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The Buttering Up

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“If I remember correctly,” Raymond Holt said, “you love gerbera daisies.”

He handed over a trayful of seed plants after Kevin finished mopping his own brow. Cheddar sat at his feet, happily basking in the hot summer sunlight. It was high noon, the middle of summer, and they were both exhausted from a long day of gardening. A long day, Kevin knew, that was about to lead into a very long dinner party with his English department colleagues. “An excellent choice,” he said. “By next summer these will knock Emily off her feet and right onto her influence-distributing, status-seeking behind.”

“Is she still a thorn in your side?” Ray asked. He patted another shovelful of dirt down over the tulip bulbs near the daisy sproutlings; they would bloom in the fall, after the daisy’s ignominious deaths.

“She told me that Homer was a talentless boob. We exchanged words.” Kevin ground his teeth together, glad that it hadn’t turned into a physical fight of some sort.

“Oh my,” Holt said. “Should I try to keep her cordoned to one side of the room?”

“There’s no need for that,” decided Kevin. “If you see me going off the rails at all, please just politely redirect the conversation. The woman’s a social tank, she’s new and she has more friends in the department than I do after ten years of work.”

“Understood,” he said.

“If we’re going to work together we’ll have to learn to get along eventually. I’m going to have to let her live with her unfortunate quirks…and foolish opinions.” He sighed. “There.” He pulled off his gloves with a flourish. “We should walk Cheddar before we shower.”

“As in tandem?” asked Ray. “How delightful. And…naughty.”

The words came out in a beloved, flat monotone, and Kevin couldn’t help but smile.

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The dinner was a typical faculty affair. Kevin had purchased half of the meal from his favorite Greek restaurant and picked an impeccably crisp bottle of wine and served it all up with a laugh and a smile. The food disappeared, and Raymond kept his questions to polite bursts of interested chatter over intellectual questions. It seemed to be shaping up to be a splendid evening altogether.

Then he heard Emily’s voice. That irritating, trilling, high-pitched voice.

“…Well, I still think the anti-Stradfordian school of thought has some merit to it.”

Of couse she’d think that someone else wrote Shakespere’s works. Of course.

“Oh?” he asked, his smile turning stiff. “What makes you think they have…merit?” he asked.

“Well, doesn’t it make sense?” she said. “A talented, highly-educated man with the ear of the queen and the education to pull it off. Who’s to say Marlowe didn’t really write those pieces?”

And of course she presumed Marlowe had birthed it instead. “Oh, perhaps because there’s rock-solid proof that Shakespeare existed and there was no reason for anyone to lie about the authorship of the stories.”

“Perhaps,” Ray cut in, “Kevin would like to tell you about the time we saw Romeo and Juliet performed underwater.”

“Ah yes, in the old aquarium before it was demolished. Fine play, though I understand their Mercuito ended up with double pneumonia…”

“Of course you would enjoy Romeo and Juliet.” Emily’s tone of voice suggested that she found the play hopelessly pedestrian.

“I stand by the notion that most sentient, breathing human beings enjoy Romeo and Juliet. It’s a universal theatre going experience, like enjoying West Side Story or bribing your way to the front of the line during the student rush lottery.”

“My tickets were paid for by my parents. THEY,” she said, “were legacy. Not that I didn’t have to scuffle and lie my way to the top of the heap like certain ragamuffins.”

“Bun, Emily?” Raymond asked suddenly.

“No, they’re a bit starchy,” she said.

“I insist,” Raymond continued, picking up the basket and holding it under her nose. “They’re made from the finest butter and the finest ingredients man has to offer. My husband slaved for hours in the kitchen just to bake them to perfect, brown life. So therefore I must insist. That you eat. My husband’s. Buns.”

“Poor choice of words,” he muttered, but he could not be more grateful for his husband at that very moment.

Emily eyed the basket of rolls as if they were a nest of tumbling, hissing, coiled snakes. But she plucked one out, then ate it experimentally. “They’re not bad. A lot of butter.”

“You could use the calories,” Ray said.

Emily smiled. “I like this one, Kevin. You should keep him.”

“He’s my husband, not a vase,” Kevin replied shortly.

She shrugged, said nothing else. The conversation was steered toward music and art, two subjects Kevin loved and could give proper space for the rest of the group to discuss. He and Ray retreated to the kitchen to fetch a Charlotte Russe from the kitchen and then they both heard it – the sound of Emily complaining from the kitchen about his talents, or perceived lack threof.

“It’s AMBITION he doesn’t have,” she said. “If he cared enough to be ambitious about his work then he would already have a fully secured position with us. A man like him ought to apply himself to cultivating the channels of communication he has and not…”

“…Spend hundreds of dollars trying to please my colleagues by throwing this party? I happen to care deeply about my work,” said Kevin from the doorway. “But I can see that you care more for gossip than cold, hard facts.”

And then, beside him, was his husband. “I must request that you leave OUR home immediately. There are many things I’m willing to tolerate from our guests, but rudeness in all forms is not one of them.”

He felt Holt’s hand fill his. “Do as my husband requests.”

Emily, red-faced, muttered something about the board hearing about this. Kevin doubted she’d report him – wouldn’t put it past her yet believed she’d be vicious enough to do it. Aggravated, he all but threw her out.

Later, in bed, he and Ray discussed what they’d done. “If they fire you you’ll find as good a position somewhere else. A man wonderful as you happen to be shouldn’t be stifled by the slings and arrows of misfortune.”

Holt was just as wonderful, but Kevin deigned to show him how he felt with his body instead of the language he always employed so thoroughly for a living.

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Emily was the one who ended up being fired. There was an incident with a wig and one of the college’s biggest benefactors, but that was a story for another time.