AN: Hello, again. Sorry about being late updating once again, finals were calling and I had to answer it. You guys are so sweet and funny, I really enjoy reading all your reviews. I still have TONS of PM's to send out, but no worries, I read all of your messages. The tumblr love lifts my spirits.
I got a new beta, so hopefully we'll be seeing less typos. I also got some great dialogue punctuation advice, so I'm glad for that. If I'm late again, think of it THIS way: It's better to get a chapter late with less typos and a better storyline, than to get a chapter super quick and have it suck and need lots of revisions, right?
I hope the end isn't too much/too little for you guys' "feels" :) I kind of threw my all in there. DON'T SKIP, haha! Read it through, it'll make the ending better. I've decided to focus on this fanfic before working on my others again, because I don't want to put half-effort where full-effort belongs.
Also, we've got some new surprises and characters getting woven into the story, if only very briefly. It's still all about Tooth and Jack, ya'll. Tooth's mother might just make an appearance as well...Review, guys! it feeds my writing hand. Enjoy.
Over the next week, it almost seemed like Christmas had swallowed the town of Burgess before spitting it back out.
There were holiday lights strung up everywhere on nearly every house. Most of the radio stations were filled with holiday tunes, and the ice skating rinks were being prepared to open for the season. All the kids made use of the blizzard and the early snow that came with it, building armies of snowmen on every block. The ground was icy, the air was dry, and Burgess turned into a little winter landscape.
To Burgess, the winter holidays were a big deal.
They were a pretty big deal to North, too. He loved the holidays, always going on and on about how great Christmas was. His birthday was very near Christmas as well, so he continued dropping hints to the gang as they would drive to school. All of them could have done well without the hints, Tooth especially. She was a hit on birthdays, always remembering the dates and always guessing just the right kind of gifts to give. The only one who was better than her, was North.
She knew most of her friends' birthdays. Sandy's had been back in the fall, North's was in the upcoming winter season, and Bunnymund's would be in the spring. Her own birthday lay in the warm summertime. Since freshman year, she had been the best gift-giver until North came along. He was even better!
She had given Sandy a mega-CD collection of nature sounds for him to fall asleep to. North had built him a great alarm clock. There had been countless times that Sandy had been late to school from oversleeping. It was a quick way to rack up detentions, and so Tooth was glad that North had put his efforts into a quality alarm just for Sandy.
For North himself, Tooth had been planning on getting him a crafting kit. He loved inventing things, toys especially. He had turned his room into a little workshop of sorts. He made all sorts of strange Russian toys that none of them could understand, but lately he had really gotten into American toy designs. Tooth was so excited for him to see her present!
For Bunnymund, the year before, she has gotten a huge encyclopedia on the weapons and fighting styles of the Aborigines, the mysterious native people that had lived in Australia. She knew that Bunnymund seemed to hold a liking for boomerangs and had put many hours into martial arts after school. He loved being in control of his body. He loved the fact that he could turn it into a weapon of itself when needed. There had been many times where North, Tooth, and Sandy had all sat in the dojo and dojangs that Bunnymund trained in, just to accompany him. They had all agreed that yes, Bunnymund could probably win against anyone in a fistfight...well, besides North. North was TOUGH. Speaking of Bunnymund-
'He's been acting strange, lately.' Tooth thought to herself sadly.
It had been during a lunch period that week when Tooth had noticed the change.
Bunnymund was avoiding her. When she tried speaking to him, he would answer monotonously. Tooth nearly called him out on it when North had asked her about her Sunday-hangout absence, and Bunnymund sat off to the side, scoffing at her reply.
"What? What's so wrong with volunteering at the Children's Hospital?" Tooth questioned him, dying to figure out why he was so upset.
Bunnymund simply shook his head and rolled his eyes before refocusing on his lunch. Tooth frowned at him. There was something he wasn't telling her, something that he was upset about. It couldn't be the volunteering, who would get mad over that? It wasn't because she skipped out on their hang-out day. Jack, then? It must have been, but...Bunnymund didn't seem as angry with Jack as he seemed with her. Yeah, he wouldn't speak to Jack, but he would at least acknowledge him. He would laugh if Jack said something funny or throw in a comment when Sandy was debating with North, but ever since last Sunday, it was like Tooth didn't exist to him.
Tooth tried not to show how much it hurt her feelings. He would come around sooner or later. He would open up to her.
Besides, it wasn't like she was the only one that had noticed. If she didn't know any better, she would guess that North had been grilling Bunnymund about his attitude towards her. North would occasionally frown at them both when he would see her attempt to speak with the tall, Aussie boy, only to receive silence.
Sandy had told her nothing, but she was sure that Bunnymund had told him something. Something that he didn't want her to know.
She would sigh and sit up at the table, her bright eyes cast downwards. She hoped he would tell her what was up. She hated when he was upset with her, when anyone was upset with her, really.
Eventually as the days wore on, Bunnymund's mood seemed to lighten for some unknown reason. He seemed like he was waiting for something. It was the week after when he confronted her during lunch while the others were having a snowball fight.
"Hey," he mumbled, sitting next to her and wiping the snowball remnants from his shoulders.
"Hey!" She replied brightly, glad that they were on speaking terms again. "You're...not mad at me anymore?"
Bunnymund gave her a crooked grin before shaking his head.
"Nah, it wasn't you. It was me. I just got mad over something stupid, no need to fret. Actually, I wanted to ask you something..."
Tooth drew herself closer and he seemed to tense up with her proximity. "What is it?"
"I, uh-" he looked around anxiously, before blurting "Do you- do you want to...uh...Y-You're 'Lofty'!"
She looked at him in confusion. 'What?'
He nodded his head vigorously. "Yep! Yep! That's what I wanted to ah, ask- I meant SAY, that's what I wanted to SAY. You're a Lofty! You're short!"
He grinned mischievously as her smile vanished and her brows furrowed.
"Why, I-Lofty? Bunny, I am not short." She made for the snow on the ground, quickly forming a snowball. He was always using that silly Australian slang to make fun of her!
Bunnymund breathed out in relief as Tooth's attention was effectively diverted. He felt like his insides were falling and his face was heating up in embarrassment. He couldn't say it. He couldn't tell her. Not now, at least.
They all dashed across the campus among a few other students, chucking and dodging snowballs. Tooth was laughing with Sandy while hiding behind a tree from Jack's snowballs, when someone called them all out.
"Guys! Hey Guys! Over here!"
Tooth looked up at the sound of the mesmerizing voice.
'Oh no, not again.'
Rapunzel strolled up to them all decked out in her brightly colored winter gear. She was wearing fuzzy pink earmuffs and had somehow managed her hair into a tightly knit braid that circled her shoulder and fell to her front. Her gloved hands were filled with flyers of some sort.
She looked flushed and breathless. "Hi everyone! Nice to see you all again," she cheered.
Tooth did not feel nice. Not at all.
The others were dropping the snow and crunching over to Rapunzel, curious about her sudden appearance.
"We meet again Rapunzel," North responded with arms wide open, "but where is good-looking friend of yours? You two break up?"
Rapunzel looked even more flushed than before and tried to raise her hands to explain. "Oh! No, no, he's a college student, he's not my- we were never-"
Her fingers slipped and the flyers went spilling onto the snowy sidewalk. Rapunzel looked crushed, but Tooth was quick to bend down and gather the papers before the winter winds blew them away. As bothersome as Rapunzel seemed, Tooth would help her when needed. She was jealous, not heartless.
The boys also helped as well and soon enough, all the papers were stacked back neatly in Rapunzel's hands.
"Thanks, guys! Anyways, I've been looking for you all everywhere. Why don't you eat inside the school like everyone else?"
Jack chuckled. "Oh believe me, I had wondered the same thing."
Rapunzel beamed at him and he smirked back. Tooth felt her insides were twisting up in envy.
"So!" she blurted, breaking their moment, "What's with all the flyers?"
Rapunzel seemed to remember. "Oh! Yeah, I totally forgot. Here," she handed each of them a paper, "we're going to start a fundraiser this year! The school will be doing all sorts of things to raise money for the 'Less Fortunate Kids of Burgess'. If you guys want to stop by the main office and donate something, we'll gladly take it!"
They all nodded and gave Rapunzel their word to stop by soon. She smiled brightly at the group before waving and leaving to pass out more flyers.
The boys stuffed their flyers in their pockets or backpacks, but Tooth was looking over hers.
Her eyes widened. Wow! They were going to be doing all sorts of things to raise money this year. Door-to-door carols, bake sales, anonymous gift-giving...Tooth was impressed. They were even going to raise the prices on Winter Ball tickets, so that some of the profits could go to the fundraiser. They were going to add all sorts of things to the Ball; they were hiring new bands to play live music, an actual DJ, and food of all sorts.
Tooth sighed as she put away her flyer. The Winter Ball! Even prom itself wasn't as big as the Winter Ball in Burgess. The high school had always went the extra mile for the Ball because the founder of the school had placed such a huge emphasis on it. He had met his wife in the winter time, and so he decided to make the Ball a big event to celebrate the season he found his own love. For years in Burgess, the Winter Ball was a must. Every girl wanted to go and every girl wanted to win the crown of the Winter Queen, her date winning alongside as Winter King. It was a huge deal.
Tooth's light expression slowly fell.
She had never gone. Not even once.
During both her freshman and sophomore year, no one had bothered asking her. Bunnymund had been asked before by Alice Liddell, but he said she had been way too spaced out the entire time, like she was in Wonderland or something. Most of the time, the boys weren't that big on dances. They preferred going out for a night on the town. When they would question her on why SHE had never attended the Ball, Tooth would simply shrug.
"I didn't really feel like going." She would say.
'I'm such a liar!' She would think.
Tooth really wanted to go, but she never had a boy ask her to the dance before, and she never had any other friends who wanted to go with her.
Tooth had very few female friends over her three years at Burgess High. During her first year, things were fine. It was the awkward time when there were no cliques, when it was just a bunch of new kids trying to fit in and survive the teasing of the upperclassmen. She used to sit with a table full of girls.
Soon enough, when they realized her strange hobbies and quiet ways, she was pushed out of the group. She had come to eat with them one day and her place was filled up with a different girl. A new girl that they had found solely for the purpose of replacing Tooth.
They wanted popularity, but most of all, they wanted boys. Some of the quiet girls became loud, fun, and bouncy. Some of intelligent girls began to pretend that they were dumb and helpless. The girls who used to speak with Tooth every day pushed her away because they didn't have the energy nor time to deal with Tooth and her nerdy ways. None of them wanted to hear her go on about the incisors on the crocodiles from the Nile, or how the grade point average system worked. None of them wanted her around when they were trying to get the into the good graces of the more popular students.
Tooth hadn't been too upset at first. At least it wasn't like elementary school. At least she wasn't being bullied.
As the years went on, several people proved her wrong.
She looked down at the ground as she walked back to the building with the North, Bunnymund, Sandy, and Jack. The days when she hadn't know any of them had...sucked, in the very least.
They all walked into the building and went their separate ways.
"See you later," Sandy signed to her.
"Bye!" Tooth signed back.
She turned and continued on her way, her head filled with visions of pretty ballgowns and soft music. She didn't see the couple hanging near the door to her class, before crashing into them.
"What the hell-?!" a girl shrieked, pushing Tooth back.
Tooth came back to Earth, looking up shocked. Jeez! She was always knocking into people!
"I'm sorry, I didn't see-"
"Of course you didn't see! With those stupid looking contacts on all the time, you're probably blind!"
The girl was Arachne, a dark haired beauty that was infamous for her short temper. She was also furious, looking a little more angry than one should be. Tooth's jaw dropped. It was just a little bump! It was an accident! Why was she so mad?
"These aren't contacts-" Tooth began, before being cut off by a voice she recognized all too well.
"C'mon Arachne, babe. Chill..."
Tooth groaned, looking up into the smug face of Anansi.
He went on, mocking her. "What? You see something you like?"
Tooth didn't have time for either of them. She had a test to take next period and she needed to study in this one! She tried to maneuver her way around the two of them and into the classroom, but Anansi put his arm out and blocked her path. He still had small remnants of the bruise she had given him weeks earlier in the library.
Arachne looked at them both before realization dawned in her face. "Anansi! Is this the freak that messed up your face?"
Tooth's eyebrows shot up. "Freak? Wh-"
"Yeah, you, freak. What, you don't like that? You're such a stalker! Who goes around attacking people in the library anyways? I bet you were waiting for him to walk by before you slugged him."
Tooth looked past the raging girl over to Anansi, who grinned back at her. It was not a pleasant one. She faced Arachne once more, her limbs shaking. She didn't like confrontations. Maybe if she tried being nice...?
"I, um... I don't know what your boyfriend over here told you, but I wasn't the one doing the attacking. You should ask him to tell you the truth. Now could you please move? I have a test to take next period and I really need to study." Her voice came out soft and steady.
Arachne scoffed and crossed her arms, but didn't move out the way. "Anansi does tell me the truth. He tells me everything, because I'm his girl. Why don't you keep your hands off of my boyfriend from now on? Because if I hear about you so much as looking at him, I'll kick your ass."
Tooth wanted to pull her hair in frustration. What was with this girl? They didn't even know each other!
"What? Why? Arachne, you don't even know me. Why are you acting like this? You seemed so nice freshman year, before Athena-"
Arachne paled and moved forward, enraged now. "Don't talk about her! Don't you ever say her name in front of me!"
Tooth held up her hands, backing up. Uh oh. She had hit a nerve. She remembered Arachne from freshman year when the girl was smaller and quiet, praised by all the other girls for her beauty and talent. She basked in all of the adoration and let it get to her head. It wasn't long before Arachne had challenged the respected upperclassman, Athena. Not only did Arachne get a verbal beat-down from Athena, but she lost her high ranking in the social food chain. No one wanted to talk to her. She turned mean and nasty, getting into fights all the time and spreading rumors about people. Anansi began dating her after that.
"You think I care about what you think of me? You think you 'got me' somehow, just because you know about what Athena did to me? Everyone knows what she did to me! I bet..." she looked up with wide, angry eyes, before continuing, "...I bet you think you're better than me. Right? Is that it?"
Tooth shook her head, backing away from the both of them. She had a bad feeling. Arachne didn't seem like her usual, grumpy self. She seemed off.
Arachne was breathing hard, glaring at Tooth. She looked around for signs of anyone that might have been watching, before quickly grabbing Tooth's collar and pushing her into the nearest girls' bathroom. It was so sudden, Tooth barely had the time to dig in her heels. Arachne forced her through the door. She ignored the girl's protests as she yanked Tooth's knapsack off of her.
"Give it back!" Tooth yelled, reaching desperately for her knapsack. Arachne held it up away from her, using her other hand to keep Tooth back. She was laughing breathlessly, excited to have the upper hand.
"Not so tough now, are you?"
Arachne opened up the top of the knapsack and moved toward the stalls.
'She's going to flush my stuff! What is this, the eighties?! My notes are in there...my scrapbook!'
Tooth sprinted over and rounded on the dark-haired girl, grabbing at her wrists and pushing her away from the stalls. The two struggled over the bag, things spilling out of it and onto the bathroom floor. Arachne was surprised by the mousy girl's strength and abandoned the task. She dropped the knapsack and instead, grabbed a massive notebook that lay on the floor and flung it out the bathroom window.
"No!" Tooth shrieked, reaching out to catch it. Too late, it went down. She could hear the 'fwump' as it hit the snow below. That notebook had all of her notes! Her study guides! The wet snow would ruin them!
Tooth turned around in anger, looking for Arachne. There was no sign of her. She had ran away!
Tooth jogged out of the bathroom, looking up and down the halls before spotting the couple strolling around the corner, laughing with one another. How dare they!
"Hey!" a bubbly voice crowed. Tooth sighed as she lost sight of Arachne and Anansi. Rapunzel's face filled up her vision.
"What's up? You look down." Rapunzel looked over Tooth's face with a worried look.
Tooth shook her head, exasperated by it all. It had been so long since she had been bullied like this. "Nothing, just- Arachne! She just tried to flush my stuff!" Tooth hadn't meant to tell Rapunzel anything, but the words flew out of her mouth before she could stop them.
Rapunzel's eyes bugged. "Oh! Just now?" The pretty blonde looked up and down the hall, her green eyes roving.
"You just missed her," Tooth supplied, "but she didn't get to do it, I didn't let her. She just- she threw my notes out the window. The rest of my things fell onto the floor."
Rapunzel gasped before pushing her way past Tooth and into the bathroom to look at the mess. "Oh!"
And then she did something Tooth hadn't expected.
She bent down on her hands and knees- onto the dirty bathroom floor- and began to gather up Tooth's things.
Tooth went stock still.
'She's helping me?'
"Um, you don't have to-"
"Who does something like this? That Arachne...always causing trouble!" Rapunzel ranted while picking up Tooth's things and dusting them off before placing them back in her knapsack. "What happened?"
"I, uh," Tooth began, unsure. "I was trying to get to class-"
The bell rang right on cue, signalling the end of the passing period. Tooth cringed. She would be late!
"Oh, Rapunzel, you don't have to pick that stuff up, it's fine. You're going to be late to your own class." Tooth gently pushed the blonde girl away before packing away the rest of her things. She didn't want Rapunzel to be late because of her. The girl was actually bending down on this gross floor to help her. Perhaps Tooth had judged her too quickly?
Rapunzel's eyes widened. "You said something to her...about that upperclassman, Athena, didn't you?"
"...How did you know?"
"Oh, Arachne is so bitter about that. She hates when people mention it. I mentioned it last year to her face because she was teasing me about my hair in front of other people. She got so mad at me, that she actually grabbed a lunch tray and threw it at me! In front of the security guards! Can you believe that? The girl has no control over her anger. She's like a bomb waiting to blow."
Tooth felt a little lighter. Rapunzel had been bullied before? But she was so beautiful! Everything seemed to go perfect for her. Why would anyone ever bully her?
Rapunzel went on. "You should report Arachne to the disciplinary office. She can't go around messing with people like this."
Tooth shook her head, closing up her knapsack. "No, I...the last thing I need is her coming after me just because I reported her. I'd rather just stay away from her. But," Tooth glanced over slowly at the green-eyed girl before saying, "thanks, anyways. For helping me, I mean."
Rapunzel nodded, beaming. "No problem! You helped me with the flyers earlier, I just returned the favor."
Tooth nodded, not sure what else to say. She was glad about Rapunzel's help and all, but she knew she still felt a little envy over the girl. Rapunzel stood and dusted herself off before looking around awkwardly. "Well...see you around, Tooth."
Tooth stood and dusted herself off as well, watching the beautiful girl strut out of the bathroom.
Her thoughts went back to her notes. Oh! Her class!
Tooth raced out of the bathroom and across the hall into her classroom. The teacher looked up from the lesson, giving her a disappointed look.
"Oh, Toothiana! You're never tardy! Well, I don't want to do this to such a good student, but..." He pulled a tardy slip from his desk and wrote her up. Tooth wilted.
"Sorry I'm late." She mumbled, speeding away to her seat and ready to rest her feet... except someone was already sitting there.
"Sorry, it's taken." The boy tried to keep a straight face before snorting and looking over to his friend. They chuckled together before turning away from her.
Tooth slumped and looked about the room for an empty seat. Would no one give her a break today? Her breath caught.
A pale hand was waving her down from the back. No one could see him from so far in the back, but she could.
"Over here," Jack mouthed to her, pointing to an empty desk beside him. Tooth had to bite down her smile as she wove in between the rows of desks to the back of the room. She easily set her things down and sat at the vacant desk. She gave Jack a small, appreciative smile, but he was too busy glaring at the kid who took her original seat to notice.
Tooth looked down at her desk, her throat closing up. She had good memory, all she needed was a glance at her notes, but now she couldn't study them! They were outside, ruined in the snow. She couldn't remember the material. She was going to fail the test! And if she failed the test, her grade would drop! And if the grade dropped, so would her GPA! Oh no, oh no!
Tooth's train of panicked thoughts were interrupted by a crumpled piece of paper that hit her desk. She looked over to see Jack staring at her intently from his row. He gestured at the paper.
She unfolded it.
- Something wrong? You look like you're going to hyperventilate.
Tooth giggled softly at the funny handwriting before glancing over at Jack who was smirking back at her. She pulled out her glitter pencil before swiftly writing underneath Jack's scrawled letters.
- I lost my notes. Now I can't study for the test we have next period! I think I'm going to bomb it.
She took a moment to observe the way his letters were sharp and scribbled whereas her letters were bubbly and neat. She chucked the note back over and Jack caught it easily, undetected by the teacher. He took a moment to look it over before writing his own message down and shooting it onto Tooth's desk.
- The next period? We have that one together. You can look at my notes if you want. I'm missing a couple of the earlier lessons though.
Tooth's heart exploded as she glanced over at him, hopeful.
"Really?" She mouthed.
He nodded nonchalantly. "Yeah," he mouthed back. He turned from her, digging through his bag before he brought out a large, black notebook. When the teacher was turned towards the board, he quickly gave it to her and she grasped it.
Tooth immediately went blazing through his notes, flipping the pages this way and that. A lot of the earlier notes were missing, but she figured that was from all the ditching he had done. All his recent ones were there, even though they weren't neat. Tooth's jaw fell.
Jack's writing was neat in some places whereas in others, it looked like hieroglyphs. Some notes were along the sides of the paper, out of the lines, some of them even upside down!
'What in the world...?' she wondered. How did he make sense of all of this?
His notebook margins were filled with doodles of rockets and dinosaurs. There were dragons on some pages, full moons on others. Tooth nearly laughed. Was she looking at the notebook of a sixteen year old, or a ten year old? Jack's drawings were crude and silly, and so Tooth wasn't prepared for when she turned the notebook to a new page.
Snowflakes filled up this page. Some were small, some large, but each one was detailed and intricate. They were all gorgeous, so unlike his other doodles. It looked as if he had worked very hard on each and every one, making them perfect in their own ways. Each one was precise and delicate. Each one was different. Tooth eyebrows rose.
She quickly flipped back to his written notes before he could see her looking at his doodles. She studied them for the rest of the class.
With their help, Tooth was able to walk into her next class confidently and took the test, certain that she had passed. When the bell rang and signaled the end of the day, she turned in her seat and grinned brightly at him. Jack just looked on before snatching up his bag and strolling up to her desk.
"So...how exactly did you manage to lose your notes?" His voice was tinged with curiosity and suspicion.
"They were, uh- chucked out of a window," she replied bluntly.
His eyebrows rose a fraction. "What? Why would you toss your own study guides?"
Tooth shook her head. "I didn't. Some girl did."
Jack's brows furrowed, but Tooth quickly held up her hands.
"It was a big misunderstanding, honestly! Some girl got a little mad because she thought I was teasing her, it's no big deal, really."
Jack didn't look convinced. "You don't seem like the 'teasing' type. Who was she?"
Tooth didn't like the way his tone sounded. She felt like if she told him that it was Arachne who had ruined her notes, he would turn into some kind of teenage bounty hunter and track the brunette down. Tooth didn't need the drama.
"It doesn't matter-"
"It does matter. If someone is messing with you-"
Tooth curled in on herself from his insisting tone and Jack eased up. He sighed heavily.
"Fine, fine...but- you would tell me if you needed help, right?"
Tooth's eyes bugged.
"I know, I know," he muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets, "I'm don't have the warmest shoulder to lean on, but I'm...I'm here, alright? If you need something."
Tooth gazed at him before nodding absently. She could feel the tumults of butterflies building in her stomach and rising into her chest. Of course she would rely on him!
"Thanks, Jack. But I don't know what I'm going to do. That notebook had three classes' worth of stuff that I wrote down...!"
Jack chewed at his lip, thinking, before responding. "Hey, wait up. What are those classes again?"
She told him and he grinned at her, blowing her away for the second time that day. He really needed to warn people before he showed off those teeth. He needed a huge neon sign that read, 'WARNING: THESE PEARLS CAN, AND IN FACT WILL, BLIND YOU.'
"Well, lucky you. I have all those classes too. I've got the study guides for em', but some of them are at my house. You can drop by whenever you want to copy them down."
Tooth's eyes widened and she looked at him like a knight in shining armor. "Oh, thank you thank you thank you-!" the rest of her cries of gratitude were drowned out in his sweater as she buried her face in it, wrapping her arms tightly around him. Jack tensed up immediately, perplexed by the sudden contact.
Tooth felt his muscles tighten underneath her, but she didn't care. She was so happy! She wasn't going to fail, she wasn't going to drop down a grade, she wasn't going to bomb anything! She squeezed into him and could feel her cheek resting on his rising and falling chest, enjoying the brief moment before she slid away.
Flushing, Jack stood deathly still. Tooth looked to the ground before gazing back up at him. Oops. She should have known better. He made it pretty obvious he didn't like touching people much, only in those rare moments when he initiated it. This wasn't one of them. Was he angry...?
"Sorry 'bout that. I can get kind of touchy," she mumbled, her voice growing soft.
"Yeah. I kind of noticed," he tried to joke, but his voice was raspy.
"Wh-where should I meet you after school, then?" Tooth quickly asked, desperate to change the subject. Maybe that hug wasn't such a good idea? She couldn't help it! It was a spur of the moment.
"You want to come over today?" he asked, looking stunned.
Tooth jumped at his raise in volume. What was wrong with today? "Well...yeah! I-I thought-"
"No! I mean, it's fine, just..." he looked at her, confused. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Meet me by the main steps."
Tooth nodded and watched him walk in the wrong direction before he looked around and smiled sheepishly at her, embarrassed, before heading down the right way. Tooth watched him for a moment longer before heading to her own class.
She was going to see Jack's home.
The trek to the house was harder than she had thought it would be.
At first, she had to text North and the others to go on and head home without her, and then text her dad that she would be home late. Then, she had to search for her notebook which was on the ground where she had seen it land. When she picked it up, it was dripping wet from the snow, the ink running everywhere, and the pages unreadable. Tooth sighed. Ruined.
Afterwards, she had met Jack standing off to the side by the main stairs, away from the rambunctious crowds of teenagers. He quietly led the way to his home with her trailing after him.
As they wove further into the neighborhood and farther from the school, the silence wove it's way around them. She subtly watched as he puffed little frosty breaths, walking in front of her. At first, the silences had been extremely painful and awkward for Tooth. Now, it was a normal thing between them.
Soon enough, they hit Selene Road.
Tooth watched him suddenly duck into the woods. When she didn't follow right away, he popped his head back out of the brush. "C'mon," he called, "you're not scared, are you?" He shot her a sly grin before delving back into the trees.
She frowned, looking around before following him through the thick brush, copying his every move so as to not get slapped by a tree branch or trip over a root. The ground was uneven and the snow had piled on the branches, spilling off onto her whenever she knocked into any of them. She was cold and tired, but still eager. What was his house like?
...What was his room like?
"We're almost there," he called back. He looked back to see her struggling through a deep patch of snow. He had used a strong branch overhead to swing across the patch, but he figured she hadn't seen him take the precaution. She was sinking up to her knees and trying desperately to stomp through it without looking ridiculous.
Jack shook his head and smirked before making his way back towards her. "Wow. You sunk pretty deep. I guess it's because you're short-"
"I am not!" she shouted, looking at him in disbelief. "I'm a foot from your height! What does that say about you?"
Jack laughed. "I'm only messing around, Tooth. Here," he said, reaching for her.
"What are-" she questioned before yelping at the feel of his hands on her waist. He gripped tight onto her sides.
"Hold onto my shoulders," he ordered.
"Jack, wait-!" she tried, but he was already lifting her into the air and out of the snow. Tooth squealed, gripping onto his arms and kicking her feet. She hadn't realized he was that strong!
He spun them around and put her down quickly, brushing off the snow she had kicked onto him. "Well gee Tooth, this is the thanks I get for helping you out?" he said sarcastically, before moving on.
"Keep up. We're nearly there."
Tooth groaned inwardly. He said had said the same thing a mile ago! Tooth pushed herself the last mile and was relieved to see the trail leading up to the house. It looked as if someone had salted the snow for the path.
The house was large, stable, and comfy looking. It was surrounded by snowy trees, but all the frost and ice didn't deter the warm feeling the house gave. It had a wide porch and large glass doors along one of the sides. The snow had piled on the roof and all was quiet, giving it a secluded look.
Jack pounded up the steps before pulling out his keys and unlocking the door. Tooth followed slowly behind him, looking at the little wooden messages that were hung up by the door. One of the wooden plaques had carvings in it, depicting a starry sky and rolling hills. Another was engraved with the message, "Earth laughs in flowers" and another that said "Warning: Old people ahead"
Jack flushed when he saw her gazing at the wooden messages. "My Uncle is weird- he made all of these. Just ignore em'."
Tooth shook her head absently, still looking at the wooden engravings littering the front of the house. "I like them."
He paused to glance at her before pushing the door open and ushering her in. Tooth felt the warmth and heat spread over her as she stepped over the threshold. Her cold cheeks blazed in happiness.
"I'm home, Uncle!" Jack hollered down the long hallway, shutting the door with his foot. He dumped his bag right there at the welcome mat, before kicking off his shoes and stretching. His back made a satisfying crack and he sighed dreamily, padding off down the hall.
Tooth nearly laughed. Was he always so eager to go around barefoot? She took off her own snow encrusted shoes, not wanting to track snow everywhere. She looked at her socks and frowned. They were covered in pictures of small, smiling teeth. She didn't want his uncle to see those. She didn't even want him seeing those. She hesitantly took off her socks and bundled them up, stuffing them into her boots. She obsessively set her and Jack's shoes neatly by the door and hung his backpack on the coat rack nearby.
She padded down the hardwood hallway, unsure of where Jack went. She wanted to call out for him, but her voice died in her throat. This wasn't her home to yell in.
She looked into a dining room and an office before seeing Jack in the room up ahead. He was in the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge. "So that's where you went. Hey, do me a favor? Grab two cups from that cabinet over there?" He nodded over across the kitchen.
Tooth nodded and walked across the cool floor, shivering a bit. She looked at her bare feet and brightly painted toes. Maybe she should've kept the socks? The kitchen had the huge glass doors, facing out to the snowy woods. It was a beautiful view.
Tooth slid off her jacket and placed it neatly onto a nearby chair before reaching up to open the cabinet. It had a shelf full of mugs inside, and all of them had pictures of nature scenes. Tooth could spot all of the seasons.
She was closing up the cabinet when something caught her eye.
A framed picture.
It was on the counter underneath the cabinet. The frame was made of gorgeous sawdusted wood. It had small figs laying on the top of it, dried fruits still on them. Wait...who was that...?
The photograph was of Jack. A younger Jack, at least. He looked around thirteen, and was smiling big and bright as if nothing could ever go wrong for him. He was holding a brown-haired small girl in his arms. She looked like she had been in the middle of laughing when the picture was taken, her chubby hands clutching tightly onto Jack's shoulders. He was holding her just as tight. She seemed about six years old in the photo.
'That must be Emma.'
They looked completely different, and yet the same. The same eyebrows, the same noses, the same happy glow. Behind them stood a man and a woman, their parents, probably. Jack's mother looked like Emma, just older and wiser, beautiful in a simple way. His father was holding her from the side, tall and strong. He had toned muscles and a snowy white boxed beard. It didn't look as if he went gray early, his hair was just simply...white! His eyes were a piercing blue like Jack's and his skin was just as pale. His jaw was larger and more squared, but they looked similar. He was his father's son.
Tooth slowly placed the mugs down and drew closer to the picture. This was his family. They had all looked so happy! Why were they all apart now...? Why wasn't he with them? She had been wondering for ages, but she never had the courage to ask him. For one thing, his family matters weren't any of her business. Secondly, she was pretty sure he didn't even want to address the issue. She never brought it up again after the arcade. Neither did he.
Tooth let her fingers trace along the photo, bringing up a light cloud of filmy dust. It hadn't been touched for a while.
An old, deep voice cut through the air and Tooth's train of thought came crashing down. She turned around rapidly.
A man was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, gazing upon the scene before him. Jack was pulling himself out of the fridge, an apple in his mouth. He hadn't seen Tooth admiring the family picture.
"Hey Unc'," he tried to say past the piece of fruit lodged in between his teeth.
The man looked like Jack's father, but in an older version. The elderly man had a wrinkled hand gripped on tightly to a cane, but his stance was tall enough. He was wearing spectacles and a sweater, looking over the two of them curiously.
"Why Jack, you brought over a lovely young lady and didn't warn me? For shame! I haven't had time to prepare an introduction or the house."
"She's a friend," Jack tried to say, but gave up trying to speak past the apple and took a bite out of it.
Tooth set the mugs down and padded over, putting her hands together behind her back. "Sorry for barging in! I'm Toothiana, me and Jack go to school together. You're- You're home is very nice! I liked the wooden carvings by the door."
Jack's uncle's eyes seemed to glaze over before recognition sparked in the deep blue pools.
"Oh, those? You liked them? Such a dear, you are. I love woodworking." He smiled at her before turning to his nephew. "See, Jack? I told you people would like the carvings!"
Jack waved them both off, taking another large chunk out of the apple.
The man turned back to her. "Well Toothiana, welcome to our home. I am Jack's uncle, but you may call me Uncle Moon as well, if you wish. It must have been a cold walk up here. Would you like something hot to drink? I'm fantastic at hot chocolate."
Tooth nodded, thankful.
"Jack! Could you please fetch the old bulbs out of the attic? I need to replace this light in the kitchen."
Jack nodded, strolling off and up the stairs to complete the task.
"Sit, sit," Uncle Moon insisted, motioning to the kitchen table. Tooth sat herself down and folded her hands.
The man began pulling items out of drawers and cabinets to prepare the drink. "There's not really any bulbs in the attic. I moved them months ago," he commented casually.
"Um," Tooth paused, "pardon?"
Why would he send Jack for something that wasn't even there? Oh...maybe he wanted to speak privately with her? Tooth stiffened, unsure of what was to come.
"I'm very glad you've befriended my nephew," Uncle Moon admitted while boiling the water and milk, "he hasn't had too many friends since moving here. You're actually the first one he's brought home so far. You've been keeping him out of trouble, I can tell."
Tooth's eyes widened. "Oh! Well...I like being Jack's friend. He's a great boy." Tooth cringed at her sentimental slip. Jeez!
Uncle Moon nodded. "He is. And he enjoys being friends with you as well. He's been...happier these days. I am truly grateful. Heaven knows he needs the cheer. He has had so many hardships back in his hometown. So much strife."
He brought Tooth over a piping hot cup. "Ah! Don't drink it just yet. It's hot. Let me grab you some marshmallows."
He walked away before calling over, "Did you realize his birthday is coming up? Next week, actually. Monday. Moon's day, they call it in the old language. Did you know that? No, I suppose you didn't."
Tooth's eyes bugged and she nearly knocked over her cup. Seriously?! Why hadn't Jack said something earlier? He would be turning seventeen! That meant...he was older than her by a few months! She would be sixteen until summertime.
"Jack is a rather quiet boy at times. Believe me, I would know. I had guessed that he wouldn't have told you. I'm just giving you a head start, is all."
Tooth nodded gratefully. "Of course! Thank you! Now...I have to find him the perfect present! But what?" Tooth sat back in her chair, thinking.
Uncle Moon chuckled, bringing over the bag of marshmallows. "See, this is why I like you. So considerate! I'm sure Jack would be happy enough if you came to visit him for his birthday. I'm only sorry that the boy is so dense at times, he doesn't notice many things when his head is filled with other thoughts."
"What do you mean?"
Uncle Moon gave her a sly grin, and for a moment, Tooth was reminded of Jack.
"You like him." Uncle Moon noted it happily.
Tooth flushed, taking a sudden interest in the table. "Am I that obvious?"
Uncle Moon tilted his head. "Mm, well, I would say so. But I'm very old, child. I've seen young folk falling for one another far too often. I recognize it right away."
Tooth shrugged, unsure. Her voice came soft and dejected.
"I don't know if he likes me in the same way- the way I like him. He seems to like someone else..."
Uncle Moon chuckled, bringing over Jack's mug of hot chocolate. "Well my, my, my...A pretty thing like you, wondering whether or not you'd catch someone's eye. Now I've seen it all! Tell me, who came here with my nephew and sits before me, his beloved uncle? Someone else? Or you?"
Tooth thought that over in her head, but the old man interrupted her thoughts.
"When is your birthday, Toothiana?"
She glanced over. "It's in the summertime."
Uncle Moon nodded in agreement, as if he had guessed that had been the case. "Of course it is. You seem like a summer child. Bright."
Tooth looked over in interest, and the man went on, looking out of the window into the snowy forest.
"Funny, how opposites attract. Like my younger brother and his wife. I think that Jack may follow the path of his father. This reminds me of a saying I once heard somewhere...'It was only in the depths of winter that I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.'"
Tooth wasn't sure what that meant. An invincible summer? What did that have to do with her? Her birthday? How would you find summer inside of winter anyways? She didn't understand.
Uncle Moon noticed her confusion and simply smiled mysteriously. "You may understand what I mean sooner rather than later, Toothiana."
Tooth was confused. Why didn't he just explain it to her? She wanted to know what he was trying to say, but Jack was right. This guy was really cryptic.
Oh well. Tooth gave a small grin. She liked Uncle Moon a lot! And he seemed to like her.
They heard heavy footsteps clomp down the stairs and saw Jack strolling through the doorway.
"Sorry Uncle, the bulbs weren't up there. Wait...is that hot chocolate that I smell?"
"I think I'm going to ask Aphrodite to the Winter Ball."
"Nah Brer Rab, Hephaestus would kill you. Besides, she's probably going with Ares anyway. The guy is a beast on the football field."
"Fine! I'll just ask Goldilocks. She's a babe."
"Nope. She's going with, uh...what was that kid's name? Oh yeah- Bernard. You know, the hockey player? Dude is as big a bear, I swear."
"What about Gretel?"
"She's goin' with Hansel, bro."
"But, Pan- dude, they're cousins!"
"Fine, forget her. How about Isis or Sekhmet?"
"Taken. Ra is taking them both to the dance."
"Both of them? What?!"
"Dude's got game. He's taking Tefnut too."
"The hell...How about Wendy?"
"She's going with Peter."
"Hiccup?! What the f- Hiccup is a loser! How did he get Astrid?"
Brer Rab groaned heavily, running his hands over his face. All the girls the liked were taken! He still couldn't believe Ra was taking three girls. The Egyptians were so hot, it wasn't like Ra needed all those dates! Pan was taking Persephone, the head of the environmental club. Heaven help Pan if Hades found out...wait, who cared? Who was he gonna' take?
Pan looked over at Brer Rab like he was nuts. "No way Brer Rab, leave her alone. You know she likes that Frost kid. Besides, Anansi would kill us if he found out we were messing with her. He doesn't even like it when we talk about her. Just leave it."
"No, listen! She's all shy and stuff. I could totally convince her to go with me. Just for show. Then, I could find someone else once we're there. I can't show up by myself, I'd look lame. She'll just be...arm candy? Yeah, that's it. Then I'd ditch her."
Pan shook his head. "I still think this is a bad idea."
Brer Rab wasn't listening. The plan was forming in his head already.
Anansi strolled up, slamming his phone shut. He looked furious. Pan and Brer Rab sat up, wondering what the problem was.
"Is everything okay?" Pan asked. Anansi nodded his head, his brows furrowed.
"Yeah. It's just that weirdo, Pitch. He keeps hitting up my phone. He's just pissed because no one's been to his shop in a while. He wants us to show up, but I told him clearly; we're not doing any more business with him."
Brer Rab and Pan relaxed, glad to hear the good news. They wouldn't be upset if they never saw that guy again.
On the other side of town, a phone was being smashed against a wall. Pitch heaved as the phone shattered and fell to the floor in a heap of wires. That little snot hung up on him!
Damn kids. Damn people. Damn Burgess. Everyone was happy and having fun in their nice little homes. All of his consorts and clients hadn't shown up in weeks. They were all with their friends and families, enjoying the holidays instead of thieving.
Pitch hated the holidays. There was far too much spirit floating around for his liking.
Everyone was smiling, everyone was being sickeningly jolly. Why should they be happy? He wasn't. He hadn't seen any cash in ages. He hadn't scared a soul in days. It was as if he didn't exist anymore. The holidays had no room for passion, for chaotic things, the darkness and the cold.
His fridge was running empty and the dog had been snapping at him lately. He needed money.
A bank? No, he couldn't be silly. This town was far too small for a hold-up. They would find him. Theft? No. Most of the neighbors knew him. They would report him.
A thought slowly slid into his mind, whispering through his skull. What had that Anansi boy been talking about one of the times he had came into the shop...?
The fundraiser at Burgess High. They always raised loads of cash for the 'Less Fortunate'. Pitch considered himself 'Less Fortunate'.
He smiled and looked at the hound, sleeping soundly in the corner.
They would be feasting like kings soon enough.
Tooth fell back onto the bed, sleepy. Her wrist ached from all the writing she had done and her eyelids were heavy.
She looked up at the skylight and the wooden snowflakes hanging from Jack's ceiling. He had carved every single one himself. She thought they were pretty crafty and had told him so. He had shrugged and looked away, trying to find the rest of his study guides and hide the clothes on the floor inside of his closet.
"You're tired?" Jack questioned, looking over at her from his spot on the floor.
He had laid out some newspaper spreads and was carving away at a new block of wood with his sculpting knife, making a new snowflake.
Tooth inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of sweet wood and Jack. She could get used to this. When she exhaled, her breath came out in plumes of frost-breath. Jack's room was colder than the others in the house.
She turned her head to him to respond, catching another glance of his small bookshelf and the globe sitting on top of it. Band posters were taped all over his closet door. His walls were bare except for one, which had the beautiful scene of a tribe of wolves running across a snowy landscape. Tooth had a sneaking suspicion that Uncle Moon had painted it just for Jack.
"I finished copying down all of your notes. A semester's worth! I'm so tired, you don't even understand how ti..." Tooth began to drift, turning away and curling her face into his pillow . She dug her hands underneath it to the cooler side. Her knees pulled themselves up and she breathed softly, falling asleep. The notebook full of copied notes lay at the edge of the small bed, forgotten.
Jack watched her curl in on herself in his bed and fall asleep. He shook his head, smiling a little. She was such a hard worker. She could have waited to finish copying them.
He glanced outside. It was getting dark.
"Tooth," he said quietly, jabbing at her back from the floor. "Tooth, wake up."
She didn't stir.
He sighed heavily before standing and rubbing the woodchips off of his shirt onto the floor. He had ditched his sweater somewhere. The room felt a little warmer than it usually did.
"Tooth, c'mon," he tried again. He reached out a hand, ready to shake her awake, but pulled it back hesitantly. She seemed so peaceful right now. He didn't want to mess it up. He always messed up the good things he had. He didn't want to screw up anymore.
Not with her.
Jack leaned over and placed a soft, calloused hand down on her arm. He whispered quietly.
"It'll be dark soon. C'mon Tooth, I gotta' walk you home. Please?"
She stirred slightly, moving away from his hand. Fine. He would wake her like he used to wake Emma.
Jack let his fingers wiggle up and down her sides, unsurprised when Tooth jumped awake, giggling.
"H-Hey! Quit it!" she was still giggling happily, drowsiness lacing the light laughs. Jack felt his gut tighten. The sound was gorgeous. He stepped away, running a lone hand over his arm. The skin had risen and the little hairs were standing at attention.
Tooth sat up and hopped out of his bed slowly, rubbing her eyes. "Sorry about that. I guess I should get home before it's too late, huh? My dad will get worried if I don't."
Jack nodded. "Yeah, he will. The animals around here come out at night, so we should get going soon."
Tooth nodded, slipping on her winter coat and her packing her things away. The little daylight left outside was shining through Jack's massive skylight and window, spilling onto the hardwood floor. Tooth yawned as she zipped up the pack.
Jack shrugged on his sweater before heading to the front, Tooth following.
"Bye!" She called out to Uncle Moon as she passed his office. The old man nodded in surprise, waving at her, but looking at Jack. When was the last time that boy walked anyone home? Had he ever? Uncle Moon was highly pleased. His nephew was getting along just fine!
Jack accompanied Tooth all the way back to her house, the walk being long and quiet. The night sky was slowly showing itself. Finally, they reached Tooth's house.
"Well...I'll see you later, I guess."
Tooth smiled, nodding in agreement. "Of course you will. Thanks again for helping me out! Your uncle was pretty cool, too. Bye Jack!" She turned swiftly and drifted up to her doorway, pulling out her keys to unlock her door.
Jack felt his throat close up before his fingers began to tingle. His stomach felt like it was twisting in on itself and he didn't know what to do with his hands. His heart was beating faster than usual.
He wanted to say something.
But what? Why couldn't he just turn around and go home?
He could feel the words, bubbling up inside him. They slowly morphed from a simple feeling, to a thought, to a quiet sentence trapped in his throat.
"H-Hey, Tooth!" Jack blurted out, unable to stop himself. What the hell was he doing? He felt his fingers curl into fists before uncurling once more. He was so damn nervous.
She turned and glanced back at him before walking back over, curious. Her large amethyst eyes roved all over his expression before she settled on his eyes. "What's up?"
He felt his brain shutting down. She was so...so...he hadn't really noticed it before! He liked having her around. He liked what they did today. He was so tired of being the loner. He was so tired of being lonely. It had been like that for nearly two years, but then she came along and- everything just...changed.
It was like having Emma around again. It was like having all of his old friends back. It was like being back home with Mom and Dad. And it was a little like something else too, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
"I, uh- Y-You should visit more often! Come over, I mean. To my house. To hang out." He turned red at the sound of his stammering, the blood rushing through his cheeks.
Tooth paused for the longest of moments. He could hear his heart pounding and his ears ringing. The short seconds were beginning to feel like an eternity to Jack.
And then, she smiled.
A big and bright one, a real one. He had seen her do it before, oh so many times Tooth had smiled at him, but this one had nearly knocked him off of his feet. She was smiling with all of herself. Just for him.
Jack felt her very expression was filling his lungs up with air to the bursting point; he was sure he would float away. Her face was glowing with so much pleasure, he couldn't help but feel like he was looking at the sun...no, not even a sun. That didn't do it justice, the expression she was giving him. She was like sunlight! Sunlight piercing through a diamond.
She was like- she was...
"Yeah, it sounds fun! I'd like that."
Jack felt the corners of his lips turning up, smiling back like he was surprised he still knew how. He had forgotten how contagious she was.
His throat relaxed and his hands loosened up. She had agreed. She liked the idea. His insides were still all weird, but he felt a lot better getting that out. What a weird moment.
Jack nodded, trying to look around nonchalantly for a minute, before shooting her a crooked grin. "Later, Tooth."
She waved at him eagerly and unembarrassed. Tooth watched him stroll away from the her house until he vanished around the corner. She sighed, looking at the tremors running through her fingers. She had been so nervous! Over something so small, too!
The moment had been so small.
So...why did it feel like the entire planet had just heard her heart bursting wide open? Why did it feel like something really important just happened? Jack and her had been so close just now, that Tooth had been blown away. She had been sure that their thoughts would crash into each other and shatter everywhere.
His smile had been so real just then. Like he had reached deep inside of himself and pulled it out, just for her.
Tooth slowly walked up to the front door and opened it, feeling the heat and warmth of her own home wash over her.
She walked inside with steady steps and trembling hands.