Jan. 31, 2000
Late yesterday afternoon, I showed up at Barry's office -- without my usual scarf and glasses. "You look unwell," he said, frowning. "I miss your disguise. How did it go with your boyfriend? Did he buy your story?" I nodded mutely. "What's wrong? What did you tell him?"
"Oh, it's ... it's too crazy to repeat, Barry. But I got so carried away with my story that I broke up with him."
"Breaking up with him was part of the story?" He looked intrigued.
"I was just so afraid. I thought, how much longer can I lie to him? So, I sent him off with one big lie. I got him to insult me and then I broke up with him. I keep hearing that song: Is that all there is? Is that all there is?"
Barry pushed a section of the Times across his desk, pointing to a headline: "U.S. Treasury Agent Denies Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Corruption."
"April's suing Tom Winters!" he said. "How about that? While she's making headlines, you're brooding over your boyfriend. The entire city could be under siege and you'd be asking yourself, 'Should I break up with him?'" He chuckled softly, ignoring the forlorn look on my face. "Winters taught her how to wear a wire, but he was too vain to realize that she wouldn't hesitate to tape him. What was he thinking?"
I listened as Barry read from the Times story: "'Phone calls to the office of the IRS agent went unanswered yesterday .... Ms. Ford alleges that Winters accepted cash bribes from two women, agreeing to split the monies with her. He reneged on his agreement, telling her, 'Just try it and see if anyone will believe you,' she says."
Barry brought out a copy of the Post, which was less restrained: "April Ford, the former e-Babez escort now writing her memoir has dropped her lawsuit against Anabel Weston, the Web site madam who -- Ford once alleged -- 'turned her out' by seducing her into a lesbian partnership. The National Enquirer cover girl is suing U.S. Treasury agent Thomas Winters for a much cooler $10 million .... 'Tom Winters put pressure on me to turn tricks so I could obtain evidence for him ... he persuaded at least two of my contacts to deliver cash in shopping bags. In return, the girls were left alone.'
"Ford's sexual harassment allegations -- she maintains that Winters agreed to hand over her share of the money only if she would consent to have sex with him -- were refuted by the IRS agent's mother. 'My son is not interested in women,' she told reporters. 'He runs a chapter of a gay civil servants support group and there is just no way Miss Ford would attract him.' But April Ford says she was trafficked by Tom Winters over a period of nine dark, lonely, esteem-destroying months.'"
"Well," I said, after a stunned moment of silence. "I guess that's why she left Lucia in the dust. She came back here to work the local press."
"One of the girls April informed on is being represented by a guy I went to law school with," Barry added. "Eileen got a visit from the FBI -- relax, they're investigating Tom's little extortion racket, not Eileen. Tom Winters is not going to have much time for your boyfriend. April probably overshot when she accused him of trying to have sex with her. But the stuff about money -- that's all true. Winters is busy dealing with the FBI and with these tapes that April made of their last two meetings."
"But the FBI? What if they call Matt? What if Matt reads about this? He could still find out."
"Unlikely. Winters never met him in person. And even if he sees Winters in the paper -- hello? You were being targeted by an obsessed, corrupt kook. That's not only true, it happens to be your story. A happy coincidence -- if you decide to make up with him, that is." He gave me a sly smile. "Come on, you can make up with him, can't you? Why are you crying? This is great news!"
"I don't know," I blubbered. "I think I'm in love with one of my clients and I just had this mind-blowing weekend with Randy and he hasn't called me and I didn't realize how much I cared for Matt until last night, when he looked at me like --" I burst into fresh tears which Barry attempted to calm with a handkerchief. "I don't know what or who I want anymore and you're -- you're --"
Blowing my nose, I remembered a day when the sun was shining outside and I stood in the kitchen of my parents' first house -- I was 5 -- looking out the window. When it started raining, my brother and I were astonished. "It's raining!" we announced, puzzled but excited. My mother half-exclaimed, mostly explained, "That's right. It's called a sun-shower." The pleasure she took from that small moment lit up her face -- she was younger than I am today, and so much more mature. This was long before she ever tried to teach me about money -- our time of innocence. I started sobbing again, at the memory of this prelapsarian discovery.
Barry steepled his hands and picked up the thread: "I'm what?"
"Nothing!" I moaned into his hankie. "I just remembered something formative that happened -- my first sun-shower! I think you're one of those male mother-figures I've heard about."
He liked that. "Well, you're the first woman who ever called me that. You really think so?" He opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two paper cups. "Here."
After a sip, I said, "You're the only guy in my life right now who's not fucking me. And you're the only one who has a clue how to help me."
"You think that's a coincidence?" he said. "Anyway, it's nothing to cry about -- here," he poured some more scotch. "Sun-showers," he mused. "If only my clients' days consisted entirely of sun-showers."
I spent Thursday in a sober mood, with my business phone off, poring over the reports about April, determined that my sex life, love life -- men -- would not prevent me from staying current. Especially since I've literally been in bed with someone who's in the news. That's always reason enough to keep up.
At the health club, Randy was nowhere to be found. A distracted receptionist told me he was still out of town. With a great sense of purpose, I got into my exercise drag and spent an entire hour on the Stairmaster, wondering if I could ever renounce my romantic life and let myself go. But I'm still working -- I have at least another decade, I thought, staring at the control panel on the Stairmaster. So I'm immature! Disorganized! Attracted to men! Did Randy mean all those things that he said while we were fucking? Did he just say them to turn me on? Did I fall for the cheapest line in the universe?
It occurs to me that, boyfriend-free, I could accomplish great things: I could work most week nights, save money, even do the occasional coke date -- without putting any coke in my nose, of course, but those type of johns pay by the hour ... I could abstain from handbags, hot new restaurants and love; lead the pragmatic life of a spinster-slut, only putting out for money; could Milt, my favorite client, be a satisfying romantic outlet?
At dinner, with Jasmine, I was subdued, contemplating my new lifestyle. "So you broke up with Matt," she said, frowning. "After all that investment -- a year, almost!"
"He didn't exactly want to fight for me," I told her. "Boyfriends are a professional liability. I'm better off. My nights are free!"
"Yes but late-night johns -- they're a bunch of crazy freaks. Do you want to take my phones tomorrow night?" Jasmine offered. "Call-forwarding. You might pick up some extra business. We can split it 50-50. I'm taking David out -- it's his birthday."
"You're what? I thought --" What did she call David's job? A crime against nature because women shouldn't pay for it! She adopted a primness I've never seen before and opened her compact.
"I'm afraid to ask," I finally said. "What made you change your mind?"
"I told you," she said, applying gloss to her lips. "He's a symmetrical male. Blue birds --"
"Oh, please. We're mammals, not birds!"
"Don't you, of all girls, understand? I saw the way you were looking at Randy -- Anabel didn't understand what was going on, but I did."
"Let's not discuss Randy."
There was a faraway look in her eyes that I found very disturbing.
When my phone rang last night, Matt's voice threw me off. I was still waiting by the phone for Randy's call. "I need to see you in person," Matt insisted. "You have an extra set of my keys."
"I'll mail them," I said, hanging up. The phone rang again.
"Don't you dare mail them!" he said. "I need to get into my apartment! Don't make me call the locksmith!"
"You -- uh -- are you serious?" The sheet from my last client was still draped across my bed, littered with condom wrappers. "You lost your keys?"
"I locked myself out. Look, whatever you might think of me --"
"All right!" I replied. "But we can't -- you can't --"
"I know you don't want me to stay over. I'm not stupid. I'll take my keys and get out of your life if that's what you want."
I was flattered: Matt, distracted by our break-up to the point of losing his keys. How about that. My self-esteem leapt higher. I rushed around, hiding my sheets, the see-through undies and other evidence in my laundry bag. Then I popped into the shower, wondering if it would be irresponsible to answer the door in a towel. No, no, I reminded myself. You are a safe, sane ex-girlfriend, not some mixed-up floozy.
By the time I was dressed again, 40 minutes had passed. How long does it take a shivering, keyless guy to get from Wall Street to the Upper East Side anyway? Or was he at a restaurant? Where? With whom?
In the mirror, I fidgeted with my hair, satisfied that I looked non-seductive but worth suffering over. Then, a disappointing shadow fell across my face as I pictured him finding his keys after all. I got out an envelope and began to address it. I will mail these to him tomorrow so this never happens again, I decided. I ate some macadamia nuts, brushed my teeth, poured a glass of wine, picked up the phone to call his apartment -- then stopped. I began playing a Britten symphony and became so impatient with all the nuances that I put on a ragtime collection. Then, music-less, and bearish on romance, I tried to relax by finishing "Money of the Mind."
When the buzzer rang, I felt my heart pounding. What was it about Matt that made me feel this way? There are so many things that are absolutely crazy about having Matt in my life. Randy knows what I do for a living and he says he loves me. Randy makes me feel so -- Randy hasn't called. He may love me but he doesn't need me.
That interview Matt almost had with Tom Winters was a close shave -- control your impulses and for once do what you should, I told myself, not what you want. There will be other close shaves, it will get more and more tangled if you don't end this. I answered the door with a tense, irate look on my face.
"It took me a while to finish what I was doing," he mumbled. "I'm working on this deal ... Thanks for waiting." An awkward moment while he removed his raincoat and fumbled with his briefcase. My nervous, guilty fear returned -- you hear these stories about ex-boyfriends cracking, about women who push their lovers right to the edge, who don't know when to quit -- and they end up in the papers. Am I asking for trouble? He knows so little about what I'm capable of -- how well do I know him? Just because I can manipulate him, does that really mean I know the guy?
"Nancy," he said, "if the situation were reversed, I would offer you a drink, you know."
"OK!" I exclaimed nervously. "Take off your jacket but leave everything else on!"
We sat on my couch -- me at the far end -- while he played with the cover of a CD. Then he said, "Are you really finished with what we have?"
I looked at him with new eyes, as a total stranger, remembering how, long ago, I routinely met total strangers, without even referrals, and -- most of the time -- they were perfectly OK. Some were even charming. But there was that nut who pulled a gun on me --
"I think it's best for both of us. Do you want your keys?"
"Do you realize I was insanely jealous when I said those things?" The things I got him to say, that is.
"I'm sorry," Matt continued. "I learned a lot about you the other night. I didn't know about that married guy, I realize you've had other men in your life --"
You don't know the half of it! I thought.
"But what I found out made me think differently about you," he continued. "I guess you're more complicated than I am. I wouldn't have done what you did with that guy."
"You're trying to tell me that you can't experience love without sex?"
"Maybe. I mean, I'm trying to say that I've spent the last few days thinking about what I've learned. I wish you'd listen to me. I'm not just some guy who can't learn. OK, let me put it this way." He took my hand and placed it -- was he placing it on his fly? I pulled back with a frozen stare. Then he held my wrist firmly and began reaching into his pants pocket. My god, he's finally cracked I thought, struggling to get my arm free. "Nancy --" He pinned my arm to the couch. "Stop it, stop it."
"Let go!" I shrieked. Remembering the john who had waved a gun in my face when I was 16, I began to scream. That guy had let me go because of the noise -- maybe I can save my life --
"Don't!" Matt said, letting go. "Jesus Christ, who do you think I am? I have an MBA, I'm not some crazy thug! Now I know how Amadou Diallo got killed -- I'm glad you're not running the police department." He opened his hand and a ring fell onto my lap.
I stared at the ring and caught my breath. "It's -- it's beautiful," I whispered, unable to look away. My hand went limp as he placed it on my finger.
"Nancy, you're like -- like an onion. Multi-layered. Sometimes I feel like I don't know a thing about you," Matt said. "And I want to spend the rest of my life finding out everything there is to know about you."
Can I really get away with this?