The atmosphere was subdued, the kind that made you whisper even though you had no reason to. As soon as the shock wore off we all wanted to know what had happened with the groom and how they had kept it from all of us. It happened seven years ago, abroad, and it was easier to hide the scandal and pretend it had never happened. They never intended to deceive anyone, they said, but it had been decided that he could not run the family business. The wedding had only been allowed because they thought it was a family they could eventually trust with their secret. The groom himself was silent; he sat by himself in a corner watching us all. Every time he laid his eyes on me I could feel my skin prickle. The violence radiated off him in waves and I wondered which one of us he would go after first. But then the conversation turned around, the bride was not so innocent after all. We all turned on her. Her parents blamed themselves. None of us had known she had ever been married. Almost none of us. Velda stood up, her back as straight as her fragile, aging bones would allow, and walked up to Gabrielle before turning to look across the room at all of us.
"Gabrielle's secrets are not the most horrifying things in this room" She looked accusingly at all of us. "We should all look on the bright side, he may just have stopped you from marrying your own brother."
We all gasped in shock. Those were the first words Velda had spoken all day and her lips trembled in anger as she spoke. She turned from Gabrielle and walked towards the father of the groom, the man who had been her friend and right hand for so many years.
"I trusted you" she hissed at him in that low voice that she used when she was furious, the voice that has terrified us all for most of our lives. And then she crumpled right before our eyes and laid there on the chapel floor, she was not breathing...
**************************My grandmother once told me a story: "Children born into adultery are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents, and Gabrielle is just like her mother..."
Velda learned that Gabrielle had married a boy at her university two days after it happened. But it was not to last. Gabrielle had one weakness, she could not live without the wealth she was used to, and Velda knew it. A ten-minute phone call was all it took, and 2 days later Gabrielle was on a plane to France where she would complete her semester, and then travel around the world for a year. It would be like her marriage had never happened. But instead of ending the marriage as she was instructed Gabrielle disappeared without a word. Surprising, Gabrielle had never been afraid to hurt anyone and no one could have expected that she cared enough about her new husband that she would rather run away than tell him she had chosen her family over him. It would have been easy to bury the secret and pretend it never happened but Velda was not one to take chances. She hired investigators to find and bury every tiny scrap of history that tied Gabrielle's fiance to the murder and shield the family from a scandal and instead, she discovered a marriage license naming Gabrielle as the wife of the murdered man's brother. It was like a bad joke.
*One secret gave way to another. Velda had every member of the family watched at all times, she always knew what we were doing. She had known of Gabrielle's trip to the doctor to get rid of her unwanted baby, but it took much longer to learn that the affair had been with her future father-in-law. It had been a mistake, Gabrielle confessed, a harmless flirtation that quickly became something much more. It had not seemed to matter to him that Gabrielle was to be married to his son. As the pieces of the story started to come together, Velda realized that she had been the fool for too long...
*She told me all of this one night after I moved into her mansion to escape my family, the craziness of planning the wedding made it hard to spend another minute at home. As she spoke I noticed the constant trembling of her right hand. Velda was very sick, and she was trying really hard to hide it. I realized that I coud use it all to my own advantage. She was desperately angry and betrayed, and she wanted revenge. Together we came up with a plan that would put a stop to all the secrets and give Velda the satisfaction she wanted. We wrote a letter to Gabrielle's husband asking him to attend the wedding. Everything went as planned, the wedding did not happen, and any secrets that were not revealed in the chapel would be on the front page of newspapers in the morning. The only thing I had not planned was Velda's collapse, but even that worked out perfectly. Velda never recovered from her stroke. And I was her only heir.
As we hurried out of the Chapel on that fateful day to follow the ambulance to Holy Trinity where Velda was declared dead, someone held my hand and pulled me back into the Chapel. I was surprised to see who it was. He flashed a dazzling smile and told me he could tell that I knew all that was going on. "Good job," he whispered softly in my ear, "I couldn't have pulled it off better. We should have dinner sometime so you can tell me all about it."
My sister may have been his first choice, but I got the Best Man after all.