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Good Times

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Change

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.


Coffee

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.

“Norma.”

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.


Familiarity

“Norma.”

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.”

“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 what?”

“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.”

“No.”

“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.


Magic

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…”

“Norma—”

“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.”

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.

“Here.”

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.


Vision

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.


Trust

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.

“Alex.”

“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.”

“Alex, what—”

“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.”


Cocoon

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.


Happy

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.”


Interlude

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.


Love

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.

It said:

[22:04]

Alex,

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.

“Hello?”


Future

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.”

“Really?”

“Uh-huh!”

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.”

“Why not?”

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?”

Norma nodded.

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.”

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.

“It’s Sophie.”

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.

Chapter Text

Honesty

“I didn’t know you were a brunette,” Alex finally said the most coherent sentence either of them have said to each other or themselves all night.

“What?” Norma panted as she tried to regain her breath. Her brain was yet to catch up with her, not when her husband had just destroyed her ability to think straight a few moments ago.

Alex’s hand moved lower, trailing down her bare stomach down to her thighs, then slowly moved to her center. Norma followed his hand with her hands, understanding.

“You didn’t tell me.”

“Is that a big deal to you?” she teased.

“Not really,” Alex answered, his breath fanning her face. “I just want to know everything about you.”

Norma simply smiled. She looked at him silently for a moment, then trailed her gaze lower, settling her head in his chest, bringing her hand to play with his chest hairs.

“Are you hiding anything else from me?” he asked, kissing the top of her hair, where the blonde crossed with her natural hair color.

This was it. He was asking her for more than she could give, more than she could ever give. Maybe this was why romance, for her, will always be a failure. Every event in her life added more to the stack of already fucked up events she had experienced since childhood. She was being pushed into a corner again.

She couldn’t look at him and say, “No, you already know everything about me.” Maybe with the most sincere smile she could muster, he would believe her. She pulled back to do it, to tell him, but before she could open her mouth, she saw a look on his face that she’d never seen before. It scared her, scared off the barely-there courage she had gathered, so she merely settled with a shake of her head, telling him that, No, you already know everything about me.

He didn’t say anything after that. The same look stayed—she still couldn’t make out what it meant—until the hand that was in between her legs climbed up and settled itself on the curve of her waist, then he pulled her closer to him to give a chaste kiss on her lips, muffling his, “I love you.” When he wrapped his arms around her, and she felt his hands caress her back, as if she was crying and he was there to soothe, did she realize what it meant.

It was the look of resignation. Alex had expected her to lie.


Bubble

Alex watched as Norma lay on the bed, her face drawing closer, her lips seeking his. He chuckled. Norma opened her eyes at the sound, a little frustrated that Alex pulled away and left her waiting for nothing, and dropped her head of rumpled hair onto the pillow.

“I love it when you do that,” he said, giving her a quick peck on the lips.

“I hate it when you do that,” she retorted. She pouted at him, and at this, his chuckle escalated into a laugh. “Don’t do that. If you kiss me, kiss me.”

“I do kiss you when I kiss you, don’t I?” he replied, emphasizing just the right words to deliver his point. “I never do anything half-assed with you.”

She muttered something unintelligibly under her breath, pouting, ducking her head a little.

“Hmm?”

“Do you?” she said louder and raised her chin at him defiantly.

“Of course, I do.” He laughed. “Or do you want me to remind you?” he asked teasingly. He put his weight to his knees, and he dragged his hands to her sides, earning him a giggle. At this, he full-out tickled her, earning him a laugh, which he loved.

“Alex… stop!” she managed to choke out between her laughter, “stop.”

He did stop, and she smiled. He smiled back. He put his hands in place on the bed, her head in between them again. She bit her lip, and the second next, she craned her head up to meet his lips with hers, while her hand crept up to his naked back, down to his waist and lower, reaching him, stroking him. He kissed her back, feeding into the flames she had already started, settling between pale legs and rubbing himself against her. When he pulled back, she sighed. He took the chance to enter her slowly with her hand still around him, guiding him. When he finally did, she shivered, pulling her hand away.

“You okay?”

She laughed breathlessly. “Yeah.”

He put her forehead against hers as he began to move inside her, slowly at first. The wet sound of their bodies meeting filled their ears. In this small window of time and space, there was only the two of them.

Norma can’t help but reminisce her first time and her all times with him, moments when she had to tell herself, “This is what making love is like,”—something that she had never done before and always thought was too silly and too corny to exist, at least, before her third husband.

“Stop?”

She laughed again, her eyes smiling with her mouth, but that innocence swiftly disappeared as she used her hand to pushed him closer to her, with an adamant,

“No.”


Creation

“Oh, my god, Alex, look.”

Norma was seated on the sofa at the living room, Alex seated right beside her, with their bundle of joy in her arms, chest to chest. It was a little mid-morning. They barely had any sleep the night previous, like all the nights before that. Norma had been all through this before, but this was Alex’s first time. Before their little girl came to the world, he had been furiously reading up on parenting books, how to take care of a baby, what his role as a father brought to his new family. Even for Norma: it’s been so long since she had a baby—Norman, her then youngest, was already an adult—and she had been anxious about whether she still had the energy and patience to raise a newborn. As happy as they were, both Norma and Alex had been nervous wrecks.

“She’s so adorable,” Alex cooed.

They stared lovingly as the little girl wrapped in pale pink sheets crossed her eyes while she opened her mouth in a baby yawn.

“I don’t know why she keeps crossing her eyes like that.” Norma laughed.

Alex reached over to touch his daughter’s face with the back of his fingers. His daughter . He still couldn’t believe it. It’s been days, but he couldn’t stop himself from staring at the little human he and Norma had created.

“She’s perfect.”

“I know.”

“She has your eyes.”

It was true. Norma’s genes of having beautiful blue eyes were passed on to their daughter. It was the most beautiful thing; seeing, for the first time, a human being look into the world with pure innocence with those ocean blue eyes. When she opened her eyes for the first time and blankly stared up at the two adults who made her, they fell instantaneously in love, their affection eclipsing all the anxiety they felt before that moment.

“Well, she has your eyelashes.”

Alex laughed softly.

They fell into silence. In that small span of time, there was nothing else but their existence. There was no one else but the three of them, a family: mother, father, and daughter. Before this moment, Norma and Alex never would have thought that they would experience something as pure; there was nothing “pure” in Norma’s life, and Alex had long given up the dream of having a family, a good one, because he doesn’t know what it’s like at all. But it turned out to be possible, made real by two broken people no less. If there existed a perfect moment, this would be it, but, they both knew, it wouldn’t last forever.

As she was cradling her baby in her arms, it all started to overwhelm Norma, and she could feel a tightness in her chest and her throat. She took a breath, trying to suppress the tears as much as she could. She turned her head to the side to look at her husband, and murmured, “Must be the hormones.”

Alex smiled and kissed her briefly. He put his arm around his wife and rubbed her right shoulder to soothe her. “Hey, everything will be fine. Don’t worry about it too much.”

The baby on Norma’s chest gurgled, getting both of their attention. Norma bent down a little to kiss the small forehead.

“Everything will be okay.”


Choice

Why don’t you just stay there the rest of the night, then!?

A few minutes ago, Norma had shouted that particular sentence to her son, her voice reverberating through the whole house. Norman refused to have dinner with her that evening. For what reason, Norma wasn’t particularly sure, but her younger son had passive-aggressively hinted to her—stomping his feet loudly as he climbed the stairs—that, perhaps, it has something to do with her.

And so she had dinner alone. And she hated it. She hated eating alone, and she hated it even more when there was a set of plate and cutlery right across the table from her, all unused, and chair unoccupied.

With her hands gloved and a rag on her hand, she grumpily wiped the kitchen table, quietly muttering to herself.

She was not going to bed that night without finding what the hell Norman was being mad at her for.

After she finished cleaning up in the kitchen, she took off her apron and quietly walked up the steps to Norman’s room and knocked on his bedroom door. There was no response, and the door was locked. She tried the adjoining door between their bedrooms, and he had locked it, too. All of these just made Norma even more upset.

She futilely turned the doorknob. “Norman? Norman!”

She stood there for a few more moments, hoping that maybe Norman would make a sound, any sound, that would tell her that he at least acknowledged her presence, but there was nothing. She gave the knob one last try, before exhaling loudly, finally giving up. She glumly walked to her bed, plopping herself down heavily, telling herself not to cry. As she sat down, she caught sight of her phone on her bedside table and reached for it. Under the phone was a piece of paper; it was the same piece of paper he had swiftly scribbled on and gave her a few hours ago. She could still hear his words echoing through her mind.

That’s my personal number. If you need anything, call me.

But what does she need him for, exactly?

Alex, Norman is mad at me.

Alex, Norman won’t talk to me.

Alex, Norman and I had a fight. And I don’t know why!

Alex, Norman didn’t have dinner with me tonight.

Alex, Norman...

Alex…

Norma sighed, finding herself in another predicament. She took the paper in her hand, folding it and unfolding it repeatedly, an anxious gesture helping her calm herself. Should she call him? She didn’t know. She just couldn’t talk to Alex about Norman now, could she? What if he asks questions—questions that she’s scared to answer? She wasn’t prepared for that. Alex is a cop, too. What if he finds things out—things that she has kept secret for so long? She wasn’t prepared for that, either. But, no. Alex was on her— their side, wasn’t he? She just wanted to talk to him about Norman, just wanted to finally have someone to share her fears with, to confide to. And Alex said, If you need anything, call me.

“If I need anything…”

Norma stared at her phone, unblinking, as she sat on her bed in silence, unable to make a decision for herself.


View

Oh, here she is again , Carmel, the receptionist, thought as the infamous blonde approached the glass partition. She rolled her eyes when the woman dressed in a magenta coat with a white dress and shawl underneath leaned to the hole of the glass. She admitted, the woman did have a good sense of style—at least one good thing about her.

“Where is Sheriff Romero? I need to speak to him right away,” the blonde bossily exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but the sheriff explicitly said not to be disturbed during this time—” Carmel stated as politely as she could, even though the woman was anything but courteous to her at all.

“I need to talk to him. This is urgent!” the blonde nearly shouted, her nose pushed against the glass, undoubtedly leaving its mark. She’d done it a lot of times, it was hard to care anymore.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Bates, but—”

“If you won’t let me in, I’m going to go in myself—Alex!” she yelled as the door inside the office opened, and the sheriff came out of it in his sheriff uniform, his jacket draped on his forearm.

An officer opened the door to get out of the office, and Norma took the chance to get in, blocking the door from closing with her left hand as she swooped in, immediately walking towards the sheriff.

“Mrs. Bates—!”

“Alex, why haven’t you answered any of my calls!?”

“Norma, what are you doing here?”

“Sorry, Sheriff, I tried to tell her—”

The sheriff put his hand up to her. “It’s fine. Just...”

“What the hell, Alex, if you’re going to give me your personal number, why won’t you answer your frickin’ phone!? Do you have any idea how many times I’ve called you? Texted you!? What if something bad had happened!?”

The people in the office—a total of four: the receptionist and three officers—stared as the blonde—who was oblivious to her audience and probably didn’t care—yelled at their boss. It wasn’t everyday that someone came into the station to scream at the sheriff. And it was an even rarer occurrence to see the always stoic Sheriff Romero in an uncomfortable and embarrassing position.

“Norma, look,” Alex started, then stopped, as if he suddenly became aware of his surroundings. He looked around and saw everyone in the room gape blankly at them, and he felt a surge of embarrassment that began at the back of his throat that he suppressed as best as he could, and he directed his eyes back to the still agitated Norma, who seemed to be unaware of their spectators still. Or maybe she was aware; she probably just did not give a damn. As usual.

The people in the room mistook the Sheriff’s look to them as a gesture telling them to get out. One of the officers stood from her chair and looked at the others awkwardly, jerking her head. They followed her lead, and they all left the room, the receptionist trailing behind after she awkwardly stood from her chair and quickly retrieved her phone from the table, giving the two remaining adults the privacy they thought they both needed.

The receptionist and the three officers looked on as Sheriff Romero and Mrs. Bates stood inside the room. They were still in the same positions as they had left them. Even after granting the room to themselves, they were only given pseudo-privacy, as every movement they made was visible through the glass partition.

“You think it’s a lovers’ quarrel?” one of the officers stated, to which another responded with a laugh, while the other just shrugged. “It’s the third time this week…”

“Is it?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“I must have missed one.”

“You weren’t here Tuesday.”

“What happened?”

“I have no idea. Norma just stormed in here like always.”

“Why do you call her ‘Norma’?”

“It’s her name?”

“Do you want to get killed or something?”

“Not by the Sheriff, for sure.”

“Are they even really together? Got any evidence?”

“I’ve seen them on a date at the breakfast house in town. And the Sheriff stayed at her motel for a couple of months now.”

“Are you sure they’re not just hanging out or something?”

“When does the Sheriff just ‘hang out’ with anyone?”

“Mm, you got a point.”

“I don’t know. Wouldn’t think she’s his type, though.”

The other two officers looked back at him, eyebrows raised.

“I mean, she seems a little…” He made a rolling gesture with his right hand.

“I don’t think you want to finish that sentence there, buddy,” the female officer said.

“I don’t know, man. I think she’s hot,” the other one quipped.

“Hey.”

They all fell into silence as there was movement inside the room. Sheriff Romero leading the way further inside the office to direct ‘Norma’ a.k.a. Mrs. Bates to the inner hallway, probably to the Sheriff’s Office where they could have more privacy. The three officers looked at each other, getting the idea that it was time for them to move back in and get back to work. They went back to their former positions, with Carmel, who was texting someone on her phone, following behind.

Everything was back to normal, up until Norma Bates opened the door to the receiving office from the inner hallway. All eyes in the office were fixated on her as she passed by them. She slowed down and almost paused midway when she noticed their attention, her face crumpling to a confused frown, which she immediately shrugged off as she exited the receiving office.

The three officers shrugged and went back to their work. Carmel was still texting on her phone, as usual.


Fragrance

He smiled as she smiled, he to himself as she to him. He was gazing down at the “pool” that she had claimed Bob Paris had dug for her, only it didn’t look like a pool at all. The thought of confronting Bob immediately entered his head before he was even aware of it. When it did register to him, he did not question it at all, because as he had predicted, the moment Norma came running down the stairs with the slip in hand, handing it to him with her school girl smile—more a grin than a smile, really—the same smile on her face when she had playfully clapped the hood of the Mercedes with her hands, he knew he was way in over his head.

He smiled again to himself as he recalled, when he was driving the sedan back to the autoshop, how Norma had kissed his cheek, or more accurately, the space between his cheek and lips, and how, if only he’d moved his face a little to the side, it could have been something else entirely, something more. Those were the thoughts running through his head, too, when he drove his SUV away from its temporary home, and she’d thanked him, and she had bestowed him the gift of her embrace—he only expected a light hug, but she clung onto him like an infant would its mother—and she’d kissed him, too. And the ghost of her lips stayed with him throughout the whole ride.

And he couldn’t tell her that, ever since he saw her pull her son Dylan to a hug, after they had received the news that Norman passed the polygraph test, and he remembered how relieved she was, that it’s all he’d been thinking about, even though he’d never really entertained the possibility of it happening at all, but it did.

The smell of orange blossoms filled the vehicle. It was the same smell, too, that lingered in the Mercedes, and after that one day, even his sheriff jacket had smelt of it. One of the “many”—he insisted, although what the “others” were, he didn’t really know—reasons why he had refused to get the jacket washed for a couple of days, and he would find every chance to wear it to work. Because for some reason, the smell of her perfume, of her , calmed him, helped clear his head when he was feeling overwhelmed with work.

And then yesterday, when she picked him up at the bar in her sedan, she’d gotten so close to him when she helped him with his seatbelt, and he could smell it. And then later, when she had tucked him to bed, her instinct to take care taking over, he’d almost kissed her, had she not pulled away. And the orange blossoms were there, too.

Maybe it was the scent of orange blossoms that drove him to the decision to drive all the way to Portland that morning before work to retrieve Norma’s car. It could only be the explanation, for why he’d gone there with a small smile, with the knowledge that he was going to do something to please her.

And then he took it to her, and she smiled, all giddy and happy, and he wasn’t even surprised, at how it made him, at that particular moment, the happiest man on earth, and the happiest he has ever been.

He was in deep, maybe as deep as the pit Bob dug on Norma Bates’ driveway. And it wasn’t like he could do anything about that.


Luck

Norma was walking along the aisles of neatly stacked items on a lane labelled “Oats and Cereals.” She was wheeling a cart in front of her, as she perused the items on the shelves, noting in her mind which of the items would Norman prefer, or maybe even Dylan, even though he barely stayed for breakfast, if at the house at all anymore. On more than one occasion, he slept over at his cottage “up there,” wherever it was, and stayed closed to his business. He only came for afternoon visits. She thought of Emma. Maybe Emma would like some, too.

As she stepped closer to the shelf to her right, reading the labels, nodding at the familiar names she’d seen on TV (although she barely had time to watch nowadays, with her being back to school and also taking care of the motel, and Norman using it to play his old movies), at the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of auburn hair. Only after doing a double take did she realize that it was Christine Heldens.

It had been months since she had met any of the Heldenses. She had made sure of it, actually, ever since that confrontation with Christine in the same grocery store. After that disastrous last meeting with George, she had never seen him again. She doubted she ever would. Affluent people like them you just don’t see on the street, or any of the places the non-affluent Norma often visits.

Norma swiftly turned, her eyes wide, and she strolled out of the aisle as inconspicuously as she could, trying not to draw attention to herself. Luckily, there was a moderate amount of people in the store, so the chances of them bumping into each other wasn’t too high. She didn’t realize she was tiptoeing until an elderly man looked at her questioningly over his rimmed round glasses. She put her heels on the floor and walked briskly to the next aisle, “Milk and Coffee.”

There were a few people on the aisle: a mother with a little boy on her cart, a bespectacled elderly lady, and a pregnant woman probably around Norma’s age.

There was the sound of footsteps (heels, no doubt) and rolling wheels approaching the aisle, and Norma panicked, listening to her gut, and proceeded to continue walking to the frozen dinners aisles. She strode casually, trying to avoid looking suspicious and drawing attention to herself. The aisle was mostly empty except for two people, one was a young woman, probably in her mid to late 20s, and the other a familiar man Norma knew all too well.

The sheriff in casual clothes. He was wearing blue plaid shirt and dark jeans.

She strolled closer, casually looking over to where the man pored over the frozen meals in the freezer. Teriyaki bowl. Chicken pot pie. Katsudon. Salisbury steak. Alfredo. Buffalo chicken wings. Mac and cheese. And so many other options. Norma inwardly grimaced.

“That is so unhealthy,” Norma remarked, a finger to her nose.

Alex turned his head to look at the source of the unwanted commentary. He did a double take, almost as if not believing that it was Norma Bates, before he nodded his head to her in acknowledgment.

“Norma.”

“Sheriff,” Norma answered expectantly.

“What are you doing here?”

“Buying groceries, obviously,” Norma sarcastically replied.

Alex looked back at her with slight annoyance, turning his attention back to the freezer and taking one frozen dinner out of it. Norma indiscreetly looked over to what he took with an unimpressed face.

“Seriously, Alex?”

Alex faced Norma exasperatingly. “What?”

“Frozen dinners, really? That’s what you’re having at home?”

Alex looked at his feet with a grimace as Norma continued on with her “frozen meals are unhealthy, and homecooked meals are better” tirade, with her additional, “You know what, maybe you should come up to the house for dinner from time to time.” He pursed his lips and sighed.

“I need to go. I’m in a rush. Goodbye, Norma.”

Alex nodded one more time at her before turning around to walk towards the cashiers area. Norma’s gaze followed him blankly, until her expression turned into a frown. After a few seconds of thought, she shrugged and continued strolling forward, all the while sneaking cautious glances over her shoulder to see if Christine was behind her. Not seeing anything remotely resembling the woman, she exhaled.

Then suddenly a woman’s voice rang out from behind her. “Oh, hey!”

Norma jumped. In alarm, she ran frantically and pushed her cart forward with so much force, hitting Alex’s behind, who, Norma thought, was definitely walking slowly than he should have.

“Oop—”

Alex turned around, not even surprised that it was her, and gave her a glare. “Norma—!”

“Shh!” Norma hushed him hurriedly, her finger on her lips, emphasizing her plea to lower his voice and not continue whatever it was he was about to say.

Hey, Margo! How are you?

Norma stole a glimpse over her shoulder, only to find out that the woman she avoided wasn’t the woman she planned on avoiding at all. She failed to notice before that the voice was too shrill to be Christine’s. She let out a relieved sigh, albeit a bit too loudly.

Alex observed her quietly, his annoyance slowly withering away, being replaced with curiosity.

“Who are you avoiding?”

“None of your business.”

“Oh, and  my dinner is any of your business?”

Norma glared at him.

How are Jake and Daniella? ” Norma heard the woman’s voice in the background.

Alex looked at her questioningly. Norma could almost see the gears turning in his head. She took another quick glance behind her, just to be sure , but when she turned her head back, Alex was already walking away from her.

She followed him.

Alex chose to ignore the sound of wheels turning and metal against metal behind him, thinking that she would probably change direction anyway once they reach the end of the aisle.

Many steps later, Alex stopped on his tracks, stretching his neck, before he looked back and saw what he expected to see: Norma Bates. The two of them stood there, at the end of the aisle, in the middle of the grocery store, Alex with his frozen food in one hand, and Norma with her cart.

“Why are you following me?” he asked, annoyance on his face.

“I’m not following you. What are you talking about?” Norma shot back innocently. At his disbelieving face, she continued insistently, “I mean, you’re going to the cashiers, right? It just so happened that I’m going there, too.”

“Really?” Alex replied, looking down at her cart. Norma followed his gaze. “With your empty cart?”

Norma flushed.

“Goodbye, Norma.”

Norma watched as Alex walked away, not even looking back to see the mixture of a glare and an embarrassed flush on her face.


Inches

“Norma.”

Norma jumped in surprise on the staircase, almost throwing herself off-balance. “Alex!” She was about to reprimand him about sneaking up on her again, but decided against it. “I thought you were gone. I heard you leave the house earlier.”

“Oh, yeah, I just forgot something.” Alex, who was looking up at her from the doorway, said as he closed the door and approached her.

“You need any help?”

“No, I’m fine. I just… I just left it on the drawer.”

Her gaze followed him as he walked towards her, feeling suddenly awkward as he brushed against her as he passed by, the sudden skin-to-skin contact making her nervous. She awkwardly looked to the side, avoiding him. And she stood still where he found her, confused about what to do with herself.

But all that had to end once Alex was out of her sight into Dylan’s room, and Norma took the chance to take a breath. It didn’t last long, however, as Alex came out with an envelope in hand, his other hand on the doorknob as he closed the door. For the first time since he came back, he took a good look at her.

“Are you alright?”

Norma shook herself. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” She bit her lip anxiously. “You got what you—?” She lamely gestured to the envelope in his hand.

“Yeah.”

And there they were, standing a few meters apart, but an ocean of space and discomfort between them. How can two people be so close and inseparable in one moment, and then so distant in another? Looking at them now, one wouldn’t know that, yes, they were past consummating their relationship. If anything, they looked like two complete strangers forced into playing house. The awkwardness was palpable.

“Um… so… I’ll see you later when you get back?” Norma asked hesitantly.

Alex cleared his throat. “Yeah, yeah, later, when I… get back.”

Norma smiled awkwardly. “Okay.”

“Okay.”

They stood there, both gauging whether the sudden development in their relationship from last night can allow a goodbye kiss or a goodbye hug, or anything remotely close to touching.

Norma could feel her heart pick up as Alex drew closer. She could tell he was going for a hug or perhaps a kiss, but her anxiety drove her to a panic, and she held out her hand instead, settling for a handshake. Alex took her hand in his, neither pulling her for a hug nor a kiss, and merely clasped it tight. She could tell that he wanted to bring it to his lips or chest, but he did none of that, deciding that, for now, this is how far they could get. He smiled, and she could feel the corners of her lips tug up to form a small smile, too.

He was still holding her hand as he went down the steps, up until he was too far, and Norma watched with held breath as he quickly walked down the stairs and out the door.

Baby steps .


Presence

The sound of the SUV locking was the only sound that could be heard at the Bates Motel. It was a quiet night, but it would be a night spent with his wife, which made it all the better and even more promising. Alex jogged up the steps to the house, his steps mirroring his excitement. It had been a long day at work. All he wanted was to finally spend time with his wife.

He checked his watch a few steps in, 6:30 pm. Norma would have been in the kitchen, waiting for him at the dining table. He could imagine her exuberant smile at his arrival, an imagination soon to be made real.

When he finally reached the house and opened the door, he was greeted not by his usually enthusiastic wife. Most of the time, she greets him once she hears the doors open and his, “I’m home!” This time was not one of those.

Thinking that maybe she was up to something, Alex walked to the kitchen—where his wife usually was at this time—but found an empty table. There wasn’t even any food.

He ran up the stairs to their room, expecting her to be asleep—she was probably exhausted from all her activities throughout the day—or maybe even waiting for him, his mind racing to certain paths, but the room was dark, and she wasn’t there, either.

He started to worry when he checked Norman’s room: empty, apart from the sewing machine and the curtains she had excitedly told him about. She wasn’t in Dylan’s room, either.

The only place left was the bathroom. It was locked, but he could see the light coming through the space under the door. She was inside.

“Norma?” He knocked on the door and pressed his ear to it, hearing silence and the occasional sniffle. “Norma, it’s me.”

He could hear her soft, “Alex?” and the unlocking of the knob. When the door finally opened, he was greeted by the sight of his wife with watery red eyes and a puffy nose. “Alex…,” she started brokenly.

“Hey,” Alex said. There was a moment as their eyes met, both of their hearts aching for different reasons. Then, Norma’s face began to crumple again, her ready tears forming in her eyes, as he continued, “Come here.”

She approached him, her arms scrambling to his back. Whatever she was doing before he’d found her in the bathroom, she continued, sobbing into his chest. He put his arms around his wife, rubbing her back soothingly.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his words muffled as he kissed her hair.

Norma shook her head vehemently against him. He could hear her breath hitching.

“Okay.”

There was only silence as Alex held Norma close. The bathroom light was on. There were crumpled tissues on the sink. Norma’s sobs were the sounds in the whole house, and maybe the soft noise of Alex’s hands against her dress as he caressed her back, and his words of comfort.

They had moments like this. Moments where Alex felt helpless seeing his wife break down. Alex had always believed that he could solve anything, a direct effect of Norma’s own trust in him, strengthened by the way she looks at him. But in times like this, he felt the total opposite.

Alex began to rock slowly. He hoped that the movement would calm her. Norma was still hiding her face against his chest, but her cries eventually started to subside. He kissed her right temple, still rubbing her back. They stayed that way for about a minute, until Norma finally found the courage to raise her head to him. Alex smiled at his wife, bringing his thumbs to wipe away her tears. She sniffed. He brought forehead against hers.

“Can we go to bed?” she asked. Her voice was still ragged from crying.

“Okay.”

Alex learned, that sometimes, it doesn’t always have to be about solutions.


Warmth

Norma groaned, stretching her legs, and opened her eyes slowly. Feeling something was out of place, she checked the clock on the bedside table. It must still be early, she thought, as she usually wakes up to the alarm, but this time, it was eerily quiet. To her surprise, however, it was 9 a.m. With an “Oh, my god,” she got up from the bed abruptly, putting the blankets aside to let her feet find her slippers. Only when she got up from the bed to retrieve her robe did she notice that her sheriff of a husband, who was supposed to be at work an hour ago, was still asleep on their bed.

She knelt on the bed next to him, placed her hands on her husband to rouse him up. “Alex.” He groaned. “Alex?” She put the back of her hand on his forehead, concerned that he might be sick, and she was proven right when she found how hot he was with a gasp.

“Norma…?” His voice was raspier than usual.

“Alex, you’re sick.”

Alex opened his eyes to find his wife towering over him, both of her hands on each side of his face, fixing his hair and caressing his cheek. He stayed there, lying on the bed, revelling in his wife’s touch for a couple of seconds before realizing that he would probably be late for work.

Norma stopped him as he got up, pushing him back to the bed.

“No, no, no, go back to bed,” Norma urged softly. “Honey, you’re sick. You’re really hot.”

“What—? No—"

“No, you stay here. I’ll make you some tea. And I’ll call the station, okay? You need to rest.”

“What time is it?”

“It’s 9 in the morning.”

“I need to get to work—”

“No,” Norma said insistently, pushing him back and bringing the covers over him. “No.” She looked at him, her mouth forming into a slight pout, her eyes looking over him with concern. Alex never got sick before. “Are you still feeling cold? Do you want me to get more blankets?” Her hand was on Alex’s forehead again.

“No, this is fine,” he said roughly. He cleared his throat.

“I’ll make you some tea.”

Norma swiftly went down to the kitchen in her robe, quickly grabbing the telephone on the wall to call the station, explaining to the receptionist why her husband wouldn’t make it to work. Afterwards, she opened the refrigerator to retrieve eggs and vegetables to round up a quick breakfast, omelette and rice, and then heated water to make tea. Her nervousness was driving her to do things as fast as she could.

When she was done, she placed everything on the tray, which she carried upstairs to their bedroom. She panicked when she found the bed empty.

“Alex?” she called out.

“Hey,” a voice shot behind her. She turned around to find Alex in his sleeping clothes at the doorway, walking groggily towards the bed. “I just went to the bathroom.”

She put the tray on the bedside table and asked, “How are you feeling? I made you breakfast. And ginger tea.” He sat on the bed, and she did the same, sitting beside him, and immediately put her hand on his forehead. She made a face and stood up suddenly. “I’ll get a cold towel.”

“Hey.” He grabbed her arm, pulling her back down on the bed beside him. He took her hand, holding it as if it was a specimen he was studying, and threaded his fingers with hers. “Stop worrying so much. Take it easy.”

Her face crumpled. “How can I take it easy when you’re sick?”

“I’ll be fine. I just probably caught the flu,” he managed to reply to her, his voice still rough.

She looked at her hands in his quietly, as if deep in thought. “It’s just that you never got sick before. I can’t help it.” She looked at him, her mouth in a small pout, her anxiety showing on her face. “Maybe we should go to the doctor, get you checked up? Alex, I don’t want you to die.”

He laughed weakly.

“Alex, I’m serious.”

He disentangled their fingers, letting go of her hand and putting his arms around her, pulling her to himself and plopping themselves on the bed. Confused, Norma just let him. Her head was nestled on his chest, just under his chin. Her hands were trapped between them. With his weight over her, she could not move. She could feel his body heat radiating off of him and warming her.

“Alex?”

“Mm.”

“I called the station.”

“Mm.”

“I made you breakfast.”

“Mm.”

“And ginger tea.”

“Mm.”

“You need to drink it before it gets cold.”

“Mm.”

“I need to get you a cold towel to help ease the fever.”

“Mm.”

“Do you have a headache? Does your head hurt?”

Norma heard something that sounded like a “no,” but it was hard to tell with his voice not like usual. The only thing that helped her was his slight shake of the head.

They stayed like that for a couple more moments. Norma, not knowing what to do, with her being trapped in her husband’s arms, remained where she was.

“Alex?”

“Mm.”

“You need to eat something.”

She wriggled in his arms, making it clear to him that she wanted him to let her go, but he wouldn’t budge. Instead, he tightened his arms even more around her—not too tight to suffocate, just enough—not wanting to let her go.

“Alex?”

She raised her head from his chest, her cheek sliding against his chin. She could hear his steady breathing. Alex had fallen asleep.