She quietly peeked around the corner into her father’s study, hoping for his attention but reluctant to disturb him. He was at his desk studying some files intently, but in spite of her attempt to be quiet, he was immediately aware of her presence. He looked up and smiled.
“Ah, there you are! Come in, come in! How are you today, my princess?” His eyes were kind. There was no doubt he was happy to see her.
She smiled back and slipped into the room and nestled into the chair by his desk.
“Hi, Daddy. What are you doing?” She peered across the desk at the papers in his hands. She rarely understood his business even when he patiently explained it to her, but she loved to hear him talk about the things that mattered to him.
He shuffled the papers and put them down. “I’ve been helping some workers resolve a dispute. They’ve been unable to do their work effectively as long as they are quarreling.”
“What are they quarreling about?”
“They have different ideas about how to best accomplish the assignment I’ve given them. I told them they could use whatever method works best for them, but it upsets them when they aren’t all doing it the same way. They want me to make a rule that proves that one person’s method is better than another’s.”
“Oh.” She thought about that for a moment as he returned the file to a stack on his desk. “Are you going to do that?”
He raised his eyebrows and looked at her. “Make a rule? No. These are good workers. I really want them to work it out on their own in a way that builds respect between them. An unnecessary rule wouldn’t really help with that, would it?”
“I guess not.”
He smiled at her. She was a true delight to his heart and he loved it when she came into his office just to talk to him. But he could tell that something was bothering her today. Her smile towards him was bright, but there were clouds in her eyes.
“What is it, princess? What’s wrong?”
She shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “I’m fine, Daddy. I have everything I need.”
“I see.” He swiveled around in his chair and opened a small refrigerator behind the desk, removing two bottles of water. He wheeled back around and reached across the desk, holding one out to her.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she said as she took it, once again flashing that smile that stole his heart on a daily basis. But as he watched he noticed that she played with it without opening it, lost in her thoughts. He waited patiently, opening his own water bottle and pouring some of its contents into the base of several potted plants on and near his desk.
“Daddy, I’m bored!” she suddenly blurted out, the desperation evident in her voice. He turned around to look at her. Her eyes were wide, mortified that the words had slipped out and she had no ability to pull them back in. But as she looked at him, she could clearly see that he wasn’t angry. He had, in fact, been waiting for this day.
“Hmm. You’re bored, are you?”
Her eyes met his as she nodded her head slightly. “Daddy…do you think…I mean…well, is there something I could do in the family business?”
He suppressed a smile as he studied her. “You’ve been helping your mother, haven’t you? Don’t you like what you’re doing with her?”
“Mother wants me hold the babies and cook things for dinner. And I know those things are important, but Daddy…I just hate it. I don’t want to tell Mother. It would hurt her feelings. I know my sisters like doing those things. But babies and cooking and cleaning are so boring to me!”
He nodded. “It’s honorable work. Not everyone finds it satisfying, however. So…what do you think you’d like to do?”
“What sort of things could I do?” she asked.
He pulled a very large notebook from the shelf beside his desk and began flipping through its pages. “Let’s see…we have event planning. Do you like planning special events?”
“Not really, ” she answered apologetically.
“Alright, then. Personnel management?”
She shook her head.
“Ok. Teaching? Shipping and receiving? Office management?”
She fidgeted as he read job title after job title. The family business was very diverse, and yet nothing seemed to fit her. Finally he paused. “Nothing striking your fancy, princess?”
Her eyes told him the truth. He was glad she knew herself well enough to say no to everything he’d suggested thus far.
“Daddy, is there nothing for me to do? Is there something wrong with me that all these jobs sound so boring?”
“No, princess…there is nothing wrong with you. Nothing at all. We will find something perfect for you.” He smiled at her as he turned back to the notebook, mumbling as he turned through the pages.
“Gardener…no. Editor…no. Maintenance worker…no. Clinic system…eh…no. Department 61…”
She suddenly perked up. “Wait—what’s that? What is Department 61?”
He paused, searching for words she would understand. “Department 61 is considered a hidden department. It covers a lot of territory. The jobs are rather…unconventional. And intense. And messy.”
Her interest was piqued. “Like, how? What kind of jobs are in Department 61?” She was on the edge of her seat, leaning forward. He looked back down at the notebook quickly before she could see the twinkle in his eye. She was indeed her father’s daughter.
“Well…we have snake handlers, fire specialists, grave robbers, locksmiths, heart transplant specialists, audio systems experts, undercover agents, search and rescue teams, snipers and other combat specialties, flight trainers…”
He paused and looked up at her. Her eyes were wide and she was nearly breathless. “Yes, princess?”
“Daddy, I want to do that! I want to be part of Department 61! Could I? Please?”
He looked her over carefully. He had known since the day she was born that this day would come. He also knew that there would be a price to pay.
“You realize that you’ll get your pretty dresses dirty.”
“I don’t care,” she insisted. “I don’t really like dresses anyway.”
“Princess…your mother will not like this. She will not understand.”
Her face was nearly contorted with desperation. “Does that mean no, Daddy? Are you saying no?”
He smiled tenderly. “I want you to understand that there is great risk in entering Department 61. Once you go in, something in you will change and you will see everything around you differently. Even if you think you want to come out, a part of you will always remain there. There will be no retirement. You will work until your last breath. The work is rewarding in and of itself, but it will win you few friends and allies outside the department. And unfortunately…that will include your mother. She loves you, but she does not understand Department 61.”
“And so she won’t understand me, either,” she said, sitting back in her seat. Her face was solemn, but when she looked at him, her eyes were clear. “You’re telling me that this will cost me my relationship with Mother.”
“As you’ve known it up until this point, yes. But she loves you, and love is the ultimate change agent. The situation is not without hope. Anyone who signs up with Department 61, however, should count the cost. Your relationships, your reputation, your comfort level—those things will undergo dramatic shifts, and some of them will be painful to you. I do not tell you these things to frighten you. I tell you these things so that you can settle your heart and not be swayed.”
She nodded slowly. “Daddy…I don’t know how to say no. When you mentioned Department 61, my heart leapt and I knew it was where I should be. What do you think?”
He looked at her for a long moment, taking in her beauty. Everything about her was neat and bright. Not a hair was out of place. Department 61 would change that. He knew, however, that her beauty would only deepen in the rough terrain of Department 61. He smiled at the hopeful face waiting for his response.
“You will be a fabulous addition to the department,” he replied. “I will assign you several trainers. Their job is not to teach you to do exactly as they do, but to equip you to understand your purpose in the department fully, and to follow my orders completely.”
Suddenly her eye become wide. “I’ll still be able to come here and see you, won’t I?” There was an edge of panic in her voice. She realized that she should have asked for this information before committing to Department 61.
He chuckled. “I’d be terribly disappointed if you didn’t. You are my princess.” He walked around the desk and opened his arms. She dove into them, and he could feel her heart pounding against his chest, in rhythm with his own. She was pure treasure, and he was glad she was ready to take her rightful place in the family business. She would represent him well. He kissed her on the head as she loosened her grip and turned to go.
“Thank you, Daddy! I feel so much better. I’m really excited!” Her eyes were now dancing with life. He loved to see her like this.
She felt light as a feather, giddy with the prospect of living a life that was jam-packed with, well, life. She smiled and headed for the door.
“Princess, you’re going to need that water bottle,” he called after her.
“Oh!” she cried, as she turned and ran back to get the bottle where she’d dropped it by the chair. “Thank you, Daddy!”
“Of course, my dear.”
He watched her go, proud that another one of his children had asked to join the family business. It would be hard for her mother to understand, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d had that conversation with her, nor would it be the last. Sometimes she let go easily, but it was rarely the case for those who joined Department 61. She simply couldn’t grasp why her neat, clean, well-behaved children would choose such a distasteful job, and often took it as a personal insult.
He, however, could only see himself in their burning hearts.