Continued from part one...
Mrs. Bennett breathed a sigh of relief before ushering him inside, "Great! Come on in. Make yourself at home."
With a nod and a grin, Jack brushed a bit of the snow off his shoulders, before stepping into the entranceway. As he silently took in his surroundings, Joyce made her way up the steps, where she passed by Sophie, who had been waiting patiently for the past fifteen minutes. Upon spotting the teenager, she turned to her mom, "What's goin' on?"
Jamie answered; excitement clear in his voice, "Jack's going to eat with us."
The little girl jumped for joy, "Yay! Jack Frost for dinner!" She then began dancing around in a circle, clapping as she sang, "Turkey lurkey, pumpkin pie-mashed potato in your eye!"
Jack let out a laugh at her made-up song, "You make it sound like I'm going to get eaten."
The blonde stopped in her tracks; facing her friend and stating rather seriously, "Well... are you delicious?"
Jamie held back a snort at such an embarrassing question as Jack's face went even paler than he normally looked. All he could sputter was, "...uh..."
Just then, his answer was cut off by the family's greyhound bounding down the steps to greet the new comers. The dog gave Jamie a loving lick on the cheek, before circling the teenager. On instinct, Jack tensed up; trying to coil into a ball as much as he could in a standing position, as the animal poked and prodded and sniffed him all over. But eventually, the dog sat down and licked his hand- signaling to be petted. So the older boy obliged; scratching behind her ear and cooing, "Hey Abby-long time, no see."
By then, Mrs. Bennett had come back over; wondering what the commotion was about. Upon seeing her dog in high spirits, she scratched her head, "That's funny. She acts as if she's met you before, and..." But whatever else she was going to say was forgotten when her eyes flicked downward and discovered their guest was barefoot. A gasp escaped her and she cried out, "...and where the heck ARE YOUR SHOES?!"
Jack was preoccupied with leaning his staff in an inconspicuous corner. But the yelling made him jump and swivel to face her, "W-what?"
The mother had a hand to her mouth, "You must have been covered in so much snow, I didn't even notice!" Utterly ashamed with herself, her eyes went wide, "But...but how can you be running around in the cold with no shoes?!"
The teenager stared down at his feet, as if just realizing his predicament. At a loss for words, he stammered, "Oh...um...uh..."
Sophie, however, already had an answer, "He never wears shoes."
Jamie nudged her arm and mumbled, "Sophie..."
The mom could only blink and sputter at such a statement, "What?"
The little girl shrugged, speaking matter-of-factly, "He's Jack Frost. He doesn't need shoes."
Her brother covered her mouth and shot her a warning glare, "You're not helping..."
For a long moment, Joyce stared at her odd houseguest, to which he fidgeted under her gaze. A boy in the snow with no shoes? It just wasn't right. Was he poor? Or worse...was he homeless? As sad as that would be, at least it would explain his elusiveness and why she never saw him before.
...but something else wasn't adding up either. Why was it only in the winter time that she had heard anything about him? And what did Sophie mean by "he never wears shoes"? And even stranger, why was Jamie so adamant about covering up this fact?
At last, Jack broke the awkward quiet when he coughed, "Uh… I think what she means is that I'm used to the cold. It doesn't bother me." He rubbed the back of his head, "So sometimes, I...just forget to put shoes on...?"
He flashed the woman a grin; trying in vain to put her worries to rest. But something about all this still left her unconvinced. His explanation was not only vague, it sounded forced. "He was used to the cold? It didn't bother him?" What kind of answer was that?
And suddenly, Sophie's words rang in her mind.
He's Jack Frost. He doesn't need shoes.
Hmm...well...it WOULD make sense. Jack Frost wouldn't be bothered by winter weather-he WAS winter weather...but that would mean...
...no...it couldn't be. That would just be silly...why was she even thinking that to begin with?
By then, the older boy had his hands in his hoodie pockets; wanting to look anywhere but directly in the mother's eyes. Seeing his worried face, she let loose a sigh. No matter what the reasoning was, she wasn't going to push the issue any longer. The last thing she wanted was to upset him and chase away their guest.
But that didn't mean she didn't care about his well-being. Bending down to the family's pile of shoes near the door, she plucked a pair out of the lineup and muttered, "Well...please at least put my slippers on. It's just not right to walk around, in the middle of winter, with no shoes."
She held up said footwear for her guest to see...a pair of powder blue, fuzzy bunny slippers. Their black, button eyes stared at Jack with the cutest, most inviting faces in the world. But the teen, however, blinked back in utter horror; waving them away as if they were toxic slime, "Oh...really. I'm okay, I-"
But his protests were cut off by Jamie tugging on the end of his hoodie. The older boy leaned in, while the younger stood on his tip toes and whispered, "She'll never let it go...just do it."
Jack's eyes darted back and forth between the shoes, and the mother who was practically shoving them in his face; her expression silently begging him to take them. His own face cringed, but with a heavy sigh, he reluctantly pawned the slippers and shoved a foot into each one. Sophie couldn't help but giggle at the sight of her friend wearing cute, fuzzy bunnies on his feet, while Jamie rolled his eyes...but even he was fighting back a grin. But the teenager was far from amused, to which he leaned over and muttered to his younger friend, "Not one word to Benny about this..."
Jamie cocked an eyebrow, "Benny...?"
Jack stared directly into his friend's eyes, "You know...Benny..."
"Benny..." The boy seemed to wrack his brain for who the teen was referring to. But a moment later, realization dawned, and he gave a nod and a knowing wink, "Oh...oh yeah, Benny. Right; mum's the word."
Mrs. Bennett, meanwhile, could only blink in confusion. Who the heck was Benny? No one she knew, that was certain. But before she could ask, the timer chimed again; the buzzer crying all the way from the kitchen. Putting on a smile, she folded her arms and turned to all the kids, "Sounds like the turkey's calling. Let's go eat."
Sophie clapped her hands and darted up the steps; making a beeline for the table and chanting, "Turkey time! Turkey time!" Her mom and the two boys weren't far behind, and while Joyce headed for the kitchen, the kids took their seats. The little girl and her brother each took positions in the opposing middle chairs, while Jack slid into the end seat, leaving the mother to take the other end chair. Said woman then emerged from the kitchen- plates and hands that were piled high with food. One by one, she dished out the servings to each of her table mates.
Upon receiving his own plate, Jack stared at the food before him for a solid minute. Each person got a turkey leg, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, broccoli with a melted cheese dressing, and a bread roll fresh out of the oven- the pat of butter dribbling upon impact. The plate and its contents appeared to come right off the page of a magazine...so utterly perfect, that a line of drool could be seen oozing out of the teenager's mouth.
Mrs. Bennett laughed at the sight of the effect of her cooking, "Jack, you're staring at your food as if you haven't eaten in weeks."
"I haven't", the boy shook his head. When the mother shot him an alarmed and concerned look, he quickly added, "Uh... I mean...I, uh...haven't eaten anything this good in a long time." Under his breath, he muttered, "...a REALLY long time..."
Joyce had no clue what to make of such a statement. Was he just in awe of how delicious the food looked? Or was there really some truth to the whole "not eating" thing? She could only pray his thin body just came natural, and wasn't due to possible starvation. So rather than pointing it out and risk embarrassing him, she put the attention on something else," Unless you're still cold, you can take your hood off."
All of a sudden, Jack's eyes widened, and the mother didn't miss the similar expression on Jamie either. Sophie, however, wasn't fazed at all; absently kicking her feet- waiting for dinner to finally start. Joyce raised a brow at the growing strangeness of it all. What was so odd about such a simple request? But she soon got her answer when the teenager cleared his throat, "Um...if it's all right with you, I'll keep it on. I'm kinda' having a...bad hair day."
His eyes were suddenly interested in his mashed potatoes, which made the woman all the more suspicious. A tuft of his light hair was poking out, to which he quickly grabbed the edge of his hood and tugged it down farther; obscuring his hair from view completely. Mrs. Bennett shook her head, but resolved to just let the issue drop, "Well...okay then."
At long last, Joyce then took her seat at the head of the table. With everyone settled in, she promptly clasped her hands together, to which Jamie and Sophie did the same. However, Jack didn't join in- shooting his friend a confused look instead. But the mother broke the silence when she replied, "Before we eat, we should say grace first." Her eyes fell on her guest, "Jack, I'm not sure what your background is, but if you don't want to join in, we won't be offended."
All at once, the teenager seemed to realize what was going on, and he quickly rushed into a similar praying position, "Oh, oh no, it's okay. You're fine. I mean, I'm fine. I'll do it with you."
The woman chuckled, "Okay then. I'll start us off." She closed her eyes; putting her heart into every word she spoke, "Lord, bless this meal we're about to receive. We pray for good luck, good health, and the safety and well-being of all our loved ones. I thank you for my beautiful children." She then turned to her daughter, "Sophie; what are you thankful for?"
The blonde grinned from ear to ear, "I'm... I'm thankful for...for our house, and her toys, and Abby...and...um..." She stuck her tongue out as she thought, "...and...thanks for my mom, and her friends, and my brother and his friends, and all my friends."
Jack let a smirk escape him, while Joyce suppressed a laugh, "Well, you really covered everything. Leave something for the rest of us." Her gaze then fell on her son, "What about you, Jamie?"
The boy didn't have to think for long, as he smiled and answered, "I'm thankful for all the friends I've made. They understand me, and like me for who I am." His eyes started to drift in Jack's direction as he added, "And best of all, whenever I'm sad or lonely, I know I can count on them...and they're always there for me to give me advice or just cheer me up...even if they're not around all the time, I always have them in my heart."
The brunette's eyes then fell to his shoes; his cheeks blushing at being so suddenly forthcoming with his feelings. Jack looked directly at his friend, not saying a word, but his tiny smile and misty eyes spoke volumes. Mrs. Bennett, on the other hand, could only stare at her son; her expression a mix between shock and melting affection, "Jamie...that...that was...that was very nice."
The boy merely shrugged, but his grin remained. Wiping an almost escaped tear from her eye, the mom finally turned to her dinner guest, "What about you Jack? What are you thankful for?"
The teenager suddenly sat at attention, as he realized that all eyes were now on him. He stole a sideways glance at Jamie, who just shrugged again, while Sophie and her mom stared at him expectantly; wondering what he was going to add to their little group prayer. Although he kept his gaze trained on his plate, after a few false starts, he finally opened up-his words slow, but serious, "You know...when I first came here, I was all alone. And I mean REALLY alone... I had no one to talk to, or hang out with...it was almost as if I didn't even exist."
His shoulders had begun to slump, to which Joyce took notice. But she kept quiet, letting her guest release whatever was obviously on his chest. He let loose a heavy sigh, "For the longest time, I tried SO hard to be noticed...just to be acknowledged for something...just for one person to say they cared." He paused for only a moment; trying to keep his voice even, "And every night, I'd just look up at the moon, or in the sky, and ask why. Why was I here? What was the point of me even being here? What was my purpose?"
By then, Joyce was staring intently at the young man; completely floored at what she was hearing. Just an hour or so before, he seemed completely content and happy playing outside with the kids. So it came as a shock to find out just how much sadness he was really keeping inside. But she didn't dare interrupt him when his face slowly began to perk up, "...but then I realized...maybe no one believed in me because I hardly even believed in myself. I had a life, but didn't know what to do with it." A tiny smile escaped him as he explained, "And then...things finally got better... I met people who were just like me...and they helped me discover what my true talent was. And when that happened…"
His eyes drifted between Jamie and Sophie as he smiled,"... I gained the best friends I could ever ask for. People finally saw me because I saw worth in myself. I could use my talents to help kids; make them happy. And there's nothing more awesome than that." At long last, Jack looked up- his melancholy posture nearly gone, "I lost everything, then got it all back… I got a second chance, and that's what I'm thankful for."
For the longest moment, the three Bennetts gazed at Jack; their mouths hanging open. The teen squirmed in his seat and cleared his throat; eyes back on his plate again, "Um... I'm done."
Jamie blinked at his friend; his tone amazed," Jack... I think that's the most you've ever said about yourself."
It was unclear if the speech went over Sophie's head or not, but even she recognized the seriousness of it and nodded in agreement. The teenager limply shrugged, but still smirked, "She asked..."
The mother, meanwhile, could only sit there, utterly flabbergasted. With such a simple question, she never expected a full-blown story like that. There was no doubt in her mind that this must've been something that had been bothering the young man for a long while...so to find the courage to open up so much, and to her, as a complete stranger…
...he and Jamie must've truly been best friends if he extended his trust of her son to her as well. Swallowing a lump in her throat, she finally found her voice, "Oh Jack... I… I honestly don't know what to say to all that…but, thank you for sharing that with us. You've done so much in just being friends with my children, so I'm glad that we can be here for you. If you ever need anything…"
The teenager put a hand up to stop her, "Really, I'm okay…but thanks. I'll know exactly who to go to."
Joyce grinned; wanting nothing more than to reach over and hug him. But she restrained herself; saying instead, "Does anyone have anything else to add?"
Sophie raised her hand, but didn't wait for an invitation, as she blurted out, "And bless daddy."
Jack raised a brow at her comment. However, her mom and her brother smiled at her remembrance, though their eyes hid more than a twinge of sadness. But Mrs. Bennett merely nodded; repeating her words, "...and bless daddy...Amen."
With that, the Bennetts wasted no time in plucking up their silverware and diving right into their meals. Or at least the kids didn't. The mother, however, was more interested in seeing if their guest would approve of her cooking. Jack, for his part, had his hand hovering between the turkey leg and his fork, probably wondering which was the more polite way to eat it. But when he noticed Jamie holding the leg, he seemed to finally make a decision, and carefully picked up the piece of turkey. After staring at it for about a half a minute, he slowly, but finally took a tiny, tentative bite of the meat; letting the food slush around in his mouth as if he were savoring the flavor. With one swallow, his eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas, and soon, he was devouring the leg.
Joyce chuckled, "I take it you like dinner?"
Jack nodded and gave the most satisfying grin; the turkey now nothing but a bare bone, "I love it. It's the best food I've had in a LONG time."
There he went about the issue with food again. But now wasn't the time to bring it up. Instead, Mrs. Bennett posted different question. Now was the time to find out more about the mysterious kid who was friends with everyone in the neighborhood, "So...where do you live? Anywhere near here?"
The teenager was just getting into his mashed potatoes, when he paused mid-bite to think. Sophie opened her mouth to say something, but with one glare, Jamie made it clear to her that they should leave it up to their friend to answer the questions. A moment later, Jack waved his fork in a vague direction, "...near the pond."
"Oh..." was all Joyce could say. She furrowed her eyebrows in confusion- there was a path nearby there that twisted through the woods. Her children constantly used that road as a shortcut to get to school, and in all that time, she couldn't remember any houses being there. Unless they were just being built? But she had heard stories of him long before this, so he wasn't exactly new around these parts. But then again, his directions were pretty....general.
So she chose a different approach, "So...then where do you go to school?"
This time, there was no hesitation on the boy's part. He made sure to finish whatever stuffing he had gobbled up before replying, "I'm homeschooled."
The mother almost had the urge to groan. This conversation was getting interesting, but more for the fact that with each question she asked, she wound up more confused than before. It wasn't too often one came across a homeschooled child, although that WOULD explain why she never saw him at the bus stops or main roads where school kids passed.
But there was one more big thing still left on her mind, and she knew this was one question the boy couldn't wiggle out of, "Really? Then how did you and Jamie meet?"
Jack had just about polished off his broccoli, when her remark caused him to physically pause; a trail of melted cheese dribbling down his chin. His eyes flickered toward his friend, who took the cue and answered for him. Jamie waved a hand, "Oh, you know...it was on Easter. Jack was in the neighborhood… I caught sight of him…" The teenager gave an odd smirk at that line, which in turn, made Jamie blush, "...we got to talkin'..."
His voice trailed off as he tried to think of what to say. But suddenly, Sophie jumped in when she chirped," Jack made it snow in Jamie's room!"
All heads instantly swiveled to the six-year-old, who simply beamed at them all; happy to have finally said something. Her brother gaped at her- eyes wide with shock as if she just revealed an important secret. Jack, on the other hand, merely smirked like someone was telling him the weather, and added, "Um... I think what she means is…we had a lot of fun. The rest is history."
Mrs. Bennett nodded, although she couldn't help but roll that explanation around in her head a bit more. This wasn't the first time one of the kids, hers or otherwise, said something so unbelievable about Jack...but to hear it WHILE the kid in question was sitting right there...and to see him acting so nonchalant about it...
She really hoped they didn't embarrass him. To try and smooth it over, she turned to her daughter and chuckled, "Honey, you've really got the imagination."
The blonde shook her head; her tone very matter of fact, "I didn't imagine it. It happened for real."
Jamie appeared ready to say something to stop her, but Jack gave him a quick hand signal to stay quiet; his attention now completely focused on what was happening. The mother, for her part, had to take a moment to think back to that Easter morning about three years ago...or rather, the day after. She had come into her son's room to wake him up, only to find him and his sister asleep on the floor, and the entire room covered in a fine layer of frost and snow. She raised a brow, but kept her voice light, "Are you sure it wasn't because the window blew open?"
Sophie slouched down in her seat and pouted. She gazed up at her mom; face etched with hurt as she mumbled, "… I don't call YOU a liar…"
Suffice it to say, Joyce was put off at the accusation; even more so at how serious the girl was being. The woman finally had to spare a glance at their guest, who shot her an unreadable look, before ducking his head and finishing up his dinner. It was starting to get a bit unnerving at how this kid was behaving- artfully dodging each question while his friends spread silly rumors about him…
...but then again...he hadn't denied anything either...and that curious theory from before started creeping its way back to her consciousness…was it really...?
No...no, it couldn't be. It just couldn't.
Drawing her attention back to her daughter, Mrs. Bennett tried to make up for her earlier remark; her tone apologetic, "Sweetie, why don't you finish dinner? I've got a special surprise for us all when we're done."
The promise of a treat seemed to pacify Sophie, and soon, she was picking her plate clean. So the mother's glance returned to their guest- treating him as if the earlier outburst never happened, "So Jack...it sounds like you and the kids are all great friends. But what about your family? What are they like?"
The boy still wore his grin from before, although it shrank by a fraction as his eyes became lost in thought. And for a moment, the woman was struck with a twinge of worry. Earlier, she suspected that Jack might've possibly been homeless, so to ask such a question now...she mentally kicked herself for her mistake.
But thankfully, her fear was put to rest when the teen answered, "What are they like? Well… I'd say they're pretty…unique." His line of sight appeared to drift as he reflected, "My dad's a pretty big guy. He may look tough on the outside, and he IS...but he's sweet and jolly on the inside." He started ticking people off on his fingers, "And there's my mom- a real hard worker. She keeps everything in order; makes sure we brush our teeth, keeps us from fighting…helps us remember important things...that kind of stuff." His tone now wistful, he continued, "And of course, there's grandpa…he never says a whole lot, but when he does, it's always very important."
Mrs. Bennett listened to his every word, paying more attention to his heartfelt expressions. The way he described his family, it seemed as if this might've been the first time anyone asked him such a thing...and clearly, he was thankful for the people in his life. The mother smiled, "They all sound very nice. Are you an only child?"
Jack raised a brow, "If you ask them, I am, since apparently, I'm the only one who acts like a child." Both Jamie and Sophie giggled, and even their mom had to laugh at that. The boy went on, "But no; I've got a brother. We're always getting on each other's nerves, but… I know he cares about me, and I've got his back, even if we're polar opposites." And then, quite suddenly, even though his smile remained, his tone of voice became a bit more serious, "… I had-er… I have a little sister too…she means the world to me…"
His words trailed off as he became lost in deep thought for a moment. Joyce leaned in, "And what's she like?" When he didn't answer, she grew concerned, "… Jack?"
He appeared as though he had a million things to say, but couldn't find a way to sum it up in just one sentence or two. But at last, he poked his head up; a grin masking his earlier melancholy, "She's fast...like a bird. Always chirping, always talking or doing something…" He sighed, "...always so full of life."
The teenager's loving words made Joyce smile even brighter, "You're very lucky…to have so many people to rely upon."
Jack shrugged, "It wasn't always that way, but I'm happy for them now."
Nevertheless, there was still that tiny, lingering voice in the back of the mother's mind. Something still wasn't quite right here. Call it a gut feeling, but this kid was holding back…as if there were some kind of secret he wasn't telling.
And the frustrating thing was that her gut also told her that she knew the supposed secret…that the answer was right in front of her…she just had to see it…to believe it.
So she decided to change gears completely. Maybe she just wasn't asking the right questions. That, and since the family subject seemed to be weighing the boy down, it might help to get a bit off-topic. After such a long pause, she cleared her throat, "Um...so, uh...what do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies?"
Jack brightened considerably and leaned back in his chair, "Having fun." The mother simply raised a brow, and he chuckled in response, "And usually, that's by playing in the snow." By then, he was finished with his supper, and he patted his tummy in sweet satisfaction, "Thanks a lot for dinner, by the way. You're a really great cook."
"Well thank you", Joyce blushed at the compliment, although it was also because she was gathering her courage to finally let loose the puzzle she'd been attempting to put together since their guest first arrived. Taking a deep breath, she started, "You know...you're getting to be pretty famous around these parts. The kids are always talking about you…about the amazing things you can do, and what you do for them."
The boy's gaze shifted between Jamie and Sophie, who, in turn, looked back and forth between him and their mother, as if she were about to uncover some big secret. The teenager's face remained neutral, but the glimmer of curious excitement in his eyes betrayed him, "Really now?"
Mrs. Bennett nodded, "A lot of them have taken to calling you 'Jack Frost'."
This time, the boy in question smirked, "Is that so?"
Joyce shrugged and giggled, "Isn't it silly?"
"What is?" the teen asked.
"The whole 'Jack Frost' thing", the mother explained, "I mean, that's obviously not your real name."
Her kids eyed her curiously, then turned to their friend; wondering what he was going to say. And he surprised her when he leaned back- his chair now only on two legs, as he put his hands behind his head, "Who says it isn't? If that's what they want to call me, then I'd say that makes it real."
Well THAT certainly wasn't the answer she was expecting. She absently tapped her finger on the table; now more determined and curious than ever, "...how is it that you seem to have been all over, and yet I've never seen you until now?"
Jack continued to grin, but his eyes wore a flash of seriousness. The mother was beginning to recognize it. The smile was just a mask- the eyes always revealed the truth. He let loose a sigh; his tone rather intrigued, "Who knows? Maybe you have, but just never noticed…" As an afterthought, he added, "...or believed."
She already found his comment very odd, but at those last two words, a tiny shiver went down her spine. She wanted to think it was because the temperature in the room suddenly dropped (another unexplained oddity) ...or was it because of that silly notion she had earlier? But this time, she didn't push the theory away completely as she eyed her guest- now suspicious, "What about the summertime? What do you do then?"
Jack shook his head, "… I don't really like summer. Too hot for me…"
A strange quiet fell upon the table, with the teenager, and the mother who let him in her house, having a bit of a stare off. There was no doubt in her mind now that her guest was hiding something…and the way his sky-blue eyes bore into hers, it was as if he was waiting to see if she could figure out just what that secret was. He wasn't forcibly covering anything up…more like giving her clues- trying to help her along without spoiling anything.
But why? Why was he toying with her? Was this his idea of fun? And the kids had barely spoken. Were they just being polite and not interrupting, or were they aware of something she wasn't? By the looks they gave their friend, it sure seemed like it.
The tiny voice in the back of her mind spoke again- telling her the answer, which she once again denied. Rising from the table, she forced a smile, "Speaking of hot…"
The mom disappeared into the kitchen momentarily; being as quiet as she could so as not to spoil her own surprise. Within minutes, she padded back into the dining room; a tray with four, steaming mugs in hand, "Who wants hot chocolate?"
Suddenly, Jamie and Sophie sprang to life; raising their hands eagerly with shouts of, "me, me, me!" Joyce wasted no time in handing each child a glass, "Now everyone be careful. These drinks are VERY hot."
Jamie had the sense of mind to wait patiently, while Sophie made a game out of touching the steaming glass- pulling her finger back when it got too hot to handle. But just as their mom was about to take her seat, she swiveled to see how Jack was faring, only to find him gulping down the beverage like it was a soda bottle. She suppressed a gasp of shock, "Jack; I just made these! Isn't that boiling hot?"
The teenager paused to give her a sly wink, "Nope."
"But...but how-?" she sputtered.
"I just blew on it", he pointed to his mug for emphasis.
Mrs. Bennett stole a glance inside the once full glass; finding a strange layer of white foam over the top. It was probably just the effect of the marshmallows melting…
...and yet the foam formed pretty and rather intricate shapes and swirls inside the small circle...patterns that reminded her of delicate snowflakes. Heck, it almost DID look like…
"No", she told herself, "Just stop right there."
By then, Jack had sipped the last of the chocolate and handed her the glass, "Thanks so much. That's the first time I've ever had that. I hope it's always as good as you make it."
"Well I'm... I'm glad you liked it", Joyce was at a loss for words, both in his complement, and for the fact that his mug wasn't even warm anymore. After casting the glass in the sink, she finally returned to her place at the table. Her kids were just getting into their respective drinks, when she spoke up again, "Not that I haven't asked you enough already, but how old are you?"
Jack blinked; put off at the question, when Sophie answered first, "He's SUPER old. He's-"
"-way older than us, that is," Jamie quickly finished for her.
Their friend chuckled, before turning to their mother, "I'm seventeen."
Seventeen? Between his size and skinny stature, the boy appeared to be just starting middle school, not almost graduating (if such a thing existed in homeschooling). But an even bigger curiosity nagged at her, "I know you hang out in our neighborhood a lot, but...don't you have any friends your own age?"
Jack tilted his head as if he were thinking hard, "I do. I just have more fun looking after little kids."
Joyce cocked a brow at his choice of words, "Looking after?"
The boy shrugged; seemingly realizing what he just said, and cleared his throat, "Well... I guess since meeting Jamie and Sophie… I just sort of felt responsible for them…" Jamie blushed, but smirked nonetheless, to which the teenager smiled back, "I care about them…especially since..."
Jack suddenly stopped himself short, but the mother caught his pause easily, "Since what?"
The teenager said no more, although he couldn't stop himself from casting a sideways glance to the far wall. A portrait of Joyce, her husband, and her two kids hung proudly as a loving reminder of the father they once had. Mrs. Bennett followed his gaze- her heart nearly skipping a beat.
Oh no...he knows...he-
The mom's thoughts were broken when suddenly, without warning, Sophie lost her grip on her glass, spilling hot chocolate all over herself. A second later, the six-year-old let out an ear piercing screech, as the liquid ran down her left arm and both of her hands like molten, brown lava. All three of her table mates instantly sprang to their feet, both in surprise and horrified shock.
"Oh my God, Sophie!" Joyce yanked the cup out of her hands, before pulling the chair out to get a better look at her daughter. Even through the murky brown liquid, she could tell the girl's skin was already turning red, and would no doubt blister up. As attested to that, the blonde cried even harder; a river of tears streaming down her face.
From somewhere behind, Jamie called out, "What do we do?"
Mrs. Bennett turned to find her son and Jack staring at the scene with varying degrees of fear. Jamie bounced on his heels, ready to spring, while his older friend simply looked on with an odd sense of calm. Worried, yes, but he seemed to have his act together more than the boy who was about to bolt. The mother quickly stood, "I'm going to get some bandages and salve for the burn. Jamie, you go get a wet rag and try to clean her up. And Jack...just try to keep her calm. I'll be right back."
The boys nodded, while the woman took off down the hall- making a beeline for the bathroom. As she flung open the medicine cabinet, a rush of guilt flooded her thoughts. This is what she got for having the house so warm that the kids could walk around in T-shirts. And she was so caught up in interrogating their houseguest, she never noticed her daughter having trouble with her cup until it was too late. And since when was it her business to ask so much personal stuff about Jack? He probably not only thought her rude, but a bad mother now.
She could only pray for forgiveness, and more importantly, that her daughter wouldn't suffer from any serious burns. With the bandages and ointment in hand, she rushed back to treat the little girl's wounds and stop her painful crying…
...only to find that… Sophie WASN'T crying anymore. In fact, as the mother passed through the living room on her way to the dining room…she came to a dead halt and stared at the most unbelievable sight imaginable…
There, sprawled out on the sofa, she found her daughter nestled in Jack's lap, who had his arms wrapped around her protectively. With a gentle touch, he rubbed her burned arm; muttering soft words of comfort, and urging her to smile for him. Although her eyes were still bloodshot from crying, she actually managed a tiny smirk, then a giggle when he playfully tickled her. Meanwhile, Jamie was sitting on the other end of the couch- a rag still in hand from after cleaning up his sister, and he looked on at her and his friend with utter relief.
The mother, still flabbergasted, took a step forward, "Sophie?"
The blonde was resting her head on Jack's shoulder; enjoying being cuddled. But upon hearing her name, she perked up and looked at her mom with wide eyes- grinning from ear to ear, "Mom! It's okay; I'm all better now."
Joyce could only blink in confusion, "W-what?"
"My arm, it's okay", the girl explained, "Jack rubbed the burn. He cooled it off and made it better. He's like an ice pack!"
"Let me see", Mrs. Bennett took Sophie's hand; fully expecting to see nothing but red blotches and the beginnings of nasty blisters. But to her shock and amazement, the girl's arm was perfectly fine. No boils, no burns…heck, even her skin wasn't red anymore. Chocolate stains covered her shirt…but other than that, it was as if the accident never happened.
This made no sense whatsoever…how... how could it be?! The only words the woman could mutter was, "...it's a miracle."
For the longest moment, her eyes drifted between her daughter and Jack, as her mind tried to process everything that had happened. Her theory once again pushed itself to the forefront, and this time, all the puzzle pieces fell into place.
The odd weather patterns...the kids' stories... Jack's odd attire... how he didn't wear shoes...his cryptic answers...the hot chocolate...the burn...
"Jack made it snow in Jamie's room!"
"Jack rubbed the burn. He cooled it off and made it better."
"He doesn't need shoes. He's Jack Frost."
"Maybe you just never noticed…or believed."
By then, all three kids were gazing up at the woman in mild concern, but it was the blonde who spoke first, "Mom? Are you okay?"
Joyce put a hand to her chest in a vain attempt to stay calm. With the most even voice she could muster, she quietly muttered, "Jamie… Sophie… I need you to put all the dishes in the sink, then clean up the table. Can you do that for me?"
Both siblings cast a sideways glance at one another, more than confused at this sudden request. But they knew when their mother was being serious, so with a nod, both kids quietly slid off the couch and shuffled into the dining room. The woman then turned her attention to her houseguest, "Jack…may I have a word with you for a moment?"
The teenager blinked in surprise, "Um..." He peeked over at his friends as if he were searching for an escape.
"Alone?" Joyce kept her voice low, but there was no hiding the urgency, "Please...?"
The boy himself appeared just as anxious as she was, and remained silent even as he rose from the sofa and quietly followed the mother down the hallway. Slowly, but with purpose, she led Jack into Jamie's bedroom; shutting the door behind them both. The teenager glanced around the room for only a moment, before settling on the woman who brought him there, "So, uh...what did you want to talk about?"
He shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets, most likely to keep from looking nervous. For a tense beat, Joyce did nothing but stare her guest up and down-really looking at him for the first time…and debating whether she should speak her mind or not. If it turned out she was wrong, no doubt she'd be considered insane…but if she was right…she'd never forgive herself for not acting out when she had the chance.
Jack leaned in; eyes full of concern, "… Mrs. Bennett?"
The woman drew a shuttered breath; her voice nothing short of fearful, "... I don't know if I'm going crazy. I don't understand what's going on, and maybe I'm not supposed to understand." She took a tentative step forward-now only an arm's length away from the boy, "...but if what I'm thinking is true…and this is real…"
Rather than confusion, the teen's eyes widened, as if he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and it was all the more incentive she needed to reach out and, with one swift motion, pull his hood down…
...to reveal a head of hair that was as white as snow. And with the afternoon sun shining through the window behind him, the added shimmer left almost a glowing halo around his body.
The sight was so beautiful, yet also so shocking, that the woman physically shrank back; tears trickling down her cheeks. When she finally found her voice, the only words that could come out were, "...who ARE you...?"
Although still clearly thrown at her knee-jerk reaction, Jack raised a brow and smirked- looking for all the world like being caught making trouble and not caring in the slightest, "… I think you already know the answer."
It took everything in her willpower to slowly take a step back; collapsing on the bed and shaking with a strange mix of terror and awe. She knew the answer, but her mind wasn't ready to accept it.
All those years...the kids were right...her husband was right...the folk legends WERE true. The clues were all around her...and she was too blind and stubborn to see it.
She held her head in her hands, her voice a tiny whisper, "… I can't believe this."
By then, Jack had kicked off and abandoned the silly bunny slippers, and took a seat next to the distressed mother, "A part of you must, or else you couldn't see me." He scratched his chin thoughtfully- his tone curious, "I think we got a case of your mind telling you one thing, and your heart telling you another. And trust me, I've been there." He scooted back more so he could sit cross-legged and smiled; staring at nothing in particular, "I've learned to not over think things."
Easy for him to say- he wasn't the one having his entire world outlook turned upside down. She gazed at the young man- studying him carefully. How old was he really? Could she even call him a boy? Or a human for that matter? Was he a spirit? A ghost?
A thin pattern of frost began snaking its way across his shoulders, and although the room was a comfortable, warm temperature, he let loose a visible puff of air as if they were standing outside in the cold. All the while, the boy remained quiet; not looking at her. But he wasn't avoiding her stare- more like he was just giving her a moment to collect herself; waiting for her to say something.
So she did, "...why did you come here? Why here? Why us?"
Jack closed his eyes-drumming his fingers as he thought. But finally, he shrugged, "Luck? Fate? Who knows. Maybe I'm just supposed to be here." He glanced up at the ceiling, however it seemed he was seeing beyond it, "Don't we all ask that once in a while? How we got here. Why we're here. Maybe we should just focus on making the world better than when we found it. Or just use what we're given to help others. Maybe I just needed a friend…" At long last, his blue eyes faced her, "...or maybe you needed a guardian."
Mrs. Bennett blinked; taken aback at his choice of words. To have it spelled out so clearly…
...guardian... a guardian...all those years, she prayed for one...and here he was, sitting next to her…
Jack's attention shifted to a family photo on the nearby nightstand, and his smirk dropped to a concerned frown, "Jamie told me about his dad a few years back… I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It was no one's fault", the mother was quick to try and wipe away his guilty expression. She bit her lip; tears threatening to escape, "Will was such a good man. He loved his kids more than anything… I miss him every day." She glanced around the room as she remembered; ticking off one memory after another, "He'd tell all kinds of stories, sing songs…he made every holiday come alive…helping the kids write letters to Santa; organizing the Easter egg hunts; making sure they were asleep so the tooth fairy could come…he knew how to have fun." She turned to the teenager-smiling, but eyes watering, "Jamie… he's eleven years old and still believes in Santa… can you believe THAT?"
Jack chuckled; throwing her a wink, "He has every right to."
Joyce raised a brow, wondering just how much of that statement she should've read into. But for the sake of her sanity, she put that thought on the back burner and pressed on, "Every holiday reminds me of Will. And I think it's the same for Jamie and Sophie. Any time they talk about Santa, or the Easter Bunny, there's that piece of their dad that comes out." She shook her head, "I never really believed in folklore, but Will did, and the kids do…it's probably the one way they stay connected. To remember their father, they remember the fairytales." She heaved a heavy sigh, laced with regret, "… I only wish I could've done the same."
Surprisingly, Jack chose that moment to spring up and looked her right in the eye; his warm smile back again, "Start now then. No time like the present."
Mrs. Bennett could only blink at his sudden mood swing. Really? Just like that? He really thought she could make such a huge change in the course of one afternoon? This whole time, was the Lord testing her? She nearly shook her head, "But...but I-"
Before she could finish, Jack took her hand in his; hands that were ice cold…and yet somehow comforting regardless, "Sometimes, all it takes is one moment-one spark-one word, for someone's mind, or heart, or eyes to open." He widened his own eyes for emphasis, in an almost comical way, before grinning, "I've learned that…seeing isn't believing...believing is seeing."
Joyce's heart skipped a beat…she remembered that mantra…her husband had spoken it so long ago…and to hear it now, it made her realize just how much she missed it, and how much she forgot. For the longest time, she stared into Jack's friendly eyes…eyes that looked so young, and yet so old at the same time…eyes that had seen a lot and learned a lot…and eyes that were inviting her to join in the fun- to join in the magic. A magic that he had clearly given to Jamie and Sophie when they needed it most.
Just then, the prayer she had spoke so long ago came back to her:
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…send us an angel…the best one you have.
Well...if she believed in angels...
The teenager tilted his head in anticipation, and it was a wonder he hadn't lost his patience. So she sought to break the silence when she finally fully faced him and smiled, "I'm glad you and Jamie are friends. You both have a lot in common."
Jack chuckled, "He's a good kid. Really smart...pretty brave too."
The mother nodded; her voice filled with nothing but gratitude, "I can't thank you enough for taking care of my children...I've been alone for so long...it's a relief to know that there's someone else out there to watch over them."
The boy rubbed the back of his head, "No prob, although you do most of that. I just like to help." He shrugged as he added, "It's kind of my job."
Joyce bit back tears as she leaned in closer, "Thank you for being there for him...for being a big brother...for just being you."
And without another thought, she wrapped her arms around his skinny frame in a thankful, loving hug. The boy hesitated for only a second-surprised at such a reaction, before returning the embrace. With a smirk, he muttered, "No..thank YOU."
The two remained intertwined for what seemed like forever, until there came the sound of someone clearing their throat. Startled, both Jack and Mrs. Bennett broke off the hug and spun around to find both Jamie and Sophie peeking into the room. The boy blushed, "Um...we finished clearing the table...and all the dishes are done."
It was plain as day on both the kids' faces that they were aware something majorly important had happened, especially at the way they shot odd glances at Jack-seeing his white hair exposed. But the teenager gave them a reassuring nod; letting them know it was okay that their little secret was out. The mother, for her part, actually giggled, "Thank you very much."
Sophie poked out from behind her brother, "Is everything okay?"
"Yes", the woman let out a satisfied huff, "Everything is just fine."
At long last, Jack rose from his seat on the bed; stretching as he did so, "Not that I don't like staying up late, but I better hit the road. Got places to go, people to see."
Sophie let out a disappointed "aww", to which the mom replied, "He's right. His family's probably worried about him. But he can come over whenever he wants."
The boy blinked at her in momentary surprise, to which she cast him a knowing glance and winked. As she led the way across the hall and down the stairs, she shrugged, "I'd offer some leftovers for you to take, but it looks like we ate it all."
"Probably because it was so good", Jack quipped. Arriving at the front door, he scooped up his crooked staff still resting in the corner, before turning with a grin, "Thanks for inviting me...it was fun."
His statement was so simple, yet there was something in his eyes that suggested there was more gratitude and meaning behind that one sentence he couldn't express. Mrs. Bennett returned the gesture, "You're very welcome...it's one Thanksgiving we'll never forget."
Sophie squeezed between her mom and brother so she could run up and give Jack a hug around the waist, "Will you come over and play tomorrow?"
"Of course", the teenager returned her embrace, before ruffling her brother's hair, "See ya', Jamie."
The boy gave his friend a thumbs up, "Later."
With that, the Bennetts' houseguest finally took his leave; his head toward the sky; staff casually leaning against his shoulder; whistling a happy little made up tune. But he made a point to look behind and toss one last wave of good bye. The woman and her kids waved back; the lack of shoes not a concern this time, before Joyce called out, "Jack...!"
Said teenager turned again; twirling the giant stick in his hands, "Yeah?"
The mother motioned to her children, "You'll make a great Sheppard...you know how to protect your flock."
Jack said nothing more; his ear to ear grin was all the words she needed. And quick as a flash, he took off into a happy sprint-running off into the evening air as if the very wind was carrying him. Mrs. Bennett never took her eyes off him until he was a speck in the distance...
...and when a sudden drop of ice touched the tip of her nose.
Her and her kids turned their heads upwards to find that it had begun to snow. Big, fat flakes drifted down from the sky, almost like tiny crystals dancing in the air, and leaving the ground white and sparkly. Sophie let out a cheer, while Jamie just chuckled, before looking at his mom, only to see her sniffling a bit. He raised a brow, "Hey...you alright?"
Joyce smiled and nodded, "Yes, just...just Jack Frost nippin' at my nose."
She didn't have to look to know the surprise on her son's face. Because honestly, she herself was left in a state of awe...but also happiness. After years of hoping and trying, her prayers were finally answered. With Will in mind, perhaps the saying WAS true; "seeing isn't believing-believing is seeing." And she could now see that saviors could come in any and all forms.
And the Lord really did send her the best one of all.
A snow angel.