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Couple getting married. | Source: Shutterstock
Couple getting married. | Source: Shutterstock

Man Is Stunned Seeing His Wife at the Altar with Another Man: ‘But You Died Last Year!’ – Story of the Day

Roshanak Hannani
Sep 22, 2023
05:50 A.M.

Landon braced to attend his best friend's wedding after a year of mostly isolating because his wife died. He quickly discovered that the blushing bride was his late wife, who had faked everything, but her reason for doing so was even more baffling.

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Landon arranged his suit jacket and grabbed the present he had purchased from the back of his car. He was going to his first social event in more than a year. What a terrible year it had been. Marissa, his dear wife of five years, had passed, and what followed was the darkest time in his life.

He didn't want to see anyone, although his best friend, Ivan, supported him fully. He called regularly and tried getting Landon to come out, but he wasn't ready yet. He immersed himself in his career to avoid dealing with the pain.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

However, he was now seeing a therapist who encouraged him to attend the wedding when he heard about Ivan's invitation.

"It's the perfect event," Dr. Ludwig encouraged. "The spotlight won't be on you; you must support your friends. You told me Ivan tried his hardest before you became a shut-in. It's time to repay that and transition back into society."

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"I don't know how it'll feel to see someone else being so happy when I lost the love of my life," Landon commented, ashamed that he couldn't be happy for his dear friend.

"I understand that," his therapist began, wetting his lips. "But it's just a plunge you have to take. Otherwise, you won't get out of this hole. It would've been better if you attended another event like the bachelor party where it's just about fun and boys, but you couldn't."

"Yeah," he nodded. "The work trip to Montana was impossible to miss. We got the client, and the boss is really pleased with me."

"That's great," Dr. Ludwig continued. "Of course, you have to keep working hard. Your job kept you as sane as possible during your grief. But missing this wedding could also mean finally losing your friend. Are you willing to risk that? I recommend going to the ceremony, congratulating your friend after, and going home if you don't feel like partying just yet."

Dr. Ludwig was right, of course. It was time, and Landon was ready, though a little nervous. Considering what he had lost, he didn't know if a wedding would upset him, but he would do his best to hold himself together. Not going to the reception was a good idea, as he didn't know how long he could keep a straight face.

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

But the ceremony was another thing. All eyes would be on the bride and groom, so Landon wouldn't have to fake anything. Still, he planned to sit in the back in case he needed to retreat discreetly.

He got there a little late, which was perfect. Everyone was seated, so he wouldn't have to make small talk. Ivan and his wedding party were already waiting at the end of the aisle. In another universe, Landon would've been standing right next to his friend.

He sat down quickly and lamented how badly he had neglected his life after Marissa's death, but he didn't think he could've done anything differently either. Considering the year he had had, it was a miracle that his best friend had invited him.

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Finally, the sounds of a wedding march filled the church, and he turned with a careful smile to see Ivan's bride. He didn't even know the woman his best friend — or should he say former best friend — had met. It was a terrible feeling, and now that he was seated, he decided to start changing things after the wedding. It was time to heal.

However, his brows turned down when his father-in-law, Mr. Escorcino, appeared with a woman in white. Marissa's father didn't have any other daughters. What is he doing here? Landon wondered, confused.

Perhaps the bride had known Marissa and her family. Who could she be? he considered carefully. Maybe it's Marissa's cousin, Hadley, although she was never that close to them.

Landon was so confused as Mr. Escorcino walked to the front of the church with his best friend's bride. Without thought, he approached the aisle and watched intently, stretching his neck to see better. Then, he switched to a closer pew and another and another. A few people made faces at him because he pushed them back, but Landon didn't care.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

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Finally, Mr. Escorcino and the bride arrived, and he watched as the man lifted the veil to reveal her face, the beautiful face of his Marissa. Marissa kissed her father's cheek, and the man went to join his wife, Mrs. Escorcino, at the pew generally reserved for the bride's parents.

Landon's eyes were wide as saucers as he exited the pew and walked stiffly down the aisle.

"Dearly beloved," the priest began and stopped when he spotted Landon. "Son, the ceremony is just beginning. You have to sit down."

Everyone turned, including Marissa and Ivan. Ivan looked down immediately, hiding his face. But Landon thought he saw regret, shame, and embarrassment in his friend's eyes before he looked away.

But his late wife — the woman he considered the love of his life whom he had mourned for over a year, destroying his friendships, social life, and almost his sanity — did something shocking. She rolled her eyes dramatically and turned to scowl at his best friend.

"I told you not to invite him," she complained.

"What the hell is going on?" Landon finally sputtered, his voice hoarse and broken.

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"Landon, please, let's go outside," Mr. Escorcino said, gesturing with his hands.

"NO!" he screamed. "HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?"

"Landon, calm down," Marissa said, exasperated.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

"But you died last year!" he screamed, a sound that echoed his pain through the church.

"Marissa died!" she shrugged. "I'm Karmela now! The new me!"

"WHAT?" Landon continued yelling.

Ivan intervened. "Landon, please. I'll explain later. It's a long story. I'm so sorry—"

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"SHUT THE HELL UP!" Landon shouted, spitting the words and wrinkling his nose at his friend, although he was sure they would not be friends again. His eyes went back to his Marissa, who only stared back with exasperation and impatience at him.

It broke his heart, and Landon couldn't help but lower his voice. "You're my wife," he breathed, choking on the words. The murmurs that went through the church were palpable, but everyone in attendance had to know about this, except for a few of Ivan's relatives perhaps.

Mr. Escorcino stood from his pew. "Landon, sit down and let this go on. We'll all explain later," he said with the authoritative voice he always commanded.

"Sir! You watched me cry at my wife's grave, and you knew she wasn't dead?" Landon asked, horrified. "Mrs. Escorcino! What in the world did I bury that day? Who? What is this game?"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"Landon, darling," his mother-in-law said apologetically. "Listen to everyone. Please, sit down."

"NO! THIS IS FRAUD!" he yelled, his anger overpowering the intense pain piercing his soul. "YOU CAN'T JUST PRETEND TO DIE AND MARRY SOMEONE ELSE. YOU'RE ALIVE, AND YOU'RE MY WIFE! HOW COULD YOU?"

Mr. Escorcino made a gesture and walked toward Landon, accompanied by two of Ivan's groomsmen. "If you're not going to behave and let us explain later, you need to get out," the older man said, his hand raised as if to stop him.

"BEHAVE? THIS ISN'T A GAME! I'M NOT A CHILD! YOU PEOPLE HAVE COMMITTED SOME SORT OF CRIME! NO!"

The men reached for Landon's arms, but he thrashed and pulled them until other men joined the scuffle.

"He's ruining my wedding! Like he ruined my life before!" Landon heard Marissa — or Karmela — whine, and his body froze. The men took that chance to grab him again and pushed him out of the church. He didn't have any strength to fight them.

They closed the robust, wooden doors in his face while Landon tried to recover from the soul-wrenching words Karmela had spoken. "I ruined her life?" he asked softly, and the tears started pouring heavily.

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His body rocked with the force of his sobs, and he turned, pounding on the church doors. "Let me in! That's my wife!" he wailed desperately. But someone must have been holding it steady from the inside. It wouldn't budge.

"This is fraud! Marissa, how did I ruin your life?" he cried, feeling the wetness running down his face to his neck. Landon must have looked insane, but he didn't care. Finally, he caved. The pain in his fists was too much, and the adrenaline had left his body.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

He pressed his back to the church doors and slid down, slumping on the floor. "Marissa," he lamented as the tears began to dry up. "Marissa…"

After a few minutes, Landon lifted his head from his hand, realizing he couldn't hear what was happening inside the church. He also wasn't sure if he wanted to listen to it, but the torture was poignant regardless.

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However, as the silence stretched on that calm afternoon, and he watched cars passing by the big white limo waiting for the bride and groom in front of the church, Landon's anger rose. His mind focused, and suddenly, he realized that Ivan and Marissa — Karmela — couldn't get away with something like this.

What they were doing must have been illegal to some degree because it was preposterous. Faking a death must break some kind of law. If not, multiple marriages were not allowed, and no matter her name, she was married to him first.

Landon reached into his pockets with trembling hands. At first, his fingers dialed 911, but he couldn't press call. What am I gonna say? he thought. It wasn't an emergency, and what would the cops do? Still, he had to make a report or something.

Instead of dialing 911, he searched online for the non-emergency line in their town. After explaining as best he could the situation, the phone attendant stayed quiet for a few seconds.

"Well?" Landon insisted.

"Sir," the attendant sputtered. "Look, I'm so sorry, man. But I don't think there's anything we can do."

"Multiple marriages are illegal in this country, right?"

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

"Yes, sir. Polygamy has been outlawed for over a hundred years, but if your wife died—"

"She's not dead! She faked her death!"

"I'm not an expert, sir," the attendant sighed. "I think it would be best to call a lawyer. The police can't help you with this unless there's an actual crime."

"Like?" he asked.

"Huh?"

"What kind of crime?"

"Well, like if she faked her death to get life insurance or something," the attendant continued. "But I'm not sure about the nitty-gritty. I'll have to check and ca—"

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"OK," Landon rubbed his face and finally stood from the church entrance. He walked to his car, thanked the attendant, and hung up the call.

He had calmed down somewhat, although it was still frustrating to be so helpless. He felt impotent, like when the villains of a tale got away with the crime, and there was no continuation. His next call...was to his mother, Anastasia.

"Mom," Landon said, choking up a little when she answered.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

"Sweetheart, how was Ivan's wedding?" she asked. "I'm so proud of you for finally stepping out. It's time, baby."

"Mom," he said, his voice lowering. "Marissa is alive."

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"Excuse me?" she asked.

"She's alive. Her new name is Karmela, and she married Ivan just now," Landon continued, rushing to get through this. "Mr. and Mrs. Escorcino were there. So, they knew. Did you know?"

"Landon! This is no joke!" his mother said, outraged. "Marissa is gone, and I know you wish otherwise—"

"Mom!" he interrupted. "I'm telling you the truth. I swear. She confirmed it before I was kicked out of the wedding."

"That's crazy!" his mother continued, her breaths coming quickly through the other line. "No! And how could she get married? She's already married!"

"Exactly."

"This is illegal, Landon. It has to be."

"I called the police already, but they told me to call a lawyer," Landon explained further. "Should I?"

"Of course, you should! You're calling Mr. Rubenstein. But come home now while I call your father," Anastasia demanded. "We're gonna get to the bottom of this."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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Landon nodded, hanging up. Mr. Rubenstein was his father's long-time friend and one of the most ruthless attorneys in the state. If anyone had any answers, it was him.

***

Anastasia and Landon's dad, Thomas, invited Mr. Rubenstein to the house to discuss the situation in a calmer environment. The older men sat in the living room while his mother served them tea and finger sandwiches. But Landon was too agitated to sit.

"Landon," the lawyer sighed, his cup rattling against the saucer. "I don't know what to say. I've never heard anything like this. And I can't imagine that they just went into it lightly. They must have consulted other lawyers."

"Unless they committed a crime, Sal," Thomas said, gesturing with his hand. "I know Escorcino was hiding something. I just knew it."

"What can we do now?" Anastasia said, placing a hand on her husband's shoulder.

"For now, I'll need my team to start researching. I've already sent a message to my assistant. They're going to be up all night until we find some kind of precedent on how to proceed," Mr. Rubenstein continued. "But Landon, what do you want from this?"

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"I don't know," he replied, stopping his pacing. "But I can't just let this go. They tricked me when all Marissa had to do was ask for a divorce. She said I ruined her life, although we were happy, rich, had a house, a future, and everything else. I don't get it."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

Mr. Rubenstein nodded. "I see. Well, then, I think we're also going to need a private investigator. We're going to look for anything that could give us a clue. We might have to do some other stuff, but you don't need to know about that."

"That's it, Sal!" Landon's father exclaimed, smiling. "Anything. I don't care what it costs. They will pay for hurting my son."

"I don't know if I want them to pay," Landon shook his head and finally sat with them. "I just want to know if they can just get married so easily. If Marissa can change her identity and give away all our years together."

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"No, son! Don't get soft on me!" Thomas scolded him, his eyes on fire. "We're going against them. No matter what. If we don't find anything illegal, we can just sue them for emotional stress or something."

"Distress," Sal corrected him.

"That thing!" his father continued. "This isn't fair. The year you had. The pain you went through. What we all went through. I will not allow this family just to be happy when they destroyed your future and your happiness."

Anastasia nodded. "I hate to say it because I loved her so dearly, too, Landon. But I'm so upset. I can't even imagine how this was better than just asking for a divorce."

Landon nodded after sitting quietly for a few minutes. "OK, let's start the investigation. But Sal, can your team not act until we're briefed?"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"Of course, Landon," Mr. Rubenstein said, putting down his empty tea cup. "You are the client now. We'll come up with several options. If the Escorcinos didn't do anything illegal, your father's suggestion is the best. An emotional distress lawsuit could work. Unless…"

"What?" Thomas inquired, frowning.

"I know you wouldn't, but I must ask," Mr. Rubenstein turned his serious eyes to Landon. "She said you ruined her life, but you don't know what she's talking about. Is there any chance she reported you for domestic violence or anything else? Did the neighbors hear you yelling?"

Landon's eyes widened in shock. "NO! Sal, I would never. I barely ever raised my voice to her, and even then, we would make up only a few minutes later," he responded, swallowing thickly.

Sal raised his hands. "I'm just asking. We will still check for anything reported by any of the Escorcinos, just in case. I have to be ahead of this."

"Thank you, Sal," Landon sighed, slumping into the sofa.

His parents thanked their friend, who left promising that they would help him in any way. Anastasia insisted on Landon staying the night with them because she didn't want him to be alone. He accepted just because he didn't have the energy to say no.

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Laying on his childhood bed in complete silence and darkness that night, he reflected on his relationship with Marissa and couldn't find a single blip. In his mind, they were perfect. But were they? What did he do wrong? How did he ruin her life?

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

***

The next day, Landon went back home after his mother made him his favorite breakfast from his childhood: biscuits and hashbrowns with tons of gravy. He ate heartily to please her, but his mind was elsewhere.

At his apartment, he slumped on the couch and breathed. Landon didn't fully consider this place a home. He sold his five-bedroom house two months after his wife's fake death because he couldn't bear to continue living there.

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Anastasia had furnished and decorated, but he barely noticed the details, and that day was no different. It was just a place to rest his head when he finished work. He sighed several times before succumbing to what he truly wanted to do.

Like a masochist, he pulled out his phone, and surprisingly, none of his friends had blocked him on social media. His feed was full of the wedding ceremony and the reception. Happiness radiated from every single photograph, and it all pierced his heart.

He didn't understand how his friends, as Ivan's groomsmen had been his buddies, too, could overlook something like that. His fingers kept scrolling and scrolling. There were comments from family members and more, telling the happy couple to have a fantastic life.

It was like he had stepped into an alternative universe, or did Landon go back in time and step on a butterfly? He acknowledged how much distance he had created from his friends and acquaintances in the past year, but it didn't seem fair that these people would just accept something so outrageous.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"I'm in the Twilight Zone," Landon lamented, and without meaning to, his fingers clicked on the comment bar of a picture on Ivan's account and started typing.

"So glad to see the groom marrying a woman who faked her death and lied to her real husband. Hope it doesn't happen to you, Ivan," he wrote, knowing it was petty, childish, and stupid. But it made him feel a tiny bit better.

Soon, notifications started coming.

"What does this guy mean?" someone wrote. Landon didn't recognize that person, but he must have been someone from Ivan's extended family.

"Faked her death?" another person replied. She was also a stranger to Landon.

"Well, at least I'm not crazy," Landon muttered. "Not everyone knew about this."

He tried to read more messages but quickly realized that Ivan had blocked him. An incoming call came then, and Landon sighed, not knowing if he would answer.

"Well, if it isn't the groom," Landon answered, spitting sarcasm with every word. "Shouldn't you be on your honeymoon?"

"Landon, please," Ivan started, having the decency to sound pained. "I wanted to explain. It's so complicated."

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"Is that so?" Landon mocked. "Were you sleeping with her when she was Marissa?"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

"NO!" Ivan exclaimed, and his voice was interrupted by a strange noise. Landon laughed, realizing Ivan was at the airport.

"Let me guess," he began. "Hawaii? That's where we went. She loved it there."

Ivan stayed silent but finally said, "Yeah."

"Well, have fun," Landon said, nodding to himself. "But this isn't over."

"Landon —"

"You and her won't know a day of peace ever again," he threatened and ended the call, throwing his phone against the wall with all his might. It crashed and dented the drywall, but Landon didn't care. He slumped back, thinking about crying his eyes out again, but the tears didn't come.

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He jumped from the couch and went straight to his bar, pouring his most expensive brandy into a glass. No ice. No add-ons. He drank it like a shot and poured more. The bottles were empty before he knew it, but he went to his kitchen cupboards for more.

The rest of the day was spent in a stupor until his insides punished him for the excessive drinking. Landon didn't leave the bathrooms until 5 a.m. when he crawled around the floor to reach his bed. But he collapsed on the floor rug and slept, a restless, troubled sleep where his friends mocked him at his wife's funeral.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

***

"We're filing several motions right now, Landon," Mr. Rubenstein explained. They were moving forward with the lawsuit. It had been a month since Landon's drunken stupor, and he hadn't had a drop of liquor since. But he hadn't cried either or looked at social media again.

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However, he had seen one email. It was from her. His wife. His ex? Did she write it from her hotel in Hawaii?

"Landon,

I'm sorry you had to learn about my decision in such a way. I told Ivan inviting was a bad idea. I was planning on telling you later when things settled. But it happened. It's done, Landon. I was unhappy in our marriage. And it wasn't your fault. I know that.

You're probably wondering why I did something so drastic instead of going a normal route, like asking for a divorce. I can't explain why, but I never wanted to be a divorced woman, and I realized I wasn't just unhappy with our marriage. I was unhappy with myself, too.

I hired a life coach. He was incredible, and he had this amazing idea. We had this ritual where I emotionally killed Marissa and was reborn into Karmela, the person I am now. One email won't be able to convey the way I feel or what happened during that experience, but I knew things were different.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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So, I killed Marissa for good. Legally. It wasn't for money or insurance or whatever. It felt right for me, and the new me was finally open enough to go for what I wanted. I've loved Ivan from the very beginning, but he was dating who I thought he would marry, so I asked you out instead.

You were a catch. My parents were eager, so I went along. But I never got over Ivan, and I had to see him often. The old me, the coward Marissa, just watched him from afar, but the new me, fearless Karmela, wasn't afraid anymore.

I planned and planned. I broke Ivan and his ex up and snatched him for myself. I know it sounds cruel. Everything I did was cruel. But it's the new me, and I've never been happier. I wish you the best life possible. I don't expect you to forgive me or even begin to understand, but your wife is truly dead. I'm not her.

Goodbye, Landon."

Every word was another knife into his soul, but he was surprisingly calm about it. He didn't feel emotional anymore. His skin wasn't crawling with the urge to vomit. He didn't want to drink some more. All he wanted was… full-blown revenge. His father had been right.

So, with a click, he forwarded the email to Mr. Rubenstein and called him. "I want the life coach to pay, too," Landon told him stoically. Business-like.

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They were in Mr. Rubenstein's office, getting briefed on everything that would happen soon. Ivan and Karmela must have been back from Hawaii for a while. He hoped they had enjoyed themselves because hell was coming.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

"What do you have against them, Sal?" his father wondered.

The lawyer had discovered that the Escorcinos filed paperwork to annul the Landon's and Marissa's marriage, so technically, Karmela could marry Ivan without any legal issues. The reasons for the annulment were iffy, but it was done and legal. There was little Mr. Rubenstein could do.

"Well, we're officially suing Karmela, her parents, and her life coach, Anderson," the lawyer said, flipping some pages. "His last name is Parker. Right. He's the one from the email. We're going against them for emotional distress. We'll have to motion for all communications between all parties. The Escorcinos, the groomsmen, the bridesmaids. Subpoenas all over."

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"Do we have a chance at winning?" Anastasia wondered, biting her lip.

Mr. Rubenstein pursed his lips but nodded. "I didn't think so at first, but I think so now. That email — the insane explanation — was a huge error on her part. We also have photos of Landon at the funeral. His co-workers and neighbors witnessed. I think any sane judge will see that Karmela's cruelty needs to be punished, even if we can't file any criminal charges. For now."

"For now?" Landon inquired, frowning.

"We're still looking into things, but I don't believe your ex for a second about everything. I think that family is hiding more," Mr. Rubenstein continued, frowning at a piece of paper. "I feel it in my bones. I have more than 20 people working on this case. I may add more. Unless you don't want that, Landon."

"Go for it, Sal," Landon said, expressionless. "Take them for everything."

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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"Landon," his mother said, worried by his deadly calm.

"All of it, Sal," Thomas agreed, and the meeting ended.

***

"And isn't it true, Mr. Parker, that you told Miss Escorcino when she still referred to herself as Marissa that the best course of action was to fake her death?" Mr. Rubenstein was questioning the life coach who had changed his life.

They were just two days into the court case, and both parties had waived the jury, preferring to leave everything in the hands of the judge. Mr. Rubenstein was doing amazingly at presenting his case. He also told Landon that the Escorcinos would also put as much blame as possible on the life coach.

"Ye-Yes, but I didn't think—" the life coach muttered, making Landon roll his eyes and wrinkle his upper lip in disgust.

"You didn't think she would take your advice? Isn't that your job, Mr. Parker?" his attorney continued.

"Yes, it is my job, but it was just a symbolic suggestion."

"What do you mean?"

"It was supposed to be a ritual because she was unhappy with the person she had always been. She wanted to be a new person, so she had to kill Marissa to become Karmela," Mr. Parker explained, just barely managing not to stutter again.

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"Are you saying you didn't tell her to actually and legally fake her death?" Mr. Rubenstein probed.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

"Sort of," the life coach looked down. "I may have said that after we did the ritual."

"May have? This is a yes or no question, Mr. Parker," the lawyer insisted.

"Yes, I told her that," the man finally said. "But I didn't help her or control her. I was just trying to—"

"Get into her pants?" Mr. Rubenstein tacked on.

"OBJECTION!" the attorney on the defendant's side exclaimed, rising from his desk.

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"Decorum, Mr. Rubenstein," the judge warned.

"Your Honor, I present to you Plaintiff's Exhibit 320A," Mr. Rubenstein started walking back towards the other attorneys on his team and pulling up something on the computers.

He showed several emails between Karmela and Anderson, highlighting the moments when the life coach seemed a little more interested in his client than he should be. The defendant's lawyers barely objected to anything presented against him so far.

Mr. Rubenstein told him privately that it may be because the Escorcinos would also pin the entire thing on the life coach. However, that plan wouldn't work. Ultimately, Karmela made her choice, and her family went along with it.

"You see, Your Honor. When Mr. Parker's client completed her fake death, he clearly propositioned her, which means his intentions weren't honorable. While I understand that this line of work doesn't exactly require a license or any kind of expertise, in my opinion," Mr. Rubenstein raised his eyebrows. "He's clearly partly to blame for this situation."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

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From the corner of his eye, Landon saw Karmela looking down and Ivan comforting her while his lawyer kept going on and on and on. Mr. Rubenstein was relentless. The defendant's side had a chance to cross-examine Anderson, but it didn't go anywhere. The emails were too clear. He just explained the supposed 'killing of your former self' ritual.

Next, Mr. Rubenstein called Ivan to the stand. He asked him about his friendship with Landon and what he saw after Karmela faked her death.

"Landon was inconsolable," Ivan confirmed. "I was helpless."

Mr. Rubenstein nodded. "And when did you discover that Karmela wasn't actually dead?"

Ivan swallowed. "Four months after the funeral," he confessed, closing his eyes.

"And you didn't think to tell your best friend about it?" the lawyer questioned.

"I wanted to, but I… I didn't know how… I was trying to understand why she did it," Ivan said slowly. "It was complicated."

"You were in a serious relationship at the time with a woman named Cynthia. Correct?"

"Yes."

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"How long?"

"Ten years or so."

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

"And when did you break up with her?"

"Hmmm…" Ivan looked at his hands.

"Let me rephrase. Were you still together when you discovered Karmela was alive?"

"Yes."

"And you broke up with your ex-girlfriend and started dating Karmela right away?"

"Yes," Ivan said reluctantly.

"Do you know why your wife would say that her ex-husband ruined her life?"

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"No," Ivan responded. "She was just unhappy."

"No further questions," Mr. Rubenstein finished. Landon would've liked to see his friend squirm some more, but he trusted his lawyer.

Ivan's side tried to explain what he knew about Karmela and why she did what she did. But it was clear that their explanations were flimsy at best and extremely selfish at worst. After Ivan, Mr. Rubenstein called other friends, some of whom had been at the wedding and others who had discovered the situation later. One thing was clear: none of them could say that Landon was a lousy husband or had ruined anything for her in any way.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

Their court day ended, and Mr. Rubenstein told Landon and his parents that Karmela would be on the stand the entire next day and perhaps the following if necessary. He would seal the deal for them with her testimony. Landon couldn't wait.

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He exited the courthouse with his team, and Karmela, Ivan, and her parents were outside, clearly waiting for him. She walked up to him purposefully.

"Landon, don't say a word, but let her speak," Mr. Rubenstein whispered before she got within earshot.

"Landon, you need to stop this. Please," Karmela said with pleading eyes. He just stared back.

"Let's solve this outside court," Mr. Escorcino joined in.

"We gave you that chance, Frank," Landon's father scoffed but quieted with a look from Mr. Rubenstein. "You didn't accept."

"Your demands were preposterous! A million dollars? That's insane!"

"Landon, please. I already explained everything. I don't know what else to say," Karmela continued, ignoring the older people. "I'm sorry for hurting you. But I spent my life not doing what I wanted. I couldn't do it anymore."

Landon sighed heavily, buttoned his suit jacket, and turned to his lawyer. "See you tomorrow, Mr. Rubenstein," he said, shaking the man's hand. Then, he walked away with a second glance at his former wife, former best friend, and former in-laws.

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

***

Karmela's turn on the stand was a bloodbath from the very beginning. Mr. Rubenstein had been nice to the other witnesses because, in the end, they weren't so much at fault. This was all on her. Landon's pain was all her doing.

The email was read aloud to the judge, who frowned heavily at everything, especially when Karmela admitted to her cruelty. She was crying heavily, and her words choked, but no one had any sympathy for her.

"Here," Mr. Rubenstein offered her his handkerchief before he continued. "Karmela, why didn't you ask for a divorce? It would've meant just the same amount of paperwork but much easier. Landon wouldn't have suffered as much, and perhaps his friendship with Ivan wouldn't be over."

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"I don't know," Karmela sobbed softly. "It just seemed like the better choice."

Mr. Rubenstein's eyebrows raised, and Landon knew he wanted to say something sarcastic, but the lawyer held his tongue. He had already destroyed her terribly with just the truth.

"So, you didn't care that the husband who loved and provided for you would suffer terribly? That he couldn't bear to be the home he had bought for your future?" Mr. Rubenstein added. "And as if that wasn't enough, you didn't care that he discovered all of this as you married his best friend from childhood?"

Karmela just shook her head. "I cared…just…"

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

"Just?" Mr. Rubenstein prompted, but she stayed silent. "Just didn't care enough?"

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She sniffed and nodded shamefully.

"Was Landon ever mean to you?"

"No."

"Did he ever hit you?"

Karmela hesitated but couldn't lie on the stand, mainly because they had no evidence to back that possible lie up. "No."

"So, all of this was just for you? Just because?"

"I explained my reasons," she said quietly.

"Are you and your family hiding something?" Mr. Rubenstein asked pointedly.

"OBJECTION!"

Mr. Rubenstein waved his hand. "I take that back. No further questions."

Karmela's lawyer took his chance, explaining things she had sacrificed for Landon's career over the years. Except, she didn't raise any children or did wifely chores, as Landon could prove they had a live-in maid most of their marriage. His family was wealthy. Karmela hadn't been obligated to anything. They wanted for nothing. Ever.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

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Mr. Rubenstein rested his case, and the defense tried a few points. But Landon witnessed his attorney objecting and objecting. The older man shook his head and tried to hide his rolling eyes at many of their arguments. He was confident, so Landon was too.

Finally, the defendant's side ended their case. Both parties presented their closing arguments that same day and the judge told them to return the following morning. The Escorcinos didn't try to ambush Landon again.

***

"This is one of the strangest cases I've ever dealt with," the judge began bright and early. Mr. Rubenstein said that if the judge was ready for his judgment, it was surely on Landon's side.

"I still see no rhyme or reason why you, Miss Escorcino, would do something like this," he continued, putting on his glasses and reviewing some paperwork. "So, I'm ruling on the plaintiffs and order all the defendants, the Escorcinos, Miss Karmela, and her husband, and Mr. Parker to pay $5 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages."

The shock in the room from the defendant's side was palpable, but no side could react just yet as the judge kept going.

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"I'm not finished," the judge started. "This whole thing is highly suspect. So, I'm ordering a criminal investigation into the matter immediately. Divorce is much simpler than faking a death."

Landon felt a slow smile of delight developing as the judge kept going. He was suspicious about Karmela's father and how and why they would condone this crazy action. He closed the case, and finally, Mr. Rubenstein and his team celebrated.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

For illustration purposes only | Source: Unsplash

Anastasia and Thomas hugged Landon, who stood with a sigh of relief. Of course, his family didn't need the money, but he knew it was a big blow for the other side.

"Thank you, Mr. Rubenstein," Landon shook his lawyer's hand.

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"Let's go celebrate," Thomas encouraged.

"I'm sorry, Dad. I have to go back to work," Landon shook his head. "Let's have dinner on Saturday."

"Of course, son," he said, a look of pride on his face.

Landon kissed his mother goodbye and walked out of court, not caring what happened to the people who had once been so important in his life. Each step sealed something in his heart. Not cured it from the betrayal and heartbreak but froze it entirely.

He reached his office in just a few minutes and looked out of his window into the city below him, feeling nothing except an instinct to be as ruthless as possible from now on. Shocked, he realized that his ex-wife hadn't just killed her former self. She killed the old Landon, too.

"Sarah," he called to his secretary. She entered his office with a bright grin. "Send a memo. The entire wellness department is fired."

Her smile faltered as she sputtered, but the look in his eyes had her running back to her computer to do as he asked.

"Say hello to the new Landon," he whispered as he sat on his desk.

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