“There ain’t no fuckin’ way I’m wearing this stupid-lookin’ shit,” Karen whispered while tugging Amber away from the rest of the team.
“Me neither,” Amber said. “I can’t believe Devin thought this was a good idea.”
Karen grinned. “I figured you’d get behind whatever he does . . . just like he gets behind you.”
“Don’t start with that, Karen.”
“Okay, sorry. But look—we’re getting outta here. I think we threw everyone off, playing along at first.”
Amber nodded. “I think so. Everybody ran off after the countdown, so they’re not looking.”
They—Karen, Amber, and Mary—were known around the office as being a wolf pack of sorts. They were constantly teasing one another and sharing their weekend exploits much too loudly around the prudish Debra, purely for laughs. Karen was known to embellish hers just to watch the older woman’s face turn to utter disgust.
“This is kinda like the Christmas party, remember?” Amber asked with a sly smile.
“How can I forget?” Karen giggled.
“Mary groped Santa, the elves, and Mrs. Claus!”
“She was groping everyone that night!”
“That was your fault, though. You snuck in the booze!”
“Don’t blame it all on me, little missy.” Karen smiled.
After working together day in and day out for years in the accounting department, they had reached that comfort zone of friendship where basically no subject was off limits. Amber and Mary stood by Karen’s side when she decided to live as her true self, a woman. In turn, Karen and Amber offered advice to Mary each time she set up online dating profiles, and now the older two looked the other way when young Amber disappeared into the stationery closet with Devin. But they never discussed the affair, or the special treatment it earned Amber. Amber kept it hidden because she was engaged to another man, and Karen usually tiptoed around it because she had the hots for Amber. Mary was their sidekick most of the time, and shared in their shenanigans, but every once in a while she seemed withdrawn and Karen could see through her strained smiles that she was frustrated working her butt off while Amber received accolades from their boss, not for the work she did behind her desk, but under his.
“Where’s Mary?” Amber asked.
“I waved her over earlier, but I think she got caught in the crowd when our fearless leader started passing out these lovely outfits.”
“So, about these?” Amber said, and nodded as Karen started removing her vest and glancing around for any witnesses. “I thought that was the plan.” Amber quickly shed hers as well.
“We’re bustin’ out of this circus,” Karen whispered.
“Let’s hide over by the lake,” Amber suggested.
“That’s why I like you, kiddo. You’re pretty and smart,” Karen teased.
There was a moment of silence between them before Karen grabbed Amber’s wrist and dragged her away.
Devin watched the employees of Hirsch Capital scatter into the woods with their weapons, head gear, and vests. He also saw Karen lead Amber away. He scowled. He didn’t like Amber’s friendship with the older man (he refused to think of Karen as a woman, even though he’d led the sensitivity seminar when Karen had transitioned). He glanced at Mary, one of the few who hadn’t plunged ahead, and saw her watching the two sneak off as well. He suspected Mary was stalling, holding back so she could run off with them when his back was turned.
Okay, he thought. You bitches think you’re smarter than me? I won’t forget it.
Devin had paid an instructor to show him the ropes a week prior to climbing aboard the bus for the company retreat. He’d been a little apprehensive, especially when he noticed the looks on his employees’ faces, but he didn’t let it show.
Now he donned his usual cool, in-control attitude while glancing around at who was left. In addition to Mary, an older woman—Debra from cubicle seven—stood nearby. He couldn’t remember what she actually did for the company, but whatever. It didn’t matter.
Debra stared off into the forest. She didn’t hide her distaste as well as some of the others had, but she didn’t voice any discontent either. The woman held her mask and safety goggles in her hand, as if unsure what to do with them.
“Better put those on,” Devin said.
Before Debra could respond, her face contorted, and then she turned her head to unleash a hefty sneeze. The mist flew back on Devin’s arm and the side of his cheek, and he could almost feel an internal time clock begin its countdown of when he would end up sick with the office plague.
He offered his best apologetic expression....