Chapter 9

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Anya was the last one on the bus, her skates reluctantly in her hand. Walking up the few steps, Anya nodded to the driver.

"That's everyone, John. We can head out."

He gave her a nod and swung the doors shut behind her. Anya found herself staring down the aisle of the inn's bus, looking for a seat and finding that her worst fear becoming realized. The only seat left was next to Luke, right in front of where Manny was trying to keep his nephews contained.

Anya moved to take her seat as the bus lurched forward and started down the driveway. Anya answered Luke's excited energy with a tight-lipped smile, sitting on the very edge of the small bench to give enough room between them, and so she could flee at any moment.

"I'm glad you made it."

Looking over at Luke set Manny just out of the corner of her eye so Anya kept her eyes forward.

"It should be fun."

Anya's voice didn't bother to match her words.

"Do you guys do this every year?"

"Yup. Christmas tradition. The guests love it."

"I can understand why. This is gonna be fun. I haven't been skating in ages."

Anya could feel Manny's amused attitude without having to turn around and see his expression. His next words were enough to send her eyes flying in his direction, wide enough that they were going to fall out.

"Hey, man. How are you doing? I'm Manny."

Anya found Manny leaning forward over the barrier between their two seats, his hand outstretched. She cringed as Luke grabbed it and shook.

"Luke. Nice to meet you."

"How do you know Anie?"

The nickname felt intentional at this point. Anya averted his eyes from the coming disaster by hanging her head in her hand.

"Anya? School. We went to Columbia together. We were together for about a year."

"An ex-boyfriend? Really? How interesting!"

Anya could hear the hint of laughter at the edges of Manny's voice. Unfortunately, they were still at least five minutes from the village's downtown and Manny seemed to be settling in. She kept her eyes down to avoid both of their gazes.

"How do you know Anya?" Luke asked.

"Oh, we go way back. We've known each other for ages. Ever since we were in diapers. Best friends since birth. Isn't that right, Anie?"

Anya flinched in case Manny tried to reach out and nudge her, his words trying to drag her head first, against her will, into the conversation.

"We met at school when we were twelve."

Anya corrected over her shoulder.

"Yeah but it feels like its been forever. Best friends till the end!"

"This bus ride feels like it's been forever," Anya mumbled under her breath.

"So do you work at the Inn too?" Luke asked.

"No. I'm just in town for the holidays. I'm the crew manager for the band 7 Ships. Ever heard of them?"

"Oh yeah! Totally! I caught one of their shows last spring. They were really good!"

Anya let a breath of relief as the bus turned the last corner and she could see the town's main square up ahead. She could even see the ice skating rink and the few families already on the ice.

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