This is Part 4 of Iris’ Story. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Carol’s impression of the Muppets was incredible. Iris laughed so hard that she almost fell off the bed, taking the laptop with her. Michael Cain’s performance as Scrooge continued to play as Iris steadied herself.

“This has got to be the greatest Christmas movie in existence.” Iris managed to get out between giggles.

“You are forgetting about Die Hard.” Carol had made it very clear that she considered John McClane to be her personal hero.

“Agree to disagree. But you have to admit, it’s the best of the Christmas Carols.”

“I’m the best of the Christmas Carols.” Iris stopped laughing and stared at Carol with incredulous eyes, “That was so unbelievably cheesy!”

“I know! I couldn’t help it!” The two kept laughing until they heard Carol’s stomach rumble. Iris picked up the laptop, paused the movie and opened Deliveroo. Sorting through the options, Carol lamented that there were no Austrian restaurants. “When I get back to Vienna, the first thing I’m doing is getting strudel.”

“I thought you were staying in Bath this Christmas?”

“I am. I mean in February.”

Iris wasn’t sure why Carol was going back in February. That was when classes would start for Semester 2 – oh.

“You mean when you go back to Austria for good.” Carol could tell Iris was overthinking this. Her laughter had stopped and her muscles had tensed. Still, she tried to keep the mood light.

“I’ll take you to the best strudel place when you come to visit. You should come during the Easter break. Vienna in spring is beautiful.” Iris was still tense, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah… I,uhm… I just…” Iris looked right at Carol, “I guess I forgot you were going. And I forgot that once you did, you weren’t coming back.”

“It’ll be okay though.” It was clear Iris was worried about long-distance, but Carol was sure she and Iris would be fine. “We can face-time and call and visit each other.” Stroking Iris’s hair, she repeats her earlier sentiment, “It’s all going to be okay.”

Iris nods. But she can’t help but think about her mother.

Iris’s mother made it to the first parents’ evening but not the second. She had good reasons – even the most decorated army officers can’t leave Afghanistan just for a meeting with their daughter’s teacher. Iris understood her mother’s decision. Her father did not. He tried to hide it, but Iris had always been perceptive. He was upset.

He was probably more upset about the missed phone calls. The family had limited and strictly scheduled times to talk. When Mum first flew out, they’d clung to this precious time when they could catch up on each other’s lives. All these months later, Iris and her father would still wait by the phone but it wouldn’t ring. Or it would, but all Mum would say is that she hoped Iris was doing well but she would have to go, she was too busy to talk.

When Iris was 15, she knew times like her second parents’ evening was just another part of the cycle. Mum would leave for service and the phone calls would be frequent and regular, as would the letters and the face-times. Then they would drop off and Dad would be angry that Mum wasn’t making the effort he thought she should. Then, Mum would come back and everything would be okay again. Mum’s apparent indifference to their family would transform into excitement to be around them. Dad’s anger at Mum’s absence would transform into sheer joy at her presence.

Iris loved her mother’s visits home but she could help but resent them a little. They always felt like a plaster over the wound that was their real life, the one where Mum was gone and Dad was angry. Somehow, these visits made it all worse. If Mum was always gone, they could move on, if Mum and Dad weren’t so loved up when she was back, Mum being gone wouldn’t hurt so much. But it they are and it does. And there is nothing Iris can do except watch her parents get hurt every time distance was put between them.

Iris didn’t know if she loved Carol, it was far too early for that. She did know that, if given time, she could be headed down that path. Which meant she was also headed toward a relationship where there was a lot of hurt around the corner, every time one of them got on a plane flying away from the other. Iris wasn’t her parents, she wasn’t sure she was strong enough for that.

Looking at Carol now, she wanted to believe everything would be okay. She tried to imagine Carol’s face pixelated over a screen, to get used to what their relationship would be soon. She didn’t like the thought of it but maybe February wasn’t as soon as she was imagining. It was next year after all. They had time… right?

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