TEN SHADES OF GREY
I must admit I felt rather anxious. It was the first time I had chosen a book for the club and while I was interested to hear what the other men thought about my choice, the book was really a subtle message to Charles. A simple message but one I didn’t believe I could just blurt out – even in private.
Lovely Charles. He had invited me to join the book club but perhaps I was reading too much into his invitation.
New to the university and shy, I had been spending a lot of time in the library between my lectures and research. I sat at the same desk and struggled to make sense of the text.
My heart had been broken, shattered. After three happy years with James, the relationship I thought would last forever had come to a crashing end.
That afternoon I was just curious when I saw the work boots by our front door. One look at the young man naked in our bed with James however and I became hysterical. I had bawled and screamed. Why had he sunk to rough trade and how could he do this to me? The usual hurt lover tirade. I had then packed my bags.
‘You seem keen on reading, John,’ Charles paused next to my chair. ‘You might like to join our book club. Ten Shades of Grey, we call ourselves. All getting on in years but it would be a chance for you to meet some new folk.’
I wasn’t young myself. Decidedly grey but I lacked the elegance and style that Charles displayed so effortlessly. He was tall and slim and his frequent tennis games had given him a warm tan. His eyes were a soft shade of grey that exactly matched his thick, beautifully styled hair.
I know people say that we homosexuals can recognise each other immediately but I have never had that ability. Perhaps growing up in a homophobic family in a small rural town had blunted any perceptions I might have developed. My attraction to Charles was, however, almost instantaneous.
Of course I joined the book club and despite my dubious motives I really did enjoy being part of the group. We met at Paul’s elegantly furnished Federation home and sat grouped around the open fire sipping fine quality port.
Concentrating on the conversation took a fair effort as I either watched Charles beautifully shaped hands as he gesticulated to make a point or listened to his voice so dreamily that my mind drifted away from the content of his argument.
The members input was sometimes quite unexpected, or perhaps I had succumbed to stereotypes. Johnno, the older footy jock had chosen a classic biography and his insights were really perceptive.
Kevin was a well-known local musician and openly gay, given to camp theatrical gestures. The book he had chosen however was a bloodthirsty crime thriller. His choice was jeered good naturedly by some of the group. ‘Thought it would be about patchwork ‘Andy said. ‘Or that Russian ballet guy’ James added.
From the general chit chat I gleaned that John lived alone, with no particular friend of either sex.
When it was my turn to choose a book I had agonised over the options and finally decided on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Surely discussion of the overt homosexual relationship between Charles and Sebastian would give me some clue as to Charles feelings for me?
There was certainly much discussion.
‘Greedy bastards’ Johnno said. ‘No mention of any of them doing any worthwhile work’.
‘If you were as beautiful as they were you wouldn’t have to work’ Kevin said. ‘I nearly swooned when I saw young Charles in the TV show with his teddy bear.’
‘Very complex characters’ Charles said. ‘Of course there was the homosexual angle early on but I think like Charles and Sebastian a lot of us dabbled in that and then grew out of it as we matured. Now it is the Roman Catholic angle that interested me most,’ Charles said meditatively.
My disappointment must have shown clearly on my face for at supper Kevin spoke to me quietly. ‘Don’t feel bad John,’ he said. A lot of us would love to crack onto Charles but he’s not for the likes of us. Come to a party on Saturday and I’ll introduce you to a few who will be more than happy to cheer you up’
‘Thanks Kevin, I will. Time to move on’ I said sadly.