“I… literally haven’t played bass in, like, two, two and a half years, so don’t come for me if I sound terrible.”
The five members of Remy’s band were all setting up in their moms’ garage. Archer was adjusting the position of the drumset in the corner while October set the keyboard up on its stand. Seraphina was tuning aer guitar while Remy warmed up their voice. Virgil was crouched in one corner, their bass case and its litany of stickers (from venues they played at, festivals, shows, there was almost no blank space left) on the floor in front of them as they opened it up. Toni and Teagan had taken Caoimhe for a walk together with Virgil’s blessing.
“Ah, that’s nothing,” Archer said, hitting the snare drum a couple times after he sat down. “Up until a few weeks ago, when we started this thing, I hadn’t even sat at a set since high school. And you were with a touring band, so. You’ve gotta be pretty damn good.”
Virgil nodded, not saying anything as they pulled their bass out. It felt like welcoming an old friend home, in a way. They had checked it over before coming to rehearsal, but there was nothing quite like pulling it out of the case with the intention to play it with a group of people.
“Oh, damn, was that your main axe?” Seraphina asked. Virgil turned to look at aer. Ae had paused in tuning and was looking at their bass with wide eyes.
“Yeah,” they replied.
“That is a sweet bass.”
They turned back to it, pulling out their cable and tuner. As they went through the routine of tuning, they thought about it: yeah, their bass was pretty sweet. It was a five string with a purple head and body, and yeah, purple had always been their color, all the way back to elementary school.
(They tried not to think about how this particular bass had been a gift from their dad when they turned fifteen, after they had played their first handful of gigs and been in the pit for a local musical production using only an old beat-up secondhand bass that was kind of shitty. They failed.)
Bass tuned, they unplugged the tuner and put the strap on. At one point, they had used a The Walking Dead themed one, but, when they told Patton they might be joining a band, Patton had convinced Virgil (they didn’t need much convincing, really) to come with him to the music store on Monroe (Beacock’s, and Virgil had a feeling he’d see them a lot more often now) to impulse-buy a rainbow patterned strap.
So, you know, they’re just. Casually gay now. It’s cool, they’re solidly out and with a whole bunch of other queer people, no need to be anxious.
Once everyone was ready, there were a few moments where they just. Stared at each other. Like, what do we do now?
“How does this normally go?” Virgil asked, breaking the tension.
“Well,” Remy said. They pulled their phone out of their pocket. “Do you mind if I audio record our playing? It won’t get posted publicly anywhere.”
Virgil shrugged. “Sure. Go ahead.”
Remy hit record and set their phone down on a nearby table. “So, generally, we warm up by playing pop and rock songs, you know, things that everyone knows, or can look up the chords to, just for funsies. We do it in turns. October! Pick a song.”
“Hozier, Take Me to Church!” Faer response was almost immediate and almost shouted.
Virgil sighed and pulled out their phone. “Let me look up the chords.”
“Yeah, don’t worry, I don’t know them either,” Seraphina said.
And that was how it went: they’d go around the group, pick a song, look up the chords, and play it.
“See, this way, we can kind of get a feel for the type of music,” Remy said. They shrugged. “You’re like, emo-punk, and I’m into hop and pip-pop, I mean, pop and hip-hop, oh my god, oh my god Sera don’t you even start, and Archer likes rock, October is indie, and Sera is rap and Afro-Cuban. But we all have some crossover!”
“We don’t have any claves, but I can play the pattern on the rim of the snare,” Archer said, leaning forward. “Sera taught me.”
“I am getting you a pair,” Seraphina said, turning and pointing at Archer, who smiled and shrugged.
“So, back to crossover, all of us really liked the Hozier and the Green Day, and it seemed like everyone was having fun with Sera’s mini-lesson,” Remy said, “so there’s where we can start with, like, writing our own songs, and figuring out what we’ll cover, things like that.”
“We already have half a song written,” October said. Fae shrugged. “We could work on that.”
“Half a song,” Seraphina said, rolling aer eyes. “Exactly half a song.”
“So let’s work on it so we have a whole song,” Archer said, and that was exactly what they did.
Before Virgil knew it, they’d been in Remy’s garage for three and a half hours. They might have stayed longer, but they had promised Patton that they would be home in time for dinner (7:30 at the latest!) and it was already almost 7:15.
“Hey, uh, thanks for inviting me,” Virgil said as they turned off the amp and unplugged their cable from it. “It was fun.”
“Yeah, gurl, thanks for coming!” Remy replied. They were standing up, too, the whole group starting to pack up. “You sure you can’t talk Patton into dinner here?”
Virgil chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll try to talk him into next time, though, he was just already planning something for tonight.”
“Yeah, we understand,” Seraphina said, raising aer hand to wave as Virgil latched their case and stood up. “See you next time.”
“We still on for coffee on Friday?” October asked, and Virgil nodded.
“Of course,” they replied.
“I’ll see you then,” fae said, waving as Virgil left the garage through the house so that he could pick up Caoimhe, who was laying on the couch. Toni was sitting next to her, her laptop and a low rolling desk set up so that she could play Overwatch on the couch while hooking her computer up to use the TV as a monitor.
“Hey Virgil!” she said, glancing over and smiling. “You heading out?”
“Yeah,” they replied. “Thanks for watching Caoimhe.”
“Of course! She was a pleasure as always,” Toni replied, right before charging directly into the enemy team as Reinhardt. Virgil clipped Caoimhe’s leash onto her collar, and as they left, could hear Toni say, “no, you idiots, I was dog-sitting, not babysitting.” They chuckled and rolled their eyes.
They checked their phone in the car before they left, briefly noting that they’d received an email to their “work” address, and they’d need to check that later.
They’d also received a text from Roman.
Received: 6:53 pm
I just wanted to say thanks? For everything lately. Being able to talk to you about this really helps.
They didn’t need to ask them what “this” meant.
Sent: 7:19 pm
yea, of course. i’m glad i can help. feel free to message me whenever. i may not always be in the right headspace to help at that exact moment, but i’ll always do my best. i’m almost always down to send dog pics, if nothing else.
Message sent, they turned the car on and drove home. It didn’t take very long to drive from Toni and Teagan’s house back to their apartment, maybe ten minutes at the most, fifteen or twenty if traffic was bad. Luckily, it was 7:20 on a Wednesday night, and traffic was light, so they kind of (if you were flexible about time) made it home in time.
They read the new message from Roman before leaving the car.
Received: 7:22 pm
Dog pics are ALWAYS welcome and appreciated. And I hope you know that you can always message me, too, if you need to vent or something. I know that ~I’m the kid~ in this situation, but the offer remains open. Message me whenever you need to.
Virgil couldn’t help the smile that spread across their face at that. Today had been a great day so far, and that was looking like it would continue.
Sent: 7:32 pm
of course. thanks, roman.
[Caoimhe behaving at Starbucks.jpg]
The apartment was warm when they walked in. They shut the door behind them and paused for a moment after setting down their bass, just breathing in the smell of soup that filled the home. It was soup night, and Patton was making a creamy chicken and wild rice soup that he used to make with his mother, back when he lived with her.
“Hey Virgil!” he called, stepping out of the kitchen as Virgil unhooked Caoimhe’s leash and then bent down to untie their boots. “Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah,” they replied, pulling one boot off. “Wasn’t expecting to stay that long, but time flies when you’re having fun, I guess.” One boot successfully wrangled off, they moved onto the other. “How were the kids today?”
“They were good! I’m a little worried about some of them, but they’re all doing really good. I’m glad you had fun at Remy’s! Does the band have a name?”
“Nope,” Virgil replied, shaking their head and finally managing to get the boot off (the second boot is always harder than the first). They chuckled as they straightened up, lifting their arms over their head to stretch them out. “The band hardly has a genre, let alone a name, although I think they—we?—may be getting closer to a sound. And I think Toni and Teagan enjoyed my dog.”
Freed of the boots, they pulled their jacket off and dropped it onto the shelf that was pretty much the designated Virgil sweater shelf. With that taken care of, they moved towards Patton, who moved in as well, and embraced.
They held each other for a few moments, Patton tucking his head into that spot just above Virgil’s shoulder, right where their collarbone is. They just stood there, letting the world fall away for a few moments before stepping apart. Patton walked to the kitchen while Virgil picked up his bass and carried it into the living room, tucking it into its new (as long as he kept playing it regularly) spot next to the couch, where it was out of the way but still easily accessible.
With that done, they walked back to the kitchen and set the table as Patton pulled the soup off the stove and set it down on the trivet in the middle of the table. They dodged and danced around each other, a practiced choreography, as they got ready for their meal.
They checked their phone before sitting down to eat.
Received: 7:34 pm
Unh, I feel so blessed. All your followers are always so thirsty for Caoimhe pics, and here I am, receiving a whole stream of them right from the source.
“Who are you texting?” Patton asked.
Sent: 7:38 pm
you’re just a lucky bitch huh
“Roman,” Virgil replied, turning notifications off and setting his phone on the table. “They’ve been talking to me a lot, lately.”
“Oh, have they?” Patton asked. “Good. Things have been awfully quiet in the group Discord lately.”
“Yeah.” Virgil shrugged as they stood up, grabbing Patton’s empty bowl and filling it to about halfway with soup before doing the same with theirs. “They’ve been having a… complicated issue? lately. And,” they shook their head as they set their bowl down and say down. “I don’t even know what is up with Logan.”
Patton frowned. “I think I’ll message xir tomorrow, ask xir how xe’s doing.”
“That’s a good idea,” Virgil nodded, absent-mindedly stirring their soup while they waited for it to cool. “I did some more work on editing the Nyssa draft today. I think I’m going to stick with Shadows and Starlight as a final title, unless one of my beta’s comes up with something better.”
“Ooh, yeah, that’s my favorite,” Patton said, taking a tiny bite of the soup to figure out if it was cool enough to eat yet. It wasn’t. “When do you think you’ll have it ready for the beta’s?”
Virgil shrugged. “A month? Maybe longer, if I need more rewrites. I’ve made a deal with Toni and Teagan, too, they’ll beta this one if I’ll beta their co-written one, whenever that’s ready.”
“Sounds good!” Patton said. “Lane says that he’s starting the story-illustration project with his students, and there’s a couple who are so bummed they don’t get to write a whole novel for it.”
Virgil snorted and shook their head, smiling. “I was one of those, back in second grade.”
“Ah! I knew you were!” Patton exclaimed, pointing at them and grinning.
By that point, the soup had finally cooled off enough for them to eat it without burning their mouths. The soup was, like most things Patton cooked, one of the best things Virgil’s ever had. It was creamy, with chunks of carrot and celery, but the rice that liked to collect at the bottom was their favorite part.
After dinner, when the table had been cleared, dishes put in the dishwasher, and leftovers put away, Virgil read the latest message from Roman.
Received: 7:40 pm
The luckiest of them all~~~
Virgil didn’t bother sending a response to that. It didn’t seem like it needed one.
With the kitchen table cleared, Patton had claimed it, spreading his lesson-planning materials all over it, so Virgil grabbed their laptop from off the coffee table and sat down on the couch, putting their legs up on it. Caoimhe looked up from her spot on the armchair and then went back to napping.
Virgil opened their laptop and, while waiting for it to boot up, considered the email that’d been sent to their work address. It could be one of their beta’s asking when the draft of Shadows and Starlight would be ready for them, but that seemed unlikely, considering that they had given them the same time frame of ‘it’ll be about a month’ that they had given Patton.
At last, their laptop finally booted and they logged into it. The documents for Shadows and Starlight were all open still and they navigated away from those to their web browser. It was open to the tab that they’d been doing some ‘quick’ research on electromagnetism in, and they switched to their email tab.
The subject line was Interested in Commissioning You. Okay, not unusual, but they hadn’t actually plugged their commissions for a while since they were really doubling down on Shadows and Starlight (or, at least, they were trying to). It wasn’t that they necessarily closed their commissions, they just. Didn’t talk much about them.
They opened the email, and immediately, their gut dropped. They knew that email address.
I hope this email finds you well. I’d like to commission a short story, wordcount 10-20k, set in the Amberfell world, from you. My whole family are fans of your series, but especially my daughter out of all of us, and her birthday is coming in a couple months. I know you’re quite busy with drafting Nyssa 4 right now, so I understand if you can’t pick this up.
Thank you for your time,
Artemisia Teri Stokes
Virgil stared at the email for a few moments, letting it really sink in that, yes, this was real. A few moments, and then they closed their laptop, exhaling hard as they looked down.
Caoimhe, over on the chair, perked up. They barely registered this, instead burying their face in their hands. They did register when Caoimhe jumped into their lap and wriggled around, prompting them to bury their face in her, instead.
“Virgil?” Patton asked, his voice sounding concerned. “What’s wrong?”
They lifted their face from the dog. “Karma?” they replied. “Manifestation? You say you should do something but don’t so many times the universe gets sick of your bullshit?”
Patton frowned. “I’m not sure I’m following you, V.”
Oof. Were they actually going to need to say it out loud? It wasn’t real until you said the words, right? They took a deep breath and held it for a few moments.
“So,” they said. “My stepmom emailed my work account because she wants to commission some writing from me. Well, she gave no indication that she connected V.T. Callahan to, well, me, so I have to assume that she doesn’t know.”
The apartment was quiet except for the softly-playing dad rock music Patton liked to listen to while lesson planning.
“Yeah, oh,” they said after a few moments and then shook their head. “I… don’t know what to feel about this.”
“Do you know… what you need right now?”
Virgil pressed their lips together and shook their head. “Not… really? I…” They exhaled, and then spoke, quieter. “I don’t know. I…” They glanced over at Patton. “You’re just doing next week’s lesson plans, right? You have time?”
“I always have time for you,” he replied, his expression so earnest it made Virgil’s heart ache. “But to answer your question, I’ve already got the first half of next week planned so I have time.”
Virgil nodded, pulling their laptop out from under their dog and setting it on the coffee table. They shifted their legs, and Patton stood and walked over, catching the unspoken cues. Virgil scooted over, carefully keeping Caoimhe from falling off, so that Patton could sit down behind them and they could lean back and let Patton’s arms come to rest around their shoulders.
“I just…” They sighed. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
“I’d be surprised if you had been.”
The two of them were quiet for a few moments, Patton’s warmth seeming to sink into Virgil, a support. Virgil reached up with their right hand and wiggled it under Patton’s left hand, which had been resting on their chest. He wrapped his fingers around their hand.
“What are you going to do about it?” Patton asked.
“I have… several options,” they replied. “I could ignore it, which is, objectively, the worst option and I’m not gonna do that. I want to, but I’m not.”
“That’s good,” Patton said, his voice, while not quite as low and rumbly as Virgil’s, vibrating in his chest.
“I could… go ahead, take the commission, say nothing, and just. Not say anything. Let it happen. Be just some random author she got to commission. Except then I couldn’t ever really start talking to them again, because I would’ve lied to them, and I wouldn’t be able to tell them what I actually do because I would’ve lied while making money from them, and, and I, I just can’t do that.”
“And then there’s option three. The one that is… obviously the right choice, since it’s by far the hardest to consider doing.”
“What’s that option?”
Virgil shrugged, and Patton squeezed their hand.
“I tell her now,” they said. “Respond to her email all, hey, yeah, I’m that asshole step-kid of yours, haha, I’ll still gladly take your commission though. Which, let’s be real, I doubt that will go over well.”
“If you put it that way it won’t,” Patton replied. “You just gotta find the right way to say it, that’s all.”
Virgil sighed. “What is the right way, though? There’s…” They shook their head. “There’s probably more than one right way, there always is, but. They’re just hard to find.”
“Don’t we know that.”
A few moments passed, and Virgil frowned, a thought crossing their mind.
“Your parents don’t go to bed until ten, right?”
“Yeah,” Patton replied. “Do you want to call them? I’m sure they’d help.”
Did they want to call his parents? Esme and Oliver were amazing and supportive, but how much would they be able to help? Would they still be okay with them if they knew what, exactly, they had done to ruin things so thoroughly with their family?
Patton prodded them, verbally. “Do you want to call them? It’s fine if you don’t.”
“I…” they sighed. “Yeah, I do, kind of. I just… I’m… worried, about how they’ll take it if, when, I tell them exactly how I fucked things up with my dad’s family.”
“You’ve changed a lot since then,” Patton said, “and they know it. They know you now. What you did in the past? It’s in the past. It’s who you are now that matters, and you’re a really good person.”
They exhaled, feeling like they were melting into Patton. “Who I was in the past is still… part of me, though. Like. I did those things. I believed those things. That’s… I did that.”
“Do you still believe those things, though?” Patton asked. “Do you still do those things? No. You don’t. You were in a really bad place, and you were hurting and lashing out, and you were… you were a kid, who shouldn’t’ve had to’ve been dealing with those things.”
“I…” They shook their head. “Thanks, Patton. Your parents… really aren’t going to mind? Well, I mean, they’ll probably mind a little, most people would, but—”
“But I get what you’re trying to say,” Patton replied. “And no, they won’t mind. They really won’t. They really, really care about you.”
Virgil took a deep breath, held it for a few moments, and then let it go. “Alright.” They pulled their phone out of their pocket and opened their contact list, scrolling through until they reached the one labeled Esme. They pressed the call button and then put the phone on speaker, setting it down on the coffee table.
It rang a few times until she picked it up with a cheery “Hello!”
“Hey,” they replied. “You’re, uh, you’re on speaker, by the way. Patton’s with me.”
“Hi honey! What’s the occasion? You, in particular, don’t call often, Virgil.”
They sighed. “Well. That. It’s complicated. Is Oliver available, too?”
“Yes, just give me a moment.” Her next statement sounded like she was away from the receiver. “Oliver, dear, it’s Virgil and Patton. I’m putting them on speaker.” The next statement sounded closer. “Alright, you’re on speaker now.”
“Thanks,” Virgil said. “So. Uh. So. You know there’s some, uh, well, there’s some family issues in my background.”
“There sure are,” Oliver said.
“Oliver! Be nice!”
Virgil chuckled. “Yeah. Well. So. My stepmom emailed my work account today, wanting to commission a story from me. From. From V.T. Callahan. She has… no clue that I’m V.T. Callahan.”
“Are you sure it’s your stepmom?” Oliver asked.
“There’s… not many people with her name,” Virgil replied, shaking their head. “I’m sure. So, I need to respond. I have a few options. I could ignore it, which I’m not going to do. That’s option one. Option two is proceeding like it’s a normal commission, not saying anything, you know. Just letting her interact with me as Callahan and only Callahan. Except the issue there is, if I ever, like, talk to them in the future, I wouldn’t be able to tell them about Amberfell and Nyssa and all that because I would’ve lied to them already and…” they shook their head.
“So you’re not going to do either of those,” Oliver said. “I feel like there’s another option.”
“Yeah, there is,” Virgil nodded, even though Esme and Oliver wouldn’t see it. “I… respond, and I tell her who I am, and…” they shook their head and shrugged. “Nyeugh? That’s it? I hope for the best, I guess.”
“What is the best you hope for, in this situation?” Esme asked.
They nibbled their lip, letting the fingers of their left hand work their way through Caoimhe’s fur absent-mindedly.
“I guess… I guess the best is that she’s all, okay, cool, whatever, and things are… Well, best-case scenario is things are good, I reconnect with her and my dad and my siblings and they all forgive me and everything’s peachy, but that’s pretty unrealistic.”
“You’re right, that is. So, the best you can hope for is that everything’s at least… okay, or moving in that direction?” Esme asked.
“I suppose so,” Virgil said. “That… that this opens up a door, at least. Well, the door is open, she just doesn’t know which door she opened, and I hope she leaves it open.”
“I can’t not ask… What do you need to be forgiven for?” Oliver asked.
Virgil sighed. “Well. That’s… That’s where things get messy.”
“Things are sounding very messy already,” Esme said.
Virgil snorted and rolled their eyes. “Messy-er.” They took a deep breath. “Well. Anyways. I. I was kind of a dick as a teenager.”
“What teenager isn’t? And, Oliver dear, if you say ‘Patton’, I will eat that Butterfingers you’ve thought you hid from me.”
“Wait, you know where I put that?”
Patton and Virgil both chuckled at their antics.
“Yeah, well, anyways,” Virgil said, “I was a special kind of asshole. I did and said a… a lot of things that I find pretty damn unforgiveable now, in those last few months before I ran away with my boyfriend without hardly a trace.” They stopped for a moment, horror washing over them. “Oh, my god, they probably think I’m dead.”
“You took your birth certificate and social security card,” Patton pointed out. “That makes it pretty obvious that it was a planned thing, and not kidnapping or something like that.”
“Okay, but it’s been seven years, and it might as well have been kidnapping, considering that Devon was 22 and I was 17.”
“That’s a fair point. So, your family might think you’re dead, and the last experiences they have of you are… not good,” Oliver said.
“That’s an understatement,” Virgil muttered.
“How so?” Esme asked.
Oliver was quick to cut in. “We’re not trying to pressure you. You only need to tell us if you feel like you want to.”
“No, I…” Virgil exhaled. “I want to. It’s just… it’s hard? I’m really… I’m really ashamed of how I acted, so it’s…” They swallowed and shook their head. “So, I have a stepbrother, two half-brothers, and a half-sister, at least on my dad’s side, at least last I knew. The stepbrother… he, uh, he, last I knew, had a lot of anxiety issues. Not, not trauma-related like mine, the poor kid was just fucked by his brain from the outset. Unless some of them were caused by me, which, oh my god, is totally possible, holy shit—”
“Virgil,” Patton said, reaching up with his right hand to run his fingers through their hair. “Hey. You’re okay.”
“Y-yeah. Yeah. Okay.” They took a deep breath. “Okay. So, anyways, stepbrother has anxiety issues, y’know, they were. Probably still are, somewhat? Disabling. And he was in and out of the therapists and trying medications and stuff because, you know, a 10-year-old with anxiety so bad he can barely leave the house is kind of an issue. And I was just a dick to him about that. Like. I made fun of him for his anxiety, and for taking meds, and for going to therapy, which is really ironic because I do all those things now.”
“Alright,” Esme said.
“And,” Virgil gestured with their left hand, the one that wasn’t practically glued into Patton’s grip. “That’s not even all of it. One of the half-brothers, he’s trans. Knew it from a pretty damn young age, especially since his parents are really cool and accepting and all that and made sure that, y’know, the kids they were actually raising knew and were too. Except, y’know, my mom had custody of me and she was.” They shook their head. “She was not. So. Yeah. I said a lot of fucked up things about him, too. And my stepmom. She was involved in a car wreck when I was thirteen and paralyzed from the waist down and I was not good about that, either.”
The other end of the line was quiet for a few moments.
“I think,” Oliver said, “the important thing for you to focus on is that you are not that person anymore. They don’t have to forgive you, whatever they do is on them. I know for my part that I haven’t heard a single bigoted thing out of your mouth since I’ve known you.”
Virgil sighed. “Thanks. I just… I’m not sure what to say to her, honestly.”
“We can help you with that,” Esme said. “What does the email itself say?”
“Give me a moment to move my dog and grab my laptop,” Virgil said. That led to several moments of chaos as they shuffled around so that all three of them could stay on the couch, in contact, but Virgil could have their laptop out and type on it. Once it was ready, they read the email to Esme and Oliver.
That led to about an hour of back-and-forths and writing and rewriting the email, until Esme and Oliver had to put their feet down about bedtime, which led to the end of the phone call. Patton and Virgil stayed up for another half an hour past that.
“I guess that’s probably as good as I’m going to get it,” Virgil said, glancing through the email on a last proofread.
Dear Artemisia, (here, Oliver had at one point, goofily suggested they use ‘Salutations!’ as an opening. Esme and Virgil had both shot that down immediately.)
Thank you for your interest in commissioning a story from me. I would love to write it for you.
Here’s where it gets tricky.
There’s something you should know before continuing with this. I don’t feel like it would be right for me to work on this with you, and take your money for it, without saying this. It would feel too much like lying to you.
No, scratch that, it would be lying to you.
The truth is, we’ve met. A lot. I guess the best way to handle this is to just come out and say it. Like a band-aid, just rip it off.
My name is Virgil Fiachra O’Mara.
And… last time we saw each other, it did not go well. I said and did a lot of things that are not okay, that are actually pretty damn terrible, and I’m sorry.
It’s funny, but the past few months I’ve been really struggling with the idea of reaching out to you and dad, and then this happens.
For what it’s worth, I am so sorry, for the way I treated you and Elliott and Reilly. It was wrong of me to punch down, to see you as lesser because of things you couldn’t help or change.
If, after this, you’re still interested, I would still be excited to work on a story with you.
They hit send and closed the laptop. They sat there for a moment, the world hanging still, until they exhaled and set the laptop on the coffee table.
Now they just had to wait.