~One year later~
"Come on, baby, we're almost there."
Norma rolled her eyes as she took his hand. He helped her step carefully onto the next higher ground in this godforsaken place. She couldn't believe she had let Alex talk her into hiking. Sure, he'd taken her to a place she had fantasized about since she was a little girl, the Hawaiian island of Molokai (ok, not really Molokai, but close enough) but why couldn't they do what normal people did in Hawaii (sip Mai Tais and eat pineapples and stuff like that?) Leave it to Alex to use a trip like this as an excuse to buy extreme hiking gear.
"Alex, I love you, honey," said Norma breathlessly as she looked around this new summit. She adjusted the GI-worthy, tactical backpack on her shoulders. They were in the middle of some woods, a state park that separated the road from the ocean. "But I'm still not clear on why we're hiking through Sherwood Forest."
Alex chuckled at the Robinhood reference. "Because it's the only way to get to the place where I've arranged our picnic, and you're going to love the view, and," adding with a wink, "the privacy."
They took one of two available paths. To Norma's relief, it was the one with a slight decline. She felt it was high time they started moving down and thought with pleasure about taking these hiking boots off to relax her feet in the soft sand. A smile came to her face as she watched Alex walking ahead of her, every so often using his binoculars to get a good look at something interesting (to him only.) He was truly in his element out here. Hawaii had been her dream for a long time. Alex cleverly found a way to make it a dream honeymoon for himself as well.
Norma found it hard to believe that they had been married for even as much as a year. The year had gone by so fast. It seemed like yesterday that they were standing in White Pine Bay City Hall, being married by a woman called Connie, and having it witnessed only by Dylan, Emma, and John. John! Norma shook her head at how crazy it was to have John Massett in her life again, and even crazier that John had become a sort of family friend. It was all due to John's great lawyering that the judge, in sentencing Norman, had agreed to let Norman fulfill his life sentence at Pineview. The judge had agreed to this on one condition, of course; so long as Dr. Edwards could give a prognosis for Norman and show that Norman could be treated in a way that he wouldn't be a danger to other patients at Pineview, it was all good. The one person upset by this arrangement was the mother of Norman's victim, Amelia Martin, who had wanted to see Norman relegated to Death Row. Fortunately, Death Row for Norman was impossible. He'd been diagnosed with severe but treatable mental illness. It turned out, however, that most of the town agreed with Amelia about Bradley's murderer. Life in White Pine Bay became unbearable for both Alex and Norma after the trial and sentencing. After Alex lost the next election, he decided to retire and take his pension and sell his house. For now, they continued living at Norma's antique house; it was paid for, after all. He still had insurance for Norman's treatment. The only changes were ones for the better: 1- he no longer had to go into the Sheriff's Department and be the brunt of stares from people judging him for marrying the mother of a convicted killer, 2- he got to spend his days as he wished, like taking Norma out fishing on the boat he finally bought for himself, 3- he was happy (like, really happy, like crazy Julie-Andrews-twirling-around-on-a-mountaintop kind of happy.)* And as for Norma, well 1-she got to hang out with Alex all day and pretend to like fishing, 2-she got to hang out with Alex all day, and 3-she was happy, like insanely happy, smiling at everything, smiling all the time, like a person doing magic mushrooms for the first time kind of trippy happy.
And that was just the everyday. Their wedding, which they executed in traditional and splendid style ten months into their civil union, was Julie Andrews acting like a mental patient on steroids. And now they were on their honeymoon. Finally. After a year of marriage, they decided to just go do it. Fly to Hawaii, visit all the islands, even the volcanic ones, because what volcano can intimidate Norma Bates? After surviving two decades of marriage to Sam Bates, Norma was more than capable of holding her own against a volcano! Alex had reserved a villa in one of the best resorts on the island of Kauai. They did all kinds of things that Norma loved doing (the farm tour, the winery tour, the cocktail cruise, the "sunset dinner and cocktail cruise," and the spa day. The least she could do was grant Alex his wish of hiking through "Sherwood Forest" on the island of Molokai.
"Here we are, babe," Alex announced, snapping Norma back to the present. Indeed, there they were. At the bottom of the mountain range and on the edge of the woods, aka the beach. It was a very small stretch of beach, sandwiched between two cliffs, and boxed in by a high tide. Alex set down his backpack and opened his arms for her. But instead of rushing into those inviting, magnificent arms, she threw down her own backpack and started peeling off her clothes, starting with the horrible Timberland boots she vowed to herself never to wear again.
"Wow," Norma breathed as she took in the scene, emerging slowly from the woods onto the beach.
Alex stared at her lovingly. "You like it?"
Norma turned to face him. "Yeah. It's beautiful, Alex." She looked at him seductively as she peeled off shirt, jeans, boots...until she was wearing only her bikini bathing suit.
Alex moved towards her, an animal stalking its prey. "I packed a lunch for us, Mrs. Romero."
"Did you now?" (His hands were on her upper arms.)
"And some wine." (His lips were on her lips.)
He backed her against a tree and trailed his kisses downward, taking his time over her breasts, which he grabbed roughly, moving the bikini top to suck on the nipples... She loved that he was going down on her fully dressed himself. There was something so naughty about that!
She moaned and shivered as his lips moved down her belly, tickling her skin, and finally, after pushing aside the material covering it, teasing her labia majora. She yelled out as he rolled his tongue over her clit and under the folds of those outer walls of the vagina. Feeling pleased with himself, he glanced up at her, loving the sight of her face as it was contorted in pleasure.
She moaned in frustration that his lips were no longer nibbling at her sensitivity. "Alex, please, don't stop."
Grinning, he put his tongue back to work, moving inside her and making her gasp and quiver. He licked and sucked at her through her finish, and as she spasmed, he kissed his way back up to her face.
"You're delicious," he said, smashing his lips against hers. She kissed him clumsily.
"Are you still hungry?" she asked him.
He stopped kissing her and looked at her intently, his left hand cradling her face. "I brought funnel cake."
She burst out laughing. "Oh did you now?"
He nodded, looking ravenous.
"Are you gonna set me up, Sheriff?"
He laughed. "Yes, Mrs. Sheriff."
*Movie quote: "And you better make her happy… And I'm not talking about no – mmhh this tastes like real butter kind of happy… I'm talking about… Julie Andrews, twirling around like a mental patient on a mountain top kind of happy now. That's the kind of happy I'm talking about." (The Sixth Sense, 1999)
*Movie quote: "And you better make her happy… And I'm not talking about no – mmhh this tastes like real butter kind of happy… I'm talking about… Julie Andrews, twirling around like a mental patient on a mountain top kind of happy now. That's the kind of happy I'm talking about." (The Sixth Sense, 1999)
Alex insisted on unpacking both of their hiking packs by himself. She wanted to keep fooling around with him, maybe even return the pleasure he'd given her, but he insisted they had plenty of time for that and he wanted to unpack her surprise. So she left him to it and walked a little ways to enjoy the amazing scenery. They really were in a private little cove of beach. It felt like they were the only two in the world. She made a mental note to ask just how exactly he had discovered this place. It didn't seem like any place discoverable by a Google Map satellite. Alex had taken her over a mountain to get to it. How had he even known it existed? Apart from giving birth to her sons or the time Alex proposed to her, Norma never felt happier in her life than in this moment: the sand under her feet, not hot or cold, but just right. She lived next to a bay off the Pacific Ocean, but the beach in Oregon was nothing like the beaches here in Hawaii. Part of her wanted to abandon White Pine Bay and come live in Hawaii with Alex forever. But to the other part of her, the mother, that was an unbearable idea. Even though Norman still refused to talk to her, she still wanted to be near him, and Dylan and Emma lived in Seattle. Dylan had a proper job now and soon Norma would meet her first grandchild.
Alex's voice called her out of her thoughts and she ran back to him. She slowed down as she got closer in order to take in the wonderful sight of him standing before his handiwork, looking so proud of himself and so in love with her.
"What's all this?" she asked.
"Well," he said, his grin widening. "We've got our feast in the basket there for our picnic." He gestured to the quilt he'd laid out for their comfort.
"And a tent," she said, eyebrows raised. "If you think I'm spending the night out here, Mister."
"Don't worry, Mrs. Sheriff. The tent is just in case some scubadiving boat comes floating in our direction." He wagged his thick eyebrows in a suggestive manner. It was so fun how they kept calling each other Mr. and Mrs. Sheriff even though he wasn't Sheriff anymore. "Mr and Mrs Sheriff" just became their pet names over the past year and every time they called each other by those names Norma felt the same rush of goosebumps crop up on her skin.
As they settled on the quilt, Norma relished the sight of Alex showing her what was in the basket, evidently so proud of himself. "We've got bread," he said, showing her the baguette which had been sliced in two so it would fit in his pack for the journey. "One for you, one for me," he said, handing her one of the halves. She giggled as she took it gratefully. "We've got vino," he said, presenting an expensive bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. "The wine guy assured me this is a good one."
"Wine guy?" Norma asked teasingly. "What wine guy? I didn't know you were seeing a wine guy."
"Relax, Mrs. Sheriff. It's nothing serious. Just a fling. It meant nothing. He broke up with me when he found out I was only interested in the wine."
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, pretending to be compassionate.
"We've got fruit and cheeses, and real coconuts for hydration," he said, showing her the basket full of red grapes, pineapple and beautiful cheese.
"Yum," she said, just before taking a bite of her baguette.
"Would you like some butter for that bread, Mrs. Sheriff?"
"You brought butter?" she asked hopefully. "How did it not melt?"
He looked at her with a mock-offended expression. "Mrs. Sheriff? Do you really think I don't know how to travel with real butter in my backpack?"
She giggled. He was too funny.
"Our backpacks have coolers in them. They're insulated," he explained.
She shook her head as she gazed at him adoringly. "You thought of everything."
"I did. I didn't want us to have any sour grapes."
"I still can't believe you took me here. I feel like I'm dreaming." Norma snuggled against him. Both being well fed and watered, nicely buzzed from the wine, and satiated from a round of carnal activity (precipitated by the foreplay of taking turns rubbing sunscreen on each other), they were laying on the quilt, in the shade provided by the ferns and palms overhead. They had redressed in their bathing suits after their carnal play. It just felt a little too exposed to remain naked on this technically public, if seemingly untouched-ever-before-themselves bit of beach.
He kissed her forehead. "You're not dreaming."
She lifted her head and grinned at him. "I'm not?"
"No," he grinned back. "It's not a dream, so don't screw it up."
She laughed. Resting her head on his chest again, she asked, "Do we have to go back?"
"No." He started playing with her fingers.
"Of course not."
"What about the motel?"
"What about it? We can sell it."
"We won't get our money's worth. Not with the bypass being completed."
"We'll get something for it. The billboards Bob paid for have brought in some business. Besides, there will always be people taking the old way into town."
"I like your positivity," she said. "I just can't see myself living so far away from my boys. Not to mention my grandchild."
"All right, Grandma. If you say so."
She lifted her head and glared at him. "You're gonna pay for that, Mister."
She used her hands on his upper arms to climb closer to his lips. "Yes," she breathed. She crashed her lips onto his and let out a gasp as he gently rolled her back so he was lying on top of her.
"Must be nice," Dylan told her over the phone back at the villa on Kauai. "You're in paradise drinking coconuts and I'm up here never doing anything quite well enough for my seven months pregnant wife."
"Now, Dylan," scolded his mother. "Take it easy on her. It isn't a bed of roses being pregnant."
"I know, Mom," he said, making her heart flutter at the sound of being called Mom by her eldest. "It's just that I can't do anything right. Her hormones are out of control. One minute I'm being cursed out for rubbing her feet wrong and the next minute she's all over me!"
"Ho ho!" As much as she loved her son and daughter-in-law, Norma didn't want to hear about their sex life.
"Sorry. I'm just going crazy over here. Tell me it gets better after the kid is actually born."
Norma let out a hysterical laugh. "Oh, Dylan, oh Dylan! I can't tell you that, sweetheart. I'm afraid you're woes are just beginning, hun. But listen, just keep paying attention to her and try not to take anything she says personally. I gotta go. Alex is almost finished making dinner."
"Romero is cooking?"
"Yeah," said Norma. "It has been fun to see his excitement about the grill that came with this place. I know what to get him for Christmas now."
"How's Dylan?" Alex served her up a plate of grilled teriyaki chicken, asparagus, and mashed potatoes.
Norma made an iffy noise. "I don't know. He sounds a bit stressed out, to be honest, but that's no wonder, given everything that's happened in the past year."
Alex nodded, a little unsure of how to respond to that. The 'everything that's happened in the past year' was a pretty loaded way of putting it. He settled down in the seat next to her. They were seated at the picnic table on the terrace, the sound of crashing waves pleasantly accenting their small talk.
"I still can't believe how much has happened," Norma said as she cut her chicken. "I really hope it's not too much for Emma. She barely came out of surgery when she learned she was pregnant."
Alex rolled his eyes, but tempered it with a kind smile for his wife. "Not really, Norma. "They'd been married for two weeks when she found out. "And she hasn't had any complications," he reminded her.
"I know," sighed Norma. "Her mother showing up at the motel was no picnic, but I know."
"Audrey Ellis," said Alex with a groan. "Whatever happened to her? She left, right?"
"Yeah, she beat it out of town pretty quickly. I guess she got the message that I wasn't going to insert myself as a middle man between her and her daughter, and then there was the trial going on. I'm sure that was what scared her away more than anything. I'm glad I didn't bother Emma by telling her about it. Do you think I made the right decision?"
Alex nodded, smiling in spite of his annoyance at being asked this question by her for the thousandth time. "Yes, Norma. You did the right thing. It would have been pointless to bother Emma with it. Telling her about it only to have Audrey beat it out of town would have been to have Emma feel abandoned all over again."
"I know, I couldn't stand that. This food is delicious, Alex."
"Thanks, babe. I'm glad you like it. More wine?"
"Any ideas for what to watch tonight? It's your turn to pick."
"Damn right it is," said Norma, laughing. "I sat through eight seasons of Dexter for you. You know you owe me big."
Alex groaned. "Go easy on me, yeah? Nothing too chick flicky, please."
Norma looked at him as if he must be out of his mind. "Not a chance, buddy."
"Oh come on, baby, I made you this nice meal."
"Hey, you didn't take it easy on me when you picked NCIS after we watched Grace & Frankie!"
Norma shrugged. "You might be in lucky anyway. I let Emma pick for me. She and Dylan just finished Parenthood and she's been raving about it. She thinks we'll like it too. I'm curious about it because it sounds like she's expecting her own experience as a parent to reflect the show. From what she's told me, I'm thinking she's in for a few rude awakenings!"
"Parenthood, huh?" Alex tried to sound even mildly enthusiastic, but it was hard. With a title like that, the retired cop, never-a-parent in him wasn't expecting much excitement.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PUT ALEX AND NORMA IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER, REV UP NETFLIX, AND GET THEM WATCHING PARENTHOOD? Find out in the next installment of NAMASTE NORMERO!
Kathleen Kelly : Joe...
Joe Fox : And you and I would have never been at war. And the only thing we'd fight about would be which video to rent on a Saturday night.
Kathleen Kelly : Well, who fights about that?
Joe Fox : Well, some people. Not us.
Kathleen Kelly : We would never.
(You've Got Mail, 1998)
Chapter 3: Mementos
Short chapter here. A little heartbreak in order to move on to something better.
"This family is unbelievable."
"They're all like happy and shit."
"There are too many of them."
"They all get along too well. They're all so nice."
Alex and Norma were equally baffled by the pilot episode of Parenthood, which they were watching on Netflix while cuddled together in bed, the laptop positioned on the pillow on Alex's legs, and Norma leaning into him, her arms wrapped around his waist. Equally baffled, they were, as Yoda might put it, but for different reasons. For Alex, it was just astonishing to see so large a family. The grandparents, the four siblings, the next generation numbering to a soccer team. An only, lonely child himself, of a corrupt cop and a mom who was affectionate but suicidal, he watched the Braverman drama with immense amusement. These people have no idea how good their lives are, he kept thinking. Even Bob Paris and George Heldens, with all their money, never had life so good as the characters on this TV show. Well, maybe George... Alex didn't know George that well. A pretentious lawyer who once thought himself worthy of Alex's Norma... loser, Alex thought.
For Norma, it was just shocking to see how so many people could get along so well and yet still find so many nitpicky things to argue about. She did find herself rather liking the Bonnie Bedelia character, and to some extent, the Lauren Graham character. Camille Braverman seemed to have x-ray vision, able to see through everyone's nonsense, and at least Sarah had actually been through some real tough breaks. Norma sympathized with Sarah for having two pain-in-the-ass children.
Oddly enough, Alex found himself relating to Sarah's son, Drew. The son of an asshole, largely-absent father... Wanting to play games and be a kid, but having a mother who needed him to grow up a little too fast...
At the end of the pilot episode, instead of clicking to the next episode, Alex shut down the computer and put it aside.
"We both had sucky upbringings, didn't we?" Alex asked, putting his lips in her hair and pulling her to his body.
"I guess we did," Norma looked up at him, her radiant smile melting his heart.
Alex grinned, but shook his head. "Mine wasn't too bad, though. My dad was always gone, working, but that was a good thing. He was a jerk."
"And your mom?" Norma asked, briefly holding up and glancing at the hand that wore his mom's ring. Alex touched the ring and then turned this gesture into a loving exploration of her hand. He brought her hand to his lips before replying.
"She was good. Distant, but good when present."
Norma waited a bit for him to continue. When it was obvious that he wasn't going to, that he couldn't bring himself to say anymore, she took the ball to be in her court. "My mom was distant too. She probably was good, somehow, deep down. Very deep down."
They were both so curious about each other, but so unwilling, or unable, to share about themselves that it made learning about each other a painstaking process. Like pulling teeth.
"She died not too long ago actually."
"Who?" Alex had been so lost in thoughts, her words took him by surprise.
"My mom," she clarified. "The same day Norman started his senior year I got a call from some lawyer in Boise telling me she died."
"Jesus, Norma. I'm so sorry."
He felt her smile against his chest. She lifted her head slowly and he saw that the smile was hollow, not reaching the eyes at all. She wiggled and squirmed and finally said, "I didn't really know her, Alex. It was 20 years, the last time I saw her."
"That was what you said about John." He was not accusing. It was just a fact that suddenly popped into his head.
Norma became thoughtful. "Yeah... I guess it was a little more than 20 years with my mom. I don't know. After awhile, you just stop counting. I didn't even think about her, ever, until I got that phone call. Things just started coming back, slowly at first."
She sat up.
"Where are you going?" Alex didn't like it, her moving away from him.
She gave him that hollow, sad smile again. "I'll be right back."
He watched her worriedly as she moved to the dresser where they were storing their clothes. She opened a drawer and pulled out something. A blue ribbon she started twisting around her wrist. She came back to him and he wrapped his arms around her, a little tighter than he held her before, as if making sure she didn't try to move away again.
"What is that, honey?"
She glanced at him, but quickly put her eyes again on the ribbon that was twisted around her right wrist. "The only good memory I have of my mom."
She told him the story she had told Dylan on the day of that dreadful phone call. How her mom wore the ribbon at a school dance. How in telling Norma the story her mom had been happy and it was the only time Norma had ever seen her mom happy. How it was the only thing her mom ever gave her.
"I don't even know why I brought it. I've thought of tossing it sometimes."
"Yet you didn't. You brought it with you to Hawaii."
Alex touched her chin and urged her to look at him. She did. They made eye contact. He was smiling kindly.
"I did. I brought it with me to Hawaii. Maybe I should leave it here."
He stroked her temple with his thumb, enjoying the softness of her skin and hair. He brought his lips to the same spot. "Did you go to the funeral?" He asked against her hair.
She shook her head. "No. I don't think there was a funeral. I doubt there was. Unless Caleb did something. But knowing him... I doubt it."
He tenderly touched the ribbon wrapped around her wrist, slowly folding his hand around said wrist. They made eye contact again. "You need closure, Norma. We should do something. Have some kind of memorial service."
She was stunned by the idea, but not necessarily in a bad way. She loved him for being so sweet, and, weirdly for him, so innocent. There were even things that Alex Romero could not imagine, like the kind of horrors that went on in the Calhoun house. He knew of at least one of those horrors only because she had told him.
"Ok," she finally agreed. "But nothing big. Small, simple. Just you and me."
"We'll do it before we leave. I want to leave her behind in this beautiful place."
Chapter 4: Fears
Everyone is afraid.... that the other shoe might drop, to hurt someone, or even to lose everything good that's been gained.
Norma was glad she woke up before Alex. She wanted to have some time alone with her thoughts. She left him sleeping soundly in the bedroom (even her little kiss to his face didn't stir him from slumber in the slightest) and went to the kitchen to brew the coffee. When she finally stepped onto the terrace with her coffee, she set the coffee down and pulled her robe tighter, untying it in order to tie it again tighter. It was chilly, as Hawaiian mornings can be. She loved the mornings in this magical place. The seagulls and the crashing waves. The dog walkers, the dogs barking playfully and chasing tennis balls in the waves. Sitting on the ledge of the terrace, she curled her legs into her chest and thought about what Alex had suggested the previous night before they made love. A memorial service for her mother. It came to her almost immediately, though she had yet to voice the idea to Alex, that she wanted to bury the ribbon in the area of their excursion the previous day. That little cove on the island of Molokai she liked to think of as their very own, their little secret place. Surely others knew about it, but Norma enjoyed the fantasy that only she and Alex had ever set foot there. Now, maybe, they'd share it with her mom, or at least the memory of her mom.
They had only one more day in Hawaii. The flight back to Seattle was tomorrow. They had arranged to fly into Seattle instead of Portland so they could visit Dylan and Emma, and then drive a rental car back to White Pine Bay. They would end up passing through the town where Pineview was located, and it made Norma tear up thinking of how badly she longed to see Norman, to hug him and hold him tightly to her, if only he would let her. He still refused any attempt by her to visit him; he would not even accept her phone calls. Thank goodness he let Dylan and Emma visit him, otherwise Norma would never have any news of him that didn't come via a cold professional. Even Dr. Edwards, with his decent bedside manner, was always like, "Norman is doing well. We've been making slow but steady progress in our sessions together." As Norman's legal guardian, Norma had more access to the details of his treatment than the average patient's parent who had the obstacle of patient-doctor confidentiality. That didn't make it as valuable to Norma as actual physical and emotional contact with her son, a son she still cherished as her baby boy, the dearest boy who ever lived.
Alex came onto the terrace and, as he kissed the top of her head, he handed her ringing phone to her. She took it and saw Dylan's name on the screen.
"Mom? Did I wake you up?"
"No," Norma said in a tone of surprise, gazing with some question at her husband, who was smiling kindly at her. He sat down beside her and sipped his coffee. "What's going on? Is everything ok?"
"Yeah, everything's good. Norman called me this morning."
"He did?" She exclaimed woefully, making Alex look at her in alarm. "Why?"
"He wanted to talk. He said he's ready to talk to you."
Norma screamed, a scream of many and various emotions: joy, fear, pain, love, aversion.
"Norma, what is it?" Alex placed a hand on her knee.
"Norman wants to talk to me," she said to him.
Alex raised his eyebrows, smiling a little, but only a little. "That's good." He genuinely felt that it was good for Norma to talk to her estranged son, but he also worried ... about what exactly, he was not certain.
Dylan asked to speak to Alex, so Norma handed the phone to her husband. She wanted more coffee anyway and to step away and savor the exciting news without the feel of Alex's judgement.
"What's up?" Alex asked into the phone.
"I'm nervous about Norman and Norma talking again."
"Me too, though I'm not sure why."
"Well, I know why I'm worried. It's because Norman can be a manipulative piece of shit. Don't get me wrong. I love him. He's my brother and I will always love him, but I'm not blind to his faults. Norma is. She can't see straight when it comes to Norman and that scares me."
Alex sighed. "What do you want me to do, Dylan?"
"I want you to be there when Norma visits Norman. I want you to stay with her."
Alex winced. "I don't think that's going to be possible. I know Norma. She will absolutely want to see Norman alone."
"I know her too. In fact, I've known her longer. I know it's a very bad idea to let those two meet alone."
"To let? Dylan? Do you hear yourself? I can't tell Norma what to do. I don't want to tell her what to do."
"Fine!" Dylan was becoming angry. "If you won't promise me to stay at her side, I'll have to go and I will. I'm not letting this happen. I'm not going to stand by and let Norman manipulate her."
"I'm not letting my brother screw things up again. He always does this. Norma gets on a good footing. She's finally happy. Norman doesn't like it, not if she's happy without him. I know he's jealous of how close she and I have become and, no offense, but he hates your guts."
"None taken." Alex well knew how Norman felt about him. Nothing good.
"He's going to play the scared, lonely, misunderstood boy and push her buttons all over again."
"Well, even if he does... There isn't much he can do, is there?"
"I disagree. As long as Norman can talk to people, he can manipulate them. He knows how to make people do what he wants. No one is more susceptible to his charm than his mother."
"Well, let him try, but it's not a given that it will work," said Alex, choosing his words carefully because Norma was now standing in the doorway, her hands on her hips and her jaw set in glaring at Alex.
"No, I'm not going to let him try. I'll be right there at Norma's side."
Dylan and Alex said their goodbye's and Alex ended the call. Norma came walking toward him, her face downcast and her body stiff. Her body language, arms crossed over her chest, said she was angry.
"Dylan's just worried," said Alex, trying to pacify her. Maybe her compassion for one son could mollify the anger she felt at being excluded from seeing the other son.
"Yeah," she said caustically. "I'm sure. I know what Dylan was trying to convince you to do."
"Yeah, I know my son. I can read him like an open book. Even at a distance of two thousand miles. He's worried Norman will manipulate me and he wants you to be with me when I visit him."
Alex was impressed. "Yeah," he confirmed.
"Did you promise to hold my hand and make sure I don't fall off the tough love track with Norman?"
"Absolutely not, Norma. Unless you want me there. Otherwise, no, I won't interfere. You deserve to visit your son, on your own terms."
Her face softened immediately. "Thank you."
"Of course, Norma. But I have to warn you. Dylan wasn't too happy with my way of thinking. He said if I won't stay glued to your hip, he will. Not in those words exactly, but that's basically what he meant."
Norma let her arms fall to her side as she let out a deep sigh. "Dylan doesn't trust me. He never has. I know he still blames me, at least partly, for the way Norman turned out."
Alex looked exasperated. "Norma, that's crazy."
"No, it's not, Alex," she said sadly and almost inaudibly. "He used to outright tell me how I ruined Norman."
"Well, he was wrong to say that." Alex stood up and put his hands on her upper arms. He stroked those upper arms very tenderly. "You've always put your boys first. In my job as a cop, I've seen bad mothers. Lots of them. I know a good one when I see one and you are a good mother, Norma. Norman has mental illness."
"You keep saying that, but what if Norman got it from me? My father was violent. My mother was... I don't even know what was wrong with my mother. It wasn't just that her husband beat the crap out of her everyday. What if whatever they had, or one of them had, somehow I carried it and passed it on to Norman?"
"If that were the case, don't you think Dylan would have the same issue? He's a Calhoun twice over."
"Oh god, Alex! What if Dylan is a carrier and passes it onto my grandchild?"
"Norma, calm down. Is it possible that there's mental illness on your side of the family? Of course. But it's also equally possible that Norman's issues come from his father's side."
"He's nothing like Sam," Norma insisted, becoming frustrated, and shaking her head.
"I didn't say that," said Alex, becoming frustrated in turn. "All I suggested was the possibility that mental illness exists on Sam's side as well."
"Yeah." But Norma didn't seem convinced. "Yeah, sure."
He pulled her into a hug. "Listen, baby. Genetics aside, what really matters is that you're the one who's done everything to help Norman and right now he's receiving the best care out there."
She pulled back slightly so she could look at him. "Because of you." When he didn't respond verbally, but just stared back, she went on: "I could never have paid for Pineview. It's all because of you that he's there."
He was afraid to speak. She was just showing her gratitude, but to him, it felt like she might be feeling as though she owed him something, and that made him feel horrible.
She was smiling though. She leaned into his embrace and planted a kiss on his cheek.
He smiled back, shoving down that horrible feeling.
The two went inside to make breakfast and begin the day, their last day in Hawaii.
When Norma told Alex where she wanted to have the memorial service for Francine Calhoun, Alex sprung into action to make the arrangements. Norma had assumed that they would go there the same way they went before, hiking. But no. Alex had a better idea. He made some phone calls and then told her to hurry. "Get dressed, get the ribbon. We have thirty minutes."
She frowned. "What should I wear? Do I have to wear those ugly Timberlands again?"
He smirked. "You were cute in them. But no, we're not hiking. Just, whatever you wear," he added with a bad attempt to suppress his glee, "wear a bathing suit underneath. We'll be taking a boat and we might do some swimming."
The helicopter service was owned and run by Alex's cousin, Nestor Reyas. Nestor had not grown up in White Pine Bay, nor even in Oregon, but their parents were siblings, and very close. Theresa and Marco Reyas (Nestor's father) had inherited a "camp" from their father near Tampa Bay. They always called it a "camp." It was a lake house in the farther outskirts of Tampa on close to four acres. In the summer, the sisters met up there with their respective families. Alex and Nestor would run around and play Cowboys and Indians and do other boyish things. Marco and his wife Sophia had three children, actually, but Nestor was Alex's age. The cousins joined the Marines together, but after that more or less lost touch. Nestor and Alex and the other cousins had all agreed to sell the "camp" because they were all too busy and lived too far away, and it was not nearly close enough to the beaches of Tampa to make it profitable as a rental property. It was just one of those places that got left behind in the march of progress and civilization.
Nestor was delighted to see Alex again and immediately took a liking to Norma, who was endlessly baffled by the almost identical appearance between the cousins. They had the same caramel eyes and impossibly, astonishingly thick eyelashes; the same hair, the same height and body type. It was like Alex had no father and Nestor had no mother, so they just came into the world with only their mutual DNA.
But that was where the resemblance ended. Nestor and Alex had starkly different personas. Where Alex was guarded, Nestor was an open book. Where Alex was cautious, Nestor was... not reckless, but... not quite so buckled in. Nestor had been a helicopter pilot in the Marines, while Alex had gone the Military Police route. That said enough about their differences. Nestor liked flying through life. Alex preferred to keep his feet firmly on the ground. Not that Alex minded the helicopter rides from island to island. He loved it. Even more, he loved seeing how much Norma loved it. And he loved seeing how easily Nestor and Norma conversed. Norma certainly shared Nestor's adventurism. She was also an instantaneous hit with Nestor's wife, Vera, and their two small children, Lucy and Riley.*
Alex and Norma, Nestor and his family made the trip to Molokai (pronounced Molo-kah-ee) together. Their destination was the Olo'upena waterfall, accessible only by boat or air. Nestor arranged for a boat to be waiting for them. He knew the owners of all the tourist transit services, being in the business and having to interact with them daily, so arranging for a small boat, for a "small fee" was relatively easy. Alex didn't like to think of his cousin paying any exorbitant amount of money for them to have a private boat. He tried to compensate his cousin, but Nestor insisted. "Only a small fee, they gave me a discount. A small fee, don't worry about it." They could have just flown up to it in the helicopter, but after discussing it, Alex and Norma decided that they wanted to hold the memorial service at the fall (instead of their previous destination on Molokai.) Norma wanted to take the boat alone with Alex and have a little ceremony, just the two of them, and of course the ribbon.
Nestor knew from memory all the key points about it that any tourist would be curious to know: highest US waterfall, fourth highest in the world, in total 900 meters tall, which converts to 2,953 feet. Vera tried to interest her husband's cousin and his bride in the volcanos of the island, but while Alex was intrigued, Norma thought it pointless to visit a volcano unless it was active and actually erupting. As for the extinct or inactive ones, she thought it sounded boring. "Do they do anything?" Vera shrugged and said, "Well, no, I suppose not, it's just... they're really beautiful." Norma found that hard to believe. A bunch of scorched up lava, beautiful? She thought a waterfall sounded much more beautiful.
The helicopter ride (Nestor piloting) to Molokai was uneventful. They landed at the small Molokai airport and rented a jeep to drive out to the boat. Vera went on and on about the local culture. "It's one of the few places in all of Hawaii where the indigenous culture survives. Most tourists overlook it and that's a good thing, if you ask me. Better for them to stay at Maui or Kauai and leave this place alone."
"Thank goodness we can enjoy the coffee, though," said Nestor with a grin and wink at his wife. She groaned.
"They grow coffee here, yeah, I forgot," said Alex. Norma looked at him, surprised. "Molokai coffee," he said in explanation, albeit explaining nothing. "Some merchant from Europe on the 19th century started the local coffee plantation. It still operates today. Trader Joe's is one of the distributors, if I'm not mistaken."
"That's right," said his cousin. "Rudolph Wilhelm Meyer is the name of the merchant from Europe. His daughter married one of the Hitchcocks, one of the old prominent families of Hawaii. No relation to Alfred Hitchcock, apparently. But they were kind of like local royalty.... Missionaries, really. They were volunteers to give medical care to the lepers (this island used to be a leper colony) and they were even friends of the royals of the Hawaiian kingdom."
Vera rolled her eyes and glanced back at Alex and Norma. "Nes is fascinated by the indigenous royalty of the islands. I'm more interested in the indigenous common folk than the hifalutin high chieftains."
"It's true," Nestor admitted. "Vera's the populist in the family. A real people's champion. What was that thing you were organizing last week?"
"The indigenous music and art festival, sweetie," she answered, laughing. "I'm trying not to be insulted by the fact that you don't know the name of the event I slaved over for like half a year."
"Do you play an instrument?" Norma asked.
"Guitar," said Vera. "You?"
"Oh, I studied piano. What do you like to play?"
"Show tunes mostly. But I'll play anything. The house back home came with a ton of sheet music I found in the piano bench and the attic. I've been trying very slowly to get through it all."
"Oh yeah," gushed Vera. "Alex told us something about that house you live in. A Victorian Queen Anne? But I suppose Oregon has a lot of that sort of thing."
"Eh, maybe not a ton of such a ones with a motel out front," said Norma, exchanging knowing smiles with Alex. They were holding hands in the backseat of the jeep, Alex being silent mostly so he could admire the way the sun fell on his wife's features and the way the wind blew her hair.
"So where did you study piano, Norma?"
"My grandmother...started teaching me, but she died and I basically took it from there. It wasn't hard since I already knew the notes."
Vera was silenced. She didn't think teaching oneself piano was anything to say 'it wasn't hard' about, having labored under academia and acquired hefty student loans to learn it herself.
"Well, here we are," announced Nestor, turning the jeep into a small (mostly empty of any other cars) parking lot.
[Next part, we'll skip to Alex and Norma alone in the boat. I hope you guys enjoyed the "Vestor" extra haha. A Normero with a swirl of Vestor on top? *And the Vestor children named Lucy and Riley is a nod to two of my favorite Normero fics: REGRETS & REPERCUSSIONS by AngeloftheMorning1978 (Normero daughter Lucy) and RENEWING OUR VOWS by brooke1478 (Normero baby Riley.) Hoping the Vestor babies mention might pacify those of you begging for a Normero baby in the comments. Normero baby is on the way in this story, but these things take time. We've got some weeding to do first!]
Chapter 6: A new life
Walking with Alex and his blood relative & blood relative's wife on the trail that led from the parking lot down to the beach was very pleasant. Norma felt increasing excitement at the taking a boat around the island. The weather was perfect (lots of sun, gentle breeze) and made Norma wonder why the heck they stubbornly stayed in Oregon instead of moving here. Oh, right. Too far from sons and pending grandchild. If only she could convince Dylan and Emma to relocate here... Surely there was a Pineview equivalent in Honolulu?
Norma had been in a boat with Alex recently, a few times, his fishing boat. Other than that, there was the horrible time she and Norman took a boat out on the bay to dump the body of Keith Summers. Those were fishing boats in a bay. This time, it was a speedboat in the ocean itself. She started a little at the vastness of the Pacific Ocean before her.
Nester and Vera got in the boat first, then Alex helped Norma, and finally Alex climbed in. Although Norma had wished for this excursion to involve just her and Alex, the final decision to bring Nester and Vera came down to a matter of practicality. Someone needed to drive the boat and Alex wanted to be free to attend to Norma in the emotional event. Nester and Vera settled in the cockpit. Alex and Norma settled in the bow.
They didn't say a lot as the boat bumped up and down on the waves. Norma clung to him, her head resting against his neck, and he held her like she was the most precious thing in the universe. Which, to him, she absolutely was. Not a thing, of course, but absolutely the most precious.
"Is this ok?" he asked, his lips pressed close to her ear.
"What do you mean?"
"Is this how you want to do it? If it's not, we can turn back. We'll do whatever you want."
"No, Alex, this is great."
He leaned back slightly to gaze into her eyes, to be sure she meant what she said. He marveled at how Norma's eyes reflected the water. The same color blue. Exactly. And how the green covered cliffs to his right complimented that blue.
Seeing that she did mean what she said, he smiled. "I love you."
"I love you too, Alex. I love that you had this idea. I think it's perfect. And I think you're perfect. And I want to start my life with you."
Alex arched one of his eyebrows. "Start?"
Norma nodded. "A new life. Without the ghosts. No more shadows. No more secrets."
As he stared into those mesmerizing blue pools, he began to see their future together. He saw them living in a strange house. Not the one that loomed over the motel in White Pine Bay, but a new, brighter, and happier one. He saw lots of sunlight pouring through its windows, almost blinding it was so bright, and he heard the sound of children laughing. He saw Norma, radiant and laughing, playing "Tonight you belong to me" on the piano. "Daddy!" he heard a child call out to him. "Daddy!"
"Daddy, where are you going?"
Alex was pulled back to reality by the concerned touch and voice of his wife. The speedboat was slowing down. The motor could be heard winding down.
"Where did you go just now?" Norma asked him.
He hesitated. "I don't know. Somewhere really nice, but... not real." He stared at her in amazement.
"Will you tell me about it?"
Alex didn't know how to tell her or how she might react. Would she feel pressured, like he expected that reality from their new life together or else? At long last, he began with: "It was just this... great life we're going to make together."
A lovely smile slowly spread across Norma's face. "You think it will be great? That everything will be ok?"
He cocked his head to one side and gave her one of his cutest crooked smiles. "Kind of. Yeah. It's gonna be great, Mrs. Sheriff."
Alex was merciless later when they took a bath together. The villa had a massive sunken bathtub, more than half the size of the one Bob Paris had installed at the motel. It also had several faucets, some shot out water, others shot up soap to make bubbles. He leaned against the wall of the tub, Norma leaned against him, and he rubbed bubbles over her body with his calloused hands while they watched the sunset through the floor-to-ceiling window. She giggled as he played with her breasts and kissed her neck. She could feel his excitement against her lower back.
"Do we need to take this to the bedroom?" she asked, laughing.
"I don't think I can wait for that," he replied, bringing his hand to her thigh.
She turned over and straddled him, kissing him and loving the feel of his hands on her hips. Those hands made their way onto her ass, one of his favorite things about her. It was a joke between them that he equally favored her eyes and her ass.
They climaxed and then she fell onto him, feeling exhausted and energized at the same time.
They just savored the feeling of each other, the warmth of each other's embrace and lips... His lips to her forehead, nose, neck. Her lips to his wonderfully manly chest. The was sun had set and now the only light came from the candlelight.
"I don't wanna go back."
"Neither do I, baby. Let's stay."
She lifted her head and smiled at him. "We have to go back, silly."
"Because... It's our home."
"We can make a new home," he suggested.
"Really?" she was pretending to be skeptical, but really she was delighted by the idea.
"Yeah. Why not? New life, new home."
"What about Dylan and Norman?"
"What about them?"
"When would I see them, Alex?"
"Norma, you hardly see them as it is. Besides, there are these things called airplanes and you can travel in them anytime, anywhere."
Norma made her adorable pouting face that never failed to melt Alex's heart. "But my grandchild, Alex..."
"Even in White Pine Bay, you'll have to rely on long distance travel to visit your grandchild, Norma."
"Well, see, that's the thing... I was kind of hoping maybe we'd move to Seattle."
Alex frowned. "Seattle's expensive, Norma."
"Well... Hawaii's expensive too, right? I mean, anywhere we go, we'll have to get jobs. Even right now, in our paid-for house, your pension only stretches so far."
He sighed as her head came to rest under his chin. "I have been thinking about going back to work."
Her head popped up. "Yeah?"
"Well, you know, being retired isn't what I thought it would be. It's boring."
She raised her eyebrows. "Tired of fishing, Sheriff?"
He grinned. "Never. You're what's exhausting."
Her offended look made him burst out laughing. "What? You are exhausting, Mrs. Romero!" He laughed until he realized that she was genuinely hurt. "Baby, I was kidding."
She still looked sad. "I know my life is complicated. You have to deal with a lot. Too much."
He hated himself for saying something that made her feel guilty about nonsense. "Norma..."
"If it wasn't for me, you'd still be the sheriff."
"And I would be alone as fuck and hate my life. Norma, my life was shit before you came along. You brought me back to life, which is something I gave up on after my mother's suicide."
Norma longed to tell him that, far from her saving him, it was he who made her life beyond anything she ever dreamed possible, at least for her. "Oh, Alex..." She could hardly get the words out. "You have no idea. It's funny, you and I, being here and happy..."
She sat up. He tried to pull her back to him, but she firmly stayed back, imploring him to listen to her while she played with the hair on his chest. "In spite of everything, we made it. And you're... you're making love to me in this bathtub... in this amazing place I never thought someone like me got to visit. And it's like I'm watching a movie. But it's not a movie."
He reached for her and pulled her back into his arms and kissed her with tenderness but firmness too. Confidence. Assurance. He poured assurance into her with this kiss. Pulling his lips apart from hers, his hands cupped around her face, he said: "It's not a movie. Don't screw it up!"
Norma laughed. "I'm serious, Alex."
"Me too. I married you, didn't I?"
"To give me insurance!"
Alex mocked being offended. "Mrs. Romero! How dare you!"
"Well, it's true!"
He relented. "OK, maybe. The timing was opportunistic, but I would have married you anyway."
"So sure of yourself, Mr. Romero!"
His smile said it all. "I'd have gotten to you eventually. I was very determined."
"When did you know?"
"That you wanted to... spend your life with me?"
He had to think about it, but only for a minute. He looked away in some embarrassment.
Her curiosity was driven over the edge. "What? When, Alex? When did you know?"
Still avoiding her eyes, he began with, "You know... when we found Keith's truck? That day that... they day after we met on the porch of the motel."Her eyes widened. She was speechless. He continued: "You were such a pain in the ass. I knew you were lying to me. And just before you walked away, you said, 'well, good luck with everything.'"
"No, I didn't."
He lifted his eyes finally to meet hers. "You did. You looked at me and you lied to me and that was the first of many more lies to come and I was lost right then and there."
He was smiling but she wasn't. She wasn't meeting him in his glee over the fact that he was in love with her almost from the first time he laid eyes on her.
"I wasn't nice to you."
"No you weren't," he said, not meaning to make her feel bad, but rather to lift her spirits. He did not understand how badly she felt about the dismissive way she treated him on many occasions.
"I'm sorry, Alex."
"No, Alex, really. I was awful to you. Like that time you got shot and I was awful to you. I treated you like you didn't matter and the truth is, you mattered so much it scared me." She couldn't say anymore because of the tears. He reached out for her and held her while she sobbed. He soothed her with whisperings and kisses. He lifted her out of the tub and towel dried her, then helped her put on her half of the his&her company-monogrammed bathrobes that came with the villa. Wearing their bathrobes, they made their way to the living area. Here they opened a bottle of wine and settled on the couch to enjoy it ... and each other, of course.
"So you feel bad about being a jerk to me, huh?" he teased.
"I am a jerk, Alex," she said, smiling her sad-eyes smile, the one that she did when she was trying to 'fake it 'til she made it.' "It's how I was raised. No one showed me how to do anything but be a jerk. You know, some parents teach their kids the golden rule. Mine, they showed me how to treat people like shit."
He took her feet in his hands and placed them on his lap so he could rub them. "You were afraid to trust me."
"I didn't trust myself, Alex. I didn't trust my own instincts when it came to men. I mean, think about it. One of the first things I did after going up to White Pine Bay was date that scumbag Shelby. How could I trust myself, trust that I was right about you, when I had this inner voice telling me you would end up just like the others?"
"When did you know?"
She just looked the question.
"That I wasn't like the others?"
She thought back. When did she know? Was it as far back as when he took the blame for the deaths of Keith and Zack? Was it when he took care of Jake Abernathy for her? Was it when he and Dylan saved Norman from the box? Was it when he made her feel so safe just by staying at the motel? And then he gave her that overly generous personal check in payment, even after she had refused to run his credit card through the payment process because, as she always said, he was "family friend"? Was it when he comforted her that night when her sons told her Caleb was still in town, living at Dylan's farm? Was it the night of their date at the Castle Rock when he fed her soup, and still, she lost her temper and said horrid things to him, and then he got shot?
She wiped the tears on her face. "I always knew, Alex. I always knew you were different."
He gazed at her in wonder. "Norma?"
This time when she smiled it reached her eyes. "Hmm?"
"Would you... I mean what do you think about... do you want..."
She sensed the fear behind the words he could barely utter and that made her afraid. That horrible inner voice reared its ugly head and threatened to enforce her worst fears. "What is it, Alex?" she asked, bracing herself for the worst: his giving up on her.
"Do you want to have a baby with me?"
Chapter 7: Demons
Norma never believed she was a good mother. All of her talk about "I'm not going to be that mother that [fill in the blank]" was her way of fighting back against the inner voice.
Sam was abusive. Well, you stayed with him.
John left you. Well, you cheated on him and before that, you lied to him to get him to marry you because you couldn't get a man to marry you any other way. Who would marry you? You're trash. You were born trash and you will always be trash, no matter how you try to dress yourself up.
The pushback was testament to her strength.
Well, I'm not going to be that person.
I'm not going to be that mother. Not again. Not this time.
We came here to start a new life. We're starting over. This is our chance.
Maybe this time.
Norma was the sun. Sometimes, life eclipsed her, but eclipses come and go. This too shall pass and the sun shall rise again. That was Norma Louise Calhoun all the way. You can beat her, you can rape her, you can tell her she's trash, but she's the goddamn sun, so screw off, shithead.
When Alex asked her if she wanted to make a baby, the inner voice wasted no time in rearing its ugly head.
Poor schmuck. You got him wrapped around your finger, don't you? You've been lying to him from day one and he finally started believing you. He actually buys your poor me act. He has no idea how you screwed up Dylan and Norman.
He saw his cousin's little girls, sees them living in Hawaii, where the sun always prevails, and he thinks he can have that with you. He hasn't seen the real you yet. The dark side of the moon. He doesn't know that you still let Norman sleep in your bed at the age of 17. He doesn't know so many things, but when he finds out he's going to leave you.
That's not true, shithead, the sun retorts. He knows about Caleb, the whole story. He's still with me.
Yeah, but that's a story where you can still be the victim. Good, sweet Norma. He just feels sorry for you.
"Norma, come on. Let me in. Let's talk about it."
Alex continuously rapped on the door to the bedroom, to which Norma had run seconds after his question about having a baby. She had locked the door.
Little did he know that his kindness was making it worse for her. His kindness made her feel even shittier.
She was curled up on the bed, hugging her knees, crying uncontrollably, because she couldn't bear her own inadequacies in the face of his perfection. This was just another way that she was a constant disappointment to him. He could not have picked a worse person, so she thought, to ask to be the mother of his child. A person who failed to get help for her son until it was too late. A person who sacrificed the needs of both sons to the tyranny of her abusive husband. A person who lies to cover up her own shame.
And yet that was the irony. That she, so awful, had "tricked" so clever and so perfect a person as Alex Romero into loving her... Now she had to disappoint him again because there was no chance in hell she would allow herself to screw up another life.
He heard her crying and it was killing him. After awhile, he gave up knocking and leaned his back against the door. His body felt weak. He let it slide to the floor, buried his face in his hands, and began to weep himself. He had his own inner voice to remind him relentlessly of his shortcomings.
After everything she's been through...
You took her today to a waterfall in order to bring closure to the torment of her childhood, and you bring up babies now? She's still healing from a forced separation from Norman, and you bring up babies now? Idiot!
Alex didn't know how long he had been sleeping there, lying on the floor outside the bedroom, but as he came to, he found Norma sitting against the opposite wall, starring at him. She stood up and put her hand down for him to take. He silently did so as he stood up, not daring to break eye contact. He followed her, hand in hand, into the living area.
"Ssh." She turned to face him, smiling. Empty smile. Not reaching the eyes. She put her hands on his chest and gently pushed him back until he fell on the couch. She climbed onto him and started kissing him, hard and full of lust. He kissed her back even though what he really wanted was to know what she was thinking. He kept trying to stop and to look at her eyes, but she was forcing her tongue into mouth. She wasn't taking no for an answer.
Finally, he grabbed her wrists and pushed her away from him with just enough force to separate their lips. "Norma," he panted. "Norma, what's going on?"
She looked at him with that horrible empty smile. It broke his heart. "I want to make a baby with you, Alex."
He stared at her. Was she telling the truth?
Double down on the horrible empty smile. "Yes."
"I don't believe you."
Her eyes hooded over. Her jaw became taut. "Fine."
She stood up and walked past him.
"Norma, wait, what is this?" He caught up to her and forced her to turn around and face him. "What's going on? Please talk to me."
"Why, what's the point if you're not going to believe me?"
He sighed, looking away briefly in exasperation. "Norma, if you want me to believe you you're gonna have to explain to me why me asking you about having babies led to you slamming the bedroom door in my face, and then you're shoving your tongue my throat and telling me you want to make a baby? Excuse me for thinking you might not be giving me the full picture. Honey, just talk to me. Give me Norma. Don't give me this..." He gestured toward her, failing to find the word to describe this shell of Norma, this hollow smile that never reached her eyes. "Just give me Norma. Just give me the truth. That's all I want. That's all I will ever ask of you."
"You want the truth, baby. OK, I'll give you truth. You married a horrible person. The worst. And now you want to have a child with me, to let me mess him or her up the same way I messed up Dylan and Norman, because you think I'm something that I'm not. You want to know the full picture? You want to know the full picture of the mother you'd be giving your child? Are you sure? Because, baby, you don't know the half of it. You don't even know a fraction of the things I've done. The things I've let happen, because I was stupid enough to think that's how you be a good mother. Look where it got Norman!"
He shut his eyes. "It's not your fault."
"Your delusional!" she screamed. "It's all my fault, Alex!"
He opened his eyes in shock. "No," he said desperately, shaking his head. "Baby, no."
"Of course it is! You think Norman would be where he is now if I didn't raise him in a house where his mother let his father treat her like shit? You think Dylan calls me Norma because, what, he just likes the name Norma? No, he calls me Norma because I was a shit mother. Because I don't deserve the name Mom. And that's the garbage you want to pass onto your child? You sure, Alex? You sure you don't want to rethink that?"
"Stop it!" He grabbed her, more roughly than he intended, but he didn't retract. He shook her. He had to make her stop. She was talking shit about herself and he couldn't hear anymore of it. She was wrong. He had to make her see how wrong she was. In response, she grabbed his arms and pushed, but since her arms were restrained by his hands, all she could do was push against him with her body. She pushed against with her body while he pulled her body more tightly into his and moved them to the wall, where he might gain some leverage. She collapsed into tears of frustration and anger, shaking violently. He pressed his lips against her temple, but, his soothing incoherencies and kisses proving inadequate, he moved his lips southward, along her jaw. They were hovering just over her own, but she was crying and shaking so hard, in desperation, he held her face in his hands and pressed his forehead to hers. "Norma, stop. Please. Remember what you said, just over there, on the couch, not two minutes before I asked you about having a baby. You were telling me about how you always had the right instincts, but that inner voice makes you distrust yourself. You're letting it win. Don't let it win, baby. Trust your instinct. You know how much you love your sons. You know everything you did to try to protect them. Jesus, Norma, you were doing it alone. No one helped you. No one ever lifted a finger to help you. You had to figure out everything on your own. Remember when you said to me, I wouldn't last a week in your shoes? You were right. That's why I want a baby with you, Norma. Because our kid will be the biggest badass. Your killer instincts..." He smirked. "And my good looks."
She laughed in spite of the tears still pouring from her eyes. "You have killer instincts too."
"And you're gorgeous, so do you see my point? We may as well just name our kid Badass."
"Alex, I love you, but we're not naming our child Badass."
"What are we going to name our child, Norma?" He delighted in watching the real Norma, his Norma, reemerge.
"Grace for a girl. Grace Elizabeth Romero."
His heart skipped and then did a double beat at her words. "A boy?"
"Nicholas. Nicholas Alexander."
He couldn't hold back anymore. He pressed his lips to hers and kissed her with more passion, love, and lust than ever before.
Chapter 8: Limbo
There was no time for Norma and Alex to acclimate back into the Northwest of the continental US. They were met at the airport by a worried, no-time-for-niceties Dylan and a shy, uncomfortably pregnant Emma.
"Gee, Mom, how nice to see you," Norma mimicked the ideal greeting in sarcasm.
"Sorry," Dylan said, not seeming to be really sorry at all. He was leading the way to the baggage claim, Alex close behind, and Norma and poor Emma striving to keep up. "I want to hit the road immediately. We're driving straight to Pineview."
"Dylan, really?" Norma didn't like the idea of rushing to Pineview without anytime to regroup, decompress, and talk about things. She had been hoping she and Alex might share a nice meal with Dylan and Emma, maybe even spend a night with them, and then head out to Pineview when they were rested.
"I don't want to go," Emma said.
"You don't have to, sweetie," said Norma kindly.
"Emma's coming," Dylan said sharply. "She's eight months pregnant. I'm not leaving her home alone."
"Dylan thinks I might be premature because of all the sex we're having."
Norma exhaled. Why did they have to be so candid about their lovemaking? She and Alex had the decency not to flaunt their sex life in front of her grown children.
"What does that have to do with being premature?" Alex asked, genuinely curious. (Taking notes?)
"Intercourse can induce labor," Dylan explained. "I read it in a book and I also asked Emma's OB GYN about it and she said it's true. I'd rather not do it because I don't want to induce a premature birth, but with Emma's hormones..."
"OK, Dylan!" Emma had had enough. "Can we please, a, stop talking about me in the third person, and, b, stop discussing things like my hormones?! I doubt your mother and Alex want to know about my sex drive!"
They were now standing around the baggage carousel waiting for the bags to start circling the assembly line. People around them glanced at them and exchanged bemusement amongst each other. Emma was mortified. "I hate you, Dylan," she seethed.
Norma made a mental note to let Dylan know (in private) what a giant ass he was being to his pregnant wife, to drag her to the airport against her will solely so that he could bully his mother into a tandem visit to Pineview. She tried to convey her agitation with a look to Alex, but he seemed clueless.
After their bags were claimed, Alex and Norma stepped outside with Dylan and Emma. Dylan was already directing his steps to the short-term parking garage, but Norma stopped him. "Alex and I will take an uber to your apartment, son. We'll meet you there."
Dylan tried to protest, to argue in favor of all going straight to Pineview, but the look his mother gave him stopped him. It was a look only a mother can give, and which no son, if he values his life, will defy.
"Dylan isn't taking any chances," Alex said as they watched the young couple walk away. Ella está muy embarazada."
Norma looked at him in amazement. She loved when he spoke Spanish. His mother had been a first generation American, her father having immigrated from Cuba. Alex was completely fluent in Spanish. He spoke it with a perfect accent, making Norma weak at the knees.
He winked at her, knowing full well what effect he was having on her lady parts. "Dylan está actuando como un idiota."
"Translate, please," said Norma as she worked the uber app on her phone.
"Dylan is being an idiot." (Idiota = Jerk, idiot, schmuck)
She looked up at him, very impressed. Far from being angry at him calling her son an idiot, she felt that she would like to use a much harsher word for Dylan right now, like jackass. She loved having a husband who spoke the truth and never deceived her in some warped attempt to appease her. "Yes, he is. And you better know I'm going to tell him. He's not going to drag his eight-months pregnant wife, who is carrying my grandchild, all over Seattle on my watch." (Oddly enough, she imagined that Dylan sometimes deceived Emma, not because he was a bad person or didn't care for Emma. It was obvious that Dylan was crazy in love with Emma. But he was also young enough to think, wrongly, that a loved one was better served with kindness than honesty. He would deceive her if it meant not hurting her because he only thought of the short term. If age teaches us anything, it teaches us to appreciate the long game.)
As soon as Norma and Dylan were alone together, she rushed to embrace him. He was surprised, but not unwilling and even slowly returned the hug.
"I love you, Dylan."
"I love you too."
"I want you to know that because what I'm about to do might make you think the opposite."
She pulled away from him and stared into his eyes, his blue eyes that were exactly like hers and Caleb's. Then she slapped him across the face.
"Ow!" Dylan rubbed his face in shock. Norma had never hit him. She was not an abusive parent. She never even gave her sons a spanking.
"I never slapped you before. I slapped you now because I hate the way you're behaving when I know that you know better and it is directly impacting your pregnant wife and my grandchild. You need to man up and get a grip on yourself. I get that you're worried about me talking to Norman because Norman can be very manipulative and, yes, I am particularly susceptible to his tactics because I'm his mother and I adore him and there is literally nothing I won't do to ensure that he is ok. But what you don't understand is that I know in my bones that Pineview is the best place for Norman. He's safe there and we are all better off because of it. We're not living in constant worry that something else will happen, some other horrible thing, and we know that Norman is comfortable and receiving the best possible care and treatment. We are all better off, Norman included. There is nothing Norman can say that will change my mind about that and even if he could change my mind, he's there serving a life sentence. He can't leave even if he or I wanted him too. You have nothing to worry about. You need to stop trying to control me and your brother and start putting your total focus on your wife and unborn child, because that needs to be your priority from hereon out, Dylan. Do you understand me?"
His face progressively softened throughout her speech. He nodded emphatically. "Yes. I understand, Mom."
Her heart swelled and her face broke out in a brilliant smile because he called her Mom. They hugged again and everything felt good between them.
Norma was pleased to see Dylan make a complete turnaround throughout the evening. He and Emma cooked a lovely dinner for their guests. They had to fend off Norma's intervention because Norma kept offering suggestions, like "there's a better way to chop those onions" and "just a pinch of salt, no that's too much." It helped Emma and Dylan for having to push Norma out of the kitchen; the younger couple became united in their mission to make Norma stay in the living room with her husband.
But Norma had no liking for time with Alex right now because he was fixated on the baseball game on TV. His attention was all on the game, which Norma had zero interest in. Wife, what wife? She couldn't keep up, nor even understand the rules and what was happening. Second inning, foul ball, three strikes, double play, whatever. It was all Greek to her. It was lucky for her sanity that her son and daughter-in-law had a gigantic pile of laundry. She took care of it. She also organized their DVD collection by genre and alphanumeric order, a satisfying project although it annoyed her slightly to note that the young couple's taste in movies was more akin to things like "Scarface" than "Casablanca."
Dinner went well. Everyone was in a good mood. Even the elephant in the room, Norman, wasn't really as powerful as usual because of the fact that Norma was so happy about being able to see him on the morrow. Mostly, they talked about the pending child, which they knew was to be a girl.
"We like the name Katherine," Emma informed the older couple. "Katie for short."
"Kate," corrected Dylan.
"Katie," argued Emma, flashing him a playfully murderous look.
"I like Katie," said Norma.
"Fine, take her side," Dylan sulked. He glanced at Alex. "I suppose you agree with them?"
Alex waved his hands. "Hey, I'm staying out of it. I'm just hoping you guys have a healthy baby!"
They all laughed at this.
Both couples were tired and even more so with full bellies (Emma, being pregnant, was always tired, and Norma and Alex were jet lagged) so everyone retired to bed fairly soon after cleaning up. The plan was to set out for Pineview early, have breakfast somewhere, visit Norman and then do lunch before Alex and Norma headed back to White Pine Bay. Norma had some trouble falling asleep, despite being tired. Her mind was so busy. With her head resting on her husband's chest right at the crook of his shoulder, she idly made circles over his heart with her fingers.
"Still awake?" He asked, unable to see her face. They were lying in the dark.
"It's gonna be ok, Norma."
"What's gonna be ok?"
"It feels weird though."
"Going back home tomorrow. Even calling it home."
"Well, it is our home."
"Yeah, but... I don't know. It's like, getting away from it these past weeks, and now coming to see Dylan and Emma... And tomorrow Norman... I realize I just don't even want to go back. There's nothing there anymore that feels like home."
Alex didn't know how to respond. He felt more or less the same way, in a way, but it made him sad to think that White Pine Bay didn't feel like home anymore. For him, it was an much greater sense of loss being that White Pine Bay had been his home since birth and that being sheriff there, even though he wasn't the sheriff presently, was still instrinic to his identity. Other the hand, being Norma's protector and lover had been slowly taking over all of his identity for the past several years. White Pine Bay was like a ghost town in his heart, a lonely and hollow place with only memories for companionship. Norma was his present and future. He didn't want it any other way.
They both fell asleep thinking about things like that: the temporary nature of everything, changing and growing, how no situation is forever. They hoped they'd have each other forever, though. Was it possible? Could they really hold on to each other forever, no matter how high the tide and rough the sea? Time would tell. For now, they slept peacefully in each other's arms.
Chapter 9: The Sun is Shining
I'd like to rename this story. "Namaste Normero" doesn't feel descriptive. It feels pretentious. Any ideas?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Grace and Nicholas?" Behind the wheel of a rented Chevy Camaro, Alex prompted Norma to remind him of what they were going to call their babies. "Right?"
Norma smiled, but she wasn't fully taking the bait. "Grace Elizabeth for a girl, that's what I said. It's a nice classical name. Old Hollywood even. Not new, 'trendy' Hollywood where actors think it's 'woke' to name their kids after fruits and vegetables. The classics never go out of style."
"And her brother will be Nicholas Alexander?" Alex teased. He was enjoying this!
"Maybe. Alex, unless we're having twins, it's one or the other. I'm 43, Alex.* Not 23. That means if our child is born when I'm 44, I'll be 64 when he or she is 20, and could be a septuagenarian by the time he or she is married and having my grandchildren."
Alex was having fun. "Our grandchildren. Do you have names for them too?"
Norma's answer was expressed only by a smirk and a bite of her lower lip as she reached for his hand across the console. They were driving with the top down. It had been Alex's idea to pay the extra for the fancy sports car with the soft convertible top because Norma desperately needed cheering up in this journey to meet face to face with her too-long-estranged incarcerated son. Hence, all the teasing from Alex about baby names. He knew it was only helping her on the surface, that deep down her soul was screaming, but at the very least his teasing, complimented by the sun and the wind, could prevent her from drowning.
"Grandchildren, Alex? They'll be visiting us in the nursing home."
"Hey, we can kick their asses at Bingo!"
"We? I'll be kicking your ass at Bingo, buddy!"
She squeezed his hand. He squeezed back, but he had to (reluctantly) peel his eyes off her face because the light turned green.
"Well, maybe I can hope you'll let me win sometimes. Nothing better for a man's ego than to be his wife and grandchildren's charity case, right?"
"Not a chance. No charity. No mercy. Your grandchildren will learn that to win in life they must take no prisoners."
"Our kids will hate us for turning their kids into monsters."
"Karma's a bitch. Our grandkids will be slayers. We'll feed them cake and non-diet soda all day and then return them to their parents!"
Alex peeled his eyes off the road and gave her a look of surprise before returning his gaze to the dashboard and the Canadian license plate that was two-car-lengths ahead of him. "Non-diet soda? Who are you? What planet are you from and what have you done with my wife? She would never give any person with her DNA anything but water. Well, maybe a juice, if it's fresh squeezed or cold pressed."
"That's for my kids, Alex. Nicholas and Grace will grow up eating spinach and drinking water. Their kids will get cotton candy and ice cream."
"So, what, out of spite you're going to make our grandchildren diabetic before they reach the age of ten?"
"No, of course not. Nicholas and Grace will have to learn to offset my overindulgence by making their kids hate them. Isn't that how it works in every family? It's karma."
Alex couldn't hold back his amusement any longer. He let it out, just savoring how great it was that they were talking about Nicholas and Grace like they were actual, living, real people, and that Nicholas and Grace were pitiable creatures, never allowed to have even half-a-scoop ice cream, and consigned to a fate where they were despised by their wired, fat children (with high blood pressure and clogged arteries "because karma.") Delightful future! Alex couldn't wait!
It was good that both Alex and Norma had stored up so much laughter on the way to Pineview because, when they arrived at Pineview, the metaphoric cloud cover was instantly oppressive. The arbiter of the metaphoric cloud himself, Norman Bates, sat grimly with his mother in a quiet part of the upstairs visiting area while Alex had only a stenographer's work for background noise as he waited to speak with Dr. Gregg Edwards.
*I know the ages of Norma and Alex are kind of uncertain. Even her birth year is not consistent on the TV show. The character is portrayed as dying at the age of 41. That means that in this story she'd be about 42 at this time. I gave her age a little boost and made her 43. Let's say she's somewhere from 42 to 43, maybe almost 43. Alex's age in the show is never established, but I've seen a lot of people in the fandom making him a year or two older than Norma. So I'll place him at about 45. Norma is still child bearing age, and men can conceive in their 70s, so ... given that Norma eats a lot of fruits and vegetables and doesn't seem prone to serious illness, and given that even on his former diet of frozen dinners (weren't they lean cuisines) he was like working out a lot and stuff... haha... people can be so ageist about pregnancy. Like this one OBGYN, in one of my fav Normero fics, Renewing Our Vows, by brooke1478... The OB-GYN totally depresses the shit out of Norma and Alex by telling them the chances of having a kid are basically zero. What a bitch. (The character of the OB-GYN, not the writer. I do love the writer for putting that in, because it does reveal a common fallacy among us that when a woman turns 40 her eggs just suddenly shrivel up and die and shit.)
The next chapter will be for the serious stuff, the confrontation between mother and son. I wanted to give you a little fluff and funny as a reward for your saint-like patience as a reader. I neglected this story for a bit. It was the victim of my brief obsession with another fic, an experimental crossover on FF called NORMERO GOT MAIL, which might or might not be complete.
Chapter 10: Forgiveness
“He could not forgive her, but he could not be unfeeling. Though condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment....still he could not see her suffer, without the desire of giving her relief. It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.”
Excerpt From: Jane Austen. “Persuasion.” iBooks. https://books.apple.com/us/book/persuasion/id395533890
Norma looked at Norman and felt her heart breaking. He looked so fragile. Sitting on a couch in one of the common areas at Pineview Institute, he looked so vulnerable and even a little scared, like he didn't fully understand what was happening to him.
"Sweetheart." She touched his shoulder and felt tension fall away from him. He gave her that shy, sweet smile that always melted her heart.
He was her little boy again instead of the 18-year-old convicted of Bradley Martin's murder.
She touched his face and he leaned it into her soft hand. "Sweetie, why wouldn't you talk to me?"
"I was afraid, Mother."
"Afraid? Of what?"
"That it wouldn't be the real you. I couldn't tell the difference. It's different now, with therapy and medication. It's a lot better, but before, I didn't know what was real. There were two of you and you were so different, but you looked the same, and I didn't know which one from the other. I wanted you, the real you, but I couldn't be sure, so I just thought it was best not to see you at all until I could be sure."
"Oh Norman." They hugged.
As she slowly pulled out of the hug, Norma wiped a single tear from her face. "Sounds like you're doing better. You're not seeing that other me."
Norman shook his head.
"That's good. Then the medication is working. That's really good, Norman."
"I miss you, Mother."
"Oh, Norman, I miss you so much. But you're doing so well here. You're actually getting better. Things are better. We're not afraid and angry and confused all the time. No more seeing things that aren't there."
"But I thought when I got better I could come home."
"Well, sweetheart, remember, you're serving a sentence. It's not that simple."
"I thought maybe Sheriff Romero could pull some strings..."
Norma shook her head. "Honey, he can't do anything about your sentence. And, even if he could, he's not the sheriff anymore. He retired."
"Well, he knows people, doesn't he?"
"Honey, it doesn't work that way."
Norman sighed, feeling frustrated and defeated. He was used to his mother always fixing his problems. This was the woman who dragged his father's body into the garage to disguise what Norman did as an accident. She was so heroic and powerful in Norman's eyes, yet not quite powerful enough to overturn the judge's sentence. Definitely not for a murder conviction.
In Dr. Edwards' office, Alex could have passed for any concerned stepfather. Dr. Edwards did not perceive any other motive under the surface. To the psychiatrist, it seemed that Alex was just there to learn how to best approach Norman in a way that would help Norman, or at the very least, not do any harm.
"I'm glad to hear this place is helping... my stepson... that you're helping him."
"He's responding well to treatment."
"And you haven't had any incidents since the one?"
Dr. Edwards shook his head. "No."
"How did that happen?"
Dr. Edwards looked at Alex questioningly. "What do you mean?"
Alex shrugged. "I mean, how does a first-rate mental health institution allow a convicted murderer to slip out undetected?"
Dr. Edwards sighed. "He snuck out with one of the other patients, one who has slipped out before. We let him, this other patient, because it's part of a game he likes to play. He likes to feel that he's adventurous and always ensures that we find him. When he and Norman snuck out, it was no different than the usual cat-and-mouse game."
Alex's jaw was now working overtime to suppress his anger. "That's a helleva risk to take, don't you think? I don't know the details of this other patient, nor do I care, but Norman Bates is a convicted killer. He blacked out that night. We're lucky he didn't kill anyone."
Dr. Edwards nodded remorsefully. "It has not occurred again. It won't happen again."
"Good because, not that it's the most important thing, but it is a factor; we're paying you a lot of money to keep Norman safe and comfortable, and to keep others safe from Norman."
"Norman is stable, Mr. Romero."
"Good. Keep him that way."
Norma met Alex in the lobby of the institution and they departed with somewhat forced, but genuine smiles, and holding hands. The drive back to White Pine Bay was mostly quiet, a little tense, but not much. Alex was just concerned for her. He knew how emotionally charged she must be, coming, as she was, fresh from a visit with Norman after a year of no face time.
Norma preferred to be alone with her thoughts. She had no wish to share any details of her visit, especially the thoughts generated by it, because she could hardly formulate them in her own mind. She recalled Norman's words during the visit: "I'm glad you have Romero, Mother. Without him, you would be alone." She saw something in his eyes while he said that, something she could not name, but it made her uneasy. She knew Norman had an unhealthy, jealous attachment to her, that he even tried to quell his jealousy by making her jealous, or rather, making himself feel that she was jealous. There was the time he flaunted his relationship with Emma and his "independence" in her face, shutting Norma out, and making her feel unnecessary to him. Norman definitely had a mean streak; Norma could not deny that. She quickly shunted aside and dismissed the idea that it was anything like Sam's mean streak, however. Norman isn't Sam, she told herself. She had named her boy after her as if to reinforce the fact that he most definitely was not Sam.
Norman was so complex. On one hand, there was the loving son, harmless boy, who put his mother on a pedestal. On the other, there was a boy like any other, trying to be his own man and wanting to find his identity that was unique. But the cord was never cut. It pulled him to his mother's side. She needed him. Even when she wasn't physically beside him, she was in his mind, distorted but vibrant and alive as far as he could tell, warning him about women and girls trying to seduce him and take him away from her. Learning at an early age that he had to protect her from his own father, he had to develop a way to deal with that. He couldn't deal with it alone, so he created "Mother" in his mind, a ruthless, vicious, distorted version of the real Norma. It was a self-protective strategy at first, enabling him to protect her, but it went off the rails. He couldn't control it. Any threat of violence, whether physical or verbal, could trigger a blackout where "Mother" would take over and make him forget everything. All he knew afterward was that "Mother" had taken care of the problem and, now, he would have to help "her" cover it up. From Norman's perspective, he and his mother were united in this fight against the world. It was the two of them against everyone else.
"I think it's been good for Norman," Norma said out loud.
Alex was surprised, but in a good way, at the sudden break in the silence. "What's been good for him?"
Alex had some doubts, but overall, he agreed. Things had improved, certainly.
"I don't think I was a good mother to him."
"No, Alex, don't. I wasn't the kind of mother that he needed. But don't worry. I'm not beating myself up over it because now I am going to be the mother that he needs."
Alex judged it best to just listen and be supportive. It wasn't for him to give advice about motherhood. What the hell did he know about being a mother? He reached for her hand and she took it gratefully.
Acceptance. Forgiveness. It might be a long time before Norma could forgive herself for what happened with Norman. Although an objective outsider might not understand how she could blame herself for any part of it, as a mother she naturally blamed herself, doubted herself, and second guessed herself at every turn. That's what mothers do: constantly wonder what they did wrong, what they might have done differently, in the raising of their children. Did I let him sleep in my bed one night too many? That was just one of Norma's many questions. The bigger questions were about the violence she raised him in. How many times did he witness Sam's brutal treatment of her? Even if he was hiding in a closet, there was only so much he could drown from his hearing by clamping pillows against his ears. To a battered spouse, there is the ever lingering, suffocating guilt over having stayed in such toxicity. If only I had left Sam, found some way to leave him... Would Norman be ok then? But a man like Sam doesn't just "let" you leave, does he? He pursues you, maybe even kills you. And then what happens to your child? But someone like Norma, raped and beaten and humiliated by those closest to her from a young age, is an expert in blaming herself. She did it better than anyone. She could have easily won the trophy for it. Champion of Blaming Herself, that was Norma Calhoun. She blamed herself for so much that went wrong and for so much that she did wrong. Lying to John, cheating on John, marrying Sam, staying with Sam, failing to protect her sons. "He was protecting me," she said of Norman killing his father. Even that, she felt, was her fault. If only she'd been stronger, strong enough to leave Sam before things got out of hand, her son would not have become a killer. The self-criticism was endless. The self-hatred knew no bounds. Maybe, with Alex's help, she could learn to forgive herself and love herself. For now, she held his hand and smiled back at him and longed to fall into those caramel pools.
Chapter 11: Surprise
~Six months later~
"Down here, babe!"
Alex frowned. He didn't approve of Norma going down the basement anymore, now that she was pregnant. She often scolded him for being overly protective, more than ever since they found out she was pregnant, but he couldn't help it. What if, going down to the basement, she tripped and rolled down the stairs? It was a hard floor at the bottom. She and/or could be seriously hurt. He pushed aside such thoughts as he followed her voice into the dimly lit basement.
"You know there are these boxes I just put down here when Norman and I moved in and haven't opened since." He found her rummaging through one of them and pulling out what looked like Christmas decorations.
"Why didn't you ask me to bring them upstairs? I don't want you coming down here."
Norma was focused on the contents of the box. "These are the decorations Norman made when he was a little boy, using glue and paper."
Alex sighed in defeat. He came up behind her and hugged her from behind. "They're sweet," he said, looking at the childishly made decorations for a Christmas tree.
"Yeah. There are a few in here made by Dylan. I imagine Emma would like to have them now. They can put his decorations along with Katie's. Oh, I can't wait to see the things she will make. She's such a cutie, Alex."
Alex smiled fondly, thinking of her granddaughter who he also loved like his own. Katie Massett was only five months old but already the envy of the family. John Massett, increasingly close to Dylan since the trial of Norman Bates, had transferred to the Seattle branch of his legal firm almost solely for the purpose of being a grandfather to Katie. In addition, Katie had Emma's father, whose taxidermy studio in Seattle was now a thriving business. (Norman wanted Norma to give all of his taxidermy to Will Decody; that was part of the basement-clearing project.) Jealous of two grandfathers' proximity to their mutual little treasure, Norma and Alex were planning their own move to the Seattle area. Alex had used his connections to secure a job as First Deputy Sheriff in one of the adjacent counties around King County, of which Seattle is the seat. Alex had known the Sheriff up there for a long time and currently he was the best qualified to fill the position. It was a step down, sure, but with a baby on the way, he needed the job. He also relished the job for his own sanity. A man like Alex didn't like spending all of his time fishing.
Alex closed his eyes as he breathed in his wife's scent. He tightened his wrap around her waist and then moved his hands to squeeze her butt. She giggled. She put the decorations back in the box and folded the flaps over the opening. Alex's lips tickled her neck and she giggled again, this time squirming at the delightful sensation.
"How was fishing?"
"Mmm. OK. I didn't catch anything."
"Well, you started too late."
"Yeah. Who's fault is that?"
Norma laughed. "Yours. You want sex all the time."
Alex attacked her ticklish ribs with his fingers, making her scream. "I think it's your fault for being so sexy!"
"Alex, stop it!"
He stopped tickling, but he went back immediately to the kissing and squeezing. She turned in his arms.
"Are we really doing this?" she asked, looking into his eyes.
"What?" He marveled at her beauty as he rubbed his thumbs along her jaw.
"Moving to Seattle? Having a baby? How did all this happen so fast? It seems like yesterday we were saying our vows at city hall. Sometimes it feels like I'm watching a movie."
Alex smirked. "It's not a movie. Don't screw it up."
They laughed together.
"Well..." She slowly pulled out of his grasp. He tried to pull her back but she moved a little too quickly to the stairs. They went back upstairs, the whole time Alex trying to get her back in his arms.
"I suppose I should figure out what I'm going to make for dinner. I was counting on you catching something."
"I got a better idea," said Alex, at last catching up to his beautiful wife. "Order a pizza. Curl up. Watch a movie."
"We never finished Parenthood."
"Do you want to?" Alex wasn't thrilled by that show when they watched a little bit of it in Hawaii, but now that he was going to be a parent...
"Yeah, I kinda do."
"OK. Parenthood it is."
~One week later~
Alex held onto Norma's hand as she lay on the clinical bed. An OB GYN technician rubbed gel on her only slightly protruding abdomen. She was only four months pregnant and they weren't even sure that the doctor would be able to determine the gender yet. Dr. Watson had judged that at about 16 weeks she might be able to tell, but now they were at the point, Norma was filled with nervous anticipation. She wanted to know the gender, desperately, because she wanted to know everything about the little person growing inside her. She absolutely could not wait to meet this person that was half her, half Alex, and absolutely every nugget of detail about the mystery person, she consumed jealously.
The move to Seattle was steadily, successfully in progress. They had secured the rent of a house in the town outside Seattle where Alex was to be First Deputy Sheriff. A moving truck had already taken most of their things away, the non-essentials for daily life. Will Decody had picked up Norman's taxidermy. The old Bates motel and house was on the market, at a greatly reduced price. The realtor was confident that they could find, at the very least, a land buyer who would surely want to demolish the house and motel.
"OK," began the doctor, putting on her latex gloves. "Are we ready to take a look, see if we can find out what we're having?"
Norma and Alex exchanged smiles. "Yes," they both said.
The excited parents stared at the ultrasound image and both of them gasped at the sight.
"Alex, our baby."
"It's grown so much," he said. It was a huge difference from their first ultrasound appointment. You could now see the shape of a baby. You could see the outline of the head and everything.
"What's that on top?" Norma asked, straining to see every detail.
"That?" The doctor peered at the screen, knowing smile spreading slowly across her face. "Why, that, is another baby. We couldn't see that before. You're having twins."
"Wh-wh-what?" Norma stared at the ultrasound monitor. Her mind had gone blank. She barely even felt Alex's hand squeezing her own, let alone notice that Alex was grinning at her like a damn fool.
"Yeah, I'm as stunned as you are," the doctor said. "Well maybe a little less stunned," she added bemusedly. "But stunned nonetheless and certainly disappointed in my observational skills heretofore. But there it is, clear as day. Two buns in the oven, and they look and sound perfect." She moved the stethoscope over Norma's abdomen. "Two heartbeats, I can hear them now."
"May I listen?" Alex asked shyly. (For some reason, the stoic sheriff had become a shy, grinning fool. These babies, not even fully formed or able to sustain themselves in the world by themselves, had turned Mr. Bulldog into Mr. Rogers.)
"Of course," said the doctor, handing over the ear pieces for the stethoscope. Alex listened with rapture.
Finally, Norma found the ability to move her head again. Maybe it was the sudden absence of his hand (both of his hands touching the stethoscope) and missing the way it had been squeezing hers that jolted her back to the planet. She stared at Alex in wonder while he stared at her abdomen in wonder. When she saw the tear escape one of his eyes, she found the ability to breathe again. She reached for his hand but had to settle on his wrist. "Alex..."
Alex was mesmerized by the beating hearts growing inside his wife, but he couldn't ignore her touch, nor the sound of his name, spoken by her with such need in her voice. She needed him. He took the earbuds out and slowly met her gaze. "Honey? There's two of them. I heard them. Heartbeats. Listen." He put the earbuds in her ears.
While Norma listened, a smile creeping on her face and tears welling in her eyes, making Alex grin even more and leading to the two of them laughing quietly together, the doctor had her eyes on the screen. "The one on the bottom is definitely a boy, but I can't tell as to the one on the top..."
"Nicholas," said Norma, gazing fondly at her husband and touching his face.
"Nicholas," he repeated in amazement.
"He'll work miracles," she whispered. "He will have the magical ability to make the impossible happen, just like his father."
"I'm thinking the other one is a girl," the doctor went on, not paying the slightest attention to the doting parents because to her the puzzle to solve was more interesting. "He or she is positioned in a way that I can't tell for sure.. We might be able to get a better idea at the next appointment. We'll try again next time. For now I'll leave you two alone to enjoy the picture."
"Wait!" Norma called out to the doctor. Both doctor and father looked at her in surprised expectancy. "I have so many questions. Are they identical?"
The doctor smiled. "I understand, Mrs. Romero. They're fraternal twins. So no, they won't be identical."
"Oh. And they're... they're healthy? They look good." She stopped breathing in order to focus on the answer.
"They look beautiful, Mrs. Romero. Absolutely beautiful. And yes, healthy. So far so good."
Norma's breathed again. She let her head sink into the pillow. Twins, she thought. My God! Alex married me, knocked me up, and we're having twins. Is this really my life?
"Alex, are you sure this isn't a movie?" she asked him, her eyes glued to his face while he drove them home.
"It's not a movie, baby."
That idiotic grin was back on his face. "Babies."
"I'm sort of glad she couldn't tell us the gender of both of them," Norma said. "It could be fun if one of them is a surprise."
"We could always pick a gender neutral name," suggested Alex.
"True. But I think for a girl, I like Gabriella. Gabriella Grace."
"Not Grace Elizabeth?"
"No. Gabriella because it's the feminine form of Gabriel, which will be the baby's name if it's a boy, obviously."
"You know, I think this is a little unfair," said Alex, only half-serious, but to Norma it was all serious.
She touched his arm. "What? What's unfair?"
"You picking both names. I'd like to pick one."
"Oh," she said, relieved it was so trivial. "Well, you can the middle names."
"Oh thanks." He grinned. "The ones we'll never use."
"The middle names are very important, Alex. So choose wisely. And if you try to name our children after the characters of Dragnet, I will have to intervene."
He laughed. "Our children. Jesus, Norma. Twins. How the hell did that happen?"
She lightly punched his arm. "As if you didn't know."
He chuckled. After a little silence, he asked her, thoughtfully, "So why Gabriel?"
"Because Gabriel is an angel. A guardian angel. One of the seven archangels."
He was surprised. "I've never known you to be religious."
"I'm not, but I like the stories. Especially the angels. They give hope and protection. There is just something so gentle and yet powerful about Gabriel. Reminds me of you."
Alex was speechless. He wanted to look at her, to tear his eyes off the road, but he thought if he did, he might burst into tears.
"My other favorite is Raphael, but Raphael Romero doesn't sound good."
"And over my dead body I'm having a son named Raphael."
She arched her eyebrow as she looked at the side of his face. "What's your idea of an appropriate name for your son? Alexander, I suppose?"
"Ha! You would think that! Norma, who named her son Norman!"
"I've been thinking about my mom. What about Theresa?"
"Gabriella Theresa Romero," mused Norma. "I like it."
Another little silence, broken by Norma. "Alex?"
"Are you going to tell your father?"
"About the babies."
"Oh. Yeah. I suppose so."
"I want to meet him."
~ I'm sorry for another abrupt ending but I wanted to give you guys something since I had not updated in awhile. Been working a lot of hours to pay for my new fancy apartment and dog and cat food.
Chapter 13: Patience
"Norma, my father is a bad guy. He's manipulative and cruel. He drove my mother to suicide, he made her life a living hell."
"I know, Alex. You've told me this before. I don't want to meet him from any place of delusion about what kind of man he is."
"Then why? Why on earth would you want to ruin this happy time for us by bringing him up?"
"Alex, I'm not ruining anything. Your father is the only living relative of this child besides Norman, Dylan, and my brother. It's not that I want to have your dad babysit for us or anything, but I just think it would be nice if Nicholas and his twin at least know of his existence, and vice versa."
"You're forgetting about my cousin Nester and Vera."
"No, I'm not. Your dad is the only living grandparent. I never had a grandparent, Alex. Dylan never did either. I wasn't about to bring him within ten feet of my psycho parents."
"That's how I feel about my children, Norma!" Alex shouted. He was becoming angry at her lack of understanding for his unwillingness to involve his dad, to any degree, in his family life. "I don't want Nicholas and Gabriel or Gabriella within fifty feet of that asshole! And he's in prison! You want to bring our children into a prison?!"
Pregnancy hormones were now getting to Norma. Very hurt by the fact of his shouting at her, she sniffed back the tears and wiped her eyes. "I never said I wanted to bring the babies to meet him. I just said I wanted to meet him. To see for myself. To make my own judgement about it. Don't you think I deserve a say in who is in their lives?"
"What you don't deserve is to have Victor Romero sizing you up and playing mind games with you. You think Jake Abernathy was bad, Norma? That guy was an amateur. My dad will have you doubting yourself and feeling depleted within five minutes of meeting him."
"Fine." Norma stared out of the window, blinking back tears. "Just forget I said anything."
Alex reached for her hand but she pulled it away from him.
"Baby, don't be like that. I'm looking out for you. I'm not trying to be a jerk."
"I think you're underestimating me."
"I would never underestimate you. I just want to protect you."
"Jake Abernathy put a dead body in my bed, Alex. Keith Summers raped me. Hell, I was raped by my own brother. I think I can handle a conversation with your father."
Alex was stumped by this. Norma reminding him of the horrors inflicted upon her always left him speechless and then it was impossible for him to refuse her anything she asked. But unlike the time she asked him to accompany her at the meeting with Bob Paris, this time she was pregnant with his children. Those children gave him much needed additional support. While he hated saying no to Norma, the innocents in her uterus had to come first.
"You can handle my father, I know that," Alex finally said. "I just don't want you to have to. And I sure as hell don't want my children..." He stopped and then continued: "...our children exposed to that. He's toxic and there's no need. There's no point, Norma. There's no reason that any of us ever has to see that man. Do you trust me? Can you just trust me on this?"
Norma studied the side of his face, the tense jawline, the brow wrinkled with concern. She was reminded of all the things she loved most about him, and yet there was that very stubborn part of her that wanted to get her way. A battle raged inside her: in one corner, the loving, trusting wife (just keep the peace, Norma; don't rock the boat; he's right, there's no point; it was a stupid idea) and in the other corner, the raging bull that had been kicked one too many times and now was not taking no for an answer from anyone, no matter how foolish the scheme, and no matter how much she loved the opposition.
"Yes, Alex, of course I trust you."
The wife won for now, but the wife also put the scheme on the shelf. Who knew what would happen, what might change in Alex's heart in the future? Far from feeling defeated, the bull sensed that a fight of this nature should be tackled another way: non-combative, without antagonism, and with a patient eye on the long game.
Bob Paris never considered himself a criminal or a bad guy. He wouldn't even identify with the villain of the plot of an exciting movie. He'd consider himself as the man behind the villain, pulling the strings and making sure the curtain never slips. But it wasn't about puppeteering the villains. It was about keeping everyone happy. Blind, dumb, and happy. The killer kills, the pervert quells his sexual appetite, the addict feeds his cravings, and Bob secures the conditions that allow it all to go on without interference. No self-respecting Arcanum Club president would act any differently. What goes on at the club stays at the club, and Bob controls the club. Hookers are hookers, not people. Bob has the information, the evidence. Bob can get anything he wants. No one got in Bob's away until a certain Norma Bates decided to try to extort him. Norma Bates thought she could be Bob Paris for a day: getting what she wanted in exchange for the data in her possession. Bob couldn't let that go on. There was only room for one Bob Paris in White Pine Bay. Norma Bates would have to be taught a lesson. That's what the pit in front of her house was about. But the lesson never got executed. Because... Alex Romero to the rescue. He gave Bob the flash drive; he warned Bob not to hurt Norma. Bob didn't want to fight with Alex. He needed Alex. After Alex killed Marcus Young, Bob needed Alex more than ever.
And so Alex and Bob persisted in a kind of standoff. Two gunslingers, armed but unwilling to draw arms. Just watching each other. Observing, taking notes, but never acting. Bob dug around Norma Bates' past. A lot of people took more notice of her when she married the sheriff of the county. Everyone in White Pine Bay knew how devoted Alex was to his wife, knew that hurting Norma was the worst thing you could do to Alex Romero. In short, Bob set his target as "the goods" on Norma in order to hold the strings of Alex. He had her investigated extensively, probing into the history of her marriage to the late Samuel Bates, his supposedly 'accidental' death, and her own history before marrying him. Marriage to John Massett, supposed father of Dylan Massett and presently Norman Bates' lawyer. Childhood in Boise, Idaho. One of Bob's informants was that oddity who lived in the woods, the town weirdo called Chick Hogan. It turned out that Chick had very little stamina for torture. In one of the easiest interrogations Bob ever presided over, Chick told him all about the fact of Dylan's real father being in fact his uncle, Caleb Calhoun. Most of this field research was collected by the various goons in Bob's employ. However, there were certain tasks he preferred to undertake personally. He arrived punctually for his meeting. It was a federal correctional facility, one of the 'low security prisons' in Oregon, for inmates convicted of so-called 'white collar crimes' like embezzlement or 'process crimes' like perjury. That ever self-satisfied look on his face, he went through the process of visitation. Finally, he was ushered into a large room where the sunlight poured into large windows lining the wall just under the ceiling on one side. The only person there, waiting for him, was the person he had agreed to meet today. It was Victor Romero, former Sheriff of White Pine Bay and father of Alex Romero.
Chapter 14: Cotton Candy
Bob nodded at the old inmate. "Mr. Romero."
"Bobby. It's always nice to see a familiar face from the old town. You look a lot like your father. He was a good man." ('Good man,' as in rich and pleasant for the corrupt sheriff to do business with. 'Good man,' as in good to play golf and pool with, or just have drinks with at the local nude dancing bar.)
They sat across from each other.
"I'm here to talk to about Alex."
"Oh? He came to see me about a year ago. First time he came to see me in..." The old man thought about it. "Well, the first time he came to see me in here, actually."
"Must have been about the ledger," said Bob, knowingly. He knew Alex too well.
"Yeah. He went on in his self-righteous way, about how his saintly mother didn't deserve to be used as a cover for my dirty money."
Bob made a chuckling noise. "That sounds like Alex. He likes to pretend he's morally superior to everyone. Anyway, I'm not here to talk about the ledger. I'm here to talk about getting you out of here."
Victor raised his eyebrows. "I've never made parole. I'm sure Alex has something to do with that."
"Well, Alex isn't the only one who can make things happen," said Bob. "He's not even Sheriff anymore. You're up for parole in a couple of weeks. How'd you like to get out of this place and meet your daughter-in-law?"
Victor laughed. "I saw he got married in the paper. A picture at the lights festival. She's very beautiful."
"And she's very pregnant."
Alex stepped gingerly into their bedroom to find Norma sitting on the edge of the bed, facing the window, and crying. "Honey, what is it?"
She looked at him, unable to speak because of a new bout of crying. "I'm sorry. I didn't expect that it would be so hard. To say goodbye to this house."
Alex's heart melted at the sight of his pregnant emotional wife. He sat next to her and took her in his arms. "I'm sorry."
She pulled back a little bit and looked at him. "Don't be sorry. We're doing the right thing. This feels right, moving closer to Dylan and Emma and my grandchild. I don't want to live in this house anymore. I guess i'm just sad because I'm remembering the high hopes I had for me and Norman when we moved here. And look at us. You and I, we're so happy. We're building a beautiful life together, for our babies, but Norman. What about Norman?"
"He's safe, Norma. He's safe and comfortable and getting the help he needs."
Norma nodded. She knew it all. Alex was repeating her own talking points back to her. She knew Alex didn't see Norman the same way she did. How could he? When she looked at Norman, she saw a baby boy. Her baby. When he looked at Norman, he saw the crimes committed. Norma knew it, even though Alex never said it. She loved the more for now saying it. "I'm not going to be that guy who only tells you what you want to hear," he once said. And for the most part that was true. But some things require nuance and subtlety. It wasn't necessary for Alex to enumerate Norman's crimes for Norma. She just needed his compassion, so that's what he gave her.
They sat there, sitting on the bed, which they were leaving with the house, along with the other furniture, except the TV Alex had bought. (They had sold the house the same way Norma bought it, everything inside as is. They wanted a new life and that included new furniture.) Their heads together, Alex rubbed her arm, Norma massaged the hairs on the back of his neck. As he always could, and did, he calmed her now. He placed his hand on her swollen belly and smiled lovingly at her. This moment of intimacy, so innocent and so pure, where words were unnecessary because they communicated with their eyes and they were absolutely fluent in each others' facial and optical expressions, was all they wanted right now. Kissing would have ruined the perfection subsisting between them just then. With his eyes, Alex told her everything she knew already knew but loved being reminded of. With her eyes, she told Alex he was the unicorn she never believed in, never thought possible. A man like him? Ten years ago, hell even five years ago, she'd have scoffed at the idea that a man like Alex existed in the world. A belief in actual unicorns would have struck her as more rational.
One day, not long ago, Norma was reading about unicorns on the internet. Unicorns had become of great interest to her since finding out she was pregnant. She wanted to find books about them and 'unicorn toys' for her children. She had ordered stuffed unicorns for their crib and bassinet up in their new house outside of Seattle. On Wikipedia, she discovered a painting by Domenichino: "Virgin and Unicorn," depicting a maiden taming a unicorn. This painting reminded her so much of herse
lf and Alex, only Alex represented to her the maiden, it moved her to tears. She scouered the internet until she found a print of it within their budget and happily ordered it with the intention to put it in the nursery. She started smiling, suddenly.
Alex broke out into a grin of his own. "What?"
He tickled her on the sides of her ribs, making her squeal.
"Tell me what you're thinking about."
She bit her lower lip. "I'm thinking about the shirt."
Alex frowned. "Oh."
"Alex!" Norma pretended to be offended. "Where. Is. It?"
"It's in my suitcase."
"No, I'm not."
He groaned. "OK, Norma, fine. I'll go pack it right now." He tried to remove himself from her clutches, but she pulled him to her. It was like their heads were glued together by the static in the air.
"I want you to wear it on the drive there."
"Norma! No! I'm not wearing that shirt in public! Ever!"
"If you wear it for me, on the drive to our new house-"
"Not happening," he cut her off.
"Alex, if you do this, I will do anything you want on our first night in the house."
OK. This made Alex, for the first time, consider bending on the issue. "Anything?"
Norma nodded, making their heads nod together. "Anything."
Alex let out a deep sigh. "No," he said finally, not with much conviction.
"No?" Norma could hardly believe he would pass up this opportunity.
"Norma, it's just too embarrassing. It's emasculating."
"It is not emasculating!"
"Norma, it is, trust me."
"But, Alex, it's so cute!"
"It is not cute. It's nauseating."
She was now pouting. "Please?"
"OK, baby, I'll tell you what. This is as far as I'm gonna go with this. I will wear it tonight in our new house, but not in public." He read the hopeful look in her eyes and added, "And no pictures."
"Oh, Alex, please!"
"Absolutely no pictures, Norma!"
Norma tried to pull away, as Alex had tried a minute or two before, but the combination of his strength and the static between them kept her head glued to his. "It's not fair, Alex. I need a picture for the baby book."
"Alex, I have to have a picture of you wearing the Dadacorn shirt and our babies wearing their shirts that say 'My Dad's Jokes are Unicorny.'"
All he could do was groan.
"Alex, you're not going to win this war. You won the battle in not wearing it in public, but I'm going to get my pictures. I'm getting something out of being the mother of your children."
Alex's face fell. He used all inner strength to pull away from her and stand up. "You're getting something out of being the mother of my children? Something? Gee, Norma, I'm sorry it's so awful for you to be my children's mother."
"Alex, that's not what I mean, and you know it."
"Do I, Norma?"
"Yes, you know damn well I want these babies. Your babies. Our babies. That's why I want to do these silly things. They make me happy. Happier than I've ever been in my whole life. And I want to have pictures to remember all of it."
She walked up to him, stood right in front of him, and nudged his chin to make him look at her. Looking at her at last made him grin like a kid in a candy store. He kissed her back when she kissed him.
"OK Norma what?"
"You win, Norma."
"Of course I do."
"You always win, Norma."
"Of course I do."
They giggled together and preceded to have sex in their old bedroom one last time.
On the drive to Seattle, Alex kept having to peel his thoughts away from the memory of unzipping her dress to discover the naughty little lingerie set she'd been wearing this whole time. Apparently, this had been meant for seducing him in their new house. It was from a maternity line, accentuating her pregnancy curves in all the right places, and that made it all so much sexier. It mimicked a French maid's costume and had a garter panty set with fishnet stockings. As he devoured her with his eyes and hands, Alex could practically feel his brain cells melting, rendering him dumb and speechless. A wicked part of him couldn't contain his glee over the fact that he was getting the reward she had meant to give him in exchange for his caving to her demand to wear the Dadacorn shirt in public. He had refused to cave on that. His masculinity had been preserved, and he still got the reward of her riding him straight through the gates of heaven. He fondled her perfect breasts while she rode his member. He had become naked already, but she still wore the lovely costume that was bringing out the beast in him, and he loved it. He wished he could bottle up the memory for best safekeeping, so that he would never be unable to recall the fantastic sight of her hovering over him, belly swollen with their babies, wearing a costume of servility and yet dominating him. That was so Norma. Dominatrix hidden. Sweet and sunny on the outside. All harmony on the surface. Life with Norma was like a rollercoaster sometimes, but once the nausea subsided, you could have cotton candy!
Chapter 15: Wherever you go there you are
A/N: It's been a long wait, Reader, but I hope I am making up for that with this nice long chapter. Also, the Bob Paris/Daddy Romero plotline is not forgotten, definitely not dead, though it might seem like it. It is a twist that is coming soon to shake up the Normero bliss. But fear not, for if anyone can handle Bob Paris and Daddy Romero, it's Normero!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fairvale, Washington was the fairly sleepy seat of Randolph County on Oakland Bay, southwest of Seattle. Most of the young deputies working under Sheriff Considine aspired to move on from there, maybe go up to Seattle, work at the Seattle PD, or if really ambitious, run for King County Sheriff. Alex Romero was not one of those bright-eyed young deputies, only biding time and gaining experience in hopes for something bigger in life. Alex just wanted to work and live quietly, well enough to support his wife and two children. Unfortunately, almost six years after the Romeros came to town, a terrible tragedy happened, to the very Sheriff who had given Alex, his old Marine Corps buddy, the chance to start over.
On the night of the tragedy, Alex and Norma and their five-year-old twins were inside their house, all in a very good mood. They had just had dinner. Norma did dishes while Alex cleaned up the mess made by the sticky fingers of Nicky and Ella during dinner. Meanwhile, the twins were running around the house in a last hoorah of the day, which their parents welcomed because it meant that, soon, the little munchkins would collapse and go to sleep. It was all normal. Yesterday had been the same and the Romeros loved it that way. Norma absolutely loved being married to Alex, being a homemaker again, a mother again (old roles for her, but better this time around, so much better) and living in this new but old-like house, very country-like but not isolated, where the floorboards didn't creak all the time and the furness never broke down. Alex relished working again, in a place where he was just busy enough, never too busy, because it meant he was always home in time to have dinner with his very much cherished family. He and Norma were settled in life, in a routine, yet never bored. The twins ensured lots of surprises throughout the day. And the spark lived on in their marriage too. He often came home with flowers for Norma. She'd been liking tulips lately. There was a florist near the station and he would gladly pop over and buy for her a bouquet of baby tulips. He had done so on this night. After they finished cleaning the kitchen, the mother and father embraced and shared a tender kiss. And then Alex asked Norma to dance. Ignoring his running, screaming kids, Alex turned on the stereo speakers. He selected "It had to be you" on Spotify.
It had to be you
It had to be you
I wandered around
And finally found
The somebody who
Could make me be true
The version selected by Alex was the Harry Connick Jr version, which has a faster tempo than the one with Frank Sinatra singing or Tony Bennett for MTV Unplugged, or Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Norma was tickled. They giggled while they moved to the upbeat tempo.
Some others I've seen
Might never been mean
Might never be crossed
Or try to be bossed
But they wouldn't do
When he dipped her, they laughed so hard and enjoyed the moment so well, they didn't notice the kids had stopped running around. The twins were staring at their parents from the kitchen doorway, watching them spin around, looks of amazement on their faces.
For nobody else
Gave me a thrill
With all your faults
I love you still
It had to be you
It had to be you
When the song ended, and some annoying Spotify advertisement came on, they just kept moving as if both, and only they, heard the music playing on. They were so lost in each other's eyes it came as a complete shock when they felt two pairs of little arms wrapping around their legs, trapping them, and preventing further movement. Nicky and Ella were now giggling furiously. Norma laughed as she watched Alex scoop both of them up, so easily with his strong arms, and kiss them ferociously, making them squeal with delight.
"All right, munchkins," Norma said, tickling them while they were still in their father's arms. "It's bath time."
Alex carried them upstairs, Norma following. She was just turning on the bathwater when the phone call came. Alex left them in the bathroom in order to answer his phone.
"Romero," he answered the call. He hadn't even glanced at the caller's ID because he'd been on such a high with his family.
"Hey, Romero; it's Dakota."
"I'm afraid it's really bad."
"Sheriff Considine, he's... He's been shot."
"Norma, I have to go," Alex told her quietly from the doorway of the bathroom. The children were in the bath, covered in bubbles and playing with rubber toys.
Norma stood up and tilted her head as she studied his worried face. "Can you tell me what's wrong?"
"Not now, honey." He jerked his head in the direction of the kids. She understood.
"OK. Call me as soon as you can. You know I'll worry."
He gave her a sympathetic smile and stepped toward her. While rubbing her upper arms, he pulled her into an embrace. "I'll call you from the car."
Norma had waited for Alex's call to come, but it never did. She got the kids out of the bath, dried off, into their PJ's, and in bed. All while having no idea where Alex was, what he was doing, or what the emergency was about. She poured herself a glass of wine and took it back upstairs to take her own bath. As she lay her head against the back of the tub, she tried not to think about Alex in some life threatening situation. He's just busy asking questions, investigating, trying to get to the bottom of whatever happened, she kept telling herself. The longed-for call came, not only interrupting her thoughts but scaring the shit out of her. She almost knocked over her glass of wine.
"Alex, why didn't you call me?" she asked answering the call with hands she had quickly dried on a towel by the tub.
"I'm so sorry, baby. Calls just kept coming in the car and it's just been one thing after another. It's bad, Norma. It's the sheriff. He was shot."
"Joe? Someone shot Joe? Oh my god!"
"Yeah. His stepson. He shot Joe, then Louise, and then himself."
Norma forgot how to breath. Joe and Louise Considine had become quite friendly with the Romeros. Norma knew about the stepson, but not very much. Joe and Louise had never spoken about him. All Norma and Alex knew was that Louise's son from her first marriage had been institutionalized. She vividly remembered Louise mentioning it because the word Pineview coming out of Louise's lips had shocked Norma. Norma had remained silent, not mentioning the commonality between them of having a son at Pineview.
"That kid shot his own mother?"
"And then shot himself."
"I thought he was at Pineview."
Alex sighed. "Apparently he was there by his own will, so he was able to check himself out."
"Oh my god, Alex, that's horrible."
"I know. Listen, I'm on my way. I'll be there soon."
Norma couldn't hear this news without thinking of Norman. Unlike the Considine kid, Norman was involuntarily institutionalized. Norman could never leave Pineview. He'd been doing fairly well, at least according to Dylan's quarterly or so updates. Of all the family, Dylan was the most diligent about keeping tabs on Norman. Norma would have visited Norman more often, but with her little ones getting bigger by the day, practically, she had to be increasingly discreet about any contact with Norman. She didn't want them hearing something and getting the wrong idea. With good reason, she and Alex had removed themselves from White Pine Bay. Here in Fairvale, there was no worry about some kid at school repeating to Nicky and Ella what his or her parents had said about Norman Bates. At some point, Norma knew, she'd have to tell them about Norman. But not now. Not when they were so little and so pure. She wanted to preserve their innocence as long as possible.
Not that Norman wanted to see more of his mother. He still acting like a jerk when she did visit him. When she mentioned anything about Alex and the twins, all she got from Norman was a sneering attitude. After awhile, it just got to a point where Norma no longer wanted to make the effort. And even more recently, it had become easier to not feel guilty about not making the effort. He doesn't want to see me anyway. Nicky and Ella always wanted to see their mother. Norman seemed to get worse whenever Norma laid eyes on him. He sounded better through Dylan's eyes. Norma convinced herself that Norman made better progress if she kept her distance. Dylan and Alex did nothing to discourage the idea, as they agreed that Norma's presence, dissociative object that she was in Norman's mind, could be more damaging than helpful to him.
Alex was, indeed, home soon after they hung up. Norma lay in bed, in their dark bedroom, and tried to go to sleep. She didn't know how she felt, nor how she should feel, nor what to say to Alex. Something about this tragic event, the murders of the sheriff and sheriff's wife, was cutting her to the bone. It chilled her to think that it could be her and Alex and she hated herself just for having that thought. Norman would never hurt me, she always told herself. He's not Sam. He's half me and he was raised and loved by me and he loves me.
She listened to all of Alex's movements in their bedroom with eyes full of tears, but straining to hold them back. The last thing she wanted was to start sniffling and then Alex would be all over her, insisting that she talk to him. She knew his home-late-get-in-bed movements by heart. First, the watch comes off. He puts the watch on the dresser. The badge is unclipped from his belt. Not sheriff badge, because he isn't a sheriff anymore, but a deputy badge. Belt through the loops of his pants and placed on the dresser. Wallet removed from leather jacket, then leather jacket comes off. Norma inhaled, her eyes closed, and counted to ten, trying to suppress her need for him.
She held her breath.
Her eyes open now, she listened as he slipped under the covers. As he put his hand on her hip, she closed her eyes and hoped she wasn't smiling too obviously as his lips touched her cheek.
"You're awake," he said kindly. "Why are you giving me the silent treatment?"
"I'm not giving you the silent treatment."
"I see. Just remaining silent while I'm asking you questions. Not the silent treatment. Not at all."
Norma sat up. "Alex, I'm having a hard time with this, ok? Three people are dead, two of them were our friends, and the one who did it was a kid at Pineview, where Norman is. I'm sorry if I'm not able to do pillow talk with you."
"Pillow talk? I didn't expect that. A simple 'hello, I'm glad your home' would have been great."
She looked at him and smiled warmly. He returned it. "Hello, husband, lover, love of my life, and father of my children. I'm glad your home."
"Not bad," he said mischievously. "You could vastly improve it if you add a kiss to the end."
She playfully punched his shoulder. He seized the chance to pull her closer to him. He was stroking her hand, the one stroking his cheek and tracing each of his features, one at a time.
"This is serious, Alex."
"I know, Norma. I'm the interim Sheriff now, until the election."
"It could have been us, Alex."
"It wasn't, Norma. And it won't be. Chet was a voluntary patient at Pineview. That's not the case with Norman. Norman is serving a life sentence."
Alex intended these words to have a comforting effect on Norma, but the result was the opposite of that. The tears that had been threatening release started rolling down her cheeks ruthlessly and her breathing became labored. "You thought it too. That Norman is capable..." She couldn't speak anymore. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face and tears in that place between his neck and shoulder. She hated herself for having this thought about her dearest boy, for being afraid of him, for being afraid that he would hurt not only her but, worse, her babies in the next room.
Alex did the only thing he could do. He held her and allowed her to sob in his embrace. He whispered tender reminders of his love and that everything would be all right, kind of, but other than that, he just let her release her emotions.
"It could have been us," she kept saying.
"No, Norma. Norman's in Pineview for life."
She lifted her head and looked him in the eyes. Her eyes were always a sharper blue when she was crying, and even in the dark room he could see it, if only because he knew it to be happening. Her eyes were imploring; his eyes were telling her in language only they understood that he'd give her anything she asked for.
"Norman," she said and then stopped. "He hates you and..."
"No, Alex. Let me say this. I never wanted to think of Norman as capable of hurting me, but I've known what he's capable of for a long time. He could never accept you and me, and as for the twins, no, they're at risk. I'm afraid, Alex. If anything happens to them, to our babies..."
"Ssh," Alex implored, pushing the hair from her face. "Stop. Nothing will happen to you, me, or our babies. I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt us, I don't care who it is, baby. I'll kill them."
She knew he meant, he'd kill Norman to protect their babies, and for this she felt so much love for him, mixed with so much hate... But, love trumps hate, right? Love conquers all, so they say.
"Ssh," Alex implored, pushing the hair from her face. "Stop. Nothing will happen to you, me, or our babies. I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt us, I don't care who it is, baby. I'll kill them."
She knew he meant, he'd kill Norman to protect their babies, and for this she felt so much love for him, mixed with so much hate... But, love trumps hate, right? Love conquers all, so they say.
Let's put it this way: Norma had been through times when it was necessary to compromise a moral principle in order to protect her beloved ones. She never would have condoned protecting a boy who had sex with and then murdered his teacher; but you see, that boy was her boy. Alex too understood this. He never had any animus against Bob Paris until Bob threatened to ruin the life of his beloved, by ruining the life of her beloved. Now that Alex was a father, understood perfectly why Norma had protected Norman so ruthlessly. He would do the same for Nicky and Ella. Rule number one of parenting, says the psychologist Jordan Peterson: Don't let your child do anything that will make you dislike them.* Norma broke that rule with Norman, to put it mildly; and Dylan too, it's just lucky Dylan was born with a very strong character. She wasn't going to make the mistake with her twin babies. Nicky and Ella would never be a situation of having to hit Dad with a blender to make him stop hurting Mom. Because their dad loved and honored and cherished their mother, and they would grow up seeing those sentiments born out in his daily actions. And even if they were to develop some condition where they suffer from blackouts, they would be treated for it. Nothing would be covered up. There would be no fearful secrets, no terrifying shadows, no lies among the ranks in the Romero family. Whatever bad things happened, they would face them together, as a family.
"So no, Norma, it couldn't be-" He didn't get to finish the sentence because she hurled her body on top of his, forcing him back against his pillow, and kissed him fiercely.
He felt guilty for what they were doing, making love to each other on the same night that their friends were murdered, but how could he possibly resist her? She felt so good. She always felt so good and he couldn't stop himself from moving his hands to her perfect, firm buttocks and squeezing them. She grinned and moaned against his mouth. There was a part of her that felt guilty as well, but she needed him too much to care (much) about anything or anyone else. There was no more effective ataractic for Norma than sex with Alex. His hands alone had the effect of soothing every cell in her body. His lips melted her skin. They gave new meaning to the concept of burning love. Sweet, soothing, positively neuroleptic burning love!
He moved his lips to her neck, she moved hers in planting kisses all over his face and tickling his earlobes. They drove each other crazy with these teasing kisses, nibbles, and even bites. She loved when he bit her neck, the consequences be damned. That's what scarves and makeup are for. This was just one of many things she never liked with anyone else, but loved with Alex. He made everything so, so good. The torturous game they were playing was agonizing and satisfying at the same time. They wanted at once to prolong and cease the torture. The hardness in his boxers could only be described as 'hurting so good,' like the song by John Mellencamp.
Come on baby make it hurt so good
Sometimes love don't feel like it should
You make it, hurt so good
"I love you," she whispered in his ear. "I love you so much."
He maneuvered her face into his hands (yes, those legendarily callused hands) and stroked her face with his thumbs. He loved the softness of her skin. It never ceased to amaze him how skin could be so soft. "Baby, I love you more everyday. I fall in love with you every time I look at you. We're gonna be ok. We're always gonna be ok."
"Yes, I promise, because I mean it when I say I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt you or our babies."
"If I don't kill them first," she said, with just a hint of a smirk forming at the corners of her mouth. "Now shut up and make love to me."
He rolled them over and then gazed at her, now laying under him, lovingly. "How do you want it, Norma? Hard and fast or slow and easy?"
"Hard and slow, fast and easy," she teased.
He grinned hugely. "I'm going to interpret that as you wanting the beast."
NOTE *Yes, it is possible to dislike your child. Anyone who is a parent knows that your kid can do lots of things to make you dislike them, if only for a second. Being a good parent means being the parent your kid needs, and often your kid will need you to tell them that they are doing something wrong. Don't do this or that because it might not be a nice thing to do and if you want to be a nice person in the world, there are some things you might want to consider not doing.
A/N: I'm honestly not trying to be an asshole by ending the chapter this way. I'm ok at writing foreplay, but not really good at writing actual sex, and I think it's better to let your imagination take over than risk giving you a badly written sex act. Also, leaving it to the imagination, it kinda makes it more sexy, doesn't it? I think it does!
Chapter 16: Déjà Vu
Norma and Alex woke up full of memories of the previous night, all great ones, and they could not stop smiling. Alex, brimming over with self-satisfied glee, kept catching her eye and she would blush and giggle. "I feel like a schoolgirl who has just 'done it' for the first time," she said, gently nudging him in his belly with her elbow. He wrapped his hand around the same arm and pulled her to him, smashing his lips on hers. They laughed into their kissing, which made them laugh even harder.
Norma pulled back only slightly so that she could look into his warm, welcoming, loving eyes.
"First time, huh?" Alex breathed.
"Yeah," she said dreamily. "Reminds me of that time Emma came to me for advice about 'doing it' with Gunner."
Alex made a look of disgust. "Emma did it with Gunner? That idiot?"
Norma teasingly, gently 'punched' him in the shoulder. "Hey! That 'idiot' got us into the Bob Paris flash drive, remember?"
Alex shrugged. "Still. I'm glad she set her sights higher and ended up with Dylan."
"Yeah, she got lucky."
Alex's grin expanded. "Dylan's lucky too."
"Well, yeah, sure."
"Shameless bias, Mrs. Romero."
"I don't know what you're talking about. My son is the best catch ever. That's an objective fact." She wrapped her arms around him at the level of his neck and then rested her elbows on his shoulders.
He placed his hands on her waist and rubbed her there in a way that soon began to drive her crazy.
"What kinda name is Gunner anyway?" he whispered seductively, about half a millimeter from her lips, making her knees tremble.
"A stupid one," she said breathlessly just before smashing her lips against his.
Alex hit the ground running as interim Sheriff of Randolph County. It was wholly unwelcome, given the circumstances that made it happen, and he never expected nor desired to hold the title again. However, there is no denying that he was a natural. He fell into the role and fit it like a glove. It was in his bones. There was no murder to solve, since the forensics clearly showed that it was the doing of the dead stepson. There was only a department and county to lead through the healing process. Alex had assure the people of the county that they were still safe. He and Norma and the kids attended the funeral- a horrid display of two long-serving, widely respected members of the community being buried alongside their murderer. Of course, the twins were not told the whole truth. Alex thought it might be good to be truthful, but Norma would not allow it. "Too young, Alex, they're too young. They hardly understand what death is. I'm not going to tell two five-year-olds about matricide and suicide. A bad thing happened. A bad guy killed them. That's all they need to know."
The twins were very confused. They had a lot of questions. "I thought sheriffs knew how to take care of bad guys," Nicky said. And Ella wanted to know if the bad guys were going to come for them too. It took a lot of creativity to ease their little minds. In fact, for two weeks, the kids insisted on sleeping with their parents. Alex was ok with it for a few days, but as it dragged on for days after the funeral, he grew impatient. He thought it was a bad habit for them to play with.
The kids behaved perfectly at the funeral. Norma gave them a long talk, in simple language, about the importance of being quiet and not laughing or playing because there were to be a lot of sad people, and "sad people who have lost someone dear to them need time to be sad. We can laugh in the car, but once out of the car, you mustn't laugh and be silly like we usually are. There are times for fun and games, but not when people are sad. Do you understand?"
"Yes, mama," said Nicky while Ella nodded, unable to stop the tears welling in her eyes, which were the same caramel color as her father's eyes. (Both twins had eyes the same color as Alex's eyes, Norma's shape, Alex's color; Norma's porcelain skin, Alex's dark hair. Technically, they were fraternal twins, but like the famous Olsen twins, also technically fraternal, they looked mostly alike.) "Just like when you're sad."
Norma's brow wrinkled in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"When you're sad because you miss Dylan Daddy says we have to be quiet and good."
Norma knew instantly what this really meant. Alex told them that her 'sadness' was about missing Dylan, but hearing this from her son, she knew it was Alex's way of covering for the truth: that she was sad about Norman, and she loved him so much for the way he protected her grieving space even from her own babies.
Smiling through the tears she was forcing back, Norma nodded in agreement with her son's statement. "Daddy is right. When someone is sad, you should be extra kind to them. Give them space. Be gentle. You know how you and Daddy play rough around the house?"
The twins both nodded.
"Well, that's when everyone is feeling good. We're going to a funeral now where everyone will be sad and that's why we have to be especially good and speak in a low voice."
"You mean like this?" Nicky asked, whispering in an exaggerated way.
Norma smiled. "Yes, you can speak a little louder but you have the right idea."
Alex came up behind the kids and scooped up Ella. "And if," he began, making the girl squeal in delighted surprise, "you both behave, we'll go for ice cream afterward!"
Norma frowned, but failed to catch Alex's eye. She knew he was intentionally avoiding her glare.
"Ice cream!" Ella exclaimed, clapping her hands.
"Ice cream, yay!" Nicky danced around his father.
"What's wrong?" Alex touched her hands that lay idly in her lap. He was driving, but whenever he good safely look at her, he did.
She relented in smiling at him, admiring the way his jaw twitched, almost as if knowing its guilt but contributing to his overall charm so that she would absolve him. "Ice cream, Alex? Really?"
"What?" he asked innocently. "You don't think they deserve it for behaving at their first funeral?"
"But, Alex, bribing them? For doing what they're supposed to do? I want them to behave because they want to do good, not because we fatten them up."
Alex rolled his eyes. "Norma, it's just ice cream. It's not a big deal."
Norma shrugged. "I suppose not, but it would have been nice to talk to me about it first. We're supposed to make decisions about them together."
At this, Alex truly did look sorry. "You're right. I'm sorry. It was just a spur of the moment thought and I knew they would like it, so I jumped the gun. I honestly thought I was helping."
She squeezed his hand to let him know that all was forgiven.
The funeral was uneventful, although at the burial ceremony, Norma noticed a strange man standing at some distance from the rest of the mourners. The distance and the glare of the sun prevented her from having a good enough look at him to determine who he could be. Something about him felt oddly familiar. He definitely had his attention on the service. The Mayor of Fairvale delivered a heartfelt eulogy about the "goodness" of the Considine family: the hardworking, dutiful sheriff; his lovely, charitable wife; and 'their' disturbed, but well-meaning son. Very little was said about the son, although his body was interred alongside the parents he had murdered, beyond that the people of Fairvale would apparently never forget what a "sweet boy" he once was, the kind of boy you might say would not hurt a fly. No one could explain what had made him 'snap' and so people just took to shaking their heads in a confused manner before lamenting the deficiencies of psychiatric awareness and treatment.
Before interment, people started milling around the caskets to lay flowers or plant hand kisses or just do a sign of the cross over them one last time. Alex decided it was a good time to leave. He felt uncomfortable. The fact that his children were losing their patience, becoming antsy, made it worse. He knew they wouldn't be able to stand still much longer. He and Norma were seated in the front row. Nicky was standing, leaning against his mother while Ella sat in Alex's lap. Ella was becoming tired and fussy. Nicky's head kept drooping and at one point Norma had to shush him for saying, "Mom, I'm hungry."
Alex turned to say something to his wife but noticed that her attention was diverted elsewhere. He followed her stare. He saw the man watching the proceedings from some distance. He recognized him immediately. The sun cannot prevent you from discerning a person one knew so well. The way he was standing, the shape of him. Alex knew right away that the man was his father.
Ella Romero frowned. "Daddy," she whined, reaching up with her arms, indicating her wish to be picked up again, for he had just put her feet on the ground so that he could stand up.
"Sweetheart, I have to go do something, I'll be back." Alex took a step forward, in the direction of his father. Norma grabbed his hand. She was still seated.
"Alex? Where are you going?"
"Norma, I have to talk to someone. Wait here. Look after the children."
Alex made eye contact with his father, but it was quickly obstructed by the handsome young Mayor coming to stand in front of Alex. "Sheriff Romero, I know we've met before, but we haven't really had a chance to talk. I want to tell you how appreciative I am of the way you've stepped up in the wake of this tragedy..."
"Thank you, sir, that's very nice. I have to..."
The Mayor was persistent. "And I'd like to set up a time to have a more thorough conversation about how we proceed. We should open a dialogue as soon as possible, don't you think?"
"Absolutely, yes, but right now..."
"I'll have my secretary call yours. Maybe we can set something up."
"Yes, of course. If you'll excuse me..." Alex finally succeeded in sidestepping the mayor, but it was too late. His father had gone away and was now nowhere to be seen.
"Are you sure, Alex? I really don't think we were close enough to be sure."
"I'm sure, Norma." Alex was growing irritated. They were driving to take the kids for the promised ice cream. "It was him. I'd know him anywhere. He's my father."
"But I thought he was in prison."
"Parole? Good behavior? Victor Romero is very persuasive to the untrained, in other words people who didn't grow up as his son."
"Well, why would he show up at the funeral of someone he didn't even know and just stand in the distance and not even talk to you?"
"I don't know, Norma. To shake me up? To get under my skin? It worked."
Norma sighed. "You're really worried, aren't you?"
He hesitated, but only for a second. "Yes."
"You think he could hurt us?"
Longer hesitation. Should he tell her the truth? That would worry her. Norma had a tendency to act irrationally when worried about her children.
"He's not going to hurt any of us, baby. I won't let him get near you and our kids."
"Alex, maybe he just wants to talk."
"Then he can talk to me, but I don't want him near you or our children. I don't trust him."
"Norma, let's not talk about this right now. I think we should focus on having a good rest of the day with the kids. We'll talk about it tonight when we're alone."
But everything wasn't fine and both Alex and Norma knew it. Alex had a little more insight, knowing his father as well as he did, but even he was in the dark as to how his father had been released from prison, still more how his father had found them. It's not that hard, he scolded himself for being stupid. It's not like we changed our names. 'Alex and Norma Romero' aren't difficult to locate in the internet/satellite age. But he had to have help. Right?
It took about two seconds, maximum, for Bob Paris to enter Alex's mind as he drove his family to the frozen yogurt place in town. After that, it was just a question of why Bob would do it.
To get under my skin, thought Alex. He loves getting under my skin.
Unfortunately, the Romeros did not have a 'good rest of the day' by any standard. Ella dropped hers on the floor and she had a temper tantrum that endured even while her father produced the replacement. She settled down to eat her frozen yogurt, but remained sullen for the rest of their time at the establishment. Nicky told her she was being a baby and she responded by protruding her strawberry-stained tongue in his direction, which ignited a war of which twin could extend his/her tongue the farthest. Norma scolded them, but they kept insulting each other because neither wanted to let the other have the last word or, worse, the last tongue-out. Finally, an exasperated Norma pleaded for her husband's attention and help, but while he was physically present, he was mentally far, far away.
"Alex!" Norma touched his face and made him look at her.
"What?" he asked, irritated.
"I've been trying to get your attention. Where are you?"
"I'm here, Norma. Jesus."
"Don't 'Jesus' me. You were off somewhere in outer space. We're supposed to be here as a family, having fun, or did you forget?"
"No, Norma, I didn't forget. I'm sorry if I'm a little shaken by the appearance-"
"Alex!" She hissed. "We'll talk about it later. Can't you try to be in the here and now for your children and their mother?"
"Fine," he said with a forced smile. "Kids, are you having fun? Enjoying your yogurt?"
"Well, you promised us ice cream," said Nicky, "but yeah, it's still good."
"You forgot to put M&Ms on it," said Ella. "The one I dropped had M&Ms."
"Well, we don't have to come back," said Alex. "If you guys aren't going to appreciate it, I don't think we should."
"True," said Norma. "I'm sure there are lots of kids who would love it if we take them to have frozen yogurt or ice cream, and I bet they wouldn't complain about the lack of M&Ms. Ella, if you wanted M&Ms there is a way to ask politely. Why didn't you use your words?"
"I tried, but then Nicky was mean to me."
"I was not."
"All right that's enough," snapped Alex. "No more fighting or tonight no TV and no bedtime story."
"For both of us?" Ella whined. "He's the one who started it." She pointed accusingly at her brother.
"For both of you," said Alex. "Because you're both being bad."
"No fair. I wasn't being bad." Ella put down her spoon, leaned against the back of her chair, folded her arms, and turned her face into a pout.
"You were being a baby," sneered her brother.
Alex's jaw tensed. "No dessert either. You know better than to tell people to shut up."
"I'm not a baby," said Ella.
"Then don't act like a baby," said Nicky.
That was when Ella let out a bloodcurdling scream, causing everyone in the place to go silent and look at the sullen Romero family. Alex and Norma made the kids leave at that point, even though no one had finished his/her frozen yogurt. Ella did not stop crying. Nicky buckled down on the silent treatment. The one thing he did say was spoken as he sat down at the kitchen table for dinner. "I didn't do anything wrong," he said, emphasizing the I.
"You were mean to your sister," his father said. "That's plenty wrong."
"Yeah!" Ella stuck her tongue out at her twin.
Alex glared at her. "You were plenty wrong too, missy. We're not talking anymore about it because you both know what you did wrong. Until you apologize to each other and to us-" (he indicated Norma) "-you are going to bed without dessert, TV, or bedtime story."
"I'm sorry, Dad, I'm sorry, Mom," Nicky said.
"That's good, Nick," said Alex. "Now will you apologize to your sister?"
"No, unless she says sorry to me too."
Ella would not apologize to anyone. She was mad and in her five-year-old mind she was justified; everyone was being unfair and unjust to her. She wanted Mama to hug her and she wanted to be Daddy's princess again, but she didn't want to admit she had been wrong or bad. The twins went to bed very unhappy and their parents retreated to their bedroom hoping that in the morning things would right themselves. They knew they had a pair of stubborn five-year-olds. Alex often called them 'our little hotheads.' Norma generally wanted to indulge the kids and make excuses for them. It was in her nature to nurture. In times like this, she deferred to Alex because she knew this was his area. Being loving and warm and positive was her strength. Being truthful with people who did wrong was his strength. Together, they were quite a match! Love and Justice! Aphrodite and Themis!
As the adults got ready for bed, Norma kept stealing glances at her husband. He seemed to be trying to avoid her gaze. He self-consciously removed his tie and the rest of his clothes to change into a pair of pajama pants and a US Marines t-shirt. It was hard work avoiding her gaze, and her scent, especially after she lathered up the vanilla lotion on her hands.
They got in bed, Alex using his reading glasses to read email on his laptop, Norma updating her foodie blog on hers. They were not only avoiding necessary conversations with each other; they were escaping, a normal coping mechanism! Alex consumed himself in work to avoid personal pain. Norma consoled herself by cooking meals or planning meals; in any case, good healthy, home-cooked food was her comfort. These things made them feel normal and connected to the world. It gave them a sense of purpose in a world full of suffering and chaos.
Norma had enough. She shut her MacBook and put it in the upper drawer of her nightstand. While turning off her lamp, she said, "I'm going to sleep."
"Sweet dreams," said Alex, not even peeling his eyes from his MacBook to look at her. She turned her back to him, sunk her face into her pillow, and shut her eyes. She was so upset, too upset to cry. The emotional pain literally caused physical pain in her chest, but she couldn't cry. This pain was deeper than that which easily manifests itself with tears. She felt like she was losing her soulmate, like somehow, with the horrible murders of the sheriff and sheriff's wife, their bubble was burst. They had had amazing sex only the night before, but then the funeral, and Alex's father, and the kids misbehaving... Life! Ten thousand spoons when all your need is a knife!
NEXT CHAPTER WILL BE ALEX'S POV in all of this...
Chapter 18: When You're Ready
I had trouble with this chapter. I rewrote it a few times. I feel like on the show it was Norma who had to deal with her past all the time: Dylan coming back into her life, always carrying the secret of what Norman did to Sam, etc. Now it is Alex who has to confront the past.
When Alex's eyes opened as a natural biological response to the dawning of a new day and the sunlight pouring into their bedroom, he felt it immediately. The coldness from Norma's side of the bed. He turned his body over and felt around the sheets, searching for her blindly with his hand. Finally seeing with his eyes that she wasn't there, he sighed as his head sank into his pillow, trying not to remember his nightmare. After that nightmare, he needed his wife and she wasn't there.
He was a child again. Ten, eleven years old? A weird, freakish amalgamation of adult and child Bob Paris was cackling from the pitcher's mound, laughing at Alex's inability to hit the ball. Bob's face kept shifting from its past to its present form. His father, steadily in present form, was crouched behind the home plate, continually hitting the inside of the catcher's mitt with his fist. "Come on, Alex," his father implored. "Don't let this piece of shit get the better of you."
Bob wound himself up as a pitcher does to gather momentum before the pitch. It happened so fast. Alex's breathing increased in anticipation of the ball. It did happen fast, but it also happened slowly. Aggravatingly slow, enough to increase his panic, but still too fast to prepare for it. He thought he saw Keith Summers standing near first base, sneering at him. The ball flew right over the plate and into his father's mitt. Again. And again, Bob's mockery and Keith's sneer.
"Strike two, Alex!" Bob yelled, his face settling for a moment in adult form.
"You can't even hit a foul ball, Romero!" Keith shouted. "Pathetic! You play like my sister!"
"Worse," Bob added, his face that of a child again. "Even your sister can hit the ball, Summers!"
"That's enough!" Victor Romero stood up and pulled Alex aside. "Get it together, Alex. You're embarrassing me. Everyone knows you're my kid. Now start acting like it."
"What, Dad?" snapped the son. "I'm not good enough to be your kid. I have to act like who? Like Bob? Why don't you adopt him? I don't want to be your son!"
Alex stormed back to home plate and tapped it with his bat. He did a few practice swings. "One more time, Paris! Gimme your best!"
Bob wasn't laughing this time. He looked back at Alex with what could only be defined as... respect. This has been his endgame all along. Bob raised his glove, left hand holding the ball in the glove, took a small step back, lifted his right leg, and plunged forward, releasing the ball. Bob was mostly right-handed, but to make it hard for Alex, he decided to do the lefty-righty switch.
Alex felt an amazing rush as his bat contacted the ball and he watched it soar over second base. But the ball was changing form. It wasn't a baseball at all. Alex saw himself hit it with his bat again, this time in slow-mo and, to his horror, it was his mother's face.
He woke up from that, scared and alone.
It was too quiet in the house. Not normal. Thank god for the smells wafting up from the kitchen. They assured him that his family was home, where they belonged, and that he was awake and things were 'normal,' or as normal as they could be.
It was a Saturday. No school for the kids. Alex would have to check in at the sheriff's department, but he could be on call. He intended to use the day to get to finding his father.
He went downstairs to find that the kids were sitting on the couch looking at their iPad. Norma was in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher. She straightened up when she saw him and tightened her bathrobe.
He went straight for the coffee pot. "I thought we agreed no TV for the kids until they apologize." (In the Romero house, a 'no TV' punishment included iPads.)
"We did." She closed the dishwasher and turned it on. "They apologized and I decided that, given that yesterday was bad enough for all of us, we're going to put it behind us."
"You decided?" He sipped his coffee, watching her.
"Yes, Alex. I decided. I've also decided that I'm taking the kids up to Seattle for a few days."
"You're taking them? Why?"
"Because you're going through something right now and you need to deal with it. He's your father. You know him. You know how to deal with him. I think it's best if the kids and I are out of the way."
"I don't want you to go."
"Well, what do you want, Alex?"
"I want you to stop talking about going away. The kids have school anyway."
"It's just kindergarten, Alex. They can miss a few days of nap time and sing-along."
Alex nodded. He moved to the kitchen table to take a seat. He stared at his cup, wondering how everything had gone so wrong. It had been so right for so long. Norma's smile. The kids' laughter. Pancakes in the morning. Flowers in the evening. Dancing after dinner. Bath time and bedtime stories. A magical life he never expected nor felt he deserved, but somehow, he got it. After decades of coldness and darkness, he'd hit the jackpot of happiness. And now it was back. The cold, the dark, his shady father. His father coming back, Norma leaving. He felt he was losing them, the light and loves of his life.
On the other hand, if they stayed, they were in danger. The darkness could consume them too. Better that it got only him. He could take it. He was used to it.
"I think you're right," he said out loud finally. "About going to Seattle. I just wish I could come with you."
"You can." She sat down and touched his arm. "You just have to deal with your dad first."
He met her gaze and they studied each other's eyes for awhile. "That could take awhile, Norma. I'm not sure it will be easy to make him go away."
"Well, in that case, we might have to learn to live with him being around."
As awful as those words were, they were music to his ears. If the speaker were anyone else, they would have been pure poison, but from Norma's lips, they took on a double meaning. The second meaning was better than the primary one. It assured him that she wasn't leaving him forever. She was coming back.
Her hand was still on his arm. He lifted his free arm and placed that hand over hers. By now, physical contact between them produced an instinctual response. Their hands kind of melted into each other and did this little tango thing, slow and deliberate. His hand crept up her arm, gripping it gently but just firm enough to pull her closer to him, and she let him. She had that sheepish look on her face, the one that said, Alex, what are you doing? OK... I dare you... Are you sure you wanna do this?
He answered with the spark in his eyes and that half-smile that always gave her goosebumps. Her resistance fell apart and she jumped onto his lap, straddling him. He held her in place by her knees at first, but slowly inched his hands up to her butt. They still weren't kissing. Their lips were just inches apart and each was daring the other to make the first move. Each was as determined as the other to hold off.
"Alex, the kids are in the next room."
"I know. We're just sitting here."
"Right. Of course. Just sitting here."
"Exactly. There's nothing more than G rated about a wife sitting on her husband."
Norma smirked. "No, I suppose not. Nor a husband grabbing his wife's ass."
"Well... That one might be PG13."
"And what would R rated be?"
"Oh, that. That would be this." Alex untied her bathrobe and took one breast in hand and licked the other nipple with his tongue. Norma sucked in a breath and almost giggled, stopping herself just shy of total release (of the giggle, you dirty minds.)
Norma pushed him back. She fixed her bathrobe so she'd be covered again. "We better not do that then." As she tilted her head and bit her lip, never breaking eye contact with him, he noticed how dilated her pupils were. "But what about this?" She touched him in his most sensitive place. He inhaled sharply and she tortured even further by gliding her hand up along the shaft. He stopped her with his hand and moved hers away from the danger zone.
"That would most definitely not be ok," he said. "Unless you wanna take this somewhere else?"
"I want," said Norma, licking her lips.
He stood up and picked her up in one swift motion and practically ran to the steps. He carried her bride-style up the stairs and, once in their bedroom, put her down on the mattress. While he moved away to lock the door, knowing the kids would be mesmerized by their cartoons and games until they got hungry for lunch, Norma stripped off her robe. She was now only wearing a skimpy negligee.
Alex's mouth was hanging open as he stared at her. "You slept in that last night?"
She was blushing. "Uh huh."
"I was sleeping next to you the whole time and you were sleeping in that?"
She nodded seductively. "Uh huh."
"Come here, sheriff. Let me show you what you were missing."
"Baby..." He was on top of her in seconds. They kissed until he pulled back slightly, sitting up on his knees, and lifted her chin up so that she could gaze up at him. "Don't ever let me ignore you again."
"You were ignoring me?" she asked in a flat way, unsure how she felt about his words.
"I think so."
"You either were or your weren't."
"I guess I was. I'm sorry."
"Why did you do that?"
He let his hand slip off her chin. He closed his eyes and sighed, hanging his head. "I'm sorry. I don't think i did it on purpose. I didn't want to have to talk to you about my father."
"I understand," she said. "I think it's something you need to settle with him. I can't be part of it until you're ready and you won't be ready until you deal with it. That's why I decided that me and the kids, we need to give you this time and space to deal with it. And when you're ready, we'll be waiting for you."
He stared at her in amazement, literally falling in love with her all over again.
The rest was like a perfect song, their heartbeats in perfect synchronicity... their breathing, their kisses, the way their toes curled over and under each other... all of it like the chords forming the harmony. He sunk deep inside her and Beethoven could have finished his ninth symphony with the musical moans and groans that escaped their respective throats.