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PROLOGUE

“Zeke? Can you hear me? Open your eyes, man. Open your goddamn eyes.”

I can hear the panicked words spoken from my teammate, Carver Edwards, who I kneels next to me, but I can’t see him. Not only am I blinded by the bright lights of the arena, but my vision has gone dark. Like someone put a sleep mask over my eyes and everything has gone black.

 

I hear his voice and understand the words, but I can’t respond. Words muddle together and get stuck in the back of my throat. Carver’s words sound like they’re being spoken from the far end of a mile-long train tunnel; muted and overlapping with the blare of train whistle that whooshes loudly through my ears.

 

There’s a quiet murmur from the crowd, mixed with the hushed whispers of my teammates on the sidelines that oddly creates a massive cacophony of noise inside my head. It competes with the deafeningly loud and racing heartbeat in my chest. 

Badum Badum Badum

 

I can’t move. I can’t speak. I can’t see.

 

What is wrong with me?

 

Terror streaks through my head as Carver shakes my shoulders, my body jerking with the motion. As if dislodging the cloak of darkness, my eyes pop open to find Carver sagging with relief at my side.

 

“Thank God. You fucking scared me.”

 

 Suddenly, Marek Talbert, the team’s GM, Coach Green, and our team doctor appear at my side, all shouting questions at me over one another. 

 

“Where are you hurt?”

 

“Is it your heart?”

 

“What happened?”

 

Under normal circumstances, I’d push them away, telling them to fuck off and stop treating me like a baby. But all I’m able to do right now is stare at them, my head seized with paralyzing fear; as if something foreign has overtaken my body, restraining, and imprisoning me in its controlling grip. I’m unable to move or respond. I open my mouth to try to speak, but nothing comes out. I try moving my arms, my head, my legs. Nothing.

 

Okay, now I’m really freaked out.

 

I blink and blink again, trapped inside a world that’s quickly turning hazy as I lose focus. I don’t know what’s happening to me, but it can’t be good.

 

“Zeke. Talk to us. Tell us what’s going on.”

 

The question comes from Marek, whose calm composure is a stabilizing force for this team. Rarely does he get riled up or lose his cool. But he can’t hide the trace of trepidation runs through his voice, which does little to comfort me in this time of need. Confusion and fear hit me all over again as my eyes roll back inside my head and then everything goes black.

 

***

 

When I wake up in a hospital sometime later, I’m surrounded by beeping machines and a medical team that are constantly in and out of my room, checking my vitals, poking, and prodding and asking questions I can’t answer. All I want is for them to tell me what the fuck is wrong with me.

 

“You’re awake,” comes a soft voice from the right side of my bed. I slowly turn my head against the scratchy pillow, which reeks of bleach and Lysol, to peer at a nurse standing at my bedside. “Hi Zeke. I’m Carla, the nurse on duty. You’re safe now and we’ve given you a sedative, so you’re probably feeling very groggy. That’s normal. But the doctor wanted me to tell you he’ll be in soon to speak with you.”

 

My mouth feels gritty, and I lick around my lips, the arid texture like sandpaper against my dry tongue.

 

Nurse Carla seems to anticipate my needs and hands me a tiny cup with a straw. “Here you go. I’ll move your bed up so you can take a few sips.”

 

The motion of the bed has my head spinning in a dizzying motion. I catch myself with a hand against the cold metal rail of the hospital bed, to keep myself steady. The nurse throws a hand out against my shoulder, boosting me back upright.

 

When my vision clears, the white spots slowly dissipating, I glance down at the end of the bed looking for a place to focus. I notice my feet poking out underneath the blue hospital blanket, which are clearly not made for six-foot-seven basketball players. 

Nurse Carla giggles affably as she takes note of the same thing and reaches down to cover my toes with the blanket, shrugging apologetically. 

 

“At least the bed is long enough,” she teases, but then turns as heavy and purposeful footfalls echo from the doorway. My head swivels toward the door to see the doctor striding confidently through the doorway. He’s an older gentleman with salt and pepper hair, glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, and a full beard holding a tablet in his hands. He gives me a brief head nod in greeting, and his eyes glide over me, before he flips his glasses up on top of his head and his eyes land on my face.

 

“Good evening, Mr. Forester. Sounds like you took a doozy of a spill out on the court tonight.”

 

I squint, screwing up my forehead at his comment. “I guess…I can’t remember much.”

 

“Hmm…” he hums, tapping some notes into the tablet before accessing me with concern etched into his brows. “I see…well, we’ll continue to run some more tests, but so far the test we’ve done have all returned negative and inconclusive. The EKG indicates nothing with your heart. You’re in great shape there.” 

 

I scoff with annoyance, as if I should be grateful for a good ticker. I suppose I should, but it doesn’t help me in the least if there’s no explanation for why I blacked out tonight.

 

The doctor continues. “And I see the blood panels indicate no signs of elevated white blood cells, which eliminates the possibility of cancer, narrowing things down significantly. Although, we are still waiting for neuroimaging to check for any signs of neurological trauma. You haven’t had a concussion or hit your head recently, have you?”

 

I shake my head. “Not that I recall.”

 

I try to remember the past few weeks but it’s all a blur. My stress levels have been through the roof as our team has endured some painful losses leading up to the conference playoffs and hopefully the NBA finals this year. The pinnacle of every player’s hopes and dreams when they reach the NBA. If the Pilots do win, it would be my second championship ring in my ten-year career.

 

“What if it’s not my brain? Does that mean I’m okay?” I ask optimistically, hanging onto the small hope that it’s an easy fix and a one-time thing. Just a fluke and a blip in time. I don’t the unknown hanging over my head. All I want is to get back out there with my team to clinch a conference title. I’ve never missed a game or had a significant injury of any sort in my ten-year NBA career. “What do you think happened to me out there, Doctor?” 

 

His name tag says Harmon, MD. 

 

He strums a hand along his trim beard, reading over the notepad thoughtfully. “That’s an excellent question. We don’t often see such a healthy young man, such as yourself, experiencing what you did without some kind of predisposed condition or head trauma. Which leads me to believe it’s nothing physical, per se.”

 

I perk up. “That’s good, right?”

 

“Perhaps, yes,” he offers sympathetically. “But I have called in another doctor to have him conduct his own assessment. And if he agrees with me, and we determine the diagnosis, we can get you discharged tomorrow. But it may require medication and continued treatment.”

 

My brows furrow indignantly. “Treatment? You just said it’s not physical…”

 

He tucks the tablet against his chest inside his crossed arms, the gaps in his lab coat sleeves flapping to imitate angel wings. “Mr. Forester…Zeke… I don’t believe your collapse tonight was a result of any physical ailment or injury. Based on what I saw in the video footage and what you described feeling before the collapse with the heaviness in your chest, the lightheadedness, the difficulty breathing. I think it’s very possible you may have suffered a severe anxiety attack that caused you to lose consciousness and black out.”

 

He smiles tightly as I gape at him in horror.

 

“Seriously? Are you suggesting it’s all in my head?”

 

Dr. Harmon chuckles and shakes his head. “Well, to some extent, yes. I am referring to your mental health and your state of mind. If our on-call psychiatrist, after his assessment and evaluation, agrees with me, then we’ll get you started on some anti-anxiety medications and proposed therapy. From there, you should be fine.”

 

With a reassuring pat on my hand, he nods his head and strides out of the room, leaving me with more unanswered questions and a seething anger brewing inside me. 

 

This doctor doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And I am not going to talk to a quack.

 

Because I’m Zeke Forester, Pilots’ basketball player and NBA All-Star. And I do not suffer from anxiety. 

 

And I certainly don’t need therapy, thank you very much.