Pudica Darling. #SOScuba

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Chapter 7

Pudica was better. It's what Uncle Robert told Oliver. She had gotten too excited which prompted her heart monitor to sound an alarm. Oliver had yet to tell his godparents about his marriage. Legally, he was a married man. That variable would surely make them happy. Then, there was the reason for his union and his wife's identity.
He assumed Pudica hadn't mentioned the marriage to them, since a week had passed uneventfully. But today was the day Dr. Gonzalez was sending her home, which made him trepidatious.
"Are you okay?" Aunt Betsy sat on the couch across from him.
"Peachy, why?" said Oliver.
"Peachy?" Betsy's mouth moved to the side. "I ask because I haven't seen you scratch your knuckles like that since your parents, you know," she spoke hesitantly, "passed away."
Oliver brought his reddened hand in front of his face. Flakes of skin hung from them. He hid his hands under his armpits.
"Baby, I'm sure you'll find a solution if the gym has to close." His aunt guessed close to the truth.
If Pudica didn't want to stay married, it would nullify the certificate. The law stated, in order for the union to be official, the marriage needed to be consummated—they had to have sex. Obviously, that wasn't in her mind. Was she willing to give him at least a million dollars to help his employees? He could pitch a business partnership to her. With all that money, investing was a splendid idea.
"The van's in the driveway." Uncle Robert adjusted his scrubs. "I'm glad I get to see her before I head to the hospital again."
"That was so fast." Aunt Betsy jogged toward the entrance to meet Pudica. It had been painful to have to stay home while her niece was in the emergency room, but the doctors weren't letting family members visit anymore in fear of contamination.
Outside, she stepped on the sidewalk and waved at the girl exiting a white and red van. An emergency medical technician approached the house with an electronic tablet.
"Good morning, is anyone here Mr." He glanced at the rectangular sheet."Oliver Darling?"
The Hendricks frowned at their godson.
"Uh, that's me," Oliver replied in confusion as the EMT passed him the tablet with an electronic pen.
"I require your signature for the record." The short, skinny driver took an unusual pride in his job.
As Oliver signed on the screen, Betsy turned to the EMT. "Shouldn't I be signing since I am Pudica's aunt?"
"Sure, but the next of kin is present, so it's unnecessary." Smiled the EMT.
Pudica grinned, but somehow Oliver knew she was panicking.
"Excuse me, just out of curiosity—" Betsy raised her finger.
"Alrighty, thank you for bringing her home." Oliver almost pushed the EMT toward the van with the tablet.
"My pleasure." The technician sat on the driver's seat and saluted him. "Mr. Darling, Mrs. Darling, enjoy your well-deserved honeymoon."
"Aha, okay, yeah, bye." Oliver and Pudica cackled, waving at the moving vehicle.
The nervous man scanned the red and yellow roses in the front yard garden, searching for a way to derail the imminent talk in a different direction. Damn, he knew nothing about gardening. Thinking about it bored him.
"Can someone explain the chauffeur's excitement about a honeymoon?" Betsy looked like an evil hen, bending her neck.
Pudica, don't crack.
She cracked. The lowering outer corners of her eyes gave her away. She wiped the sweat off her hands on her leggings and bent her knees slightly. "Me-and-Oliver-got-married-last-week."
"What?" Both, Betsy and Robert, jumped off their heels.
"Don't freak out. I had a moral reason." Oliver extended his arms.
Aunt Betsy’s height seemed to double when she moved between him and Pudica. "You have thirty seconds to explain."
Although twenty-seven years old, Oliver felt like a child. The foot he surpassed her in stature bore no meaning. But it wasn't fear what held him back, it was respect.
"Everything will clear up in a minute, Aunt Betsy."
"Thirty seconds!" A vein engorged on Betsy's forehead.
"Chill, I didn't do it for love." He tried to reword his broad statement to make his aunt feel better. "I did it for money." To add to the certainty, he tapped his middle and index fingers on his temple.
Pudica cringed. He could hear her thoughts calling him an idiot.
Robert avoided an overreaction but his scrubs soaked in sweat.
"Me cago en la mierda, carajo!" Aunt Betsy took off one of her sandals and flopped it at Oliver.
"No! You, car el mere das." Oliver backed away like a crab.
"To think I paid for his Spanish lessons." Robert sighed.
Betsy swung her sandal at Oliver, but the boy was quicker than her arm. However, she never gave up, fluttering the weapon helter-skelter.
"Stop, I asked him to marry me when I was sick." Poor Pudica. She thought she was helping.
"Oliver, is that true?" Uncle Robert held his head.
The fuming god-mother dropped the slipper and caught Oliver's ear while dropping more Cuban phrases. When she ran out of Spanish, she switched to English.
"You manipulated my sick niece into marrying you. What else have you done?"
"Nothing." Pudica tried to separate Betsy's hand from her husband’s ear.
"Ouch, you're making it worse, pudding," Oliver screamed.
"Who're ya calling pudding?" Betsy finally let go.
A gray-haired woman tip-toed into the Hendricks' garden. "Robert, do I call the police?" She snooped over her gigantic glasses.
"No, Pat, we're okay," replied Robert.
"Is it true Oliver got married?" Pat bobbed her head.
"Yeah, the pulling of the ear is an ancient ritual from my wife's homeland. According to custom, the hazing ensures the groom will be a dutiful husband."
The old woman held her hands together on her chest. "How beautiful!" She turned toward the street and called another neighbor. "Sherry, everything's fine. It's tradition."
"Answer the question," Aunt Betsy addressed Oliver.
Pat's gossiping was so distracting Oliver forgot Betsy's question. She might have thought he was refusing to answer because the longer he went without speaking, the angrier she got.
The concerned aunt gasped. She covered her mouth. "Robert, he's already defiled her. She's only nineteen."
"That is false." Pudica shielded Oliver from her aunt's attacks. "I married Oliver to stop Ninel from keeping my inheritance in case I died."
"Ninel, your sister?" asked Robert.
Pudica lowered her head.
"And for your information," Oliver added, "nineteen is the age of consent. It is fully legal."
"Can we talk?" Pudica ignored Oliver while addressing her aunt and uncle.
Aunt Betsy took a deep breath and glanced at her husband.

It was late night when Pudica heard Oliver arrive home. They owed each other a dialogue, and she wasn't one to postpone the truth. She expected him to react just as her aunt and uncle did. To learn their niece's life was in danger was no less than upsetting. Aunt Betsy wasted not one second to phone nine-one-one, but Uncle Robert commanded her to hang up the call. He didn't buy Ninel's story about the Cuban mafia; and it was possible that the police might freeze Pudica's accounts if they considered her inheritance was dirty money.
"Don't you think the mafia would've hired a group of hackers to steal all that cash from your account?" he said. "They don't have to touch you. Criminals have access to technology."
"I suspected Ninel was lying. The thing is, the day I went to her hotel room, she sounded very convincing," replied Pudica.
"I know you asked Oliver to marry you because they scared you." Betsy cupped her niece's jaw. “Time to make things right. You both have to get divorced. Marriage is no good without love."
Pudica agreed. She was legally bound to a stranger and took a last name that meant nothing to her. Marrying him had been an overreaction on her part. So hearing his footsteps, she located his bedroom. Then, abruptly, his long dark-brown hair bolted past her. She prepared to call him, but he was almost at the lake.
The girl found it odd he hadn't noticed her, so she went after him. He sat in Robert's boat, but didn't start the engine.
"Oliver?" Pudica came closer to the boat. He wasn't moving. "Oliver," she insisted. The vacant look in his eyes announced his anger.
The blonde brushed her hair behind her ears and cleared her throat, thinking of ways to lighten his mood. She walked over the deck saying, “Now that we are married, I've got'a give you a nickname. Olive is cute, but it's so obvious, and it has to be something I love to eat. How about oyster? No, onion."
"Shut up!" his voice echoed through the lake.
Her goal was to annoy him out of his thoughts, not anger him further. Maybe Aunt Betsy overdid it with the chancla. It was wrong of her to hit a grown man like that.
"Go ahead. Take it on me if it makes you feel better." Hopefully that would snap him out of unreasonable rage.
His muscles released tension. He took a deep breath, then scratched his right knuckles. Pudica watched the intensity with which his nails lacerated his skin. This wasn't about Aunt Betsy's accusations. It was something bigger. She climbed down into the boat and pulled his hands apart. As he tried to scratch again, she sat beside him, and trapped his left hand on her thigh; an action that attracted his gaze.
"The governor ordered all non-essential businesses to stop operations, so I had to shut down the gym. I don't expect you to understand," he said.
"Please, tell me," she encouraged him. She had heard something about it in the hospital, but she was so anguished to leave, she shunned the news.
"Pudica, you weren't the only one with a reason to get married. I didn't do it to help you. I'm sorry."
"It's fine if you did it for the check. It would've been stupid not to take the offer."
"Look, I never wanted you to die. But your recovery means I can't spare my gym. My people are out of work and I'm still in too much debt to support them. It's why I moved back into my god-parents' house—to save and pay it off once and for all. And now I'm not working, they won’t have a job to come back to."
Oliver seemed to care so much about his employees, it showed Pudica a fresh perspective. She grew up thinking of business owners as the spawn of evil corporate, never wondering about the magnitude of the responsibilities they carried.
It wasn't like she knew many CEOs to form a negative opinion. The movies she watched depicting wicked bosses who only cared about maximizing profits could have been at fault. Or it was the fact that his father, a magnate, never loved her.
She wished to believe all executives were like Oliver. It showed her a more positive view of the world.
"I'll go to court myself tomorrow and file for the annulment," he sighed. "It should be easy. I’ll tell them we didn't consummate the marriage."
"Thank you." She smiled. "You know, just because we're getting a divorce doesn't mean you don't get to help your people."
"What are you saying?" He looked more alert.
"Say how much you need."
"Holy shit, pudding." He squeezed her into his arms.
Although there was no sexual undertone, Pudica felt special. His wide chest and his large muscles covering her body made her want to remove the fabric between them.
Other men had touched her before. In high school, they knew her as the religious girl who wore long skirts, and that was reason enough to take advantage of her. Nothing more than a tap on the boob happened, however. The girl’s expertise was getting them in trouble. She was never alone with a boy. She acted sassy and cheeky, though they sent shivers up her spine.
Neither Oliver nor Pudica seemed to mind the hug was longer than expected until the notorious slashing crept down her legs. It had never been this intense, then Aunt Betsy's footsteps stopped the magic.
"My baby, I thought you were never coming back." The woman threw her torso at her godson.
"I was just closing up." Oliver gave her an awkward hug.
"Ay ay ay, it's gon'a be okay." She cried. "We have our retirement funds—"
"Aunt Betsy, the gym will be fine. Pudica wants to help."
The woman gasped exaggeratedly and brought her hands to her forehead.
"Ayyyyy, Pudica, mija." She crushed her niece. "Thank you for helping my baby. He has so much love for everyone."
"Okay," Pudica sang, escaping her grasp. "You don't need to convince me."
"Wonderful!" Her aunt climbed on the deck. Oliver immediately offered his arm as support.
"If I'm not home before you kids go to bed, lock all the doors, please," she addressed them.
"Where are you going?" asked Pudica.
"Oh, I have to get some supplies. The grocery stores are running out of the basics. People are preparing for the lockdown. Sherry said she couldn't find hand sanitizer anywhere."
Oliver stood up and addressed Aunt Betsy. "Stay at home. I read on the news the virus is deadlier the older you are. Text me a list of what we need."
"I'll go with you," said Pudica.
"Are you sure?" asked Betsy. "You came back from the hospital today."
"Yes, being bedridden for so long, I'm craving some change and some chocolate."
"Then let's get you candy." Oliver chuckled.

The Za-huo parking lot had no empty spaces. Most vehicles arriving at the Asian grocery store were having to park on the grass. It was the only place with water or meat left.
"Stay by my side." Oliver pulled Pudica closer to him as they entered through the sliding doors.
Incoming shoppers jammed the isles with their carts, taking products in enormous quantities. Pudica grabbed a packet of rubber gloves and the last container of disinfectant towels.
"Jemima? Jemima?" A terrified old man called from the laundry detergent area. No one paid him attention. The crowd rushed by him, some guarding their miscellaneous supplies on their chests.
"Next, powdered milk," Pudica read the list on her phone.
"Jemima?" The old man cried again.
"Wait here." Oliver left the shopping cart and approached the man.
"Old-timer, you don't look well," he said.
"I can't find my wife," said the old man.
"I'm sure she's looking for you. Stick with me. We'll find her together."
As he walked the old man back to the cart, he saw Pudica calling a little boy. The boy ran away with a small bag of rice.
"He stole our rice." Pudica turned to Oliver.
"It's all right. We haven't paid for it." He grabbed the cart again, and they drifted through traffic.
"Jemima," called the old man.
"What does your wife look like, Sir?" asked Pudica.
"She's a beautiful size forty-four with curly hair and the whitest dentures you've ever seen, ma’am." Old-timer held his lower back while taking nervous steps.
They entered the baking isle, where an elderly woman fretted around other customers.
"I see her." Pudica waved at her. "Jemima. Hi."
The big lady grinned and snailed toward her husband. The couple panted as they met by the chocolate chips.
Oliver pointed to his right. "Powdered milk."
"Great," Pudica aimed her arm toward the last bag of milk, when two women grabbed each side of the soft material.
"Excuse me." The one wearing flower-print pants tugged the bag politely.
"Excuse me," replied the other woman.
Pudica stepped back as the shoppers played tug-of-war. Their voices were louder, wrenching at the container.
"Stop fighting," a bystander shouted at them.
That instigated the quarrel. Flower-print pulled on her opponent's hair.
"Hey." Oliver tried to separate the fighters as no one else intervened. But pulling them apart, ripped the bag open, and the powdered milk bomb exploded. A white cloud blurred his vision. Everyone's hair had turned silver. Confused shoppers dusted their clothes.
In the midst of the muddle, he heard Pudica scream his name.
Pudica!" He moved through the fog. A man collided with his shoulder blade. A tower of toilet paper collapsed on him. "Pudica!"
"Someone took her." Jemima pointed toward the end of the isle.
Oliver didn't thank the old woman. He hurtled down the store, following a trail of powdered milk. The white shoe-prints ended in front of an emergency exit. Once outside, he heard Pudica again. Muffled screams coming from behind a large dumpster.

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