A Trust Fund Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Own Sheets

"The Boyish Lover" by Laurie Colwin, recommended by Electric Literature

fancy dining table

Introduction by Halimah Marcus

cover of the lone pilgrimThe same day I read “The Boyish Lover,” I requested all of Laurie Colwin’s reissued books, attractively repackaged paperbacks released by Vintage Books this year. I’ll confess I had never heard of Laurie Colwin before reading “The Boyish Lover,” which appears in the collection The Lone Pilgrim, originally published in 1981. Before her unexpected death from a heart attack in 1992, at the age of 48, she published five novels, three short story collections, and two collections of essays, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. As far as I can gather, she was best known as a food writer, though it’s clear to me now that she is deserving of a place—on syllabi and reading lists and, yes, in the literary canon—as one of the last century’s great fiction writers. 

Colwin writes about relationships and social mores: friendships, families, marriages, affairs. Her stories and novels are crisp and dynamic, and her characterizations of mid- to late-century New Yorkers and the surrounding suburbs recall for me John Cheever and Richard Yates. (Though they are both several decades her senior, Colwin’s early career in the ’70s overlapped with their late careers. Incidentally, Colwin and Yates died the same year.) Though her style bears some resemblance to these better known writers, there is an essential difference in her approach to the material, and it’s not, or not just, that she is a woman. While Yates and Cheever are interested in the topography of misery, as are so many writers, Colwin is interested in the topography of happiness. Rather than a flat, unattainable goal, she sees happiness as dynamic and nuanced. Happiness is not always bright and well: in Happy All The Time, the experience of falling in love is depicted in delicious, torturous detail; in Another Marvelous Thing, an adulterous relationship causes simultaneous joy and despair. 

The question of who is able to be happy and why animates her work too, as in “The Boyish Lover,” a story about the arc of love from start to finish. Cordy Spaacks is an ascetic trust fund kid, who has learned the art of privileged self-deprivation through generations of cold, blue blood. Jane Mayer is warm, self-assured, and takes pleasure in her own life. Colwin’s narration is omniscient and draws clear distinction between her authorial observations of the couple and their observations of one another. Jane finds Cordy “winsome” but Colwin knows he is stingy (“Cordy liked a free meal when he could find one”). Nevertheless, Jane and Cordy find each other attractive and brilliant, despite Colwin’s protestations:

“Thus they announced themselves, had either bothered to notice. That small interchange might have been a pair of policy statements, and neither would have needed to say another word.”

Colwin is in control. She has the whole thing planned out, and she can see the end from the very beginning.

Colwin’s skill as a food writer comes through in the details she observes. Jane’s lavender scented soap, her mismatched tea trays, the omelettes she makes with chives and cheese. Cordy’s instant coffee and cafeteria meals, his worn, prep school clothes. To read Colwin’s prose, to get to know her characters, when they are happy or when they are in pain, is to experience pleasure. 

Later in the story, when the cracks in their relationship are showing but before either Jane or Cordy have noticed, Colwin writes: 

Love transforms a difficult person into a charming eccentric; points of contention into charming divergences. It doesn’t matter that popular songs are full of warning—songs like “Danger, Heartbreak Dead Ahead” are written and sung for those who have no intention of doing anything but dancing to them. And while lovers do almost nothing but reveal themselves, who notices?”

Laurie Colwin does, and she tells it better than anyone.

– Halimah Marcus
Editor-in-chief, Recommended Reading

A Trust Fund Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Own Sheets

“The Boyish Lover” by Laurie Colwin

When Jane Mayer met Cordy Spaacks, she was at that stage of life in which all things look possible. She was full of energy and high spirits. The windows of her apartment faced a pretty street. She had begun to teach for the first time, and her students had liked her at once. The face that was reflected back at her from the mirror was more than confident—it was willing. She felt rather as athletes feel when they are in top form. Her life had assumed a shape she found entirely agreeable, and the circumstances she found herself in filled her with happiness. She was absolutely ripe to fall in love.

She met Cordy at a faculty tea. This tea was held for the Humanities Department, in which Jane taught English literature. Cordy was in the Physics Department, but the Humanities tea was famous for excellent if small sandwiches, and Cordy liked a free meal when he could find one. Each Thursday he ambled over to the formal room in which the tea was held, guest of a pal in the French Department. This pal, the sort of well-meaning fool you get to play Cupid in a campus production about Saint Valentine, had met Jane, who was new to the university. He also knew that Cordy was unattached, and since Jane and Cordy struck him as two of the most attractive people he had ever seen, he felt an obligation to bring them together. He knew that Cordy had been divorced. He did not know that Cordy had spent the last four months of his unhappy four-year marriage in almost total silence or that the failure of this marriage was in large part attributable to Cordy, who had wed a slightly addled girl and then paid her back for it. This, however, is not the sort of information that generally falls into the hands of nonprofessional matchmakers, and it was with a sort of flourish that he led Cordy over to Jane.

Jane had just come from delivering a lecture on Charlotte Brontë and she was in fine appetite. The introduction was made as she stood next to a plate of the famous sandwiches. The well-meaning pal withdrew beaming, leaving Cordy to watch Jane knock back seven of these sandwiches and wash them down with a cup of lukewarm tea.

“Are all your appetites that voracious?” asked Cordy. 

“Yes,” said Jane. “Aren’t everyone’s?”

Thus they announced themselves, had either bothered to notice. That small interchange might have been a pair of policy statements, and neither would have needed to say another word. Instead, Jane thought that the word Cordy brought to mind was “winsome.” He had a true grin, a slightly manic chuckle, and a very beautiful mouth. Furthermore, he was clearly smart—she could tell at once. Cordy noticed that Jane’s hair was the color of taffy, that her eyes were green, and that she was a unique combination of style and intelligence. They retired to a corner to begin a conversation during which they fluttered brilliance at one another. They agreed instantly on everything. Jane felt her best self emerge—charming, passionate, and original. Fate had handed her the perfect other. In Cordy’s brown eyes Jane saw the reflection of the effect she was creating. Cordy, who before his marriage had broken hearts in many of our nation’s finer institutions of higher learning, was captivated. After several days of similar meetings in other settings and one spectacular kiss, the setup for which Cordy engineered by taking the ribbon out of Jane’s hair, they were inseparable. Night after night you might see them in the library, their chairs close together. Under the table, if you were on your hands and knees, you could see Jane’s shoeless foot resting on top of Cordy’s sock.

In the fine tradition of romantic beginnings Cordy and Jane exchanged edited versions of their life histories. Jane learned that Cordy was rich. His name was Arthur Corthauld Spaacks. Everyone in his family had a baby’s name, a nickname, or some other corruption of that which appeared on their baptismal certificates. His mother, Constance, was Contie. His father, Corthauld, was Hallie. His brother, Christian, was merely Chris, while his sister, Mercia, was called Mousy by all.

Jane learned that Cordy had married a girl named Lizzie Meriweather and that they had produced a child whose name was Charlie. On the subject of his marriage, Cordy seemed puzzled. It simply hadn’t worked, he claimed. Jane knew that his divorce was rather recent and that recently divorced people are always puzzled. So Jane turned to the subject of his family life and asked him how he got along with his parents and siblings. To illustrate the point, Cordy told Jane about the last big Spaacks family outing. Everyone had been married at the time. Cordy to Lizzie, Mousy to Bobby LaVallet, the no-good heir to a racing stable, and Chris to a Canadian girl named Valerie Slowden. Of the three Spaacks children, only Chris remained in the married state.

The Spaacks seniors ran three households: a pied-à-terre in Manhattan; the family manse in Furnall, Connecticut; and a summer house in Salt Harbor. To Salt Harbor the family had repaired for an Easter weekend. There everyone fought. Cordy and Lizzie, when they spoke at all, argued bitterly in private. Cordy raked gravel with his father, both muttering about Mousy’s behavior in an effort to avoid actually speaking to one another. Mousy, when she could be dragged away from fighting with her mother, quarreled with her father. Mousy and Bobby spent their time frantically looking for a place in which to smoke hashish unobserved. This prevented them from noticing that they had almost nothing to say to one another. Their son, Little Quentie, was knocked down by his cousin, Charlie, and cut his lip. He began to howl and Charlie began to scream.

Chris and Valerie had no children, and they never quarreled. They brought with them to Salt Harbor their pet, a basset hound named Tea. Tea was sick in many places, hidden and plain, around the house, but found the sea air restoring. At the dinner table, Chris and Valerie were made to feel uncomfortable about not having any children. No one approved of this. They sat in silence and watched the marriages around them crumble. Meanwhile, Lizzie cowered by the beach. She aligned herself with Bobby and Mousy and spent as much of the weekend as she could swacked out on a form of cannabis called Durban Poison, which Bobby had scored from a South African acquaintance.

This lack of felicity was not unusual. In fact, it was daily life to its participants. The closest thing to affection was displayed by Chris and Cordy, when Chris gave Cordy a tip on the stock market and Cordy fixed the radio in Chris’s car. The climax of the weekend came at Easter Sunday lunch. Spaacks senior presided, carving the tough flinty ducks, smiling the dim sort of smile you see on freshly killed corpses.

Jane listened to this recitation with real sorrow. How awful it was that Cordy did not have nice, warm parents like hers. Her doting parents took her to the opera on her birthday. Cordy needed salvation, and love, Jane felt, would surely save him.

It was Jane’s apartment that revealed her to Cordy. It was small but crammed with artifacts: watercolors, family photographs in velvet frames, teapots, pitchers, and beautiful plates. On his first visit Cordy surveyed the place and asked: “How do you get any work done here?”

His own apartment had almost nothing in it. What he had was either rented with the flat or picked up from the Salvation Army. The Mayers were a family of watered-down German and Dutch Jews who had once had a lot of money. Now they had things. They had Persian rugs, English silver, Limoges plates, and Meissen soup tureens. It was from Cordy that Jane learned the lesson so valuable to the haute bourgeoisie: that some people have a good deal of money and almost nothing else.

Jane sat Cordy down to the first of their many home-cooked meals. She made an omelet, a simple one, with cheese and chives. Cordy appeared to be transported. He had never had such an omelet—not even in France, he said.

“How did you learn to cook like this?” he asked, marveling. “When I cook eggs, they lie around in my stomach all day. Yours nip right into my bloodstream.”

“What sort of eggs do you cook?”

“Well, I get up in the morning, put some corn oil in a pan, turn the light on under it, and then I shower, shave, and dress. When I get back to the kitchen, the pan is about the temperature of a Bessemer converter. I beat the eggs and put some spice in…”

“What spice?”

“Some stuff I found in the apartment when I moved in. The other tenants left it behind. Chervil, savory. Is there something called turmeric? Then I throw the eggs in, and they immediately turn into an asbestos mat.”

“It’s very easy not to make eggs like that,” Jane said. “I could show you in a second.”

“I don’t have time to think about food,” said Cordy. “Besides, no one ever offered to teach me. If I got used to eggs like yours, I might find myself getting used to a whole slew of other things and end up leading a soft life and not getting any work done. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be in a position to ask you for another. May I have one?”

The work Cordy referred to was his dissertation. Since he had been a researcher at a think tank for several years, he felt at a slight disadvantage: teachers younger than Cordy already had their doctorates. He felt he should have his as well. This thesis was sitting on his desk, as it had been for some time. Jane suspected that she was his current excuse for putting it off and that, since he was regarded by his department as one of its young geniuses, it didn’t much matter when he finished it. She was working on her dissertation, which her affair with Cordy in no way interrupted. In fact, she felt she was working better than ever. After dinner, she sat at the kitchen table with her books, while Cordy sprawled on the couch with his, but although he claimed her apartment distracted him, he also claimed the distraction was worth it. He was happier than he had ever been, he said.

Jane used lavender soap, which Cordy found extremely pleasing. One day she slipped a cake of it into his briefcase and, when he discovered it, his eyes misted over.

“No one ever gave me a present before,” he said. He said it with such a tremor in his voice that Jane did not stop to say to herself: “This guy has a trust fund. What does he mean he never got a present before?” She believed it. She believed that he had had presents before on occasions but not on the spur of the moment, simply because someone adored him. She believed. Here was a man deprived, and there is no greater magnet for a generous woman than a deprived man.

The food he ate before he met Jane, whose use of olive oil in salads he frequently remarked on, consisted of instant coffee, powdered milk, and dried mashed potatoes. He was addicted to cafeterias and claimed a fondness for food that had been warming on a steam table for several days. Jane had previously believed that people who ate this way were poor people who were forced to eat this way, but then Cordy, who was in his thirties, still had some of the clothes he had worn at prep school and almost all of the clothes he had taken away to college. He seemed to feel, like William Penn, that if it was clean and warm it was enough, but Cordy was not a Quaker and had an independent income.

Here was a man deprived, and there is no greater magnet for a generous woman than a deprived man.

When Jane visited each of the three Spaacks households, she began to understand her lover a little better. The first she saw was the Manhattan pied-à-terre. Lizzie Meriweather Spaacks, after a trip to the Dominican Republic shed her of Cordy, had retired with Charlie to the country. Once a month, Cordy took Charlie for the weekend, and since Lizzie refused to see Cordy, Charlie was trucked in from the country, and the Spaackses’ Manhattan apartment was used as a dead drop, so to speak. When their affair had progressed by several months, Cordy took Jane along to collect Charlie one Saturday afternoon.

The Spaacks apartment was small but grand. It looked out over the river and was decorated in the way of the reception rooms in foreign embassies. It was full of the sort of furniture you feel you must not sit on—either upholstered in silk or extremely fragile. The most inviting was the couch, but this was covered in a putty-color velvet that is stained so easily by a misplaced hand or foot. Jane stood by the window and watched garbage scows float the debris of Manhattan out to the Ambrose Lighthouse. The Spaackses, Cordy told her, referred to these vistas as “river traffic.” On the walls were Chinese prints, matted with gray silk, that decorators feel bring a soothing tone into the homes of bankers and other corporate capitalists.

When Cordy appeared with Charlie, a white-haired child with tiny teeth, Jane felt she had been delivered. But behind Cordy was Spaacks senior, an apparition Jane had not bargained for. He was wearing a business suit that looked as if it had been baked on him, like paint on a Bentley. He looked through Jane and, when the introduction was hastily made, extended his hand as an afterthought. It was a hard, dry hand, quickly withdrawn, the sort of hand that, when attached to the wrist of your loved one’s parent, is often a portent that you and your beloved are not going to spend your declining days watching the sun go down and reflecting on the happy years you have had together.

That was the last Jane ever saw of father Spaacks. Charlie was taken to Jane’s house, since she had more to offer in the way of amusement. Her collection of lead animals—her father’s from childhood—her picture books, and her colored pencils were far more intriguing than Cordy’s computer printouts, calculator, or the camera with zoom lens.

The love Jane bore for Cordy was at this point very hot. It pained her to see the flesh of his flesh and someone else’s flesh. She craved Charlie. She cut up his sandwiches for him and gave him his milk in a mug with a picture of a rabbit on it. When they went for walks, she was overcome with pleasure when Charlie took her hand or pulled on her coat to get her attention. She felt that she would someday like to be Charlie’s stepmother, which, she knew, was another way of expressing her hope that Cordy would be hers forever. Cordy had said that he would never marry again. Romance and marriage were mutually exclusive, he felt. Jane took this to be a reflection of the fact that he had never known any domestic happiness, and she was a domestic genius.

For months they were extremely happy. Love, in its initial stages, takes care of everything. Love transforms a difficult person into a charming eccentric; points of contention into charming divergences. It doesn’t matter that popular songs are full of warning—songs like “Danger, Heartbreak Dead Ahead” are written and sung for those who have no intention of doing anything but dancing to them. And while lovers do almost nothing but reveal themselves, who notices?

But as time went on it occurred to Jane that there was something odd about what she now saw was Cordy’s cheapness. The coldness that emanated from his parents’ Manhattan apartment, the lifeless, life-denying sitting room, the glacial hand of his father, seemed to hover around Cordy. His raptures about the way she lived began to make Jane feel like a hothouse orchid—pretty, expensive, and not long for this world. Cordy’s lavish coo of joy at the sight of two filets mignons, whose virtues in terms of cost and waste Jane found herself explaining, made her feel that what transpired between them did not resemble normal life to Cordy. Steam-table food, empty apartments, and family fights were normal to him, not lavender soap, being adored, and having his coffee brought to him in a big French cup.

One night he as much as stated his case. They stayed almost entirely at Jane’s apartment, since Cordy’s was not a fit place in which to conduct anything resembling a romance. He had had one bed pillow. The thought that Jane might someday sleep beside him had prompted him to go to a cut-rate bedding store and buy another, whose lumpy filling he could not identify. He admitted, however, what any sensible person will admit: that barring allergies, a good night’s rest is aided greatly by European goose down.

Cordy had had his dinner. He repaired to the couch, commandeered all the needlepoint cushions, pulled Jane near, and, with his nose pressed against her fragrant neck, announced that she was too rich for his blood.

“I live on my salary,” said Jane.

“I think I ought to go to a detoxification clinic,” said Cordy.

A shiver ran through Jane. Was living well a kind of poison? “You live in a needlessly horrible way,” she said.

“I live simply,” said Cordy. “It’s very dangerous to become used to luxury.”

“You seem to enjoy things,” Jane said. “For example, my things. You don’t mind drinking good coffee and getting wrapped up in a quilt to take a nap. You have a mania for deprivation. Besides, you don’t notice any million-dollar cameras with zoom lenses around here, do you?”

“I don’t use my camera,” Cordy said.

“That’s because you’re too cheap to buy film. It doesn’t matter whether or not you use it. You own it.”

“That’s not the point,” said Cordy. “The point is that things give you a false sense of life. If you have a nice house, you begin to think that life is nice.”

Jane said: “Isn’t it?”

“Not for long,” said Cordy.

Shortly after this interchange, Jane met Cordy’s mother. Mrs. Spaacks offered her son an electric frying pan. She discovered that she had two. If Cordy did not want one, she intended to sell it to a secondhand shop. Cordy and Jane drove two hours to the Salt Harbor house to get this implement, which Jane suspected Cordy would never use.

The house containing this extra frying pan was built on prime land overlooking the water. The setting into which it intruded was spectacular. The house itself was rather ugly and was furnished in that stiff, unsittable wicker that leaves deep red grooves in the flesh. It occurred to Jane that she had now seen two of the Spaackses’ domestic settings and had yet to spot any surface on which a human being might comfortably rest.

Cordy found his mother sitting in a wrought-iron chair, doing a Double-Crostic in the weak sunlight. She was wearing a suit that held her body like a straitjacket, and when she stood, she had the sort of carriage taught to girls who know that they will never in their lives have to bend over to pick up so much as a pin. She did not kiss her son. She merely lifted her head toward him, as if to warm up the air near his cheek. She gave Jane the benefit of a look, shook her hand, and turned to Cordy, whom she then led away, leaving Jane alone to ponder the landscape. Cordy was back shortly, carrying the electric frying pan. Soon he and Jane were in the car, on their way to Furnall, half an hour’s drive away, so Jane could see where Cordy had spent his childhood.

The house in Furnall was huge and cold. Everything was covered with slipcovers.

“It’s being sold,” Cordy explained. “That’s why it looks like this. Of course, it’s always looked something like this.”

Jane was given a guided tour. Cordy turned a corner and identified a room containing a table, a typewriter, and a wood file cabinet as the bedroom he had slept in as a child.

“When I went to college, they turned it into a room to store their tax returns in,” Cordy said.

He looked tired and seemed sad to Jane. She wanted to take him into her arms and comfort him. She wanted to wrap him up in all the nice things she had had as a child and compensate for what she imagined was the coldness of his childhood, his horrid parents, the fact that they had snatched his room away from him as soon as he had left home.

“What was it like to live here?” she asked. 

“I can’t remember,” Cordy said.

Trouble in love seeks a proper issue. In some cases it is sex; in others, politics or money. In the case of Cordy, it was work. The time he spent with Jane, he said, was taking him away from his work. She was too seductive—too fragrant, too luxurious. He had changed his entire life to be with her, he said.

Jane, on the other hand, had gone on living as she had always done. Before Cordy came along, she had prepared dinners for herself, lolled around on Saturday mornings drinking coffee and reading the paper, just as she did with Cordy. She had worked on her thesis without Cordy, and she worked as well with him.

He said as he sat at the table, pouring cream over the strawberries: “All this life is getting in the way of life.”

Jane felt as if she had been slapped. She recalled the first conversation they had ever had. She had never thought her appetites were at all voracious—they were the normal appetites everyone had for pleasure in life. That first interchange made it clear that Cordy did not feel this way at all.

For a few weeks nothing much changed except that Jane began to feel embarrassed by her salads, by the dish of pears she kept on the coffee table. The attention Cordy lavished on the details of her life was beginning to make her feel not singled out and appreciated but freakish. They soon began to quarrel. The brilliance of their initial affection began to mire down in fights about meeting places, time spent together, and the cost of lamb chops. In the beginning, these quarrels were repaired quite simply. After all, they had started off magnificently. A glowing smile, a declaration, a kiss on the back of the neck could still bring them back to their original state in which they had felt that no other lovers had had the advantages of their fine minds, their attractiveness, the intelligence with which they adored one another. Now it seemed that there was rather more quarreling than enchantment. Cordy began to display a cold, bitter side. Jane, in turn, became businesslike and brisk.

It was soon decided that they should spend several nights apart. This was Jane’s idea, prompted by a sincere worry that Cordy should be working on his thesis and a great desire not to watch her brilliant love affair look more and more like a second-rate domestic failure.

Cordy went back to his Spartan diggings, where, with the aid of instant coffee and powdered milk, he began to work on his dissertation. When lovers agree to part, doom is right around the corner. Cordy and Jane were no exception. When they were together, they found themselves constantly misunderstanding one another, and when they were apart, the misunderstandings were further annotated by late-night telephone calls. It sometimes seemed to Jane that these disagreements were manufactured by Cordy, as if to rub her nose into his reality and show her that life was not, in fact, nice for very long.

Can the cut-rate lie down with the dearly purchased?

On these solitary nights Jane entertained thoughts of throwing out every endearing object she possessed; of pouring the dread olive oil down the sink. It was hard for her to believe that what had begun so happily and with such promise was ending in such a small-time way. She remembered that she had once felt that she and Cordy were protected by a magic mantle against the petty-mindedness that creeps into the relationships of others. After all, didn’t people stare at them in the street? Didn’t their colleagues look upon them with longing in their eyes? Weren’t they beautiful, brilliant, special?

It occurred to Jane that this terrible pass they had come to could easily be explained in terms of interior decoration. Can the cut-rate lie down with the dearly purchased? It was clear that it was all over. Her greatest attributes were now her deficits. They had passed some point of no return—somewhere where discount pillows and imported strawberry jam cannot meet.

Their last encounter took place in a coffee shop. They had decided to meet on neutral ground. The table between them was crowded with empty coffee cups and full ashtrays. By this time they had been mostly apart, except for telephone calls. Nothing seemed to work between them anymore, although the looks they exchanged across that squalid table were of pure longing. The fact was they adored each other. How they could feel that way when they were unable to find anything over which not to quarrel mystified them both. But there was no way around it. They adored one another, and it made no difference at all.

Cordy said: “I miss you so.”

Jane said: “What is it you miss? You miss someone who spends too much time in the bathtub, who reads for pleasure, which you think is some sort of crime, who spends too much money on food and who encourages you not to buy your ties in the drugstore. You no longer seem to approve of anything I do. How can you miss me?”

“I just miss you,” Cordy said.

“But I get in your way,” said Jane. “You said I was a luxury you couldn’t afford. I told you I pay my own way, but you meant that I waste your time. You think living a nice life is frivolous.”

“I adore you,” said Cordy.

Jane put her head down so as not to weep in public. She adored him, too. She adored someone who had begun to carp at her every gesture, who made her so self-conscious she could hardly get dressed in the morning.

“How can you adore me when we can no longer be together for five minutes without fighting?” she said.

“How long we can be together without fighting has nothing to do with adoration,” said Cordy.

Jane’s tears ceased. She was amazed that the matter could be so easily put. She remembered the incident of the lavender soap and his heartfelt confession that no one had ever given him a present. What all this meant was that in Cordy’s case, actual deprivation and the feeling of deprivation were one and the same. To feel that you have never been given a present is almost as good as having been neglected. Cordy thrived on this form of loss. He had twenty times the money she would ever have, yet not a day went by that he did not strive to find some novel way of cheating himself out of something. She had watched him window-shop, yearn for an item easily within his reach, and turn away. It was hopeless.

To feel that you have never been given a present is almost as good as having been neglected.

She took a deep breath and told Cordy that he would be doing her a real service if he simply got up and left. He sat for a moment, gave her the benefits of his most beautiful and tortured gaze, and then walked out the door.

When he hit the street, tears started down Jane’s cheeks. She ordered another cup of coffee, drank it slowly, dried her eyes, and watched a parade of students walking up the street. It was a hot spring day. Everyone was coatless. A few were shoeless. Couples strolled arm in arm.

And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Cordy leaning against a car across the street, watching her. She realized how easy it would be to fling some money onto the table, race out the door, and dash across the street to him. She could feel his arms around her.

Instead she watched him back. It all made sense. He was now depriving himself of her. She thought sadly that he was like a cheapskate who loved flowers, who walked around with spare change in his pocket, prowling around flower stalls to get a free whiff of roses and carnations but never buying any.

Such a man might stand for hours outside a florist’s window looking at a gardenia that could quite easily be his. But why, he might ask himself, would a man want a gardenia and what would he do with it once he had it? A man like that might get very close to the florist’s door, and might even go inside, just to look around. He might ask the clerk the price of a gardenia and know that he could buy seven of them. That gardenia would be waiting to be bought, but not by him—not if there were no practical reason for such a gesture, and especially since it would be so much more fulfilling not to.

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