From his seat in the back corner of the coffee shop, Jordon kept an ear toward his conversation with Brad while observing Iris enter the store.
Earlier in the day, Shannon mentioned that the cafe owner accidentally revealed the identity of the Holiday Kisses Angel. “We should have known.” Shannon’s voice was light with the happiness of someone who had solved a puzzle. “It’s Iris.”
The same Iris who approached the register; gave the barista some cash, and wandered to the display of coffee gift baskets on the opposite wall. From where Jordan was sitting, it seemed as though Iris had no interest whatsoever in the barista, who returned to wiping the counters behind the shelf.
There was something different about Iris that Jordan couldn’t immediately discern. He asked himself why he never noticed how cute she looked in her cardigan sweater with holly leaves embroidered along the button seam. The woman was a walking holiday card. Perhaps that was why Jordan couldn’t peel his eyes away from her.
She picked up a traveler coffee mug from the shelf and eyed it. Her curious expression gave him no indication of whether she liked the cup or not. If she liked it, he’d buy it for her as a present. The thought struck Jordan so quickly he batted it away before giving it time to settle. He and Iris were friends. This sudden desire to buy her things was a result of the holidays. It was not a result of him wanting to please her.
Iris returned the tumbler to the shelf. Her eyes wandered over the dark wood shelf to where the books written by local artists were sold.
“I don’t mean to bore you,” Brad said dryly.
His voice jolted Jordan’s senses. Jordan blinked himself back to the conversation. “I’m sorry. I have to take care of something I’ll be right back.”
Brad glanced over at Iris and smiled wryly. “No problem. I have to shoot off a couple of texts.”
Jordan walked across the store to talk to Iris. The only way to confirm the rumors was to ask.
He made a show of examining the holiday lights hanging from the ceiling. When he was close enough to touch Iris, his hand reached up and pulled at a piece of glitter in her hair. The glitter remained in place, but that didn’t matter. Iris rewarded his effort with a quick smile. The quick whiff of her perfume gave off hints of spice and vanilla and something else that enticed him to move closer. Jordan cleared his throat to make sure his voice was within his standard register. “I’ve already read all of these.”
Iris returned to perusing the shelves. “I know.” She used her I know you more than you realize voice. The thing was Jordan half believed that she did.
“Do you keep a list?” His challenge was charged with energy. Was he as special to her as she had alluded?
“No, I’ve bought them all for you. The real surprise is that you’ve read them.” Iris tried to keep her face stiff, but the sparkle in her eye said she had taken his bait.
Jordan’s chest vibrated with the awareness that he had Iris’s attention. The feeling exhilarated, yet unnerved him at the same time. When had he developed such strong feelings for Iris, and why hadn’t he seen them coming? “So, you do keep a list?”
When her cheeks flushed with pink, Jordan knew he had hit the target. She felt whatever it was that was happening to them too. The reason for his approaching her was clouded but not entirely obscured by the sense of euphoria.
Jordan pressed toward his intention. Now that he was standing beside Iris , he knew beyond a doubt. Iris was the Holiday Kisses Angel. How he hadn’t figured it out sooner aggravated him. He wrapped his lips under his teeth and released a slow, soft breath. “Something you might be interested in knowing happened today.” He tried to keep the taunting tone out of his voice, but he felt the I know something spark flare in his eye.
Iris stiffened, and Jordan reconsidered his approach. The woman who had been his best friend since their freshman year in high school was an anomaly. She had a positive outlook on life but always expected the worst. Jordan sensed Iris was aware of his purpose. So he chose a safe topic, one where he could tease her, and she’d feel comfortable. To complete the act, Jordan folded his arms in front of his chest while regarding Iris playfully. “Rumor has it, Kim in the candy store is geared up to win the Christmas tree decorating contest.”
“That is not a rumor.” Iris’s shoulders dropped as she relaxed. “I sold her some of the charms she used for her ornaments.”
Arguing that it wouldn’t be fair if the owner of the craft store entered a creativity contest, Iris always enjoyed the friendly competition from the sidelines. Then again, the sideline person was Iris’s modem operandi.
Jordan had known for years that Iris observed people with a kind eye. She did it when they thought her attention was elsewhere. Iris had to be the Holiday Kisses Angel. Like a piece of loose thread on a rolled rug, Jordan played with the possibility. If it wasn’t Iris, she was the ally who assisted with the flurry of random acts of kindness that began shortly after Thanksgiving. The possibility of Iris working with someone else would be the only hitch in Jordan and Shannon’s plan. Shannon wanted to partner with Iris to validate the noble intentions behind a project. If Iris had a partner, it meant someone else had got to her first.
Sensing he had Iris’s trust, Jordan felt safe fishing for a reaction to help him win her divulgence. “Serena was in here a while ago.”
“I know. She brought me a cup of decaf.” Iris looked down at the basket of stuffed animals. She picked up a white teddy bear the size of her hand and caressed the top before returning it to the bin and picked up another one that was brown.
Undeterred, Jordan pushed the conversation to the end he wanted. “Serena happened to be the most recent recipient of the Holiday Kisses gift.”
“Good for her. She deserves it.” Iris didn’t look him in the eye. She did that when she was trying to hide things from him.
“Okay spill it,” Jordan leaned against the table displaying the baskets of stocking sized gifts. He flashed her his you know you want to tell me grin. “You and Shannon combined are an almanac of people’s lives. If you don’t know, can you at least tell me who you think would be the Holiday Kisses Angel?”
Iris sorted through the small boxes of tea in a wooden barrel wrapped in holiday lights. “Ask Shannon.” Her clipped response warned of a sudden end to the conversation. That was when it hit Jordan. Iris could neither lie nor deny. She was a master avoider.
Jordan’s jaw tightened with the awareness of committing a fatal flaw. By bringing Shannon into the conversation, he triggered Iris’s shutdown mechanism. Iris and Shannon were Jordan’s eternal dilemma. The two women closest to him didn’t hate each other but couldn’t get along. Jordan attributed it to them being different sides of the same coin.
Both women were smart and had beautiful hearts. They used their contrasting personalities to achieve positive outcomes. Shannon was an influencer. She possessed the skill of initiating conversations with groups and guiding them to a noble outcome. Iris was more hands-on. She worked with people one on one. If the two women ever conspired together, they’d be an unstoppable force. The problem was Iris bristled every time Shannon approached her
Sensing, he had to pull the conversation back to himself as quickly as possible or lose traction. Expecting to soften Iris’s indignation, Jordan tucked his chin and looked her in the eye. Jordan reached for Iris’s hand and gave it a squeeze, silently asking for her forgiveness. The touch sent a surge through his body. Normally, Jordan wasn’t a territorial person, but he felt his blood pressure increase at the thought of anyone else touching Iris.
He smiled to hide the conflict within him. Should he fight for Iris’s admission of being the town’s maiden of random acts of kindness, or should he press to gain Iris’s favor?
Everything in Jordan leaned toward the latter. He and Iris were only friends. The signs of things ever being otherwise were buried beneath their friendship. For that reason, Jordan doubted Iris’s reaction to the change in his feelings for her. He still didn’t understand what happened to change his perspective. Was it Iris’s perfume, or maybe she exuded newfound confidence that attracted him to her? Something had changed. Whatever it was, somebody else was sure to notice.
His mind clicked like the chambers in a lock to open the door to his solution. Bring the topic back to Iris. Show her he knew her better than anyone. Jordan could use the foundation of their relationship to assert her value and earn her trust.
“What if I told you Shannon thinks it’s you?”
Again, Iris foiled his plan. Her eyes narrowed, and her lips fell into a frown. “Why would Shannon say anything nice about me? If anything, I think she’d take the credit for it.”
“Think about it.” Jordan lifted his thumb to start the count off for the reasons. “You are never in the room when a Holiday Kiss gram is delivered.”
He extended his pointer finger. “You’ve never received one.”
Crossing his arms in front of him to emphasize his last point, Jordan said. “And you love Christmas.” The next natural thing was for Iris to confess her secret or point Jordan in the direction of who she thought it would be. She was supposed to blush and touch Jordan’s arm before leaning in and telling him her secret.
Jordan hadn’t anticipated the fourth option. The one where Iris laughed and said, “People have been getting Holiday Kisses for longer than any of us could remember. I got one when I was away at college.”
Jordan’s body stiffened. Whatever Jordan asked for, Iris typically gave. The biggest being her forgiveness for a slight when he didn’t deserve it. Admitting to being kind was minor on the scale of his requests.
The irony was a cold splash of water in a hot shower. When they were at odds, Jordan sent Iris the monthly care packages. Her mother had died, her father had all but disappeared. He didn’t want Iris to think that she was alone in her struggles at college. It was years gone by. Still, he didn’t want to remind her of their past.
“There you go.” Iris bobbed and grinned wider. She was the mouse that escaped the trap, and they both knew it. “I have been the recipient of a random act of kindness.” Iris patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Not knowing is what makes it fun.” She pulled a strand of hair, examined it, and smiled. “I look like I’ve spent the evening with children and glitter. I should head home.”
Jordan watched Iris walk away and hold the door open for Shannon. Iris pursed her lips, showing her displeasure when Shannon held out her arms and exclaimed to Jordan, “Just the person I was looking for.”
For the time being, there wasn’t much Jordan could do about the battle between his friends. So he waved goodbye to Iris and walked back with Shannon to the table with Brad.
He had failed both of his missions. Iris stealthily avoided delivering the confession; and his foothold on the possibilities of their relationship remained slippery. That was okay, he decided. It would give him time to sort through his feelings for Iris to determine what it was that had changed?