Pudica Darling. #SOScuba

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Chapter 10

Oliver knocked on Pudica’s room twice, then tried the knob. He easily jerked it free as if she didn’t lock it properly.
"I'm coming in. Don't punch me," he joked.
His eyes searched for her body, but the bedroom was unoccupied. Calling her name again, he moved around the bed. The closet door was slightly open. A shadow casting over the line of light forming on the carpeted floor. He made a half-smile as he found her sitting criss cross between coat hangers. She was wearing a baggy shirt and an ankle-length skirt. He never imagined she owned such a hideous outfit.
The girl gasped and hid under her wet mane.
"Why does this view remind me of a horror movie?" Oliver chuckled.
"If I look like such a fucking monster, then leave," Pudica's voice cracked under the contour of her hair.
Their encounter had hurt her more than he thought. Insecure girls were a familiar sight. In this dysfunctional society, it was a matter of time before any human being—male or female—found imperfections in the mirror. If he could have changed something about himself, it would have been his galaxy-sized beak. More than once his friends used astronomical measures to make fun of it.
It hurt. He had always said, “when I make my first million I’m getting a nose reduction." Well, his business had made millions, but he had yet to pay himself.
Pudica's reaction was incomprehensible. No part of her body he found defective, so he sat in front of her and parted her hair like curtains. "Why are you hiding?" His thumbs smudged her tears.
"You wouldn't understand." She lifted her knees to her chest, draping her skirt over her shins.
“I've felt the same. Unlike you, I have reasons to hide. You—you're beautiful."
He analysed his own words and pointed his hands at her with his palms upside down.
"And I'm saying it in the most respectful of ways," he clarified.
"I don't mean to make you think I'm impure. I hate being this way." She crumpled the front of her t-shirt.
Impure was a specific word. It didn't sound like her own thoughts. A ridge formed on his forehead.
“I won’t lie. It was weird when we met."
"I'm sorry." Her legs functioned as a wall to block her shame. They did a terrible job at covering her sniveling.
It wasn't his intention to make her cry. The more seconds passed, the more her despair tormented him.
"You're not impure. Who told you that?" His hands glided around her ribcage. Her profile resting on his heart.
"Mom always said we're naturally sinners, and we must fight our nature. It was so easy for everyone else, especially for her." The beauty's breath grazing his chin. It was simple to lower his head and kiss her. The thought was inappropriate.
"I feel so guilty." She bundled herself between his limbs. "The week we met, I wanted to be like the girls from my high school: careless and free. Mami wasn't gon'a be there to stop me from doing crazy things, but I still changed my mind. The day before that I—I had—"
As she gasped for air, he held his breath, knowing she was hesitant to reveal her whereabouts before she offered oral sex.
Please, don't tell me she gave herself to another man; that she let him touch her. Although he didn't show it, he became unsettled. Doing drugs or stealing wasn’t as disappointing.
She choked on her voice.
She murdered someone, didn't she?
"I bought shorts." Pudica’s back quirked and she broke down. Her chest shuddering, her hair and tears adding wet spots to his shirt.
"Shorts," he said. Her nodding in agreement meant he heard correctly.
Silence. A grin surging across his face. Then, his nose released in acute laughter.
Her head separated from his heart, and her torso swung straight. His appalling behaviour evaporated the liquid off her cheeks.
"Why are you mocking me? They're short."
"I know," he barely formed words.
"I didn't buy just one." Her lower lip trembled. "I bought ten in all the colors. What's more outrageous is that I used the money leftover from my mom's funeral."
The bodybuilder's mouth closed into a line. He massaged his bicep, returning to normal breathing.
She wasn't ashamed of her body. She was afraid of letting people see it. Her mother must have been strictly religious.
"I like you, you know that?" He smiled.
"That 'cause you're a sinner," she said.
The word sizzling out of her mouth was exquisite. It only filled him with more lust. He pulled her hips in an upright position. His rib cage touching her breasts. His groin just over her belly.
"I am," he whispered with drooping eyes. "The Bible says, 'if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.' When I’m with you Pudica, it's not just my hand sinning. So if I interpreted the book in a literal sense, I'd have to chop myself into pieces. Yet, the same book says suicide is immoral."
"You've read the scriptures." She glanced at his rims.
"When I was young. My parents were christian missionaries.” He nodded.
“Is that how you know about it? Tell me then. How do I suppress these feelings?"
"Sometimes you can't. Sometimes you shouldn't. Mostly if your husband is around."
No air left her lips. The intensity in her eyes increased. Her fingers digging into his arms as his hands went behind her hips.
“Nobody’s ever," she struggled to speak again, “kissed me."
His jaw moved slightly lower. Blood ran through his veins at light speed.

Time didn’t slow down as romance books claimed it happened during a kiss. The brushing of Oliver’s lips against Pudica’s had more of a memory loss effect on her. He pulled on the upper perimeter and migrated to different areas of her mouth. She had yet to move despite his techniques.
Time didn’t stop. She did, literally.
It was exciting when she saw him disrupt her space. Not even her dentist had been that close to her face.
His scent was amazing as always. It had to be dark chocolate because it was so sweet, or maybe orange because it was so fresh. It was everything she loved; she concluded.
The girl worried about bad breath. Unable to identify it herself, she could not risk him sniffing onions and garlic.
Lungs halted. Eyes opened. Jaw locked, making the movement of her lips difficult.
Oliver pulled away from her face. “Is it that bad?”
Pudica shrugged. “I can’t tell.”
He rubbed her shoulders while scanning the closet, took her into her bedroom, and sat on the bed.
“Kiss me.” He lifted his chin.
Although anxious, she was eager to stroke his skin.
“Do what deems right.” He was giving her control.
She frowned down at herself, wishing she wore something other than an old woman’s skirt. He still chose to kiss her despite her dry, messy hair and gauche outfit. And maybe her breath was fine since he wanted more.
With that in mind, she leaned forward and let her lips explore him.
Wow. Breathing made an enormous difference. She did as he had done at the beginning: suctioning small areas, wanting her dessert to last. Her hand caressing his neck; her nipples begging to touch his chest through the fabric; her outer thighs enjoying his fingers; waves of warmth bouncing off her body. One action was nothing without the rest. Their harmony composed a song—the song of a kiss.
After a final nip, she sent him a shy smile. He ran his thumb down her jaw, and fire blazed up the curtains behind her.
The lovers bounded away from the bed. Pudica grabbed her bedspread and slammed it against the flares. Her lungs inflamed as the flames roared onto the carpet.
“Leave it.” Oliver seized the comforter and pulled her out of the bedroom. “There’s an extinguisher in the kitchen.”
But instead, smoke blinded them and violated their nostrils.
“Oh, my God! It’s everywhere,” shouted Pudica.
“Go to the backyard. I have to get some stuff.”
“No, Oliver. Come with me.”
They both coughed at the same time.
“Just run. I’ll be fine.” He hurried through the fog.
The girl followed the daylight and rushed to the patio where Aunt Betsy chatted with Oliver’s friends.
“Aunt Betsy, the house is on fire.”
Her aunt kicked the last of her drink off the ottoman. Quentin and Sutton peered behind her.
“What do you mean ‘the house is on fire?’” said Aunt Betsy.
“I mean, the house is on fire.” Pudica flailed her palms.
“Where’s Oliver?” Aunt Betsy began running back to the sliding doors.
“No. I’ll go.” Sutton held her and pointed at the smoke creeping into the backyard.
As he said that, Oliver hurried out of the house carrying a backpack. As he safely returned to her, Pudica threw her arms around him. His lips buried in her neck. His arm comfortably resting on her lower back.
Quentin spoke to an emergency operator on his phone.
“My things. My wedding pictures are in there.” Aunt Betsy cried as Sutton consoled her.
Oliver opened his backpack and pulled out a photo album.
“I got ’em.” He interlaced his fingers with his wife’s, and they hurried toward the lake.
Sirens and lights advanced through the neighborhood. Aunt Betsy closed her eyes while flames consumed a third of her home. Her niece rubbed her back and held her until firemen arrived.

Aunt Betsy sat on a table, sobbing over her memories. His godson had retrieved all three of her picture books. Sutton’s mother, Yamiq, placed a cup of tea in front of her, and sat beside her.
“You knew how important these are,” Betsy addressed Oliver.
Oliver smiled and gave her a light kiss on her forehead.
“Do you kno’ the cause ov the fiah?” Yamiq’s Nigerian accent sounded so potent, it made anyone pay attention. She was tall and big-boned. Her cornrow braids fell down her back.
“No. I didn’t leave the stove on, and I don’t use scented candles,” said Betsy, wiping her nose on a napkin.
Uncle Robert barged into Yamiq’s dining room. The wrinkles on his polo shirt and chino pants showed he had stored them in the trunk of his car for too long.
“Robert—” Betsy ran to her husband.
“I’m glad everyone’s safe. It’s just a house and we have insurance on it.” Robert squeezed his wife.
“You lived there fo’ so long, I ca’not imagine,” said Yamiq.
“Thank you, Damon, and Sutton for letting us stay with you,” said the doctor. “Hotels have shut operations.”
“I won’t let my friends sleep on the street.” Their host jerked her chin at her son. “Sutton, come help me prepare the guest bedroom.”
Sutton nodded and followed her.
“I bought some essentials. They’re still in the car.” Robert guided Betsy out of the dining room.
Pudica finished flipping through her aunt’s wedding book, then grabbed the next one at random. Her head was leaning to the side with heaviness.
“Oh, I forgot.” Oliver squatted by his backpack on the floor. “I got your purse. I figured your driver license and other important documents are in there.”
He passed her a pink leather pocket with long handles on it.
“You thought of everything.” Pudica gaped at him. “I don’t have a driver license, but all my cards are in here.”
The girl inspected the bag, then sighed at it.
“Was that the wrong purse?” Oliver frowned.
“The fire came from an outside source.” Pudica shook her head. “Call me crazy, but I think it was them.”
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Aunt Betsy. You’re right. When the curtains burned, I noticed your window was about three inches open.”
Pudica had hoped Oliver told her she was wrong. As he confirmed her suspicions, she blamed herself for her aunt’s loss. Had she taken the danger more seriously, Aunt Betsy and Uncle Robert would not have lost their home. This time, she called the police.

Oliver’s custom was to offer a handshake, but the woman taking his statement took a step back. Apart from her police uniform, she wore latex gloves and a surgical mask.
“Right, I forgot about the pandemic,” said the business owner who used to shake the hands of many investors.
“We’ll contact you about the investigation.” The family watched her return to her unit and transfer her notes into a small computer.
“I’m better now that we told the authorities about those thugs,” said Pudica.
“Me, too,” said Aunt Betsy.
“I want to pay for everything you lost in the fire.” The girl glanced at her husband, assuring it included him.
“No, you don’t have to,” said Robert. “Like I said, we have coverage.”
“Insurance won’t cover it all, I’m sure, and this is the right thing to do.”
The aunt and uncle hugged her niece.
“Thanks, kiddo.” Robert patted her shoulder, then retired to bed with his wife.
If Pudica continued to give her money away, she would run out of it by next year. Oliver thought how unusual it was she had not gone on online shopping sprees, or how handbags, nail polish, or shoes had not cluttered her bedroom. If he had as much capital as she did, after taking care of his responsibilities, he would have traveled.
Not her.
Every time she spoke about giving some of it away, her eyes lit up, nodding in encouragement.
She most likely noticed his woolgathering because she randomly asked, “So, how are you, Ollie?”
“Good. Why do you ask?” He meant no standard reply, but his new nickname caught him by surprise.
“You must have lost valuables.”
“Clothes and laptop. When I moved out of my apartment, a buddy of mine kept most of my stuff in his garage.”
“That’s an exceptional friend.”
“Well, I helped his dad with his knee pain. Poor man could walk after nine agonizing years.”
“You took a man’s pain away.” She seemed surprised.
“I told you, I’m a doctor,” he said.
“Boss, bodybuilder, doctor, trainer. What else fits in your resume?”
“Excellent kisser.”
“How humble.” She blushed with a smile, then stared at the floor. The balls of her foot rubbing circles on the tile.
He would have broken the newly found silence, but she appeared to want to speak.
“Nowadays a kiss doesn’t bear much meaning, but even if you didn’t believe in romance, I’m glad my first kiss was with you. It was special,” she whispered in the last sentence.
She liked it. To avoid rejection, he abstained from mentioning the kiss in the middle of discomposure. Alone at last, they could talk about it, and they felt the same way.
"Would you be my girlfriend?"

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