There are many different kinds of pain. The sharp sting of an unexpected loss, the gnawing doubts of uncertainty or the dull ache of someone's absence to name only a few. Alex Romero knows them all, but he has never experienced them at once before.
He told Norma he would hang around some more, hoping it would buy him the time he needs to find a way not only into her bed but into her heart. Norma, however, is back to being noncommittal as if their passionate encounter never happened or doesn't matter to her. She is friendly, genuinely seems to like him. That's what makes it so much worse. How is she able to treat him like that when he has to fight his feelings every second in order to act normal around her?
It's not even one-step-forward-two-steps-back. It's a gridlock and he has no idea how to get out. When Alex tries to address it, Norma dismisses him. Let's not do this now, Alex, okay? We have all the time in the world. But they don't. Once his house is re-built, he moves out. What else is there to do? He can't hang around forever, waiting for her to change her mind when there is no indication that she ever will.
It feels awkward to pay Norma for his stay. In light of the fact that the new bypass will be finished soon, she needs the money though. It is even more awkward when they embrace as goodbye. Yet there is no way Alex could have left without holding her one more time. And when Norma runs after him as he is about to drive away, he thinks this is it, that she will tell him she wants this too, ask him to stay. But instead... I always felt safe when you were here. The way she looks at him, saying these words makes him want to turn off the engine, unpack his stuff and never leave. If it wasn't too little, too late. Alex has no idea what Norma wants or what he is to her except a random moment of weakness and a convenient ally when it comes to the various challenges in her life.
When he drives away, watching her figure get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, Alex is convinced that it was just an illusion. They were never meant to be. There is a lump in his throat. It doesn't go away when he arrives at home, puts his things away and has a drink.
His new house has some improvements; the worker did a good job. He hates it.
Of course it doesn't take long until the Bates' household is the center of another drama. A call girl dying outside of the motel in Norma's arms is not even extraordinary, considering what other, horrible things already happened there.
They are sitting in the kitchen. Norma radiates this strange energy that always makes him wonder what is beneath the visible layers. She looks beautiful despite her blood-stained clothes, but all he can think about is what she is hiding. Because she is hiding something; that much is for sure. By now Alex can read Norma's body language.
He has to investigate, but Norma, being Norma, makes it clear that she has better things to do than to give him the information he needs, the death as well as his questions nothing but a nuisance.
"You don't get to do this. Not after everything."
Her words are a distraction. One of her coping strategies, attack as defense. It angers him how casually she uses what happened between them as a shield to get rid of him.
"Chaos seems to swirl around you and I'm not sure why."
It's the understatement of the century. Chaos is not only swirling around her. It is swirling inside him too, getting worse every minute he is spending with her. Anger, frustration, pain. It's unfair to blame it all on her since he should be able to handle his emotions but in moments like these when they are in the same room, her sheer presence taunting his inability to break away from her, Norma seems to be the appropriate target for his bottled-up rage of a lifetime.
There were moments in between when Alex thought he saw a flicker of what he is feeling for her reflected in Norma's eyes. Like that surreal moment when they met at the Arcanum Club and she asked him why he was there. I'm not here for that. There was relief in her face before she hid it. Or at least that's what he thought he had seen, reliving the scene in his head over and over to find out if he was right.
Here and now Alex realizes that Norma doesn't care about anything than herself and her sons. Well, Norman essentially.
"You can show yourself out."
Out the door. Out of her life.
Norma stands up and leaves the room as Alex gets up too, his limps heavy. Every time he believes he is over her, she proves him wrong.
He hears voices upstairs when he walks in the hallway. They come from Norman's room. He can't make out the words save that Norma is talking to her sons. Perhaps it's only his imagination, but Norma's voice sounds soothing, a stark contrast to the way she talked to him only minutes ago. It triggers an agonizing longing to be part of this family, as dysfunctional as it might be, to be allowed to be in there with them and not down here alone.
Alex remains standing in the hallway, one hand on the handrail as if he was about to go upstairs when Norma comes out of her son's room, unbuttoning her bloody shirt. The scene is a grotesque reminder of the moment in the parking lot when he watched her at the window weeks ago. There is nothing even remotely sensual about it now, the blood of a dead woman on Norma's clothes. She stops when she sees him and he expects her to yell at him, but she holds his gaze and then contorts her face as if she was just as sorry about the way things are as he is before she moves along.
He shouldn't do it, shouldn't allow a moment like this to raise his hopes. He can't help it though. Alex lingers at the end of the stairs a while longer, imagining he was in Norma's bedroom with her, helping her take off her blood-stained clothes, an act of affection not desire to show her what she means to him.
Then he remembers her behavior when he was questioning her in the kitchen and what he spotted right now or at least thinks he did. He should confront her about it if it wasn't futile. Norma is a master in terms of hiding. Things, emotions. He is in love with a figment of his imagination. Norma is not an innocent victim. When will he learn to accept that?
As often as Alex imagined Norma visiting him at home once more, he didn't expect it to happen like this. Showing up unexpectedly, making a proposal so surreal it leaves him speechless, almost kicking in his door when he doesn't agree with her plan fast enough. In hindsight he should have seen it coming. Classic Norma. Blackmailing Bob Paris. That's not a plan. That's a suicide mission. But of course he will help her. He hears himself make that promise before his mind has had enough time to process things, her relieved moan triggering memories that are too dangerous to delve into while she is that close.
Her breath caresses his neck, her body equally swaying towards and away from him as he is holding her in an effort to calm her down or whatever he is telling himself are his reasons until she gives in and rests her head on his shoulder, the tension eventually leaving her limbs. It's probably mere exhaustion, but it feels like trust and is enough to make Alex cave in. Whatever he has been trying to convince himself of – that Norma is not good for him, only using him – is forgotten. He would follow her to the end of the world if she asked him right now.
"The flash drive. Is it the one you hid in your bra?"
Norma lifts her head to look at Alex. "How do you know?"
"I saw the bump when you were starting to take off your blood-stained shirt." He shrugs. "What would a call girl steal as leverage these days? Data."
"You knew I had it all the time?"
"I assumed it. I wasn't a hundred percent certain, but I was hoping you'd eventually give it to me if you had it."
She looks at him thoughtfully and then embraces him. A real embrace, arms around his neck and shoulders, pulling him close.
"Thank you for helping me."
It's a recurring theme. Whenever he helps her, Norma allows him a moment of closeness. Alex wonders whether she has already conditioned him to behave that way. Like Pawlow's dog. She asks for help and he comes running because he can't resist the reward.
In the end it doesn't matter. She is here; he agreed to blackmail Bob Paris with her. So what? Life is short. Who wants to live forever, anyway? Alex only wishes Norma wouldn't wear a coat. There are too many layers of fabric between him and her skin.
She is still holding him tight, allows his hands to wander from her waist over her hip to her backside.
"Don't you miss it?" Alex asks. "Us?"
When Norma tenses in his arms, he could kick himself for asking or her for being so obstinate. Same old, same old. She threw him a bone but as soon as he dares to cross the line, he's out. Wherever that damn line is. One day she sleeps with him, the next day a wrong word is too much.
Norma lets go of him and steps back. "Can we…?" she starts.
"Talk about this later? Or never? Sure. Your deal with Bob Paris is way more important." Alex doesn't even try to hide his anger.
"Alex… Please understand."
"It's okay. I do."
He doesn't, but he couldn't care less. They missed the moment to talk about things. Again. Tonight there will be no answers.
This time Norma doesn't have to kick in his door. Alex opens it for her so that she can leave.
The call was short. Alex had made an appointment with Bob Paris and told Norma when and where to show up.
They are sitting in Bob Paris' office anteroom since he, like any business man, likes to make his guests wait as a demonstration of who's in charge.
Norma is distanced, practically ignoring him as if he wasn't her protector but a sidekick she had to drag along. Alex boils inside, torn between pulling her outside to make a scene and the awareness that Bob Paris would hold that forever against him. He can't show any weakness. Not here on enemy turf.
She said something he didn't understand because his thoughts were elsewhere.
"What?" Alex looks at her.
"Miss it. Us."
Really? She's answering his question now and here of all places? It makes Alex even angrier. Is she doing this on purpose because she knows he won't be able to respond since they are not alone? Or perhaps Norma's mind works like that. Providing her with random thoughts and feelings she lives out no matter what. The idea is as fascinating as frightening.
Alex turns away from her, his body stiffening in order to bottle up his rage. It doesn't take long until he notices a movement out of the corner of his eye. Norma is bobbing her foot up and down nervously. It's a reflex, his hand reaching out to stop her, feeling the smooth fabric of her pantyhose when he grabs her ankle, holding it tight for a moment, exerting more pressure than necessary before he lets go of it.
Norma goes quiet next to him, her posture as stiff as his. Here they are, partners in crime, lovers by choice or accident. Who knows. Alex wishes he could take Norma's hand and lead her out. They shouldn't be here; nothing good will come out of this.
But as if on cue the door of Bob Paris' office opens. He is ready to see them and Norma can't wait.
"Bye, Dylan. Bye, Emma." Norma hugs and kisses them goodbye.
Caleb already left and Norman couldn't wait to go to his room. He had been in a bad mood the entire evening. It didn't damp her spirits though. They had a wonderful evening. It felt so good to have the family together for dinner, her childhood dream coming true. Now it's only Alex and her. He insisted on helping her clear the table although he's doing more harm than good considering his arm sling. Alex was right after all. She underestimated how dangerous Bob Paris is; the pit outside as well as Alex's gunshot wound can attest to that.
"You don't have to do that. Careful." Norma laughs, catching a glass that almost tipped over. "God, you're clumsy, sheriff." She smiles at him, the good vibes of the evening reverberating inside her. "Go down to the motel and stay there for the night. I have to change the sheets, anyway. You might as well use the bed again." The bed where Alex slept if off this afternoon after she had picked him up at the bar. Norma had never seen him drunk before. He makes a quite cute drunk.
Alex's facial expression becomes serious. "No, I won't stay. I should drive home."
Her smile fades. "Yes, sure."
Norma can try as hard as she wants, she will never understand him. They slept together and it felt as if he wanted more. Nevertheless he behaved as if they were friends and nothing else. Yes, she refused to talk to him, but she wasn't in the mood and since when do men take into account what she wants?
"Norma… I know you don't want to talk about this, but..." Alex shrugs. "I don't know what to do. I meant what I said when we were down at the motel earlier." When he wanted to kiss her so bad and she escaped his advances. "You are beautiful. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and I can't act as if what happened between us meant nothing to me."
Men are so confusing. "Then don't."
"Don't act as if it means nothing to you."
His face is like an open book. Norma Bates. A living and breathing contradiction. That's what he is thinking. She heard it often enough from other men although she doesn't consider herself complicated. At all. Action, reaction. Attack, defense. That is what life is about. Simple as that.
"Norma, I wanted to talk to you and you refused."
"I had a bad day."
"A bad day? I tried it more than once."
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. It was my fault."
But there is more.
"So if you wanted to talk about us in general but not on the days I asked you…" The way Alex sums it up makes it sound as if she was unpredictable and moody. Norma frowns. "…then why did you react the way you did when I was shot? Do you realize I was shot because I helped you with Bob Paris? That I almost died..." for you. Albeit Alex doesn't say it, she hears it loud and clear.
Norma fiddles around with the kitchen towel. How can she possibly explain to him why she behaved liked that? Men are trouble, she remembers the slurred voice of her mother, whether from alcohol or medication she didn't know. That's what Francine Calhoun told her daughter every day. Back then before she stopped talking to her children, before she forgot she even had children. And she was right. If Norma knows one thing about men, then it is that behind every friendly face, there is a fist and behind every tender caress, there are strong arms holding her down against her will. It's better to stay away, to not get attached.
"You moved out." That's what it all boils down to. Because then she knew Alex was just like the others. He had gotten what he wanted and left.
So why does he look at her as if he was at a loss for words? "The rebuilding of my house was finished."
"What do you mean?"
"You left me. You think it hurt when you got shot? It hurt much more when I stood there watching you drive away as if I meant nothing to you."
"Norma, that's not true."
"You left me."
Did she scream that last part? Alex is very close all of a sudden, grabbing her arm the way he did when she came to his house to persuade him to help her with Bob Paris.
"I didn't leave you. Norma, if I had known that you see it that way." He swallows. "I would have stayed."
Men are trouble. But she can't find the lie, not in his face, not in his words. Maybe Alex is different.
"You would have?"
"Why?" The moment Norma asks this, she sees the answer in his face. No. This is too much.
"Because I love you."
Norma freezes. Yell at him and send him away or throw herself in his arms? Then she realizes that her body is already responding to his declaration. She has leaned forward, brushing his lips with hers, feeling her way to how it might be if she really kissed him, knowing what she knows now.
Alex is done waiting. His hand at the back of her neck pulls her towards him, his kiss hungry but tender. There is a pleasant ache in Norma's chest when she realizes he is restraining himself for her sake. She kisses him back, lets herself go when the images come crashing in. The night she ran away, where she ended up and what she did.
"Don't be afraid. I will take good care of you," Alex murmurs when Norma shivers in his arms.
He has no idea. The moment he finds out, he will leave her.