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The Little Receptionist

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Jon leaned back in his chair, letting his neck droop over the back and feeling the stretch down into his shoulders. It had already been a long day, and it was only 10 AM. He was trying to get a report finished about his current research project to send off to the department head for approval before lunch, but it was slow going.

His cramped office was overflowing with books and folders he needed to reference for the report, and if it weren't for the very large window taking up most of one wall, he might be horrifically reminded of a past job in a dimly lit basement. Before that thought could grip him, he stood up, hearing Martin's voice in his head reminding him to stretch his legs and stop hunching over all the time. With a smile, Jon stepped out of his office and wandered to the kitchenette a few offices down to make himself a cup of tea.

Jon had been a research fellow at the university for about four years now, having earned both his doctorate in history and the promotion just before Margot had been born. She made coming into his office every day both a blessing and a curse: he missed so much of her day-to-day life while Martin worked from home, and that meant he missed the good times and the tantrums.

"Oh, hi Jon," one of his colleagues said as he entered the kitchenette. Ami already had the kettle turned on and so Jon stepped past them to grab his usual mug. Ami was relatively new to the history department, and because they worked in an entirely different historical era, Jon didn't know them very well. However, they both took mid-morning breaks at about the same time, and so Jon was starting to learn a bit about them—Martin had been very proud that Jon was trying. "How's your day been so far?"

Jon groaned as he pulled down a box of tea, the kind Martin had bought him for particularly rough mornings, and replied, "I'm still working on that same report for Alex. They told me they don't need it until Friday, but I have to finish an article this week, too, and I want their opinion on that as well."

Ami made a commiserating noise. "Haven't you been working on that report for two days?"

Jon sadly nodded his head and said, "This is one for the ethics committee, and getting all of these details is taking more time than I expected." He poured hot water into both of their mugs when the kettle clicked off. "What about you? How's your morning going?"

Ami reached up for the honey and started stirring some into their cup before turning back to Jon, their face grave. "I'm installing the new software, and it is taking ages. I've called the help number twice already today, and I feel bad for the poor person who has to help me."

Jon smiled a little and moved to sit at the small table in the middle of the kitchenette. He had some insider knowledge to the tech support side of the software. In the aftermath of resetting the world, Martin had decided to go back to school for computer science, and he'd been working for a London-based company for almost six years now. He'd transferred to remote tech support when their daughter was born, initially to help mitigate the costs of child care when she was a baby, and he'd loved it so much, he was still doing it, even with Margot now in nursery school.

To Ami, he said, "That can be so frustrating. My husband does tech support from home now, and he spends most of the day answering calls like that. He's told me those are the best kind, though, because it usually means there's more to the issue than needing to restart your computer."

Ami laughed at that, and said, "Well, I'm glad to hear that! This new software is slightly different from the old one we used, and I guess there's more to installing and setting it up than there was for the old one."

"Oh, is it specific to your work, or is it the new department-wide update?" Jon asked, dreading the answer. He wasn't completely tech illiterate, but like Ami, he would probably struggle if he had to do it, too.

"Oh, it's the new reference software we're all supposed to switch to by next week," Ami said and shared a grimace with Jon.

He sighed. "I suppose I'll have to wrap up this report and get started on that then. The journal's submission deadline for the article isn't until next month, and I always have trouble with new software. And if we're supposed to switch by Monday…" He trailed off, thinking venomous thoughts about software changes and about his own ability to forget to do such things.

Ami nodded, and they finished their tea together while chatting about their personal lives a bit. Ami enjoyed hearing stories about Margot, and Jon appreciated all of the pet pictures Ami had to share. When they were both done, Ami took Jon's mug to the sink when they stood up and he passed a gentle "thank you" over his shoulder as he stood up and stretched again. They walked out of the kitchenette together before heading in opposite directions down the hallway.

Feeling mildly better than before tea, Jon was able to get the report finished and emailed to Alex before his lunch break. Usually he would go back to the kitchenette or to the canteen in the building next door, but today he wanted to get started on the software update. Who knows how many issues he'd run into if Ami had already had two and wasn't done with it yet?

So instead, he started downloading the new software after reading the emailed instructions and went to grab his lunch from the communal fridge. Upon returning, Jon discovered not just one but two separate error messages on his screen. Checking the email, he found the solution to one of them—an institutional code to enter—but the second message remained.

The help number for the software was at the bottom of the email, but Jon wanted to do his due diligence before calling to interrupt some poor tech support person's day. He gave the problem a quick google, but after reading three message boards and one poorly written article while he ate, he admitted the problem was beyond his ability to solve. He took a deep breath, reached for his office phone, and dialed the number.

Jon then promptly dropped the phone when someone answered and said, "Blackwood-Sims residence, what is this regarding?"

Holy hell. That was his daughter's voice. On the tech support line.

What?

"Margot?" Jon asked, picking the phone back up hesitantly. "Darling, why are you answering the phone?"

"Dad!" Margot's voice pitched up in the way it always did when she was happy. "Sometimes when Tata isn't here, I answer the phone!" she answered proudly.

Jon pinched the bridge of his nose, his glasses falling down his hand, and tried not to sigh. "And where is Tata, darling?"

"Making lunch," she informed him. "We're having noodles today."

"Could you let him know I'm on the phone?" he asked gently.

"Of course, Dad," Margot said, "but first, can you tell me the nature of your problem?"

He laughed, maybe just a touch hysterically, and told her he had an error with his new computer program.

She replied seriously, "Okay, Dad. I'll go find Tata for you," and he could hear her calling for Martin as she walked through the house.

Martin's voice drifted in the background for a moment, saying "Margot baby, what is it?" She replied, "It's Dad!" Then Martin's voice came over the phone, "Hello, Jon dear. What's going on? This is the work mobile."

"Hi, Martin love," Jon said, relieved but not entirely sure why. "Apparently, you're my support contact for the new reference software I have to install this week."

"What do you mean 'apparently'? Jon, I've had the same work number for four years now," Martin teased, his voice becoming slightly squashed. Jon heard a fabric rustle through the phone and could immediately picture Martin, the phone pressed between his shoulder and ear while he continued to cook. "Didn't you recognize it?"

Jon rolled his eyes and said, "I wasn't paying attention to the phone number, love, I was too busy trying to figure out this problem. And I called from the office phone, so it didn't pop up with your name. Although now I have a different problem to solve: what is Margot doing answering your work phone?"

Martin cleared his throat. "Ah, well," he started, and then he chuckled. "I guess she's been doing that sometimes, if it rings when I'm not in the room. She's been my receptionist a few times, and she does it quite well, too. She answers the phone the way you do, actually."

Jon started and thought back to when the call had connected. He laughed a bit. "Yes, I suppose you're right, that did sound like my intonation, didn't it?"

"It really does. She really only takes some info for me and passes the phone off," Martin continued, "but it has meant some happier clients. They're delighted to talk to her, and they didn't have to go to voicemail."

Jon smiled, imagining Margot's brown eyes narrowing seriously as she listened to the callers provide details and the marching down the hall to find her father, her ginger curls bouncing and her small feet leading her in a confident stride. "So half days at the nursery school are working out then?" Jon asked, hearing Martin clatter dishes in the background.

"Oh, she's getting hands-on career training in the afternoons, so I think it'll be just fine," Martin joked. To Margot, he added, "Please wash your hands, Margot baby. Your drink is on the counter by the sink when you're done. I've got to go help Dad with his computer problem now."

As Martin walked back to his office, they talked a little more about Margot answering the work phone. She had apparently started it a few weeks ago, and so many other things happened with clients and Margot that Martin had forgotten to mention it. Jon was less surprised than he should have been by how Margot handled herself on the phone—a child of his was always going to be too precocious for her own good.

Martin started the process to access Jon's screen, and while it loaded, he launched into a story from before lunch about how Margot had answered the phone when he'd gone to the toilet, and when he got back, she was very seriously discussing the newest nature documentary she saw at nursery school with the client.

Jon laughed, and then remembered his earlier conversation. "Did you talk to Ami this morning? They were also installing the software today, and they mentioned calling twice for help."

Martin choked on his own laugh before saying, "Margot was telling Ami about the birds during their third call back just a bit ago!"

Jon dropped his face into his free hand. "Of course it would be our daughter telling strangers about tropical birds," he said, very fond but also a little worried that maybe they hadn't taught her enough about stranger danger.

Martin chuckled in response before turning back to the tech issue at hand. "Okay, love. This isn't a common error, so let me poke around for a minute. I'm going to put you on speaker, yeah?"

Jon gave his assent and then smiled when he heard Margot say, "Tata? Is that still Dad on the phone?"

"Hi, Margot darling," Jon said, his smile getting wider when she made a noise of surprise. "I heard you told my friend Ami about the birds from school this morning. Would you tell me too while Tata works on my computer?"

He could hear the smile in her voice as she said, "Of course, Dad!" And as she launched into describing the different birds, he sat back in his chair, watching his husband move the mouse on his screen and imagining his two favorite people sitting together in Martin's office, making what might have been a very horrible experience a very, very good one instead.