He’d lost count of the days.
He doesn’t know when they will finally finish fixing his house. It’s funny, how he’d made himself at home at the motel, the same motel where his deputy died. He never thought he would see the day when what he had known as the then Seafarer Motel growing up would be bristling with customers, with flower pots hanging on the porch, well-maintained, and alive. He’d seen families, parents with their little kids running around on the gravel. He doesn’t remember the motel being like this at all when he was a kid. It always felt a little dark then, like there was always a rain cloud looming over their heads. It felt like a dangerous place, a place with secrets. It turned out he wasn’t wrong about that.
But now, it felt different. It was bright, and full of color and life. And all thanks to one person: a woman, who, one day, decided to do his laundry, all because “she knew him.” He chided himself for even being still surprised at her audacity, for that was all that she had shown him ever since they met—making demands, even going as far as blackmailing him.
But that was then. And even though her fierce spirit remained the same, things have changed. Maybe not for her, but for him, things weren’t the same.
He doesn’t remember exactly when the dreams begin. Perhaps, it was after she’d patched him up on her kitchen table, when he caught himself staring at her for a second too long (and maybe, she did, too). Or, perhaps, it was when he went back to the motel after a long day of work, looking up at the house, and seeing her in that window through those sheer curtains, undressing herself… maybe it was then.
He doesn’t know exactly what it is about her that pulls him in. She was the type of woman that he would have sworn he’ll never get involved with: complicated, mercurial, unpredictable, and maybe a little “crazy.” Perhaps, it was all those things, combined with her indomitable spirit. Before she came to White Pine Bay, he had never thought he would meet someone as stubborn as himself.
If he was a little more honest with himself, maybe, some part of him doesn’t want his house to be fixed anymore.
It was an early morning, barely 6 a.m. Alex closed the door to Room 11, and walked up to the motel office to get his morning coffee. He caught sight of his SUV quietly parked on the motel lot. It was chilly and still almost dark, the sun barely peeking out on the horizon, yet to bring its heat to the scenery. He slowed down when he spotted someone on the office doorstep.
She looked up from where she was sweeping the floor. She was wearing a pale cream blouse with a pale blue skirt, delicately patterned with little flowers Alex didn’t know the name of. He never met someone who liked wearing such vintage outfits or long skirts, and he might not be able to say it to her out loud, but the look always suited her.
“Oh, hey, Alex. What’s up?” She paused from her cleaning to give him a small smile.
He gestured to the office. “Just about to get my morning coffee.”
“Oh, perfect timing. I just started heating the pot,” she said excitedly. “It should be ready in a few minutes. You want me to—?” She gestured to the office tentatively, asking.
“Nah, I'm fine,” he casually shrugged.
And then there was an awkward moment when he tried to go past her to enter the office, but as she tried to give way to him, she ended up almost bumping into him instead as they headed to the same direction. He gave her a look as she awkwardly smiled at him, at the situation, the awkwardness of it perfectly projected on her face. It was a brief moment until she stepped to the opposite, then free, side, expecting him to go through the now free space, but as she did, he ended up meeting her as he assumed she would stay still.
Norma gave an awkward, “Oh,” coupled with a sheepish laugh when she briefly looked up at him before immediately looking down at the floor. Alex stepped back in retaliation and gave her an equally uncomfortable semi-smile. They stood there for a couple of seconds, not knowing what to do, both of them feeling slight embarrassment and silliness, but at the same time surprise at the awkwardness. They never had a moment like this before.
He stared her peacefully for a moment, the corners of his mouth tugging up to a slight smile, then nodding to her one last time and entering the open doorway to the motel office. He needed his morning coffee more than ever.
Unbeknownst to Alex, Norma looked over to him as he headed inside, her eyes following his movements as he made himself a cup of hot coffee. He had to catch her sneakily looking at him through the glass of the office door before she went back to her sweeping, pretending to not have been caught staring.
Norma jumped. She turned around from where she was—at the doorway of Room 11, about to close the door—and saw Alex walking towards her with what looks like the keys to his SUV in his hand.
“Oh, god, Alex, you scared me. You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.”
“I didn’t know casually walking to my motel room constitutes sneaking up on somebody.” He eyed her suspiciously up and down. She was formally dressed up: she wore a pale cream redingote over a floral dress with a skirt that reached her delicate knees. She had heels on, too. A little impractical with the gravel, Alex thought, but he’d seen her wear them so many times he had been here. “What are you doing?”
Norma opened her mouth and looked like she was about to say something, stopped herself midway, and opened her mouth again to say, “I’m just looking for something.” She eyed him up and down just as he did with her earlier. “What are you doing here so early? Shouldn’t you be catching criminals or something?”
“Funny. What are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for my blue dress.”
“Yeah, I washed it the other day. I must have mixed it with your laundry or something. I can’t find it anywhere. Have you seen it? It’s dark blue, no sleeves…”
“Norma, I already told you a couple of times, you need to stop doing my laundry.”
“So much for gratitude, Sheriff,” she scoffed. “Why are you complaining, anyway? You get to stay at my motel, and I do your laundry. No other guest gets the same treatment as you do.”
“I didn’t ask for that,” Alex reminded her. “And, no, I haven’t seen your dress. Maybe, if you stopped doing my laundry like I said, then you wouldn’t get our clothes mixed up in the first place.”
“I didn’t mix up our clothes. It’s not in your laundry, right?” she retorted snarkily.
Alex felt a headache starting to form.
“Norma, look, I don’t know where your dress is. Maybe it’s just up in your house somewhere.”
He expected her to walk away from his door to give way to him, or maybe even leave and go up to her house to finally look for the missing dress. Instead, she stared at him, as if she was expecting him to say something more.
She ducked her head to him with an expectant look on her face. “So no ‘thank you’?”
“For, you know…” She shrugged.
Alex looked at her questioningly, expecting her to continue, because he had no idea what she was talking about. Norma tipped her head to the side, anticipating his answer, but upon receiving nothing but the confused look on his face, she conceded, sighing.
“For doing your laundry, Sheriff.”
“Fine. You’re so stubborn.” She finally walked away from his doorway, her heels clicking loudly on the cement floor as she passed by him.
“Oh, and you’re not?”
She ignored him and continued walking. Her back was to him when she spoke, “If you do find that dress, Alex, tell me. I need it for tonight.”
“If you ask me, I think you already look great with what you’re wearing right now,” he offhandedly said before he could even stop himself as he walked stepped into his room.
Norma halted on her tracks and turned her head to look back at him incredulously, her countenance a little taken aback that she had heard what she did. Did Alex Romero just give her a compliment? Well, she couldn’t see his expression to tell if he meant it, or him at all, as the man in question was already inside his room and had closed the door.
Norma opened the door and brightened up at the sight of her visitor.
“Oh, hey, Alex,” she greeted him, probably in the softest voice Alex has ever heard Norma make, at least, when directed to him. She sounded a little dozy; she was probably tired from a whole day’s worth of work at the motel. “What’s up? You want to come in? I’m preparing dinner.” She opened the door wider.
“Uh, no.” Alex nodded to Norma. “I’m just here to...”
To what, exactly? To check on you; to make sure you’re safe, that there isn’t any Keith Summers or Zach Shelby or Jake Abernathy or anybody that is a threat to your well-being.
She was looking at him expectantly, waiting for him to finish.
“I just wanted to check on you,” he said almost inaudibly.
“Oh.” Norma smiled awkwardly. “Um, okay.” She looked warily at him, confused and amused by his behavior, because when did the Big Daddy of White Pine Bay just come to her house out of nowhere without her badgering him first about it? She was starting to form a suspicion about his sobriety. “Everything’s fine. Why?”
He shrugged, trying very hard to be casual. “Nothing. Just thought something bad might have happened.”
He apparently have said the wrong thing, because she snapped, “Oh, and what does that mean?” He noticed her body immediately take a defensive stance. “Are you saying that I have nothing but trouble to bring to this already crappy town!? Or that I can’t handle my own problems!? Well, here’s the thing, Sheriff, just because you’re law enforcement, it doesn’t give you the right to just come to my door, and accuse me of things, you hear me!?”
She was breathless from screaming at him, and he was silently looking at her, a little taken aback. He wasn’t expecting an outburst at all. She noticed his silence, and she visibly stepped back and turned her head down, embarrassed at her unwarranted reaction. She exhaled loudly. Her tiredness creeped into her eyes and reflected on her face. She was exhausted.
“Alex, I’m sorry. I just don’t have time for this.” She put her hand on her face in exasperation. “Norman is… he’s not feeling very well, and I’m underwater with my motel business because of that goddamn bypass.” She looked away from him and continued, “I barely have any customers; my reputation is probably ruined in all of the town. Everything is a disaster in my life right now. I’m sorry. It’s…”
“It’s not your fault. It’s just…” She shrugged, giving up. “Everything.”
She waited for him to say anything, searching his face for a response, but he was unreadable. He simply stood there, on her doorstep. Her pot was probably burning at this point. Norman was probably curious about where she was and what was taking her so long. And here she was, taking out her frustrations on somebody who probably didn’t deserve to be at the receiving end of her verbal lashing. There was no need for her to include Alex into her problems. She gave one last breath before motioning to close the door.
“Good night, Alex.”
Norma stopped and watched Alex fumble through the pockets of his jacket then to his jeans. He took out a receipt from his back pocket and a pen on his other hand, scribbling something on the piece of paper. Norma watched, confused.
Alex handed her the receipt. It was a receipt from a restaurant in town. Bagels and coffee. She turned it around and stared mutely at the numbers on it.
“That’s my personal number. If you need anything, call me.”
Norma just stood there, bewildered.
“And you get a good night’s rest, okay?”
It took her a few seconds before she regained her bearings, and she shyly folded the paper in her hand.
“Okay?” Alex repeated quietly, not insisting or nagging, just very softly, like the way one talks to a child.
“Okay.” Norma nodded to him with an awkward smile, then stepped back to close the door.
Alex breathed a sigh before heading back to his motel room.
The dreams began the first night he stayed at the motel. At first, they had been inconsistent. Some nights, it came; some nights, it didn’t. Sometimes, it was she who came over to him; other times, it was he who knocked on her door. In all of these dreams, the scenario was always too perfect. She didn’t worry about Norman. He didn’t worry about the safety of the people of White Pine Bay. That was when he always knew it was a dream.
Even as just a dream, it was good. He would hear her say things to him he would not normally hear her say—and he doubted, but with good reason—she would ever say to him. In his dreams, they never spoke of love, but he always felt it. It couldn’t be love, for it was just a dream, and it wasn’t real, and it would never be. But it was the closest he could ever have, and it was enough.
But he couldn’t help but drown in it: the feeling of love, the possibility of reciprocation, or the possibility of love altogether. Especially when she whispered to his ear her moans and sighs, when she eagerly responded to his teasing, when she held onto him a little too tightly when she was about to drown in her own orgasm, and when after it all, they would gaze into each other’s eyes, and she would bless him that small glimpse of a smile, letting him know in a quiet way that she was happy.
And then the damn alarm would go off, or his phone would ring, or the intensity of the dreams was enough to wake him up.
However, it was when he moved away that the dreams came every night he slept, as if it was compensating for the absence of her in his life.
Other times, his dreams were more tender than fiery: the kind that left him wistful instead of desperately needing relief in the wake of the morning.
He and Norma were facing each other on their bed, a lump under the blankets in between them. With droopy eyes, she grinned at him. He chuckled at the sight of her, and put his face closer to rub his nose against hers in a lingering eskimo kiss.
“I love you, Alex,” she said, and he received it as if he hadn’t received it a thousand times, and the smile that lit his face from her words was still the same.
“I love you, too, Norma.”
Norma’s eyes were closed when a young girl’s head with wavy brown locks popped up from under the blankets between them, piping in, “I love you, Mommy and Daddy.”
They both laughed and kissed each of her chubby cheeks, Norma and Alex on opposite sides.
“We love you, too, honey.”
And he would wake up, and the disappointment would wash over him. He shouldn’t be surprised. It wasn’t the first time. And it wouldn’t be the last.
The unexpected loud ringing of his phone came in the middle of the night. The phone rang for a few more times before Alex finally gave in and took the phone from his bedside table, and then squinted to read the caller’s name in the dark.
Of course, it would be her. Who else had the gall to call him in the middle of the night—god knows what time it was—to call him on his personal line for anything?
Without second thought, he swiped to receive the call.
“Norma?” Alex’s voice was still groggy from sleep.
“Norma, what’s going on?”
“Alex, um, I… it’s, um…”
“Norma, is everything alright?”
Alex sat up on his bed and turned his bedside lamp on. His concern over Norma’s situation giving him a head start of energy.
“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine,” Norma said, almost too insistently, “I mean, everything’s kinda fine, but not really… I mean...”
“Do you want me to come over?”
“Oh, no, no, no. No, Alex, no.”
“Norma, I need you to take a breath, okay? Take a deep breath.”
There was silence on the other line as Norma took—what Alex hoped—a deep breath to calm herself down. Whatever it was she was dealing with, she needed a clear head to deal with it properly. That, in the short time that Alex had known her, he knew she needed.
He let a few seconds go by before he spoke up again, giving her a moment to hopefully collect herself, both for their sakes. “Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
“Alex, it’s Norman. He’s… He’s not himself. He came home all dirty and… There was blood on his clothes and his hands… When he came home, he was talking to himself…,” Norma told him frantically. “Well, he was talking to me. Well, not me me. I mean, he was hallucinating a version of me that wasn’t there. I was standing right in front of him, and he wouldn’t talk to me.”
Well, that deep breath worked. “Where is he now?” While Norma was talking, Alex got up from the bed with his phone between his ear and his shoulder. He took the nearest shirt and pants he could see and started putting them on.
“I locked him up in his room. I had to take him down. He wasn’t himself. He was arguing with me—well... his hallucination of me… I didn’t know what else to do to control him…”
“Wait , Norma, was he violent?” He took the car keys from his bedside table and swiftly walked to the front door.
“Violent? No, no, no. Norman would never hurt me.” Alex did not necessarily mean with her , and hearing her say the words herself just gave him more reason to be anxious. He needed to see her, now. Norman may be asleep, but you never know what’s going to happen once he wakes up. He needed to be there to protect her.
“Okay, Norma, I’m on way.”
“Wh—What? Alex, I don’t—”
“I need you to calm down, okay? Double check the locks in Norman’s room. Then, go down to the kitchen and get yourself a hot cup of coffee.”
“Norma, I need you to be calm when I get there,” he said as softly as he could. He didn’t want her to be mad at him at a pressing situation like this.
“Alex, I don’t need you to come here.”
He was already at his car door, ready to open it. He stopped. “Then why did you call me?”
“I…” Norma fell quiet. Why did she call him exactly? “I don’t know.”
“Norma, you called me because you needed my help. I’ll help you contain the situation, and we need to think about what we’re going to do with Norman. We need to get him help.”
It took a while before Norma conceded. “Okay.”
“You want me to stay on the line?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I… I still have to prepare myself a cup of coffee anyway.”
If it was a lighter circumstance, Alex would have laughed. “I'll be there in five minutes.”
She didn’t know what exactly she was thinking when she—if it’s even the right word—“proposed” to him. Just thinking about it gave her chills, and not the good kind. When Alex had confronted her about it the day after on her doorstep, she wanted the ground to swallow her whole. But then the pit proved to be a good diversion. And then, it all doesn’t matter now. Because Alex called her on the same day to accept her proposal of marriage.
For his insurance.
And then it just wasn’t for insurance anymore. She started wanting other things, things he’d surprised her with, things he had readily offered. At first, she was unwilling to accept. It wasn’t part of the plan. Well… that was the problem. Norma Louise Bates didn’t have a plan. She just wanted him for the insurance. And then afterwards?
She had no idea.
She didn’t plan for him to move in with her.
She didn’t plan to have dinner with him that night, to tell him her story—well, a part of her story. She had gotten inebriated and she’d looked at him with longing, absently caressing his tie with her hand as he tucked her in her bed. And then he’d left for his room, bade her goodnight. Just like that.
And before she even woke up the next morning, Alexander Romero had solved another one of Norma Bates’ problems.
And who would have known, that Alex Romero, the bulldog of a sheriff, was a lover? Every time he touched her, he made her feel loved and never made her feel used. He would whisper sweet nothings to her ear over her shoulder, making her feel special in the safety of his arms. Those words, coupled with his unrelenting thrusts inside her, hitting just the right spots, drove her insane and wanting more.
He gave and gave and gave, never asking for anything in return. It was as if he directly said to her:
If you need time, I’ll give you all the time in the world.
Even before she had told him her truth, her dark past, he always brought a warm intimacy with him that she never experienced with anybody else before him. Maybe it was his gentleness, a contradiction to his fierce and ready protection. And then she opened up to him, and he listened. She never wanted to include him into her whirlwind of a life, but it happened anyway. At first, it worried her. She was surprised at her own want and need for him to stay; he had become such a fundamental part of her life since Norman left, since he unexpectedly kissed her in front of the City Hall, since they waltzed at the Lights of Winter Festival. And she expected him to leave, she really did. And he did, except that he was taking her with him.
She told him before that she always felt safe with him. That never changed. If anything, she felt even safer with him now, happier even, more secure, more loved. Because she had stripped herself down in front of him, showing him all that she was, and he received her with open arms, scars and all. And he kissed her, kissed her eyelids, her cheek, her nose, her lips, her scars, and her tears; he told her that he loved her no matter what.
She did it for Norman.
But, this …
This wasn’t for Norman anymore.
His visit was unexpected—he usually doesn’t go home for lunch—but it was a good surprise, because she was all smiles and pleasantness the moment their gazes met after she opened the door.
“Alex!” She went closer to him to settle herself into his arms, a gesture he gladly accepted. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too,” he murmured into her hair. He put his arms around her, one hand caressing her back and the other buried in her locks. “You smell good.”
She laughed. “Let’s go inside.”
She pulled back to look up at his face, only to be met with a kiss from him that started as quick but becoming more and more ardent as both of them refused to stop. A few moments passed before he finally pulled back, giving her one last peck on the nose and smiling down at her. Norma grinned back at him, took his hand, and pulled him inside the house.
“Come on, I’m having chicken pot pie for lunch.” She led him excitedly to the kitchen.
“Is there anybody else home?” Alex asked. He didn’t want to feel that he was intruding time for family.
“Dylan’s out with Emma. They haven’t been around much.” Norma pulled out a chair for him. “Here. You sit, while I prepare. I just got it ready.”
Alex sat down on the chair per Norma’s insistence. Norma went to the counter to take the pan.
“Ow,” she hissed from the unexpected burn, dropping the pan on the counter with a clang, and immediately Alex went to her side and took her hands in his.
“You okay?” He rubbed her hands with his fingers, an attempt to soothe the pain.
“Yeah.” Norma smiled up at him.
“Here. Let me do it.” Alex took a rug from the counter and carefully lifted the hot pan, setting it down at the center of the table.
Norma breathed out an expression of gratitude. She then went to take out plates and cutlery from the cabinets and set them on the table. She beamed at Alex gratefully before both of them sat down. Norma was seated at the head of the table, while Alex was seated adjacent to her. She gave him a warm smile before they both started eating.
“So, how’s your day?”
“I’m trying to keep myself busy. I started sewing some curtains.”
“Curtains?” Alex asked with a smile, intrigued.
“Yes. I used to sew my own clothes when I was in high school. You know, this house is really cool. There are so many things I want to do with it. It’s an amazing house. I just kinda gave up on it, but I feel like taking it on. I really didn’t have the time to work on it, but, now I have so much free time.”
He smiled at her enthusiasm. It was good to see her enthused about something, but there was a trace of sadness and nostalgia in her voice. Alex understood she was thinking about Norman. But that hint of gloom immediately left the room when she grinned at him again in between bites, and he couldn’t help but smile back at his wife. Norma Louise Bates’ smile is an infectious smile.
“This is really delicious, Norma.”
“I actually wanted to make turkey pot pie, but I don’t have turkey in the freezer. So…”
“It’s really good.”
“Really? Thank you, Alex.” She beamed at him. “Oh! You can bring some, too, if you like. I can pack something for you. So, every time you get hungry, you can have a good home-cooked meal instead of the unhealthy fast food you seem to always have before you married me.”
He laughed at her remark. “I’d love that.”
He didn’t know what brought them here. One minute, they were talking in the kitchen, and the next, they found themselves swiftly divesting each other of their clothes, passionately kissing as if they have been parched for a long time.
He rubbed himself against her entrance, first teasing to come in but not, then hitting her ripe bud, her wetness making the glide easy. It drove her insane. He could hear the impatience in her voice, as she pleadingly murmured his name.
He bent down and gave her a brief but feverish kiss, the room getting hotter and hotter by the minute, as he slid into her. He felt her warmth and heard her satisfied sigh, and she reveled in the delicious feeling of him stretching her to accommodate him fully. He pulled back to look at her, and she smiled up at him. Her chest was red from arousal, her stiff peaks wet from his mouth, and her lips a little swollen from his kisses.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said with so much tenderness that Norma swore she would have cried then and there, but she didn’t, because as soon as the thought came, Alex moved his hips in a way that made her shiver.
It was a long day of work for Alex, and it went on to the night. Two young girls, siblings, were reported missing in White Pine Bay since this morning, and all his men have scoured the whole of the town but found nothing. White Pine Bay was a small town; one would think that looking for two missing girls wouldn’t take too much time, but the dense forest wasn’t easy to comb through.
It’s been almost forty-eight hours since the two girls were reported missing. If they didn’t find them soon, the chances of finding them alive would be close to nil. The Zach Shelby and Jake Abernathy case came to Alex’s mind. After he killed Abernathy, he was quite sure that his “business” has stopped in his town, especially that Keith Summers and Deputy Shelby were both dead. And the motel has completely turned into a different place than it was.
He refused to go back to the station. He had adamantly told his officers with him that they wouldn’t take a break until they find the missing girls. In missing persons cases, time was precious. They didn’t have the luxury to stay idle. They needed to keep moving.
It took them a long time, but they did. They found them. They were kept in an abandoned shack in the middle of the woods. Their hands were tied with rope, and they were chained together. Their mouths were covered with duct tape. Both of their faces were tear-streaked. One of the girls, her name was Amanda, was still crying. Her nose was puffier than her sister’s and her eyes redder. She’d been crying for a long time. The other, Amelia, was too tired to talk. Even with their exhaustion, both girls were wide awake when they were rescued. They would have to be taken to the hospital.
To say that a load had been taken off his back after they’d found the girls was an understatement. Finding the culprit was something they would have to deal with later. Only when he'd gone back to the station did Alex realize how burned out he was. And how hungry. He caught sight of the chicken pot pie Norma packed for him. The container was sitting on the table untouched. His hunger catching up to him, he reached for it and opened it, letting the appetizing smell pervade inside the sheriff’s office.
He took out his phone and stared surprisingly at the flurry of missed calls and messages from his wife. He had lost track of time, and he’d forgotten to tell her that he wouldn’t be able to come home early that night, if at all. He knew she’d be furious with him.
[18:00] Alex, will you be coming home for dinner?
[19:07] Alex, are you OK? Is something keeping you at the station?
[20:01] Alex, I’m getting really worried. Give me a call or even just a message, please.
[20:28] Goddammit, Alex, what is this? Did we have a fight without me knowing? Is this the silent treatment?
[20:31] Is it because I took your side of the bed?? Alex, I’m sorry. I won’t take your side again, I promise.
[21:02] Alex, if you don’t reply in the next hour, I’m gonna start thinking that something’s happened to you.
[21:24] Alex, I swear, if I find out that you’re with someone else, I’m going to KILL YOU.
[21:26] Is it that Rebecca Hamilton again???????
[21:55] Alex, are you dead?
[22:00] I called the station. Your receptionist told me what’s going on. Alex, please be careful. P.S. Forget everything I've said before this. I love you.
He was about to give her a call when, as he was scrolling through the messages she sent him with an amused chuckle, he caught sight of one in particular that made him smile.
Don’t forget to eat the chicken pot pie I packed for you. I know you’ll be hungry after saving those girls. I miss you. Come home soon.
Just as he was about to reply to that message to finally inform his anxious wife about his situation and that everything was fine, his phone rang. He smiled as a very familiar name popped up on the screen.
Things did pick up in the spring. There was a growth in customers as White Pine Bay prepared for the spring festivals. They were tourists, mainly families, parents taking their little children to see the lights or go kayaking. All the rooms were taken, and for once in a long time, the “No Vacancy” sign was turned on.
Having nothing else to do as of the moment, Norma walked out of the motel office. On the patio in front of Room 5, she saw a young girl, who looked about four years old, hunched over with her back to her. Curious, she walked up to the little girl.
“Hello,” she greeted her warmly. The girl looked up at her, and she smiled back as she beamed up at her excitedly. She looked further and saw a cute tiny orange kitten playing with a small ball. It was on its back as its hind legs kneaded against the ball, its mouth trying very unsuccessfully to bite on it. “Oh, look at that. It’s a kitty!”
“I found her behind the dumpster,” the girl said. She was wearing a red dress and matching shoes with her auburn curls in pigtails. Her eyes were an olive green. “Her name’s Sophie.”
Norma crouched down to the child’s level, so she was positioned beside her. “Sophie?”
“Uh-huh, I named her,” the girl said brightly with a smile, showing her missing front teeth. She stood up abruptly, and her pigtails jumped, and she went closer to the kitten who was still busy playing with the ball. She knelt down again and cooed, “Hey, Sophie.” She reached out her hand to pet the cat on its head.
Norma watched as the girl played with the tabby, who was finally done playing with the ball and had given the girl all of its attention.
“What’s your name, honey?” Norma asked.
“My name is Maxine,” she said the words that she had probably practiced a thousand times, and adorably put up her right hand lifting four fingers up to Norma, “and I’m four.”
“Nice to meet you, Maxine. I’m Norma.”
Maxine smiled shyly at her. She picked the kitty up from the floor and hugged it to her chest.
“This is Sophie.”
The tabby meowed, as a response to Maxine’s introduction or to her sudden departure from the floor, Norma didn’t know.
“Aww, Sophie’s so cute.”
“I know,” Maxine said, petting the said cat in her arms. Suddenly, she looked deep in thought and Norma found the look endearing. Then, Maxine looked at Norma uncertainly. “Can I take Sophie home?”
“Of course, you can, honey, if your parents will let you. Where’s your mommy and daddy?”
She pointed to the semi-open door of Room 5. “We’re going to ride on a boat today.”
As if on cue, a man and a woman, whom Norma assumed to be Maxine’s parents, came out of Room 5. Maxine’s father was a tall man. He had dark hair and brown eyes, while Maxine’s mother was a woman with looks that Maxine appeared to have inherited. The woman was carrying a small pink backpack shaped as Hello Kitty’s head. The young girl ran to her parents, still carrying the little kitten with her, which she showed to the two adults excitedly. Both parents noticeably melted at the sight of their daughter having fondness for an equally cute animal.
Norma smiled and greeted the parents, “Good afternoon,” as they looked to her.
“Come on, honey, we’ll go to the boat now,” the mother said.
“Can I bring Sophie to the boat with us?”
“Oh, honey, I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
The mother looked at Norma apologetically, and then directed an awkward smile at her husband. The father shrugged and chirped exaggeratedly, “What if the kitty jumps out of the boat and drowns? Or what if it runs around and gets lost?”
The woman directed an aghast look at him and elbowed him, as Maxine looked like she was about to cry, her bottom lip trembling. The husband smiled and bent down to the girl’s level. “Max, what I’m saying is Sophie would be safer if she stays here. Don’t you think so?”
“But what if I don’t see her anymore? I want to bring her home with us,” she pleaded.
Both parents gave each other unsure glances, not really knowing what to do with the situation. If they leave the kitten at the motel, there was no guarantee that they would find it when they get back, and it would no doubt break their daughter’s heart. Norma observed them quietly, and then an idea popped into her head. She didn’t really have much to do for the day, anyway.
She stepped forward. “Hey, Maxine?”
Maxine turned around to look at her.
Norma continued, “What about I take care of Sophie while you’re away? So that she’ll still be here, safe and sound, when you come back.” She smiled appeasingly to Maxine, and she could see the girl’s parents giving her a grateful smile behind her.
The girl smiled and her olive eyes glistened brightly, “Really?”
Maxine turned to her parents, and they nodded to her with a grin. With the kitten still in her small arms, she walked to Norma. She reached out and held Sophie to her as if as an offering, and Norma bent down to accept the purring tabby.
“You go have fun, okay?” Norma said to Maxine, to which the girl nodded energetically, her curls bouncing.
Maxine stroked the kitten one last time before running into her mother’s arms. She slipped her arms into the pink backpack her mother held out for her.
“Come on now, honey.”
The three of them walked to their parked sedan as Norma looked on with the kitten in her arms. As she did, she saw the sheriff’s SUV driving to the motel parking lot, stopping a few feet from the family’s car. As he saw her husband get out of the vehicle, she heard Maxine running back towards her. At first, she thought Maxine had forgotten something, but Norma was pleasantly surprised when the girl pulled her down and put her small arms around her neck. It was an uncomfortable position for Norma, but she enjoyed the little girl’s attention and couldn’t help the smile spreading on her face.
“Thank you, Auntie Norma,” Maxine said adorably as she pulled back and kissed Norma on the cheek.
“You’re welcome, honey. You go enjoy, okay? Sophie will be here when you get back.”
“Mm-mm!” She nodded with so much enthusiasm. She looked so adorable with her pink Hello Kitty backpack, too, Norma thought. Maxine ran back to the car, and gave Norma one last wave before getting inside the back seat. She barely noticed Alex approaching her when she was waving back.
Norma jumped, the kitten almost jumping out of her arms, too. She breathed a relieved sigh when she saw it was just her husband.
“Oh, god, Alex, you surprised me again. Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
Alex smiled at her knowingly as he met her with a quick peck on the lips, his hands finding their way to her upper arms, caressing them, his head on her right shoulder, as he stood behind her.
“What?” Norma asked, her head turned to her side, so that their faces were inches apart.
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
Alex smiled as he gestured his head to the leaving sedan.
“Oh, that. The girl, Maxine, found this kitty behind the dumpster,” she explained. “She wanted to take it with her to their boat trip, but she couldn’t.”
“So, you’re taking care of the kitten for her?” Alex guessed, marveling at his wife’s natural inclination to take care of things.
His breath caressed her neck as he uttered, “What?”
“The kitten, she named it ‘Sophie’.”
Sophie meowed. They laughed.
They both stood there quietly. The motel was quiet; the customers were out enjoying White Pine Bay’s spring events. There was only the pleasant sounds of nature and nothing else. Alex fell into deep thought, his chin resting on Norma’s shoulder, and his nose nuzzling into her neck. Norma relishing the silence and her husband’s affection.
Then, a shiver ran through her spine when Alex’s breath tickled her as he broke the silence.
“Children seem to like you.”
Norma chuckled. “You think so?”
Alex laughed. “Yeah.”
He looked down at Sophie the kitten, who was purring in Norma’s arms. “Well, it seems that cats like you, too.”
She laughed at that.
Before Norma even had the chance to ask if he’d eaten or if he’d want something to eat, Alex thought it was the perfect time to ask the question that had been plaguing his mind for quite a while now, and his desire for it grew even more when he came home to his wife, and saw what he did and how it warmed his heart, reminding him of a vision past. It was something he thought he would never want in life, but here he was. He just hoped it was something Norma would want, too.