Jess has a party. Parenthood is also mentioned.Support 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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Welcome to episode 16 of season 3 of Excuse the Jess. This week, I won’t talk about parenthood. I mean, it’s another subject I know nothing about. I know it’s something we’ve been brought up to do. The circle of life. It's just not that easy. Maybe it is the most wonderful thing you can ever do. I wouldn’t know. If it doesn’t change your life, then you certainly have no business being a parent. If it is your choice to have a child, and if you are fortunate enough, and I mean that, fortunate enough to have one or more, then good luck to you. Make sure you give your child everything they would need to become the adult they need to be. Don’t make them the absolute loser that gets to middle age and doesn’t know their worth in a job, doesn’t know their worth among people, and is ultimately shocked that anyone half decent takes an interest in them. The buck stops with you parents. I don’t know why I’m bothering. She’ll never listen to this.
I thought my mother would guess straight away what was going on, but if she did, she didn’t mention it. We were in a small café in Cardiff. Inside were my partner Niles and his sister Amy. There were also my friends, kind of, Izzy and Jason James and Ems and her son Samuel. Then there was my mother and her husband. They both looked so old. My mother still showed how attractive she was back in the day. Sean looked rough. All the fear I had of him disappeared. There was nothing he could do to me now. They slowly walked to the counter and spent what felt like an age picking a drink. My mother went to go in her purse, so I stood up and told the owner that I would cover it. Mum and Sean both looked at me, both smiling, both smiles, not real smiles.
‘Well we did have to get a taxi here.’ My mother said as a hello. Her accent was so odd, she had retained the Welshness, but it still seemed to go up at the end of the sentence like the Australian accent. Don’t worry I won’t be mimicking it here.
Sean acted like I was a long-lost daughter.
‘My Jessica’, he boomed and he took a step towards me so I took one back.
‘Sean’, I said flatly. ‘I hope you both had a pleasant flight.’
Sean complained about something and said he would let my mother and I talk. He sat at a table adjacent to us so he could see us both. My mother and I sat.
‘You look so old now,’ my mother said as the opening shot.
‘So do you.’ I replied in the same way.
She nodded and took a sip of her drink.
‘But not as old as I am. It seems you’ve picked up on my good genes too.’
She was right about her. I wasn’t going to acknowledge that though.
‘I want to hear about your life now Jessica.’
‘How far has Ems brought you up to date on?’
I saw in the corner of my eye Ems cringing. If she knew Ems was in the room, she didn’t acknowledge it. My mother slowly nodded.
‘So you know about that.’
‘For about 24 hours.’
My mother nodded again. Actually, I thought, was she nodding or was that how her head rested now? It was actually how her head was, how age was catching up with her, I realised.
She never elaborated though about why she spoke to Ems over me.
‘The last I heard you were living in Reading doing some important job, but you were moving back to Cardiff. That’s why we came here.’
‘Yeah, but why did you come here?’ I asked.
She looked at me confused. ‘To see you.’
‘But why after all these years? Are you sick?’
‘No Jessica, she laughed.
Then I knew it was about money.
‘I’ve had a good life.’ She announced, and that immediately made me angry.
‘What after your husband and son died, after you decided I wasn’t worth your time? Did the crash affect your head?’
‘Always quick to temper. Exactly like your father.’
‘I’m glad I’m like him.’ I snapped back. My mother looked at me serenely. It was like she was the caring mother, and I was the stroppy child.
‘I’ve made mistakes Jessica. I realise that. I haven’t been a good mother to you, and I needed you to know that I am deeply sorry about that.’
That I wasn’t expecting. Maybe I had been too harsh. Maybe this wasn’t about money.
‘I don’t know what I am supposed to do with that.’
‘You can take it any way you choose. It is given to you with all my love. I can only hope you can receive it that way.’
I took a sip of my coffee wishing desperately it was wine. She continued.
‘You’ve turned into this bright, beautiful woman, and I can’t take any credit for that. You did it all on your own, and I am deeply proud of you.’
She reached out and held my hand for a few seconds. My first physical contact with my mother in decades. I slowly pulled my hand back, and I saw in the corner of my eye that Niles was going to stand, and Amy made him sit again.
‘I love you,’ she finally said.
And all my cynicisms faded. It was what I needed to hear. It was what my inner thirteen-year-old needed to hear. My mother, despite all she had done, loved me.
‘Please hug me’, she said. I didn’t move. She stood up and opened her arms towards me and urged me to follow her. I was desperate to hug her though so I slowly walked over and let her wrap her arms around me and within seconds I reciprocated holding her tightly. It was wonderful. She had no idea how much I needed that; I needed my mother’s love.
If I hadn’t clocked the split-second look I saw on Sean’s face. I would have completely bought it. But he grinned. That stupid smug grin look that said look how pathetic Jessica is. I’d seen it most of my teenage years. I was being played. At least now I knew I was being played. We sat back down, and I looked around the room. My expression told the others that this wasn’t real, and I could see their faces drop. Smug, satisfied Sean and my mother never clocked it though. Mainly because they didn’t know me.
‘Thank you, Jessica.’ She said with all sincerity. ‘That meant so much to me.’
I bet it did, I thought. Now you can go in for the kill.
‘Are you still seeing that man from New York?’ She asked almost conversationally.
‘I hear he’s very successful.’
I shrugged. ‘He’s also kind, caring, and completely lovely. Did Ems tell you that bit?’
‘She did,’ my mother said, and I saw Ems nodding to Niles that she had.
‘I’ve always wanted that for you. To have what I had with your father and Sean.’
I couldn’t bear to have my father and Sean uttered in the same sentence. I bit my tongue though.
‘I think he would like to meet you’, I said instead and by the look on Niles's face, it was going to happen sooner rather than later.
‘I’d like you both to come to Australia.’
Please just get to the point, I thought.
‘The thing is’, and here it was. This is what this big issue was.
‘The thing is we would like you to stay with us, but well, things have been tough after Covid and the recession.’
‘Especially us. Our house needs repairs and, we’re old’.
That house was the one they owned outright. Used from the sale of my mother’s house in Cardiff and my dad’s life assurance money. I never saw a penny of that. I think there was another house in-between, but Sean had done well out of my dad.
‘So you need money.’ I said bluntly.
She stared at me, so I continued.
‘For the house repairs. So we can visit you.’
‘Yes, that’s right.’ She said.
‘How much do you need?’
‘Only about $20,000 dollars, which isn’t much, especially for you now with your new man.’
‘How much is that in sterling?’ I asked.
She spoke almost in a whisper, about £11,000.
That is a huge amount of money. Not for Murdoch and his five wives or Trump and his golf course but for me, and for her, £11K is a large amount of money.
‘The thing is, mum. Somebody recently offered me a large amount of money. My opinion is if you give people money then you have to walk away. Otherwise, there will be bitterness and accusations of wastage, and it takes away the really generous act of gifting money. It would mean we couldn’t come over.’
She nodded, a proper nod this time, and I thought she was going to pursue it.
‘Maybe Niles wouldn’t give it anyway. Maybe he is not as kind as you think. Perhaps you should ask him first.’
‘It’s nothing to do with Niles. It would be my money. The question is do you want it if that means never being in contact with me again?’
My mother looked over to Sean who nodded. She turned back to me.
‘I’m so sorry Jessica.’
Niles and Amy were suddenly out of their seats, and I didn’t know what was happening.
Amy moved to sit with Sean, and she suddenly started talking at him to block his view. Niles came to our table and started quietly talking to mum. I couldn’t quite hear, but it was something that if she was in danger or under duress, he would help her. He would pay for her to start a new life. I said nothing. It was pointless. Niles was good for trying, though.
My mother started getting upset and looked at me.
‘This is Niles, mum.’ I told her.
Mum grabbed his hands and said. ‘I’m glad she’s got you.’
Sean had somehow moved from the clutches of Amy and was making his way to our table.
‘What’s going on here?’
‘I was just introducing mum to a decent man. Not sure she would recognise one now.’
‘A decent man that must be blind to be with you.’ Sean yelled.
Samuel came running over. ‘You stop being mean to Aunty Jess.’ I really wished he was a devil child at that point. Ems yanked him back to the table.
I started to laugh. ‘Just give me your bank details so you can both fuck off out of my life for good.’
Niles moved to be next to me. ‘You don’t have to do this Jess’.
‘I do.’ I told him.
And with my mobile phone and Sean’s iPad I gave them the money that I had spent months doing all those extra hours for. Why? I couldn’t let my mother live in a crumbling house. There was a certain satisfaction that they ended up crawling to me for cash, and most importantly, I had the closure I needed. This was me not having to think about them again. They were terrible to me, and they’ve proved it to everyone.
‘Is this the money? The money that was offered to you if you walked away.’
‘No mum. You choose the person. There’s hardly any circumstance where you don’t choose the person.’
I actioned for Ems to come over. ‘By the way too. This is Ems. She will never speak to you again either.’
‘I got this so wrong.’ She told my mother. ‘As a mother, how do you not love your children?’
‘I do love Jessica’, my mother said. ‘It’s just complicated.’
But it wasn’t. It was really easy.
Sean announced that their taxi was here. My mother turned to me.
‘Thank you Jessica.’ She said.
Then they both walked out of the café door and out of my life for good.
There was a stunned silence in the café as the door slammed shut. Even the café owner was confused to what had happened. It took me a few moments to assess how I was feeling, and I was okay. That was horrible but entirely what I’d expected. That was it. It was done. I didn’t have to feel like I should be more understanding of my mother because I did know her. I would never have to deal with her again, and it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Amy spoke to the owner and suddenly, bottles of champagne were produced. People started hugging me, asking if I was okay. Ems was in pieces, so Izzy and Jason James started to play with Samuel. She went into a corner and sat on her own. This was a party, though, and others would be arriving soon. Other friends, other people I knew. This was a goodbye event in more ways than one. Tomorrow I would be leaving Cardiff for good.
I picked up a glass of champagne and went to take it over to Ems. Amy took it from me, and said she would speak to her. I’ll be good, she told me, and so for a time, there was just Niles and I talking. I know I had told him about my mother and Sean, but he never really believed it. People with good parents, people who are good parents, always make excuses for them. Even I did sometimes, but they were selfish individuals who would always choose themselves over everyone else. Niles was still a bit stunned at the events, though. He kept saying they didn’t deserve that money. I could say that about many people, though. When I asked him whether he thought I was stupid. He told me no, just incredibly kind.
An hour later and the room was full of people. Ems was better now. There were people she knew there. I didn’t know what Amy had said to her, but it obviously helped. Samuel became obsessed with Niles and his weird voice as he put it. He had heard the accent on TV but hearing it in front of him was a whole different ballgame. Niles was incredibly good with him, and I imagined what he was like with his daughter at that age. How did I get so lucky? I thought and then had to bat it away. I was worthy of this, I reminded myself.
I made sure I spoke to everyone because we didn’t have the café for more than a few hours. Towards the end of our time, Niles and Amy started banging a table to get everyone’s attention. Then weirdly, Niles stepped back. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
Amy stood on a small stage at the back that was used when they had live music there.
‘Can I have everyone’s attention, please?’
You could tell she was used to commanding attention in a room and everyone stopped chatting, the music was turned down, and all eyes were on her. Especially mine because I was suddenly feeling very nervous. What was she doing?
‘I’m Amy and as you’ve guessed, I’m from the US. You’re probably wondering why I am in this quaint coffee shop in Wales. I’m here to make sure Jess gets on the plane to live in New York.’
There were a couple of giggles and murmurs. Then she looked in my direction.
‘Jess, will you join me up here?’
I said no, but there were some general shouts of encouragement which I batted back, and then Niles nudged me and told me I had better do as Amy said. That was reassuring. So I reluctantly stepped onto the little ledge.
Amy started a round of cheering and shouting. Then there was suddenly a Jess chant, and all I could see was a sea of faces of people I knew who were being daft. I was deeply uncomfortable.
‘Speech’, Amy shouted, and she encouraged others to join in.
‘Okay, okay.’ I yelled just to shut everyone up. When there was silence, with all the attention I froze. What was I supposed to say? Something charming and witty. Not likely from me. I stumbled but I finally said.
‘Thank you all for coming. I am happy I could see you all before I leave.’
Then there was silence because there was nothing more I could say. Amy came to my rescue.
‘Thanks Jess. Now I know we were all expecting more, but I put you on the spot. Let’s do a Q&A instead.’
‘What are you doing? I asked Amy quietly.
She was on a roll though.
An old work colleague Al shouted out, ‘how do you know Jess?’
Amy laughed. ‘The questions were meant for Jess, but I will answer. I met her in person on Christmas Eve. I had known about her before because of my brother.’ She pointed to Niles who smiled and grinned at the crowd.
I had slipped into another dimension, I thought, this is not really happening. Amy continued.
‘My brother kept telling me about this amazing woman from Wales, and I figured nah. He’s talking with his dick, but then I met her, and I knew he was right.’
‘That’s really kind Amy, but can we stop this?’ I asked her. She ignored me and spoke directly to the crowd.
‘And of course, I listened to her podcast.’
Now that got people interested. Lots of little conversations were taking place. Then Al shouted.
‘Excuse the Jess, available on good podcast platforms. Hang on for season three, though, that’s when I’m on it. My brother features heavily in Season 2. He’s not the asshole that he makes out though’
‘If you don’t promote your work, then I will.’
All of a sudden, I heard my voice being played through a phone.
‘It’s true’, Al cried. I felt like I was dying. I panicked.
‘Please turn it off.’
Jason James took the phone and switched it off. ‘You carry on Jess.’
‘I’m done’, I said and was about to set foot off the stage.’ Amy yanked me back.
‘We have time for more questions. Anyone?’
In my mind I was saying, please say no, please say no, so this torture could end.
Niles cleared his throat, ‘I’ve got a question.’
What was he doing? What was he doing?
‘Come up here bro.’, she said.
Amy stepped off the stage and Niles jumped on. Bear in mind here I was panicked at this point so I didn’t even realise when he took both my hands, so we faced each other.
In fact, it was only when he started to lower himself into a bended knee position that the realisation hit me. It wasn’t even that easy. He’s a middle-aged man. I had to hold one of his arms to steady him. Plus, he was shaking.
When he was in position, he took my hand and said.
‘Jess, will you marry me?’
‘You’re an idiot.’ I said and the panicking in me stopped.
And people laughed.
Niles was looking uncomfortable, and I was expecting him to do something. ‘You have to respond’, he finally said.
‘Yes, of course, it's yes.’
Now there was proper cheering in the room, and I could hear in the background champagne popping.
There were flashes of light from phone cameras’, and both Amy and Izzy had their phone trained on me, obviously filming the moment.
What I wasn’t expecting was the ring. He took it out of his pocket and slowly glided it on my finger. It was a simple gold diamond ring. It was perfect.
I couldn’t stop staring at it when Niles pulled at my hand.
‘Help me up, please?’
So I reached under his arms and helped him up.
I didn’t know my own strength because he was suddenly upright and had fallen into me, so I steadied him. Then we were hugging in front of everyone, and that was quite enough display of public affection, so I led him off the stage. Amy was there in front of me.
She hugged us both together and looked at my hand. ‘It fits, and it's so perfect on you Jess.’
Niles grinned. ‘Operation ring size a success.’
‘Granny C will be so happy.’ Amy replied.
I looked at them both confused.
‘It was her ring’. Niles explained. ‘Mom gave it to me at Christmas to give to you. When I heard your ghost gran story, I knew that it was meant to be.’
And it felt like it was.
I managed to speak to everyone as they left and wished them well. Izzy, Jason James, and Ems held back to help with the clean-up but mainly to speak to me. Samuel was running around the place playing with Niles. Which was either lovely or awful that Niles wasn’t helping. I am not going to wager on which. It was not like I was helping either after strict instructions to speak to everyone as they left, and it was not my place.
It came time for Ems to go and it made me sad that this may be the last time I would see her. People left us alone. Samuel was distracted and so she asked me if we could talk.
We walked into a little corner of the room, her face became full of distress again. She was struggling with this. So was I.
‘Jess. I am so sorry. Sorry about not understanding your mother. I should have trusted you on that. But I am especially sorry about everything with Simon. I just thought things could go back to how they were. They can’t, can they.’
I shook my head.
‘I don’t think I want them to either.’
Now that surprised me, I thought she was going to ask about the future of the friendship. However, it wasn’t even that straightforward.
‘I’m clinging on to Simon as he was, not who he is now. I’ve realised he deliberately targeted you. It was more than about scaring you. He was also trying to destroy what we had.’
I was going to tell her that she couldn’t blame Simon. But she raised her hands to stop me from speaking.
‘He only succeeded because of me, . The rest is all on me. I don’t want you to speak to him. I’ve decided that I only want to speak to him now in relation to Samuel. You can’t blame everything he did on drink. It did mean I leant too heavily on Izzy, though because I didn’t have you, so please forgive her for not telling you. Please, Jess. I’ve been so rubbish.’
My friend was in tears by this point, and I was trying to stop myself too. This empathy thing sucked.
‘I’ve been a really shitty friend, and the truth is, if I were you, I never would have had me here today. I have no right to ask this but is there a chance that I walk out of here today, and it’s not the end? That maybe we drop each other a few emails from time to time, I let you know how sorry I am you tell me about your life. If I can prove to you that I am not a bad person. Maybe one day I will prove it to myself.
And I couldn’t really hold back the tears anymore. ‘You’re not a bad person Ems. Please don’t think that. Bad choices, yes but not a bad person. And those emails you talked about. Well, they sound lovely.’
She smiled through the tears.
‘Amy said I should just be honest with you. Not be so fucking defensive all the time.’
I faked shock.
‘Woah Emily Jane Wilson. Did you just swear? Is the world actually ending?’
‘I just repeated what she said. Amy and Niles swear a lot, just like you.’
‘And there’s no need for it.’ I repeated what Ems had told me for years.
‘No’, she replied. ‘But I like them a little, and I like you a lot. So, you’re all forgiven.’
We hugged each other. This was day zero with Ems.
I was clean, in my PJ’s and sat in bed before Niles that night. I couldn’t stop staring at the ring. Not in any romantic way, but what did I do with it? I couldn’t wear it to bed. I didn’t wear jewellery to bed. What would happen if it came off my finger in the night? What would happen if the diamond scratched Niles when he was asleep? More importantly, what if it scratched me? What was the etiquette here? My nan never took my grampy’s ring off, even when he was dead for years.
Niles came out of the bathroom and clocked me, staring at it.
He went into his suitcase and pulled out a box.
‘I got you a box for it, for when you’re not wearing it.’
And it made me love him all over again. Did I mention it had been a tough day?
‘I do love it’, I told Niles as I slipped it off my finger into the box and placing carefully on the bedside table.
‘I knew it had to be today. I couldn’t let today be all about your mother. It had to be about you and your friends?’
‘Especially me.’ He said, grinning, obviously joking. ‘Did you guess?’, he continued.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I was expecting it on an exclusive visit at the Empire State Building, or at an expensive restaurant in Manhattan, or a picnic in Central Park, or a helicopter ride over the Statue of Liberty. I was not expecting a café in Cardiff in front of all those people whom I have told previously that I have no interest in getting married.’
Niles climbed into bed and sat up next to me.
‘You hadn’t met me before.’
What could I say to that?
‘That ring, your former wife didn’t have it too?’
‘No’, he said, lifting his arm up so I could snug in next to him. ‘She wanted a brand-new ring. I thought you would appreciate one with meaning rather than monetary value. Would you prefer a new ring?’
‘Absolutely not. It might be the nicest thing someone’s ever given me.’
Niles kissed my forehead. Sometimes I hated how much he got me, not this time, though.
‘We’re getting married.’ Niles said in such a joyous way, I thought I missed something.
‘Yes, so marriage then. You can have three evenings a month to go out with friends. Takeaways strictly once a month. Plus, we need to decide what night a week we have sex. I am thinking a Tuesday so we are not so knackered with work.’
‘I’m having flashbacks to Daphne.’
‘You weren’t married to Daphne. This is proper marriage. I will negotiate an extra night’s sex if it’s your birthday or Christmas or something. As long as we are not staying at your parents.’
‘Marriage is nothing like that.’
Niles released his arm and started sliding down into the bed, so I followed, still talking.
‘Also, I don’t want children straight away. I need a few years to establish a career over there.’
‘As long as we can start before your 60th birthday.’ Niles reached for the lamp and the room was plunged into darkness.
‘This is all non-negotiable.’
I moved so I could go into our sleeping position.
He moved his legs so they were nestled in mine.
‘And this will stop too. It’s a good job you have such a big bed, so we won’t have to touch each other.
‘It’s our bed now.’ He said as he wrapped his arm around my stomach.
‘Oh and we did it less than an hour ago, so I reckon Tuesday will be off now.’
He kissed the back of my head, and I remember thinking that I never wanted this stage of our relationship to be over. I knew it would. It would change into something else, but this was heaven. Niles didn’t say anything, so I carried on.
‘And maybe when we get back, we can start looking at new tiling for the bathroom.’
‘Jess’, Niles murmured. ‘I love you, but if you don’t shut the fuck up and go to sleep, I’m calling it off’
Knowing what I know now, I almost wish he had.