“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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,
“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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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…”
“I must have missed one.”
“You weren’t here Tuesday.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 watched as Alex walked away, not even looking back to see the mixture of a glare and an embarrassed flush on her face.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Alex learned, that sometimes, it doesn’t always have to be about solutions.
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.”
“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.
“I called the station.”
“I made you breakfast.”
“And ginger tea.”
“You need to drink it before it gets cold.”
“I need to get you a cold towel to help ease the fever.”
“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.
“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.
She raised her head from his chest, her cheek sliding against his chin. She could hear his steady breathing. Alex had fallen asleep.