The teddy bear was green. Several greens. Most of it was shamrock green, matching the silk shamrocks on its cocky Kelly green plastic bowler hat. Its tummy, the inside of its ears, and the bottoms of its paws were mint, as was the satin-covered box velcro’d between its front paws.
It wasn’t the sort of thing Sydney was accustomed to finding in his office chair. He picked up the toy, unable to resist squeezing its plush middle.
“Kiss me, I’m Irish,” the bear suggested.
Syd squeezed it again.
“Top o’ the mornin’ to ye!” it said.
“And the balance of the day to *you*,” Syd replied, with a grin. He sat, placing the bear in the middle of his desk, and regarded it. “Jarod?” he wondered.
Cautiously, he opened the bear’s satin box. Inside was a small rectangle of cardboard with “An Irish Blessing” in Jarod’s clear printing. The back of the card was blank. Under it, Jarod had placed a small silver airplane and a silver shamrock engraved with the initials M and S entwined; tiny loops showed them to be charms for a bracelet or necklace.
Sydney heard the squeak of wheels before he heard the footsteps: Mr. Raines inserted himself into the room like an unwelcome odor, pulling his oxygen cart behind him. Syd wondered, not for the first time, how a man so oily could have anything about him that squeaked.
“Hello, Sydney,” Raines rasped.
Syd inclined his head, acknowledging Raines’ presence as minimally as possible.
“I have good news.” Raines’ smile was a rictus of vindictive pleasure. His eyes shone almost as glassily as his hairless head. “You remember a certain co-worker of yours from long ago? Female? You seemed quite…upset…when she…ran away. Mi-chelle.” He drew out the syllables of her name as if caressing them.
Syd’s jaw clenched. He remembered all too well. They had been far more than co-workers; they had been engaged. Then he had dropped in to her office to find her gone — her desk emptied, all trace of her swept away. Her apartment — his place — it was as if she had never existed. Then, thanks to Jarod, he had found her again. Michelle…and their son, Nicholas, now a grown man. Thanks to Jarod, he had learned of the lie that had driven her from him in order to save his life. Thanks to Jarod, he finally had a semblance of a family life, though prudence dictated it be hidden and disguised.
“We’ve found her.” Raines’ smile spread into a death’s head grin.
Syd felt his heart stop, then thud into pounding life. His fingers hurt — he was clutching the arms of his chair.
“She’s been a naughty girl,” Raines said, shaking his head. “She made a bargain, and she hasn’t kept it. She’ll have to be…reprimanded. If you play your cards right, we may let you see her. After her lesson. She’ll be calmer then.” Raines started out of the office, then turned back to say, “I almost forgot: Congratulations, ‘Daddy.’ You can have your own little family reunion, down in the re-education wing. — Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”
The ringing of his cell phone brought Sydney out of his horrified days. His hands shook — he shook all over — he felt chilled, from the heart out. He flipped open the phone, responding automatically. He heard his voice, sounding almost normal, say, “Sydney here.”
“Sydney — are you alone?” It was Michelle.
“I’m safe, my darling. Nicholas and I are both safe. Jarod whirled us away this morning. We’re on a plane. I can’t tell you where we’re headed.”
Syd reached into the silk-covered box and fingered the charms inside…the plane, the shamrock. “You don’t have to.”
“I mustn’t stay on long.”
“I love you, my darling.”
“And I, you, ma chere. And Nicholas.” And Jarod.
The click of disconnection seemed to sever the last possibility of threat. He collapsed into his chair and drew a breath deep enough to make up for all those he had missed in the last fifteen minutes. Raines would be livid. Syd’s grin was dazzling, but not entirely pleasant.
His cell phone rang again. He flipped it open.
“Sure and it’s the luck of the Irish you have, to be sure.” The Pretender could be anyone he wanted to be, but his Irish accent still needed a lot of work.
“I don’t need luck, so long as I have my own guardian leprechaun. No one ever compared The Centre to a rainbow, but I certainly came across a treasure here.”
“No, Jarod. You. Thank you. Thank you…my boy.”
He heard Jarod’s quick intake of breath, then the disconnect.
I shouldn’t have said that. I pushed him. He wasn’t ready. He sighed deeply and pocketed his phone. Some day, perhaps, he and his Pretender would be on the same emotional ground at the same time. Until then, they would have to keep sending one another inopportune signals across the gap.
He looked again at the cardboard rectangle. “An Irish Blessing.” He chuckled and said, “‘May you be in heaven a full hour before the devil knows you’re dead.'”
He scooped the bear into a deep drawer and went to see if he could catch the look on the devil’s face when he heard the news.