“Why are you here?”
Norma “greeted” Alex, in a way that made him feel that he wasn’t welcome “here” at all. It felt less like a greeting and more like an accusation. She was leaning on the desk, her elbow on the table as she typed on her laptop, pretending to be busy with non-existent work.
Alex paused by the doorway with an affronted look on his face. “Might want to rework your greeting for your guests,” he finally answered, closing the door. “Need a room.”
She was wearing a pink floral-patterned white blouse above an A-line skirt. It was a contrast to his sheriff uniform, but Alex didn’t come for anything else but business.
“Why do you need a room?” Norma smiled.
“Need a credit card, right?” He slid his credit card to her, hoping to God she wouldn’t ask him any questions. Norma’s endless prodding was not exactly what Alex needed at that moment.
Norma’s smile dropped. “What happened?”
“Can we just check me in? I really don’t want to talk about it.” Alex furrowed his eyebrows in annoyance.
“Okay, fine,” Norma conceded in response. Grumpy. “How long will you be staying?”
“Uh... just a while, probably. I don’t know... A few months?” At that, as expected, Norma’s head snapped to his direction. She looked at him with a mix of surprise and questioning that Alex should have had expected from the moment he had gotten into his car that morning to go to the Bates Motel for a room. He stared right back at her, conceding, “Somebody torched my house. They burned it down to the ground. Now can I check in?”
“They torched your house!?”
“Your house!? Sheriff Romero, the big daddy of White Pine Bay?” — Alex cringed, avoiding eye contact — “I mean, what kind of crazy lunatic would torch your house?”
“Yeah, good question.”
“I mean,” Norma was rambling at that point,scandalized as if it was her house that got burned, “if I had torched your house, I’d be getting the hell out of town, ’cause I’d figure you’d be coming for my ass.” Norma finally stopped, but then, with a look that something registered to her, she leaned towards him, continuing in a lower, curious tone, like a gossip would, “What are you gonna do about it?”
“Can I just check in?” Alex interrupted impatiently.
There came an awkward silence as they looked at each other for a few seconds.
Norma leaned back, shocked at his retort, then shrugged as she slid him his card back towards him. Alex openly sighed in relief when she turned to the key rack, picking the keys for —
“Room 11.” She smiled at him. “Maid service is usually around noon.” He nodded, walking away. The conversation finally finished.
“Any special requests?”
Alex turned to look at Norma in the eye.
“Good morning! Welcome to the Bates Motel — Oh, it’s just you.”
Norma scrunched up her face from a bright, genuinely enthusiastic smile, that the transition and the difference in expression were so noticeable. Alex would have laughed had it been a different time between them. She had come from the back room when he came in, looking fresh in her usual floral dress and skirt. He closed the door and quietly made his way to the coffee machine, only looking at her once.
“What about me?” He took a paper cup from a stack.
“God, I see you’re one of those people.” Norma rolled her eyes.
“One of what people?”
“The ‘Don’t talk to me; I’m grumpy in the morning’ type of people.”
She went up behind him to peek at his coffee over his shoulder, offering him a Cream? Sugar? to which he shook his head. She watched as he swirled his coffee in his cup, the strong coffee smell pervading the small room. She stared still when Alex took his first sip. Then, an idea occurred to her.
“Say… You’ve had your coffee. Can I talk to you now, Sheriff?”
Alex could see her watching him in his peripheral vision. He took a slight sigh before finally turning to face her. “What?” he asked, “What is it?” not with genuine eagerness but with an exasperated look on his face that spoke, Why am I even here again? which Norma ignored, as she went on:
“I’ve been thinking, since you’re a family friend, and you’re staying here at my motel,” Norma began eagerly, “why don’t you join us for dinner sometime? How about tonight?”
A fast, “No.”
“Come on, Alex, someone torched your house. It’s not like you have anywhere else to go,” she spoke, totally convinced with herself, like it was the most logical turn of events. “How about tomorrow night?”
“The night after tomorrow?”
“How about the night after that?”
“Come on, Alex, after all we’ve been through…”
“Norma,” Alex started pointedly, “we haven’t been through anything.”
“What?” Norma reacted, completely taken aback, “What about when I cleaned your cut? When I do your laundry?” She raised an eyebrow at him. Norma had listed things she had done for him that he never asked for (entirely forgetting all the things Alex covered her ass for).
“How many times do I have to tell you that you need to stop doing my laundry?”
“A thousand times more, maybe,” she retorted snarkily. She stared at him again as he drank the contents of the cup in one gulp, crushed the paper cup, threw it into the bin, and walked away from where she was standing and the coffee machine towards the door. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to work, Norma.”
Alex’s expression as he closed the door was exactly the same expression he wore when he closed the door after checking in a few days ago.
Norma had been tapping away on her laptop in boredom. It was past noon, the sheets changed, and there were no new customers. That bypass was surely ruining her business, she thought, but in the past couple of days, it hadn’t been that bad. A family of four had stayed in her motel for a week before they left the same day Alex checked in. And then a couple of days before that, people had been checking in and checking out, to the point that she was finally able to light the No Vacancy sign up. The summer had been good to her. Recently, however, her business had been dying slowly. Again.
And there came the familiar sound of tires on gravel, a blessing from the heavens.
Norma jumped from her seat, rushing to the blinds. It was a black sedan. She squinted to make out the face of the person in the car, but due to the tinted glass, she couldn’t. Then, she didn’t have to, as the person, a woman, came out of the sedan, the long heels of black boots first, then dark pants second, then a mass of long dark hair. Norma quickly ran back to the desk as the woman walked towards the motel office, busying herself — or more accurately, pretending to be busy.
“Shouldn’t have worn heels,” the woman muttered under her breath, but with a friendly smile directed at Norma as she opened the office door. At full view, Norma could then clearly see that she was wearing a sleeveless gray wrap blouse. Her hair was long and wavy, and she was taller than Norma expected.
Norma smiled back. “Good morning. Welcome to the Bates Motel,” she repeated what she said to Alex this morning.
To her surprise, the woman laughed, the sound tickling Norma’s ears. There was something different about the woman’s laugh, unique. She hadn’t heard one quite like it before. “You mean, ‘afternoon’?”
“It’s ‘good afternoon,’ ” the woman said with an understanding smile.
“Oh — oh! Right, I’m sorry.” Norma laughed, breaking the ice. “Haven’t had any customers since this morning. The last person I greeted, I greeted with a ‘good morning,’ and… anyway,” Norma caught herself as she rambled. She cleared her throat. “How can I help you?”
“I need a room for a couple of days... probably, let’s see... about a week. At most.” The woman nodded to herself and to Norma. Norma could hear the car keys jiggling in the woman’s hand as she opened a purse she’d been carrying, taking out a card and, unlike Alex, handed the card directly to Norma instead of sliding it on the table.
Check-in date, July 6. Tap, tap, tap. Check-out date, July 13. Tap, tap, tap.
“Here you go.” Norma handed the card right back to the woman with a cordial smile. She turned to the key rack, mulling over which room to pick.
“Is Room 11 available?” the woman spoke.
“No, it’s occupied.”
“Okay, how about Room 10?”
“Room 10 is available.”
“I’ll take Room 9, then, if it’s available.”
“Alright, Room 9, it is,” Norma answered, although her eyebrows were raised secretly in confusion, but when she turned to face the woman again, there was nothing on Norma’s face but cordiality. She would have thought the woman was rude and simply intentionally confusing her by being quirky, had the woman worn something else other than the genuine friendly expression on her face. Norma gave her the room keys with the usual, “Maid service is around noon.”
“Thank you, Ms. Bates.” The woman turned to leave. Her car keys jiggling again, and with the motel keys, too.
This time, Norma couldn’t hide her confusion and interest. “How did you know?”
“The sign? I figured the Bateses would run this motel.”
“Oh! Yes, of course.”
At that, the woman left the office and approached her car, with Norma never taking her eyes off her new customer. She observed as the brunette opened the trunk, lifted a luggage, and promptly slammed it. Norma jerked her finger holding the blinds away as the woman looked at her direction (or at least, Norma thought so). In a panic, she swiftly went to the reception desk, accidentally tripping over herself in the process. She, again, pretended to be busy with her laptop, but Norma heard nothing but the sound of the car locking, then the fading tap, tap, tap of the woman’s heels on the floor, and finally, the faint opening and closing of a door.
Norma sighed. She might have to keep an eye out on Norman again.
It was already 7 pm when Alex arrived at the Bates Motel. The Bates house was lit, but the office was empty. He had figured that Norma was probably already eating dinner with her sons. And he would have been there with them, had he accepted Norma’s offer this morning. That woman continued to surprise him every single day ever since he started staying at her motel.
She had asked him a few days ago if she can say, “Hey, Alex,” instead of, “Hey, Sheriff Romero,” and Alex figured Norma had taken it as a hint to evolve their relationship… which meant doing his laundry regularly and ordering him around when she needed someone to fix a leaking pipe, or a broken faucet, or stop a brawl between motel customers from escalating (“You’re the sheriff. Isn’t breaking fights something a sheriff should do?”), or stop a vermin infestation from happening (It’s a long story…). He had taken them all with mild exasperation, or at least, that was what he’d shown Norma (which she had ignored; she wouldn’t stop asking him for favors), but, really, deep inside, he knew he couldn’t refuse her anything, no matter how mundane or silly the request. He had a feeling, that she knew that, too.
As he was about to insert the keys to his room into the lock, he saw a figure approach him in his peripheral vision, coming from the direction of the ice machine.
“Hey, good evening.”
Alex turned, seeing a tall woman with dark hair. When Alex turned to see her face, he could clearly see how striking her eyes were, and blue, a lot like Norma’s. She could easily be described as someone beautiful.
Alex settled with a, “Good evening,” back with a polite nod. He was not exactly one for small talk.
“You’re a police officer?” the woman asked, pointing a hand holding a tumbler to his outfit, before holding it to her mouth, drinking from it.
“Yeah, I’m the sheriff.”
“Oh, so you live here.”
“Then…?” She cocked her head to the side.
“My house is getting renovated. I have nowhere else to stay, and I’m friends with Norma, the owner, so…”
“You’re friends with the owner?”
“Yes, I am.” Alex thought it was probably the first time he had ever verbally admitted that to anyone.
“So her name is Norma. Norma Bates,” she said. Alex listened as she accentuated every letter, rolling the words on her tongue. “Sheriff,” the woman started again, walking closer to him, “can I ask you something?”
Norma heaved as she dragged a large heavy garbage bag from the kitchen door to the stairs down to the motel, all the while muttering to herself why the dumpster had to be so far down from the house. She stopped and crouched down for a breath when she reached the bottom of the stairs. Then, with another heave, she dragged the “damn garbage” a few feet more before lifting it and successfully getting it into the dumpster.
She huffed in relief, straightening herself, and mindlessly walking to the direction of the motel office to get a clearer peek of the motel in the night. She was pulling off her yellow gloves from her arms, when an interesting sight met her.
Right after Norman arrived home this afternoon, she had spoken to him about staying away from the motel and leaving everything to her for the time being. She insisted that he should take this chance to get involved in other activities, hobbies, or whatever it was that he would like to do — anything that would keep him away from the woman staying there, keep him away from trouble.
But she looked in silence right behind Alex’s SUV, at Alex talking to the woman from this afternoon. The Alexandra Coleman. It clicked to Norma only then that she and Alex share nearly the same name. She’s probably an Alex, too, like Alex, Norma thought, her face crumpling into a frown.
She ducked, hiding herself from their view and craning her head discreetly forward to try to hear any words Alex and this other Alex were sharing, but to no avail, as if hearing their words would actually make her feel any better.
Alex and the Alex-woman were standing beside the door of Room 11, Alex’s room (Norma felt it was important to take note of that). The Alex-woman had her back to Norma. Even from behind, Norma could easily tell she had her arms crossed. Norma frowned as she saw the woman’s forearm make an appearance, probably holding her fingers to her lips… and seductively… Norma could feel something bubbling from the pit of her stomach at the image.
The Alex-woman laughed. Norma’s frown deepened.
Then, Alex smiled. Norma scowled even more.
She stood there near the motel office, the cars of the motel guests obstructing both Alexes from seeing her watch them, as her mind flew into various directions, imagining Alex and this other Alex talking together, laughing together (the imagery came surprisingly easily even though Norma had never seen Alex do that with anybody else), and then Alex opening the door to Room 11, Alex following closely behind him, and she’d be the one to close the door, and then…
Norma jerked from her trance. When she looked up, she was surprised to see Alex, Alexandra, holding the door to Room 9, smiling to her. She had her other hand in a half-wave while holding a tumbler.
Norma forced a smile and waved back in return, her hands, she realized, still in her dirty cleaning gloves. Only after she saw Alex — the woman Alex — close the door did Norma notice that the door to Room 11 was closed, too, and Alex — Alex Romero — was nowhere in sight.