It was the beginning of September, and all was peaceful and quiet in the North Pole. It was the start of the busiest time of the year for Santa and his elves. Whilst the elves started work on the toys, Santa was working out hard to loosen his belt for the oncoming tide of cookies and milk and mince pies that he would have to eat. It hardly made a difference.

For me, Mr and Mrs Clause's only child, it was my least favourite time of the year. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas, but it wasn't anywhere near Christmas yet. It was, however, the start of the school year for kids all across the world. Except, usually, me.

This year however, I was attending High School, and getting my own car, and going to live with my Aunt Flora in Canada. My father, being a Saint, could refuse me, his only child, nothing. I was never a spoilt or selfish child, and I never took advantage of my father, until now. It was in his nature to give, and with me being constantly one of the top ten people on the nice list, he had nothing to worry about. Or so my mother kept telling him.

"She'll be fine, Nick!" my mother told him for the hundredth time as I checked my packing. "My sister Flora will take good care of her!"

"I know Marigold, but your sister hasn't always been the brightest bauble on the tree now has she?" my father protested, sitting on the sofa eating cookies and milk whilst crumbs gathered in a pile on his round red belly. I rolled my eyes at the use of his favourite Christmas pun, and bent down to kiss him on the cheek and attempt to give him a hug. My arms barely fit around him.

"Love you dad, see you at Christmas," I said, before gathering my bags and leaving the house.

By the time I arrived in Canada— by aeroplane, not sleigh— my Aunt Flora was waiting at the airport, holding a card with my name on it and holly wreaths decorated around the curvy lettering. I groaned, but put on my best smile.

"Aunt Flora!" I hugged her, but she pulled back to take a good look at me. I took in her attire as she did the same to me. The wrinkles in her heavily made up face were as deep set as ever, and her clothing was even baggier and more vibrantly purple than I remembered it.

"Clarissa!" she greeted me, using my full name which nobody ever uses except her. After all, she chose it, though she always hated how it had become shortened. "My my, you've grown, you're a young woman now! Nice full figure and everything!"

"Thanks Aunt Flora," I grimaced, but she didn't notice. I silently thanked god that I hadn't inherited her slightly large figure, along with the curly bright blonde hair I had acquired from her and my mother.

"Well, we'll have to stop you taking after your father and getting even bigger now, shan't we? Can't have you ruining such a lovely figure."

"Thanks Aunt Flora," I repeated, putting on my best fake smile.

"Let's go home now and get you all unpacked."

We did just that, and I got used to living with my eccentric Aunt quite quickly. The absence of elves threw me for a while, and I felt myself craving cookies and milk. Luckily though, Aunt Flora had a few cartons of milk in the fridge. I downed a whole one, and then raided the biscuit tin. Then her earlier words came back to haunt me, and I wondered whether I really was going to become overweight like my father. Suddenly the cookies didn't taste so good anymore.

My first day at school lived up to my expectations in more ways than I thought it would. The lessons were great; my teachers all welcomed me and introduced me to each of my classes, who all greeted me half-heartedly back. The workload wasn't as suffocating as I feared it would be, and I made a few acquaintances in my classes.

"Carla, is it?" a tawny haired boy asked. He had a faint dusting of freckles and a friendly smile. I smiled back. "Can I sit here?"

"It's Clara, and yeah, sure."

The teacher had already started talking, but the freckled boy and I were sitting at the back of the class and he couldn't hear us.

"I'm Isaac," he held out his hand and I shook it, blinking at the extremely formal gesture. "Do you like it here at New Haven High?"

"Yes, I like it very much," I admitted.

"Don't worry, you'll grow to hate it," he chuckled. I didn't know what to say to that, so I just chuckled with him, and then began to listen to what the teacher was saying. I didn't want to start failing classes on my first day.

Later that day, I ate lunch with Isaac and his mostly female friends, who ignored me, too absorbed in their own conversations, for the most part. I didn't mind, and Isaac didn't seem to notice. I quickly learned that he was considered somewhat attractive to the female population of New Haven High, and he knew it, as I sat and observed the other kids in the cafeteria. There were the jocks, cheerleaders, naturally, and all the cliques I expected there would be. One boy caught my eye, dark haired and with pretty green eyes. That wasn't what drew me to him, though; it was the look of pure malice on his face as he tormented a poor dark blonde haired boy, pushing him out of the side door of the cafeteria, out of sight. I tapped Isaac on the shoulder before the boy himself disappeared.

"Who's that?" I whispered, as if the boy could hear me across the noisy room.

"That's Jacob Cole," Isaac said nonchalantly. His friends looked disgruntled about Isaac talking to me when he had been in the middle of a conversation with them, but I didn't care. "He's the school bully, to make the understatement of the century."

And then Isaac went back to talking to his friends, and Jacob Cole slid out of the side door in pursuit of his prey. I couldn't get that smile out of my head the rest of the day — the kind of smile that sends a shiver down your spine and makes all the hairs on your neck stand on end.

To take my mind off things, I rang home.

"Clarissa!" my mother wailed. She only used my full name when she was angry or extremely emotional. In this case it was the latter. "How was your first day at school?"

"Fine, mom," I insisted, "I'm fine."

"Good!" she sniffed. "Your father and I have been missing you so terribly."

"I miss you too," I smiled, comforting her.

The weekend arrived, and Aunt Flora dragged me shopping. The clothes she liked didn't exactly appeal me, and I did not see the need for an entire new wardrobe.

"All those woolly jumpers you have, you won't need them here, and don't you want to look pretty? You might get a boyfriend, that way," she rambled. I didn't think my father would be very happy about her encouraging me to do that.

Outside the shop, I noticed Jacob Cole and his friends waging a snowball war on some other kids. I tried not to get caught in the crossfire, as Aunt Flora and I walked back to my car. I couldn't help but look as we drove past. He seemed to be having fun. I found myself wondering if he had a girlfriend...

The next day, I observed Jacob Cole closer. When I got out of my car in the morning, I saw him threatening to push a poor boy into the frozen river. The ice looked of medium thickness, easily breakable by a grown man jumping up and down on it. The scene was a few feet away from my car, and that was the closest I would have liked to get to the school bully. I was in for a surprise, though, when in my second period class I got to sit next to him. It was my first maths class, made no more enjoyable by Jacob Cole sitting beside me.

"Class," the teacher, Mr Holden, an elderly kindly man, cleared his throat loudly and the class quietened down. "This is Clarissa Clause."

I got a cacophony of half hearted greetings and a few yawns. All I could do was smile at the class, but my smile faded when my eyes rested on Jacob Cole where he sat slumped by the window, and the only empty seat in the room which was beside him.

After I sat down, not a word was spoken between us for fifteen slow silent minutes, until we were forced to speak to our partners about something I wasn't paying any attention to. I only realised this when the whole room erupted, or so it seemed due to the extended period of silence, in chatter.

Jacob sat slumped in his chair, chewing on his nails, half asleep. I attempted to make conversation, something I knew I would regret. The only things that came to my mind were criticisms: stop biting your nails, sit up straight, are you actually going to do some work? I settled for the latter, and tried to make it sound friendly.

"Are you going to do any work?" I asked, smiling at Jacob. He looked up with the most indifferent expression I ever saw.

"Does it look like I am?" he asked, one eyebrow raised. I couldn't look into his blinding green eyes a moment longer, so I looked at the empty space in front of him.

"Not really," I admitted.

"Wow, you're observant," he said sarcastically, and went back to chewing his nails.

"You shouldn't do that," I said coolly. "It's a bad habit."

"Fine," he said to my astonishment, though he pulled out a cigarette packet from his pocket and a lighter from his bag. I stared at him, horrified. "Happy now?"

"You can't do that," I hissed, hoping Mr Holden wouldn't notice.

"Try and stop me," he shrugged, lighting the cigarette and smiling crookedly at me.

I saw my opportunity when his hand slackened on the cigarette, and grabbed it, throwing the flaming stick out of the window behind Jacob's head. He was at a disadvantage, sitting so slumped, and couldn't react fast enough to stop me.

His eyes flashed greener, if that was even possible, in anger, and he sat bolt upright.

"What did you do that for?!" he yelled, his face so close to mine that I couldn't hear for a good few moments afterwards. Everyone had stopped talking by this point, and they all turned to look at us. I had never had anyone so angry at me before, but it was for a good enough reason so I didn't mind. I wasn't going to let him smoke so close to me and in lesson, too! No wonder he holds the record for being on the top of the naughty list most times...

"Because, it's a foul habit and you'll die young," I said sweetly, trying to diffuse the situation.

"Miss Clause, Mr Cole, if you're quite done," Mr Holden addressed us. "Principle's office. Both of you. Now."

Neither of us talked back. We bowed our heads in shame, at least I did, Jacob shrugged and held his head high, as if he were about to be knighted. Outside the classroom, neither of us spoke to each other, both silently saying "this is all YOUR fault". Principle Maddison was not happy with either of us, and rang our parents. Aunt Flora was, thankfully, relaxed about the entire situation. Jacob's parents weren't even home, though he was assured they would be contacted. He was completely unreadable. Then we were dismissed.

The next day, I inquired about the name of the poor boy tormented every lunch by Jacob Cole.

"That's Lewis Stanford," Isaac told me. "He's a clever kid, and Cole punishes him for it." When I looked confused, Isaac elaborated. "Guys like Cole just don't like guys like Stanford. Like lions don't like zebras and snakes don't like mice."

This analogy made me feel uncomfortable. I couldn't eat the rest of my lunch, so I went to my next class early.

The next few weeks, Jacob was mysteriously absent from classes. Lewis Stanford looked wonderfully relaxed when I saw him around the campus. The predator had migrated elsewhere- and he was free, for the time being. I do admit that math class was sort of boring without him. I couldn't exactly reprimand equations.

That night, I decided to do some research. I rang up the North Pole. My mother answered the phone.

"Clara!" she sounded pleased to see me.

"Mom, can you put Stella on the phone?"

Usually I wasn't this rude to my mother, but Stella was my best friend, an elf, and very sneaky. If you needed to break the rules, for a good enough reason, Stella was the elf to see. Next to her petite frame and elfin features, I always felt like a giant. Now, along with all my classmates, I felt strangely short, a feeling I had never experienced before. I had never thought of myself as only five foot three before.

"Oh, okay," my mother hiccoughed.

"Clara!" I heard a high voice squeal. I winced.

"Stella! I need a favour."

"What is it? Need me to send over one of the Reindeer? Prancer has been missing the midnight snacks you give him."

"No," I shook my head but realised she couldn't see me, "I need you to look up a boy named Jacob Cole for me."

"Oh," Stella sounded disappointed and surprised. I heard a shuffling and clicking as she typed him into the database. "Yep," she said.

"What, what is it?"

"He's been one of the top ten people on the Naughty List consistently for about ten years."

"Really?" I sounded surprised, but I really wasn't. It wasn't hard to believe, considering the malevolence emanating from him earlier.

"Uh huh, would I ever lie to you Clara?" Stella's sweet voice asked.

"Yes, you would," I smiled. Though elves never explicitly lied, they were especially good at bending the truth.

"So who is this boy?"

I explained. I felt I owed her that much.

"If I didn't know you any better, Clara," Stella said in the most mature tone I had ever heard her speak with, "I'd think you liked this Jacob Cole."

"What?" I asked, incredulously, "Don't be silly."

"I'm just telling you what I think," she defended herself.

"I know," I sighed.

"You're not going to tell him about us, are you?" By "us" she meant the North Pole and existence of Santa. When I hesitated to answer, Stella picked up on this. "Clarissa..." she said in a warning tone, "I know you."

"What?" I asked. "You know he wouldn't believe me anyway."

"True," Stella said, slightly comforted.

"He'd only think I'm even more insane," I assured her.

"Just, be careful," she pleaded me.

"Sure, Stell," I said.

That night, I couldn't sleep, for fear of dreaming, or having nightmares rather, about Jacob Cole (in a completely unromantic way), and the next morning I woke up looking like a small blonde rodent had been electrocuted then stuck to my head. I managed to tame it into curls before leaving the house, and Aunt Flora had promised to buy me straighteners, though I preferred my hair the way it naturally was.

When I pulled up in the school parking lot, I saw Lewis Stanford, with his books strewn across the ice, struggling to retrieve them. I had parked right next to the scene, and realised that since I was early, I should help him. That's what you get for having Saintly blood in you.

I bent down to pick up the nearest books to me which hadn't gone too far onto the ice, and smiled at Lewis. He smiled back under the sopping wet bangs of his hair, and shivered.

"Are you okay?" I asked, though it was obvious he was freezing cold and wet. His hair was so wet it had gone almost brown. I didn't ask what exactly had happened to him. I knew all too well who was responsible for it. The bully was back in town.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he lied, teeth chattering. I gathered up his books and led him inside, where I tried to get him to go to the nurse's office.

"You might get hypothermia!" I told him, but he just shook his head. Either that or he was shivering so badly he was convulsing. "Or pneumonia!"

"I'm f-f-f-fine!" he assured me, with a half hearted smile, and then disappeared into a classroom.

In maths, I ignored Jacob, still angry from what he had done to Lewis earlier that day. I didn't care that he had been absent for almost a fortnight. What did I care where he'd been? I could not let my curiosity get the better of me.

"Not going to throw my cigarettes out of the window today?" he asked sarcastically.

"I will if you light any," I said, eyeing the unlit one he was twirling in his hand.

"I'd like to see you try," he chuckled, "this time I'm ready."

"So you're admitting I beat you?"

"You caught me off guard," he admitted, narrowing his eyes. I smiled at him.

"At least your posture has improved," I shrugged. One of my three boxes could be ticked. He still chewed his nails and didn't do his class work, though. I noticed, however, that when the class got back homework assignments, Jacob's was marked with an A.

"There was never anything wrong with my posture," Jacob insisted, in a child-like manner. I begged to differ, but didn't say so.

"Were you working on it the whole time you were away?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

"No, I was visiting my sick grandmother," he said, so seriously I couldn't tell if he was joking. My eyebrows rose involuntarily. Jacob Cole? The spawn of Satan? Visiting his sick grandmother?

"Really?" I asked incredulously.

"Ha," he laughed mirthlessly, "as if you fell for that!"

I didn't bother asking him any more questions. Maybe he was visiting his sick grandmother. Maybe he was just skipping school. What did I care? He wasn't anything to me.

The next few lessons were spent preparing for an exam. Jacob was actually working for once, and I didn't want to distract myself, so I chose not to comment on this fact. We'd just end up bickering and get sent to the Principle's office for disrupting the class again.

One lunchtime, I noticed him pushing Lewis out of the side door again, and felt compelled to follow. I told Isaac I was going to the bathroom, though he didn't seem to notice, and slipped out of the door after them.

"Stop!" I yelled, as Jacob hung Lewis' backpack over the frozen river. A dishevelled Lewis gave me a smile and a thankful look, but I wasn't paying attention to him.

Jacob glared at me from his position, perched on the railing of the bridge like a gargoyle, his green eyes flashing angrily. What had I gotten myself into?

"What?!" he demanded.

"Erm..." with little time left to think, I had to improvise. "I need to talk to you?"

It was more of a nervous question than a statement, but to my utter astonishment Jacob Cole jumped down from the bridge railing and stalked towards me. Not surprisingly, however, he kept a firm grip on Lewis' backpack, and his friends kept a firm grip on Lewis.

"Yes?" he asked, a cool sort of contempt floating in the air around him as if he were constantly flanked by ghosts.

"I— er... well, um," I stuttered, throughout the course of a few minutes, and he began to get impatient. It didn't help that I had no idea what to say. I could tell by the incessant tapping of his foot on the frosted ground that his patience was wearing thin. If I had dared to look up I probably would have seen two hard green pebbles for eyes staring down into my own like laser beams burning my retinas, but instead I kept my eyes fixed firmly on his chest, which was in my line of vision.

"Spit it out already!" he said through gritted teeth, and an air of tension lay behind them. I could tell he hadn't pushed me to the ground already on account of the fact that I'm a girl, and at the time I was very thankful for this.

"There's something I have to tell you," I said so fast I was sure, even hoped, he hadn't heard me. My wish wasn't granted, instead he leaned closer and I could feel the scent of evil that masked him like a cloak.

"Well, what is it?"

"Santa Clause, St Nick, Father Christmas, whatever you want to call him," I said, without breathing once or pausing for effect, "exists." The words had just rolled off my tongue, and I silently apologised to Stella.

"Excuse me?" I made the mistake of looking up into those green eyes and held my breath. His mere look questioned my sanity. Well, I guess I should've expected that.

"Ever wondered about my last name?" I was proud of the air of confidence I managed to convey in that question, though Jacob still looked at me as if I had just told him I saw a pig fly across the sky a moment ago and he had narrowly missed it.

"Clause? So?"

I sighed. He really was dim for a conniving bully. "Santa Clause... Clara Clause...."

"You're Santa Clause?" Jacob said, mocking me with that insanely handsome annoyingly crooked smile. I felt like tugging the other side of his mouth up to straighten it out but I don't think it would've helped me persuade him of my sound sanity. He looked me up and down for dramatic effect and I felt naked all of a sudden, despite being wrapped up in many layers. "Somehow I pictured you older, as a man with a gut and a big white beard—"

"Not me!" I said impatiently. "My father."

"Oh!" Jacob said, still mocking me. I felt like slapping him, but again this would have disputed my sanity. Darn it. "That makes more sense!" he said in a way that implied it really didn't and that I was still stark raving mad, in his eyes anyway.

"Stop it, I'm telling the truth," I said, trying to look him directly in the eye and be serious but, god, those eyes were just too hard to look at for long, like the sun, which I had rarely glimpsed except on the luckiest of days, the North Pole being submerged in darkness for half of the year.

"Do you have any proof? Like, maybe some Christmas magic, make it snow, or call one of the flying reindeer out here, or guess what I want for Christmas this year?" Jacob laughed. I wasn't smiling, and was just short of putting my hands on my hips, but I was too short for it to have any effect.

"If you won't believe me now then nothing I do can make you," I said simply, and his face fell a little with disappointment. I think he half expected me to whistle and for Rudolph to come flying in any minute, but that's nonsense: everyone knows reindeer only fly on Christmas Eve. "I told you this for a reason you know, and Santa Clause does exist."

"Sure, sure," Jacob laughed, and I suddenly zoned in again when I heard Lewis cry out from the bridge. I had to at least try and help him.

"He does, and you're not helping your situation any more by bullying Lewis, Christmas is only a few months away, and—"

"So what? I'm on top of the naughty list or something?" Jacob laughed mirthlessly and I bit my lip nervously.

"Well..." I began, and Jacob stopped laughing to raise one dark eyebrow at me.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said.

I shook my head slowly.

So Jacob dumped Lewis' bag in the river anyway, and Lewis had to tell all his teachers that he had accidentally slipped on the ice and dropped it. I tried to stay away from Lewis after that, but he was following me everywhere.

"Hey!" he called to me from the other side of the cafeteria when I walked in and gestured enthusiastically to the seat beside him. I turned bright red but joined him nonetheless, too nice to embarrass him in front of the cafeteria by ignoring him. Besides, who else was I going to sit with? I suppose I should've made more friends, and I really had no excuse. Jacob hadn't told anyone what I had talked to him about, surprisingly. I imagined that it would be all over the school by now. "Thanks for trying to get Jacob to let me go this morning."

"No problem," I smiled at the table, not making eye contact. I seemed to be increasingly handicapped in that area of communication with people.

"No really, it was really brave of you," he insisted. I smiled nervously.

"Seriously it was no big deal it didn't work anyway," I said. I looked up and saw that his shaggy brown hair was still dripping wet from where they pelted him with snow and ice balls. I felt a huge wash of sympathy but fought it down. I had to get away before people started to think we were dating. People being code for Jacob Cole.

"Hey Claire!" someone called from behind me later on just before I got into my car, and I groaned, thinking it was Lewis again. I thanked god aloud when I saw Isaac jogging up to me in the school parking lot, his tawny hair stuck flat to his head and dripping wet from the snow that had melted in it.

"Hey," I smiled, not bothering to correct him on calling me Claire.

"So, you and Lewis huh?"

I stared at him with a confused expression.

"You're dating, aren't you?"

"No!" I denied vehemently. Isaac looked confused now.

"But..." he paused, looking over his shoulder to where Jacob was stood staring at the both of us, leaning on his car casually. When he caught me looking he grinned.

"What?"

"That's not what Jacob's been saying, and when I asked Lewis he just blushed and stuttered so I thought..."

That was all I needed to hear. I snapped my gaze back to Jacob and he saluted me, not without that infernally cocky smile, before climbing into his car and heading to the exit, which was where I was stood. He didn't spare a glance as he drove past me and I almost got splashed with sleet, though Isaac shielded me from most of it due to the unfortunate position in which he was standing.

"Great," he grimaced. "Now I'm even wetter!"

"That's your fault for not having an umbrella," I said, putting my own one up, as it had just started to snow heavily again.

"Well, mine kind of got buried as I was pummelled with snowballs by Jacob and his mates. They were massacring everyone behind the gym," he said solemnly before trudging off in the direction of his car. I got into mine and drove home, silently fuming all the way and trying hard not to ram every truck I saw in the hopes that it may have been Jacob's.

A week had passed without a word from Jacob. My anger had, unfortunately, subsided, and I was left feeling lonely. Isaac had been busy with his legion of adoring friends for a while, and I had spent all my lunchtimes reading, and trying very hard to avoid Lewis.

However, at the weekend all that changed. Isaac had invited me on a sledging trip at one of the local hills. Great, I thought, at least Lewis wouldn't be there. What I didn't count on was another person's presence, though...

As we drove through the surrounding countryside, I thought of how peaceful and serene the landscape looked, as if sleeping under a blanket of snow. I could almost see it rising and falling as it breathed. When we got to the sledging hot-spot, though, a loud explosion of laughter tore through the silence, and I almost expected an avalanche to occur any second.

Up on the hill, tiny as ants, was Jacob and his mob.

"Oh no," I groaned. Isaac noticed my expression.

"Don't worry, we won't go anywhere near them," he smiled comfortingly. But I knew as soon as the ruckus stopped that Jacob had noticed me. He had a sixth sense for that sort of thing. I could feel him watching me as we ascended the slope, sledges in tow. I had borrowed one of Isaac's friend's sledges, much to their chagrin, having left mine in the North Pole. The rocket powered engines attached to them didn't exactly fit in my suitcase.

After a few rides down the slope, and a few tiring journeys back up it, I saw Jacob approaching us. I immediately grabbed onto Isaac.

"Look!" I said, pointing in their direction. Isaac frowned.

"What do they want?" he asked nobody in particular.

"Where's your boyfriend, Clause?" Jacob asked me once they reached us. I scowled at him. "Or are you cheating on him with this loser?" he nodded in the direction of Isaac.

"I'm not dating either," I said through gritted teeth. Jacob chuckled lowly.

"How about a race, or are you too scared?" Jacob asked Isaac, who stepped forward. I looked back and forth between them.

"What about me?" I asked, offended. Jacob regarded me with one eyebrow raised.

"But— you're a girl," he said, as if that somehow made me exempt.

"And?!" I asked, hands on my hips.

"Fair enough, let her race," Isaac said. Jacob clenched his teeth.

"Fine, but don't say I didn't warn you," he shrugged, sitting on his sledge. Isaac and I lined up by his side. I, unfortunately, was stuck in the middle.

"Ready..." one of Jacob's cronies said in a deep voice, "steady...." I breathed in and braced myself, "GO!"

The tension wasn't really that high. It was more the adrenaline rush as we set off. Sledging was a great pastime of mine. As we cascaded down the slope, I saw Jacob and Isaac beside me the whole time. However, when Jacob's sledge hit something hard he began to veer off course... and into me. I tried steering away from him but this only caused me to fall sideways out of my sledge and roll down the rest of the hill. I felt things snap in places I didn't know things could snap. Luckily, though, even with my blurred vision after I landed, I couldn't make out any red marks on the snow.

"Ow..." I managed to groan. Someone was beside me though I couldn't care who it was.

"Clara?" Isaac asked.

"Is she okay?" I heard Jacob ask. Like he cared.

"I'm fine!" I insisted, getting up. Pain shot through my body. "OW! Okay, maybe not."

"I did warn you." I could've sworn I heard Jacob mutter "baby" but I chose to ignore it.

"Do you need to go to the hospital... I could take you in my car now," Isaac said. I heard a few people groan about how they themselves would get back home.

"God, I'll take her if she's that bad," Jacob said. I shot him a glare and he smiled at me. Isaac reluctantly handed me over to Jacob, who put an arm around my waist to help me walk. I pretended like it didn't have an effect on me.

"Why are you doing this?" I asked, narrowing my eyes.

"Because I'm nice," he snapped, "now get in the car."

The car smelt faintly of smoke and petrol. It was littered with wrappers and packets. It was disgusting.

"How did you even fall off anyway? Wouldn't Santa Clause's daughter even know how to sledge?" he asked angrily, as the car roared to life. For a moment, I thought he almost believed me.

"If you hadn't veered into me I wouldn't have fallen!" I yelled, my anger getting the better of me. "For your information I'm pretty good at sledging."

"Maybe once the doctors prove you're faking it to get attention, we can have a rematch," he said, venom laced in his voice. My jaw nearly dropped.

"What on earth is wrong with you? I am not faking this pain! If you think I am then why are you taking the trouble to carry me and drive me to the hospital," I asked.

"To prove you're a spoilt brat, I mean you must've had all the toys you wanted when you were a kid," Jacob snapped, his eyes still on the road. I wanted to believe that he was using this excuse to seem more masculine, and mask his sympathetic, sensitive side. I hoped he was.

"And you didn't?" I asked softly. Silence ensued. We had reached the hospital.

Jacob helped me walk in and a nurse was with me within minutes. It turned out that I had fractures in my right leg and a broken rib or two. My arms were badly bruised and I also had concussion.

"I rang your aunt," Jacob said, coming in to my room after a short while, "she's on her way."

"Thanks," I said, biting my lip, "were you here this whole time?"

He nodded.

"And I'm sorry about what I said in the car..."

"Don't worry about it," Jacob shrugged, his face blank, before leaving. That was what infuriated me most about him. He never apologised in return.

Isaac came to see me in hospital as well, blaming himself for the entire incident. I convinced him otherwise. Now he believes it's all Jacob's fault. I couldn't dissuade him from that. A week and much fussing later, I was back at school. Apparently my incident had made me notorious, and Jacob too, as if he wasn't already. Rumours were going around that he had pushed me... that I had tried to push him... and even that we were secretly dating. The latter shocked me the most.

"How did they come up with that one?" I asked Isaac incredulously as he told me. "I'd never date that cold-hearted, insufferable idiot!"

"Beats me," he shrugged. "You two do have chemistry, though."

"Chemistry? No, I think we have Math class together," I corrected him jokingly.

"I'm serious," Isaac said, though he smiled. "There's like this tension between you."

"That's called hatred," I told him. Isaac shrugged and helped me to my next class, carrying my books for me. Unfortunately, that class was Math.

I saw Jacob in his seat next to mine and reluctantly made my way over there. Isaac dropped off my books and then made his way to his own class.

"Cheating on me, are you?" Jacob asked, an arrogant smile on his face.

"No, because we're not dating," I said.

"We could be," he said darkly, and then changed the subject entirely, "How's the leg?"

"Fine, thanks, so good I even jogged to school today," I said sarcastically, motioning to my cast.

"Ah, I see," Jacob said, turning his attention to the window. I couldn't fathom his strange behaviour.

"Are you spreading the rumour that we're dating?" I asked curiously a little while later. Jacob turned to look at me and smiled.

"What makes you think that?" he grinned. My eyebrows rose.

"Why?" I asked him.

"Why not?" Jacob replied, "These idiots believe anything they hear."

"Jacob!" I seethed. He put his arms behind his head and leant back in his chair.

"Yes?"

Then the bell rang, and Jacob jumped out of his chair. I sat there dumbstruck until I realised I had another class to go to.

I didn't tell Isaac about Jacob's crazy rumour. I kept it to myself, strangely. Thankfully, though, Lewis didn't bother me anymore. In fact, he was avoiding me like the plague. I began to feel sorry for him. Me, on crutches, feeling sorry for a perfectly able bodied boy. There's something wrong with me.

When I finally ran into him in the hallway, I called his name.

"Lewis!" I said, struggling to keep up with him on my crutches. The hallways were also really slippy.

He tried to run, I could tell by his facial expression, but seeing me pursuing him with my crutches made him stop.

"Clara..." he said.

"Why are you avoiding me?" I demanded to know.

"Because... Jacob would kill me if he saw me talking to you," he whispered. I noticed him looking around nervously.

"No he won't! We're not dating!" I said so loudly that everyone in the hallways stopped to stare. Lewis didn't look convinced.

"It doesn't make a difference," Lewis shrugged, "he obviously likes you, or else he wouldn't have spread the rumour in the first place."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" I asked exasperatedly, "Wait— how did you know he started the rumour?"

"It's obvious," Lewis said. I frowned, hobbling off in the direction of the doors.

At the end of the day, I was late leaving school. I had to pick up some extra work that I had missed due to being in hospital. I regretted being so stubborn and wanting to race down that death-trap of a hill. My English teacher, Mr Sawyer, also felt it necessary to explain the work to me in such detail that I could've done it right there in front of him whilst he spoke. Unfortunately, I didn't. Now it was getting dark, and I was dreading the thought of any black ice.

"What are you doing here so late?"

I turned around to face Jacob Cole. He was standing in the hallway behind me. I motioned to the huge folder sticking out of my bag. "All the class work I missed. You?"

"Detention," he shrugged. I should've known. We exited the school together and walked towards the parking lot.

"How's your leg?" he sounded sincere, not at all mocking me.

"Fine," I answered. For once we weren't bickering, and it surprised the both of us. Neither of us knew how to handle it.

It began to snow, and I shivered. It would be winter break soon. Two whole weeks off school, when I'd get to go back to the North Pole. I missed it terribly, but I had grown to like it with Aunt Flora. Also, it'd mean two weeks away from Jacob... wait. What did I care? What did he care?

We stopped in front of my car, and Jacob helped me get in. "See you Monday," he smiled.

"Wait," I said, stopping him before he shut the car door. I hesitated.

"What?" he asked.

"Are you going with anyone to the winter dance?" I blurted out. He looked surprised. I couldn't tell in the fading light.

"No."

"Maybe we could go together?" I prompted him. I sounded like a total idiot. Here I was, humiliating myself. What had possessed me?

"I don't really like dances," he said.

"Oh. Ok," I said, disappointed. I felt like throwing up. "Well, bye." I slammed the door shut and drove off as fast as I could.

Aunt Flora noticed my dampened mood.

"Lots of schoolwork, honey?" she asked, baking cookies. Just like the ones my mom makes. They smelled great, filling the living room and kitchen up with the familiar scent. I felt like a child again.

"Yeah," I sighed.

"Don't let it get you down, you can do it all when you get back from the North Pole," she assured me.

The weekend went excruciatingly slowly. Only one week of school was left. Then I could go back home and forget about Jacob for two blissful weeks. I had lost my crutches, yet my foot still remained in a bandage. My notoriety had died down, and I was left to resume my semblance of a normal life.

Posters for the winter formal caught my eye everywhere I went, taunting me. I didn't see Jacob. I wondered if I would before school ended. Part of me was afraid I wouldn't, another part never wanted to see him again...

I walked into maths class with my heart beating out of my chest. He wasn't there. I sat down, disappointed, and didn't pay attention the entire class.

Word got to Aunt Flora that there was a dance. She was adamant that I should attend, despite having no date.

"It'll be fun!" she told me. "You might meet a nice boy there," she winked at me.

"I highly doubt that, they'll all have dates," I told her. We were out shopping, and she had steered me into a changing room with a bunch of brightly coloured dresses. I felt like I had fallen into the wrapping paper closet back home.

"Try this one on!" she shoved a mass of sparkly blue fabric at me. I attempted to wrestle myself into the contraption. It was strapless, came to just above my knees, matched my eyes, and glittered like frost. Aunt Flora gasped. "It's beautiful!"

"It's alright, I guess," was all I could muster.

"Take it off," she ordered, "I'm buying it."

"But—"

"No buts!" she put her foot down. Resistance was futile. "And how come you have no date? You're gorgeous!"

I sighed. She had to say that, she was my Aunt.

"I thought you said all your friends were boys? Don't any of them like you?"

"One friend, and he has girls all over him," I explained. "Besides," I was quick to add, "I don't like him."

"Oh, is that what you've been all mopey about?" she teased.

"No," I blushed. "I just- I did ask someone to the dance. But he turned me down. Not Isaac."

"Oh, honey," Aunt Flora pulled me into an embrace, almost choking me. "He's an idiot." I smiled. "Regardless, you are going to that dance. And you will have fun. Show him what he's missing."

She bounced off to the cash desk to pay for a dress I didn't want to wear, to a dance I didn't want to go to. I sighed and followed.

I saw Jacob the following day. Well, I thought I saw the back of his head. He wasn't in class, though. Maybe I was imagining things. Hallucinating about Jacob? Surely I wasn't that insane. The entire female population was going crazy over the dance. Isaac was being asked out left right and centre. Eventually I got bored of people I was going with him, and left him for the library. Books were my first and only love. However, just as I began to get into Pride and Prejudice, Lewis came up to me.

"Hi," he said sheepishly, "can I sit with you?"

"Sure," I said, moving my bag off the seat next to me.

"I see your leg is better," he pointed out. I looked down, like an idiot, as if I had to check whether the plaster was still on my leg.

"Yeah," I smiled.

"Are you, er, going to the dance with anyone?" he asked. "Not that I'm going to ask you myself, I just meant, are you going with Jacob?"

"How did you...?" I trailed off.

"I spoke to him," he laughed, "without getting hurt, amazing, I know." I waited for him to continue. "I told him he should stop being an idiot and ask you out."

"You did w-what?" I stuttered.

"Don't tell me I was stupid, and surprisingly he actually listened without pummelling me," Lewis grinned.

"What did he say?" I was on the edge of my seat.

"He didn't say anything. Besides that I had guts for speaking to him like that," he shrugged. Just then I saw someone with dark hair, and similar clothing to Jacob exit the library. The adrenaline in my body compelled me to follow.

"Thanks, I have to go," I said hurriedly, grabbing my bag and all but running out of the library.

I looked around but there was nobody in the hallway. I felt as if I were going mad, and trudged to my next class.

The winter formal had arrived. I slipped into the sparkly little blue dress, with matching shoes (Aunt Flora had provided me with those as well) and straight hair. I hardly recognised myself in the mirror. I had curves, usually hidden by all sorts of knitted garments, and I didn't look too bad. Aunt Flora snapped away with her camera, and my mother cried down the phone, wishing she could be there, jealous about how gorgeous her sister said I looked. I looked like a shiny blue bauble.

"It's fine, mom," I placated her, "I'll see you soon."

"All ready to go?" Aunt Flora asked. I gave her a kiss and stepped outside, with a huge coat on, obviously. My legs still froze before I even reached my car. I shivered, even with the heating in my car on full blast, and I didn't want to get out when I reached the school. I saw people running inside, wanting to get out of the cold as fast as possible. I figured eventually, I'd have to make a break for it. But part of me wished to just stay in the warm safety of my car the entire evening. Five minutes passed, ten... but eventually I went inside.

"Clara!" Isaac greeted me, his date clinging to his arm like a small child. She was pretty, but I didn't recognise her as one of his entourage. "Where's your date?"

"I don't have one," I smiled.

"You can hang out with us," he offered. His date didn't look best pleased at the prospect of that, and so I declined.

I didn't know anyone else well enough to hang out with them. The music wasn't exactly my type, and though the decorations in the gym were pretty, I couldn't exactly have a conversation with them, and so, after about five minutes of standing by myself, I decided to go back outside. I tried starting my car, but it wouldn't give. After what seemed like the hundredth attempt, I gave up, and even the heating wouldn't work. I got out and began walking. The cold bit at me, but I didn't mind. I wasn't even wearing my coat, I had left it inside.

I got outside the school gates, and then I heard someone behind me.

"Aren't you cold?" Jacob's voice echoed around me.

"No," I replied, without turning around to look at him.

"You're crazy," he laughed.

"What are you doing here? I thought you said you hated dances," I reminded him. He walked around me so that I was facing him.

"Oh, you know, just passing by. Saw something blue and shiny, was wondering what it was." It began to snow, and as it melted in my straight hair, the drenched tresses began to curl, returning to their natural state.

"Disappointed?"

"On the contrary," he smiled, "you look nice."

I had no idea how to respond to him, and I was pretty sure I was going red. My face heated up despite the cold. What was wrong with me? It wasn't like he called me beautiful or anything. No, that would've have been like Jacob.

"Thanks," I managed to say.

"What about you? Where's your date?" I thought I detected a hint of jealousy.

"I don't have one," I informed him.

"Was the dance not all you expected it to be?"

"I can't believe I wasted five minutes of my life in there," I said. Jacob chuckled.

"So I guess," he said, stepping closer, "I can't ask you to the next dance, then?"

"Why would you want to do that?" I asked. "If I ever go to one of those again, it'll be too soon." I shivered.

"Here," he said, taking off his jacket and giving it to me to wear. Oh how cliché. Still, I would freeze to death otherwise. I gladly wrapped it around myself.

"Could I ask you out for a cup of coffee then? Or do you prefer hot chocolate?" he teased.

"Hmm," I pondered, grinning, "Hot chocolate would be great."