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Blame It On The Alcohol

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It was one week into college, and Calliope Burns had decided she didn’t like parties. Who liked getting drunk surrounded by 100 strangers with no regard for personal space? Every time Tess dragged her to another frat house in an effort to have “the college experience,” Cal spent the whole time awkwardly standing in the corner, sipping her drink, trying to talk to Tess, who was usually running for the dance floor as soon as they walked in.

This latest party (at Zeta or Chi Phi or Phi Delta or some other combination of Greek letters that Tess had told her about this morning) was off to the same start. Calliope stood, red solo cup in hand, cautiously sipping from a punch that smelled way too strong for her to trust it. She really would have preferred pouring her own drink, a practice that had been drilled into her by her parents, but Tess insisted that this was just how things were done. Speaking of Tess, she was currently stumbling her way towards Calliope, a massive grin splitting her face.

“Hey, Cal,” she drawled, leaning against her shoulder.

Calliope stepped to the side, trying to find a little more space. Tess being touchy wasn’t anything new, but for this whole “friends-with-your-ex” thing to work, she needed boundaries. “Hi, Tess. Having fun?”

Tess’ smile grew. “Cal, I met the hottest girl. She’s like, so hot. And guess what?” She leaned in and stage whispered, “I think she thinks I’m hot too.”

“Congrats, Tess, that’s great for you.”

If Tess picked up on the lack of enthusiasm in Calliope’s tone, she didn’t comment on it. “Thank you! I’m gonna go try and talk her up, you know,” Tess shimmied her shoulders. “Are you gonna be good by yourself?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Thank you so much you’re so amazing I love you bye!” Tess darted off back through the crowd.

“Love you too,” Calliope mumbled. She sighed, then pulled out her phone and opened Instagram. Hopefully she could spend the rest of the evening mindlessly scrolling social media and not have to interact with any drunk teens.

These plans were ruined not even a minute later when someone stumbled directly into her, spilling their unpleasantly warm drink all down her front. Calliope groaned. Now she would have to spend the rest of the night in wet clothes.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going, I totally didn’t mean to spill my drink on you like that!” the person replied. “I’ll go get paper towels, don’t move.” She rushed off before Calliope got a good look at her face, just the ends of her reddish-brown hair whipping behind her as she disappeared into the crowd.

Calliope sighed and leaned back. Odds that the girl disappeared and never came back seemed pretty high, and as the minutes ticked on, Calliope went back to her phone.

“Okay so this house is an actual maze, and also I literally could not find paper towels, so here,” the stranger was back, panting slightly, and holding out a wad of tissues, which Calliope took. They barely did anything to clean up the mess on her shirt, but it was better than nothing. When the girl seemed perfectly content to just stand there, instead of going away, Calliope finally took a good look at her.

She was wearing a jean vest over a green dress decorated with white flowers, her hair hanging loose and disheveled around her shoulders. Her cheeks were flushed, contrasting with her pale skin, but what drew Calliope in was her eyes, a piercing blue that seemed to stare right through her.

“Hi,” the girl said.

“Um, hi,” Calliope replied.

“I’m Juliette, by the way. I’m so sorry about your shirt, it’s really cute.”

“Thanks.”

Juliette shifted back and forth a few moments before finally getting the message that Calliope wasn’t really in the mood to chat. “Well, I gotta go, I’ll uh—bye.” She fled into the crowd.

Calliope tried in vain to clean up her shirt some more, briefly debating trying to find the bathroom, before deciding to just sit down on the part of the couch with the least amount of suspicious stains. As much as she wanted to leave, Tess was still someone she cared about, even if it was awkward between them, and she couldn’t just leave her at some random frat.

She spent the next thirty minutes alternating between looking at her phone and watching the people around her get progressively rowdier, although her corner of the couch remained a safe haven.

That is, until someone crashed down on the couch right next to her. Calliope sighed and looked over, only to see the same girl from before, Juliette, sitting there.

When Juliette noticed Calliope her eyes lit up. “Hey, you’re the pretty girl from before!” she exclaimed, her voice thick with alcohol. “Hi again. I’m still so sorry about your shirt.”

“It’s fine, I can wash it.” She held out her hand. “I’m Calliope.”

Juliette shook her hand. “Calliope,” she repeated, sounding out each syllable. In her mouth, it sounded like poetry.

“Cal’s fine.”

“Why?”

Calliope opened her mouth, and then closed it. “It just feels more me,” she finally said.

“Cal, Calliope.” Juliette shrugged. “It’s a beautiful name either way. Very… mythical.”

“I’ve been told.”

Juliette grinned, before announcing, “I’m getting another drink.” She got up, and swayed momentarily before righting herself. “Do you want one?”

Calliope reached out and grabbed Juliette’s wrist. “I don’t think you should be having anymore.”

Juliette pouted. It was adorable, and Calliope almost broke, but then Juliette tried to take a step, stumbled, and nearly fell directly into Calliope’s lap, so Calliope pulled her back to the couch.

Juliette crossed her arms and tried to look grumpy, which somehow just made her look cuter. “Fine, but if I’m sitting here you have to talk to me.”

“Deal.”

Juliette immediately brightened, turning up on her side so she was facing Calliope. “Alright, Calliope, tell me about you.”

So Calliope told Juliette about herself. About constantly moving around as a child due to her parents’ work, about her two older brothers who still treat her like a kid, about how she still hasn’t figured out what she wants to do with her life, no matter how much people ask, but she does know that she wants to help people somehow.

Juliette talked about her older siblings, a brother and a sister who she admired, and who always stood up for her when the expectations of their parents got too great for one person to handle. Calliope learned that she was a Classics and English double major, “for now” because everything sounded so interesting.

Calliope also learned that Juliette was a cuddly person when drunk, as she gravitated closer and closer to Calliope’s side, ending up curled up against her. She was also a terrible flirt, seeming to take every chance to compliment Calliope, but instead of being cheesy she seemed to genuinely believe what she was saying, staring at her with those intense eyes as she insisted that Calliope would be amazing at whatever she chose to do.

Calliope didn’t know how long she sat there with Juliette, talking about everything and nothing, and pointedly ignoring every time the other girl’s gaze dropped down to her mouth because that was not something she could deal with at the moment, but around them, the party was slowing down, the music being turned down and people trickling out into the street.

“Cal! Hey! I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Tess said, appearing at Calliope’s side.

Calliope immediately felt a hot flash of shame as she had momentarily forgotten about her. “Hey Tess. What’s up?”

Tess gave her a weird look. “It’s getting late, I assumed you’d want to leave.”

“Oh! Oh, yeah, I’m ready. I just got distracted talking to someone.” She motioned to Juliette, who was now sitting several feet away. “Tess, meet Juliette. Juliette, this is my friend Tess.”

“Nice to meet you,” Juliette said.

“Nice to meet you, too,” replied Tess. In a quieter voice, she said, “Anyway, Cal, would you be okay walking back to campus by yourself? You know that girl I was talking about earlier? I want to spend some more time with her.”

“Hey Juliette?” Calliope turned to ask her if she was planning on going back to campus anytime soon, but she had disappeared. “That’s fine,” she told Tess. “I’ll figure something out.”

“Calliope Burns, you are the best,” Tess replied. She kissed Calliope’s forehead. “Don’t worry, I’ll text you updates so you know I’m safe. Love you!”

“Love you too, have fun.”

“Oh, I will.” Tess winked, laughed, and then left.

Calliope began searching for Juliette. She wandered around the first floor, finally finding her standing in the kitchen, leaning against the counter on her phone and sipping from a cup.

“Hey,” Calliope greeted.

Juliette looked up and smiled when she saw Calliope, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Hi.”

“You disappeared on me.”

Juliette shrugged. “It seemed like a private conversation. Besides, I’m probably leaving soon.”

“So am I, I can walk you back to your dorm.”

“You really don’t have to—”

“Juliette, you’re still drunk. I’m not letting you walk alone.”

“How very chivalrous of you.” She drained her drink and put down the cup. “Alright, let’s go.”

The two girls collected their coats and stepped out into the night. In contrast to the bubbly, chatty girl Calliope had first met, Juliette barely said a word, staring straight ahead the whole time with her hands shoved in her pockets. Everytime Calliope tried to start a conversation, she would barely respond. Eventually she gave up and the two of them walked in silence.

They finally arrived at Juliette’s dorm room, and the two of them hovered outside of her door for a moment.

“Thanks for walking me home,” Juliette said, twisting her key ring around her finger. “It was really sweet of you.”

“Anytime,” Calliope replied. “Drink lots of water, okay?”

“I will. Good night, Calliope.”

“Good night, Juliette.”

Juliette went into her room, and Calliope headed off towards her own.