Herc & Pyotr
Storming Love: Meteor Strikes 5
Release Date: 25 March 2016
Herc is a psychotherapist dealing with his own issues—not wanting to get out of bed after his partner leaves him for another man—when a meteorite crashes into his car and leads to meeting the sexy, new neighbor, astrophysicist Pyotr, who’s studying the recent spate of global meteor strikes.
Herc thought he had the perfect life: a great partner and a meaningful career as a psychotherapist—until his partner left him a week ago and Herc became too depressed to see his clients. When a random meteorite punched a tidy hole in his car’s engine, it seemed like the world had it in for him, but bumping into Pyotr, the handsome older man who’s moved in a couple of doors down and happens to study things like falling stars, things might be looking up for Herc—and more may be falling than the skies in this light-hearted, apocalyptic romance.
A Word From Atom
As readers have been reading my latest book, Herc & Pyotr, I’ve noticed some comments about the ages of my main characters, and their age difference.
See, Herc is a forty-four year-old, Asian-American psychotherapist. Pyotr is a Russian-American astrophysicist in his mid-fifties. I didn’t think these qualities, except for maybe their professions, were important enough to mention while I promoted Herc & Pyotr, but maybe I need to rethink that.
As I’ve said before in other interviews and essays, I’m new to the genre of M/M and gay romance. I assumed that having older characters, and an age difference between them, wouldn’t be anything noteworthy, as it’s fairly common in the world of gay men. It’s even a stereotype in Asian/Western pairings, with theories about it stemming from Asian cultural respect for elders and the European cult of youth coming together quite fortuitously. (Asians do tend to appear younger for longer, but I’ve also noticed this Dorian Gray effect where after a certain age, we age rapidly and go from smokin’ to Yoda).
I happen to be someone who falls into that stereotype, and have always preferred older men. We could delve into some psychobabble about daddy issues, but let’s not suck the joy out of this and instead, pump some of it in where it belongs: older men have different sensibilities and get into different kinds of troubles in novels than younger men do, and their potential for emotional maturity, wisdom, and patience can be the anchor in a younger person’s storm when they’re paired together in a story.
However, Herc & Pyotr isn’t about a huge age difference. Pyotr, being over fifty, may qualify as a “daddy” in gay culture, but if we’re counting years, Herc would be a daddy, too, being over forty. The point isn’t that there’s a power differential in my story, though—it’s not a daddy/boy or a daddy/son dynamic. It’s really just about two men who have lived a while and learned a bit—and have now met and will try to love each other despite the odds, for as long as they can (Herc & Pyotr is part of MLR Press’s Storming Love series of disaster romances, so there’s always a possibly world-ending catastrophe in the mix).
I suppose it’s unusual because many stories out there are about twenty- or thirty-somethings getting their foot in the door of life—coming out of the closet, leaving college, beginning adulthood, true love for the first time…It’s fun and I love what I’ve read, and those are great ages for shenanigans (did you know, the prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for decision-making, emotional regulation, etc isn’t fully developed until age twenty-five? I kid you not).
And what I wanted to offer readers was a taste of my world. I want to add my voice into the fray with stories about forty-somethings looking for love and finding it. I want to show that our stories—the stories of anyone searching for love—are worth telling, worth reading, and worth sharing. If we don’t tell a story about it, does it exist? And if we do tell a story about it, will it exist more?
Let’s hope so. I write stories with themes that I want to explore, but until today, I hadn’t fully realized that what I want to explore also means that it’s new or unfamiliar territory to others. I’m not preaching to the choir with an oft-used trope—I’m inviting people to commune with me, as Maude put it in Harold and Maude, with nature—with love in its many forms.
I took care of my car.
Regular maintenance, oil changes, carwashes–the works. I figured I’d sell it one day, and I didn’t want it to have a scratch or a sticker to drop its value, let alone anything wrong mechanically. Everything worked on it–the power windows, radio, CD player…until today.
“Great,” I said, staring at the fist-sized hole in the hood. I clicked my key fob and turned off the alarm. A few of the neighbors came out and turned off their car alarms, too, that had been set off by the very loud boom that shook all of our windows early this spring morning.
“Jeez, Herc, what happened?” Nestori, my friend and neighbor down the way, stood there with his blond bed head, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He wore a rumpled white tee, sweatpants, and socks—we were dressed alike except I had slippers. Maybe I appeared as lost as he did. Or worse, since I hadn’t changed my clothes since the beginning of the week.
“I don’t know.” I gawked at the smoking hole. “Lightning?” I pieced together the evidence I had, and only came up with a timeline that started with a crash, followed by my car alarm, then a couple of minutes later the aforementioned boom, and finally the other cars being triggered. “A frozen turd from an airplane?”
“Are you serious? Holy shit.”
“What?” His golden eyebrows crinkled together, and then he grinned. “Oh.”
“To be fair, it did fall from the sky.” Everybody huddled closer to peer into the puncture. “I don’t know. I don’t even know who I should call about this.”
“What about Jason?”
Nestori’s innocent question should’ve felt like a sucker punch, but the numbness from seeing my killed car protected me. “He left last week. We’re not together anymore.”
“Bro. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Because you would’ve wanted to get me drunk and laid.
“I would’ve totally come over with a bottle of Jack and helped you get some D, man.”
“So that’s why I haven’t seen him jogging for a while.” Pihla, the widow who lived across the street, had the perkiest personality—and breasts—in our neighborhood. “I thought he left on a business trip.” She wore a pink satin robe over a pink nightie with matching pink slippers. A small, thin, gold cross on a gold chain stuck out sideways from her cleavage and wobbled back and forth, unable to rest flat. Her son, Sami, clung to her leg, his head just above her knee, avoiding eye contact like some toddlers do. This suburban Madonna in pink held a mug of expensive coffee I could smell and envy from where I stood, and rested her French manicured hand on her shy boy’s head. By the way she had batted her eyes at Jason during block parties, or how she happened to pick up the morning paper from her driveway when he’d jog past, I always thought she had a crush on my partner.
Ex. I meant ex-partner.
“Yeah, he didn’t leave on a business trip. He just left me.” I wondered if I died inside my home from choking on a chicken bone while eating, single and alone, how long it would take for my neighbors to notice my dead, bachelor body. I thought I smelled something funny, one would say a week later. Jeez, what happened? another would ask. Who the hell cares? my ghost would spell out on a Ouija board, life sucks.
“Meteorite,” said a faintly accented voice from the crowd. Slavic, I would guess.
“Whoa! You think a meteor hit Herc’s car?” Nestori asked. “How do you know?”
“Meteorite,” the voice gently corrected. “It’s a meteorite when it lands. I saw everything as I was jogging this morning.”
“Meteorite,” I mumbled. My geek brain fetched a personal wiki page from when I wrote a report in sixth grade about asteroids crashing into Earth and destroying all life, because I’ve always been a cheery person. The word “disaster” comes from the Italian disastro, meaning “ill-starred event.”
Why couldn’t it have been a pretty shooting star that vaporized all sparkly in the atmosphere, so I could make a wish? Instead, it’d dropped a deuce on my perfectly maintained car.
The hole in the hood gaped back at me, and I thought about the day Jason left. He had requested I park on the street instead of in the garage, so he’d be able to get his things out of the house without too much trouble.
I should make a wish anyway.
Something realistic, not like true love and a happy-ever-after ending with a handsome, emotionally intelligent man, because that obviously doesn’t happen. How about a nice pair of shoes? Good shoes are more reliable than men.
“I’m sorry this happened,” the voice said, this time to my left. “There have been worldwide reports of meteor strikes over the past few weeks.”
I turned and came eye to eye with the concerned face of a middle-aged man only slightly taller than me. He wore a red baseball cap and his black hair, lined with a few strands of gray, escaped his hat around his ears and a little over his forehead. His color-coordinated stubble, speckled with silver, defined a square jaw and framed full lips. Perspiration darkened his loose, gray shirt, forming something like a Rorschach inkblot in the center of his defined chest. Despite the smell of engine oil and gasoline coming from my mortally wounded car, the scent of his clean sweat cut through and woke me from my daze.
“Hi, I’m Pyotr. I moved here last week.” He offered me a firm handshake and a smile, and returned to surveying the damage to my car, his hands on his hips. “You should probably call your insurance and not your ex. I work from home a few days a week, so if you need a ride, let me know? I live down the street.” He started running lightly in place. His feet were bare, which I hadn’t noticed.
“Thanks for the offer…Pee-yo-ter. I may take you up on it.”
“Please do.” Pyotr smiled again, nodded a succinct farewell, and trotted off.
“Yeah, if you need a ride…” Nestori and a few neighbors offered, but I didn’t pay attention.
I was busy making an unrealistic wish. And it wasn’t for shoes.
Atom was born to Chinese immigrant parents who thought it’d be a hoot to raise him as an immigrant, too—so he grew up estranged in a familiar land, which gives him an interesting perspective. He’s named after a Japanese manga (comic book) character, in case you were wondering.