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Salt In The Snow

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It’s surreal being in the break room when it’s empty. It’s like an airport in that way— perpetually in motion, designed to be filled, and yet now there’s only his a cup of tea and the unsettling tranquility to keep him company. 

Devoid of Patton in the front with his clipboard in hand and Logan leaning against the wall and the steady hum of chatter and gossip, the couch looks that much more saggy, the milk on the counter that much more expired.

Man, Virgil’s life is so sad.

“Hey, you,” Roman says. He’s leaning in the doorway, jacket hanging over one arm. His vest is gone. “I noticed you weren’t out there with everyone else.”

Virgil shrugs and stirs his tea. It’s rapidly going lukewarm in his hands, but he’s enjoying watching the tiny leaf particles float through the liquid more than the taste of Raspberry Cream Rhapsody. “Yeah, I’m not really in the mood. How’s the film?”

“Considering it’s a Logan-run creative project? Less terrible than I expected.”

“Hah,” Virgil says, and then stirs his tea some more in the ensuing silence. They’re an awkward distance away from each other, Roman hovering about halfway between Virgil and the door like he’s not sure whether to flee or to come closer.

Roman stuffs his hands into the pockets of his stupid too-tight pants and rocks back on his heels. “So.”

“So?”

“I know I’ve been avoiding you, and I’m sorry. You were right. We should talk.”

Virgil sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes. He suddenly is very, very tired. “Look, Roman, can we get a raincheck on this? It’s been a long day.”

Roman starts to speak, then stops. Bumps his fist against his mouth and sighs, loudly. “Okay,” he says. 

Virgil whips up to stare at him. “What was that?”

“I said, okay.”

“But you said it, like, ohh-kay,” Virgil says. 

“Maybe you only heard it like ohh-kay.”

Virgil squints at him. “What else were you going to say?”

“Nothing important.”

“I think I want to hear it.”

Roman, who could not detach his heart from his sleeve if he tried, chews at the inside of his cheek, and his eyes flash vulnerable/angry/sad. “It’s just, it’s always, we talk or whatever when it’s a good time for you, no matter what I— You know what? Never mind. Let’s just raincheck.”

“No,” Virgil says, slowly. “I changed my mind, I think we should do this now.”

Roman stares at him for a moment, then tosses his jacket onto the table, pulls out a chair, and takes a seat across from Virgil. 

“So,” says Roman.

“So.”

“You kissed me.”

“Oh, fuck, really? I didn’t notice.”

Roman doesn’t laugh. His pretty face is all crumpled up. Maybe this was a bad idea. Virgil has officially decided he doesn’t want to talk about it, actually, and can’t they just forget about it and then get drunk and have sex about it like real adults do? None of that this fucking liberal-arts feelings-y bullshit. Who the hell has time for that?

Why, Virgil?”

“I—” His throat is dry. Why is it so dry? “I wanted to.” God, it sounds pathetic even to him.

Roman makes a frustrated noise, a cross between a scream and a whimper, and puts his face in his hands. “I liked you for so long. I spent so long waiting. And as soon as I finally moved on, you just—” He helplessly flails a hand in the space between them.

“I wasn’t ready before.”

“Oh, of course my life doesn’t matter as long as the timing is good for you. I have a girlfriend!”

“But it’s not, like, serious.”

Roman’s face does it’s cute-puppy crumpling thing. “Yeah, I don’t think you get to decide that.”

“And it’s not like I asked you to wait. I had a lot going on, I was going through a divorce, for god’s sake, and it wasn’t a good time—”

“Okay, I know that, we’re past that, and I accepted that at the time, remember?”

“Yeah, so it’s not my fault you ‘waited’—” Virgil does air quotes and watches as Roman’s eyes roll, right on cue, “That’s not my responsibility, I didn’t owe you anything—”

Roman springs to his feet, hands tangled in his hair, and doubles over groaning. “Oh my god! I literally never said that, that’s literally not what I said. Stop putting words in my mouth!”

Virgil tips his chair back and crosses his arms, as if the extra half-foot of distance and his folded limbs will protect his heart, thrumming beneath his skin like a bird, from the look on Roman’s face. He sighs. He says, “You’re so fucking immature.”

“Oh, I’m immature.”

“You live in a studio flat and eat instant ramen three nights a week,” Virgil shoots back. “I have a kid. I’m still paying off the divorce lawyer. I’m working fifty hours a week to give my son a slightly less horrible life than the one I’ve ended up with, and it’s so hard, Roman, I feel so fucking lost—” He blinks back the swell of emotion rising in his throat and forces his voice to harden. “You don’t know what that feels like.”

Roman is fuming now, pacing back and forth and waving his hands around like an Italian chef or something. Is that racist? That seems like a question for later. 

“You always do this,” he’s saying. “You always play the martyr, because lord knows you’re the only one who’s allowed to have problems.”

“Don’t talk to me about problems,” Virgil snaps. “Oh no! Poor Roman didn’t get the part in the toilet paper commercial.” He pulls a face and traces a fake tear down his cheek. Roman’s cheeks are an angry red. It’s not a good look. “Is the farmer’s market out of, uhh… free range fucking kombucha? Boo hoo! Did his parents send him less money this month than usual?”

Virgil is wide awake now, like the anger is letting him see in 4D. It feels good, almost, to snap, to yell, to be loud and mad and broken and all the things that he’s tried so hard not to be.

“Okay, not that it matters,” Roman says, “Because this isn’t about any of that, but I’m just as stuck as you are, and I may not have a kid or an ex-wife but you’ve never flunked out of business school and landed in the hospital because you tried to drink yourself to death, so yeah, I think I can say I know what it feels like to feel lost.”

“I didn’t—” Virgil starts.

“— And free range kombucha doesn’t FUCKING EXIST!” Virgil digests that, gives Roman some time to stop borderline hyperventilating.

“You done?” says Virgil.

Roman is blinking a lot. “Yup.”

They stand there in the silence for a few more seconds.

“… Look, I’m sorry for kissing you.”

Roman sighs. “It’s not about the kiss itself, Virgil. It’s about— How you didn’t even, I don’t know? Think? Ask?” He scuffs his shoe against the sticky tile floor. “It gets kind of hard to be around you when you’re always acting like you’re better than me.”

That’s the dumbest thing Virgil has ever heard.

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Virgil says. “You’re the one who acts like you’re better than me.”

Roman looks genuinely taken aback. “Who are you hanging out with and calling Roman? When have I ever done anything to even suggest that?”

“You think you’re above me just because you have, like, education and money and shit. I haven’t read, I don’t know, Thoreau or whatever, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”

“No,” says Roman, slowly, as if he’s just figured something out. “you think that I think that I’m better than you so you’re mean to me because your insecure.” He sounds so smug, like a fuckin’ high school therapist, and Virgil wants to punch him. He could probably take him in a fight, now that he thinks about it. Roman’s scrawny little theater kid arms probably couldn’t stand to break a baby’s nose. “Life isn’t fair, you know.”

(Roman’s soft little white boy heart probably couldn’t stand to break anyone’s nose.)

Honestly, how dare he act like he knows what’s going on in Virgil’s head. In his life. He wants to get on his case for being a ‘martyr’? He can’t talk. He doesn’t know half of what it’s like to be Virgil. 

“Yeah, well,” Virgil spits, “If life was fair then I would’ve been the one to go to fucking business school, because I bet I’m at least smart enough to make it through.”

He feels that land. He’s glaring daggers into the patch of floor a few inches in front of Roman’s shiny shoes, so he can’t see Roman’s face, but he hears him breathe in, sharp.

“You know what, fuck this.” Roman’s voice is small and wobbly but defiant. He snatches his jacket off the table, and angrily puts it on. He misses the arm hole several times. “Fuck this shit! I’m fucking done.” Roman doesn’t swear very much. It sounds weird in his voice. “This is over!” He storms out of the break room.

“Go to hell, Roman!” Virgil yells after him.

Roman may be flipping him off. The door slams shut too quickly for Virgil to tell.

•   •   •   •   •   •   •

It’s dark by the time Virgil gets home. The simmering rage and adrenaline carries him all the way through until the leftover fried rice comes out of the microwave, and then he ends up eating dinner sitting on the kitchen floor, because he’s classy like that. Him and his Chinese takeout and generic brand wine. It’s even in one of the five nice glasses that he got to keep in the divorce. 

What kind of a bastard demands to split the chinaware? Virgil frowns at the glass, then tops himself off. He deserves this.

Everything sucks. Everyone sucks. His asshole ex and the man at Starbucks who always spells his name wrong  and even Logan and Patton and especially Roman and his dumb blonde girlfriend. Not that she’s dumb because she’s blond. Or female. Virgil respects women. He’s also maybe a little tipsy.

He calls Roman. 

“Hey there, thanks for calling!” says Roman’s voice, bright and warm, and Virgil’s heart jumps a lot.

“Hi, hey, yeah, I just—”

“I can’t come to the phone right now,” the pre-recorded greeting continues, heedless, “but please leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you soon!”

The phone beeps. Virgil stares at the gradual of uptick of the little white numbers on the screen, and then says: “Bitch.”

He’s not quite drunk enough to send that, he decides, and deletes it. However, he is drunk enough to try again.

“If it makes you feel any better, I realize that I’m an asshole. I mean, it’s not like the normal awareness, you know, when you think ‘I’m a bad person’ but you still don’t feel like anyone else should treat you like you are—”

He deletes that, too.

His stomach is turning over on itself, folding and refolding in an endless lemniscate. Self-awareness is horrible. He reaches out to recapture the anger that he felt earlier, the eye-searing satisfaction of it, but the force in his fingers just tangles into his palms and imprints rows of red crescent moons.

Things he hates about Roman. His pretentious taste in movies. The way he moves his hands when he talks. How he thinks their lives are the same. That he doesn’t really believe that Virgil can do better than retail. That he has the chance to unstick himself and doesn’t

“You use too much cologne,” he says in his next voicemail. “No one wants to hear your college stories. Stop wearing khakis. You’re bad at your job and Patton is just too nice to tell you. Your singing is decent at best and you need to stop humming show tunes under your breath, we can all hear you.”

He almost sends that. Almost. Then it occurs to him that Roman probably would stop wearing khakis if Virgil said he hated them. 

“Okay, nope,” Virgil says, more to himself than the hypothetical recipient. “Not doing that.” It’s so unsatisfying to be mean to insecure people. You can say, ‘you’re so annoying’ and they just fucking agree

Fourth times the charm? Four-leaf clovers are supposed to be lucky. Maybe that’s a good omen or something.

“Hey,” he tries, and then nods decisively to himself. Good start. “I’m sorry for being a dick. All this sucks. It’s not your fault. Well, maybe a little. I can still be mad at you and be sorry.”

He taps his nails on his phone case and thinks. He wonders if Roman is drunk, or asleep, or at home watching TV. Virgil wonders if he ruined Roman’s night.

“I was talking to Logan earlier,” Virgil continues. “and he said… it was something like, you can always find a reason not to do anything so you should do the things you wanna. I sat there and thought oh shit, I’ve been finding all these reasons to not, um, try and— well, you know— and they suddenly didn’t seem important anymore. But I guess some of them should have. I just… I wish I’d gotten to say—”

“Dad?”

“Uhh,” Virgil says, and slams his phone face-down onto the floor. “Hey, bud.”

“You okay?” Thomas is standing over him in a Steven Universe t-shirt and fuzzy blue pajama pants. He glances at the wine glass, the phone, and his father’s puffy eyes. Virgil wonders how much he heard.

“Yeah, it’s just been a rough day.”

Thomas frowns and steps over Virgil’s outstretched legs to get to the fridge. “Did something happen?”

Virgil briefly contemplates the parenting merits of discussing your personal problems with your teenage son. “Normal awful work stuff.”

Thomas is pouring himself a glass of water. “Oh. That sucks.”

“How was school?”

Thomas shrugs. “Fine. I had a math test. I think it went well.”

“That’s great!”

Thomas turns as if to leave, and Virgil panics, just a bit. “Hey,” he says too-quickly, and shifts his legs a little bit so that he could stand up if he wanted. “Do you wanna watch something, maybe? I saw this show on Netflix that looks really good, I don’t remember what it’s called but it’s the gay one, with the dancing—”

“I kind of have a lot of homework,” says Thomas, and he sounds truly sad about it. “Some other time.” 

You can skip the homework, Virgil almost says, but doesn’t, because that would be selfish. He’s so lucky to have such a good son, a son who actually wants to watch TV with his sad single dad, and that’s so good and so enough even if it isn’t right now. God. Virgil loves him so fucking much.

“Some other time,” he echoes. “I love you.”

“Sure,” Thomas says, and he looks a bit confused but smiles anyway. “I love you too.” He leaves with his glass of water. Virgil hears his footsteps tap-tap-tapping up the stairs.

Virgil’s fried rice is all gone and he really should not drink any more wine. Maybe he should get some water himself. Or stand up. His head hurts and he thinks he might be crying a little. Being tipsy was so much more fun in college.

He tries to picture Roman in college, but business school comes clearer: Roman in a suit and shined shoes, his hair parted to the other side but his lazy smile the same. He pictures this Roman trying to kill himself, and then looks at half-empty bottle of wine and his reflection warped in it, and feels like the worst person alive.

Virgil looks up, and says, crisply, “Fuck.” The coffee pot on the counter doesn’t respond.

He’s still angry, but it doesn’t feel good anymore.