It’s time for another episode of Naughty and Nice! We’re getting into the plot today. There’s even a little competition in this…and you get to meet a new character too. Here you go!
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After Peppermint left, another elf joined us. She was carrying three mugs filled with steaming hot chocolate.
“Oh, you must be the new recruits.” She handed us each a mug.
Jack diligently nodded.
I tried to do the same. I wanted to blend in here, but I also knew we had to get home. Mom would worry if we were gone for too long. In fact, her anxiety was probably taking over already.
“Great,” the elf replied, returning my attention to our current situation. “I’m Cocoa. Now, most of the list-keepers found out you two were coming and took the day off. Can you believe them?” She rolled her eyes. “Not me though. Someone’s got to train the newbies.”
I blinked. Cocoa definitely did not fit with the usual elf personality. She seemed much grumpier.
“Thank you,” I replied, trying to be polite to the stand-offish elf.
“We don’t need anyone!” My brother exclaimed at the same time.
I gave Jack a glare that said, “We really don’t need anyone questioning our presence right now!”
“I mean, um.” He cleared his throat, understanding my warning. “If you wanted a break I’m sure we could figure this out. That’s all.”
Cocoa narrowed her eyes. “I bet you think list-keeping is easy. Just because you can’t see our efforts as clearly as the other departments doesn’t make us any less useful! In fact, I bet we’re the most important department in the whole North Pole!”
Note to self, do NOT get onto Cocoa’s bad side.
“I’m sure my brother didn’t mean any disrespect,” I added. “In fact, the entire reason we signed up for the list-keeping department was because we admire your work so much.”
Cocoa raised an eyebrow.
“Is that so? Well, we’d better get to work then.”
I let out a relieved sigh. She still didn’t exactly seem happy, but at least she wasn’t annoyed anymore.
“Okay, so I expect Peppermint told you the gist of what we’re doing now. But I’m going to show you how,” she explained.
She pulled out a stack of letters.
“Read these. Find out what each child wants from Santa and write it down. Once you’re done, swap letters with your co-worker. The big guy insists that everything is checked twice.”
“Like the song,” Jack whispered.
“What was that?” Cocoa snapped.
Even though Jack didn’t say anything rude, it was clear that he didn’t want to say anything to give Cocoa reason to become any more agitated.
“That’s what I thought.” She folded her arms. “Now get to work.”
Cocoa was right, the list-keeping job was strenuous. My eyes burned from reading so many letters, and my hand began to cramp. And the worst part was having to double-check everything. It just felt so tedious. I was starting to understand why Cocoa seemed so short-tempered. If I had to do this every day for who knows how long, I wouldn’t be very agreeable either.
Cocoa cleared her throat. “You really need to pick up the pace. Your co-workers can work twice as fast!”
“But we just got here!” Jack whined.
“So? I could work three times as fast when I was a beginner,” Cocoa snapped.
“But you just said—”
“I am much faster than the other list-keepers I assure you.”
My throat constricted as I squeezed my eyes shut.
Tell me he didn’t just say that!
I slowly let one eyelid flutter open. Sure enough, there was Jack, firmly standing with his arms crossed.
“What?” Cocoa seethed.
“I said, prove it.”
I tried to catch Jack’s eyes. Tried to warn him that this was a mistake.
But it was too late.
“Fine. You’re on.” Cocoa grinned. “I’ll even give you an advantage. I’ll compete against you both. Do we have a deal?”
“Hold on.” Jack raised an eyebrow. “What if we up the stakes a little? Like…if we win you get to take us to meet the big guy?”
She gritted her teeth. “Fine. But, if I win, you two have to leave my list-keeping room. For good.”
I gulped. Despite not wanting to stay for long, I didn’t want to get kicked out either. Imagine what Santa would say! I bet that would land us on the Naughty List forever!
“Deal.” Jack held out his hand.
Cocoa reached out to accept.
“Wait!” I shouted. “I never agreed to this!”
Cocoa smirked. “Doesn’t matter. He already did.”
I gulped. We were toast. Burnt toast.
Cocoa set a timer. “Whichever team finishes the most letters before this timer chimes, wins. Good luck. You’ll need it.”
I didn’t waste any time in reply. If we had any chance at not losing, we needed to work fast.
Jack and I spent the next twenty minutes working through as many letters as we could.
Would it be enough?
I certainly didn’t think we could beat Cocoa. She’d been at this much longer than we had.
But we had to try. If we gave up, then there was zero chance at beating Cocoa. I stole a glance at Jack. He moved swiftly, glancing at a letter and then writing down the name and choice of gift, over and over again. I breathed. When he set his mind to something, he was really good. If he kept this up, we might have a chance at winning.
Just when I thought my eyes would pop out of my head, the timer rang. My body sank in relief. Even if we hadn’t won, it was over. We wouldn’t have to rush anymore.
“How many lists did we do?” I hissed to Jack.
“67,” he whispered.
I felt a sense of accomplishment. That was much more than we had done earlier. Perhaps we would have a shot at beating Cocoa.
“Alright,” Cocoa smugly began. “How many did you complete?”
This was it. The moment of truth. It all came down to this.
“How many did you complete?” Jack countered.
“Oh please,” Cocoa rolled her eyes. “As if I had any reason to lie. We could easily count each other’s stacks. But nonetheless, I completed 98 letters.”
I swallowed. That was way higher than ours. But…at least we hadn’t lost by only a few letters. That would be devastating.
“Oh,” Jack said, deflated. “We got 67.”
“67?” Cocoa asked in shock. “That’s more than I’d have thought you would’ve gotten.”
“It is?” I asked.
I scratched my chin. She should be gloating right now. She’d won, and we had to leave. Right?
“Yes! That would mean your hourly average would be almost 100 each! That’s even more than my other list-keepers.”
“But you said they were twice as fast as us?” I questioned.
“Exactly!” Cocoa exclaimed. “Imagine what they could do in a race!”
“Oh.” My heart sank. “So this is about them.”
Cocoa seemed to notice my glum demeanor. “Well, not just about them. You two did help me come up with the idea.”
“What idea?” Jack asked.
“Well, if racing against one another increases productivity, then we’ll have races! It’s better than everyone working on lists like usual.”
“One question,” I added. “How can you recreate this without the high stakes of our deal?”
“Oh, I’m sure we can get prizes,” Cocoa explained. “This is genius! Plus, morale is going to go way up. I know I’m in a better mood after that.”
Jack smirked, and I knew what he was going to try to do. My head shook back and forth.
“This won’t work,” I mouthed.
Either Jack didn’t read my meaning, or he didn’t care.
“Since you’re in such a good mood,” he asked. “Do you think we can stay in the list-keeping room?”
I prepared for the worst.
Cocoa scratched her chin. “Well…alright. You can stay. But…I’ll be watching you.”
“I’ll be watching you. Always watching…” he said for my ears only.
And for once, I actually cracked a smile.
Aw, wasn’t that fun? Anyway, tomorrow should hopefully be a Naughty and Nice themed post! (Just not a new episode…heh)