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Beep beep beep!

Lir’s cheeks pinked as the tiny machine announced to everyone between the register and aisle 14 that he didn’t have enough money to pay for these groceries. Why did the agonizing sound of his card declining have to be so loud? Keeping his eyes down, he fumbled through the assembled items and sighed as the purchases that were least cost-effective were all fresh produce...again. At least canned vegetables were cheap so Lir wasn’t completely wasted away. On the other hand, he was pretty sure his blood was saltier than the Dead Sea at this point. There was only so much he could scrimp on though - celiac disease was unforgiving in the rules with which it dictated his pantry. What was his other choice, die?

The cashier at least looked sympathetically at him as they removed the items he indicated. It hadn’t been the first time this had happened, or even the first time with this particular cashier. This time, the card reader was blissfully silent as it sucked out his money; however, this was not accounting for Lir’s internal screaming.

Once he was safely ensconced in his car, he allowed himself the luxury of letting his frustrations find sound for exactly three seconds before dialing in a well-practiced number.

A low, bright voice responded, “Hello, you have reached Silton Temp Agency. How may I help you?”

“Hey there Coral, please tell me you have good news?” Lir was not ashamed to beg, not when he was on his last few dollars with no hope in sight. Also, he knew Coral from the local LGBT cafe’s monthly meetings, so it wasn’t as if he was throwing himself on the mercy of a stranger.

He could almost hear Coral biting her lip as she tried to let him down easy “Oh, Mr. Merriden, you know how busy it gets around here and we have lots of askers but not enough offers…”

Lir cut across the familiar dialogue. “Coral, you can be honest with me. Has the agency even been looking? You and I both know that it was a colossal mistake for me to disclose my gender identity truthfully on my application to Silton.” He had known it at the time too, but he had been so full of trans pride, being three years on HRT and having gotten top surgery recently. At the time, Lir had thought it was only going to be a minor slump, and he would just apply to the temp agency, get back on his feet, and life would pick back up.

Instead he had been stuck in this existence of barely getting by month to month for the past ten months. His savings were strained and his budget carefully stripped to fewer necessities than he had thought were possible. Thankfully, Lir was still on his parents’ health insurance so he could get his hormones and the medical care he needed for celiac.

“Look, Lir. I’m telling you this as a friend, okay?” Coral’s voice got even lower, as though she were afraid of being overheard by her coworkers. There was a pause; he could picture her glancing around uneasily before continuing. “There’s a new temp agency in the area that I definitely shouldn’t be recommending to you because it’s our competition, but maybe you could start fresh with them. It’s called Magic Staffing Agency.”

“That’s… that’s a terrible name.”

“I know,” Coral said with obvious annoyance, as though she were personally offended by the fact that an agency with such a name could even be considered competition against her own agency. Lir didn’t point out that “Silton” wasn’t exactly the most charming name. It was an awful lot like naming something “Dirtson” or “Soilton.” But he didn’t want to offend the presumed founder of the agency by saying so out loud. Coral pressed on, a note of urgency in her voice. “But this could be your chance. Just be careful about what you tell them this time, okay?” She sounded like she hated herself for saying it, but he knew she was just trying to look after him, and he appreciated it even if it left a twisted feeling in his stomach.

“Thanks, Coral,” Lir said with a sigh. “I’ll see you at the cafe next week, yeah?”

“Definitely,” Coral said, the relief in her voice obvious. “Take care, Lir.”

He hung up and rested his head against the steering wheel for a moment. He’d perfected the art of leaning his forehead on the upper arc of the wheel without accidentally banging his head on the horn (it had only taken about three incidents of terrifying himself and every other living creature within a half mile radius to learn to avoid doing that).

A new temp agency. Or rather, a staffing agency - and in spite of the terrible name, it might offer even better opportunities, since staffing agencies offered long-term, full-time job matches in addition to just temporary ones. But at this point, Lir wasn’t feeling particularly choosy about what kind of job might get dropped in his lap.