the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing; or, six parties at the house of alpha delta chi
1. freshman year: october
the thing about helen spartowski was that helen spartowski was the most beautiful person that anyone had ever met in real life. it wasn’t that she was the most beautiful woman in the world; probably there were more beautiful women, like beyoncé. but nobody ever met beyoncé just like, around. nobody ever saw beyoncé sitting in their literature 101 class, drinking a soda. nobody washed their hands in the restroom next to beyoncé, unless you were jay-z, which most people were not.
but helen spartowski just walked around the world as if it were fine and normal for her to be there, with her perfect hair — a soft banana yellow except when it caught a fading sun and tinged itself pink — and her blue-green eyes that shifted in the light and depending on her sweater. there was a tiny and perfectly round beauty mark between her eyebrows, and oddly the imperfection somehow made her look better, more human, like someone who ate cereal in the morning and had to shave her legs, but the way women in commercials did those things.
the other thing about helen spartowski, sappho klasma realized about four seconds after meeting her, was that she had literally never had a friend.
“honestly it’s no fucking wonder you joined a sorority,” she heard herself say, horribly, four solo cups of beer into their first party as delta chi’s, upon finding helen hiding in the kitchen drinking wine straight from the bottle.
helen blinked at her. “what?” she asked, because they’d been talking about how one of the guys from lambda psi kept trying to make her his beer pong partner. the music outside was terrible. sappho didn’t know who was DJing — some skinny senior from the music department — but they deserved to go to prison.
“well, like,” said sappho, unstoppably, “i bet making friends is fucking impossible when you’re, you know.” she flapped a hand to indicate the entirety of helen’s corporeal form.
“beautiful?” helen supplied, sounding resigned.
“no offense,” sappho said. she took a big gulp of beer, feeling her cheeks heat. she hadn’t planned on joining a sorority when she applied to college. honestly, she thought the whole thing was kind of stupid. but then she’d gotten here, and campus had felt so big, and this had seemed like such an easy way to say see? there’s somewhere i belong, even if she had to pay to be there. she figured if she hated it she could always quit.
she might have to after this conversation, since helen was obviously going to be the queen of everything, everywhere, and sappho couldn’t even rule her own mouth. but then, you were just given that kind of authority when you looked like helen did. people couldn’t help themselves. sappho couldn’t help herself. since the very beginning of rush, the first time helen spartowski had walked into a room that sappho klasma was also in, she constantly had to bite her tongue not to offer helen her seat, just because someone who was that beautiful shouldn’t have to stand up, ever, for anything. she should be carried around on a decorative pillow. someone should be constantly fanning her with a big leaf.
helen cocked her head to the side. she took another swig of wine, looking puzzled. “why would i take offense?”
sappho, who was admittedly not the most sober she’d ever been, was horrified to realize that her chest was tightening, a sure sign that she was about to cry. sappho cried way too much when she drank; she knew this. if she wasn’t between a 4 and a 6 on the emotional scale she was in tears. “people probably just say it to you a lot, don’t they?”
helen looked thoughtful. she was swaying a little bit. sappho couldn’t tell by looking at the bottle how much of it she’d drunk but it was probably more than half, which was impressive for a girl of helen’s minuscule body fat ratio. “well, yeah,” she admitted. “it gets a little old but it’s not — hey, are you crying?”
sappho sniffed, and nodded, and said, “yeah but don’t pay any attention to it, i’m always crying.”
“oh, pretty much any reason my brain can come up with,” she explained, sniffing. “like right now i’m thinking about how in ancient greece people would take the noses off of statues to keep as souvenirs and now, like, they don’t have noses. that’s so sad. oh my god that’s literally so sad.”
helen didn’t say anything for a long while, just stared at sappho as she tried to get herself under control. she wordlessly held out a roll of paper towels for sappho to blow her nose on. “anyway, my point about the statues is that people probably tell you you’re beautiful all the time, but like, has anybody ever asked you to rank oreos in order of grossest flavor? no. they probably just tried to take your nose, or whatever.”
“i don’t eat oreos,” said helen.
“oh my god,” said sappho, and had to cry into her hands again. “christ jesus, okay. well that’s going on our friendship to-do list, and by the way, it’s cherry cola. cherry cola is the worst one and after that the order doesn’t matter as long as we all agree you don’t get better than mint. what the fuck did you do in high school if you didn’t have a best friend to judge oreos with?”
helen opened her mouth and then closed it again. she took a long drink of wine. “i’m really close to my mom,” she offered, and that set sappho off again, thinking about this poor creature whose best friend was her mother, for god’s sake. clearly no one had ever sat with their head in helen’s lap and told her any of their secrets, which was the whole point of being a girl, sappho felt. what good was suffering through Being A Woman In Society if it weren’t for the fact that you were allowed to snuggle with your best friends and have them pet your head while you talked about literally nothing? men had to, like, play football just for a reason to touch another man’s shoulder.
“girls are so good,” she wept, running her arm across her eyes. she hauled herself up onto the counter and swung her legs against the closed bottom cupboards, making a soft echoing wooden sound that soothed her. “oh my god, sorry, this is so embarrassing, sorry, i’m really gay sometimes.”
“oh, are you?” helen asked. she looked disappointed, her shoulders slumping. “i’m not. if that’s what you want from me.” she paused. “wait, was that homophobic? to assume?”
“not when you look like you,” sappho assured her. helen accepted this with a nod. her mouth was stained purple from wine. she looked oddly small against the counter, eyes a little vague, half-heartedly swaying to music but completely missing the rhythm. god, she was a disaster, sappho could tell. a beautiful, self-contained disaster who’d never let anyone see the mess under her bed, who just walked into rooms and was beautiful at things, never even tried to be funny or interesting or smart at them. did she even know how? had anyone ever taught helen spartowski how to make a joke?
oh god, sappho had never wanted to hug anyone more badly in her life, and that was saying something, because klasmas were huggers. sometimes sappho hugged her plants.
“anyway,” she said, trying to be gentle about it, “you don’t have to worry. i don’t want to date you. i want to make you eat oreos and have opinions about them, because, because — ” she tried to think of a reason other than the truth, but it was too late, she was gonna say it, drunk sappho honestly could not be trusted even with her own secrets: “because i think you need a friend and i know i need a friend, everything is so fucking scary and, i don’t know, i don’t want to eat oreos alone for four years.”
there was a long pause and then helen frowned. “what do you mean you don’t want to date me?” she sputtered, affronted, ignoring all the other, nicer things that sappho had literally just said. “i can get you weed for like, free.”
“well, do that, definitely,” said sappho, pointing commandingly at her. “see, there is other stuff to you than just being pretty. i knew it.”
“is it my height?” helen pressed. “am i too tall?”
“no,” said sappho. she reached out to pull helen’s hand comfortingly to her chest. “you’re very perfect. it’s just because you never had a best friend to teach you so you probably learned kissing from boys, and everyone knows boys are terrible at kissing. it’s not your fault, it’s just the tragedy of people exclusively attracted to men.”
helen’s look was very dry. she pulled her hand free. “shut up,” she muttered. her gaze darted away and then back. “that’s — shut up.”
she looked —
“oh my god, you’re mad,” sappho realized, delighted. “you want me to want to date you even though you don’t want to date me!”
“no i don’t,” snapped helen, rolling her eyes. “whatever. you don’t even know me.”
“i could,” sappho told her. she said it casually, like she didn’t care, like the whole thing was whatever, the way you don’t look at a cat when you want to pet it. that’s what helen was: a beautiful, award-winning cat who wanted to roll around in the gross dirt of friendship but didn’t know how to because she’d never been taught. this metaphor wasn’t perfect. sappho was probably going to cry again. “i mean, if you’re not too busy texting your mom.”
she held her breath. helen picked at her nails for a minute, then gave a haughty sniff and took a long drink of wine. “sure,” she said after she’d swallowed, wiping her mouth with the back of her wrist. “whatever. if you want. don’t fall in love with me.”
sappho laughed. she pushed off the counter and went to stand next to helen, snatching the bottle of wine out of her hand and taking a long swig. “no deal,” she said, but grinned wide enough to show she didn’t mean it. “i’m in love with all my best friends, it’s the best. it’s okay — you’ll see.”
“i’ve had friends before, oh my god,” helen said, rolling her eyes.
“not like me you haven’t,” sappho told her, and kissed her cheek.
2. freshman year: february
odysseus had built it in secret, in the back shed. he’d built it there because penny refused to come to the alpha sig house, which honestly suited odysseus fine because every time she came over all the other guys were like, “wow you’re girlfriend’s hot,” and it’s true that she was, but also she was odysseus’s girlfriend, and he didn’t want other people like, saying it like that. it made him feel — bad. in some way. some nebulous way he could not describe and resolutely refused to look into.
it was just — everyone knew penny, back home. everyone knew everyone back home. nobody would talk about penny being hot because ... she was penny. you know? every time someone here said, “wow your girlfriend’s hot,” odysseus wanted to be like, “shut the fuck up! you don’t know her!” because they didn’t. know her. they didn’t get it, so they should shut up.
whatever. he knew it didn’t make any sense.
anyway, he built it to celebrate her birthday, which happened to coincide with valentine’s day, because life was a nightmare. odysseus had never been particularly good at presents, and penny was amazing at them, and it always made him feel like shit because she’d make him something incredible and thoughtful and then he’d have to sheepishly handover a $100 target giftcard with a note that said love you babe - odie.
but not this year. this year, he was going to crush it, because he’d finally figured out a gift that would show penny both that he was capable of doing stuff and also that he paid attention to who she was, like, as a person.
“this is so dope, dude,” nestor told him, clapping his shoulder. “fuck. i might cry. it’s beautiful.”
“i’m like, legit moved,” AC agreed, clutching his chest. “oh man, parties at her place are gonna be off the chain with this thing.”
“you can’t come to parties at her place,” odysseus said immediately. “fuck off.”
“try to keep me the fuck away,” AC answered cheerfully. “when’s she getting here?”
odysseus shrugged and checked his phone. she’d texted him half an hour ago and said she was planning to swing by the delta chi party after her night class, but there were a couple of unaffiliated girls in that class she really liked and sometimes they went out together after.
“she’s gonna like it,” he said, to reassure himself. “i mean — right?”
“she’s gonna love it,” said nestor. “dude, you built it from scratch and it looks like a loom, except you can play beer pong on it. it’s her two favorite things.”
“penny does love beer pong,” odysseus acknowledged, taking a deep breath. “okay. yeah. okay. she’s gonna love it.”
AC patted the beer pong table’s top. “it’s gorgeous, my man. she is going to make so many dudes cry at this table.”
odysseus couldn’t help the way his chest puffed up, a little. it was true that penny was the beer pong champion of all the greek houses, despite not being a part of any of the sororities. she was beautiful and smart and funny and perfect but what he liked most was that she’d never lost a beer pong game in her life, because she had the aim of a military sniper and the hand-eye coordination of a juggler. she was so dope. he was gonna marry her one day, definitely.
“aw, gross, dude, don’t get the face,” AC groaned. “like we get it. love is so embarrassing.”
“shut up,” odysseus said, and punched him hard enough in the bicep to bruise. “one day some girl is gonna walk in through those doors and knock your dick right off and then you’re gonna be begging me to build you a beer pong table to make her love you.”
AC and nestor both turned to stare at him.
nestor reaches out to very gently grasp his shoulder. “bud, do you think penny doesn’t already love you?” he asked, disguising a soft edge with an overlay of real curiosity.
“no,” odysseus bristled, shaking his hand off. “shut up. no. i don’t know. we haven’t talked about it. whatever.”
“... oh my god,” breathed AC, “bro, is tonight the first time you’re gonna — ”
“shut up,” odysseus snapped. “god. you’re so fucking stupid.”
“i’m stupid?” AC repeated. “bro. you’re the idiot standing here with a whole ass tree you carved for the girl before you even said you loved her.”
nestor put his hand over AC’s face and shoved him away. “what if you shut the fuck up, ace,” he suggested. “at least doc is capable of experiencing the whole range of human emotions and not just, like, hunger and horniness.”
AC jutted out his bottom lip, looking put out. “hey. i feel things. i have a ton of feelings. i cried at air bud.”
“why did you cry at air bud?”
“because buddy was fucking dope, dude. and i worried about his nose getting blisters from dribbling the ball, whatever, i don’t want to talk about it.”
nestor and odysseus shared a look.
“penny’s going to love her table,” nestor assured him. “she loves you, man.”
“yeah, i know,” said odysseus, who was really only about 70% certain.
“all buddy wanted was a family and they just used him for his sick b-ball skills,” AC muttered, and sniffed until odysseus tackled him into the grass.
3. sophomore year: august
the first party of the year at delta chi was thrown before the official start of term, which meant it was smaller than all their others, limited mostly to delta chis and anyone who had come back to campus early. AC wasn’t sure that he’d call it “low key,” exactly, because they’d hired a bouncy castle and tricked four of five of the girls’ new partners into “helping out” in the kitchen to bake a seemingly endless supply of cookies and cupcakes, but they were serving champagne and white wine and frosé and only one keg of premium beer, and the slogan that hung outside the front door in bubble balloons was, “WE’RE HAVING A NICE CHILL TIME.”
this suited AC fine. partying at college was a marathon, not a sprint; it was good to do warmups before the year really kicked off and he had to go the distance. this was like ... a party jog. a party yoga class to warm up his muscles before getting into it.
plus, there was just something better about parties thrown at the girls’ houses then the ones thrown at the frats, AC thought, taking a long sip of the mimosa he’d made using the OJ he’d brought himself; they were, like, fancier somehow, even though they bought the same beer and used the same plastic utensils. it just felt classier. like, there was potpourri in all the bathrooms, you know?
not everyone from the alpha house was back on campus yet; posey claimed to be coming up this morning, but AC hadn’t seen him yet.
manny and aggy were both around, and so was jax, who had driven up with AC and finally agreed to be his roommate even though AC was, supposedly, “the grossest person on earth.” whatever — jax only thought that because jax didn’t believe in the five-second rule and AC had once eaten a donut out of the garbage. but like ... it had been sitting right on top! it wasn’t even touching anything gross!
anyway, all that was to say that he had rolled up by himself and spent the opening hour of the party squished on the couch between athena and sappho, who were both using his lap as a foot cushion and not paying him much mind. they were talking about whether or not pushing the pad of your thumb up against the top of your palate actually helped quell a frosé headache.
“that’s dumb,” saff was saying. “there’s literally no science behind that. there can’t be. i’m gonna google it.”
“google away, bitch,” athena returned easily, slurping some of the aforementioned frosé through a straw. “i’m right. i’ve done it myself and it worked.”
“anecdotal evidence is not evidence,” said saff primly. “it’s storytelling.”
“yeah, we all know how much you hate storytelling,” athena laughed, kicking out at her gently.
“poetry is a different thing,” saff returned hotly, looking up from her phone, which AC took as his cue to finish off his mimosa and stand up, dislodging both their feet.
they both made disgruntled noises, glaring up at him, and he shrugged. “when the conversations turn to poetry, ya boy is out,” he announced unapologetically. “i don’t know anything about that shit, and also, saff already knows her blog scares me.”
“aw, it’s okay that you never fuckin learned to read,” athena soothed him, grinning like a shithead.
“be nice to him,” saff scolded her, but she was also grinning like a shithead, so AC didn’t trust her. “for a simpleton he’s done really well for himself. he just needs to find a rich woman to make him her trophy husband.”
“you offering?” he asked, spreading his arms wide. “you wanna add an AC unit to the bedroom?”
“oh my god,” said saff as athena made a vomiting noise. “go the fuck away.”
AC tossed his empty cup into athena’s lap and obeyed, ambling over to the line for beer. mimosas were good but they were gone too fast, and he wasn’t trying to wake up with a champagne hangover, the undisputed worst of all the hangovers. wine was also bad. he’d had malort once when he and jax had taken a trip to chicago, and — well, actually, he and jax had tried to drive to see the wisconsin cheese castle but they’d gotten bored and decided chicago was close enough. they bought a cheese wheel from some place called pastoral artisan cheese and ate it in their hotel room.
anyway, the malort tasted terrible. why the fuck did people drink that garbage?
these were the thoughts rattling around in his brain when a doe-eyed, square-jawed, plush-mouthed motherfucker got behind him in line and asked, eyes twinkling, “hey man, i’m out of cash, will you spot me?”
AC tried to find his mouth, which had for some reason deserted him. maybe he’d had more champagne than he’d thought, because he felt — startled, down to his roots, like this rando with cheekbones that could fell a sequoia had just ploughed right into, like, the forest of his bones.
“what the fuck,” he said out loud, at his own thought. he’d never — was that a metaphor? AC had never voluntarily made a metaphor ever, in his life. once during a high school english class he wrote a haiku that went, “poetry is words/i do not like to write please/give me an A thanks.”
(he’d gotten a C, which honestly he thought was fair.)
the guy blinked at him, smile falling off his face. “uh, or not,” he backpedalled. “no big, dude, i can just get champagne.”
“no,” AC blurted as the guy turned to go. he didn’t have control over that no either. how drunk was he? did someone roofie the champagne? did he need to go tell athena that someone had roofied them all? “wait. sorry. yes. uh — yeah. i mean. sure. if you want. i can. i have cash. for beer.”
this was, maybe, the worst thing that had ever happened to AC in his life, and he didn’t even know what it was that was happening.
“dope,” said the guy, relaxing with a grin. AC’s heart did something weird. he didn’t know what. “i’m pedro klaus.”
“you’re what?” AC asked, head spinning a little. maybe he shouldn’t have another beer; maybe he should go home and lie down in the dark for a while. like a year, or three. maybe until graduation. “sorry, i don’t speak spanish. i’m sorry. i tried but i failed out.”
the other guy laughed. he looked delighted by this answer. AC did not know why. “no, that’s my name,” he said. “pedro klaus liebling. half mexican, half german, all charm.”
“yes,” agreed AC, thoughtlessly.
there was a long beat, and then pedro klaus prompted, “what’s your name?”
AC forgot. he just straight up full forgot, standing right there in that beer line, what his own goddamn name was.
“uh,” he said.
he fished around, panic climbing up his throat. this was an easy question. people called him by his name all the damn time. he was really popular. people wanted his attention a lot, they were always yelling it across the quad, they were always — “it’s achilles. my name is achilles. but, uh. my friends call me AC.”
pedro klaus beamed at him and AC felt his cheeks heat up. he looked away quickly. “cool. so ... can i call you AC? are we gonna be friends?”
his eyelashes were really long, as long as a girl’s, longer. he was just a hair shorter than AC so he had to turn his face up to beam at him like that, smile so wide, teeth so white. there was a tattoo on his arm, just a straight dark line that wrapped around his bicep. AC wanted to — he didn’t know what he wanted to do. lick it? did he want to lick it? was that a normal thing he usually wanted to do when he saw tattoos? he couldn’t remember ever meeting anyone else before. this felt like a whole new thing.
“yes please,” he blurted out, voice hitting a high note he hadn’t hit since seventh grade; uncool, so deeply uncool, he had never been this uncool in his life. he cleared his throat. “uh, i mean. yeah, sure, whatever.”
but pedro klaus didn’t seem to mind. he just kept smiling, leaned in to bump their shoulders together and said, “cool.”
4. sophomore year: may
the tragedy of it, hera would reflect later, was that she’d probably already known. zeke wasn’t, like, devious. he was basically just an experiment in what happens when you paired a total lack of impulse control with an a psychologically worrying refusal to accept consequences for his actions, which meant he did things, panicked, and badly attempted to hide them after the fact. so it wasn’t like there weren’t signs — a new passcode on his phone, weird looks from girls in the cafeteria, a jump in pet names designed to cover for the fact that he didn’t want to mix up who he was with.
it was just ... she’d known but she hadn’t wanted to know, to have proof, because — well, she loved him, or whatever. he was handsome and older and listened when she talked and he was kind to her in this sort of weird and unbearable way. they looked good together, like one of those couples from the movies. she liked how she felt with him, walking around campus. she felt ... powerful. enviable. cool.
as long as she didn’t know, she could pretend like she was just being paranoid. of course zeke wasn’t cheating on her. of course he wouldn’t. why would he? he loved her, she loved him, the sex was good, everyone envied them, what more could he want?
what more could he possibly want?
she looked down at where his head was nestled in her lap, eyes closed. the party going on around them felt kind of far away — it was warm, finally, and most people were outside playing cornhole and standing by the firepit. zeke was drinking beer through a twisty straw in the shape of glasses, balanced neatly on his nose. he was an idiot. she loved him. they were going to be fine. she was going to make them fine.
“i’m thinking about getting into craft beers,” zeke told her. “like maybe i’ll open a brewery.”
with what money? hera didn’t ask. what the fuck do you know about brewing beer?
“that sounds fun,” she said instead, which was absolutely a lie. there was no way in hell she was going to drink anything that zeke brewed himself; she didn’t trust him not to accidentally brew, like, literal poison.
“i’m gonna name it Zeke’s Dope Brews,” he decided.
“great name,” she said.
“because it’s mine, and it’s brews, and it’s dope,” he explained.
“yeah,” hera agreed, petting his head. “no, i got it.”
from a nearby chair, nessa snorted. “that’s a stupid as fuck name for a stupid as fuck idea,” she told him blandly. “what do you know about craft beer?”
“it’s got hops,” zeke shot back.
“okay, what are hops?”
he opened his mouth and then closed it again. “they’re — they’re hops,” he said. “they go in the beer. to make it, uh. hoppy.”
“it’s a fucking plant, dumbass,” nessa told him. “jesus christ.”
hera resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose and instead gave nessa a sharp look. “he’s a fast learner,” she snapped, even though she herself had just been thinking the same thing. obviously she knew zeke was an idiot, but other people weren’t allowed to say it. “everyone has to start somewhere.”
nessa kicked her feet up on the ottoman and took a long drink from her solo cup. hera didn’t know what was in it, but knowing nessa it was probably something cool and grown up, like scotch or whiskey. “you can’t be serious,” she said, raising an eyebrow in hera’s direction. “girl. come on.”
hera stuck her chin out. “of course i’m serious,” she lied. “i think zeke would make a great, uh, brewer. he has a really sophisticated palate.”
“yesterday i saw him drink a whole bottle of corked wine,” nessa returned flatly.
“yesterday i saw you let agford calculate the tip at the restaurant, so who’s the real idiot?” hera shot back.
nessa’s lips twitched and then she let out a single, sharp cackle. “you got me there,” she admitted, raising her class. “he left a fifty percent tip. idiot.”
zeke frowned, turning his head to look at nessa. “why didn’t you correct him?” he asked.
she shrugged. “it’s not my money,” she pointed out. “what the fuck do i care how he spends it?”
hera stroked down the side of zeke’s face as he lolled back to look at her. “you’ll never let me leave a fifty percent tip,” he told her confidently. never, he said, like he was seeing into an indefinite future, where they were together for the long stretch of forever, college and beyond, hera and zeke, king and queen of everything.
“never,” she promised, and gave him a tiny tap on the nose.
5. junior year: september
“bullshit it’s gonna be named after you,” athena said, crushing a solo cup in her hand. “no way. absolutely not. fuck off.”
posey blinked at her from the other side of the newly-built gazebo, cocking his head to the side. he pulled his baseball cap around to block the setting sun from getting in his eyes. “but i built it,” he pointed out.
she made a dismissive gesture with the hand not holding the crumpled cup. “you supervised at best,” she said. “we all built it.”
“you put in, like, one nail,” said posey. “i put in four at least.”
“i fuckin DJ’d, man,” argued athena, offended. “DJ’ing is like, the most crucial part of any group project involving manual labor. i built the atmosphere, motherfucker. i built the experience.”
this was, strictly speaking, only half true; athena had actually made the playlist the night before, while procrastinating on a paper for her history class about, like, julius caesar or something. but it was nevertheless her carefully curated playlists that had kept the atmosphere jocular and fun during the day as they’d built the gazebo, and it turned out pretty good. everyone else had headed inside to keep the party going, bumping up the music and tapping one of the kegs that was technically supposed to be for tomorrow’s shindig at the alpha house, but whatever. they’d earned it. athena would shell out for a new one if anybody noticed.
she was pleased with it. they were finally going to have a place in the backyard to hang out in the shade, and she was going to hang a bunch of comfy swing chairs, and all the delta chis were going to chill there, like, all the time. it was going to be dope.
it was also going to earn her and posey an A in their carpentry elective, like, for sure. everyone else was building tables and chairs and stuff. they’d built a whole gazebo.