The Despair of Strangers
Heather Topham Wood
Publication date: March 9th 2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
I don’t know how to do this without you anymore…
The text message wasn’t meant for Alyssa. After ending her engagement to a liar and cheater, she left everything behind, moving into a new apartment and changing her number. She didn’t expect to feel the words reach inside her, picking at scars never likely to heal.
I miss everything about you and I won’t move on. I can’t move on…
The messages kept coming, telling a story of loss that made Alyssa’s pain feel small. When she answered the texts, she formed a bond with Derek. Derek who was not writing to Alyssa at all, but trying to deal with his grief by sending messages to his dead fiancée.
All day today I was surrounded by people and I felt absolutely empty. Like when you went away, you took all of me with you….
Derek and Alyssa became friends first, then something more developed—a connection that felt like love, but one that left them both scared, uncertain of second chances. Alyssa wanted a future with Derek, but she wondered when Emily’s ghost would finally let him go.
A text message came through, stopping my drunken need to lash out at my mother. D had sent a picture of a glass of champagne with the caption: Celebrating the day you didn’t make the worst mistake of your life.
Why did he have to say the perfect thing? He was a mess just like me. Wanting him was a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, I couldn’t deny his message made me let go a little bit more of my past.
I wrote: Thank you. You don’t know how much that means to me. I’d call you, but I’m drunk and you know how that goes with us.
The phone rang and I rolled my eyes. “Hey, I told you not to call me.”
“You’re overruled tonight. How are you?”
“Fucking terrible,” I said with a humorless laugh.
“I’m sorry you’re feeling like shit, but I’m happy you’re not marrying him.” I couldn’t even articulate the reason I was sad. The union of Alyssa Carmichael and Jacob Albright would’ve been a sin against the institution of marriage.
“Fuck, how can I feel heartbroken that I’m not marrying a serial cheater?” I moaned to him. “I should be dancing around in my underwear and singing girl power songs.”
I heard an abrupt laugh. “I like the visual.”
“Don’t be flirty, I’m drunk enough that I may say something flirty back,” I complained, falling back onto the carpet of my living room. My voice sounded disembodied to my ears, making me feel like I wasn’t in complete control over the words coming out of my mouth.
“What would you say?” he asked.
I grinned to myself. “I would say I think your voice is sexy as fuck too—”
He cut me off. “I actually said sexy as hell.”
“Really? Are you going to cut me off from saying something flirty because of semantics?”
“No, please go on and tell me how fucking sexy you find my voice.”
“Well, you went ahead and ruined it,” I grumbled. “Like you ruined my date last weekend.”
“You had a date? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because, because, because…” I trailed off, my brain feeling fuzzy from the wine. “I don’t have a good reason. Maybe because I kind of like you and when I was talking to this guy, I was thinking things like he’s not funny like D. He’s not smart like him or kind. I barely know anything about you, but I’d rather stay here and talk to you than go on a date with someone who doesn’t find it interesting what the little dot above the lowercase j and i is called.”
He sounded like he was trying not to laugh. “It’s called a tittle.”
“Ugh, see, of course you know that!” I protested. “You’re supposed to make me like you less, not more.”
“I like you too. And that’s why I wanted to take you out tonight to forget about your wedding. But you’re not ready for that yet. I get it.” He was right, I was holding back.
“What if you don’t find me sexy in person?” Drunk Alyssa wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I would really have to cage her up from now on. Because my admission made it clear I had more than friendship on my mind.
“That’s what you’re worried about?” I could tell he was surprised, expecting the more sensible reasons for us not meeting. Honestly, my attractiveness should’ve been the least of my worries. My main concern should’ve been the tragic messages he had written his dead fiancée. However, I had crappy self-esteem and I wouldn’t pretend to D I was confident when I was anything but.
“Maybe,” I admitted quietly.
“I think that all these flaws you think you have are in your head.”
I pouted at his response. How could he sound so certain we would find each other attractive? “You’re not worried I won’t find you sexy?”
“God, you’re being fucking cute,” he groaned. After a second, he said quietly, almost indecipherable, “I shouldn’t say what I want to when you’re drunk.”
“Because you want us to be phone buddies and if I say something that pushes you outside your comfort zone, then you may freak out.”
“Maybe I’m in the mood to be pushed out of my comfort zone.”
Heather Topham Wood’s obsession with novels began in childhood while growing up in a shore town in New Jersey. Writing since her teens, she recently returned to penning novels after a successful career as a freelance writer. She’s the author of the paranormal romance Second Sight series and the standalones Falling for Autumn and The Disappearing Girl.
Heather graduated from the College of New Jersey in 2005 and holds a bachelor’s degree in English. Her freelance work has appeared in publications such as USA Today, Livestrong.com, Outlook by the Bay and Step in Style magazine. She resides in Trenton, New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Besides writing, Heather is a pop culture fanatic and has an obsession with supernatural novels and TV shows.