"Enjoy!" I call after the group of elves as they go back to their posts, their hands grasping their hot-chocolate mugs. I give the next two a smile, "Hi Jessica, Caroline! The usual double-chocolate hot cocoa?"
They both grin and nod, their eyes sparkling, "Yes please!"
Giggling, I turn to the water-heater and switch it on. "Just a minute, then!" I tell them over my shoulder as I take two mugs from the cabinet over my head. I set them on the counter and put the double-cocoa powder in, then add a little cinnamon and vanilla to the mix. The heater *ding*s, signaling me to pour it into the mugs. I do so and mix the cocoa carefully, then add a few marshmallows and a swirl of whipped-cream.
Smiling, I pick up the mugs and hand each of the elfin girls one, "There ya go!"
They grin at me, "Thank-you Annette!"
"No problem. Enjoy!"
They nod and head off again.
I wipe my hands on my apron and sigh, 'Busy today...'
"Good morning, Annie," says a familiar voice.
I turn and smile brightly, "Morning, Bernard!"
He smiles back, "How are you this morning? Things seem pretty busy around here."
"They are; I think the twins' orders were numbers forty and forty-one, but I'm alright."
He looks surprised, "Forty-one? Really? It's not even 9 AM yet..."
I shrug, "I'm used to the rush by now, so it's not too bad."
"It must be your cocoa, Annie. It's the best in the whole North Pole, that's what I keep hearing the elves say."
I blush, "Now that, I doubt. But thank-you anyway. Would you like anything? It seems the bustle's stopped for a little while..."
Bernard grins, "Well, now that you mention it..."
I laugh, "One caramel-vanilla mix, coming right up."
He chuckles, "You know me too well..."
"Bernard, dear, I know everything," I say slyly as I turn to the heater again. I smile to myself as I fill it and turn it on.
A certain elf-girl skips up to the counter to my right, her face showing an uncontrollable grin.
I eye her carefully, "What are you grinning at, Abbie?"
She glances at Bernard, who's watching the other elves not too far away as they work, and leans in closer over the counter, "So? When are you gonna tell him?"
I roll my eyes, "I'm not telling him, Abbie."
"But why not? I'm willing to bet all the hot-cocoa in the North Pole that he likes you back!"
"Hey, you leave my hot-cocoa out of this," I scold playfully, wagging a spoon at her.
She giggles, but persists, "Come on, Annette, what's the worst that could happen? I mean, you're the only one like him, and you two get along so well..."
I pour the hot water into a mug with cocoa and extra vanilla powder, then mix in a teaspoon of caramel syrup and mix it as I respond, "So? I get along with a lot of elves, and just because we look more like each other than we do like others, that doesn't mean anything..."
She sighs, "Please just tell Bernard? You never know!"
"Tell me what?" said elf questions, turning to us.
I shake my head, "Nothing. Never you mind." I give Abbie a look, but she only giggles again and runs off. I take a breath and place the mug in front of Bernard, "A caramel-vanilla mix for the Head Elf."
He smiles at me, "Thanks." He takes a sip and smiles even wider, "I have to agree with the elves, Annie; your hot-cocoa has always been the best."
I giggle, "Thanks. Glad you like it."
He sets his mug down, "So, what does Abbie want me to know that you don't?"
I sigh, "Nothing, really. We were just talking."
He smiles in amusement, "About me."
"No, not about you," I protest, shaking my head as though I were talking to a child.
"You lie."
I gasp, feigning hurt, "How could you say that, Bernard? I would never lie to you!"
He chuckles, "I believe that, but that doesn't mean I don't think there are things you don't tell me."
I shrug, "I tell you everything I think you need to know."
"But not everything," he remarks, making his point.
I roll my eyes, "If I don't tell you, it means it's not important."
"And that," he starts, taking another drink from his mug, "I'm sure isn't true."
"What makes you say that?"
He gives me a look, "Because you don't know what I think is important."
I sigh, "Fine, you win. Again."
He smiles smugly, "Thank-you."
"But I'm still not telling you," I add, grinning innocently.
He narrows his eyes at me, "That's not fair."
"Who said I was fair?" I counter, shrugging it off.
He shakes his head, smiling again, but looks at the clock and frowns, "I'd better get going; I still have to check up on the elves in the kitchen, and the stables after that."
I smile somewhat sadly, "Alright. Thanks for stopping by, Bernard; it's always nice to see you."
He smiles back, "No problem, and thank-you for the cocoa. I'll see you soon, alright?"
I nod, waving as he walks off with his mug, "Bye!" Once he's out of sight, I sigh and grab a rag to wipe the counter.
Of course, as soon as I get to that, Abbie comes back, grinning once again.
I roll my eyes, "I am NOT telling him anything. And neither are you."
She giggles childishly, "I wouldn't tell him; it's not my place. But you really should, you know."
I sigh again, "Why does it bother you that I don't want him to know? It's just a little crush, no big deal."
"But it might turn into a big deal! Annette, if you've never been in love before, then how do you what it feels like compared to a crush?"
I open my mouth to answer, but I can't think of an argument. I just shut my mouth and go back to wiping the counter.
She grins, "See? I'm right, aren't I?"
I glare at her playfully, "Oh, be quiet you." I whack her lightly with my rag and resume cleaning.
She laughs, "Alright, fine. But remember what I said; you'll see!" And then, she runs off again.
I shake my head, 'She's too smart for her age.' Luckily, my mind has other things to focus on, since three more elves come up to the counter. I put on a smile, "Hey there Dennis, Joey, Marla! What can I get for you three?"

~.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.*.~

'Phew, what a day. I haven't been this busy since last Christmas Eve...' I muse, closing up my little cocoa bar. I fold my apron and place it on the rack under the counter before turning and starting off for my house. I step outside and pull my sweater a little tighter around myself; it's colder than I thought it'd be. I start off for home, singing to myself along the way.

Another night, another dream, but always you
It's like a vision of love, it seems to be true
Another night, another dream, but always you
In the night I dream of love so true

Just another night (just another night)

Another night, another dream, but always you
It's like a vision of love, it seems to be true
Another night, another dream, but always you
In the night I dream of love so true

In the night, in my dreams, I'm in love with you
'Cause you talk to me like lovers do
I feel joy, I feel pain, 'cause it's still the same
When the night is gone, I will be alone

Talk, talk, I'll talk to you
In the night, in your dreams
Our love so true
Talk, talk, I'll talk to you
In the night, in your dreams
Our love so true

Another night, another dream, but always you
It's like a vision of love, it seems to be true
Another night, another dream, but always you
In the night I dream of love so true

Another night, another dream, but always you
It's like a vision of love, it seems to be true
Another night, another dream, but always you
In the night I dream of love so true

In the night, in my dreams, I'm in love with you
'Cause you talk to me like lovers do
I feel joy, I feel pain, 'cause it's still the same
When the night is gone, I will be alone

Just another night, it's all that it takes
To understand the difference between lovers and fakes
So be there...

I continue to hum as the snow crunches beneath my feet. I skip up to my doorstep and hurry inside out of the cold. I get a weird feeling when I get inside though. Now, I may not be in my house very often since I'm always so busy, but I can always tell when something's out-of-place. '...Why does it feel like there's something here that wasn't when I left...?' I hang up my sweater and look around my small but cozy living room. And then I notice it, a glass vase with a blue rose in it sitting on the small table in the corner, just next to the window. Surprise clear on my face, I walk over to it and lightly touch the petals with my fingertips. 'It's beautiful...' Then, I see a small note tucked beneath the vase. I carefully pluck it out and read it:

-A beautiful flower for a beautiful elf.

I blink, my eyes going over the words again as a blush quickly covers my face. I sit down on the sofa. '...Only one person knows that the blue rose is my favorite flower. But why would he...?' I flip the note over and see that I'd missed something, and what it says catches me completely off-guard.

-Happy Birthday, Annette.

I gasp and quickly look at the calendar on my wall. Sure enough, it's November 4th; my birthday. I take a breath and place the note on the table with the vase, a smile working its way onto my face. "I can't believe he remembered..." I giggle to myself and, shaking my head, go into my room and get ready for bed. 'I'll have to thank him tomorrow.'
And so, the next morning, I make it a point to get up bright and early and hurry down to the workshop; the perfectionist in him drives him to inspect everything before all the elves get to work. As predicted, I find him looking over the assembly belts. I grin, walking towards him.
Hearing my footsteps, he turns my way, but looks slightly surprised. "Annie? What are you doing here so early?"
I stop when I reach him and look up thoughtfully. "Well, I wanted to talk to you, and I knew I'd find you here. See, someone left a blue rose in my house yesterday, which just happens to be my favorite flower. I was wondering if you had any ideas as to who might've left it there," I ask in mock curiosity.
He smiles, pretending to think about it, "Hmm... I would guess that it was someone who knows you very well, and they're probably veeeeery clever if they were able to get inside your house to leave it for you..."
I laugh, "Oh, stop it, Bernard, I know it was you!"
He holds up his hands, "Alright, fine, you caught me..."
I laugh again and hug him, "Thank-you so much. I completely forgot that it was my birthday yesterday..."
He chuckles, returning the hug, "You're welcome. I'm glad you liked it, Annie." He steps back enough to look down at me, "Now, there is a second part to your present, but I'm not sure you'll like it anywhere near as much as the flower."
I grin, playing along, "And why is that?"
He smiles, although he does look a little unsure, "Well... I can't say. You'll just have to see for yourself." He then takes a few steps backwards, one hand behind his back, until he's under the arch of the door. He gestures for me to follow, which I do, though my confusion is probably clear on my face. Bernard brings his hand out in front of him, revealing a small box with a string tying it closed.
Glancing uncertainly at him, I accept it and gently undo the knot. I remove the box's top, but whatever's inside lights up and flies up into the air above us. I look up, my eyes following the small trail of sparkles from whatever it was, to a small light at the top of the arch, just above us.
I look at Bernard questioningly, but he only smiles and nods upwards.
I look up again and see that the light is dimming. When it fades completely, there's a mistletoe in its place, small glimmers still lingering around it.
I gasp quietly, my eyes falling back on Bernard.
He's still smiling softly, a kind of nervous air to his expression. "You don't have to, Annie... I just thought that maybe..." he trails off.
I bring myself out of my shocked daze and smile up at him, "That maybe...?"
He looks me in the eyes, "...Maybe you felt the same way about me... as I felt about you."
I grin, "Well... You'll just have to see for yourself."
Realizing that I'd just quoted him from a few minutes ago, he smiles and reaches a hand up. His fingertips graze my cheek, and he leans down a bit.
I tilt my head up so that our lips touch in a short, sweet kiss. It doesn't last long, but the time it does feels like nothing could ever be better.
We separate, and I smile up at him and whisper, "...Best birthday present I've ever gotten."
He chuckles, wrapping his arms around me in a hug, "Glad I'm not the only one who enjoyed it."
I laugh, hugging him back. Feeling brave, I whisper in his ear, "I love you, Bernard."
"I love you too, Annette," he whispers back, holding me tightly.

So that was, in fact, not quite the best birthday of my life, but it was the best day after my birthday of my life.