Gabriel spun the lock to his locker, not flinching as his best friend Joel threw himself against the locker next to his with an exasperated sigh. Gabriel ignored him. He knew what was about to come out of Joel's mouth and he knew how the conversation would play. It was the same way each day, each week. It, unlike everything else, had not changed.

"We need to make plans. Last weekend was a bust because you ditched us last night, so we ended up looking like a ton of losers," Joel said right on cue.

"You are a group of total losers," Gabriel said. Joel scowled at him.

"Seriously, though, dude. When are we ever going to get together? Like, interrupt some soccer mom picnic or something," he replied. Gabriel frowned.

"You do realize that Christmas is only a month away, right?" he asked. Joel shrugged.

"So?"

"So, you can't exactly do anything bad. After all, Santa's watching you," Gabriel said, lowering his voice and acting serious like his mom used to behave. Joel shoved him as they both started laughing.

"So, next weekend we'll make plans?" Joel asked, starting to walk away.

"You got it," Gabriel said as Joel disappeared into the throng of people. He sighed and turned back to his locker. They'd have plans unless a better option came along.

x.x.x

Aaron Moroz groaned as he was shoved into a locker as the final bell rang. He readjusted his duffel bag and headed towards the exit. He was just as excited to get out of the hell hole as the rest of them. After all, they'd just came back from a week break of school. That was always the hardest time to go back.

Aaron slid as he stepped out into the parking lot and nearly went down until Noelle steadied him. She smiled at him and brushed her blonde hair from her eyes. Aaron couldn't believe that Noelle would date a jerk like Gabriel Moroz. They were two completely different people. They didn't like the same things and their personalities were absolutely different. There was basically nothing the two had in common.

"Thanks," Aaron said as they picked their way across the parking lot.

"I was supposed to meet Gabriel so he could take me home, but it looked like he flaked. I can't find him or his car anywhere. Guess he had a better option," Noelle replied with a shrug, looking saddened. She hadn't spoken to Gabriel for nearly a week and she was starting to worry if they were even still dating.

"You want me to drop you off at his house?" Aaron asked. She shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself, pulling her black peacoat closer to her small frame.

"No thanks, I have a French test to study for," she replied. Aaron nodded.

"Bonne chance," Aaron said. She smiled at him.

"Merci," she replied. He smiled.

"You want a ride home?" he asked. She nodded.

"That'd be great," she said as he unlocked his car. Noelle climbed into the passenger seat as Aaron cranked up the radio and heat before blankly staring out the window.

x.x.x

"Alright, honey, remember to try and blend in. People in the world do things differently than we do," Holly said as she fussed with the blanket she'd put over Ellie's lap to keep her warm. Ellie swatted her mother's hands away gently.

"I know, Mom, I'll be fine," she replied as Nick climbed up into the sleigh next to her. Chris kissed his daughters forehead.

"Don't forget to call. Just because we live in the North Pole doesn't mean it costs long distance. Technically we aren't listed, but use the phone we gave you, nonetheless. We don't want anyone snooping and finding out," Chris warned. Ellie brushed her red bangs from her eyes.

"I understand, Dad. If we don't get going, then we'll be there at midnight," Ellie replied. She knew the path by heart after studying it all night.

"Alright," he said.

"Have fun, sweetie!" her mother called as her grandpa gathered the reins and headed down the runway. With a glance back at her family, she waved and then they were lost in the distance as the reindeer sped up into the sky and into the night.

x.x.x

Whenever Ellie had last been to her grandparents was when she was nine. Every night she would go out onto the back porch and watch the blinking lights in the sky, thinking that one of those was her grandfather and father on their nightly rounds. As her mother laughed inside, Ellie realized that there really wasn't a better life she could have imagined.

Now, at the age of sixteen, she was eager to get out and see what was out there. She was fed up with the life of being trapped in Christmastown. She was an explorer and always getting into trouble. She'd almost escaped on Blitzen to the outside world, but her father had caught her before they left the runway. Ebenezer had ratted her out like she had many times to him.

She sighed and leaned back in the sleigh. She would miss Eb. Even though he had no holiday spirit and was bad tempered and rude, she would miss him. After all, he was her twin brother. She'd tried to convince him to come with her, but he declined and after she thought it over, she knew it was for the best. If he had gone, all he would have done was cause trouble and maybe even slip out the secret behind their family history. That was a big no—no in the town. No one could know and whoever told was immediately . . . taken care of, as her grandfather had said.

She didn't know what that meant and she didn't really care to find out.

Suddenly, alarms went off in the sleigh, causing Ellie to jump and her grandfather as well. They exchanged glances as a location came over the radar and Mr. Moore's voice came over the radio from headquarters. Ellie was busy trying to shut the alarms off as her grandfather spoke to the elf.

"There's trouble in Greason," he said as he sped up the reindeer. "I hope that your grandparents are home because you'll be arriving a few hours early."

x.x.x

Lights flashed all around him. Sirens sounded as people shouted and screamed. His head ached as someone's fingers touched his wrist. His eyes slowly opened and the world was blurred around him. He squeezed them shut and when he opened them again, the world was clearer. Unfamiliar faces hovered above him until one broke through the crowd and he looked up at his mother.

"Aaron, Aaron, honey," she said, gripping his hand tightly as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. He winced as the world rushed around him. "Easy, honey. Do you remember what happened?" He brought his hand to his forehead and felt the gauze.

As he opened his mouth to speak, another face broke through from his father's grasp.

"You killed her," Gabriel shouted at his brother as his father fought to restrain him. "You killed Noelle! How could you have been such an idiot?" His father gripped him tightly. "I'll never forgive you, Aaron. Mark my words, I'll make you pay." A police officer helped pulled Gabriel away as Aaron paled. He felt like he was going to be sick.

"I killed her?" he whispered. His mom smoothed his hair.

"Don't worry about it, honey. Everything's going to be alright," she said, but Aaron had already put his head in his hands and was shaking violently as sobs raked through his body.

"I killed her," he kept repeating over and over, unable to believe it.

x.x.x

Ellie pushed her way through the crowd. Her grandfather had disappeared and she found herself in the front, taking in everything as the police restrained everyone. She brushed a strand of red hair from her eyes as she fingered the holly necklace that hung around her neck. She turned as she heard shouting and watched as a boy struggled against a man and then was restrained by the police.

She slipped under the caution tape whenever the police had turned away and walked towards the boy that had been shouting. He now sat on the back of one of the emergency vehicles, alone, a water bottle in his shaking hands. She walked over and knelt in front of him cautiously.

"Hello," she said. He looked up at her, his eyes bloodshot. She reached out and put a hand on his arm. "Everything will be alright."

"Who are you?" he asked, flinching from her touch. She bit her lip and sat next to him.

"No one," she replied. He seemed to relax after a moment whenever she didn't say anything else.

They sat side by side, their shoulders barely touching as they watched the scene before them. If this was what the real world was like, Ellie didn't think that she wanted to be a part of it.

x.x.x

"Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum/The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum/I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum/I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
," Eb sang under his breath, resting his guitar on his knees the best he was able to. "I knew you weren't a Scrooge!" Faith said as she plopped down on the ground next to him. He immediately stopped playing and looked at her. "Oh, don't stop on my account." She pushed her hair behind her ears, revealing her pointed ears. "I'm not, trust me," Eb replied. She rolled her eyes and took the guitar from him, playing a few chords. "Why are you out here all alone?" she asked, not taking her eyes off the guitar strings. "I'm not alone," Eb replied. He looked around the wooded area that was just off from the town. He spent his time there to avoid all the preppy, cheery, and overuse of the holiday. All year round at that, too. "Animals don't count, Eb," Faith replied, smiling up at him through her red hair. He shrugged. They counted to him. "Have you heard from Ellie?" "Yeah . . . she called last night, apparently it isn't what she thought it would be down there," he replied. She nodded. "Yeah, I'd imagine it isn't. I've gone before on Christmas Eve, not everything it's cracked up to be," she replied with a shrug. "I'd rather be here." Eb didn't reply, mostly because he didn't agree. "Anyways, you'll never guess who just walked into the workshop with his daddy." Eb frowned. "Antarctica is officially frozen again."

"No," Eb said, staring at her in disbelief.

"Yes."

"I thought they were banned."

"Clearly not," she replied, shrugging. Eb shook his head. Looked like Jack and Jaxson Frost had once again returned to Christmastown.