Tampico, California

The sun woke me up that morning. I opened my eyes slowly and turned to my side but my husband was already gone. Another business trip. It had been a few months since we had moved to Murrieta and I hated it. I hated the traffic, the abundance of fast food and chain restaurants, the drivers, the attitudes, the attempt of good restaurants but were still sub-par, the weather, how everything closed so early, and anything you could think of. I hated it. I had quit my job to fulfill my dreams of becoming a stay at home mom. After a few tries and a few miscarriages, I had lost all hope. I had no friends and no family just my husband who was barely home these days.

I have always been an adventurous person. I would just plane tickets anywhere and go by myself. I moved to San Francisco with nothing but some bond money my dad had left me. The adventure in me got lost in falling in love and settling down. That morning I felt I was reborn. I felt doing something different.

I was going to Tampico California.

Tampico is a small desert town in the middle of nowhere, full of weirdos. A lot of antique stores, art freaks, and bougie bars.

I took a shower, slicked down my newly short hair due to a recent melt down and put on my favorite pink dress and hit the road.

Tampico was about two hours away from my new home. I got into my Prius and listened to The Radio Dept all the way there.

I decided to go to a local tiki bar named Oceana. It was only 11 in the morning so respectively I was the only one there. I went to the bar, ordered a basic Mai Tai and preceded to hide in the booth in the back of the bar. I had brought multiple books on design. I always dreamed of being an interior designer, a dream I had thrown away.

I had gotten through at least three Mai Tais and one book until a man approached me. “Excuse me miss.” He said. I looked up from my book. He was average height about 5’6″, super tan, dark shaggy hair, thick eyebrows and almond shaped green eyes. I looked at him confused and said “Hi.” He smiled and said “Sorry to bother you but this might sound crazy but can I paint you if you aren’t too busy today?” I laughed and said “You want to paint me?” He said “Yes very much so.” I smiled. It was crazy but that day I felt different and I was also a little drunk. I  said “Sure if you aren’t expecting a Bridges of Madison County type romance. I’m married and happily so and also please don’t kill me.” He smiled at me and said “I won’t kill you and I’ll respect your marriage.”

“Good just let me pay my bar tab, what’s your name anyway?”

He reached out his hand and I took it. He said “My name is Jake.”

“My name is Vera.”

“Nice to meet you Vera.”

I paid my bar tab and got into my Prius and followed Jake deep into the desert. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing and I was thinking about turning back around. How did I know for sure this guy wasn’t going to kill me for sure?

After thirty minutes of driving we stopped in front of a villa. I got out of my car and met him in front of the door. I asked “You live here?”

He smiled “What? Are you surprised?”

“Well I really don’t know what to think I did just meet you at a bar for a matter of two minutes.”

“Yeah I live here. It was my grandparents place. They left it to me after they died.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your grandparents.”

“It’s cool. Everyone got to go someday.”

He opened the door to his villa and the best way to describe the interior is eclectic. Flea market finds, modern furniture pieces, 18th century portraits, and bohemian rugs.

“I love your place!”

“Thanks, I’m quite the hoarder.”

“No your style is very eclectic but it all works. I’ve always dreamed about spaces like these. Do you mind if I ask you what you do?”

“Not at all. I do a lot of different things. I paint for commissions sometimes and also sell my painting at farmer markets. I make music and dj from time to time. I guess my day job is a bartender.”

“Jack of all trades. So do you work at Oceana?”

“No but when you a bartender around these parts you know all the other bartenders. I bartend at a bar downtown called Incandescence.”

“Sounds fancy.”

“Yeah you can say that. Did you want something to drink or eat?”

“Yeah that would be lovely.”

He went into his kitchen and brought a bottle of Merlot, some bottles of water and made a charcuterie board. He opened the bottle and poured me some wine and I took a few pistachios off the charcuterie board.

“Thank you. So what’s your story Jake? Do you always ask random girls to your home and paint them.”

He laughed and said “No but I was feeling adventurous today.”

He started to set up his canvas and paint.

“Me too! I’m not from around here. I moved to Murrieta a few months ago and I hate it. My husband went on a business trip and I felt like going somewhere new and decided on Tampico. Now I’m in a stranger’s home about to be painted.”

“So what’s your story Vera?”

He started painting on the canvas.

“I’m 25 and married. I don’t have a job mostly because I was trying to become a mom but it looks like that’s not going to happen. I’ve always wanted to be an interior designer but I never pursued it. I have no friends anymore and lately I have been feeling very lost. I’m sorry I’m already kinda drunk and I’m probably talking your ear off.”

“No not at all. I appreciate your honesty. It’s refreshing.”

“So are you going to dodge my question or are you going to tell me your story?”

“I’m 22 born and raised in LA. I moved out here when I was 20 to pursue art and that’s about it.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No, it’s not my thing. I don’t think love is real.”

“Wait why?”

“I think mostly because I’m traumatized from my parents divorce and previous relationships. I’m also on the road a lot so I haven’t met someone who could keep up. It’s a lot to ask from someone.”

“Fair enough.”

We were quiet for a moment I kept picking at the charcuterie board and the bottle of wine. I became very drunk and just went on rants about my life. My hopes and dreams. How I wish I went to Paris. How I wish I could start a Youtube channel. How I wish I never stopped traveling. Jake didn’t say much. He was concentrating but he did open up about never knowing what direction to go. He was free but wanted structure in his life. His free-ness made him feel lost. It had been a long time since I had someone to talk to and someone who would shut the fuck up and just actually listen.

The sun woke me up the next morning. I wasn’t in my bed or home but actually on Jake’s couch. Jake was in his kitchen making some breakfast.

He smiled at me and said “Good morning sleepyhead.”

“Good morning. I wasn’t too obnoxious last night, was I?”

“No not at all. I have enjoyed your company.”

“Me too. I really don’t have any friends and this is the first time I feel okay but I really should get going. Thanks for letting me stay on your couch.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for breakfast?’

“I would love to but I really do have to go. We should exchange numbers or something.”

“Of course, Hey Vera.”

“Yeah”

“Just know you’ll always have a friend in me.”

I smiled. I knew I really didn’t. My husband is a very jealous guy. We exchanged numbers and address. I got in my Prius and went back home. Everything went back to normal. No friends. No excitement. Just me, myself, and I and sometimes my husband when he wasn’t working.

A few months had passed by and I received a large rectangular package. I opened it and wouldn’t you know. It was the portrait Jake painted of me. It was dark and moody, just like me. It was me. I started to cry. There was an envelope attached to the back. Inside was a small card that read “To my friend, Vera. I hope you have found happiness.”

Author: hmalcorn

Hannah Marie. 25. Southern California.

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