As the gate to my backyard clicks shut behind Jess, no one speaks. The minutes drag by with all of us sitting in silence, everyone appearing just as stunned by Jess’ confession and abrupt departure as I am.
I expected Jess to fob off Naomi’s question, lie, or avoid answering it. For a moment, there, I thought Jess even wanted me to help her do that. Then, she surprised the hell out of me by embracing her fall from grace. She owned up to what she’d done without placing the blame on anyone else’s shoulders.
“You were right about me.”
I might have been right about some things, but not everything. I misjudged Jess and Kristy’s friendship. I also misjudged Jess’ ability to be honest, sincere and take responsibility for her actions.
If the affair between Jess and Grant had come out a couple of weeks ago, I would have been sitting here gloating about how I knew Jess was less than perfect all along. Instead, I stay silent and watch everyone else come to terms with the news. Kristy looks anguished, and I wonder if she observed the same despair in Jess’ eyes that I did.
“I’ll try to keep that in mind when I’m homeless and jobless.”
Jess really does believe her life is over, and even though I meant what I said in response, I regret how harshly I’d said it. I hit harder and faster with Jess than I do with anyone else. She’s a trigger for me – a reminder of the days when my life was out of control, I was close to the edge, and everything felt hopeless. I was just trying to pull Jess out of her self-pity, but I was too busy feeling self-righteous and vindicated at the time to give a shit whether my words hurt her.
“Well, I wasn’t expecting that,” Gemma says, finally breaking the silence.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Kyle adds.
“Did you know about it?” Naomi asks Kristy.
“She sat me down and told me everything on Monday night.”
The same night that Kristy had come over to ask if I could put my grudge behind me. Jess hadn’t just told Kristy about Shark Bait; she’d told her friend about Grant as well.
“What happened?” Gemma asks.
“She said she was doing tequila shots one minute, and the next she was waking up naked in a hotel room with Grant beside her.”
“Shit,” Jamie says. “Tequila will rob anyone of their sanity.”
Kristy nods. “She doesn’t remember any of it.”
Naomi frowns. “That doesn’t sound like Jess.”
“Sleeping with someone who’s married?” I ask carefully.
Just because I misjudged Jess and regret how careless I’ve been with her feelings doesn’t mean I’m going to sit here and let these people sweep what she did under the rug. It’s not like Jess has denied any of it.
“No,” Naomi says to me. “Though that, too, but I was talking about her getting drunk and risking her career to sleep with a man.”
Kyle shrugs. “We all do stupid things under the influence of booze.”
“Yes, but Jess doesn’t.” Naomi frowns again.
“She said she started drinking a lot more over there,” Kristy says, shooting me a look. “She was lonely.”
I sit up a little and hold Kristy’s gaze. Is she holding me responsible for what happened? Because I am not accountable for Jess’s actions. I might have threatened her at Shark Bait, I’ll admit to that. But I didn’t go to London, point a gun at her head, and tell her to do tequila shots and sleep with Glendon. That’s on Jess.
“But sleeping with a married man…” Naomi trails off. “I just…it doesn’t make sense.”
“Heaps of people do it,” I tell them coldly.
Logan, Kyle, and Jaime know this is a touchy subject for me, and I can feel my mates watching me as Naomi shakes her head at me.
“You don’t know Jess the way we do, Adam. There are two things she cares about in this world. Her career, and Kristy. She wouldn’t do a thing to mess with either of them.”
I want to tell Naomi she’s wrong, that I have Jess’s number better than anyone here, but her comment rings with truth. I didn’t understand Jess’s ties to Kristy until recently. The concern she expressed earlier about taking the spotlight from Kristy wasn’t put on. But whether Jess cares about her job as much as she cares about her friend? I don’t know.
“Everyone does reckless and stupid shit under the influence,” Kyle says.
“She wouldn’t do anything to sabotage her career,” Naomi disagrees. “She just wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter how lonely or drunk she was. She wouldn’t prioritise a guy over her career.”
“How can you be so sure?” Gemma asks.
“Jess keeps all guys at a distance – even the ones she’s sleeping with,” Kristy says, her voice tinged with sadness. “She’s never loved any of them, and they never mean that much to her, and that includes Grant.”
“She uses them,” I say, my disgust probably evident on my face and in my tone.
Kristy shakes her head and glares at me. “It’s very mutual. What guy turns down a causal relationship with a supermodel?”
Gemma snorts. “Not many, I’ll bet.”
“They eat it up, and then they get a bit shitty when she ends things.”
“Like that guy who came knocking on your door last year while she was away, hassling you about trying to fix things between him and Jess,” Logan adds.
“Yes. Just like that.”
“Fine, it’s out of character for her,” I relent, “But that doesn’t mean she didn’t do it.”
Kristy’s eyes hold daggers in them. “I’m not saying it does. I’m just saying I can’t quite believe it.”
“Well believe it,” I snap. “Jess isn’t as perfect as you thought. Just deal with it already.”
“I am dealing with it, Adam.” Her voice is loud and sharp. “But that doesn’t mean I can ignore how strange this whole situation is. She never had any intention of sleeping with Grant. She told him she’d never sleep with him while he was married, and he supposedly accepted that, which is why he was talking about getting a divorce. Then one night she drinks so much that she blacks out – something Jess never does – and when she comes to, she’s in bed with him and her jealous co-worker and Grant’s wife just magically waltz into the room. It’s suss.”
“You think she was set up?” Naomi asks, a slightly shocked expression on her face.
I don’t believe Jess was set up. I can’t believe it. And yet this angle Kristy presents is disturbing, to say the least.
Kristy raises her eyes to meet Naomi’s. “They could have drugged her.”
“You have no proof, Kristy,” I remind her. “You can’t go around making allegations like that, or you’ll get yourself into trouble.”
“I’m speaking candidly amongst friends, not going to the police.” She looks at everyone but me. “I want to know what you guys think.”
“It’s unlikely,” Jamie says. “Objectively speaking.”
“It’s more likely she got drunk and blacked out,” Kyle adds.
Thank fuck everyone else seems as sceptical as I am.
“I know,” Kristy agrees. “It’s just…it’s not like her to be so reckless or stupid. I’ve never seen her act without integrity. Not once. And how did Casey and Jess’ co-worker get a key to the room?”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Naomi says, her tone gentle. “I’m honestly as surprised as you are. It doesn’t fit what I know about her, but I’m not sure we can say she was drugged because it’s so out of character. You told me she was lonely and she’d been drinking. And as his wife, Casey could have talked hotel management into giving her a key. Maybe she told them she wanted to surprise her husband or something. It happens.”
“But if Jess was so out of it, so drunk that she can’t remember any of it, then don’t you think it’s possible Grant took advantage of her in some way?”
I stand up so abruptly, my chair falls back. I don’t look at anyone; I just need to move – to do something. I start collecting the paper plates people have used and shove them into a large trash bag as I try to get the thought of Glendon taking advantage of Jess out of my mind.
Before she came back from London, I would never have believed Jess could be vulnerable – I would have thought it more likely that she took advantage of Glendon. But for some reason, it seems possible to me that Jess was the one taken advantage of, and I hate it. My neighbour is human to me now, not just an ice princess. The thought someone could have done something so despicable to her…well, she’s not my friend, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
“What’s she going to do now?” Naomi asks Kristy.
“I don’t know. She’s barely hanging on as it is.”
Naomi frowns. “Once this hits the media, things will only get worse.”
“I know. It’s not going to be good. No matter what occurred in London, the media won’t defend her. They’ll crucify her.”
Kristy is right. And, fair or not – deserving of crucifixion by the media or not – if Jess isn’t coping now, she’s going to struggle when the public make their opinions known.
Jess’ broken and empty eyes flash through my mind. I know despair and defeat when I see it. Because once upon a time, I felt it too.
I need to warn Kristy that Jess isn’t coping as well as she needs to be. There’s every chance Jess will sink into a depression with everything that’s coming her way. Kristy needs to pull her out before it’s too late and she goes under completely.
My chance to warn Kristy comes while I’m tidying up the kitchen and she walks in with some cutlery I left outside.
“If you want to help Jess, you’d be better off focusing on what she should do now,” I say. “She needs a plan of attack and a way to get through this.”
“That’s just the thing.” She drops the cutlery into the sink, causing a loud clang. “I have no idea how to help her. She’s taking this lying down. She thinks she’s the worst person in the world and that she deserves to lose everything.”
“She hasn’t lost you,” I point out.
“Sometimes it’s as though she thinks she should.” She sighs and lowers her voice, facing me. “When she told me about her attraction to Logan, she expected me to hate her. She came home expecting to lose everything. Worse, she believes she deserves to. She’s a mess, Adam. I’ve never seen anything get to her like this before, not even when her parents died and she cried every day.” She frowns suddenly and studies me. “You get to her, though. What did you say to her earlier? She looked shaken when you walked away from her. Did you two have words?”
There’s no way I’m telling Kristy exactly what I said to Jess. She’ll go off tap and stop speaking to me, and then Logan will want to kill me for pissing off his girlfriend.
Instead, I take the truth and twist it. “Jess told me her life is over and I disagreed with her.”
Kristy’s face turns ashen. “Do you think she’s suicidal?”
“Do I think she’s gone home to off herself? No. But I don’t believe it would take much for her to self-destruct completely. As you said, she’s already a mess. And Naomi’s right, once the story gets picked up in Australia things will get worse.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Don’t let her go under. Remind her she’s not alone and that you have her back. So does Logan.”
“And you? Do you have her back?”
Her eyes are full of hope and desperation, but I can’t lie to her.
“You have my word that I won’t make things worse, and I promise I’ll try harder to get along with her.”
Kristy doesn’t bother to hide her disappointment. “If that’s the best you can do, I guess I’ll have to take it, won’t I?”
That’s all I can commit to it. Jess and I are never going to be the best of friends, and I’m not going to pat her on the shoulder and tell her everything will be okay. But I’ve been harsh and prejudiced with her since the beginning. Things with Glendon didn’t go down the way I first imagined they did. I’m putting the idea that she was taken advantage of out of my head because I don’t want to believe it’s true. But I know Jess didn’t set out to seduce the TV star and wreck his marriage. It might have been a mistake to sleep with him, but it was a mistake. I can’t condone her behaviour, but I won’t spill a word of this to my radio co-host.
Meaning, I need to find a new story for our program.
I spend the next three days pouring over the news headlines and trying to buy myself time with Dan by dodging her questions about Jess. I need to dangle another story in front of her and wait for her to bite. Unfortunately, I don’t find one interesting enough to distract her before the first headlines about Jess and Glendon’s affair hits the tabloids.
Thursday morning, Dan holds up the gossip magazine with a picture of Jess and I swear.
“You told me she never gave you her side of the story. Is that right?”
“Yes.” Kristy gave me a side of the story, not Jess. “But even if she did, I couldn’t break her confidence.”
Dan’s eyes shoot fire bolts at me. “Are you kidding me? You’re sitting on the story we’ve been waiting for and you won’t investigate?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t. It’s too close to home, and I don’t think she deserves the shit that people will throw at her.”
“God, you’re just like every other man in the world, Granger. Distracted by her beautiful face. Funny, I thought you were different.”
“I am different, but she’s my friend’s friend. I can’t do this without causing a giant blow up in my personal life. Besides, she’s not the devil I thought she was.”
“You’re a tool,” she says. “And worse, you weren’t going to tell me you didn’t want to do the story, were you? What were you going to do? Convince me to work on a different story while you pretend to know nothing about what’s going on? You’re a great partner.”
“Okay, I deserve your sarcasm. I know this sucks, but-“
“No! This is you screwing with our career. With my career. It’s my job, my career, and my promotion on the line here, as much as yours.”
“We’ll cover a different story. A better story,” I promise.
“I want this one, and if you don’t ask her for an interview, I will.”
Unease skitters through me at the thought of Jess on my show. Of course, it’s the logical conclusion – an interview. It’s endgame. But if Jess comes on the show, Dan will crucify her. If I go against Dan, my co-host will have my arse. It’s a lose-lose situation for me. And maybe I have been cowardly in the way I’ve handled this situation. I should have told Dan at the start of the week that I couldn’t go through with the story. But the only thing that would convince her to change track would be another – a better – story. My co-host is so driven, she loses sight of the things that matter sometimes. Like friendship.
“Logan and Kristy will think I’m behind it,” I tell her. “I can’t risk it.”
“You’re going to have to. Tell your friends that it’s me pushing for it. Tell them that I’m the bitch from hell and I won’t stop until I have this interview. I don’t care what you say, Granger. This story is ours.”
“Then I should be the one to ask Jess for the interview,” I tell her impulsively.
Dan smiles, making me think she counted on me saying just that. And damn it, now that I’ve said it, I can’t take it back. If I don’t ask Jess to come on the show, Dan will. It seems sneaky and underhanded to let my co-host ask for the interview. Besides, Jess will say no if I’m the one to approach her. And that’s for the best considering the conflict I’ll have if she does agree to let us interview her.
“I’ve always said you can talk anyone into anything, Granger. You’ll have a much better chance of convincing her than I will.”
“I said I’d ask. I didn’t say I’m going to pressure her.”
“Who said anything about pressure? Just use your boyish charm.”
My boyish charm? “Jess is immune to it.”
At least I think she is. I’ve never tried to charm Jess. In the time that I’ve known her, I’ve ignored her, threatened her, told her that I hated her, and implied I despise her. I’ve never actually tried being nice to her.
Dan rests her chin on her palm as she studies me. “Then use your persuasive skills. We both know you’re very competent when you put your mind to something.”
I look skyward and shake my head. “I said I’d ask. That’s all I’m going to do.”
“Fine. Just make sure Ms. Skyler says yes when you do,” Dan says, completely ignoring me.
Great. If Jess doesn’t agree, Dan will be pissed off and think I haven’t tried. And if Jess does agree to do the interview, and the segment goes the way I think it might, Logan and Kristy will murder me. No two ways about it, my back is against the wall whichever way I turn.
I’m still working out how to ask Jess for an interview when I pull into my driveway later that evening. I intend to go straight to Logan and Kristy’s place, but Logan walks out of their house before I’ve gotten out of my car.
“Hey, man,” he says, leaning on the open windowsill of my car door. “You got time for a beer?”
Judging by the look on his face, he needs one.
“Of course. I was coming over anyway.”
“Let’s go to yours,” Logan says quickly.
I don’t argue. Clearly, Logan needs to talk without Kristy and Jess around.
I let us into the house and take two beers out of the fridge. Neither of us breaks the silence as I pop the caps off both bottles and hand my mate his.
“How are things?” I ask, leaning against the bench.
Logan shakes his head. “Jess hasn’t left her bed since Saturday, except to go to the toilet and make cups of tea. Whenever Kristy goes in there, Jess just stares at the wall.
“Has Jess seen the news today?”
Logan looks at me blankly.
“She’s front and centre,” I explain.
“Neither Jess nor Kristy have seen it. Kristy didn’t go to work today. She called in sick because she didn’t want to leave Jess alone. It’s not like there’s anything she can do at home; she’s just going to make herself sick with worry if she keeps going on like this.”
He sounds frustrated, and I can’t blame him.
“And fuck it, I can admit I’m kind of worried, too,” Logan continues. “I still don’t know Jess all that well, but Kristy reckons Jess hasn’t been like this since her parents died. And at least when her parents died, Jess dealt with it. Crying, being miserable, etc. According to Kristy, Jess isn’t dealing with this. She’s practically comatose in there.”
Remembering the broken look on Jess’s face before she walked out of here on Saturday, I’m inclined to agree with the not dealing part.
“I guess I don’t understand,” Logan says. “She made a mistake. Everyone makes them. She lost her job. Is it really the end of the world?” Logan sees the look on my face and winces. “Sorry, man, I know this is a touchy subject for you with your mum and dad and all.”
“It’s not the same, though, is it?” I say. “It’s not like Jess set out to sleep with Glendon.”
“Right,” Logan agrees. “She was lonely and looking for a friend. She got drunk and slept with the wrong person. That’s what Kristy says. I swear, it’s like she’s blaming herself for this because she wasn’t in London with Jess.”
That’s fucked up. Kristy should be mad at me more than herself. After all, I’m the one who told Jess to leave them alone. Come to think of it, Kristy probably is blaming me just as much as herself. But neither of us are at fault for this. Jess needs to take responsibility for what she’s done. And okay, she has in one way, but lying in bed for days on end because she believes she deserves everything she’s getting isn’t taking responsibility. It’s copping out. Escaping, pure and simple. Not to mention, she’s worrying Logan and Kristy with her behaviour.
Once again, she’s acting selfishly. This time, however, I don’t think she’s aware of it. If she’s as depressed as she sounds, she’s got no idea how worried Kristy and Logan are about her. She needs to wake up and see what she’s still got. More importantly, Jess needs to take control of the situation before the media spins everything out of control. She needs to address the rumours and strike first.
“I’ll talk to her,” I tell Logan.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Come on. I can’t make it worse.”
Logan doesn’t look convinced. “Are you sure about that?”
“I might not be Jess’ number one fan, but I think she needs a reality check and I can give her that. I won’t let her indulge in self-pity.”
Logan looks less sure than he did a second ago, and for a moment I doubt myself. My attempt to pull Jess out of her grief on Saturday afternoon didn’t work.
For some stupid reason, I want a second chance at it.
And it’s my perfect chance to ask my neighbour for an interview. An hour ago, I thought it would be disastrous to have her on my show, but maybe it would be cathartic for her to talk about her side of things. Of course, I can’t deny it would also be beneficial for me and boost our show’s ratings if she does, but it’s also an opportunity for Jess to say her piece. All I need to do is give her the chance to tell her side, and make sure she’s ready for any verbal interrogation Dan and I throw at her.
I can prep her for it.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. My mornings are free, meaning I can guide Jess through a few different questions each day before the interview happens. Easy.
“Just give me a chance,” I tell Logan.
He thinks about it. “Kristy will never go for it.”
“So, don’t tell her. Make sure she goes to work tomorrow, and I’ll let myself in and talk to Jess while the two of you are out.”
Logan still doesn’t look sure. “I promise, L.J. I won’t make anything worse. Give me a chance to get her up and moving.”
“You really think you can do it?”
Kristy told me that I get to Jess. I’m now relying on that being true. If I affect her the way Kristy thinks I do, I can motivate Jess to leave her bed. Then Kristy and Logan can relax.
And if Jess agrees to do the interview, and it goes well for her and us, the situation could be win-win instead of lose-lose. I just need to get her to agree.
After everything I’ve said to her, that will be easier said than done.