“Rob, I don’t see where I’m going,” he called his god-father.
Robert got the lanchero’s torso off of his legs, and everyone helped him balance into the cuddy. He pulled Oliver’s shoulder closer to the wet floor. “Get down, son. You’re too exposed. Get me the GPS.”
To Oliver’s right, there was a rectangular tablet with blinking points on a map. He grabbed the device and passed it to the experienced navigator.
“Shit, we’re going sideways.” Robert took control of the wheel.
“What do I do?” asked Oliver.
“Protect our girls, my boy.”
Oliver wished he could have helped more, but his god-father was an avid boat-rider.
“Oliver.” Robert caught his arm. “Do you know why we bought The Woodlands lake house?”
The godson frowned, wondering about Robert’s choice of words when they were escaping from the Cuban coast guard and fighting the ocean.
“I wanted to take you fishing,” Robert answered his own question. “I thought it made me a good father.”
To stop himself from crying, Oliver sent his emotions to his hand, crumpling his father’s sleeve. He didn’t want to say, “I love you,” and then waste his time with beautiful things that didn’t help the situation.
“You are,” he said instead.
The father nodded and increased velocity at full speed. The men and women on the front bow had it the worst. Waves splashed, almost drowning some. Eventually, they had to throw the lanchero’s body overboard as it kept bouncing on them.
Oliver clutched his wife and god-mother by their waists. The rafters screamed into each other’s ears for hours, invoking their gods and ancestors while entering the mouths of the ocean. Everyone hoped to live, though they treated every minute as their last.
Unexpectedly, the cuddy slowed down and Robert looked more relaxed. He turned to his family and smiled. “International waters.”
“Should I take the wheel for a while?” asked Oliver.
“I’ll sleep for a bit.” Robert patted his son’s shoulder as the younger man placed his hands on the boat’s controllers.
After seeing water on the horizon for so long, the lighthouses of Florida were an incredible sight. The Cuban nationals in the boat were fearful, probably because if the American coast guard caught them in the sea, it was a ticket back to their native land. Oliver and Robert should have been afraid. Although they were United States citizens, it was hard to prove they weren’t human traffickers.
They couldn’t help but be cheerful.
“Now I appreciate what it feels like for the lost to arrive in America.” Pudica rested her head on Oliver’s arm.
Her husband formed a half-smile and gave her a side hug and a kiss. “It’s how I feel when I look at you.”
Pudica sighed and tiptoed for another smooch when Betsy made sounds of approval.
“Aw, Robert, look, our son and our daughter kissing. I’m so happy they’re married. They’re perfect for each other.”
Oliver moved closer to the steering wheel and created space between him and his wife.
“Mom.” Pudica giggled. Her eyeballs exiting their sockets.
“What did I say?” said the mother. While she tried to figure out why her family laughed at her, Cari tapped her back.
“Qué hacemos?” asked Cari.
“She’s asking what do they do?” Betsy told her husband.
“When we get to the Keys?” said Robert.
“Yes.” Cari nodded, understanding their English.
“I’m sorry. We’re not sure,” said Betsy.
The woman whose daughter Robert had saved spoke. The Spanish speakers seemed content.
“They’ve got it,” Betsy said to her husband, and they all hugged each other as the moon disappeared.
“Sutton,” called Oliver. The best friends ran with their arms open. Sutton grabbed Oliver’s head and gave him a loud kiss on the cheek.
“I love you, bro. I’m so happy to see you,” said Sutton.
Oliver grimaced while rubbing his face on his wrist, then grinned. “I knew I could count on you. Thank you.”
The friend greeted the family and peeked behind them.
“Where’s the helmsman?” asked Sutton.
“It wasn’t a smooth ride,” replied Robert. “When he turned on the engine, they got him.”
“Agh, that’s so messed up.” Sutton rubbed his scalp and pushed his glasses against his nose. “He was an acquaintance of my fiancée’s brother. I have his cash payment in my car.”
Four black vans screeched their tires, surrounding the boat slip. A herd of armored officers aimed their rifles at them.
“Key West Police. Everybody drop your bags and put your hands where we can see them,” shouted one cop.
The disconcerted civilian group followed the agents’ orders. Four men in blue approached Oliver and Sutton and handcuffed them.
“Wait, where are you taking them?” asked Pudica.
“Oliver Darling, you are under arrest for human trafficking—” said an officer.
“You can’t do that!” Betsy and Pudica ran after the men.
Robert held them back. “Oliver. Sutton. Don’t answer questions until we get you a lawyer.”
Oliver looked over his shoulder as the men pushed him into a van. “I love you, pudding.”
The door slid close and hid him behind a tinted window.
Pudica bawled on her husband’s truck as if it were the last of him. Ninel had taken everything from her. She was sure her evil sister-not-sister was the one who called the cops on Oliver and Sutton. After losing the inheritance, Pudica had no means of defending herself.
“We’ll get our savings and the money we got to build our house,” Betsy cried to Sutton’s mother on the phone. “That should help with lawyer fees.”
Robert paced a short distance with his fingers on his temples. “I can give an old friend a call. He works at a law firm.”
Pudica sat on the concrete floor and hugged her knees. Every tribulation they overcame was for nothing. Her husband risked his life so many times for her, and all she did now to help him was cry.
As she lifted her head to beg the heavens, she noticed her mother’s feet. The woman had been wearing flip-flops and the nail polish on her toenails was still intact. Pudica didn’t know why she focused on that. Maybe it was the way her brain protected her from hurting.
The place where Betsy had done her nails was great. The pearl color was calming. She found it humorous that her mother’s feet caused that effect. Like a hidden proverb, she stopped to think how she never noticed no one’s feet. And that was probably because she had been looking in one direction.
She jumped upright. “That won’t be necessary. I know what we’re gon’a do. Mom, Dad, let’s pay a visit to my dear sister.”
Betsy hung up the phone, following her daughter to Sutton’s car. “Pudica, she tried to kill you.”
“I know.” Pudica opened the door and grabbed a set of keys. She stomped back to Oliver’s truck, sat in the driver’s seat, and put the key in the ignition starter.
“Are ya’ll coming?” she asked.
Her father frowned. “Uh, you don’t know how to drive.”
Pudica pouted and jumped out of the pickup. “Dad, can you drive me to Palm Beach?”
“I’m guessing you have a plan,” said Robert.
Pudica smirked and crossed her arms. “Mom, we’re gon’a need more flip-flops.”
Betsy shrugged and giggled.
Of all the weapons in the world, it’s up to the victim to say which is more lethal. An atomic bomb has the power to make a city disappear. An army will take over an entire country. But in America and all Spanish-speaking countries alike, there is one devastating weapon used every single day, even the most fearless criminal respects. The damage it creates expands through an infinity of generations. That is the mighty flip flop, notoriously known to its victims as the chancla. It is noteworthy to mention this powerful tool causes the most physical and mental scarring when wielded correctly by a woman, especially if she gave birth to the sufferer. Enjoy this chancla, and remember: during an attack, hold it by the heel and with your dominant hand.
Pudica nodded as she read the user manual that came with her extra pair of flip-flops.
“Wow, these are of superior quality.” Robert wiggled his toes in his chanclas while driving toward the front gate of the Fanjul mansion.
“Yes, they cushion very well,” said Betsy, looking at her purple-colored ones. “Yours would fit better if you had chosen men’s sizes. Just sayin’.”
“Betsy, I told you, my chanclas are for men. I bought them pink to support cancer research.”
“Cancer research my ass. They’re pink because they’re for girls.” Betsy crossed her arms.
“You’re jealous because they didn’t have your size in pink.” Robert cackled.
“It’s so nice the store was open despite the lockdown,” said Pudica, fixing her flip-flops between her toes and tucking her teal blouse into her jeans.
“Ayyy chanclas are essential business,” said Betsy.
“No, they opened against the law,” said Robert, stopping by the front gate. As he was about to press the speaker button, the large iron curtain rolled aside.
“They’re letting us in, just like that? What’s the trick?” asked Pudica.
Robert pointed at a notice taped to the sentry box.
Because of coronavirus, we are understaffed. Please drive to the entrance.
“Outstanding. No security.” Pudica danced in her seat, and her father continued to drive between the rows of palm trees.
They exited the truck casually. Pudica walked in front of her parents and sounded the doorbell.
Less than a minute passed when Gut opened the door. He gasped but immediately smiled. “Welcome back, Mrs. Darling.”
“Thanks, I’m guessing Ninel is here,” said Pudica.
“Yes, she and her mother are redecorating,” Gut made emphasis on the last word.
“Really?” Pudica invited herself into the indoor garden and kicked the door to the hall. She followed Ninel’s voice, finding her by the dining room.
The sack of bones and witch nails was giving a boy directions. “A little to the right.”
The boy moved a large painting of a lipstick sitting behind two balls.
“That’s too much. Move it to the left a little.” Ninel’s fingers went counterclockwise.
“Who said you had permission to redesign my house?” said Pudica.
Ninel’s hairs straightened upward, and her limbs shot to her sides like a cat.
“Pudica,” she hissed.
Yolanda sauntered into view with a drink in her hand. She took a sip and spit it into the glass. “What the hell?”
“Yes, you’re not staring at a ghost,” said Pudica. “I’m back for good.”
Ninel whisked her hand at the boy, so he darted out of the scene.
“Oh, you survived Cuba, so you think you get to claim anything. You have jack shit. I took what is mine.” Ninel moved closer to Pudica, trying to intimidate her with her height.
Robert stomped closer, and Betsy stood beside her daughter.
Pudica rubbed her chin, and her eyebrows met. “All this time I thought you were crazy, but you’re delusional. See, when you left me alone in Francisco’s office I found the letter he wrote to my mother.”
Witch-nails’ gaze came lower. She stepped away.
Pudica continued speaking. “And then I asked, ‘why did he not send it before he left to China?’ Also, a discrete man like him would have sealed the envelope and hid it somewhere safe. But he did, didn’t he? You found it, and that’s when you discovered Francisco wasn’t your actual father.”
“He isn’t your father either.” Ninel sent an accusatory finger at her.
“You must rage inside because even when I wasn’t his daughter, he was leaving everything to me.”
“So you took advantage of me!” Pudica yelled back. “You thought it would be easy to manipulate me, but you forgot to add my husband and my real parents to your equation of lies. I’ve made a lot of growing, I have. This was all an illusion; starting with there was no Cuban mafia after us. You can’t legally take anything that belongs to me. That’s why you sent me to Cuba—you were trying to prove I was dead, but not before you tried to get Oliver to sign those documents.”
“We should have killed her.” Yolanda smashed her drink against the floor.
Ninel ignored her mother and heaved at Pudica. “Now what? You gon’a call the police? You can’t prove anything.”
“I’m sure we can get many people to talk,” said Pudica. “I know you called the cops on my husband and his friend. I won’t press charges if you call the cops and tell them you were confused, that they weren’t trafficking anybody.”
Witch-nails observed Pudica, Betsy, and Robert’s menacing semblances. “You’re bluffing.”
“Hmn.” Ninel twisted her jaw.
“Yeah, we gave her a chance.” Pudica jerked her chin at her mother. Both of them took off their chanclas. The younger girl aimed the sole at her ex-sister. “Get out of my house.”
“Excuse me?” Yolanda eyed down the chancla.
“Dale,” Betsy told her daughter.
Pudica slapped the mighty weapon against Ninel’s arm. Witch-nails tried to dodge it, but the stinging and burning of her skin slowed her down. Yolanda attempted to save her daughter, but Betsy screamed as if she were in a martial arts movie, and shot her purple slayer toward her.
Ninel and Yolanda wheeled their arms at their attackers. They snatched Pudica’s weapon. But Robert retrieved his pink flip-flops and yielded them to his wife and daughter. The women continued fighting, sending the usurpers toward the exit. The maids, the cooks, and the gardeners gathered in the hall, laughing as Ninel and Yolanda covered their heads, and stumbled through the exit.
“Gut, I’d like you to pack up their shit and see them leave property boundaries.” Pudica fixed her blonde locks and held the chancla under her arm.
“Absolutely,” said Gut.
Pudica hugged her parents. She was still for a moment and closed her eyes. “I love you, Mom and Dad.”
The parents squeezed her tighter.
“We love you, too, cutie,” said her mother.
A large man in a suit and a tie walked out of the police station with Oliver and Sutton. Pudica jumped on Oliver. Before he could pull off the surgical mask from his face, the joyful wife tugged the elastic from his ears and planted a long kiss on his lips. He grasped her buttocks as if no one was watching.
The large man shook Robert’s and Betsy’s hands and waved goodbye to his clients.
“Pudding, how did you—” said Oliver.
“We paid for the lawyer with your card,” she said, lowering her heels back to the floor.
“That lawyer must have been cheap as hell.” Sutton laughed.
“Be quiet, squid.” Oliver punched Sutton on the arm.
“I was just playin’.” The friend rubbed the side of his shoulder.
Pudica giggled. “Actually, the lawyer cost us more than a few grand to release you this quickly.”
Oliver embraced his parents, and the group walked toward their vehicles.
“We also filed charges against the Fanjuls,” continued Pudica. “Ninel stole more than a million from my account, but I remembered that I had set up automatic transfers to your bank for gym expenses and that restaurant idea we talked about.”
Oliver was agape. “Holy shit, pudding. That’s amazing.”
“Son, you missed the most epic flip flop fight in the universe,” said Robert.
“Oh, we have a lot to tell you,” said Betsy.
“It will be a fun drive back to Texas,” added Pudica.
Oliver gripped the sides of his seat, and glanced at the road with a frozen neck. Veins popped while sweat slithered between them. His wife slammed the brakes of their brand new SUV for the fifth time.
“Much better.” Oliver swallowed. “Try and be more gentle with your foot next time.”
“Like this?” Pudica rammed the ball of her foot, sending her husband’s head over the dashboard.
The terrified man clutched his seatbelt. “Oh, God!”
Pudica switched gears and turned off the vehicle in front of a house. “I thought you said driving was easy.”
“It is, and you’re doing everything great, except when you stop. You have the feet of a t-rex.” Oliver wiped his forehead.
The petite woman gasped. “My feet are tiny and delicate Sir.”
“Sure, like a baby t-rex’s.”
Pudica glued her elbows to her sides and bent her arms ninety degrees, making them look short. With her fingers spread apart, she tried to grab Oliver’s hand.
“You look ridiculous.” The husband chuckled and moved his hand farther from her.
She clucked in a high-pitch voice.
“Why do you sound like a chicken?” asked Oliver.
“Dinosaurs were like big roosters,” said Pudica.
“Yeah, but the t-rex roared.”
“I’d like to imagine it clucked sometimes.”
“That ruins its reputation as a ruthless beast.”
The young wife giggled, then noticed the vast lawn enclosed by a short fence. “So is there a reason you asked me to park here?”
“Well, I drive by this neighborhood every day while I’m going to work. And I saw this house just went up for sale a week ago.” Oliver climbed out of the passenger seat.
She gasped, opened the door, and followed him. “And? And? You brought me here because you want to buy it, yes?”
He tilted his head. “What makes you think that?”
“Look at that front porch and the trees around it. Imagine us barbecuing and watching the kids play,” she said.
Oliver wrapped his arms around Pudica, watching the house. “Oh, yes, eight little Darlings running around.”
“Eight?” she frowned.
“Is eight too many? I’ve always wanted a large family, and since the world is ending, we need to repopulate the planet.”
“No, eight is great. I mean, do you think this house will fit us all?”
“I’m sure it will.” He kissed her and pulled her hand down a concrete pathway toward the porch.
"Do you really think the world is ending?" she asked.
"If it does, I think we'll be just fine."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because we have each other, Pudding Darling." Oliver raised a key chain to his chest and placed it on Pudica's hand.
The wife covered her mouth and held her chest. Her husband had bought the house already.
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