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Missing you, p.2
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       Missing You, p.2

          Harlan Coben / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction
Delusional--or does hope spring eternal?

This was the flip side. It was easy to be cynical and poke fun, but when she stepped back, Kat realized something that pierced her straight through the heart: Every profile was a life. Simple, yep, but behind every cliche-ridden, please-like-me profile was a fellow human being with dreams and aspirations and desires. These people hadn't signed up, paid their fee, or filled out this information idly. Think about it: Every one of these lonely people came to this website--signed in and clicked on profiles--hoping it would be different this time, hoping against hope that finally they would meet the one person who, in the end, would be the most important person in their lives.

Wow. Just let that realization roll over you for moment.

Kat had been lost in this thought, clicking through the profiles at a constantly increasing velocity, the faces of these men--men who had come here in the hopes of finding "the one"--blurring into a fleshy mess from the speed, when she spotted his picture.

For a second, maybe two, her brain didn't quite believe what her eyes had seen. It took another second for the finger to stop clicking the mouse button, another for the profile pictures tumbling by to slow down and come to a halt. Kat sat and took a deep breath.

It couldn't be.

She had been surfing at such a rapid pace, thinking about the men behind the photographs, their lives, their wants, their hopes. Her mind--and this was both Kat's strength and weakness as a cop--had been wandering, not necessarily concentrating on what was directly in front of her yet being able to get a sense of the big picture. In law enforcement, it meant that she was able to see the possibilities, the escape routes, the alternate scenarios, the figure lurking behind the obstacles and obfuscations and hindrances and subterfuge.

But that also meant that sometimes Kat missed the obvious.

She slowly started to click the back arrow.

It couldn't be him.

The image had been no more than a flicker. All this thinking about a true love, a soul mate, the one she would want to spend her life with--who could blame her imagination for getting the better of her? It had been eighteen years. She had drunk-Googled him a few times, but there had just been a few old articles he'd written. Nothing current. That surprised her, had piqued her curiosity--Jeff had been a great journalist--but what more could she do? Kat had been tempted to run a more thorough investigation on him. It wouldn't take much effort in her position. But she didn't like to use her law enforcement connections for personal reasons. She could have asked Stacy too, but again, what would be the point?

Jeff was gone.

Chasing or even Googling an ex-lover was beyond pathetic. Okay, Jeff had been more than that. Much more. Kat absentmindedly touched her left ring finger with her thumb. Empty. But it hadn't always been. Jeff had proposed, doing everything right. He had gotten permission from her father. He had done it on bended knee. Nothing cheesy. He didn't hide the ring in a dessert or ask her on the scoreboard at Madison Square Garden. It had been classy and romantic and traditional because he knew that was exactly how she'd wanted it.

Tears started to well in her eyes.

Kat clicked the back arrow through a potpourri of faces and hairstyles, a verifiable United Nations of eligible bachelors, and then her finger stopped. For a moment, she just stared, afraid to move, holding her breath.

Then a small cry escaped her lips.

The old heartbreak came back to her in a rush. The deep stab of pain felt fresh, as though Jeff had just walked out that very door, just now, just this very second and not eighteen years earlier. Her hand shook as she moved toward the screen and actually touched his face.

Jeff.

Still so damned handsome. He had aged a bit, graying at the temples, but, man, it worked so well on him. Kat would have guessed that. Jeff would have been one of those guys who got better-looking with age. She caressed his face. A tear leaked from one eye.

Oh man, she thought.

Kat tried to put herself together, tried to take a step back and gain some perspective, but the room was spinning and there was no way she was going to slow it down. Her still-shaking hand came back to the mouse and clicked on the profile picture, enlarging it.

The screen blinked to the next page. There Jeff stood, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, hands in his pockets, eyes so blue you'd look in vain for a contact lens line. So handsome. So goddamn beautiful. He looked trim and athletic, and now, despite everything, another stirring started from deep within her. For a quick second, Kat risked a peek at her bedroom. She had lived in this co-op when they were together. There had been other men in that bedroom after him, but nothing ever came close to reaching the high of what she had experienced with her fiance. She knew how that sounded, but when she was with Jeff, he had made every part of her hum and sing. It wasn't technique or size or anything like that that made the difference. It was--unerotic as it sounded--trust. That was what had made the sex so mind-blowing. Kat had felt safe with him. She had felt confident and beautiful and unafraid and free. He would tease her at times, control her, have his way with her, but he never made her feel vulnerable or self-conscious.

Kat had never been able to let go like that with another man.

She swallowed and clicked the full-profile link. His personal statement was short and, Kat thought, perfect: Let's see what happens.

No pressure. No grandiose plans. No preconditions or guarantees or wild expectations.

Let's see what happens.

She skimmed toward the Status section. Over the past eighteen years, Kat had wondered countless times how his life had turned out, so the first question was the most obvious one: What had happened in Jeff's life that he was now on a singles website?

Then again, what had happened to her?

The status read: Widower.

Another wow.

She tried to imagine that--Jeff marrying a woman, living with her, loving her, and eventually having her die on him. It wouldn't compute. Not yet. She was blocking. That was okay. Push through it. No reason to dwell.

Widower.

Underneath that, another jolt: One child.

They didn't give age or sex and, of course, it didn't matter. Every revelation, every new fact about the man she had once loved with all her heart made the world teeter anew. He had lived a whole life without her. Why was that such a surprise? What had she expected? Their breakup had been both sudden and inevitable. He might have been the one to walk out the door, but it had been her fault. He was gone, in a snap, just like the entire life she had known and planned.

Now he was back, one of a hundred, maybe two hundred, men whose profiles she had clicked through.

The question was, What would she do about it now?





Chapter 2


Gerard Remington had been only scant hours away from proposing to Vanessa Moreau when his world went dark.

The proposal, like many things in Gerard Remington's life, had been carefully planned. First step: After extensive research, Gerard had purchased an engagement ring, 2.93 carats, princess cut, VVS1 clarity, F color, platinum band with a halo setting. He had bought it from a renowned jeweler in Manhattan's Diamond District on West 47th Street--not in one of the overpriced larger stores but at a booth in the back near the Sixth Avenue corner.

Step Two: Their flight today would be leaving Boston's Logan Airport on JetBlue flight 267 at 7:30 A.M., touching down in St. Maarten at 11:31 A.M., where he and Vanessa would transfer to a small puddle-jumper to Anguilla, arriving on the island at 12:45 P.M.

Steps Three, Four, etc.: They would relax in a two-level villa at the Viceroy overlooking Meads Bay, take a dip in the infinity pool, make love, shower and dress, and dine at Blanchards. Dinner reservation was for seven P.M. Gerard had called ahead and arranged to have a bottle of Vanessa's favorite wine, a Chateau Haut-Bailly Grand Cru Classe 2005, a Bordeaux from the Pessac-Leognan appellation, at the ready. After dinner, Gerard and Vanessa would walk the beach barefoot, hand in hand. He had checked the lunar phase calendar and knew that the moon would be nearly full at the time. Two hundred eighteen yards down the beach (he'd had it measured), there was a thatch-roofed hut used during the day to rent snorkels and water skis. At night, no one was there. A local florist would line the front porch with twenty-one (the number of weeks they had known each other) white calla lilies (Vanessa's favorite flower). There would be a string quartet too. On Gerard's cue, the quartet would play "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane, the song he and Vanessa decided would be forever theirs. Then, because they both liked tradition, Gerard would bend down on one knee. In his mind's eye, Gerard could almost see Vanessa's reaction. She would gasp in surprise. Her eyes would well up with tears. Her hands would come up to her face in astonishment and joy.

"You have entered my world and changed it forever," Gerard would say. "Like the most startling catalyst, you have taken this ordinary hunk of clay and transformed it into something so much more potent, so much happier and brimming with life, than I could have ever imagined. I love you. I love you with my entire being. I love everything about you. Your smile gives my life color and texture. You are the most beautiful and passionate woman in the world. Will you please make me the happiest man in the world and marry me?"

Gerard had still been working on the exact wording--he wanted it to be just right--when his world went dark. But every word was true. He loved Vanessa. He loved her with all his heart. Gerard had never been much of a romantic. Throughout his lifetime, people had a habit of disappointing him. Science did not. Truth be told, he had always been most content alone, battling microbes and organisms, developing new medicines and counteragents that would win those wars. He had been most content in his laboratory at Benesti Pharmaceuticals, figuring out an equation or formula on the blackboard. He was, as his younger colleagues would say, old-school that way. He liked the blackboard. It helped him think--the smell of chalk, the dust, the way his fingers got dirty, the ease of erasing--because in science, truly, so little should be made permanent.

Yes, it was there, in those lost moments alone, when Gerard felt most content.

Most content. But not happy.

Vanessa had been the first thing in his life to make him happy.

Gerard opened his eyes now and thought about her. Everything was raised to the tenth power with Vanessa. No other woman had ever moved him mentally, emotionally, and yes, of course, physically like Vanessa. No other woman, he knew, ever could.

He had opened his eyes, and yet the dark remained. At first he wondered if he was somehow still in his home, but it was far too cold. He always kept the digital thermostat set at exactly 71.5 degrees. Always. Vanessa often teased him about his precision. During his lifetime, some people had considered Gerard's need for order close to being anal or even OCD. Vanessa, however, understood. She both appreciated it and found it to be a bonus. "It is what makes you a great scientist and a caring man," Vanessa had told him once. She explained to him her theory that people we now consider "on the spectrum" were, in the past, the geniuses in art, science, and literature, but now, with medications and diagnoses, we flatten them out, make them more uniform, dull their senses.

"Genius comes from the unusual," Vanessa had explained to him.

"And I'm unusual?"

"In the very best way, my sweet."

But as his heart swelled from the memory, Gerard couldn't help but notice the strange smell. Something damp and old and musty and like . . .

Like dirt. Like fresh soil.

Panic suddenly seized him. Still in pitch-darkness, Gerard tried to lift his hands to his face. He couldn't. There was something binding his wrists. It felt like a rope or, no, something thinner. Wire maybe. He tried to move his legs. They were bound together. He clenched his stomach muscles and tried to swing both legs into the air, but they hit something. Something wooden. Right above him. Like he was in. . . .

His body started bucking in fear.

Where was he? Where was Vanessa?

"Hello?" he shouted. "Hello?"

Gerard tried to sit up, but there was a belt around his chest too. He couldn't move. He waited for his eyes to get used to the dark, but that wasn't happening fast enough.

"Hello? Someone? Please help me!"

He heard a noise now. Right above him. It sounded like scraping or shuffling or . . .

Or footsteps?

Footsteps right above him.

Gerard thought about the dark. He thought about the smell of fresh soil. The answer was suddenly so obvious, yet it made no sense.

I'm underground, he thought. I'm underground.

And then he started to scream.





Chapter 3


Kat passed out more than slept.

As it did every weekday, her iPod alarm woke her with a favorite random song--this morning's was "Bulletproof Weeks" by Matt Nathanson--at six A.M. It had not escaped her attention that she was sleeping in the very bed where she had slept with Jeff all those years ago. The room still had the dark wood paneling. The previous owner had been a violin player at the New York Philharmonic who'd decided to make the entire six-hundred-square-foot apartment look like the inside of an old boat. It was all dark wood and portholes for windows. She and Jeff had laughed about it, making dumb double entendres about making the boat rock or capsizing or calling for a life raft, whatever.

Love makes the cloying somehow poignant.

"This place," Jeff would say. "It's so not you."

He, of course, had viewed his undergraduate fiancee as brighter and cheerier than her surroundings, but now, eighteen years later, anyone stepping into her abode thought the place fit Kat perfectly. In the same way you hear how spouses start looking like each other as the years piled on, she had started becoming this apartment.

Kat debated staying in bed and catching a few more Zs, but class would be starting in fifteen minutes. Her instructor, Aqua, a diminutive transvestite with a schizophrenic personality disorder, never accepted anything but life-threatening excuses for missing class. Besides, Stacy might be there, and Kat hoped to run this whole Jeff development past her. Kat threw on her yoga pants and tank top, grabbed a water bottle, and started for the door. Her gaze got caught up on the computer sitting on her desk.

Ah, what's the harm in taking a quick look?

The YouAreJustMyType.com home page was still up, though it had signed her out after two hours of inactivity. They splashed an "exciting introductory offer" to "Newcomers" (who else would be eligible for an introductory offer?), a month of unlimited access (whatever that meant) for just $5.74 "discreetly billed" (huh?) to your credit card. Luckily for Kat, Stacy had already bought her a full year. Yippee.

Kat put her name and password back into the fields and hit RETURN. There were messages now from men. She ignored them. She found Jeff's page--she had, of course, bookmarked it.

She clicked the REPLY button. Her fingers rested on the keypad.

What should she say?

Nothing. Not right now anyway. Think it through. Time was a-wasting. Class was about to begin. Kat shook her head, stood, and headed out the door. As she did every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Kat jogged up to 72nd Street and entered Central Park. The mayor of Strawberry Fields, a performance artist who made his living on tourist tipping, was already laying out his flowers on the John Lennon Imagine memorial tiles. He did it nearly every day, but he was rarely out this early. "Hey, Kat," he said, handing her a rose.

She took it. "Morning, Gary."

She hurried past Bethesda's upper terrace. The Lake was still quiet--no boats out yet--but the water spouting off the fountain glistened like a beaded curtain. Kat veered to the path on the left, coming up near the giant statue of Hans Christian Andersen. Tyrell and Billy, the same two homeless men (if they were homeless--for all she knew, they lived in the San Remo and just dressed this way) who sat here every morning, were, as always, playing gin rummy.

"Ass looking good, girl," Tyrell said.

"Yours too," Kat replied.

Tyrell loved that. He stood up, did a little twerking, and slapped Billy five--dropping his cards on the path in the process. Billy scolded him.

"Pick those up!" Billy shouted.

"Just calm down, will ya?" To Kat: "Class this morning?"

"Yep. How many people?"

"Eight."

"Did Stacy walk by yet?"

At just the mention of her name, both men removed their hats and placed them over their hearts in respect. Billy muttered, "Lord have mercy."

Kat frowned.

Tyrell said, "Not yet."

She continued to the right and circled around Conservatory Water. There were model boats racing early this morning. Behind the Kerbs Boathouse, she found Aqua sitting cross-legged. His eyes were closed. Aqua, the product of an African American father and a Jewish mother, liked to describe his skin as mocha latte with a splash of whipped cream. He was petite and lithe and, right now, sat with a complete stillness so at odds with the manic boy she had befriended many years ago.

"You're late," Aqua said without opening his eyes.

"How do you do that?"

"What? See you with my eyes closed?"

"Yes."

"It is a special yogi master secret," Aqua said, "called peeking. Sit."

She did. A minute later, Stacy joined the group. Aqua didn't give her any admonishment. Aqua used to hold the class on the Great Lawn--that is, until Stacy started showing up and demonstrating her flexibility in public. Suddenly, men found tremendous interest in outdoor yoga. Aqua didn't like that, so he made the morning class female only and now kept it in this hidden spot behind the boathouse. Stacy's "reserved spot" was closest to the wall so that those who wanted to ogle from a distance would have no sight line.

Aqua led them through a series of asanas. Every morning, rain or shine or snow, Aqua taught class in this very spot. He didn't charge a specific fee. You gave him whatever you thought was just. He was a wonderful teacher--instructive, kind, motivating, sincere, funny. He adjusted your Downward Dog or Warrior Two with the slightest touch, yet it moved everything within you.
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