December was a month of cookies, cheery songs, and chatter about tidings of comfort and joy. It was the second week after Thanksgiving, and the season was already wearing thin on Jordan. He could not understand how Iris endured the month.
The cinnamon from the wax-coated, pine cones by the senior center door settled Jordan’s nerves. The holidays weren’t that bad. It was the pressure people tied to all the events. Everyone was happy, and everything was perfect. Yet, it wasn’t. Last night he passed the time with Carrie Miller because she was uncomfortable being in crowds. She felt like every time she walked by, people talked about the person she used to be. “I like who I am,” Carrie said with a defiant pride that deepened Jordan’s admiration of her.
Before the accident, Carrie skied at a level that mirrored professionals. After her life had been so dramatically changed, she turned into a behind the scenes person. Carrie worked with Shannon writing grants so people could have electricity. They also worked with the food pantry to make sure people had meals. For years, they had been trying to discover the Christmas Kisses angel’s identity so she could help. One by one, the signs pointed to none other than the big-hearted Iris Sinclair. Janie from the café was the first to break the mum agreement and spill the beans.
Jordan spied a large bouquet of red, pink, and white carnations at the nurse’s desk. Iris loved carnations. One time she made bouquets out of tissue paper and gave them as Mother’s Day presents. Jordan searched the desk for the note to confirm his suspicions. He saw pens, post-it notes, and pictures of patients, but nothing to prove that the flowers were from the Holiday Kisses Angel. It didn’t matter, he was there to see Iris. Jordon followed his compulsion to make sure things were okay between them, not to confront her about her not-so-secret identity.
Focusing on hair color, Jordan surveyed the large room. Iris was one of the few with light brown hair. Otherwise, she fit in with the white and silver-haired women who wore holiday sweaters, vests, and a couple had reindeer antlers on their heads. Men hunched over from age held decks of cards. Without hearing any of the conversations, Jordan could tell by the stern focus followed by a bit of laughter they were deeply enmeshed in their card games. Iris remained to be seen, instead Jordan found his grandmother, Helen, at a table playing dominoes with his grandma Edna, Rose, and another woman. He crossed the room and planted a kiss on his grandmother’s temple. “Good to see you, Gran.”
“This is why you’re my favorite grandson.” She pinched his cheek. “Pull up a chair.”
“Erm, I was looking for Iris.” Jordan cleared his throat and pulled at a loose string he found on the cuff of his sleeve.
“Iris? Do we know any seniors named Iris?” Edna directed the question to her friends.
Rose’s eyes sparkled with approval. “My granddaughter is on the other end of the room. Otherwise, no Irises.”
Once Rose said it, Jordan spotted Iris in a corner table with a woman in a loose red dress and slippers. Iris held onto a hand twisted with arthritis. She glided the miniature paintbrush across the tip and raised her head to speak.
The image he’d never be able to catch with a camera lens struck Jordan. Iris is the most beautiful person in the world. His heart swelled in appreciation of the woman he had known since before either could add one plus one.
It also came with a pinch of guilt. Before Jordan entered the room, Jordan resented the holidays and all their wishes for glad times. Iris always went above wishing. She granted good tidings through her kind words and deeds. Jordan marveled in her beauty; in the small smile that added a glow when she spoke; in the glimmer of veneration in her eyes.
Had Jordan skipped the senior center’s Caroling with Kids event, he’d have missed out on the picture of beauty that featured his best friend.
“You are the person I’ve been looking for.” Rod Shepard tapped Jordan on the shoulder and tipped his head to pull him from the table. “It’ll only take a second, ladies.”
With a multitude of possibilities for Shannon and Carrie’s father wanting to speak with him, Jordon didn’t bother trying to guess what Rod wanted to talk about.
“I am not feeling well and need someone to fill in for me,” was nowhere near what Jordan would have supposed.
Rod looked like he could use a good nap. A slight glaze hid the usual luster in his eyes. Jordan frowned at Rod’s red velvet pants lined in white fir. The pulse of pressure that comes with being around little kids squeezed at him. “You weren’t thinking.”
“I wouldn’t ask.” Rod rubbed the area below his left shoulder. “But I have a tight feeling in my chest. Irene is pressing me to take a visit to the hospital.”
Two sentences changed Jordan’s attitude from resistant obligor to willing substitute. Rod Shepard gave so much to the community and Jordan personally, filling in was the least Jordan could do. “Is there anything special I have to say? Do presents have names?” What else did he need to know that he didn’t think to ask?
“Just say ho, ho, ho.” Rob stepped out of the pants revealing the red long john bottoms he wore beneath them.
“You take the job seriously.” Jordan held out his hand to help Rod maintain balance.
“Once you see the sheer joy on the kids’ faces, you’ll understand.” Rod hung the Santa pants over the back of the chair and reached for his trousers resting on the arm. He passed the coat, beard, and belt to Jordan. “Now if you’d excuse me, I have to put on my official duty clothes.”
Within minutes, Irene was at the door, waiting for her husband to come out. “We appreciate your help. I think you’ll work well with the Mrs. Claus we’ve chosen for you.”
Rod opened the door. A bit of color returned when he saw Irene.
I want what they have. The thought struck Jordan with such immediacy he didn’t have time to question it. Irene and Rod’s distinctive personalities made them a dynamic couple. He was larger than life. She, a little more down to earth, let him have his freedom. When it was time for him to settle into the routine family rituals, she was there to relive the silly moments.
Jordan witnessed it the night prior. At Shannon’s invitation, Brad and a couple of the other guys stopped by. Rod and Irene returned from the dance and joined in the impromptu game night their daughters started. Irene regaled stories of Rod’s jitterbugging. Rod offered to give her private lessons.
Shannon and Carrie said, “Eww,” but the glows of pride for their parents’ love was unmistakable.
As Jordan watched Rod and Irene walk arm down the senior center corridor, he saw himself with his life’s companion. It was blurred, but the contentment and the unconditional love he felt for and from the other person were unmistakable.
Jordan experienced the near vision once before as the high school band director. In his junior year, a routine came to him as a fleeting vision. It was one of those with people moving all over the place and complicated coordination. In the days to come, the steps to bring it to fruition emerged. Over lunch, when Jordan saw people queue to discard their trays and head to class, he saw the instrumentalist move forward and divide. In Phys. ed class during basketball, one of the players circled around for a layup. The people in the middle circled around on either side. By the end of the season, the band morphed into a video game scene with accuracy comparable to the college bands they watched on YouTube.
The buzzing in Jordan’s body told him it was happening again. He blinked and strained to force the vision to the front of his mind. He got nothing. “It’ll come,” he murmured and focused on something he could control, fitting into his Santa pants.