Heathens in Masks

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The noise of her phone on wood, so hard against the desk that she garnered a stare from just the man she was trying to avoid. She cursed mentally for not acting faster. She was new here- a few months in, but still new- and somehow her boss had an extrasensory instinct on when to walk by her desk: every time she was looking at her phone. Clicking through today’s reports on the old Windows, she wondered what he must be thinking.

Fuckit, she said mentally, and went back on Spotify to queue up a podcast. Yet again, the bearded man turned around and walked past her. Yet again, casting a subtle but definite glance towards her. Yet again, her face flushed, but she didn’t try to hide the phone this time- she’d seen other people do it, why not her? It wasn’t a busy day and she had nothing to hide. Maybe he’d even ask what she’s listening to.

Her boss’s nickname was the Mountain Man. He didn’t fit in in this sterilized office, rows of cubicles and cute nicknames for coworkers you wouldn’t have one drink with in real life. He didn’t fit in to his button down shirts, into his role here. He played it well, but she saw it for what it was- a role. And all roles are masks, archetypes, characters, games we play for society so we can be free on our own.

Mountain Man had an impressive beard, physique, and indeterminable age; he was at least 26, but not over 34. At 20, she had a precise ability to gage men in her sweet spot range.

A few hours later, he walked past her again. But this time, he came up to her desk with something to say. Her eyes turned into saucers for a quick moment and she yanked her earphones out with almost too much force. “Hey,” he said calmly, as if his presence hadn’t turned her into a little girl lusting after her 10th grade, scrawny but tatted history teacher.

“Would you just make sure to note the times you spend on your reports, for your work breakdown?” He stared at her with unwavering eye contact.

“Sure.” She let the word out with a higher pitched intonation than she liked.

“Thanks,” he said, and left her alone again.

What the fuck was her problem? She was confident. She wasn’t scared of shit. She definitely didn’t talk that high pitched, ever. Keep it fucking cool next time, or else, she threatened herself mentally.

The weekend passed. A couple hours into Monday morning, was in a bouncy mood, listening to her mix of old rock and roll and D12, wearing a black minidress with her traditional knee high Doc Martens. She was following dress code, and she was even wearing a cardigan. A fucking cardigan, she thought to herself, trying not to sing along to the end of “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.”

Fuck. Right as she looked down to maybe pick another album, her boss was starting to walk by her desk- she kept her face turned away, playing cool, doing her job- but he didn’t pass her. This time he stopped at her desk. Remembering last week’s embarrassment, she pulled her earphones out more slowly this time, calling out the cool, collected bitch woman that men typically saw her as. Reminding herself that he had a simple question and she had a simple answer. Data. Codes to be approved, emails to write.

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