August 19, 1999
Monday early evening
Matt’s voice was exceptionally gentle when I called him back this morning. “Why don’t we make up at Trois Jean,” he suggested. “We can have dinner before Miranda’s party.” My cousin has a tendency to skimp on the non-liquid refreshments. I had been thinking of showing up at Miranda’s birthday party solo, but I know this would provoke questions. When she “discovered” Matt at a gallery opening six months ago, he was “too East Side” for her Downtown sensibilities. She was convinced he’d be perfect for me and now she takes pride in our continuing courtship.
Jasmine called and I told her about April’s scam. She was incensed. Weirder yet was April’s asking Milt to support her financially — before she blackmailed him: “That carpetbagger. She thinks she can come here and bully one of our guys into being her sugar daddy under duress?”
“Milt’s thinking about giving her the $6,000 she asked for — to shut her up,” I said.
“Tell him NEVER to give in to a blackmailer,” Jasmine practically spat into the phone. “Listen, meet me at D’Agostino’s in the paper-towel section.” She was getting nervous about the possibility of crossed phone lines.
When I found Jasmine at the supermarket, she was pushing a cart loaded with club soda and hydrogen peroxide. “Here’s the thing about blackmail,” she said. “The blackmailer distracts you with demands — which you actually think about fulfilling. So you’ll forget that the blackmailer’s very existence is your real problem … Addiction works the same way!” she added philosophically.
“I know what you’re getting at,” I said impatiently, “but what should we do about it? April’s got my number, Allison’s got her number — but I don’t have Allison’s number. And Allison is still planning on selling her book to April.”
“But you still have the book,” she pointed out. “So it’s safely out of April’s hands. I guess she thinks this is an acceptable way to raise the money to buy Allison’s book.”
“I know this is a stupid question ” I said, “but — remember when we had that three-way with Milt? Did he ask for your number?”
“Of course not.” Jasmine became immersed in a soup-can label and refused to meet my suspicious gaze. “Look, even if he is just a john, I respect the business relationship. I wouldn’t give out my number in another girl’s apartment!” She was embarrassed — not for herself but for me. My
possessive feelings for Milt made her uncomfortable.
“Haven’t you ever had a client you felt a certain way about?” I asked.
“They’re johns,” she insisted. “But nobody wants to lose a reliable customer. And without property rights the whole world would be a fucking madhouse — well, it practically is, thanks to bitches like April! We have to blacklist her.” I could see the wheels working furiously behind her dark pupils. “Did you introduce her to other guys? You have to tell them — as nicely as possible — that you made a mistake. Don’t let her know that you know about Milt. Act like you’re thrilled to hear from her. Let’s try to find out who she knew in California … my guess is she doesn’t stay in one place long if this is her M.O. I know some people who could permanently end her visit to New York …” she said ominously.
“Don’t talk that way. Girls like us don’t do things like that.”
“Girls like us don’t do what she did and she’s poisoning our well,” Jasmine muttered. “Girls like her count on the scruples of nice girls like you. But she has no idea what I’m capable of.”
Last night, at dinner with Matt, I thought about how unstable my life has become — sneaking around in supermarket aisles listening to Jasmine’s violent threats, dodging a sleazy blackmailer, hiding my job from everyone, including my cousin and my boyfriend … I looked at Matt and thought: We could have a future. This is real — not like my fantasy romance with Milt, who is, after all, a married john. I’ve had a good run, seen a bit of the world and met some famous guys — isn’t it time to settle down? I don’t look world-weary — shouldn’t I take advantage of that now while I still can? This is a guy I can bring home to Mother.
I was still thinking that as we made our way to the party.
Miranda’s daddy-subsidized living space was bursting with good-natured, drunken poseurs. Technically spoiled, she’s blissfully unaware of our respective parents’ income disparities — which is quite handy. She never asks how I get by because she’s never had to get by.
I swear I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but when I found myself standing on the other side of a wood screen, listening to Matt, I was — what can I say? I now feel like one of the characters in the hell part of the infamous Bosch triptych.
“She’s got this edgy quality, you know?” Matt was saying in — was it a wistful voice?
“I know what you mean, ” his buddy Greg was saying. “I’d call her back, too. But Nancy’s actually good for you. Don’t screw that up.”
“She doesn’t know how serious it is with Nancy,” Matt told him. “If Nancy found out –”
“Listen, if she finds out about your relationship with Nancy, she might turn around and accuse you of sexual harassment. Don’t let it go any further.”
“She’s already asking questions.”
I felt my face flush — I turned away from the screen and headed straight for the bar. Later, when I had composed myself, I casually sauntered over to Matt. I was amazed at the opaque complacency on his face. Not a trace of guilt or fear! Despite my short black dress and my chic ballet mules, I suddenly felt as glamorous as a calcium pill. Nancy’s “good for you”? For one insane minute, I felt like throwing my drink in his face and telling him everything — right back to my first trick with professor Andrews and the hotel bars and the clip joints I worked in at the age of 16. Is that edgy enough for you, you two-faced bastard? And, by the way, in case you think Miranda’s relatives are all rich — my side of the family is BROKE, you idiot.