the chilliad: hour seven
“i dunno man, it just feels like cheating,” ray ban says, taking a long slurp of soda.
“athena wasn’t even supposed to be playing. and they said they’d only sow chaos but she clearly helped that dio kid win.”
homer acknowledges this with a nod of his head. “well, she got him there, but he had to make it back on his own,” he explains, carefully feeling the edges of his watch. on the one hand, six hours feels like an eternity. on the other, there are still so many to go. he can’t keep going so fast. he’s got to start throwing in some more side detail. who hasn’t he talked about yet?
“you said she helped him get back to the base,” ray ban counters. homer can hear his frown.
shit. he’s right. homer did say that.
“uh, well,” he stutters, “no. what i said was: she said she’d help him get back to the base.”
“they were caught?”
homer snorts. “no, of course not. athena remembered she had brunch plans.”
“brunch plans?” dio asked, jaw dropping. “we’re in the middle of something!”
“yeah, but they only do bottomless mimosas until four,” athena told him, unrepentant. “look, i got you this far. surely you can get the rest of the way on your own.”
hera was already standing by zeke’s lifeguard stand, pointedly Not Talking to him. she had already changed back into her normal clothes and, spotting athena, gestured impatiently at her watch.
dio said, “we’re — it’ll be like ten more minutes. come on.”
“ten minutes is like, five mimosas,” athena said, flabbergasted. “you think you’re worth five mimosas to me? i would sell you to satan for one corn chip.”
“athena,” dio began, but she cut him off, arm shooting out to grab a passing jax, yanking him down behind the wall they were crouched behind.
jax blinked. “oh,” he said. “whaddup. hey, is that the trophy?”
“it sure is, babe,” athena told him. “you gotta help dio get it out.”
jax frowned. “why can’t you do it?”
“i have brunch plans. at pallas.”
jax made an understanding face. “bottomless mimosas til four,” he guessed. “right. stay no more. i’m on it.” he tossed athena a salute and, without another word, slung dio and the trophy over his shoulder.
“what the fuck,” dio said, but that was the last athena heard before jax took off.
the thing was —
no. okay. manny was working with his therapist on adjusting his view of the world to incorporate an awareness that he was not at its center by using I-statements.
in manny’s opinion, that is, manny felt that the thing was that the prank war was not turning out to be, like, very fun. aggy had made it sound as if the whole thing would be like the scene in manny’s favorite film, the parent trap, where American Lindsay Lohan’s cabin boobytrapped British Lindsay Lohan’s cabin: hilarious and dope.
but manny was not finding the prank war to be either hilarious or dope. he was mostly finding it to be very tiring and stressful. he hadn’t seen AC or PK in weeks, except sometimes in the caf, where PK would wave sadly at him, and AC wouldn’t even acknowledge him at all. he missed them. they were his buddies. they used to do leg day together, and now manny had no one to do leg day with, so sometimes he didn’t even do leg day at all.
no wonder helen had cheated on him. how could she expect him to provide the kind of life to which he knew helen planned to become accustomed if he was the kind of guy who couldn’t even motivate to do squats?
this time last year he’d had all his best friends around him on his way to get the trophy, and it had been the best. he’d had a really good time. afterwards they all went for beers and ice cream and he’d done a backflip off the back of doc’s truck and, just, now everything was all fucked.
manny felt that everything was totally, completely, utterly fucked.
the sophomore from — from — god, manny didn’t even know which frat. he hadn’t even memorized the new pledges the way he usually did, because aggy had said that this year his brain energy was better spent on prank war stuff. in the past he’d always tried to know everyone, because the greek system was a system, not a collection of silos, and manny liked to help the newcomers out when he could.
he’s pretty sure he’d never seen this kid before in his life.
“you are like, so close range right now,” the kid said, looking nervous underneath his face shield. “please do not shoot me this close up. i know you’re like, really going through a thing right now but i swear to god i don’t even know helen, i’ve never spoken to her once in my life.”
manny took a quick step back. “oh, yeah, sorry bud,” he said, gesturing to the space between them. “this better?”
the kid visibly relaxed. “thanks, man. i bruise super easy. they told me all the frat stuff was going to be wild this year but it’s been like — really intense.”
manny frowned. “it’s not ... usually like this,” he admitted. “it’s all gotten a little out of hand. usually it’s — like, it’s supposed to be fun.”
the score of a paintball game should always be fun to fun, in manny’s opinion. this terrified child did not look like he was having fun. he looked like he was straight up having a bad time.
“i mean ... i still gotta shoot you,” he added apologetically. “i can aim for the leg?”
“the foot?” the kid countered hopefully, but manny shook his head.
“nah, brother, the foot hurts like a motherfucker. too many bones. you want somewhere with some meat on it.”
from behind him, aggy’s voice said suddenly: “manford, what in the sweet fuck are you doing?”
both manny and the pledge blinked, turning to see aggy hopping over an overturned picnic table. manny said, “... paintball?”
“aiming for the foot?” aggy asked. “negotiating with the enemy? what kind of what soft-hearted kindergarten teacher bullshit is this? do you think the trojans will ask you where you want to get shot? no. because all of them are douchebags.”
manny frowned. “he’s not a trojan,” he pointed out. “he’s just like, playing.”
“just because he’s not a trojan doesn’t mean he’s not an enemy. we’re all competing,” aggy said, as if manny were the crazy one. between them, manny was not the one with extra paintball bullet strips taped to him like he was the terminator, so he felt like it was a little unfair that aggy was using that tone of voice. “the helen thing is just like,” he waved a dismissive hand, “part of it.”
“i feel like maybe we have different ratios of how much of it, though?” manny half-asked, half-said.
aggy rolled his eyes. “it’s paintball, manford,” he said. “you either shoot or get shot.”
“i was gonna shoot him,” manny muttered, because aggy was right in this regard. he pointed his gun back at the pledge. “tell him. tell him what i said.”
“he said he had to shoot me,” the pledge obliged. “we were just figuring out where.”
“the pledge does not get to decide where!” aggy shouted, voice tumbling over with exasperation. “the pledge doesn’t get an opinion!”
“that’s like, very despotic,” manny said. he loved his brother but sometimes his brother brought very high key energy to gatherings. sometimes manny just wanted to, like, have a barbecue without arguing about who could do the most headstand pushups, you know?
aggy put a comforting hand on manny’s shoulder. “look. i know this has been a long few months for you,” he said. “but you gotta hang in there, okay buddy? just until we win. it’s about proving we’re better than all these other assholes, even if we are in our fifth year of college.”
“it is also very much supposed to be about fun,” said nestor, skating by. he was wearing AC’s heelies, which manny thought was super smart. nestor was always doing smart things like that.
“...and fun, yes,” aggy agreed, after a beat. he put both hands on manny’s shoulder. “fine.”
manny sighed. “okay,” he said, turning back to the pledge. “sorry bro.”
the pledge screwed his eyes closed. “go ahead, man. i’m ready.”
manny looked at aggy, then over at nestor, then down at the paintball gun in his hand. aggy was right, he thought. he’d let himself mope for too long already. if he was going to win helen back, it wouldn’t be by being a big whiny baby about it.
he shot him in the flank.
“i saw goody proctor with the devil,” antoni pantera said.
priam frowned at him. “what’s the rule about theater jokes during house meetings?” he admonished.
antoni rolled his eyes. he’d only joined the trojans because, as technically not a member of greek society, they didn’t have membership dues and that meant his housing was basically free in exchange for his services as house manager (which he took care of by hiring a cleaner twice a week). he couldn’t have cared less about hector’s weird little brother somehow getting with helen spartowski, and in fact kind of thought that manford atreus had a point that it was fucked up for everyone to be treating it like paris wasn’t a total homewrecker.
plus, and he couldn’t emphasize this enough: who the fuck cared? why was helen’s bad choice in men suddenly his problem? he’d talked to her, like, twice.
also, paris wasn’t even here.
nevertheless, the rule on theater jokes had been made plain and codified in the Trojan Handbook of Good Behavior, so he dutifully recited, “be explicit with your references or you can’t make them.”
“fine. i saw goody proctor (dio mendez) with the devil (athena metis). and that’s bad news for us, because we’d probably be able to beat them now that AC has fucked off to who-knows-where, but i’ve played dodgeball with athena metis, and she’s a fucking shark.”
antoni admired athena, actually, and would absolutely never bet against her. he’d once seen her knock the skateboard out from under an underclassman who was being rude on the quad using just a pebble and a rubber band.
“panera bread is right,” ares piped up. “she was at the paintball game. she’s the only reason that fucker mendez got the trophy, and then she handed him off to jax, who, i mean. he’s a fucking machine. the arms alone on that guy.”
antoni was pretty sure ares was trying to sound sarcastic, but he’s seen heffner stuss’s arms in a muscle tee, and he knows that massive arms are ares’s, like, favorite thing.
“don’t call me panera bread,” he said, annoyed.
“sorry, pantera bread,” corrected ares. “priam, listen. i can take athena.”
antoni could not smother the laugh that bubbled out of him. “oh. were you serious?” he asked. “you think that you could beat athena?”
irritation flashed across ares’s face. “what, you think i couldn’t?”
“could andre the giant beat bobby fischer in a game of chess?” antoni returned. “hate to break it to you, babe, but this is a battle of wits. she’s bruce banner, and you’re the hulk.”
ares took a second to be visibly pleased at being positively compared to the hulk, but antoni saw the moment when the insult registered. “hey! fuck off. athena’s not smarter than me.”
antoni looked around at the rest of the house for backup. priam was sitting with his hands in his lap, placidly allowing them to bicker; the freshmen, eugene, solly and herman, were watching with big eyes. hector was on his phone.
nas held up both hands in a placating gesture. “ares, nobody thinks athena is smarter than you,” he said.
“no, i do, i do absolutely think athena is smarter than him,” antoni said, raising his hand. lowkey antoni thought a puddle of dirt was smarter than ares, but that was neither here nor there.
nas shot him a glare. “anyway, all antoni is saying is that with athena on their side, we need to be strategic about how we approach this. can we convince her to switch sides? you know her best. what’s she into?”
ares frowned thoughtfully. “...flannel,” he said eventually, and began ticking off on his fingers: “illegal fighting. being buff. frosé. lacrosse. money.”
“do we ... have any of those things?” darius asked, brow furrowed. “i mean i’ve got some flannel that i don’t wear but that feels like kind of a weird gesture.”
“we don’t even have money,” polly said miserably. “we could hold a bake sale?”
“priam, you’re rich, right?” antoni pointed out. “you do it.”
“i’m not using family money to buy athena metis’ friendship,” priam said, scandalized. “that’s not what it’s for.”
“sorry, i just thought you were taking this seriously,” antoni said. “my mistake.”
priam rolled his eyes. “serious suggestions only, please, antoni,” he commanded. antoni wanted to protest, but unfortunately, priam had this like, air to him, that made people want to obey him when he talked to them. even antoni, who didn’t really care what anybody except his nana thought about him, wanted priam to like him. “what we need is someone who knows her.”
hector, who antoni liked fine but had absolutely nothing in common with, furrowed his brow. he and priam did that thing they often did where they looked at one another and conversations with only their eyebrows.
“fine,” hector grit out. “i’ll talk to andie. but they took that underwater basketweaving class together, like, freshman year. i don’t know if they still even hang out.”
priam smiled, victorious.
homer sits back in his chair, toying with a bit of lint that he’s found in his pocket. “i wanted to take underwater basketweaving this year, but it had prerequisites in material sciences, art history, and water polo,” he bemoans.
ray ban snorts. “how do they even grade you in water polo?”
“form, i’d guess,” homer shrugs. “i am not permitted to play team sports, for obvious reasons.”
donut mouth hums, thoughtful. homer takes a moment to imagine a life where he was the cool and buff captain of the water polo team, and not a too-skinny blind wannabe poet whose most notable contribution to his fraternity was happening to him, right now, in a small police station with a guy who smells like donut and another guy who may or may not be wearing ray bans.
“i’m interested in this dio character,” donut mouth volunteers. “he seems suspicious. was he at the scene when the fire started?”
“couldn’t tell you,” homer says smoothly. “as you may recall, i wasn’t there. and also, even if i was there, it would be very difficult for me to set the scene for you, given that i could not see it.”
“don’t take that english major tone with me,” snaps donut mouth, and ray ban makes a soothing sound, hand clapping against what homer assumes is donut mouth’s shoulder.
one of the chairs scooches out from the table, and one of the cops begins pacing back and forth. homer waits them out. the less time he needs to fill, the better.
he thinks, longingly, of his bed. he could be there, right now, if tonight had gone differently. he could be sleeping. what was sleeping like? he thinks he liked it. he thinks he’d really enjoyed sleeping, in his life before he became a criminal.
eventually, ray ban says, “okay. well, tell us more about this dio kid. the socialist.”
homer sighs. “you’ve got to let go of the socialism thing,” he admonishes, but launches into the story anyway.
honestly, it had been, like ... a pretty weird month, for dio.
for one thing, he really felt like his friendship with athena had gone from fifty to a hundred and fifty in the span of just a few weeks. he wasn’t sure, exactly, what had made her decide that he was going to be her, like, disciple, or whatever, and it’s not that he’s complaining, it’s just that it felt like a lot of responsibility.
before all this started, he could count the number of texts they’d exchanged on his fingers and toes. now he felt like she was the only person he ever talked to.
it’s not that he was like, mad about it. athena was cool. she was funny, and smart, and like, super hot, in this very buff way. she made him feel like she could snap his not insubstantially large body over her knee, which, in its own way, that he had decided to absolutely never, ever examine, was very interesting.
not that — he wasn’t like — there was absolutely no way athena would ever, ever hook up with him, because she was ... athena. dio honestly didn’t know if she’d ever hooked up with anyone at school. he felt like probably she only hooked up with rich lawyers or like, the children of senators.
it occurred to him, very suddenly, that he actually didn’t know very much about her, other than the fact that she could skateboard better than anybody and made a mean frosé.
the point is, dio was a pretty simple guy. he was an economics major. he thought weed should be legal. he wanted to one day own a motorbike, and he wanted that motorbike to be lime green, with flames on the side.
he did not want to be partnered in an organic chemistry lab with gilbert “gilly” glau, who was the world’s absolute least fun dude.
“mendez,” glau greeted. he pushed his backpack over to the side of the table.
dio stared at it. “uh,” he said. “is that a dildo?”
glau blinked, following his gaze to his backpack and then huffing a little, shoving the sex toy into it and dropping the backpack to the floor by his feet. “oh. yeah. i teach a sexual health class on tuesdays as like, a volunteer thing. did you know the public schools around here are abstinence only? fucked up.”
“fucked up,” dio agreed faintly, trying to figure out what to do with the knowledge that gilbert glau walked around with a backpack full of sex toys for education purposes. on the one hand: unfathomable. on the other hand: trust glau to have a backpack full of sex toys for the least fun reason it was possible to have them.
he took a seat. “so ... what are we doing here,” he asked, dragging the sheet of instructions toward him and skimming the page. “blah blah blah, cycloadditions, diels-alder reaction, blah. got it. gonna do some synthesis. you wanna play point on the melt station?”
glau didn’t answer immediately. when dio looked up at him, expectant, he realized that he was being studied. glau’s somber expression had not shifted from when he was very seriously explaining to dio that their local public schools had antiquated and harmful ideas about how to teach teens about their bodies.
he frowned. “do you ... not want to play point on the melt station?” he asked.
“are you gonna fuck me on this,” glau said, gesturing incomprehensibly at the countertop.
dio cast around, trying to understand whether they’d somehow gone back to talking about sexual education, and whether he was being hit on. “on ... this ... table?” he asked, and he knew that his voice was four decibels higher than it usually was, but this was the weirdest thing that had ever happened to him, and he’d once taken peyote with posey and spent all night earnest talking to a chipmunk about theoretical physics.
glau glared at him as if to indicate that dio was being intentionally obtuse, which dio felt was unfair, because he was not the one carrying sex toys around and asking to have sex in the middle of orgo.
“in this lab,” glau said. “i know you’re super into all this frat stuff but i need to know you’re not gonna fuck with my grades.”
it would be difficult to quantify the relief that flooded through dio’s body other than to say it was significantly more than a scooch. “ohhhh,” he said, pressing a hand to his heart. then he paused. “well — how do i know that you aren’t gonna fuck with my grades?”
glau snorted. “i’m sure you fuck with your grades just fine on your own,” he said, which, fuck that guy. dio’s grades were good. he wasn’t stupid just because he liked to participate in his fraternity and said “dude” a lot. “look. i’m serious. i’m — the first, okay?”
“the first what?”
“the first one to go to college, in this country.”
dio frowned at him, leaning his chin on his hand and squinting to see if that helped determined whether glau was fucking with him. “... what, your folks got tired of all going to the university of berlin?”
“fuck off,” glau said, rolling his eyes. “i’m cuban, on my dad’s side. my grandfather was an engineer, until he moved here, and suddenly his degree wasn’t worth shit. he took his wife’s last name because it sounded more — american.”
“you can say ‘white,’” dio told him dryly. “it’s fine. i also live in america and my last name is mendez, so.” they shared a look, and dio felt himself warm, kind of, to glau. he was friends with that weird little freak paris, but they had this in common.
glau toyed idly with the chord on the wide-range temperature probe. “my dad would have come, but my granddad got sick before he did. so he had to work instead. which means it’s me. he sent me here and told me to be the best so i have to be the best. it’s a big deal for my family.”
“oh,” said dio, quietly. “uh, thank you. for telling me.”
“it’s not a secret.”
“no, but. i mean.” dio shrugged, not quite meeting glau’s eyes. it was too early for this shit, he decided. he needed like six burritos before he did Discourse. “look, i get it. i’m not the first in my family or anything, and the frat stuff is important to me, but — the other guys can fuck off if they think i care more about who helen spartowski is dating than about, like, making my mom proud, you know? ... also i’m afraid of her, kind of. slash not kind of.”
he risked a look at glau, who was glaring down at the temperature probe. but he was grinning, a little.
“tell you what,” glau said, shrugging out of his lab coat and inexplicably holding it out to dio. he gave it a little meaningful shake. “out in the world, it’s game on. but in here, it’s a truce. deal?”
dio grinned. he shrugged out of his coat and handed it over, slipping glau’s over his shoulders instead. maybe he was an okay dude, actually. maybe he had, like, layers.
“deal,” dio said. “now will you tell me if you wanna be melt station captain or what?”
hector had the best, most beautiful mom in the world, and those were the facts. she was the best and the most beautiful, but also, aside from her clear preference for hector, she had terrible taste in men. hector knew this because she’d married hector’s dad and then, later, paris’s dad. and like — paris’s dad was so embarrassing. he was in a band. he called hector “the best heckin’ stepson in the world” without a shred of irony. he and paris sat around talking about poetry together. one time, on a trip to the grand canyon, his dumb stepdad had pulled the car over to gaze misty-eyed at a field of sunflowers, hands on his hips. he’d been wearing a fanny pack and a button-down t-shirt with flamingos on it. he’d said, “aren’t we blessed to live on such a beautiful planet?”
hector had been like, “uhhhhhhh. i guess?”
across the table from him, her eyes covered by large, dark sunglasses and shaded by a hat with an enormous brim, hector’s mom hummed around the straw in her drink. she was having a daiquiri.
“i love our little meals,” she told him warmly, reaching across the table to pat his hand. “look at you. you’re so handsome now. and strong! have you been lifting?”
“mom,” hector muttered, feeling his cheeks heat. “i mean. yeah. whatever.”
“that’s my diligent boy,” his mother crooned. “and classes? how are they?”
hector slouched deeper into his seat. “fine,” he said. hector operated on the organizing theory of education that Adequate Was Fine. mostly what he wanted to do was be very good at swimming, get his degree, and eventually make buckets of cash by being the doctor for famous athletes. hector had never wanted to be the star himself, particularly. he liked being the guy behind the guy. he liked being the guy that The Guy needed more than anybody else. “i’m not failing anything.”
his mother patted his hand again. “of course you’re not. and how are things in your club?”
“fraternity,” hector corrected. “mom. you know it’s called a fraternity.”
“fine. how are things in your fraternity?”
hector hesitated. on the one hand, the honest answer was that they were stressful, because hector’s stupid little brother had joined and then somehow managed to ruin everybody’s life without even trying. on the other hand, he knew that if he complained to his mother about it, she’d just be like, you’re not allowed to give your brother a swirly even though it was hector’s honest opinion that paris would really benefit from having his head dunked a couple of times in a toilet.
he waited a beat too long, because his mother sighed. “your brother has made things difficult for you,” she surmised. “he told me you were helping him with his girlfriend.”
“she’s not his girlfriend,” hector grumbled. “did he tell you she was? god, that’s so embarrassing. don’t let him tell other people that.”
“why not? he likes her a lot. it’s so sweet.”
hector scrubbed at his forehead. he didn’t want to talk to his mother about his brother’s sex life, but also, she clearly didn’t understand what was happening here. paris was spinning her some romantic fairytale. it was going to make hector look bad.
“he’s so embarrassing,” he said, picking at a napkin. “why did he even transfer here? i thought he liked being in a big city. now he’s here and he’s making everyone call him paris for some fucking reason and he’s never even been to paris and — ”