Q. For nearly 20 years I have enjoyed the friendship of a lovely couple I will call the Smiths, as well as having a long-standing friendship with a Miss Jones. Miss Jones also lived with the Smiths some 10 years ago, when she was "between jobs."

Later it became clear to me that Miss Jones and Mr. Smith were "involved," a fact that Mrs. Wilson, the wife of Miss Jones's former boyfriend, confirmed. In fact, over time, only Mrs. Smith did not observe their affectionate displays.

A few years ago, the Smiths moved across the country. Only weeks ago, Miss Jones moved there, too.

When I recently visited the Smiths, Mrs. Smith took me into her confidence, in a distraught state, to reveal that she had recently discovered her husband's involvement with a fellow pillar of the church. At the end of the sad story, she commented on my lack of surprise and, despite my vehement protests, she dragged from me the aforementioned indiscretion involving Miss Jones. At the conclusion of our visit, Mrs. Smith invited me and Mrs. Wilson to visit soon.

Mrs. Smith and her husband have since had words. Mr. Smith and Miss Jones have had words. Mrs. Smith anxiously awaits her next meeting with Miss Jones, when they will undoubtedly have words.

Immediately thereafter, I anticipate that Miss Jones will have words with me. And God only knows whether Mrs. Wilson will have words and with whom.

Should Mrs. Wilson and I accept Mrs. Smith's invitation to visit their lovely beach home? If not, how should I phrase my regrets? And who should pay for these phone calls?

A. If you or Mrs. Wilson don't like going to the beach, you needn't accept the Smiths' invitations to their lovely beach home. But you needn't -- in fact, you mustn't -- say why. "I'm so sorry I won't be able to go -- thank you for asking me" is quite enough, without an explanation that you have had enough of this family's complications.

Anyone who wishes to have words with someone not immediately present must pay for the telephone call. It is not correct to reverse the charges in order to have words, no matter how well-deserved the words are.

Q. I have been looking after a friend's house while she and her husband take their first European vacation. As we agreed, I visit the house to water the plants, check the timers for the lights and generally see that the house is safe.

Twice a month she telephones to check that all is well.

Some weeks into the trip, she said: "My husband is not satisfied with this kind of report. He wants to know what his bank balance is."

I was flustered but agreed to have the information for the next call.

This is not one of the responsibilities we discussed before their departure.

Up to now I felt I was doing a good job, but of course I can't take care of the place as they would if they were home. Is there a polite way for me to let my friend know, on her return, that I am hurt that my efforts are unappreciated?

A. The next time the lady calls, explain that you are bad with checkbooks and cannot take on this additional task, but that you would be happy to call any of their other friends who could do this, and turn over the keys. Then apologize for being unable to help her as much as she would like.

If she has any shame at all, this will remind her that friends such as you are not easy to come by and ought to be treasured rather than bullied.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.