Probably Tim was already a troubled boy, being sent in a boarding school at a so young age didn't allow him to form the first important emotional bond in life, the one with your parents. And the the accident and the various foster homes didn't help either. Tim repressed all the feelings of abandonment and sadness and became a control freak. He has to have control in everything, above all in his own feelings; as I said, Tim just met the only person in the world who can find a breach in the walls he built around him, and that person is far from him, he even controls that weak side of him, knowing in every moment where Con is and what he is doing. Tim starts to date women, since it's expected from society, but he knows that a woman has no chance to pull down his barriers and so he is safe with them. This is not a "gay for you" romance, first of all since Tim, deep down him, knows that he is in love with Con, and second since Tim is a full-figured virgin, in any meanings of the word: he has never allowed anyone near him enough to tolerate a physical touch.
But now Con has invaded his space and started to work on that breach. He is in Tim's apartment, in Tim's life again, and he is too huge: not only in the physical meaning of the word, but also to an emotional level. Tim freaks out, he feels his control slip out for his hands. What I like of Tim is that he seems unable to be nasty with Con; he is sharp and edging, but he always tries to do the right thing with the man. True, when Con has to go away for a period, Tim tries to rebuild his walls, but at the same time he tries also to understand himself better and his feelings for Con; when everyone around him already knows that Tim is gay, Tim has still some hope that this is not true, since if he is gay, he is in love with Con and he is in big big trouble.
The book is not so simple that the "little" realization of being gay allows to our hero to happily walk hand in hand toward the sunset (don't get mislead by the cover...). That is only the first step and maybe the simpler, it's only stating the obvious; if till this point the book was almost funny (with sentence like "after a month he was always sure to be more gay than not"...), now it turns in something more complex and moving. Even if Tim is a doctor, he has still huge mental barriers that don't allow him to admit that he needs the help of a specialist; on the other hand Con, even if a real good man, is a firefighter, not a therapist; but he tries to help the man he loves, he tries to be supporting and sympathetic. I really like as he comes out as character, since the reader can really understand that he is not like that, he is not for real an always careful and cautious man, but he knows that he has to be like that for the good of Tim, the man he loves... and when he momentarily forgot, the real Con comes out, with his requests of a puppy (when they are both men with eclectic working hours) or for Tim's to take cooking classes (when the man has already his days full with his job and other bigger problems).
Both characters are wonderfully rendered, but Tim comes out in full force. I was really taken by this man that apparently is aloof and detached, but instead has so much to give: I was almost regretting that it was not allowed to these two men to live their childish love, to grew together and being always happy since that tender age... but probably they would have been not able to realize the beautiful love story that now they are living. By Degrees is a very good novel, that mix romance, eroticism and a bit of drama, but that has also a funny core that always warms even the more angst scenes.
Amazon: By Degrees