Jess has an early nightSupport the show
Excuse the Jess is a fictional story told over each season.
Written & Performed by: Jacquie J Sarah
Produced by: Deliciously Bright Productions
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Episode 6 – New Year
Hello and welcome to episode 6 of season 3 of Excuse the Jess. Happy new year. It is kind of new year for me, but probably closer to the next one for you. Happy new year for that one then. Last time you left me in a house on Christmas day with mainly a bunch of lovely strangers who tried to convert me into a cult and then announced a traditional British dinner but never provided any Christmas crackers. Let’s crack on.
We said goodbye to Niles’s parents the morning after Christmas day, day 97, with an invitation to Amy’s the following evening, and headed back to New York. No Boxing day there so Niles had to put a couple of hours of work in from home before seeing his daughter. I had brought some work from the UK, but it was boxing day and I wasn’t planning to do any of it. I thought it was the opportunity to write but of course I didn’t. Just read.
Amy’s place was an apartment with views of Central Park. It was entirely what I would have expected from her. Tasteful, gorgeous, but homely, purchased after her divorce. Amy ordered in Chinese food washed down with white wine. It was lovely because Niles could relax, no one he might know could see us and Amy was the perfect host. I noticed Niles had been on his best behaviour at his parents, but it looked like Amy was too. She was funnier, sharper, and more honest at her home. We talked about not having children and it being a deliberate choice, about politics, how our rights were being eroded, and growing older. You know, light hearted dinner conversation. She is sharp as a tac but never at any stage did she make me feel stupid or not equal to the conversation. I adored her and could see why she was Niles’s confident. At one point in a very deep conversation, I realised Niles was staring and hadn’t spoken for a while so I asked what was wrong. He said nothing at all, everything was perfect. Not very helpful.
As we left, she asked for my phone number because her brother wasn’t very good at sharing. I was thrilled. I tried to play it all casually, but I couldn’t get my phone out quick enough for the exchange. I did check with Niles afterwards, and he said he was just happy we got on.
‘Why didn’t Daphne and her get on?’ I asked.
‘They were just different, plus she is a bit overprotective of her little brother.’
Which told me absolutely nothing. It’s not like Amy and I were similar either. Then it occurred to me that she just wanted my number so she could keep tabs on me with her brother. That was fine also. I wondered if I would appear too keen if I text her as soon as we got home so it took me fifteen minutes to craft an 8-word text that said. Thank you so much for a lovely evening x. I got into bed not thinking I would hear from her when I heard the familiar ping of my phone. I was so excited. I expected a quick no problem or whatever phrases the cool kids use now. Instead, she wrote, we are doing it again soon with two kisses. Niles was by now next to me and asked why I was looking so happy so I showed him, my phone pinged again. ‘PS in the podcast, use my real name. I confirmed I couldn’t think of a name more fitting anyway. Niles looked at me grinning and asked if he was going to lose me to his sister.
I pretended to mull it over while he feigned indignation.
‘Problem is, as much as I love her, I still find you super hot.’
‘Prove it’, he grinned.
So I did.
On day 100 we celebrated by me finally getting to see work HQ which seemed fitting after how we met. A car took us into the office. Niles had made it clear we couldn’t say we were seeing each other. I said no shit Sherlock and I don’t think he’d ever heard that expression before. It’s not like we could make it clear in any circumstances involving him. I had the tour of the building and I finally got to see the office that Niles and I met online, all those months ago. He may have had a New York corner office but I still preferred mine. I didn’t, really. It was everything you expect from an office block though. Modern, efficient, and most of all clean. I remembered the day that Niles had walked into the office at the factory in Wales and the grime there. My heart went out to him.
On day 101, I went for a walk as Niles was in the office. I had done that a few times in my life, but I was bored now. I wanted Niles to show me all the best places that the locals went. He didn’t want to take me anywhere though. I stopped for a coffee and watched the world go by and wondered if Amy was free, but I just couldn’t just ask her. I text her asking how she was. She immediately rang.
‘Where are you my beautiful new friend?’ she opened with.
She and Niles were good with the sarcasm fair play. People after my own heart.
‘I don’t know, drinking coffee, somewhere. I don’t suppose you’d want to catch up?’
I was waiting for the excuse when I heard, ‘I would love to.’
And I was happy until I heard the word but. The but was she was going to check on the progress of a building for a charity she was a trustee of. If that was an excuse, it was one of the best I’d ever received.
‘We grab drinks when it’s over?’. She finished.
I was finally going to have a proper New York Sex in the City moment. Except it’s not called that anymore it’s And Just Like That. That’s okay too, I am just glad they killed that manipulative fuckwit off in the first episode. Oh and spoiler alert.
‘Yes’, I said a little too quickly.
‘Hey Jess, do ya think you’d come with me to this meeting? I could use your perspective.’
I couldn’t flag down a taxi fast enough.
The taxi to an address in downtown New York. Do I sound like a local now? No? It was that taxi not cab thing. Anyway, I turn up at the building and Amy comes to the door to let me in. We are instructed to put hard hats on because there were still parts of the building which hadn’t been secured yet. It was an old building. I couldn’t tell you the period. Victorian/Edwardian. I don’t think Americans use those terms anyway. Amy and I were walked around the building talking to the person who runs the charity. No, I am not going to name them. You got Amy and Jess as real names though. It was a grief centre which was much needed in the area I was told. It’s needed in every area I thought. It’s one of those things that happen to us all in a greater or lesser degree. It sounded great. Counsellors on hand, a drop in centre, meditation centre, a garden. Let’s call them Jac, stopped at a room and said this was a space for children. They were going to put in a games console, stream films, with a massive sofa too relax. I blurted out or nothing. Jac looked at me quizzically. I said well keep the seating but maybe people want nothing. No stimuli just a space that they can be on their own or, if maybe just colouring books, or a pad to draw or write. Jac looked at me sideways and I thought I had definitely overstepped. They suddenly said, that’s good and we carried on. Amy gave me a sideways glance and a quick smile, the one Niles was good at and we carried on.
After an interesting hour in the old building, Amy bundled me into a taxi and we ended up pulling outside an old building that could have been a house. Amy had a keycard and as we walked through the door, I realised it was a pub of sorts. A club. There was a reception area where someone who knew Amy greeted us and asked to sign me in. Then we walked into a room which looked old fashioned and modern all at once. Hard to describe but it was fairly dark. Almost immediately I was handed a menu of drinks. I asked Amy what was good and she told me her favourite gin cocktail and being open to anything, or should I say just about anything, I said I would have that. I was a little giddy. This is what I wanted to do with Niles. Go to a place that only the locals knew about. See a slice of the city I had never seen before. I wanted to tell Amy that but that is what you don’t do to someone’s sister. It took another three drinks for me to tell her. The thing was, although Niles was one of my very favourite people, I wanted to know more about Amy. Her life, her interests. How did she get to be so cool. I know, I sound one hundred years old. The nice thing was that she asked me back. She obviously had some knowledge because I had put out podcasts into the world. No subject was really off limits and I liked the fact that she asked some questions about my childhood. Most people shy away from it. Niles and her were pretty head on with it and I appreciated that. People had been through far worse. The conversation again was really easy and fun. Odd that I had only known her for a short space of time. Although I did have prior knowledge too. Niles talked about her often. Niles rang me three drinks in to check in on me. I had texted to say I was going out with Amy. I told him we were in this gorgeous little place Amy was a member of and he should come after work. He told me to enjoy myself and to text when I was leaving, and he’d order takeaway so that was what led to the conversation. I didn’t just pluck it from the air even though it was on my mind. I said Niles didn’t like going out anywhere and the various situations. Amy just nodded along so I guessed that it was not a subject for conversation, so I ended with.
‘I think I will just get used to the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen with me.’
Amy burst out laughing just as the waiter came over to ask if we wanted more drinks. I internally thanked him because I was a little hurt by the response. I said I would have the same again and disappeared to the toilet to regroup. Five minutes later I was back bright and breezy ready for more Sex and Just Like That moments.
Amy was texting when I came back so I gave her a moment. She put the phone back in her bag and grinned.
‘I am so happy my brother met you.’
I was going to reply that I was happy too but she continued. ‘Just because he introduced us.’
‘Why didn’t you get on with Daphne?’ I blurted out.
She sat back to consider it.
‘Daphne was a bit more uptight than me, but that wasn’t the real reason.’
Amy started and stopped a couple of times and then suddenly said it. ‘It was because she tried hard to control my brother and it took us months to realise because we didn’t see him properly because of lockdowns.’
This was news to me. Controlling?
‘Maybe control is the wrong word. It was things like he was putting on weight or he was drinking too much or he was lazy.’
I think control was the right word and she knew that. A former lawyer knows the power of words. A few thoughts flashed into my head. Like what a mare, poor Niles, and why hadn’t he ever told me? I know it had only been four months but its not like we were talking through each other’s lives in chronological order.
‘I shouldn’t have told you,’ she finished with.
I felt on the defensive because after poor Niles, it was poor Amy who had to deal with that with her brother.
‘I wouldn’t, I couldn’t do that to him, he’s…’
‘I know’, she interrupted me. ‘you’re different from her. You I like.’
I think I might have blushed. It may have been the alcohol.
‘I think your brother is pretty perfect.’
She raised her eyebrows.
‘Apart from the fact he’s romantic.’ (make throwing up noise).
‘Ewww’, she laughed and we changed the subject.
It was New Year’s Eve morning, day 102, when there was a call into the apartment. Phil who ran the reception/security foyer announced to me that Daphne was downstairs asking to come up. If it hadn’t had been me that answed, I might never have known. Niles was in the bathroom though, so by luck, it was me that picked up. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know they had been in touch. Why hadn’t I asked? I heard Phil’s voice again asking for instruction, so I told him to give me a minute. Niles luckily came out and asked what was wrong. I explained who it was, and he froze. I asked him why she was there. His face went white, well, whiter than usual.
‘ I don’t know.’ He finally said.
‘Do you still talk to each other?’
He said nothing. Which is an obvious yes.
‘Does she know about me?’
He said nothing again and then shook his head.
‘Send her up’, I said into the phone.
‘What did you do that for?’ Niles asked
I didn’t need to explain though, not if he didn’t.
I went into the closest. Picked up my boots, coat, and bag and walked out of the apartment.
Of course, he yelled at me to stop. Something about it wasn’t like that.
I called for the lift and waited for it to come. As the doors opened I was confronted with Daphne, who looked at me oddly. There I was, standing in socks, holding my coat and boots. I would have looked odd. She didn’t though. She was attractive and elegant, taller than I had imagined, and not a mess like me. I let her out and she thanked me as I run in and tried to close the doors as quickly as I could behind me. I managed to have my boots and coat on before the lift doors opened in the lobby.
I didn’t know where I was going. I only knew one other person in New York, and that was the sister of the man I was furious with.
I wasn’t in the mood to walk, so what was left to do? The busiest city in the world. I saw an Irish bar and hoped there would be a bar seat.
There was and I perched myself on a stool.
The bartender came over and took my order for beer. It was always beer when I was on my own. The wine was expensive here.
He complimented my accent and earned his tip. Then, as the bar was quiet, we had a conversation about NYE in New York and how you wouldn’t be able to move a bit later. As he moved to serve another person, I figured it wouldn’t harm to call Amy. Maybe she could tell me what was going on, or not. Maybe she too was bored of me and come to her senses.
The phone was answered on the second ring.
‘Hey beautiful’, she said. Bless her, it always sounded like she meant it.
‘Are you free to chat?’
‘Always for you. Where is my brother?’
‘He’s at the apartment with Daphne’
There was a pause before she asked. ‘Where are you?’
I looked at a menu in front of me for the name of the bar.
‘Be right there.’ She said and hung up.
I hadn’t expected her to come rushing over. Would have chatted on the phone but within 10 minutes that beautiful lady was in the bar.
She handed a $50 dollar note to the bar tender and asked for him to bring over a bottle of wine to a booth.
Once there she asked me what happened and I told her. No exaggerations, no hyperbole. I know she would eventually have to side with her brother.
‘I want to kill him.’, she finally said.
‘Because he wants to get back with his ex? Harsh but fair’
‘He won’t get back with her’, she said as a matter of fact.
‘Maybe he already has’. I said with the same force in my voice.
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled it out and it was Niles. I rejected the call. That could wait.
‘Did you know that they were in touch?’ I asked Amy.
She shook her head. I was putting her in the middle, I would have to step back. There was silence while the bartender brought over the wine bottle and glasses.
My phone started ringing. Niles again. I rejected the call again.
‘I shouldn’t have rung you’, I finally said.
‘No Jess, I’m glad you did. So glad you did.’
I took a huge gulp of wine. What was I going to do? I could try to get a hotel, but it was New Years Eve in New York. I had no choice but to front it out with Niles and stay in the spare bedroom and try to get a flight home tomorrow.
‘No, I shouldn’t have. I am so glad I met you, though.’
She took my hand. ‘Jess, this isn’t the end. Yes, he’s a prick for not telling you but please don’t end it because of that.’
As if on cue, my phone rang again so I picked it up and switched it off.
‘I’m not ending it. He is. I always knew I was the rebound person.’
‘Niles is not on the rebound.’
It was a mistake ringing Amy, she adored her brother. So she should.
I moved my hand away from hers and stood up.
‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have involved you’. I went to pick up my phone, so she snatched it away.
‘Jessica Jodi Garner you sit your ass back down and listen to me.’
And it was so firm and so insistent, I did exactly as I was told.
‘My brother loves you, not Daphne. You. Not only that, he just fucking adores you. Guess what? You adore him too. I don’t know why he keeps not being truthful with you, Christmas and now this, but I’m pretty sure it’s because he doesn’t want to lose you, not that he’s pushing you away.’
I took it all in, and then I realised the source. A big sister defending her little brother. Her phone rang and I saw Niles’s face light up on her screen.
She answered almost immediately and told him she was with me. Then she called him a ‘fucking asshole.’ Which I really couldn’t disagree with. I took the opportunity to take my phone back and I deposited it safely in my bag. I would go soon.
‘He’d like you to go back.’, Amy relayed to me.
‘He can come here’, I said compromising.
There was a pause and then Amy said. ‘He’d really like you to go back to the apartment.’
Of course he did. Then he wouldn’t have to be seen with me.
‘Is she still there?’, I asked Amy
Amy shook her head. He obviously had said so already.
‘Okay, but after I finish my drink.’
When I got back to the apartment, Niles apologised immediately. Said he should have told me. Daphne had texted a few times enquiring after him. He had replied, enquiring back. He assured me that was it. Daphne turning up today was out of the blue. But it’s not out of the blue if you are keeping in touch, I reminded him. He agreed.
‘I told her about us Jess, I told her that it was over, and I was with someone.’
Only because he was too gutless to tell her that nothing would happen between them. Something he was supposed to have told her months ago. I didn’t know what to say. I would be going home soon, and I could think then.
‘She’s beautiful’, I finally told him.
‘She is nothing compared to you.’, Niles lied.
‘Then why do you keep me in the dark about everything?’
He had the good grace to agree. ‘I think I have much explaining to do.’
The rest of New Year's Eve 2022 was spent talking, then drinking, then just after midnight we went to bed and he fell asleep. I stayed awake looking back over the past year. It started with me being unwell, learning I would lose my job, being offered a new one, things starting well there and then went south quickly, the writing retreat, knowing for sure in work that people stealing from the company, then telling head office, Niles coming here and the head fuck that was. Being punched and then attacked within the same two weeks. The being made redundant, finding a new role, moving then Niles coming back and here I was ending the year in his bed. I am glad it all settled down except it hadn‘t and I wondered whether I had the strength to save Dawn’s business, then get a new job, move to wherever I could find work, get through whenever Niles finishes his rebound and get through another birthday. I may have survived a global pandemic, but I wasn’t sure I’d survive 2023.