Today we revisit an old theme, one I explored here before, but with a slightly different cast, and somewhat different issues. Why go back to it? Because for some reason the things people think about women never really do get much different, do they? They just go more underground. So women sometimes feel the need to go underground, too.
Whitney stood out in a crowd, and she knew it. At six foot three, people noticed her. No matter how she tried to hide, everyone saw her. Scrunching down only made her height more obvious. Today, though, no one looked her way. She moved into the lobby with a confident swing in her step, hands hanging at her sides, without a single whistle or wow, look at that woman escaping anyone’s lips.
She tugged at the tie and adjusted the knot. She had just learned how to tie this yesterday, and wasn’t convinced she had done it right. No one was pointing and laughing, so at least it was passable enough. In fact, no one seemed to notice she was there. Such a relief after all these years, not being the center of attention. In a man’s suit, with her long hair sliced into a close cut, she was just another face in the crowd.
The elevator slid open and vomited up three men dressed much like her. She checked their ties and compared it to hers; she couldn’t see any difference, and she relaxed. This was going to work. She entered the elevator, forgetting to check for unaccompanied men. She felt safe for the first time in her life, safe from the grabbing hands of men who seemed to need to grab a feel of the tall woman’s ass, chest, or whatever else they could reach. “Just checking”, they’d say with a grin when she glared at them. “Not sure you were really a woman.”
The door opened again on her floor. She hesitated, still unsure she could pull this off. She had applied for a job three times at this company. Would they recognize her? Even in her disguise, she was still herself, and her personality might shine through. She might make some turn of phrase she wasn’t aware of using, and alert them to her deception. She straightened her shoulders, brushed an imaginary crumb off her jacket, and stepped into the office, slipping into the masculine walk with the ease of practice.
The outer offices were filled with women, the same women she had seen on every other interview trip, the women who stared at her and giggled. Now they kept their heads to their work, not noticing the tall man who just entered the office…except one young woman at the end who stared at her as though trying to memorize her face. She might need to keep an eye on that one.
The man behind the desk…Mr. Powell…stood and extended his hand. She waited for him to introduce himself before she spoke, not wanting to give away that she knew who he was. This was supposed to be her first time interviewing here, and too much familiarity could give up the game. She settled into the chair he indicated and crossed her legs, making sure to adopt the wider stance so common to the males she knew. Nice of Edwin to spend so much time working with her.
Mr. Powell was warm and welcoming, and she almost jumped with surprise. None of the hard, glaring, just doing my job here folks manner he’d adopted in the past. He didn’t frown as he looked through her file, he didn’t poke his finger at small things that seemed “off” to him, as he put it, he didn’t look up and ask her endless questions about each achievement. He nodded approval, and closed the file.
“This is one of the best résumés I’ve seen in a long time.” He smiled at her, and his smile was the sort that invited her to smile back. “I’ve been waiting all my life for someone with these qualifications.”
Whitney didn’t point out to him that he had several opportunities at someone with exactly those qualifications…same school, same degrees, same job experience…and he hadn’t been impressed. She congratulated herself for remembering to get a name change done at all her schools and all her jobs before she submitted the application. He didn’t seem to recognize the profile, and another worry evaporated. Perhaps he didn’t bother to remember the credentials of the women who wandered through his office thinking they might have a chance at some job other than the typing and data input jobs being done by the women in the outer room, qualified women who were never good enough.
The interview was longer than any she’d had with Powell before, and when it was done, he invited her to join him for coffee. This was going well. Over coffee in the little shop in the basement, he made the offer. The terms were great, better than the job posting had suggested, and certainly better than the meager salary and benefits they had written and thrust at her the last times she interviewed. She was about to get the job of her dreams. All she had to do was say yes…that, and never come to work as a woman.
Edwin was waiting when she got home. The look on her face told him before she had a chance to fall into his arms for a happy dance. This would solve all their financial problems. She would finally be making enough to pay off her student loans, and get them off food stamps. She wasn’t ready to cut up the food stamp card just yet, though. She still had to maintain the image for longer than an interview and a chat over coffee. She had to maintain her status as a man for…possibly the rest of her working career.
She frowned. That wasn’t what she’d wanted when she went to school. Now anything she accomplished, even what she had done at school, would be put down as just another man doing important, worthwhile things. She wanted to work as a woman, to show that her sex didn’t impair her brain at all, and she also wanted people to understand that her height did not make her less of a woman. She could play the feminine game, and in college had done the whole make up and heels bit, wearing dresses and jewelry to emphasize her feminine side. It hadn’t worked. Her height still rendered her suspicious to everyone, male and female alike…except Edwin.
She shot an affectionate look at her life partner. It didn’t bother him to be coupled with a woman who was even taller than most of his male friends who looked down on him at a mere five foot five. He didn’t mind being short, and he had helped her learn not to mind being tall. He would dance with her, and even encouraged her to lead because it was easier that way. He never mocked her or called her names, just accepted that she was who she was, and it didn’t matter. Tall women? Short men? Pooh, he had said the first day they met. So what? People, that’s what mattered. Heart. Brain. Sense of joy and sense of humor. Well, she had all those, and they had clicked.
She thought she’d die the night she got the call. Did she know Edwin Masters? Yes, he was her partner. He’d been in an accident. He might not live. She rushed to his side, across the country, and nursed him back to health. He would never be quite what he had been. He was still intelligent and witty, but the brain damage had left him unable to concentrate and remember things for long enough to continue in the job that had sent him to the site where he was injured…attacked by a brute of a man who seemed to dislike short men. The company, to avoid paying him a pension, kept him on the payroll in a reduced capacity, at a reduced salary, and it had been difficult for them. She lost her job while she was away, and they’d been struggling ever since. But they were together, and that mattered to her, to him.
It was Edwin’s idea for her to change her name, to change her look, and apply once again for some of the jobs she had not gotten in the past. It had worked beautifully. She had gotten six call backs from companies that treated her like a human being, a skilled human being, not an intrusion on their busy day that they had to deal with because, well, federal regulations, of course. She had already received two job offers, but the one today was the best…and it was a job doing the things she wanted to do the most. Here she would be working in her chosen field, engineering, not in a closely related but different field. The salary was better, the benefits were better, and the opportunities were much better. She hadn’t hesitated a moment.
When Whitney reported to work the first day, doors opened and people scurried out. Everyone greeted her as Will, her chosen name, close enough to her name that she would respond easily, but different enough to change their attitude. At first she had protested when Edwin suggested the name change. Whitney can be either sex, she said. Edwin agreed. He thought she needed a name that was much more unambiguous if she was going to carry this off. So she agreed. Will reported for work; Will wore dark suits and red ties; Will cut his hair short and was clean shaven; Will polished his shoes every morning before heading for the bus. Whitney went home every night to Edwin.
Will slipped into the job with ease. The work was challenging, which made it interesting, and the co-workers were welcoming. Whitney winced when she watched the men pinch the ‘girls’ in the office, ordering them to make coffee, order lunch, and, oh, spread your legs just like that, will you sweetie? She almost slugged Jeff one day as Annie left the room in tears after his merciless ‘teasing’, as he liked to call it. She stopped just in time, knowing her anger and retribution would make no difference to the women, because they would quickly discover her secret. It needed to come from another man, and if she said the wrong thing at the wrong time, they would realize she was not a man. They would dismiss anything she said as ‘hysteria’ and ‘just woman thinking’. She knew they would, because that was what they always said about complaints.
Life moved smoothly for some time, and before she realized what had happened, Edwin was bringing her a two-year anniversary pancake in bed one morning. She blew out the candles with a laugh and tickled him until he dropped into bed with her. Saturday morning, they didn’t have to go to work, so they could indulge in a little early morning love making. They were in full swing when the doorbell rang. Whitney pulled her robe around her nakedness and looked out the window. It was someone from the office. What were they doing here? And on a Saturday morning.
Edwin grabbed his robe and raced for the door. It wouldn’t do to have Whitney answer. Too late, they realized what assumptions would be made when Edwin answered. Jeff shifted on the porch, uncomfortable with this new information, unable to speak as Edwin asked him if he could help him. Jeff nodded, but didn’t say anything. He shifted from foot to foot and coughed. Edwin stuck out his had and introduced himself. “You must be here for Will? I’m his brother…just a minute, and I’ll get him.”
Whitney had finished binding her breasts and donning a sweat suit with a sports logo. It was her favorite team, but a woman liking hockey wasn’t something the men in the office would comprehend, so she was probably safe. Edwin bounced up the stairs and told her he was her brother now. Whitney nodded, and kissed him before she headed downstairs, feeling guilty that she had to deny the only man she had ever loved, or that had loved her.
Jeff seemed relieved when Will entered the room. He was perched on the edge of the sofa and settled back as the familiar drove away the weird. “Was that really your brother?” Whitney acknowledged that he was. “Is he, like, retarded, or something? He’s kind of…weird looking.”
It wasn’t the first time Whitney wanted to hit Jeff, and it wasn’t the first time she refrained. “He had an accident. He’s perfectly normal, but his face…he had some nerve damage. He has some memory problems, too, so if he doesn’t remember your name, don’t let it bother you.”
“It’s…nice…that you take care of him.” Jeff lost interest in Edwin, to Whitney’s relief. She didn’t like this charade at all. “Hey, I’m sorry to come over on Saturday, but we had an emergency come up on that project. It looks like you’re the only one who knows the right thing to do to fix the problem, so if you don’t mind…”
Whitney nodded. “Just give me a couple of minutes to get dressed.”
“You can come in that. It doesn’t matter. We aren’t seeing any clients or anything, just some computer fixes. I like the Penguins, too. Maybe we could catch a game someday…just as friends, I mean.” Jeff was determined that Will not misunderstand his intent, as he had misunderstood the presence of Will’s brother. Jeff was one of the most macho of the men in the office.
“Yeah, sure. Hey, I’ll take my car, because I have some errands to do later. I’ll be right behind you.” Whitney decided she didn’t want to ride in the car across town with this man. She spent way too much time in his company as it was.
“Sure. Okay. See you at the office.” Jeff managed a smile and a wave at Edwin, who had entered just in time to hear the last of the conversation. He was out the door in a flash, apparently uncomfortable in the presence of a man with a facial tic.
Whitney kissed Edwin and explained about the crisis. Edwin followed her to the door; he was thrilled that someone was finally recognizing the worth of the woman he loved. He had known all along that someday, someone would understand how unique she was, and how talented.
“Yeah, but only because they think I’m a man”, Whitney whispered as she bent for one final kiss before she headed out the door.
The office was buzzing when she got there; although they were not going to see any clients this morning, they were going to see everyone else. The situation that arose in the project over night had brought all of them out of their beds, their wives beds, their girlfriends beds, ready to be on hand when their talents were needed. They were all huddled over the computer, but moved aside as Will approached. This was the man they had all been waiting for. He had skills and knowledge that went beyond the rest of them, and they scrambled to be the first to move out of his way.
Whitney bent over the computer console, and fiddled with the mouse. She touched the screen and highlighted the problem area of the project. She stared at the settings, adjusted a few settings, and shook her head. This was going to take a few minutes, at least, she said, maybe all day. It was a complicated mess. Something had gotten fouled up deep inside the blueprint, and she would have to work step by step from the outside in to find out where the error occurred.
She was so engrossed in her work that she didn’t hear the gasp of horror from the crowd of men that surrounded her. She didn’t sense them backing away, nor did she have any idea something was wrong until she felt the warm wetness down her leg, the familiar feeling that told her she had just started her period. The men behind her were gaping at her bottom, protruding in the air as she leaned over the computer, over Jeff’s shoulder, and her secret was out. She wouldn’t be able to hide behind Will any more.
Mr. Powell was less friendly on Monday morning when she was sitting in his office, watching him go through the file that had so impressed him two years ago. He was again frowning, poking his finger at little things he saw, or thought he saw, and quizzing her about every line, every dotted i, every crossed t. He shook his head in sorrow and dismay.
“Who are you, really?”
“So who is Will Meadows?”
“No, really. Who did you steal these credentials from? Is he your brother? Your lover? Some dead guy you found in the newspaper?”
“I assure you, these are my credentials.” Whitney glared back at him.
Powell frowned again and turned several papers over in his hands. “If these are really your credentials…they are good ones, I’ll admit…why didn’t you come in as yourself? Why did you lie about your name, your…sex?”
Whitney moved toward his filing cabinets, ignoring his shouted calls for her to stop, sit down, don’t. She yanked open the drawer holding the files from A to D, and found the file…Whitney Croft. She threw it on his desk, her three previous applications spilling out on his desk.
“There. I did apply as myself…three times. The same credentials. The same school. The same jobs. The same everything. You told me my credentials were inadequate, that you were looking for someone with more…the first time you said experience. The second time you said older. The third time you just said more and stopped. What you really meant was more between the legs. Because the moment I appeared as a man, you told me you’d been waiting for a long time for someone with those credentials. You had no idea you had seen that someone several times over.”
“You realize, don’t you Ms. Croft…we can’t condone such behavior? Lying to personnel is a firing offense, and we can’t let this go. We’ll have to put you on suspension pending investigation, but I don’t think….”
The outer door opened before Powell could finish his sentence. Jeff stuck his head in the door. “May I come in?”
“Now?” Powell growled, but he didn’t intimidate Jeff. “I guess…if you must. What the hell is it now?”
Jeff shuffled; he was clearly nervous, a first in Whitney’s experience. “Look, I know, it’s sort of…weird…you know, having a guy turn out to be a…girl…but…well…”
“Spit it out, and get the hell out of here. I’ve got work to do.” Powell wasn’t interested in messing around.
“She did save the project. None of us had the right background to go into that program and pick it apart piece by piece. If she hadn’t done what she did…we’d all be in the unemployment line by tomorrow…and maybe up for murder when that bridge failed.”
“So? What are you saying, I shouldn’t fire her?”
Jeff nodded. “I know, it’ll be weird, but, well, it’s not like she’s not used to us, our guy ways, our guy things, and all that. She’ll do, at least until we can get someone else…but I wouldn’t expect that to happen soon. I don’t know many people who can match what she knows.”
Powell glared, and was ready to shout when the door behind Jeff opened and the entire team entered. Eight men stood behind him, arms crossed, legs slightly apart, ready to back up Jeff…and Whitney. Powell huffed and puffed a couple more times, then nodded.
“Okay. But…the deception cannot go unpunished. You’re demoted back to associate engineer.” Powell slammed the file in the desk and slammed the door. “Now get out of here, all of you.”
Jeff linked his arm in Whitney’s as they headed out the door. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to let him get rid of you. We couldn’t have managed without you.” He goosed Annie as he passed, then laughed at the look on Whitney’s face. “Okay, I get it. But don’t expect me to learn to behave overnight, okay?”
Whitney nodded. “I’ll keep an eye on you. Oh, and I thought you should know…Edwin isn’t really my brother.”
“Do you really like the Penguins?”
“They’re my favorite team!”
Jeff put up his fist, and Whitney bumped hers against it. This was going to be a good job after all.