She swore she’d never be like one of those girls. Girls that primped and fussed and focused on their outer appearance so they could hide from the gaping hole where their backbone should have been. Nature had given Olive features that weren’t extraordinary but not unpleasant, and for most of her life, she never cared about how she looked. She was a hard worker. Intuitive. Nice to be around, and nice to other people. She knew what she was made of.
But on the day of her performance review, she found herself in the tiny office bathroom, in front of the tiny office bathroom mirror, putting on mascara, like an idiot, because she knew, deep down, that she needed all the help she could get — her eyes were too small for her face. The words of her aunt had been haunting her all week: you could afford to look a bit more polished, dear. Perhaps a little something to bring out your eyes?
At the review, her boss Linda showered her with compliments. Olive did wonderful work, she was collaborative, and a genuinely nice presence on the marketing team. Olive smiled gratefully, received the praise, and steeled herself for the hidden but that was laced through Linda’s speech. Her boss noticed that she noticed — and gave her an apologetic smile.
“I want you to know that you’re an extraordinary team player. You bring so much to this team. But Heather is getting the promotion to manager this year.”
Olive tried very hard to hear what Linda was saying next, but all she was aware of was the rising buzz in her ears. The buzzing amplified the growing pain her in stomach, which rapidly spread through her entire body. She wondered if throwing up over Linda’s desk would instigate so much pity in that it would change Linda’s mind. Probably not.
Olive was aware that she left Linda’s office without saying a word. She was aware of sitting down at her desk and opening her email. She was aware that she had work to do, but her mind wouldn’t settle down like it usually did when there was a task at hand. Heather was going to get a promotion over her because of something so trivial — like looking a bit more polished. Because there was no other reason. Olive was better at the job. Sure, Heather was a bit of a flirt and got all men at the office to return her emails more promptly but still — Olive was a better coordinator, better writer, and better hard worker than Heather -
“Oh my God,” Olive whispered to herself. “It doesn’t matter.”
She looked over at Heather, who had clearly found out the good news and was sharing it with Mike, of whom Olive once harbored a secret crush. After two years, Olive gave up this crush when it was clear Mike’s attentions would always be of professional courtesy, never romantic. But it still stung, watching him look at Heather in a way that she knew he would never look at her.
At least Heather had the decency to tone down her smile when she locked eyes with Olive, and gave her a tiny, sympathetic wave. Olive was aware that she returned the gesture, but she knew the expression she had arranged on her face didn’t match.
Because all she felt — the buzz in her ears and the pain radiating through her body — was the pain of being overlooked.
Olive found herself moving towards Heather at a decent clip. Part of her knew she was going to slap Heather before she did it. And there was only a tiny part of her that wanted to stop herself.
At least now I know what I’m made of — Olive thought as her hand made contact with Heather’s cheek. Now I can stop pretending to be nice.