Everybody needs good neighbours, but had my Mark taken his Neighbourhood Watch duties too far?
By Tracy Bevan, 37, from Wigan
I took the bunch of keys and felt a thrill of excitement as I turned the key in the lock. ‘It’s all yours,’ the agent said smiling. ‘I’ll leave you to it, you’ll want to get settled in.’
As Mark and I lugged our cases into the rented two-bed house in Wigan, I couldn’t wait to start the next chapter of our lives.
After two-and-a-half years together, Mark and I finally had a proper place to call our own. After staying at his mum’s for a few months and then a small flat, it felt great to have some space.
‘You know, I fell in love with this house the first time I saw it,’ I beamed, turning to Mark. ‘We’re going to be so happy here.’
I busied myself unpacking and settling into our home, while Mark introduced himself to the locals.
All Mark’s family lived in the area and it turned out he already knew a lot of our neighbours through them.
‘Everyone’s dead nice,’ Mark told me as he came back inside. ‘There’s another new girl, Jessica. She’s just moved in over the road.’
I was pleased to have been welcomed into the friendly street but Mark never introduced me to anyone.
‘How about I come out too and say hello?’ I suggested. But Mark was reluctant. ‘Nah, you’re all right. Let’s get this unpacking done,’ he said, turning to the boxes.
It seemed odd but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Just two days after we moved in, the phone rang. It was my brother.
‘Tracy, it’s dad. He’s died.’
Dad had been living in Tenerife for the last six years and I clutched my hand to my mouth as my brother told me how Dad had collapsed from a heart condition, hitting his head as he fell.
‘You need to get over here for the funeral. Can you get a flight tomorrow?’ he went on.
I looked at the unpacked boxes, stacked clumsily around me. I’d barely got my foot in the door at our new place, but it was my dad, I had to be there.
‘Of course,’ I told my brother. ‘Of course I’ll be there. I’ll get the next flight out to Tenerife.’
Mark didn’t have a passport, so it looked like I was going alone. ‘I’ll finish the unpacking instead. I’ll have the place ship-shape by the time you get back,’ he offered.
But I wanted to find places for my things in our new home myself. ‘It’s ok, I’ll do it when I get back. I’ll miss you though,’ I said, kissing him goodbye.
Mark and I were in touch every day during the two weeks I was in Tenerife. At first, our phone calls were supportive and sympathetic but towards the end of my stay, Mark seemed distant somehow.
I knew he didn’t cope on his own very well, without someone there to cook his tea and keep him company, but I really could have done with some support.
‘Is everything alright?’ I asked him when Mum dropped me home a couple of weeks later. ‘Yeah course, why wouldn’t it be?’ Mark shrugged, casually throwing an empty beer can in the bin.
I was still grieving for my dad, while working long hours in my care worker job, in a bid to pay the bills. Mark, meanwhile, claimed he was doing odd jobs as a handyman but never came home with any money.
And he didn’t look like he was going to work either. Whenever I glanced out of our front window, I often saw him wandering down the alley opposite our house.
‘I’m just getting to know the locals,’ Mark insisted. ‘Me and a couple of the lads got a takeaway in, that’s all.’
But something didn’t stack up. The alleyway Mark always seemed to be disappearing down ran right next to Jessica’s house.
And when he began to go on nights out drinking too, I grew suspicious.
Then, one of our neighbours approached me in the street when I popped out to the shops one day. ‘How are you feeling Tracy, are you alright?’ she asked, concern etched on her face.
‘Eh? I’m fine, what do you mean?’ I replied, confused.
‘Oh, oh, nothing,’ she said, flustered, before she walked off, her cheeks burning red.
It seemed strange and after that, every time I saw someone in our street, Jessica’s name cropped up in conversation. Were they trying to tell me something?
‘Hey, smell that!’ Mark came bundling into the house one day and thrust his wrist in my direction.
‘What is it?’ I said, as a waft of perfume hit my nose. ‘It’s Jessica’s – she sprayed it on me. It’s nice, isn’t it?’
I felt a nervous knot tighten in my stomach. Something wasn’t right. What was our attractive, young neighbour doing spraying perfume on my man?
‘Is something going on between you two?’ I demanded.
Mark shot me an incredulous look. ‘As if! Don’t be silly, no way,’ he snapped back.
But I couldn’t shake my niggling doubts and the pair did seem quite flirty as they chatted in the road together.
‘I’m just being friendly, it’s good to get to know our neighbours,’ Mark insisted when I confronted him again.
‘Honestly, you’re being paranoid Tracy. I’ll have to get you sectioned!’
Mark’s words stung. Was I imagining things? Was I going mad? It seemed rational enough – Mark was always disappearing and had grown distant from me.
I longed to talk to him about work, about my dad, but he never had time for a chat.
But we’d been together nearly three years and we’d not long moved into our new place together. He wouldn’t be up to no good… would he?
One night, Mark promised me we’d have a night in together, to chat and reconnect – only he didn’t show up.
Huffing, I picked up my mobile and tapped out a text message. ‘Where are you, Mark?’ I typed.
Not long later, my phone flashed with a reply. ‘I don’t want to argue, I’ll be home in a bit,’ he said.
Instantly, I knew the message wasn’t from Mark – it was spelt correctly for one thing! One of his mates had obviously got hold of his phone. What was he playing at?
I waited and waited, and Mark never turned up. ‘Has anyone seen Mark?’ I went out the front and shouted round our neighbours.
I purposefully stood outside Jessica’s house and shouted loud enough for everyone to hear.
‘Nope,’ the locals shook their heads, swearing blind they hadn’t seen my Mark. He was hiding.
That’s when I decided it was time to act. I was going to set up my very own Neighbourhood Watch and wait it out in an old-fashioned stakeout.
Armed with energy tablets and coffee, I sat at our front room window and waited. I tilted the blinds and locked on to Jessica’s house.
I knew he had to be in there – I just had to catch him.
I was just about to drop off to sleep at 4.30am when I saw Jessica’s front door open – and Mark creeping out. Rat! He’d been caught red-handed.
‘Where have you been until this time?’ I stormed as he stumbled in through the front door. ‘At my cousin’s,’ he slurred, drunk and giggling.
‘No you haven’t, I’ve just watched you come out of Jessica’s house!’ I snapped. I wasn’t going to get any sense out of Mark that night but I refused to let it drop.
For days he insisted there was nothing going on between him and Jessica but a week later, I finally wore him down and he confirmed my worst fears.
‘Ok, ok, me and Jessica, we’re seeing each other, alright?’ he admitted, sheepish.
I was devastated – and furious. Mark and I had made me think I was going mad and all the while he’d been playing away, over the road!
‘You pig! Get out!’ I yelled.
Mark packed a bag and made the short trip across the road where he’s stayed to this day. He’s since invited me for drinks with him and Jessica, he wants us to all get along like one big, happy family. But he’s living in a fantasy world.
Until recently, he still had a few things at my house. I think he wanted to use me as a safety net in case things didn’t work out with our naughty neighbour.
But she’s welcome to him. It’s over, there’s no way I would take him back now. Mark has shaken my trust in men forever. I think I’ll be single for a while.
I’m all for looking out for each other, but Mark took his Neighbourhood Watch responsibilities too far this time.
Everybody needs good neighbours, but not ones like Jessica.
Mark admitted to having an affair with the neighbour after moving in over the road, with Tracy. He confirmed he was still in a relationship with the neighbour and that he didn’t disagree with anything Tracy has said. He added: “I hadn’t been happy with her (Tracy) for ages.”
Jessica says: “I don’t feel bad because Mark wasn’t happy in his relationship with Tracy. We’re moving to get away from her.”