Second Helpings

Second Helpings

Charlie Cochrane

Old kitchen table in a rural cottage in the morning

A father and son move on with their lives after the deaths of their spouses when a former classmate of the father reappears with her grown son in this very British gay romance.

Stuart Collins is pleased but a little stunned when his father Roddy starts dating Isabel Franklin, a widow he’d known years ago in school. When Roddy suggests Stuart start dating again, Stuart isn’t quite sure he’s ready to move on after his partner Mark died in a car accident the year before.

But when Stuart meets Isabel’s son Paul, who’s concerned his wealthy mother might be hooking up with a gold-digger, he’s attracted to the man but put off by the suspicions his salt-of-the-earth father might be conniving for Isabel’s money. As they hash out their parents’ attraction and its possible outcomes, Stuart and Paul form a bond and then relationship that slowly melds into a love affair.

Of the two, the heart-broken Stuart is the more sympathetic at first, but as Paul gradually sheds his over-protectiveness for his mother, he too becomes a delightful young man. In fact, they share a passion for science, Stuart being a forensics expert whose cases often depress him, while Paul is a research scientist for a petrol company.

During a major part of the book, Paul is pining for Ben, a man he met and thought was going to be his life partner in the United States. Ben was supposed to find a job in Britain and join Paul there to start their new life. But Ben seems to have disappeared from view. So while Stuart is trying to come to terms with Mark’s death, Paul is struggling with whether he should act on his attraction to Stuart or try to reconcile Ben’s phone and computer silence as just a misunderstanding that can be explained. Both men attack their problems in a mature, very subdued British manner; neither is given to over-emotional outbursts.

Even more enjoyable than the characters’ excessively civil conduct are the British-isms that pop up throughout the story. Paul calls his mother “mum,” and all the characters have their “mobiles” – except presumably the errant Ben. The guys go to the pub to talk about their parents and share a pint, all of which adds to the lovely British atmosphere of the piece.

The only discordant note is how horribly offensive Paul is at the beginning when he says he’s vetting Roddy without having met the man. In fact, it’s difficult to know why Stuart puts up with him after the number of times Paul acts so pompous and disparaging. But Stuart is more forgiving than I am since he and Paul do form a relationship and clear the air much more quickly than I thought Paul deserved.

Readers who like novels that immerse them in a sense of Britain will enjoy Cochrane’s short novel that features two couples and their steps toward a happily ever after.