The following one shot takes place after the events of "Rise of the Guardians", so you need to have seen the movie to understand this.
Mrs. Bennett was beginning to wonder if there was ever any truth to fairytales.
It wasn't always that way. In fact, in the 30-some years since being a kid, she hardly ever called her own beliefs into question. Every Sunday of her life was spent in church; singing uplifting songs, learning about angels and miracles, and making great sacrifices for the betterment of one's fellow man. These books were written by real people, who were there when it happened; who saw, and smelled, and touched, and felt… and EXPERIENCED it. That was something she could believe in, and put her faith in.
Fairytales on the other hand… those were obviously made up. Of course there was no such thing as Santa Claus, or a rabbit that hid eggs, or a fairy that took your teeth in the middle of the night. Everyone knew that. There were no eyewitness accounts or tangible proof. They were just made up stories- meant to entertain kids and preserve their innocence for just a bit longer. Cute, yes, but not something you could rely upon.
She would eventually take back that thought when a husband and two kids came into the picture.
Jamie and Sophie had the biggest imaginations by far, and without a doubt, it could all be traced back to Will. The man ALWAYS made time for his kids, even with a full-time writing job pulling for attention. After school meant playing pretend in the backyard, and every night, he made use of his old comic collection to serve as bedtime stories. Father and son (and eventually daughter) formed a bond like no other, and it was probably mostly due to the fact that Will acted much like a kid himself.
Not that Joyce didn't try either. She understood her husband had his own strengths, and she hers. He may have been the primary breadwinner, but she kept the house orderly and running. If he was helping Jamie keep balance on his bike, she was busy balancing the checkbook. If he was cleaning up after Sophie's mud pie party, she was cleaning up the house.
And if she was cooking the meals, he was cooking up stories...ALOT of stories.
Every Christmas, Will and Jamie would argue over their theories of how reindeer could fly, or how Santa could reach every house in one night. At Easter, it was always a contest of who could find the most eggs (at least until Sophie came along. After that, she always won by a landslide, mostly due to her dad and brother conveniently not looking hard enough.) When the kids couldn't sleep, he was ready with a lulling rendition of "Mr. Sandman- bring me your dream." And when Jamie lost his first tooth, he wanted to keep it as a memento, only for his dad to explain that if the tooth fairy didn't take the tooth, his adult teeth wouldn't grow in. That, and the promise of a quarter was all the more convincing the boy needed.
For Joyce's part, she never really bought into the fairytales, even as a child herself. She grew up with the stories of the real St. Nicholas, as well as the REAL reason Easter was celebrated. Thankfully, these people and those lessons weren't lost on her kids, but for them, Santa, Sandman, and the lot could still exist alongside the saints and preachers. More often than not, she'd find herself debating when would be a good time to finally raise the curtain and reveal that giant rabbits, fairies, and flying reindeer just didn't exist. And one morning, she finally found the courage to pop the question to her son-asking how he believed in Santa and the tooth fairy and the like.
The (at the time) six and a half year-old Jamie simply replied that maybe the Easter Bunny and such were just more angels. Funny -looking ones, yes, but maybe they were made to look weird since they helped kids. If the Lord made everything, then He must've made them too, right?
She never dared to question him ever again after that.
And seeing how happy he and Sophie were, she just couldn't bear to burst their bubble. Will was such a great storyteller; he could get the kids excited over anything, and made each character come alive. So she let her family have their fun. And in doing so, every holiday was brightened tenfold, with memories to last lifetimes. And even when life threw a curveball, her ever faithful husband was there to remind them all to believe in their dreams… to never lose hope that tomorrow could be better… to have fun… to see that the world was filled with mysterious and little wondrous things.
Mrs. Bennett couldn't imagine life without him... which made it all the more devastating when a sudden illness took him away from them all.
Will's sudden passing hit everyone hard. For days, Joyce could barely find the strength to do anything, except to put on a brave face in front of her kids; promising that everything would be okay. And Jamie and Sophie, God bless them, they brought new meaning to the word, resilient. Through the whole funeral, son and daughter sat arm and arm with their mother- completely silent- hands linked together to lend one another their strength. It was only when the trio arrived home that the unshed tears finally burst...tears for a man they'd never see again... never get to hear his laughter, or stories, or just see his simple smile at everything life could offer.
And although everything would eventually be okay (for the most part), as the mother had promised, it would never be the same again. Thankfully, Sophie was still quite young, so the thought of remembering every sad detail was unlikely.
But Jamie on the other hand...
Mrs. Bennett was utterly amazed at how her son managed to keep smiling; putting her at ease by helping with the chores or watching his sister. It was clear he knew he had gained more responsibility (and far too early), in having to become the man of the house. But there was no mistaking the pain in his eyes; the way he was controlling himself so as to not crack in front of his mom or Sophie. And it just made Joyce all the more worried. Will was more than just a dad, he was Jamie's best friend... and for a while, his only friend. Believing in myths, fairytales, and other supernatural things led to frequent teasing and bullying. But ever the optimist, his dad was always ready with his favorite quote to put his son at ease:
"Seeing isn't believing- believing is seeing."
And despite writing off Santa and the like as nothing more than stories, Mrs. Bennett soon found herself relying on said fairytales more than ever before. It was obvious that Will's spirit now lived on through Jamie, as he made sure to prepare Sophie for each holiday- prepping for Easter egg hunts, taking care of each other's teeth, and leaving treats for St. Nick and his reindeer. The folklore legends could always make him happy, no matter what, so his mother just kept fueling his imagination; not wanting the innocent spirit and magic to die as well. At the very least, if things became too difficult, the superstitions could keep the kids distracted.
But there was no avoiding their first Thanksgiving without their father...and trying to say grace and recite what they were thankful for, all the while staring at a lonely, empty chair, was near impossible and totally unbearable.
So that night, after putting the kids to bed, Joyce knelt to say her prayers. With hands tightly clasped, she put her heart and soul into every word she whispered aloud.
"Please Lord... I know you're taking good care of Will...but I just can't handle this by myself anymore. Sophie has her brother, but Jamie is all alone. Please... I need you to send him a friend...someone who will understand him, and like him for who he is...someone who can help him- take care of him...and protect him when I can't."
A single tear escaped her, "Please....send us an angel...the best one you have."
She wasn't sure if she was heard or not, although she did recall the moon glowing a bit brighter than usual that night, so she took it as a good sign.
Evidently, her instincts were right, for within the next few months, a few moving vans and a summer vacation caused her son to meet a whole new slew of kids; many of whom shared his interests and beliefs in his fairytale heroes. Suffice it to say, it was nothing short of a miracle, and at long last, a weight seemed to gradually lift off the entire family. Speaking of which, when the next Thanksgiving rolled around, Mrs. Bennett made it a point, from then on, to invite one of Jamie's new friends to dinner. Even if it was only for an hour or so, it was a way to fill the empty chair, so the meal wasn't so painfully quiet. For the next few years, the idea worked, and for the first time, the tiny family could heal.
It was also during that time that she heard the first rumors being passed around…
Did you see him yet?
He flew past my house yesterday.
He said we'll go sledding today.
But he told me we were building snowmen.
At first, these odd conversations were limited to just Jamie and Sophie...but eventually, nearly every kid in the neighborhood was giggling or chatting about some new friend they made. And then finally, the whispers gained a name.
You talked to him?
We had a snowball fight during recess.
Lucky! Tell Jack to visit my school next.
Jack still owes me a snowman.
Did you see Jack today?
Now normally, Mrs. Bennett wouldn't have paid much mind to the kids' ramblings-obviously, this Jack kid must've been new to the neighborhood, and everyone was just caught up in the excitement of having a new playmate. What she DID find odd, however, was that for all this non-stop chatter about the kid, not once did she ever see him herself. She had the names of all of Jamie's friends under her belt, and had every face committed to memory...so why was this one child so elusive? He never appeared at any parties; was never at any bus stop, or seen walking home from school…
And yet, her own children and the rest of the kids couldn't stop talking about how cool "Jack Frost" was...or how "Jack Frost did this or said that"...
And it was only then that a curious memory suddenly came back to her. It was so long ago, yet it stuck out so clearly in her mind...the day when Jamie lost one of his baby teeth. There was such a frigid chill that week of Easter, and she made the off comment to her son:
"Don't let Jack Frost come nipping at your nose."
She didn't quite know why she said such a thing; that was usually something her husband would say...but Will was already gone for a year and a half...perhaps she was still missing him a lot more than she thought. In any case, it was only meant as an innocent joke; just a silly lyric in a Christmas song.
But apparently, Jamie took it to heart, for his enthusiasm soon spread to his sister and his friends, and now, this mysterious Jack Frost was the talk of the neighborhood. Although, now that she thought about it, the most word she ever seem to hear about him was in the wintertime. Come spring and summer, it was as if he disappeared off the face of the earth. Perhaps he went to a different, year-round school, or was just on vacation? Either way, she finally came to the conclusion that the kid's real name was Jack, and the other children just called him "Jack Frost" as a nickname or joke.
For a while, Joyce was satisfied with that assumption...until she passed by her son's bedroom one night, and couldn't help but overhear him and Sophie whispering about their friend. She peeked in to find her daughter staring out the window; looking towards the night sky expectantly.
"Did you see him yet?" Jamie asked.
The blonde shook her head, "Nope."
Her brother scratched his chin in confusion, "It's the first day of winter. He should be here by now."
Sophie stared down at her ducky slippers; her eyes beginning to get misty. Sensing a flood of tears coming on, Jamie put a hand on her shoulder for reassurance.
"Don't worry", he explained, "Remember, he's got a whole country to cover. He'll probably get here by Friday."
His sister perked up at the news, "Really?"
The boy nodded his head and smiled with the utmost confidence, "Yep! He'll probably give us a snow day, and then we'll have a three day weekend!"
Joyce didn't know what to make of such an odd conversation...but like clockwork, an unexpected blizzard hit the town overnight, and school was canceled, heralding the three-day weekend Jamie promised... almost as if he KNEW it was going to happen.
And eventually, as winter came, went, then came again, the children's gossip sounded exponentially more like an episode of the twilight zone. It started off innocent enough:
"The snow on our sledding hill started to melt, so Jack made it flurry there some more."
"This guy was picking on me, so Jack made some ice right there on the spot and dropped it down Ted's shirt. It was so funny!"
"Jack Frost is so cool and nice. He made an ice sculpture for me when I was feeling sad."
But little by little, the stories grew more outlandish:
"Jack froze over the pond so we could skate today."
"Did you see the way Jack made that ice bridge? It was amazing!"
"Jack's going to teach us how to fly tomorrow!"
But the ultimate came when Mrs. Bennett asked Sophie how her day was, and she excitedly blurted out:
"Jack brought a snowman to life!"
The mother could only stand there, utterly befuddled, as the little girl paraded around the living room; reenacting her adventure with a real-life Frosty the Snowman- blabbing how Jack Frost commanded the sculpture to dance around and blow kisses to the girls. It was only when Jamie intervened that she finally quieted down; her older brother explaining how she was freaking out their mom. But even then, her son wasn't talking down to her. Rather, his tone suggested the story was supposed to be a secret, not necessarily that it was her overactive imagination.
Answer the mother hoped...no, WANTED to believe it was just the kid's imagination. It HAD to be. Things like this just didn't happen…
...and yet, she couldn't shut out the tiny voice in the back of her mind...that maybe...just maybe...there WAS something to these old fairytales. She found herself harkening back to holidays long past...recalling finding extra presents under the Christmas tree she didn't remember buying...or finding a few extra Easter eggs on the hunts.
And one time, she forgot to leave money for one of Jamie's lost teeth...only for him to find a coin under his pillow anyway. She figured Will must've did it, but with a wink, her husband insisted he had no part in the deed.
Now most of that COULD'VE been written off as sheer forgetfulness...but THIS was another matter entirely. Particularly at how seriously the other kids took it. Without even really realizing it, the mother found herself nearly drilling all of Jamie's friends on their encounters with Jack. And she couldn't find a single hole in any of the stories. Each individual description and account matched all the others; it was uncanny. Either all these kids could REALLY cooperate on what they were pretending...or...
Joyce didn't want to even think about the "or"...and yet, she COULDN'T stop thinking about it. Her mind wandered back to the prayer she whispered long ago...could it be that it was finally, fully answered? In all the time that Will was gone, she had never seen her son more happy or excited to talk about his day, or hang out with his friends. And as she gave it more thought, this all strangely stemmed from one night in particular about three years ago. The details were kind of fuzzy, but she distinctly remembered Jamie and his friends sharing some kind of story...something about helping a giant rabbit and a fairy fight the bogeyman…
Well, in any case, Mrs. Bennett had enough of being left in the dark. If there was one thing she WAS sure of, it was her strong wish to finally meet this mysterious kid who seemed to brighten the whole neighborhood whenever he was in town. No matter what time, or place, or circumstances, her heart longed to see him...even if it was just once...just so she could finally quell her growing curiosity as to who this Jack person was.
"Well, no matter what he's called, he must exist", she muttered, "If only I could meet him..."
Even on Thanksgiving morning, she couldn't keep her thoughts to herself as she paced about the kitchen- preparing the table and all the dishes for the annual turkey dinner. Like every year, her and her kids had prepped most of the food the night before so it would all be ready. All that was left was to heat up the bird and everything would be set. It not only saved time, but it also allowed Jamie and Sophie to go out and play with their friends for a little while. And with a fresh flurry of snow that came overnight, they were more than excited to throw their coats on and go have an adventure.
So after filling the turkey with her homemade stuffing and setting the oven timer, Mrs. Bennett was content to just sit and relax for a bit; catch up on her reading and enjoy the peace and quiet. Every so often, she'd hear a scream or a shout, or a bout of laughter echo from outside, and she'd lift her head to find Jamie and his friends goofing off. The picture window in the living room offered a great vantage point of outside, and she couldn't help but smile at all the kids having a wonderful time out in the powdery white wonderland. It'd be a shame to break it up, but as Joyce glanced down at her watch, it was only another hour before dinner. She pondered who her son was going to pick as the guest of honor this year…
Suddenly, her thoughts were broken by the startling sounds of something hitting the window in rapid succession. She jumped at the noise; swiveling to find six, giant, fat snowballs covering her line of sight- dripping down the glass like huge raindrops. Even before she was out of her chair, she could hear the kids shouting a chorus of "sorry" through the walls. But she honestly didn't mind very much- she was just more curious as to what was going on out there.
Arriving at the window, she stared out to find Jamie lying flat on his back, pretending to be down for the count. Apparently, he had been hit with a barrage of snowballs, which would explain the "attack" on her house. But soon enough, he was up and about in a flash; yelling like a banshee as he threw snow in all directions; claiming to be the abominable snowman. The rest of the kids screamed in mock terror and scattered, while Sophie, who claimed to be the "snow fairy princess", got 'captured' by the 'monster'. Mrs. Bennett had to laugh at the creativeness of it all, with the kids formulating a plan to rescue their cute ruler from the "evil snow monster lair" (which, in reality, was just a pear tree overlooking some rose bushes). They had Sophie loosely tied up with a jump rope; sitting in a big cardboard box to serve as the jail.
"Help, I got caughted!" she yelled out, "Somebody save me!"
The mother continued to watch the game- now interested to see how the story would finish. She didn't have long to wait, for a new voice called out, "Don't worry! Your prince is here to rescue you!"
And just then, a figure suddenly dropped down from the above-hanging branches of the tree; scooping up Sophie in one fell swoop and kicking a wave of snow onto the surprised Jamie. He let loose a fit of laughter, before taking off with his prize, all the while the rest of the kids cheered for their hero. He dropped off the blonde a safe distance away; bowing and kissing her hand as he did, before rejoining his friends to defeat the 'monster' one final time.
Even though the action was now a good distance away, Joyce could only stare and blink at this new kid who suddenly joined the game. She tried studying him from her vantage point, which proved difficult due to how fast he could move. But she knew for certain it was someone she had never seen before. He was definitely older- that much was clear from his height compared to the other children. And despite the cold and the snow, he had only a dark blue hoodie for protection; not even a hat to cover his spiky, platinum blonde hair...or at least, she thought it was blonde. He was covered in so much snow, it almost looked white. A huge stick almost as long as him was held tight in his right hand, and he swung it around like a sword- gently swatting Jamie into submission. After which, he delighted in wrestling the boys into nearby snow banks, or drawing pictures in the snow for the girls. At one point, even Sophie convinced him to give her a piggyback ride, to which he happily obliged. She spread her arms out, claiming to be "super Sophie", all while the boy raced about the yard with a sprint so great, it almost appeared as if he were gliding across the ground.
It didn't take long for the mother to realize that this must've been the elusive "Jack Frost" all the children were gossiping about. And considering the way he interacted with his friends- taking time to include all of them in his fun and mischief, it was easy to see why all the kids liked him so much.
"And after all this time, I finally caught him", she muttered to herself, "I wonder..."
Her train of thought was broken by the sound of the timer going off in the kitchen. That meant the turkey was just about ready. She hadn't even noticed that she'd been watching her kids play for over an hour. But no matter- it was time for them to come in for dinner anyway. Bracing herself for the chilly air, Mrs. Bennett made her way to the front door and took one tentative step out in the snow. Raising a hand to her mouth, she called, "Jamie! Sophie! It's turkey time!"
The blonde and brunette perked up at the mention of food, and quickly said their goodbyes to all their friends, before racing toward the house. The mother surmised her cooking must've been great if she was able to call away an eleven and a six-year-old so fast, and she smiled, "Did you guys have fun?"
"Yeppers", Sophie pulled her boots off and threw her jacket in the corner, before running upstairs chanting, "Turkey! Turkey! Turkey!"
Jamie was a lot more courteous in hanging up his own jacket, before dealing with the mess his little sister left behind. During which, Joyce continued to stare out the doorway; expecting one of his friends to arrive any moment. But none showed up. One by one, each of the kids became pinpricks in the distance as they all headed for home. So she finally turned to her son and asked, "Jamie...aren't one of your friends coming to dinner?"
The boy was in the middle of slipping his shoes off, and at the question, his actions became a tad slower. But he still answered, "Uh...no."
"No?" Now the mother was a bit alarmed. None of the children had ever turned down the offer before, "Didn't Katherine come last year?"
"You mean Cupcake?" Jamie corrected the nickname, "Yeah, but she's going to her grandma's house this year."
"Oh...well, what about that nice girl, Pippa?" Joyce tried.
"She has to help take care of her brother," the boy explained.
"They're having dinner early, like us."
"Going to see relatives", Jamie shrugged. He hated to keep shooting down all his mom's suggestions, but that's just the way it was. He asked each and every one of his friends to join him for dinner, and they all had reasons for saying no. Which was fine by him, only he knew his mom wouldn't be too happy.
Or more importantly, he knew WHY she wouldn't be happy, and frankly, he didn't like it either. Mrs. Bennett stared out at the silent neighborhood; a dejected, lonely look in her eye as she quietly muttered, "...the chair's going to be empty this year…"
Jamie patted his mom's arm for comfort, although it was also partly to reassure himself. For four years now, they were able to fill the void at the table every Thanksgiving, and he figured the year would come when his dad's seat would remain vacant…he just wasn't expecting it to come so soon…or that he'd still feel upset about it. Any other day of the year, there was plenty to talk about or other things to do to distract or ease the pain a bit.
But this was different. This wasn't just another dinner, it was THE dinner...a time where the entire focus was on family and friends, and love and togetherness. Could they ever pull it off with just the three of them? It just didn't seem right. It just wasn't complete without another person to fill the table.
The boy still tried to smile at his mother, to which she smirked back, although it didn't seem very confident. With a long sigh, she slowly began to shut the front door…
...that is, until her eyes caught sight of a dark blue blob tramping through the snow. Squinting, she realized it was the older boy from earlier- still carrying the big stick and using it to take swipes at the piles of powdery frost. He now had his hoodie drawn over his head, and he paraded down the sidewalk seemingly without a care in the world.
Joyce turned to her son as an idea struck, "Hey Jamie, what about him? Did you ask him?"
The brunette was about to make his way upstairs, but stopped at the question, "Who?"
"That boy over there", she motioned outside, "I saw him playing with you all earlier. Is he new around here?"
Jamie came over to look where his mom was pointing, and he instantly caught sight of his friend. But a moment later, he faced the blonde woman- eyes full of a strange, awestruck surprise, "...you can see him?"
Mrs. Bennett raised a brow, "And just what kind of question is that?" Shaking her head, she cupped her hands over her mouth and called out, "Hey! Hey kid! Hey you!"
But apparently, the boy didn't hear her. Either that, or he didn't know he was the one being called. Quickly, the mother turned to her son, "What's his name?"
Jamie blinked; seemingly coming out of his momentary shock, "Uh...J-Jack..."
Realization dawned, and Joyce smiled, "Ah, so THIS is the Jack everyone's been talking about. I figured it was him, but I'm glad I know for sure now." Before her son could protest, she tried calling again, "Hey Jack!"
That time, it worked. The boy instantly stopped dead in his tracks, and swiveled at his name being called. The woman waved back; letting him know she was doing the yelling. Confused, he glanced around, before pointing at himself as if to say, "who, me?"
Mrs. Bennett nodded and waved again, "Yes! You! Come on over here! I wanna' talk to you!"
To her surprise, the boy ran right over; practically tripping over his own feet as he made a beeline for the house. Arriving at the doorstep, he skidded to a halt; trying to catch his breath as the mother finally got a good look at him. His blue hoodie was covered in a fine layer of snow that he hadn't bothered to brush off his shoulders. The same went for his feet- he was covered in so much slush it was impossible to even see his boots. And his pants were an oddity in and of themselves; the edges were in frayed tatters and tied up with...was that twine?
AND he was skinny...REALLY skinny... as in, he might not have eaten in weeks skinny...just what was up with this kid? Who the heck dressed him? Where did he come from?
But all her questions went out the window when the boy regained his breath and suddenly stared up at her. Even with his hood drawn up, she could still clearly make out his big, blue eyes...eyes that blinked in innocent curiosity as to why he was summoned over by this woman.
And in that moment, the mother instantly knew she wanted to invite this boy inside, by any means necessary.
So she was taken by surprise when he spoke first; his matured voice an awed whisper, "...you can see me?"
Again with that question. Why was everyone doubting her vision today? But rather than ask, she merely smiled, "With that blue hoodie against the snow, it's kind of hard not to."
The boy blinked, still shocked, as if he were surprised this lady was talking to him. He stood up to full height; his eyebrows disappearing into his hairline, "You know my name?"
"Of course", Joyce motioned to her son as an explanation. The two boys caught each other's eyes, to which Jack looked back and forth between his friend and the woman. Jamie seemed just as confused, and merely shrugged as if to say, "I don't get it either." The older boy's mouth opened and closed like a fish, and yet, no words would come out. So the mother decided to break the odd silence when she smiled, "Well, since you can't seem to find your voice, I'll start then. Our Thanksgiving dinner is just about ready, and every year, Jamie invites one of his friends to join us. If you have the time, it would be wonderful if you could come in for a little while."
Jack, for his part, remained quiet, although he leaned in a bit; his staff supporting the weight, as he seemed to hinge on every word she was saying. Mrs. Bennett took notice and added with a cough, "Although, you might want to leave your...stick, outside."
At that, the teenager blinked and instinctively gripped his staff a bit tighter, "O-oh, this? It's...um..."
"...we, uh...were just practicing his part", Jamie came to the rescue; his explanation rather hurried, "He's going to be, uh...a Shepherd...in our church's Christmas play."
"Oh", Joyce was a tad surprised at that information. That would explain the odd pants and why he was so attached to that stick...and yet, she still couldn't shake the feeling that something about this was just...off. But clearly these two were friends, and there was no way she would turn him down. Folding her arms, she smirked, "...well, if I recall, Joseph didn't wear a hoodie."
Jack couldn't help but giggle at that. The mom then turned to her son and added, "And don't tell me you're the innkeeper who won't let him in."
Jamie blushed; digging his toe into the carpet. Meanwhile, the woman turned back to the older boy- her eyes now pleading, "Tell you what; I'll let you hang onto the stick if you'll come join us for a bit. We got turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pumpkin pie- the works. What do you say?"
For a long beak, Jack just stared at the woman in total disbelief, before looking toward his friend. Jamie appeared equally surprised at this turn of events, but rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, he grinned and nodded with contained excitement. At that, the odd teenager finally led a warm smile cross his features; his voice filled with utter gratefulness, "...I'd love to."