“Be forewarned: You won’t sleep until you finish the last page.”—Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World
One night. One email. Two realities...
Before: Jen Waite has met the partner of her dreams. A handsome, loving man who becomes part of her family, evolving into her husband, her best friend, and the father of her infant daughter.
After: A disturbing email sparks suspicion, leading to an investigation of who this man really is and what was really happening in their marriage.
In alternating Before and After chapters, Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment form the past five years that isn't part of the long con of lies and manipulation. Instead, she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have imagined. With the pacing and twists of a psychological thriller, A Beautiful, Terrible Thing looks at how a fairy tale can become a nightmare and what happens when “it could never happen to me” actually does.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2017 Jen Waite
B E FO R E
MARCO. This man, I knew in my gut, was it. I finally understood what it meant, when you “just know.” I just knew about Marco. I met him at the Square, the restaurant where we both worked. I got a job as a waitress to make the money that did not seem to be materializing from my acting and modeling careers. Two years out of college, I had quit my job as an analyst at a hedge fund and decided to become a full‑time actor, to “go for it.” It sounded great in theory.
A year later, I’d gone to audition after audition, casting after casting, and the biggest job I had booked was starring in a holiday vodka commercial. The role called for “blonde, pretty, aspirational, Swedish‑looking.” Check, and apparently check, check, check. A whole twenty seconds of staring dreamily into the eyes of the chiseled‑faced man I had met a few hours before and clinking my glass against his. Having a restaurant job to pay the bills made me a cliché, but it was necessary, and besides, it gave the days structure.
On the first day of training at the Square, a trendy burger restaurant a few blocks from my apartment, I sat with ten other new employees around a large, circular table, listening to Bruce, the tiny, energetic manager go over the corporate “steps of service.” It was my second waitressing job—the first, a chain restaurant in midtown (the only place that would hire me with no experience) lasted just two months. As Bruce danced around the restaurant, demonstrating when to bring steak knives versus butter knives to a table, I scanned the faces around the table, landing on dark brown eyes belonging to one of the bartenders. He was tall and Latin with black, slicked back hair and mocha skin. Judging by his accent when he asked a question about the bar setup a few moments earlier, he had been born elsewhere but had lived in the States awhile; the way he spoke was confident and fluid. Our eyes briefly locked and he gave a quick, easy smile. I looked away, willing myself not to blush. I had learned long ago that the best way to survive in New York City was to keep my defenses up at all times. And anyway, I was happy with my long‑distance boyfriend back home in Maine. Jeff had light blue eyes, curly brown hair, and a build comprised of the muscles he used every day in his construction job. When I saw him without clothes, it was like seeing a Greek god in the flesh. I had never seen a body like that in real life before. I had met Jeff while I was home for the summer helping my mom recover from surgery. When I went back to New York at the end of the summer, we substituted drunken nights on his couch for hours on the phone, and what was supposed to be a fun summer fling somehow turned into a year‑long romance. Our relationship of texting and sporadic weekend visits was easy, and he made me laugh.
The meeting ended, and I gathered my notebook and pen and slid my sunglasses up to rest on top of my head. I was almost through the doors leading to the street before anyone else had even gotten up from the table. I felt someone come up right behind me and suddenly the door was opening. It was the Latin.
“Jen, right?” Except the way he said it, it sounded like “Gin.”
“Um, right. Sorry, I was just—”
“I’m Marco, the bar manager. Bruce asked me to hand out these employee packets to everyone at the end of the meeting, but you ran away before I could give you one,” he said, passing me some rolled up sheets of paper.
“Oh, sorry, I was just . . . thanks.” I couldn’t help but meet his open face with a smile.
“Well, you’re obviously in a hurry,” he said with a wink and then walked away before I could respond.
The next day at work we did speed drills at the bar to see how quickly the bartenders could churn out drinks during a rush.
“Send three drinks on different tickets, right now, bam, bam, bam,” Bruce whispered to me and rubbed his hands together. I put in the order for three drinks.
“Ah, a jalapeño margarita for . . . Gin,” Marco said as he read the first bar ticket. My face flushed with color. The next ticket printed. “And a mojito for . . . Gin,”
Marco said with a half-smile. I smiled back as the third ticket printed. “Martini straight up with a twist. Wait. Don’t tell me,” he scrunched his face up, “For Gin!”
“I’m sorry.” I laughed, walking over to the bar. “Bruce made me,” I whispered when I got close enough.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “At least I have something nice to look at while I make these drinks.”
“Oh. Ha,” I said and forced myself to breathe in and out steadily through my nose.
On the last night of training, before the restaurant opened to the friends and family of the owners the next day, everyone decided to go for a drink at the dive bar two blocks away. I finished my side work and walked to the bathroom to change out of my black uniform.
“Are you coming to Doyle’s, Gin?”
I looked up to see Marco walking toward me with his small work duffel bag in hand.“Umm . . . yeah. I just have to change.”
“I’ll wait for you at the bar. Everyone else already left,” he said with a smile.
“Oh, OK . . . I’ll be right out.” My heart pounded as I quickly pulled on skinny jeans and a loose T‑shirt.
I walked back through the main room of the restaurant. Marco was waiting by the big glass doors.
“After you.” Marco held the door open, and we walked through.
“Who said chivalry is dead,” I said with a small smile.
“Oh, that’s my Latin charm. It’s been bred into me over generations and generations,” he said seriously.
“Oh, really, is that so?” When our shoulders touched for an instant on the way to Doyle’s, I momentarily stopped breathing.
At the bar, we settled in with our coworkers. I sat down next to Andrew, a server with a gleaming bald head and oversize bright white teeth, who immediately began telling me about his relation‑ ship troubles with his current boyfriend. Marco ordered two vodka sodas and placed one in front of me. “Double vodka soda for Gin.” His smile swept over me. As he walked to the other side of the table, I thought, I am going to marry that man. It was a quick, involuntary thought, and I recoiled as soon as it had passed through my mind. I took a long drink through the straw in front of me and focused on the cool liquid sliding down my throat.
For the next hour I talked and joked with Andrew and Karly, another blonde waitress. I’d always thought Karly was icy, but after two beers she melted into a sweet, goofy girl from California. Karly confessed she put on a “bitch face” to fend off advances from the bussers who seemed particularly drawn to her even though she hovered almost a foot above them. I was aware of Marco sitting across the small table from me the entire time, and even though we were both involved in separate conversations, I felt myself speaking every word and making each gesture only for him. As the double vodka soda settled into my bones, loosening my limbs and flushing my cheeks, I pressed my knee into his under the table. For half a second, there was nothing. And then I felt it. A slight returned pressure. Neither of us acknowledged what was happening under the table, and it went unnoticed by all our coworkers.
When everyone else said their good‑byes around 2:00 a.m., I turned to Marco, “Are you sure you ordered me a double? It was a little weak.” Instead of leaving with the others, he grinned and made his way to the bar saying, “In that case, I better get you another drink or you’ll leave dissatisfied, and we wouldn’t want that.” Karly paused at the door, “Are y’all coming?”
“No, we’re gonna have one more. See you tomorrow!”
Pull up, a voice whispered in my head. Instead I took a large gulp of the drink Marco had just set in front of me.
He wanted to know everything about me. There was something about the way Marco looked at me, his eyes were so intense, like I was the only person in the bar. I told him about growing up in a small town on the coast of Maine. My childhood filled with sandy beaches and freezing cold water that gave me ice cream headaches when I dunked (but I always dunked anyway) and playing tag at night with the neighborhood kids. I told him about my parents. How they were the parents that my friends wished were their own parents: affectionate, warm, and funny but also just strict enough. My mom worked her way up the corporate ladder as a manager at L.L.Bean, and my dad was a computer engineer. I told Marco about the moment my dad announced that he had quit his job to start his own company. How, even as an eleven‑year‑old, I knew it was something special and something to be proud of, but the uncertainty made me nervous. After his first two start‑ups failed, we saw less and less of him as he worked longer and longer hours. My mom started getting migraine headaches. There was a tension in our house that had never been there before. And then, after four years and three failed start‑ups, my parents brought my sister and me into the dining room and told us to look at the newspaper lying on the kitchen table. The tiny little blurb circled in pen read, “Cimaron Snapped up by AMCC.” My sister and I shrieked in delight. My father’s start‑up had been bought by a larger company—we were never told the details, but after that morning, the tension in our house dissipated.
I’m not usually in the habit of revealing much about my childhood, but when Marco looked at me, he saw me, who I really was, and my self‑consciousness evaporated. His questions came one after another, and, when I got to the part about my long‑ distance boyfriend, I blushed but plowed on. Marco just smiled and started talking. He told me about growing up in Argentina, about his grandfather’s house in the countryside where he would go for the summer and take care of his grandfather’s bunnies (only much, much later would he confess that many of those bunnies ended up on their dinner plates), about his trip to the United States with his mother, father, and older sister when he was eighteen. The trip that changed his life. They came for a family vacation after his graduation from military high school. After spending a week in New York City as a tourist who spoke five words of English, he fell in love with the excitement and energy of the city and refused to board the plane back home. It was a split second decision that resulted in a brand‑new life in a foreign country and the most exciting city in the world. Then, five years later, when he was just twenty‑three and had worked his way up from a busser, to a server, to a bartender, and had become fluent in English, he got his Polish girlfriend pregnant. The girlfriend left him when the baby was a year old, and he had stayed in New York to be close to his son. He had begged her to try to make it work for their new family, but she had already moved on to someone else. She gave him a week to get out of their apartment so her new boyfriend could move in. That was seven years ago.
“I’ve never told anyone those details before,” he said slowly, looking up from his hands.
“I’m so sorry. That’s . . .” I reached out and touched his arm.
I wanted to know everything about him, but in the next moment, he cleared his throat and smiled, “I think they’re closing up. You better finish your drink.”
I leaned forward to take in the last of the vodka soda through the straw.
“Don’t do that.” “Do what?” I asked.
“Lean over like that.”
I looked down to see cleavage, a lot of cleavage. “On that note . . . it’s probably time for me to go home.”
Marco walked me home, and we hugged in front of my building. When our bodies pressed together, electricity coursed through my body.
“Well, I think you better go inside right now,” Marco said with a laugh.
“Because if you don’t get out of my sight soon, I might try to kiss you. And I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
My cheeks flushed with pleasure.
“Good night, Marco.”
“Good night, Gin.”
What People are Saying About This
Like Big Little Lies, A Beautiful Terrible Thing is a startling reminder that fairy tales aren't real. A master class in suspenseful storytelling, Jen Waite recounts the lies, betrayals, and infidelity she endured with unrestrained honesty and deft candor. I couldn't turn away.
A twisting, compulsively readable story of devastating betrayal and survival. I could not put this book down.
Jen Waite has illuminated the experience of betrayal with important and lyric light. Robert Mapplethorpe said, 'Nothing is finished until you see it.' I would add that nothing is finished until you tell it as well and as fairly as she has.
Gripping from start to finish. A compelling and cautionary tale about how the longing to be adored and live inside a fairy tale makes you vulnerable to those charming sociopaths in search of someone to exploit.
How do we really know the ones we love? Sometimes we don't, and in Jen Waite's harrowing, deeply intimate memoir, she gradually comes to discover that the husband she adores is actually a dangerous sociopath. As raw and ragged as the edge of a blade, what makes this book so chilling is that it's truly possible to fall in love with evil, and it can happen to anyone. Be forewarned: you won't sleep until you finish the last page.