15: “I would be an ugly woman as well”

Bill was having a hell of a time at work. Since the incident in the back of the town car with Marlena, he’d felt very uncomfortable around her and he couldn’t figure out what to do about it. He didn’t feel like he could say anything to her about it because she was his boss and generally not well-known for her sympathy and compassion. But he also didn’t want her to do it again. It didn’t seem right that he should just have to grin and bear it, like some terrible inner thigh-groping cross.

“Christ, is this what it’s like to be a woman?” Bill asked Ward and Bear one day at the office. He was distressed because Marlena had come by just a few minutes before looking for him. Bill had fully hidden from her underneath his desk. Fortunately, she hadn’t come around the cubicle partition or she would’ve seen him kneeling underneath his desk like a nutcase and he didn’t think he’d be able to explain that one.

“You’d make a lovely woman,” Bear told him mildly, which was not at all the response he’d been looking for, but ultimately nice to hear.

“If he looked the way he looks now, only as a woman, he would be hideous,” Ward told Bear, which was far less nice to hear. Bear shook his head.

“Why would you do that? What did you get out of that?” He asked Ward, being surprisingly confrontational about something so dumb. “He’s already so sad. Why make him sadder?”

Bill wasn’t sure how he felt about being referred to as sad. They weren’t even talking to him. They were having this entire conversation about him in front of him so that he was perfectly aware of how sad they both thought he was.

“What if he decides to become a woman?” Ward retorted. “I just want him to be fully prepared for what he’s getting into.”

“I think he would have larger issues at hand if he was hoping to become a woman,” Bear pointed out.

“Well I’m not going to become a woman so neither of you have to worry about how ugly I may or may not be as a woman,” Bill cut in, hoping he could get the conversation back on track. It was unlikely. He’d have an easier time trying to convince two seals to help him rearrange his furniture.

“Very ugly,” Ward told him.

“Great, thank you,” Bill replied flatly.

“It’s not your fault,” Ward assured him. “I would be an ugly woman as well.”

But Bill didn’t think that was actually true. Ward was very good-looking. He had surprisingly delicate facial features. He’d probably make a gorgeous woman. Bill wondered if it was normal for someone to spend so much time envisioning what their friends would look like as another gender. Bear would make a truly terrifying woman. He had a lot of arm hair. Plus, he was the size of an elm sapling.

Bill continued to avoid Marlena whenever possible. He was completely positive that it wasn’t the least bit subtle. She for sure knew he was hiding from her. Part of him hoped she would take that information and realize why he was avoiding her and then stop whatever she had in motion for the next groping incident. He prayed that it would never reach a point where he would have to say something to her about it. That seemed like it would be unbelievably uncomfortable and he currently shared a small condo with his ex-girlfriend; Bill understood discomfort. His whole life was uncomfortable. He was a disaster.

“You’re not a disaster,” Bear assured him when he said this at work one morning.

“No, you definitely are,” Ward interjected immediately afterward. Bill wanted to believe Bear, but Ward was absolutely right.

Two days later, while he was tiptoeing to the copy room, trying not to get caught by Marlena, Bill accidentally saw Marlena making out with his co-worker Sanjay in the handicap washroom between the copy room and the elevator. The door was slipping shut as he walked past, but he knew what he’d seen. Neither of them had noticed him, for which he was incredibly grateful. He was stunned. He walked the rest of the way to the copy room in a daze and then stood in front of the copier in shock for so long that Bear came to look for him. He was trying to work out how long Marlena and Sanjay had been making out in washrooms at work. Had he been the other man, so to speak? Surely she wasn’t allowed to have a romantic relationship with one of her staff members. That seemed like an enormous conflict of interests, especially when it came time to divvy up year-end bonuses. Sanjay’s would surely be quite large this year.

“What’s wrong with him?” Ward asked Bear, one eyebrow raised, when they returned to their desks. Bear had had to physically lead Bill for most of the trek because he was still so stunned.

“Maybe he’s stressed,” Bear offered, giving Bill a concerned look. Bill blinked back at both of them, only just registering where he was. He was still holding onto the document he had meant to photocopy, but never actually had. He put it down on top of his desk.

“I just saw Marlena and Sanjay making out in the handicap washroom,” he informed his friends without preamble. Bear’s mouth literally dropped open.

“That is not what that bathroom’s for,” he said, as if that was the most shocking part.

“So she’s groping you in the back of town cars and sticking her tongue in his mouth after budget report meetings?” Ward asked indignantly. “That’s all kinds of unethical.”

“Is she dating Sanjay? Are they together?” Bear added, looking just as stunned as Bill felt. “What would that even be like? Why would she date Sanjay?”

Bill shrugged. He had none of the answers to any of those questions. He was still trying to work out how he felt about it. From what he could tell, it was either great news for him or terrible news. It would be great if this meant she had moved on to something else and he would no longer have to worry about her making another pass at him. Plus, he wouldn’t have to say anything to her about it and save himself a whole lot of awkwardness. On the other hand, maybe she was just working her way through the department and would be returning to Bill soon enough, at which point he would still have to have that dreaded, uncomfortable conversation. Although, at that point, maybe it would make him the hero of the office.

“I don’t know,” Ward shrugged as well, leaning back in his office chair quite casually. “I think I’d date Sanjay.”

“Sanjay? Really?” Bill turned to Ward, surprised for a second time that morning, though significantly less so.

“He’s handsome,” Ward shrugged again. Bill frowned at him.

“You know he calls you a philandering turd-weasel behind your back, right?” Bill checked.

“Yeah, but he’s still handsome,” Ward replied. He had remarkably low standards. Bill, who lived with his ex-girlfriend and slept on a lumpy futon, was surprised yet again to find that his standards were somehow higher than Ward’s. At least he had that if nothing else. It was an oddly reassuring thought.

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