Upon his return to the bakery, Jackson swept the floor and then loaded his cart with delicious confections.  He would spend the rest of the morning delivering pastries to the helpers who worked in North Pole, Proper.  He left the bakery with his full cart, and pushed it down Candy Cane Lane.  His first stop was Ticky’s.

            “I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Ticky said.  “I promised Tessie I would help her hang some shelves.”

            Jackson nodded as he wrapped Ticky’s sugar crumpet.  He knew how much the shop elves depended upon one another; he also knew that the elder elves wouldn’t use wuffle dust for just anything.  “It takes a lot of cooperation to keep this place running smoothly.”

            “And effort,” Ticky added.  He patted Jackson on the shoulder and then stopped.  “Better give me another one for Tessie.”

            Jackson grinned.  Folks looked out for each other, and he liked that.  He pushed the cart in the opposite direction toward the Winter Sports Shop.  Elmer was waiting on his steps. 

            “Hey ho, Jackson.  Got any mallow butter treats this morning?”

            “Well now, lemme see.  I think I might have one someplace.”

            “C’mon, Jackson.  I know you have some.”  Elmer rocked from one foot to the other.

            “Here we are.”  Jackson gave the gooey confection to Elmer.

            “Thanks, buddy,” Elmer said, licking the sticky from his fingers. “So, are ya ready for the joining?”

 Jackson blushed. “I certainly hope so.” Waving,  he pushed his cart down the lane.

***

            Meanwhile, Sheeny was working at the Nuts, Crackers and Sweets Shop. 

            “Will there be anything else?”  She smiled sweetly at North Pole Phil, the Polar postman.  The huge bear loved the glistening razzle dazzle cherries, and she had already given him a big bag full.

            “Well, perhaps a small measure of twinkle berries.  Yes, I guess that’ll about do me.”  The bear’s eyes gleamed in anticipation.  “Any letters to go?”

            “Not this morning.”  Sheeny handed him his parcels. 

            He hoisted his heavy mailbag upon his shoulder and waved to Sheeny as he left the candy store, slamming the door behind him.

            Covski, who had been busy in the back, wiped her hands on her apron and went to the front room of the candy store.  “Was that the old polar bear?” She peered out  the window.

            “Yes.  He likes his mid morning snack,” Sheeny said, laughing.

            Covski chuckled . “Well, he has to maintain his lovely figure.” 

            A faint but familiar whistle drifted into the room.  “Oh my gosh, it’s Jackson!”  Sheeny's heart started racing as she glanced at her reflection in the glass candy case.  She fiddled a bit with her hair and then paused to take a deep breath.  At last, she went out onto the Lane.

            “G’morning again,” Jackson said, fumbling as he tipped his hat.  He hoped Sheeny didn’t notice how clumsy he was.  He just couldn’t get over that klutzy feeling whenever he saw her.

            But Sheeny didn’t notice, or at least pretended not to.  “I’ll have a blizzard ball, please, and Covski wants a sprinkled flakey bake.”  She waited while Jackson, more settled now, gathered her pastries.  “Thanks,” she added.

            “Do you want to sup tonight?” Jackson felt clumsy again.  “Uh, I mean, after work.”

            “Sure.” Sheeny grinned broadly.  “Stop by after you get off.  I’ll wait for you at the shop.”

            “Okay,” said Jackson.  He was comfortable once again.

            “Oh, here are the sun nuts I promised you.  Eat them one at a time, and they will keep you warm all afternoon.”

            Jackson gratefully accepted the bag and grinned at Sheeny.  “I guess I’ll see you later, then.”  He watched as Sheeny entered Covski’s Nuts, Crackers and Sweets Shop.  Then, barely feeling the weight of the cart, he pushed it toward the Give 'n' Take Shop.

            The helpers took turns staffing the free cycle shop. It had be Clancy’s idea. Tthe yard at the Forest Cabin was cluttered and he wanted to offer the other helpers the opportunity to have some of his junk. Ria had named the shop the Give ‘n’ Take Shop, and it had been up and running since then. Usually it was the assistant helpers who operated the shop for a turn because the proprietors would make them available. The owners, themselves, were too busy.

***

            Jackson whistled, and Pole Kat was out on the street in a flash.

            "I'll have dat dere licky stick bun." Kat licked his lips.  "Hey, do you want somephin from the shop today?"

            "Got anything new." Jackson parked his cart on the edge of the road and followed Pole Kat into the Give 'n' Take free cycle shop.

            "Elmer left dose dere skates, and Jimbo left dat strawberry and cherry ginger ale. Hey, speakin' of Ginger, have you seen Mrs. Claus' kiddy kat? Wooo hooo, she growed up nice!  She be as big as I am." Kat waggled his eyebrows.  "Wadda woman!"

            Jackson's eyes widened. "As big as you?  I was out there this morning, but I didn't see Ginger."

            "I don't tink Santa knowed she be a saber tooth tiger!  I gotta get me one of dose. She be snappy!"

            "Uh, yeah, well, I better get back to work.  I'll take one of those ales, though," Jackson said, backing out of the door.

            He grabbed the cart and pushed it toward Elmer's Winter Sports.

            Elmer sauntered up to the cart and made his selection.  "Last stop?"

            "Yeah," Jackson mumbled.

            "What's wrong?"

            "Kat's actin' weird. He said Ginger is as big as he is, and she's a saber tooth tiger!"

            "Mrs. Santa's little kitty? The one Santa gave her for Christmas?"

            "Yup, and Kat's actin' like he's in love or something."

            Elmer chuckled.  "Well, even Kat's entitled to a sweetheart."

            "It doesn't bug you that Ginger is now a great big tiger?"

            "Nah, she'll probably fit in. Look at those blasted flamingos."

            "Yeah, but they don't have big teeth." Jackson shuddered.

            "When you get to be as old as I am, nothing surprises -- or scares -- you. You're barely an elf."

            Jackson puffed up his chest.  "I beg your pardon.  I haven't been an elfalescent for a long time now."

            "Well, here's how it works.  Elfants don't know anything.  Elflings are into everything -- they're curious.  Elfalescents are also into everything -- they're pranksters.  Elves, well, elves are concerned all the time." Elmer drew a deep breath. "They are becoming proprietors, and partners, and even parents.  They have a lot on their minds.  Then, there's us -- the Elder Elves.  We still work, but we are wise, and just accept things as they come."  He brushed the sugar off of his woollies. "So, if Ginger is a big cat, so what?"

            "So --, um thanks for the lesson, but I have to get goin'."  Jackson shoved the cart toward the bakery.

***

            Jackson swept the last bit of dust into the dustpan and dumped it.  He then turned to Dewd, who was playfully chasing at his heels.  “Okay, you little varmint, you're next.”  He let Dewd outside while he searched for something to feed him.  “There,” he said, placing the bone and bowl of water in the corner.  “Dewd,” he called from the doorway.  The puppy came bouncing toward him.  “Well, little guy, it didn’t take you long to learn your name,” Jackson said, scratching behind Dewd’s ears.  “Here you go.”  Jackson gave Dewd his bone.

            With Dewd occupied, Jackson checked his appearance in the mirror.  Humming, he went into the garden where he picked several winter roses; then he made his way to the Nutcrackers and Sweets Shop, where Sheeny was waiting.

            “We can either go to the train depot, or Coy’s place,” Sheeny said, placing the roses in a vase.

            "How about Coy’s place?”

            “Coy’s it is,” Sheeny said, buttoning her coat and closing the door behind them. I love the kringle crunchy cornbread.”

            Jackson took Sheeny’s hand and they walked down North Pole Boulevard.  Finally he broke the silence. “I really loved those sun nuts. They kept me warm all afternoon. Thanks.”

            “Oh, you’re welcome. I wish I had some now.  It’s very cold tonight.”

            “Yes, it is,” Jackson said, frost nipping at his nose.  He removed his overcoat and put it on Sheeny’s shoulders. “Perhaps this will help.”

            “Jackson, no.”

            “Oh, I’m not cold,” Jackson said, shivering.  “Besides, here’s Coy’s.” He stomped the snow from his boots, and opened the door for Sheeny.

            “Wanna sit at the counter?”

            “Sure,” Sheeny said.  She climbed up on a stool as Coy came in from the kitchen.

            “I like your picture,” Jackson said, admiring the portrait of Santa and the reindeer team that was hanging behind the bar.

            "Ria's a great little artist," Coy said, wiping the counter top with his cloth. "What'll it be, folks?"

            "Kringle crunchy cornbread, for starters." Jackson winked at Sheeny.  "What else would you like?"

            "A bowl of Season's Greetings soup, some figgy pudding, and a mug of sleigh ride punch."

            "And, I'll have the same, except hot cocoa for me," Jackson said.

            "Comin' right up." Coy doused Soozie, then disappeared into the kitchen.

            Oh bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding, and bring it right here. Soozie was bopping to the beat.

            Sheeny and Jackson burst into laughter.

           

 

           

          


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