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The Odyssey

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It was a gloomy, overcast day in White Pine Bay, Oregon. 

Spring was on its way as the slightly mild temperature attested, but the sun refused to come out to play.  

Inside a room at the Bates Motel, Dylan Massett woke up in the dark. A faint beam of light peeked through the slit between the curtains of the window. It did nothing to brighten up the space.  

He looked at the clock next to the bed. It was just before eight-thirty in the morning. The alarm on his phone was set to go off in a few minutes. He turned his attention to the figure snuggled against his back.  

It wasn’t that long ago Emma Decody had had a bad set of lungs due to cystic fibrosis. She had traveled with a portable oxygen tank so she wouldn’t miss a breath. Even when occasionally it took her out of commission for a few days, she never let it slow her down for long.  

Dylan had admired her from the off. She had gumption and a stubborn streak a mile wide. She also had the sweetest, most beautiful smile and was the kindest person he knew. For some reason, she had taken a liking to him. There were a million reasons why he fell for her and he could list every last one of them. 

When a job came up that would allow him to pay for her to get a new set of lungs, he took it without hesitation. Sure it was shady as fuck, but this was for Emma. He would do anything for her. The job went sideways quickly, but he and his dad Caleb had managed to get out of it alive. After Caleb beat the shit out of the man who had hired them and got the money they were owed, Dylan immediately told Emma’s dad Will he had the cash for the transplant. 

(Caleb also was Dylan’s uncle, but that’s a story for another time.) 

Emma went to Portland and received her new pair of lungs. She had told Dylan shortly after that she and Will were moving to Seattle as part of her recovery. Would he join them? she had asked. There was only one answer. He even had a job waiting for him once they had moved. 

Now he slowly adjusted himself so he was laying on his back. He put an arm around her shoulders as she moved accordingly, her head resting on his chest with a hand on his stomach. 

“Morning,” he whispered. 

There was a soft groan. “Too early.” 

He chuckled. “Alarm will go off soon.” 

“Turn it off.” 

Dylan smiled as he kissed the top of her head. “Rise and shine, sleepyhead.” 

Emma lifted herself so she could look at her boyfriend. “Why are you so mean?” 

“I’m not mean.” 

“Yes, you are. If you truly loved me, you would let me sleep.” 

He leaned in, his lips catching hers. “I do love you, you nut. Now do you want to grab a shower first or not?” 

Her eyes narrowed. “Mean.” She kissed him. “Mean.” Another kiss. “Mean.”  

The final kiss was deeper, more meaningful. Dylan wrapped his arms around her as she climbed on top of him. She slid a hand down the inside of his boxers. 

“Rise and shine, sleepyhead,” she said with a smile before her lips made their way to his left ear. 

He moaned softly. His left hand slipped underneath the camisole she wore to bed, moving down her back, till it reached her right buttock beneath her shorts and underwear. With his right hand, he grabbed his phone and shut off the alarm. 

They still had plenty of time. 

 
 

Sitting behind the motel on a hill, the Bates house loomed large. It was an imposing structure in its own right, but inside was a different story. Hearth and home was the feeling one got as they entered from the vestibule. Its owner made sure her family and any guests were at ease when within the house’s walls. Norma Bates’ history with the residence was a bit turbulent, but that was all in the past.  

Norma now lived there happily with her new husband. Alex Romero was the town’s sheriff until recently and while their initial interactions weren’t always under the best of circumstances, the two found themselves making a connection. That bond nearly was broken a few months ago while her youngest son Norman was home from the Pineview Institute, where he had committed himself — under pressure from Norma — for psychiatric help. 

Norman’s return had put a strain on Norma and Alex’s nascent marriage. She was torn between her duty to her son and her love for Alex. She chose Norman and had lived to regret it. That night after she had broken up with Alex — who to his credit never saw it as a breakup, but a disagreement — Norman had decided it was time for he and his mother to leave this world together. 

He had walked downstairs into the basement, switching off the new heater and turning on the old one. As he went back upstairs, Norman closed off all the vents except for the one in Norma’s room. He climbed into bed with her expecting them to never wake up. 

That’s when Alex arrived. 

The way they had left things hadn’t sat well with him all day, so he showed up in order to set things right. She had told him earlier she wasn’t going to give him up. The feeling was mutual. He pounded on the front door and called Norma’s name, but received no answer. Still possessing a key to the house, he let himself inside.  

Once in Norma’s room, he knew something was wrong when he couldn’t wake her. There was a faint smell of gas. He broke a window to let the cold night air ventilate the room. Then separately took her and Norman out into the hallway, opened the windows and started CPR on his beloved. 

It wasn’t working. She still wasn’t breathing. In frustration, he banged on her chest. That did it. Her eyes flew open. A huge gasp came from Norma as oxygen filled her lungs. The first face she saw was Alex’s and she was so relieved, she cried. She clung to him as he did to her. Both had tears streaming down their faces. 

“Oh, baby, I thought I lost you,” Alex had told her. 

“Not a chance,” Norma replied, a rasp in her voice. “You’re stuck with me.” 

They kissed a few times, lost in their joy and relief. 

“Mother?” 

Norma turned her head to look at her son. Grief, anger, resentment and disappointment flooded her features. “You’re going back to Pineview.” She said nothing else, looking away and letting Alex hold her until she was ready to get up. 

Months later, things were back to normal. Her eldest son Dylan and his girlfriend Emma were visiting from Seattle, while Norman continued to seek psychiatric treatment at Pineview. The motel was doing well despite the bypass being under construction and still threatening to take away any potential business once completed. She and Alex even had started making renovations to the house that Norma had long planned but nary the funds to complete. 

On this gray morning, however, the only things Norma was thinking about were the girls’ day out she and Emma were going to enjoy while the guys were doing God only knew what and the man currently asleep next to her in bed. 

Norma lay on her back with her head turned to the right. She watched him with a smile on her face as he slept on his stomach, his arms underneath the pillow and his head facing her. His back rose and fell in rhythm with his breathing. He was naked under the sheet that currently covered him. So was she. She bit her lip, smile still in place, as she remembered everything they did in here last night. I swear it’s like we’re on our honeymoon. I guess we are. After what we went through because of Norman…. 

It pained her to think of her youngest since the incident. The incident where he almost killed me, she thought bitterly. She let out a soft exhale. She regretted bringing him home from Pineview. Alex and Dylan both had fought against it; begged her to reconsider. Hell they were both ready to recommit Norman against his will, but she had put her foot down. That decision had nearly cost her her life. 

She looked over again at Alex, who now one eye open. 

“Norman?” he asked, knowing the answer. 

Norma nodded. “My mind wandered. Did I wake you?” 

“No.” He continued watching her. 

“What?” She couldn’t hide the huge grin on her face. He made her so damn happy she couldn’t believe she had gotten so lucky. And thanks to him, these days she got lucky a lot. 

“Just enjoying the view.” The love found in his soft brown eyes left her undone. It always did. 

She moved so she was on her right side, the back of her left hand caressing the right side of his face. “My unicorn.” 

He responded to her touch. They closed the gap between them, their lips catching and catching again. Norma settled on top of him. His hands held her hair back on both sides of her face as the kissing continued. 

Alex rolled them both so Norma was on her back. His lips found her right earlobe then made their way down her neck and across her collarbone, his tongue tracing the length of it. She let out a soft moan. The fingers of her right hand gripped his black hair while her left hand snaked its way around his waist and down to his ass. 

Norma spread her legs and grinded him just enough so he knew what she wanted. She nibbled his right earlobe just as he made his way all the down. He worked her opening to her immense satisfaction, licking and sucking her into submission. After she came, he climbed back up and slid himself inside her. They moaned simultaneously. 

The next twenty minutes just slipped away. 

 
 

Dylan and Emma walked up the three flights of cement stairs to the house. He was a bit ahead of her and she smiled as she watched him hit the first landing. She knew he had been looking forward to this trip, to this day in particular, for the past few weeks. Ever since Norma had mentioned to Dylan how it would be nice if they could visit. She had meant her and Alex traveling to Seattle, but Dylan misunderstood and said he and Emma would be down for a trip to White Pine Bay. 

When Alex had heard Dylan and Emma officially were coming, he suggested to Dylan the two of them have a guys’ day. Dylan had said “yes” immediately to Alex’s delight. Emma saw the unadulterated joy emanating from her boyfriend’s face. The only other time he lit up like that was whenever he saw her. He had loved the idea of Norma and Alex as a couple before the two actually had gotten married. Dylan wasn’t blind: He had seen there was something between them for a while.  

When Norma had told him that day in the kitchen at the house that she had wed Alex, Dylan’s head nearly split in half his smile was so big. He understood it was for the insurance so Norman could get the help he so desperately needed at Pineview. Dylan also understood this was their ass-backwards way of finally admitting their mutual attraction to each other. 

He and Alex had been friends, or at least allies, since the early days of Dylan’s employment in the town’s marijuana trade. Alex had covered up Dylan’s involvement in the deaths of his boss, Jodi Morgan, and her loose cannon brother, Zane (who had actually killed his sister). His involvement being he was on the scene when they were killed. Alex didn’t see the point in including him in the official report; after all, Dylan had already killed rival drug boss Nick Ford not twenty-four hours earlier. This wasn’t the first time Alex had stepped up for Dylan. The younger man previously had killed Alex’s deputy, Zach Shelby, after Shelby took Dylan and his family hostage for ruining his side gig in sex trafficking. 

Dylan and Alex’s bond had been cemented after the Ford/Morgan affair. Now Dylan was out of the drug scene and working as an associate manager for a hops distributor in Seattle. He and Alex texted often. Emma called it a bromance once and a deep blush crept up Dylan’s neck till it had reached his ears. 

“In a hurry to meet your other half?” she called out teasingly. 

He paused on the landing and turned to face her, the heat already working its way from his throat. “Can you not?” He was grinning, but the mild embarrassment also was there. 

“What?” she asked innocently as she reached him. “You won’t even walk up the stairs with me you’re so excited. I think it’s adorable. Plus, this will prepare me for when our future kid abandons me so they can run off to hang with their friends.” 

“You’re bringing our future child into this? Isn’t that extortion?” he asked in a winking tone, his hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket. 

“Hardly. Emotional blackmail at best.” The playful grin on her lips revealed just how much she was enjoying this. 

“And to think I may marry you one day.” 

“I played you good.” 

“You really did.” 

Emma smacked him a couple times, once with each hand. Her mock outrage only made him laugh. They walked up the rest of the steps hand in hand. 

 
 

Breakfast was a lively affair. Norma had cooked enough for an army. She was excited to have an almost-full house for the first time since she and Alex had married. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, sausage and toast were all on the menu. Dylan and Emma’s eyes were huge as they looked at the loaded table once they entered the kitchen. 

“What? No waffles or French toast?” Dylan joked. 

“I had to talk her down on the waffles,” Alex said. “Then I hid the bread so she couldn’t attempt the French toast.” 

Norma swatted him with her dishtowel, a huge smile lighting up her face. “That is not true! 

Alex looked at her solemnly. “Where’s the bread, babe?” 

“Well it’s—” She stopped when she rolled up the top of the wooden bread box and saw it was empty. Hands clenched into fists on her hips, the smile was gone when her eyes rested upon her husband as she turned back around to face him. “Where’s my goddamn bread, you sonofabitch.” 

Emma put a hand over her mouth to cover the smile that had broken out. Dylan was biting his lip to keep from laughing. Neither dared to look at the other for they knew they would burst out laughing if they did. 

Alex, for his part, had a excellent poker face. “I have no idea.” 

“What do you mean you have no idea?” Norma asked, annoyed. “You just boasted two seconds ago that you hid it. So where is it?” 

“I don’t remember.” 

“Bullshit.” 

Alex shrugged. 

Norma narrowed her blue eyes. “You are such an asshole.” 

“Which makes you an asshole for marrying me.” 

“I guess it does.” She broke first, the bright smile returning a few seconds later. Wrapping her arms around his neck after she walked over to him, she added: “Just put the bread back before you leave today.” 

He wound his arms around her waist, his lips stopping just shy of hers. “Yes, dear,” he said with a smile of his own before kissing her. 

Dylan and Emma watched them happily. If either was ever asked who was their favorite couple, they unequivocally would answer Norma and Alex. #relationshipgoals  

Everyone sat down to eat, as Norma instructed, before the food got cold. Over the meal, they chatted about everything and nothing.  

Emma told Alex about how she was planning to start college in the fall once she graduated high school in a couple months. She was still being homeschooled in Seattle and had a four-point-oh grade point average. When she admitted she still had to figure out a major, he told her not to put too much pressure on herself. He was confident she would find the path that was right for her.  

“I’m glad one of us is,” she admitted half-jokingly. 

Norma listened as Dylan told her about one of his clients. The guy was actually pretty cool, he admitted. Before he opened one of Seattle’s hippest craft bars, he was a Hollywood film producer. When Dylan listed some of the man’s credits, Norma’s mouth fell open. Hands down, this was the best job her son ever had as far she was concerned. Sure the weed business in White Pine Bay probably paid better, but this was so much cooler — and it was legal.  

“I’m so proud of you,” Norma said.  

Dylan blushed and thanked her. He was pretty proud of himself, too. As his mother, she knew that. 

After breakfast, Dylan offered to help Norma clean up. She was surprised, but accepted nonetheless. They didn’t spend a lot of time together, just the two of them. This was exactly why Dylan had offered. Even though he was going to be around for the next couple days, plans had been made that would keep them apart. He missed Norma. Just as he knew she missed him. They worked in tandem putting away leftovers and cleaning off plates; one washing, while the other dried and put away the dishes, utensils and cookware. They joked while they worked; their laughter floating out of the kitchen and into the living room, where Alex and Emma were situated on the sofa. 

Emma tried to get the local dirt out of Alex. As the former sheriff, he knew what closets had skeletons (sometimes literally) and where the bodies were buried (literally all of them). He demurred, saying she should know as well as anyone in this house that the less she knew about the goings-on of White Pine Bay the better. The drug business may be dead, but the town was still corrupt. She gave him a sympathetic look. He gave a sad quirk of lips. The sound of Norma and Dylan’s laughter tinkled in the air. Emma and Alex broke out in genuine smiles upon hearing it. She leaned over and gave Alex a hug. He accepted it somewhat tentatively at first before giving in to her kindness. 

Norma and Dylan observed them from the entrance of the living room nearest the kitchen. After a moment, Dylan pulled his mom back into the hallway. 

“Is he really going away?” 

Norma nodded, her eyes wet. “Two years in prison, then six months’ house arrest.” She closed her eyes her momentarily and shook her head. “God, Dylan, it’s bad, but it could have been so much worse. The DEA wanted to put him away for five years on that perjury charge. I don’t know what I would have done if that had happened.” 

“You would have visited him every week — just like you will now — and made sure he got the homemade turkey pot pie with the file inside so he can pull a Shawshank.” 

A giggle escaped Norma despite the seriousness of the topic. “You’re as bad as he is. No wonder you the two of you get along so well.” 

Dylan knew a compliment when he heard it. “Come here.” He opened his arms, which Norma walked into. “He’ll have a hell of a day, Norma. I promise. And so will you. Emma’s been looking forward to this so much. So have I.” 

Norma buried her face in her son’s neck for a few seconds. “Thank you, Dylan.”  

A few minutes later, the foursome were headed down the stairs to their awaiting vehicles. The couples said their goodbyes before splitting off into pairs of gals and guys. 

Chapter Text

Alex started driving back toward town, which Dylan found odd. Their plans for the day did not include staying a second longer in White Pine Bay than was necessary. Dylan remained silent until he realized they were headed to Alex’s house. 

“You need to pick up something?” he asked as the older model black SUV Alex used as his mode of transportation since leaving the sheriff’s department turned onto the street where Alex used to live. He still had his house, but it was now on the market. With any luck, it would be sold by the time he got out of prison. 

“Yeah. Shouldn’t take too long.” Alex pulled into his driveway, parking off to the side. He shut off the engine and opened the driver’s side door. He glanced at Dylan as he exited. “Come on.” 

They shut the doors of the SUV. Dylan followed Alex to the garage, where Alex unlocked and lifted the door to reveal what appeared to be a car under a tarp. Alex pulled off the large cloth to reveal a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS in a rich blue with a white stripe on the hood.  

Dylan’s mouth fell open as his pulse began to race. So this is what love at first sight feels like, he thought. He couldn’t take his eyes off the classic muscle car.  

“You like her?” Alex had been watching Dylan’s reaction with an equal mix of pride and amusement. 

“Are you kidding?!” Dylan tore his eyes away from the car just long to acknowledge Alex before they shot back to the majestic creature on four wheels in front of them. “She’s beautiful,” he admitted in a reverential tone. He looked back at Alex. “Tell me you don’t let her rot in here.” 

Alex let out a big laugh. “No. Definitely not. I take her out about once a month; really open her up so she can stretch her legs. I thought we could make today one of those days.” He paused. “What do you say?” 

“Fuck yeah!” Dylan said with a laugh and a huge smile. 

Alex matched Dylan’s smile. “Let me go get the keys and then we can get the hell out of here.” 

About ten minutes later, they were back on the road. Dylan let out a sigh of relief as they passed the sign announcing they were now leaving White Pine Bay. As much as he was happy to be with his family again, he wasn’t sorry to see the town in his rearview when he moved to Seattle with Emma and her dad. White Pine Bay had given him more than it had taken and for that he was grateful. He knew others who weren’t as lucky.  

“You mind?” he asked Alex, pointing to the radio. 

Alex told to him to go for it, so Dylan switched on the radio and began hunting for a decent station. He recognized one song in particular and left it. “I Fought the Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four came out of the speakers as he upped the volume.  

An uneasy silence filled the car.  

Dylan watched as a vein on the right side of Alex’s neck popped, his jaw tensed and his hands clenched the steering wheel.  

“Too soon?” Dylan asked after a few seconds. He was barely holding himself together. 

“Fuck off,” Alex told him, but there was a grin tugging at his lips. 

At that, Dylan lost it. He broke out into a raucous laughter that was contagious as Alex joined in not long after.  

The rest of the songs were much less contentious. They included Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”; The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”; and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Spinning Wheel.”  

As unwinding and forgetting about the real world were their raisons d’etre for the day, they were off to an excellent start. The activities they had decided on were a mix of wish fulfillment and pure whimsy. The gray clouds were still in place above, but no rain was scheduled until late.  

“So how’d you get your hands on one of these anyway?” Dylan’s curiosity about the Chevelle had gotten the better of him. He had tried to play it cool, but was seriously geeking out over being in such a classic car. 

“It was a gift. Actually, it was the only good thing my old man ever gave me.” 

Dylan felt like an ass for bringing it up. He knew Alex had a strained relationship with his father, but he didn’t know the details. He knew it wasn’t his place to ask. “Shit. Sorry.” He looked out the passenger side window, wishing he had just kept his mouth shut. 

Alex picked up on his embarrassment. “Hey, no. Dylan, it’s fine. My dad’s a piece of shit. It’s no secret. I’m not angry at you for asking.” 

Dylan looked over at him.  

Alex glanced at him before bringing his eyes back to the road. “Seriously. We’re good.” He watched out of the corner of his eye as Dylan relaxed. “It was a wedding present.”  

Alex had previously married the sister of a buddy from his days at Camp Pendleton in California. “The marriage didn’t last and the less said about my old man the better. This car has outlasted every relationship I’ve ever had,” he paused. “Which says more about me than it does the car probably.” 

He took another quick look at Dylan, who had a small grin on his face. “Probably,” Dylan conceded.  

Alex chuckled. “Seriously, though. You can ask me anything; tell me anything. We’ve been through enough that you’ve earned that right.” 

“Same,” Dylan said. “So tell me everything about this baby.” 

 
 

The Chevelle pulled into a space in the lot of a batting cage facility, located about an hour away from White Pine Bay. Dylan had asked Alex what was one thing he wanted to do more than anything and the words “batting cages” popped out of Alex’s mouth. He was surprised since he hadn’t thought of his twelfth birthday in a long time. It was another in a long line of busted birthdays where his old man had promised something and failed. That was the last year he had ever believed another word out of his father’s mouth. 

Once the idea was out there, Alex started to get excited at the prospect of finally realizing this long-held fantasy. Even more so when he heard the enthusiasm in Dylan’s voice. Dylan admitted he had never been before either. They always looked so cool on TV when characters in shows he watched would hang out there. Mostly he remembered Mulder and Scully doing something similar in an episode of The X-Files. Alex was definitely the Scully to his Mulder. He was sure of it. 

They went inside, telling the person at the front desk they had a reservation. Dylan paid for the hour. He saw it as a gift. “Happy birthday,” he told Alex somewhat sarcastically. Once they were in their area and the pitching machine was set to a preferred speed, Dylan insisted Alex go first.  

His first time at bat wasn’t horrible. He connected with the ball, but Dylan cried “Foul!” The second time the ball hit the tip of the bat and nearly hit Dylan, who was standing behind the mesh wall. He got out of the way in time.  

“I’m beginning to think your dad had the right idea after all,” he said with a smirk.  

Alex let out a chuckle. “Yeah, maybe.”  

After that, Alex improved considerably. By the end of his thirty minutes, he was hitting solidly. Dylan had to admit, he may not be able to match him. Alex joked if that was the case, he just blew thirty dollars. “Shit,” Dylan said acting as if the realization had just dawned on him. Alex laughed and told him to get his ass in there. 

Dylan obliged. He really did suck at the beginning. Alex tried coaching him a bit. It helped as Dylan listened to him and followed his instruction. He was never going to make the minors, but by the end he had a half-decent swing and even connected with the ball a few times. 

As they exited the building with a smile, they had to admit a good time was had by all. Alex wouldn’t mind coming back, even if by himself, to take another few cracks at bat. It seemed a good way to blow off some steam. He felt lighter now somehow; more so than when he arrived. The company didn’t hurt either.  

Dylan was already making a mental note to check on batting cages in Seattle. Maybe he and Alex could head out to one the next time he and Norma came for a visit. He had had fun even though he was horrible. Alex was a really good instructor. Dylan might even be tolerable with his help. 

“We should seriously do this again,” Dylan said as they got back into the car. 

“Yeah?” Alex didn’t want to get his hopes up in case Dylan was yanking his chain. 

“Yeah. I mean, I sucked, but I had a good time.” 

Alex gave a small laugh. “So did I. Yeah, absolutely. That’d be great.” 

Dylan nodded his head, smiling like a little kid. 

“Next stop?” Alex asked. 

“Let’s roll.” 

They left the batting cages behind and headed back out on the road. The fun had only just begun. 

 
 

Thirty minutes later they had arrived at the second event of the day. This was Dylan’s choice. Alex had posed the same question to him: what was one thing he had wanted to do more than anything. Dylan had smiled when he heard the question. They were on the phone, so Alex never actually saw his reaction. However, there was no mistaking the glee in his voice when Dylan answered. 

He actually had been go-kart racing once before when he was in high school. A group of his friends had decided it would be a good idea to drive around drunk. Better on a controlled course then on an open road where someone could get hurt or worse, the ringleader had opined. Even though Dylan could see the fault in the logic, he also could see the merit. So he went, but he was the self-appointed designated driver. 

They had had a blast. No one actually was drunk; mostly just buzzed. The heavy drinking came later. Dylan could still smell the nauseating mix of whisky, rye and beer that had permeated the backseat of his car. That and the copious amount of vomit. Norma had pitched a fit; reaming him out for letting his friends get stupid drunk and throw up all over the inside of his car. Then she calmed down and told him how proud she was of him for making sure they had gotten home okay. She wasn’t touching that damn car though.  

“Your friends. Your mess. Make it sparkle.” She went back into the house, returning with a bucket filled with cleaning supplies and rubber gloves. There also was a roll of paper towels under her arm. It took Dylan four hours (including breaks to vomit when the stench got too much, which was more often than he would admit), but he finally got the job done. He stayed away from alcohol of any kind for a month after that. 

Alex paid for each of their three-race packages. It was only fair. When making the reservation online, they had come to the conclusion that a best-of-three competition was the only way to go. Norma and Emma had both questioned their decision until Dylan overheard Alex tell Norma that it was actually cheaper to buy three races than two. Norma didn’t question it again. So Dylan told Emma the same thing. Her reaction was similar.  

What hadn’t occurred to either man was the women allowed it because they wanted them to have the best day possible in light of Alex’s impending incarceration and subsequent house arrest. This was their gift to them.  

Once they had created their racer profiles, they waited for their group to be called. After they had participated in a safety demo, they were led to the track. On the way, they joked about how they would kick each other’s ass during the heat. Dylan was convinced, after all these years, he was finally going to have Alex on the run for a change.  

“That’s big talk coming from someone I’ve pulled over more than once,” Alex said boastfully. 

“Yet you never gave me a ticket. So it’s exactly like it never happened!” Dylan said, happily chipping at his friend’s braggadocio. 

“That’s a kindness you won’t be seeing on the track,” Alex retorted. 

“You keep telling yourself that. Maybe you’ll actually believe it by the time we start.” 

After they were seated and their helmets secured, they waited for the signal. As soon as it came, they were off. The heat was a race to see who would be the first to complete fourteen laps. Alex and Dylan’s natural competitiveness came into play. Both were good drivers, who had acquired skills and reflexes regular drivers never would have.  

It was a tight heat. Each took the lead at various times during the laps, never holding it for too long. To be honest, it had crossed Dylan’s mind to hold back a bit and let Alex win. Then he realized what a douche move that was and openly looked forward to beating him. Besides, it would sour not only the day but their relationship if he took a dive.  

Alex Romero was many things, but a chump was not one of them. Dylan could never disrespect him like that. He was confident Alex would do the same for him if the tables were turned. So Dylan drove like he was Steve McQueen in Bullitt. He imagined Alex’s spirit animal was Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle in The French Connection. Turns out, he wasn’t wrong. 

After they both completed the final lap, they learned the truth. To Alex’s eternal shame (not really), Dylan had bested him by two-hundredths of a second. His buddy hooped and hollered, and partied like it was nineteen-ninety-nine. All the while, Alex hung his head, shaking it morosely.  

Before they left the track, he stuck out his hand to Dylan in the spirit of good sportsmanship. Dylan took it with a grin and brought him in for a short hug. A couple of quick slaps on the back later and they were again in the Chevelle; off to the final activity of the day. 

Well, first they pulled into a convenience store a few miles down the road and grabbed a quick lunch.  

Then it was off to the final activity of the day. 

Chapter Text

Alex was crying. He also was laughing very hard and extremely loud, hence the tears streaming down his face. Dylan was next to him in the front seat of the Chevelle, bent over and laughing just as hard and just as loud. They had arrived at the venue for their third event — the one that will decide the one true champion. 

It was a miniature golf course known as Buccaneer’s Cove.  

The entire course — all eighteen holes — was set aboard a giant pirate’s ship that sat next to a bay. It was actually rather impressive. So, no, that was not what had sent the two men into fits of hysteria. 

That honor went to the large placard in front of the business that read: “Sink a hole-in-one and I’ll give you my booty!” The word “booty” was next to a male pirate with long brown hair lounging suggestively on top of a treasure chest like he was on the cover of a Harlequin romance novel. 

At first, both men were horrified. Then they had burst into torrents of laughter that had lasted now for a good three minutes. Dylan sat up as they both calmed down. Little bursts of giggles sporadically escaping each of them for another minute or so. They sat staring at the sign in amazement for a bit longer. 

Alex ran his right hand over his face. “Wow.” 

Dylan nodded. “We can never tell them about this. Norma would be out here in two hours tearing it down with her bare hands. Hell, I’d help her, but I also know we’d all be in jail within an hour. I mean, how is that family-friendly?” 

Alex chuckled and hid his face in his left hand, his elbow resting on the driver’s side door next to the window. “I can see her screaming at the owner and wrenching the sign down with her bare hands.”  

He was now shaking from trying to keep in the fresh batch of laughter that was bubbling up in his throat. His head was facing the window, still hidden under the hand. 

Dylan glanced over at him with a huge grin. He could see that image of Norma, too. This was what he loved about his mom and Alex as a couple. They just got each other. There were still surprises. After all, they were still getting to know the person they had married, even though they had known each other for a while prior to the ceremony. Still, Dylan knew what they had was special. He knew because he had it with Emma. 

Alex took his face away from his hand, turning his head to glance at his stepson. There was a smile playing on his lips. He shifted his gaze to the looming pirate ship. “Should we go try to get our hands on his booty?” 

“‘Do or do not. There is no try.’” 

Alex shot him a look. “‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.’” 

Dylan didn’t even try to suppress the grin that was breaking out. “Or in this case, a good putter.” 

Alex shrugged. “We’ll see.” 

He got out of the car and Dylan followed suit. They walked over to the hut that doubled as the ticket booth. Each paid for their own round and then grabbed the putters that were placed on the painted wood counter. The girl behind the window recited a short list of rules before allowing them to board the vessel. When she finished, she told them to enjoy their game. 

The men walked up the plank that led to the ship (another one a few feet away was used to exit). There was a family of three ahead of them, so they waited their turn.  

“Why did we choose mini golf again?” Dylan asked. He honestly couldn’t remember. 

“Because it’s awesome,” replied the young girl ahead of them who was waiting for her mother to finish the hole. 

That wasn’t the answer Dylan had expected.  

“You heard the young lady,” Alex said. 

Dylan considered her response for a second before nodding in agreement. “Yeah. Okay.” 

Alex grinned. 

“The monster one in Lincoln City is the best,” the girl told them. “One of the holes, if you get a hole-in-one, a man dressed up in his mom’s clothes pops up with a butcher knife like he’s gonna stab you!” The glee in her voice was unmistakable. 

“Kacey!” scolded the man with her, whom Alex and Dylan assumed was her dad. “Enough with the gore. These gentlemen don’t want to hear it.”  

“It’s not a real guy,” she said to the guys, ignoring her dad. “It’s this dummy prop that is so awesome! We’ve been there five times already and it’s only been open since Halloween. I’m totally going back for my birthday in a few weeks.” 

“Happy birthday!” Alex and Dylan said in near unison. 

Kacey smiled. “Thanks! But seriously, you gotta check it out.” 

“Well if we survive this, we will,” Dylan said. 

Kacey’s dad gave the men an apologetic look. “I’m sorry. She gets really excited about horror movies and mini golf. So, naturally, there’s a course perfectly suited to her.” 

“It’s fine,” Alex assured him. “Her enthusiasm is contagious.” 

Kacey smiled. “See Dad.” 

“You better watch her. She’s a tricky one,” Alex added. 

Kacey’s dad laughed. “Oh, I know.” 

“Done!” Kacey’s mom announced triumphantly. “And only two over par!” 

Before the family moved on to the second hole, Kacey told Alex and Dylan: “My parents love me. That’s the real reason we come here. They can’t play to save their lives. Good thing I’m excellent at it.”  

The men laughed as she jogged to catch up with her parents. 

“That’s your future,” Alex said, nudging Dylan. 

“Shut up,” Dylan replied. Deep down, he knew Alex was right. 

For two people who couldn’t give a damn about golf, they more than held their own. They made par on most of the holes, while occasionally scoring over or under par. As they made their way around the course, they continued chatting with the family, whose last name was Best. Michael and Erin were the parents. Kacey handily won the game, to no one’s surprise. However, Erin narrowly beat Michael in what she considered to be her first mini golf victory. The foursome cheered as she took a bow.  

Nobody got the hole-in-one at the end of the course, which automatically took the ball regardless. 

Kacey said it was just as well. “I don’t want to know what’s in that chest.” 

“And we’re outta here!” said Erin, steering her daughter toward the plank that led back to the parking lot. 

What?!” Kacey exclaimed. 

The three men laughed. They said their goodbyes as Alex and Dylan let the Bests off the ship first.  

Once they were back on dry land, they assessed their options. It was a little soon for dinner, so Alex suggested they walk the pier that went behind the mini golf and stretched a half-mile in either direction. There was a light breeze that went by now and then. The walk felt good. Comfortable silences were something they both enjoyed, so nothing was said as they set down the pier. 

When they reached one end, they turned around and headed back the way they came. Once they got to the opposite end, Alex stopped and looked out at the bay. Dylan leaned against the rail next to him. 

“Say it,” Alex said. 

Dylan glanced at him out of the corner of his left eye. 

“Whatever it is you want to say, say it.” Alex told him. 

“This sucks,” Dylan said, his gaze switching back to the bay. “I know it could be way worse. I get that. Doesn’t make it suck less.” 

“No, it doesn’t.” 

They stood there, staring out at the bay, for a long while. Eventually, the chill in the air got to them. Zipping up their jackets with their hands in their pockets, they walked back to the car. 

Dinner now sounded quite appetizing. 

 
 

Dave’s Roadhouse was a dive bar just off the interstate that happened to serve an excellent steakburger. Alex hadn’t been there in years, but wasn’t surprised to find the place still standing and with a nearly full parking lot. The place had a solid reputation and little trouble from the authorities.  

Dave Monroe was an ex-Marine, who believed what happened in the bar, stayed in the bar. If someone needed medical attention though, he would be the first to dial 9-1-1. No one had ever died at Dave’s Roadhouse. Only two people were arrested in eighteen years of business, but that was out in the parking lot. In fact, it was Dave who had had them arrested. As far as he was concerned, if you were stupid enough to fight outside, you were stupid enough to spend the night in jail. 

Alex and Dylan were looking over the two-page menu. It wasn’t a question of what they should order. The question was what type of steakburger did they want? When the waitress arrived, they picked out their choices and asked for two more bottles of beer.  

The ambience was boisterous, but not yet approaching rowdy. The patrons were immersed in their own conversations as the music played over the speakers. Mostly 1960s and 1970s classic rock from the States, as well as the U.K. Dave hated country music with a passion. However, he did allow one band to play once a week since they classified themselves as countrified rock. Dave didn’t know what the hell that meant, but their sound didn’t make him want to hang himself, so he hired them. Naturally, the Roadhouse crowd loved them. 

“Are we gonna stick around for The Lowdown Bastards?” Dylan asked a few minutes later when he came back from the restroom. “Apparently, they are the shit. That’s a direct quote from the guy in the next urinal, by the way.” 

Alex chuckled. “Well, that is quite the testimonial. We can stick around if you want.” He pulled from his bottle, draining it just as the waitress returned with two more. She took their empty ones and he thanked her.  

After she left, Dylan leaned in. “She just winked at you.” 

A smile tugged at Alex’s lips. “I know.” 

Dylan grinned. “Okay then.” The grin faltered. “Are we cool?” 

Alex’s brow furrowed. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t we be?” 

“I kinda stepped in it back on the pier.” Dylan ducked his head, bringing his hand up to scratch the back of his neck. 

“No you didn’t.” Alex paused. “It’s actually nice that you care.” 

Dylan stopped scratching and sat up in his chair. He was surprised that Alex would think no one would care him about him.  

Alex wasn’t finished talking. “I’ve been friends with guys I’ve known for years, but for the most part they’re all pieces of shit. We’d hang out, but at the end of the day, we took care of ourselves. Until your mom and you and Emma, I haven’t had a family since the day my mother died. So don’t apologize for caring. Just because I’m not used it, doesn’t mean I don’t recognize it when I see it.” 

Dylan picked up his beer. “To family and actually giving a damn.” 

Alex tipped his bottle next to Dylan’s; the clink of the glass connecting barely audible among the low din. “Cheers.” 

Their burgers arrived a short while later. They talked while they ate. Alex asked what else Dylan and Emma would be up to over the next day or so. They had plans to see Dylan’s friend Remo Wallace, who he knew from his days in the drug trade. Dylan officially had been Remo’s boss when they met, but they eventually eschewed the hierarchy and became partners. They had each other’s back no matter what. Remo was still working in the marijuana business, but strictly medicinal. He also had a special lady he wanted Dylan to meet. 

The day after, Dylan and Emma were heading back to Seattle. The only stopover on the way out of town was to Pineview to see Norman one last time. Alex nodded, but said little on this topic. Norman was a sensitive subject, but one Alex never avoided. There wasn’t a lot to say. He truly hoped Norman took to the therapy and became healthier — for his family’s sake. He had made his peace with what had happened in the house that fateful night. However, if he was truly going to move forward, he had to make the effort to approach the elephant in the room. 

“Norman was happy to see you and Emma yesterday?” he asked once the waitress had cleared the empty plates from the table. 

Dylan felt a bloom of happiness in his chest. A small smile escaped his lips. “Yeah,” he cleared his throat as the word came somewhat ragged. “Yeah. We walked the grounds for a bit, played some croquet. He and I had a few minutes together. So did he and Emma. It was nice. He was like the Norman I remember.” 

Alex smiled. “That’s good. I’m glad you guys had a nice time. It seems like he’s showing progress.” 

There was more to their visit, but now wasn't the time. A nod of the head, followed by look of concern. “You and Norma still haven’t been to see him?” 

“No.” Alex shook his head. “I ask. I offer to go with her. I tell her she can go alone if she wants; that she should go.” He took a pull of the fresh bottle of beer the waitress had delivered before she cleared the table. “Just when I think she’s going to relent, the wall goes back up.” He shrugs. “I can’t force her.” 

“No, you can’t.” Dylan took a swig from his own bottle. “How are you doing with all this?” 

Alex leaned back in his chair and sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve accepted it, you know. Both my sentence and Norman. They’re part of my life now.” 

“Answer the question, Alex.” 

His face showed no emotion, but there was a gentleness in his eyes. “I’m treating everything like it’s the last time. A man condemned. Norma sees it, knows it. She indulges me. I see her following my lead. It’s two fucking years.” He lets an angry bark of a laugh. “I’ll survive it. I need to. I’ve been attempting to prepare myself, but I wonder if God won’t get the last laugh.” Alex takes a look around the bar before bringing his eyes back around to Dylan. “Long story short, I’m doing the best I can.” 

“You won’t last two weeks, let alone two years, ex-Sheriff Romero. 

“What’s it to you?” Dylan abruptly asked the stranger, who had crashed their party. 

“Dylan,” Alex said his friend’s name as a means to warn him off. Stand down. He’s not worth it. 

“This sack of shit got my brother sent to the state pen for life and the kid did nothing wrong.” The man with light brown hair and broad shoulders crouched down next to Alex. “You should have gotten the five years, you lying, pretentious prick. You may have fooled everyone else till now, but you never fooled me.” 

Alex didn’t look at the man. He kept his steady gaze on Dylan. “You’ve said your peace, Scott. Now go back to your table.” 

Scott cast a side glance at Dylan. “Oh, am I ruining your last supper with your boyfriend? Well, damn, Romero. I did not see this coming. You using that smoking hot woman as your beard? Maybe she’ll Lorena Bobbitt your ass before you go in. Make it easier on you.” A dark laugh erupted from deep within his throat. 

Dylan bristled. He was now itching for a fight. The only thing holding him back was Alex. This was his fight, not Dylan’s. He saw Alex’s left eye twitch, but Scott didn’t. “You heard the man. Leave.” 

“I'm not going anywhere, you little twink. Unlike our guy here. Maybe I should give you an idea of what you can expect in prison — in the open at least.” 

“Maybe you should,” Dylan replied, a twisted little grin on his lips. 

Alex narrowed his eyes as he continued to look at Dylan. The right side of his mouth quirked.  

“Would you like that, Sheriff? Your boyfriend seems to be getting off on the idea. Got a bit of a kink, your boy.” Scott stood up. “Come on. Stand up. Take your ass kicking like a man.” 

There was no movement on Alex’s part other than to lift the beer bottle to his mouth and take a long swig. When he put it back down, it landed with a hollow sound. It was empty. 

Dylan followed suit, draining the last of his bottle. His eyes met Alex’s. After you. 

A scrape of the chair as it was pushed back was equal to the bell that rings at the start of a round in boxing for Scott. He took a swing, but Alex easily ducked it and returned one of his own which landed square on his opponent’s jaw. Alex then took him by the scruff of the neck and slammed his head into the table. Scott dropped like a rock. 

That wasn’t the end of it. 

Two of Scott’s friends came over. They were beefier than Scott and not easily outmaneuvered. The bigger of the pair went to Alex, while his slightly-smaller-but-not-enough-to-make-a-difference mate headed for Dylan. At first, it looked like Scott’s buddies were going to clean the floor with the duo from White Pine Bay.  

Then it got dirty. 

Alex licked a spot of blood from his bottom lip as he got up off the floor. He regretted not ducking in that split second before he took the hit. His breathing already somewhat labored, he eyed up his current opponent and quickly sucker punched him. Taking advantage of the other man’s temporary inability to react, he landed another blow in his crotch before delivering a final hit to his back with the chair Alex had been sitting in a couple minutes ago. 

Meanwhile, Dylan also was on the floor. He wasn’t as quick to get up as Alex, which was not good news for him. His foe was on top of him punching him repeatedly until Dylan spotted a fork laying nearby. He reached for it despite the beating he was receiving, finally able to get his fingers on it just enough to pull it in so he could grab it. When he had it in his hand proper, he plunged into the combatant’s hand just before the next impact. 

The other man screamed and Dylan got the upper hand. He punched him in the head twice before he was able to get out from under him. Once he was up, he snatched his empty beer bottle and smashed it over his head. For good measure, he grabbed Alex’s, too, and repeated the move. He ended the round with his knee connecting with the guy’s face, sending him sprawling into a nearby table and upending it as he hit the floor. 

Two other men of more or less the same muscularity stood up from Scott’s table. However, the sound of a pump-action shotgun being fired into the ceiling made them sit back down. Dylan and Alex — as well as everyone in the place — turned their attention to the man behind the bar holding the shotgun. 

“Enough. You two pick up your trash and take it out,” he told the duo from Scott’s table. “You are all officially banned. I don’t need your business and I sure as shit don’t want it.” 

Nobody moved. 

Go.” The way the single word was delivered, in a low timbre an octave below what could be described as natural, made the two younger men scamper over to their fallen comrades.  

If a man couldn’t walk on his own two feet, they helped him up and out. Scott was up and slowly shuffling toward the door. Sucker Punch and Bottle to the Head needed assistance. A minute or two later, the five of them had exited the building. 

The chatter that previously had come to screeching halt, resumed without missing a beat. Alex and Dylan looked at each other, then at the mess they helped make. They headed over to the bar to begin making amends with the bartender/owner. 

Dave saw them approach and put out three shot glasses, filling two of them just below the rim with whiskey. He slid them over and then poured one for himself. He raised his; they did the same. “Cheers,” he said. “And good riddance.” 

Dylan and Alex glanced at each other and drained their shot glasses as Dave did the same. When the three of them firmly put them back on the counter, three more shots were poured out. They clinked glasses and knocked back the liquor. They apologized to Dave for the mess and asked how they could make it right. 

Dave waved his hand. “The boys are already taking care of it,” he said, jutting his chin to indicate the work going on behind them. 

Alex and Dylan turned to see two men putting the tables upright and cleaning up the broken chair, glass and other debris from the rumble. Alex asked if there was anything they can do; perhaps pay for any damages. 

Dave shook his head. “We’re good, Alex. Don’t worry about it. To be honest, I’ve wanting to ban Scott Henshaw for years, but I never had a legitimate reason till tonight. I’m sorry you two had to take a bit of a beating for it to happen, but damn if it wasn’t pure entertainment see them get their asses handed to them.” 

A slight heat creeped into Alex's and Dylan’s cheeks.  

Dave burst out laughing. “Your money’s no good here. Not tonight and not in two years, when I want to see you back here with that wife of yours. I want to meet the woman who was strong enough to get you to put a ring on your finger again.” 

Alex smiled. “Deal.” He stuck out a hand and Dave shook it with a firm grip. “And thanks.” 

Dylan also held out his hand while saying thank you and Dave repeated the gesture. 

“This is my friend, Dylan Massett,” Alex said by way of introduction. “He’s my wife Norma’s oldest.” 

“Pleasure to meet you, Dylan.” 

“Likewise.” 

“One more for the road?” Dave asked. 

Alex hesitated, but Dylan put up two fingers. “Your best domestic beer.” 

“Coming right up,” Dave said. When he returned, he also delivered a first aid kit. 

Dylan cleaned up Alex first. He had a cut on the side of his head as it had caught the edge of the table when his guy threw a punch, the force of which had taken Alex by surprise. Then there was the split lip. A couple bandages, some hydrogen peroxide and a dab or two of antibiotic cream and he was good as new. 

“Thanks,” Alex said sincerely. 

“What are friends for if not to patch you up after you both get into a brawl with a homophobic prick and his buddies?” Dylan replied with a smile. 

Alex chuckled. “Good point. Here,” he pulled the kit over to him. “Time for me to return the favor.” 

Dylan had some bruising that was already beginning to show and a few cuts and scrapes of his own. Once Alex had completed a similar patch on him, they enjoyed their last beer of the night.  

“I just want to say that if I was into guys, you would be exactly my type,” Dylan told him. 

“Eh. You’re a little too pretty for me.” 

“Seriously?!” 

Alex choked on his beer. He coughed for a few seconds, but could hear Dylan laughing when his friend realized he wasn’t in any danger. “You’re petty, too.” 

“Oh fuck you. You’re no better and you know it.” 

Now it was Alex’s turn to laugh. There was truth in Dylan’s teasing, but there also was love. They finished their beers, thanking Dave once more as they said goodnight. 

“I’ll drive,” Dylan said while they walked back to the Chevelle. 

“Well at least you’re not waiting until I’m in prison or under house arrest to take her for a joy ride.” Alex tossed him the keys. 

Dylan caught them with his right hand. “Christ! Just for that, I’m taking her with me to Seattle. Emma can drive the truck back or we’ll just leave it here.” 

“Like hell.” 

They laughed as they got into the car. Once they were on the road and headed back to White Pine Bay, Dylan turned on the radio. The station they had been listening to earlier had just started Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Alex turned up the volume as they drove home; the only illumination from the pitch-black world outside the car were the white beams of their headlights and those of the occasional passing vehicle. 

Chapter Text

“Did you tell Alex what we were up to today?” 

Emma glanced at Norma as she asked casually from the passenger seat of the vintage Mercedes. She had kept their plans vague when Dylan had asked her on the drive down from Seattle. Part of Emma simply didn’t want to jinx their day together; she and Norma rarely spend time where it’s just the two of them. The other part didn’t want Dylan to try and take one activity in particular away. Not that he would be opposed to it; quite the contrary. She knew he would want to step in and make it something for the two of them.  

However, Emma didn’t want this to be a part of their relationship. This was something she wanted for herself. Living in White Pine Bay had made her aware of the darker side of life. It was easy enough to ignore the drug business as it didn’t directly affect her. Her dad had had no part in it. It wasn’t how the bills had gotten paid. Then Dylan came into her life and ex-boyfriend Gunnar before him. Both had had a foot in the marijuana trade as Gunnar had worked with the crops and sold it, while Dylan…. Well, Dylan had jumped in with both feet.  

Now they were residing in a big city, Emma felt she should add to her skillset. Dylan wasn’t always going to be around and she wanted peace of mind when wandering around the various neighborhoods. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel safe in Seattle. She did and loved her new hometown with all of her heart. However, White Pine Bay had opened her eyes to unseen dangers. She looked at her surroundings now with just a pinch of cynicism. 

“I did,” Norma admitted. “We’re using his gun. It felt weird not to mention it.” 

Emma smiled. She really loved Norma and Alex’s relationship. It made her happy whenever she thought of them and how they managed to find their way to each other after everything that had happened. That they were stronger than ever after Norman…. Emma quickly blinked away the tears that started to form. Not today. “I’ll tell Dylan tonight. I just hope he won’t be too disappointed.” 

“Why the hell should be?” Norma looked over at her friend before casting her eyes back to the road. “He taught me. I’m just paying it forward. Maybe one day, you’ll teach someone.” 

“Yeah!” Emma laughed. “We’re doing the world a service. Forearmed is forewarned.” 

Norma giggled. “Exactly! 

A few minutes later she pulled off the road and drove down a dirt stretch that opened into a field. After the car was parked, the women got out and started to unpack the trunk. Norma had packed two grocery bags worth of cans and bottles. She had wondered if it was a bit much, but then figured better too much than not enough. Besides, she would probably have to fire a few rounds to give Emma an idea of what she should be doing. 

Soon, the makeshift range was set up by placing the various objects on the wood fencing that surrounded part of the field. Admiring their handiwork for a second, Norma then remembered she had to go fetch the gun out of her purse. She also had a spare box of bullets. When she came back, she handed the gun to Emma, who went a bit pale once she felt the weight of the firearm in her hand. 

“I didn’t realize how … real this would feel.” 

“We don’t have to do this. You wanna leave, just say the word.” Norma was beginning to second-guess herself. The last thing she wanted was for Emma to feel pressured into going through with the training or whatever this was called. 

“NO!” Emma surprised herself with the passion of her response. She grinned. “Sorry.” A prepossessed look washed over her features. “I want to do this.” 

Norma considered her for a moment. She narrowed her eyes as she scrutinized Emma. “Okay. Do you know what to do?” 

“Make sure the safety is off and pull the trigger?” Emma wasn't entirely certain on the correct answer. 

Shoulders sagging as if Emma’s response had somehow deflated her, Norma responded: “Well, yeah. But there’s more to it than that.” 

Norma showed her what Dylan had taught her and also what she had picked up from Alex, who gave her a few additional pointers upon learning what she and Emma would be up to today. (He also promised to keep his mouth shut while with Dylan.) She fired off a few shots to give Emma a visual. 

“Remind me not to piss you off,” Emma told her, only partially joking. 

“You could never piss me off,” Norma replied with a slight grin. “Your fiancé on the other hand….” 

Emma chuckled. “Can I try?” 

Norma handed her the weapon. Emma carefully took it in hand, making sure to point the barrel at the targets. Norma stood behind her, putting her hands on Emma’s shoulders. Emma felt her nerves ease and heart rate slow. She was happy she had asked Norma to give her some basic instruction. Norma understood Emma was scared. That was a good thing as far as Norma was concerned. A gun demanded respect. Emma was very respectful. 

“Are you ready?” Norma asked. 

She nodded. “Ready.” 

Norma stepped away. Emma lined up her target through the rear and front sights. She focused on her breathing, then pulled the trigger. The bullet hit one of the beer bottles sitting on the fence. They both let out a cheer. 

“Ohimigod!” Emma exclaimed. 

“You’re a natural!” Norma told her. “You take after me.” 

“Oh yeah?” 

“You bet. I hit one of those on only my second try.” Norma boasted. 

Emma raised a hand. “Nice job!” 

Norma completed the high five. “You, too!” She eyed the range. “Wanna go again?” 

“Hell yeah!” Emma took out five bottles and cans in seven shots. She looked over at Norma, a grin quirking at the corner of her lips. “You wanna go again?” 

There was a moment’s hesitation as Norma considered letting Emma continue to practice. After all, that’s what they were there for, right? However, she couldn’t let the opportunity go. It’s not like she fired a gun for living. This was a rare occurrence. Okay, sure, she and Alex had been out there the other day, when he was giving her a refresher course. But they had gotten distracted after a while and a different load had been shot off. She smiled at the thought. Seeing an amused Emma in the corner of her eye brought Norma out of her memories and back to the present. 

“Hand it over,” she said. 

Emma placed it in her palm, the handle pointing at Norma. The blonde assumed the position and hit every target she chose in succession. 

“Damn, woman,” Emma said. “You got skills.” 

“I had good teachers,” Norma replied beaming. 

“So did I.” 

Norma looked over to see Emma gazing back at her with a look of pure adoration on her face. She thought her own heart was going to burst. Even after years of knowing Emma and watching her grow into this amazing woman, Norma still was never prepared for how much Emma loved her. She took her into arms, the daughter she always wanted. It was in this moment Norma realized Emma was her child — if not by blood, then definitely in spirit.  

They clung to each other for a few minutes. 

Emma had been missing Norma more than she had known. This woman who was more of a mother to her than her own had ever been. She didn’t like to speak ill of someone who wasn’t around to defend herself, but that was Audrey’s fault. The MIA Ms. Ellis had bailed on her family long ago and only recently had turned up when Emma was in the hospital for her lung transplant. Will had kicked her out then and she never came back. Dylan later had delivered a letter to Emma that had been written by Audrey when she very briefly stayed at the Bates Motel. That was the last she had heard from the woman who gave birth to her. 

When they released each other, both Emma and Norma had tears in their eyes. They giggled at the juxtaposition of them crying while firing a gun. 

“Let’s get out of here,” Emma said. “I’m ready for the next adventure.” 

 
 

The next adventure took the women to Portland, where they were going to spend the afternoon. The Portland Art Museum was next on the itinerary. Emma never had the opportunity to visit before. She had been disappointed to leave the city after she got out of the hospital following her lung transplant, but there hadn’t been any time for sightseeing. The move had been decided on fairly quickly and happened just as fast. Now she was finally going to see inside its walls and she couldn’t be more excited.  

Norma wasn’t keen on museums, but she was curious. Emma had been so excited when she suggested it after Norma had asked if there was anything she wanted to do. After agreeing to the idea, Norma looked up the museum’s website and was impressed with their collection. She didn’t know anything about art, but she liked what she saw via the photos online. Emma had assured her she was no expert, either. She was just someone who appreciated creativity. 

The drive wasn’t so bad. Portland was roughly two hours away from White Pine Bay, but they spent the time talking, listening and singing along to the radio or just in quiet contemplation. It was the best time Norma had had during a long car ride in some time. When she had visited Emma in the hospital on the day of last year’s Lights of Winter festival in White Pine Bay, the drive had been fine; quiet — and if she was honest, a bit lonely — but fine nonetheless. Norma loved spending time with Emma. She never got the chance to do so as much as she would have liked while living in town. Weirdly, now that she was in another state, they were closer than ever. 

Norma parked the car upon their arrival and they headed into the museum. They naturally paid for their tickets online — Norma’s treat. Opting to skip the tour so they could make their own schedule, the women headed to the first exhibit on Emma’s agenda: a collection of Oregon photographs by a renowned photographer. 

As Emma got lost in the works on display, Norma walked on. She paused to consider each one. The stills were absolutely stunning; each documenting a bygone era that also seemed shockingly relevant. Norma had no idea art could be so gripping, so tactile. The stained glass window that was her favorite feature of her home was the closest she had ever come to being humbled by a work of art. Until now.  

There was one in particular that captured her imagination. It was a silver gelatin print from the early 1940s of a field with a wood-and-barbed-wire fence in the foreground beneath an open sky with white puffy clouds above and hills in the distance. In the middle was a line of trees. Maybe that’s where the creek is, Norma thought after noticing the title referenced the name of a body of water she couldn’t see. It was like finding Waldo. Why wasn’t the creek easily found in the damn photo? What was the point of calling it the name of the creek if the creek was nowhere to be found? 

Emma found two she absolutely adored. Even after she had viewed the entire exhibit, she came back to soak in their aesthetic. The first was a silver gelatin print, a detail shot of an old refinery from the late 1930s. There was a Gothic look to it that really spoke to her: the cracked, worn concrete next to the art deco frame that even then looked as if it had seen better days. The second was another silver gelatin print, this time taken from inside a diner as the photographer looked out from the counter onto the sidewalk and street beyond. It was a beautiful shot, equally comfortable and isolating.  

Next they moved to the Northwest Art collection. Emma’s face lit up when they came upon the “Excalibur” knife with its steel blade and cast aluminum handle. “I’m such a King Arthur junkie,” she said, somewhat embarrassed. “I love the stories. I can sing the entire cast album to Camelot. Hell, even the Clive Owen movie sets my heart aflutter.” The corner of her mouth quirked at the last statement. 

Norma leaned in conspiratorially. “I used to play ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’ so often on the piano I didn’t need the sheet music. I knew that song forwards and backwards, words and all. Still do.” 

Emma’s eyes grew so large, Norma thought they would pop out of her head. “Please play it for me sometime? I will literally beg you. 

A laugh escaped from Norma, who immediately stifled it as not to draw any unwanted attention from the docents or security guards. “Of course I will, sweetie,” she said with a sincere smile. She would play the entire score if Emma had asked. 

They continued wandering the Northwest Art collection. Norma stopped dead in her tracks when a watercolor caught her eye. It featured a woman on a pedestal with two beings on her back and legs, the evening star behind her and what appeared to be an owl sitting in her right hand. “Now that is a mood,” Norma quipped. However, she was captivated. She felt her breath hitch as she viewed the painting.  

Emma put a hand on the small of Norma’s back. She was fascinated by her friend’s reaction. Her eyes moved from Norma’s face to the painting and back. “What is it, Norma?” she asked softly. 

There were tears brimming in Norma’s blue eyes. She tried to blink them away to no avail. A deep breath was taken, followed by an exhale. “This is how I feel most of the time,” she said quietly. “Wife. Mother. Lover. Friend. As women, we take on all this responsibility, all these titles. For what? To what end? We never fulfill our destinies. There’s never enough time to do everything, to get it all done. There’s always someone on our back, pushing us to do more; get more done. It’s exhausting. Yet we do it, day in and day out. 

“Sometimes … sometimes we get lucky though. We find someone who will help us carry the burden; help us get shit done.” She sighed as tears silently fell down her cheeks. “We end up with a family that has our backs as much as we have theirs.” 

The feel of Emma’s hand rubbing circles on her back made Norma smile despite the waterworks, which she wiped away. Emma pulled her into a hug and Norma gratefully accepted it. They held each other as the other visitors passed them; some giving them a curious glance while most went about their business. This was about more than a beautiful piece of art, Emma knew. This was about someone much more precious. 

“It’s not forever,” she said sotto voce so only Norma would hear. “It’s just for a couple years. He’s smart and strong. He’ll be back home in one piece before you know it. Then he’ll drive you nuts because he can’t leave the house for another six months.” 

Norma chuckled and buried her face in Emma’s neck. She held the woman she thought of as a daughter tighter for a few moments before releasing her. “You can’t take me anywhere,” she said jokingly. 

Emma smiled at her lovingly, then took her hand in her own. “Come on. I think I know where the bathroom is. Let’s get you cleaned up.” 

 
 

A short while later, Emma and Norma were in the cafeteria. They picked out what they wanted for lunch and were in the queue waiting to pay. When it was their turn, Norma paid in full for them both. She was ahead of Emma, who protested vehemently. In truth, she had planned to treat Norma to something today and thought lunch would be a good idea. However, Emma knew when she had lost. She was grateful to Norma for taking care of their meal. When she thanked her, Norma waved it off. 

“I will always take care of you, Emma.” 

Once they were seated at a table, Norma started eating. After she had taken the first bite of ham and Swiss on rye bread, she noticed Emma was staring at her food. “Is everything okay?” she asked after swallowing. 

Emma looked up at her. “You know you’re like a mom to me, right? That isn’t a secret. I’ve said it before.” 

Norma put down her sandwich, nodding silently. 

“But you’re more than that. You’re my best friend.” 

“I am?” This took Norma by surprise. Outside of the obvious, she hadn’t really thought about labeling their relationship. She never had been anyone’s best friend before. Well, okay, fine, there was Norman. Look how well that had turned out. Norma pushed the thought of her troubled youngest child out of her head. Today was about Emma, and Emma had just declared Norma to be someone very important in her life. 

“Of course you are!” Emma’s eyes were wide. “I adore Dylan. He’s the love of my life. But you, you are my best friend. You are so many things to me. I’ve even started thinking of you like a big sister.” She smiled shyly. “I’m just trying to say I love you and appreciate you and everything you do for me.” 

Norma sat back in her chair. She was at a loss for words. Her head turned to the right as she glanced at the wall of windows while she tried to collect herself. Few people had ever shown her such unfiltered love. Again there was Norman, but even she had to admit it was tainted. The same with her brother Caleb. She and Dylan were so much alike it both made her proud and scared. There was true love there underneath the debris from her complicated, incestuous relationship with Caleb. That left two people who loved her with no strings attached: the amazing young woman sitting across from her and her beloved Alex. 

Her eyes shining, Norma looked back at Emma. She moved their trays aside, looked her straight in her dark brown eyes and, leaning over the table, took Emma’s hands in her own. “I am so proud of you. You are have kicked so much ass in your short life and never once did you question it. When your lungs were bad, you didn’t sit around whining. You went out and took life by the balls. Thank God you didn’t listen to anyone who told you what you should be doing — myself included.  

“You are amazing. I am lucky to know you and have you care for me as much as you do. You are more important to me than you realize. I love you. Know that. Best friend, sister, daughter. You are everything and so much more.” 

Now it was Emma’s turn to cry. The tears sprang up before she knew what was happening. She never expected such a wonderful, amazing speech from Norma, but knew every word was from the deepest reaches of her heart. What she wanted to do more than anything was hug the crap of her, but settled for squeezing her hands tight while not breaking eye contact. 

Norma smiled. So did Emma. 

A moment later, they released their hands. Their trays were pulled back in front of them and they resumed eating their lunch. Afterward, outside the cafeteria, they hugged the crap out of each other. Then they toured the pre-Columbian and Native American art collections the museum offered. 

Chapter Text

A few hours later, the women finished their visit to the museum. Once back inside the vintage olive green Mercedes, both agreed they were ready for some shopping. They headed downtown and found a parking spot after a bit of detective work. Saturdays in Portland, as in most places, was not exactly low energy. People of all ages were out enjoying the day, happy to be free from work, school or whatever. 

Norma and Emma walked around the downtown. They popped into any store that caught their attention. The fifth (or maybe it was the sixth?) shop they entered was a vintage clothing store. It wasn't really Emma’s style, but she knew it was a done deal when she saw Norma’s face light up as the blonde eyed the fashion in the store window. Norma demurred at first, insisting they didn't have to go inside. Emma almost literally dragged her through the door. 

Once they were in, Emma saw nothing but unlimited potential for Norma’s wardrobe. It was almost as if the shop was made especially for her. Emma checked the price tag on a particularly cute skirt. She was impressed. It wasn't nearly as overpriced as she had feared. After asking Norma for her size, Emma thrust the skirt in her direction. “I think this would look so cute on you.” 

Norma considered it. That is to say, she seriously considered it. She held it out in front of herself, tilting her head this way and that. Her face was scrunched up and her eyes narrowed. Those blue eyes darted between the skirt and Emma for a very long minute. Suddenly, her face transformed into the most joyful expression. “Of course, I'm gonna try it on!” 

Emma laughed. However, what Norma said next took her completely by surprise. 

“What else should I try on?” 

A wild, disbelieving grin played on Emma's lips. “Are you serious? You want me to dress you like I used to do with my Barbie?” 

“Yeah. Why not? You got a better idea?” 

Emma shook her head. She started to giggle. This was awesome. It was possible she was starting to feel lightheaded. No, this was giddiness. She, Emma Decody, was actually feeling giddy. I don't know if I've ever been giddy before. This is unreal. This is weird. Ohmigod I am so happy right now! 

Norma watched her with a mix of amusement and concern. “Emma, you're scaring me.” 

At this, the younger woman laughed. “Sorry. No. I'm good. I just — I'm flattered and … shocked that you would even want my opinion. I mean, I always wanted to go shopping with a girlfriend, but, you know, I never had any.” Her enthusiasm waned considerably at the end. She quickly rebounded. “But now I do! I have you. So … let me look around and see what they have.” 

Emma took off with a smile before Norma had a chance to change her mind. Not that that was ever going to happen. Norma, too, had never had any girlfriends in her life to confide in or with whom to go shopping.  

There was Christine Heldens, whom she had befriended after auditioning for the town’s community theater production of South Pacific. That didn't last long. Shocker. After admittedly stringing him along, Norma had lashed out at Christine’s sweet, but bland, brother George; dumping all the resentment that been building within her toward the White Pine Bay bourgeoisie. He broke off their floundering, nascent relationship right there in the parking lot of the motel. As soon as Christine had heard what Norma had said, she tore into her out in the middle of the grocery store. And that was that. 

For most of her life, Norma had kept to herself. Her home life growing up hadn’t been The Brady Bunch. She had been locked into a sexual relationship with her brother, Caleb. Her parents hadn’t been exactly helpful in any way, shape or form. The complicated feelings she associated with her family, she had kept locked away. Alex, Emma and the boys were aware of her history. As with most secrets, the skeletons in Norma Louise Calhoun’s closet came flying out when Caleb had shown up in town.  

She had talked with Norman to an extent and Dylan more so about what had happened back then. Making amends with Caleb hadn’t been easy. His arrival had picked at a scab that hadn’t quite healed. Now it was actually getting better. They talked on occasion. The conversation doesn’t flow, but the effort is appreciated.  

Norma’s true confidant regarding all of this was Alex. Once she had revealed the truth to him, it had been easier to talk about it with him. At first, he kept quiet and just listened, which she had appreciated. After a while, the silence had been hard for her to bear. She encouraged him to speak up. He became her sounding board, and offered advice and opinions when appropriate. In truth, the dialogue brought them closer together. 

“So here’s what I found so far.” Emma returned with an armful of dresses, skirts and blouses. She was a bit flushed. “They have a surprisingly extensive collection. I mean, it’s one thing to walk and think, Wow. They have a lot. But they really do. Is it too much? Here, let me put a few things back.” 

“Emma!” Norma snatched the clothes from her with a huge smile. “How about you let decide from here?” 

The younger woman blushed even as she grinned. “Sorry. I got a little overzealous with my assignment.” 

Looking through the items Emma selected, the blond looked at her in astonishment. “Are you kidding?! You did great! I’m gonna go try them on.” 

Norma was heading toward the fitting rooms when a voice called out: “You can’t take all that in there.” She stopped and turned, eyes in slits.  

A young Asian woman, who clearly was an employee as she stepped from behind the register, observed Norma with dead eyes and spoke with a bored tone. Once she got a good look at the woman trying to smuggle in more items of clothing than was allowed by store policy, she froze. “Oh God. It’s you.” 

Norma took offense. What the hell was she talking about? It’s you. Who else would it be? She glared at the clerk as she tried to place her. Then it hit her. Her dark night of the soul when she had fled town and came to Portland after learning Dylan had been hanging out with her brother — his father — up at the farm Dylan had bought. She had stopped in at different store and bought a new outfit. This infant swaddled in clothing she considered vintage, but was actually from the ‘90s had told her the same thing then as she was now. 

“That’s right, it’s me. Guess what? I’m taking all of this” — she held the clothes draped over her arm and waved them in the woman’s face — “in there with me. I doubt you can afford to lose a sale.” Norma spun around on her heel and stalked over to the fitting rooms. When she found an empty one she entered, yanking the curtain closed behind her without giving the clerk another look. 

Emma watched the scene unfold in awe. She wanted to be that cool when she grew up. Backbone she had, but Norma was on a whole other level. To be that confident and not give a crap what someone thought was a life goal. Emma often wondered if she would be a different person if she had ever had a group of friends.  

Okay, sure, she had been friendly with a few girls while in school, but none she had ever considered real friends. With her ever-present oxygen tank, most people had just assumed she was too weak to have a social life. Truth be told, there had been a period where she would have happily sold her soul to be a normal girl with actual friends and maybe even a boyfriend. Luckily, it was just a phase. Emma began to think maybe there was a reason she had the life she did. She was forever grateful to have a dad as amazing as Will. Then the Bates’ moved to town and her life felt as if it had finally begun. 

Not only did she have a true friend in Norman, but Norma had hired her to work the front desk part-time. Emma became invested in those two and, by extension, Dylan. She was an honorary member of the Bates family, for better or for worse, and she was thrilled. Actually, it was in watching them — and even Alex when he had stayed at the motel for a few months — that she had added more steel to her personality. She was still the same Emma, but a bit tougher. This was beneficial when she had undergone her lung transplant and began the subsequent therapy.  

Without realizing it, Emma found herself perusing the dresses in her size. She was so lost in her own head; she wasn’t entirely paying attention to what she was doing. There were a couple that caught her eye, but when she pulled out one of the dresses and held it out in front of her to get a better look, something else pulled her focus. She put back the dress and started looking at the rompers.  

When Norma found her a few minutes later, Emma had two items in her hand: a ruffled, off-the-shoulder, medium-wash denim playsuit and a black strapless jumpsuit with flared pants, wide belt and white piping around the top and belt. There was a playful smile on Norma’s lips when she saw what Emma had found. “Go try them on.” 

Emma practically ran to the fitting rooms. She caught her reflection in the mirror inside the space. A huge grin broke out as she took in her reflection from every available angle, first in the playsuit and next in the jumpsuit. She looked good. Even better, she knew it. She wanted to show Norma. Tearing back the curtain, she gave a small jump when she saw Norma was standing just outside the little room. 

Norma’s eyes grew wide when she saw Emma in the playsuit. 

“I know it’s a bit much, but I was thinking of something fun and flirty for summer,” Emma explained. “And I look really good in it.” 

“You look amazing.” There were moments when Norma forgot Emma was no longer the girl on the cusp of womanhood she had been when they first met. Seeing the woman in front of her only cemented the truth. “God I wish I could pull that off as well as you.” 

Emma blushed. She also didn’t believe for a second that Norma couldn’t pull this outfit off. “Are you kidding me?! You would totally slay.” Watching Norma color and shake her head, she added: “I saw one in your size. What do you say? Twinsies?” 

Norma burst out laughing. “Go put on the jumpsuit,” she said shooing Emma back behind the curtain. “Twinsies.” She snorted after muttering the word, but a smile came out, too. 

The next time Emma appeared, Norma put a hand over her mouth. This was the outfit. “You are gorgeous.” 

A statement said simply, it still knocked Emma for a loop. “Yeah?” she asked hesitantly, not trusting the words even though she trusted the speaker implicitly. 

Norma put her hands on both of Emma’s shoulders and looked at her directly. “Yeah.” She said nothing else for a few seconds because she wanted the sentiment to sink in. When she was sure it had, she added: “You’re getting both.” 

Emma’s shoulders deflated. She bowed her head. “Oh, no. I’m just going to get one.” Looking back up at Norma, she said: “You think it should be this.” 

“Did I stutter?” Norma asked sarcastically. “Because I thought I was clear.” 

“What? No, Norma, I don’t need both.” 

“The hell you don’t! What you don’t need is an oxygen tank and tubes stuck up your nose. You are going to celebrate the butterfly that emerged from that cocoon by letting her spread her wings and fly.” 

Damnit. The tears were back. Emma smiled through them and then wrapped Norma up in the biggest hug she could manage. She buried her face in Norma’s shoulder when she felt her squeeze her hard in return. Once again, they held each other. When they let go, Norma wiped away the drops of water on Emma’s cheek. The brunette nodded her thanks. 

“Go get your clothes back on. I’ll meet you at the register,” Norma told her. 

They walked out of the store roughly twenty minutes later with three bags between them. It would have taken less time, but Norma managed to browbeat a discount out of the clerk she knew previously for not offering them assistance even though only a handful of people were milling around.  

“You went over to each and every one of them and asked ‘Can I help you?’, but not us. Why is that?” Norma waved away the question. “You know what? It doesn’t matter why because I know what it is. It’s discrimination. You singled us out for no reason. Now should I ask to see your manager and lodge a complaint against you and this store or are you going to give me a really good reason not to do that?” 

A deal had been struck: twenty percent off and a promise from Norma she would never darken the store’s doorstep again. The two women walked back to the car with smiles on their faces and a bounce or two in their steps. 

It had been a damn fine day. 

 
 

The drive into Portland seemed a muted affair in comparison to their exit from the city. Norma and Emma were pumped from their assault on the shop and being around so much creativity at the museum. It had been an emotional day; more than they had ever expected. The conversation bounced from topic to topic: what they had seen at the museum to the music playing on the radio to when they were going to wear their new clothes, nothing was off limits. 

After only a half-hour, Norma pulled into a rest stop off the highway so she could fill the gas tank. Emma ran into the convenience store, picking up drinks and snacks for the rest of the drive. Norma tried to give her money, but she was rebuffed. Emma insisted this was her treat. As far as she was concerned, it was the absolute least she could do to repay Norma for one of the best days of her life. 

Norma couldn’t remember the last time she had had such an amazing day. With Alex’s incarceration looming, she had been doing her damnedest to keep the clouds at bay. It was nice for once to just have a delightful, effortless day with someone she loved. Not that Alex was a gloomy Gus twenty-four/seven — far from it. He was right there with her making sure the sun shone on them as much as possible. Sometimes, though, the clouds permeated and the air became thick with despair. It never lasted long because one look at or one thought of each other and the world would all go away. Everything was right when it was just the two of them; it was the rest of it that got in the way. 

About three-quarters of the way home, Norma realized they didn’t have a dinner plan. Emma looked at the plastic store bag filled with empty packages of chips, cookies and even a candy bar wrapper or two. She wasn’t really that hungry till she thought of the food truck in town that served the most amazing tacos. Just the mere memory of them made her stomach rumble. Quickly, she pulled out her phone and checked to make sure the truck was still in business. Emma let out a guttural “yaaaassss” when she saw it was.  

“Movies and tacos at the house?” she asked. 

“Yeah! Why not? That sounds perfect.” Norma wracked her brain to recall the last time she had eaten a taco. Nothing sprang to mind.  

When she mentioned this to Emma, the next five miles were spent explaining to Norma the culinary masterpieces that were these concoctions. Emma spoke of them in such colorful detail, Norma had to crank the cool air just to knock the flush out of her cheeks. The burst of laughter that escaped the brunette when it dawned on her the reason behind Norma’s reaction was contagious. They cackled hysterically for the next few miles.  

They arrived back in White Pine Bay not long after sunset. Emma gave Norma directions to where to find the food truck. After a few miles and a couple turns, Norma knew where Emma was sending her. They found it easily as did a quarter of the town. The queue was long, but it moved. While they waited their turn, the women looked at the menu. Norma had to admit it all sounded good. A couple glances at what customers were walking away with only impressed her more. Tacos were a must, but what else? 

Two bags filled with an order each of ground beef tacos in a hard shell and shrimp tacos in a soft tortilla, two orders of chicken quesadillas and generous helpings of tortilla chips, sour cream, guacamole and salsa later, the women were back in the Mercedes and headed to the house. The flavorful aroma encapsulated the interior of the car. Just barely did they make it back to the house without tearing into the food. 

Once inside, the jackets and shoes off, Norma and Emma settled on the couch with their dinner and two glasses of water Norma brought in from the kitchen along with a couple forks, “just in case.”  

This past Christmas, Emma and Dylan had gifted Norma and Alex with a subscription to a streaming service that specialized in classic cinema from Hollywood and around the world. The younger couple set up the smart TV Alex had bought when he first moved in after he and Norma had wed so they could access the app with ease. It was hands down Norma’s favorite gift after the locket Alex had given her. When she had opened the locket, her heart had clenched at the sight of her two boys looking back at her. Dylan had supplied the photos of him and Norman. 

Now, Norma and Emma browsed through the highlighted offerings the service was currently providing. First up was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the French musical starring Catherine Deneuve. It was Emma’s first viewing and Norma hadn’t seen it in years. By the end, Emma wanted to live in a musical; preferably in Paris. Norma couldn’t argue with the idea. To her delight (and Emma’s once she realized she could enjoy the fantasy a bit longer), An American in Paris and Funny Face were also available. 

Only crumbs remained of the food by the time Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron were dancing in the dream ballet sequence. The ladies sat transfixed right until the end of the film. Norma admitted she always wished she could dance like Gene Kelly or Ginger Rogers. Emma confessed to feeling the same about Vera-Ellen every year when she and her dad would watch White Christmas. It always had been a pipe dream with her condition. She would love to take a dance class to see if she could cut it. Norma had a feeling she could and told her so. 

Seeing as how the guys weren’t back yet, they dove into Funny Face. Watching Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire fall in love in Paris was the perfect end to a perfect day. Emma made Norma pinky swear they would go to Paris one day, just the two of them. She never knew how many good movies she had missed out on and vowed to start catching up. Norma took the promise with a grain of salt. 

“I’m serious!” Emma insisted. “Give me a list of five films you think I should see.” 

“Well that’s easy,” Norma replied. 

“Wait.” Emma grabbed her phone. Once she had her notes app open, she told Norma to go ahead. 

Norma listed His Girl Friday, Double Indemnity, It Happened One Night, Roman Holiday and From Here to Eternity. 

“And, of course, if you want more Gene Kelly, Singin’ In the Rain is an absolute must,” she added. 

Emma duly took down every title and saved the file. 

The sound of tires crunching on gravel could be heard a short time later. Norma went to the window. As she suspected, the menfolk had returned. She turned to Emma, who had twisted herself toward Norma while sitting on the couch. 

“Should we go welcome them home?” Norma asked. 

“If we must, mon cher.” 

Chapter Text

Norma and Emma met Alex and Dylan on the landing before the final flight of stairs that led to the house. All four of their faces lit up when they caught sight of each other. They had a lot to share, but maybe not all of it. Some things were meant to stay between the pairs that had shared the experience. The joy waned when the women got a look at the bruises and bandages on the men’s faces. 

“Looks like you two had quite the day,” Norma said closing the gap between her and Alex in order to get a better look at the patch job under the light from one of the lamps that lit the stairs. “What the hell happened? Wanted to get some practice in before you become the big man on the cell block? 

“Christ, Alex. You’ve got two years of this shit ahead of you! Did you have to get sucker punched by some rabid jackass?” She knew she sounded scared. In truth, she was terrified. Anything could happen once he was inside. The horror stories weren’t hard to find. Former law enforcement officers were killed in prison or worse. Her heart pounded and her breathing became shallow just thinking of it. 

“Hey. Hey.” His hands fluttered from her shoulders to her face. “I’m fine. I’m okay. You should see the other guy.” 

They both grinned. She calmed down. He was here and safe for one more day. Monday it all began, but that wasn’t now. That was later. 

“You better have kicked his ass,” she told him. 

“Oh, he did,” Dylan asserted. 

Alex chuckled. “We kicked both their asses.” 

“And then Dave kicked all their asses out,” Dylan concluded. 

Norma’s grin blew up into a full-fledged smile. She shook her head. “So that’s where you ended up, huh?” 

“Yeah. The beer’s cheap and the food’s good.” Alex smiled, knowing he was busted for going to a dive like that with Dylan of all people. He also knew he would happily take the punishment later. 

“Oh well, in that case, we’ll go there for your welcome home dinner. Does Dave take reservations?” 

“I think he would for you.” 

She smacked his chest, but also was laughing so any annoyance was negligible. 

“So you got into a brawl to work off dinner,” Emma said to Dylan. “What other shenanigans did you guys get up to?” 

Dylan was flustered. He had to start his sentence a few times before the words actually came out of his mouth. “We didn’t—. That’s not — that’s not how it happened. At all. God, you are such a troublemaker!” 

He crooked his arm around her neck and pulled her close to him, kissing the crown of her head. Once he lowered his arm, she tilted her head up to look at him. 

“So fill us in, stud,” she said mockingly. “What really happened? Tell us womenfolk about what great manly men you are.” 

Help me out here was what Dylan’s gaze to Alex conveyed, but he abstained. 

“You’re going to have to tell this story yourself.” 

Dylan sighed. Fuck it. “This asshole came up to our table after dinner and started bullying Alex, who was stoic to a fault.” He looked at Norma when he said the last part. “He didn’t respond until the guy took a swing at him. Then, once that guy was down for the count, two of his buddies come over. The first went for Alex, who dealt with him. The second came at me so I did the same. When we had it handled, Dave fired a shot and kicked the three guys and the rest of their party out of the bar. Then he handed us the first aid kit and we patched ourselves up. We had one more beer, then we left. End of story.” 

Emma studied her fiancé for a few seconds before kissing him on his right cheek. “My hero.” She glanced at Alex. “Both of you. You did good.” 

Alex blushed. 

Norma pressed her forehead against his temple. “She’s right,” she said softly, caressing his left cheek with her thumb. “I know I don’t have to worry about you, but I do.” 

“I like that you do. I worry about you, too.” 

“I know. I like that you do.” 

A long, quiet moment passed. 

“So what did you guys get up to today?” Dylan asked. 

“Norma kicked some ass of her own,” Emma replied proudly. 

“Emma!” 

“Okay, now you have to share with the rest of the class,” Alex declared. He didn’t particularly care if it was Emma or Norma who spoke, so long as one of them did. 

Emma took charge. “So we were in this cute vintage clothing store in Portland—” 

“You went to Portland?!” Alex interrupted. 

Norma placed her left fore- and middle fingers to his lips as Emma and Dylan simultaneously shushed him. 

“—and Norma tore into this ice queen sales clerk for treating us like second-class citizens while she attended to every other person in the store. 

To be perfectly honest, Norma adored how Emma made it sound like there were at least twenty people in the store instead of the maybe half-dozen who actually were there. 

“Once she was at the register, not only did Norma make her point, but she also got the girl to give us her store discount!” Emma started cackling. She couldn’t help it. Even the memory of it made her ridiculously giddy. 

“Damn, Norma.” Dylan was proud of his mom. She never took shit from anyone; and if she did, it didn't last. Too much of a lioness, Norma was never in a corner for long. If necessary, she’d tear out your throat then feed it back to you. 

Now it was Norma’s turn to blush. She could feel Dylan’s pride and love all the way to her toes. It was times like this when she wished he and Emma didn’t live so far away. 

“You gotta give me some pointers later,” Alex whispered in her ear. He kissed her forehead. 

Norma shot him a look. “That is the last thing you need.” 

A chorus of “oooohs” came from Emma and Dylan. Alex rolled his eyes.  

Norma asked the younger couple if they wanted to come in for some coffee. 

Dylan honestly wanted to, but one look at Emma and he knew it wasn’t going to happen. “Raincheck?” 

“Of course, honey,” Norma assured him. “Try and get some rest.” 

Emma came over and gave Norma a big hug. “Thank you so much … for everything. I had the best day.” 

Norma held her tight. “Same here. I love you.” 

“I love you, too.” 

Dylan and Alex shook hands, then brought it in for a short embrace. When they parted, Alex asked: “You good?” 

“Yeah. I’m upright, so that’s a good sign, right?” Dylan replied with a grin. 

Alex laughed. “Walking and talking is a very good sign.” 

“Don’t worry,” Emma said to Norma. “I’ll keep an eye on him.” 

“I know you will, sweetie,” she said with a wink and a smile. 

Emma hugged Alex goodnight, while Dylan did the same with Norma. 

“He’s okay,” Dylan whispered in her ear while he held her. “Just make sure he knows you have his back.” 

“I will. I do,” she whispered back as she kissed his cheek. 

Norma and Alex watched with an arm around each other’s waist as Emma and Dylan made their way down the stairs, and across the dirt and gravel driveway to the motel. Once they were out of sight, Alex moved behind Norma. With his arms wrapped around her waist, he kissed her right collarbone as she lolled her head back against his left shoulder. 

“I missed you,” he said, his lips making their way up her neck to her ear. 

“I missed you, too,” she replied, her words fading into a soft moan. “Should we take this inside?” 

Without a word, Alex took her left hand in his right and led her up the stairs to the house. 

 
 

Dylan observed Emma as they walked back to their motel room. She wore a wide smile and her eyes shone in the moonlight. He wanted to prolong their trip so he could continue to see that look on her face; the one full of peace and joy. It was a pipe dream, of course. There were headed home the day after tomorrow.  

His sigh broke Emma out of her reverie. She could tell he was thinking about Monday. It wasn’t going to be an easy day. They both wanted to be there when Alex surrendered, but both he and Norma had flat out refused. Emma understood. It was a private moment. One that would bring great pain to both and perhaps some embarrassment to Alex. She and Dylan would say their goodbyes before leaving to see Norman one last time this trip. 

Norman knew about Alex’s pending incarceration. He had read about it in the White Pine Bay Current; a copy of which happened to be given to him while he worked on a papier mâché animal as part of his therapy. He had made a few during his stay so far. Dr. Greg Edwards, his psychiatrist, thought it would be good for Norman to get in touch with himself by returning to those hobbies which made him happy. Since taxidermy was not an option, papier mâché became his go-to activity outside of journaling. 

He had broached the subject delicately yesterday when Emma and Dylan had visited him. How was Norma handling it? It must be tough. He couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to his spouse for two years. Was she really okay? He didn’t think she could be. It must be so hard coming back from death to the man you love only to lose him a few months later. 

Dylan had tried to get him to stop in the same passive aggressive way Norman was talking about their mother and her husband. It wasn’t a surprise that it didn’t work. Dylan was about to snap, but Emma beat him to it. 

“Just shut up, Norman!” she had shouted with a venom that took Norman by surprise. “Your mother, the woman who bore you, is about to lose the love of her life. If you can’t express real empathy or sympathy, then just shut up!” 

Norman had shifted his glance to Dylan. 

“Don’t look at me. I agree with Emma. Put up or shut up, Norman.” 

So Norman dropped the subject. The rest of the visit went much better. There was even laughter between the trio. When they were leaving, Norman stopped Dylan. 

“Do tell Mother I am sorry and that I’m sure he will … be home in no time.” Norman still couldn’t say Alex’s name, but the fact he acknowledged him at all was something. 

Before they left, Emma had asked to speak with Dr. Edwards. As he was in between patients, he agreed to the request. She filled him in on Alex’s pending incarceration. Dylan, who also was at the meeting, mentioned Norma’s marriage to Alex during Norman’s initial stay had been traumatic for his brother due to his close relationship with their mother. 

Dylan and Emma were by no way telling the doctor how to treat his patient. They made that very clear. However, they wanted to be sure he had as much information as possible so he could proceed in the best way for Norman.  

Dr. Edwards smiled warmly. He understood they were trying to help, which they were. Norman’s feelings toward the new situation at home hadn’t been something they talked about much in their sessions. The psychiatrist was aware Norma and Alex had been recently wed as Norman had said as much. He also had mentioned the wedding was all about the insurance and the former sheriff had taken advantage of Norma. 

This new intelligence was very much appreciated. He thanked them warmly for doing their due diligence when it came to Norman. After they had left, Dylan and Emma wondered if there was more they could have said to the doctor. They had decided there wasn’t, but could always get in touch if they thought of something useful. For now, Norman’s mental and emotional well-being was out of their hands. 

The couple now walked the rest of the way in silence, but that wasn’t to say they weren’t communicating. Emma took Dylan’s hand, interlocking their fingers. They caught each other’s eyes and smiled. Their pace quickened and before long they were at the door to their room. Dylan took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He barely had it open when Emma pushed him through. 

“I gotta pee,” she said, moving past him toward the bathroom. 

Dylan laughed. That’s what he gets for thinking she was more romantically inclined in that moment. He tossed his jacket onto the spare bed and sat down on theirs. One by one, he took off his boots and socks. He flexed his toes and pointed his feet to give them some life. Then he fell back onto the mattress and let out a groan. It had been quite the day. 

Emma came out of the bathroom. “Way to take up the whole bed, Massett.” 

“You can always get on top,” he countered. 

“Or you can just scooch over.” 

He moved to make room for her. She lay next to him, her legs dangling over the foot of the bed just as his did. Once more, she took her hand in his and interlocked their fingers. He squeezed her hand. They stared into each other’s eyes smiling. 

“It was such a good day,” Emma declared. 

“It really was,” Dylan agreed. 

She leaned in, catching his lips with her own. He kissed her back. They made out for a few minutes before she straddled him. The kissing continued. His hands found their way under her shirt and moved up her back. She grinded against his crotch; his moan filling her mouth.  

Their exhaustion from the day was temporarily forgotten. 

Later, after they had come together and gotten lost in one another, Emma and Dylan lay on the bed naked. He had his head on her stomach, just below her breasts; the rest of his body stretched out between her legs. She was propped up by the two pillows that accompanied the queen-sized mattress and bedding. Her hands resting comfortably on the top of his chest. 

“Tell me about your day,” he said. “Did you make it to the museum?” 

He twisted his neck and head in order to see her. She smiled at him, carding her fingers through his blond hair. 

“We did. It was amazing, Dylan. The art was stunning and so … powerful.” She was lost in her memories of the day for a short period. His voice eventually lulling her back. “Hmm?” 

“I asked if you had a favorite piece.” He had since shifted onto his stomach; his hands on her the sides of her thighs. He kissed her navel as he watched her. 

Emma’s eyes slid to the left as she thought about his question. Tears rose up, filling her eyes. The answer was so obvious; she was embarrassed she even had to think about it. 

“Em?” Dylan was by her side, sitting next to her. With this thumb, he gingerly wiped away the liquid that threatened to escape down her cheek. 

She smiled and shook her head. “It’s okay. I’m fine.” She swallowed. “There was one piece. It was part of the Northwest Art collection. It was of this woman with these creatures on top of her and the evening star in the sky. It was quite compelling and very beautiful because of what it represented.” 

“That sounds amazing,” he said, a bit in awe. 

“But first I fired a gun.” 

Dylan burst out laughing. It wasn't what Emma said that made him react so joyfully, it was the way she said it. Slightly mischievous and full of wonder and happiness. Just looking at her, he could sense her pride. “Oh I wish I could have seen that. How’d you do?” 

“Five bottles and cans in seven shots,” she said boastfully. “Norma says I’m a natural; that I take after her.” 

He chuckled. “Oh does she now?” 

She pinched his side. 

“Ow! Okay okay. That’s very impressive for your first attempt.” 

“Thank you.” 

“You’re welcome.” 

She kissed him. “And how was your day? Was your first date everything you dreamed of?” 

“Fucking hell.” He put his head back against the headboard. 

Emma cackled. “Don’t act like you’re offended. You had a really good time, huh?” 

Dylan couldn’t help the huge smile that spread across his lips like wildfire. “It was so much fun. The batting cages; the go-karts; the mini-golf.”  

Now it was her turn to pull him out of his reverie. She put a hand on his cheek. “Where’d you go?” 

He just smiled. 

She smiled back. 

They rested their foreheads together. As they sat there, fingers touching and hands caressing, they felt their connection deepen. It’s funny how sometimes separate experiences will bring you closer to those you love.  

 
 

Norma and Alex were snuggled on the sofa in the living room of the house. They weren’t one of those couples who had to spend every waking moment together. However, with Alex’s incarceration looming ever closer, they clung to each other; soaking up every second and storing it for winter like bears about to go into hibernation. They were wrapped up in each other; their limbs entangled and their heads touching. Silence enveloped them. It wasn’t deafening, but comforting. Words would only puncture the bubble now. 

When they had crossed the threshold after watching Dylan and Emma walk back to the motel, Norma had kissed Alex as soon as they had made it through the front door. He had dropped his jacket on the floor, wound his arms around her waist and pulled her to him as he kissed her back. They stood in the vestibule making out for a quite a few minutes. He guided her to the door frame that separated the front hall from the small space that led outside. Her back pressed against the frame, she surrendered to the sensations that had been threatening to overtake her. 

His lips ghosted across her clavicle. Her breath shuddered. Had it really only been this morning when they were last together? It now felt like it had been far longer. Norma turned her head and saw the staircase that led upstairs. She had left the door open when she and Emma went to meet the guys. A song played in her head. One that had been with her since she had mentioned it to Emma at the museum. As much as she wanted Alex between her legs, the urge to play that song was too strong to ignore.  

“Hey. Hey,” she said softly, gripping the sides of his head to get his attention. 

His pupils were dilated and his breathing was haggard. “What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing.” She smoothed his black hair back at the temples. “I just — I want to play you something. It’s just a song that’s been in my head all day. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but now I just want to play it. Is that okay? I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is great. Better than great. I think you know that. I mean, you should know that. Being with you is….” 

Norma sighed; a dopey grin playing on her lips. 

“You wanna play me something?” Alex had refocused, but his desire for her only had been stoked by her request. 

Reluctantly, she pushed him away. She grabbed his hand and led him into the living room. The piano sat straight ahead in the corner. She didn’t know where the sheet music for “If Ever I Would Leave You” was currently located — if she even owned it at all. It didn’t matter. She had played it so much when she was younger, she was confident she still knew enough of it by heart. 

As it turned out, Norma remembered it all. Every note, every lyric came pouring out of her. She played with her heart laid bare for him to see. It was as if she had never stopped playing it. 

Alex watched her play and listened to her sing all while sitting next to her on the bench. He was transfixed as he took in how her fingers floated their way up and down the keyboard; how her voice rang out with such emotion. He loved it when he found her at the piano. The unbridled joy it gave her to work with the instrument expanded his heart till he thought it too much for his chest to hold. 

When she finished, she looked over at him. Her breath caught when she saw the adoration in his eyes. “You hated it, huh?” she said with quiet sarcasm. 

“Yeah, what was that? I can’t believe you made me sit through that. Don’t ever do that again.” A warm smile lit up his face. 

“No promises.” There was one on her face, too. She leaned in once more to taste him, feel him. 

It was Alex who had suggested the sofa shortly after. Norma loved the idea. There was no rush. Being in the moment and enjoying every second of it was the only goal. So they sat, holding each other and bit by bit going through their day. 

Norma loved hearing Alex talk about hanging out with Dylan. Listening to him describe the go-kart race while he narrated it like a sports announcer giving play-by-play was so satisfying. She was a rapt audience for him and he fed off her interest as if it was nectar, she the flower and he the bee. 

Alex told her about the batting cages and how he and Dylan both had their issues with the sport. “We sucked,” he concluded. 

“You couldn’t have been that bad.” 

“I nearly beaned your son in the head! If it wasn’t for the netting and his quick reflexes, he may not have survived.” It was true, but Alex couldn’t help but laugh. 

“Ohmigod!” Norma said, chortling.  

It wasn’t funny.  

It really wasn’t. 

And yet they laughed for a solid two minutes. 

Norma buried her head in his chest as she regrouped. Alex did the same, but in her hair. He kissed her at the crown. They stayed that way for a long moment; breathing in the scent of each other. She could feel his heartbeat. 

“Tell me about the mini golf.” 

He obliged, telling her about the precocious young Kacey Best and her very nice parents before mentioning how well he and Dylan played. 

“They sound lovely,” Norma said. “She sounds like a handful. No wonder you got along.” 

“I do have a type after all,” Alex replied with a grin. 

She looked up at him. “I’m not ‘a type.’ I’m one-of-a-kind, damn it.” 

“Yeah you are, baby.” He brought his down to kiss her lips. “You know, I think I may have missed my calling. I held my own on the course today.” 

“Until you slice the ball and kill someone,” she said with a smirk, a wicked little glint in her blue eyes. 

He gave her a hard look. “That’s not funny.” 

“It’s a little bit funny.” She crinkled her nose when she said “little.” 

“Alright, fine.” Alex rolled his eyes and bobbed his head. “It’s a little bit funny.” 

She had to do the nose crinkle. Damn, she didn’t play fair. 

Norma pushed herself up to nuzzle his neck. He let out a soft moan, swallowing as he ran his hand down the back of her cardigan. 

“So tell me about your day.” He only just managed to get the words out. 

Moving her lips to his ear, she whispered: “Not till you tell me about the bar, Swayze.” 

At this, he very reluctantly pushed her away. “Alright. I can’t talk about that with you doing that voodoo you do so well.” 

He leaned forward so his elbows rested on his knees. Running his hands over his face a few times, he sighed. He took one of his hands and placed it on her knee, giving it a little squeeze. The other curled over his mouth. 

This wasn’t the reaction she was expecting and yet Norma knew him well enough to see how much what had happened at the bar weighed on him. When he clutched her knee, she put an arm around his shoulders with her other hand on his as she kissed the nape of his neck.  

The exhale that came out of him spoke volumes. 

“Let it out, baby. Just let it all out.” Her hand moved from his far shoulder to his back, where she rubbed circles. 

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to be like this. Not now.” He dropped the hand from his mouth so it dangled between his legs as his forearm sat on his knee. Then he hung his head.  

“Don’t be sorry,” she told him. “You have nothing to be sorry about. So you feel things. You’re human. It’s what we do. I do think you should talk about it. It’s not healthy keeping all those emotions bottled up. I’ll even keep my mouth shut.” 

Alex looked at her. “If I wanted you to keep your mouth shut, I never would have married you.” 

Norma was about to speak, but decided against it. She closed her mouth as quickly as she opened it, but there was a rueful smile growing. 

He knew where her thoughts were and it caused a grin of his own to blossom. “Always in the gutter with you.” 

“It’s not such a bad place to be so long as you’re there with me, Mr. Romero.”  

“I’ll always be with you … Mrs. Romero.” 

She flung her arms around him. In anticipation, he moved so he was facing her when she reached for him. He clung to her with all of the fear and desperation of a man who was facing an uncertain future. Those two years suddenly felt like an eternity from which he may never return. 

“Tell me what happened at the bar.” Norma was still hugging him, but she was now looking straight ahead. 

Alex sighed, but otherwise didn’t move. He wasn’t ready to let her go just yet.  

She didn’t force his hand, knowing he would talk when he was ready. 

After a long moment, he separated himself from her. He saw an open expression on her face; one ready to listen and not judge. So he told her every last detail about what had happened at Dave’s Roadhouse. He left nothing out. When he relayed his conversation with Dylan, concern, compassion and consternation played out over her features. He knew Norman was a sore subject with her, but he was too tired to play referee. 

Norma didn’t interject or interrupt in anyway. She let his words flow unabated. When Norman came up, she was mildly surprised even though it was ridiculous to be so considering Dylan had just seen him the day before. It was funny Alex had said what he said to her eldest considering she had been having similar thoughts the past few days. 

Then Alex got to the main event. He described every insult and every blow. Norma felt as if she had taken each one and also embraced her husband’s wrath as if it was her own. She raised a hand which first touched the bandage on the side of his head, then the cut on his bottom lip. Norma was proud of her man. She again wondered if this was a preview of things to come. It certainly could be. 

“Now will you tell me about your day?” he begged. Focusing on his wife was all he wanted to do with the few hours that he remained a free man. 

“We started out with a little target practice,” Norma began. 

“How’d she do?” Alex inquired about Emma. 

“Good!” Norma’s face brightened considerably. “She didn’t do so great at first, but she’s a quick study. She was hitting her targets in no time.” 

“She’s smart. It doesn’t surprise me she did so well.”  

There was a trace of pride in his voice. Hearing it made Norma’s smile even bigger. She was so happy those two had become closer in the past few months. 

“Then, after that, we drove in to Portland and went to the art museum. We spent a good chunk of the day there. It was fascinating.” 

Norma’s eyes grew larger as she talked. Alex enjoyed seeing how excited she became as she explained the various exhibits she and Emma had seen. He noticed Norma grew a bit quieter when she mentioned certain items: a photograph here; a painting there. Her enthusiasm never waned though. She glossed over lunch in the cafeteria. After all, how much could be said about sandwiches? 

Alex could read between the lines. It was obvious their museum visit had a deeper impact on his wife than she could put into words. It had left her shook. Norma may never tell him what she and Emma had discussed, but he sincerely hoped she would confide to him what she had felt and thought when she looked at the photograph and painting that had impacted her so completely. 

“And you already heard about the clothing store,” she said as her cheeks flushed and her eyes rolled. 

He chuckled, rubbing his hand on her thigh. “Yeah, but is that the whole story there?” 

“Yes. It really wasn’t as impressive as Emma made it sound. She kind of blew it up a bit.” 

“Baby, I’ve seen you in action. It didn’t sound like she overplayed it. In fact, she may have even underplayed it.” 

There was her Alex. Loving, caring, flirty. He was more than just that and she knew it. But that man who had gone toe to toe with her on so many occasions over the years was still in there and fighting for dominance. That’s what she needed to see. It’s what he needed to prove to himself, too. 

“I ... don’t know what you’re talking about. I am pure sweetness and light—” She screamed/laughed as Alex lunged at her, pinning her to the seat of the couch. 

“‘Sweetness and light,’ huh?” He arched an eyebrow. 

A mischievous grin appeared. “Catch more flies with honey. Worked on you.” 

His attempts at hiding the big ass smile that was forcing its way across his lips was failing miserably. “I don’t what you used, but it sure as shit wasn’t honey.” 

She laughed hysterically at this. Her mirth was contagious. He was laughing right along with her; burying his face in her neck, which she offered him willing. It was a few minutes before they were able to compose themselves to some degree. 

The mood shifted again. Norma wrapped her legs around his waist. His lips left a trail of kisses up her neck and on her chin till they reached her own. Her tongue found its way inside his mouth, leaving the door open for his to explore her mouth, too. Slowly, he left her mouth behind and made his way up her jawline. As they grinded each other over their clothes, Norma pulled out the bottom of his henley that he had tucked into his jeans. 

“Too bad you didn’t leave the Chevelle here,” she said as her breathing became ragged. “We could have done it in the back seat.” 

Alex stopped. He lifted himself up so he met her blue eyes. His mouth was slightly agape. 

“That’s right. I know things.” She tugged playfully on his bottom lip with her teeth. “Leave me the keys and I’ll make sure we fix that oversight when the time comes.” 

He butted his nose against hers a few times. Then he stole a kiss. “Deal. How about a preview? Give me something to look forward to.” 

“I think that can be arranged.” 

Alex turned his head toward the fireplace that sat opposite them. “It is cold out tonight. I could start a fire.” 

Norma ran her hands under his shirt. “You do that and I’ll make myself more comfortable.” 

He was up and over at the fireplace in record time. She giggled at his eagerness. As she got up off the couch, she removed an item of clothing every few steps. It didn’t take long for Alex to get the fire going. 

It took even less time for them both to be naked. 

After some minor foreplay, Alex was inside Norma. The combination of their body heat and the warmth from the hearth made their skin slick with sweat. This heightened the experience considerably as his thrusts went deeper, the taste of each other was sweeter and the sensations were more intense. 

The sex was so good, they lasted three more rounds before finally collapsing from exhaustion. He lay on top of her, licking the sweat off her breasts. She carded her fingers through his dark hair and found the fringes of it were damp. They fell asleep in each other’s arms. The fire crackling nearby. Outside, the rain c heavy as if the sky opened up and dumped the water onto the earth. 

Everything was okay. 

Nothing could harm them. 

The bubble had not burst. 

It would never burst. 

Not now. 

Not two years from now when their union was re-consummated in the backseat of the Chevelle. 

Not nine months after that when they renewed their vows for their three-year anniversary in a private outdoor ceremony with only the justice of the peace, and happily married Dylan and Emma with their baby daughter, Katie, in attendance. 

Not ever.