The stands at the hockey game were absolutely packed. The Arendelle High School Mountain Trolls were playing against the Corona High School Chameleons: their biggest rival. Arendelle had defeated them the past three years and they were aiming for the fourth year in a row. For everyone on the hockey team, especially the seniors, this was a pretty big moment.
Kristoff watched from the stands, not being able to enjoy the game as he normally would. He was not normally one for pity parties, but he kind of felt like he deserved to throw himself one. His family got by okay. Just okay. They weren't living off of food stamps or standing in lines at the unemployment office or pawning their possessions, but they weren't fabulously wealthy like the couple that owned this ice rink were. His parents had fed him, clothed him, sheltered him, and loved him. And they had put away money for him to go to college since before he was born and were still consistently putting money away in it to this day.
But times changed. Kristoff's grades were okay, but not enough to get him a scholarship, not even to the nearby Arendelle University. So he had been banking on a hockey scholarship. Then he had to go and slip and break his arm. Of all things, he slipped on ice. Ice had been his life and it had betrayed him cruelly.
At least he didn't have to deal with his teammates anymore. It wasn't like he hated them or anything, he just never befriended any of them. They would all go hang out and go to parties after the game together and Kristoff didn't care that he had never been invited along. You can't make people like you. Besides, he always thought his Labrador Retriever Sven was better than people anyway.
And at least he didn't have to hear the constant complaining from his mom about how he smelled even though he took at least four showers after every game. That after game smell never seemed to go away. His truck still smelled like wet gear and…Kristoff pulled his hoodie away from him and sniffed. Yeah, the smell still lingered somewhat on him. Maybe he should try and find a stronger deodorant.
Arendelle shot the puck into the net just seconds before the first period ended and the crowd cheered wildly, the man beside Kristoff jostling him as they did.
"Hey!" Kristoff complained. The man either ignored him or didn't hear him. Probably the latter. Kristoff slid over to the edge of the bench to get away from people, practically sitting in the aisle. If he had had the choice, he wouldn't even be here, but he had missed a class earlier that day because of a dentist appointment and he was meeting someone here to get notes and the homework assignment.
If there was one thing the guys on the hockey team-and many people in the school-liked to discuss the most, it was Elsa Strand. She was the most beautiful girl anyone had ever laid eyes on, she made perfect grades practically effortlessly, she was on the fast track to becoming valedictorian, she was bound to become the senior prom queen, and she had been the only freshman ever to win Homecoming Queen. Practically every straight, hot blooded male fawned over Elsa and only the bravest of the brave had ever asked her out. They were all shot down one after the other. Kristoff, it seemed, was the only guy who had never been interested in her.
He could easily admit that she was pretty and smart, because those were the facts. But he had never been interested in her in the way every other male seemed to be. In fact, he had never had an interest in any girl (but that did not mean he had an interest in guys no matter what his cousin Harald tried to imply.) Maybe it was the fact that he didn't pine for her, and maybe it was the fact that he kept quiet and did the work, but in all the classes that they had together, Elsa would choose him to work with on projects, much to the jealousy of her admirers. But they quickly realized he wasn't a threat and continued with their one-sided flirting.
Anyway, he had texted Elsa, and she asked him to meet him at the game that night and she would get him his stuff. On top of everything else, Elsa had a job working for her parents at the Arendelle Ice Center. It certainly came in handy when she got him into the game without having to pay for admission. But being an assistant manager meant she had been very busy so he sat down, texted her his seat section and how many rows down he was and watched the game halfheartedly.
As if thinking about why he was hear in the first place had summoned her, Elsa appeared next to him as if by magic.
"Hey," she said, smiling tiredly. Kristoff scooted back over so Elsa could sit down, which she did with a big sigh. "Sorry it took me so long," she apologized.
"Busy night?" Kristoff guessed.
Elsa tucked her bangs back. "One of the concession stands kept needing more change because nobody carries around smaller bills with them or credit cards and one woman just did not get no matter how many times I explained it to her that the rink was not open for skating tonight because we have a game going on. Apparently I ruined her son's birthday." Elsa shook her head and looked up at the scoreboard.
"Wow, up by two!" she said and smiled approvingly. "Enjoying the game?" she asked, looking back at Kristoff.
He shrugged. "Well, I…hm, uh…" He unconsciously glanced down at his cast. Elsa caught where he had glanced.
"Not as much as you could be," she said for him. "Well, I should have time before another crisis hits. My stuff is in the office so if you just want to follow?" Kristoff nodded and grabbed his bag, glad it was a messenger bag instead of a backpack. The latter would have been a nightmare with the broken arm. Elsa led him to an Employees Only door and punched in a code on the keypad to unlock it.
"No retina scanners?" Kristoff joked as she led him down a hallway and past what looked to be a small break room to yet another door that needed a code.
"Anna keeps saying we need to install those," Elsa laughed. Kristoff didn't know who Anna was. Maybe she was an employee here? He didn't bother asking. The office was pretty nice, Kristoff had to admit. Two large desks were on either side of the room and through another door was another office with a single desk where a dark haired woman and a mustached man were sitting and talking. Elsa rapped her knuckles on the open door of the separate office and the man and woman looked up.
"Hey, Mom, Dad?" she said. Kristoff blinked in surprise. He should have known that those were Elsa's parents! They owned this place and the woman looked exactly like Elsa with dark hair. It was almost scary how much they looked alike, actually. "This is Kristoff Bjorgman. The guy from school I told you about?" She moved aside so Kristoff was in plain view. He waved awkwardly.
"Elsa told us you were coming by," Mr. Strand said. "Why don't you go ahead and have a seat while Elsa gets your stuff for you?" Kristoff was pretty certain from the look on his face that he didn't really have a choice. Mrs. Strand smiled reassuringly at him from her chair, but it did nothing to make him feel better. Suddenly the air in the room felt stuffy and he felt like he was on trial for some unknown crime.
Kristoff sat down carefully. The chair was much too small for him, but then again, most chairs were.
"So…" Mrs. Strand said with a cheerful little smile on her face. "You're the hockey guy?"
"Well..." he held up his cast for a moment before dropping it back down to his lap. "Used to be."
"We've seen you play in a couple of games over the years," Mr. Strand said. "You're pretty good. Your coach spoke pretty highly of you, too."
Kristoff gave a disbelieving look at that. "Really? Coach Oaken?"
Elsa popped her head into the office for a moment. "He said your playing skills far outweighed your smartass remarks," she clarified before going back to her desk.
"That sounds more like Oaken," Kristoff said, smiling a little. He glanced at the pictures that littered the walls of the office. The majority of them featured Elsa and a girl with red hair that looked eerily similar to her. Now that he thought about it, he was sure he had heard Elsa mention a sister before, but most of the times they interacted, she was all about work and divulged very little of her personal life.
"What are your college plans, Kristoff?" Mr. Strand asked seriously.
Kristoff sighed, knowing everything that came out of his mouth next would only disappoint the two people in front of him. "Right now the college plans are kind of…nonexistent until I come up with another plan. I was hoping for a hockey scholarship and I did get a couple of recruiters interested before…well…" he gestured to his cast. "But they lost interest and I probably won't be getting anything. My parents tried telling me that they can pay for college and we do have some money saved up but I'm not stupid. I know it's not enough. The most I could do is go to the community college in Corona and get an Associate's unless there's another option I haven't thought of."
Mr. Strand leaned back in his chair, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "What about Arendelle University? It's much closer than Corona. You wouldn't have to drive to the opposite side of the county."
Kristoff sat up a little straighter in his chair. "Well, Arendelle was my first choice. Their Business program looks pretty amazing; pretty much exactly what I wanted. But even that tuition is too much."
Mrs. Strand looked to her husband and-did…did she just nod? "Have you thought about maybe getting a job?"
That had been the first thing Kristoff had thought of. "I've applied, but I haven't heard back from anywhere and the places that I have heard back from don't pay all that well."
"Well you haven't applied here," Mrs. Strand said casually, but the corners of her mouth twitched upward as she watched Kristoff's facial expression change from confusion to disbelief to shock and back to confusion again.
"We pay well above minimum wage here," Mr. Strand continued, "and we're very flexible with college students and their schedules. You could start working here now and save up plenty by the time Arendelle starts their fall session in August. How old are you? Eighteen?"
Kristoff struggled to find his words. "Um-I-ye-no, not yet. Not until the eighteenth."
Mr. Strand sighed in relief. "Thank God! Emma and I here are going to cut back coming into the rink as much and Elsa's going to take over as the manager. We offered the other two managers Georgia and Keefe the position, but they want it to go to Elsa. But that means come August, I'll be short one assistant manager and I've gotten enough unhelpful hints from one of the City Council members about how I need to let his son run this rink but I'll be damned if I give that little pretty boy kiss ass any ounce of power. But I like you, I can tell Emma likes you and you came with a pretty glowing recommendation from Elsa." Kristoff leaned back in his chair to glance at Elsa through the open door. She was staring pointedly at the computer screen, her lips curved up in a sly smile.
"When we step down, you can step up," Mrs. Strand said, bringing Kristoff's attention back to the present. "So long as you work hard and if Elsa thinks you're ready for the position. We'll just have to see."
Kristoff was a little stunned by it all. He had just come in for homework and all the sudden he was being offered a job. Mr. and Mrs. Strand looked at him expectantly.
"Well?" Mr. Strand prodded. "Do you want the job?"
Kristoff nodded vigorously. "Yes, of course," he said. "I'd love-that'd be…thank you."
Mrs. Strand handed him some papers from her clipboard. "We just need you to fill this out to make it official-wait, that isn't your writing hand, is it?" she asked worriedly.
"No, I'm right handed," Kristoff assured her.
"We have a little break room for the employees just down the hall-" Mrs. Strand offered but she was interrupted by her husband.
"I've got one more question," he said. He looked seriously at Kristoff. "Are you and Elsa dating?"
"Dad!" Elsa said indignantly, storming into the office. "I told you, Kristoff and I aren't dating!"
"Well you've never had a boyfriend before!" Mr. Strand says. "And you were pretty insistent about us hiring Kristoff here I thought that there had to be some reason."
"We're not dating," Kristoff interjected.
"Aw, why not?" Mrs. Strand pouted. She looked rather disappointed. As did her husband.
Elsa very slowly inhaled and then exhaled.
"It is entirely possible for two people of the opposite sex to be just friends," Elsa insisted. "I'm pretty certain that Kristoff is not, nor has he ever been, interested in that way and I have never felt the same way about him. No offense," she added to Kristoff. He was used to girls thinking he was less than a catch. It didn't faze him that Elsa thought the same way.
"None taken," he mumbled awkwardly. "And ditto."
At least Mr. and Mrs. Strand looked apologetic. "Sorry, Kristoff. Just wanted to make sure. It was nice meeting you." The couple both took turns shaking his hand.
"Welcome to the Arendelle Ice Center," they congratulated him and Kristoff finally felt a little bit of hope that he had not felt since he first heard the cracking of the bones in his arm.
Anna had decided that after spending most of the night in the press box with Olaf and finishing most of her homework, she really deserved a cup of hot chocolate before digging into her dreaded Algebra homework. It wouldn't be so bad if her math teacher actually taught…teached? No…wait…taught. Definitely taught. Or definitely not taught.
His idea of "teaching" was to show one example and then give you the homework assignment. But the problems looked nothing like the one he wrote out on the board and she'd had to struggle through the homework and try and get help from Elsa and her parents when she could.
The cup of hot chocolate thoroughly warmed her hands as she cradled it walking back toward the break room. To her surprise, there was one other person in there: some big blond guy in a hoodie, filling out an application.
Anna sat herself down at the other table and carefully set her hot chocolate down. She was known to be a klutz and the last thing she needed or wanted to do was knock her hot chocolate all over her homework in front of some stranger. Unzipping her backpack, Anna pulled out her math book and a few sheets of notebook paper. She looked up and noticed the blond guy quickly glancing back to the application.
"Hi," Anna offered. The blond guy jumped a little when she spoke and looked up at her.
"Sorry?" the blond said as if he hadn't heard her.
"I just said hi," Anna repeated awkwardly.
"Oh, um, hi. Hello…hi," the blond replied just as awkwardly. Making a decision on the spot, Anna grabbed her hot chocolate and sat at his table, plunking herself down in the seat next to her.
"I'm Anna," she said, sticking her hand out. The blond looked at her hand as if it might bite, then at her as if she might bite, then grabbed her hand to shake it. Anna was so taken aback by just how large his hand was and how it basically swallowed hers that she nearly missed his name.
"Kristoff," he said.
"Nice to meet you, Kristoff," Anna said cheerfully. She dropped his hand. Kristoff looked at her weirdly again and Anna doesn't know if it's a good weird or a bad weird…although in her experience, weird has never been a good thing.
"Applying for a job?" she asked, taking a sip of her hot chocolate.
"I already got the job, this is just a formality," Kristoff explained. He muttered to himself for a minute as he read part of the application. "You work here?" he asked.
Anna shook her head. "Not old enough yet. Not until I turn sixteen next March." Kristoff looks up at her and frowns.
"How'd you get back here?" he asks suspiciously. He's not the first to not realize who she is and he won't be the last.
"My parents own this place. I've been running around here since I could walk." And tripping and falling on her face but Kristoff didn't need to know that right away. They had just met, after all.
A look of vague recognition flashed in Kristoff's eyes. "Your parents are-" He pointed back toward the office. "So you're Elsa's sister?"
Anna nodded and her shoulders sagged slightly. Typical that he would know Elsa and be completely surprised that she had a sister. Just wait until he got to know her better and saw how much clumsier she was and how much she put her foot in her mouth and how much prettier Elsa was when they stood next to each other and you could compare them easier that way.
"That's me," Anna confirmed.
Kristoff's eyes traveled up and down and Anna self-consciously tucked a stray hair behind her air and shrunk back a little from his gaze. "She's the one who got me this job," Kristoff said, going back to his application.
"What are you her boyfriend or something?" Anna asked curiously. If Elsa had gone and gotten herself a boyfriend and didn't say anything about it…
"I-what? No! No, I'm not her boyfriend!" Kristoff sputtered as his cheeks blushed furiously red. "Jesus, why do people keep asking that today?" he muttered to himself before looking back at her. "Elsa and I have been in nearly all of our classes together since the third grade. We're just friends."
Anna looked down at his blank plaster cast. "She didn't sign it," she observed, pointing to his arm. Kristoff looked down again at his arm and frowned.
"We're not that close," Kristoff explained. "Just close enough for her to recommend me to your parents for a job." Anna dashes over to her backpack and digs through it for a minute before, with a cry of triumph, she extracts the black marker she was looking for.
"Well your cast looks empty and lonely so I'm going to sign it," Anna decides, sitting back down, she reaches for his arm but Kristoff pulls it back.
"Why?" he can't help asking.
Anna rolls her eyes. "Because we're friends," Anna says as if it's perfectly obvious but Kristoff gives her a disbelieving look.
"Since when? Didn't your parents ever warn you about strangers?"
"Since I decided we were just now and yes they did," Anna replied and she held out her hand patiently and expectantly. Kristoff sighs and finally gives in, looking amused.
"Just don't draw anything girly," he warns.
"Cross my heart," Anna promises, making the motion over her heart. She carefully wrote her name out nice and neat, biting her lip in concentration all the while. "There," Anna says, capping the marker again. She nods approvingly at the meticulously neat letters. "Now everyone will know that we're friends."
Anna gave him a five minute reprieve while she attempted another problem on her homework. She had just gotten the FOIL method down and now they wanted her to do the reverse? Why undo a perfectly good knot? Draining the last few drops of chocolatey goodness from her drink, Anna attempted to throw the cup into the wastebasket in the corner. It bounced off the rim and rolled back under her table. She heard a snort.
"Oh yeah, laugh it up, Kristoffer," Anna said, ducking down under the table to find her cup.
"It's Kristoff," he corrected. Oops.
"Hey, we've only been friends for like, five minutes," Anna tells him pointedly. She takes the time to actually walk to the wastebasket and drop her empty cup in there. "You can't expect me to know everything right away. I don't even know your last name."
"Bjorgman," he offers her.
"Or your favorite food."
Anna wrinkles her nose. "Ugh, seriously? Carrots?"
He glares at her, fighting a smile. "They're good for you."
"If you eat too many of them, your skin can turn orange," Anna tells him matter-of-factly.
Kristoff crosses the fingers of his good hand. "Here's hoping."
"Your best friend has to be me," Anna continues.
"The girl who can't even remember my name? My best friend is Sven, actually." He puts the pen down, the application forgotten for a few moments.
"Sven?" Anna echoes.
Kristoff nods. "Yeah. He's my dog. Labrador Retriever."
"Do you have a picture?" Anna asked excitedly. She loved dogs. And cats. And ducks. And she was pretty much an animal person.
"Uh," Kristoff mumbled, searching for his phone in his pocket. He unlocked it and pulled up his pictures. "Here." He turned the screen to her to show her a chocolate lab looking at the camera with its tongue hanging out. "That's Sven."
"He's so cute!" Anna gushed. She wanted to pet him so badly.
"Cute? I'll have you know that Sven is a macho dog with an addiction to carrots," Kristoff said mockingly indignant.
"Gee, I wonder who's to blame there?" Anna giggled. "Well, Elsa's my best friend and you've already met her so I guess there's no point in me showing you a picture."
"Well maybe you can tell me what I should know about this job," Kristoff suggested. "What are the other managers like? Anyone I should watch out for?"
It was nice to feel like she was actually being helpful to someone, Anna decided. "Georgia and Keefe are family friends," she told Kristoff. "They've been friends with my parents before Elsa and I were even born. They're really nice and easygoing. You'll like them I promise. As for the other employees…" Anna played with the sleeve of her favorite green sweater. "They're all really great. Olaf works in the press box and if he likes you, you're pretty much guaranteed that ninety-nine percent of the other employees will like you. His brother works sharpening the ice skates but he's kind of the security guard, too, and he'll throw people out who are being too unruly. Don't let the tough biker guy act fool you, though. We call him Marshmallow."
"You're not serious," Kristoff deadpans.
"It's on his name tag."
Kristoff laughs, shaking his head in disbelief before picking up the pen again and beginning to fill out the emergency contact section.
"The only one you really have to watch out for his Hans," Anna says. "Mom and Dad really don't like him but he hasn't really done anything bad enough to get fired. He used to be a cashier but they got sick of him kissing up to them to try and get in their good graces and with him flirting with every girl he saw. Plus, he kept trying to boss other employees around, including ones that had been here for way longer than him so they made him part of the janitorial staff."
"So was it the flirting or the bossiness that got him demoted?" Kristoff asked.
"Both. But I think him trying to flirt with Elsa was probably the final straw. Too bad he didn't flirt with me, then my parents really could have fired him! A twenty year old flirting with someone who's not even fifteen yet? Yeesh!" Anna laughed awkwardly. "What lunch do you have? At school, I mean."
Maybe she shouldn't talk so much. She's probably bothering Kristoff. She's not used to being anything but a bother to everyone. But Kristoff hasn't told her to go away and Anna is desperate to make one friend in high school.
"First," he says slowly, sounding somewhat wary of where this conversation is going.
"Me, too!" Anna says happily. She frowns a second later. "How come I never see you?"
Kristoff looks a little uncomfortable. "I usually just go hang out in the library," he says, shrugging.
Anna harrumphs. "Well on Monday I want you to come sit with Elsa and I," she decides. "We usually sit at about the third table from the doors, right by the big window. And if you don't, I'll come and get on to you. I know where you work now."
Kristoff rolls his eyes, signing his name on the last page of the application. "Pretty empty threat from someone who's half my size," he says. "Think you can get this to your parents for me?" he asks, holding out the paper to her. Anna crosses her arms stubbornly.
"Only if you promise to eat lunch with me and Elsa on Monday…and for the rest of the school year."
"Fine," Kristoff consents, shouldering his messenger bag. He smiled at her. "I'll see you Monday."
"Can't wait!" Anna calls out to his retreating back. Finally, for the first time in forever, she's finally made a new friend.