right after she had married and fallen in love. Yes, a peculiar order, however their story, hers and the sheriff's, was quite extraordinaire. It was like watching a movie that lasted for two weeks. Two weeks. Life apparently begrudged her even the slightest ray of hope. She didn't see it coming, not at all, because that repercussion came from the one person she believed would never hurt her. Ever. Sometimes life doesn't end when you're old and gray. It ends when your son comes back from a mental institution, presumably healed, save that he was not. Someone up or down there had a real good laugh at her expense. She wasn't done being happy, not even close, no matter what she told Alex during their fight or wrote in that stupid letter. All she needed was a good night of sleep to clear her head and then they would have worked things out if it hadn't been for Norman.

They were two parts of the same person, but now she's dead and he's alive. How's that supposed to work?


Love is eternal

"She is having these dreams again," Emma says. "Did you tell her about Norma?"

"No, of course not." Dylan looks over to their daughter Katie that is peacefully playing in the backyard. "She knows Norma is her grandmother. You were there when we told her and showed her the photos. And she knows that Norma is…," he hesitates. It's still difficult to talk about it even after several years have passed. "But that's it," Dylan eventually continues. "Katie knows Norma is dead and nothing else. We'll tell her when she's older and able to understand. Just like we said we would."

It's surreal that they are the only ones left. Norma is dead as well as Norman and Alex. All of them. They also can't trace his father. Maybe he is somewhere, Caleb always is. Then again, something tells Dylan that Caleb is also dead. That this, right here, is all that is left of his family.

Katie's dreams started a few months ago. Their daughter wakes up in the middle of the night on a regular basis, screaming in a pitch they never heard before. All children have nightmares. When Katie told her parents about hers, it made Emma and Dylan shudder though. She is dreaming about a man who is trying to kill her. I can't breathe, she would tell them, weeping bitterly. He does something to the air. Make him stop. They wondered if Katie could have overheard someone talking about how Norma died, asked her kindergarten teacher and their friends, but there is no logical explanation. Thankfully, Katie seems to forget about her dreams as soon as she falls asleep again. It's her parents that are churned up inside.

And lately, it has gotten even weirder. They would take a walk and Katie would point at shop windows, telling them how much she loves the dress. A vintage dress, something Norma would have worn. It could have been explained away as a coincidence since children point at many things except that Katie has become very specific regarding her taste. She wouldn't give in, complaining about her clothes until they found a shop that sells vintage clothes for kids.

"Do you think we should cut her hair?" Emma asks. She has joined Dylan, looking out at their daughter.

Another piece of the puzzle. Katie loves to wear her golden locks long. Emma loves it, too, but in combination with Katie's blue eyes and the way she is dressed, it sometimes makes her almost forget that this is her daughter and not a small replication of Norma.

"No," Dylan refuses. Even though he is right next to her physically, his thoughts are somewhere else. She should argue it out with him. However the way Dylan wistfully looks at his daughter and sees so much more breaks her heart. They will talk about it later.

"Dinner's ready. Call for her to come inside," Emma says instead.

So Katie continues to wear her hair long and never cuts it as she grows up and turns into a beautiful teenager. The dreams end at some point or she doesn't talk about them anymore and the way she dresses becomes a bit more contemporary albeit there is always something vintage about it that makes it special.

Odd things keep happening though. Katie says things from time to time that don't make sense even if she seems to have forgotten about it the moment after she said them. Things like My throat hurts. I'm so thirsty. when she just had a glass of water or Where's my brother? despite being an only child.

And then, one day, Katie brings a boy along. They are clearly in love, giddy with excitement, can't keep their hands off each other although they try as long as Emma or Dylan are in the same room with them. The boy is Spanish, dark eyes and hair, thick eyelashes. Emma barely is able to pull herself together when she sees him for the first time, has to sit down the moment they leave.

"Dylan… What is this?" She grabs her husband's hand. It's too much. You can't explain all of this away.

"I don't know." Dylan has no explanation either.

By now, Katie knows about her grandparents and the way they died. They told her two years ago after she had turned 15. Katie was intrigued by the photos of Alex and Norma together. Only two which makes them even more precious. Their wedding photo Emma and Dylan found in a frame among Alex's things and the photo that was taken when Alex and Norma were at the Winter Lights Festival. It was in the archives of the newspaper that printed the story. When they showed the photos to Katie, she reached out, tenderly caressing her deceased grandparents.

Everyone expects Katie and Mateo to stay together for a while and then separate because that's what usually happens when you fall in love at such a young age, but it doesn't. They stay together and when they finally send the invitations for their wedding, no one is really surprised, least of all Emma and Dylan.

It is a lovely day when the young couple exchanges their vows. Emma and Dylan hold hands, watching them as they hear a voice behind them that stands out from the murmuring crowd.

"This is beautiful."

They both turn around, expecting to see someone who can't be there because that voice sounded like...

"Did you hear that?" Emma swallows.

"Yes." Dylan nods, squeezing her hand.

This is more than a simple wedding. Somehow love has found a way to right a wrong.