Administration was quiet. And loud. The air was filled with the sounds of staplers and pens and typing and phones ringing, yet Melinda May heard almost none of it. She threw herself into her work with a pathetic kind of single-mindedness and barely made eye contact with anyone who passed her, let alone conversation.
This was good. This was what she needed. Somewhere to hide.
No one here tried to get her to talk to them, no one here looked at her with pitying eyes and delicately asked how she was doing. Here she was anonymous. Just another voice on the phone, another pair on hands on the keyboard.
She was no one, and that was the best she could be right now.
She couldn't be Melinda May anymore.
So she came into work every day in a blazer that was slightly too small at a desk that felt like a cage and she filled out forms, made phone calls, denied requests, and tried to forget what she had done.
Forget that little girl's face.
It was late. The office was abandoned but for her, the automatic lighting going down until a dim yellow glow was all that illuminated her papers. She should go home, but that wasn't happening. Going home meant sleep, and sleep meant...
No. She would stay. Maybe it was time to try coffee again. It'd keep her awake at least.
The abruptly loud noise of the phone ringing made her jump. She stared at it for a moment. It was almost ten at night. Who was still around?
She shook herself. Who cared who was around? No one else was going to answer the phone, so she would have to.
She cleared her throat. "Administration."
"Oh thank god," A male voice said, relieved, "I thought you'd have all gone home."
It only took her a moment to place the voice. Phil. He hadn't recognised her voice yet. Why would he?
She took care to make subtle changes in her cadence to keep him from figuring it out. "I'm the last one here." She said. "How can I help?" That was the spiel. It was easy to let the script just pour from her mouth without thinking about it. Easier than actually talking.
He was smiling. She just knew he was. "Well I've spent all evening trying to finish this mission report, but just now my upload failed, and I can't seem to get it back."
She hummed. "Can I have your login number please?" She knew it, of course, but she didn't want Phil knowing it was her. All he would do was ask if she was okay in that careful voice, try to convince her to talk to him. No. This was better.
"Sure thing!" He said brightly, "It's zero eight U, seven three four two."
"Three four two." She muttered as she typed it, as if to confirm the number.
"Thank you." She said. "It'll take a minute to load, just bear with me."
"No problem." He said warmly. "It's kind of late for you to still be here. I appreciate the help."
She shook her head. "It's no trouble. I guess time got away from me today."
"Happens to the best of us." Phil said. "Me more than most, but I guess I don't have anyone who'd call me and complain anyway. Are you married?"
May swallowed. "No." She said thickly. "I-I never got around to it." The lie felt sticky in her mouth. She glanced at the loading screen but saw that it wasn't even halfway done. "You?"
"No." Phil said wistfully. "I'd like to someday, but... I haven't met the right person yet."
She took a breath. "Maybe someday then."
"Yeah." He murmured. "That'd be nice." He hesitated. "So you don't have anyone in your life?"
"Are you flirting with me?"
"No!" He shouted it so hurriedly that May felt what could have been a smile tugging at her lips. "No, I just- I was just making small talk, I promise." Phil groaned. "I'm sorry, I- I put my foot in my mouth sometimes."
"It's okay." May murmured. She remembered. Phil was so easy to trip up with words. With anything really. He was such a klutz. "And no, no one right now. What about you?"
"Are you flirting with me?" Phil joked, chuckling. When she didn't reply he continued. "I- I don't know. There's this woman I met a little while ago, but it might not go anywhere. She's a civilian, so..."
"It's happened before." May said softly. "You could make it work."
"Yeah." Phil murmured. She could imagine that faraway look in his eyes. "She's- she's really something. A cellist, and she's so kind and strong. I want to see her again."
She shouldn't be surprised that this was the first she'd heard of this. Why wouldn't it be? She had barely spoken to Phil in months, even when he'd come to check on her. She remembered him talking, but she didn't remember the words. May swallowed. "Then call her."
He sounded amused. "How do you know I haven't?"
"You're at work at ten at night on a Friday." May said. "You don't seem like you're making it a priority."
He laughed. "True. I just don't want to mess it up. Sometimes I come off too strong."
"Some women find that charming." Melinda didn't notice the smile on her face until she caught sight of the computer screen. "Okay, I can see your report. Looks like your internet crashed as it was submitting. I can try to retrieve it and resubmit from here."
"You're an angel."
May caught herself before she scoffed. "I do my best." She muttered, typing in an attempt to get the file back.
"Seriously, thank you so much." Phil said. "I really didn't want to spend another three hours writing that report."
Melinda hesitated. "It took you three hours to write a mission report?" She used to tease him about that. Before.
Phil laughed again. "I thought of all people, an administrator would get it." He teased. "I thought you guys loved paperwork."
"We prioritise getting it finished." May ribbed gently. "Speaking of, it's just gone through."
"Oh fantastic." Phil sighed. "I- thank you so much."
Melinda allowed herself a minuscule smile. "You're welcome." She said softly. She should hang up now. She'd fixed the problem, she'd done her job. She didn't have to talk to Phil anymore. "I'm glad I could help."
"Me too." Phil smiled. "Thank you for that and... thanks for chatting too. I haven't really had that many people to talk to lately."
"It was nothing." That's what she told herself. Nothing. "Good luck with your cellist."
"Thank you." Phil said again. He hesitated before hanging up. "I'm sorry, I just realised I never got your name."
May had always hated undercover. Hated lying about who she was. It figured that at this moment, that was the skill that would abandon her. She hesitated. "I..."
Phil's heart skipped a beat. "Melinda?"
She dropped the phone like it had burned her and noticed that she was shaking. She couldn't do this. She wasn't that person anymore.
Thoughts of Phil swirled in her head as she buried her face in her hands. He deserved his friend back. She wanted to give him his friend back, but she couldn't. She couldn't even pretend.
The phone started ringing again and she felt like she should cry. The emotions were all too much, the walls of her cubicle had never felt like more of a prison, and yet no tears came. She couldn't even cry.
Melinda May would have cried.