Pudica could have said 'no' and moved on, but she yapped with fake excuses. To top the maundering, she had to prattle on about his parents as if she met them. If she wanted Mr. Perfect, she could go to hell.
Good. She said no. He would not want to date a child, anyway.
"The thing is, Ollie." He mocked the uninventive way in which she answered.
An elderly woman in an orange bathrobe interrupted his abstraction.
"Mr. Darling, I thought you were one of those influencers taking pictures in my yard," said the woman while holding a bowl of cereal. "I almost threw my breakfast at you."
"I apologize, Mrs. K." Oliver pulled an envelope out of his shirt's pocket. "Since you didn’t give me an account number, I'm delivering your check personally."
Flabbergasted, the woman stared at the envelope. "Mr. Darling, forgive this old sack of bones, but I haven’t worked in more than a week. Did you reopen the gym?"
"No. I sent everyone an email about continuing salary payments for up to two months."
"Mr. Darling, you are truly a darling. I could've never found me a janitorial position that paid as high as D-Fit World. I get my pension, but I'm helping my daughter pay for her surgery. And my toilet broke yesterday. It will be four-hundred dollars to fix." Mrs. K took a deep breath. "I don't want to burden you with my problems, Mr. Darling. I'm just letting you know how much this check means to me."
Whoever was charging four-hundred dollars for a toilet bowl was taking advantage of Mrs. K, and Oliver would not let that happen. "You're no burden. Why don't I look at it instead? I'm sure it's an easy set up."
"Well, are you comfortable plumbing? It might be a lot of work."
“I can fix it."
Mrs. K guided her boss inside her home.
"It's unfortunate you didn't get my email," Oliver made conversation as they passed a shelf full of porcelain dolls. “Did you talk to Allen or Gustavo? They got the checks."
"Hard to say if I received any correspondence from you. At my age, I'm not very avid with the computer machines," said Mrs. K. "Allen and Gustavo are old, too. They forgot to tell me."
"Or they don’t use computers," thought the concerned boss. He reminded himself to drop by their homes to check on them.
Pudica sighed, flipping the pages of Aunt Betsy's wedding album for a third time. Boredom kicked in, and she didn’t enjoy video games like Sutton. Betsy, Robert, and Sutton's parents had invited her to play billiard in the backyard, but she hadn't been in the mood for anything lately. Everyone relished their vacation except her.
Oliver was such an ass last night. It wasn't like she was answering with a definite no. Why was it so hard to understand her situation?
His sudden question formed drops of sweat by her temples. No boy had ever asked her out in such a serious manner, and it was nice not having to say, "I’ll ask my mom," or "Mother won't let me." Still, something stopped her from saying yes.
Nothing was how she imagined. She read many forbidden romance books, using them as windows to her future. Sure, she mused over Fake Marrying the Duke, Kissing the CEO, and The Vampire's Virgin Pet—all clichés where the lovers didn't like each other in the beginning. But since chapter one, there was a spark, an interest of the hearts. The characters were always handsome. Even in Beauty and the Beast, the Beast became a stunning prince.
Other than her Bible, these stories were her reality. No jobs, no car, or non-christian friends allowed.
Her attraction to Oliver—if she could call it that—came and went inexplicably. Sometimes he was awkward, annoying, or inappropriate.
When she thought of the leader of a company, she pictured a powerful suited man in control of his life. This CEO had most of his belongings in storage and lived with his aunt. His long, shabby hair and his old jeans didn't help his lasting nose.
"I don't know," she said. Could anyone blame her for preferring the guy from the stories? After all, the books promised a happy ending.
"Erm, that's all right." He dropped his arms to his sides.
"No, It’s okay."
"The thing is, Ollie, I need to figure some things out before—"
"I get it." He waved his hands.
She winced at his embarrassment, wanting to make him feel better. "There’s much I have to understand about relationships."
"Not tryn'a be pushy, but to learn about them, wouldn't you have to be somebody’s girlfriend?" He shrugged.
His question suggested a short-term deal. He wasn't serious about her, then.
"That's not me," she said.
He frowned, so she explained further.
"You mentioned your parents were missionaries. I bet they made you do things you didn't understand. Were you ever rebellious?"
The dark-haired man's brows merged into vexation. Every one of her words enhanced his expression. "I'm not sure. I was too little when they died."
"You never disobeyed them? Maybe they didn't want you to be friends with someone—"
"Why are you asking about them?" he hissed.
It was pointless to reason with his salty slant.
"I was trying to make a point."
"Why bring them up?"
"I just answered your question."
"Stop talking," he pressed his fingers against his forehead.
At least they didn't yell at each other. Pudica wasn't one to curse, but she almost told him to get out of her face. She flicked the next page on Aunt Betsy's wedding album.
The girl gasped. Her inattention tore part of the protective lining covering the pictures. She tried pressing it back into place although there was nothing she could do to fix it. A piece of lint fell on the photo paper underneath it.
"Agh." Pudica scratched a younger version of Uncle Robert's humorous face. His bride had smeared fondant on his nose.
As her fingerprint glued the lint to the ink, she pulled the picture out of its cover. Then another image unveiled.
It was a portrait of Aunt Betsy holding a baby. The cutie was Oliver. Her aunt said she raised him, meaning his parents died much earlier than Pudica thought.
Last night, her mention of them hurt Oliver. That's why the picture was hidden. The pain of loss was so great he didn’t allow Aunt Betsy to own pictures of his parents or him as a baby.
She needed to hold him; to tell him she understood.
"Hey, I don't remember that picture." Uncle Robert appeared behind her.
"Oliver was such a cute baby," said Pudica.
"Mhm." Robert took the image from her hand, squinting at the details.
Then the girl reacted to her vibrating pocket. Ninel's name popped on her phone.
"Hello?" Pudica pointed at her phone, then left the room.
"What did you do?" Ninel screamed from the other line.
"What?" Pudica whispered.
"You got married. You angered them."
"Wait, how did you find out?"
"Because they paid me a visit," the sister's voice filled with distress.
"Oh my God! Are you okay? I'll call the police." Marriage didn't push the Cuban mafia away from her sister. It made everything worse.
"No, you do not call the police, you hear me? That’s enough. I've appeased them for now. I told them I had coronavirus," said Ninel.
"I'm sorry. I thought I was saving you."
"You don't know how deep this goes, Pudica."
"What do we do?"
"Come to Florida with your husband. It's the only way you'll both be safe."
"I'll tell him as soon as I see him." Pudica nodded as if Ninel's words were law.
"No, I'll call you." Ninel grunted. "They're quarantining anyone who enters Florida for fourteen days, and I need to figure out how to bypass that."
"I'll wait for your signal."
Running out of rags didn't stop her from going back to the living room and spraying a coronavirus killer onto the furniture. She was bored, stressed, and sad. Nothing took her mind off Oliver, even the thugs who were trying to kill her. She waited to ask Betsy about his parents privately, but her aunt and uncle had gone to sleep.
The Nintendo or whatever box was in the game room was still going with its irritating pew-pew sounds. Then, she figured if Sutton was great friends with Oliver he had information.
"I'm gon'a rip your head off your body and rub my balls with it," Sutton spoke into a headset.
Pudica rolled her eyes and poked the gamer's shoulder. "Sutton."
The alarmed grown man pushed his headset down. "Is lunch ready?"
"Lunch?" Pudica pulled on the blackout curtain beside them, letting him see the moonlight.
Sutton spoke into his microphone. "Dispatch Grandma, I'm taking a quick break. BRB."
"How cute, you play with your granny." Pudica smiled.
"No. Yellow Grandma is my girlfriend. My actual grandma is Nigerian-Milf101."
Pudica brought her head up slowly and sat on a Cleopatra's seat. "So you and Oliver are long-time friends, huh?"
"You wan'a ask about his parents, don't cha?'' The gamer rested his elbows on his knees.
"How do you—"
"You're not the first of his girlfriends to ask me about them."
"I'm not his girlfriend." She blushed, remembering he had seen her bush.
Sutton placed his ankle on his knee and sat back on his seat.
“Why won’t he talk about them?" she said.
"Because when they died, he had to live in the American embassy in South Sudan for months until Aunt Betsy and Uncle Robert legally adopted him. He had no one else," Sutton's voice had a sad undertone.
"He remembers that?"
"Yeah, he was eight years old. Good thing he was familiar with Aunt Betsy already. She baby-sat him every time the Darlings came back to Texas."
"Do you know what illness the Darlings contracted?"
Sutton pushed his glasses against his face and swallowed. "Ebola."
Pudica dropped her shoulders and pressed her lips. It was hard to cope for eight-year-old Oliver, mostly when Ebola wasn't a virus people catch in the United States. It would have been isolating.
"Thank you for trusting me, Sutton."
Before she advanced out of the room, Sutton said, "Pudica, just so you know, you're the only one of his girlfriends I've ever told."
The girl smiled without correcting him.
After her conversation with Sutton, Pudica sat on the porch to wait for Oliver. She had texted him throughout the day, but he never answered. Every time she saw car lights in the street, she stood up thinking it was him. As the night offered nothing, she brought her spray bottle to clean the outdoor furniture. And when she wasn't looking, Oliver's truck pulled into the driveway.
The man hopped out of the driver's side poking at his phone.
"Ollie!" Pudica bounded at him. As their bodies made contact, her nose sniffed for that glorious smell of—feces and armpit!
She leaped away gagging over the grass. One hand on her mouth, the other in her abdomen.
"I stink, don't I?" Oliver's face changed to multiple shapes and colors. "Damn, that stench will ruin the upholstery in my truck."
No matter where she was, she could still smell him. To save her stomach, she raised the spray bottle and shot at him as if it were the Wild West.
"Hey, hey, watch out for the eyes." He dodged a cloud of chemicals.
The cowgirl wannabe continued spraying from behind the pickup. She reached for a switch on the garage wall, turning on the sprinklers. Cylinders popped out of the grass and irrigated the yard in circles.
"Stop it!" Oliver covered his face with his forearms and tripped on one sprinkler. His hands fluttered around for support, when his fingers located the neckline of her blouse.
The spray bottle ricocheted, and Pudica fell on him. His body was still warm. She found his state of confusion adorable. The classic kiss under the rain—sprinklers—would have made it the perfect moment. But he still reeked of toe jam and sewer.
She pulled her torso upright. As she straightened her knees, she noticed her bare legs. Her hands sandwiched her pelvis. Her eyes scavenged for her nun's skirt. Oliver's limb trapped the fabric.
Oliver laughed, showering under the water. He drew his shirt over his head and threw the wet bundle at her.
"Move your leg." She tugged her skirt from under his thigh.
He lugged himself up, turned off the sprinklers, and brought a thick blanket out of his truck. Without asking, he moved Pudica close to his body and spread the dense sheet around both of their backs.
Pudica sniffed at the area in front of her suspiciously until he bent one of his knees up to his waist.
"What are you doing?" she asked in a horrified voice.
“Gettin’ naked," he said.
“Come on, you saw my birth suit up close once before. Turn."
"You're nasty." She gasped. "I'm not turning so you can wipe your ding-dong all over me."
"I don't wan’a put my ding-dong on you.” ‘In you’ was more accurate. “I'm letting you go in front of me. You don't want me to be a dick and leave you out here in your underwear, don't you?"
"Okay, then we'll Chinese-dragon into the house and return for our clothes later."
Pudica flipped her body under the throw then stepped toward the porch like a geisha.
As they had to conquer a set of stairs, reaching the bathroom was an ordeal. Pudica pushed through the door, pulling Oliver with him.
"I'll get in the tub." Oliver unwrapped the blanket, but Pudica held it in place.
"Don't loosen the blanket. I don't want you to see me," she said.
"How am I gon'a get in the tub?" He raised an eyebrow.
"Grab a towel first."
"Did you notice towels in the bathroom? I thought you’d bring me one since you still have your shirt on."
"But it's wet and semi-transparent. What if a man finds me?" Pudica fastened the sheet around them.
"Keep the blanket on you while I'm in the tub."
"But you can't get into the bathtub unless your naked butt exits the blanket."
"So turn again."
Why was preserving one's decency so mundane to him?
"No, I don't want you to see me."
Oliver growled and scowled like a beast. He let go of the fabric, bulldozed her legs over his hips, and thrust her back onto the wall.
"You're driving me crazy." His member prodded the center of her rear through her panties.
Pudica tensed the muscles of her groin, trying to stop her fluids from adding more to her soaking underwear.