Austin Chant © 2016
All Rights Reserved
When his heart has stopped pounding, Kieran crosses the room and sinks gratefully into the chair at his new desk.
Although it might not be his desk for long if Seth kills him. Luckily, Seth looks like he’s too busy tearing somebody to shreds over the phone to spare much malice for Kieran. Every time he stops to listen to whatever the caller is saying, his nose wrinkles contemptuously. He’s keeping his voice down, but Kieran catches something about “funding that was promised to us” and “pulling all mention of your business from our campaign materials”.
In Kieran’s assessment, Seth looks kind of like a grown-up Boy Scout—that straight-laced, proper, honest look—but also kind of like a snake. He’s at least thirty, perfectly clean-shaven, sleek. He has hair trimmed short and blunt, long on top but slicked down, and despite the heat, he’s wearing a crisp blazer. The only part of his look that seems out of place is a single steel stud in his right ear, and even that is vaguely intimidating.
Feeling intimidated doesn’t stop Kieran from wanting to eavesdrop, though, because he wants a distraction as much as he relishes drama. He takes out his phone and pretends to be distracted by Twitter while listening as hard as he can. Seth’s side of the conversation is choppy, as if he’s being interrupted.
“I can’t be any clearer about this,” Seth says. “The senator does not offer business endorsements in exchange for donations. If a member of her staff told you otherwise, I —sincerely—apologize.” He listens intently for a moment and out of the corner of his eye, Kieran watches Seth squeeze the phone like he wishes it were someone’s neck. “No, that’s—no, there are no exceptions. Absolutely not. I suggest you contact the main office if you have any more concerns, because as I’ve said, this is a branch office. I cannot take a message for the senator, because she doesn’t work here. Yes. Goodbye.”
Seth smacks the phone down in its cradle, and Kieran jumps in spite of himself. He stuffs his cell phone back into his pocket as Seth swivels toward him.
“So,” Seth says. He stands up, offering his hand without approaching Kieran’s desk. Kieran has to scramble out of his chair and across the room to shake it, while Seth stares imperiously down at him.
Kieran isn’t surprised to find Seth’s handshake firm and unforgiving. “Hi,” Kieran says, forcing a smile. “Sorry for, um, barging in. I was expecting Marcus.” It’s only half a lie.
Seth raises his eyebrows. “Marcus mentioned that he knew you. From the university?”
“Yeah. He taught a bunch of my classes.” Kieran does his best to sound calm, smooth, anything but as shaky as he feels. “So—who’re you? The manager?”
“Marcus is the manager,” Seth says, like Kieran should have known. This probably falls into the category of ‘Things Marcus Could’ve Bothered to Tell Kieran.’ “I’m Seth Harker, the senior campaign strategist.”
The way he says senior makes it sounds like he has power over Kieran’s life and death. Kieran resists the urge to grimace. “Nice to meet you. Is Marcus going to be here?”
“He had a family engagement. Have a seat, and we’ll talk through your responsibilities.”
“Okay.” Kieran scrunches himself into the chair in front of Seth’s desk.
Seth sits across from him, studying Kieran with an awkward level of scrutiny. “What is that button?” he asks.
The pronoun pin. Kieran feels a sharp blush rise in his face again. He’s not ashamed of needing to wear it—he’s annoyed that he has to. “My pronouns,” he says, as casually as he can. “I like to wear it when I meet new people.”
Seth gives a mere nod. “I see. As a reminder?”
Kieran flips his thick, curly hair angrily over one shoulder. “Well, most people make the wrong assumption when they meet me.”
“Marcus has been very specific in calling you ‘he’ whenever he mentioned the new intern,” Seth says, “so hopefully there won’t be any room for wrong assumptions.”
His voice is crisp and cool, like it isn’t an issue for him at all. Kieran lets out a breath, startled and relieved and angry. Because it is an issue, but at least he’s not going to have to repeat the conversation he had with Marie. “Great. You might wanna clear that up with the rest of the office.”
Seth raises an eyebrow. “Why? Did something happen?”
Kieran is not going to fall into the trap of complaining about his coworkers on his first day. “No. It’s fine. I just—I didn’t get the impression that they knew.”
Seth actually turns and scribbles something down on a pad of paper in front of him. Kieran can’t imagine what he’s writing. “Remind everyone in the office that new intern is a dude”? Or, probably more likely, “Fire whiny trans guy at earliest opportunity.”
Seth turns back to him. “Let me know if you have any problems.” He waits for Kieran to nod. Kieran wonders how obvious it is that he doesn’t find this reassuring at all. “Now—Marcus said that he knew you before you applied for the internship. He was impressed with your undergraduate coursework.”
More like: Marcus is a bleeding-heart PhD candidate who thinks all trans people are brave and inspiring, and he’d been willing to overlook Kieran’s often-lackluster college coursework and pretend it was a sign that Kieran wasn’t being challenged enough by the material. And that’s why Kieran has the internship. “Yeah, he thought I was okay.” Kieran shrugs. “Of course, I’m guessing I’ll probably do less campaign strategizing and more…getting coffee and making copies?”
Seth almost smiles. It’s a flicker at the corner of his thin little mouth. “You aren’t wrong. But we need you for more than that. This is a new branch of Senator Norton’s campaign, and things are just starting to get off the ground. You’ll be assisting Marcus with whatever he needs to keep us organized, and taking on whatever additional duties we might need an extra hand with. Especially social media and the new campaign website—Marcus said you have some skills in that area, and we’re lacking staff with…digital experience.”
Kieran translates that to everyone who works here is old. “Uh, yeah. I can help with that.”
Seth nods approvingly. “I think you’ll find the experience rewarding. Our internship program offers you a chance to learn the types of skills it takes to run a campaign. Working on our digital outreach puts you at the intersection of a lot of departments. It might help you see what kind of a real job would suit you.”
“A real job?” Kieran laughs in spite of himself, because it stings. “I have one of those already.”
“Flipping burgers,” Kieran says. “It comes with real paychecks and everything.”
Seth frowns. Kieran can see the cogs turning in his head and wonders if he’s smart enough to figure out that Kieran’s definition of real is “pays rent.” Evidently Seth does, because he clears his throat and says, “There will be opportunities for advancement here. Paid advancement. Assuming, of course, that you fit the position.”
Kieran is pretty sure he won’t.