After graduation, Kieran expected to go straight into a career of flipping burgers—only to be offered the internship of his dreams at a political campaign. But the pressure of being an out trans man in the workplace quickly sucks the joy out of things, as does Seth, the humorless campaign strategist who watches his every move.
Soon, the only upside to the job is that Seth has a painful crush on their painfully straight boss, and Kieran has a front row seat to the drama. But when Seth proves to be as respectful and supportive as he is prickly, Kieran develops an awkward crush of his own—one which Seth is far too prim and proper to ever reciprocate.
This story was quite lovely. I liked the fact it takes place in a campaign office, though a smaller one that isn’t as busy. It’s not a location or atmosphere you see often in romance stories so it was fascinating. I also liked how the politics wound up being minor in the story and not preachy. The actual candidate was mostly irrelevant to the story, but focused more on the work they actually do. I enjoyed Kieran and Seth’s slow burn and how they had to get through some obstacles to get where they’re comfortable admitting feelings for each other and giving a relationship a go. It made their feelings come across stronger when they finally get to where they can be together. Though I felt like the Marcus storyline went on longer than it should have for the overall length of the story.
Kieran was a character I liked right from the beginning. He was realistic and very rational about how things in his life will go. I felt bad for his crisis of faith regarding his desire to work in politics. However the way Seth reacts and works to show Kieran it can be better is fabulous. I really liked how he went for what he wanted with Seth towards the end. Kieran responded to Seth’s reaction perfectly and I adored them together at the very end.
Seth was a but of a mystery at first but as he and Kieran spent more time together I got a true sense of who Seth is. Seth is equal parts scared and tentative but completely in control at work. My heart hurt for him because of some of the things he revealed about his past. But I adored how he was strong and wouldn’t take crap from people at work over LGBTQ issues. he was sweet when he finally admitted to Kieran his feelings. You could tell he truly cared.
The ending is a solid happy for now and it’s clear they’re going to make a serious go at a relationship. These two have so much potential I would love to see a sequel. Maybe a few years down the link working for the Senator’s re-election campaign or some other candidate later on. I want to see them happy and completely in love with each other.
Molly: What music, if any do you listen to when you write?
Austin: I create a playlist for everything I write. My playlist is usually full of songs that make it easy for me to get in the brainspace of the main POV character, so that can vary pretty widely between projects! For Coffee Boy, I listened to music that my protagonist Kieran would enjoy — mostly pop music by badass divas.
Molly: Are you a full time writer, or part time writer?
Austin: Part time, currently living a double life as a game designer by day and writer by night.
Molly: Do you hope to one day be a full time writer?
Austin: I would absolutely love to write full time — it’s been my dream since I was about six. At the moment, though, I’m just starting out! I do feel like I’ll eventually have to write full time, because otherwise writing is destined to ruin whatever day job I have (because I’ll write even if I don’t really have time to).
Molly: Do you have a word count per day you try to hit?
Austin: Not really. I don’t write every day. I take breaks after every manuscript and as needed during the workweek. The trade-off is that when I am working on a manuscript, I’ll put in anywhere from 1k to 5-10k in a day until the book is done. I work best in sprints.
Molly: When you finish writing a book, how long before you begin writing the next one?
Austin: Usually I bask in finishing a book for at least ten minutes before I start dreaming about the next one. 🙂 In all seriousness, though, I try to take at least a week or two off between projects, even though the creative energy is hard to shake. Self-care and a fresh start are important.
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.
Austin Chant is a bitter millennial, passable chef, and a queer, trans writer of romance, erotica, and fantasy. His fiction centers on trans characters who always, always get the love they deserve. Austin cohosts the Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to exploring LGBTQIA+ love stories and the art of writing romance. He currently lives in Seattle, in a household of wildly creative freelancers who all spend too much time playing video games.
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