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A year later, I find myself in the same spot—well, physically.

Poppy, Levi, and my two parents surround me at our rectangular deck table on this June night, where the sound of laughter hasn't ceased for the last hour. The golden sun descends farther behind the thick green trees enveloping the yard, slowly starting to be replaced by a bluish-purple sky and a pleasant cool breeze. Wrapping my denim jacket tighter over my body, I lean back into my seat and smile as I watch my parents exchange a few words over now empty plates of pasta, noticing the absence of my dad's phone for the first time in my life.

He looks up and smiles tenderly at me, the corners of his warm hazel eyes wrinkling behind his glasses. "When's the big announcement happening, Whit? We finished eating before you even breathed a word about it."

"It's not that big of an announcement," I say shyly, feeling everyone's eyes land on me, "but I am kind of proud of myself." My mom and Poppy eagerly gesture for me to speak, so I finally go ahead. "As of this morning, I, Whitney Carmichael, am officially a certified personal trainer."

A series of congratulations echo across the table, and I feel my cheeks grow even warmer, unused to being the center of attention at these gatherings. I welcome the warm hug from Poppy sitting next to me and notice her husband waiting to speak.

"I'm shocked you managed to get certified during your first year of college." Levi shakes his head in disbelief. "I never had time to step foot into the gym freshman year with those daily breakdowns over organic chemistry."

"Oh God no, Levi. Not that class." I press my fingertips into the bridge of my nose, the signature headache from that semester of hell returning. "I swear I still see molecules in my sleep every night."

Levi chuckles over the rim of his glass and offers me a sympathetic smile. "I'll let you know if it gets any better in med school." From the dead look in his blue eyes, I have a feeling he knows it won't.

Unlike Levi, Poppy stayed at her full-time job and put off continuing her education for another year—or maybe five. Our mom eventually got over the fact that law school isn't on her radar anymore, the end of a dream that wasn't her daughter's in the first place. It's a miracle what acceptance does to a relationship, as I haven't witnessed the two clash and quarrel ever since she got married.

My dad picks up the sealed bottle of champagne from the corner of the table, eager to finally pop it open. "I think now is the perfect time for a toast."

"You say that at every gathering, Dad," Poppy chuckles. "Just admit you want an excuse to drink fancy alcohol."

He holds a finger up into the air, shaking his head. "We have a lot to celebrate this time, Poppy." He pops open the cork and grabs the first glass, looking between the four of us. "Whitney's new path in life, your success at work, my son-in-law's start to a rewarding career, and almost twenty-five years of marriage to your mother."

"I think that's the first time you remembered our anniversary on your own, honey," my mom remarks, eyebrows raised in surprise. Mumbling, she adds, "I'll toast to that myself later."

More laughter ensues as we clink glasses, and the evening soon rolls into the night, marking the end of a perfect day.



***

"You move in today, right?" my mom asks when I step into the kitchen. I slide onto the bar stool next to her, joining her for breakfast. "Are you excited to actually begin working soon?"

"To be honest, I don't even know how I feel." I pour myself a large cup of coffee, knowing I'm going to need lots of caffeine to survive a long day of Bob's orders. "I couldn't sleep last night overthinking everything even though I'm pretty sure those trainees have more reason than me to be scared out of their minds."

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