Crossed love lines

Nancy's double standard leads to double trouble.

Published August 23, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

August 23, 1999

Tuesday night July 27

Having two phone lines is a godsend. You can actually turn the ringer off on your entire personal life when it becomes unbearable. So, after silencing my "boyfriend line," I've been checking for my boyfriend's messages quite frequently.

Too often, actually. OK -- way too often. Is this a test of his feelings? Or mine?

So far, two voicemails. His presumptuous tone sickens me -- and turns me on for some awful reason. I can't help it. But I refuse to acknowledge his voicemail because I have no idea what to say. He doesn't realize that I know about this -- this office flirtation? Romance? Summer affair? What would I say anyway? "Yes, I've cheated on you in my own fashion but when I cheat, I cheat fair! Besides, I only see other guys for money." I hear myself saying this and realize: Matt and I live in different worlds. I believe that if I follow certain rules, it's OK to sneak around -- or, if I sneak around, I have to have rules. Does he? And I wouldn't see any of these guys -- even Milt -- if they didn't pay. How do you explain that to a guy? I mean, to a boyfriend?

You don't.

With my personal phone line turned off, I feel vindicated ... whenever my business line rings ... But I feel like crying when I recall the skirt-chasing wistfulness in Matt's voice -- and I don't know why. Wouldn't I be more upset if he thought of me as a plaything? I would hate to be treated like an unpaid hooker. Didn't I want him to think I was respectable? He obviously buys that idea with no problem at all. A sharper girl would be smugly amused by that psychic coup. So why am I, of all people, jealous of an illicit fling?

Because: It's one thing to hide another girl from me -- but why is he hiding me from her? The woman you bother to lie to is the one who ultimately matters. Right? Johns talk to hookers about their wives -- not the other way around. So what is Matt up to? Which one of us is Matt really lying to? Which one of us matters?

Maybe I've spent so much time around middle-aged johns that I've lost my ability to understand a guy my own age. And maybe there's some entirely different set of rules for guys like Matthew.

Wednesday July 28

My worst fears have materialized: While I was busy with my client Etienne -- back from his annual pilgrimage to Geneva -- Allison left some disturbing voicemail: "I'm on my way to Starbucks at 54th Street to meet April -- want to join us?" At the end of our session, Etienne hopped into the shower. Digesting Allison's message, I paced the living room in black panties and matching bra. What to do? I decided it was too late to meet her at 54th Street ... Envisioning April pumping Allison for information while she set about blackmailing Allison's best clients, I was never happier about having temporary custody of Allie's address book.

I was so distracted by these thoughts that I almost forgot to help Etienne with his suspenders!

"You must have some other man on your mind!" he teased me.

Little does he know. I've never discussed Matt or any other boyfriend with him -- he just assumes I've got one. But when I smiled at him, my heartache evaporated for awhile and I felt utterly frivolous -- a plaything. I no longer felt like a stodgy calcium pill. Prior to Etienne's appointment, I'd been keeping busy -- just going through the motions, acting horny and pleased, making an effort to be bubbly but not feeling it a bit. Etienne, however, has a winning, purring way with me -- in bed, out of bed, before and after, on the phone. So winning that I felt magically armed and ready to face my so-called boyfriend. Well, almost ready ...

After Etienne's departure, I called Eileen. Last time we spoke, it was about that crank caller -- Tom -- who persuaded Eileen to reveal prices over the phone. I felt like the local Cassandra, having to tell her that April had turned out to be a blackmailer. At least it was Eileen who introduced me to April -- I can't be blamed for that.

"I can't talk about this on the phone," she said. "My sister's visiting."

(Eileen, born in the States but residing in some traditional Chinese universe that I've never quite understood, helps to pay her nephew's school fees -- yet her sister has no idea what she does for a living.)

"If you hear from April, just play dumb," I warned her. "Be neutral."

Thursday July 29

Finally, a proper phone call from Allison. "How do you like my new phone?" she asked in a merry voice.

"You have a cellphone?"

"Well, I called April and told her I was sick of living in phone booths ... I don't always want to use Janelle's phone, you know. There isn't much privacy! April gave me a down payment."

"On your book?"

"Um, yeah. She says she'll have the rest of the money by next week at the latest. I'll give you a cut -- can you wait?"

Oh God. Next week at the latest. Sounds like Milt must have caved in.

"Listen, Allison, did you buy that phone with April's money?"

"Mm-hm. And a really nice Kate Spade tote bag. I promise I'll give you a cut when I get the rest of the money."

"Allie, I don't want a cut but you have to stop spending the money."

"I just felt like treating myself! And I have to be in touch -- " Her voice grew faint with interference.

"Listen!" I barked at her. "Before your signal dies -- April's very bad news. Don't call her anymore."

I spit out the details as best I could but I wasn't sure how well she could hear me.

"This is -- uh, one of those cash payment cellphones," she babbled. "I'm going to run out of time -- How did you meet April, anyway?"

"Eileen Wong. She wants you to come over with me -- "

"No, I can't," Allie said, abruptly.

"Eileen isn't going to brainwash you into becoming a hooker again," I snapped. "Has it occurred to you that maybe you can help by telling her what you know? Eileen's actually frightened of April at this point!"

"I just don't want to see Eileen right now. I'm frightened, too! Call me tonight, OK?"

"Allison -- you're treating your old friends like lepers!" I blurted but already the phone had gone dead. At least I have her cellphone number ...

I tried to call her back but I couldn't get through. Then I got a message from Matt -- sounding more puzzled, less presumptuous. When I heard that crack of confusion in his voice, I felt lost. Even though I've won my silent battle, he sounds like a stranger to me and I feel like a stranger to myself. I almost wish I could tell him about all this but what would he say?

I don't know which fire to put out first -- I downed two melatonin with a glass of brandy and resolved not to do anything until I see Eileen. Maybe that's a mistake but I don't trust myself right now. If I call Matt, I might say something I would later regret. As for Allison -- she would never want to talk to me again if I told her how I feel about her right now ...

By Tracy Quan

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