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Aspiring engineer Hank Galloway wants two things in life: to snag a coveted position working for NASA and to get an accurate diagnosis of his mental illness.
Hank doesn’t realize how serious his disorder is until he’s hospitalized following a mental breakdown near his California college. Medical experts try to give him answers but can’t provide him with the peace or relief he desperately craves. Despite their assurances, his mental health keeps deteriorating.
Hank’s struggles don’t just affect him; they also threaten to derail his relationship with his girlfriend. Worse still, Hank’s overbearing father demands that he move back home to Georgia and go on disability. But that would mean giving up on his dream career, and Hank isn’t ready to do that, despite his fears of suffering another breakdown. Will Hank achieve his goal of sending ships beyond the stars, or is he destined to remain grounded?
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|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.53(d)|
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I struggled to keep my white Audi close to the speed limit. My rearview mirror showed no headlights in the distance. Relief. I merged onto California's 101 South near Novato and headed to San Francisco. My phone, sitting on the passenger seat, lit up with an incoming call. Is it Tom? I risked a glance. No. An unknown caller — maybe my neighbor, the one with the gun.
My hands tightened on the steering wheel as if it were my lifeline, as if I were hanging off the side of a building. Now cars approached from behind on the larger freeway. At a half-mile stretch of hills, a rusted sedan with only one headlight edged up beside me. I imagined the driver — a rough-looking man with sideburns and a drawn collar of a trench coat — pointing a pistol at me. To confirm my suspicions, I stole a glance. But the driver was a middle-aged woman, who bobbed up and down to her music. More relief!
I neared the Golden Gate Bridge. The last thing I needed was an accident, since I hadn't bothered to change out of my pajama bottoms and slippers. The bridge, its dark-orange towers shrouded in an early-spring fog and its narrow lanes largely empty, was all that lay between the city and me. I squeezed the steering wheel even tighter. In a hurry, I avoided the toll lanes and illegally cruised through a lane dedicated to FasTrak. An alarm startled me, but I kept on.
Finally, I made it to the city. As I turned onto Van Ness from Lombard, a cop cruiser sped by, its sirens wailing and lights flashing. I ducked in a pathetic attempt not to be spotted. The cop continued on. I strained my eyes for the entrance ramp to 101, which picked up again as a freeway beyond downtown. San Francisco wasn't my destination. Tom lived in San Jose, farther south.
Unsure of my exact location, I exited 101 somewhere near San Jose. Though I'd been to Tom's apartment during my drive out West, I didn't have his address. Why doesn't he call? The glowing green clock on my radio display read 2:32 a.m. The prospect of driving aimlessly at this hour daunted me. I passed an Exxon, a McDonald's, and an IHOP before spotting the gold circular logo of a Sunset Inn. I whisked into the parking lot and skidded to a stop.
I caught a glimpse of my six-foot frame in the darkened window of the front door of the hotel as I approached. My long, thick brown hair stood up in thick clumps that refused to stay down despite my modest efforts. Light reflected off the lenses of my thin-rimmed glasses. My overgrown beard needed clipping. I looked like a scientist who had been stranded in the jungle for weeks.
The hotel clerk, a young Latino dressed in a white shirt, stood behind the gleaming front desk and gave me a disapproving eye roll but proceeded to check me in anyway. Luckily, I had my wallet with me, along with my passport and a plastic bottle of water.
"Your name, sir?"
I looked around before answering. No one within earshot. Keeping my voice low, I said, "Hank Galloway."
The last thing I wanted was to draw unnecessary attention to myself, yet dressed in pajamas and carrying no baggage, I was anything but inconspicuous. A man in the same white shirt and black slacks as the clerk came whistling down the hallway. He nodded, and I grabbed my hotel key and bolted.
The hotel rooms were stacked in two-story rows parallel to one another, organized like a barracks. My room was on the second story. After triple-checking the lock and closing the curtain, I started for the bed, then figured I'd better try Tom one last time. I left another message, my fifth. My mind continued to race.
Starving, I found a menu and dialed room service. With the phone cradled against my shoulder, I peeked through the blinds. The boulevard was dead. After placing my order, I turned on ESPN, more as a distraction than anything else.
My ham sandwich arrived ten minutes later, but I managed only a few bites. I tossed the uneaten portion into the trashcan by the desk. I was pacing back and forth by the window when my phone rang, and I hit my shin on the bed frame in my rush to get to it.
"Hey, buddy. What's up?"
I sighed with relief at the sound of Tom's groggy voice. "I've been trying to reach you for hours."
"Sorry. It is the middle of the night. So what's going on?"
"I'm in Santa Clara."
"Yeah. The Sunset Inn. Listen, Tom, something's happened and I need you to come get me."
There was a moment of silence and then, "Sure. OK. What intersection?"
I searched my memory for street names, but my mind was mush.
"Hank, I'll come get you, but I need an intersection."
I glanced at a brochure on the desk. "Great America Parkway."
"Great. Hang tight. I'll meet you outside the hotel in twenty minutes."
I waited until the last possible moment, then headed out to the street. My teeth chattered partly from the chill and my lack of clothing but mainly because I was terrified to be this out in the open. I was an easy target outside my hotel room. When Tom's black Dodge pulled up to the curb, I couldn't get into the car fast enough.
Tom did a double take. "What's going on? You look like crap."
I did a quick scan of the street, which to my relief was empty.
"Seriously, bro. What gives?" His sandy blond hair was rustled, his deep-set hazel eyes showed that he'd recently woken up, and his high cheekbones revealed faint whiskers.
"I'm in trouble. Big trouble."
Tom's concern seemed genuine. "In trouble? What kind of trouble?"
Anxious to get going, I gestured toward the dashboard. Tom obliged. Once we were in motion, I tried to explain what had happened. I told Tom about my neighbor, a biker who lived in the apartment next door. I'd always suspected he was bad news from the smell of marijuana coming from his place. But yesterday I parked in his spot because a delivery truck was in mine. He literally exploded, pounding on my door and screaming for me to get my wimpy ass outside. He reamed me out for the better part of twenty minutes, first claiming I'd run over his wife's flowers — which I had, though completely by accident — then berating me for parking my rich-kid car in his spot. It would have continued if our neighbor hadn't threatened to call the cops if we didn't quiet down. The guy was mental.
"Trust me, Tom. This guy was out of control. He was going to shoot me. I'm not kidding."
Tom, who had been listening intently, turned, a look of shock on his face. "Holy shit! Your neighbor pulled a gun on you?"
"Well, he didn't actually pull it on me."
"But he had a gun?"
"Wait. What do you mean 'sort of'?"
"I didn't actually see the gun, but I know he has one."
"But I thought you just said ..." Tom rubbed his chin. I could see he was struggling with my explanation. "Listen, Hank. I don't know how to break this to you, but even if your neighbor owns a gun, that doesn't mean he intended to use it on you. Lots of people own guns, and they don't just go around shooting people who piss them off."
"Dude, you weren't there. This guy wanted to shoot me. You think I'm making this up?"
Tom braked at a stoplight. He pivoted in his seat so that he was looking directly at me. "No. No. Of course I don't think you're making this up. It's just ... I mean, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but this whole story of yours ... It's a little unbelievable."
"My neighbor was going to shoot me." I said this slowly so it would hopefully sink in.
"Because you parked in his spot?"
"And ran over his flowers."
The light changed, and the Dodge eased forward. "But why?" he asked, his voice almost pleading. "It doesn't make much sense." Clearly frustrated, he cupped a hand over his mouth and exhaled. Neither of us spoke for several minutes. "Stress," he said almost as much to himself as me. "I bet you're just stressed out ... you know, from school. You are making out all right in your classes, aren't you?"
"Classes? Sure. Yeah. Classes are fine. I mean, I have been having difficulty sleeping lately, but that's —"
His eyes darted over me. "Drugs! I should've known. You're taking drugs."
"Drugs? No! You know I don't do drugs. Heck, I've had two beers in the last two weeks."
"Of course I'm sure." I waited for his expression to soften. I thought Tom knew me better. "You don't believe me, do you?" I said, somewhat disheartened by his lack of faith. "You think I'm lying."
Tom shook his head. "Come on, man. This ... this story of yours. It's ... well ... it's a little strange, don't ya think?" I sensed he wanted to believe me. "I'm sorry. I honestly don't know what to say. But you've got to put yourself in my position. I mean, have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You're a mess. And then you tell me that you drove here in the middle of the night, all because you and your neighbor argued over a parking spot and some flowers. I don't know about you, but to me it sounds like you're doing drugs."
"Tom," I said, my voice even more emphatic. "I'm not taking drugs."
"Then what the hell is going on?"
A flicker of light drew my attention to the side-view mirror where I saw an approaching car. I slumped down in the seat. "Don't look now but I think we're being followed."
"There's a car behind us."
Tom glanced at the rear-view mirror, then turned as if to confirm what he'd seen.
"Shit! I told you not to look."
For the first time since the conversation had started, Tom seemed genuinely angry. "It's a car. You know, those big mechanical contraptions that drive on roads ... roads like this."
I glanced in the side-view mirror again and panicked when I saw the car gaining on us. "Please. We've got to get out of here."
Tom seemed as if he were about to say something but stayed quiet.
Perspiration broke out on my forehead. I gripped the door handle on one side and the armrest on the other, stared straight ahead, and went rigid. We sped along the freeway, the white lane markers streaming by on either side of us, and the rhythmic bumps in the asphalt prodding us along. I didn't care where we went as long as it was fast.CHAPTER 2
The sky was still black when we arrived at the Bay Area Hospital.
"Hospital?" I stared at Tom. "Why are we at a hospital?"
Tom pulled into the multilevel parking garage. "To get you some help."
"Help? But I'm not sick."
"You're acting strange. I think its best we get you checked out."
I thought about protesting, but I'd seen that stoic expression before, many times. Tom had made up his mind, which meant that any resistance was useless. The last time we'd had an argument was in high school. It was over who was a better basketball player, so he challenged me to a one-on-one in the gym after school and beat me handily. I'd always hesitated to challenge him since. His take-charge style made him a leader of our pack, and I wasn't in any mood to argue now. Plus, maybe if he had me checked out, he'd finally accept that I wasn't on drugs. Either way, I was too tired to protest. I would have preferred the couch at Tom's apartment, but for now a hospital gurney would have to do.
A receptionist with a grim face greeted Tom while I sat.
"My friend," Tom started in a normal tone, then made an effort to lower his voice. "He's acting strange."
Confident that Tom's idea to go to the hospital was a mistake, I said nothing. That was when a tall man walked behind me, and I flinched, certain he was about to attack me. I went to the floor in a fetal position with my arms covering my head. When he passed without incident, I looked up from my crouched position. Tom and the receptionist were staring at me.
Maybe I do need to see a doctor after all. I shook my head in frustration and disbelief that I'd let someone scare me so much and returned to my seat.
The receptionist handed Tom some paperwork to fill out, and he sat down next to me.
Despite the early-morning hour, the large waiting area was a place of hustle and bustle. The phones rang constantly. Across from me sat a young Latino woman, her face pale and eyes full of apprehension. She cradled an infant draped in a shawl and drew the bundle closer to her chest when she noticed me looking. To my right, a tired-looking couple slumped against each other, their eyes focused ahead in a vacant stare. Beside them was a heavyset black woman wearing a 49ers sweatshirt. Her head tilted back against the wall, and her eyes fluttered open and closed as she faded in and out of sleep.
"Can you give me the phone of someone in your family?" asked Tom. "I should probably let them know where you are."
I really didn't want to involve my parents, but Tom insisted. I started reciting my parents' number and then decided that was probably a bad idea and opted for my brother Zach's number instead.
Tom returned the paperwork to the receptionist. He sat back down, adjusted his black sweatpants, and pushed up the sleeves of his orange Princeton sweatshirt. He didn't say much. Not that I blamed him. Neither of us was in the mood for talking. I sat with hands clasped.
"Hank, just relax," Tom said. He nodded toward my foot tapping nervously against the linoleum.
Sure, it was easy for him to be calm. He wasn't a sitting duck in danger of being murdered by his neighbor. Could he have followed me all this way? I couldn't help but think he might have.
Still, for Tom's sake, I stopped. I glanced up to meet the stare of a gray-haired, wrinkled Asian man with a pale face that had about as much animation and color as a corpse, and I quickly looked away.
A half hour passed before a slim, middle-aged nurse called my name.
Tom nudged me with his elbow but stayed seated. That's when I realized he wasn't coming back with me, and I hesitated. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll be right here. I promise."
I walked through the double doors and sat down in the triage room. The nurse, who wore a standard white lab coat over baggie maroon scrubs, introduced herself. She directed me to a chair positioned adjacent to a plastic desk. Glass jars filled with cotton swabs, Band-Aids, and alcohol were pushed back in the corner of the table. On the wall in front of me hung a blood pressure cuff and next to it a poster of a smiling nurse in blue scrubs that read, Have you had your flu shot today?
"Are you taking any medications?" asked the triage nurse curtly.
Her fingers zipped across the keyboard, and I wondered what in the world she could be typing on the desktop computer in front of her.
"Any medical conditions?"
"What about alcohol? When's the last time you had a drink?"
"Maybe a week ago."
"Any drug use?"
I answered with a confident no wishing Tom was around to hear me.
"What do you do for work?"
"I'm studying at Dewey State."
"I switched careers."
"Your friend ..." She paused.
"Tom," I offered.
"He wrote here that you drove all the way from Sonoma County, in the middle of the night, because you believed your neighbor had a gun he intended to use on you."
I didn't really feel like going through this again. I leaned back in my chair, my hands clasped behind my head, and stared up at the ceiling.
"Mr. Galloway," the nurse prompted to me, and I exhaled forcefully through pursed lips.
If it will get me out of here, then I'll do it. So I went through my story again. I described the argument with my neighbor, his explosive temper, and the shouting. When asked about the gun, I told her exactly what I'd told Tom, that I'd never seen it, but I was sure he had one. She occasionally offered a nod or um-hum to acknowledge my responses, the whole time her fingers tapping away at the keyboard. Once I'd finished answering all her questions, she explained that I would be called back into the emergency room shortly.
She walked me back to the general waiting area, and I ambled over to where Tom sat thumbing through an outdated issue of Sports Illustrated.
"So how did it go?" he asked.
"It went," I said. "They'll come for me as soon as they can see me."
He nodded that he understood. "You feeling OK?"
"Don't worry. It will all be over soon."
I picked up a Better Homes and Gardens from the table in front of me and flipped through the pages, though I was only superficially aware of the magazine's contents. Mostly I thought about Tom's suggestion that I wasn't well. We'd been friends forever, and I'd thought he knew me better than that.
Finally, a Filipino nurse escorted me back. As we entered the heart of the ER, the sterile odor of a hospital reached me. Alarms from monitoring devices sounded off. Nurses and doctors called to one another. Technicians rushed about with their electrocardiogram machines and blood-drawing paraphernalia.
For God's sake, it's the middle of the night!
"Right here," the nurse said as we arrived at our destination. She reached into a cabinet and withdrew a gown and plastic cup. "For a urine sample," she said, handing me the cup.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Long Road"
Copyright © 2018 Daniel Oliver.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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