The Big Glass Box and the Boys Inside26 min read


Isabel J Kim
Resize text-+=
Body Horror, Homophobia and heterosexism, Transphobia and trans misogyny

Their power is how they can turn you into one of them. That’s the trick of it, see. You can go in with your swords and sacrifice, you can go in with your red heart and good intentions, and they will grin with their white teeth and say, “Welcome to Grey & Tender, LLP. We’re so glad you’ve agreed to join our summer class. We’ll be sending you the paperwork shortly.”

You smile back at them, sweating in your polyester-blend suit. And then you go home to your shoebox apartment to peel off your jacket and open the email with your offer inside.

It takes three minutes to load. Reams of black text on a white LED screen. Terms and conditions, representations and warranties, work for hire, and everything you invent under our employ is ours, and you are an employee, my dear and you can accept no other employment. For fair and adequate consideration, of course. The salary. My god, the salary. And the benefits, and the health insurance, and the miracle in escrow, and the hinted promise of the eventual genuine connection to the extradimensional pool of power that exists adjacent to our current plane of reality.

That is to say, partnership.

“There are only so many paths to power in this rotten, sweet, cracked world of ours,” one of your professors had told you. “This one seems easy. That does not mean simple.”

She had a poetic edge to her words and used them in full cascade to warn you. She had been in your place years ago, down to receiving the summer offer from Grey & Tender, LLP. But she got out before the transformation took. She still has the slightest point to her ears. A crystalline cast to her fingers where the nails are sharper than they should be. No longer keratin. Some sort of polished chitin.

“Just remember that their goal is to tie you to them,” she’d advised. “Every gift they offer will have a string.”

The old firms offered power in escrow in return for the promise of transformation. Not all the inhabitants of the big glass skyscrapers were part of the old firms. Most were pedestrian, mortal corporatica—systems of people arranged in a capitalist vehicle that was allowed legal personhood. They stood alongside the old firms, and the old firms borrowed their nomenclature and guise.

Grey & Tender. Hamathes. Winter, Stone, & Corvus. A handful of others. All derived from the things that had existed before the big glass boxes. The winter court, the summer court, the imperial heavens, the othersiders. Something arranged in the shape of personhood which needed a body to inhabit. Bodies.

When you needed a miracle in the old days, you would walk into the woods, or the sea, or the flat and windswept plains where reality was thin. If you had luck, charm, or raw and spiteful determination, something in the shape of a person would answer you. A bargain would be made. Eventually the thing in the shape of a person would come to collect. But the miracles remained—so long as the bargain was honored.

Grey & Tender, LLP offered the classic condition: your heart’s desire in escrow, to be returned if you leave the firm. And of course, you would be given the continual opportunity to make partner, at which point the single miracle would become a drop in the bucket of all the miracles you could create for yourself. It was one of the fairer bargains. It was still a trap: to be transformed would be to become a thing that no longer needed a miracle.

Here is the difference between you and everyone else in the associate class. You don’t have a sword or a red heart. You don’t have a sacrifice or good intentions. You’ve got no dreams. You can go in and get out unscathed. Grey & Tender, LLP will look fantastic on your resume.

“You’re one of our more interesting recruits,” a Partner had said at your on-site interview. The Partner had an exoskeleton of dark chitin and eyes that gleamed pearlescent pink. The Partner’s office had windows that looked out onto a galaxy three megaparsecs away. The Partner had told you this when you mentioned that the nebulae were beautiful. By “beautiful,” you meant “terrifying,” just like the buttonless elevator with the clear glass floor that looked down on the starlight void.

“I wonder what we’ll offer you?” the Partner said. “It’s rare we can’t get an immediate read. Rarer that you don’t have a request.”

“I don’t really want anything,” you said. It wasn’t a lie. It was impossible to lie within the boundaries of the firm. “I hope this doesn’t disqualify me?”

The Partner laughed. “We don’t pick our associate class based on desire—although we know that’s why most of you are here. There’s a shiny brass ring we offer you, if you have the stomach for it. But if you don’t want the brass ring, and you just want to ride the carousel, well, as long as you’ve got the aptitude, every class needs a few wild cards. And you definitely have the aptitude. We’ll talk about this later. We have a whole summer to offer.”

“You’re taking me on?” you said.

The Partner winked and offered their hand to shake. You took it. The texture was smooth and waxy and strangely delicate.

Late at night, sitting in front of your glowing LED screen, you scrawl your pixelated signature across the page. You feel an invisible band tighten around your forehead. Offer and acceptance. Welcome to the summer class.

You wonder if you’ve made a mistake. But you don’t want anything from Grey & Tender, LLP. You’ll get out unchanged and leave only your memories and the shiny line on your resume.

You walk into the big glass building near Central Park and get in the elevator. Only one person gets in next to you. The door closes, and the starlight elevator begins rocketing up to floor number seven thousand and eighty-four.

“I’m going to hurl,” the boy in the elevator says faintly. He’s wearing a dark green suit, which matches the faintly green tinge to his face.

“Don’t look down,” you say. “Close your eyes.”

“I can still feel it moving,” he hisses, but he closes his eyes and tilts his head up. You notice that the curve of his jaw is very beautiful. The old firms enjoy a certain aesthetic.

“Distract me,” he says, and then after a half-beat, “Please.”

You snort, because the boy is gripping the railing like it is the only thing keeping him anchored. “Sure. I’m Adair, I’m one of the summers. I’m guessing you are as well, from how used to the elevator you seem to be?”

“Charmed,” the boy says. “I’m Finn. I’m terrified of heights. Please get all your laughs out now before we get to the office.”

“How on earth are you expecting to deal with the elevator every day? How did you go in for your interview?”

“You can bear anything if you need it enough,” Finn says. “And I need this job. And I figured, transformation, right? I wouldn’t be scared forever.”

“You’re crazy.”

“You’re not all that distracting. Come on. Tell me about yourself. We’re supposed to be making friends, aren’t we? Networking.”

But then the elevator comes to a smooth halt, and he’s out like a shot. You meander vaguely after him. You see the full-time associates in their little office boxes working at their stations as you walk down the hallway. They slide fleeting glances across at you, and some of them smile. Their teeth are very shiny. Some of them have eyes that are glittering starlight, others have hair that glimmers with strange shadows. A few of them have jaws made of multicolored carapace.

You smile back and walk faster before forcing yourself to slow. These are your summer colleagues. All of them stood in your place once, fully human. They’re mostly human now, anyway.

You make it to your assigned office without incident. To your surprise, Finn is examining the monitor on the far side of the room. He looks up. His eyes are plain iris and pupil, his hair is a dull brown, and he has scattered pockmark acne scars across his cheeks. It’s a relief.

“You again,” he says.

“Officemates,” you say by way of explanation.

“I guess we’re stuck together.”

“Til dea—” you start to say before the words choke in your mouth.

He frowns at you.

“I meant to say, ‘Til death do us part,’ strictly as a joke, but the geas against lying stopped me.”

Finn laughs. “You’re funny.”

“I’m compensating for the gaping pit in my chest where my emotions are supposed to be.”

“Metaphorical or real?”

You open your mouth. You close it again. You hadn’t meant it as a truth, but the phrase left your mouth effortlessly.

“Metaphorical,” you say weakly. Your new officemate keeps throwing you off balance. You don’t know how you’ll last the summer at this rate.

“I’m sorry about that,” Finn says. “That sounds awful. I hope you find something to care about.”

You don’t know what to do with that sentence.

“The orientation meeting starts in ten minutes,” you say.

You go to orientation. You lose three hours of memory and leave with perfect knowledge of all the associates’ names, where all the bathrooms are, the email etiquette required with outside firms, and also what the void smells like (dust, and raspberries). You do icebreakers sitting in a clear glass room with a circular table: Tell two truths and a slantwise omission (not a lie, never a lie). Tell us about what you did over spring break. Tell us why you chose this firm.

Nobody is so gauche as to tell of their swords and sacrifice, about their red heart and good intentions. There are no sob stories. No mention of sick parents or siblings. No mention of wanting an escape from their previous lives. Instead, you all pass around the circular phrases from your interviews. The desire for meaningful work with lasting impact. The opportunity to grow and change at a fast-paced institution.

There’s free seltzer in the break room. You bring two bottles back to your office.

“They say that consuming the firm’s food accelerates the transformation,” Finn says when you crack open the plastic cap.

You make sure to stare at him while you swallow. His eyes are paler than they were this morning. “You ate the free lunch too, didn’t you? Don’t be hypocritical.”

“Just an observation.”

You can’t get a handle on Finn. He participated in the icebreakers with easy answers. He’s a California boy, and this is his first time in New York. His favorite food is lemon sherbet, his favorite book isn’t Catch-22. He’s at Grey & Tender because it was the best place to achieve his goals. He hates heights and still plans on riding the elevator until he becomes something that is no longer capable of being scared. He wants to make partner, you think. He has a beautiful face.

“Come get drinks with me after work,” you say. “Networking.”

Finn laughs. “Is this a come on?”

“I have plans to meet up with some of my NYU friends,” you say, which isn’t a no.

“Alright,” he says, and then puts on his headset to listen to a training session.

You take a sip of your seltzer and turn to your own monitor. The seltzer tastes like green grapes and lemon. The woman on the screen cheerfully explains how to request reality-warping power through the internal access system. Your laptop makes noises that sound disturbingly biological.

You leave together when the day ends. Finn closes his eyes when he enters the elevator, but you watch as the stars below you turn to black as you land in the lobby. You emerge into the haze of Midtown Manhattan.

It’s so loud. You hadn’t realized how quiet the building was until you left.

“Where to?” Finn asks.

You lead him down into the subway, which is grossly damp, as if to remind you that Manhattan is an island. It’s still the fastest way to get Downtown. You catch a glance of your reflections in the window. It’s funny that Finn seems perfectly relaxed here.

And then the door opens, and you wind your way back up into Union Square. Your friends are waiting in a booth at a crowded bar, and they smile to see you.

“First day,” Kit says as she moves to make room for you. “How’d it go?”

“Well enough,” you say. “This is Finn. We share an office.”

“Nice to meet you all,” Finn says, perfectly composed, which is a far contrast from the way you met him. Introductions all around. You all must make a pretty sight, wearing your suits and white shirts, the perfect makeup on the girls’ faces, the clean haircuts on the boys. Playacting at adulthood. You wonder what your friends want out of their summers. Only half of you are at the old firms.

You order drinks. Kit and Roshan describe Hamathes and the elevator that took them down into the earth past rivulets of glowing magma. Perry describes how his office is through a door that appears to lead to a rooftop garden ringed with imported saplings but actually leads to a forest with old-growth oaks overgrown with bioluminescent moss. You tell your friends about the starlight elevator and the nebulae.

“And I’m pretty sure our laptops have something biological inside,” you admit.

“Ours are made of wood that seems to … breathe,” Perry says.

“Damn. We just have MacBooks,” Roshan says, and everyone laughs. Roshan isn’t at one of the old firms.

“You’re not missing much,” Finn says, and everyone who works at the old firms knows that he’s lying.

“Enough about work,” Kit says. “So, you would not believe what my roommate did yesterday—”

You talk about living situations. You play drinking games. Grey & Tender, LLP feels very far away from your endless gin and tonics. You go to a succession of progressively worse drinking establishments in progressively better cheer. Makeup is smudged, collars are loosened. There are no stars here, just slightly grimy wood and tile.

You end up standing in a dollar-slice joint with Finn. He buys two slices and hands you a greasy paper plate without asking. You stand at the counter and eat together. You’re reminded abruptly of intermissions in stage productions when all the lights come on for a brief moment. This feels like an intermission before you have to go back to work in the morning.

“Thanks for inviting me,” Finn says. “So. To be clear. Are we going back to yours, or to mine? Or have I read this wrong, and will I see you in the morning at our desks?”

He smiles when he asks, like it doesn’t matter to him either way. It’s a perfect sell except for the fact that there’s a waver at the end of his question. His hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat. There’s a little dot of pizza grease on his collar that he hasn’t noticed. Finn’s braver than you, to be in a new place alone. You like that about him. That he’s scared, but he’s here anyway.

It’s a bad idea. You’re coworkers. But this doesn’t have to mean anything. You’re leaving at the end of the summer anyway.

“My place,” you say.

The first night turns into the second night turns into the fifth and sixth night turns into the ninth, tenth, and eleventh night, slotted between the days you spend sitting across from him in your glass box office, between assignments, between networking events. And it’s easy because none of it is supposed to last. It’s summer. You’re working for an extradimensional employer. You’re making ridiculous money for your age. You’re allowed to have a fling wedged in between your workdays.

It’s only one of the many things calling for your attention. You make friends with some of the associates. You stop staring at articulated jawbones and pointed fingertips. You begin to understand the job. You do through magic what the new firms do through math, because math and magic are exactly the same thing. That is to say, it becomes almost fun channeling power through keystrokes. You like being good at things.

You meet up with friends in expensive bars, because you’ve all come into too much disposable income. If you saw them regularly, maybe the changes wouldn’t be so noticeable. But you don’t, so the transformation happens in saccades. The eyes and the hair are the first things to go. Kit’s eyes lighten to a clear and sparkling white, like cut gems. Perry’s hair grows wild and tangling. Then the fingertips and the teeth, reminiscent of glossy pebbles, rough thorns. It’ll all soften back into humanity over the school year.

You remember seeing the third-years fresh from their summer programs, how it took months for their faces and hands to melt into something familiar. You remember the tips of your professor’s fingers, the red chitin, the pointed ears and sharp teeth.

You start avoiding mirrors. But there’s no avoiding the way that your fingertips now click against the keyboards. And there’s no avoiding Finn. It started with his eyes, which turned pale and luminescent. Then it was his hands, the same as yours, the tips of his fingers sharpened to points. He has to be careful when touching you now. You have to be careful about touching him.

 The sound of someone moaning through the walls wakes you in Finn’s paper-walled sublet. You groan and pull the covers over your head. Finn laughs sleepily and tugs the sheets down.

“We could drown them out,” he says.

You pull down the covers and reach for him. This is the part of Finn that is easy to understand. Call and response, flesh on flesh. Hunger, satiation, breaking apart and breathing hard while staring at his ceiling. You think maybe this is what they call happiness. Or it’s just the afterglow.

“It’s so much better like this,” Finn says, flopping down beside you, smiling with all his teeth. They’re sharper now. There are dots of chitin along his jaw where the acne scars used to be.

You sit up. “Am I the first time you’ve been with a boy?”

Finn laughs. “No, you’re the first time I’ve been as a boy. Well, with the boy equipment.”


Finn goes to pull up his shirt from where it’s fallen on the floor. “Ask me what my miracle was, Adair.”

You’ve known each other all of two months. You’ve never talked about this. You’ve always imagined that Finn had some noble intention in joining the firm. He has an affect of determination. He throws himself into all his assignments like they matter.

“What’s your miracle?”

Finn pulls his shirt over his head. “Transition. I asked them for top surgery, and they gave me the dick to match. And everyone now remembers me as cisgender.”

You stare at him. You re-evaluate.

He catches your eye and grins. “It’s funny. Not that I’m complaining, but I didn’t even ask for the memory. I only asked for the meat. But I woke up the morning after my interview and all my ID cards looked like this. And my mother called me for the first time since I came out.”

           He pulls on his underwear and pants. “I didn’t pick up.”

“I’m sorry,” you say. You don’t even know what you’re sorry for. You don’t know anything about his family. You didn’t know he was trans.

Finn shrugs. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

It should matter to him, though. He’s not like you; he’s the sort of person that things matter to. You’ve never heard him talk about his family, and you thought it was because you weren’t that sort of close, but now you wonder. You feel off balance. You don’t know what to say to him. He sits back down next to you. You feel very underdressed, all of a sudden. He smiles at you.

“What was your miracle, Adair?”

You feel very naked. You reach for your own shirt. He stops you. Cups your face. He looks curious, not sympathetic. It chills you. You want him to feel something different than what he’s feeling. You remember telling your parents you were bisexual. You were scared. Your father never got over it. You don’t talk to him. It was a hurt you had forgotten about that still stings to prod.

“I don’t know,” you admit. “I didn’t ask for anything. I didn’t want to have a reason to stay. But I’m planning on leaving at the end of the summer. I’m not going to ask for anything.”

“Well, I’ll miss you,” Finn says. His voice is steady. You can’t tell if he’s lying. It used to be easier to tell what he was feeling.

Finn lets go of your face and picks up a bottle of seltzer from the nightstand. It’s the same brand they have at the office. He cracks open the seal and takes a sip before handing you the bottle. You take it from him and drink.

“How have you found the program?” your Partner Mentor says to you, having summoned you to their office on a Friday afternoon. It’s the same Partner who interviewed you at your on-site.

You smile politely. “Fairly good.”

Meaning that the work gets easier every day. You’ve grown used to the way the power feels when you request it through the intranet system. You understand when the senior associates explain how to infuse language with longing, with compulsion, with creation. Calling the power used to give you nosebleeds. Now you don’t even get a headache.

“Good. And how’s your class doing?”

“Everyone’s integrating nicely, making friends and all.”

Meaning that your officemate is still going home with you most nights. Meaning that sometimes Finn forgets to be careful with his claws now. Meaning that he scares you sometimes, with the way he smiles like everything is easy. His eyes are so pale. He’s lost the hesitance that you remember. He’s kept the determination. You think that if you met now, he would be the one inviting you for drinks before you could offer.

“You like the job?” the Partner says, blunt.

“I think—” The words die on your tongue. “I don’t know.”

The Partner laughs and leans forward, like they’re telling you a secret. “I hated it when I started,” they say. “I hated it all right up until I made Partner, and then it didn’t matter anymore.”

“Are you still yourself?” Morbid fascination pushes the words out of your mouth before the impoliteness registers. “I’m sorry. That was rude.”

“What I like about you, Adair, is that you ask honest questions. The geas compels truth, but a question is not necessarily a lie—a question is an interrogative. But your queries are always very illuminating. It’s an interesting character trait. To answer your question: yes and no. I am the part of me that exists in continuity with the me that existed before the firm, before partnership. I remember everything. It has simply ceased to matter. So, in that sense, I’m a different person than I could have been, in that a small part of a larger whole identifies with the larger whole before it identifies with itself. Does that answer your question?”

“To an extent.”

The Partner nods. “Will you be staying with us, then?

“N—” You stutter. You thought your leaving was a truth. You thought you would leave. You want to leave. But it seems that you don’t completely believe you will. A truth you didn’t know. An open question.

“I don’t know,” you say instead, and it’s a relief that the words manage to cross the threshold of your lips.

“We like you, Adair,” the Partner says. The change in pronoun doesn’t escape you. “You’ve taken to the work swimmingly. How can we convince you to stay?”

The image of Finn pops into your head: human and pretty and imperfect. The sight of him in the pizza joint, the grease on his collar, the sweat plastering his hair to his forehead. The awkward tilt to his smile that you haven’t seen in weeks.

The Partner tilts their head a little. Starlight gleams off their carapace. You don’t think they can read minds. Someday, it’ll be Finn in this seat.

“There’s nothing I want for myself,” you say hollowly.

 You go to work. You go home. You go back to work. The summer grows long, and August looms large in your mindscape. You watch as Finn’s eyes lighten to the color of the horizon before sunrise. You don’t know what color your own eyes are anymore.

You imagine staying. You imagine working with Finn not for months but for years. You think about watching his body calcify. His body. The new-old body. His miracle in escrow.

 The old firms cherry-pick associates for a specific set of traits. The desperation is an optional prerequisite. The ability to extrapolate and draw together conclusions from disparate pieces of data is a requirement.

“Why did you ask for transition, Finn? There’s no world where that’s not temporary. If you stayed at the firm, eventually you’d turn into … you know? The carapace, and all.”

You’re sitting in your office when you ask. Finn pauses from his typing. He glances over at you with his pale pink eyes. He has a forest of cups around him: break-room coffee, seltzer, a glass of water.

The location was strategic. You want his honesty.

“I know,” Finn says calmly. “But I figured this way I’d have a body that I liked until I made partner, and then it wouldn’t matter. That’s better than never having a body I like, and it always mattering.”

“Aren’t you scared?”

“Not really. I was. But I thought I could live with fear. Fear’s better than sadness, anyway. I was really sad before. And it’s funny, but I don’t really feel anything anymore.” He smiles at you. “I’m not scared of heights anymore, either. Did I tell you? I went to the Empire State Building on Thursday to test it out.”

“That’s gr—” you try to say. It’s not great. Something about that statement makes you very sad.

“Adair, are you alright?” Finn says, frowning.

You try to say yes. You can’t say it.

“Why did you come home with me that first night?” you ask instead.

“I don’t know,” he says thoughtfully. “You kept staring at me. I liked that. I figured you just liked how I looked. I wanted to take my equipment out for a test run. I wasn’t really a hookup person before this summer. You are, though, right?”

“It wasn’t just bodies, Finn,” you say helplessly. You don’t know why he would tell you all of this when he used to be so guarded with his own soft parts. He’s throwing your callousness in your face.

“That’s nice of you to say,” he says.

“Do you like me?” you ask. It’s pathetic. You don’t know what you want out of this conversation.

He leans over to kiss you. That isn’t an answer.

You break away.

“I’ve got a meeting,” you say, and walk out of the room before Finn can say anything. A slantwise omission, not a lie. Your meeting isn’t for twenty minutes, timed for when the firm is delivering the full-time offers. The Partner had asked you to come receive yours in person.

 Their power is how they turn you into one of them. You can go in with your red heart and good intentions, you can go in with your swords and sacrifice, and eventually you are the thing sitting across the table, smiling with your white teeth, comfortable in your chitin.

You still walk into the room with the Partner and sit down at the table.

“You’re early, Adair. Something on your mind?”

“Was Finn a test? A game? Did you know that I would care, that he and I—” You stop talking. They can’t read minds.

“What on earth are you talking about?” the Partner asks.

“Did you put Finn and me in an office together because you knew that I would end up caring about him?” you say, each word precise and methodological.

“How on earth could we have predicted that?”

You don’t answer. Outside, the nebulae drift.

“We had guessed,” the Partner says. “We had hoped. We extrapolated.”

The caring hadn’t been supernatural, then. You had hoped it was. If it was the firm’s doing, then you wouldn’t have to care about Finn anymore. You could brush it off and cry manipulation. But it was your own stupid heart, in the end.

“You wanted a string on me.”

“Yes. Did it work?”

The Partner’s flat and articulated face is impossible to read. A question is an interrogative that can reveal as much as a truth. They care that you’re caught. They want you more than Finn, you realize. He was bait.

“I’m not going to answer that,” you say. That’s an answer. The Partner smiles.

“We have been authorized to offer you a specialized bargain,” they say, and their voice echoes with a second reverberation. As if there is a crowd in the room. “You’ll sign the full-time associate offer. And in return, we’ll let Finn leave with his meat and memory intact. He’ll have the permanent benefit of his transition, the escrow transferred to your actions rather than his. You stay, he goes.”

The Partner slides a paper across the table with their delicate claws. “Everyone else is receiving the boilerplate, but we thought you deserved a little special attention. You don’t have to sign now. It’ll be retroactive and cancel his contract out. But consider it.”

They hire you for a reason. The desperation is optional. The extrapolative abilities are not. A follows B follows C. If Adair cares for his officemate, then the firm will have something to bargain with. If Adair cares for his officemate, then he will have a reason to stay. If Grey & Tender, LLP wants Adair more than Finn, then Grey & Tender, LLP might allow Adair to bargain for Finn’s miracle instead of anything of his own.

It would be a fair bargain. Everything in this office is a trap.

You imagine this future. You imagine nodding now and signing on the dotted line. You imagine going to work. You imagine an empty glass-walled office. You imagine finding satisfaction in the fact that Finn is out there, with the body he traded his life for, with the twist to his smile that he’s lost. You imagine eventually forgetting to care for him. You imagine the pleasure of the work. You imagine none of your hurts mattering. You imagine the chitin growing up your hands. You imagine partnership.

You understand the appeal. You didn’t have a red heart or good intentions. You didn’t have a sword or sacrifice. You could have done anything, then.

You stand. The Partner cocks their head.

“The funny thing is, if you hadn’t tried this, you probably could have convinced me,” you say, and walk out of their office.

 You run down the hallway back to your office. You don’t know whether they’ve already sent out the offer letters for full-time employment, whether you’re going to be too late and Finn will look up and tell you that he’s already accepted. Your office is so far away. Further than you remember. You catch yourself on the doorframe, stagger in, and brace yourself on your desk, gasping for breath. Stars and galaxies in the corner of your vision. You don’t know how long you’ve been running.

Finn looks up from his monitor. “Oh, you’re back. How’d it go?”

“They offered me a bargain,” you say between breaths. “I stay, you go, you get to keep your miracle. Would you come back for me?”

“No,” he says easily. The answer you expected.

“Would you have, two months ago? On the first day we met. Or if we had met before. No, don’t just say the first thing you think. Really think about it.”

He’s silent for a moment. He frowns.

“I would have,” he says, like it’s a surprise. Like he’s forgotten that he used to care.

Their power is how they make you one of them. You stay long enough, and the firm begins to change you. The transformation is in inches and made permanent through exposure. The transformation fades if you are removed from the firm.

“Here’s what would have happened,” you say. “I would have taken your miracle in escrow. I don’t want anything, and I don’t love you yet, but I think I could, and there is something in me that wants you to live. And then you would have left, and you would have begun to care again, and you would have come back for me. And they would have offered you something new. Something for me. And then they’d have both of us again, forever, rather than just you. It’s a trap. Please tell me you haven’t signed anything yet.”

“I was just about to.” Finn gestures at his screen. There’s the paperwork that you saw in the Partner’s office. His cursor is hovering over the signature block.

You don’t have answers, or precognition, or any sort of assurance. You can’t promise anything to Finn. You can’t give him a future he wants, or a future where he doesn’t care, and you are selfish at your core, because this is more about you than him. It is about how you wish you had met Finn in any other setting, it’s about how you understand him less with every passing day, but there was something in your first meeting that made you stare. It’s about how you want him to exist whole and alone and in himself. It’s about how you’re not going to be the sword and sacrifice. All you’ve got is your red heart and good intentions.

“Don’t sign it,” you say. “Leave with me. I’m sorry I treated you like you were temporary. I’m sorry about your mom. I’m sorry about whatever in your life makes this seem like a better option. I promise there are better things we could be on the other end of the elevator. I want to leave. I want you to leave with me. Please.”

He stares at you with his pale and luminescent eyes.

“I think that’s the most you’ve ever talked about your own feelings,” he says.

“I will personally create the GoFundMe for your top surgery,” you say, desperate.

He’s quiet for a moment. And then he cracks up. Laughter louder than you’ve ever heard anything in the office before, leaving him hunched over the desk and trying to catch his breath.

Your heart sinks. He thinks you’re a joke. He’s going to refuse. You know he’s going to refuse. Anything you can offer him is a pale imitation of what the firm can give.

He looks up. His eyes look a fractional shade darker now. “Well, with an offer like that.”

Before you can say anything in response, he’s closing his laptop and pulling you by the elbow down the hall.

“Now?” you say, and then immediately regret it. You don’t want to give him a reason to turn back.

“Either we leave now, or I’ll change my mind again,” he says.

You get in the elevator together. Nothing tries to stop you. The clear doors close and shoot you back down. Every stream of light passing by is a relief. You glance at Finn surreptitiously. Behind him, your reflection on the glass looks pale and pointed and there’s a tightness to your face that didn’t exist there before. Neither of you have gotten out unscathed. And there’s no chance that Grey & Tender, LLP will be giving you any sort of recommendation for your next job. Your resume is in shambles, maybe. You wasted your summer. You have a crush on your ex-officemate, current hookup, potential boyfriend. You might have just thrown away your entire career for him. You might have convinced him to throw away his own career as well. You break the silence staring down at the glass beneath you, the galaxies below.

“I’ve never done anything so impulsive before,” you say. “Why did you say yes?”

Finn hums. “I’ll tell you later. When we’re both different again.”

“I think this is permanent for me,” you admit. “The caring, I mean. It scares the shit out of me. I’m fucking terrified.”

Finn laughs. You look back up at him, scowling. He’s smiling. He’s shorter than he was three minutes ago, and his suit fits differently.

“Sorry, this is just funny,” he says. “We’re in the elevator, and you’re the one who’s scared. Here, I’ll distract you.”            

Finn leans up and kisses you. You let him.

  • Isabel J Kim

    Isabel J. Kim is a Korean-American speculative fiction writer based in New York City. She is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and her short fiction has been published in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among others. When she’s not writing, she’s either practicing law or co-hosting her internet culture podcast Wow if True—both equally noble pursuits. Find her at or @isabeljkim on Twitter.

Subscribe For Latest Updates

Be the first to learn about our new releases, open calls, and many activities.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.


Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

But wait, there's more to read!

the cover of apex magazine featuring an image of an egyptian god.
Short Fiction
Chisom Umeh


Ncheta does his best to help the man remember. He tries to connect the dots, pull strings of memories together, mend the broken web of

Read More »
a painting of a girl sitting in a forest.
Support Apex Magazine on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!

Apex Magazine Ko-fi

$4 funds 50 words of Apex Magazine fiction!