CW- Language, Violence
Jen sits by the fire and waits for the love of her life. She watches the small embers float up and randomly sparkle about. As a young child, she witnessed a piece of ash slap itself onto a friend’s leg, who screamed and writhed in pain. That memory comes back to life when sitting by a fire, preventing Jen from feeling at ease. She truly cannot relax as she has one eye on the sparks and the other on the pathway that leads to her.
She stares upward trying to focus on the beautiful star lit sky and the heavenly smell of pine in the winter. Peter is bringing the wine, so perhaps once he arrives her mind will reset, and her thoughts will be on the magical evening this is destined to be. She is expecting a proposal and a ring. She knows he has been secretly shopping, which is a rarity, as he hates crowds, avoiding them like the pandemic.
Peter arrives, smiling and happy, sporting two champagne glasses in one hand and a bottle of Dom in the other. Wow, thought Jen, Dom…, If this is not a proposal then it is one expensive goodbye.
Peter approaches Jen takes a deep breath, as if relieved, and suddenly throws his arms around her, in a loving embrace. I have missed you. Filled with unexpected emotion, tears stream down her face as she adoringly looks up at him. They could not speak. Immediately he gets down on one knee and Jen falls completely apart. Now both sobbing he takes her hand and slides the ring on her finger. They hold each other savoring this beautiful moment. They retreat to the cabin.
Peter is Australian and has that charming accent matching a dashing style. Jen refined, cultured, brilliant. They met when Jen was assigned a 3-month stint in her final year of medical school. She was sent to Australia to further her research skills at a Perth hospital lab earning credit toward her requirements, and he frequently visited the hospital as a medical representative. They spent a lot of time together during her brief stay with the understanding that she would be moving back home within weeks and that a long-distance relationship combined with her career aspirations would prove impossible to manage.
Once Jen was back home, they both realized they could not live apart and how deeply in love they were with each other. Peter decided to leave his life behind and start anew. New Career, new home, new citizenship all in the name of love. He arrived in the states 6 months prior and moved into Jen’s apartment in the city. They shared expenses even though he had not worked since his arrival. When Jen expressed concern over his ability to maintain finances, he shared with her that he had savings and had made wise investments. Jen had complete confidence in him and trusted a job would be forthcoming, but until such time he was curious to try his hand as an actor. Always an interest of his, he felt while in the city, he might give it a go as he seemed to possess acting chops and was slowly building a nice resume. Landing bit movie roles, he was able to become a member of SAG. An important accomplishment, indicating his level of talent and commitment. Seriously bit by the acting bug he slowly stopped looking for medical rep jobs, instead taking acting classes and focusing on his reinvention.
Jen was onboard with his new lifestyle and proudly encouraged and supported his dream. Since he claimed financial independence, she did not feel an urgency to encourage otherwise. They would socialize with friends and throw parties frequently in their city apartment as well as the Cabin. Jen felt as if she were living a dream. Loving boyfriend who moved to the United States for her, marriage plans in their future, her career on the move; life was going well.
Upon completion of her residency, Jen had plans to open a private practice with a close friend. Peter was still on the fence between acting and the reality of a traditional career. The decision to return to his profession was becoming increasing difficult as he was gaining a reputation with casting directors, and it appeared as though he was sure to be cast in a breakout role in short order.
Jen and Peter’s social circle grew exponentially as they both enjoyed throwing large informal gatherings especially at her family’s generations owned cabin. The same cabin where he proposed on that beautiful starry night.
But one evening, with a bit too much wine consumed, Jen overheard a few of their guests talking about Peter’s wealth. Curious she stepped in for a closer listen, causally hiding behind a huge prickly pine tree. There were two woman, young and beautiful as you would expect actors to be, with a gorgeous hunky guy. Jen knew them from previous parties but not well.
She heard the Gwynth Paltrow look alike say,” Well Peter’s generosity is incredible. He buys drinks for the entire bar after class, and never seems to be in the position that most of us are in, having to take wait staff jobs just to get by. The gorgeous hunk (GH) said, “I’ve wondered about where all his money comes from. He does seem to be unencumbered by the restraints of low cash. Other girl wearing a blend of tattoos and fur, reveals, “He offered me money the other night once I shared with him that my mom needed a kidney transplant, and my family was struggling to afford all the medical expenses. I was so touched. It was so sweet. What a good guy.”
Jen listened carefully and had a myriad of thoughts running through her head. A bit bothered that he never mentioned any of what she overheard, she started to add up other red flag thoughts that she had considered benign when thought of individually.
There were the 2:00 am phone calls that came in regularly. Sudden disappearances that he explained, unsatisfactorily, and just a plain old gut feeling. She did not want to allow her thoughts to ruin what she had with him especially since they were so happy together. She decided to chalk it up to her own fears, “Too good to be true.” Superstitious type of thoughts deeply rooted into her head by her old-world Jewish Grandmother who would puff a “poo-poo” on every good comment, preventing that goodness from being taken away.
Jen wondered about his family. She had skyped with his best friend and sister on occasion but usually only on a holiday. His mother was deceased and his father an alcoholic with whom he rarely spoke. When Jen would inquire more deeply about his family, he always had ready answers. But, somewhere in her head she knew there was more to him then he was willing to expose. She continued pushing those thoughts away. Why rock the boat? But she did realize on some level that she did not know much about him.
That same night when Jen overheard the three actors chatting, she spied Peter jumping into his car and taking off alone without alerting anyone as to why or where he might be going. Preoccupied by his sudden disappearance, she sat under the striped awning in one of the rockers on the front porch awaiting his return with thoughts of confronting him about his whereabouts. Covered under a fleece checkered blanket, she disguised herself, as there were still guests remaining. She really wanted them to leave, and she really wanted to be alone.
Hey mate, any updates? Okay well, I just jumped in my car to check in with you, cell service spotty in the woods, but I can meet you if we need to talk in person, otherwise, I head back to the cabin, I left without notifying anyone, so I want to return before It’s noticed that I’m gone.” Okay, then. Call me with any new developments on our recent transaction and I will drive back to the city”
Jen’s imagination running rampant as he has been gone over an hour. Affair, first thought, illegal activity, second thought, or even worse in her mind, he is dying of an illness and secretly must go for treatments. She scratched that off the list immediately, just because of the hour of night. Illegal activity, no way. She could not see him involved in clandestine activities. So, affair it is. We have such an amazing relationship; how can he be looking for someone else? Nope, not it either. With plenty of time to ruminate, her imagination was running in overdrive.
He pulled up to the cabin area but parks the car out of view to slip back into the party unnoticed. Through the dense woods, he makes his way to the back portion of the property near the lake where most activity is still ongoing. Music, grill still smoking, bartenders pouring. “Hey bud, we’ve been looking for you and Jen? Where did you both disappear to?” Inquires hunky guy. “Jen?” “What do you mean? You haven’t seen Jen?” Peter asks nervously?” HG, “No, we assumed you two went off together somewhere. Peter replies, “SHIT.”
Approaching 2 hours Jen’s thoughts are fluctuating between anger and concern. Worried about Peter’s safety she leans toward concern. She decides waiting to trap him in whatever he was up to, is no longer a clever idea. Instead, she rejoins the party near the lake. Peter is talking with HG and furry tattoo girl. He turns his head and makes eye contact with her unexpectedly. Excusing himself, he turns her way, and she starts walking backward. I am livid, she blurts out. I was so worried. Why would you take off suddenly with no mention to anyone, especially me?
Peter’s reply, “I haven’t left. Where have you been? You were nowhere to be found. I have been searching for you?”
Jen: Don’t you play mind games with me, I saw you drive off,” she says in a shrill tone.
Peter: (Peter surprised by this side of Jen) “Who are you now? You’re like a stranger.”
Jen closed her eyes and just shook her head side to side, turned on her heels and stomped off in a huff, but not before making a bit of a scene. As she was in retreat to the cabin, just before slamming and locking the door behind her, she blurts out, “This evening is over. Everyone please leave.”
The crowd dispersed quickly. Peter hesitantly walked into the cabin and was about to knock on the bedroom door, and then said aloud, “screw this,” and while making his way to exit, Jen opened the bedroom door and threw the ring at him. He briefly stopped, looked at the ring meshed between the fur on the bearskin rug, looked back at her, opened his mouth as if about to speak, took another second, eyes still on her while deep in thought, turned and left.
Just who is Peter Monte?
Jen truly could not answer that question. She thought, I am a solid member of the community, had a normal upbringing with family and friends, have a rewarding career serving people in need. That is who I am …. but who the hell is Peter Monte?
Jen stared at the three wooden shelves in her apartment where she stored her precious mementos that conjured up wonderful memories. Pictures, books, items collected or gifted to her, throughout her life. A representation of things important to her heart. She noticed that she had not placed one item from Peter on those shelves. She had photos about the apartment of the two of them, but nothing that made it to her memory shelves. Perhaps never the man nor love that she thought he was? Blinded by the attention, the charm, the handsome debonair façade whose life seemed so carefree, but was any of that real? “Why didn’t I question sooner, why did I ignore the red flags, she pondered?”
Six months forward, without any contact, Jen dissolved herself into her career. Her private practice was underway and going well. Her heart still broken with the lack of explanation leading her pain. But she was strong and resolved to move on.
But what happened to Peter? She imagined getting an apartment would be easy enough for him as he was always flush and he probably decided to continue his acting career, although she had not heard his name connected with any shows or movies. Her curiosity got the best of her. There was a cute little fresh brew coffee and muffin shop next door to the building where his acting classes were held. She thought about grabbing a cup of Joe and sitting behind sunglasses and a newspaper at the window to see if he was still attending. She envisioned Audrey Hepburn in Charade, her head wrapped in a scarf and around her neck with the famous black sunglasses. Still romanticizing, she realized. This surveillance would have to be over several hours or days as she was not privy to his current schedule. Not possible, she thought, “I don’t have that kind of time.” She contemplated hiring an investigator to do a deep dive into his background. Getting information in this internet age is easier than ever and far less expensive then hiring an old-fashioned gum shoe. Her partner had a recommendation as her brother, a politician, was accustomed to these types of searches.
Deep dive search revealed, Peter Monte, 35 years old, born in Perth, Australia and worked as a medical sales rep, does not exist. There was absolutely no one fitting those criteria within the search. There was a Monty Peters, 35 years old from Perth, who reported identity theft years earlier. Apparently, someone, stole not just bank accounts and credit card numbers but had put claims in to buy and sell stocks and real estate holdings. The activity on his account closely monitored with a view of catching this brazen individual/group until 6 months ago when all activity came to a halt after the purchase of a $25,000 ring from the United States. A US federal agent was on the case and befriended Peter. The agent gained Peter’s confidence as he assisted him with finances for that purchase and the two had plans for additional acquisitions. Conjecture had it that Peter became wise to the undercover agent’s real identity, because, shortly after the ring purchase, the agent was found dead in the trunk of his car, strangled, with a scarf. The label on the scarf was a well-known Australian Scarf Maker.
That stare. The way he looked at me when he saw the ring on the rug. The thoughts that must have been going through his mind. Did he kill for me? That sends shivers down my spine. He knew a lot more had just ended than our relationship. That was the moment we both saw the truth.