“Are they allowing us to be out here?” whispered Oliver. “So much for a quarantine.”
“We’re not staying here. I’ll tell you later. But what in the name of God did I witness?” Betsy hammered her fists in front of her.
The godson inhaled to speak when she lifted her palms. “Don’t tell me. I wasn’t born yesterday. Oliver I can’t get my head around you seducing my niece. I had an urge to slap you, then I realized how much I failed you.” The thin woman looked at the floor and droplets rolled from her eyes. “When you joined that gang of criminals in high school, I thought you were expressing your anger for your parents’ misfortune. But all this time, it’s been me. I’m not a mother. I should’ve taught you to respect women better. They’re not disposable.”
“Pudica’s my girlfriend.” Oliver’s eyelids disappeared, hearing his own words. One canine tooth was visible while a corner of his mouth raised. He wiped his godmother’s cheek. “My wife,” he corrected himself. “We want to stay married.”
Aunt Betsy gaped when her husband hauled luggage out of the bedroom.
“There you are,” Uncle Robert addressed Oliver. “Son, I don’t pry on your private affairs, but you’ve hurt two women I care about.”
“Oh, Rob, they—” Aunt Betsy waved her wrists at him.
“You must marry Pudica,” Robert finished, dusting his blue polo shirt.
“They’re already married,” whispered Betsy.
The doctor cleared his throat in an overextended posture. “I forgot. Either way, he must face the consequences of—”
“It’s fine. They’re together.” The aunt smiled.
Robert made an exaggerated O, then furrowed his brows. “Um, in that case, congratulations on your engagement, uh, wedding, uh, union.”
Oliver chuckled. “Thanks, Uncle Rob.” He gave Betsy a side hug. “And you’ve never failed me.”
“My baby.” The woman squeezed him.
Pudica poked her head out of the room and lumbered into the scene.
“Are they mad?” she spoke through her teeth.
Her aunt shook her head and received her in her arms.
“I guess not,” sang the niece.
Oliver noticed Robert’s luggage. “So why are we out here?”
“A lady in a pencil skirt knocked on our door this morning, saying we were free to leave,” said Betsy.
“But we can’t go back to Texas,” said Pudica.
“No, they’re letting us stay in Florida.”
Pudica and Oliver were as confused as Betsy and Robert, but none questioned their freedom.
The four travelers prepared their navigation systems for the journey. They had been using the back roads, and now they opted for the fastest route. Most businesses closed and the few open would surely be by the turnpike.
Pudica and Robert found themselves alone while Oliver and Betsy arranged their vehicles.
“I heard what you said in there. Thank you.” Pudica glanced at the inn from the parking lot.
Robert kept his eyes on his GPS. He bobbed his Adam’s apple and poked the device’s screen while grunting. It saddened the girl that her uncle was still upset. Most appalling was the way he had been dismissing Aunt Betsy. They had been communicating but limiting themselves to cordial talks.
“Well, you have the address. See you in Palm Beach.” Pudica made a shy smile and walked to Oliver’s truck.
Before she caught the door’s handle, she noticed Robert staring at her. His eyes glistened like glass. Then, Betsy called him and he returned to the van.
Oliver smiled toward the road as he held the steering wheel. Something about the trees on each side of the highway and having his girl by his side made life better than it was before the pandemic started.
The world’s economy was tanking. Thousands were getting sick and dying. And he was grinning like a callow boy.
“Can I hold your hand?” asked Pudica.
“No need to ask, pudding. You’re my wife. You can hold my hand any time.” He tucked her fingers on his palm.
His stomach rumbled. “Ah, do you know what would be nice right now? Some eggs Benedict.”
Pudica said along with him, “pancakes and cheesy hash browns.”
They both giggled.
“I have to add jalapenos on my taters though,” she added.
“Ah, I love spicy foods but I’ve never added peppers to my potatoes,” he said.
“It’s the best. I’ll make you some one day.”
“I can’t wait.” Besides being beautiful, he recalled his wife’s passion for cooking. Hitting the jackpot, winning the lottery—those phrases fell too short to describe his emotions.
For the past seven years of his life, his focus was in his gym. Nothing else excited him until Pudica surfaced into his life.
“Hey, have you thought of selling your puddings? They were so delicious I almost had nine of them,” he said.
“Ollie.” The blonde chuckled. “Those have too much sugar. But yes, my dream is to be a master chef which is silly because I have no clue how to get there. When I was little, if I wanted to buy something without Mami’s knowledge, I would bake some goodies and sell them before and after school. I had an entire library of romance novels under my bed because of it.”
One of Oliver’s many qualities was seeing business opportunities everywhere, and he admired Pudica’s ingenuity.
“What a coincidence. I’ve been wanting to add a restaurant to the gym.”
“Oh, yeah, you told me about it. You’ll have a clean menu, of course.” She laughed.
“Yes, but I want it to be so delicious customers won’t notice they’re eating healthy. After this virus goes away, you can help me with that.”
“Gosh, I better get myself that culinary arts degree. It would be a dream come true. That reminds me I need a computer before the fall. All classes are going online.”
And well, hopefully, when they got to Palm Beach, Florida, the police made arrests and the couple could live a normal life.
“I’m getting a call.” Pudica’s phone was glowing silently. She swiped her finger on it and Ninel’s voice screeched out of the speaker.
“Where are you?” said the half-sister.
“You won’t believe this,” said Pudica. “We’re not quarantined anymore.”
“I believe it.” Ninel laughed. “I had to pay a couple health officials to get you and your husband out of there.”
Oliver’s forehead folded into a trench. It was nice to be free, though he wondered if Ninel’s capabilities had limits. If they didn’t, they should make the mafia disappear.
The Fanjul mansion was an architectural behemoth. As the front gates opened, Pudica had to check the address again in case they were in the wrong Palm Beach because everything in South Florida was enumerated or had the word beach at the end of its name.
If the GPS were incorrect, the security guard would not have let them inside the estate.
The facade was a modern design of straight lines and sharp corners, but the dull beige and bright yellows brought it down. Pudica was more a lover of the cozy Woodlands.
They drove between rows of palm trees until the asphalt turned into a large circle. An old man in casual business attire greeted them by the entrance.
The Darlings and the Hendricks left their vehicles. Pudica approached the man.
“Hello, Sir, I’m Pudica,” she paused, remembering her last name. “Pudica Darling. We have an invitation from Ninel Fanjul.”
The man tittered. “An invitation? Who needs an invitation into their own house?”
“Huh?” The words didn’t click in her brain.
“Your home, Mrs. Darling. This is where your father, Francisco, lived. He left it to you.” He pointed at the mansion. “I am the steward, Pedro Gutierrez. But people call me Gut.”
The newcomers gawked at the butler.
“Would you like to see inside?” he said.
They followed him through a normal-sized door into a well-tended indoor garden of flowerless plants. A sizable living room continued after, leading to a wide set of stairs.
“You must be exhausted. Would you like me to show you the bedrooms?” He stopped by the staircase.
“Yes,” the tired travelers said at the same time.
“I imagined as much. When Ninel told me you wanted a party tomorrow night—”
“A party?” asked Pudica.
“Yes, the party you and your sister will host here.”
“But I never spoke to Ninel about a party.” Anxiety grew from the girl’s feet, then irritated, she clenched her teeth. She had to assist in some kind of gathering and she didn’t know how many people were coming.
The steward pressed his lips and held his hands in front of him. “Huh, I thought Ninel said she talked to you. Perhaps, I misunderstood. It’s a small get-together with the family. The coronavirus has made it impossible to organize enormous events.”
“Where’s Ninel?” Pudica’s demanding tone came out of nowhere.
“Why in her own house, of course.”
“We don’t even have appropriate attire,” said Aunt Betsy.
“We should get something,” said Oliver.
At least it was nothing huge. Still, Ninel should have prepared her mentally for meeting her estranged father’s family.
Gut guided them upstairs, where they found another hall. Each bedroom was far from the others. The rooms themselves could fit an apartment comfortably. Each had a bathroom, a bar, and a balcony. Mr. Fanjul must have hosted many important guests in that house.
Pudica dried her body in front of the tub, wrapped the towel around her chest, and casually approached a fresh set of clothes by the sink.
Yuck. She unfolded the old lady’s skirt and felt the faded fabric. The girl had enough of baggy outfits that lowered her self-esteem. She missed her short shorts and tank tops. As she caught a glimpse of herself in a full-size mirror behind the door, she imagined wearing a layered dress for the party.
Did Oliver like layered dresses? She blushed, wanting to look pretty just for him. He had called her hot and beautiful, and honestly, she was beginning to see that herself. Her hands traced the outer curves of her hips, but the towel made it difficult to see her true shape. So she unwound the cloth and let it fall to the floor.
Her fingers nervously explored the center of her belly. A slip of the hand meant an immediate arousal. On second thought, she was alone.
She squeezed one nipple, recalling Ollie’s lips around it, welcoming the slashing in her groin. “It’s normal to have these feelings,” Oliver told her the night she fell asleep in his arms. Although her mother’s words lingered in her brain, she wasn’t stressed or fearful anymore.
Her right hand encompassed her womanhood. For the first time, the mirror showed her an authentic version of herself. The erotic expression on her face increased her sexual desires. Her middle finger searched for the source of the gooey secretion.
Years ago, she learned to have sex, a man puts his penis inside a woman. Her mother explained that to her when she crudely warned her about rape. But she constantly questioned how this happened. It was only during physical education class, in the girls’ locker room, when she heard Tania Lombardo tell Adelaide Johnson women have an extra hole.
Pudica had always been eager to find out if she had one. How could she be sure when trying to see the full thing was so problematic?
The mirror seemed like an excellent choice for these matters. She lifted her knee awkwardly and hopped on one leg closer to her reflection which only showed a hairy shape with a trench in the middle.
Maybe the angle wasn’t right. The solution was better technology. She snatched her phone from the bathroom counter, opened the camera application, and bent over. For a quality picture, she spread her legs far apart and hovered her device under her vagina.
While she tapped on the screen, Oliver walked into a perfect image of her privates.