“I don’t know why he’s mad.” Even though Iris knew she didn’t deserve Jordan’s death glare, it made her uncomfortable. She wiggled in her seat to shirk the heat that ran through her body. “It’s not like we’re talking to each other.”
“I love how you answer your own question and still don’t get it.” Rose pointed toward the front of the room. “Shh, pay attention to the story.”
For all Iris knew, the person at the front of the room read the story in Latin. She heard the voice, but the words didn’t register in her mind. She saw kids in costumes, acting out the parts. The audiences’ chuckles and gushes made Iris wish that much more she knew what was going on. She wanted to feel soft and cozy, too.
Every time she tried, her mind wandered to when she and Jordan had fun doing little things. Then it vacillated to wondering if it was one-sided—that Jordan was placating her. Maybe their tiff was his way of saying he didn’t realize until they kissed that he had outgrown her. Crazier things had been known to happen.
Five minutes into the reading, Iris gave in to the urge to take a reprieve to the washroom to pull herself together. “I’ll be right back.”
Thankful she chose a seat closer to the edge of the row, Iris sidestepped past two other people. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. They nodded and craned their necks to look around her.
Iris trained her eyes on the carpet with maroon and gray swirls all the way to the large wooden doors. Her lungs expanded in relief when she closed the door behind her, only to tighten them again when she bumped into Shannon.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Shannon’s voice was pleasant. Too pleasant. Iris suspected a major boast or request.
The thing about Shannon was there was no avoiding her. She was like a kid that stepped into a candy store with a dollar. They were leaving with what they wanted. “What do you need?” Iris braced herself. With the foul mood she was in, responding with grace would be challenging.
She hadn’t prepared herself for Shannon’s terse. “For the love of all that is good, pull it together.”
“What more do you want from me?” Iris was done holding back. “To print out and laminate the notes for you, too.”
“Note? No. Jordan. Every time anyone mentions you, his face drops, and he mopes like his puppy ran away from home.” She turned Iris by the shoulders and pointed her in the direction of the alcove between the bathrooms. Jordan straightened after taking a drink from the fountain. The scowl from when they were in the Great Room had deepened to a frown.
“Would you want to do random acts of kindness with him?” Shannon tugged Iris toward Jordan. She moved so quickly; Iris stumbled to keep up with her. The two women stopped directly in front of Jordan. The first thought to hit Iris was he’s wearing the cologne I bought him for his birthday. It was followed by, wow, he smells fantastic.
“What is going on?” The storm in his eyes was all but gone. The lines in his face softened into what almost looked like hope.
“I don’t want to talk to either of you two until you work this out.” Shannon folded her arms in front of her. “Jordan, eating raw potatoes would be a more pleasant experience than talking to you.”
She poked Iris in the arm. “This is all your fault. Fix it.”
To both of them, she said, “I’ll be back in ten minutes. You better have this all worked out.” Then she turned on her heel and marched away.
Iris watched Shannon open the large oak door and slip back into the hall. “What’s got into her?”
“I don’t know.” Jordan fidgeted. “I have been kind all week.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure you were effective at it too,” Iris said. “I suppose she wanted me to…”
Jordan cut her off. “I’m sorry.”
Iris blinked. Had she heard correctly?
The remorse from her decision to exclude Jordan and Shannon was killing Iris. In hindsight, she saw her reasons were petty. “I’m sorry, too. What I said wasn’t kind and very selfish.” Her body heated in embarrassment. “It isn’t like I hold a license on kindness. I don’t know why I behaved the way I did. Whatever you need, I’ll help you with it.”
“Iris. Iris. Iris. I need you.”
She waited for the rest of what he needed her for. When he didn’t complete the sentence, she stretched her question by exaggerating the “o” sound, “For?”
Jordan threw his hands in the air. “Why is this so difficult? You, Iris. I need you. Do you have any idea how hard it has been? Knowing you wouldn’t confide in me? I tell you everything.”
“I should have told you when you first asked,” Iris admitted. “It’s just. Shannon makes me crazy.”
“She does that to all of us.” Jordan shoved his hands in his pockets. “But she’s usually right.”
Iris’s head jerked.
“She’s been telling me for years that you were good for me.” In response to Iris’s head tip of disbelief, he replied, “Apparently, I’m more patient with her after I hang out with you.”
“Oh.” Iris saw why Shannon inserted herself in their argument.
“I can see it in your eyes. I’m doing this wrong.” Jordan rested his hands on Iris’s shoulders. “I will fix this.” He wrapped his arms around Iris. Unprepared for the gesture, Iris had an inkling of what a cat being held by a small child felt like. She wanted to squirm away but didn’t because it was useless. “Iris, if anyone should have understood why you kept the truth so close to your heart, it should have been me, because I’ve been doing the same thing.”
That got her attention. “You’ve been doing things in secret?”
“Iris, I am in love with you. I’ve been fighting it because you are too good for me.”
“But you said—”
He gently placed his finger over her lip. “Let’s not mistake what I wanted for what was the right thing to do. People have copied you. You have made being kind a part of our identity.”
Jordan’s confession settled in Iris’s mind like a warm cup of tea. It seeped into the places that had thought the chill of aloneness was a permanent state. He was in love with her. Iris’s world expanded with the acceptance of it. Jordan must have sensed the change in her because his grip tightened, pulling her toward his chest. Iris glanced up to look at him, and he planted his lips on hers. He tasted like mint, and the warmth of his touch filled her with a sense that she was exactly where she belonged. Iris imagined it was what happily ever after was supposed to feel like.
They heard the rumbling of the crowd before the door to the Great Hall opened. Filled with awe of the difference from how they were before and after the Christmas presentation, Iris stepped away from Jordan. In less time than it took for some people to clear the dinner table, Jordan had created a clean slate for their relationship. He fulfilled his promise. He said he would fix it, and he had.
People poured into the once empty room. Iris caught snippets of conversations through the din of voices. “Are you going to the parade?” She knew the answer but thought it best to ask.
“If you’d like, we can watch it from the garage at the phone company.”
“It sounds like fun,” Iris agreed. “But I have to tell my grandmother.”
“She’s supposed to meet my grandmother at her house.” Jordan gestured with his head, and Iris followed where his eyes landed. Rose and Helen hunched together seemed to be conspiring. Rose pointed toward Iris and Jordan, and they changed their course to meet them.
Charlene approached with Helen. When they were together, it was easy to see they were mother and daughter. Charlene’s face had softened, reminding Iris of the woman who used to chat with her in the kitchen when they were younger. “Jordan, you seem pleased. Am I correct in believing you have sorted through your disagreement with Iris?”
Jordan pulled Iris into a side hug and kissed her on the top of her head.
Rose nudged the space between Helen and herself, giving a conspiratorial tone. “Finally. They’ve pulled it together.”
Charlene said, “Iris, dear. I’ve heard from a couple of the mothers that you have been hosting craft classes with the children. I would love to partner up with you and do something. Maybe for Valentine’s Day.”
“I would love to.” Iris’s heart raced in the struggle to keep up with her new reality.
Jordan and Shannon used her superpower for good. Who would have thought Shannon of all people would have barreled through the tension thick enough to fortify several strongholds to bring Jordan and Iris together. This time, Shannon had done something better than Iris; for that, Iris would be forever grateful.