At the end of dinner, all the girls took care of cleanup, and Anne was pleased that Darcy just pitched in without being asked. Elizabeth had promised Geneva a walking tour of the grounds by moonlight, since the snow had stopped and the air was clear, while Josh and Vincent said they had an errand to run. The girls had the "agenda" for the pajama party all picked out by the time Nikki pushed the button on the dishwasher to get it started. Joan led the way down the hall to the back staircase when all their dogs went still, their ears pricked forward, and each let out a quiet huff-bark.
"Okay," Darcy said with a chuckle. "What just happened?"
"Someone's home," Anne said. She gestured at the stairs leading down half a flight. "My guess is Su-Ma decided not to stay overnight. She's going to be hungry, and since I know what leftovers went where…" She turned around and headed for the kitchen. "Just don't start the movie without me!"
The others laughed and promised and hurried up the stairs. Argus stayed in the hallway, posted near the stairs leading up from the back entrance. Anne had all the containers of leftovers open and lined up on the counter when her companion trotted up to the kitchen doorway and sat down with another huff-bark. The soft rumbling of the furnace stopped a moment later and she heard footsteps coming down the hall, accompanied by the scrape-clatter of big clawed paws thudding on the tile floor.
"You made good time," she called over her shoulder as she turned to pull utensils out of the big drawer of the cabinet that held the everyday dishes and glassware.