Vinnia entered the room, still holding onto the crook of Trace's arm. Somehow, just being next to him brought her peace. There was something so comforting about his presence...
Trace patted Vinnia's hand encouragingly. "Keep your head up," he whispered in her ear.
And so Vinnia kept her head up. All because Trace believed she could do it.
All around, officials were grinning and mingling. Their tinkling laughter got on Vinnia's nerves. The sound of clinking wine goblets and false compliments tickled Vinnia's ears, and she couldn't help but scowl, overcome by disgust with her coworkers. A table heaped with refreshments had been set to whet appetites for the dinner that would follow.
"I wonder," Vinnia murmured in Trace's ear, "how many starving children that table alone could feed. And here we are, reveling in a mess of flirtation and intoxication and ultimate selfishness."
Trace shook his head. "I know what you mean. These gatherings really drive me up the wall. It makes me wonder if there's anyone decent in this room."
A loud laugh broke through the room, accompanied by the announcement, "Welcome one, welcome all!"
Standing on her tiptoes, Vinnia groaned as she looked over the heads that obstructed her way and identified the speaker: Aretta. Immature, snotty Aretta. And if Vinnia recalled correctly, she'd told Aretta as much once before.
Aretta clapped her hands. "I'm so excited for the kickoff of the new Singing training! I'm sure this year will be the year of the most dee-licious voices of all time! Are you ready to have your socks knocked off? 'Cause this is going to be one ex-CEPTIONAL year!"
Aretta's voice was so cheesy and pathetic that Vinnia was tempted to make a scene of her disgruntlement. Trace clutched Vinnia's hand extra tightly, as though to rein her in.
"I know she's annoying, but we probably shouldn't cause a scene," Trace whispered.
"You know me too well."
Trace laughed softly. "I try," he said, meeting Vinnia's eyes. He held Vinnia's gaze for a moment before turning away.
"Oh, look, it would seem as though Miss Aretta herself wants to talk with me," Vinnia mumbled. "Oh, joy of joys. Just what I wanted to start my evening off with."
Aretta gave a loud laugh, holding an almost completely drained wine goblet in her hand. "Hey-lo, Vinnia. Good to see you! I wasn't sure if you were going to turn up tonight or not."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world."
Apparently, Aretta did not catch the sarcasm in Vinnia's tone, for she gave another laugh and slurped the wine from her goblet with disgusting loudness.
"Couldn't you be a bit more tactful?" Vinnia asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Oh, shut up. You know the crowd loves me," Aretta said, before dragging herself in another direction.
"And so the evening begins," Trace muttered.
Vinnia could not have been less excited.