Violet's wedding had been a beautiful experience but Keeley was glad it was over. She had been running herself ragged in preparation for her daughter's big day ever since they got engaged. The time in between the wedding and the trip to Sweden for the awards ceremony was largely spent decompressing.
Until now, the day before, when she had to scramble around like a chicken with its head cut off to get everything done. Aaron originally wanted to go to Stockholm a few days in advance to look around and get used to the time difference but none of their kids could leave until the day before the ceremony. Keeley wanted everyone to go together so she could enjoy the experience of celebrating her greatest accomplishment by spending time with her family.
It would be a bit colder there than New York so they couldn't exactly pack light. Hence the scrambling.
"Do you have everything you need?" she fretted as Oliver worked on packing his suitcase nearby.
"I forgot my beanie in Boston," he said sheepishly. "Do you happen to have an extra I could borrow?"
"Yes, but it's bright purple."
"I can live with that," Oliver sighed, brightening when his phone dinged. He read the text with a half-smile on his face and responded immediately.
Keeley raised an eyebrow. He normally wasn't the type to be glued to his phone. "Who are you texting?"
He flushed slightly. "My neighbor Cindy. We've gone out a few times since I got back from Thanksgiving break. She's a bit like you, actually. She's majoring in biology because her older sister has cystic fibrosis. She's been using your treatment and is doing a lot better so Cindy is really excited about your Nobel Prize win."
She had never once seen her son get fl.u.s.tered about a girl. This might be serious. "Does she know I'm your mom?"
Oliver nodded. "She asked me for your autograph. If you don't mind, I mean! I don't want you to feel weird about it."
Keeley laughed and tousled her son's hair. "I've given a few autographs in my day. I'd love to do one for your friend."
He seemed relieved and stuffed the offered purple beanie in his suitcase after thanking her. Young love was such a cute thing to witness. She wondered which of her sons would end up with a girlfriend first, Oliver or Kaleb. The latter had been spending a surprising amount of time with Lila Clark lately; he was still out with her right now.
She surveyed the living room, which had become the packing zone, and thought that everything was finally done other than things like toothbrushes that still needed to be used before their flight in the morning. Violet was a meticulous person; Keeley was sure she and Noah were already packed and ready to go to at their place.
Everyone would be meeting up at the airport in the morning. Aaron had reserved all of first class so they would be comfortable since it was a long flight.
Now that she was done packing, she was practically shaking with excitement and nerves. The whole world would be watching her soon. She had never gotten used to press coverage but it had always been minor before.
As Mrs. Hale in her first life, she was only covered by local papers and tabloids. As Dr. Hale up until now, she had been featured in minor scientific journals. But the Nobel Prize awards were covered by media sources from all over the world. This was the biggest thing she had ever done.
Oliver looked up from his phone long enough to see his mom start to hyperventilate a little and laid a hand on her arm. "Breathe, Mom."
She let out all the air she had been holding in with a whoosh. "This is okay. I'm okay. I'm totally okay."
Keeley wasn't okay at all.
She didn't get a wink of sleep the night before they headed to Sweden despite Aaron's best attempts to get her to relax. She was too wound up to even think about something like sleep! As a result, she was half-dead when they stumbled to the airport at 6:45 AM after picking up Violet and Noah.
The rest of her family seemed tired too but they didn't look nearly as bad as she did. Michael and Mandy met up with them at the gate thirty minutes before boarding began and he frowned after looking her up and down.
"You don't look like someone who is about to win one of the biggest awards in the world."
His wife laughed. "I think she does. Couldn't sleep due to nerves?"
Keeley nodded. "Not a wink."
Mandy linked arms with her and marched her over to the nearest coffee shop. Airports always had at least five of them scattered throughout to help weary travelers on their way.
"This'll help keep you awake long enough to board the plane. After that you should try to sleep the whole time. Tomorrow is a big day after all," she said gently.
The coffee didn't help. If anything, it made her more jittery. It was a good thing Aaron rented out all of first class though. Once the effects of the coffee wore off, she was out like a light due to the relative peace and quiet in the cabin.
Most of them ended up sleeping for at least part of the flight. If they weren't sleeping, they were watching movies or quietly talking among themselves. There was no guarantee it would have been that quiet if more people were in first class.
When they finally arrived, it was nearly 9 PM because of the time difference. The jet lag really threw everyone off so they ended up going to dinner before trying to go to bed. They needed to be at the Stockholm Concert Hall pretty early the next day.
Aaron had reserved a couple of adjoining suites at the nicest hotel in Stockholm so everyone would have their own bedrooms but still be close by to coordinate things. The Singletons, Grays, and Nathan were in one while everyone else was in the other.
With both sons engrossed in their phones, Keeley had nothing to distract her and ended up lying on the king-sized bed and staring at the ceiling. She couldn't believe this was actually happening.
Tomorrow she would meet some of the most influential people in the entire world AND royalty. Royalty! All because of her research!
"I don't deserve this," she mumbled. "It's too much."
Aaron sat down next to her and gently brushed her hair off of her forehead. "Yes you do. You've worked extremely hard to get to where you are today."
She sat up and looked down at her hands, voicing something that had been nagging at her for a few days. She had been too excited about the win to think about it before then. "Somebody else was supposed to earn this award, Aaron. I took their place."
To her surprise, he laughed. Why was he laughing? She was being serious!
"Keeley, your logic is flawed. If you think about it differently, in my past life that person only won because your superior research hadn't been around. If you had lived before, you still would have won."
He smiled softly at her. "Thinking about it like that is almost the same as thinking that all of the people who have been born because of the decisions we've made weren't supposed to exist. Do you really believe our children and those of our friends aren't supposed to exist?"
When he put it that way she felt silly. Of course they were supposed to exist! This life was different than their last one because the universe had allowed them to fix things. Keeley believed that everything happened the way it was supposed to in order to right a cosmic wrong.
But she hadn't thought much about the way other people had been affected. Alice had stayed married to Brock Kelly until she died. Aiden and Nova never met in person. Cameron and Jennica and Kyle and Selena might not have met either because their jobs had been different.
She took a deep breath. "Thanks for being the rational one for me."
"Anytime, my love," Aaron replied. "Go ahead and get ready for bed. The most important day in either of your lives awaits."
That was something she didn't need to be reminded of. Keeley did as she was told and curled up in the arms of the man she loved, trying her best not to overthink so she could get the sleep she desperately needed.
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