Tangle was a good elf. The best of her kind. No one quite remembers when she came into the North Pole, but her hot chocolate was the best on the planet. She had a certain ability to know exactly what goodies to add to which cup. One month before Christmas eve, Tangle was making her favorite person’s hot chocolate.
“Skim milk boiled with dark chocolate…oops, not too dark!” Tangle giggled as she gently placed a pure dark chocolate back in the cupboard to find a milder one. “Add just dash of peppermint while it’s in the pot. There! Boiled.” Tangle carefully poured the drink from the saucepan to the biggest cup she could find.
It was the start of November on the planet Earth, but Santa’s village had been busy for months already. People were starting to send in letters to Santa, and the naughty and nice meters were working overtime trying to compile a general list.
Meanwhile, Tangle the Hot Chocolate Elf was still dancing around the kitchen on the tips of her toes, singing the special recipe to herself as she added ingredients. “Powdered cinnamon...No, no cinnamon. Whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle. And finally…a candy cane.”
Tangle sat back, admiring her creation. “I love hot chocolate!” With this, she bounced around, jingling her bells, until she remembered the most important part of making hot chocolate. “Delivery! Oh, Where is he?”
Tangle rushed to the sugar snowflake that cleverly concealed a computer. “Not in the toy room…not in the present room? He’s not even with the reindeer or in the mail room! Where is he?”
The Hot Chocolate Elf spun around and smiled at the sound of Jangle’s voice. “Jangle! I’m so very happy to see you, my love, but I have to deliver this cup before it gets cold!”
“I know, my sweet. I was only going to say he’s in his office.” Jangle waited, knowing what the response would be.
Tangle glanced around and skipped over to her partner before imploring him with big brown eyes and whispering, “Does Jingle know he’s not working?”
Jangle played along, lowering his voice. “I don’t think he needs to know just now.”
“Okay!" Tangle moved the cup from the warming counter to a tray and set off for the recipient’s office. The most important person in the north pole and sometimes on Earth.
She took a deep breath at the door before knocking.
“Santa! Santa, are you awake? Sorry if you’re not, but I have some cocoa for you! Just the way you like it, but without cinnamon. You usually like cinnamon but it didn’t seem right this morning…”
Tangle quieted as she realized what that meant, what the hot chocolate had told her, and her face fell.
“Santa?” She pushed the door open slowly with her foot, to find exactly what she had feared. Santa was looking out the window, at the snow, sitting in a rocking chair. He was not moving or singing or whistling or laughing. Santa was going through the Nice List Archives.
“I brought you hot chocolate.”
Santa turned around, confirming Tangle’s fear. He was…old. Not in the sense that he was over two thousand years old, he was—but now it showed. And that was never a good thing.
“What’s wrong?” Tangle was unusually calm. She set the hot chocolate down and waited. No bouncing, no singing.
“My, my. Little Tangle, I have never seen you so serious. Not since you first arrived here.”
“I remember. Jingle said I wasn’t a real elf.”
“And then Jangle arrived, becoming your mate with a rhyming name, proving your…elf-ness.”
Relaying this story usually made Tangle giggle to no end, just hearing Jangle’s name and then ending with a silly word like “elf-ness”. But right now was not a time for giggles. Santa looked at her with sad, ancient eyes and sat down.
“The population is too big, and I am too old. Time goes too fast, and I can’t keep up.”
“You have us. We keep up for you.”
“What does cinnamon represent, Tangle?”
“Why is it not in my cup?”
Tangle looked away and clenched her fists. Santa was the only one who understood how she made her cups of cocoa. Each cup represented the person who would be drinking it. A person who had cinnamon usually didn’t suddenly not have it anymore. She shook her head as she realized this was his way of reasoning with her. Using his understanding to talk her out of denial. Tangle wasn’t about to let it work.
“And dark chocolate.”
“Five percent, like always?”
“No…ten. But ten is still a small number!”
Santa smiled and pointed to the Nice list Archives.
“I have found a girl who has never been on the naughty list, not once.”
“So she’s nice.”
“She has a tremendous amount of Christmas spirit,”
“I don’t care.” Tangle whispered, as tears graced her usually happy eyes.
“She is of a decent age,”
“She’ll still be too young.”
“And I have chosen her.”
Silence filled the room. Every elf knew what choosing someone meant. People at the North Pole didn’t choose anyone. Even their spouses were predestined, easily identified by a rhyming name. Girls starting with T, Boys starting with J. It made things simple. Santa had chosen a mortal girl who was nice and had Christmas spirit to be the new Santa. Meaning, of course, that the current Santa…Tangle’s Santa, had to…
“I won’t let you.”
“I officially retire.” Tangle sniffed back tears, still unused to crying. She could do nothing but watch as the current Santa laid down a blank sheet of paper and started disappearing in a swirl of dust. The dust formed itself, became darker, and imprinted a name and place on the paper.
SARAH CARLS, DAYCARE ACROSS FROM JETSON HIGH SCHOOL
Tangle wiped away her renegade tears and picked up the piece of paper. Everything but the first name was really unneeded. The paper acted as will, and would lead any elf to the new Santa.
New Santa. Just thinking the words made Tangle feel her sadness all over again. The merry cup of hot chocolate caught her eye.
“I should have added the cinnamon anyway.”
Without another word, Tangle turned around with the paper in hand and walked out of the room to find Jingle, the head elf. The cup of hot chocolate, specially brewed with a now-melting candy cane, was left to cool down on the vacant desk in the unused office where Santa used to spend his time napping instead of making toys.