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 — ”
“oh, honey,” his mother croons, this time reaching out to stroke his cheek. “you know that everyone has to bloom in their own sunlight.”
“well then put him under a heat lamp and leave him in the basement,” hector complained. “can’t you make him just be normal?”
“what is normal?” his mother mused, but then softened at whatever was happening on hector’s face. “i know it’s hard for you. because you’re so different. you’ve always been different. but you know how much he looks up to you.”
hector did know. that was like, the worst part.
“can you just, like, make him chill,” he begged. “i won’t listen to me.”
“i’ll talk to him,” his mother promised. “but you know as well as i do that it probably won’t do any good. he has a beautiful, unique soul. he has to let it shine.”
“that’d be fine if he’d just shine it somewhere else,” hector said. “have it shine in paris, if he’s so obsessed with it.”
hector felt an arm drape around his shoulders. when he looked up, athena metis was slouched over at him, wearing a white eyelet sundress with a flannel shirt over it. “ohhhhh, are we planning a trip to paris? hi, mrs. h! i didn’t know you were in town.”
hector’s mother’s face lit up, delighted. “athena!” she cried. “how are you? i just spoke to your mother the other day in the moms’ group chat. she said you recently won some big competition on your skateboard.”
athena flushed, pleased, the hand not on hector coming up to rub the back of her neck. “oh! yeah, i did. it was pretty cool. i wanna try to go to the x games next year but the dates this year were at the same time as exams.”
“i’m sure you’ll do brilliantly,” hector’s mom said, with absolute belief. “hector tells me that paris has been stirring up a bit of trouble.”
athena laughed and pulled away, straightening up. “well, he wouldn’t be a holdfast boy if he didn’t make a splash, would he?” she joked, and ruffled hector’s hair. he pulled away, irritated, and patted it back down.
“mmm. well, hector’s told me nothing about this girl he’s seeing. i don’t suppose you could give me the inside scoop.”
“sorry, mrs. h. helen’s my good buddy. i’d feel too weird about it.”
hector’s mom sighed, but waved her hand to dispel athena’s worry. “of course, of course. you’re a good friend. i just wish i’d raised slightly less stoic boys, is all.”
athena blinked. “would we ... describe paris ... as stoic?” she asked, looking to hector for help. he shrugged. in comparison to his dad, paris was basically a statue. compared to everyone else, he was a faucet you couldn’t turn off.
“his dad is in a band,” hector explained. “called ‘heart bones.’”
“ahhhh,” said athena, nodding. “well, i gotta go. but it was really nice to see you, mrs. h. are you coming to parents’ day next month?”
“i wouldn’t miss it,” hector’s mom promised. “the moms’ chat has big plans for a spa day.”
athena beamed, then gave hector a quick squeeze before disappearing out the front door. hector’s mom smiled after her. “such a nice girl,” she complimented, and hector snorted.
“that’s what you think,” he muttered. he checked his watch. “you should go, too. it’s kind of a hike to the venue.”
hector’s stepdad was performing slam poetry at some big literature conference in the next time over. hector would rather flay himself alive than tell anyone on campus this. he had flat-out refused to go when his mother asked him, so she and paris were going by themselves. hector would reconvene with the three of them for dinner, which he’d managed to ensure would be poetry-free.
“i’ll pick up the check,” his mother assured him. “you go get your brother. you know if we leave him to it, he’ll be late.”
“i just feel like surely we don’t share any DNA,” hector said. “mom. you can tell me. i won’t tell. did you find him in a dumpster as a baby? was he left on your doorstep in a basket? is that why this happened?”
his mother leveled him with a look. “all flowers are beautiful in their own way,” she told him primly, and hector groaned, because that was just, like, such a holdfast thing to say.
hector should have kept his real dad’s last name. maybe then nobody would have known that paris belonged to him, and he could have just let aggy atreus beat him up, and his senior year would have been, like, way easier.
was it too late? he wondered, getting up from the table. he shot priam a text — do u think if i went back to my old last name people would forget paris was my brother — and then hopped into the uber when it came. he drummed his fingers against the door handle.
no, priam’s text answered. did you talk to andie?
you never just talk to me anymore, hector wrote back, just to be an asshole. the romance is dead.
priam sent him a gif of tom cruise from top gun, because priam was an asshole. hector huffed a laugh and put his phone away as the car pulled up to the house. he waved at polly and nas, who were playing video games in the living room, before taking the stairs by twos to get to paris’s room.
“dude, come on, we’re gonna be — oh.”
paris was not alone.
“hi, hector,” helen said, from where she was sitting cross-legged on the bed. paris’s clothes were strewn around her, and he was standing in the middle of the room looking at himself in the mirror, one hip cocked. “good timing, i think we were just wrapping up.”
hector blinked. “wrapping up ... what,” he asked.
“the photoshoot!” cried paris cheerfully. “hel’s gonna help me become famous on instagram.”
“o.....kay,” hector said. “well, you’re going to be late and miss your dad’s show.”
paris glanced at his watch, then went pale. “oh, fuck,” he swore. “shit. i lost track of time. sorry. is mom mad? is she downstairs? i’ll get changed, hold on!”
he grabbed a pair of jeans and a shirt from the bed and darted into the bathroom, which was weird because he’d shared a room with hector until hector had graduated high school and he was, presumably, having sex with helen.
he looked at helen. she looked back, head cocked slightly to the side, studying him. they’d been in school together for four years. he’d always thought she was, like, fine. she sold him weed at very reasonable prices.
“so,” she said.
“so,” said hector.
“i know it’s weird.”
he said, relieved not to have to be the one who brought it up: “it’s really fucking weird, helen.”
“i just said i know!” helen snapped. “what do you want me to say? things got out of hand.”
hector paused. he should leave it there, he thought. it was probably good for paris to get his feelings hurt. he’d gotten himself into this mess, and gotten hector into it, too. what did hector care? paris was a weird little twerp that he just happened to share DNA with. that wasn’t hector’s fault. he couldn’t be blamed. he wasn’t responsible.
he was struck suddenly with a memory of paris as a young kid, trying to keep up with hector on the playground. hector had shoved him away because he kept wanting to hold his hand, and paris had cried, inconsolable. but when their mom ran over to ask what happened, he hadn’t told her. he’d just pretended to have taken a fall.
hector said, “look. if you’re — like, using him, to get back at manny for something, you should ... stop.” he ground his teeth together, pointedly not looking at helen. “he’s — delicate. he’s going to get his feelings hurt. he really likes you.”
helen didn’t answer right away. when he chanced a look at her, she was picking at paris’s duvet. it had ravens on it. his throw pillows said quoth the raven and nevermore. hector, like, literally kind of hated him.
“it’s more complicated than am i using him,” helen said at last, but she sounded honest, at least, and as bewildered as hector himself felt. “i do ... like him. he’s such a little weirdo.” hector nodded, but helen said again: “no, like, he’s so weird, hector. but in this really sweet way, i don’t know.”
she shrugged. “i can’t promise i’m never going to dump him or hurt his feelings. i don’t know what to tell you. but no, i’m not just like, playing with his feelings for fun. i know you probably think i’m just this massive cheating bitch but it really — just kind of. happened. he kind of takes you by surprise.”
hector snorted and went to take a seat beside her, clapping her shoulder with a kind of resigned camaraderie. “most of the time i want to pummel the shit out of him,” he confessed, “but then for some reason i don’t?”
“yeah,” helen agreed. “yeah, that’s it exactly. i want to bully the shit out of him. but instead i think i just agreed to be his PR person for an instagram he barely even has.”
that made hector laugh, and then sigh. “can you call manny off?”
“that bitch didn’t listen to me when we were dating,” helen huffed. “you think he’s gonna listen to me now?”
“well,” hector said, as paris emerged from the bathroom wearing a too-tight t-shirt that had cuts on the side and also, hector was pretty sure, eyeliner. “can you make him less embarrassing at least?”
when he looked over at him, helen was also staring at paris with rapt horror. she gave her head a little shake, dispelling whatever self-loathing he assumed had blossomed in her upon paris’s reappearance, and she said with a voice as dry as dust: “hector, babe, not even god could make paris less embarrassing.”
hector laughed, and helen laughed with him, and paris, looking up at them, beamed like they were twin spotlights lighting him up on a stage.
andie stabbed the practice dummy twelve times. it was satisfying. not as satisfying as stabbing hector twelve times would be, but andie understood that sometimes you had to make due with the options in front of you.
her roommate had texted her a few minutes ago, to let her know that he was on his way; andie had debated leaving and letting him find an empty gym, but she’d kind of been spoiling for a fight. she’d been spoiling for one since last week, when he’d missed her fencing match and then, when he finally texted her, it was about athena fucking metis. he hadn’t even asked how she’d done.
behind her, a throat cleared; when she turned, she recognized hector’s broad form even with the fencing mask in place. without saying anything, she launched at him. andie was the captain of the women’s fencing team, and moreover was training to qualify for the olympics, so it took all of thirty seconds to disarm him.
he held up both his hands and removed the mask. “hey,” he said. “don’t kill me.”
“why not?” she argued. “what good are you to me alive?”
with one hand, he gently tapped the edge of her epee, which he’d given to her as a gift for her last birthday. she called it scamandrius. she couldn’t remember why.
“who else will keep you in swords?” he asked, a joking lilt to his voice, which made her want to stab him even more than she already wanted to stab him.
she tossed the epee at him. “fuck off,” she snapped. “i can buy my own swords.”
hector sighed. “andie,” he began, “what you have to understand is — ”
“it’s a prank war,” she interrupted, yanking off her own mask so he could see how mad she was. it would be a waste to glare at him and not even have him know about it. “it’s a stupid fucking prank war with absolutely no bearing or consequence on the real world, between two dumb as fuck secret boy clubs, and that was fine when it was your dumb fake bullshit but now it’s starting to affect my life, and i hate it.”
“andie,” he began again.
“you missed the match,” she said, and heard her own voice break, and the heat behind her eyes grew hotter. she always cried when she was mad, which made her madder, which made her cry harder. “it was important. my family couldn’t come and you said you would, and you didn’t. it’s a big year for me. i have to qualify this year or — or i’ll be too old.”
hector stepped gingerly over scamandrius, holding both his hands out like she was a spooked horse. she considered punching him, but instead let his hands come to settle on her shoulders.
“i’m sorry,” he said, voice low. “andie. i’m really sorry. i should have been there. i should have told you when i realized i wouldn’t make it. i know it seems like — but it’s not ...” he trailed off, looking annoyed at himself. his mouth worked for a second, careful. “i don’t really care. about the prank war stuff.”
andie leveled him with a look. “fuck off,” she said again, but hector shook his head.
“no, i’m serious. it’s — i thought i did. but it’s. ugh, fuck. this is so embarrassing. this whole year is so embarrassing.”
andie blinked, waiting.
“he’s ... my brother,” hector managed eventually, a little helplessly, looking anywhere but his face. “and he’s so stupid and weird and embarrassing and i really don’t even, like, enjoy spending time with him, but he’s my brother, and he transferred here, probably to be close to me. i can’t just, like. let the atreus brothers beat the shit out of him.”
andie felt herself soften a little, which was annoying enough that she crossed her arms over her chest to hide it. “why not?” she muttered.
hector grinned, clearly knowing she’d caved, and andie sighed. he was gonna owe her another sword after all this. he was gonna owe her two swords. “can’t you guys just be normal and like, say i love you?” she complained, leaning her forehead against his chest and deflating, the anger dropping out of her.
hector wrapped his arms around her shoulders and gave a gentle tug on her hair. “oh, absolutely not,” he said flatly. “he’d cry or something, and then i’d have to noogie him so hard my knuckles would bleed.”
“it’d be good for him,” andie grumbled.
hector chuckled. “dude, that’s what i keep saying,” he said. “but my mom is like ‘all flowers are beautiful’ or whatever.”
andie pulled away, frowning: “why is everyone in your family so fucking weird,” she marveled. “also, that’s not even true. some flowers are really fucked up. like, the corpse flower. and monkey cups.”
“i don’t know what either of those are,” hector told her. “but sure.”
“i want a bouquet of corpse flowers after the next match,” andie told him. “and a new saber if i win.”
hector raised his eyebrows. “what if you lose?” he asked.
andie grinned. “i’m not gonna fucking lose,” she said, and was laughing when he kissed her.
hector dropped andie back at her apartment and then drove to the restaurant to meet up with his parents and paris. to his surprise, paris was waiting outside, hands in his pockets.
he lit up when he saw hector approaching and gave a wave, jogging over to him and then walking back. “uh, how was the show?” hector asked, which felt neutral enough.
“oh, man, it was so good,” paris enthused. “dad was amazing. he did this really cool thing with snapping his fingers while he recited.”
“sound, uh,” hector manfully resisted saying fucking terrible, “snappy.”
paris laughed. “we missed you there, though,” he said, easy as breathing, as if this weren’t a horribly embarrassing thing to say. “mom and me.”
hector startled a little, looking at him out of the corner of his eye. “why?” he asked, genuinely bewildered. “i’d have sulked and been shitty about it the whole time.”
“yeah, but it’s funny when you’re an asshole,” paris told him, tilting his head to the side like a confused animal.
he looked like hector’s mom, kind of, when he did that. fuck. they probably were related.
can’t you be normal and say i love you? andie asked in his head and, to his own horror, hector heard himself blurt, “hey. you know. that you are, uh. my brother, right?”
paris blinked at him. “um. yeah,” he said slowly.
“good,” hector said, nodding. “that’s good.”
“that i know that you’re my brother?”
ah, fuck it, hector thought. in for a penny.
“no,” he said. “that you are. my brother.”
paris didn’t cry, but it was a near thing.
there’s a sniffling sound. homer pauses.
“... ray ban?” he asks. “you okay, buddy?”
neither of the cops says anything for a while, so homer lets them take a moment to gather themselves. maybe he really is good at this storytelling thing. he wonders if that’s a job that people have: sitting in rooms telling stories. he could probably do that, after this. he’s probably going to be the most qualified storyteller in the entire world. someone should give him a certificate.
“i’m fine,” ray ban mutters. “i just, i’ve gotta, i’m going to make a call really quick.”
homer presses his fingers against his watch. seven hours down. “yeah, man,” he says. “take your time.”