The insect fled the vicinity, leaving her to fight the air. The heat was worse than the mosquito bites she discovered behind her neck. She scratched violently. The lacerations she made with her nails burned. She stopped fighting and her knees plummeted to the dirty floor.
Sweat and tears covered her pores, realizing hugging her family had all been a dream. An image of sanity wasn’t something she cared about anymore.
Let everybody know Pudica didn’t exist, and this creature was to cry forever.
A hand caressed her shoulder. Heartbeats escalated. Gravity changed and pulled her back onto a solid surface. It erected her hairs away from her skin and she opened her eyes again.
“I’m here.” Oliver’s concerned semblance hovered over her. “You were calling my name.”
Pudica exhaled. Her nerves accounted for the pillow, the bed, and the eggshell-white covers. She touched her husband’s face and brought her fingers down to his neck and shoulders.
His bare chest was muscular and manly. Between the few hairs covering it, she discovered a tiny mole. She kissed it. His breath so sweet on her cheek. That pleasant scent unlike nothing she had smelled. His lips brushing against her collarbone. Those were the parts of him that told her the man she loved was real.
Her mouth met his ear and whispered, “Make love to me.”
His skin collided with her body. His hand slipped under her oversized t-shirt and found her buttocks. “Pudding, you can’t moan those words like that. It’ll make me take you right here.”
“That’s what I want.” She grabbed his hand and pressed it over the front of her panties.
He lifted the lace and rubbed her skin. “We’re not alone.” He glanced at the bed next to theirs, then pulled her t-shirt over her groin.
Pudica’s cheeks reddened, remembering her parents slept in the same room. To appease the remnants of her heat, she threw her thigh over Oliver’s hip.
“I still can’t believe you did this.” She snuggled up to him.
“What? Get a boat to find you?” he said. “I’m your werewolf, remember? I’ll die without you.”
She pecked him on the jaw, then he took over her lips.
Betsy added more scrambled eggs to Pudica’s plate while they ate breakfast on the balcony.
“Some bacon, too,” Pudica spoke with a mouthful.
Robert held the last piece of bacon over his mouth. He slowly closed his jaw and placed the fat strip in front of her.
“Sorry, Dad.” She winced.
Her mother chuckled. “You were really starving, cutie pie. I didn’t think you had an appetite for breakfast after eating Oliver’s sandwiches last night.”
Pudica chugged her latte and swallowed. “Georgina, Cari’s mom, makes rice every day: rice and chicken, rice and beans, rice and fried egg, rice pudding. It was getting boring. I thought she lacked variety because she likes rice, but she doesn’t. It’s just the only thing available that’s cheap and filling enough.”
“Yeah, it’s their way of life. Melba and I left for that reason,” said Betsy. “After our mother died, nothing was holding us here. Sounds like the women who helped you are good people.”
“They are. That’s why it’s important I repay them.”
“Yes, they—” Betsy frowned at her husband. He wiped his cheeks with a wet paper napkin. “Rob, are you crying because she took your bacon?" She stroked his shoulder.
“It’s okay,” said Pudica, trying to comfort the howling man. “It’s sad. On the bright side, some people like eating rice every day.”
“That’s not why I’m crying.” Robert snorted into the napkin. “It’s—you called me—” He sobbed louder. “Dad.”
“I made you cry?”
“I’ve always wanted someone to call me ‘Dad.’”
Betsy’s eyes burst. Her shoulders jerked as she let her head fall.
“Not you, too.” The daughter whined, holding their hands.
“It’s my fault. We tried to have children before we adopted Oliver, but I was an underweight drunk,” Betsy explained.
“No, you are not to blame, Betsy,” said Robert. “I was always working, taking care of my patients when my primary job was to be a good husband and give you the attention you deserved.”
“No, you’re my angel. I’m a horrible wife.”
“No, you took care of me. I’m a failure of a husband.”
“You’re amazing. I took Pudica from you.”
“You didn’t know she was mine.”
Before they turned their cries into a competition, Pudica walked around the table and encased her parents in her arms.
“Mom, Dad, I love you. Can we set the past aside and start all over?” asked Pudica.
Betsy wailed, and Robert bawled. “She loves us.”
The L-word made it worse. Now Pudica was crying, too. “I’ve always wanted a dad.”
Oliver entered the balcony, and his ears raised. One eyebrow went upward, trying to understand the scene.
“Hello?” he said.
At the sight of his presence, Robert hurried toward his godson and clutched his torso.
“Am I dying?” Oliver patted his god-father, making both women chuckle.
Robert sniffled and created a distance between him and Oliver. “So, what did he tell you?”
Oliver sat beside his wife at the table. “The bad news is, we definitely can’t travel by plane. When they check our passports, they’ll question why we don’t have an entry stamp.”
“So we’re back in the boat?” asked Pudica.
“Yes, but some lockdown restrictions are being lifted. I have Sutton driving to Florida. He’ll ensure we have some reliable people waiting for us by the coast,” said Oliver.
Betsy sighed and dropped back in her chair. Everyone stared at each other. None of them revealed their anxiety, though they knew the nerves it took to make that trip.
Pudica knocked on Georgina’s door once before the woman opened the door and pulled her inside the house. Oliver pulled on the front of his ball cap while walking behind her.
“Where have you been? I was worried,” said Georgina.
Pudica almost replied in English, but she quickly switched to Spanish. “My family came for me. This is my husband, Oliver.” She touched Oliver’s tricep.
Georgina glanced at him and leaned toward the girl. “Why is he so pink?”
The man raised one eyebrow, almost as if he understood what she was saying.
Pudica giggled. “Isn’t he cute?”
The older woman nodded.
“Anyway, tell Cari to meet us at this hotel tomorrow morning.” The girl pulled a napkin with the address from her pocket. “And tell the boss I quit.”
“Ha, she fired you this morning after you didn’t show.” Georgina put the address in her bra.
Pudica shrugged, although inside she despised getting fired from her first job. As the culture accustomed, they kissed each other on the cheeks and said their goodbyes. Georgina acted cheerful, yet sorrow hid in her words; perhaps because the next day was the last with her daughter.
Pudica pressed her palm against Oliver’s, ambling down a hallway. In the taxi he had been more talkative, now the constant fixing of his shirt showed he was uncomfortable.
“Are you worried about tomorrow?” she asked.
“Uh, a little,” he said.
“Me, too, but I’m happy we’re together.” When she stopped in front of their hotel room door, her brows met as he kept walking. He might have been distracted.
“The key goes on this door.” She tapped the knob and smiled.
Oliver raised one corner of his mouth and dug into his pocket for a silver piece. “Yes, but this key works on that one.”
Pudica followed his gaze. Then he pulled her toward another entrance. The indentations fitted into the lock. Oliver took a deep, nervous breath and opened the door.
A layer of rose petals covered a king-sized bed. Two scented candles created a warm but dim atmosphere. Pudica stepped inside and turned to a mirror where half of her reflection stood in a lipstick drawing of a heart. At the center of the shape, there were branches of mimosa pudica taped to it.
“Sorry, I thought if I cut them, the leaves would stay opened,” Oliver said of the thin-looking bouquet while scratching the back of his neck. “And the hotel service didn’t have enough candles. It looked better in my head.”
“Ollie, I love it,” she said.
“I’m nervous,” he inhaled.
Goosebumps appeared all over the girl’s body. Minuscule hairs fought against her brassiere. She licked her lips, forgetting how to say she wanted him to touch her. Her hands moved to her sides, then wiped her palms on the back of her jeans.
It was awkward; even more so than the time his head was between her legs. He approached her. Her heart expanding in her rib cage as his fingers crawled up her forearm.
His Adam’s apple bobbed, and he kissed her. She almost couldn't move, but she felt his chest. Each sucking of her lips was more ardent until he gripped the skin over her hips and pulled her closer. He moaned, engorging rapidly.
With his tongue exploring her neck, he let her pants down to her knees and her shirt to her elbows. Smooches trailed to her heart as he unhooked her bra. Every movement became shorter when he removed the last item of clothing.
Though it wasn’t chilly, she shivered.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she quivered.
“If you’re not ready—”
“I am.” So many emotions ran through her body, Pudica was unsure if that was the correct answer. But she was most certain she loved her husband, and her husband loved her. It was the confirmation of her body’s approval.
Seeing he unbuckled his belt, she helped him take off his clothes. She was so focused on keeping his shirt free of wrinkles, she only noticed his massive erection seconds later.
“Can I touch it?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he whispered excitedly.
Blotches of pink glowed on her cheeks. She didn’t question its size or whether it fit her. The fact it was a human body part she didn’t have was more incredible. She weighed his testicles in her hand and studied the skin around his shaft. The entrance at the very top had to be the exit of his relief, but she always assumed it was a circular-shaped hole, like an ear or a nostril. This one was a slight cut. So much detail!
His moaning caught her attention. He stared at her hands with his lips partly open. Hips pushing forward toward her grip and eyelids drooping.
She caused her husband’s pleasure. She guessed it would be more complicated and her inexperience would frustrate him. She began stroking him, then he pulled her hand away and carried her to the bed.
“Was I doing okay?” she said.
“That was more than okay, pudding.” His mouth covered her nipple and his hands lowered her hips to the mattress.
She moaned as he dropped himself between her legs.
“I love you, Ollie.”
“I-wove-you,” he mumbled, burying his face in her breasts. His warm tip grazed her clitoris and positioned itself over her nether area.
Her knees tightened around him. He glanced between them to budge his shaft into her. Walls began to spread. The warmth of the new body made her gasp. It was strange but wonderful. Stretching continued until it burned. Inches moved into her farther. The girl screeched and shut her eyes. Pain propagated through her lower areas.
“It’s so tight,” he groaned, pushing all of his length inside her.
“Owe, stop, stop, stop,” she yelped.
As soon as he pulled himself out of her, she rolled to her side and held her knees to her chest. She halted a drop of liquid running across the back of her thigh. Books and the internet couldn’t explain what it really felt like. They spoke of the blood and a bit of discomfort, but not much of the intense burning sensation and the embarrassment of seeing her blood on the bedsheets and on his genitals. She cried.
“Pudding, babe, please talk to me,” said Oliver. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.” He grabbed an extra blanket from under the pillows and covered Pudica with it. His muscles swathed her and his lips smooched every bit of her face.