Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at http://download.archiveofourown.org/works/5994838.

Rating:
Mature
Archive Warning:
Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Category:
F/M
Fandom:
Bates Motel (2013)
Relationship:
Norma Bates/Alex Romero
Character:
Alex Romero, Norma Bates
Additional Tags:
Love, Sex, Jealousy, Hurt/Comfort
Stats:
Published: 2016-02-13 Words: 12051

Room 11

by

Summary

He just needs to be near her. She just wants to feel special. It's Valentine's Day in White Pine Bay, and the day is full of intimacy, lust, and conflict. [A Normero one-shot request. For Ariane. Rated M for sexual content.]

It's not necessity that brings me to the Bates Motel. It's fear, or desire, or something that feels like a toxic—and intoxicating—amalgam of the two. Like there's not enough oxygen in the world, not enough room to stretch my arms. My lungs ache and my limbs cramp and the only goddamn thing that will cure my discomfort is making her smile every morning and checking her locks every night.

The infection crept in without a warning or an apology; one minute I'm content to simply care for a beautiful woman, one that I call a friend, and the next I'm tallying up every proverbial monster under the bed and running down a checklist of preventative measures. Doubtful my deputies would appreciate being assigned to a pointless on-the-hour patrol.

Only solution is to keep her near.

Or maybe it's all bullshit. My mind playing tricks on me, conjuring up menacing shadows on the periphery, so that I can rationalize the all-consuming need to be in her presence. It's most definitely not, I tell myself, the fact that her hair smells like peaches or that she looks heartrendingly youthful in pink lipstick or the way her high-pitched trill of laughter electrifies me.

It can't be the fact that I only ever feel whole, fully human, when she looks at me and smiles.

"So," she asks, and for once she manages to contain her usual barrage of excited, curious questions, "how long will you be staying?"

"A few weeks," I say. Then I think better of it. "But maybe longer. I'm not really sure."

"Mm, I'll just put you down for an unspecified extended stay."

"That's great, thanks."

"Of course." She idly taps at her keyboard, but then she looks up, eyes crinkling with her smirk. "Somebody torch your house again?"

"Ha. Smart ass."

"I'm serious! I bet the Big Daddy of White Pine Bay—" I groan the second she says it; I loathed hearing it the first time she whipped that particular moniker out, but my distaste only amused her, and she'd since made it a point to throw it into conversation whenever possible. "—has a lot of enemies."

"More than you know. But, no. No one torched my house."

"Escaping a jealous lover, then?"

Eight-thirty on a Saturday morning in the middle of a freezing February, yet birds were already singing. Some desperate, unintelligible need to see this woman drove me from sleep and into a motel bed not even a fraction as comfortable as my own. And Norma Bates, object of my affection, sole bearer of my lethal protection, draping herself over the counter, chin resting on palm, purely to goad me into giving up details I clearly wished to spare.

"As a matter of fact, that's exactly it."

The corner of her mouth drops, the smirk fading. I watch her gaze narrow as she takes in my face; wondering if I'm serious. But then she rolls her eyes and reaches out to swat at my arm, huffs a dismissive little laugh.

"You're such an ass."

"I'm just answering your questions."

"You're really not going to tell me why you're here? What tragedy has befallen the sheriff to make him flee from his own home?"

I can't stand being away from you, I think.

I need to know you're safe.

I need you to look at me—really look at me—and tell me your fears and lean into me when you're sad and let me do the only thing I've ever really known how to do: protect, and provide.

Instead, I say, "All right. You win. Somebody broke into my house."

"Seriously?" Sharp; quick; like a hawk. A flare of protective anger. "Who the Hell would break into your house?"

"Ah, like you said, the sheriff tends to make a lot of enemies in this town."

"Still, though. It's like, have they ever even met you?" Her righteous indignation is beautiful, and warming, and I feel a stab of guilt over lying to her. But not enough to drive me to share the truth. "I mean, you're the last person I'd want to get on the wrong side of."

I laugh, thinking of the early days. When she was merely a suspect to me, a possibly murderous woman with an irritating attitude and an even more vexing habit of showing up at my office to harass my assistant and attempt to blackmail me.

"Don't worry about it," I say. I want to reach over the counter, touch her face. Or walk around the damn thing and draw her into me. Hell, I want to take her in the back room and find a thousand tactile, tender ways to show her just how much her concern means to me.

"Somebody should worry about it."

"It'll be fine, Norma. I'll lay low here for a while, set up a patrol around my house. Better safe than sorry. I'm sure it'll all die down."

"If you say so." She frowns, sounds doubtful. But she goes back to entering in my information. "Room 4 okay?"

I hesitate. She catches it, watches me. Steady. Interested. What, exactly, she can see in my face I'm afraid to ask. But she makes no mention of it, her expression remains neutral, and whatever brief flicker of tension invaded the room is gone just as quickly.

"Actually," she says, turning towards the pegboard behind her, "I forgot, Room 4 still needs to be cleaned. How about Room 11?"

I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding.

"That'd be fine."

"Good." She hands me the key, slides my credit card to me. "And once you've settled in, you can help me move some things out of Room 8."

"Is that right? You're allowing me to stay here and work for you? How generous."

"What's the use of having a sheriff in your motel if you can't force him into some manual labor?"

"You could say please, you know," I say. But I've already decided to help her. I knew I would from the moment she mentioned it. And, worst of all, she knew it too.

She makes it painfully obvious when she dashes around the counter and puts her hand on my chest, grins up at me, batting lashes coated in dark brown mascara a mile a minute.

"Oh, Sheriff," she says, her voice intentionally high. Goading. A teasing baby-voice. "Won't you please help me move a load of crap obnoxious stoner college kids left in my beautiful motel room?"

I tuck a blond curl behind her ear before I can catch myself, and her eyes go dark. A flicker of something heated.

"As if I have a choice," I whisper.


There are few things more useful than having a sheriff in your motel. Especially one that's surprisingly handy.

Shower curtain rod lying in four pieces on the floor? Dial the sheriff.

Some disrespectful dick trashing Room 3 in a drunken fit? Go knock on Room 11's door.

Up in the house making lunch and the kitchen faucet starts spouting water? Better call Alex.

This and a thousand other meager, tedious, insignificant facets of running a motel and maintaining a home crop up in the week since his arrival, and yet he comes whenever called. Sometimes, if he feels it requires his immediate attention, he leaves the station early.

He wakes up two hours before me to get to work, and the coffee in the office (I gave him a key on the second day) is fresh and hot. His brew is strong—maybe too strong—but it suits him. And, more and more these days, it suits me too.

In the evenings he walks the garbage from my kitchen down to the dumpster behind the motel. And every night it's the same:

"I can do it myself, Alex," I say.

"But it's dark," he counters, looking irritated that I bother to bring it up.

"So what?"

"So," he says, "I don't like you walking around alone in the dark."

"Jesus, I'm not a child, you know."

"I know that. I just don't like—"

"And it's my house. And my motel. And my garbage and dumpster. If I want to walk it down myself I will. And I'll do it whenever I want to."

"Christ, Norma, would you just let me take the goddamned garbage out?"

He storms out, letting the door slam a bit too roughly behind him, and I stare at his back as he huffs down the stairs and disappears around the motel.

But then he reappears a few moments later—usually when I'm standing on the porch, contemplating going down and apologizing (he's just trying to help, after all, even if he is impossible and paternal and overprotective)—and smiles up at me with a resigned sort of half-shrug. And then we're okay.

It's nice having him here. A good distraction on the days Norman is locked in the basement or ignoring me or, worse than ignoring me, lingering in hallways and staring at pictures on the wall and making veiled and not-so-veiled threats that seldom make sense yet scare the Hell out of me.

I don't tell Alex about any of it. Sometimes I want to. He pulls into the driveway after his shift ends, and I see him in his uniform, tired but broad-shouldered, and it strikes me that he's built for this. For battle and scars and all the tales of human tragedy he never mentions but I know he must encounter at work.

He's powerful because God or nature or some miracle of a genetic quirk made him so. And I could be powerful too, I think, I could be like him, if only things were calmer, saner, something resembling normal. But they're not, and I'm not, I suppose, and so it's a great comfort to see him, to watch him catch sight of me and smile, nothing more than a corner of his mouth curving up. And he stands still, waiting for me to go to him or say something; waiting for instructions or requests or alarm. And if there's nothing he nods, a gentle acknowledgment, and turns his back and walks into Room 11. He changes into his street clothes. Probably showers. Maybe has a drink.

And then he takes my garbage out.

But today is not one of those days. Two in the afternoon on a quiet Sunday, the motel nigh silent. The only sound in the area my son's hammer.

Never sure what he's doing. I seldom go down to the basement anymore. And I try to focus on other things. I do the dishes and vacuum and play the piano, and find 938274 things on my ever-growing to-do list that should keep me preoccupied, but whatever's going on down below me is rattling the walls and rattling my skull. The headache's lingered for over two hours, and all the light bulbs that need replacing and the coats of paint I could be slapping on fading windowsills don't particularly present themselves as soothing remedies.

At least the porch offers me some fresh air, blocks out the cacophony. I lean on the railing, try to stretch out my neck. Everything stiff these days, and tight. But then I see Alex's SUV down below, and the occasional half-hidden blur of his body as he moves around—loading something in the back, I think—and something occurs to me.

It takes less than ten minutes to get everything ready, and as I run down the steps, arms full, I cross my fingers he's still there. I need a break. And certainly the sheriff could use one too, right? Even if it his day off. Doubt he's down there meditating on a regular basis. That man probably requires stress relief, and I know just the thing.

"How about a picnic!" I chirp once I round the corner and find him bent over several boxes set behind his car.

He jumps slightly at the sound, the closest to being startled I've ever seen him.

"Christ, Norma." He looks annoyed, face set hard. And I try not to laugh, I do, but he looks so serious, and so put out that I can't help it, and half-restrained chuckles (which sound vaguely like half-coughs, half-gasps for air) escape me. "It's not funny," he says. But already I can see him fighting a smile.

"No, not funny at all."

"I mean it."

"I believe you."

"You're so—" he starts, but then he trails off, watching me warily from the corner of his eye before I see the humor seep it's way in. He rolls his eyes, but smiles. "Maybe announce yourself a little earlier next time."

"Aw, I didn't mean to scare you."

"I wasn't scared."

"Mm, no, of course not."

"Norma—" It's a warning, I know. While I'm pretty sure Alex Romero is only capable of two moods—a) pissed off, and b) not pissed off—he can switch between them at the drop of a hat. I'd almost call it mercurial, but I think that requires more variety.

"I packed a picnic," I say, eager to change the subject. I hold the basket, which I've had pressed to my chest the entire conversation, out in front of me. "I thought you might like to get out of here, get some fresh air."

He glances from me to the basket, to the boxes at his feet and his SUV, and then back to my face.

"Oh, that's, uh. That's a nice offer, Norma, thanks. But I can't."

"Sure you can. It's the weekend. It's your day off! And a woman has whipped up a portable feast just for you."

"I appreciate that. I do. But I need to get these files to the station today. It really can't wait."

"C'mon, Alex. Please?"

"I'd like to, Norma, but I can't. Maybe some other time." His smile is apologetic, but firm. An it-can't-be-helped sort of smile. And then he bends over and goes back to loading his stupid boxes in his stupid trunk and I don't want to cry, I don't mean to, but I feel the heat of the tears behind my eyes and no matter what I do the burn makes my eyes water and it's only when a series of badly-muffled hiccups escape me that he turns around, eyes wide, and stares at me. "Norma," he begins, visibly stunned. "I didn't mean to upset you. I just need to—"

"No. No, it's not you," I say, though the words are choked and it's hard to get them out. "It's just everything."

"Like what?" he asks, softly. He sets the box down and moves towards me slowly, the way you'd approach an injured, frightened animal. It seems so absurd, so overly cautious that I want to laugh. But instead I drop the basket and throw myself at him, arms around his neck and face pressed into his chest and my tears are already soaking through his shirt but he doesn't appear to care.

I want to say: Norman and this goddamn bypass and Bob Paris and motherhood and trying to run a motel in this economy and there's never enough money and I think my son is sick and I don't know what to do.

Instead, I sob into his shoulder and mumble and he says gently "What? I can't understand you, Norma, take a deep breath." And I do take a deep breath, and I whisper into his shirt, "I just want to get out of here for a little while."

He's quiet for a moment, but then his arms tighten around me and his hand strokes my hair and he whispers, "Okay. It's okay, Norma. Shh. It's all right. We'll go for a little drive."

We don't talk on the drive. Maybe because there's nothing to say. Maybe because he's afraid I'll burst into tears again. Either way, he leaves the windows down (despite the cold) and the heat on (I think of my mother's old line: "I'm not heating the outdoors, Norma Louise.") and takes the back roads until we find an old, sprawling park. No cars on the street or in the gravel drive leading off to winding paths. Just us and the trees and the cold. Makes me wish I'd brought a blanket, but before we get out he reaches into the backseat and grabs his leather jacket.

I don't think much of it at the time, but as we're moving down one of the paths he drapes it over my shoulders without a word. His hand on the small of my back, leading despite the fact that I'm walking in front. And when I look up into his face, and he glances down to me, he reaches over without asking and takes the handle of the basket and carries it until we find a decent spot to sit.

Like the drive, we eat in silence. Not a difficult silence. There's no tension or desperate scramble for conversation. We split a couple of sandwiches and he cracks open the bottles of soda between his palm and a rock—I'd forgotten the bottle opener—and it's just us and the birds.

I'm warm beneath his jacket, I realize, and I start thinking about how he must be cold, what with his flannel shirt and his jeans and not a whole lot else. There's no blanket to sit on and the wind howls around us and he looks up at me, sandwich finished, soda bottle empty, and his eyes are warm and curious and moving over my frame. Making sure I'm comfortable, I realize, safe and warm and happy where I am. I can see it without him saying a word; the same expression he's had every time he looks at me, or my car, or my house, or any stranger standing within five feet of me.

A shrill bird's cry draws his attention off to the woods, and when he turns his head I lean over without warning or permission and brush my lips against the pulse in his neck. I feel the roughness of his chin against my cheek as he turns again, this time into me, his breath soft on my skin and his lips hovering, tantalizing, a mere inch from my own.

"Norma." He breathes my name like a prayer and when his lips part with the word I press my mouth to his. Soft, curious, not insistent or demanding. And I'm not really sure why, if you want the truth.

Yes, he's beautiful. Yes, lately, every time I look at him, something pulls at me, twists in my stomach in such a way that I feel drawn to him, almost helplessly. And yes, I've thought of kissing him before. When he's angry, when he's pushed me up against a wall, when he's protective or somber or sweet or a thousand other things in all the days that I've known him.

But today it's different. Today I want to kiss him because the sun is shining but it's oh-so-cold outside, and the birds are singing but their song pales in comparison to the cadence of his breathing. I want to kiss him because he drove me all the way out here just to make me happy, to protect me from myself and all my many monsters.

I wrap my hands around his neck and his palm is on the small of my back again, pulling me into him, and he's warm and solid and he smells good, just like he always does, only this time it's heated, like musk and sweat and want, and when I feel the tip of his tongue flick over my bottom lip I pull back just slightly. "Protect me," I whisper, and what I mean is "take me," and he makes a noise in the back of his throat because he doesn't need me to clarify, or maybe he just doesn't care, because protection is in his blood, his very DNA, and the drive to protect and provide and serve is so enmeshed in his identity that I'm certain it's both a calling and a desire.

So I say "protect me" again, like it's a chant or a beckoning whisper, and he takes it as such. I repeat it and he moans; I whisper it again in his ear and he presses me down to the ground and on my back and he's hard by the time he settles himself atop me.

It's a haze, all of it. I close my eyes, still warm in his jacket, only my thighs cold when he slides my dress up and my panties down. But it doesn't last long, because his body covers me, and his hands are on my thighs, guiding them to wrap around his hips. He's gentle, unconcerned with time or the heat of the moment. I let my arms fall back and over my head, happy enough to be splayed on the ground, to tilt my head back and enjoy his mouth on my neck and my collarbone.

Eventually his fingers slip over my wrists, pinning me down as he slides into me, and I arch my back and open my eyes to find him staring down at me, face gentle and full of open affection and so much tenderness I want to break the gaze.

He takes me slow, and deep, murmuring things to me; his affection and declarations of my beauty, and how soft I am, how small and tender and sweet. He kisses my forehead and the corner of my mouth and the blade of my cheekbone. Nuzzles his face into the crook of my neck as the minutes stretch on and I can feel his rhythm change, hear the hitch in his breath as his need builds. His grip tightens reflexively when my body tightens around him, and I take the opportunity to press a kiss to the curve of his ear, to nip the lobe—he groans and thrusts into me hard, unexpectedly, and so I nip again and his hips move faster, clumsy in the mounting passion—and again I whisper the words that brought us to this point in the first place: "protect me."

I whisper it over and over again, and his response is no less frantic, no less consumed. Each time it leaves me he buries himself into me, deeper and deeper, and his fingers flex around my wrists to the point of pain although I know he doesn't do it on purpose, and he loses his groans to a series of inarticulate, vaguely animal sounds in the back of his throat.

It's my private serenade for him, I think. Protect me, I chant, and he does. He fucks me, takes me, and he protects me—maybe the only man who ever will, or ever could. There's freedom in that, and bliss, and trust, and somehow that's intoxicating.

It's essential and earth-moving and when the orgasm hits it's slow, a wave that starts in my abdomen and rolls through my limbs one by one until I'm shivering under him and I feel him shudder against me, over and over, and then the bulk of his weight drops down onto me, makes it hard to breathe, but I don't mind in the slightest.

Only when his panting slows, and he manages to gulp down several lungs full of oxygen does he cup my face in his palm and kiss my jaw and whisper something that sounds like "I love you" but is ultimately lost to the wind.


Curled up in my jacket, nothing much visible beyond the mop of curly blond hair, she sleeps on the drive home.

She'd let me hold her after she'd whimpered her pleasure against my ear and I'd finished inside her. I'd whispered my love and either she hadn't heard it or she was too lost in the afterglow to give a damn. It didn't matter. Never was very good with expressing myself, anyway. Interrogating suspects, sure, but beyond that I preferred actions to words.

She'd kissed the backs of my fingers when I buttoned my jeans, made it impossible to properly zip up the fly. I had to gently shoo her away, laughing. She'd fallen back against my jacket, made of giggles and light and warm arms that gestured for me to come to her, and when I did I picked her up and pulled her into my lap and held her, minutes sliding into an hour, and though I was freezing none of it fucking mattered. When she was in my arms everything made sense.

She gave me a clarity that nothing—not my career or my sidearm or my morality—had ever bestowed.

Only when I pull into her drive and put the SUV in park do I wake her. Climb out, walk over to her side, and gently open the door. No longer propped up, she slides against my chest, eyes opening only when my arm is around her waist and I kiss the top of her head.

"I fell asleep?"

"Mhm."

"You should've woken me."

"Didn't have the heart." Her silence and her sleep and her gentleness too precious to disturb. "But you look exhausted, let me walk you to the door."

She nods, but pauses once her feet hit the ground. She stares at me, seemingly lost in thought, and then smiles. Small at first, but growing by the second, until it's the wide, shit-eating-grin that frequently drives me mad but makes my heart hammer against my ribcage nonetheless. "Carry me," she whispers, and I say "Norma," as if it's the biggest imposition in the world, but already my arm hooks under her knees and she giggles when I hoist her up, turning us with a flourish that earns me another delighted riff of laughter, and I'm half tempted to vault up the stairs just to amuse her but then it would be over too quickly and I'm not prepared to let her go. Not yet.

Her hair tickles my face and she makes a passing comment about how I need to shave ("I don't recall you complaining an hour ago."), but her fingers brush my neck just under my collar, sending a shiver down my spine and for a brief moment I pause, afraid I might drop her. But it's fine. We're fine, and stable, and it's only reluctantly that I reach her door and release her, although she leans into me as soon as she's able to stand, and in my arms she's soft warm skin and the smooth leather jacket and she nuzzles into my neck and whispers "thank you."

"It's my pleasure," I say, enjoying her nearness and how easily she settles herself in my embrace. It's a destruction of boundaries, in a way, whatever happened between us this afternoon. We've spent so long circling one another that it feels almost indulgent to hold her nigh casually, as if I've done it a thousand times before, as opposed to merely daydreaming about it.

"It's Valentine's Day in a couple days."

"Isn it?" I ask, only half paying attention. I should listen, I know, but I'm too busy kissing her temple, brushing her hair away from her forehead.

"Uh huh. I've never really done anything for Valentine's Day," she says, leaning away from my eager mouth to peer up at me. "Have you?"

"No, I don't really do the whole Valentine's thing."

Too late I realize how stupid I've been. It's only when her face falls, a brief flicker of sadness that dims her eyes and turns the corners of her mouth down do I understand what a goddamned idiot I am.

"Yeah," she says, softly, eyes flicking away from me and off to the side. She's stiff in my arms; not cold but withdrawn, and it makes my chest ache with each passing second. "You're right, it's a stupid holiday."

"Norma, I didn't mean—"

"It's fine." It doesn't sound fine, but I let it hang there, the silence stretching between us, because I don't do that Valentine's Day shit, I never have, and now I don't necessarily know what to say. I only know that the idea of her slipping away from me—pulling away—is absolutely intolerable. Especially now.

"Want me to check the house?" I ask. Every evening in the past week I've been making the rounds; checking locks and windows, circling the house, taking note of the guests, their cars, anyone lurking about the motel or her home.

"Pfft, no," she says, rolling her eyes. Just like she does every time I ask.

I nod, but make a note to do it later, when she's asleep or busy with Norman. These days I can't relax until I'm certain she's safe.

"I'd invite you in," she says, almost shyly, "but I need to check on Norman. Get dinner started." Just beginning to get dark when I'd parked in the gravel in front of her office. "But it's been a good day."

"It has."

"A really good day," she whispers. She tilts her chin up, a solicitation despite the lingering sadness there, and I lean down to press my mouth against hers.

It's gentle, and all too brief, but for three blissful seconds she's a soft and yielding warmth against me, everything I'd always wanted yet never known I'd needed until the fateful day at her kitchen table just over a year ago when she'd wiped away my blood and done my damn laundry.

Against my lips she whispers, "I'll see you tomorrow," and then she pulls away before I can urge her to stay. Disappears behind her door with a quirk of a smile and a farewell flutter of her fingers, leaving me cold and shaking on her doorstep, feeling drunk even though I'm stone-cold sober.


For the first time in as long as I can remember, I sleep through the night. No crashing from the basement, no anxiety dreams, no "what ifs?" keeping me awake through the early hours.

One minute I'm telling Norman goodnight, and the next my head hits the pillow and all that's left is the taste of Alex on my lips and the smell of him on my skin and the memory of his hands, both rough and gentle, digging into my hips and wrists, and the way he shivers in the heat of the moment, whispers my name, ragged and raw and aching with the pleasure of it all. And then it's just sleep, some vague awareness of the safety he offers skirting its way through my dreams, until the sun crests beyond the curtains and I'm awake.

As awake as I've ever been, maybe.

I'm in the office at 7:10, the earliest I've ever managed to drag myself down there. Not hungry, no need for breakfast, but I make myself three cups of coffee (strong, the way Alex likes it, and I make sure there's a constantly-brewing pot, ready for him the moment he steps in to say good morning), dump in too much sugar and cream, thrum and hum and vibrate on the energy and the sweetness of it.

It's a good morning, I realize. It's gray and wet and the weather is terrible and none of the guests are milling about yet—and I haven't seen Norman yet, didn't bother making him breakfast or checking on him; certainly he can tend to that himself for a single morning—but there's life in these veins, I think. Life I haven't felt in a long time. Longer than I can remember.

So, I'm humming. I'm humming and bustling around the office, and my skirt swishes around my knees, a little flair of paisley joy, and Alex will be here soon. Within an hour or so he'll waltz through the office door like he's done all week (though he'll be surprised to see me this early, no doubt) and pour himself a cup of coffee and ask about my plans for the day.

But now it's different. Now he'll lean in and kiss me. I know he will, because he did last night, and because I made it a point to slick on the baby-pink lipstick he adores (can't stop staring at my mouth whenever I wear it; he thinks I don't notice; I can be observant too, Sheriff!). And if he doesn't I'll just have to sweeten the offer until he does.

He responds to my teasing, I'd learned that yesterday afternoon. For every nip and delicate trace of my fingers, he'd groaned and run his teeth down the line of my neck and whispered some agonized endearment.

And, no, he didn't do Valentine's Day. And it stung, sure. It was, perhaps, the only cloud in my otherwise pristine sky. But, maybe, he actually loved m—

"Good morning," he says, and the moment I hear the door shut behind him I spin on heel, flash the brightest smile I can at him.

"Morning! I missed y—" But it's not him. In fact, I don't recognize the man standing in front of me, and it's so startling I trip over myself and trip over my words, so that he stares at me, wide-eyed but visibly amused. "Oh—Oh!" I manage, although just barely, "I—I'm so sorry. I thought you were someone else."

"Clearly," he says, but it's not unfriendly. Not in the slightest. He smiles, a broad expanse of even, white teeth. And, I realize, he's not a bad looking man. Quite attractive, really, made more so by his ready smile and surface kindness. "I take it you're the manager?"

"Owner."

"Ah, very good. And I see from the sign outside you have a vacancy?"

"Mhm. Yes, we do."

"Wonderful. Then I'd like a room, please. A single, if possible."

"How long will you be staying?" I ask as he slides his credit card across the counter.

"Two weeks." He fusses with his jacket—beige, well-tailored, expensive—but watches me the whole time. "Just a business trip, you know. Nothing excited."

"Not much exciting in this town to begin with, I'm afraid."

"Really? Shouldn't you be trying to sell me on your lovely little town?"

"You've already told me you're here for a business trip," I point out. "But if you'd like I can try to convince you to go kayaking."

The laugh is genuine, pleasant in a way that most people are not. At least not around here. But then the tourists are usually the bright spot in this insane pit of a town.

"Think I'll pass. Never been one for the outdoors."

"Hm. You'd never know to look at you." If you ignored the expensive shoes and the diamond ring.

"You're entirely too kind."

"Hardly. But thank you, Mr—" I glance down at his credit card, "St. John."

"Please, call me Silas."

"Thank you for choosing the Bates Motel, Silas," I say, pushing the card back towards him. "You're in Room 9. Coffee's always hot and fresh by seven in the morning; maid service is around two in the afternoon." I hand him his key, a brochure, and a stack of pamphlets for local attractions. "Any special requests?"

Material in hand, he stands rooted to the spot, silent, staring at me. Normally it would've made me uncomfortable, but there's something … easy about him. Gentle, really, or maybe just open. So many people, though charming initially, were enough of a mystery to warrant caution.

But Silas St. John has an honest face, and warm eyes, and an easy smile. Someone who has nothing to hide, no skeletons in the closet or monsters in their dreams or in their bloodline.

A simple man, I think. Plain spoken and friendly. A nice man.

Such a rarity in this world.

"Look," he says, finally, stepping in close to the counter and lowering his voice, as if we'll be overheard or he's embarrassed or both. "I'm only here for two weeks. I don't know anyone in town, I just ended an engagement two months ago, and the airline lost the suitcase with my iPod and my laptop." He pauses, clears his throat, smiles as a faint blush hits his cheeks. "So, please, tell me if I'm being an ass, but you seem like a lovely woman—in every sense of the word—and I'd love to take you to dinner tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" I ask. My smile stretches the skin of my cheeks, and while I'm pretty sure I look somewhat demented, I don't much mind. "Tomorrow's Valentine's Day."

"Yes, I realize." But then his eyes widen, like he's alarmed, and he rushes forward to take my hand. "Oh, but please understand, I don't mean anything by it, if that's what you're concerned about—"

"No! No, no, not at all."

"It'd be very casual, you see. I mean, not the restaurant. Thought I'd find a nice restaurant in town. I just mean it's dinner, you know, nothing serious—" The words spill out one after another, rushed and nervous and I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

"I understand, yes, and I'd love to."

"I—I, what, really?"

"Yes, of course. Why not?"

"That's … that's brilliant. Brilliant, yes." He lets go of my hand, smiles wider, fixes his jacket. "Do you have a favorite restaurant? I'll call and make a reservation."

"Surprise me." Isn't that what Valentine's Day is all about, after all? Surprises? Unexpected twists and turns? Handsome strangers turning up on one's door (or at one's motel) offering lavish dinner dates?

Casual. He'd said so himself.

A nice man who wanted to take me on a dinner date. On Valentine's Day.

A first.

No, he wasn't Alex. No one could ever be Alex, not really. But for one brief night he could give me the first, and perhaps only, good memory of Valentine's Day I'd possess.

"I'm heading into town shortly, I'll see what I can find. Something lovely for my stunning dinner companion."

Okay, so he was a bit much. And he was a dusty blond, which I'd never much cared for. Aside from Zach, anyway, but Zach had wound up bleeding to death on my front steps and as time had softened that particular blow, I am quite ready to say he deserved it.

But at least Silas tries.

I've known the man for maybe four minutes, and he tries.

And in my life, that's worth a whole Hell of a lot.

"Norma Bates," I say, once he turns to go.

"I'm sorry?"

"My name." I smile; he'd been so nervous, so flustered, he'd forgotten to ask. Bizarrely endearing. "It's Norma Bates."

"Oh, Jesus Christ," he gasps, a hand on his forehead. "I'm sorry. So, so sorry. What a monster you must think I am."

"Not at all."

"A man asks you to dinner yet fails to ask your name. You should ban me from your hotel."

"Well, normally I would," I say. "But I really want dinner. And you have a nice smile."

He softens. Closes the half-open door. Walks over to me, takes my hand, places a tiny, polite kiss on the top of my knuckle.

"Norma Bates, where the Hell were you when I was the marrying kind?"


"Norma!" I catch sight of her mid-afternoon, bustling about with guests, her adorable little skirt swinging around her knees.

"Alex," she chirps in response to my call, "I didn't see you this morning. You never came in for coffee."

"Overslept," I say. Or, rather, I lie.

She's wearing this gorgeous pale pink lipstick I love, and though I've never said anything about it, half the time I think she knows what it does to me and uses it just to torture me. Wouldn't put it past her.

But I manage to stop myself from staring at her mouth, force myself to make decent eye contact.

"Look, I only have a minute. Need to run into the station today, get some things done."

"I thought you had the day off?"

"I do. Have the whole week off, actually. Had to use up extra vacation time before the next quarter. But need to get some files into the right hands."

"Oh, the files from yesterday?"

"Yeah, exactly," I say, eager to hurry this along. "So, as I was saying. I know this is short notice, but I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with me tomorrow."

I'd spent the entire night awake, and anxious, pacing the floor of Room 11. And why? Because Norma Bates was unhappy. Because I, stupidly, had spoken too quickly and without thought, and watched her beautifully carved face fall, breaking my heart and inducing me to spent 12 hours agonizing over what an absolute ass I was capable of being.

And I still think Valentine's Day is an asinine holiday. An excuse for an overpriced meal on a pointless, artificial holiday.

But it would make her happy. I'd known that the moment she'd pulled away from me, eyes cast down, the disappointment evident.

So, I was expecting something close to happiness. Joy, even. Excitement, perhaps. A ready agreement followed by eager questions about the location, and what she should wear, and if I wanted to do anything afterward.

I was not expecting her to blink rapidly, stare at me for three minutes in absolute silence, and then manage a confused, if not hesitant, "…what?"

"Dinner," I say slowly, careful to articulate the word, and I have to fight back a frown. "Tomorrow night."

"Dinner," she repeats, brows knitting together.

"Yes, dinner. For Valentine's Day." And then, just because I want to make sure we're clear on the matter, I finish, "With me."

"With you."

"Yes, Norma. Christ." I try to keep my tone even, and pleasant, because who the Hell asks a woman out to dinner and then turns into an ass midway through? But her confusion, her blank expression and her apparent need to mimic everything out of my mouth was beginning to get on my nerve.

But then an idea strikes. Calms me. But it stings more than ten angry wasps, though I'm not about to admit it aloud. "Wait," I say, "wait. Norma, do you not want to go? Are you unhappy about yesterday? Is that what this is?"

"No! I just … I can't do dinner," she says. And she must see the frown starting to form on my face, because she rushes ahead, reaching for my arms and squeezing. "I need to take care of Norman in the evening. You know how it is, Alex. He's—he's been getting worse. It's better if I'm with him at night."

"Right." I nod, pleased enough to have her hands on me, but not entirely sure where she's going with this. "So that's a no on dinner."

"A no on dinner," she confirms, "but what about breakfast?" She draws in close to me, hands on my chest, and when she looks up at me, all big blue eyes and pouty, lush little lips, I can't resist the urge to lean down and kiss her forehead.

"Breakfast I can do," I whisper, and the moment I do she's alight with it, her delicate nose crinkling up with her smile, her arms thrown around my neck, her hot little mouth pressed against mine and then trailing over my jaw and my cheek and up to my temple. No doubt leaving a trail of moist lipstick along the way.

And I don't mind in the slightest.

"See! I knew you'd come around. Valentine's Day is fun!"

"Mhm, I'm sure."

"Fun for the whole family," she whispers, and giggles in my ear.

"God," I say, my voice low in my throat. I pull her tight against me, hands on her hips and sliding around to the curve of her ass, and when I brush my lips against the pulse in her neck she goes quiet, and soft, and trembles against me. "I certainly hope not."


I make waffles with bananas blended into the batter, and elderberry syrup on the side. Set out forks and napkins on the table, a glass of cold water, a pitcher of orange juice. Norman, still asleep in his room, will have to fend for himself this morning. As if coming down to a pre-made, albeit slightly cold, breakfast was any great travesty.

The curtains are open through the house. Coffee is made and bubbling away in the motel office. Dylan behind the desk today, a favor for me, despite his many protests.

I curl my hair but leave my makeup natural, save the pink lipstick I know he loves. It's too early for a little black dress, though I'd love to wear one, and I settle for something soft and pastel blue with a heart neckline and tiny straps that fit just-so across my shoulders and a skirt twirls when I move. Nude leather slingback pumps. Plumeria perfume. And no jewelry, because despite the decades that separate us, I still remember my mother's voice: "Beauty and good cleavage will get you farther than all the diamonds in the world, Norma Louise."

That woman was an insane drunk, but now and again she made a decent point.

Alex is two minutes early, and it doesn't surprise me in the least. My hand's on the doorknob before he can knock, and when I throw it open and throw myself against his chest the look of dawning shock and delight on his face hits me hard, low in the gut, a twisting sort of pleasure that almost makes me want to say: forget breakfast. Forget everything. Just come upstairs with me.

But I don't. I just whisper "You look amazing" against the crook of his neck, because he does: I so seldom see him in a suit, and whenever I do it's adrenaline in the veins, thrilling and electric. And he chuckles, something that sounds almost bashful, and idly strokes my back and whispers back, "You're beautiful."

I lose track of time and conversation on the drive to the cafe. We chatter at one another about this and that, everything from playful but pointless small talk to discussing our favorite breakfast foods, and only occasionally does he break off to mumble something about the traffic-the cop flaring up in him, easily annoyed by stupid mistakes on the road—but it doesn't spoil his good humor.

He's chosen the cafe well. Small, quaint, but absolutely beautiful. He opens the SUV door; opens the cafe door; pulls out my chair. He is, in every way that I can imagine, a flawless image of what I'd dreamed of as a little girl but never truly had.

It's quiet here. "Most couples come in for a late lunch or early dinner," the waitress tells us, "or they head out to one of the fine dining restaurants." She sounds almost apologetic, but there's no need. None at all.

In the quiet hum we create our own private world; the food is delicious and plentiful and arrives quickly, and just when I think I can't possibly manage another bite of frittatta or fresh bread dipped in melted honey and butter, or a baby green spring salad, the waitress returns with hot chocolate and soft fluffy slices of cake and hazelnuts roasted in maple syrup.

It's easy with him. The meal, the conversation, the subtle and not-so-subtle flirting.

We stay long past the meal. Sip our coffee respective coffees. Comment on fellow diners when a particular topic runs its course.

But it's when I say, softly, "Thank you for doing this with me," that he reaches for my hand, turns it over in his palm, kisses the inside of my wrist above the blue of my veins, and says, "I did this for you."


She hesitates at the bottom of the stairs. I watch her eyes flicker from me to her front door and back again. She barely spoke on the drive home from the cafe, and though at first I thought it was some level of exhaustion—four hours of food and conversation can prove tiring—I quickly realized it was something else all together.

But she remains silent, as if afraid to voice what she's feeling. As if I'm supposed to understand, and lead the way. As if I should've expected this from the beginning.

I did.

I lock the SUV, click on the alarm. And the second I hold out my hand to her she takes it, folds herself against me, tender but tight to my body so that I have to practically carry her. And there are a couple of guests milling about, but I don't care. Not today. Not now.

I pull her back to the door of my room, manage to unlock it, and once inside she slams the door behind us and pushes me back, a surprising amount of strength in it, until my back hits the door and her breasts are against my chest and she's kissing me, roughly, insistently, without warning or hesitation, and though I love it—love every whim and desire she offers me—I grab her shoulders and gently push her away.

She looks at me with such open confusion I have to muffle my laugh against her mouth. But it's soft, and slow, and after a moment I feel her relax into me, picking up on my cue. Arms snaking around my neck.

"You're beautiful," I whisper without breaking the kiss, and she makes a pleased little sound in the back of her throat. Squeaks in delight when I grab the back of her thighs and hoist her up, her legs wrapping around me on instinct, so that I can walk us to the bed.

I throw her—gently, playfully, carefully—onto the mattress once my knees hit the edge, and though she laughs her eyes are already half-lidded with lust, forehead glimmering with the first trace of sweat.

She watches me undo the buttons on my shirt, spreading her thighs for me. A tease, deliberate and coy, the tips of her fingers tugging her skirt up inch by inch. And if she minds that I'm staring, nigh helpless, at every inch of skin being revealed, she makes no mention of it.

By the time my shirt's off and I reach for the fly on my pants, she's curled her fingers under the band of her panties. Slips it down, agonizingly slow. Bends one knee, frees that leg, but lets the cloth dangle free on her left ankle. Bites her lip; stares at me, unblinking, almost expressionless; and then a slow, devious smile when she spreads her legs farther, reveals the soft little patch of dusty blond hair, and every delicate fold of skin I want to touch, and taste, and worship.

I'm on my knees before I can think clearly, pulling her body to the end of the bed roughly so that she gasps. But the gasps turn to moans when I nuzzle my face against her knee, ghost tiny, barely-there kisses along the inside of her thigh.

I reach her scar; a long, curved, intimate scar. One I've seen twice now, but never mentioned. She stills when my lips brush over it, stares down at me, something in her eyes resembling fear. But when I press a gentle kiss to each and every dent and tuck she relaxes, lets her eyes drift shut, hums something pleasant in the back of her throat.

"Alex," she whispers, finally, her hands in my hair, skin hot to the touch. She's trembling, waiting for me to taste her, or tease her, but I do neither. Rather, I reach up to remove her dress completely, pushing it up over her hips and stomach, until she takes the hint and sits up briefly, pulls it over her head, tosses it off to the side. And then she's bare before me—no bra, panties still dangling off her ankle—and when she reaches for me I'm all too happy to climb into her arms, to duck my head down and kiss the curve of her breasts and lightly draw each nipple into my mouth, until she whispers my name again, more a demand than a plea.

I kneel in front of her, bend down to wrap my arms around her waist, pull her into my lap. My knees will ache tomorrow, but I don't care. Lightly, her fingertips brush the scar on my chest—the old bullet wounds, from a day I'm all too happy to forget. But she watches me, a flicker of something crossing her face, and then she leans down, her mouth ghosting over the injury like mine had across her thigh mere moments ago. I let my head fall back while she does it, and it's only when she snakes those kisses up my chest and collarbone and neck that I lean down to claim her mouth with my own.

We don't bother removing my pants. She just reaches down to free me fully from my zipper, adjusts herself until she's comfortable, twines her arms around my neck and lowers herself onto me.

Her eyes go wide when she does it; I feel like I can't breathe; but then I've been holding my breath for the past minute. And when she moves above me, setting a pace that works for her and delights me all the same, I release that breath and slide my hands down to properly appreciate the curve of her ass, an effort that earns me her teeth scraping against my collarbone.

It's lovely, that little twinge of pain; her playfulness, her desire to mark me, it only spurs me on, drives me to take her harder. But I force myself to take it slow. To turn my head and kiss her jaw and say, "No, Norma. I want you to look at me."

"What?" she whispers, the word mangled with the dawning of our mutual panting.

"I want you to look at me," I whisper back. I kiss the tip of her chin and the plush of her lips but my eyes are open all the while, and though she hesitates at first soon she understands. Her eyes meet mine, and her fingers cling to my neck, trace patters in the skin, and she moves above me with ease and grace and a beautiful, open intimacy that simultaneously breaks my heart and makes me want to throw her down on the floor and fuck her hard until she screams my name and begs for me to come.

But I don't. I use my thumb to tease out a pleasing pattern on her clit; I watch her eyes go wide at first contact, and then settle into dark, hazy, half-lidded desperation when I continue.

I watch the flush in her cheeks when her body tightens around me and I groan, startled and throbbingly hard and wanting to take her roughly but holding myself back because I want this—I need this; this soft delicacy with her, a private language that I refuse to ruin.

And we rock together, breathe together, eyes never straying from one another. She's covered in my sweat and as we begin to crest she rests her forehead against mine, her breath hitching and rapid, the exertion exhausting her. Exhausting us both.

"God," she whispers, "I—I'm going to—" but she doesn't finish her sentence. She doesn't need to. I feel her come three seconds before I hear it, and trill of her pleasure mingled with my name and the unceasing gaze sends me over the edge immediately after.

It's messy, chaotic, and yet somehow slow, both of us shivering and shuddering against one another, every minute expression of need and pleasure flashing across our faces, absorbed by the other, craved by the other, shared only together, and in the last seconds of my orgasm I grab a fistful of her hair and break contact just enough to bury my face in her neck and breathe in deeply, telling her she's beautiful, telling her she's loved, telling her she's mine, mine, mine.

I don't know when sleep comes. I only know she's in my arms when it does.


Alex was still asleep when I woke up, slipped out of bed, and silently crept out of the room. My thighs trembled with the walk, and I loathed removing myself from him, but I still had plans.

Guilt was pervasive but easy enough to ignore. Or so I told myself.

Casual plans, I reminded myself, over and over. Casual plans with a nice man.

Silas was not Alex. He wasn't trying to be. He was just a sweet, lonely man, who wanted some company for dinner.

Besides, I'd spent forty-one years dealing with row after row of disappointments. Wasn't it about time I let myself enjoy the attention of others? God forbid a woman allow herself to be wanted, to enjoy male attention and the company of suitors. You'd think it a crime in this day and age.

One day—just one, single Valentine's Day full of men who either loved me or, at the very least, liked me enough to buy me dinner—for the sake of fond memories didn't seem like such a crime.

And, anyway, Alex would never know.


Norma wasn't there when I woke up, but I didn't mind. She'd already told me needed to tend to Norma, and I'd had what felt like endless, blissful hours with her in arms.

I woke up rested for what was perhaps the first time in years. Something about her with me, next to me; essential, needed. Like I couldn't relax without her with me. But, then, that's what drove me to the hotel in the first place, wasn't it?

I thought about ordering my usual takeout; a glance out the window at the darkening sky told me is was well past six in the evening. I'd slept longer than I'd intended. But I wasn't in the mood for delivery. Felt too good, too alive. Like I wanted to walk, digest, ingest, feel the pulse of the town.

Norma Bates. She had that effect on me. Raised me from the dead.

Downtown was brightly lit, full of happy couples and rambunctious kids and the delicious smells of over-booked restaurants, and I didn't mind in the slightest. Normally I avoided the crowds and the trendy areas of town, at least when I had a choice in the matter. But tonight it was exceptional, moving through my streets with freedom and ease, nodding to the passersby who greeted me.

Street clothes, hands in my pockets, not a care in the world. Would find a restaurant—one of the smaller ones, not likely to be packed with dinner dates—order a good meal, have a few drinks, wind down from the day's joy. Head back to the motel at some point, check on Norma (or, at the very least, her locks and perimeter, should she already be asleep), and crawl into bed myself.

Tomorrow I'd have to surprise her with something. A day trip, maybe. Up to Portland. Take her out for sushi (did she even like sushi? I had no idea; needed to ask), or buy her a dress. Something, no matter how small or seemingly asinine. Anything to get her to smile, and relax, and fall into that happy, rambling conversation that came so naturally to her when her walls were down and she let you in, no matter how briefly.

But a flash of silver-blond catches my eye as I pass a restaurant window. Something so familiar I pause, turn to look. And expect—what? An old friend? An employee? An ex-girlfriend?

Whatever it was, it sure as Hell wasn't Norma Bates dressed to the nines, fork hovering mid-air, mouth stretched open in an easy, delighted laugh. Sitting across from a man I vaguely recognized.

A guest. From the motel.

It hit like an electric shock. Or a knife. Or a goddamn bullet. Truth be told, I couldn't really make it out. It was just pain, sharp but amorphous, twisting in my gut. Made me want to double over, hand on my stomach. Try to breathe through it.

But I couldn't breathe, not really, all the air caught in my chest, unable to properly get a deep breath.

I want to run in, I thought, and drag her out. Shake her. Kiss her.

No, wait. Wrong. Not that.

I want to run in and punch that fucker in the fucking face.

Yes. That's more accurate.

But I don't. I don't know why I don't—I'm sure I should have a list of reasons (it's not mature; that's not how you handle conflict; Norma owes you nothing; stop acting like a controlling bastard; etc)—but I don't.

I just have the twisting pain in my gut and the cold night air and a long walk back to the motel.

And all night to pack my shit and get the Hell out.


Silas leaves flowers on the office doorstep the morning after our date; Alex is nowhere in sight. He doesn't come in for his morning coffee, and the SUV was gone by the time I got home last night. Either he hasn't returned, or he came and left before I woke up.

It probably shouldn't bother me. After all, he took me our for a lovely Valentine's breakfast, even though he swore up and down he didn't "do Valentine's Day." That should be enough, I know. Still, I can't help but feel the minute stab of disappointment as the hours pass and he remains absent from my world.

Silas swings by, thanks me for the evening, asks how I liked the flowers. Gives me his email address: "You're a lovely woman, Norma Bates, I hope we can remain friends when I return to New York." And then he's off to some meeting, leaving me happy and tired and smiling in my office, until the clock hits four in the afternoon and the damned sheriff still hasn't shown up.

I click on my phone, check my texts: zero. Either he hasn't read the ones I sent earlier, or he's ignoring me. The thought brings with it a white-hot flare of fear: what if…?

But, no. There's no way. No possible way. He's just busy, that's all. He'll be here soon.

After seven when the lights from his SUV set my office aflame and I hear his tires on the gravel. Office closes at six, usually, but I found various excuses to stay. Wanted to wait for him, talk to him. See just what the hell's going on.

When his door slams I slip out onto the porch. "Alex! I haven't seen you all day," I say. He pauses, already only a few feet away from Room 11.

"Norma," he says. It's terse, like a nod. Like he doesn't have the energy to spare. Turns his back, moves towards the door.

"Wait, Alex, can you come to the office for a minute?"

"Later," he says, not bothering to turn around, and I try to ignore the instant spark of irritation. Rude man, no manners. But, I remind myself, he's probably just tired.

"It's kind of important."

"I'm checking out tonight," he says, abruptly. "I'll be in shortly."

"Wait, you're what?"

"Checking out."

"Why?"

"Time for me to go home. That's all."

"But why the Hell—"

And then, like the total moody ass that he is, he opens the door to his room, steps in, and shuts it.

Shuts. It.

When I am standing on the porch, in the middle of the night (okay, so it's barely dinner time, but still, it's dark, and a mere two days ago he was having a coronary because I had the audacity to walk a bag of garbage down to the dumpster at eight p.m.) talking to him. Asking him questions, attempting to get a response, being, in general, a decent human being, and he has the nerve to shut the door in my face.

"Are you serious?" I mutter. "No. No, no, no. Hell no. No way."

It takes approximately 7.8 seconds to locate Room 11's key and sprint down the porch to his room, fumble with the lock, and throw the door open.

It takes approximately 0.7 seconds for him to stare at me, his work shirt half-off, mouth agape, before the anger flares up and his brows pinch together in a combination glare/frown.

"Are you serious?" he asks.

"That's what I said like five seconds ago," I say.

"What?"

"Well, you weren't there to hear it. Because you shut the door in my face." And then, for good measure, because it's no longer Valentine's Day and I feel it's appropriate for this situation, I say, "Because you're being a dick."

"I'm being a dick? That's rich, coming from you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"The Hell do you think it means?"

"Honestly? I have no idea. Yesterday was a pretty good day, as far as I recall."

"I'm sure it was," he says. Seemingly aware that he's still holding his shirt half-on, he strips it off, throws it into the corner. Just like last time; clothing all over the floor. Man needs a 24/7 maid.

"God, Alex, would you just tell me what the problem is?"

"I saw you last night."

It hangs there, in the sudden and descending silence, like an open wound neither of us can heal. I feel my eyes blow wide; I try to say something but my mouth doesn't work. I move my lips but there's no sound. And after a long moment of this he softens, his face a mixture of sorrow and resignation, and looks away. Shakes his head.

"Look, Norma, you don't owe me anything."

"It's not what you think," I squeak out, finally, after what feels like an hour but in actuality is mere seconds.

"Sure it is. But it doesn't matter. It's your life, Norma. We never made any promises." The words are rational, understanding, but the hurt in his voice is so blatant it hits me like a slap.

"Alex, really, you don't understand—"

"Fine. It's fine, Norma. Just let it go."

"But I want to talk about this," I say, even though I never want to talk about anything, not usually. But today I'm too aware that he's going to walk out the door, and if he does I don't think he'll come back. It seems intolerable, and cruel, and impossible. Something I can't allow. "I want to explain this."

"I'm going to head home, okay? Let me get changed, and then I'll meet you in the office and check out."

"God, why won't you just let me explain?" I sound angry, I know, and part of me is. He's so stubborn, so difficult, he always has to make everything so damned hard.

"The Hell do you want from me?" he snaps.

Gridlock, I think. We're back to our old patterns. This, at least, I can deal with.

"I want you to shut up for five seconds and let me explain."

"Explain what? I saw you with another man. And that's fine, Norma, for Christ's sake, you're not my girlfriend or my wife. You don't owe me loyalty or an explanation. But that doesn't mean I have to like it, and it sure as shit doesn't mean I have to sit here and listen to your bullshit excuses."

"How's it a bullshit excuse if I don't owe you anything, Sheriff?"

"Forget it," he says. Turns his back, moves towards the suitcase stowed in the corner. "Just fucking forget it."

"You're jealous," I say. Not a question; a statement.

"Bullshit."

"Admit it!"

"Christ, knock it off, Norma."

"No. You tell me, right here and now, that you saw me last night, and your only problem with any of this is the fact that you're jealous, and I'll walk out of the room, go the office, and let you check out in absolute and unending silence."

"No."

"Well, then I guess it's going to be a long night."

"Christ! Why do you have to make everything so goddamned difficult?"

"You're the one who doesn't want to talk. You're the one who shut the door in my face, and won't let me explain. And if you'd just shut the Hell up for two seconds and let tell you why—"

"Yeah, this should be good. Go ahead."

"—then you'd know it wasn't serious. He's just a friend. A casual friend, barely know him."

"Thanks, Norma, that makes me feel a lot better."

"I made plans with him before you asked me out. I thought you didn't 'do' Valentine's Day, and I was lonely and sad, and I've never had a single good memory of that stupid day, if you must know, and I just thought, 'gee, how nice, maybe for one stupid year in my entire stupid life I'll get to go to dinner with a nice man on a romantic holiday and create some stupid happy memory that will see me through to the end of my days.' And yeah, sure, I get that's probably dumb to you, because you don't care about shit like that, but some of us do. I do. And all I wanted was to feel special, okay?"

"Special?"

"Yeah, Alex, special. Stupid, right? You couldn't possibly understand—"

His mouth crashes into mine, swallows my sentence whole. And for a minute I want to push him away. Smack him, even, because I am still pretty convinced he's being an ass, even though I can understand his jealousy and his hurt. But then his hand is on the back of my neck, and he nips my bottom lip one moment and soothes the sting with his tongue the next, and before I can really process anything he's pushing me down to the floor and my knees are weak and the hot, tight twist in my gut tells me that I am perfectly okay with all of this.

The kiss is broken only when he grabs my hips and turns me around so that I'm on all fours. Fingers on my thighs, sliding my skirt up, slipping under the band of my panties.

His breath comes hot, and heavy, and too quickly; when he presses his chest against my back I can feel his heart pounding, and I know instantly that there will be no foreplay, no tenderness, no whispered affection.

And already I can feel the damp on my thighs and the silk of my thong and, again, I know that I'm just fine with all of that, too.

"Alex," I whisper, and though he makes no sound he grabs a fistful of my hair, pulls tight enough that my head snaps back. Not painful, not even slightly, but it bares my neck and he leans down to bite it. Not-quite-gently, not enough to hurt; he's marking me, I realize, claiming me.

I hear the zipper seconds before I feel his thighs press into my mine; he's hard already, and still angry. Or maybe not angry, maybe this is something else. Needing to prove something, needing to possess something.

When he slides into me without warning or notice I push my hips back up against him and his free hand digs into my outer thigh; there will be bruises tomorrow. Delicious, delightful bruises, that I'll point out in the morning, cheerful and content and thoroughly, blissfully used, and I'll say, "See what you did?" with a voice full of want and affection.

He fucks me hard, because there is no choice. Not here, not now. This is what it is and nothing more: he fucks me me like it's his last night on Earth, and there's nothing I want more.

I hear myself making high-pitched sounds. Inarticulate noises; animal noises. I can't make out words, there's only my desperate trills and his low groans and desperate, gasping breath.

And it's over too fast, the intoxicating chaos of it driving us to completion faster than should be possible, and it's only seconds before my body clamps down around him and he spills inside of me that he pulls my hair tight again and bites down on the back of my neck and whispers, "You're mine."

Please drop by the archive and comment to let the author know if you enjoyed their work!