Chapter 7

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Anya made her way through the rest of the evening as if in a dream. She was aware, on some level, of the conversation she was supposed to be engaged in but she was far from the center of attention.

She left that to Michaela and Gloria, who seemed to have found kindred spirits in one another as they swapped horror stories from college back and forth, Gloria's of the more culinary variety as her stories took place at a prestigious cooking school just outside of Paris.

Eve added where she could but let the youth take care of the flow of conversation for the most part. When she wasn't adding a smart remark into the mix or carrying on a quiet side conversation with Frank, she kept her eye on Anya.

It would have been hard to miss the vacate stare or the fake smile when everyone else at the table was laughing. And it would have been impossible to miss the glances at the silver swinging doors that led into the kitchen, through which Manny had just disappeared.

Dinner was eventually over and as almost one massive conscious decision, the guests made their way from their tables to the various other activities happening throughout the rest of the inn.

A few of the older couples stayed behind, instructing the newly arrived servers clearing away dishes to clear the dance floor. The jazz band took the hint and struck up a soft waltz to the vague tune of a Christmas carol.

It was far from the Inn's main holiday event, their annual Christmas Ball, scheduled for Christmas night, but the sight captivated Anya's sight nonetheless. She was the last to leave the head table and it took a clearing of the throat from Eve to get her conscious enough to stand and return to work.

She made her way through her nighttime routine as some of the guests took to board games in the main lounge, others took to the quiet of the fire in the den, but most headed for their rooms.

Luke seemed to be wandering all over the place as Anya spotted him several times throughout the evening, always a little too excited to catch her eye. But Anya's night was far from over and she always returned his wide smile with a nod as she continued moving.

Soon enough she found that she was the only person left downstairs. The dining hall had been returned to its default setting and was ready for the next evening's dinner. The restaurant was set for breakfast and all the guests had gone to bed.

Eve appeared to give Anya a kiss on the cheek.

"I'm heading to bed. Don't stay up too late."

"I won't. I just need to finish a few things in the kitchen."

If Anya's mind had been fully present she would have caught the sparkle that jumped into Eve's eyes but she was already turning away, waving over her shoulder as her grandmother headed upstairs to her room.

Anya took her time getting to the kitchen, a multitude of little jobs making themselves known on her way. Even in the silence, with no one around, Anya's mind kept ringing out echoes of the past and all of them seemed to center around the sound of Manny's laugh.

Anya shook her head before pushing against the silver swinging doors, hoping to somehow shake the past from her head. The attempt was futile as the past was standing at the sink, washing dishes, whistling the same waltz the jazz band had finished their final set with.

Anya froze at the sight and since there was no one else in the entire expansive chrome kitchen, any movement echoed through the room. Manny's whistle faltered as he turned around but started back up when Manny found Anya frozen in the doorway, just out of the reach of the swinging doors.

He managed a smile while still pursing his lips to make the high pitch melody pour forth. He gave a nod of welcome and, faced with the physical embodiment of all the tension and stress Anya had had to deal with that day, Anya's mind came crashing back to earth and she found her feet stomping across the kitchen.

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