There aren’t any glasses to raise, and holding a plastic cup to the centre of the room just looks like you’re begging for a refill, so Danny just shouts to get the room to be quiet.
“Okay, everyone! That’s five o’clock, work day’s over. Thank you all for the very hard work you’ve put in today.”
That gets a round of laughter and a few cheers, apart from Mr Peterson and Mr Davis, who both give a tight smile. None of their staff have done any work for the last three hours, and with the long weekend it’ll be midweek before anything else is actually accomplished.
Danny notices the looks on the bosses’ faces, and winks at his audience while his back is turned. Not the greatest look for the head of HR, but what Danny thinks of the two straight suited men is an open secret. More than once he’s declared that he’s going to take them clothes shopping, to drag them into this century by ‘those damn cravats’.
Melissa’s never seen either Mr Peterson or Mr Davis wearing a cravat, but she laughs at the joke anyway. Sure he’s never going to be interested in her, but Danny is cute, and she loves how many glares she gets from other women when they go out drinking.
“I’m afraid,” Danny continues, “that this is the end of Amanda’s official leaving party.” A chorus of groans starts up, and Danny conducts it for a few moments before he breaks out in an evil grin. “Which means it’s time for the unofficial leaving after-party!”
Another round of cheers, even louder this time. There’s been some alcohol at the ‘official’ party, but the ageing bosses don’t agree with anything that isn’t a ‘fine’ wine. Danny’s done the best he can to get people happily tipsy, but given the rest of the office are all barely pushing thirty, it’ll be shots all round when they reach the pub.
Melissa grins as well, but it’s a reluctant one. She drew the short straw and got clean-up duty, and she knows damn well that by the time she’s done the others will all be completely plastered. Playing catch-up is never as fun as drinking along.
One by one the rest of the office head out the door. Some of them drop their plastic cups in the bin, some leave them on the edge of tables, others simply toss them over their shoulders. Whenever she thinks she can get away with it Melissa glares at those people, but the development team were here as well. Melissa knows what her social rank is in the sales team, but the devs are complete strangers to her. The last thing she wants to do when they’ve had a bit to drink is start annoying the wrong people.
Might as well get on with it. She grabs the roll of bin bags and rips one off, shaking it out as she starts clearing the far side of the room. The last stragglers take the hint and speed up out the room, without a wave of thanks or an offer to help.
Biting back her grumbles and complaints Melissa tries to not think about the half-eaten food on the plates, or what that particular napkin was used to clean up. Seriously, the party had only been going a few hours, and the alcohol had been in limited supply. How could a grown adult make this much mess in this little time? Were they deliberately acting like animals?
“Ghastly, isn’t it?”
Melissa jumps at the voice behind her. The black bag slips from her fingers as she clutches her chest, spilling some of the rubbish back onto the floor. Clearing her throat she tries to regain some dignity as she turns round. “Bloody hell, you scared me.”
The man is standing, well, not exactly close behind her, but far closer than she feels comfortable with given that she has no idea how long he’s been there. He’s grinning, and not bad looking if she’s honest, but there’s an edge to that smile that makes her skin crawl.
“Sorry about that,” he says with a sheepish laugh. “Do you want a hand?”
Given where her hands currently are, Melissa panics, till he turns and looks at the mess in the room. “Oh.” She starts breathing again. “Yes, please. I mean, if you’re not heading off to the after-party.”
“Nah, I’ve got a few more things to see to here before I go anyway. I can spend a few minutes helping you out.” He grabs the roll of black bags and tears a couple off, pocketing the spares before he shakes one open. With gloves on, Melissa can’t help but notice.
If you’re not bothered to take your gloves off, you’re not going to be staying long enough to need those extra bags. Whatever, they aren’t her black bags. Most of the sales team help themselves to things from the stationary cupboard. You have to be in a pretty bad place to be needing to steal bin bags though.
Melissa watches him for a moment, trying to put a name to the face. Her mind draws a blank, but she's sure she's seen him in a few meetings. Or on the way into the building. Or... just around?
“Are you from the dev team?” Melissa asks.
The man’s face is blank for a moment too long, and Melissa’s about to repeat herself when he finally answers. “Yes. I am.”
“I haven’t seen you around much.” And how on earth has he escaped Andrea’s notice? Andrea, the miserable single in the office, who’s been panic-dating anyone in range as she creeps closer to thirty. “Do you stay upstairs most of the time?”
“Yeah. Pretty focused on the work, so I don’t spend much time chatting to people.”
“Well, at least someone here cares about the job!” Melissa laughs, even though something in her head isn’t sitting right. The man joins in, and is so relaxed and comfortable. Just my imagination that something's wrong. Too much wine. Or maybe not enough wine? “So, do you know Amanda at all?”
“Amanda?” The man’s eyes dart round the room, and Melissa can see the cogs turning in his head. Okay, that was more in keeping with the office. Turning up to a party without even knowing who it was for. “Not really, I’m afraid. What’s she like?”
“Oh.” That wasn’t the response Melissa had expected, but she’s never turned down a chance to talk before. “Dedicated, I’d say. By the standards of this office, any way. She’s kind of pretty, and a good laugh. Her and her flatmate go travelling all the time, only like, round the UK and stuff, but she has the stupidest stories. Seriously, if you can grab her at the after-party, ask her about that time they got stuck in Edinburgh on a bank holiday.”
“Aw man, sounds like a laugh. Yeah, will do.”
The last of the tension in Melissa’s shoulders fades. Half-heartedly, and always keeping one eye on the guy, she wanders about, chucking the less mucky things into her bin bag. She’s already super conscious of how sticky her fingers are, and she surreptitiously cleans them off on the cleaner napkins she picks up. The last thing she wants to do is leave grubby fingermarks on his phone if he asks for her number.
The guy has to be single, right? A ‘hard-worker’, from the development team? That means only one thing in Melissa’s book; nerd. Possibly a geek. Nothing about his behaviour is convincing her otherwise either. He keeps his back to her as much as possible, hiding from the attention, and he’s not cleaning in any sort of pattern. He picks one thing up, then moves to another table and gets another thing, before moving back to the first place to shuffle something else about, all the time staring around the room in a daze.
That decides it for Melissa. He is single. There is no way he lives with someone and they let him tidy up like that.
The next question; how does she get his phone number?
The man picks up an empty plate, then checks the door. With all the glass in the office you can see straight down the main corridor. The slightest movement sends shadows everywhere, as they all found out when they tried to listen in on Marcus’ firing. For now the shadows are still, and Melissa makes a mental note that she should probably try and find the main switch for the overhead strip lights before she leaves.
As the man moves over to the other table he doesn’t take his eyes from the door, and Melissa sighs. Well, his company was nice while it lasted, and it’s not as though he’s actually helped her all that much.
“You can go if you need to,” she says, trying to sound blasé about it.
“Oh. No, it’s fine–”
“On one condition.”
“Oh?” The man finally turns to look at her, so Melissa drops her eyes instead. Better not seem too keen. Swaggering over she runs her hands over the tables, avoiding the puddle of wine there. It’s far easier to flirt when you’re not on garbage duty.
Only when she’s standing right in front of him does Melissa finally look up. His eyes are a vivid blue, a little too vivid in her mind, almost artificial, and his smile hides a hint of caution. Tempted but nervous. She loves that she can get a man to feel that.
As she pulls her phone out of her trouser pocket she sticks her chest out, a perfectly natural movement to the action. She has to work to not scowl when his eyes don’t leave her face.
With a flick of her wrist and a bat of her eyelids she holds out her phone. “Give me your number?”
The man’s eyes go wide, like a kid on Christmas morning, and Melissa grins back at him. Then he narrows his eyes at her, only very briefly. Poor thing. I wonder how often he’s been asked out as a joke? Melissa wasn’t as fussy as she used to be, and besides, this would be a great one up on Andrea. Left behind to tidy up, and she gets a date out of it? Score!
“Sure thing.” The man takes the phone, his gloved fingers brushing hers. Like some old fashioned gentleman, always wearing gloves and tipping his hat to ladies. Melissa imagines him in a cravat and smirks. Even Danny couldn’t complain at that. Without looking at her phone the man nods to the table behind her. “Is there any wine left? Figure we could have a drink, you know…”
Promise and intrigue hang in the air and Melissa’s stomach flips. Does he just want a drink or…? Melissa has never thought about making out in the office before, and she bites her lip as she thinks about it now. It would be one hell of a story.
“Let me check,” she says, giving him a wink over her shoulder. He winks back, and as she walks away she exaggerates every move of her hip. At the table she gives up any hint of being subtle, and leans over far more than she needs to. “Hmm. Nothing in this one, or this one–”
There’s a loud click and Melissa spins round. The man is out in the hallway, sliding in the bolts at the top and bottom of the door. For a second Melissa just stands and stares.
Then she snaps. “What the hell, man!?”
The man looks up and winks, then pulls a balaclava out of his pocket and slips it on. “Sorry, luv,” he says, in a completely different voice. “You’re a nice broad and all, but I’m a little busy tonight. Thanks for the phone though.” To prove his point he holds it up and waves it. “I was wondering how to get it off you. Can’t have you calling the police before I’m done.”
Melissa is bright red and shaking. Tears of humiliation swell in her eyes, but before they can fall she snaps. She screams at him, using every foul word she can think of.
“Ooo, tut tut,” he says. “That’s no language for a pretty woman like you. Now then, you just keep cleaning up like a good little misses. The big boys have to work now.”
The stranger – the thief! – pockets her phone and gives her a salute, before backing up and jogging off down the corridor. Still screaming Melissa runs to the door, her heel skewering a plastic cup on the way. She pounds on the glass, but it does nothing more than rattle in its frame.
All she can do is stand and watch as the man goes from room to room, stripping the office of everything valuable.
Oh, and she can swear at him. She does a lot of that, and when her voice gets hoarse she empties all of the wine bottles to wet it again.
At last, he is gone, and so is all the wine. Now it's just Melissa, sat in filthy, brightly light, locked and empty office.
“Ah, damn it,” she mutters to herself. She hasn’t bothered to clean anything else up. It’s hardly going to matter when she has to explain that she let someone stroll in off the street and then watched him rob the place, but still can’t give a good description of him. Cute, looks a bit like a nerd, brownish hair and blue eyes, except those were probably fake contacts. Hardly a stunning description for the police to work with.
She rolls the empty wine bottle next to her and watches it spin around. “At least I’m never going to get dumped with clearing up again.”