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This Much is True
Author: Tia Louise

Prologue

 

 

JR

 

With my back to the San Francisco traffic, I hold the railing of the iconic, vermillion bridge and watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

Two hundred and forty-five feet below me, the frigid water of the bay swirls past, and behind me is the building where I spent the last eighteen months of my life, paying for a crime I didn’t commit.

My hair is long to my collar. My body is lean and ripped with muscle to intimidate anyone who thought he’d get the best of me.

I’ve lived with the funk of brown Lysol, body odor, and urine so long, I forgot fresh air could smell so sweet.

At five p.m., a guard came to my cell, rattled the bars like some old cheesy black and white movie, and told me to get my shit together.

Time to go.

I was halfway through a four-year prison sentence, and last night, they said it was over, early release.

Confused is an understatement for how I felt, but I wasn’t about to argue. I started making plans.

“You can thank the tree huggers for this miscarriage of justice.” The woman behind the desk scowled as she spoke, like the words tasted bad. “Wouldn’t want you getting sick. It might violate your civil rights.”

Rage smoldered in my chest, and I didn’t make eye contact with her. This whole eighteen months has been a violation of my civil rights, but why should she care?

Since the start of this nightmare, nobody cared. I said it once, twice, three thousand times. I. Didn’t. Do. It.

Nobody gave a shit.

Not even my court-appointed lawyer believed me. I was caught with illegal human growth hormone, and that’s all they saw. No one looked at the receipt for perfectly legal adaptogen supplements, which is what I thought I was picking up. I was a redneck from South Carolina with a trunk full of HGH. Case closed.

I entered San Quentin and kept my head down. I made allies with the biggest, meanest guys, and the quiet ones who stayed to themselves. I learned to be ready to fight always.

I started my prison sentence resolved the next time I saw my father, I wouldn’t let up until he was begging for mercy.

Now I’m a free man.

Sort of.

I’m out, and I’m headed back to look him in the eye. He sent me here, and I want to know why.

Staring out across the dark waters, I make a vow. I’m getting back everything I’ve lost. I don’t know how the man who put me here will make it happen, but we’ll sort that out when I get home.

Snatching my navy canvas bag off the ground, I start walking.

 

 

Hope

 

 

I shouldn’t have drunk that whole bottle of wine.

The sea breeze pushes my blonde hair off my face and twists my skirt between my legs. I pull my fluffy beige coat tighter around my chest, and when I wet my lips, salt touches my tongue.

It’s rough out tonight, the wind whips hard and the waves crash, but it suits my mood. My insides are twisted and stormy, everything is crashing around me…

The beach path along the shore of San Francisco bay is deserted—just like everything these days—and I cut a wobbly path in my progress towards the bridge.

Two iconic, vermillion towers rise in the distance, a string of lights tracing the edges, and I think of a ship passing in the night.

Blurring my eyes, I imagine I’m in an Alfred Hitchcock movie… or Mike Myers… So I married an axe murderer…

A dip in the soft sand makes me stumble, and the empty bottle slips from my fingers. It hits the ground with a dull thump, but I keep walking. I should go back and get it, be a responsible citizen, carry it to a recycling bin, but I don’t.

I push on.

Large boulders separate me from the path up to the bridge. They feel metaphoric. I gaze up at the network of iron and cables and try to sing my favorite ABBA song. “I have a dream…”

My voice wavers and breaks on a sharp inhale, but I push back. I square my shoulders and summon my daily affirmations…

I am doing better than I think I am.

My future is bright, and my best days are still ahead of me.

I am strong enough to face what’s in front of me.

My life isn’t over, and I never give up without a fight…

But I’m so tired. I’m not sure I believe them anymore.

Pulling out my phone, I text my best friend Yarnell. How long would it take for me to walk to Half Moon Bay?

At this point, I think I could walk all night.

Her reply buzzes the phone in my loose grip. Why would you walk all the way to my apartment?

Staring at the words, I sway slightly as I tap the phone icon. I need to hear a voice.

“If you’re at my door, I’m not letting you in without a temperature check.” My bestie is such a drama queen.

“I’m having an existential crisis.”

“You’re such a drama queen.”

My jaw drops. “You are!”

“Why are you threatening to walk all the way to my apartment? Just drive.”

Inhaling slowly, I clear the thickness in my throat, looking up at the fading twilight so I don’t cry. “I sold Metallicar.”

“What?” A loud gasp then, “Nooo…”

“Yep. They’re picking it up tomorrow. I am officially destitute.”

And miserable.

Years ago, we nicknamed Dad’s cherished black 1967 Chevy Impala “Metallicar” after our favorite TV show Supernatural.

He gave it to me before he went into the nursing home after his bilateral knee replacement. It was supposed to be for short-term rehab… Neither of us expected it would turn into long-term rehab, and I can’t even visit him. He’s stuck there for the duration, and I’m flat broke.

“I’m so sorry, Hope.” At least the sarcasm is gone from her tone. “Where are you?”

“I’m at the bridge.”

“Hope Eternal Hill! What are you thinking?”

Placing my fingers against my forehead, I scrub against the turmoil mounting in my brain. “I’m thinking about my name. Is it Hope Eternal? Or is it Eternal Hill? Because this hill feels like it’s growing taller and taller…”

“What can I do? What do you need?”

“I need a job, dammit! I’ve been doing my best to wait for things to go back to normal, but I don’t think I can wait any longer.”

Ever since the shutdown killed Pancake Paradise, my dream restaurant business that I sank every dime into opening, it’s been harder and harder to make ends meet.

“Work at one of those Amazon distribution centers. Everybody’s doing that now.”

“And as a result, they’re not hiring.”

“That’s impossible! They’re sending people into space so they can have Amazon distribution centers on the moon.”

“Well, the earth-bound ones don’t need me.”

I gaze up at the giant metal bridge again, wondering… There’s a sign up there—I can see it in my mind.

Dad used to take me for a walk across the bridge when I was little. If we were feeling energetic, we’d try to jog all the way. Or we’d stand and look out at the Pacific Ocean, and I’d strain my ears, listening for the sound of the angels…

Squinting my eyes, I try to hear them, but it’s all silence. It’s the hush of nonstop wind and the groan of barges.

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