Chapter 15

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The worst part of that particular Christmas memory was remembering the morning after as well as the rest of it. Anya had rushed downstairs, her cheeks flushed and ready to face the day, a spring in her step, her mood the cheeriest of all.

Gloria was the first person she saw and gave her a big hug good morning.

"What's up with you?"

"Oh. Nothing."

Anya's wide smile revealed that she was indeed lying.

"Okay. Fine. Don't tell me."

"Have you seen Manny this morning?"

Gloria gave Anya a sideways glance before taking a deep breath to speak.

"He left. This morning. You just missed him."

Anya's mood deflated in an instant.

"What?!"

"The band has a gig out in Texas. They leave just before the New Year. He went to go stay at Tommy's to help get ready. Sorry, hun."

Gloria patted Anya on the shoulder and left her to try and figure out just what Gloria had just told her.

Anya could still feel like a bruise on her abdomen from where she had gotten punched in the gut with the news. She was rubbing it absentmindedly when Michaela appeared at her side. Reality making itself known once again.

"Hey, Cuz. You ready?"

Anya found her cousin dressed in a neat pantsuit of dark maroon with a bright white shirt buttoned to the top button underneath her blazer, her new name tag secured to the lapel.

"Let's do it."

Anya stepped forward and the sound of her heels resounded through the room.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Dinner is served."

At the word, the two servers standing by the dining hall doors pulled them open and the Holly Inn's annual Christmas Ball began.

The guests poured through the open doors, one after another, all dressed in their finest and, with the inn's upper-class clientele, it truly was. Anya and Michaela offered greetings and polite comments and waited until everyone had entered to do so themselves.

Anya had informed Michaela as to the traditions of the evening and she stood behind her chair at the high table just as Anya did behind hers. Eve appeared in the doorway just as the guests were settling in. Only a few years ago, Christopher had been at her side but that night, it was Frank who escorted Eve to her seat.

The room fell into a respectful hush, waiting until Eve was behind her seat, her champagne glass raised to the ceiling.

"Merry Christmas, everyone."

in return rang out a loud and clear resounding "Merry Christmas!", filling the atmosphere as chatter started up with the orchestra.

An underling appeared with a dilemma for Anya to solve and she was not given a chance to sit with the rest of the table. She won't get the chance all night, not even to grab a bite to eat but the pit in her stomach kept her from complaining.

The dancing started up once dinner had been consumed and couples filled the dance floor as the orchestra started in on a waltz. Space had been cleared, the tables just a few inches closer together that evening to allow for it.

Anya stood at the edge of the room, watching the dancers as the magic of the evening filled every corner of the room.

Franco deposited the boys at the kids' table and made his way to the head table, bowing before Gloria with his hand outstretched, the exaggerated gesture granting him a laughing response. Gloria took his hand and the two of them joined the rest of the dancers. Eve and Frank soon followed suit, swaying slow and out of time as they chatted softly back and forth.

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