Head Above Water - An Excerpt



Hey all, just thought I'd an end of the month surprise your way. Here is a short excerpt from part 4 of Head Above Water. The rest of the excerpt can be found on my Patreon at www.patreon.com/norafares


Enjoy!

-Nora



People call me a bad bitch. 


If you’re a part of the older generation, you may think this is an insult, but to us millennials, bad bitches are confident women who are bold and do things for themselves, relying on no one. I was a bad bitch to the first degree, a woman on a rampage, at war with the world, fighting it to earn my place, and for the better part of the last ten years, I had succeeded. From eighteen to twenty-eight, I’d been a beast at work, a Dragon Lady, breathing fire and tearing down every last man to get my gold. I’d been hoarding my treasure, and all these years, I’d been miserable but stable, making a life for myself in a world that had set me up to fail. 


I hadn’t known comfort, hadn’t known love—not ever in my entire life. I guess my parents must have loved me, but I’d lost them when I was four, and I had no memory of them besides snippets of my mother’s laugh and sitting on my father’s broad shoulders. I couldn’t remember what they looked like, and I had no pictures of them. For most of my childhood, I’d looked for them in the faces of my foster parents, wondering if they shared any features or personality traits, if the lady who’d serve me hot dogs and ramen noodles was anything like my mother, or if the guy who went behind his wife’s back to force me to do his chores, making me rake the leaves and wash the dishes when she wasn’t home, was anything like my father. I wondered if my parents would do such things, if my parents were the kind of people that would force my hand close to a flame on the kitchen stove if I misbehaved, or if they’d stick a finger down my throat for eating my dinner in the bathroom. 


And you know what? There’s no telling. I couldn’t romanticize my parents, couldn’t pretend that they would have been perfect. They would have had their own faults, and maybe as a teenager, I would have told them that I hated them. I might have driven them crazy, but still, they would have at least loved me—right? 


They would have loved me, and maybe then, I would have been familiar with these crazy, insane feelings that I had for Wes. How the hell could I love someone if I didn’t know the first thing about it? I was worried that I’d do it wrong, that if I said the words out loud, I’d be held accountable and suddenly I’d have to be a proper girlfriend, giving him things that I couldn’t define, things that I didn’t fucking know. Was love just three words? Was it chocolates and flowers and cards on Valentine’s Day? Was it doing nice things for each other? I didn’t know, and I couldn’t commit to something I didn’t understand. 


And so I didn’t say that I loved him. I didn’t know how to love him, and so I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t pretend that I could love him the way he was supposed to be loved. I could only hold on tight, kiss his pain away, spread my legs for him to find comfort in my body, listen to him when he needed someone to talk to. I could be his friend, I could be his best friend, and I hoped, God how I hoped, that that’d be enough. 


Because even if I didn’t know how to love, I knew how to care. For now, that would have to be enough. 



Wes and I are like oil and water in the same glass, separating where the lines meet, but still co-existing, still enclosed in the same space, letting gravity do its work to keep us together. Even when things got hard, even on days when I wanted to call it quits and go back to my old life, gravity pulled us back together, and I’d somehow end up in his strong arms, and we’d wipe away each other’s tears and laugh about it later, pretending that our hearts weren’t brittle because we cared just way too fucking much. I was weak—weak in the knees, weak in the words, weak in the heart. When it came to Wes, I kept coming up short. I was never enough. I kept trying and trying because I wanted him to be happy, wanted to see his effortless grin, his eyes crinkle at the corners as he laughed, wanted him the way he was meant to be: happy… but I wasn’t good enough. 


I was a strong woman. I should have been able to give him the world, and in many ways, I could. I made over twice what Wes did, and financially, we probably would never need to worry. I could pay off his loans with the money that sat in my bank collecting dust, could’ve eased his financial burdens. I could have bought him a more reliable car than the Camry he’d been driving for ten years, could have taken him shopping and bought him anything he wanted. But the thing is, Wes would never accept my help. He would be insulted. And so, the only ways I could repay him for loving me were out of the window. I couldn’t even properly thank him. 


All I could do was wake up in the middle of the night, fear gripping me, and I’d think for one terrifying second that I was drowning, that there was no Wes, that it had all been a dream. And then he would mumble something, wrapping an arm around my middle and pulling me close to him, pressing a kiss to my forehead with a “S’okay. Go back to sleep.” And there in the darkness, I’d repay him by settling into his arms, giving him that closeness that he craved. He’d smile, and my heart would sing. Sometimes he’d be at the hospital, and on those nights, the terror would spike into my bloodstream, making me scream in the darkness. I screamed without Wes. It was almost pathetic how badly I needed him, how much I relied on his comfort. 


I was stronger than this, god damn it!


“Celine?”


I looked up from where I was staring into my computer, looking blankly at an expense report that I was supposed to be filling out. The accounting head was going to kill me; I was supposed to turn this in hours ago. Addie walked into my office, closing the door behind her. 


“Everything okay? You look… I dunno, fucked up.”


“Thanks,” I muttered. 


She laughed. “Cheer up. He’ll be back in a couple of hours.”


Wes had partnered up with Health Volunteers Overseas, an organization that connected healthcare professionals with countries in need. He was volunteering his time in Bhutan, performing life-saving surgery on people who lived in remote or rural areas. The hospital had allowed Wes to take a six-week leave of absence, and the clinical hours would be counted toward his residency. It was a great opportunity, one he couldn’t have missed, and the only shitty thing about it was that he’d be gone for a month and a half. It had been torture, waiting for him to return. 


“Where’s his plane now?” Addie asked, rounding the desk to stand beside me. “Seriously? An expense report? Celine, you absolute freak. Move.” Addie took over the mouse, clicked onto Chrome and looked up Wes’s flight number, which she seemed to know by heart. “I’ve been checking every hour,” she explained sheepishly. 


Addie and Wes were pretty good friends. We often double-dated, me and Wes with her and Ryan, and usually it was me and Ryan making small-talk while those two talked a mile a minute, discussing Game of Thrones and Star Wars and Doctor Who or Strange or whatever. Who knew Wes was such a nerd? Actually, who knew Addie was? I sure didn’t. They’d become close, and I never minded because Addie was like family, and it was nice when your boyfriend got along with your family. 


“Two more hours,” Addie said, grinning. “Shouldn’t you be heading over to LAX now?”


“I thought I was the boss here.”


“Come on, boss lady. Go get your man!”


“Get out of my office,” I said, giving her a look. “And get back to work.”


Addie held up her hands in defeat and backed away slowly. “Don’t fire me, jeez.”


“I’m thinking about it,” I said, managing to keep a straight face. 


“You are such a bitch, Celine, and I love you for it. Seriously, delegate or whatever. Go get Wes.”


“I can’t,” I said, biting my lip. “His mom and sister are going to be at the airport.”


“So what? It’s about time you meet them.”


“I don’t think so,” I said, focusing my eyes back on the screen. The plane was inching closer to the mainland on the website. I thought about Wes on his flight, probably sleeping like the dead again. He was a damn good doctor, not exactly world-class since he was still in residency, but I’d heard from his coworkers that he was the best of his class. Yes—I’d met his friends. Crazy people, just like him. Weird and nerdy, all too serious and too jokey at the same time. Each and every one was a genius. I’d been really insecure around them at first, but soon enough I realized that they were human, too. Just like Wes.


There was Macy, a free-spirited young woman who wrote the dirtiest shit for an erotic website in her spare time, weaving words and worlds, bringing things to life on the screen. There was Kevin, the BBQ guy, who was so obsessed that he competed in BBQ competitions and spent his weekends smoking and grilling. There was the Muslim girl, Zahra, who wore a hijab but was the one with the worst sailor mouth, almost as bad as me. The two Indian guys, Vishal, who drank enough coffee to kill a horse, and Rana, who had parents that were still trying to get him in an arranged marriage with a woman, despite knowing that their son was gay. And even though Wes was good-looking, Dante was the hot one. Piercing green eyes, smooth dark skin, and thick, black hair that was always styled flawlessly like a movie star. Seriously, Dante was on a level of hot that no one could touch. Each and every single one of them were doctors, surgeons to be more specific. They all had a drive and passion that couldn’t be matched by anyone in my field, including me and sometimes it made me a little jealous, how they’d pursued something in life that was so rewarding. But they were Wes’s closest friends, and so I introduced them to Addie and Rita, my closest friends, and we all became this one big happy and extremely dysfunctional family. 


“Everyone who’s met them says they’re the nicest people,” Addie said gently. “And by everyone, I mean literally everyone, Celine. You’re the only one who hasn’t met them.”


“You and Rita haven’t met them.”


“Wes isn’t our boyfriend, Celine,” Addie said, rolling her eyes. “Stop sending the poor guy mixed signals. Meet his damn family. Go.”


I stood up, changed my mind, and sat back down. 


“I can’t,” I said, putting my face in my hands. “I just—“


“Shut the fuck up,” Addie snapped. “You’re being a shitty girlfriend, you know that? You and Wes have been together, what, long enough to have had a baby by now? Meet his fucking family! It’s time.


“They won’t like me.”


“What the fuck are you talking about? They’ll love you!”


“No, Addie,” I said, looking up from my hands. Her green eyes were vibrant and alive, as if she was daring me to defy her. “They’ll hate this mean brown chick that their son is throwing away his life for.”


“Where did that come from?” Addie sat down on the plush white armchair in my office, folded her arms, and gave me a glare. “You think they’re racists? And what the hell are you talking about, Celine? Throwing his life away? He’s a surgeon, for fuck’s sake. Last time I checked, he still is.”


I sighed. “No—I mean, I don’t know. I’m not… good for him.”


“You mean good enough,” Addie said, reading my unease. “Oh, Celine…”


“No, hear me out,” I said, my eyes beginning to water. “I’ve never even been to college, Ads. I’m uneducated. I have no family. I’m not a nice person. I barely get along with anyone.”


“You’re the smartest person I know, Celine. Who gives a fuck that you have no family? I’m your family, Celine. And you are nice, whether you believe it or not. Also, you get along with a lot of people, babe,” Addie said fiercely.  


“But what if I don’t get along with them?”


“His mom and sister? Girl, they are nice-ass people! Just face your fears and meet them already.”


“I can’t,” I said, slumping down on my desk. “I can’t do it.”


“Okay,” Addie said. “If you’re not ready then you’re not ready. I won’t force you.”


“Thanks, Ads,” I said, sighing deeply. “Now, get the fuck back to work.”


“Aye, Dragon Lady,” she said with a grin. She gave me a little wave and skipped out of my office, closing the door behind her. With Addie gone, I could finally face the ugliness inside of me, all the self-doubt that seemed to be oozing out of me. I hugged myself, as if it could keep my insides from spilling out, but it felt like I’d been stripped bare, and there was no hiding from this because I had to face it; whether or not Wes’s family liked me, I had to eventually meet them. 


I got up, grabbed my keys, and looked down at my outfit. It was the same suit I’d been wearing the day I’d first met Wes. If it was good enough for him, it’d have to be good enough for his family. 


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