In Copley Square in Boston, there was a hulking skyscraper, all made up with blue windows that reflected the sky and the bustle of the strange city around it. In this building was one sector dedicated to the accounting and bookkeeping of Aperture Science. Aperture was based in Ohio, and liked to spread its offices across the world like some corporate hydra; when one office was cut off, another sprung up in its place.
This office was one of many faceless ones throughout the globe, though its workers were certainly unique.
Among them: a girl who refused to speak to anyone unless the speaking was done in writing, and a receptionist who repeatedly hung up on calls he was supposed to hold.
All surrounded in shining blue windows that reflected the long, long fall to the ground.
"Hello?" he asked. His voice was loud and dripped with a Bristolian accent that hadn't quite left him, even after years of living in America. It carried to her cubicle.
She paused in her writing, and smiled. She waited.
"Oh, yes!" he chirped. "You want to speak with- oh? Yes, yes, her. I know her. Well, you're going to have to hold, alright? Just...hang on, let me patch you...oh, God damn it."
She returned to the document in front of her, and kept typing. She heard him pick up another call.
"Hello? Oh, it's you again! Sorry about that, I...what?"
A long pause. She stopped again.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I happen to be the only receptionist, there isn't another one."
"Now, there's no need to get cross with me, mate. No need. Let's all just be calm, and rational, and...hello? Hello? Bloody fucking-"
"He always brings a smile to my face. Wouldn't you agree?"
She looked up. Her boss lounged over the edge of her cubicle. In her black bob and tight white dress, with one arm draped languorously over the gray cubicle wall and a half-smile on her rouged lips, she looked like some large, predatory cat. She stared fixedly in the direction of the reception area, where the offending man in question could be heard muttering to himself.
"Of course, it was not my decision to hire him," Gladys continued. Her smile grew wider, and she took a sip from her coffee mug. "That honor would go to Mr. Johnson, I presume. What an interesting man."
Chell stared up at her, not saying anything. Gladys didn't look down at her. The woman knew exactly whose cubicle she was currently leaning on.
Her boss tapped her manicured nails against the cubicle wall, then sighed and turned away. She sauntered down the hall. "Holler if you need me," she said, even though she knew well that Chell never spoke to her and never would. "Continue with your work."
Gladys laughed, then added, "Maybe we can get cocktails some time."
Chell grit her teeth, turned back to her computer, and kept typing.
The sun went down at 4, and the entire city lit up.
Chell moved into the front of the office to fetch her coat. On the way, she snuck a glance at the receptionist.
He wasn't tall, but his legs were long, and were so bunched up under the circular desk that he resembled a very unruly, very nervy English spider. His hair was immaculately kept, but his stubble was not, and his shirt was unironed; an equally wrinkled, powder-blue blazer hung over the back of his seat. His blue eyes nervously swept back and forth over the paper jungle that was his desk. His long fingers shuffled through paper after paper, sometimes darting to the keyboard, only to return to the exact same papers and shuffle through them again. Occasionally, he shoved his black glasses up his beakish nose, only to have them slide down again due to their comical size and thickness.
She paused and leaned backwards to take a look at his computer monitor, barely visible through a rainbow of sticky notes, and saw a perfectly empty Excel spreadsheet.
"I'm working, I swear."
Chell looked down. He stared very fixedly at a point in space in front of him, completely frozen.
"I've been working all day and I'll have all this finished by seven. Give me some more time." His voice became higher-pitched. "You're not going to fire me, are you?"
She raised an eyebrow and smiled. A small giggle escaped her.
He finally looked up.
"Oh, thank God, it's you and nother!" He sighed. "The mute girl. I've heard..."
At her stare, he turned fully to face her and waved his hands. "N-not mute, it's just...um...you're a selective speaker. That's it!" He flashed his teeth in a smile. "I just heard from some others when...when I got my coffee..."
This man doesn't need coffee, she thought.
"...you know, over...over at the Starbucks...farther down by the Pru- hey, you know, that place is much too expensive. I'd rather Dunkie's, honestly, but they're not close enough, it's all a matter of convenience, especially since I'm late all the time-"
More hand-waving. He frowned.
"No, I'm not, actually, I'm not late. You didn't hear that. But, um...just heard you're mute and all, and I just..."
He sighed and put his hands down.
He scratched his stubbled cheek and stuck a hand out at her, his smile re-appearing. "I'm Wheatley."
When she didn't take his hand, he frowned again. "You're not going to tell me your name, are you?"
She said nothing.
He hunched his shoulders and withdrew his hand. "Right. That's, um. Bit rude of me, to be honest. Shouldn't, um, ask if you don't want to..."
Wheatley bit his lip and looked away. "...tell me."
There was an awkward silence.
She turned and walked towards the coat closet.
"I can get that for you!"
He scrambled past her and opened the coat closet for her. Chell instinctively recoiled. How they let this trembling bundle of nerves welcome clients and set the mood for the rest of Aperture's Boston wing, she didn't know.
"Which coat is yours?" he asked her. "Just point. Just do a little...you know, indication. 'Oh, Wheatley, that one,' that sort of thing. Heh."
She blinked and pointed to her black winter coat, hidden among all the rest.
"Right." He pulled it off its hanger and opened it in front of her, with both of his hands gripping the coat's shoulders. "In you go."
Chell pursed her lips and looked at him sideways.
"In you go," he said again. His eyes darted to the coat, then back to her. He rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. Hop on in, and I'll put it on for you. That's just proper manners, that."
She sighed, turned around, and held out her arms. With surprising care, he guided each of her arms into the sleeves, and adjusted the coat so that it hung neatly around her shoulders.
Chell buttoned up the coat and looked up at him. Wheatley stood with his hands behind his back, rocking from heel to toe and back again. The nervy smile on his face was still there.
She bit her lip. That stare was making her nervous.
"Be back tomorrow?" he asked.
She rolled her eyes and nodded, smiling. He stopped rocking, and his smile became softer.
"I know, it's hard. Nine to five. Always difficult, especially with, um..."
Chell put her hands palm-down by her cheeks, mimicking the cut of Gladys's severe bob. Wheatley laughed and nodded vigorously, and Chell giggled again.
"Ohh, yes. Her. Well, there's no escaping this. Have to pay the bills somehow. Part of life and all that."
She nodded slowly, her smile widening. He clasped his hands in front of her.
There was a long pause. He cleared his throat.
"Have a good evening," Wheatley said, and turned and walked quickly back to his desk. He resumed the paper shuffling and banging on his keyboard without looking at her again.
A ride alone on the T's crowded Green line, and she was home in Brookline.
She walked alone to her empty apartment.
She undressed, alone, in her empty apartment. She took a shower, redressed, and cooked, alone, in her empty aparment. She ate alone. She watched television alone.
When she turned the television off, there was silence, and for a very long time she stared at her expression in the black television screen.
She took a deep, calm breath, and released it.
And after a few minutes, she rose and went to bed, alone. And there was darkness, and silence, and blissful nothing, until her alarm clock rang and she got up to do it all over again.