Pudica Darling. #SOScuba

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Chapter 3

Now she could afford a gym membership, it would be nice to give it a try. Just because she could pay for a hospital bill didn't mean health wasn't priority. So she looked up the highest rated gym in The Woodlands and changed into a sporty outfit.
With her backpack ready and a pink water bottle, she rented a cab to D-Fit World. At her arrival, a receptionist greeted her with a bag of goodies that contained protein bars, energy drinks, a t-shirt that read, "I lift, Darling," and a mug with a muscular arm for a handle. Apparently, for a small extra fee, she could have access to an indoor pool and unlimited massage sections.
Sign me up!
Having never stepped foot in a gymnasium, the only problem was she had never used any of the machines. It was a three stories building with rows of bizarre equipment.
Thank goodness, she recognized a treadmill. Wait, never mind. The operation board was a black flat screen with no instructions. She poked it once, placed her whole hand on it, and stomped on the walking belt, but the piece of scrap didn't move.
"Stupid." She kicked its side.
The women on the stationary bicycles lowered at her ignorance. One of them uttered a mute word, prompting the others to laugh. A girl in the front row traced circles by her temple.
Pudica didn't pay them attention until a female with a deeper voice spoke behind her.
"My father's money's going to waste." Ninel shook her head and let the weight of her body fall on one hip.
Too many things were happening and it wasn't lunch time yet. Pudica turned without recognizing the voice, although identifying her half-sister the second they met. Ninel's body was curvier, but she still had the face of a fifteen-year-old. Buckets of make-up might have been at play. Her Nirvana t-shirt, her baggy jeans, and her fanny pack made her look like she was stuck in the nineties.
"I still can't believe he left it all to you. You can't even press a button," she said.
"What are you doing here?" asked Pudica.
"I came to The Woodlands to talk to you."
"At the gym?"
"No, pea-brain. The gym was just a coincidence." Ninel rolled her eyes. "I would've informed you about Papi's death myself but I couldn't cancel my Norwegian cruise vacation. Anyway, we have to talk. Somewhere appropriate. Give me your number."
She pulled a smartphone out of her fanny pack, and hovered her thumbs over it.
"Uh, I don't have a phone." Pudica had watched this scene a dozen times. Either a potential friend or a cute boy asked for her contact information, but she didn't have one. Then, she would end up isolated from the world.
"You what? Girl, you got money and you still don't have a phone? You're weird." The sister stuck her tongue out in disgust.
What Pudica didn't imagine was the twist that followed the scene.
"I see you girls aren't using this machine. Are there any problems with it? Oh." Oliver stood near Pudica in obvious bewilderment by her presence. He was wearing a red t-shirt that read, "D-Fit World STAFF."
She thought of asking if he worked there, but it was already evident.
"Just one problem here. The user is too stupid." Ninel laughed while pointing at her sister.
Pudica swallowed. Oliver didn't just think she was a whore. Thanks to Ninel, she was stupid, too. She expected him to laugh, but instead, his expression changed from customer service representative to diabolical beast.
"Ma'am, we ensure the safety of the club members by following strict rules which includes no judgement. If you want to continue your membership, you'll apologize to the lady right this instant."
Ninel's jaw dropped, then she smirked. "I'll have you know that I have a temporary one-week membership, all-access pass included."
"The rules don't exclude all-access members, so I'm waiting." Oliver crossed his arms.
Ninel gasped louder as other members noticed the altercation. "Rude! I don't speak to low level employees. Go find your manager."
"It's okay. I don't want you to get in trouble," Pudica whispered at Oliver.
But the low level employee stood his ground. "Sure, I'll go get the manager."
"No, go get the owner of this establishment." Ninel whisked her hand.
"As you wish." Oliver walked down the row of treadmills, then circled the reception. He began walking back to them but never spoke to anyone, giving Pudica the impression Ninel's words intimidated him. That made her feel better as she preferred him not to lose his job because of her. Then, he approached them and said, "Hi, I'm Oliver Darling, owner of D-Fit World. Fun fact, the D stands for Darling."
What the fu—?
Ninel stretched all of her facial muscles and clenched her fists. "I am giving this place a one star review! I'll make sure all my friends know not to come to this crap hole."
"Great, 'cause I wouldn't want any of your friends to infest my gym."
"I am never coming back." Ninel trod loudly toward the exit.
Oliver cackled at the play, while Pudica watched him in awe. He looked too young to be the owner of anything, much less a club with so many employees.
"Why the long face?" He finally noticed her.
"I'm okay." Her lashes fluttered as she had been staring at him for too long.
"First time here?" he addressed her with that same heart-stealing smile.
She nodded, melted by the twinkle in his eyes. Something was wrong with her as she wished his body was closer to hers. These feelings were normal under the circumstances. He had just become her hero, so she was temporarily stricken by him.
"Come. I'll show you around." He extended his arm toward her.
There was hesitation in her mind, but she grabbed his hand. With furrowed brows, his head tilted, letting go of her.
"I wasn't—" He pointed at a thick black cable on the floor. "I was just trying to plug that back in."
The girl shrank, staring at the floor, feeling herself blushing. His hand was just reaching for the loose cable on the floor. Double embarrassment! Of course the treadmill didn't work. It was off. And he wasn't trying to hold her hand. Why would he? She had told him to stay away.




Every second of every minute, Pudica found herself in an awkward situation with Oliver. Her cheeks burned hotter every time she saw him. It wasn't the type of anxiety where a girl wanted a boy to like her; more like during each encounter, she did something moronic. They had literally just met, and in the span of a couple hours, he had masturbated in front of her, sexually harassed her, became her hero, took her on a tour, and upgraded her gym membership for free. Was he a bastard or a ray of sunshine? Surely, he was an interesting guy.
"Can I be blunt? How can someone so young start something like this from the ground and manage it so well?" She followed him into an elevator.
"It wasn't like this at the beginning." Oliver pressed a button on the wall. "When I bought this place it was a struggling gym with old machines and flooded locker rooms. Fixing it cost a lot of money. I was in debt."
"You made it through, I see."
"Yes. Uncle Robert paid off part of my debts, then I worked harder to pay the rest. Found investors, made repairs, bought new equipment."
"That's a great story."
The doors slid open again and they were on a balcony. The girl scanned her surroundings. They had been alone in the elevator, which according to movies, it was a place where people often had sex. Good thing this was real life.
He took a breath to speak again, when a man, wearing a staff uniform, interrupted them.
"Bossman, do you have a minute?" The employee bent his elbow and coughed into the inside of his arm.
"What's up, Leonard?" Oliver replied casually.
"Man, I've had muscle pain since Saturday and I'm getting this dry cough." Leonard cringed, massaging his own shoulder.
"You partied too hard, dude. I told you." The boss laughed.
Leonard tried to smile at the joke. He covered his mouth, holding another cough in the back of his throat. "Don't blame me. My crazy cousin just came back from South Korea. We had to celebrate."
"How about you take the rest of the week off? You look exhausted."
"Bossman, you're the best." Leonard gasped for air.
"No prob." Oliver watched his employee drag his feet into the elevator. The poor man had lost all his color.
"He looks terrible," said Pudica.
"He does." Oliver turned to her. "Pudica, I wish I could keep showing you around, but counting Leonard, I have four of my trainers on sick-leave, so I need to cover for them."
"Don't let me stop you, please." The girl aimed her hand at the elevator.
The ride down to the first floor was not too awkward. They made it through with small talk, although there was a short silence gap. That was Pudica's fault as she glanced at the swelling between his legs. She forbade herself from looking, but curiosity got the best of her. Then, she imagined his—no, she didn't have to imagine because she had seen it up close before: the entire thing.
"So how old are you?" She forced her thoughts away.
"Twenty-seven," he replied.
"Ahhhh, okay, niceee," she exaggerated her speech, disguising the wet sounds of beating meat in her head as if he could hear them.




Aunt Betsy stared at the open refrigerator with a deep ridge on her forehead. She sighed, closed it, then looked at the pinned postcards on the door. One card had a bowl of spaghetti printed on it.
"What cha doin', Aunt Betsy?" Pudica twisted a towel around her hair. She had changed into her favorite lazy outfit: crop top and shorts.
The older woman plunged on a breakfast chair. "My fridge is crammed with food, but I'm so bored of making the same old recipes. I might order take-out."
Pudica inhaled a grin. This was her moment to take control of the kitchen. Betsy was a good cook; above average, actually. But it was the young girl's dream to work in a big kitchen with a variety of pans, knives, and plates. With that top-of-the-line oven, she could make delicious wonders.
"Could I make dinner?"
"No. You're a guest in my house. I don't wanna make you work."
It wasn't a surprise that Betsy wouldn't allow it. Although she was married to an American man and had taken the last name Hendricks, much of the Cuban culture remained in her. Pudica's mother was the same way—they believed guests shouldn't help around the house. But like every Cuban rule, there was an unless clause.
"Unless I'm family and younger than the host." Pudica winked.
"Dale," her aunt replied in Cuban Spanish. A smirk and a rolling of the eyes let the girl know she had full permission.
Pudica hopped excitedly and began opening cabinets and gathering ingredients. During their conversation, neither woman noticed Robert had gotten home from work. He stood between Pudica and the fridge and grabbed the spaghetti postcard.
"Uncle Robert, I didn't see you there," said his niece.
Betsy squinted at his semblance. She remained quiet, observing his every move.
"Ah, that word—dale." Robert laughed. "It left me more confused to learn its meaning. It means, go for it, but it also means, good-bye. Sometimes it's also used to cheer people up, or ask someone to beat up somebody."
"Depends on the tone," replied Pudica, frowning at the rectangular paper. "What's that?"
"Neighborhood’s get together. Yamiq is making spaghetti."
"I thought you liked spaghetti," Betsy spoke in a suspicious tone.
"I'm not sure we should go," Robert unzipped his jacket, revealing blue scrubs underneath it. He unclipped a tag with the name Dr. Robert H. Hendricks on it, and placed it on the table.
Betsy knew her husband was about to express a concern, so she waited quietly.
"I got two new patients from Austin today—husband and wife." Robert sat at the table. "They were quarantined in Japan. They're both very sick with a new strand of coronavirus. The infection rate is not how they describe it on the news. It attacks fast. This couple was walking yesterday and today they're in intensive care."
"You sound worried," replied his wife. "Didn't you say the flu is worse?"
"Without the full picture, it's impossible to know. I'm just going by what I see, and I have a feeling this won't end well."
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