Apologies for any confusion – this is a backdated entry, necessary b/c I’m rebuilding the website. No new content here.
Subterranean Winter Kingdom
Cade was glad he’d given in and let Aiden find a good suit for him to borrow. At the time it had seemed like charity, or vanity, or some weird combination of the two, but now, looking around at the well-dressed young men and women in the waiting area? It was good to know he fit in, at least on the outside.
A youngish man in khakis and a button down came into the room and consulted a list posted on the wall, then said, “Cade Martin,” and extended his hand with a smile when Cade stood up. “Thanks for coming in,” he said, as if Cade was the one doing the favor. Sincerely nice or sarcastically over the top? Aiden would assume the first, but Cade wasn’t so sure.
“Thanks for inviting me,” he managed. He knew he was lucky to be getting the chance; Kaminski Enterprises was widely considered one of the best summer internships in the country, and most of his class had sent in applications. As far as he knew, only two or three of them had been granted interviews.
“I’m Chris Foster. Legal counsel and general problem solver. I’m one of the people you’ll be meeting with. The other….” Mr. Foster stopped halfway down the hall and winced at Cade. “We had an interviewer call in sick, and we just happened to have another guy from head office in Chicago this week whose business wrapped up earlier than he expected. So he’s sitting in with me.”
Cade frowned, trying to figure out why this was wince-worthy. “Is he an engineer?”
“Uh, no. Neither of us is. But that’s okay—the point of the internships is to give people a picture of the whole company, and we’re hiring for attitude rather than specific skills. But, uh—”
A door opened then and a tall guy even younger-looking than Mr. Foster leaned out. “Chris, you’ve got him? Are we doing this?” He smiled at Cade and stepped forward with his hand outstretched. “I’m Evan Kaminski. You ready to go?”
Cade barely managed to get his hand up. Evan Kaminski. The CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. Interviewing Cade for an internship. “I’m Cade Martin,” he croaked. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Mr. Foster nodded and patted Cade on the shoulder. “That’s more than the last guy managed to say at this point.” He frowned at Mr. Kaminski. “Seriously, dude, you should pretend to be someone else. You’re freaking people out.”
“It’s a casual company,” Mr. Kaminski said calmly, edging in next to Cade and guiding him toward the interview room. “I might not get to talk to everyone all the time, but we try to keep things friendly.”
Cade nodded and tried to take deep breaths. He thought about Aiden, and that helped. This interview didn’t matter, not really. Even if he messed it up, he’d still have Aiden. That was the only important thing.
Aiden checked the time impatiently. Cade was supposed to text him as soon as the interview was over. Were they running late, or was it taking longer than expected, or had it gone really poorly and Cade was too miserable to communicate… but, no, it wouldn’t be that last one. Not anymore. If Cade was hurting, he’d let Aiden know.
So there was nothing to worry about, not yet. Still, Aiden wished Cade would get in touch. It would be fun to spend the summer in San Francisco, sure, but more than that, this was another important step in Cade making the life he wanted for himself, and Aiden wanted to see that happen.
He was killing time in the mall that filled the ground floor of the building where Cade was interviewing, and let himself be distracted by watching a little boy staring at the huge train set running through the middle of the space. There were two men behind the boy, one a bit older and distinguished looking, the other damn hot. And they were pretty clearly together, parenting this kid, who seemed happy and well-adjusted and everything the homophobes said was impossible with two dads.
Aiden let himself imagine it. Him and Cade, being dads. No time soon, of course, but someday? Sure, why not?
His phone vibrated and he yanked it out of his pocket to stare at the screen. The text was from Cade, but it made no sense.
Is the zoo good during winter? For kids?
Aiden gave himself a moment to see if the meaning would become clear, then typed back, What? Is this for your interview?
Kind of. Is it good?
Aiden had no choice but to go along. It’s pretty good. There’s skating, and lots of the animals are inside.
A long wait for a response, and then instead of a text Aiden heard the younger dad say, “Hey, RJ? You want to go to the zoo?”
It was just one of those weird synchronicities. That was all. The two dads talked to the boy about the zoo, and Aiden typed, There’s ZooLights after dark. Some kids might like that.
And a moment later, he saw the hot dad look at his phone and say, “Zoo Lights. You might be a bit young for that? Do you want to see animals and go skating, or do you want to see lights?”
“Animals!” RJ said.
The hot dad nodded in satisfaction. “Yeah. Lights are stupid. Animals are cool.”
The older dad said, “Lights are nice, too. But maybe not as nice as animals.” He nudged the hot dad and said, “Ask him what else is good. We’re here for a couple days.
And a moment later Aiden glanced at his vibrating phone to see, What else is good for kids?
“Excuse me,” Aiden said, standing up and approaching the others while giving his best safe, preppy smile. “My boyfriend’s upstairs, and he’s supposed to be interviewing for a summer job but instead he’s texting me a bunch of questions about Chicago tourism for kids. Which is fine. Weird, but fine. But I heard some of your conversation, and it kind of overlapped with what I was telling him, so I just wondered….”
The older dad snorted. “He’s interviewing with Evan Kaminski?”
“Uh, with Kaminski Enterprises, yeah.”
“Asking the really probing questions to figure out who the best future employee would be,” hot dad said with a grin. Then he looked quickly at Aiden. “Does your boyfriend have a sense of humor?”
Aiden thought about it. “Usually, yeah. But probably not right now. He’s pretty nervous about this interview.”
Hot dad shrugged. “Okay. Too bad, but, hey, thanks for the tourist tips.”
“Wait.” It was probably a bad idea. But Aiden thought about how much Cade wanted this internship, and remembered how many applicants he’d said there were, for just a couple positions. Cade was an excellent student, but he wasn’t necessarily going to give a great interview; it took him a long time to warm up to people, and twenty minutes with strangers in a rented office space wasn’t going to show him at his best. “Evan Kaminski has a sense of humor?” he asked. “He’d think it was funny if you did… whatever you’re thinking about doing?”
“He’d think it was hilarious,” hot dad promised.
Aiden gave himself another moment to think about it, then nodded decisively. “Okay. If he wants, we’re in. What can I do?”
Cade felt his phone buzz and saw Mr. Kaminski—Evan. He’d said to call him Evan—looking at him expectantly. Strangest job interview ever, but Cade peeked down at his phone and realized it might be about to get just a little stranger.
If the interview’s going well, tell him there’s a big train set at the Botanical Gardens that kids like. If it’s not so good and you want to take a chance, tell him he might want to consider the Subterranean Winter Kingdom.
Cade had lived in the Chicago area his whole life. He’d never actually visited any of the places Aiden had been suggesting, but he’d at least heard of them. The Subterranean Winter Kingdom, though?
Is that new? He texted back. While waiting for an answer, he tried to evaluate the interview so far. He was pretty sure he was being boring. He was prepared to talk about engineering, and had researched a variety of the company’s current projects and speculated about the challenges they might be facing, but neither interviewer had seemed too interested in those ideas. Probably because their large teams of experienced, professional engineers had already found solutions to all of Cade’s imagined challenges. They’d seemed more interested in casual, get-to-know-you type chatting, and Cade had spent most of the conversation smiling nervously or babbling nonsensical replies. So, no, the interview probably wasn’t going too well.
He saw the message flash onto his screen. Trust me.
“There’s a big train set at the Botanical Gardens. But….” He took a deep breath before saying, “He actually suggests you try the Subterranean Winter Kingdom.”
“The what?” Mr. Foster—Chris, damn it—leaned forward, squinting a little in clear interest. “Subterranean? Really?”
“I don’t know. Should I get more information?”
“Absolutely,” Mr. Kaminski said. He seemed just as intrigued as his friend. And these two clearly were friends, as well as coworkers. At least friends.
So Cade typed More info, please, and then tried to look casual and comfortable as he waited for a reply. Sitting in an interview with a totally built, somewhat eccentric young billionaire and his handsome companion of indefinite relationship status, chatting about tourist destinations that might not really exist. Yup, just another day at the office.
He looked down at his screen, then back up at the men. He’d started this, so he might as well keep going. “Apparently you reach it through a tunnel near the airport? And once you’re inside, it’s all done up like the tropics? There’s a big beach, with a fake sun that’s like a tanning lamp, but really big.” The details kept popping up on his phone, making him marvel at Aiden’s typing skills as much as his knowledge of probably imaginary tourist spots. “And the world’s biggest wave machine. The water’s actually big enough that you can parasail… I don’t know if that’s true, to be honest. That seems really unlikely. And there’s a rain forest. Really? I don’t know, possibly there’s a rain forest, and you can go on guided tours of the canopy and learn about the different animals that live there. I guess kids would like that part. And they’d like the beach, for sure. If it exists.”
He risked a glance at the two men. They were staring at him in just about the way two powerful businessmen should stare at an intern-wanna-be who spouted nonsense like this in a job interview. Cade looked down at his phone, then back up at the men.
He was okay, he realized. The interview hadn’t been going well, so he wasn’t losing anything. Aiden had wandered away from reality, apparently, but Cade could pull him back eventually. And in the meantime, this was actually kind of fun. Not everything was life or death, according to Aiden, and maybe he was at least a little bit right. This internship wasn’t going to work out, so Cade would do something else. It would all come out fine. “There are sea turtles,” he said, and he smiled. “They lay their eggs on the beach, and that section gets fenced off because they’re endangered. But you can watch the eggs hatch from behind the fence.”
“Sea turtles in Chicago,” Evan said.
Cade nodded. “I didn’t know about it, either. But I guess so.”
“What else?” Chris asked. There was an interesting note in his voice, one Cade couldn’t quite identify.
He looked back down at his phone. “Well, swimming with the dolphins, naturally. You probably expected that, right?”
“It would have seemed empty without dolphins,” Evan agreed.
“And apparently the locals are a mix of all different cultures. There’s been a lot of immigration to the area over the centuries, and now it’s a big mishmash. There’s….” He frowned at his phone. “Well, of course there’s no military. But apparently you can go up the side of a volcano, if you want. That sounds interesting.”
Evan and Chris looked at each other, then at Cade. With one voice they said, “Danny,” and made it sound accusatorial.
Cade was tempted to leave them in ignorance. But he shook his head anyway. “Uh, no. Cade. Sorry.”
Evan blew out an exasperated breath that turned into a sort of snort by the end. He turned to grin at Chris. “The guy just can’t let go, can he?”
“The planning here is impressive, though. I mean, okay, he wanted to go to Costa Rica instead of Chicago. He doesn’t like snow.” Chris turned to Cade. “But how the hell did he recruit you?”
“I’m a pawn,” Cade said. “I don’t know what’s going on. My boyfriend just told me to go along with all this.”
“Your boyfriend.” Evan squinted at him. “Where is he, exactly?”
“I don’t know. We were going to go out for lunch after this—he was going to meet me downstairs in the mall.”
“The mall where Dan and Jeff were going to take RJ,” Evan said. He leaned back in his chair and grinned. “They think they’re clever.” He looked at Chris, then nodded decisively. “Text Danny. Tell him we have to cancel lunch because some idiot wasted a bunch of time in our last interview.” He grinned at Cade and shook his head to show he wasn’t serious. “Cade, you text your boyfriend and say I seemed really pissed. Okay?”
“Uh, wait. Can I just tell him to say you seem really pissed? Like, let him in on it? I don’t want to make him feel bad.”
“He doesn’t like jokes?”
“Uh, no, he’d probably love it. But if I played a joke on him, then he might start playing them on me, and I really don’t want to encourage that sort of thing.”
“Okay, let him in on the secret,” Evan agreed. He stood up. “We need to get down to the mall. Yeah, it’s good that your boyfriend… what’s his name?”
“It’s good Aiden’s on our side. Get him to tell you where they are. When we get closer we’ll set up an ambush.”
“An ambush?” Cade squeaked as he let himself be guided out of the office and down the hall, texting as he went.
“Absolutely. We have a double agent, now. That’s the perfect occasion for ambushing.” He turned to Chris. “We good?”
“I told him you were storming around and I had to go calm you down. Then if he texts back to confess, I can ignore him because I’m too busy with damage control.”
“Perfect.” Evan looked at Cade. “Can Aiden play it up? Make it sound like you really, really wanted this internship and now you’re crushed?”
“Yeah,” Cade said. “He’d enjoy that. And it wouldn’t be too much acting, really… I mean, I did really want the internship.”
Evan looked surprised as the elevator started dropping them toward the main floor. “Oh, yeah, the internship. Okay, you can have it.”
“Uh,” Chris interjected, “there’s supposed to be a process for that. You’re going to piss off everyone who’s spent their time interviewing people if you just start handing out internships like candy.”
Evan frowned, then shrugged. “It can be an extra one. They can do the process and pick their people, and Cade can work with me.” He turned to Cade. “Is that cool? There’d be a lot of travel, probably, but you’d get a good picture of all different parts of the company. And it’d be useful for me to have someone science-y around. Chris is useless that way.”
Cade tried to make words, but no sound actually came out of his mouth.
Evan saw his reaction and gave a nonchalant shrug. “I’m an excellent judge of character,” he said. “This will be good.”
“He’s a fast judge of character,” Chris told Cade. “And then he refuses to ever admit he was wrong. But, as it happens, I agree with him. And I’m actually an excellent judge of character.”
Evan made a rude noise as the elevator doors slid open and the three stepped out into the crowded mall.
“Get a precise location,” Evan urged, and Cade typed into his phone.
Chris looked down at his own phone and grinned wickedly. “Two texts from Danny, and now he’s trying to call,” he gloated. “Aiden must be a good actor.”
“He’s good at everything,” Cade said.
Chris grinned at him. Not sleazy, not trying to work an innuendo into Cade’s words. He just seemed happy to see someone in love. “You should help me with the Olympics this summer,” he said.
“Okay,” Cade agreed. He really had no idea what he was agreeing to, but he was pretty sure it didn’t matter. He seemed to have an internship, Aiden was somewhere close by and Cade would soon see him, and there was an ambush in the works. Everything was good. His phone buzzed and he glanced at it, then said, “They’re by Santa’s village. We should text when we’re close and Aiden will make sure they’re looking at Santa.”
“Excellent,” Evan said. “Is Aiden looking for an internship, too?”
“He might be,” Cade said. “Maybe you can ask him when the mission’s complete?”
“Good plan,” Evan agreed, and he waded out into the crowd, Chris behind him, Cade bringing up the rear.
It wasn’t the day he had planned. But it was a good day. And that was good enough for him.