Anastasia hung back in the doorway. “Cara is the naughtiest elf,” she offered.
“Is that so?” Silver scissors flashed in and out of green fabric. Every New Year’s Eve, Mrs. Claus presented each elf with a new tunic for the following year.
“Yes. You know how we voted?”
Snip. “Five and a quarter inches…yes, I heard some silliness about a poll or some such.”
Anastasia fingered the edge of the doorframe. “Well, Cara was voted the naughtiest. So she needs a spanking.”
Mrs. Claus’ eyebrows rose. “Does she?”
“Well, I mean discipline is part of my job now that I’m Head Elf again, and you know she was slapping people and stealing cookies and hiding sp–” Anastasia broke off. She’d promised not to tell the last bit.
“So that’s the naughty elf who took my spoons and didn’t even put them back in the right place!” Mrs. Claus set down her scissors and began pinning the gold rickrack around the hem.
“No, I mean…” Anastasia fumbled for words. “Anyway, she was clearly the naughtiest.”
Mrs. Claus finished pinning the rickrack and flipped the tunic inside-out to stitch from the back side. “Yes?”
Anastasia crossed small elf fingers behind her back. “So we decided that the elf who was voted the naughtiest should get a spanking, and since that’s Cara…well, shall I fetch her and bring her to you? For her spanking?”
Mrs. Claus furrowed a brow. “Anastasia Peppermint-Twist, if you think I don’t know you well enough to know when you’re fibbing…”
Anastasia’s face drained of color. “Never mind, I’ll just get moving then…sorry to bother you.”
“Anastasia.” Mrs. Claus set her half-finished tunic on the table and rose to her full majestic height. Anastasia froze.
“The truth, please. The entire truth.”
“Maybe I kinda sorta left out the part about the other poll…”
“I’m waiting.” The wooden spoon was brought out of the apron pocket and laid ominously on the table in front of Anastasia’s averted eyes.
“Maybe someone kinda sorta voted 47 times in ten minutes and rigged the first poll to make Cara win, and…”
“Someone?” Mrs. Claus’ voice was dangerously calm.
“Not me! I swear! It wasn’t me! I even was the one who re-did the poll and made it rig-proof! Honest!”
Long, tapered fingers closed around the smooth handle and tapped the flat of the spoon-back against the palm of the other hand.
“Last chance, Anastasia.”
Her voice was little more than a whisper. “But you already spanked me. On Christmas. And then again when I became Head Elf.”
The spoon continued to tap, causing Anastasia to flinch at each impact. “As I spanked your friends. Each of you, if you remember, was sent to bed early with a sore bottom on Christmas evening.”
“Please don’t spank me!” Anastasia wailed, hopping slightly as she held her bottom in both hands. “I’ll be good! You can’t spank me because of some poll! They all ganged up on me, and it’s not fair!”
Cool fingers beckoned to her. Once. Twice. Slowly, Anastasia trudged forward.
“As I recall, you were suggesting that your friend Cara be spanked because of this poll, correct?”
“But that’s different! She really is naughty! And Renee…she actually wants it! She was begging for people to pick her.” A sob caught in Anastasia’s throat as deft hands folded her skirt across her back and slid that hated spoon against the curve of her bottom. “Please!”
“Everyone liked their gifts!” Anastasia wailed.
“The sun is shining somewhere in California, but that has no relevance to our discussion here.”
“Owwww! Everyone’s going to laugh at me for getting spanked, and they won’t take me seriously as Head Elf!”
“On the contrary, I think a red-bottomed Head Elf just might surge in popularity.”
Anastasia wriggled and cried as Mrs. Claus applied the wicked spoon to all of her most tender spots. After a few moments, Mrs. Claus set down the spoon and rubbed the elf’s back.
“It’s not f–” Anastasia began, but Mrs. Claus shushed her.
“Now have we had enough nonsense about polls and voting?” she asked briskly.
“Yes,” Anastasia answered sulkily.
“Owww!” Anastasia shrieked. “I said yes!”
“Owww! I’m sorry, whatever I did!”
Mrs. Claus set the spoon down. “Apology accepted, child.” She helped Anastasia get to her feet and gave her uniform a quick dusting.
“Is it okay if we don’t have any more polls?”
Mrs. Claus smiled. “Of course. Now get going. We have a staff meeting tonight, and you’ll need to change.”
Anastasia self-consciously touched her cap with the red Head Elf stripe. “Yes, ma’am,” she answered as she walked stiff-legged toward the door.
Anastasia turned back.
“Tell your friends that I’ll be watching their behavior very carefully.”
Anastasia beamed. “Thank you, Mrs. Claus!” Forgetting her soreness, she dashed out the door.
Mrs. Claus chuckled. “Perhaps it’s time I had another chat with Little Miss Cara Sugarcreme,” she murmured.
(P.S. If you voted for me as naughtiest elf, I’m going to find out who you are and make sure Mrs. Claus gives you DOUBLE helpings of coal in your stocking next year.)