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Holiday Kisses-5

Originally, the craft store was Grandma Rose’s house. The story always started off the same way.  When Iris’s grandfather died, her grandmother had two means of support. Her home and her brother, Simon. “I didn’t want to be a burden to my brother and his family. He had a wife and two children of his own to care for.” Rose’s face was thoughtful and warm. The flush of her cheeks brightened against her silver hair that she always decorated with a flower clip.

Iris suspected that her grandmother loved her brother more than herself.

 However, the feeling was mutual. Simon lived in a house at the end of the block. When Rose wasn’t in the room, he would wag his finger in her direction. “I’m still watching out for my sister. It took me sixty years to learn that it’s easier to do if I keep it a secret.” Then he’d wag his bushy white brows and say, “Now, help an old man. Can you run and get me some coffee? Make it the real stuff. Not that decaf my sister always tries to make me drink.” 

 Iris secretly filled half of his cup with decaf coffee. Then she’d make a show of pouring the coffee he requested in the top half. Every time, right before he sipped his cup, Simon breathed in the aroma and said, “This is why you’re my favorite niece.”

As Iris wrapped her arms around her uncle’s neck for a soft hug, she’d chuckle. “I’m the only niece.”

She was also the only younger Sinclair who lived in Paradise Hills. Iris’s cousins had moved to larger cities for better job opportunities.

Iris, the youngest of all the cousins, had the course of her life directed by Rose and Simon.  At her college graduation, Rose handed a neatly wrapped box to Iris. It contained the keys to the store and a framed picture of Rose, Iris, and Iris’s mother, Lily.

Rose beamed with confidence that Iris would accept the present, “You’re graduating with a degree in marketing, which means I can graduate and move to the grandma corner of the store. I don’t mind waiting for the grandkids.”

The weight of legacy seemed almost too heavy for Iris. “I don’t know if I’m ready for the responsibility.”

“But, it’s your turn, dear.” Rose’s smile withered to show she hoped to turn the conversation.

“Go ahead and tell her,” Simon encouraged.

An argument of facial expressions ensued. The one where Rose, through a stiff smile and stern glare, told Simon to shut up; Simon tipped his head toward Iris to say the cat is out of the bag you might as well fess up. Rose sighed and rolled her eyes in resignation.

“Rod Shepard said that his daughters wanted to buy the store.”

“But Shannon doesn’t even do crafts,” Iris balked.

“Her sister does,” Simon grumbled.

It was all Iris needed to hear. Shannon and her sister once again wanted to insert themselves into something that was meant for her. She was gracious the first time around. No more.

“I’m afraid I’ll ruin it,” Iris admitted.

“We’ll be there to help you,” Rose used her indignant voice. “We’re not leaving for Rio or anything. I just want to sleep in past six.”

While filling the shoes of a mother who had been taken too soon intimidated Iris, she also sensed that her mother would be there in the quiet spaces. Iris touched her mother’s cheek in the picture. “Thank you for believing in me. I hope I make you proud.”

“You always have.” Rose enveloped Iris in a hug that was so powerful, both grandmother and granddaughter cried.

Simon, who was on the edges of the conversation, cleared his throat loudly. “Now that we got that out of the way, I’d appreciate you bringing a man to the family.” He squinted at the men who passed by and occasionally muttered his assessment. “Probably obsessed with sports,” or things like, “He’d make me go hunting.”

Lately, Simon had made it a habit of bringing men to the craft store. For the time being, Iris forgot her uncle and his desires for male companionship. Holiday music played in the background, the chatter of the eight children filled the front room of the house turned craft store. Foldable plastic tables temporarily replaced the low shelves she used to display examples of things people could make with the assorted items she had around the store.

Rose crocheted in the rocking chair, tucked away in a cozy corner. Her bag, discretely placed on the floor beside the chair, shifted in sync with her gentle rocking, followed by a soft pull on the string. In the winter months, the electric fireplace on the other side of her warmed the room and kept her joints from “getting stiff.” 

A little girl with a curly mop of hair and a smile that showed a missing tooth sprinkled silver glitter on top of a coat of white paint. “My mom won’t let us have glitter in the house. She says she ends up looking like a stripper every time I use it.”

Iris turned to face her grandmother to hide her laugh. Seeing Rose’s quirked brow and pursed-lip made it a little harder. Iris rubbed the top of her lip and cleared her throat before moving on to the next child.

As Iris journeyed around the table, she stepped wide to avoid smudges of paint from a dropped brush. An apron she’d made for the occasion hid glue sticks, paintbrushes, and a mini pack of wet wipes. The only thing missing was the hypothetical perfect husband off in the other room, working on his own project.

Under the guise of making ornaments for the tree decorating ceremony at City Hall, Iris pulled off a secret Holiday Kisses mission. She’d sent out an invitation to several single mothers in the community. The headline read: “Kids needed to help make decorations for the tree lighting ceremony.” To ensure those invited would attend, Iris scheduled the “kids only” craft class for Friday evening. A dinner of pizza and carrot sticks was included in the deal. 

The gift of a couple of hours to go out with friends, get in some holiday shopping, or as one mother said, “Get some groceries in peace,” blessed all who were involved. 

 A spunky brown-eyed seven-year-old put down her ornament. She twisted to look at the ornament the boy beside her painted. He meant to paint Christmas balls on the side of a wooden birdhouse cutout. When his finger smudged the paint, he changed it into a red, green, and silver camouflage house.

“How are the birds going to find your house?” The girl  inquired with a voice that believed wholeheartedly that the camouflage would be effective.

“You can add glitter to make it sparkle,” another girl suggested.

“Let me help you,” Iris reached in for the glitter she had rationed in mini shakers. She kneeled beside the boy. “Let’s tap it like a light switch,” turned out to be the wrong thing to say. The boy flicked the dispenser hard enough to create a mini storm of glitter. His ornament glowed like an open treasure chest. Iris held her breath to prevent breathing in the silver cloud that would linger in the carpet for the unforeseeable future.

Rose cackled, “I’ll let you guess what you look like, Iris.”

One of the girls pointed at Iris’s shoulders and said off the cuff, “If she had any more, she’d sprout her own angel wings.” She held up the angel ornament she was painting, emphasizing her point. Her reply was so quick, Iris could see her being the social media person businesses hired to make their page fun.

“Are you coming to the Christmas play next week,” little Brittany Evans asked. Iris loved all the kids, but there was something about Brittany. Perhaps it was how she angled her eyes to the right when she thought, or it could be the candid way she spoke about what the adults were doing wrong. She was one of those children who had an old soul.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Iris pointed toward the kitchen. “I’ve been saving batches of cookies to share when you are done.”

“Can you save me an angel cookie?” Brittany waved her hand in a little circle and stopped to point at herself. “I am the Christmas Angel.”

“Do tell,” Iris touched the middle of her chest. “I was the angel when I was your age.”

Jordan was a little boy who made a wish. Iris was the angel who helped him make them come true. The play ended with Jordan and Iris granting the wish for an older woman in the story.

“I believe it,” Brittany nodded. “Any person who would hang out with kids on a Friday night has to be an angel.” There was the old soul that delighted Iris.

 Rose set her crocheting aside. “Do you kids want to see something special?”

“If it has cookies, I’m there.” The youngest of the two boys pushed his chair away from the table.

“After we clean our mess, we’ll have cookies,” Rose promised.

The door opened with a crack, and a cool breeze blew in before Iris’s uncle, Simon, shuffled in the door.  His voice projected with the enthusiasm of someone who grabbed the last cookie on the plate, “I have someone you might want to meet.”

He froze when he saw eight young sets of eyes on him. His voice dropped, and he pointed at his surprise audience, “My niece is great with kids.”

A voice from behind him said, “I could come back another time,” the sound softened, indicating that he was trying to step away from the door.

Simon held up a finger. “Stay right there. I’ll be right back.” The last thing they heard before he closed the door behind him was a muffled, “Hold on a second.”

One of the kids hopped out of his seat, “I think that was my uncle Arnie.”

Iris waved her hand toward the kitchen, “How about some cookies, kids?”

One of the kids started to say, “But you just said…”

“We’ll make an exception to the rule this one time.” Iris didn’t want to give the kids time to gather enough information to tell their parents that her uncle brought Arnie Richards to the craft night. Arnie was at least ten years older than Iris and was single for a reason. While Arnie was friendly, he was quirkier than Iris.

Rose set her project on the corner table. “How about this? I’ll get the cookies, and you can clean up.” She talked to the boy who recognized his uncle. “You can help me carry the trays.”

While they were gone, Iris asked the other children to help her store the supplies in a red plastic bin. She folded the craft table, pulled another rocking chair from the corner to the center of the room. The kids then gathered together, sitting in groups of twos and a three in the cozy chairs and couches.

Iris read while the kids nibbled on cookies and drank cocoa from spill-proof tumblers they had decorated earlier in the evening. Her grandmother smiled serenely in the corner.

At one point, Iris felt a calm in her chest. The stillness within her was almost ethereal. Iris wished she could live in that place always. She interpreted the brief experience with the feeling as life’s way of returning the gift she had given to the small group of mothers and hoped it was enough to push or pull them through their worries. 

As she read, mothers refreshed by their reprieve drifted in to retrieve their children. They cuddled with the kids until the end of the story.

  While chatting about what they did over the two hours, mothers bundled their children in hats with pom-poms and poofy snow coats.  The green suede chair beside Iris’s grandmother absorbed Brittany, who anxiously watched the door, for her mother. As Iris consoled, “I’m sure your mother will be here soon,” the door opened, and Serena rushed through it.

“I’m sorry.” Serena’s cheeks were red from the cold. She raised not one, but two cups of coffee. “The craziest thing happened. I stopped at the coffee hut.”

She held the second one out for Iris to accept. “The Holiday Kisses angel left me a note.”

“Oh, but she left the note for you,” Iris objected, but accepted the coffee anyway.

“You have been so kind. I’m sure the angel wouldn’t mind if I had her help paying it forward.” Serena bent down and held out her arm so her daughter would give her a hug. “Did you have fun?”

“Did you know Iris is an angel too?”

Iris pulled on her ear and quickly corrected the mistake. “I think she means I was an angel when I was her age.”

 “I agree with Brittany. You are an angel.” Serena’s eyes seemed brighter than when she dropped off Brittany. The hiatus seemed to have refreshed her spirit. 

Iris couldn’t help smiling. The only thing better than giving Holiday kisses gifts was seeing the effect it had on the people who received them.  

***

We’ll end the story here for now. In the past, readers have asked for more back story. I hope I’ve fulfilled the request. Let me know what you think of the changes in the storytelling style.

Also, next week we’ll see what Jordan has been up to since he’s made his discovery.

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