Just as he enters the scoring tent, Brad receives horrifying news: his wife and son have been murdered before they can reach the Open to watch him win. As Brad attempts to come to grips with his new reality, he spirals downward into darkness that seems to place happiness out of his reach forever. But when a chance encounter eventually forces Brad to take a hard look at himself, he must decide whether he has the strength to move from nowhere into a new beginning.
From Nowhere shares the poignant tale of one man's journey from the pinnacle of success to the depths of despair after a family tragedy changes the course of his life.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.62(d)|
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By Jon Hooks
iUniverseCopyright © 2016 Jon Hooks
All rights reserved.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and watched her sleeping. The hallway light drifted through the bedroom door that he had left slightly open. The cotton bedsheet and fleece blanket were bunched up under her left shoulder. She wore one of his oversized gray T-shirts that they had picked up while staying at a bed-and-breakfast on the Outer Banks a couple of years ago. Her foot and calf were exposed, as they always were when she was sleeping. Her skin was deeply tanned, courtesy of a week spent at her parents' cottage in Atlantic Beach ten days earlier. Thoughts rushed through his mind, and he smiled watching her. She was beautiful. Gently, he brushed her wavy brown hair away from her face. It was in these moments that he realized she still made him feel like he had the first time he saw her.
It was at a college mixer. Fall semester, freshman year, and all the students were letting off steam — but especially the freshman. They had survived their first semester of college and were grateful for it. The holidays were a welcome break.
It had been a long first semester for Brad Ford. The challenge of balancing school and golf at the collegiate level had become easier. The pressure of being the latest wunderkind of the historic Wake Forest golf team had not, though. It was a self-inflicted pressure, and he knew it. Spending the holidays with his father would help his frame of mind. He was sitting on a sofa, sipping beer from a longneck bottle his roommate Mark had tossed over. The beer was already lukewarm. Brad nursed his beers longer than most. Quiet in thought, he sat alone staring at his half-filled bottle when the sound of a woman's laughter caused Brad to look her way. It wasn't the typical teenage giggle he was used to hearing at freshman parties.
She was pretty, and her smile was bright and engaging. Her personality seemed to captivate those around her. It drew people to her when they realized she had arrived. She mingled with ease as he watched her seemingly float from one place to another and from one group to the next. The faded Levis clung to her legs but not too tightly. Her Kelly-green sweater and navy peacoat covered a white oxford shirt. The outfit was straight from the preppie handbook. The wavy brown hair came to rest slightly past her shoulders. Her dark brown eyes and olive complexion made Brad wonder if she was Italian or possibly of Latin descent. While she moved about the room comfortable with who she was, Brad was uncomfortable and uneasy. His shyness was intense and almost painful at times. He was hard to get to know, and those who did not know Brad often accused him of being aloof. Mark would know what to do, Brad hoped. Ah yes, where's my roommate? he wondered.
He looked up again to find her talking to a woman Brad was certain he'd taken freshman biology with. With no sign of Mark, he thought of what he could do. As he approached them, the woman walked away, and he was able to ask his classmate about the woman she had been talking to. He was informed that her name was Susan Coble. He was also informed that she would not under any condition or circumstance consider going out with a jock. He was almost relieved.
Mark came over to Brad and stood by him. "Well, you look like you're having a blast, bud," Mark said, smiling.
"Well, this isn't my idea of fun. And the first woman I see all semester that I'm attracted to doesn't date jocks. What's that all about?"
"You're kidding, right? She told you that? Where the hell is she? She does realize you're not really a jock, doesn't she?" Mark asked, laughing.
"What's that supposed to mean? No, she didn't tell me that. Some girl from a class I took knows her, and she told me," Brad said in a huff.
"You play golf, and that hardly qualifies you as an athlete. Point her out, and I'll prove my point."
"Kiss my ass. How much playing time are you averaging, basketball stud?"
"Ouch. Low blow there, roomie. Sorry — you're an athlete. Feel better? Now where's she at? I need to talk her."
"Please don't talk to her, and do not hit on her. You'll just embarrass me."
"I'm not going to hit on her. You need to meet someone — anyone." And with that, Brad relented and pointed her out. He waited for some snide comment from Mark.
"Atta boy! Well, I've learned two things about my roommate tonight."
"And what might those be?"
"Well, you have great taste in women. More importantly to me, though, you actually like women." Mark erupted in laughter and walked off. Brad flipped him the bird, but Mark didn't see it.
Brad sat there for a few minutes and was just about to leave when he realized she was walking toward him. No, she couldn't be! There was no way she would listen to anything his cheesy roommate could have told her. If she did, that would be her first strike, he decided. She stopped right in front of him.
"Are you Brad?"
He was too shocked to answer. He just nodded his head.
"I'm Susan Coble. It's nice to meet you. Is this seat taken?" she said, pointing to the sofa.
"No, no, please. I'm very sorry. I'm Brad Ford. It's nice to meet you." He tried to stand, as any polite southern gentleman is taught to do, but it was much too late for that.
"Is that Mark guy a friend of yours?"
"Well, he's my roommate. That's all I'm willing to admit to right now." What other idiotic things are you going to think of, Brad? He took a deep breath and decided he had to regroup, or this would be a very short conversation.
A couple of hours passed quickly as they sat and got to know each other. She slowly sipped a bottle of water. She was from Raleigh and had two brothers and a sister. Her father had been in the insurance business but was now retired, and her mother had stayed at home raising the kids. Brad was from Winston-Salem but never mentioned his parents. They talked about school and what classes they had finished in the fall, what professors to take classes from and who should be avoided. Susan said she was planning to major in English, though she was not sure what that would lead to. Brad was planning to pursue history. It was the only subject that he had ever really enjoyed. When it was time to leave, they promised to meet for coffee after they returned from break. They shook hands, smiled, and wished each other happy holidays.
Watching her walk away, Brad thought about what a pleasant surprise their chance encounter had been. She suddenly turned around, walked back over, and gave Brad a soft peck on the cheek. This time she blushed. As she left for the final time, Mark wondered what Brad could have said to her. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.CHAPTER 2
Brad leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Her skin was soft and smooth and warm. Her hand reached for him, and once she found him, she smiled a sleepy smile. "Honey, I've got to go," he whispered. She sat up and wrapped her arms around him. He felt her warm breath on his neck as she nuzzled against him. Her touch was still the most comforting feeling he had ever known.
"When he wakes up, we'll meet you. You start on number one, right?" she whispered. He nodded. "We should be there when you finish the front. I put everything together last night. Tickets, directions, tee sheet. We're good to go. The US Open, baby. Can you believe it? I'm so proud of you. Promise me you'll let yourself enjoy it?"
"I will. I promise. I couldn't do this without you. I love you."
"I love you too." She kissed him good-bye, and Brad left for the biggest day in his professional life.
The condo was part of a massive renovation project by the Lewallen Real Estate Company. The Lewallens owned the largest and most prominent real-estate company in Northern California. They bought, sold, and developed property, and this was another of their ventures. Adrian Lewallen had purchased several rows of abandoned two-story brick stores years ago in what would later be designated a historical area of San Jose. Adrian Lewallen had the clout and connections needed to make things like that happen. The company gutted the insides and eventually transformed them into something close to the beautiful brownstones that made up the landscape of Georgetown. Each unit had three bedrooms and two and a half baths. The original hardwood floors had been restored. The first floor was open and spacious and allowed for creative decorating. The kitchen had every amenity one could dream of having, though his son, Mark, had yet to cook one meal there. They were quite expensive, but Mark had paid nothing. As the only child of Adrian and Natalie Lewallen, it had been given to him. Considering the market they were trying to target, Mark was the perfect first owner prospective buyers might see. He loved it because there was no rent, no payments, just an absolutely perfect place to show himself off to the young ladies of San Jose. Mark was not much of a decorator, though. The walls bore nothing. No paintings, no posters, and not a single picture. He had simply leaned pictures against the walls, assuming he would get to them eventually. Susan had started putting a woman's touch on it while she and Brad were in town.
Mark was waiting for Brad in the kitchen. Mark had the stereotypical California look — blond hair, blue eyes, tall, tan, lean, and fit. He looked in better condition now than he had when he and Brad first met. He was a physical-education teacher at the local high school. Mark was the head coach of the junior varsity basketball team, and the school year was over. His first season as a head coach had been a resounding success. Mark's family was stunned at his success, but Brad wasn't. In college, Brad had been a prize recruit and accepted the Arnold Palmer golf scholarship from Wake Forest University, while Mark had been offered a scholarship because his father was a college roommate of the head basketball coach. Mark was a solid player, but no one considered him a Division I prospect. He was a shooting guard but did not handle the ball well enough, was too slow to play adequate defense — not that he wanted to — and his passing skills were the butt of a constant joke. Apparently the only good pass anyone could count on Mark making was at the opposite sex. He did, however, develop an understanding of the game and how to motivate the other players while spending most of his four years of college on the bench. In the two weeks since school ended, Mark had refused to shave and had done nothing but enjoy the sun and of course a couple of female companions.
Brad and Mark were an odd couple. It was a friendship that surprised almost everyone they'd known in college. The one notable exception was Brad's wife, Susan. She knew the secret of their friendship; it was Mark who had brought Brad and Susan together.
"Morning, sunshine!" Mark said, laughing at his best friend as Brad walked into the kitchen.
"Good morning, Mark," Brad responded with the reserved smile Mark had come to know.
Mark was wearing an old white polo, wrinkled khakis, and an old, comfortable pair of running shoes. He was dressed for duty. He wore a long-billed cap one might see on someone deep-sea fishing, and a pair of sunglasses dangled from his neck. His unkempt look would help him blend right in with the other caddies.
Brad sipped his coffee, and Mark studied his friend. Brad was deep in thought. Mark wanted to know what was going through Brad's mind, but he knew better than to ask. Was he thinking about his mother? Brad never spoke about his mother, and Mark knew very little. Mark remembered seeing a picture of her in their dorm room. He had asked Brad if that was his mother, and Brad acknowledged that it was. He told Mark that she'd passed away when he was fourteen, but he offered little else in the way of details. Was he thinking about his dad? Brad's father had died their freshman year of college. Mark had helped him through it.
The golf team had just returned from their annual trip to the Chris Schenkel Intercollegiate. Georgia Southern University hosted the tournament. The team struggled, but Brad played very well. He started slowly with back-to-back rounds of seventy-two. He caught fire in the third and final round. His sixty-seven vaulted him into a three-way playoff for individual honors with Steve Morrison of Florida and Michael Scott of Georgia Tech. The Florida senior prevailed with a birdie on the second hole of sudden death. The promise of Brad's talent was starting to show. He was subdued on the six-hour ride back to campus. He was excited about his play but felt that it would be inappropriate to be too happy since the team had done poorly. His teammates were happy for him, and all offered their congratulations. He wanted to get home and tell his dad and talk to Susan.
It was nearly midnight when they finally arrived, and the players and their coach were exhausted. Brad looked out the window of the van and saw Mark and the Wake Forest athletic director waiting. Coach Makinney exited the van and walked over to them while Brad gathered his travel bag and clubs, eyeing his coach through the window. He wondered what the two were doing there. He decided Mark had done something stupid and began hoping his roommate was not trying to implicate him in whatever scheme it might be.
Coach Makinney motioned to Brad with his arm. "Brad, come over here, son. We need to go inside and talk."
The three led Brad inside the field house were Coach Makinney's office was located. The small room was cluttered and would stay that way every spring while the golf team traveled. The golf program was easily the most successful program in the school's athletic history, and the pictures that covered the walls like stamps were incredible. Wake Forest had eighteen Atlantic Coast Conference titles and a stretch during the sixties and seventies where the school won twelve in a row. Wake Forest had also won three NCAA championships, and three former players had won individual championships. Legends of professional and amateur golf played at Wake Forest.
It was in this office that Brad learned that his father, Frank, had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away while the team was coming home.
Breaking the silence, Mark said, "Ready to go, Sparky?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
"You got everything?"
How and when did Mark become the responsible one? Brad thought.
Brad laughed. "This ain't my first rodeo."
"Well, it's your first Open!"
"You're right about that. But focus on what I need you to do, and I'll focus on what I need to do."
"And what am I supposed to do?"
"When we get there. We'll talk then. Let's get on the road." He winked at Mark and hugged him. "Thank you for everything. I'm asking a lot of you."
"No way would I miss this," Mark replied as he pulled back.
They hopped in Mark's SUV at a little after four in order to be there plenty in advance of the 7:00 a.m. tee time. In the darkness of the early morning, Brad enjoyed being a passenger for a change. The drive from Mark's condo in San Jose to San Francisco gave him time to think. Mark knew exactly where they were going, and this was no time to be making a wrong turn. In the past three and half years, he and Susan had traveled roughly two hundred thousand miles roaming the mini-tours, the minor leagues of professional golf. It was not the life he had expected when he left college, but it was all he knew right now.
Brad thought of his dad and mom. He wished they could be there with him and his family. He was the only child of only children. Susan, his son, Will, and Mark were really all Brad had.
Brad's thoughts bounced from one to another. His dad had taught him everything about the game he loved and hated. He had taught him everything he knew, not just about golf but about life and being a man. He always reminded him that an honest and decent man was a rich and blessed man. He could still hear his dad as clearly as if he were in the backseat.
Brad was lost when his father died. His mother's death had changed their father-son relationship. They were more than just father and son. They had become friends and leaned on each other. When Brad left for college, it was hard on both of them. He hoped that he would be half the father to Will that his father had been to him. He could not help but think how his parents would have doted over Will. His father would have spoiled him rotten, and Brad hated that Will never met him. He loved his father, thought of him every day, and was grateful that he had been raised by him.
He tried to forget the pressure he was feeling. After another dreadful performance at the final stage of qualifying school, he decided that this year would be his last. He was tired of living like a gypsy. Will was about to start school, and he would be there for him. Susan never complained. She supported his dream, but enough was enough, he had told himself. He had an open offer to become the teaching professional at the Old State Club. The Wake Forest golf team practiced there, and a group of prominent alumni had all but adopted Brad into their collective families. He spent his holiday and school breaks with them, and then they welcomed Susan and Will.
Excerpted from From Nowhere by Jon Hooks. Copyright © 2016 Jon Hooks. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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