My friend Erastes went through a long stretch of writing a story with two proper British gentlemen who talked one another's ears off but, she lamented, could not seem to shut up and get down to what they were there for.
This happens—but I don't think it's exactly the Union Jack so much as the time and setting. In historicals set in an era where being caught in sodomy can be fatal, a man with any sense isn't going to just charge on in without feeling his way—verbally—before committing himself.
In my most recent book, Tangled Web, one of the main characters, Brendan, is a young man just out of college who has had a physically exciting affair with his college roommate but realizes that guy's not someone he can depend on for much of anything. Philip is an older man, a widower, who had a crush on his commanding officer while in the army, but has never had sex of any sort with another man. Brendan's absolutely smitten, but doesn't think he has a chance, while Philip is distressed at how much he has come to enjoy Brendan's company.
A sexual connection would mean complete disgrace and probably death if they were discovered. Brendan doesn't want to sully Philip with his desires, and Philip only belatedly becomes aware that he's got such desires at all. They are both honourable gentlemen, they have considerable self-control, and it's almost three-quarters of the way through the book before they manage to kiss. It's a stolen kiss, at that, and Brendan's running on liquid courage, and even so, he backs off immediately--
Carlisle pulled a second chair close, retrieved his own glass, and took possession of the decanter as subtly as he could. "Young man, that was a remarkably foolish thing to do."
"I couldn't agree more, sir. You are kind to call it merely foolish."
Yes, Carlisle thought, a little drunk, but only to the point of in vino veritas. "Why?"
"Because I am a—a lover of men, and I have never felt about anyone the way I feel about you." Brendan bit his lip. "I might plead that I did it because I had had too much to drink…" he shrugged, recognizing the weakness of his own argument. "But I drank deliberately, to get my courage up. And as my mother would say, a second mistake does not repair the first."
Carlisle took that as an opportunity to stopper the bottle and set it aside. He thought he might regain control of the situation with a fatherly lecture, but he could feel the ground slipping away beneath his feet. "Some things can only be learned as the result of making mistakes. And very few of us are disciplined enough to avoid succumbing from time to time. What matters most is the company one keeps when drinking."
"Yes, I know that now." Brendan looked down at Carlisle's hand where it lay in his lap. "I feel quite safe now, in your hands."
"As well you may," the older man said, "because if you begin to look too fuddled, as you do now, I would lock up the bottle and send you off to bed."
Brendan reached over and slipped his hand into Carlisle's. "Alone?" he asked.
And they still go on talking for a page or so, all the way upstairs—and there are more complications after that, because there is so much at risk.
I don't think that much conversation would be necessary in a contemporary story—certainly not for characters in an England that has legal same-sex partnerships, for men who know that they're gay and know what (and whom) they want. In my contemporary Walking Wounded, the characters met, clicked, and:
It had been so easy, so natural. They were sitting on the sofa, watching the late sports news—nothing important to either of them, and they talked over the news reader’s monologue. It was the usual caution at first, hints about pubs and films, the little signs and countersigns of establishing gay identity, until Kevin said, quite frankly, “Why don’t you just ask? I don’t have a girlfriend—have had, but probably won’t again. Don’t have a boyfriend, either.”
The unapologetic challenge in those beautiful eyes captured John’s heart, then and there. He’d always been shy, never good at quick clever lines, but he heard himself say, “Mind if I apply for the position?”
And Kevin returned, grinning, “Which position? Or are you versatile?”
“Side by side,” he’d answered, embarrassing himself again.
Kevin’s smile lit up the room. “I’d like that.”
John smiled back, reached up tentatively to touch his face, and closed his eyes as Kevin leaned in for a kiss.
It had been like coming home. The taste of his lips, the warmth of that strong, muscled body, even his scent—it all held a faint familiarity, as though this were something they had done many times before.
Nothing simpler. What a difference a century or two makes!
And yet… as someone who has found that a good friendship can make for a solid partnership when that friendship catches fire… in some ways I think there's a lot to be said for the tactful, tentative gentlemen.
Copyright Lee Rowan, March 2010