She can't breathe.
Norma coughs. Everything hurts, her chest, her entire body. She groans and tries to lift her head or open her eyes, but it's impossible as if tons of stone are weighing her down. When she finally manages to blink, she sees carpet, a white nightgown, bare feet. Why would she be lying on the floor dressed like that? What is going on? The dizziness is getting worse. The world around her starts to spin and she is falling...
I now pronounce you husband and wife.
Come on, Mrs. Sheriff.
You're going off to work and kissing me. It's like I'm watching a movie, but it's not a movie.
Voices. Far away. Fighting.
Will you please just stop talking to me like I'm insane.
- Calm down.
Just stop patronizing me! You're awful!
- I am not letting you leave this house!
Her hands grasping at air as she loses balance, toppling over, falling again.
I'm not here to apologize. I did what I felt was the right thing.
- Maybe fate wins here. We're all doomed in the end, right?
Norma sits up with a jerk, hand on her chest, breathing hard. She is in her bed, covered with a blanket but wearing street clothes. The dizziness was not a dream as wasn't the pain. She feels sick to her stomach, every fiber of her body hurting, especially her head. She touches her forehead.
There is a lump and some dried blood. What happened? She is trying to remember as she makes out faint voices downstairs.
Norma crawls out of bed. The dizziness forces her to sit down again, but after a moment she is able to stand up and remain standing. Someone took off her shoes and placed them next to her bed. Norma slips them on and is about to go downstairs when she spots Dylan and Alex at the foot of the stairs, looking at her as if she raised from the dead.
None of this makes sense. Norma tries to concentrate on her current surroundings, but her thoughts keep slipping away.
"Here, drink this, mom." Dylan gently thrusts a glass of water into her hand.
A crystal clear thought among the haze. Mom? Now she knows something is seriously wrong.
"And take these," Dylan adds, placing two pills on the table. "They will ease your headache."
They are in the kitchen. Dylan is sitting with her at the table while Alex is leaning against the countertop, observing the situation. A situation that feels surreal to say the least. Maybe she is still dreaming.
"Are you sure you don't feel sick?" Alex asks for what must be the third time, his look scrutinizing. "Because if you do, you could have a concussion and we should take you to the hospital."
"No, I don't," Norma lies.
Going to a hospital because of a headache and nausea? She for sure had concussions earlier in life that remained untreated considering how often someone slammed her head against a wall or another hard surface. It's much more important that she understands what is going on, and right now, she is far from it.
The light is greyish outside; it must be early morning.
"How long did I sleep?" Norma asks.
"You were out for a couple of hours, but your pulse was normal so I thought it would be okay to just let you recover here," Dylan says, darting a glance at Alex who clearly begs to differ.
Norma feels like a truck hit her. She buries her face in her hands. "Tell me again what happened," she mumbles. Dylan already did, but she needs to hear it again to believe it as the pills ease the pain and slowly dispel the haze in the process so that she perceives her surroundings more distinctly. This is not a dream.
"I found you passed out in the hallway. As if you had fallen down the stairs or something. Norman wasn't there and it looked as if he had been packing. I checked your pulse, put you in bed, and since I didn't want to leave you alone, I called the sheriff to search for Norman."
Norma looks back and forth between the two men. She knows they are not on good terms due to Dylan's former career in drug business. The fact that Dylan called Alex in spite of that makes her proud.
"Thank you, Dylan. For being so considerate." Norma squeezes her son's hand.
For a moment Dylan grows confused. Then he pulls himself together. "A couple of hours later, I got the call from Willamette County that Norman was there. Well, you got the call, but I was here and answered the phone. They found him on a field, talking to himself." His clothes filthy and blood-stained. Dylan skips that part though. It will be difficult enough for his mother to process what happened as it is. "We were just discussing what to do next when you woke up."
Norman is in the psychiatric unit of Willamette County hospital. That's the hardest part to wrap her mind around, her injuries only a minor nuisance in comparison. It's ironic too. The day after she visited an institution to get used to the idea that she can't give Norman the help he needs but that it only can be found there, he got admitted.
Norma remembers now. Their fight. Norman wanting to leave with Bradley Martin. The dead girl that isn't dead as Dylan explained to her. It's too much. The idea that Norman is alone in that hospital breaks her heart. Then again, the Norman she knows and loves would never have left her after she had fallen down the stairs. Because of him no less. So much has changed between them recently. What if she'd had internal injuries? Dylan finding her was a lucky coincidence. She could have died and Norman just left.
"Is it a good facility? Willamette County?" It surprises herself how calm she is. The old Norma would have already driven over, knocking on doors and demanding to see her son. The Norma that was connected to Norman by that invisible cord that seems to be severed all of a sudden. She feels lost as if she was floating without anything or anyone to ground her.
Dylan and Alex exchange a look.
"I'm right here," Norma hisses. "Talk to me." She needs the truth from them. Everything is so messed up. They are the only ones left in her life to hold on to.
"There are better facilities," Alex concedes. "But Norman is 18 and on medical hold for 48 hours. There is nothing we can do about it."
Norma lets the information sink in. "48 hours… You're the sheriff. Can't you do something?"
"I've got nothing to do with Willamette."
"Then why are you here?" She didn't mean to say it like that. "I'm sorry. I'm glad you're here. I'm just..."
Alex nods, accepting her apology, but it's obvious that she offended him.
"What happened?" he asks. "Here. Between you and Norman before he left."
Norma shrugs. "We had a fight. I didn't want him to leave. And when I tried to hold him back, I fell down the stairs."
Her statement is met with silence.
"Are you sure that's what happened?" Alex has stepped closer to the table. Not asking her as a friend but rather questioning her as the sheriff.
"Am I sure? Yes, why wouldn't I be?"
"Because you hit your head and feel dizzy, no matter what you told us. Because you could be dead by now and lied before to protect your son."
Norma remembers her dream, taking a look at her left hand. No ring. She felt safe in that dream, protected. The way she always feels when she is with him. Well, when they are not fighting, that is. Or maybe even then. This, however, is reality and they are not husband and wife. Alex has every reason to doubt her.
"It's the truth," she assures him.
"How I am supposed to know that?"
He is right and wrong. You could call what happened between them on his piano reconciliation; he came by to apologize for handing the flash drive over to the DEA although he insisted on the fact that it wasn't an apology. Their relationship is intense but strained and it's her fault. They have no solid base, their mutual trust fragile, too many lies of the past standing between them. Alex can't know that she swore to herself she would never lie to him again.
"It's the truth," Norma repeats quietly, tearing up. "Isn't the fact that Norman left although he knew I was hurt and unconscious bad enough for you?"
Dylan reaches out and takes her hand. "Norma..."
She stands up. "I need to get out of these clothes and take a shower. And I'll probably lie down after that since there's nothing we can do at the moment, anyway. Thank you, both of you, for helping me."
Norma walks out, avoiding Alex's glance.
When she wakes up, it's dark outside. Norma has lost track of time, a glance at the clock telling her that it's 6 PM. She slept all day. No weird dreams this time and her headache is only a dull throbbing. That part was no weird dream as the lump on her forehead confirms. She fell down the stairs and Norman is on medical hold in a psych ward.
Norma gets dressed. It's silent downstairs, dim, just a lamp here and there illuminating the rooms. She finds Alex asleep on the couch in the living room. For a moment Norma stands there and watches him, the man who watches over her.
"Alex?" He startles when she touches his shoulder. "Where's Dylan?"
He sits up, groaning. The couch is too small for him to sleep on it comfortably. "He's, err, he's home. We took turns."
"You took turns? So that someone always would be here with me?"
Norma runs her fingers through his hair tenderly. "You are a very kind man, Alex Romero."
Alex remembers what he did last night. He had just killed a man when Dylan's call came. Instead of hiding a body, he spent all night searching for Norman until Dylan's next call informed him that Norman had been found. At first light he went back to bury Bob Paris' body in the sea so that no one would ever find him. Therefore kind is not exactly a character trait he would attribute to himself.
Norma follows her own train of thoughts as she sits down next to him.
"What am I going to do, Alex?"
"Norman will probably be released tomorrow and then you can take him home."
She has to smile. Men. Listing facts as if they were the solution. What bothers her is what is supposed to happen after she will have taken Norman home. Her smile fades.
When she was little, Norma's mother told her stories about her grandmother's premonitions that had become real. Most of the time, her mother was drunk or drugged when she told her those stories. Norma doesn't believe in premonitions, provided what her mother told her was true in the first place, but the part of her dream where she was lying on the floor still lingers in her memory. Even if Norman was not part of that dream, she felt his presence in it that caused an unsettling insecurity because she was afraid of him. No, not afraid, scared to death. What made the dream so real and what makes it linger is the harsh truth that this is the way she was feeling whenever she was around Norman lately. She just hasn't been ready to admit it until now.
Norma looks down at her hands in her lap. "What if I don't want to take him home?" She stands up, fetching the documents from Pineview. "This is a lovely place. I think they could help Norman there."
Alex checks the brochure. "Norma… I never would have thought that you..."
"That I what? Want the best for my son? Want him to get better?"
He soothingly touches her lower arm. "You know what I mean."
Norma takes a deep breath. "All my life, all I ever wanted was to keep Norman safe. I always thought he was just oversensitive, but now..." She swallows, her voice breathy when she continues to speak, "Now I'm not so sure anymore. So yes, I'm prepared to do the one thing that scares me the most in the world. I will let him go if it means he will get the help he needs somewhere else."
Alex intertwines their fingers, glancing at the cover of the Pineview brochure again.
"This place looks expensive. It's none of my business, Norma, but do you have the money to pay for Norman's stay there?"
Norma grabs the brochure and gets up to put it away.
"You need insurance or money to get in which I both do not have. They also have a stupid waiting list." She snorts. "Can you believe that? But I'll think of something."
Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, she sounds unimpressed and serious. For Norma it's absolutely within the realm of possibility that she will find a way to get Norman into Pineview at short notice.
Alex watches her. Delicate, yet strong hands that put the brochure away and close the drawer. Norma is a fighter, but he wonders how many more blows she can take before she breaks. She senses his eyes on her and turns around, catching his thoughtful expression.
"Stop worrying about me, Alex," she sighs. "It's not your problem. It's mine. Are you hungry?" she changes the subject as only Norma does when it comes to food.
Only now he realizes he is. Starving, actually, since he hasn't eaten anything all day. He nods. "Yes."
Norma heads to the kitchen, Alex following her, slowing down when a thought that crossed his mind earlier manifests itself.
"I'll be back in a bit, okay? I have to check something."
"Yes, sure." Norma is already getting vegetables and meat out of the refrigerator.
Alex turns around to look at her before he leaves, her slender frame twirling across the kitchen despite the fact that she fell down the stairs and almost broke her neck only 24 hours ago. Creating a home for herself and her loved ones has always been Norma's purpose in life, and now, she is doing it for him. The realization erases whatever last doubts Alex might have had. It's the right thing to do.
Less than an hour later he is back.
"Is that you, Alex? Dinner is ready. I called Dylan. He is still tired and will come over only tomorrow morning since you are here. Did you tell him about us? It sounded as if he knows. Whatever, sit down and..." Norma stops dead in her tracks when he enters the kitchen, carrying a huge bag. "What is this?"
Alex puts the bag on the countertop, his gesture telling Norma that she is supposed to take a look.
Norma approaches the bag warily, looking at him again before she opens it and is confronted with money, lots of it. She stares at it in disbelief. Then at him.
"Where does all this money come from?"
"Pineview is expensive."
"I can't take your money. I would never be able to pay you back."
Alex holds her gaze. "You don't have to pay it back. No one will miss it."
"What are you talking about?" Norma narrows her eyes in suspicion. "What does that mean no one will miss it?"
"Just take the money, Norma. Consider it righting a wrong."
She is many things but not naive, remembering Alex's words when he came over after their encounter in his house. I am sorry that I couldn't protect you. If I could change that I would. He was referring to Bob Paris. What if he did change it?
"Whose money is this, Alex?"
He keeps staring at her, his teeth clenched. "I'm not a kind man, Norma, but I will always protect you. So take the damn money. I don't know what else to do with it."
No name was mentioned, no confession made, and yet, Norma knows the money has Bob Paris' blood on it. She shakes her head. "I'm not sure I can do that."
Alex watches the emotional uproar on her face. He expected Norma to take the money without further ado, underestimated her moral compass. There is another way to get Norman into Pineview. Insurance. Actually it's the one thing he has been thinking about incessantly ever since she said it but would never have dared to go there unless it was the last resort. Which it seems to be now. Somehow Alex can't believe Norma hasn't come up with the idea herself.
"If you don't want to take the money, there is another way," he says, keeping it casual although his heart is pounding. Alex can't remember the last time he was that nervous, and considering he killed a few people recently, that says something.
Norma is still dwelling on her thoughts. "What?"
"Another way. To get Norman into Pineview. Well, provided he signs the papers since he is of age."
"You said it yourself. Insurance."
She slouches her shoulders, then straightens herself. "Yes, you're right. I should apply for insurance. I looked it up. It takes six weeks until the insurance will cover any costs, but it's the only way to get him in, I think." Norma eyes the money in the bag wistfully and takes a deep breath. "Come on, let's eat. Dinner is ready."
Alex grabs her arm to hold her back. "Norma, wait! Are you sure you don't want the money?"
She shrugs and touches her forehead, reminding him that she still is in pain and confused by the current events. "I don't know. Maybe I should sleep on it. Six weeks is a long time if someone needs help right now."
Whatever she is feeling, it's clear that Norma is afraid to have her son back home even if she would never say that out loud. He won't let that happen.
"I have insurance, Norma," Alex states since she didn't get the hint before. "So if your son needs insurance..." He waits for the realization to set in.
Norma's eyes widen. "Oh," she breathes.
"If I marry you, you and your son will have insurance immediately." Concentrate on the facts, anything else would be too much although it sounds as if he is offering her a marriage of convenience when it's anything but, the mere idea that she could say yes and be his wife raising a row inside him. Alex can't even say whether that's a good or bad thing. All things considered, he probably shouldn't do this. But all he knows is that he is willing to turn his life upside down for this woman. Essentially it's what he has been doing for a while now. So why not be consistent and admit that it is…
"It's not forever." He hears Norma say. "Just until Norman will be better. Alex… I can't believe you would do this for me. Thank you. Thank you so much."
Norma remembers her dream. The ring on her finger that she only felt but never saw clearly, a blurry shadow of another life. She doesn't understand what is going on - the occurrences in real life as well as her dream, how these things are supposed to fit together, if at all. All she is feeling is relief. Alex is about to save her once again, will protect her and her son. Gratefulness suffuses her.
Unfortunately that's all Alex sees. Gratefulness. Norma seems to accept his offer as what she believes it to be - a marriage of convenience to get insurance for her son. And it obviously seems to be enough for her, more than enough judging by the look on her face.
The anger is sudden and blinding. He killed for her, offered her a bag full of money and essentially himself. What did he expect in return? Love? He should have known better.
Try again, Alexander, the voice of his father resonates in his head. Whenever they were playing together outside – or what counted as playing in the Romero household, rare occasions either way – his father would push him down on the hard concrete when he missed a ball. His father's appreciation, his mother's affection, getting neither and filling the void with his own sense of duty, subduing the city and its population until Norma came along and made him feel the void again.
"Can I still have the money?" Norma is joking or maybe not.
Alex closes the bag up and puts it down in a corner before they sit down to eat. She senses his mood swing but doesn't address it. They don't talk much during dinner and he realizes Norma contains herself because of his offer. Does she really think he would withdraw it if she said something wrong? Does she actually believe he could? The idea triggers something. It's dark and wrong but tastes like an exquisite wine on his tongue, alleviating his anger.
Norma Bates is at his mercy.