Iris straightened her skirt at least a hundred times before she reached the entrance to the Holly Jolly Christmas Gala. Every time before the dance, she had to talk herself down. It had been years since the prom, but the anxiety from the aftermath loomed over her joy. She had to remind herself that she was not there as Jordan’s date. Which meant he wasn’t going to ditch her and get them both in trouble.
Muffled holiday music bled through the walls decorated with silver snowflakes. Iris loved how the dance committee used strands of icicle lights to illuminate the gala’s corridor. Then she prepared herself for a forced conversation with Jordan’s mother. It was one where Iris was polite because she always tried to treat people with kindness. Charlene would speak with a tint of disdain in her voice. The tone said that she was using all her effort to be civil toward Iris.
The sad thing was it hadn’t always been that way between them. The colder, more judgmental version of Jordan’s mother appeared after the prom fiasco. Jordan said he explained a million ways to Sunday that he left Iris with a friend to go to the after-party that ignited a bonfire of rumors throughout Paradise Hills. Still, Charlene believed it was the other way around. That Jordan left the party after Iris chose another date over Jordan. Iris could hear Charlene’s disdain when she said, “at the prom of all places.”
Then again, Iris’s Uncle Simon had a similar attitude towards Jordan. He’d said on more than one occasion, “It would be easier for you to get a husband if you ditched that loser of a friend.”
Iris shook away the feeling. They were adults and should have moved on from that. When Iris passed through the tinsel icicles that divided the room from the hall in lieu of the door, her concerns drifted with her breath of relief. Helen, the town’s official grandmother, greeted Iris. “Look at you! Your skirt. Did you make it?” Iris promised to send a thank you note to Santa and the good Lord for deliverance from the uncomfortable beginning.
Iris bent her knee to make the bottom of her skirt wave. She decorated a midnight blue A-line skirt with tiny poinsettia flowers at the bottom by her knee. A thin, silver line twirled along the bottom, making it look like a poodle skirt fashioned to fit the holidays. She matched her blouse to the skirt’s color, so it presented more like a dress than an ensemble. Her black ballerina slippers had crystal accents below Iris’s ankle. Most important, the outfit was comfortable enough for dancing, but cute enough to fit in with the holiday dance theme.
She straightened to return the compliment. “Your dress is stunning.”
Helen wore a navy crepe dress. Rhinestones stitched on the upper bodice gave the illusion of a starry night on her neckline. Iris aspired to grow into someone as classy as Helen. She suspected she’d follow in the family tradition of decorating her clothes with baubles and embroidery patterns that resembled flowers. Iris and her grandmother could be best described as cute. Helen, who also happened to be Jordan’s grandmother, was classy. Her brow raised a little when she said, “I hear good things have been happening around town.”
“That’s what I love about the holidays,” Iris replied. But she felt the back of her neck grow red. She’d have to be more careful to divert suspicion.
Classical Christmas music played through tall black speakers positioned on all four corners of the room. Iris scanned the room until she found Jordan standing beside his other grandmother, Edna. Edna pressed her hand into her chest and smiled. Iris guessed that someone had given her a compliment. When Iris noticed that Jordan’s red and black plaid suit matched Edna’s dress, she grinned and exhaled an appreciative breath. Jordon’s confidence in his looks pulled off the outfit. Where others would look goofy, he looked dashing and charming. His eyes connected with Iris’s and the edges of his lips tilted slightly upward. It was his smile to let her know that he saw her and was glad that she was there. As quickly as he gave Iris his attention, he turned and reengaged in the conversation his grandmother was having with her friends.
That was why, despite her uncle’s criticism and Jordan’s mother’s lukewarm reception, Iris and Jordan were still friends. She and Jordan had the gift of silent communication. In the glances, head tilts, and soft smiles, they said what every person in the world longed to hear: you matter to me.
Iris searched the room to see who else was there. It was the familiars: the mayor and his wife, her grandmother, and her friends, people she had seen around town. It all looked the same, yet Iris had the impression that the evening would be different. She pushed the feeling aside and motioned to join Jordan and his grandmother.
When she was halfway there, she saw Shannon out of the corner of her eye. With an air of excitement, Shannon glided to Jordan and didn’t stop until she was in front of him.
The enthusiasm Iris fought to contain seconds prior withered. Not wanting to seem like the third wheel, Iris meandered toward the punch bowl to watch the events unfold. She made a show of filling a cup with punch while keeping an eye on the activity across the room.
If Iris didn’t know any better, she would have sworn Shannon had a vested interest in Jordan. She threw her head back and laughed while touching his arm. Once, she linked arms with him and said something to Edna. Iris’s heart froze in her chest when she saw the sincere expression on Jordan’s face. He listened intently to what Shannon had to say.
From a distance, Iris pulled pieces together. Shannon’s long sleeve red velvet dress was within the same color scheme as Jordan’s suit. From the outside looking in, it looked like Jordan and Shannon were there as a couple. He was the vibrant half, with Shannon being subtle and sexy.
Iris looked down at her skirt to assess her outfit. Compared to Shannon she looked dowdy. It was clear Jordan had two women in his life. One of them was the cute bestie, while the other was a trophy wife.
A disturbing thought came to Iris. What if their run was over? What if Jordan was falling in love with Shannon. As much as she didn’t want to think it was true, she had to consider what she didn’t like. History may have been repeating itself.
All those years ago, Jordan ditched Iris at the prom to go to an after-party with Shannon and her sister. Had it not been for the accident on the way, Shannon and Jordan might have struck up a relationship.
Both were grounded for the summer, so their parents would have squashed any blossoming relationships. Was it possible, the time had healed the wounds, and Jordan and Shannon were ready to pick up where they left off?
Iris also was in a mental space to address what seemed at one point in time unthinkable.
Everything in Iris screamed at her to fight for Jordan. He was her best friend. For all of her life, Shannon had seen whatever it was Iris had and tried to take it for herself. Then the part of Iris that had worked so hard to bring other people joy piped into the conversation. The Holiday Kisses Angel selflessly gave presents to people. Jordan deserved a gift as much as anyone else. If Shannon made him happy, it was only fair that Iris stepped back and gave their relationship room to flourish.
Iris inhaled a deep breath and crossed the room before she lost her nerve. She wouldn’t send the gift with a note, but it would be something Jordan would appreciate.
This is where the story stops for now. It only took me one and half books to realize it would be easier to share the images that inspired the chapter/scene/story than go searching on giphy.com.
Here’s a link to the Holiday Kisses Pinterest board if you want a behind the scenes peek.
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See you next week