It occurred to me recently that while I’ve tweeted several lines (search #WIPlines on Twitter if you’re interested) from PARTHENON—that’s a working title, by the way—my NaNo project from this past November, I haven’t posted much of anything about it on here. Today I rectify this.
For those not familiar with it, here’s the summary:
A very long time ago, a girl ate some pomegranate seeds and spent her winters in the underworld and her summers in the sun…
If that sounds like a certain bit of Greek mythology, you are correct. In the PARTHENON ‘verse, society has become almost militantly atheist, and the god and goddesses of old aren’t welcome anymore. Nowadays, those who aren’t missing or dead are either using a drug that makes them forget they’re not normal humans or hiding behind invented identities and quiet, normal lives. Persephone and Medusa have been in hiding, undisturbed, for a long while when Persephone’s estranged husband, Hades, quite literally stumbles blindly onto the scene, and as you might expect when the god of the underworld shows up with no knowledge of what’s happened topside in the last five or six centuries, everything kind of goes to hell a little bit. (Okay, a lot.)
So begins PARTHENON. In attempting to right their wrongs and bring some balance back to the world, the characters also meet other gods and goddesses from various pantheons. One of these, and (if you ask my Twitter followers, at least) arguably the most memorable, is Hermes, the former messenger god turned sex worker with a foul mouth, a filthy mind, a penchant for glitter on his shoes and in his makeup, and as many secrets as you’d expect from someone who’s lived as long as he has.
Because I am nothing if not a perverse creature, I’m introducing people to PARTHENON not by sharing an excerpt from the novel itself, or even a piece of short fiction involving the main characters. Instead I’m giving you a sneak peek at Hermes and a small but important part of his past. This is the first part of it; come back tomorrow and you’ll find the second. For now, here’s “In Between.” Thanks for reading and let me know what you think! To those of you who read earlier versions of these short stories: your reactions give me life. Enjoy the slightly tweaked version.
New York City. Late 1990/early 1991, give or take.
“This isn’t going to work, you know that?”
The man on the other side of the desk raised his eyebrows slightly, looking patently unsurprised that Hermes—currently calling himself Tony after his favourite musical character—had spoken less than five minutes into their session after having stated in the first two that he would do no such thing. “What won’t work?” he asked patiently. Kindly. He had a kind face, kind eyes, a kind mouth.
Hermes wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to punch that mouth or kiss it, but he figured he’d decide by the end of this appointment. “This,” he repeated, gesturing to indicate first himself and then Dr. Elijah Barnes. “You, me, and therapy.” He flashed a sickly sweet smile as he pronounced the rhyme. “You want me to talk about my feelings so you can try to fix me, and when talking doesn’t work, you’ll give me a prescription for Prozac and send me on my way with one more thing to abuse.”
“Prozac is considered non-addictive,” Barnes pointed out. Still kind, still patient.
“And doctors used to say that cigarettes and cocaine were good for your health,” Hermes countered. “Take it from an addict—you give me something that makes me feel good, I’ll find a way to abuse it.”
He glared—I see what you’re doing, quack—but shrugged and answered, ticking them off on his fingers as he went, “Let’s see, in alphabetical order… alcohol, heroin, music, people, tobacco.” He paused musingly, then added, “Those are the current and/or recent big five.”
Barnes glanced briefly down at his notepad, though he hadn’t written anything down, and then remarked, “Alcohol, heroin, and tobacco don’t surprise me. People and music do.”
“Music and people,” Hermes corrected. “Alphabetical order, doc.”
“Right.” Hermes could have sworn a smile pulled at the man’s mouth. “Music and people, then. How do you abuse those?”
“Same as anything else. Too much of a good thing. Dependency. I can’t function without music. Always have it going up here, sometimes there’s no room for anything else.” He tapped his temple. “And there are some albums I’ve bought six or seven times because I keep burning through the records—”
“Records? As in vinyl? You don’t look that old.”
“Cassettes,” he lied smoothly, covering up his mistake. “Point is, I go through a lot of them and keep buying more, and it causes significant impact on my financial and emotional state, which I’m pretty sure is a textbook—if dry as King Tut’s mummy—definition of addiction.”
Barnes tilted his head to one side, just slightly. “Interesting turn of phrase.”
“And what about people?” he asked, still polite, casual… kind. Fuck. He would get a shrink who liked his job and genuinely wanted to help people. He’d been hoping for a burnt out one, a few months from retirement, who wouldn’t have cared. It was harder, crueler, when they cared. “How do you abuse them?”
Behind the calm question was a steady, steady look in the doctor’s eyes. “I don’t kill them to feel alive or any of that bullshit if that’s what you’re worried about. I just beat them so that we can both get off.”
“Sometimes they do,” Hermes answered, grinning, as he leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk, resting his chin in his hands. “If they’ve got the stamina, and if they behave.”
He was rewarded with a poorly muffled spluttering noise from the good doctor. “That’s not what—” A calming breath, then, “You deliberately misunderstood me.”
Hermes sat back, sprawling in the chair, legs spread, one hand resting near his belt buckle. Barnes’ eyes quickly flicked there and then away again. “Guilty,” Hermes replied with a smirk. “Though you walked right into it.”
“And those methods,” began the doctor, clearly trying to get things back on track. “Those methods—the alcohol, the drugs, cigarettes, the music, the people—those work?”
He shrugged elegantly. “Not always.”
“Then why continue using them?” the doctor wanted to know.
He gave the doctor his best Well shit, you really are a special kind of idiot, aren’t you? look. “Because sometimes they do. Duh.”
“What if I told you—”
“What if I told you I don’t care?” Hermes interrupted him. “You ask too many questions.”
“It’s my job.”
That had him lifting one eyebrow. “And if I refuse to answer them?”
“Hasn’t happened yet,” the doctor pointed out matter of factly. “Despite what you said.”
He bit his tongue, but inclined his head, acknowledging the point. After a moment he went on, levelly, “Look, doc, I know you want to help, and I appreciate that, I do, but the fact is I’m only here because my partner worries, and to be honest I’m not going to be with him much longer, so this doesn’t really matter in the long run.” He had to swallow hard before going on, but the doctor just looked at him, not saying anything. Disgusted to hear that Hermes was—as far as the doc knew, anyways—gay? Maybe. Oh fucking well. “I’ve been getting by long enough now, I know what I’m doing. I’ll cope without your help.”
The doctor stood up, but didn’t make any move to stop him as Hermes got to his feet, grabbed his jacket, and started for the door. He’d almost made it there when Barnes called after him, “Wouldn’t you rather live, not just cope?”
He could have ignored him. Probably should have. Instead he stopped with a hand on the doorknob and sighed. “Of course I would,” he said wearily. “And I fully intend to, one day. But for now, day by day is what I’ve got.”
Hermes yanked open the door and left before the doctor could say anything more, ignoring the receptionist when she glanced up and asked if he wanted to book another appointment. He walked as briskly as possible to the place that was, for the time being at least, home, moving quietly when he found the lights off so as not to disturb. Leaving his boots on the mat by the door, he crept into the bedroom, undressed, and slid under the covers next to the other, slimmer figure huddled into a ball for warmth.
A faint groan came from that other figure as Hermes curled around him, followed by a hiss of breath. “Your feet are fucking freezing, asshole.”
“They’ll warm up.” He rested a hand on Michael’s back, feeling the shadows of vertebrae and ribs through the skin, and had to pause before continuing. “How are you feeling?”
“Like shit.” As promised, he was warming up, and the other man, shivering, now pressed back against him. “All those people who say it’s comforting to at least know what’s killing you are full of it. HIV and AIDS can kiss my ass, even if it is getting scrawnier by the day.”
“Hey, I happen to be fond of that ass, scrawny or not.” He slid his palm over it to prove his point. Michael gave a huff of breath, a laugh, and Hermes smiled briefly, then, sighing, started, “I wish—”
Michael’s hand reached around and gripped his, hard enough for bone to grind against bone. “Don’t. I mean, I know, I wish too, but—don’t think that way. I don’t want you thinking after I’m gone that I regretted any of this.”
“Never,” he promised. “And for what it’s worth, neither do I.”
“Good.” There was a small smile in Michael’s voice, lingering under the drowsiness. “So, how did the appointment go?”
He hesitated. “I tried,” he said after a moment, as sincerely as he could. “I swear I did. Told him about my problems and everything. It’s just… not for me.”
A sigh next to him. “Tony…”
“Don’t worry about me.” He held the other man as tightly as he could without worrying about hurting him. “Just get some rest. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Michael sighed again, but didn’t argue, and within a few minutes he lapsed into sleep, still muttering faintly to himself about the stubborn jackass he’d gotten into bed with.
Hermes lay awake next to him, holding the dying man—weeks, months, years, it didn’t matter when; Michael would die, he’d seen it before—in his arms, and wondered when he was going to stop falling for people he knew he was going to lose.
He already knew the answer.
Never. Sure, the losses hurt, but in between, it felt good, like what he’d been telling the shrink about his coping mechanisms sometimes working being enough to keep using them. When they didn’t, it hurt like hell, but when they did, it felt more than good; it felt like the best thing ever, even when he knew the low was coming. It was the same here. He could live for those good parts, tucked in between the bad. He could live knowing there had once been someone who cared enough about him enough to ask him to see a therapist, to help him cope with what they both knew was coming. He could remember that after, when he was alone again.
He’d have to.
Now, don’t forget, I’m a terrible person who thrives on your hurt feelings, so there’s the comments section if you feel like yelling at me. See you tomorrow for part two!