Melinda was waiting for us the next morning.
Well, not exactly waiting, not the way a realtor typically waits for a client (i.e., nice outfit, clipboard in hand, unctuous smile plastered across face).
In fact, she was repairing a flat on her truck.
But at least she was there.
And she seemed marginally pleased to see us. Okay, that’s going too far, but she wasn’t openly hostile either.
She told us she had moved to Vieques in 1990 from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she’d been a “professional bartender and drunk,” as she put it. Now she sold houses, was teetotal and hadn’t had sex in fourteen years.
The phrase “too much information” kept floating through my brain as she rattled on.
We piled in her truck and set off for Villa Borinquen, the site of our first rental eighteen months earlier. The views were even more spectacular than we remembered.
Directly below and tumbling down into the middle distance lay a patchwork of small properties—tiny family farms, smooth lawns, the occasional swimming pool. Further down stood the small, ramshackle town of Isabel, and beyond that the ferry dock and miles of azure water.
In the far distance rose the high, jade-colored hills of the big island to the left and Culebra to the far right, with a wide swatch of periwinkle blue sky flung out in between. The effect was stunning.
The first property Melinda showed us had goat pens on three sides (goats, it would appear, being the mascot of this precinct of the island), and the shrubs out front had been brutally hacked down almost to ground level.
The house itself had a melancholy, abandoned air. The front porch boasted a rusty washing machine and the front door creaked open like a coffin lid in a Roger Corman film.
At first glance, the interior was surprisingly light and airy, with pleasant views from the living and dining rooms. But we realized quickly that it would cost several times the asking price to make the place even remotely habitable. No thank you.
House number two (number five if you counted the day before) was actually the nicest we’d seen so far, although in truth this wasn’t saying much.
“I don’t know how you’ll feel about this,” Melinda said as she steered her massive truck through the tiny, twisting lanes of Isabel, “but lots of owners tell me that in-town properties are highly rentable because people don’t like paying money to rent a car, and if they’re in town, they don’t have to.”
This had the ring of truth to it, although I couldn’t imagine coming to this island and not arranging for some mode of transportation to get to the series of gorgeous beaches circumscribing it, most of which were on the old Navy base at least a fifteen minute drive from town.
The house was just off the town square. Perched high above the street and fronted with a broad porch sporting a crisply painted concrete balustrade, it had potential. The rooms were small but sunny, and the view from the roof terrace was striking.
But Michael didn’t want to live in town. “It’ll be noisy,” he said, over Melinda’s protests. “We live on one of the busiest streets in D.C., and we’d like something a little more out of the way for our dream home.”
“Okay, guys,” Melinda said, sick of us already. “Can you be more specific about what you’re really looking for?”
“That’s easy,” I blurted out. “We want something nice.”
She laughed in her blunt way and said, “Great, give me an extra $100,000 and you’ve got it.”
It was meant as a joke, I’m sure, but it wasn’t a very funny one, considering all we’d been through.
“I think we’ll just call it a day,” I said.
She shrugged and led us back to the truck. Like so many of her fellow islanders, she didn’t seem to care if she made the deal or not.
“Let’s take a short cut across the middle of the island,” she said, serenely oblivious to our moods, and soon we were twisting and winding along poorly paved roads through the range of low hills stretching lengthwise across the middle section of the island.
“Does this area have a name?” Michael asked.
“Yep,” she said. “It’s called La P.R.R.A. Stands for—let me think—Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration, or something like that. It’s also called Los Chivos, which means ‘the goats,’ because it used to be full of goat farms.” And I’d thought they were all in Villa Borinquen.
As she talked, we rounded a sharp curve and began making our way up a steep hill. As we neared the top she pointed toward a large, shaded white house on the right. “That place used to be for sale but the owner took it off the market.” Long pause. “Shame, too. It was in your price range.”
I barely let her finish. “Stop the truck!” I gasped with the utter certitude of someone who has just careened headlong into his dream.
“Give me a minute,” I said, all but leaping from the truck. I bounded along the driveway for a closer look.
Although the house had seen better days, its outline was impeccable. Built on a steep incline, it meandered slowly up the hillside in three handsome levels, all boasting panoramic views of the ocean half a mile away. Surrounding the house, mature trees swayed in the breeze, including one of the largest mangoes I’d ever seen.
It was perfect—not too big, not too small, settled, cozy, strangely familiar even before we’d set a foot inside.
In a word, this was IT.