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I'm smiling as I stand next to Martina, despite the looming challenge ahead. I'm not sure if it was the sudden, recent closeness with Axel or all of our novel workouts, or the fact I have more confidence now than I had in the last four years combined.

"Okay, girls, happy morning!" Cindy calls, walking to the center of the gym.

Today she's decked out in light purple leggings and a matching tank top with gray sneakers. The consistent coordination of her workout clothes always makes my black-and-white attire look so banal.

"Welcome to your second team challenge," Melanie says, a new trainer who looks a lot like Aspen. She appears much less enthusiastic than Cindy, maybe understanding that we're not going to have any fun. "Today we have two separate activities planned, only this time you'll be competing team against team. Teams A and B will head outside, while C and D will stay here with us. I'll give you guys a couple moments to disperse."

I stay in my comfortable position, thankful I'm in team D. I look around for team C and find Adriana, Natalie, Joanna, and Alina dragging themselves across the padded floor. Cindy and Melanie lead us to the other side of the gym, another rope climbing station. The ropes are a bit shorter than the ones outside, only adding to my elation. Once again, Axel has trained me perfectly for the team challenge.

Thanks, king.

"For the first part of the challenge, you'll have to climb up this rope. You should have each tried this activity before with your trainers, but remember, we're judging on completion, not perfection." Cindy walks towards one of the ropes, getting a feel for it, before turning to us again. "You'll go head to head with another person to help increase your motivation, since the person with the fastest time will get the rest of this day off. Adriana, Willow, you're up first."

I stand back and watch as they walk to the two ropes and each clasp their hands around one of them. Adriana is visibly nervous, while Willow feigns confidence, posing like a true dancer.

"Three, two, one, go!" Melanie calls, and they shuffle up their ropes. I notice their strategies differ; Adriana climbs like a young child, pinching the rope with her feet, while Willow mirrors Axel's perfect form. It gives her a clear advantage over her struggling friend, whom she seems oddly determined to beat.

As I watch them, that stupid memory from high school resurfaces, making me wish Adriana would hurry the fuck up and pass Willow for my own sake. But, of course, the former reaches the top in seconds and then elegantly lowers herself down, dainty hand by dainty hand.

Martina is nudging my side, beckoning me to go. I snap out of my fantasies and notice Cindy gesturing to me and Joanna.

"Alright, ready, set, go!"

Melanie calls for us to commence, and I look over at Joanna's confident expression and long legs, almost half the length of the rope. I force myself to focus on me and no one else and spring upwards. I clutch the rope with an iron-like grip.

As I complete pull after pull, I pretend like I'm back outside with Axel, reminding myself how many times I've attempted this activity before. Almost there, Whitney, almost there. In what feels like seconds—because maybe it was that long—my hand hits the rope's fixture.

"Nice job, Whitney!" Melanie cheers when I descend, holding up her hand to give me a high five.

Adriana makes a face at her enthusiasm, and Natalie copycats it.

I ignore them both.

When the rest of the girls finish up on the rope, we are once again led to the other side of the gym, like a small herd of cattle. Martina grumbles curses all along the way, staring at her red and aching hands. I don't tell her that I think the next challenge will involve just as much arm strength, if not more.

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