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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 8 - Betrayed
Welcome to episode 8 of season 3 of Excuse the Jess. This is exciting. We have almost surpassed normal episodes for a season. I keep going though because I need to. This is my only writing nowadays and articulating my thoughts is not writing. It’s not even that articulate. I’ve leaned heavily into the relationship part of my life this time and not the work side. I don’t know why because I am killing it in work. Seriously, killing it. So much so I was staying on another few weeks to oversee a big deal. I mean big deal. And this is horrible, these words have got stuck in my throat. Let’s make a start.
Niles came back over in March, day 163. He had news that the OM from my previous job had tendered his resignation and was leaving shortly. Niles had decided to oversee the job interviews himself, which was just an excuse to see me he said. It wasn’t just an excuse to see me, though, he wanted me to go to Wales and sit on the interview panel with him. I would know what to look for better than him. I booked a day off my day job and the evening job became my day job for a change. Moonlighting was a lot more fun with Cybil Sheppard and Bruce Willis. Yep, another niche reference for the over forty-five. Early one March morning, I drove to Wales with Niles so we could employ someone for a place I hated. I insisted on driving because I needed something to distract me. The M4 managed that well. I did not want to go back to that place, back to those people. Nobody liked me there; I didn’t like myself there. It was like returning to the scene of the crime. The crime where I had been responsible for five people losing their jobs, by their actions, but also by mine. That guilt had never gone away. The good news, and I mean that in an ironic sense, was that they had all had got away with it. They may have lost their jobs, but no charges were pressed, so they carried on with their lives. I lost my job too, and I had to move away for new work. It still didn’t seem fair. As we pulled up, I thought I was going to be sick. The same old place, the same feelings of dread I used to have. I was going to find my spot behind the building to look at the view at some stage, and that was the only thing that was keeping me going.
Sarah was there already which I wasn’t expecting. It was about 8.30 when we got there, and she usually didn’t start until 9am. Sarah was in front reception and the only person there that liked me, I think anyway. Well, she did because the first thing she did was run around the desk to greet me with a hug. Asked how I was and how it was lovely to see me. Niles was nice to her too, not his usual stern business like, and I wondered if I had changed him here too. To be clear dear listener I hadn’t. He asked her to make us some coffee, and we were back in my old office. The one I shared with the numbers guy and then briefly with Niles. We even automatically put our things down on the same desks that we used before. It looked like it hadn’t been used since I left, but Niles said this was the room he always uses when he visits here. I hated it. When we put our laptops down and took our coats off, Niles told me to come to the centre of the office. His place I called it when he wanted to rant at me, which he did twice in the space of two weeks.
‘Come here’, he said again when I told him not to be daft, so I did what I was told. There he wrapped his arms around me and gave me a full-on kiss, it came from nowhere. When he finally moved away, he announced that was exactly what he wanted to do the last time we were here. The old romantic. The self-sabotage part of me wanted to say before you announced you were seeing your girlfriend, but I managed to bite my tongue. Also, Sarah came in with the drinks which was probably more of the reason.
Sarah asked what I had been up to, what was Reading like, and whether I would be doing more podcasts? I didn’t know she listened which meant she must have known about Niles and I. I looked at Niles. He just shrugged his shoulders. Sarah said I had mentioned it. I don’t remember that. Maybe it was after the first series, but she said she didn’t even click to listen then. She had around Christmas. FYI I hate that holiday special and may take it down.
‘And the fact you are both here together?’ I shot Niles another look, and he looked sternly at Sarah.
‘I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell your co-workers.’
Her mouth fell open, or mine did; maybe both our mouths did at the same time. Then he asked if the OM was in.
‘I’ll let him know you’re here when he gets in’, Sarah said before spinning around to me and mouthing OMG before she spun back around and requested, we enjoy our coffee before leaving.
‘We should; the coffee machine cost fucking enough’. Niles muttered. It was from the coffee machine Niles bought me when he was originally here in Wales. I gave it to Sarah as soon as I was made redundant. It was entirely his fault I did that.
‘It’s average’, I announced after sipping it probably setting the mood for the day.
There were three interviewees. They had already been whittled down before we got to this point. I saw the original application forms and gave an opinion, but that was all I knew. Today each would give a presentation and their final interview, and we would decide who gets the role. Simples.
Instead, the OM had called a staff meeting, and I was to attend. I was fuming; why would I have to be there? I was not staff. I didn’t even want to be here. Niles said I was very close to ranting, so I shut up. The OM was super nice when he saw me, but there was no mistaking the animosity between Niles and him. Niles was super-efficient with his words, and there were no pleasantries at all. The OM in return just answered normally, like there was no tension. Like he used to speak to me, so I guess that explains that. He did dislike me. Although he did make up for that later, our slate was clean. When I wailed again at Niles that I did not want to go to the meeting, he told me I should. I was the main reason why they were still there, and so off we sulked to the meeting.
The meetings in the factory were very much an example of hierarchy. The factory employees were on the floor, then there was a gantry where the office people stayed. It was easy to stay out of sight in the dark on the gantry. I always did. Most of the people in the office would stand on the side, and there was me in the corner, in the dark. The OM started the meeting with a few updates. Said they needed to be on their best behaviour because interviews were taking place. Just as I was about to leave because this obviously didn’t concern me in the slightest, the OM suddenly announced I was back for the day to oversee the interview process. Why had he done that?
‘Jess, come here.’, he said, and I was too shocked to move.
I felt a gentle nudge from Niles next to me, and I slowly walked into the light where all those people who hated me could see me. Maybe my dreams of them killing me were prophetic. I didn’t know what to say. What could I say?
When I finally looked down to smile, they didn’t look like the baying mob I had imagined. In fact, some of them were smiling back.
The OM continued to talk.
‘You left so quickly last time that we didn’t give you the opportunity for a proper send-off’. He glared openly at Niles, who glared back.
‘But you should know how much we appreciated what you did for us, how you worked to save our jobs.’
Sarah came over with chocolates, flowers, and a bottle of wine.
And I genuinely didn’t get they were for me until she was trying to hand them over.
The OM continued, ‘Thanks Jess and we wish you every success in whatever you do.’
Then someone started to clap. Then they all started clapping.
I looked over to Niles who smiled briefly at me.
I grinned at everyone I am sure I did. Whether it looked genuine, I don’t know because again I was in shock. It was utterly surreal.
When the clapping stopped, I said.
‘Well I wasn’t expecting that’, and it made people laugh because I guess they wouldn’t have thought it months ago.
And I thanked everyone and went back to the office.
The job interviews went well. I had a clear favourite. A working-class female who was born in Cardiff. Biased much? Well yes, but I also knew she would have had to have fought tooth and nail to even be in this position. Plus, her presentation was the best. She got the role eventually, but Niles was concerned, well to me anyway, that he may have a soft spot for Welsh ladies. Which was a good way to put an idea in the head of an insecure person.
When we were about to leave, I was so pleased with how the day run, I got cocky. I mean seriously. Nobody killed me there, in fact, they were nice to me. The interviews had gone well. We were leaving earlier than expected at 4pm so why didn’t I just drive us back to Reading and we could have had a takeaway and wine? I got it into my head we should go to Cardiff because I really wanted Niles to see my house. Ems wouldn’t mind but, even if she wasn’t there, I still had my house keys to let ourselves in, with her permission of course. Niles said he’d rather go back to Reading, and didn’t particularly want to see Ems, especially with the way she had been about Simon. I won that one. Promised we would only be there a short time and then we would have the evening to ourselves. So I happily drove us to Cardiff.
I hadn’t seen my home for nearly six months at that point. I was pleased to see it but at the same time it didn’t feel like my home. Now the flat in Reading, which I was giving up at some point soon, felt more like my home. That was an odd one. It came from nowhere. It was a ball ache to park too and I had forgotten how busy the streets were around my house. Still I knew when I got inside all the old feelings would come back.
There were signs of life in the house so I rang the doorbell as a warning to Ems. She would be so surprised when I turned up, especially as she always complained I never went back to Cardiff. When the door finally opened, I had a big grin on my face, ready to shout surprise. As the word was about to leave my mouth, I stopped and froze. It wasn’t the face of my friend Ems but it was Simon.
Simon looked as surprised to see me as I him. Niles was confused. Looked at me and then at Simon. They had never met so he didn’t have a clue who he was.
‘Is Emily here?’ Niles asked.
And Simon started to stutter. He took a step towards me, and I immediately stepped back. It was then that Niles must have realised what was happening and took my hand.
‘Jess, I am glad you’re here. I’ve been desperate to talk to you.’
Simon took another step towards me, so Niles let go of me and stepped between us.
‘Look mate, I don’t know you, but this is between Jess and me.’
Niles stood firm. Niles is probably a good six inches shorter than Simon and nowhere near as wide, but he didn’t flinch. The look on his face must have told Simon he was serious, and Simon took a step back.
I couldn’t deal with it, not at that moment. I tapped Niles, so he turned to me and nodded. He took my hand again and started the walk towards the car.
Simon started shouting, ‘please Jess. I really want to talk, to explain.’
But I didn’t care. I was shaking so much now that I could barely walk.
Niles took my key fob and opened the car. He led me to the passenger seat, put me in the car. Then he walked around to the driver’s seat and we drove off.
It wasn’t until we were on the M4 that Niles asked if I was okay. I wasn’t. I couldn’t stop shaking and Niles’s hand on me wasn’t making a difference. He asked if we should stop, but I said to keep going. I just wanted to be home. Then the phone rang, and because it was still my phone that was linked to the car, it came through on the stereo that Ems was calling. I felt like I was on autopilot and dutifully answered the phone. I could barely speak though.
‘Are you still around Jess? Can we meet? Explain what happened today?’
There was nothing to explain. Simon was living in my house even after I expressly told Ems he wasn’t even allowed to visit.
‘How long has he been living there?’
‘It was just it was easier with Samuel for me to stay with at home…’
I cut her off. ‘Get him out of there tonight.’
‘No please Jess, if you just talked to him’
Niles cut her off this time.
‘He is out now or the next time we speak will be through lawyers.’ Then he hung up.
We didn’t speak then. Niles had the sense to let me process this before having a conversation. He just kept reaching over and letting me know he was there. We had just entered England when the phone rang again. This time it was Izzy.
‘Are you sure you want to answer Niles asked?’
I nodded and pressed the Sat Nav.
‘Jess, I know this has been a shock. Can I help?’
‘How long have you known?’
‘I didn’t know immediately.’
‘I don’t know, it was just before Christmas and…’
I didn’t let her continue. I just hung up.
Fuck them both.
We were driving past Chippenham before Niles finally spoke.
‘What do you want to do?’
I responded without thinking, but I knew as soon as the words left my mouth that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
‘I want to sell my house.’
I let myself wallow that evening. The whole day had been utterly surreal. From the people who hated me clapping me to the people who were supposed to love me, betraying me. I know that is a strong word, but that’s exactly how it felt. I never asked them to take sides after it happened. I had let Ems stay at my house for a sum that I could have got considerably more if I had gone through an estate agent. I only had one proviso; Simon was not allowed there. Within four months, he was not only visiting but living there. Sitting on my settee watching my television, cooking on my cooker, eating with my cutlery, and sleeping in my bed. I think Niles expected a meltdown but I was stoic. I had things to do. He was brilliant though. He talked me through practical solutions, and then we ate the chocolates that my former colleagues gave me, and he held me for such a long time instead of passing out.
The next day I asked Dawn if her partner Rachel had any contacts with estate agents in Cardiff. Her partner then popped in for a chat with me with her contact, and we had a plan of action. Ems was to give the contact the keys, and they would sort out the cleaning and put the house on the market. It was a bit unusual, but they were going to do everything electronically. Dawn, in all her loveliness, checked if this was a knee-jerk reaction to what had happened, and it probably was in some respects. It just didn’t feel like home anymore. I had somewhere to live. This was going to cost me short term, but long term it was good. I didn’t know what I was going to do, buy another house, or even which city I was going to live. I had the apartment, though for the foreseeable future, and everything had been up in the air since I was made redundant from the factory in Wales. They would just be that way for a while longer. I then text Ems requesting she dropped the set of keys off to the estate agents. She text back asking to talk, asking if Simon could stay. I replied stating that we could keep things civil, or we should we just go through solicitors. I was not messing around anymore.
It was all a bit of a whirlwind the following days. I would be doing something mundane like brushing my hair or making a coffee, and then it would pop into my head that I had been betrayed by my oldest friends and it would hurt all over again. At least now I knew why she was so adamant that Simon and I had to talk. It was obviously coming to the end of my time here, and I would find out that it was Simon living there not her. Then Izzie took Ems side and didn’t tell me, didn’t even warn me that there may be an issue. Instead, she was telling me to make up with Simon. I was beginning to see that they didn’t have my best interests at heart. I had felt that way for a while. I had put up with them not being in touch for weeks during lockdowns because lockdowns messed with everyone’s head, nobody could really blame anyone then. However, when the world was opening up again, and I had become sick, they weren’t around then. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Ben, I don’t know how I would have coped. The man they hated. I thought I was dying, it felt like I was dying, I had the most profound moment of my life on that settee in Cardiff. One I haven’t even been able to tell Niles about, and still, I had forgiven them. Still made excuses for why they hadn’t been around. Why I had to always be there for them? Why they didn’t feel the same need for me? I articulated most of this to Niles on day 166, it was Sunday evening, and he just let me talk again. In the end, he just nodded and said I know. I was stunned. What did he know? He told me to listen to my podcast. I wasn’t going to do that obviously. I had enough of that when I was recording, editing, and uploading. He said that when he listened, he was so mad with them when I said I was ill and that they left me. I know, coming from him. I even joked about it. It’s not so funny now. He said if he ever saw Ben again, he would shake his hand. He had got him all wrong. Also, Niles thought I wouldn’t be interested in him when he saw Ben because he looked nothing like him. He didn’t. I had told him though that Ben was lovely. Although I was beginning to see that maybe I wasn’t the best judge of character.
Thankfully Ems did what she was told, and the estate agents said they were ready to put the house on the market by Tuesday, day 168. I couldn’t wash my hands of it, obviously. I had to go back at some stage and clear it, I was ready only to take my personal stuff though, and the rest could go to charity if they wanted it. It was time to start afresh.
That was my downfall. Always my downfall when I start to become the slightest bit optimistic. I was beginning to see a life beyond those friends, beyond constantly wanting them to like, to respect me. Hadn’t I started to do that? I had purposely pursued new relationships and friendships outside our little circle. I was going to London on the weekend to meet up with Lauren, and we were going to someone else’s premier. I liked this. I didn’t know I was capable of this. The Ems/Lizzie/Jess relationship hadn’t worked in the end. There was obviously something there that meant they were always going to choose themselves over me, which is fine for the most part. But putting their comfort over mine. No way. This is not just cancelling a night out because you have a headache. Although I had never once did that. More fool me. The optimism therefore was, yes I was moving on from a situation that wasn’t working for me, it is difficult, but things can improve. I was already speaking to new people about taking on work. I still had work from Niles. I still had a roof over my head, and I was still coping with the bills. I was okay. The future was unknown, but it always was. I just never gave it that much thought prior to the pandemic. The thing I feared was people suddenly being taken away from me. This had happened, and I was still coping. I was going to be okay. Or so I thought.
Niles was packing up to go home on the Wednesday night, day 169. He had to leave super early in the morning, and so all he had left out was his nightwear and clothes for the following day. I was anxious. It was usually him that did this, but this time it was me. I didn’t want him to go. I felt the separation already, and we still had the evening together. I couldn’t ask him to stay though, just because I needed him right now. That would make me needy, and I am not needy or anything as you know. I masked these things well. I always had so, I was chatting about the house going and trying to work out where I was going to live and what do, Niles asked whether I would go to New York. I was so pleased he asked. I said, do you think I can spend some time there after this role finished? He looked confused. Why had I even asked? I thought he was just starting the separation anxiety. He couldn’t mask it like I could.
He had cooked a meal. I would say nothing special, steak and jacket potato but he makes this sauce with it, and it’s so good. We would always have a beer with it, and I referred to it as our Dexter meal after the character who regularly ate it. He suggested that I was a little too preoccupied with television. Which he was right in a way, but hadn’t I gotten rid of what can we learn from television from the podcast just because he said so? What more did he want from me? What a fucking stupid question. Because when he casually came out with.
‘Do you think about getting married?’
I thought he meant it in an abstract way. People have said it to me many times, usually, why aren’t you married and the children question would come into play. I just replied with.
‘Nah, it’s a powerplay from the patriarchal system, and it usually gives women less power.’
He stared at me as if I’d just announced we were having chopped-up babies and ice cream for dessert.
‘Do you think I would marry anyone to take away their power Jess.? What is wrong with you?’
I could feel my stomach drop. What had I said?
‘I wasn’t talking about you. I was talking about in general.’
He dropped his cutlery and they slammed on the plate.
I jumped. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘You can’t take this seriously. You are never serious, never vulnerable. I don’t know what we’re doing?’
‘I don’t understand.’ I didn’t understand. I had been vulnerable. More vulnerable than I had been in my entire life with anyone my whole life.
‘I can’t keep doing this.’
He suddenly stood up and bolted out of the room. I went running after him.
‘What is wrong? Can we talk?’
He picked up his suitcase. It hit me that he was leaving me. He had come to his senses.
‘There’s no future for us. I’ve been a fucking idiot.’
He didn’t even stop to pick up his clothes hanging up ready for tomorrow.
He started wheeling the suitcase into the hallway.
‘So, you are just going to fucking leave me then are you? Pick a fight because you’ve had enough.’
I was angry, tearful, actually both together.
He picked up his coat, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the apartment keys. That’s when it hit me. It really hit me that he was serious. He was going. He slammed the keys onto the little side table and opened the apartment door, pushing his suitcase out. Then he turned around to face me.
‘You’ve broken my heart, Jess.’
This couldn’t happen. Not now. Not after everything.
‘Stop. Don’t leave me, please don’t go.’ I begged as the door slowly shut, and Niles disappeared out of view and out of my life.