Waking up as a powerless spirit was a strange feeling, and I tried to remember if this was what it had felt like to be human. My muscles were sore, my body felt heavy and uncoordinated, and my wings were numb. Where my senses would normally be resonating with the harmonics of a thousand different compatible people about to meet, now I only felt empty stillness. The visions and information which usually ran through the back of my mind like a constant drone were eerily silent. I almost thought I'd become mortal again until Liz walked right through my body on her way to Sophie's bedside.
“Come on, Soph, time to wake up,” the woman said gently, “Becky's mom is giving you a ride to preschool this morning, and we don't want to make her wait.”
From the next room I could hear Jamie's voice call, “Mom, is it a snow day?”
“Snow!” Sophie popped awake and scrambled out of bed to run to her window.
“It's not a snow day,” Liz said loud enough for Jamie to hear, “It wasn't deep enough for anything to be canceled and the plowers have already come by, so the bus will still be on time.”
The boy groaned dramatically from his room but Sophie still seemed excited. As Liz helped the children get ready, I decided to check out the new snowfall. I stood up and hopped out of habit before remembering that my wings no longer worked and I would be grounded for a while. I would have to get used to traversing terrain on foot – starting with the staircase. It was awkward and took a little longer than flying would have, but I managed it.
As I passed through the front door to the outside, I gasped in amazement. The world had been transformed completely into a winter wonderland. The muddy traces of melted ice from the day before were hidden under a sparkling smooth blanket of pure white snow, which might have been over a foot deep. Multifaceted icicles draped from the eaves of the roof, catching the morning light and dispersing it into little rainbows all over the wall and nearby snowbank. Every tree branch within view was dusted with the perfect amount of snow and thoughtfully-placed icicles, as though they had each been attended to by a professional decorator. The rising sun cast a glittering glow over the entire landscape, and even the fluffy clouds in the sky were painted with beautiful, joyful colors. It was impossible to look around without breaking into a huge smile.
“You like it?” Jack startled me as he floated down from the sky, “Sorry, didn't mean to scare you.”
“It's okay,” I patted my hand against my heart, “I was just so lost in the spectacle, I didn't see you coming. You did an amazing job, Jack; it's absolutely gorgeous. How did you know about Tahoe?”
“What about Tahoe?” he looked confused.
“That's where they went for their honeymoon,” I explained, “It was just like this, so maybe this will stir some memories.”
“Oh,” he tossed his staff hand to hand, “I was just trying to make it look romantic. Do you think it's romantic?”
“Yes, it's perfect; but I doubt Jim and Liz are going to want to snuggle up just because it looks so romantic outside,” I didn't want to get my hopes up too much.
We were interrupted by the sound of the garage door opening, and then we saw Jim trudge out into the driveway with a snow shovel in hand. For a moment he paused to appreciate the lovely scene, but then he bent down and started digging out a path behind his truck.
“Here, let's wait by the trees,” Jack pointed, “There's more to my plan than just a pretty view.”
Again I automatically hopped up to follow him, but when my feet landed back in the snow I realized my predicament, “My footprints will show.”
“Come on,” he tilted down and wrapped an arm around my lower back, hoisting me up against his side while I locked my arms over his shoulders.
He glided us over to a small grove of trees that grew just beyond the Bennett's driveway and set me down before descending to stand on the ground beside me. I looked down at both of our bare feet and realized that the cold didn't bite through my skin anymore. Had I been warmer when I still had my powers? I rubbed my arms, curious to see if I felt any cooler than before.
Jack noticed the motion and tilted his head in concern, “Are you cold? Do you want my sweatshirt?”
“Not unless you want to cut holes in it for my wings,” I teased, then confided honestly, “Actually, I'm quite comfortable. I'm not sure why, but the cold doesn't seem to bother me now. Though I might think about investing in shoes if I'm to walk everywhere for the rest of my existence.”
“I could make you some,” Jack offered, “But I do think you'll be flying again soon.”
“You mean the way you made those permafrost diamonds?” I asked, “Can you make anything out of frost?”
“Yeah, it's easy,” he pointed to the embellishments on his sweatshirt, “I made these designs too. Want me to show you?”
I nodded, expecting him to draw something on the nearby tree trunk or conjure an object up out of the snow; but instead he grabbed my hand and held it up close to his face. I was still wearing my leather shooting glove, and Jack carefully smoothed his thumbs over the back of it, from my wrist to my knuckles. At last, I felt the need to shiver, though it still wasn't from the cold.
His hesitant blue eyes looked up and locked with mine a few moments later, “If you don't like it, I can let it melt instead.”
He let go of my hand and I pulled it back to inspect the shimmering pattern that now graced the back of my glove. The edges of the leather hosted a lacy border of feathery swirls made with such fine lines of frost that it almost looked like silver thread. All this framed an exquisite masterpiece In the center of the glove – a delicate snowflake image with tiny hearts blossoming from the end of each of its many branches.
“It won't melt or crack?” I made sure.
“Not unless you want it to,” he answered cautiously.
“Of course not!” I ran my fingers over the icy design, “I'll keep it like this forever. It's so beautiful!” I looked back to him with conviction, “You may act like you're impatient and unfocused most of the time, but I can see that when you set your mind on something, you are very good at what you do.”
He smiled, “I hope so.”
“It's obvious,” I looked back out at the glistening scenery and the lone man shoveling his driveway, “The moon wouldn't have made you a guardian otherwise. And maybe it means that your plan stands a chance this time too.”
Jack leaned against the tree and silently looked out at his handiwork for a minute before chuckling, “That kangaroo is going to kill me...”
“Kangaroo?” I questioned.
“Bunny,” he corrected himself, “I promised him I'd let spring come early this year, but now I've gone and covered the town in snow again. I still call him a kangaroo sometimes because...well, clearly, he's huge and scary and has an accent...I can't be the first one to think that, right?”
As I made the connection in my mind, I smirked, “That's pretty good! Kangaroo... I don't know why I never thought of it before.”
“Try saying it to his face next time,” Jack laughed again, “It gets him all riled up, and I'd love to see him try to get mad at you!”
My own smile widened as I shook my head, “That is something I would not love to see, thank you very much, Jack.”
The sound of the front door opening made us both snap out of our amusement and pay attention to the human world again. Liz stepped outside and looked around at the picturesque setting, lost in a reverie for a moment before Jamie and Sophie burst out after her. They ran into the snow, school bags bouncing on their backs as they cheered and laughed and bounded through the perfect drifts, throwing handfuls at each other.
“Don't get your clothes wet,” Liz called, trailing them slowly down to the street side where they stood and waited.
I could feel the ache in my heart return as I looked at all of them, then I glanced next to me at Jack, “So what's the next part of your plan?”
“Just wait for the kids to get picked up,” he squatted down and scooped up a handful of snow, molding it between his palms, “As soon as the grown ups are alone...”
He was cut off by the growl of an engine, and we peeked back out to see a van slowing to a stop in front of the house. The side door slid open and Sophie waved vigorously to another young girl seated inside. Liz helped her daughter into the vehicle and chatted with the woman in the driver's seat while she buckled Sophie's seatbelt. After the door closed and the van pulled away, a large yellow bus rumbled into view down the street. Jamie gave his mother a hug and trampled up the snowy sidewalk to the neighbor's house, where he joined one of his friends and climbed onto the waiting bus. Liz stood there waving goodbye until the school bus had gone around the corner, then she turned and slowly started to head back up toward the house, sparing only the briefest of pitying glances for her husband who was still shoveling the driveway.
“Here, blow on it with me,” Jack held up the snowball he had been working on between us.
“Blow on it?” I raised an eyebrow, “What's that going to do?”
“Hurry, just do it!” he shook his hand impatiently.
Feeling a little silly, I leaned in and blew softly on one side of the snowball while Jack did the same on the other side. Our eyes met over the top of the projectile and I could see in their glacial depths that he was actually serious about this step of the plan. He lowered his hand, leaving our faces awkwardly close, and I saw that old mischievous smile reappear.
“Watch this,” he said softly, then turned quickly and lobbed the snowball across the driveway, hitting Jim squarely on the back of the head.
When Jim jumped up, there was a haze of blue magic passing in front of his eyes. He turned to look at his wife with a mix of shock and amusement on his face, but she was staring down at her footing as she tried to step over a snowdrift.
“Next!” Jack cried, and I found him holding up another perfectly-formed snowball.
We both bent forward to blow on it, then as soon as Jim started to turn back to his shoveling, Jack launched the snowball and scored a direct hit to Liz's face. She too had a faint mist of blue sparkles around her eyes as she wiped off her face and stared aghast at her innocently shoveling husband. Somewhere between scowling and smiling, she bent down and scooped up a handful of snow and threw it at her assumed attacker.
“Hey!” Jim gasped and grabbed for some icy ammunition himself.
I was frozen in surprise at the fact that these two were actually playing along. Maybe at first they were taking out their aggressions through the act of throwing things at each other, but it didn't take long for both of them to start laughing and yelping and diving for more snowballs.
“You're on the girls' team!” Jack yelled as he shoved me out of our hiding spot and flew over to Jim's side.
“The girls' team?” I repeated, just before I was hit on the shoulder by a stray snowball, “Ahh! Fine! But you had better prepare yourself, Jack Frost,” I shouted as I ran across the front yard to take up position near Liz, “Cupid never misses!”
He knocked my first attack out of the air with his staff as he yelled back, “And Jack Frost never loses a snowball fight!”