"We need the cash your papi owes us." The leader pushed Pudica against the back of the dumpster. "And don't act deaf."
"How m-much are we t-talking about?" stuttered Pudica.
"All of it," the gangster replied.
All of it. Ninel had said part of the estate came from his father's illegal affairs. The greedy thug was trying to intimidate her. "Where are their weapons?" she thought. They weren't equipped for a fight because scaring her was easy. With those giant hands, he could snap her neck in half. She had to be brave.
"Last I checked, you didn't work for it." She pushed his arm away.
"You didn't work for it either," he said.
"You can't kill me. I'm wed." She showed him her bare ring finger mockingly.
"Then I'll kill him, too." At the news, he squeezed her jaw and banged the back of her head against the dumpster. He covered her lips as she screamed in pain.
She might have gone too far. Her experience dealing with high school bullies would not save her this time. She should have kept her mouth shut. The gangster prepared his fist by bringing it in front of her face. Unexpectedly, they heard a firework explosion. Then, his body went flying, hitting the wall beside them. The other men became alert, but stood still with arms raised by their shoulders.
Pudica pressed her palm against her skull and looked up to dark-brown hair and big muscles holding a gun. As her vision cleared, Oliver towed her by the waist.
"Y—you shot him." Pudica gaped at the gun in his hand.
"Just his forearm." He holstered his firearm as they ran into the parking lot.
Oliver aimed his key at his truck and started it remotely. He yanked the passenger door and shoved his wife inside, then jumped behind the wheel.
"Why did you tell him that?" Oliver drove into the freeway.
"What?" Pudica was still in shock.
"I heard what you told him. You said at the hospital, you had to get married to keep your sister out of your inheritance."
Pudica's thoughts were back in focus. In the boat, her libido had obstructed their talk, making her forget about the truth. But then, her aunt and uncle had convinced her the Cuban mafia wasn't real, and that there was nothing to worry about.
"Oliver, I swear I was going to tell you."
"What the hell, Pudica?" He shoved his hair out of his face in annoyance.
"Apparently, my father was involved in some shady stuff with the Cuban mafia, and they're coming for my inheritance. When I was dying, I thought if I married you, they couldn't get to my sister or the money."
"And you didn't stop to think they would come for me!" He punched the steering wheel.
"You didn't think because you're a fucking child!"
The girl jumped on her seat, unable to form sentences. She never pondered about the consequences this marriage would bring to Oliver.
"Oh, you are getting a big ol' divorce, missy." He shoved his finger at her.
Ashamed, she dropped her head forward, but the pain in her brain stopped her from crying.
"Agh." Touching the back of her head made her see stars.
Oliver braked by the road. "Are you gon'a faint? Are you gon'a faint?" He poked her scalp.
"Stop it. You're not a doctor." She fluttered her arms at him.
"Actually, I am a doctor. Let me see." He unhooked his seatbelt, scooted closer to her, and swept the blonde hair strands aside.
"I doubt you know how to stitch a wound," she said. "Is your diploma printed in crayons?"
"You don't need stitches, and I am a doctor of kinesiology and sports medicine."
She wanted to finish the joke with, "ha, so, not an actual doctor," but his fingers wrapped her neck in a layer of warmth. His knee bumped with hers; so close she wanted to touch it. She had never craved touching anybody's leg. Such a strange part of the body to attract anyone.
"How long will it take to heal?" she swallowed.
"Not long," he said calmly, returning to the driver's seat. "I can make it better."
She gave him a puzzled look as he started the vehicle again.
He pressed his lips together toward the road. "You wanted chocolate, right?"
His wife didn't smile. Angry men didn't get chocolate for women. It was quite the opposite in society. So what changed his mind?
"You have a gun." Pudica almost whispered from the passenger seat of Oliver's truck, folding the last quarter of her chocolate bar in silver foil.
Oliver placed his untouched bar on the cupboard behind the wheel. He lifted his shirt and unholstered the handgun. With one thumb, he released the magazine, catching it with the other hand. Then, he racked the slide, and a bullet fell out of the top chamber. The slide remained opened as he jerked the weapon at her; the barrel pointing at the floor of the truck.
Pudica pushed her body against the truck's door, peering at the black pistol. She had only seen guns in movies, and it never crossed her mind, she would meet one in real life. How peculiar, Oliver always caused the sinking in her stomach. This time however, it wasn't a pleasant feeling. She was afraid if she touched it, the gun would go off by itself and hurt her, Oliver, or his very expensive-looking truck.
"It ain't gon'a shoot you out'a the blue." He giggled.
"I don't know how to Texas. I was born in Little Havana." She shook her head.
He dropped the gun on her lap and held his stomach in laughter.
Her eyes pinned to the metal of death.
"And I’m from South Sudan," he said.
Oliver's slight Southern drawl would have never linked him to any other country.
"Are you being serious?" Her curiosity halted her fear of guns, wanting to know more about him.
"I don't believe you. Say something in Sudanese."
"I've been speaking Sudanese since we met," he winked.
“Wha—“ The girl giggled at the newly learned fact. Her husband was an intriguing man. Too bad they were getting divorced. "Are your parents from there?"
The light-skinned man sighed and raked his dark wavy hair to one side. "They were from here."
"Oh." She didn't want to sound intrusive, but his statement left her with more questions. How did they die?
"Guns don't bite as long as you don't lay your finger on the trigger." He changed the subject, put the ammunition back into the gun, and re-holstered it by his hip.
The mention of his parents hurt him. She could see it in the dullness of his eyes. Aunt Betsy said she raised him, meaning they must have died when he was little.
"Thank you for saving my life." She tried to get his attention, but he was too deep in thought to reply.
Once home, Pudica told her aunt and uncle about the eventful night, and had no more minutes alone with Oliver. In bed, it was impossible to sleep as she feared the gangsters would insure she never woke again. Her brain replayed the incident. The loud blast of the gun still rang in her ear. Inadvertently, it was the image of the gunslinger that brought her calmness. Without him, she would have been dead.
The ‘what ifs’ circled her mind. She should have told him about her father's involvement with the mafia. She should not have asked him to marry her, when no doctors ever mentioned she would die. Not only were she and her sister in danger, her suppositions and immaturity put Oliver at risk.
Oliver was not one to experience the supernatural, although he came close to telepathy. There he was, in his bedroom, changing into black jeans, with an annoying watermark of Pudica's face in his brain. He wanted to be angry at her for involving him with some mafia. Then, the little demon on his shoulder reminded him of how good the skin of her neck felt against his fingers. And the watermark became her breasts and her lips and her butt and—he had never seen her naked but he also imagined that which was between her legs. Did she shave it or left it hairy? That didn't matter to him, but he was curious.
That's when his telepathic powers activated because she was knocking at his door. "Oliver, it's me—" He didn't let her tell her name.
"Pudding!" His eyes did not hide their ogling.
"I will court with you. The divorce should be faster if I'm there." Her innocent half-smile told him she was oblivious to his immorality.
He wanted her! He kept it a secret. The day she got sick, he almost told her. Now, he didn’t see it appropriate while she took care of his bills.
Pressure increased in his pants.
His reverie backfired. "Okay, let-me-put-on-some-pants."
Pudica giggled. "You're wearing pants alrea—"
Yes, but he was afraid to stain his favorite outfit, so he shut the door on her.
Oliver and Pudica observed the empty courthouse as if they were in a different dimension. The grumpy officers who directed citizens, the secretaries running with paperwork, and the extensive wait-lines were absent. The place was a vacant floor.
Pudica held her documents under her arm. "Hello?" her voice echoed through the emptiness.
“I see someone." Oliver walked toward the elevators.
"I'll wait here in case I find a receptionist," the girl replied.
Oliver agreed. He strolled through the vast hall, and as he turned left, a female security guard dozed by the elevator.
"Ma'am," he said.
The woman snapped off of her chair and blinked at him. "We're closed," she had a high-pitched voice.
"The courthouse closed?" Oliver frowned.
"Yeah, because o' the COVID." The guard tucked in her already neat shirt.
"What about the people needing the services?"
"Oh yeah, the judge postponed most of the hearings. Evr'thing's at a stop." She scanned the hall. "Boy, crowds gathered here."
The man smacked his lips and rubbed the area between his eyes.
"What cha in here for?" The guard noticed his frustration.
The woman fanned her arms in front of her. "Oh, you can do that online through video chats. Just go to the dot g.o.v and untie the knot."
He lifted one eyebrow, slowly bringing his chin down.
"Got it, thanks."
They said their formal goodbyes, and the woman went back to dozing.
Walking back to Pudica, the reality of marriage registered in his mind. Quentin would have called him 'stupid' for letting such beauty go. But marriage wasn't about looks. He had never been in love, however he understood spending the rest of his life with someone required patience and affection. His god-parents' devotion for each other was his closest example.
He wanted to love and to be there for somebody. The lockdown did that for him.
"Did you find anyone?" Her lips allured him under the light.
"Yup." He scratched his neck.
"Do we need an appointment?"
He looked behind him spotting the security guard far from them. "Uh, I've got some news. We can't get a divorce."
"Like, today or—" she sighed.
"The courthouse is closed indefinitely."
"Oh, yeah," he exaggerated his vowels.
Pudica flattened the wrinkles on her shirt. "I'm—sorry, Oliver."
Her disappointed semblance was discouraging. Part of him expected her to be happy, or react in a way that let him know she liked him. It wasn't like he had not made a move on her. Well, their past encounters didn't count as they had a sexual nature.
"Hey, it's not like I'm getting married to anyone else." He pulled her gently toward the exit. "That certificate is just paper. I'm the one who's sorry. I had the priest give you a different last name."
"Oh, that never bothered me." She smiled. "You have a charming last name, Mr. Darling."
"I do, don't I?" He never took his eyes off her.