When Jordan and Iris bundled up in their coats, Iris’s zipper stuck in the middle, she turned to hide. Iris still couldn’t believe what happened. She was supposed to make things easier for Jordan and Shannon. Her foolish heart threatened to ruin everything.
In the comparison between Iris and Shannon, Iris had the upper hand when it came to companionship. She read Jordan like a book and could alter her approach accordingly. If Jordan was cranky about something, Iris softened the gray cloud around him with soft cajoling. When he was arrogant, which he could be most of the time, she sassed. His admiration was her favorite. She’d relish in it. But then, it was for something she had done for him, not who she was as a person.
What made it that much harder for Iris to pull away from Jordan was he knew her. She woke in the morning to a text from him. “You looked stunning last night. Cyd Cherise would have been impressed.” He said the right things to make her feel special. The men her uncle Simon brought around were friendly; they seemed to be more along the lines of someone who could provide food on the table, but nothing for Iris’s heart.
Her cheeks felt warm when she looked up to find Jordan watching her. His black wool coat buttoned, and his scarf was already hanging around the collar. So, he was ready to go within a minute. The disappointment of failure in keeping up discouraged Iris. “You can go ahead without me.”
Iris was trying to give Jordan a chance to change his mind. To think through what happened. The two of them together was so far out of her realm of possibilities. That was the thread that held her idea of setting up Jordan with Shannon. Iris couldn’t understand why something she wanted would come to her, especially out of the blue.
“I like walking with you.” Jordan wrapped her scarf around her and set the two tasseled edges on her shoulders.
A trace of his aftershave lingered when he stepped back to assess her outfit. For the first time, Iris allowed herself to relish in the fragrance. The permission to go with what she felt sent flutters of happiness through her.
“You look like Christmas.”
Iris looked down. Her knee-length, red down coat accented with a white scarf with grayish snowflakes did look like something a Christmas character would wear. “What can you say, I embrace the holidays to the fullest.”
“That’s one of the things I like about you.” Jordan took Iris’s hand in his and led her out the door.
The snow, falling to the ground in gentle waves, glistened in the rings around the light post. Iris inhaled a breath of cold, sharp air. Her entire being was invigorated, almost to the point of overwhelming her.
One time she was walking on the sidewalk. A light dusting of snow coated the walkway. Focusing on where she was supposed to go, Iris walked carefully and confidently. The next thing she knew, she was on her back, looking up at the sky. Beneath the snow, a thin sheet of ice waited to throw Iris into a fall that knocked the air out of her lungs. This had to be one of those situations.
Jordan touched his forehead to Iris’s. He gazed into her eyes with warmth and tenderness Iris hadn’t known Jordan possessed. His gentle encouragement, “This is real,” drifted to the parts years of wanting had tempered.
A slow smile softened Iris’s heart giving belief in the possible to creep through the doubt. “This is real.” She released the notion of Jordan and Shannon ever being a couple. With nothing to hold it down, her heart soared.
Jordon pecked Iris on the lips before wrapping her in a hug. She hugged him back and accepted his warmth. This is real.
He took her hand. “You know what I like about you. You are giving. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, you are doing something for someone else. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you are the Holiday Kisses Angel.”
Iris stiffened her face to hide her fear of exposing her secret. She’d been the Holiday Kisses Angel for fifteen years. The cumulative effect didn’t draw attention to her random acts of kindness until five years ago. Also, having been the recipient of an anonymous kind deed taught her the power of the unknown.
When Iris was in college, gift boxes of ramen, macaroni and cheese, and microwave popcorn from pulled Iris through a tough time. Whenever she was down, a twenty-five cent bag of soup reminded her that someone cared about her. She could honestly say the gifts from the person she’d probably never get the chance to meet changed her perspective on life. Jordan, who never had to struggle, would never understand the significance of something as simple as a cup of coffee.
That and the only worthwhile thing Iris accomplished on her own volition, with her own money, was the Holiday Kisses Angel gifts. Like the person who helped her all those years ago, Iris offered random acts of kindness without expectation of acknowledgment or thanks. To share her secret would defile the intent behind the action.
She let Jordan’s comment drop. If she ignored it, maybe he’d interpret it as a denial. “Has anybody asked Santa what he wanted for Christmas?”
“That’s easy.” Jordan’s circled in front of Iris and reached for her other hand. He stood in front of her with both of their hands bridging the connection between them. Iris felt the yearning she also heard in his voice. “All I want for Christmas is you.”
The unexpected transition from Jordan, her pal to the man in front of her, didn’t make sense. Iris wanted to but couldn’t fully trust it. “Did someone drop some mistletoe or something in your cocoa?”
“If I say yes, would you believe me?”
“No.” Iris shuddered. “Mistletoe would kill you.”
“Iris, I know you.” He rested his hands on her shoulders. “It is going to take a minute for this to settle.”
They resumed the roles they started with in high school. Jordon caught the vision, Iris doubted it, and he waited patiently for her to catch up. The problem was she had seen them together, hoped for it to happen for years, and had relinquished it. What were the odds that the day after she surrendered her dream of being happy with Jordan to someone else, it came true? It had to be a trick life was playing on her.
Jordan looked at her with a searching gaze that said he was reading more than her words to determine the verity of her answer. “Will I see you tomorrow?”
“If you don’t mind seeing the Christmas play. I promised the kids I’d bring cookies.” Iris had dozens she’d baked in her spare time to share with the children.
“Then it’s a date.” The goofy grin on Jordan’s face astonished Iris.
“We’ve been looking all over the place for you.” Simon’s voice was a boom of thunder on a quiet night, jarring the connection.
Iris jumped away from Jordan like a child who got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “I thought you and Rose went home already.”
“Rose was worried about you walking alone, so I came after you.” Simon scowled at Jordan. “Dinner should be done by the time we get there.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you were waiting for me,” Iris apologized.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Iris.” Then he did something Iris never thought she’d live to see. He flicked his fingers in an informal salute, said, “See you around Simon,” and turned down the path to his car.
Ever since the prom fiasco, Jordan either ignored or accepted Simon’s rude behavior in silence. That little goodbye said the tides had turned. Jordan had moved on from his mistakes, and it was time Simon had, too.
“What was that about?” Simon mused aloud. He had picked up on the change as well.
“I don’t know.” Iris linked elbows with her uncle and shuffled to show she was ready to go home. “He’s been different since he put on that Santa Suit.” She left out the part where she hoped Jordan didn’t change back.