the chilliad: hour 6
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
“that’s when things really took a turn,” homer muses, tapping his fingers against his cheek. “like—when they turned nasty.”
he felt donut push another cup of coffee into the hand still on the table, and he took a grateful sip. all this caffeine and sugar was doing wonders to revive him.
“they weren’t nasty before?”
“well, the nastiness was isolated, you know? but now it started to bleed out. i think we all began to feel, like ... i dunno, man. like there were real stakes.”
the thing about meetings of the young socialists club was that most people only went to them because there was always an abundance of free pizza and weed, and the agenda usually consisted of everybody talking shit about university administration and competing to see who would be fucked the most by their student loans. athena herself couldn’t think about having to make loan payments without spiraling into a panic, which was why athena was going to be a hedge fund manager so she could hire an accountant who would do it for her. in theory, she supposed she agreed with socialists about, like, how being a billionaire should probably be classified as a war crime.
but in practice, athena wanted very much to be a billionaire, so you see her problem.
“i’m just saying, it would be dope,” athena said, blowing a halo of smoke above hera’s head to make her look like a stoner angel. hera always insisted she came so that she could understand the minds of her future campaign rivals, which was why she never allowed herself to be noted on the roll call. she couldn’t have young socialist in her political history; it would be career suicide for a future senator of south carolina. “come on. you’ll be my secret weapon.”
hera raised her eyebrows. “what makes you think i’m any good?”
“well, for one thing, i happen to know you have a conceal-and-carry license,” athena told her, voice dry. “and i was there last year when that coyote got into the yard and you shot it from the attic window using only a rubber band and a bottle of nail polish.”
“necessity is the father of invention,” hera sniffed. “the answer is no. i will be in the stands, dressed like a sexy baseball pitcher, selling extraordinary amounts of popcorn to freshmen because they want an excuse to talk to me. it’s our biggest fundraiser of the year. we make a lot of money for scholarships.”
“we wouldn’t have to make money for scholarships if education was free,” pointed out dio. he had his head in athena’s lap, and they were operating on a one-bite-for-me-one-bite-for-you pizza consumption system. “not to, you know, distract from your very important sorority social events planning, here at this meeting about socialism.”
athena patted his forehead like he was a disgruntled puppy. “shh, the grownups are talking,” she told him. “also, you know very well people only come to these things because it’s basically free therapy.”
“all therapy could be free if we — ”
“dude,” athena interrupted. “i really need you to understand that you don’t need to give me a stump speech. you have my vote.”
“gonna be hard to own a penthouse under socialism,” hera said dryly.
“no one will need a penthouse under socialism,” said dio.
“all the same, i’d like one,” athena told him. “that’s what luxury is. stuff you have that you don’t need. let’s have socialism where everybody gets a penthouse.”
dio pinched the bridge of his nose. “that is against the nature of penthouses,” he told her, and then reached up to pull her hand, and the pizza she held in it, to his mouth. around a bite of cheese and pepperoni he continued, “they’re at the top, you see, of other houses. which are therefore not pent.”
“pent means top?”
“pent means slope.”
“so why can’t everyone just have a sloped house?”
“do you want a sloped house?”
“i want a house with floor to ceiling windows that lets me look down on the little people and comes with an infinity pool. and a fountain. for champagne.”
“okay, so you can see why maybe that doesn’t quite fit with the egalitarian underpinnings of socialist discourse.”
“blech,” said hera.
athena and dio both looked at her. dio raised his eyebrows. “blech, equality?”
“equality is fine. but anyone trying to take away my right to have a champagne fountain is getting one between the eyes.”
athena beamed. “you see?” she cried. “this is why we should play. we’d clean house.”
“i’m not playing paintball with you, it’s pedestrian,” hera told her flatly. “end of.”
athena sighed. “this is why people don’t like us. they think we’re snobs.”
from her lap, dio snorted. “to be fair you did just call them the little people,” he pointed out, and then, without warning, sat straight up, eyes wide. athena waited him out; this happened to dio, sometimes. he’d be going along just fine and then it was like he’d been suddenly struck by some magic idea that transformed him. she liked this about him; it was like being friends with a magic eight ball except instead of predicting the future it gave you ideas about free-market economics. “athena. that’s brilliant.”
“thank you, i know,” she told him with the confidence of someone who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
“honestly, i can’t believe i didn’t think of it before.”
athena nodded, sagely. “me either, to be frank,” she said. “i’ve been trying to tell you this whole time.”
“i mean — it’s wrong to weaponize class warfare, but if we do it that way they can’t trace it directly back to us.”
“exactly,” said athena. “that’s my point, precisely.”
dio gave her a big, smacking kiss on the cheek. “and you’re sure you’re okay with it? it might fuck some things up. no last words?”
athena took a bite of pizza. “last words are for fools who haven’t said enough,” she told him. he kissed her again and then got to his feet and dashed out of the room. athena didn’t know who he thought was going to clean up all the empty pizza boxes, but that wasn’t her business.
hera took a delicate bite of a single slice of pepperoni that she’d plucked from an untouched slice. “quoting marx to the marxist. nice.”
athena shoved the rest of her slice into her mouth. “was that marx?” she asked. “i read it in a fortune cookie i got last week. sounds dope though, right?”
hera laughed. she leaned over and plucked a piece of pepperoni from the pizza in athena’s hand, taking a delicate bite. she made a considering face, then put the rest of it into her mouth. you really could taste all five spices. what she didn’t know, of course, because she had consistently refused to partake of the pizza itself, was that there was a sixth spice, a mystery flavor no one on campus could pinpoint, which was baked not into the pepperoni but into the cheese; and it was this sixth spice that made all the difference. this sixth spice which elevated the ’za above all its competitors. this sixth spice, which —
“okay, that’s enough about the pizza,” says donut.
homer groans, dropping his head against the table. “i’m hungry,” he whines. “and i’m about to have a serious sugar crash. who eats donuts as a hangover cure? you guys are animals.”
ray ban sighs. “if i get you a breakfast sandwich, will you focus?”
with his face still pointed toward the ground, homer smiles. “like a teenaged overachiever on adderall,” he promises.
there is the sound of a chair scraping across the floor, and the door opens and closes. homer keeps his head against the metal of the table. it’s cool. it feels good. he has a headache, and also, he has kind of talked himself into wanting pizza. god. pizza would be so clutch right now. all that grease and bread and cheese. he wonders whether ray ban is going to mcdonalds for his breakfast sandwich. they’re pretty good, but homer really prefers hardees, if he’s honest. he doesn’t know if this stupid state has hardees. probably ray ban was just going to go to a fucking panera bread or something.
“well, while we’re waiting,” donut prods, “might as well keep going.”
homer rolls his head back and forth. “can’t,” he grumbles. “too weak from hunger. i’m seeing spots.”
“that’s the alcohol leaving your bloodstream,” donut tells him dryly. “now talk.”
homer sighs. “look, it’ll be better if i show you,” he says. “give me my phone.”
“so you can text your accomplices?”
“no, so i can show you The Post. look, you can watch me do it over my shoulder, but i do not give you permission to search my phone. surely that’s a right i have.”
“the rules on phone searches are kind of nebulous, actually,” donut says. “but i am very uninterested in seeing your nudes or any of the nudes you have accumulated.”
homer lifts his head, perking up. “you think i’m cool enough for girls to send me nudes?” he asks, touched. “i mean, putting aside the fact that, once again i must remind you, i am blind, and can’t see them?”
donut pats his hand reassuringly. “sure i do, kid.” with a sigh, he gets up and leaves homer alone in the interrogation room for a couple of minutes; when he comes back, he slides something across the table. homer’s phone. he could weep, but he’s a grown up, so he doesn’t. instead, he lifts it to unlock with his face. the beautiful, familiar voice of apple’s voiceover lady says: “Messages. Twitter. Mail. Instagram.” he double-taps. “Dictate.”
“User For The Birds,” he says, then waits for it to load. He hands the phone over.
homer puts his head back down on the table. “read it and weep,” he instructs. “i’m napping until my man ray ban gets back with my breakfast sandwich.”
THE NEW EMPERORS: GREEK LIFE AT COLLEGE
There is a pox upon our house, and its name is αδελφότητα. For those of you who don’t speak Greek — and why should you? Why is our educational system so enraptured with old Greeks and so negligent of Eastern philosophies? The answer is racism and a pervading attitude of Western exceptionalism. But that’s neither here nor there. — αδελφότητα means “brotherhood.” It means “fraternity.” But of course, what it really means is “closed ranks of spoiled rich kids who think their made-up games matter more than the quality of everyone else’s experience.”
The Greek system at this school claims to be accepting and open to everyone, but is it? No. How can it be, with membership dues that costs as much as what some of us pay on rent? How can it be, when the time demands necessarily cut out those among us who must work while in school to make ends meet? How can it be, when its requirements for entry seem to include a certain type of appearance, a certain type of wardrobe, a certain type of attitude toward life — the kind of attitude one might cultivate when one has grown up summering on an island somewhere?
This is to say nothing of the way the Greek system abuses our campus facilities with its out-of-control drinking and partying, its monopolizing of local public spaces, and its culture of brutal hazing and quasi-sadistic drinking rituals which seek only to re-establish the same hierarchies of old: king at the top, peons at the bottom. This is to say nothing of the harmful and unfeminist sexual dynamics at play, where no matter where you are on the gender identity spectrum you are encouraged to treat the objects of your desire as just that: objects.
It was the Greeks who destroyed our dining hall with their stupid prank war, the Greeks who book out Argos Park every weekend for their stupid socials, the Greeks who look down on the rest of the student body from their perch on top of a mountain of red solo cups.
Who will topple it?
dité shoved her phone under athena’s nose without comment, which was rude, first of all, and secondly was proof that dité did not respect athena’s interim lacrosse team. was a girl not allowed to have anything sacred?
“babe, you gotta wait til half time,” she said placidly, knocking dité’s hand away. “it’s possible that i won’t have to sub back in but i’m not gonna risk it.”
dité sat with obvious disgust on the metal bench beside athena, gingerly removing a sweat towel. “who the fuck is this ‘for the birds’ asshole?” she asked. “and don’t tell me you don’t know. you already liked the post.”
athena watched as ares noticed dité’s presence for the first time. he sent her a beaming smile and waved, distracted long enough to get absolutely annihilated by one of the guys from the other team. athena couldn’t remember his name. she thought he maybe studied marketing. she pinched the bridge of her nose; this was why she never invited any of the girls to her matches. she could handle their presence just fine, but athena had practice. you just couldn’t expect boys to have her kind of poise.
“of course i know who it is,” she said, rolling her eyes. “and i don’t know why your panties are all in a bunch over this. it’s just a dumb instagram post.”
from her peripheral vision, she could see dité leveling her with a glare. “don’t pretend to be dumb,” she snapped. “you know as well as i do that the administration has been hoping for a reason to kick the greek system off campus for years. if this ... birdman manages to get people riled up enough, it could pose a real threat to the manner of living in which i have become accustomed.”
athena broke into a laugh, finally looking over. she gave dité a fond hair ruffle, something she knew she got away with only because in dité’s heart, athena was her secret favorite. “they’re not going to kick us off campus because some undergraduate has a bee in his bonnet about not getting chosen at rush,” she promised soothingly. “it’s just some unhinged diatribe. he doesn’t accuse us of anything.”
“he said we treat people like objects!”
athena gave her a Look. “babe. probably not the strongest argument, coming from you.”
“what’s that supposed to mean?”
“uh, that you helped unravel a three-year truce between the trojans and the alpha sigs for no reason at all except that you were bored at a party?”
dité snorted, knocking athena’s shoulder with her own. this was how athena knew she was right, about being the favorite: dité wouldn’t even let ares touch her until he’d showered after a game, and here she was voluntarily letting athena sweat all over her dior top.
“bitch, please. you know as well as i do that helen never does anything she doesn’t want to do. she just likes to blame it on me because she can’t stand it when people yell at her, and sappho has spoiled her.”
athena conceded this point with a nod of her head. helen did delight in misbehaving but hated being held responsible for the consequences, while dité loved watching the consequences unfold and couldn’t have cared less what most people thought about her, so theirs was a friendship that worked out nicely for the both of them. personally, athena thought they were both wasting their energy creating drama with boys when they could have been absolutely cleaning the floor with everybody in debate club or something, but whatever. it wasn’t her life.
“maybe. but you enable her.”
dité examined her nails with an air of studied disinterest. “my feminism isn’t any less valid than yours just because it includes a heavy dose of misanthropy,” she said primly.
“i mean. explicitly, it does,” athena told her, laughing. “but that’s not the point. don’t act like this is about feminism when we both know it’s about you not wanting the administration to cancel next week’s paintball game.”
“fine, then you don’t act like you don’t care one way or the other, i know you’re planning to disguise yourself as a pledge and play.”
athena grinned. “well yeah, obviously. unlike you bitches, i’m not afraid of a little paint.”
“i’m not afraid of paint,” dité grumbled. “i just think the whole exercise is stupid, and boys take it seriously out of some misplaced sense of masculine showboating. also, paintballs fucking hurt, i don’t know why nobody ever talks about the fact that paintballs hurt when they hit you. anyway, i don’t care about paintball but i do care about living out my high school cheerleader fantasy in front of a crowd of thousands, and nobody, especially not some nameless socialist influencer-wannabe, is going to take that from me. this is my last one!”
the whistle blew, signaling the end of the period, and athena took the opportunity to turn and take dité’s face in her gloved hands. dité made a face, but let her. “i promise you, the paintball game will proceed as planned,” she said. “okay? i’ll talk to the birdman.”
ares flung his arms around both girls, beaming. “babe! you came!”
dité shoved him off. “ew, don’t touch me, you’re sweaty and gross,” she scolded. “you know the rule.”
he pouted, gesturing accusingly at athena. “you let her touch you!”
“that’s different,” dité told him, unrepentant. “she’s athena.”
“yeah. i’m athena, bay-beeee,” athena sing-songed, shaking off her gloves to throw up two peace signs, giving her head a firm enough nod that her sunglasses fell down onto her nose. dité rolled her eyes, but she didn’t argue, and she stayed for the rest of the game.
“i just don’t think it’s a coincidence,” darius said flatly to chrys, who was sitting on his lap in his motorized chair, “that every time i try to book the park for a trojan function it is already booked out.”
chrys gave a soft sigh and patted his cheek. “i really don’t think there’s some, like, Big Park conspiracy,” she assured him. “who even would be orchestrating it? the notoriously powerful parks and recreation department?”
darius gave her a dark look. “don’t bite the hand that provides you a free lap,” he scolded. “come on. you are doing this for our friendship.”
“two days ago at D&D you tried to sacrifice me to a golem,” chrys pointed out. “where was your friendship then?”
“but did you die?” darius returned. “no. you didn’t. and we escaped. so it all worked out.”
“hmmm,” said chrys, unimpressed.
“okay, go over the plan for me again,” darius said, gesturing until chrys, sappho, and emi lined up in front of him.
emi gave him a look so flat, the earth’s circumference probably shrunk. “go into office building, steal the event sign up folder, go home. it’s not exactly operation acoustic kitty.”
sappho’s head jerked over so fast that she winced, rubbing at the muscle. “if you think we aren’t gonna get into whatever the fuck operation acoustic kitty was as soon as this is over, you’ve got another think coming,” she said. “also, ow. why do necks do that.”
chrys reached over and gave the offending muscle a gentle squeeze. “they’re called neck burners and it’s because you’ve pinched the brachial plexus. you should do more upper body workouts. it’ll help.”
“but i don’t do any workouts.”
chrys noted dryly, “well, watson, i think i may have a deduction to make.”
“can we focus,” said emi. “saff’s out of shape. this isn’t news.”
“fuck off. i’m — lissom,” sappho grumbled. “anyway, the point is, we’ve got this. in and out.”
“no one can find out it was us,” darius emphasized. “no one.”
chrys patted his shoulder reassuringly and then gave his ear a little tug. “we’ve got this, bubbeleh. don’t be such a worrywart. it’ll give your handsome face wrinkles.”
beside them, emi snorted and pulled her hair up into a bun at the top of her head. “are we gonna stand around flirting or are we going under-fucking-cover?”
“i could flirt some more,” darius answered cheerfully, and chrys laughed, kissing his cheek before hopping off his lap and giving a determined little shake of her shoulders. she was getting into the character that she’d decided to be for this adventure: chrysanthemum bodely, an art student whose long-term boyfriend had been cheating on her with a lacrosse player, which chrysanthemum suspected but couldn’t prove, and was really messed up about.
“it’s barely undercover, i really am a member of the young socialists club,” sappho said. “i’m a poet. poets love a revolution.”
“poets love to starve to death waiting in line for bread,” emi said dryly. “poets love wasting away from tuberculosis because they were sent to prison for dissident writing.”
sappho glared at her. “okay, social democracy is a perfectly valid political system that works great in many countries,” she pointed out. “it’s called welfare capitalism, bitch. read a book while you’re in school.”
“if by ‘many countries’ you mean ‘literally just scandinavia,’” returned emi.
“you are such a fucking business major,” sappho hissed. “it’s honestly — ”
“guys,” chrys interrupted. “can we chill on the, like, discourse for a second? just while we commit crimes? maybe we can table the decommodification of labor for when we’re not in the middle of a con?”
sappho and emi turned as one to glare at her, and darius reached up to gently tug chrys’s hand. “no, this is good,” he whispered. “we should use this.” he pushed forward, ushering them inside.
to reserve the park, you had to fill out a request with the parks and rec department, which was just one small office in a tiny building situated on the edge of campus. they were still operating like it was 2001, not yet digitized except that they made scans of all the events and saved them to the community webpage in deference to transparency laws. but there was a big folder, always on the edge of the admin’s desk, where all the event requests went before they were scanned.
“hi,” said chrys, smiling at the older, white-haired gentleman behind the desk, the way she thought chrysanthemum would do it. “i was wondering if i could reserve the park for a fundraiser?”
the man gave her a bored blink, then reached over to drag an unfilled sheet of paper toward her. “fill this out. we’ll get back to you in a week.”
chrys cut a glance to darius. “um, okay,” she said. “can you walk me through it?”
the parks employee looked at her, then down at the paper, then back up at her. “name, contact info, description of event. that’s about the whole of it.”
“right,” said chrys. the events folder sat by his right hand. there was no way they could grab it unless they moved him away from the desk somehow.
behind her, darius said, “i mean, when you think about it saff, emi’s like, technically a member of the ruling class,” to which emi snapped, “what the FUCK, darry,” while sappho shouted with laughter.
“oh my god you are! you absolutely fucking are, of course you are, your family’s like — generational wealth, i’ll bet you’re against the estate tax — ”
“well why should the government get what my family spent our blood and sweat — ”
“oh please it’s like, a glorified deli, you’re not exactly — ”
the admin’s eyes were getting wide as their voices rose, and he held both his hands up in a calming gesture. “hey, hey, let’s keep our voices down,” he said, which chrys thought was a sweetly useless gesture because once sappho and emi got started there were very few things that could stop them. you really just had to ride it out.
“ — taxes? like, oh i don’t know, schools and roads, not to ment — ”
“ —sted one viral tumblr post and suddenly you’re, what, karl fucki — ”
“get ’er,” said darius, cheerful. he was edging his wheelchair toward the edge of the desk.
the admin raised his voice to be heard. “girls, if you don’t quiet down i’m going to have to ask you to — ”
“I’M NOT SAYING I DON’T CARE ABOUT FUNDING PUBLIC EDUCATION,” emi hollered, and sappho yelled back: “JUST FUCKING ADMIT YOU’RE A LIBERTARIAN,” and the parks admin finally lost his calm and shouted, “RIGHT, THAT’S IT, LET’S GO,” and came out from behind the desk to escort them out.
the door slammed shut. chrys and darius looked at each other, and then chrys quickly hopped over the desk to grab the folder. she flicked it open and started flipping through it; darius hissed, “just shove the whole thing in your backpack!”
“he’ll notice it’s fucking missing,” she hissed back. “do you want to get caught?”
“he’s coming back!”
“then distract him,” she snapped. “you’re the one who said no one could know anything happened!”
darius made a frustrated, wordless sound and spun his chair around, zooming toward the door, where the admin was indeed coming up the steps. chrys held her phone up and took a video of each page, as quickly as possible but slow enough that they could pause and read them each later, not looking up. better to do it once properly then go through all of this for nothing.
“fuck!” darius shouted, from outside, and chrys heard the admin give a worried shout. she finished videoing and replaced the folder, hurrying out to the stoop, where darius’ chair was turned over. emi, sappho, and the admin were squatting next to him, busily trying to set it right.
chrys blinked. “what happened?” she asked.
“please go away,” the admin said. his eyes were pinched. “fucking college kids.”
“sorry,” offered chrys. “guess that’s gonna be a no on my event application, huh?”
“i will approve literally any event you want to have if you just go away,” the admin said, and chrys answered, “thank you, i’ll remember that for later,” before sitting back on darius’ lap and letting emi push them both down the path.
sappho leaned in. “did you get it?” she asked out of the corner of her mouth.
“i got it,” chrys confirmed. “what did you do to your chair?”
darius winced. “i think i ripped one of the wires when i knocked it over,” he admitted. “my dad’s gonna be pissed. these things are expensive.”
“and you called me a member of the gentry,” emi muttered. “fucking incredible. those chairs are like ten grand a pop.”
“i am the only person in this friend group here with loans and a scholarship,” chrys said, before they could get started again. “so how about all three of you shut up about who belongs to which part of the one percent? all y’all are rich.”
emi, sappho, and darius all gave her abashed looks. she held up her phone and gave it a wave. “now. who wants to fuck up some alpha sig event planning?”
ray ban clears his throat. homer pauses to let him speak, because ray ban had brought him the world’s most wonderful gift: a warm and delicious egg sandwich, so satisfying that homer had cried, a little, upon biting into it. “so what you’re saying is that three of your friends stole from a government department in order to ... spy on a bunch of young socialists?”
“it’s wasn’t the socialists they cared about, socialism is a red herring,” homer tells him, exasperated. he cannot believe he has to explain this to people who are supposed to, like, detect things about crimes. “it was just that it was the young socialists booking everything out, and who runs the young socialists but dio mendez, who happens to be an alpha sig. obviously he was doing it on purpose.”
“obviously,” says donut mouth, dry as dirt.
homer nods, because he believes in positive reinforcement. “right. so that’s when they started the meme propaganda campaign, to discredit them.”
“to discredit the socialists?”
“to discredit ForTheBirds,” homer says. “you gotta let go of the socialism thing, man. the medium is not the message.”
ray ban gives a dubious hum and says, “it just feels like you’ve talked a lot about socialism lately.”
“well, maybe some of us studied public policy and then a global pandemic hit so we are stuck at home without a full-time job, slowly going insane,” homer snaps.
“co-vid what?” asks donut mouth. “i thought you were a poet.”
“huh?” homer asks, blinking. “i don’t know. maybe i’m still drunk. i think i’m dissociating. you should send me to a hospital.”
“nice try,” says ray ban. “now, what were you saying about a propaganda campaign?”
homer nudges his phone toward them. “it’s in the photo folder called ‘memes,’” he says. “it’s all really bad. i think darius did it, like, on his phone. or in kidpix.”
“you’re too young to know about kidpix,” donut mouth reminds him.
“i’ve been on the internet,” homer snaps. “i don’t have to have played with kidpix to know what it was. don’t make me think of another joke, i’m too tired. i’ve been telling this story for eighty-four years.”
“wow,” says ray ban. “wow, these are. not well made.”
homer shrugs. “graphic design is not emi’s passion,” he acknowledges.
athena hummed, taking a long sip of the iced coffee that dio had brought her. she was scrolling through the anti-ForTheBirds memes that they’d pulled up while he paced behind her, biting his thumbnail; out of deference for their friendship, athena refrained from calling him names about it. boys were anxious creatures; athena knew this.
a thrill went through her. athena lived for this shit. it was like chess, except it had real-life consequences. she loved a good set of high stakes.
“what is that face,” said hera flatly, appearing behind her in a long dressing gown and ignoring dio completely. athena tolled her eyes; only hera would wear an honest-to-god dressing gown and make it look normal. “that’s a scheming face. why are you scheming.”
“none of your questions ever sound like questions,” athena informed her cheerfully. “and i’m not scheming. i’m plotting.”
“those are synonyms.”
“they are not. scheming is what you do when you want to instigate problems. plotting is what you do when you want to achieve a specific goal, using nefarious means.”
hera dropped herself into athena’s velvet lotus chair, legs hooked elegantly over one side. “that’s definitely not correct,” she said.
athena shrugged. “it’s true in my heart,” she returned. “anyway, look at this. they’ve done a propaganda campaign. against me! ... well. against my work, anyway. dio was also involved.”
dio and hera exchanged very dry looks.
“so you two are the birdman,” hera deduced. “does dité know?”
athena wrinkled her nose: dité did not know. it was in everybody’s best interest, probably, that dité did not find out, particularly if all this meant she wasn’t able to dress up like a sexy cheerleader.
she held out her hand and beckoned at dio. “give me your phone,” she said. “listen: a bunch of people are going to go to the young socialists meeting tonight to protest the FTB stuff. so what we’re going to do is beat them at their own game — but hera has a point, which is if we let dité find out, she will absolutely beat both our asses. so you give me your phone and let me do some internet meme magic, and you take mine to the meeting. i’ve got deets’ location in find my friends. if she shows up, you gotta cut your losses.”
dio’s brow furrowed. “cut my losses?” he repeated. “athena. it’s a war.”
“well you’ll have to either cede or kill her and i’m gonna be honest bud, i don’t think you’ve got the cajones to kill her.”
hera snorted and she pushed herself up in the lotus chair so that she was on her knees in the seat, peering over the high back at where dio was standing. “please take on dité,” she pleaded. “it would be so funny for me.”
“she’s not that bad,” dio said, rolling his eyes. “she studies chemistry and she’s kind of mean. most of you are kind of mean.”
athena and hera exchanged a look which said boys know nothing. athena held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “fine, don’t take my phone. risk it. let me know how that goes for you.”
dio hesitated for a moment, then, with a grumpy face, snatched the phone from her hand. “whatever,” he said. “i’m not scared of dité.”
hera slid back into the chair and plucked athena’s coffee from her hand, taking a long sip. her hair tumbled smoothly over her shoulder as she flicked it. “i’m not scared of fire but i don’t pour gasoline all over my house,” she said serenely. “still, do what you want. it’s your life.”
“you don’t even like dité,” dio pointed out, and athena gave a long, tired sigh.
“god, you truly just like, don’t get women,” she said, and then kicked him out of the house.
nas pomme had not anticipated joining a frat when he went to college. heff wasn’t in a frat, and nas thought that heff was basically the coolest person on the planet. when nas was still a kid, heff had been the only one to take him seriously, and pay attention to him even though dité was in the room, being beautiful.
heff would say things like, “deets, quiet, nas is telling me something,” when she talked over him.
heff had a limp and was kind of weird-looking and people were mean to him for it, but he’d always treated nas like — well, like nas was smart and interesting, like it wasn’t stupid to like comics, and like he was worth having around even aside from being dité’s favorite person in the world.
nas loved his sister, and he didn’t particularly like the way most people treated her, either. but it sucked that everyone only ever wanted to hang out with him to get to her.
anyway, heff wasn’t like that, and that’s why nas would die for him, probably.
he hadn’t planned on joining a frat, because they’d kicked heff out, but then he’d gotten to school, and he’d met some of the other guys, like olly and and gilly and darry, and then one day he’d been doing tricks on his hoverboard outside the caf and priam luwian had looked up and said, “sweet moves, kid,” and nas had said, “thanks, do you know my sister?” and priam said, “i don’t give a fuck who your sister is,” and that was that.
the trojans weren’t a real frat anyway, he reasoned. so it wasn’t really rushing. nas had dreams of a better, more equitable greek system, but in the meantime he got to do a bunch of cool stuff. and now that he was philanthropy chair he was in charge of their charity work, which was dope because no one else paid much attention to it so he basically just did whatever he wanted.
last year he’d gotten everyone to dress up as superheroes and go visit sick kids in a hospital. he’d picked miles morales.
(“isn’t that your halloween costume?” olly had asked. “like, every year?”
“if it ain’t broke don’t fucking fix it,” nas had said, “now put your hulk gloves on and stop fucking around.”)
all this is to say that nas really liked being a trojan. he was probably a pacifist at heart, but he really believed that anything you did you had to put your duty to your responsibilities over your personal preferences, so if they were gonna have a prank war, as far as nas was concerned he was gonna do whatever he could to ensure they would win it.
“i just don’t think it’ll work, bud,” darius had said dubiously when nas first offered, looking at nas’s hoverboard with such a sceptical face that nas was a little insulted. “there’s no way there’s enough horsepower on that thing.”
nas had frowned. “you’d be surprised,” he’d said. “i once pulled a whole red wagon full of books the six blocks to my house from the library.”
darius did that think that darius sometimes did, where instead of expressing an emotion he looked up at the sky and glared at it for a few seconds. eventually he had said, “well that’s — fuck off, dude, that’s the cutest shit.”
“you fuck off,” nas had said back, grinning, because he knew he’d won, and darius was going let him pull his wheelchair to the anti-ForTheBirds protest with the hoverboard like a boss as fuck chariot. his electric was still being fixed and nas saw no reason why he should have to haul himself around when there were other solutions.
nas liked solutions. he believed in confronting challenges directly, honestly, and with hard work, which was why, with two jump ropes tied on one end to darius’s chair and on the other around nas’ waist, he said, “game on, asshole,” when dio mendez spotted them in the crowd and challenged them to a winner-takes-all round of cornhole.
“this just feels like maybe the stakes are, uh, unnecessarily high,” said the kid on dio’s team, who nas recognized as an alpha and with whom he’d had lit 101 freshman year. macallister, or something. he was always hanging around odysseus.
the stakes were these: if the trojans won, dio had to cancel the rest of his park events so that the trojans could have them and convince ForTheBirds, whoever he was, to issue retraction of his articles; if dio won, nas had to hand over his hoverboard and darius had to quit the school paper.
to be honest, the thing about the hoverboard felt a little vindictive, but also, it was a dope hoverboard. nas understood why someone might want to win it for free in a game of cornhole.
and unfortunately, it was looking more and more like dio ... might indeed win it.
“shit,” darius muttered beside him. “fuck. my extracurriculars.”
“your extracurriculars?” nas repeated, flabbergasted. “dude! my hoverboard!”
darius winced. “maybe he won’t make it,” he offered, but without much hope. it turned out that dio was very good at cornhole. dio was probably the best cornhole player that nas had ever seen, which was weird because nas happened to know that dio was terrible at beer pong, and weren’t they practically the same game?
“it’s the weight of the beanbag,” mack offered unhelpfully from the other side of the field, beaming. “and also, the wrist.”
“shut the fuck up, man,” nas said. “who asked you?”
“you, kind of,” mack pointed out. “if it was a secret you should have whispered, bro.”
“don’t call me bro, babe.”
“don’t call me babe, bro.”
dio tossed the beanbag. nas watched it arc up, spin in the dying sunlight and land with a thud on the edge of the board’s hole. he held his breath.
it slid in.
“fuck,” he said, with feeling.
dio had thrown his hands in the air and mack was yelling joyfully behind him; nas’s grip on his hoverboard tightened against his will. “look, maybe — let’s talk about this,” he said, with an edge of desperation to his voice. “or, or, let’s do a rematch. just for the hoverboard.”
“wow, thanks,” darius muttered, “i see how important my journalism career means to you.”
“you want to be a pediatrician,” nas reminded him. “and also, this is your fault! you said you were good at this!”
“i am good at this, it’s not my fault that guy’s a ringer!”
“fellas, a deal’s a deal,” dio told them cheerfully, and held out both his hands. “the ’board and your resignation, please.”
nas scowled. “i hate it here,” he said.
“that which does not kill us makes us stronger,” dio assured him, crossing the field. nas clutched the hoverboard to his chest protectively. he knew he’d lost it. he knew he’d lost it fair and square.
but it —
but it had been a gift, from his stupid dad, who wasn’t ... well, who wasn’t around enough to really know him well enough to give good gifts, usually. but this one he’d really nailed, and he’d seemed so happy when nas had liked it, and when nas asked their nanny whether she’d given him hints about what nas wanted, she’d said, “no, i think he just hacked into your amazon account,” which — well, it showed, didn’t it, that his dad cared?
(“wow, talk about cookies for doing the absolute fucking minimum,” dité had said bitterly when nas told her this.)
“look man,” nas hedged, “i know this is — i know we had a deal but it’s — this was, it has sentimental — ”
“and, what, manny’s relationship wasn’t sentimental? now we’re caring about the origins of things?”
“helen isn’t a thing she’s a person, she made choices,” nas argued, stepping back. “my hoverboard can’t make choices! the AI is limited to telling me when it needs to be charged!”
in dio’s hand, his phone pinged. he glanced down at it and his expression registered dismay. “dude, did you call your sister on me?” he demanded. “that is un-fucking-cool.”
he held the phone up. the notification on the lockscreen read in your area: dité pomme.
nas frowned. “why do you have my sister’s shared location?” he asked at the same time that, from behind him, her voice cooed, “boys, boys. what’s all this fuss?”
nas slowly closed his eyes, gritting his teeth a little.
he loved dité. she was — well, she was dité. all they’d had for most of their lives was each other, and then eventually heff, and now a host of other people, but at the beginning it had been him and his sister. sometimes it still was, sort of.
but he hated when she did this. nas wasn’t a kid anymore. he didn’t need her to, like, flirt her way out of his battles for him.
“deet,” he muttered. “it’s fine. stay out of it.”
“yeah,” dio agreed. “it’s none of your business.”
dité’s eyes got sharp and the hand that she placed on nas’s shoulder tightened its grip.
“remember what your therapist said,” nas warned. “about impulse control.”
“none of my business?” dité repeated, voice low and dangerous. “sorry, who the fuck are you to tell me what is and isn’t my business? scratch that: who the fuck are you, full stop?”
dio gave her a very dry look. “you know who i am,” he said. “you’ve known me since freshman year, and i’ve known you, so you can’t scare me with your haughty hot girl bullshit.”
for a moment, dité just gaped at him.
oh, please don’t say anything else, nas willed dio silently. he’d have said it out loud but he knew that dio would not thank him for it. on nas’s other side, darius was fully holding his breath.
“all of this is your fault, anyway,” dio went on, blithely ignoring the gathering storm in front of him. “you and helen, you’re both the fucking same. you use people for your entertainment. you think it’s funny. and you don’t care about the consequences for them. well, guess what. here’s a consequence.”
he was close enough that dité reached out to yank him in by the tie he was wearing; he stumbled forward and the clip broke in dité’s grip. she cried out, letting go, but it was too late: she left a smear of blood behind, on the front of dio’s shirt.
nas dropped his hoverboard and pulled her hand toward him, holding it open so he could see how deep the cut was.
“fuck! fuck,” dité hissed. “what kind of fucking loser wears a clip-on tie?”
“it looks pretty deep,” nas said worriedly. “deet, come on. we have to get this looked at. you might need stitches.”
“oh, someone sure is gonna need stitches here on this day, but it’s not gonna be me,” dité agreed, trying to shove past him, but nas was taller than her, and broader, and stood firm. he stepped into her path, standing between her and where dio was staring at the blood on her hand.
tentatively, dio said, “dité — i’m — shit, i’m — ”
“shut the fuck up,” nas hissed, not turning around. “don’t fucking talk to her.”
dité had stopped trying to push past him. she flinched away when he prodded at her palm. “ow! fuck. jesus.”
“you should get this looked at,” nas said again. he kept his voice level. if he freaked out, she’d freak out. “how did you get here, do you have a ride?”
“i can drive her,” said a girl that nas didn’t know very well. iris something. “i’ve got my car.”
nas nodded. “great. thanks. okay, deet, go with iris, okay? she’s gonna take you to get it looked at. it’s fine. it’s just a little blood.”
“i don’t feel very well,” dité said, voice getting small. dité hated blood. she used to faint at the sight of it. nas carefully, gently curled her own fingers so that she didn’t have to see the cut.
he kissed her forehead. “go with iris,” he said again. “you’re fine. it’s just little. don’t be a baby.”
he gently pushed her into iris’s arm, who led her away, murmuring soft, comforting things. when he looked up, dio was shifting his weight from foot to foot. “that wasn’t my fault,” he said quickly. “she grabbed me.”
“put your fucking dukes up,” nas hissed. “you hurt my sister.”
“she grabbed me,” dio said again. “come on, man, i don’t want to fight you. keep your fucking hoverboard.”
“I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT MY HOVERBOARD,” nas shouted. “YOU MADE MY SISTER BLEED.”
dio straightened his back, shifting into a fighting stance, but still said: “dité made herself bleed. she literally — ”
“okay, okay,” darius interrupted, reaching up to put one hand on nas’s chest and the other on dio’s. “look. things got out of hand. let’s all just — let’s calm down.”
dio held his hands up. “i’m calm, dude,” he said. “talk to your boy over there.”
nas pushed against darius’s hand, but he was pretty swole for a guy in a wheelchair. nas guessed it was, at least in part, due to the heavy arm workouts he got whenever he wasn’t using his electric. “let’s go,” darius said to him, voice low. “nas. come on man. let it go.”
“she was bleeding,” nas snarled. “i’m gonna kill him. i have to kill him.”
“let’s. go,” darius said again. his voice was calm. “nas. if you get kicked out for fighting about this dité is gonna be pissed as shit. please do not get me in trouble with dité. i’m scared of her.”
nas looked at him, then back at dio, who still had his hands raised. there was still blood — dité’s blood — on his shirt.
he shook his head, as if to clear it. he was a pacifist, he reminded himself. a pacifist.
“stay the fuck away from me and my sister,” he snarled. “next time i see you, it’s on sight.”
he spun on his heel and marched from the field, darius wheeling quickly after him.
helen waited fretfully by the door until iris’s car pulled into the drive, ares hovering over her shoulder. he was still in his lax gear, getting sweat everywhere, but helen figured he could be forgiven, given that apparently he’d gotten her text and simply run off the field. athena wasn’t exactly less gross, and she’d flung herself across the two seater to nervously play gameboy while they waited.
dité was sitting in the passenger seat, clutching her hand to her chest; she got out slowly, careful not to get blood anywhere. iris stood by her own door and gave an awkward wave as helen threw open the door and all three of them rushed out.
“thanks,” helen offered, distracted.
“uh, no problem,” iris said. “is she okay?”
“she’s fine,” athena told her authoritatively, and led dité inside with a hand on her back while ares inspected her hand and pet her hair absently.
helen gave iris the best smile she could offer. “no, really, thanks a lot. sorry you keep getting dragged into this.”
iris smiled, more sincere. “it’s really no problem,” she said again. “right place, right time.”
“well, i owe you one,” helen promised. “you’ve got my number.”
she didn’t wait to watch iris get back into her car; she was a freshman, and nice enough, but not really helen’s main concern right now. she hurried inside to find dité sitting at the kitchen counter, ares across from her, carefully dabbing at the wound on her hand with a cotton ball and some antibiotic ointment from their house first-aid kit.
helen swept in to quickly press a kiss to dité’s cheek. her stomach was a knot. it felt like — well, this was her fault, sort of, wasn’t it? if she hadn’t hooked up with paris. if she hadn’t leaned so hard into the joke. if she had just told manny to stop with all the prank war bullshit.
but she’d — well, hadn’t there been a part of her that had kind of liked — ?
“what do you need?” she fretted, petting dité’s hair carefully. “do you want some rosé?”
“it’s not a deep cut, can everyone just chill,” dité said, rolling her eyes in that way that suggested she was embarrassed about the fuss but pleased by the attention. helen looked away so that her smile wouldn’t be seen.
“fine, we don’t care about you but i’ll have some rosé,” helen said. “and if you want, since the bottle’s open, you can also have some.”
“bitch, i care about you,” athena said, heaving herself up onto the counter and kicking her feed against the cupboards. “and also, rosé for me, please.”
helen snorted, pulling the chilled bottle from the fridge and then three glasses. she hesitated. “ares?” she offered. she’d never really gotten what dité saw in ares, other than his abdominal muscles, but she figured it was best to be polite. “would you ... care for a glass?”
“nah, i gotta do leg day after this,” ares said without looking up from dité’s hand, which helen at least approved of. “gotta be responsible around the gym equipment.”
dité snorted, then cried out as he swiped a slow thumb over her hand. “ow! fuck!”
ares grimaced. “babe. this is pretty deep. you might want to get it looked at, in case you need stitches.”
“i don’t need fucking stitches,” dité snapped. “i need vengeance.”
“okay, but you can have both,” ares said calmly. “stitches first, vengeance after. just point me at him. i’ll break both his legs.”
helen startled, spilling a little of the wine as she finished pouring it. he spoke so nonchalantly, but she absolutely, completely believed him.
she gave him a careful look. hm. maybe she saw a little bit of what dité saw in him, after all.
dité was smiling at him with what, on dité, passed for tenderness. “thank you, but i don’t need your help,” she said.
“babe, you can’t throw a punch to save your life,” ares reminded her. “and i can benchpress, like, four times what you can. just let me do it.”
“i’m not going to beat him up,” dité said, rolling her eyes and accepting her rosé from helen with her uninjured hand. she took a delicate sip. “i’m going to ruin his life.”
“cool,” ares said, and then glanced up to see athena and helen glaring at him. he paused. “... uh. not cool?”
athena sighed. she threw back her entire glass of rosé in one long chug, which was fucking disgusting. helen honestly couldn’t take her anywhere, including her own house.
“babe, you always go too hard,” athena sighed, softening the blow by reaching out to gently tug on dité’s ear. “it’s supposed to be fun.”
“first of all, ruining people’s lives is fun. second of all, i’m bleeding,” dité hissed. “bleeding is not supposed to be fun!”
“for some people it is, don’t kinkshame,” athena said placidly, and then held out her glass to helen to refill.
helen clutched the bottle of rosé to her chest. “absolutely not. this is nice shit. if you want to chug it get some of the bud light from the back fridge.”
“booooo,” athena whined. “why do we even have bud light.”
“oh, i could take a bud light,” ares said, perking up. “i could do leg day with a bud in me, it’s basically water.”
helen and dité rolled their eyes together, but helen was filled suddenly with a feeling of fondness she didn’t often feel. she put the rosé back in the fridge and went to stand by dité’s side, gently taking her hand out of ares’ so he could follow athena to the back fridge, and began wrapping it in gauze.
“are you really okay,” helen murmured quietly. “like. really okay.”
dité gave her one of her few real smiles. “i’m fine. i’m mad. i’m gonna ruin that man’s whole career. who’s he dating?”
“...gia,” helen said with a wince.
dité made a face. “hm.”
“she’s our friend,” helen reminded her. “sort of. i mean. she lives here.”
“i’ve lived with a lot of people who weren’t my friend,” dité said. “it’s for her own good. i’ll bet he’s bad in bed, anyway.”
helen said, “that ... doesn’t sound right, but i don’t know enough about dio mendez to dispute it.”
athena and ares returned to the kitchen, a beer in each hand. dité gave ares a judgmental look. “two beers before leg day?” she scolded. “if you die i’m not coming to your funeral.”
“three beers,” athena said cheerfully. “we had a chugging contest in the garage. i won.”
ares looked annoyed. “she cheated,” he decided, but failed to elaborate. he put one beer on the counter and then took a long sip as he came over to gently hipcheck helen out of the way. she glared at him; she wasn’t athena. touch her like a lady or not at all, thank you very much. “how’s it feel? it looks better bandaged.”
“it’s fine,” dité assured him. “don’t tell heff.”
“oh, i already did,” ares told her without a shred of repentance. “i texted him on the way over. he was gonna come but i told him not to because then i’d have to deal with your wound and him freaking out. but i said i’d bring you by after.”
dité pouted. “and he listened?” she whined, and that’s when the doorbell rang.
athena grinned. “apparently not,” she said. “i’ll go let him in.”
“grab him a beer from the back!” ares called after her. “and two lemons! he likes it with lemons!”
dité gave ares another look, so soft that helen looked away, feeling suddenly out of place. she’d never looked at manny like that, she didn’t think. she’d certainly never looked at paris like that.
she hadn’t looked at anyone like that, not unless you counted sappho, which she didn’t, because it was different with sappho. she was, like, an extension of helen’s whole person.
“don’t drink more,” dité murmured. “you’ll drop a weight on your stupid head and get even stupider.”
ares leaned in and kissed her forehead, gently, gently. “i won’t drink more,” he promised, “but fuck off if you think i’m going to the gym while you’re wounded.”
“but you said — ”
“honey, honey, what the sweet fuck,” heff cried, coming into the kitchen and hurrying to dité’s side. he pressed a distracted, rough kiss to the side of ares’s head and then took dité’s face between his hands, looking at her carefully. “are you all right? are you fine? what the fuck. why don’t you listen to me when i tell you not to do things. you never listen. nas called, and then athena called. what the fuck.”
ares laughed, low and quiet. helen and athena quietly slipped out of the kitchen, leaving the three of them be.
homer drums his fingers on the table. “i wanna be in a throuple,” he decides. “it sounds nice.”
“i feel like you should focus on getting one girlfriend before you attempt to get two,” says ray ban, voice dry. “one is hard enough.”
“maybe i want one girlfriend and one boyfriend,” homer tells him snottily. “i could be bisexual. you don’t know.”
“are you? bisexual?”
homer wilts. “... i don’t know,” he admits. “that’s what college is for. experimenting sexually.”
“also, learning,” donut reminds him. “at least, that’s what i’m told. as our friend here has pointed out, i didn’t go to college.”
homer makes what he hopes is a supportive listening face. he reaches out and feels around for donut’s hand, then pats it gently. “how does that make you feel?” he asks. his throat is pretty parched. it would be nice for someone else to talk for a while. “you shouldn’t let him make you feel bad about it.”
ray ban snorts. “i don’t make him feel bad,” he grumbles. “it’s not like i use my degree.”
“what was your degree?”
there is a long silence. ray ban shuffles some paper. donut and homer wait expectantly, long enough that homer thinks they aren’t going to get an answer; but then, grudgingly, sounding like he’d rather be dead than tell them, ray ban says the most marvelous, wonderful thing.
ray ban says, “i majored in modern dance.”
for the record, odysseus really did think all the frat shit was stupid. it had been fun, in his younger days, but now that he was the ancient age of twenty-two it all seemed so ... pointless. dress up, yell at other men in identical clothing, throw a party, rinse, repeat.
like, what was the point?
“if you think being a farmer is not a whole lot of rinse, repeat, i have bad news for you about farming,” nestor told him, not ungently, as they gathered outside the football stadium and waited for the starting bell to ring. the annual paintball game was one of the few events odysseus had to admit he still kind of enjoyed, because it allowed him to shoot people he didn’t like. one year, he’d nearly blinded priam, which he knew he was supposed to feel bad about, but it wasn’t his fault the asshole had decided he was too cool to wear goggles. if you wanna be a man at night you gotta be a man in the morning, in odysseus’s opinion.
odysseus punched nestor’s shoulder. “i know how to farm,” he said. “i’ve farmed before, okay, asshole.”
nestor opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, aggy stood. he was wearing a full SWAT team outfit, but where it should have said SWAT it said ALPHA. it was so fucking stupid. all of it was so fucking stupid.
it was, essentially, capture-the-flag. all the frats were locked in the stadium, and the idea was to shoot as many of them as you could on your way to stealing the trophy at the center. first team to bring the trophy back to their home base won.
also, AC and PK weren’t here, still sitting out of things as protest. it was their last year and they weren’t here, and odysseus didn’t care a lot but it turned out that he did care, like, a little.
“BOYS!” aggy shouted. the assembled alphas yelled, “AYYYYYYY!” back at him, except for odysseus, who booed. beside him, mack glanced at him, and then aggy, and then converted his AYYYY into an “AYYYY......OOO?” like he wasn’t sure which he was supposed to do.
nestor gave odysseus a knowing look, which odysseus pointedly ignored.
“it has been a long semester,” aggy intoned. “we have fought, and bled, in defense of the honor of our house. you’ve all done battle in your own ways. you’ve brought glory to the house of ALPHA! SIGMA! PHIIIIIIIII!”
“ALPHA! SIGMA! PHI!” the boys yelled back at him.
“we have won battles and we have lost them! but whatever the outcomes, we have always kept fighting! and today ... today, we have the chance. we have the opportunity. we have the gift of being allowed to shoot those motherfuckers in the face.”
“not in the face,” nestor piped up. “it is explicitly against the rules to shoot them in the face.”
“we have the gift of being allowed to shoot those motherfuckers anywhere except the face!” aggy amended easily.
from the crowd, jax piped up: “SHOOT ’EM IN THE DICK, BOYS,” and aggy brought a hand to his mouth as a megaphone to echo, “SHOOT ’EM IN THE DIIIIIICK.”
odysseus pinched the bridge of his nose. he hoped penny hadn’t come to watch. she was always threatening to come to these events, which she said was to cheer him on but he knew was so that she could gather incriminating things to make fun of him about later. she’d probably make a flowery cross stitch that said SHOOT EM IN THE DIIIIICK and then force him to hang it on her bedroom door.
“this is not about paintball,” aggy went on. “this is not about games. this is about JUSTICE. it is about HONOR. it is about GLORY. it is about DEFEATING THE MOTHERFUCKING TROJANS!”
“and charity,” said nestor.
“....AND CHARITY,” aggy added.
“ALPHA! SIGMA! PHI!” hollered the group, and odysseus, despite himself, grinned a little. he checked to make sure his paintball gun was loaded as dramatic smoke flooded into the stadium — who was paying for that? were they paying for that? — and the starting bell rang. the whole frat flooded into the stadium, mack plastered to odysseus’s side.
last year, it had been odysseus, AC, PK, nestor, and posey, and they’d followed manny around shooting the other team so that he could get the trophy. (it had ... really mattered to him that he got the trophy.) this year manny was up front with aggy, AC and PK weren’t here, and posey was on some trip with the biology department. it was just odysseus and nestor and a flood of infants whose names odysseus only sort of knew.
“okay, so, there’s no strategy here at all,” odysseus surmised, watching aggy shoot blindly into the smoke. ugh. he had to do every fucking thing himself.
he climbed onto one of the obstacles — he was pretty sure they’d like, dismantled a skate park to build the maze — and shouted, “ALPHA PLEDGES, TO ME.”
mack said quickly, “i’m here!”
“i know,” odysseus told him. “uh. good ... job.”
mack beamed. baby jax, deucer, cal, and homer appeared quickly, shoulder to shoulder. they waited obediently for his orders, which odysseus had to admit was kind of dope. “right. listen. fan out around aggy. he’s a good shot but he’s got tunnel vision for that trophy. we have to make sure he can get there. that means your bodies for his, understood?”
“yes!” the pledges shouted, and odysseus, for the fun of it, said, “yes what?”
he gave a nod. “good. clear out!”
they scrambled to obey his orders, running to catch up to where aggy and manny were crouched behind a large block, looking around. it was difficult to see through the smoke; cal, like a sweet idiot baby bird, stood up for a better view, saying, “hold on — i see — i think i can see — ” and immediately went down with an explosion of paint on his shoulder.
red. trojan colors.
“SHIT,” cal shouted. “OW. FUCK. DAMNIT. IT’S ONLY BEEN LIKE FIVE MINUTES.”
it had been, like, two minutes, but odysseus didn’t correct him. he sighed. manny reached out, dragging cal against the block and examining the paint. “ah, sorry bud,” manny told him regretfully. “it’s a good shot. you’re out.”
cal stared hard at his feet. “sorry,” he muttered. “but i saw priam. he’s got two bodyguards. i don’t know their names. fuck.”
odysseus watched as manny ruffled his hair and then gently nudged cal’s chin with his knuckle. “hey. you did good. you got good intel. my first year i got out before i’d even finished stepping into the arena because someone sniped me. you took a bullet for your brothers. that was brave.”
odysseus wanted to roll his eyes, but he was — kind of touched, actually. he forgot sometimes, that one of manny’s two major personality traits was soft.
out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement; instinctively, odysseus swung his paintball gun up to point it at whoever was approaching, but the figure was frozen. when he squinted, he realized it was nas, dité’s younger brother. he was standing with his gun still pointed at where cal had been, but was now watching manny comfort him with an odd look on his face.
odysseus kept his paintball gun trained on the trojan, but, in what he could only guess was an act of kindness (????), nas lowered his gun and slunk away.
well, odysseus thought, that was weird.
he clapped cal’s shoulder as cal trudged miserably to the exit. “you fought well,” odysseus lied.
“i died, like, so fast,” cal answered dryly.
“well, stamina takes practice,” odysseus said. “we all lose it too fast the first couple of times.”
cal laughed, looking a little perkier as he patted odysseus’s hand where it lay on his shoulder and then left. odysseus turned his attention to the rest of the arena, surveying the chaos.
it was ... a bloodbath.
pledges from all the frats were covered in paintbullet marks, being helped out by each other and their fraternity brothers. somewhere in the arena, odysseus could hear dio mendez talking an extraordinary amount of shit, and it was drawing the other frats to him only to be taken out by some admittedly sharp shooting.
ajax did a backflip off of one of the obstacles and nearly grabbed the trophy, but an onslaught of bullets forced him to duck and roll out of the way, taking cover underneath what looked like the bridge from the botany club’s garden. odysseus shook his head; despite panting heavily, ajax had a wide grin on his face. this was american ninja warrior with violence. it was probably his happiest place.
movement in the corner of his eye caught odysseus’ attention — mack was ... physically wrestling with one of the trojan’s, whose name odysseus wasn’t sure he knew until nas shouted, “SOLLY, YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO SHOOT HIM, NOT WRESTLE HIM. ALSO, THAT FUCKER STOLE MY HOVERBOARD.”
“I FUCKING KNOW THAT,” solly shouted back, and was reaching for his gun when mack managed to unseat him, rolling out of the way. as solly scrambled to his feet, mack gave him a hearty shove with his knee, and odysseus winced as solly’s ankle caved. the kid hit the ground with a shout and mack froze in panic; odysseus moved quickly, doing his best imitation of parkour to get to him, but it was too late when he did. mack and solly had twin paint splotches on their chests, guns pointed at one another.
mack ran a hand through the mark on his vest. “aw, man,” he muttered.
solly leaned heavily on his own rifle, to take some weight off his ankle. “good wrestling,” he said, apparently sincere. “you’re strong.”
mack eyed him warily, then nodded. “you too,” he grumbled. “do you — need help walking?”
ugh, odysseus thought again. fuck. that was … well, it was cute, he guessed. whatever. kids were stupid. he was too old for this.
“come on,” he said, lifting one of solly’s arms over his shoulders and gesturing at mack to take the other. “let’s get you to the door. mack, you can help him to the nurse’s office.” he hesitated for a moment, then thought fuck it and added, “good work, clay.”
mack beamed, then winced as another paintbullet exploded against his shoulder. odysseus, knocked both him and solly to the ground, swinging his paintball gun around in the direction the bullet had come from; he was hector, he saw, standing on a block with the wind in his hair like he was some kind of ... whatever. odysseus didn’t know.
“what the fuck!” odysseus shouted. “he was already out!”
“well, i couldn’t see that,” hector called back, unperturbed. “better safe than sorry. also, he stole nas’s hoverboard.”
“we’re helping your housemate,” odysseus snarled. he didn’t know why he was so mad. what did he care. it was paintball. it wasn’t like mack was hurt.
but he — well, but that wasn’t the point. the point was that he’d been doing a nice thing and then hector had shot him for it, and that just wasn’t a good lesson for a nice young man to learn. that was all.
an expression that odysseus couldn’t read flickered across hector’s face as he registered that it was solly between them, but solly waved him off, so he shrugged. “oops,” he said. “i’m surprised you care so much, doc. i thought you were too cool now for us lowly fraternities.”
“sorry, only one of us is in a fraternity,” odysseus reminded him, putting a little more venom in his voice. “you’re in a day club.”
“man, i will physically fucking fight you,” hector snapped, and then, before odysseus even knew what was happening, they were running for one another. odysseus shot two trojans who tried to come between them, and then, with an agility that he did not know he possessed, scampered up a half-pipe before leaping onto a set of monkey bars and swinging forward to kick hector square in the chest.
hector staggered back, but not far. god, that guy was huge.
“YOUR STUPID TWINK BROTHER RUINED MY SEX LIFE,” odysseus yelled at him. “ALL OF THIS IS SO FUCKING STUPID AND NOW IT IS AFFECTING MY SEX LIFE.”
“oh yeah, i heard about that,” hector taunted, taking aim; odysseus knocked the gun out of his hand, and then they, too were wrestling. “one big, happy family in off-campus housing.”
“fuck off, man,” odysseus snapped, and managed to catch hector across the jaw. he barely flinched, hooking an arm around odysseus’s neck and half-dragging him into a headlock. odysseus reached up to tug painfully enough on hector’s ear that he let go. “this war is stupid. you know it’s stupid.”
hector shrugged. “he’s my brother,” he said, reaching again for his gun. odysseus kicked it out of the way. “some of us are loyal to our brothers.”
odysseus froze. “i’m loyal,” he said. “fuck you. i’m loyal as fuck.”
“yeah, when it suits you,” hector said. “what you are is an asshole. why do you even come to these events when you clearly hate them so much?”
because they’re my friends, odysseus thought. because i didn’t always hate it. because next year it will all be gone and i’ll never have it again, not like this.
“because fuck you, that’s why,” he said, and leapt at him.
“good god, i can’t watch, this is so embarrassing,” athena said, peeking out from behind her fingers. “jesus. none of them can shoot for shit.”
beside her, hera sighed. “just go. i know you want to go, so go. get the bag you think i didn’t notice you bringing and go play.”
athena pulled a face. “zeke will notice,” she complained, pointing to where he was sitting in an old lifeguard’s chair and watching the proceedings. supposedly he was a referee, but hera didn’t know what the hell rules he was supposed to be enforcing. he was letting everyone wrestle for god’s sake. it was a paintball game.
“hm,” hera agreed. honestly, he probably would, and knowing zeke, he’d be a real dick about it.
athena sidled up to her, threading her arms around hera’s arms and pressing her chin to hera’s shoulder. “ra-raaaaaa,” she wheedled.
“no,” hera said. “and don’t call me that.”
“come on. you know you’re better than any of those assholes. this is an embarrassment to the sport.”
“paintball is not a sport.”
“shooting is a sport.”
“hm,” hera said again.
athena gave her big, hopeful eyes. hera wavered. it really was an insult to the sport of shooting, watching those meathead idiots run around shooting willy-nilly. there was no dignity in it. hera came from a long family of distinguished fox hunters and sporting clays.
she looked again at zeke, who was boredly scrolling through something on his phone.
she sighed. athena immediately wiggled happily beside her, recognizing a victory, and dragged her out of the stands to the girl’s restroom to change into the outfits she’d brought, complete with face-obscuring masks.
“i’ll be an alpha, you be a trojan, then it’s fair,” athena said.
hera snorted. “it’s still not fair,” she said primly. “i’m much better than you.”
“yeah,” athena grinned, “but i have a specific mission and you’re just gonna cause indiscriminate havoc, so i feel like that evens the scales.”
they went to the lifeguard chair. athena knocked on the wood until zeke looked down. hera felt nothing about the way he immediately said, “ra-ra?” despite her get-up and the mask. so what if he knew her? he was still an asshole.
“we want to play,” athena said, cutting right to it. “it’s embarrassing out there. we need to save the dignity of greek life.”
“what dignity,” hera muttered under her breath, but then said, “we’ll trade you for it.”
zeke hesitated. “i feel like i am bound by duty to say no to this,” he said slowly, “but i’ll be honest, i’m surprised you’re here and i’m interested in your offer.”
“two parties,” hera offered.
zeke gave her a knowing look. “you don’t care about parties. that’s not going to work again.”
ugh. hera tapped an impatient foot, then said, begrudgingly, “two parties, and i let you drive the boat.”
beside her, athena turned in confusion. “what boat?” she asked.
hera ignored her, keeping her face turned up to zeke. the boat was hera’s dad’s, or had been. he’d left it to her. she never let zeke drive it, even though he’d begged and begged, even when they were dating. but zeke was an idiot, and the boat was nice as shit, and hera just knew he’d fuck up the transmission or something.
“for fifteen minutes,” she amended. “not one minute more.”
the surprise on zeke’s face was visible. he studied her for a minute, and they both ignored athena when she asked again, “what boat?”
“deal,” zeke decided. “but neither one of you is allowed to touch the trophy. chaos only.”
“you got it,” athena agreed quickly, and elbowed hera’s side until she nodded in agreement. hera held zeke’s gaze for one more second before turning around and following athena into the ring.
hera picked up a paintball gun that had been discarded from one of the other frat boys. it had plenty of paintbullets in it.
athena, picking up her own, grinned over at her.
“cause a ruckus, ra-ra,” she instructed with a cheerful salute.
“don’t call me that,” hera said, and then raised the paintball gun so she could take aim.
athena wanted to stay and watch hera in all her blazing glory, but she did actually have a mission. she made her way through the melee, following the sound of dio’s stupid voice talking shit to anyone who could hear him.
she crept up behind him and put the paintball gun to the back of his head and he froze, breaking off mid-sentence.
“talk shit, get hit,” she told him cheerfully, and when he relaxed, she brought the gun down and shot it over his shoulder at an approaching dude from — well, athena couldn’t tell which fraternity, actually. maybe sigma epsilon? “i told you to run if dité showed up. i was very clear with this instruction!”
dio ducked a bullet, dragging athena down with him. “no, you said not to fight unless i intended to win,” he said. “and i do.”
athena sighed, scrubbing at her faceguard. why were men like this.
“well,” she said, “now ares is going to be absolutely unbearable, and dité is one hundred percent going to ruin your life, and i feel somewhat responsible for getting you into this, so i’m going to get you out of it.”
dio turned around, frowning. “what do you mean ‘get me out of it’?” he asked, and athena shrugged. she wasn’t going to tell him that dité had pledged to make gia break up with him as revenge for her hand; after all, dité was her friend, and dio had made her bleed.
but she would, you know. help him out. for the sake of the honor of house metis, or whatever.
she shot three more enemy frat brothers. “are you going to ask me questions or are you going to let me help you win this thing?” she asked, instead of answering, and a big grin spread out across dio’s face.
he mimed taking the safety off his paintball gun and dove into the fray. she followed behind him, acting as his personal sniper so that he could focus on getting to the trophy at the center of the field.
when they got close enough to see it, ares was already there, hand reaching out. dio reacted quickly, shooting once, and the paintbullet hit ares square in the hand, knocking it out of its trajectory. dio snatched it instead, grinning down at ares, who glared up at him.
“you,” ares snarled. “you hurt my girlfriend.”
“she hurt herself,” dio said. “she grabbed my tie. why does everyone keep blaming me for something she literally did to herself?”
ares made a sound of rage and athena, regretfully, pointed her gun at him. “come on dude, chill,” she said. “dité’s grown. she can take care of herself. don’t treat her like a delicate flower.”
ares squinted. “... athena?” he asked. “you’re — !”
“go ahead and tattle on me,” athena told him. “he got you out, fair and square.”
“fair and square? he’s got you following him around like his personal bodyguard!”
“well, fine. he got you square, then,” athena amended. she reached out a hand to help him up, but ares knocked it away, stalking off on his own.
athena sighed. well, she’d wanted high stakes.
“let’s go,” she told dio grimly. “we still have to get it back to the base.”
ares marched out of the arena and directly to zeke’s atupid fucking lifeguard chair. he couldn’t believe this. athena, of all people! athena! his friend! dité’s friend! helping the very man who had wounded his beautiful, perfect, smart, funny, mean girlfriend. helping him at ares’ expense!
zeke was fucking DMing some girl on instagram when ares got there, not paying attention to the arena at all. sometimes, most of the time, probably all of the time, ares really fucking hated that dude.
“athena is in the arena,” ares said, folding his arms across his chest.
“yeah,” zeke agreed. “hera too. hilarious, right?”
ares blinked. “hilarious?” he repeated. “it’s — it ruins the integrity of the game!”
zeke looked up from his phone, briefly interested. “does it?” he mused. “huh. oh well.”
ares was going to hit him. ares was absolutely, 100% going to hit him right on the mouth.
“you’re only letting them because of hera,” he spit. “you always fucking do this. you never do anything to check her, you let her do whatever she wants. it’s so fucked up.”
zeke raised both of his eyebrows. “bruh,” he said. “i don’t let hera do anything. hera just does shit. you can fight her on it and have her do it anyway, or you can let her bribe you, and get something out of it. those are the only two options available to you. i recommend taking the bribe.” he paused for a moment and then added, serenely, “i also recommend taking up yoga. it might help with the absolutely terrible vibes you’re bringing to this gathering.”
ares let out a wordless shout of rage and threw his hands up, storming off. behind him, he heard zeke call out, “your tears mean dick to me, just so you know!” and he flung up both his middle fingers without turning around.
“wow,” donut says. “that was tense. i felt tense.”
homer grins. “describing action scenes is really hard, man, thank you,” he admits. “but you can see, you know, why things escalated.”
donut hums. “it doesn’t feel like we’ve been here six hours,” he muses.
ray ban snorts, and homer hears him get up from his chair. “it feels like we’ve been stuck in this hour for at least a year,” he corrects. “if this were an online periodical i would assume the author had some kind of terrible writer’s block.”
“hey,” homer complains. “i’m literally sitting right here. it’s hard enough telling a story without pressure of a live audience.”
but: six hours. he’d kept it going six hours so far. his headache is receding, a little. maybe he can do this, after all.
he clears his throat. “hey,” he says. “we haven’t even gotten to the crazy part yet. you honestly won’t believe what happened next.”
leave a comment! or don’t. i’m not your mom.