The world headed downwards because of a virus. Five days stuck at home was a recipe for insanity. The permanent silence made her wish Oliver bothered her more, but she hadn't seen him since they returned from the courthouse. That same day she saw his truck leaving; she figured he would be back soon, there not being much outside. On Thursday, she worried the mafia had done something to him. Then, she overheard Aunt Betsy talking to him on the phone, chatting about trivial things like how it was a significant time to pick up gardening.
Her aunt knew his location. Why would Pudica ask about Oliver? She could have said she needed to give him a check to pay his bills, but she had already done that. Betsy would have told her to call him or text him.
Her hands sweat, hovering her finger over her phone. Can a woman fancy a man and equally dislike him? Lately, the thought of him made her want to sin again and touch herself. She could sense Mami judging her from above.
No! She needed a distraction.
“Didn’t you finish that book yesterday?" Pudica met her aunt on the patio.
The middle-aged woman read a romance novel. Her legs elevated on an ottoman. Her shoulders relaxed on a cushion. The breeze from the lake gently flowed through her hair.
"Oh, cutie, cutie." Betsy hugged the hardcover to her chest. "This is the eighth time I read it. It is such a slow and relaxing week. Laziness is great."
"Don't you miss Uncle Robert though?" The girl laughed at the careless way in which her aunt dropped her limbs to her sides.
"I worried about him the first three days. Then, he turned enthusiastic about returning to the hospital. Can you believe that? He hadn't slept in sixteen hours, talking about how valuable it is to save lives. If it weren't because he hates swallowing pills, I'd say he prescribed himself some Mexican jumping beans."
The niece covered her teeth while cackling. At least the lockdown brought benefits to one of them. Aunt Betsy's exceptional mood was contagious and made Pudica think of ways to entertain herself. She noticed children playing in the distance by the lake, while their parents barbecued and grabbed drinks from a cooler box.
"I'm going swimming." Pudica walked toward the water.
"Don't drown." Her aunt lifted the book. "I'm from an island but I can’t swim."
Then Betsy sat up. "Are you getting in like that?" She watched her niece take off her sandals and wet her feet.
"Uh, yeah, why?" Pudica frowned at her black shorts and baggy green shirt.
"Take your clothes off, no?"
Aunt Betsy rolled her eyes, put the book on the ottoman, and approached the confused girl. "Doesn't it bother you when damp cotton sticks to your skin? A bathing suit is better. I bet you look cute in a bikini."
"A bikini! That's a bit too revealing." Pudica blushed.
The middle-aged woman shook her head and sighed. "Ay, Melba, era' tan hipócrita."
"Nothing. Just talking to myself." Betsy seemed to have forgotten that Pudica understood Spanish, even the undecipherable slang.
"No, you called my mom a hypocrite. Is that the reason you stopped speaking to her?" said Pudica.
"I—" Betsy looked insulted. "Melba was the one who kicked me out of her life—your life."
"I'm sorry, Pudica. I don't want to stain your mother's memory, but when she started going to that church—that cult—she changed."
It was hard for the girl to imagine her mother being any way different from the woman she knew for nineteen years. She wanted to learn more.
"I'm not mad. I need to understand why she—"
"Why did she always label enjoyable things as diabolical?" Betsy finished her niece's sentence. "Why did God have to punish everyone?"
Pudica couldn't argue with facts. "I guess."
Liquid filled Betsy's eyes swiftly. She took a breath and moved her jaw. Her head dropped abruptly, sniffling.
"It was so long ago." The woman sighed. "She said she got rid of her demons when you were born."
Perhaps, having the child of a married man most likely radicalized her. She thought by being religious, God would grant her forgiveness.
"She went too far," Betsy continued. "I bet she told you, you can't wear a bathing suit because it's too revealing."
Pudica pressed her lips with a nod.
"Come on." The aunt dragged her by the wrist. "Let's get you sexy swimwear."
"But the country's under lockdown," said Pudica, feeling like a kid influenced to disobey her mother by her naughty friend.
"Not the grocery stores. The government considers them as essential businesses. I bet they sell cheap summer clothes."
"No." Sutton sent Oliver a glare as he pressed the buttons on his game controller.
Oliver sucked on a straw, emptying his glass of juice. He aimed for his phone on the coffee table.
"No." Sutton eyed him again.
The brown-haired man ruffled his mane with pleading eyes.
"No, nope, nada." His friend adjusted his glasses.
Oliver threw himself back on his loveseat and let his butt slide to the edge of the cushion. He rolled his eyeballs upward while blowing raspberries.
"Don't hold me back anymore. I have to go home." Oliver cavorted off his seat.
Quentin popped into the game room with a drink in his hand. "Did he just quit?"
"Yup." Sutton dropped the controller.
Quentin guffawed and yelled into the hallway. "Ma, he quit!"
They heard a woman's blaring laugh.
"You told your mom why I'm staying here? Dude, she's laughing at me." Oliver grunted.
"It was the only way she'd let you crash here after your girl caught the COVID," said Quentin. "She's not mocking you, though. She's laughing at my dad. He bet you'd stay longer."
"How's that better?" Oliver opened his palms.
"Look, bro." Sutton patted Oliver's shoulder. “Social distancing from Pudica doesn't work. I told you that five days ago."
"Well, I had to try something," the frustrated man dropped his arms to his sides.
"Ts, ts, ts." His best friend moved his finger like a metronome. "You can tell your dick what to feel, but not your heart. That's why I'm gon'a ask Eleonora to marry me after the lockdown."
Oliver tilted his head.
"What he means," added Quentin, "is that you might not just want to have sex with her. You should go on a date."
"She makes me nervous. And if she says 'no,'" Oliver inhaled.
"She won't reject you. I know you, my friend. You're top quality."
"How about this?" Sutton shared his grand plan. "We go with you. We all act casual, chill at the lake, eat her food—"
Oliver liked the idea. In a group setting, he could put his feelings in order. Unconsciously, she made him do crazy things like lying about an impossible divorce or shooting a man.
As she submerged half of her body in the water, Pudica placed one arm around her chest and one hand on her groin. Her abdominal muscles fought the lake's current, trying to stay frozen.
"Ay, you said you loved your bikini set." Her aunt splashed water on her face.
"That was in my bedroom. In public, I’m naked." The girl sank further.
"Niña, stop being like that. Enjoy life. We're not in public. It's only semi-public." Betsy pulled up the straps of her one-piece swimsuit. "Thank you for buying me a new leotard." She made pirouettes in the water.
"You're welcome." Pudica smiled. Her aunt's ballerina poses relaxed her a little. And as the water became warmer, she swam in circles until she floated face up toward the sky.
"I'm getting us some non-alcoholic margaritas," she heard Betsy speak.
Sun rays brazing with her skin. Birds chirping through the silence. The temperature was neither warm nor cold. She smiled as her blonde hair strands brushed against her arms.
"Woah." This time it was a manly voice. The girl flittered over the water. Someone had seen her naked! Her nerves made her scavenge for her towel. She swam out and scurried toward the patio, when her eyes saw the end of a trail—three men stood there gawping at her. They were staring lower than her face.
Much lower. The bush she never shaved because no one would see it, but her. Her bikini only covered the center, pushing the curls out of the hems.
They did nothing to stare at something else. She was hyperventilating. Then, Oliver made eye contact with her. That worsened the situation.
All the muscles of her face came together at her eyes, and she screamed loudly. Her hands making bad attempts at covering everything at the same time. In search for a safe space, she thundered into the house, and locked herself in her bedroom.
She was perfect. A renaissance painting.
Oliver had to shove his hands into his pockets to stop himself from touching her.
That slight curve, where her thigh met her knee, was so delicate. The faint shape of her muscles creating her silhouette was infatuating. She wasn't a fitness model—he had never wanted one—but she took care of herself. The bit of belly fat she carried around her abdomen was so womanly powerful.
Her attempt to cover up the tiny red swimsuit told him of Pudica virginity, and that drove him to ecstasy. The strands of dark-blonde pubic hair bulging out of her bikini line proved it. Girls nowadays plucked down to the last follicle. Not her. She was different and innocent, and she was his wife. But that meant nothing if he made no attempts at conquering her heart.
He could tell she was ashamed, so he scanned the patio for a towel. Quentin and Sutton had long-term girlfriends, but they were still men. A woman like that was one star in the night sky, so he needed to protect her decency.
Then, Pudica ran off screaming, leaving everyone perplexed.
"Who bullied my niece?" Aunt Betsy pointed an accusatory margarita at the friends. "And don't lie because, let me remind you, I wiped all o' ya'll's asses from nineteen-ninety-two until ya'll were potty trained."
"And you." She sipped from a straw and aimed the drink at Sutton. "You, I had to wipe the longest. Don't you dare think I've forgotten about it."
"I didn't say not'n, Aunt Betsy." Sutton waved his hands in front of his chest.
"He's telling the truth," said Quentin. “Oliver upset her."
"Me?" Oliver pointed at himself and gave Quentin an I'll-punch-you-for-getting-me-into-trouble look.
"Yeah, go talk to her." His friend winked.
Oliver cleared his throat and spoke in a deeper voice to make himself sound more responsible. "I should. I must do it this instant."
He raised his hand at whatever his god-mother had to say and walked toward the house. "Just doing the right thing."
"Such a gentleman." Sutton snickered.