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Excuse the Jess is a fictional story told over each season.
Written & Performed by: Jacquie J Sarah
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Episode 12 – Single
Hello and welcome to episode 12 of season 3. This week I have called it single. Because that’s where you left me last week. Single for nearly two weeks after being in a relationship for 169 days with a man who wasn’t called Niles. Prior to that, single for most of my life, apart from what I call blimps because that’s what they were. I had gone on a fool’s errand to see the man who decided that our relationship wasn’t worth a five-minute conversation to end it. Yes, I know my self-esteem needs some work. Anyway, I had walked out on a session with Niles and his counsellor because they seemed to be mistaken that you can have couples therapy if you are not actually a couple. Got it, good. Let’s start.
I don’t know how long I was in the hotel room alone after that therapy session. After realising that Niles and I were always doomed to end. Maybe it was ten minutes; maybe it was hours. I tried listening to music to change my mood, it didn’t. I put the TV on but couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t even look at my laptop. I thought, how was I going to book a flight home if I couldn’t pick up my laptop? Count to ten and then move I told myself.
Suddenly I heard knocking on my hotel room door. I froze. No one could see me like this. I would ignore it. They’d go away. Except they didn’t, and the knocking turned to pounding. Why won’t whoever it was, just go away? I thought. I stealthy walked to the door and was just about to go on tiptoes to see who it was when I heard a voice yell,
‘Jess, please answer the door. I can hear you.’
It was Niles.
I looked towards the mirror. My hair was messy after laying on the bed, eye make-up was on my cheeks, lipstick on my chin. I looked repulsive.
‘Please Jess’, I heard and because I am not a complete psychopath, I opened a crack in the door so he could come in.
I’d never seen him move so fast. He was in the room with the door closed before I could blink. He stared at me for a second before wrapping his arms around my waist and burying his head into my neck and shoulders. Then I felt his body convulse as he started to sob. I instinctively wrapped my arms around him as tight as I could.
‘I love you so much’, he said, and I realised he was right. I was holding back; I probably did flinch every time he said it because I think that was the first time he said it, that I 100 per cent believed him.
At some point we went from standing to lying on the bed. My head on his chest, cradled under his chin, while he lightly stroked my hair. It had turned dark in the room, and sometimes I could hear him cry, and sometimes I would cry. My arm was asleep, but I didn’t want to move because if we moved, that would be it. It would be over, and we would have to move on. We were frozen in time where we couldn’t stay together but didn’t want to be apart. It was all unspoken. We hadn’t said a word to each other since we laid down. I was so thirsty now, though and was getting a headache. Niles put the light on, and the spell was broken. He got up, put a lamp on, stretched, and went to the mini bar collecting two bottles of water. He handed one to me. I had said I was thirsty out loud then. He desperately waved his arm in the air, trying to get his circulation back. Then he went to speak and then seemed to think better of it and didn’t. He did the same again, and I wondered if we shouldn’t say goodbye, and he should just leave. That would be easier. Except the idiot had to speak.
‘I don’t want us to end, Jess.’
‘Really? Because we have ended and you’re the fucking arsehole who ended it.’
He nodded, then paced.
‘Then I’ll be the arsehole that puts it right.’
It was like this afternoon hadn’t happened. It was like the past two weeks hadn’t happened in his mind.’
‘I don’t forgive you for the way you left. Finish it yes, but you don’t just walk out like that and not get in contact. Not to me. And you’ll do it again if I let you.’
He shook his head. ‘I am sorry. Do you believe I am sorry?’
‘It makes no odds if you are. The fact remains. I am tired of being treated like this.’
‘Will you let me make it up to you?’
‘I don’t think you can.’
‘You wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t at least a shot.’
‘I only came to give you your stuff back.’
‘Please let me try. Come home with me. You can stay in the spare room, we can talk.’
‘Did you not listen to the good doctor this afternoon? We are not compatible.’
‘He didn’t say that. He said we do not communicate properly. That doesn’t mean we can’t.’
He sat down on the bed and picked up my hand.
‘Please Jess. Let’s try again.’ He started to kiss my hand, and I could feel my body responding and it was so nice, so I snatched my hand away.
‘You knew I had just seen Simon for the first time since the incident. You knew what Ems and Izzy had done. You knew I was stressed with work and needed a new job; you knew that walking away from me meant I didn’t have the job in your company.’
‘I tried.’ He interrupted. ‘I told them to give you the factory role.’
‘The one I already rejected? No, you knew all that, and you still decided that would be the time to walk away without explanation. So, why would I even think of trying again?’
‘Because I will dedicate the rest of my life to making you happy.’
‘Keep this up, and that won’t be very long.’
It made him smile, a proper smile now. It didn’t last long.
‘We’re so good together, Jess.’
‘That’s the problem, I don’t think we are.’
‘But you never wanted to end it?’
‘Then we have a shot.’
I didn’t answer that. It was a statement anyway. I wanted it to be true, but I didn’t see how.
‘Nobody said it was easy.’ I said somewhat facetiously.
‘No one ever said it would be this hard.’ He countered.
‘Oh take me back to the start.’
His face changed like it was all okay.
‘Okay, Jessica J Garner, will you go on a first date with me?’
I wouldn’t or couldn’t stay in Niles’s apartment while I was in New York. Amy offered her apartment, and so I moved there the next morning. I didn’t know how long I would be there. A day or two or a week, but Amy was as lovely as ever, offering everything in her apartment to use. Amy’s guest bedroom was better than the hotel's room anyway. Amy wasn’t going to be there that day, so I had time to myself. I felt exhausted. Jet lag and emotional turmoil are such a heady mix. The first date was that night, but I was trying to keep that to the back of my mind. I lifted my laptop lid and steeled myself to read Ems's email again. I hadn’t imagined how manipulative the language was. I am a writer, and words are important. When she moved her husband into my house without telling me, she knew it was wrong because she said it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. I would argue that most of the time, it’s not. We all hold on to those little sayings as if they have some great wisdom contained within. Then she said, and I am paraphrasing, despite everything going on in her life, she was worrying about me. There are two ways of looking at that; she is saying, see, I do care, but on the other, she is saying that she is noble and I am selfish. I know Ems, and it’s the latter, and I fall for it every time. I decided to go to Izzy’s email before replying to Ems. Izzy’s email was more straightforward. She was sorry. She had told Ems that she shouldn’t have done it but in retrospect, should have forewarned me.
I replied to Izzy first. I told her that I appreciated her apology and that I understood she was put in a difficult position. This was though another incident in a long line of me having to find out things not being told to me or having to lose it before any thought came my way. It feels like when I need help, like when I was very sick, or when I expressly asked her not to do something, like showing me a picture of Daphne, or when Ems yelled at me on the phone and didn’t speak to me for weeks and Izzy said that it was up to me to sort it out to name some recent things. It wasn’t working, the three of us being part of a friendship because I was always getting missed out. This was true; I wish I realised that years ago. It took me a long time to write that email. Making sure I was getting my point across without it sounding mean. When I reread it, I don’t know how many times my finger hovered over the cursor to press the send key. There was no going back from this now. I hadn’t expressly said to lose my number, but at the same time, I was telling her our friendship had run its course. I did say that I would be in Cardiff soon and said we could meet and discuss this further. I wasn’t sure email was the best way to end a twenty-five-odd-year friendship, but it was better than what was going on now. I steeled myself up, counted to ten, pressed send, and it was out in the world.
Ems would be the tougher one because I still didn’t believe Ems thought she did anything wrong. Not really. She knew that she did something I asked her not to do, but she also believed that I should understand how she felt about the situation and not make a fuss about it. I should not upset her further, regardless of the hurt I had felt about it. It’s a tough one because that’s what I have always done. Put her first. She would deny this. I am sure we can both think of times when she went out of her way to help me and, do you know what? Let’s say I am completely wrong about the past. Let’s say that this was the first time it had happened. It is still a massive betrayal on her behalf, and sorry is just not going to cut it. This was months of lies. We even face-timed around Christmas so she had gone to the house and kept Simon out of the way in the pretence she was living there. No, that is unacceptable. Maybe if Niles hadn’t done what he had done, and I never ended up spending time with a therapist, then maybe I would have swallowed it down and added the hurt to the rest, but I couldn’t anymore. It’s like my eyes were suddenly wide open, and the world looked different. I am probably not explaining myself well. Could explain why I was struggling with writing.
I started the same way as Izzy’s. Thanked her for her email. Appreciated that she apologised and how tough that decision was for her. Then for the brutally honest bit. It was still a massive betrayal. She had never accepted that what Simon did was traumatising, and when I wrote that word, I wondered if I was being dramatic. I decided I wasn’t. When I was upset about it all, it was easy for her to put it down to it being all about Niles, and it wasn’t. The fact that I let her move in with the proviso that Simon would not go into my home, and she had not only ignored it, but let him move in just because it was easier for her is not something that was easily forgiven. The attempts to get me to speak to Simon afterwards, regardless of how I felt, are not easily forgiven either. I have tried and failed to be the friend Ems needed because every time I put myself out there, she abused that trust. I have sold the house now because I hated it, and that was entirely down to her. How can a friendship go on on that basis? I extended the invitation to meet with her when I was in Cardiff and that was that. Another part of my life blown up. I felt strangely calm, though.
The sun was shining again, and thought I’d try for another walk. I put some headphones on and listened to some podcasts this time, and the walk went quicker and was pleasant. I had forgotten about my hot date tonight and was almost in a good mood when I happened to catch sight of myself in a shop window. I was stepping out of the way of an old woman before realising that was me. I was the old woman. I had roots, my hair needed a cut, and I looked scruffy. I started to tell myself off for letting myself go and what on earth was Niles thinking. Then told myself to shut the fuck up. I was either changing or was in some psychological danger.
Amy was home when I got back, and she asked about my day. I told her about the emails and the walk. She was working with a charity that helps women travel to states where abortion is allowed. Amy won that day. I asked about a hairdresser in the area. I knew it would cost, but it would be worth it. Amy organised it for us both to go to a hairdresser the next day. Then it came to preparing for my first date with Niles. It wouldn’t be like last time. I was not going to sleep with him for a start. Willpower would now be superhero power. I didn’t know what to wear. I didn’t bring that many clothes because I wasn’t planning to stay long. I opted to wear black trousers and a red silk top. I would also need to go shopping tomorrow, I decided. Somebody was forgetting they didn’t have a job.
Niles picked me up from Amy’s, and he presented me with flowers and chocolates like I said people did on the first date in the UK. I was joking then. He knew I was joking, but it was nice all the same. I gave them to Amy, and said to help herself. He told me I looked beautiful, and I told him this was never going to work if we weren’t honest with each other. He and Amy flashed a look at each other, and I was feeling outnumbered again. We got into a taxi, and we went to an overpriced restaurant. I am not naming it because I wasn’t keen. Nothing to do with Niles. Amy had got us in because there was a six-month waiting list. Rich people are out of their minds.
I find Niles easy to talk to, and it felt like we slipped straight back to where we were before. I kept having to remind myself that we couldn’t do that. I told him about the emails from Izzy and Ems and my replies.
‘Are you happy about that?’ he asked after I finished my tale.
‘I don’t know, I think so. It’s time to move on.’
The waiter came over and asked if we wanted wine. I said no, sparking water would be great for me. I needed a clear head. Niles was welcome to wine.
As the waiter left, Niles picked up the glass of tap water in front of him.
‘Well if you’re moving on from those long relationships, then I have my work cut out.’
I kind of shook my head.
And I nodded.
‘Remember, we both don’t communicate properly, and this is not just my decision. It is only my decision whether I can move past what you did.’
‘Will you come with me to see Doctor House again?’
I hesitated and then agreed because… I don’t know… I’m an idiot.
At the end of the date, Niles travelled with me in the taxi home. There was no coffee. Not just because I am not drinking it at present. I just said thank you, and I would speak to him soon. Tomorrow, he said, but he texted from the taxi as soon as I got into the apartment.
I went out with Amy on Day 2. Hairdressers and then clothes shopping. Amy tried not to mention Niles. She was desperate to ask my thoughts, though. The problem was that I was desperate to hear hers as well. We were having a drink back in the apartment, and I was just about to ask when she said.
‘You know what I like about you?’
‘My ability to take compliments?’
‘You didn’t see me as an extension of Niles. You made the effort to get to know me independently of him. Didn’t talk to me about him.’
‘Everyone sees you as an extension of Niles?’
She laughed. ‘You know I meant his partners.’
‘I don’t want to talk about them.’
‘Another good reason.’
That evening Niles took me to see The Dolls House with Jessica Chastain. It was phenomenal. I was on such a high afterwards and had to be careful. Niles went to take my hand, and I think he did it without thinking, and I had to step back. I hadn’t forgiven him.
On day 3, I received emails from both Ems and Izzy. Coordinated, I would imagine. Izzy’s said that she understood how hurt I was, that she really hoped I would reconsider, and that she very much would like to see me. Ems’s email wasn’t as straightforward. She told me I had changed. She wasn’t wrong. However, it was only temporary, and when I came back, I would realise that she and Simon thought the world of me. Could you imagine what it would be like if they hated me? She would see me at home.
That afternoon was the first or second non-couple counselling. Niles told Doctor House we had started to date again.
‘But school-type dating.’ I expanded. ‘We are not back together.’
Doctor House started to write a note. Esther never wrote notes. I prefer that. Every time he writes, I imagine he has diagnosed me with every personality disorder known.
‘And tell me how you feel about that?’, he directed the question in my direction.
‘It’s tough.’ I replied honestly.
He looped his hands as if he wanted me to expand.
‘Because I want to pretend everything is okay. Which would help neither of us. I want to stop feeling hurt when I see him. I also struggle because he’s hot, and I want to be close to him again.’
Niles grinned only for a split second, but I saw it.
‘The sex between you was good?’
We both snatched a look at each other and then at the Doctor.
‘It was good’, I confirmed.
‘And why was that?’
It was a weird question. A really weird question. How can you quantify the energy between two people?
‘Because he’s good-looking.’
‘I’m not Jess’, Niles said, but I wasn’t prepared to argue that.
‘But more importantly, he is kind and thoughtful.’ I paused because we were here for honesty, and that’s what he was going to get.
‘Which is why I always knew he was going to leave me.’
Niles shot bolt upright.
‘But I wasn’t.’
‘But you did.’
Niles was about to argue back, but Doctor House interrupted.
‘I put the same question back to you Niles.’
‘I am struggling the same as Jess. I miss what I thought we had before. I want to lose hours with her still. I crave her attention.’
No one has ever said that about me or to me. Crave, I could barely breathe, and then the idiot carried on talking.
‘Fuck off Niles.’
Niles looked directly at Doctor House.
‘See, this is what it’s like.’
‘Don’t do that, you said you wanted to come here, to be truthful. Don’t fucking blow it within five minutes.’
Doctor House started to write in his notepad furiously. I imagined he was thinking about his prize-winning book that he was going to write about the foul-mouthed Welsh woman.
‘Why do you reject this, Jessica?’
Only my mother called me Jessica. He really annoyed me.
‘Why? Don’t do that? Don’t pretend you can’t see.’
‘She’s like an 8’.
‘Fuck off, 3 or 4 at best.’
‘I’m a 6 or 7.’
‘No, you’re an 8 at worst.’
‘I wish Jess.’
Doctor House started banging his pad on the table, and we both stopped and looked at him like we were naughty schoolchildren.
‘Okay, we have some work to do.’
I was counting down the seconds until the hour finished on the clock behind Doctor House. When he put his pad and pen down, I was exhausted and wondering if it would be possible to get a nap. Doctor House had gone into why I defined myself this way, and nobody should describe themselves as a 3 or 4. It’s like that bullshit they try to tell people. If you can dream it, you can do it. That is blatantly not true. I can’t model for London Fashion Week or even reach the top shelf at Tesco without help. As I pointed out to him, we can define ourselves as anything, but it doesn’t mean we are right. He smiled and said exactly right. Dickhead.
He told us to take a comfort break. I looked at Niles confused. I was told he had booked a two-hour session. Date three was this then, although Niles tried to claim otherwise later. I nipped to the toilet, and there I was, back on the sofa, ready for round two. Luckily it was a lot about Niles in the second hour. It should be too; it’s his therapy. Much about how the lockdown affected him and his relationship with his previous partner Daphne and let’s just say it was illuminating. His relationship with her was totally different to the one with me. She commented on his drinking if he had more than one glass of wine. Commented on his food intake, trying to get him to do more exercise and read more. The read more was because he had the tendency to be dull. I listened to it all biting my tongue until he said dull and I blurted out that’s fucking ridiculous. I had never formed an opinion about her before, but I was liking her less and less. From what I could understand, she was more keen than he was so that control was just about trying to keep him. He said in comparison, being with me was like being able to breathe again. I didn’t judge him. Maybe I still was a rebound person I thought. Doctor House looked at me, ‘so how does that make you feel?’
‘Confused. Because if I am not judgemental. Why didn’t he tell me he was still in touch with her until New Year?’
Niles snapped his neck back onto the top of the settee, and I wondered if it hurt him.
Doctor House turned to me.
‘Do you feel he doesn’t tell you about things you should know?’
‘I think it was an ongoing theme.’
Niles got up and started to pace.
House didn’t react. Just asked, ‘do you think that’s fair Niles?’
Niles stopped and ran his fingers through his hair, concentration eroded his face.
‘It’s fair.’ He finally admitted.
I had thought I got away with it. This was going to be an easier finish but somehow, and I can’t remember how, the podcast came up. I was expecting the why did you feel the need to put a podcast out? Instead, he asked me if I was still doing them. I admitted that I was but they were going to be put out at some future date that I hadn’t decided on. Niles said he didn’t realise, so I asked him if he’d listened to the Halloween and Christmas episodes that were out after we started dating.
‘Of course, I have’, he snapped but honestly. The look on his face suggested he hadn’t.
‘Do you talk about Niles?’ Doctor House asked.
‘Probably too much’, I admitted.
‘I think it might be helpful for Niles to listen to them.’
Helpful for who though?
I looked at Niles who nodded enthusiastically. That was how Niles became the first listener to season 3.
After that hideously long session with Niles and his counsellor. I went straight back to Amy’s. I was tired, and I could feel a headache brewing. I had been with Esther for days, but that was far more intense. I think it was balancing that tightrope between wanting to be honest but not hurtful at the same time. With Esther, there was nobody around, so no feelings to hurt. I set up a big We Transfer file and sent my podcast to Niles as promised. I decided not to listen to any of it beforehand, or I would be editing stuff out. It doesn’t matter what has happened or if my feelings have changed. It was an honest representation of how I felt at the time. I sent Niles a quick text to say I sent them and then picked up a mindful session on my phone. I wouldn’t say it was successful, but luckily Amy came in, and I had a distraction. Normally Amy doesn’t get involved with Niles and me. I have involved her, I appreciate that. That was on me. But she never really asked about it. Always remaining neutral. She pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge and started to pour me a glass.
‘How was couple counselling then?’ She asked almost flippantly.
‘It’s not couple’s counselling. Couples do that. This is Niles’s counselling.’ I tried not to sound surly, but I don’t think I quite managed it.
‘How was it?’
‘Interesting. He booked a two hour session without telling me, and then part of it was him admitting he does things without telling me. Doctor House must be enjoying his house in the Hamptons.’
Amy sat down on the big armchair and put her feet out on the coffee table. ‘I think Niles finds it useful.’
I nodded because she would know.
‘As long as he’s happy.’
Amy smiled sadly and took a big sip of wine. I thought that would be my cue to change the subject.
‘Thank you for letting me stay here.’
She let out a big phut sound. ‘I love having you here. Stay as long as you want.’
‘Don’t, I’ll never go home.’ I said only half seriously.
We talked a bit about her work and I marvelled again how this amazing woman was letting me stay in her apartment. Then she got up to get more wine, and it was so lovely just to sit there chatting at 5pm in the afternoon. I wished I could do that every day. I’d have to go back to reality soon, and 5pm may not even be the end of my working day.
Amy settled back down into her seat, and I was feeling so chilled that the next question came from nowhere.
‘Why did you think Niles didn’t want to be seen with you?’
I sat up a bit to consider my reply. Then thought fuck it.
‘Because he’s a dick.’
‘Yep, but why?’
At that moment, a text came through on my phone. I glanced at my screen, and it was from Niles. If I hear he’ll come to his senses one more time…. I didn’t open it to read the rest.
‘Because apparently, he has friends. I’ve never seen them. We never went out, and when we finally did, he couldn’t wait to get me home.’
‘And you asked about going out?’
‘Yes, and could we not talk about it? It’s one of those things that Niles and House ganged up on me about.’
Amy looked thoughtfully.
‘Did they tell you you were being dumb?’
‘Kind of’, I admitted.
‘That’s because you were.’
I didn’t know how to respond. Do I go with attack, defend, or humour? I went for the latter.
‘Cheers, thanks for your support.’
‘Seriously, Jess. It’s not going to work if you put each other on a pedestal. Looks-wise, intelligence-wise, humour-wise, you’re equals.’
‘Now listen here. I would not lie to you. I would not defend my brother if I thought he was in the wrong.’
‘But you would get me over here pretending I needed closure, but what you really wanted was for us to talk.’
‘And you’re intelligent enough to know that’s exactly what I was doing, and you came anyway.’
She was right. Of course, she was right. Which was really fucking annoying. I hated being so transparent. I didn’t respond, and it was quiet for a few moments. It was Amy who spoke first.
‘So why aren’t you going out tonight with Niles?’
‘He’s listening to the podcasts I’ve been recording since season two came out.’
Amy sat up interested. ‘Ooooh am I in them. What do you say about me?’
‘I said I love you, but I am seriously reconsidering that at the moment.’
She laughed, a proper belly laugh like Niles does, and I forgave her. Pretty much like I knew I had forgiven Niles. I just wasn’t sure if there was a future there but I needed to make a decision fast because how would I walk away otherwise? As I climbed into bed that night, I gave myself 24 hours to decide. Twenty-four hours that would decide my future.