Alex’s plane left New York at 11am. Derek had left with the early dawn. He’d given her a feathery kiss and disappeared. She had barely felt him go.
As Alex walked through the airport it was as though New York had just been a dream. Alex went back to her life, to her routine; New York was a faint memory. Alex never told anyone about her experience with Derek Dunbar.
One year later, April 16th, Alex received a text message:
How’s my fantasy woman?
Alex didn’t know the number but she knew it had to be Derek. She’d never mentioned anything about fantasies with anyone but Derek. She had thought about that night with him often but figured she would never hear from him again. She answered back:
Doing ok my fantasy man
Alex saved the number in her phone - Derek D.
The next year, April 16, Alex received another text:
How’s my fantasy woman?
She answered back:
Ok, how’s my fantasy man?
Alex received a response back:
Busy as shit!
Alex knew it was definitely Derek.
The following year Alex received the same text. She responded the same and the response back was:
Busy as shit and I’m bloody tired!
In February of the next year tragedy struck Alex’s family. Josh and Alex were on their way home from a friend’s and a car going the wrong way on the tollway hit them head on. The driver was drunk driving the wrong way on the access road and entered the tollway through and exit ramp. The accident was horrific. The cars were mangled; the drunk driver dead on impact. Josh died on the way to the hospital. Alex had a severe concussion, broken ribs from the seat belt, burns on her arms from the airbag and was in a comma. The police used their cell phones to find relatives’ numbers.
By the next morning family had gathered at the doors of the ICU to check on Alex. She still had not regained consciousness and the doctors were not sure if she would. The rest of her injuries were cuts and bruises, all minor. Waiting for Alex to awaken was what the doctor’s worried about the most. They were not sure what damage had been done.
On the second day in ICU a stranger arrived at Alex’s bedside. Alex and the stranger were alone in her room. He wore a baseball cap, sunglasses and baggy clothes. Only the nurses saw him enter and leave two hours later. No one paid attention to him. The next day he was in the room when Alex finally awoke.
Things were blurry and when they came into focus Alex was confused. It took a minute for her to realize where she was. She looked around and saw Derek at her bedside. She thought she was hallucinating.
“Derek?” came out as a whisper.
Derek looked up. “Alex! You’re awake!”
Alex saw the concern on his face. She must look a sight!
“What happened?” Alex was trying to remember the last few days. Something about a dinner party....
“You were in a car wreck,” Derek’s look was despondent.
Derek shook his head. Not meeting her eyes he said in a whisper, “He didn’t make it”. Derek could tell the news wasn’t registering with Alex.
Alex saw tears in Derek’s eyes. He was sad for her. Alex was confused.
“Derek, why are you here?”
“The police went through your phone and called everyone with a D for a last name looking for relatives. When I got the call I told them I was your cousin so I could find out what happened. When they said you were in a coma I came right away. You’re my fantasy woman. I had to come.”
It was too much for Alex to take in. She plunged back into unconsciousness.
The next morning Alex was back in reality, Mattie sitting at her bedside. Mattie barely spoke, just sat holding her hand. She remembered seeing Derek but since no one mentioned him she thought she might have dreamt it. Other relatives wandered in and out, discussing plans for Josh’s funeral. Alex let her mother-in-law and Josh’s brother take care of the arrangements. She didn’t want deal with any of it.
Within a week Alex was in a regular room. The doctor told her she would probably go home in a couple of days. Each day Derek came to visit, dressed inconspicuously, able to blend in, morning and evening. He sat at her bedside, cheering her up with his quirky humor. As friends came in and out of her room none ran into Derek. Alex never mentioned to anyone he was there, afraid he would disappear. He was her only distraction from reality, a reality she didn’t want to be in.
The day before her release from the hospital two of Alex’s co-workers came to visit as Derek was leaving. Kathleen knew about the text messages he had sent to Alex. Kathleen had been the only one Alex had finally confided in the year before.
“Was that...?” Kathleen’s eyes were wide. Monica, too busy staring at the male nurse in the lobby, had not even noticed the guy leaving Alex’s room.
Alex made a face at Kathleen, the “shhh, don’t say anything” look. Kathleen changed the subject, discussing work and what Alex had missed. It was a secret between them.
The next afternoon Alex was released from the hospital. Her family members were all there to help her home. Alex noticed Derek had not come by and wondered if she’d hear from him again. He had been such a comfort to her.
Late that evening she received a text:
Glad you were released. Didn’t want to be in the way. I’ll keep in touch.
Alex was pleased he thought of her and returned the text:
You made me feel so much better
A few days later was Josh’s funeral. His favorite music played and wonderful things were said about him. People Alex didn’t even know hugged her and shook her hand. It was surreal. Alex couldn’t believe she was alone. She hadn’t really been alone in twenty-four years. Over half her life she’d been married. Even with the long hours Josh worked she knew she was never alone. Mattie was rarely home and had been mostly moved out for the last couple of years, coming home to do laundry or have an occasional meal. The house was very quiet.
Between the hospital stay and the funeral, Alex had missed three weeks of work. She was ready to return to her routine. Or so she thought. The first day back was overwhelming and Alex had a hard time keeping up. She knew it would take her a couple of days to get back in the swing of things. Coming home in the evenings was toughest. So quiet, so deserted. Mattie tried coming by often but it didn’t help.
Derek sent texts every couple of days. Those were Alex’s bright spots. Derek called at the end of her first week back to work.
“Hey there! How’s my fantasy woman?” Derek’s voice was light and cheery. He sounded so relaxed. Hearing his voice warmed her from head to toe. She could hardly believe he seemed to really care about her.
“Ok, I guess. It’s been a rough week.” Alex didn’t mean to sound so pathetic but she had tried so hard to be up and cheerful all week. Now she was crashing and Derek seemed to understand. His tone invited her to let go, be herself.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have gone back to work so soon?” Derek’s concern was welcomed.
“Sitting around the house is worse!” Alex didn’t know what she should be feeling. This was all new ground for her. She tried acting like nothing happened but by the end of the day she was so emotionally exhausted. She’d try to go to sleep but only tossed and turned. Her dreams were flashes of her past with Josh - arguing, yelling, no pleasant moments. The week had been grueling.
“What about getting away for awhile?” Derek asked.
Alex didn’t know where she would go but the thought was inviting.
“Where would I go? I don’t really want to be alone.” Alex like the idea of getting away from everyone but the thought of being alone in a new place didn’t sound any better than being home alone.
“Well, Scotland is beautiful this time of year. I have some free time coming up. We could spend a couple weeks seeing the countryside. Scotland is very therapeutic.”
Derek wanted to take her away for awhile. Was he serious? The thought was irresistible. She wanted to go. Would work give her more time off? She had to try.
“Really? You want me to go with you? I don’t know if work would give me more time off.” Alex loved the idea.
Alex told her boss she needed more time away and they gladly gave her time off. Derek made the travel arrangements. They would meet up in New York and travel together from there.