"Jack Frost?" Aster stared at Mr. Moon with growing disbelief as he tried to make sense of the teacher's strange demand.
The older man merely nodded, watching in silent amusement as his four favorite students tried to process his decree. Aster was clearly not happy. The seventeen year old had the same annoyed expression he adopted whenever Mr. Moon assigned an essay, but the others seemed to actually be considering the idea, if only for his sake.
Ana and Nicholas were exchanging a series of thoughtful looks, shrugs, and slight nods with the group's smallest member, Sandy, who seemed to the most willing to accept the idea.
After another minute of waiting, Mr. Moon decided to be the one to break the silence. "Yes. I want you to invite him to help and I'm not approving your request until you do."
Aster clenched his fists, his tan face turning crimson in rage. "What? We don't need that bloody showoff's help!"
Mr. Moon crossed his arms and leaned back in his leather chair, treating the Australian teenager to an icy-calm gaze. "This is not a suggestion, Aster. If you four want me to approve your proposal, then you're going to have to ask Mr. Frost for his help."
"After what he did last year? I had to repaint an entire backdrop in a single night!"
Mr. Moon's face remained calm. "The past is the past. We are talking about this year at the moment, Mr. Wilder."
Aster opened his mouth to argue, but Nick stepped forward and placed a large arm around his friend's shoulder before the unhappy teen could start ranting. He wasn't wild about the idea, either, but if this was what it took… "Why not? Jack Frost may be a troublemaker, but I don't think he's a terrible person. He did apologize for last year, after all."
Ana nodded in agreement, a glimmer of interest clear in her violet eyes. "Yeah, besides, it’s for the kids, Aster! Just think about how much fun it’ll be for them."
Sandy didn't say a word, but he was nodding as well.
The Australian let out a low growl, hardly believing how quickly the others were accepting this. "I am thinking of the kids! In fact, I seem to be the only one who is! What does Jack Frost know about making kids happy?"
The words "A lot more than you think he does" passed through Mr. Moon's mind, but he didn't say them aloud. Instead, he clapped his hands, regaining the bickering group's attention. "Enough. I will ask Mr. Frost to come by my office at lunchtime tomorrow and I will expect at least one of you to be here to make the offer. I'd prefer it to be all of you, of course, but I'm not going to be that demanding. If not, your children's fair will just have to remain a dream and you can think of another idea for this year's benefit. Understood?"
The others looked at Aster, waiting to see what he'd say. Finally, the tall boy sighed and threw his hands into the air. "Fine! We can ask Jack to help! Just don’t blame me when this whole thing goes south."
Jack sighed happily, closing his eyes and leaning back against the pale gray boulder he'd chosen for his resting spot. The afternoon sun filtered through leaves that were just starting to change from summer green to the gold and red of autumn, painting the white haired boy and his surroundings in an ever-changing tapestry of light and shadows. He could stay like this forever.
Jack didn't even bother to look at the source of the voice; he already knew who it was.
"What do you want this time, Pitch?"
"Want? Why, Jack! Can't two old friends just happen to meet in a secluded woodland clearing and talk?"
Now Jack did look at the other boy. Pitch stood in the shade of a tall oak, his pale arms crossed across his black shirt, smirking. Jack's eyes narrowed. "After what happened last Christmas, we're not friends anymore, Pitch. Now, tell me what you want or get out of here."
"I just want to have a little fun, that's all. An opportunity to mess with our favorite group of "try-hards" has arisen and I've decided to give you a chance to redeem yourself."
Jack groaned and closed his eyes once more. "Not again, Pitch. Can't you just give up on this already?"
The smirk vanished and Pitch's face contorted into a mask of hatred. "No, and I don't get how you can just give up after one failure. A failure that you caused, I might add."
The pale-haired boy shrugged. "You went too far, I don't regret stopping you. Also, believe it or not, I'd rather avoid having that much detention ever again." Or the guilty conscience.
Pitch remained silent and, for a moment, Jack thought the other boy had given up, but then he heard the crunch of leaves and a shadow blocked out the warm light that had been playing across his face. Jack opened his eyes and met Pitch's fierce amber eyes with his own defiant, frosty blue ones.
"I'm not helping you. I don't care what those showoffs are doing 'for the good of the world' this time. Let them waste their time with projects and deadlines – what does it matter?"
The fire in Pitch's eyes only grew at these words. "That's exactly it, though. They're going to do something sweet and wonderful again and everyone's going to sing their praises. Does it matter that I'm smarter and more accomplished than the lot of them? No. I'm going to have to hear about how wonderful those idiots are for weeks! If we do something now – stop this next project before it even gets started – then we can avoid all that."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Just don't listen to what everyone else is saying for once. It's not as hard to do as you think it is. Trust me."
Pitch made a sound of exasperation and turned around, stalking away from the lazy teen while calling back over his shoulder, "Just think about it, Jack. Help me and I'll make it worth your while."
Jack ignored his former friend’s calls as he let his eyes sink shut, happy to have his sunlight back, and dozed off.
"Aster, wait for a minute, please!" Ana ran after the angry teen as he stalked down the street towards their neighborhood. She was more than a little annoyed with how upset her friend was over this. Honestly, it wasn't like Jack would even accept their invitation. He'd been in the same class as them since freshman year and she'd yet to see him do something that involved extra work. Jack's approach to life seemed to revolve around goofing off as much as possible and doing as little work as he could manage.
Aster's pace slowed enough that she could catch up, but only just so. When she reached his side, Ana took his hand in hers, pulling him to a stop and making him turn to look at her. She smiled up at him, ignoring the anger in his spring-green eyes. "Come on, this will all be over tomorrow. What are the chances Jack will actually help?"
The tall boy's frustration seemed to melt away at these words and his scowl briefly changed to a look of surprise before deep, relieved laughter started to pour from his lips.
Ana had to hold back a knowing smirk at the sight. Of course Aster hadn’t even thought about the fact that Jack would say no. “Didn’t think about that, did ya?”
Aster shook his head, still chuckling lightly as the two friends started towards home once more. "No, I didn’t, and you’re absolutely right. Jack's never going to say yes!"
Jack had said yes, but only because what else could you say when your case worker asked to see you at lunch? He had no idea what Mr. Moon wanted to see him for, though, and Jack could feel fear twisting his stomach into knots as the clock on the wall ticked its way towards noon. Being called to Mr. Moon’s office rarely meant something good in his experience and he was racking his brains to try and figure out what he’d done that called for a meeting. It wasn’t like he’d had time to get onto his teacher’s bad sides – it was only the third day of school!
With a clang that somehow sounded a lot more ominous than usual, the bell rang, sending a shiver down Jack’s spine and breaking him from his silent musings. As the ringing died away, he let out a sigh of resignation, got up from his desk, and headed out of the classroom door, ready to face his fate.
He didn’t even bother to look where he was going as he walked towards Mr. Moon’s office, instead choosing to stare at the floor and let people move around him. Maybe he'd done something last year that had only just been noticed? He didn't think that was it – mostly because he couldn’t think of a prank that had failed to go off – but you never knew.
As he turned the corner that lead to Mr. Moon's office, he could feel his heart beginning to race and he readied himself for the worst, but then he looked up and stopped in his tracks. Aster and his gang were standing outside of the office door, waiting. Jack absentmindedly wondered if they were still mad about last year, but only Aster had seemed to still be holding a grudge last time he checked. Adopting a mischievous smirk and pushing away his fears, Jack called out to them, "Sorry, guys, you'll have to come back later. Mr. Moon wanted to see me about something."
Aster grimaced. "We know."
This was new. "Oh, he already told you to come back later?"
Nick shook his head and smiled at the smaller teen. "No, we're the reason you're here."
Now Jack was really worried and he automatically brought his hands up to shield his face as he began to nervously apologize for what felt like the thousandth time. "Listen, if this is about the play last year, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for things to go that far."
All four of the others winced at the memory of the previous year's near disaster ans Ana spoke now, her voice a little strained. "No, this isn't about that. Come on, we'll talk inside."
She opened the door and the teens filed in with a reluctant Jack bringing up the rear. Inside the office, Mr. Moon was munching on a sandwich while reading a book. He looked up at the sound of the door opening and smiled at the quintet of students entering his office. "Ah, I see you’ve all arrived at once. Excellent!"
While the other teens had moved into the room, Jack remained leaning against the doorframe, still grinning, but clearly ready to bolt as soon as he got the chance. Mr. Moon didn’t seem to mind, though, and gave the loner a bright, welcoming smile. "Jack, the others know why I've called you all here, but I'm afraid I didn't get to tell you this morning."
Jack shrugged, giving off the vibe that he didn't really care why he was there. "It’s okay, but I'm a little curious what you need that involves both me and Crocodile Dundee over there."
Spring-green eyes narrowed as Aster avoided the sudden urge to call Jack something nasty, but Mr. Moon moved the conversation along before the mounting argument could begin. "Why don't I let your classmates explain their request?"
Jack felt a wave of relief wash over him at these words. He wasn't in trouble. That was good. The “try hards” probably just wanted to ask him to volunteer some time for their Christmas thing this year to make up for last year’s fiasco, though why they were doing it in September was beyond him. "Sure, why not?"
"Very well. Nicholas, I believe this was your idea. Why don't you explain it to Jack?"
The brown haired boy nodded, treating Jack to a massive grin before spreading his arms wide. "We wanted to ask for your help planning this year's Christmas event."
Sandy and Ana grinned at him, waving their hands in a jazzy fashion as if to say "ta-da," while Aster simply rolled his eyes and leaned back against the window pane. It was clear this was not a unanimously-agreed-upon offer.
Jack gaped at the group for a moment before treating Mr. Moon to a disbelieving look. "What?"
"As you well know, Nicholas, Ana, Aster, and Sandy organize a yearly event to raise money for the less fortunate around Christmas and they'd like your help planning this year’s philanthropic event."
Jack’s blue eyes widened in surprise for a moment before his expression hardened into a glare. Was this Mr. Moon’s idea of a joke? "Why would I want to do something like that? Waste my time planning some lame benefit so that a bunch of random adults will tell me how sweet I am and my college applications look a bit more impressive? No thanks, that's not for me!"
As if suddenly realizing the nature of his statement, Jack looked back at the other teens and smiled sheepishly. "No offense."
Aster's face was once again a mask of rage. "How the bloody hell is that NOT offensive?"
Mr. Moon stepped in before a fight broke out, drawing their attention with a loud cough. "Jack, you haven't even heard what they're planning for this year’s event."
"Why in the world does it…"
"They're throwing a children's fair for the children in Burgess."
Jack froze midsentence and stared at Mr. Moon for a long moment; as if not quite sure he’d heard him right. Then he took a shaky breath and whispered, "Burgess? Why not here?"
Ana spoke up now, curious why the mention of that town had affected Jack so badly. "Because Burgess has a community center and Narvon doesn’t, plus Burgess has a lot of underprivileged families so we’d be able to use the event as both a fund raiser and as an event to help underprivileged kids!"
Aster nodded, already considering the matter closed. "Yeah, don't worry though, you don't have to 'waste your time' helping."
"I'll do it." Jack was staring at the floor, but they all heard what he said loud and clear.
The other four teens exchanged looks of surprise as Mr. Moon beamed at the nervously fidgeting teen. "I knew you would."