Jess talks about another subject that's really not close to her heart.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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Hello and welcome to episode 17 of season 3 of Excuse the Jess. I just had to stop and restart then because I said welcome to season 17. That’s a Freudian slip if ever I have heard one. Or is it? I don’t know, I have never studied Freud. He always seemed to be a little too preoccupied with sex for my liking. As I once told someone who had studied the man, Freud can take his id and shove it up his arse. They really laughed, which means I told a good joke or they thought I was an utter tit. It’s probably the latter. Wow, that was quite a digression. Better just make a start.
The last time I spoke to you, I was in a bedroom in a rented property in Cardiff. My mother had taken me for a chunk of money, and Niles had proposed. I am speaking to you now just under three months from that time.
As soon as we got together in New York, Niles had employed an immigration lawyer so I could stay. The trip to the UK also coincided with the fact it was easier to apply for a visa there because we were getting married. I don’t want to talk through the legalities of it because I don’t really understand it and I don’t want to jinx anything. We spent two weeks in the UK. Five days in Cardiff sorting out my house, trying to sort out things with my friends, and seeing my mother again for the first time in 30-odd years. You know this bit, well you do if you listened to the episode prior to this. Amy came to Reading with us, staying in a hotel. She helped us put my stuff in a crate that was going to be shipped to New York. There were photo albums and picture frames I couldn’t put in there though and both Amy and Niles agreed to take items each through hand luggage. They are angels, my grandmother did a fantastic job of finding those people and sending them my way. Yes, it was my grandmother. Probably.
Amy disappeared to London to meet with friends and Niles and I said goodbye to our first apartment together. Not technically, of course. I went back to the office to officially say goodbye to everyone, especially Jo. Dawn and Rachel made us a lovely goodbye meal. I had so much to thank them for. To Dawn for giving me a chance and both of them making me feel welcome in Reading. Also, she gave me a few kicks up the arses I needed to get my act together. We will stay in touch. Niles has offered for them to stay with us when they came to New York and said he’d get a chance to prove his cooking skills. It was then down to London for a couple of days before we flew back to New York, for good. It was bittersweet. I was so excited to start living here but knew the chances of me being allowed to come back to the UK were slim, for a long time anyway. It was fine, though because I had settled into life in Reading with no problem. New York would be no different. That didn’t prove to be true because about a week in, I had a panic attack, and I ended up with a trained professional again. All my life I have gone without but eight months with Niles and it’s all gone so wrong. I had opened myself up to so much, and it just caught up with me. The trained professional was good. She reminded me of Esther, the counsellor who looked after me when I couldn’t eat. The therapist is about ten years older than me, no-nonsense, and calls out my bullshit straight away. It’s what I need too, for now anyway.
I’ve spent more time in the library. I don’t mean the New York City Library. I mean isn’t that haunted? I mean the lovely one in Niles and Amy’s parents' house. Niles and I have spent a bit of time there recently. He did say he hadn’t been visiting as much because he kept coming to England to see me. That has all been rectified. They are such lovely people who have gone out of their way to make me feel happy and secure in their home.
They have been listening to the podcasts too as they came out. I’ve cringed a bit thinking about how they’ve listened to me saying how hot I find Niles and the parts I have hinted at the sex. It’s not like I have gone into any great detail, though. I thought at some stage they would probably listen, but it was mainly because who wants to hear about two middle-aged people banging? Do you know what? I would. I am so sick of it being perfectly gorgeous twentysomethings. Let’s have middle aged who let’s face it, has a tonne more experience than twenty somethings. I am here for stories about older people too. I want to hear more of their stories. Why can’t I hear about them falling in love, and starting afresh again? No, let’s make it all about the under 35’s.
Did you enjoy that rant? Good. I have plenty more where they come from. Let’s get back to my new life. Niles’s daughter Rose has been spending more time at the apartment. She didn’t spend much time around when Daphne lived here. In all fairness, there was a global pandemic and hanging around at other people’s places was not a thing. I am fond of Rose, which is hugely convenient. She seems to like me, too. We’ve been out together without Niles. To see movies that Niles wasn’t interested in and to see Hamilton. Niles is not a fan of musicals which is not a problem. If we can go to see plays all the time, it will be fine. I sometimes find myself going towards Rose’s level as she rises to mine. I morn the teenager I was not allowed to be. I saw films and went out with friends, but that was because of the Saturday job I had had since I was fourteen. My mother did give me money, but I used that to feed and clothe myself. I don’t think I appreciated what I went through as a teenager until I started spending time with one. This has come up in therapy and I am working through it. Rose is one of the smartest, funniest, and ridiculously lovely people I have ever met. Rose, I am sorry for all the things I have said about your dad that a daughter shouldn’t know.
I also met Niles’s ex-wife when she collected Rose one evening. That put me back a bit. I guessed she was attractive because of Rose. I have always put it to the back of my mind, though, because what you don’t know can’t hurt you, apparently. Shall I call her Maris? This is a holder name, she was nothing like the TV character on Frasier. Niles and Maris are on good terms. The split was painful but amicable with both putting the focus on Rose to get through it. There was no one else involved, which helped. The first time I saw her, I went back to believing there was no way Niles could like me. She is about 5’5” but looked taller, glossy thick hair, simultaneously curvy and slim, smart, and worse still, seemed decent. I felt like a stubby monster compared to her. I have to stress that this was all on me. She was perfectly lovely to me, but I thought she must have been thinking what has Niles got himself into. It was like seeing Daphne all over again. We have all agreed I wouldn’t be involved with the actual grown-up stuff with Rose. I would be her friend, confidante, or whatever she needed. What I was not going to do was talk about her or to her about the actual parenting side or help with any decision-making, unless I was asked to, by Rose. These lines were drawn pretty much immediately. They were going to have this type of conversation, so I left them to it and disappeared into the bedroom. I thought I could deal with it there before Maris left. It was like being punched in the face, though. I can now actually confirm that the expression is true. It’s the shock of it. Except I didn’t find it so easy to brush off, and I started to spiral. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and that was that. Now that Niles had seen us together, he would come to his senses, and this would all be over. Spiralling is not fun. The advice of going for a walk, is all very helpful, unless it’s 9pm in New York city.
When Maris left, Niles found me. Although I had managed to stop crying successfully, my eyes were still red. Which obviously made me look worse. He was straight away all over me. What was wrong? What had happened? I told him it was all fine. Just having a silly half hour. Which annoyed him. He had started to call me on stuff like no one I had ever known. Men have been known to love the fact I mask everything. Niles was not one of them. Not since we split up and had to work to get back together again.
‘Maris is kind of beautiful.’ I said in the end.
Niles half nodded. Still perplexed about what this had to do with anything. My mind was racing. I had to choose my words carefully.
‘I’m not’. I finally said which was neither articulate nor carefully thought out.
Niles let out a deep sigh, and I knew I shouldn’t have raised it. What is it about men that they are desperate to know what you are thinking and when you do admit it, you are an idiot for thinking it? I was waiting for the kickback.
‘Do you think I should get back with her? I mean it’s been a good few years, and we split up because we had nothing in common apart from our daughter but she is kind of beautiful.’
‘How can I forget it? What can I do?’
‘There’s nothing you can do.’ I said, and strode into the en suite bathroom and slammed the door shut in case he followed.
‘Jess, please open the door’, Niles yelled.
‘So I can tell you why I’m upset, and you can be sarcastic about it. You’re alright, thanks.’
‘But you’re upset about something that’s not even real.’
‘Oh more sarcasm.’
It was escalating, and I didn’t want it to. I thought I could just open the door and pretend it was all okay. It wasn’t, though. I was now upset and annoyed.
Niles banged on the door.
‘Okay, I shouldn’t have been sarcastic.’
‘Thank you for acknowledging you were being sarcastic with your that’s not even real comment.’
There was a sharp bang on the door.
‘You know that’s not what I meant.’
I didn’t reply to that. He’d soon get bored and leave me alone. I was wrong. There was another bang on the door.
‘Jess, don’t go quiet on me. Please come out and let’s talk this out like adults.’
The implication was that I was being childish. So I opened the door. The shock on his face felt like a mini victory to me.
‘Okay, adult, tell me why my feelings are not valid.’
‘Because your feelings are based on incorrect messages that your critical brain is telling you about how you should look a certain way. It makes no difference if you are right or wrong about this. I believe you are more attractive than my ex, but that could be my inner voice overriding logic because I love you. What do you think, Jess?’
I hated it when he did that. Using logic to dissuade me from my thoughts. I will never get past this though, and so our life will be an endless loop of me not feeling attractive enough and Niles having to point out I am because he finds me so. So I gave in.
‘You’re hot when you use phrases like critical brain and overriding logic.’
He smiled. ‘That’s because your overriding logic knows that I am.’
It was hard to disagree.
I ended up back in Amy’s spare room to get ready for my hen/bachelorette party. It was the actual night before the wedding. Who does that? Who would risk ruining a wedding with a hangover? Me, apparently. It’s not the way I would have chosen but Niles and I weren’t allowed to see each other the night before the wedding. It’s bad luck, I was told.
Amy had booked a table in her exclusive club place that she takes me to occasionally. We were going to drink cocktails and try to pretend that the next day wasn’t happening. I wasn’t nervous about it, though, I couldn’t wait. It was the practical thing to do. Amy had invited other people and I had no idea what was planned. As long as it didn’t involve wearing cowboy hats and sucking cocktails through dick-shaped straws. I am not even joking. Whenever I see bachelorette parties on US TV and film, and they are supposed to be wild, I think, you’ve never been to Newcastle on a Saturday night. You can insert other major UK cities, including Cardiff, here. The fact I am wearing my own clothes and she doesn’t appear to have a big bag full of crap made me feel hopeful. Of course, we were going to sleep with other men, but that was a given. I looked just about presentable, so it was time to go. As we were in a taxi, I had a call from Niles telling me to have fun and not to do anything he wouldn’t do. He’d had his stag/bachelor thing the weekend before. Yes, he had a whole week to recover before the wedding. I also never asked him what happened on his night, so I didn’t strictly know what he wouldn’t do. I told him that before Amy snatched the phone off me and told him it was my night, so to fuck off. I took the phone back and repeated what Amy said before hanging up. I text him a smiley face straight away. No miscommunications.
We arrived at the club and Amy signed us in. A maître d showed us to our table which had two bottles of champagne and five glasses all in a large ice bucket. It was, as Amy put it, to start the night off right. I was getting too used to this lifestyle.
‘Who’s coming?’, I asked. Five glasses, five people. Unless someone didn’t drink but wouldn’t there be a non-alcoholic drink in the bucket ready?
‘Patience’, she said and started to fill two glasses of champagne.
‘Do I know them?, I really wanted to know and it was my hen.
‘You’ve met.’ She said and handed me a glass. ‘Cheers’.
We clinked glasses and I took the first, and always the best sip, of the champagne.
‘‘So these people, did I meet them at galentines?’
‘Are you always like this?’, Amy said smiling.
‘You know I am.’
Amy’s phone buzzed, and she immediately looked.
‘I need to sort out my guests,’ Amy said as she got up and disappeared out of the room. I was alone. In a city I barely knew, in a club I wasn’t a member of, sipping champagne I could barely afford and I thought. This will do. I checked my phone again, and Niles sent me an angry face emoji, which made me laugh.
There was a new text on my phone. I froze when I saw the name. Ben. Ben was my fuck buddy, for want of a better phrase, for years prior to me meeting Niles. Ben and I were never a couple but he was always kind to me and was the only one that showed any interest when I was sick with Covid. I hadn’t had any communication with him since that day in Cardiff last year when I told him we should stop seeing each other because I had met Niles. Not that I knew that Niles liked me then. I just knew I had to be free of any commitment if someone was going to come into my life.
I flicked the screen open and read the text.
I’ve heard your news. Congrats! I have been listening to your podcast again, and you seem confused about why people like you. Let me tell you what it is. You make them feel special. I have rarely met anyone who can make others feel like they’re the only person in the room. That they are worthy of attention. You’re the real deal, babe. Just make sure that others make you feel that way. Lots of love and luck for your new life because you deserve it. You’re special. Xxx
Let me tell you about Ben. Ben doesn’t lie. He wouldn’t tell you anything to make you feel better, if he didn’t believe it. He believes that I make people feel special. Is that true though? Not just in Ben’s eyes. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I sent him a quick text.
Thank you. This may well be one of the best presents I have ever received. Stay special xxx
I had my back to the door so I didn’t know Amy was back until she briefly put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘false alarm’.
She went around the table to sit. I quickly put my phone away and turned my attention to Amy.
Amy looked at me and said in total seriousness. ‘Not one of my friends are coming. I’m sorry Jess.’
‘Don’t be daft. Just this is amazing. Seriously, you’re amazing.’
Amy reached for my hand. ‘You’re the sweetest.’
Then I heard a voice I thought I knew.
‘Could I join you?’ and as the person's face came into view it still didn’t quite register. I knew this young woman but… and then it hit me.
‘Aunty Jess’, she cried. I leapt up to hug her. I hadn’t seen her for a long time. A while before the pandemic. Imogen is Ems’s oldest child. We were so close at one stage, when she was young and Ems and her lived with me. She had turned into this incredibly bright young woman now who must be in her….. mid-twenties and I was getting really old.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’, I asked her. ‘I’m glad.’
‘Good’, Imogen smiled. ‘Don’t you wish it was mum though?’
I shook my head. ‘No, actually yes. I would love it if your mother was here, but I am so pleased to see you.’
‘So you’re okay me being here?’ A voice behind me said.
‘And me?’ Another voice said.
I spun around and there they were, my friends Ems and Izzy. I was so excited, pleased, and overwhelmed to see them and flung my arms around them both for a group hug.
‘It couldn’t be more perfect’, I said through the tears.
Bloody peri menopause.
I looked at Amy. ‘Was this you?’
‘No, this was your ridiculous husband to be flying your friends out here so they could be at your wedding.’
‘But you planned it?’
‘I helped’, Amy admitted. As my friends, who flew all the way out to see me, settled into pouring the champagne, I rang Niles.
‘I hate you’, I said as he answered.
‘I love you too. Have the best night.’ And he hung up.
Samuel and Jason James were also in New York. Jason James wanted to come, but one of the things that middle-aged white males don’t get is invitations to hen nights. Plus, Samuel wouldn’t have been fine on his own. Seven-year-olds are like that. It all felt a bit surreal. I wasn’t with it at all. I was having questions fired at me and I wasn’t really giving much thought to the answers. I couldn’t comprehend what was going on. Mainly because Ben’s special comment was swirling around in my head but also, because I guessed that Niles had invited his friends to the wedding. Everyone was so excited. They were in New York, paid for, on a hen night for the person they never thought was getting married. Which I still wouldn’t be but for the fact that I wanted to be with Niles. Ems pointed out that’s what all marriages were, but it wasn’t. I was lucky in the fact that we were older so, for example, the division of labour wouldn’t be an issue. I wouldn’t be spending all my time washing his smalls because he paid someone to do that. I wouldn’t be accepting his surname because it was my fucking name and I’m not giving that up. Amy had more examples. Modern marriage still sucked for women and no one is really saying that because it’s traditional and that’s what you do. Like if you question it there’s something wrong with you. Ems and Izzy thought it funny that I hadn’t changed, but I had. I excused myself and went into the toilets. Amy followed me.
‘Are you okay? Was this the wrong thing’, she asked.
I shook my head. It’s just I am feeling. I don’t know how I’m feeling.’
‘Overwhelmed?’ Amy asked.
I nodded but it wasn’t that. I just didn’t know what. I switched on the cold water taps and held my wrists under them to try to cool off.
‘Are you having second thoughts because this can all be stopped now?’
‘About marrying your brother? Absolutely not. Dam straight going to be the best thing I do.’
I paused for effect.
Amy laughed, the same laugh she shared with her brother.
‘Good. Because you’re good together. I think you bring out the best in each other.’
It was getting schmaltzy and we couldn’t have that.
‘Plus, you need to stay here because I can’t wait to have you as a sister.’ Amy confirmed.
Hadn’t I just said about schmaltzy? Actually no, I never said it out loud.
‘You know sisters argue all the time?’
‘How the hell do I know?’
After Amy’s pep talk of marry my brother or else, I’m joking. We went back into the room and to my friends. They were my friends. Later, I thought I was just the luckiest person to have all these people there and I was marrying the best person who made all this happen and wasn’t life just flipping perfect. That was the point I realised that I had too much champagne. The night wasn’t to end, though because I sipped sparkling water pretending it was champagne. At 11pm, the night was over. Ems needed to get back to Samuel. I needed to get back to Amy’s to start a night of hardly sleeping in preparation for my wedding day.
We were getting married at Niles’s parent's house. It seemed the most practical as I didn’t want a fuss or anyone other than his family there, so I got part of my way. I thought Amy was going to drive us there, but a stretch limo, complete with my friends, pulled up outside the apartment. Amy and I carefully carried our dresses out, hung them on the hooks inside, and we were off. There were party bus vibes. Champagne was opened, and I was still not used to the champagne lifestyle. After a couple of sips, I asked if there were any Coke, Pepsi would have done. I wanted the full sugar, mini high. Only the one, though as I was still off caffeine. I was immediately obliged. I thought I would never get used to being the centre of attention too. Another completely surreal experience. Samuel had headphones on and was playing a game, so he was in his own world, and the talk got very adult.
‘Shut-up’, I told my friends. ‘Amy is here and I am still trying to impress the family.’
‘Too late’, Amy replied. ‘I completely see through you.’
Ems on her second glass was already tipsy. ‘To think a year ago you didn’t even know who Niles was.’
I shook my head. ‘I knew who Niles was. He was my manager’s manager’s manager. Sometimes he would be in my emails. It was him that didn’t know who I was.’
Ems put her hands over her heart. ‘Then you met, and that was it?’
I laughed. ‘How are you still a romantic? It was for me, but it took to be punched in the face for him to notice me?’
They all laughed and Amy said something like, ‘this again’.
‘In fact’, I continued. ‘For him to really find me attractive today I need a black eye. Somebody punch me.’
And every one of those adults in the car made a move to get up to punch me before everyone collapsed laughing. These were my people.
When we got to the house, Niles’s mum and dad were at the door waiting to greet us. I know I had said this before but they are just the nicest people. They hugged me the same way they hugged Amy. I could see the house was busy and looking through into the kitchen, I could see caterers. So much for not having a big fuss. Niles had stayed the night before, so I asked where he was.
‘No, no, no, you do not get to see Niles’, Amy said as she ushered me towards the stairs while Niles’s mother introduced herself and led my friends away.
‘What are you talking about?’ I asked Amy but she frogmarched me up the stairs into a large bedroom.
‘You do not see Niles until you walk up the aisle.’
‘What aisle? There’s no aisle.’ I was genuinely confused by this stage.
Inside the bedroom were two women.
‘What’s going on?’ I demanded to know.
‘Hair and make-up, there will be an aisle, and you’re not seeing Niles until you get married.’
Then she hung her dress on a hook on the door, went out, and closed the door behind her, leaving me standing there with two complete strangers.
I was stunned. What was happening?
The women introduced themselves, or I introduced myself. I can’t remember the order. Then I was sat down and asked if I had any ideas about how I wanted my hair and make-up. I did, I was just going to do it myself. I didn’t need them. This was only going to be a small wedding. I thought photographs would only be taken on a phone or by Rose. Something told me that was not going to be the case. On the bed was a robe and I was told I should take a shower and wash my hair ready. I picked it up and went into the en suite but as soon as I was on my own, I started to panic.
He was doing it again. I said I wanted something small, and he was going for the big romantic gesture again. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want people looking at me. Judging me. I didn’t even have a wedding dress. Just a plain dress that I thought would do because we were only getting married for practical reasons. One, because I wanted to spend my life with him and two, the easiest and quickest way to do that was to be married. Niles knew this. And don’t get me wrong, it was lovely he flew my friends over, but this meant he was also spending a fortune on the day when there was no need, and …
I didn’t have to do this.
I marched out of the bathroom and bedroom, the two women just stared at me as I went. I headed into the bedroom I shared with Niles at Christmas and looked out the window to the back of the house where, as I guessed, there was an aisle that led to a raised platform that sat under an arch with fresh flowers around it. There were only three rows of chairs which meant there wasn’t going to be a big audience but still, it was surrounded by potted flowers and helium balloons. This was as close to a traditional wedding as it’s going to be, and I wish to fuck I had just said we’d go to Las Vegas, just the two of us.
Was this why they were keeping me from Niles, so I couldn’t run because I had been living there long enough to know all the escape routes. I could get an Uber out of here and be back in New York city packing in no time. Amy suddenly burst in.
‘There you are. We need to get ready.’
‘This is not what we agreed.’
Amy stared at me. I knew she was trying to think how she could handle me.
‘I don’t..’ she stammered.
‘This was meant to be a very small affair. A quick ceremony and food and drink. Not an aisle or flowers, catering, make-up and hair.’
Amy started fidgeting nervously.
‘But you want to look good in the photos.’
‘And no photographer.’ I finished.
‘It’s small, Jess. Like you wanted.’
‘And it’s still a fucking show.’
Amy walked towards me, ‘Come on, Jess. It’s your day.’
‘No it’s not Amy. It’s Niles’s because he got the traditional bullshit, it’s his parents because I did spy the pastor down there, it’s my friends because they got a free ticket to New York, and the whole wedding industry’s day because they got to make money from poor saps who fall for this. It’s the exact opposite of my day.’
‘It’s just nerves’, Amy said and reached out to hug me. I stepped back.
‘Don’t you dare Amy. You said you didn’t believe in all this. Were you lying to me too?’
Amy just stared at me, unable to answer. This wasn’t her fault though, I had to give that to this person at fault here, it was me because I should have known when Niles insisted on arranging this. I told her.
‘I’m a fucking idiot. I let people walk all over me and they say sorry or they show me a moment’s kindness and I’m a sucker.
Amy did something I’d never seen before, she started to cry.
‘That’s not true Jess. People love you.’
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘Nope people just like the fact I will do anything for them, make them feel important. Betray me, hey give me hug, not see me for thirty years, here take 20,000 dollars, say I am not comfortable with marriage traditions, tough shit.’
Amy grabbed my shoulders and looked me dead in the eyes.
‘That’s not true. I promise you.’
It made no odds, though because I knew it was, and Amy here was being a good sister. Trying to give her brother the day that he wanted.
What Amy wasn’t…. was my friend.
I had to make a choice though. Was I to stay, marry Niles, and accept that this was it, he would always make decisions for me, or walk away, go back to the UK, and start again?
I took Amy’s hands away from my shoulders.
‘I’m going back to the bedroom’, I stated and left the room.
The hairstylist and make-up artist jumped when I walked back in. I silently picked up the bathrobe, went into the bathroom, closed the door, and put the shower on. I put the lid down on the toilet and sat down to think. Do I stay and get married or go?