“I’ve been looking forward to the Christmas play all day.” Jordan was at Iris’s house at 6:30.
Iris couldn’t help admiring his red sweater with white snowflakes across his chest and fitted jeans. “You look nice.” She sniffed the air to catch an extra dose of his cologne. “And you smell good, too.” They almost matched. Iris wore a red cardigan that accented her black and white houndstooth pants.
“Why, thank you.” Jordan beamed. He scanned the interior of the house behind Iris. “Is your uncle here?”
When Iris said, “He’s at the Firehall, helping the firefighters with their float for the Christmas parade,” Jordan’s chest settled.
Iris didn’t know what to do about the animosity between Simon and Jordan. Simon said he forgave Jordan for his mistakes in high school. Yet, every once in a while, a disagreeable comment like, “That guy has some sort of spell over you,” emerged. He said it like it expected Jordan to whisk Iris away to some remote island from where she’d never return.
“Let the young have the chance to make the same mistakes we did,” her grandmother would admonish. Then she’d wink at Iris as if to say, I have your back.
“My grandmother is going to meet us there,” Iris dipped her hand into her coat sleeve. Jordan wrapped around and helped her pull on the other one. The scent of the sharp cold air that lingered on his coat urged her to dress quicker.
“Why isn’t she riding with us?” Jordan asked.
“She wants to go out for pie with some friends after the play. I stay afterward to pass out cookies and help clean up.” Iris handed Jordan a tote filled with stacked bins of cookies. She tucked the tray to display them between her arm and her sleeve. Having someone help her magnified the effect of bringing the cookies to share with the kids. It was like Jordan was the Clyde to her Bonnie, except they were doing good deeds. Iris locked the door behind them, she said, “Thank you for helping me with the cookies.” Hoping that she incorrectly jumped to conclusions, Iris forced the uncomfortable feeling from Shannon and Carrie’s visit earlier to the back of her mind.
“For a couple of years, I wasn’t appreciative of the Christmas season. I was going through the motions, but it didn’t feel like a celebration.” Jordan admitted as he hurried to open the door for Iris. “This is fun.”
“What a horrible feeling. I’m sorry.” Iris could relate. She dreaded the first Christmas without her mother. When she received a care package with popcorn and goodies, her perspective brightened. Someone cared about her in her time of sadness.
“Don’t be. It was my own fault.” Jordan closed the door behind her. After he opened his side and sat down, Jordan paused to give Iris an appreciative glance. “You have this way of making the holidays special.”
“Thank you.” Iris’s ears warmed with her blush. “I feel the same way about you.” Excepting the years after high school when they ran in different social circles, Iris had always loved being in Jordan’s company. He had a way of saying what she needed to hear. Sometimes it was advice, other times it was to distract her from something that bothered her. He always knew when to offer a kind word to bolster her confidence.
“Why now?” Iris asked.
“I don’t follow.” Jordan turned on the engine.
“We’ve been friends forever. What was it about now that made you see me differently?”
“I could ask you the same.” Jordan caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.
“I’ve been in love with you forever,” Iris admitted. She froze when she caught the jolt in Jordan’s eyes. He hadn’t known how she felt. Or was it because she said the love word and he wasn’t ready to hear it? “I’m not expecting you to say that you love me.” Saying what she felt was oddly freeing. If things weren’t going to work out between Jordan and her, she’d be able to walk away knowing she hadn’t held back anything.
“Forever? Like how long forever?” Jordan perked like a child who suspected where his parents hid his Christmas presents beneath their bed.
“I can’t tell you all my secrets.” Iris batted her eyes and followed it with a silly grin.
“Oh, the fun I could have trying to get you to spill it.” Her heart hitched in response to the huskiness in his voice.
“We have children waiting for us to tell them how talented they are.”
Iris didn’t know if the decorations on their way to the school were more vivid or if it was the effect of Jordan’s presence. Lights were brighter. The snow smelled crisper.
The euphoric feeling carried over to the Christmas program. Either the stage mom was disguised as a tree, or none of the kids needed prompting to remember their lines. The sugar plum fairies pirouetted across the stage without tripping. The Christmas angel boldly proclaimed tidings of joy to all she encountered. Serena, who was sitting beside Iris, snapped pictures like it was the first and last time her daughter was going to be in the holiday production.
Iris, swelling with pride, angled toward Jordan. “Aren’t they adorable?”
He raised his brow to show he agreed. “To think in a couple years, they’ll be performing in recitals and cantatas.”
Jordan knew the next steps because he and Iris had lived them.
“It’ll be fun seeing how much they’ve grown.” Iris meant it, too. There was something special about seeing the kids who froze as kindergarten develop the confidence to shine in second grade.
“I bet you’ll bring them cookies then.”
Iris flushed at the sincerity in Jordan’s voice. He knew her too well.
When the curtain closed and people rose to leave, Iris wormed her way through the crowd to go to the snack area. She made sure to save a cookie for Brittany, who came from backstage with traces of glitter in her eyebrows.
She kneeled in front of Brittany to speak on her level. “From one angel to another, I can say you were wonderful. I felt your joy all the way in the middle of the audience.”
“Really?” Brittany’s voice was breathy with the belief of what she heard.
“Hmm, mm.” Iris nodded.
“Thank you.” Brittany launched herself into Iris to hug her.
Iris patted the girl’s back. In the tenderness of the moment, Iris found herself missing her mother. Violet Sinclair always had the right thing to say. When she passed, Iris worried that she wouldn’t be able to fill the void her mother’s absence had created. It may have taken a while, but it seemed that Iris had figured it out.
One time when Iris and her mother were sitting on the porch swing in the back yard, Violet asked Iris, “What would you do if you fell in love with Jordan and he couldn’t return the feelings?”
At the time, Iris thought her mother was using a hypothetical situation to teach Iris about friendship. Years later, in the elementary auditorium with echoes of memories, Iris wondered if her mother, in some way, knew. She couldn’t do anything about it because Iris wasn’t ready. Still, she trusted her inclination to prepare Iris for what was to come.
Iris surveyed the room to find Jordan in the corner talking with a group of people. At first, she only recognized Serena. Then it occurred to her that Jordan’s friend Brad was beside her. On the other side of Jordan, standing rather closely and looking like something out of a Christmas catalog, was Shannon. A flare of jealousy struck in Iris’s stomach, and her arms tensed. Then she thought about her promise at the dance. What if she was right? Jordan belonged with Shannon. Promising to deal with it later, Iris pushed aside the feeling and joined the group.
She wasn’t there long when Jordan said, “We should head out. I have an early day tomorrow.”
Everyone said their “yeah, me toos.”
Jordan drove in silence. Iris tried planning ahead to her next Holiday Kisses gift. She wanted to buy Kim, the owner of the candy store, soup and sandwich meal from the deli.
When out of the blue, Jordan said, “Can I tell you something, and you promise you won’t get mad?”
“Sure.” Iris tried to keep her voice light.
“Has anyone done anything kind for you, lately?”
“All the time,” Iris admitted. “Earlier today, the mayor stopped by to thank me for being Mrs. Claus.”
“Let me be more direct. Why don’t you feel comfortable admitting you’re the Holiday Kisses Angel? I thought we could tell each other anything.”
He left no room for denial. Either Iris admitted it, or she lied. “Why is it important for you to know?”
“I could help you. And maybe we could ask others like Shannon Shepard and the mayor to help us, too.”
And the ton of bricks fell on Iris’s chest. Jordan and Shannon had been setting her up all along.
I feel bad ending this week this way. Have you ever had the best intentions but they just go wrong? I promise (because the story is finished) Iris and Jordan will align soon. They have to. Christmas is a little more than seven weeks away.
And this is where I’ll add some shameless self-promotion. The ebook for Holiday Kisses will be available on November 25th.
Iris Sinclair looks forward to the day after Thanksgiving. It’s the day her Holiday Kisses season begins, and she leaves little presents to brighten people’s days.
Things change when Iris’s best friend, Jordan, notices something special behind her quirky personality. The change couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. Iris’s nemesis has recruited him to enlist Iris in a partnership she would never agree to without his influence.
The Paradise Hills promise of a magical happily ever after is tested when the best friends are forced to choose between their blossoming love or the secret.