Chapter 5

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Anya and Luke returned to the inn better friends than when they had left. The thick tension that kept them at least two feet apart seemed to have dissipated on their walk back. Now they stood within a foot of each other and both of them had dared to smile and even let out a light laugh during their safe and shallow chatter back and forth.

With bags of groceries clutched tightly in both of their arms, their shoulders raised to their ears as a sharp wind raced across the plateau upon which the inn was built, Anya hurried them along the side of the inn to the kitchen entrance. They were both craving the sheltered road they had just trekked up, with the towering evergreens on either side protecting them from the true chill of the wind.

What snow they had accumulated on their jackets from the light downfall that was starting up again outside melted as soon as they stepped foot into Gloria's kitchen. She came racing to meet them, grabbing the groceries from their arms and passing them onto an underling, barking out orders without even so much of a nod of greeting to Luke and Anya.

Her shirtsleeves were rolled up past her elbows and Anya even thought she saw a few beads of sweat on her brow. With all five ovens roaring and many more burners going, with an entire wait staff hurrying in and out of the swinging door, the kitchen's temp sat at a very warm seventy-five degrees.

Anya was sweating in the extreme heat by the time she shook her jacket off her shoulders and had it hanging up in the snow room just off the kitchen. Luke seemed captivated by the flurry of movement happening all around them and Anya, once again, had to grab his arm to get him out of the way of a server hurrying past with a stack of the Inn's finest china.

Back in the thick of things, Anya's mind starting revving up to its usual speed, a million thoughts and to-dos racing back to the forefront of her mind. Before her momentum could take her up and away to whatever jobs were laying wait for her, Luke's soft touch on her arm kept her in place for a second longer.

"Hey, Anya. Thanks. For, you know, letting me go with you. That was more fun than I was expecting."

"Oh. Yeah. Sure. Thanks for the help."

Before Anya saw it coming, Luke was leaning down for a hug. With not enough time to react, Anya's arms got pinned down to her sides. She tried giving him a pack on the back but couldn't reach.

Luckily, as the awkwardness of the gesture ran both ways at high speed, the embrace didn't last long and Luke was moving away back to the guest-approved areas before Anya could say anything. He didn't move fast enough and so Anya caught the red that had filled his cheeks.

She caught Gloria's eye, who caught the whole awkward exchange while whipping cream and looked both confused and amused.

Anya left before Gloria could say anything, wishing to put the whole interaction far from her mind. Her feet took her the long way upstairs, passing through the kitchen, out to the restaurant and through the dining hall attached to the end of the Inn.

Everyone was doing as they should and Anya found she had more than just a second to dress for dinner. Dressed and looking more the part of a high-end inn manager, Anya walked down the front stairs instead of racing down the back.

She found Michaela at her post behind the front desk but was glad to see she too had been given a moment to dress. It was the night before Christmas Eve and therefore the first night dinner would be served in the dining hall. It was an event that one made sure to dress for.

The lobby was nearly empty and Anya knew that she had about five minutes before Grandmother appeared at the top of the steps and made her descent, signifying that dinner was ready. At that precise moment, the dining hall doors would be open to the guests and the evening could begin.

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