The next morning Matt handed me a coffee in bed, he had one of my fluffy white towels wrapped low on his waist. I loved seeing him in my towel, it reminded me he was here with me and gave me a sense of familiarity.
“Thank you,” I said gratefully, taking the coffee self conscious of how bad my hair probably looks. I combed it through with my fingers and noticed him looking down.
“What?” I asked.
“You just look nice in the morning.”
“That’s a point scoring lie, but it works and I like it.”
“Youre fucking terrible at taking a complement,” he said as he sat on the bed with his coffee. “Listen, my mate from uni, Ben, can meet you this morning, just for an hour, maybe two to talk about your website and advertising for the podcast.” He said.
“That was quick.”
“Well, I did him a favour once, so he feels he owes me.”
“I drove him to Scotland for his mother’s funeral when we were younger.”
“That’s really far.”
“Yeah, he was upset though I didn’t feel he could handle driving all that way by himself.”
“You’re so nice.”
“Nah, just normal I think.”
I showered and put on a pair of jeans and a blouse. I headed out the door the same time as Matt, who had tidied round the living area while I was getting ready and had done the washing up.
He really did make my life easier, and not more difficult, like some men in my past have. I thought back to Ollie and how he was unsympathetic and seemingly bored and annoyed when my flat was broken into.
I thought back to someone I went out with years ago that left their clothes on the floor and cups everywhere, expecting me to clean up after him.
I look my phone out of my pocket to give the facebook page a check. The article about me had been shared a fair few times now.
A lot of comments, around twice as many posts and comments than normal.
I really thought she was a good person, she makes out to be all innocent and above ‘bitchiness’ and she does shagging her mates husband. That’s her fucking FRIEND. Always banging on about how she doesn’t speak to her family so female friendships apparently mean everything to her. Lair, she literally does not care AT ALL.
You’d think after what her dad did she might have the sense to stay away from married men.
I spent ten minutes reading through the comments, my heart racing, before I put my phone away. No more, it wouldn’t help anything to look through those comments. As I made the facebook group, I could delete posts if I want. I felt torn between going through and deleting all the links and nasty posts. Or just ignore it. If I start detecting stuff, it will just reappear and so I’ll have to be constantly reading though all the nasty things said about me. I’ll just delete it, it will all be okay. Everythings going to die down as people get bored.
In the coffee shop I was on high alert for Nina to somehow find out I was here. I was worried that she might make another surprise visit to embarrass me and shame me in public again. I had visions of her showing up at my meeting and me bright red trying to explain myself.
I ordered a latte and a piece of lovely looking raspberry cake, aware that my extra weight was going to appear again if I wasn’t careful, I vowed to make sure I watched what I was eating from this point on and decided to go for a walk later.
A bloke appeared, looking out of place in a designer suit. The only other people in the coffee shop were some students and a group of mothers with babies. Other people like me, people that didn’t need to put on smart clothes and go into an office. I felt suddenly self conscious and a guilt riled in my stomach about losing my job and being unemployed.
I thought about what Matt would be doing right now. He would be in the sleek office of the paper, surrounded by other thirty something married men in smart suits. I had a horrifying image of them all taking the piss out of him for living in a little flat in the shit part of town, rather than in the Royal William yard huge townhouse.
I imagined them taking the piss out of being with a mediocre pocaster in her twenties with a murderer for her father, rather than a beautiful established editor and the daughter of a millionaire like Nina.
I imagined them all taking the piss out of my project, saying it’s what all the unemployed kids do now. Oh God.
“Janey!” Matts uni friend, Ben, greeted me with a warm smile which put me at ease instantly.
“Hi, thanks for meeting me. I know it was a favour, I do appreciate it.”
“My pleasure, it actually is. You have something really good going that I think could be amazing, it’s what I like to do, so not so much a favor, Okay? I think you have talent.”
I cringed at the word talent. He sat down with his americano and biscotti.
“Don’t make that face, I’ve listened.”
“Piss off!” I said smiling, not expecting it, seeing as my demographic is women, mainly. “Sorry, I mean, I’m surprised. And thank you.”
“I had to,” he said. My face dropped. “I had to listen to a couple while I was working, to figure out the ads you have, and what I think we should have, what companies we could approach. I’ll be honest I didn’t expect to like it, but I did. It was funny, and interesting, you’re very good at getting people to open up, and take the piss out of themselves.”
“When Matt asked, I thought it was going to be a hobby. Not that he made it out to be. He told me how much of a following you have, but he always speaks so highly of you, I thought he might have been exaggerating. He clearly wasn’t, you really do!”
“I want it to be bigger, it started off as a project to get more eyes to the website. Now, with everything, it’s more personal. I’ve started bringing on local comedians as guests.”
“Getting people that want publicity to get their name out there.”
“I mean, yeah, the segments are the main hook, I think. I’m self conscious by nature, so I can relate to people telling stories of when they think they’ve been too aggressive, or too much of a pushover.”
“Yes, made me relate as well and think back to a lot of the times I’ve felt I’ve been a little too, well, pushy. I’m just here for the advertising, to get you some more money for your work, but personally there is one thing that I would change. People seem to agree from the comments..”
I thought about the comments, mostly positive, a few negative. A lot of questions. The main one being that when my full name Janet Macy Bridges is put into google, it comes up with the story of my Dad murdering his mistress, people don’t seem to have a problem with me being the daughter of a murder, actually they seem to feel pretty sorry for me. They have a problem with me not being fully open and ever acknowledging it or talking about it. Few rushed to my defence, saying of course she doesn’t want to talk about that. But more have asked why I don’t talk about it.
“Yeah, I mean, there has been a lot of stuff in the comments about me talking about my family history.”
“But you don’t want to?”
“Theirs kind of a reason I go by Jane or Janey, I don’t want my family or a google search of my full name to be how people think of me. That and Janet isn’t your typical fashionable name for a twenty something.”
“Yeah I completely get that, I don’t want to get too personal for you or pry.” He had a gentle smile that put me at ease.
I changed the subject and we chatted for a while about how he and Matt met, their uni days.
He told me how he drove him to scotland for his mother’s funeral when he was distraught.
He talked about his wife, how Matt had introduced them together and now they had two children together. I felt more comfortable knowing a little more about Ben.
“Do you judge me for what’s happening between me and Matt.”
“No, he wasn’t happy and now he is. Sometimes things don’t happen exactly how we all think they should, in a perfect order of meeting at exactly the right time. When I met my wife she had a boyfriend, actually.”
“Really? I have a lot of people judging me, I get some nasty messages online from people I don’t even know.”
“Must be shit, but you have a good following of supporters as well.”
“You think they should know more about me then?”
“I’m not in any way qualified to answer any questions other than the money related ones, but, yeah, I listened to five episodes and I would like to know. So would my wife, she’s a huge fan now by the way.”
I smiled. “Well, I thought it would be self indulgent. I will, though, I will do one about what’s going on with Matt. Keeping his name out. I will do one about my family, I’ll have guests though, they can ask questions, prompt and tell their own stories that way I wont feel that it all sounds too self obsessed.”
“That sounds perfect. Listen I spoke to a couple of companies before I came here that are a little more suited to your target audiences, so I have some new partners for you. One is a company that makes clothes in the UK from recycled materials, one is a wine subscription service. So they will send you products to try, you talk about them as naturally as you can for fifteen or thirty seconds.”
“That’s amazing, sounds like things people like me will actually want.”
“They will pay around fifteen to twenty pounds each per advertisement for every thousand listeners.”
“Wow, that’s good.”
“Yeah, it’s standard, based on your following and how it’s only going up, I don’t think you’ll have to pull pints again.”
“Jesus.” I did the maths on the calculator on my phone while he watched. “You’re right.”
I beamed up at him.
“Thank you for turning my hobby into a job. I owe you one.”
“Nah, I owe Matt, and it’s a pleasure. You put a lot of time into it by the sounds of it, what you talk about is very well researched.”
“Thank you, I’m so happy you like it.”
We chatted some more and he showed me photos of the kids.
“I’m off to a meeting now, but keep it up and Matt’s given you my number if you need anything or have any questions.”
“I have one if you have time?”
“Do you think I’m a shitty person for what I did to Nina?”
“I don’t know. I might have if I didn’t hear some mean things she said about you a few months ago, but I didn’t know, because I already disliked her and thought Matt deserved more.”
“What did she say?”
“I’m not one for women’s gossip, but I’m telling you this for reassurance, it’s a compliment. She was bragging how she got a load of clicks and interest on the website for your articles for nearly no money, how she got a lot out of you but didn’t have to pay you like everyone else. She was bragging about how much money she made off you, which I understand is business. Seemed as if, though, she was taking advantage and knew she was.”
I couldn’t have been as weak of a writer as she made me feel, I always assumed me feeling inadequate was my own insecurity. I started to think that she wasn’t making me feel insecure all that time by accident.
I felt buzzed, when he left. The praise lifted my spirits, maybe the writing that I had done could really be put on a website as well.
I stayed in the coffee shop for a few hours, writing out bullet points for the prompts, for the next two episodes. One about what happened with Matt and Nina, leaving their names out, and what happened years ago at the time of my Dad’s arrest, leaving out his name. I trawled through comments and picked out questions to answer.
I decided to stick to one episode a week, but make it longer and do a bonus shorter one mid week.
I was elated. I messaged four potential guests and booked two in under an hour.
I found a service online to help me set up a website, it seemed daunting, but I spent another few hours starting to set it up and it wasn’t actually that difficult.
By six o’clock and after a few large strong lattes, I had sponsors, more guests and the start of an aesthetically pleasing website. I just had to pick articles to put up onto it. I started off with one, what I wrote about how scary it is to strike out on your own when you don’t have much, or any, money. It felt, fitting.
On the way home I stopped into a shop to buy some stuff for dinner. I picked out some fresh noodles, some prawns, veg, coconut milk and spices to make a sauce.
I was looking across the selection of wines when I felt a presence lingering behind me. I turned and it was Nina. She stood taller than me even though we were both in boots with a heel. She had a long wool designer coat, her hair looked lighter than usual and her face made up heavier than it usually was. Overcompensating, I thought.
She was holding her phone out to me.
On her large iphone screen, was a photo of me naked on a balcony, Matt behind me. Jesus, us having sex behind the wall to ceiling glass in the hotel.
The room was facing the sea, not too far from the edge of the cliff and it was a storm so no one was out on the beach below us. Even if they were, it would have been impossible for them to see up onto our balcony. I had no idea how she got this photo.
“How?” She looked taken aback from my question. Jealousy grew inside me, how had she had him for all this time. How did he put up with this? “Are you stalking me?”
“Me?” She rolled her eyes. “No, I just know people with fancy cameras, friends, really. By the way, this isn’t a photo, it’s a video. As you can see it’s not a very flattering one.”
She turned the phone back to her and brought up the video, turning the side of the phone onto silent. I saw close ups of us having sex. I mean. It made me recoil a bit seeing myself naked from an angle other than my own eyes in a mirror. It was strange, and uncomfortable.
She held the phone out to me and swiped across more stills, they were stills from the video of me and Matt having sex, except I appeared to me getting larger in each one.
“You photoshopped me.”
“No, it is more of a demonstration of your fluctuating weight. So that no matter when I show it to the world it will be accurate.”
“I didn’t realise I was still in school, with petty bullies.”
“Your little radio thing tells me we are still in school. It’s very immature.”
“Why are you stalking me? I’ll call the police.”
“And say what?”
Silence. Please just leave me alone.
“So? Why are you stalking me?” I asked after the uncomfortable pause settled.
“I’m not, I don’t have time to, I just, ironically actually, have my new receptionist looking into you for me, she’s very smart, she will go far.”
“Hilarious, I thought you said you were going to stop now. Don’t tell me you are food shopping, your housekeeper does your online shopping at waitrose.”
“Who’s stalking who now?”
“That was before Matt finally said he’s going to divorce me. I’m going to fuck with you a little more now, because I’m pissed off and need a hobby.”
“It won’t change anything.”
“We will see.”
She left leaving me feeling uneasy. Why can she not just be fucking normal and bitch about me to her mates.
She’s probably embarrassed, I wondered how much her friends knew.
I bought my food and wine and headed home. Matt called to say he would be home in an hour, he was stuck in traffic. I thought I would wait until he got home to tell him about my latest harassment, I didn’t want him to get even more frustrated in traffic.
The bell went downstairs as I got home. It was a box of clothes from the ethical fashion company, just what I needed at the moment. Currently I had four outfits in rotation after the break in. I wanted to do a big clothes haul, but with my financial insecurity for losing my job, I didn’t feel as if I was in a position to do that.
As I carried the box upstairs I heard footsteps behind me. Delivery man trying to offer to help? I turned around and saw the front door closed and Ollie on the steps. Very confusing.
“What are you doing here?”
I was so confused as to why Ollie would have been here, I had pushed him to the back of my mind and had him in the out of my new life category in my mind.
“I want to talk,” he said with an unsettling smile on his face. I shifted the weight of the box.
“Don’t you want to hear what I have to say?”
“No offence, but not really.” That came out colder than what it should have. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. What I mean is, I’m not sure what we would have to talk about?”
“Let me up and I’ll explain.”
He seemed to be a little pushy to get up to the flat, he was leaning forward and edging up step by step.
“I’ve got someone coming round in a minute, if you want to call me tomorrow we can talk.” I said diplomatically. I didn’t really want to speak to him at all, everything was complicated enough as it was. I had no desire to be around him or speak to him anyway.
“You mean you have the married bloke you’re playing house with coming home to you?” He asked, still smiling as if it was a joke I wouldnt understand.
“I’m sorry if I gave you mixed signals, but I don’t see what any of that business is of yours.”
“It’s not my business, it’s the business of someone I’m close to.”
“Right. No. Please go.” Close to? Nina, of course. They’re close? Maybe he was one of her conquests and puppets as wells
“No.” He said. “I’m not going.”
“Leave, matts coming back and he’ll kick your arse.”
“I don’t give a shit.” He said, taking the box out of my hand. I was frozen, I handed it over as if nothing bad was happening. It must have been in pure shock and confusion that I passed it over. Once I did I realised that there was now no barrier between us and I was vulnerable.
I held my arms across my chest. He was edging closer, and I had my back against the wall.
“Please.” I asked. “Please, just, fuck off.”
He slammed his hand against my right shoulder, pinning me to the wall. I raised my arms to his chest and pushed him off me. He grabbed my wrists and held them above me, he kissed my sloppily. I held my lips tight and tuned my head, he bit my lip to open my mouth and I tasted blood. I couldn’t stand this anymore.
I hadbutted him and then screamed in pain at the force. I turned to see Matt standing in the doorway.
“Fucking hell,” Ollie shouted in pain. He realised Matt was standing in the doorway. His eyes looked wide like a child, as if he was a kid that got caught after putting a football through a window. He darted up the stairs and Matt ran past me. I followed them, awae of blood dripping down my chin to my blouse.
Ollie didn’t realise I had new locks on the back door, his plan must have been to throw himself out onto the balcony and down on to the stairs. I saw Matt grab him by the collar as he was fiddling with the locks, he threw Ollie to the floor and stood over him. Matt dropped to his knees above him and hit him square in the jaw. He held Ollie by his collar.
“I’m going to fucking kill you.”
“No no! Nina paid me to come here!” He cried.
Matt looked over his shoulder to me, with a look of guilt.
“Fucking bitch!” I shouted.
“Why?” Matt said through his teeth.
“So you’d walk in on it.” He mumbled still pinned to the ground.
“Get him out of here.” I asked. I didn’t want to contaminate the atmosphere of my flat with any more of her crazy. “I’ve had enough, I need to get some work done and I can’t be fucking dealing with these mind games.”
“No way.” Matt said, trembling with rage, his hand still around Ollies throat. “I’m going to kill him.”
“No you’re not I would never forgive you for really hurting someone.” I said in a bid to snap Matt out of his anger and back to reality, before someone got seriously hurt.
“We’re calling the police then, he assaulted you.”
“No, I’m not going through all that today its been enough. If I want to tomorrow I have the videos on my phone.”
“Videos?” Cried Ollie’s panicked voice. I laughed, the effects of the assault not quite hitting me yet.
“Yeah, the videos. Remember I needed to borrow a drill to put some cameras up for security? You do know, to be a good journalist you really do need an eye for detail, or it all unravels. I don’t think in your case you will ever make it that far. You and your cougars idea to separate me and Matt might of worked if id have been a willing participant.” I said, stood over him with my hand on Matts strong shoulder. “I think you were probably counting on that right, thinking that I’m easy or something and I would go for it? Well, being single doesn’t mean open to anyone, even if I was, for your information. Another lack of observatory skills and attention to detail. Now get the fuck out of my flat because I will ruin your life if you ever go near me again.”
Matt looked up at me, either surprised of my speech or surprised of the amount of blood coming from my lip. He dragged Ollie to his feet, holding him by the scruff of the neck. He threw him down the stairs, he scrambled down and lost his footing. Landing on his back at the bottom looking confused, he slowly got up and left.
“I need to go after him and give him a real beating.”
“No. He looks fucked enough.” I trotted down the stairs and locked the door. Picking up my box of clothes. I look them upstairs and put the box on the kitchen table, opening it with a knife and pulling out item after item.
“Are you okay?” Matt asked me, concerned. “That was insane.”
“I’ll be better after a drink,” I said, holding out a white dress at arm’s length, afraid to get blood on it, it was beautiful. Matt handed me a wine and I drank deeply, sighing. He handed me a pack of baby wipes and I cleaned my chin. I looked up to see him watching me carefully.
“Thank you for not killing him, and thank you for giving him a good hit and chucking him down the stairs.”
“Thanks for not letting me kill him. That could have been what she wanted all along.” We laughed. Then I got a chilling feeling that maybe she wanted to punish Matt as well as me, to force him to snap and lose his judgement. Or maybe it was a simple test of loyalty to her. I looked up and saw Matts forehead creased.
“I’ve told her before that after what happened with my father, seeing men be violent is the thing that scares me the most. I’ve told her multiple times if I saw a man I was with be physically violent for any reason, I wouldn’t want to be with them.” I speculated.
“You think she set up all this to scare you?”
“Or get me to row with you.”
“Fucking hell, she’s really turning the knife now.”
“I’m worried about what else she could do.”
“Maybe we should run away for more than a weekend.”
I looked up with wide eyes.
“I think maybe we should.”