Iris counted down the time until she thought it would be safe to return to the general seating area of the Cafe on Main Street. If at all possible, she didn’t want to be associated with what was about to happen. Then the door slid open.
Shannon Shepard froze when she saw Iris leaning against the bathroom sink. Her expression stiffened like the sheen on her long auburn hair. Everything about Shannon was always perfect. Her smile was symmetrical, her lipstick never smeared, and even her voice was the perfect pitch.
Shannon’s perfection was the bane of Iris’s existence. Iris pretended to straighten her sweater and smooth down her blouse beneath it. She threw a quick, courteous smile in Shannon’s direction and pivoted to walk around her. The only thing worse than being in the general seating area was being in the bathroom with Shannon. Iris didn’t like Shannon. That didn’t seem to matter to Shannon.
“Fancy meeting you in here,” Shannon eyed Iris’s sweater. “Did Rose make your sweater?” Her voice oozed with interest that Iris knew was fake. On top of looking good, Shannon always said the right things.
Iris glanced down to see what it was that would appeal to Shannon. The only thing she could see that made her sweater different than the cardigan sweaters women bought from the big box store was the singular flower applique that was a part of the lowest buttonhole. Iris, like her mother and grandmother, was named after a flower. In recognition of the family idiosyncrasy, Rose Sinclair decorated the clothes she made for her granddaughter with flowers.
“Yes, she gave it to me for my birthday.”
Shannon said, “Nice.” The warmth behind the compliment never made it to her eyes.
“It isn’t as nice as yours, of course.” Iris chose pride in her grandmother’s craft over getting a dig in at Shannon. “But it was made with love, and it keeps me warm.” She sidestepped her way to the door to escape Shannon’s draw into a conversation that would have Iris washing the bitter taste out of her mouth for hours.
Iris and Shannon had a lifelong love to hate each other relationship. It started somewhere around fifth grade. Now that she was older and wiser, Iris attributed it to her being the first in their class to purchase a bra. Of course, Shannon came to school the next day with a bra of her own. It had a pink bow, and the straps could be adjusted to accommodate her racerback t-shirts. From there, it graduated to writing contests. It alternated from one year to the next who won the American Legion Americanism essay; otherwise, the results were always the same. Shannon and Iris dominated first and second place. The only thing the two refused to compete for was their mutual best friend, Jordan Miller. The one time it happened, all three of them were hurt.
Iris shuffled out the door with the parting words, “I’ll see you around.” The last thing Iris saw before the polished dark wood door closed between them was Shannon looking down at what she wore. Fleeing the uncomfortable feeling that always accompanied a conversation with Shannon, Iris beelined it through the saloon-style doors that separated the bathroom from the general seating area.
The doors close and swung, almost giving Iris a whack on her backside. She exhaled relief at her getaway and focused on her destination: the corner booth where Jordan sat. The combination of his shaggy hair with the designer v-neck sweater he wore gave him the air of a musician, not the phone company manager. He was talking to the lady at the table across from where Jordan and Iris had eaten. If her shy grin was any indication, she appreciated the attention Jordan was giving her. Then again, women from elementary school to the senior center loved the attention from Jordan. He was that handsome. From across the room, Iris could tell he was excited about something.
She had barely slid into the seat across from Jordan when he blurted, “You just missed it.”
“And it is?” Iris took a sip of her water.
“While you were in the bathroom, the Holiday Kisses Angel hit.” He eyed her suspiciously as though he were assessing her every move to form a conclusion.
It was a game Iris was ready to play. “I thought angels were kindly spirits who delivered messages.” Iris pursed her lips to hide her smile.
“Don’t be salty because you missed it.” Jordan pointed at a card on the table.
Iris clenched her back teeth to tighten her smile. She pulled it off. Jordan had no idea.
Jordan tipped his head toward the table to direct Iris’s attention. “Amanda and I were catching up. You know she just returned from deployment.”
Amanda was an attractive woman. Her pulled-back hair and slim jawline showed sophistication and strength. When she smiled, she was stunning. If given the choice on her appearance, Iris would have chosen something along the lines of Amanda, not the quirky girl next door vibe that she’d had since she could walk.
“I was excited to come home.” Amanda picked up the card and looked at both sides. “This just makes it that much more special.”
Paradise Hills was a relaxed community that handled the problems as they came. It seemed that everyone had a secret expertise that hid below the surface of their pleasant personalities. Then a crisis struck, and suddenly, the woman in the floral shop secretly accumulated three degrees, one of which pertained to the problem at hand. Iris couldn’t imagine how hard it was to transition from being in another country to returning to Paradise Hills. She loosened her jaw to allow her natural smile to show. “Welcome home. Thank you for your service.”
“Thank you,” Amanda replied. She waved the Holiday Kisses card in the air for everyone to see. “To whoever was kind enough to buy my lunch, thank you. I appreciate it.”
“Can I see the card,” Iris tilted her head to capture a better image of what the card looked like.
“Sure,” Amanda passed it to her. The card bordered in an alternating pattern of angels, hearts, and Christmas trees read. “Holiday kisses and Christmas wishes bring gifts that show how special you are.”
Iris flipped the card over. “Things like this are why I love our community. People watch out for each other.”
“You need someone to watch out for you,” Jordan chided. “Or is it the other way around?”
Again, he was digging. This is where Iris’s personality worked to her advantage. On various occasions, Jordan accused her of missing the mark, not seeing what was in front of her. She pretended the innuendo flew over her head. “On that note, what are you wearing to the dance?”
“I am picking up my suit from the cleaners.”
“You didn’t answer my question?”
“I said it was a suit.”
If awards were given for understanding Jordan, Iris would have earned a Ph.D. Her eye twitched, and she curled her lip ever so slightly. “You speak in vagaries.”
That is how Jordan got away with mischief. He said enough to answer the question, but not enough to get roped in to commitment.
Jordan set his elbows on the table and leaned forward. He put on his cat that was about to catch the canary grin. “Let’s put it this way. I will have the attention of every available woman in the room.”
“Wow!” Iris popped a french fry into her mouth. “There is so much room for interpretation. You could come dressed as Santa Clause, James Bond, or a clown.”
He flicked his pointer finger at Iris. “Only you would guess three of the suits I never thought to try.”
Iris couldn’t help smiling. Then again, everything about Jordan made her smile.
Chapter one ends here. Leave a comment to let me know what you think of the story.
I’ll see you next week with chapter two.