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The Vanishing Bride

Kat McCarthy arrived at the church at exactly the right time!   At exactly twelve noon!  No-one was there, no-one.  The church was locked!  She was all dressed up to be Becky's bridesmaid, and there was no sign of Becky, or indeed  any wedding.   How could it be?  Some mistake?  Same time tomorrow?  Or yesterday?  Impossible!

"Becky?  Sy?  Anyone here?" she called out, feeling quite foolish in her white satin designer bridesmaid's gown and bouquet,  which had been delivered by courier only the day before......suddenly, she saw Sy standing at the church door, looking perturbed.

"Kat?  Have you any idea where Becky is?  I just can't believe she's not here!  She was looking forward to this day so much.  Do you think something bad has happened to her?  Should we call the police?"  Kat's heart beat wildly with fear and she fell into a faint.  She woke up in her own bed, heart pounding, mouth dry, paralysed with fear.  It was always the same....ever since Becky's disappearance one year ago, just three days before her wedding, Kat had had this dream regularly.

She got up out of bed, went into her tiny kitchen and made some coffee.   She knew sleep would evade her now.  She would spend the rest of the night wondering what had happened to Becky.  Trying to figure out what had happened, was she gone forever, how could she ever move on in life wondering what, exactly what had become of her beloved friend?  Kat was not only grieving for the loss of her friend.  She was seriously disturbed too.  Should she see a psychiatrist, she wondered?  Would it help?

She could never forget Becky and her larger than life personality.    Becky, so full of life and laughter!  Was she dead?  Who had killed her?  How could this lively, vibrant young woman disappear so completely from the face of the earth  just three days before her wedding?  Kat still remembered that last, fateful 'phone call she'd received from her friend.

"Hey Kat," she'd yelled, practically at the top of her voice, full of wedding excitement and last minute preparations.  "You know, I've just decided that the barefoot look is just not appropriate.  It suits the boho type, but you know Sy's not like that, and I guess my life is just changing forever!  So I'm just going downtown to look at some shoes.  What do you think?  Heels or sandals?"  "Heels of course!" Kat had replied.  "White satin court shoes will be perfect with your dress!"  "Okay!  I'll just see what 's there and catch you later!  See ya!"  She rang off, and Kat never heard from her again.

Since Becky had just moved out of her tiny apartment next door to Kat's, to  the apartment that she would be living in with Sy after the wedding, Kat did not notice that Becky did not return home that evening.  So she was fairly surprised to get Sy's call the next day at her office asking if she knew where Becky was.  She was nowhere to be found.  She was not at the apartment, and her mobile number was unreachable.  Sy reported the matter to the police and there was a flurry of investigation done in the initial period.  But Becky Stone never turned up and neither Kat nor Sy ever heard of her again.  None of her friends in the art world recalled having heard from her lately and it was as if she had vanished into thin air.  The only grieving relatives she seemed to have left behind was a best friend and a fiance.  There were no other friends or relatives.  Surprisingly, neither of them knew the address of any of Becky's close relatives, nor the name of the area of upstate New York where she'd claimed to have grown up.  There was no information in Becky's personal effects either.

Kat remembered how she had come to know Becky, who had originally lived in the apartment next to hers.  One evening, as she was going to her apartment, she saw the girl next  door  having difficulty getting in as she had misplaced her keys.  This girl was a bohemian type, wearing a long colourful caftan, and sporting a mass of long, dark, curly hair and sharp, extremely attractive features.  She'd prevailed upon Kat to hold her bag of groceries while she fished in her bag looking for the keys.  She ended up asking Kat in to dinner and they'd had a terrific evening, chatting and swopping life stories.   In a way, she and Kat where the total antithesis of each other.  Kat, quiet and serious, working in a financial institution.  Of Irish origin, Kat had nearly married after graduation.  Her boyfriend Phil Flanagan had overdone it in his keenness to tie Kat down in marriage, and had scared her off.    She didn't want to get married straight from school and move into a house down the road from her parents.  She had emigrated to the United States with her parents in her early teens, and while it was nice that they had fitted into a community of mostly Irish expatriates and people of Irish origin on the northern east coast, Kat felt that it would have been a wasted opportunity not to try to have a career and make a mark before  settling down.  So she'd headed off to the big smoke in search of a new life, leaving poor Phil to nurse his broken heart.  According to her parents, he was still waiting for her to 'get sense' and return.

Rebecca, on the other hand,  was an artist, who gave exhibitions periodically and lived off the sales of her paintings.  She had recently sold two of her paintings to a bank for a huge amount of money so she must have been a terrific artist.  Actually, Kat was unable to make much sense of these paintings, they were full of mystical symbols and dark, deep colours.  Still, she was obviously pretty good!  After that, Becky and Kat spent at least one or two hours together each evening.  Becky  had met and fallen in love with Sy Jacobson rather quickly.  She'd confided to Kat that she'd found her perfect man, a combination of an art lover and a businessman.   She had long ago promised herself that she would only marry a businessman and not an artist, she told Kat, because to make a marriage work, at least one person should be practical.  Kat had nodded and said that that seemed sensible enough.

The loss of Becky had  undoubtedly  been a huge loss to both Sy and Kat.  They stayed in touch for a while, but as time went on, and no fresh news of Becky surfaced, they  had drifted out of contact, although Kat still had his number stored in her mobile.  Becky had been her only friend in this huge unfriendly city, and without her, Kat felt so alone.  Life was just one long round of working hard all day and coming home to an empty apartment.  The joy in life was gone.  She kept in contact with her family and friends in her home town as a matter of course.  She couldn't keep in touch with all the friends, as some of them had also been friends with her former fiance too, but she was always particular about calling up as many of her old friends at least once or twice a month, and her parents at least twice weekly.  Otherwise, she threw herself into her work and never took a day off.  Even when Hoffman Finances declared a staff holiday and threw a staff party for the CEO's wedding, an unheard of frivolity (the party, not the wedding!), she stayed in the office, catching up on work, or better still, getting ahead of it.  She was averse to attending weddings after the one she had missed recently.  Even in the work crazy culture of that institution, Kat was making a name for herself as a complete workaholic, and someone who was on the way up!

The next day, after that disturbed night, it was business as usual for Kat, who was in her office working as hard as ever.   At the water cooler, she was surprised to hear Shelley Parker talking about the handsome man her friend was marrying the very next day!  Symeon Jacobson.  Sy Jacobson!  He was the man Becky would have been married had she not disappeared.  So, he was in another relationship and preparing to marry less than a year after the loss of his fiance?  Kat felt her heart pounding.  Well, he was a fast worker!  How could he have forgotten poor Becky so easily, when she, Kat, was still having nightmares about her disappearance?  On impulse, Kat dialled the number of the police detective who was dealing with the case to enquire had there been any breakthrough.  She was saddened to hear that the case had been closed.  It was as if Becky had just never existed.  So she went to Shelley Parker and asked about Sy's wedding.  Shelley's friend Barbara had met Sy at an art exhibition about six months before, Shelley told her.  He'd been very upset over the recent disappearance of his fiance, and had begun to live his life again.  Barbara was a financial consultant running a successful insurance business, Shelley had added.  How could a man go from loving a boho artist type like Becky to a financial consultant like Barbara?  Kat wondered at it all.  She told Shelley that she was the best friend of Sy's missing fiance.  She asked for the details of the wedding venue as she thought she'd like to stop by and give her best wishes.  Shelley happily obliged.

There were all kinds of thoughts running through Kat's head as she approached the "Wedding Chapel" marriage venue the next day.  Hatred of Sy, anguish at his having forgotten poor Becky, even speculation that perhaps Sy had murdered Becky and hidden the body somewhere!  As she approached the venue, right on the moment that the ceremony was supposed to begin, she stopped dead in her tracks!  What?  No!  It couldn't be!  Not........

"Becky!" she cried!

Yes, it was Becky!  Astonishing but true.  Approaching the door of the wedding venue at exactly the same moment.  But it was not the same old bohemian Becky, the free spirited artist.  This was a designer wedding guest Becky, in a silk suit and short smart hairstyle.  A totally different avatar.  She was different, but yet the same.  The same sharp beautiful features.  Her eyes widened in recognition as she spotted her old friend.

"Kat!" she cried in delight.  "You!  I don't believe it?  What are you doing here?"

Her voice shaking with emotion, Kat replied: "I wanted to see for myself if Sy had really forgotten you so completely that he was getting married less than a year after your disappearance!"    This answer seemed to strike Becky profoundly.  "Well, I had an invitation," she replied, "But it seems like we're both here for exactly the same reason.  Why should we bother about him?  No way is he worth it.  Come on, let's go for some coffee and catch up.  I think I've got some explaining to do!"

Kat was in a haze of disbelief.  Becky, on the other hand, was cool and calm.  She led Kat to restaurant, had her sit down, ordered some coffee and had the waiter bring Kat a glass of water.

"I'm ready to tell you everything!" she said.  "Where would you like me to start?"  So finally the mystery which had intrigued, puzzled and tortured Kat for a year could be solved.  Firstly, Becky Stone did not exist, and never had.  That was merely a professional name, the name under which the bearer had painted and sold her work.  Her real name was Rebecca Stein, and she was the daughter of a wealthy financier, one of the wealthiest financial moghuls in the United States.  Uninterested in participating in the family business and bored with her princess like existence, Rebecca Stein had borrowed the identity of Becky Stone for about a year and had relished her gypsy like existence, flitting around the art world, selling a painting here and there.  In fact, the bank which had purchased her paintings had been her father's bank.  It had obviously paid a price far in excess of the value of the actual paintings.  She had enjoyed living in a tiny apartment, and the friendship of the Irish girl who lived next door.  Meeting and getting engaged to Sy had been the icing on her cake.  The financial businessman who loved art.  He had originally approached her on the pretext of wanting to purchase one of her paintings.  She had not realised that he was aware of her actual identity.  After their small, intimate wedding, she had planned to reveal her true identity to him, after which she would announce their marriage to her father and eventually have a full public wedding with all the trimmings.  However, her dreams had been shattered when she had overheard him talking on the mobile to an unknown person, while she was making coffee in the kitchen of their apartment,  about how he would soon be the son-in-law of  Aaron Stein, and 'within spitting distance' of the biggest financial consortium in the world.

Feeling deceived and abused, she planned her escape well.  She removed all traces of her identity from her personal belongings, feigned a shopping trip to buy shoes for the wedding and 'disappeared'.  Her disappearance was a slap in the face to Symeon Jacobson.  She didn't go anywhere at all, just to her parents home - or rather one of them - in Florida.  She had not dared contact Kat for fear that Kat would unwittingly give away the plan.

"A few months later," she added, somewhat apologetically, "I met Levi.   A close business associate of my father's.  This time I made a good choice.  We were married within months.  I don't do art anymore.  We travel, he attends to his business. We stay mostly in Israel. We host a lot of parties...."   Kat felt sad.  Her 'friend' hadn't even bothered to contact her.

"People in that world don't care about ordinary people," she reflected. "That's all I was to her......."
Rebecca (she was no longer Becky, could never be!) had to attend to a call on her mobile.

"Levi!" she purred, tone totally changed.  "Sorry, couldn't get to the wedding after all!  You're not angry, are you?  I hate, hate, hate Sy you-know-who but I was after all going on your behalf,  anyway,  you don't mind do you?   I actually ran into a very old and dear friend, and I had some explaining to do.  Nearly finished.....see you soon... yes, send the car, I'm at...."  Kat knew that Rebecca was talking to her husband, and she also realised that that husband was none other than Levi Hoffman, the head honcho of Hoffman  Finance, the company for which she, Kat, had worked ever since she had started working on Wall Street.  Levi would be looking for her now that the meeting was over.  She'd better make her excuses and leave.....

"Just give me your mobile number," said Rebecca, phone in hand.  "Don't tell me you don't remember?" said Kat, smiling sadly.  "I never forgot yours!"  Frowning, Rebecca replied, "Kat!  That was another life!   Okay!  Just tell me where you work.  I'd like to meet again sometime!"  Kat thought for a minute.

"I'm working in exactly the same place I was before.  Time has stood still for me since you disappeared last year, Rebecca.  Now I feel ready to move on!"   She got up, left some dollars on the table to pay for her coffee, and quickly said goodbye, making a rapid exit.  She could feel her eyes fillling up.  She did not want a puzzled Rebecca to see her tears.

She hailed a cab, sat down inside and dried her eyes.  She needed to talk to someone good, someone real.  Someone whom she could really trust.  She checked her telephone list and found Phil Flanagan's number.  She dialled his number, praying it wasn't too late.

This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 2/12/2009

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