Underwater Vibes, page 1
How to survive that pivotal moment when admiration turns to attraction?
Hélène Dupont, a scientific translator in Brussels, Belgium, cherishes two things: flowers and her cat. She writes bad poetry to help her survive her painful existence with her husband, until she is forced to undergo a radical lifestyle change. Sylvie Routard, a young Greek photographer, enters Hélène’s world as her new private swim coach. During their daily lessons, Hélène’s admiration toward Sylvie turns to attraction. As unsettling feelings hijack Hélène’s mind and body, daydreams featuring Sylvie enter her world—even her poems. While the two athletes increasingly feel underwater vibes in the pool, Hélène questions her relationship at home, and everything else in life.
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© 2017 By Mickey Brent. All Rights Reserved.
ISBN 13: 978-1-63555-003-0
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First Edition: November 2017
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Editor: Katia Noyes
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Design by Melody Pond
This book would not have been possible without the support of my close family, friends, students, and fellow writing partners. Throughout the years, you have encouraged me as I honed my writing skills and nearly pulled out my hair to get this story “just right.” Many thanks to Katia Noyes, whose editing expertise helped me polish the final manuscript, and to Melody, who designed the book cover, and Stacia, for production design. I am especially grateful to Radclyffe, Sandy, Cindy, Carsen, and everyone at Bold Strokes Books, who worked with such incredible dedication and professionalism during the publishing process. Lastly, to my readers, thank you for choosing Underwater Vibes—I hope you will enjoy hanging out with my characters as much as I do.
For C. TQM pour toujours.
One gray Saturday morning, Hélène Dupont held her breath while clutching her seat belt. The damp wind battered her cheeks as Marc’s new Ferrari tore around the streets of Brussels. She stared at her husband’s pale fingers grasping the wheel.
This was not the man she had married. That gentle, studious fellow had vanished, and a self-absorbed, flashy jock had surfaced in his place.
Marc whizzed past another car. Hélène pinched her lips.
Finally, the red Ferrari screeched to a halt.
“Merde,” exclaimed Marc. “Why can’t they build parking lots in Brussels like other normal cities?”
Hélène focused her eyes on a blue bird perched on a fence while Marc wedged his car into a tight parking spot, nudging the Mercedes behind them.
How she despised these early Saturday morning outings.
Marc’s fingers tightened around her arm. “M’enfin, you’re getting heavy.” He thrust their fold-up grocery cart at her. “Don’t forget your little-old-lady-buggy.”
Resisting the urge to kick his prized Ferrari, Hélène squinted at the tight-fitting sports outfit her husband wore to show off his athletic body. She often caught him in the bathroom, admiring his muscles in the mirror. At home, it’s bad enough. Why does he have to do this here?
In comparison, Hélène knew she wasn’t exactly a beauty queen, but her closest friends led her to believe she possessed a certain bit of charm. At least she liked to think so. Especially when she dressed for special occasions, which were scarce since Marc hated to go out—except to the market on Saturdays, and the gym in the evenings.
Through her glasses, Hélène aimed her blue eyes at her husband’s chin, which was chiseled and hard, like a freshly cut slab of marble. She often calculated the angle at which it stuck out, depending on his mood. She shuddered. Speaking of things that stick out…She peeked at her stomach. C’est énorme. All I have to do is inhale, and I put on weight.
Hélène’s eyes followed Marc’s white sneakers streaming across the cobblestones. She struggled to move faster, but her grocery cart had other ideas. Its flimsy wheels kept snagging the cobblestones; the more Hélène resisted, the louder they screeched.
Hélène glimpsed a homeless man in tattered clothes on the sidewalk, with a stray dog snoozing in his lap. She could barely make out the man’s features under his long hair, scraggly beard, and sun-toasted face.
Marc slowed down. The dog growled. The man looked up. A dirty hand shot out toward Marc’s knee.
“Bonjour, Monsieur. Got a coin to spare? I’d be much obliged.”
“Mon Dieu, get a life!” hissed Marc as he stepped over ten soiled, bare toes.
Hélène fumbled in her purse. Blushing, she dropped a few coins in the man’s palm. “Je suis désolée, Monsieur. My husband appears to be in a bad mood.”
“Merci, Madame.” The man’s weathered lips softened as he fingered the coins.
Smiling awkwardly, Hélène ran after her husband, cart in tow.
Marc whipped around. “Do we have to feed all the beggars in town?” he snapped, spitting into the gutter.
Hélène recoiled as if he had just slapped her. Bitterness filled her mouth as Marc stormed off. What had happened to the tender young man she had fallen in love with?
They had met in high school. Both bookworms, they would seek refuge in the school library. Elbows rubbing, the young couple would huddle with their textbooks on rainy Belgian afternoons. Hélène adored Latin; Marc preferred test tubes and lab rats. He sneaked her favorite Belgian chocolates, Côte d’Or noir, into the library—just for her. He was so shy then. With such a cute grin. He sat on the steps and waited—patient as a puppy—after her piano lessons, concocting silly phrases to whisper into her ear, to make her giggle.
This morning, Hélène had little time to reflect on her sweet past. She was too busy trying to keep up with Marc, zigzagging from stand to stand. Her husband had an agenda, and Hélène’s task was to follow it.
The hardest part was at the baker’s. Hélène’s nostrils sniffed the air like a stray dog, inhaling the just-baked aroma of fresh, crusty bread. Her mouth watered just like it used to on Sunday mornings when she was a kid. Maman would let Hélène peek at her homemade rolls, lined on the hot oven tray like puffy melted sailors in white uniforms. She would hand one to her daughter,
Hélène grasped an appetizing loaf of pain de campagne. But just as she opened her coin purse, Marc swiped the crusty loaf from her. He grabbed another one, just like it, and placed it in the cart instead. Hélène shrugged and paid the baker, who flashed her his usual concerned look.
At the wine stand, Hélène spotted an unusual bottle. Its label had dainty yellow swirls around blue birds and tiny red flowers. The birds seemed to be jumping over the flowers. But before Hélène could place the bottle in her cart, Marc clicked his tongue.
“That’s too expensive. We’re getting these,” he ordered, shoving two bottles of vin de table into the cart.
Hélène pursed her lips. Such a killjoy. But she wasn’t in a mood to argue. Marc always won anyway. Cringing, she handed some bills to the wine seller, a distinguished, elderly gentleman from India. She had never been to India, but if everyone there was like him, she knew she would adore the country. He always wore such crisp-looking linen outfits. And even in gloomy weather, a ray of warm light radiated from his eyes. Sometimes, when the noon sun emerged through the damp Belgian clouds, if she squinted hard enough, she thought she could detect a golden aura around him.
“Anything else, Madame?” the elderly man asked with his peculiar, gentle accent.
Marc replied curtly, “Non. We’re in a hurry,” and turned his back on the man. Hélène smiled apologetically.
Now that Hélène’s cart was loaded with groceries, it was even harder to maneuver through the marketplace. When she paused to catch her breath, her eyes smarted.
Marc raced ahead, oblivious of the sweat trickling down his wife’s face.
Then he spun around. “Non, Hélène. Pas encore! You do this to me every week!”
Hélène ignored her husband’s pleas and raced, cart in tow, to her favorite spot: the flower stand. She plunged into the rows of plants, popping her nose into the flowers’ tender bellies, taking in their sweet nectar.
Flowers had always brought joy into Hélène’s life. As she nestled her cheeks in their silkiness, her mind drifted back to summer nap times.
When Hélène was barely old enough to crawl, Maman would approach her crib and, to wake her sleeping daughter, tickle her stubby nose with flower tips. Even though little Hélène’s mind was still fuzzy from her afternoon snooze, her senses fully captured the enchanting experience. The sticky scents and cheery colors sparked such curiosity in the petite mademoiselle that by the time she was four, she was begging Maman to introduce to her each species in their local flower shop.
Hélène’s mother, a young housewife with a tight budget, did her best to honor her daughter’s wishes. They checked out botany books from the library; Hélène sat in Maman’s lap while the two pored over the pages, unraveling the secrets of nature.
Even now, when Hélène shut her eyes, she heard Maman’s soft voice as she recited scientific explanations for each species. Her youthful, tender ears had soaked up each Latin name with its botanical description. And at age four, when Hélène grew nearsighted, she would press her face to the books to memorize their glossy pictures. She could still remember the odor of the slightly mildewed pages.
Now, as Hélène drifted amongst hundreds of plant species, once more, she immersed herself in the mysterious world of floral sensations.
Marc rapped his knuckles on a wooden sign displaying various plant prices. “What a rip-off!” After no response from his wife, he rapped again. “You’re such a pain, Hélène. Je te jure.”
Hélène lifted her face from a tuft of orange blossoms. Gesturing toward the opposite end of the market, she proposed, “D’accord, Marc. Why don’t you go order your beer, and I’ll meet you—”
“Don’t take all day!” interrupted Marc, dashing off with the grocery cart. When it hit a jagged cobblestone, a ripe tomato bounced out. “Merde!” he snarled as it rolled away.
“Be there in a minute!” muttered Hélène, ignoring her husband’s remarks as he stormed toward their usual café. The delicious orange flowers had captured all her attention.
Sylvie Routard, a young, dark-haired woman, happened to be standing a few feet away from the couple, behind the shadows of a massive tree. When the man raised his voice, she peeked to see who was hurling such offensive snarls, and at whom. When she saw the man hit the sign with his knuckles, she winced. What a brute.
Then her eyes fell on the blond woman in a loose skirt and glasses. The expression on her face resembled a lost bird. She doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment. Nobody does. Who does this jerk think he is, anyway?
Pressing her face against the rough tree trunk, Sylvie cocked her ear to catch the couple’s conversation. When she saw the man abandon his fallen tomato, she grew livid. Pick that up, idiot! In Greece, where she was born, her family never, ever wasted food, especially farm-fresh tomatoes—an essential ingredient for all the best sauces.
Her eyes narrowed as they scrutinized the thin, mustached man in a flashy sports outfit racing across the marketplace. She glanced at the woman, whose blond head was stuffed in a plant. La pauvre. I hope she’s not his wife…
As usual, Sylvie was wearing her favorite tie-dyed rainbow T-shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals. Unlike the majority of Belgians, Sylvie—a transplant from Santorini, Greece—couldn’t care less if her shirt wasn’t ironed to perfection.
Walking around smoothens out the wrinkles, she always told herself. Especially when it drizzles. She had the same nonchalant attitude toward makeup. Why clog my pores just to please others? She preferred the attitude of Yaya, her grandma: “Natural beauty is more than enough to make a woman glow.” This made her grateful to wake up each day and run her fingers over her smooth skin, which—to the envy of her Belgian students—remained naturally tanned, year-round.
Leaning against the tree, Sylvie understood that she shared something special with the blond woman she was spying on, whose head was still stuffed in a plant: a passion for flowers. Each Saturday, even in terrible downpours, she ventured to the farmer’s market to fetch her weekly bouquets. Friends visiting Sylvie’s apartment teased her; not only were the walls as yellow as tennis balls, but colorful flowers multiplied each week.
Sylvie peered around the tree again. Enfin! The guy with a temper had disappeared. Her eyes fell on his girlfriend. Curiously, Sylvie felt drawn to her. The woman seemed friendly enough, and she was certainly enjoying her orange flowers. What a contrast with Monsieur Tomato-loser.
Sylvie emerged from behind the tree just as Hélène lifted her head. The young, dark-haired woman stepped forward, flashing her objet d’attention a warm, inviting smile.
Hélène gasped inwardly. As if in a dream, a Greek goddess with a prominent nose, just like the ones in her high school history books, stood inches from her face. When Hélène jerked her head back, a flicker of light from the woman’s eyes seared her soul. Those dark eyes—intense and rich, like chocolate.
Hélène’s throat went dry. As if in a dream, she felt her body sweep in a whirlwind to the deserts of ancient Greece. A soft, sandy wind blew around her neck, caressing her skin. Just as her mind went numb, something inside her body cracked. The goddess’s eyes were mesmerizing. And her full yet delicate lips…Hélène felt a tug in her stomach. When she struggled to return the smile, to her horror, a ticking sensation engulfed her entire left cheek. It began with slow movements, progressing rapidly, denting the inner walls of her face.
Hélène often developed tics in her eyes, especially after long days translating at the computer. But she had never experienced a tic like this, mid-cheek. Lacking a more suitable alternative, she stuffed her head back into the plant, vowing to lay low until the goddess left or the tic wore itself out—whichever came first.
Quelle réaction biz
Sylvie spoke into the plant. “Excusez-moi.”
Instantly, the leaves shook.
Sylvie recognized a frightened bird when she saw one. I don’t want to scare this poor woman. She’s already got her hands full with that testosterone-loaded guy.
She softened her voice. “Excusez-moi. Are you going to buy this plant?”
Mon Dieu! She’s speaking to me. Hélène tried to conceal her ticking cheek behind the foliage.
Sylvie spoke in a sugary tone as if coaxing a toddler out of her tree house. “If you’re not going to buy it, I will. I just adore these flowers.”
Hélène gulped. I can’t keep hiding in this plant forever, especially if she’s taking it home. Mustering up her courage, she extracted her head from the leaves. She thought she saw a halo hovering over the goddess’s head. I’ve got to clean these more often, she mused, fingering her glasses. “Vous avez raison, they’re magnificent,” she stammered, sticking her nose into a tuft of orange petals. Their sweet aroma made her giddy, prompting her to forget the nasty tic in her cheek.
Sylvie chuckled. She sure is one bizarre biscuit. Guess I would be too if I had a boyfriend like that. Some people should just stay single.
An identical plant nearby caught her eye.
“Regardez, here’s another one,” she announced. But the woman was already hauling her plant toward the cash register. Sylvie grabbed the other plant. Mince, this bulky thing must weigh twenty kilos. She donned her yellow army backpack, bursting with groceries, and struggled toward the cash register. She tried to keep her balance, but her backpack—with tufts of celery dangling from its faded side pockets—had other ideas. As soon as she reached the cash register, she let out an “Aaaiieee!” and toppled over backward, straight into Hélène’s arms.