Jerome Yates fought back the urge to spit out the fancy coffee he had served himself off of the refreshments trolley. He wasn’t entirely successful and several drops fell to stain the white lacey cloth that the various cups, packets, and dispensers sat on he snatched up a napkin and attempted to keep the dark liquid from staining the intricately patterned cloth without spilling the coffee still in the paper cup. When he decided that he had smeared the stains around sufficiently he glared at the cup in his hand, the dispenser on the trolley, and the crumpled paper in his hand. He used one broad thumb to smooth out the white scrap against his dark palm and blinked in surprise.
“Who puts salt packets next to the coffee?” Jerome demanded of the empty waiting room.
The soft beige walls offered no reply and Jerome glanced at the clock on the wall with a sigh. Another ten minutes till his meeting. His eyes caught on an odd, ornamental he presumed, glass jar next to the clock. In it… Jerome frowned and looked more closely, in the jar hanging next to the clock was one of those old wind-up travel alarm clocks Ma’maw used to use when she traveled for IBM. Sitting on top of it was some taffy looking piece of candy in a paper wrapper and a slack rubber band hung around the neck of the jar. Shaking his head Jerome shuffled back to the seat he had claimed in the empty room and sat stiffly down.
The sound of flowing water came from the window and he frowned thoughtfully. The ornamental stream that surrounded the place bothered the Master Sergeant for some reason. The implication of whimsy was out of touch with the businesslike feel of the building as a whole. On the other hand it did seem to match the horseshoe nailed over the door. Jerome took a sip of coffee and he grimaced at the taste of salt. He reached down into his pocket and ran his fingers over the odd business card that the last social worker had surreptitiously pressed into his hand, three weeks and thousands of miles ago in a San Diego office.
“And where is the little woman now?”
Jerome jerked to his feet at the voice and whipped around. How had he missed her coming in? She wasn’t standing by the door. She being perhaps the most common place, middle aged Irish woman he had ever seen. She might have been thirty-five or seventy-five and her wide green eyes were made even larger by large black rimmed glasses.
“Excuse me Ma’am?” Jerome asked cautiously.
“You found us dearie,” She said with a patient smile. “That means you know enough to know our deal breakers.”
“She’s,” Jerome weighed how much to say and moved closer carefully aware of how his own six foot nine frame towered over her at the same time as he weighed how much to tell her. “Visiting relatives in Dublin.”
“I see,” the woman said with a nod. “She doesn’t know you’re here then.”
“No,” Jerome said softly. “I didn’t want to get her hopes up. We-“ He broke off and gritted his teeth as the desperation welled up again and choked him. His eyes fixed on the odd jar for a moment and he blinked. The empty wrapper lay crumpled under the clock. “I-“
“You wanted to know if there was any chance before risking breaking her heart again,” the woman nodded in understanding. “To find out if we’d see any red flags in your household. Understandable. Do you have it?”
Jerome wasn’t sure how he knew what she was asking for but he reached into his pocket for his wallet and pulled out a much worn photo. He was standing tall and proud in his dress uniform, sporting fewer bars and his Katie was curled up against him laughing. Her long red hair glowed against her white dress and her green eyes sparkled.
The woman took the wedding photo respectfully and stared at it in satisfaction. She nodded and handed it back to him.
“Well I see no red flags,” she said simply.
Jerome narrowed his eyes. “That’s it?” he demanded. “All the other agencies ran through everything in our lives back to the lemonade stand my brothers and I ran in the third grade.”
“We are not,” the woman said primly as she led him to the entry door, “a normal agency. Now you go get the little woman and bring her back here. We will give you the full informational packages together, until then read this.” She pressed what looked like a bookmark into his hand as she ushered him out the door. He stepped over the stream and frowned down at the list of instructions.
Ethereal Adoption Agency
When entering into formal negotiations for adopting one of our wee folk:
- Do NOT wear any iron on your person.
- Do NOT carry any salt on your person.
- A lock of your hair.
- A lock of your spouse’s hair.
- Baby shoes belonging to any child in your family.
- The fourth shamrock you find in the nearest churchyard.
“Hey Katie. Yeah I’ll get a cab and be back soon. Love, Sweetie, I found another agency. They say they have something for us.”
Silence came over the phone for far too many heartbeats. Then a soft voice spoke.
“One more time.”