The awards ceremony was white tie and Keeley had agonized over what to wear since she would be on live television in front of the entire world. In the end she settled on a seafoam green floor-length gown with lace sleeves and Swarovski crystals bought in the shopping district she loathed. She wore the earrings she had bought for Hale Investments' 100th anniversary party and the DNA necklace Aaron had given her in high school for luck.
The families of the laureates and other honored guests sat near the very front of the concert hall. The laureates, speakers, and the royal family of Sweden were on the stage. Keeley couldn't believe she was seated less than a hundred feet away from royalty.
As the orchestra stopped playing the music for the royals to enter, everyone was finally able to sit down and the ceremony could begin. As the announcer for the day began outlining the program, she felt incredibly overwhelmed by all of the famous people in the room. She was a lab rat, nothing more!
Her eyes sought out her family sitting in the audience. They all noticed her looking and offered forms of encouragement such as smiles, nods, or subtle thumbs ups.
The presentation of the prizes were given after a speech honoring each laureate's work. Keeley was slated to go second to last of the five prizes. She wasn't sure which she was more nervous about; shaking hands with the King of Sweden or giving a short speech at the banquet later.
She struggled to keep her face blank with all of the cameras on her. If any focused on her face while she was stressing out it would be mortifying. She smiled and clapped along when the occasion called for it until it was her turn. Oh no.
Someone whose name she couldn't pronounce (she didn't know Swedish) began their speech in honor of her achievements.
"Doctor Keeley Marie Hale began her research into gene therapy as a cure for cystic fibrosis as a PhD student at New York University to honor the memory of her late brother, Kaleb Hall. She persisted where many have failed, moving through countless trials with different animals before making it to human trials.
"She was the first to discover how to conduct gene therapy without causing tumors in the recipients, opening the door to countless genetic diseases being able to use gene therapy as a treatment. Using her method, thousands of people with cystic fibrosis have essentially been cured since her treatment was approved over year ago. Clinical trials for other ailments such as sickle cell disease are already underway using her research as a basis. For this great achievement, we award her the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine!"
Keeley stood and walked over to where the medal was placed around her neck. Thunderous applause echoed in her ears as she robotically made her way to the King of Sweden, who personally presented her with the accompanying diploma.
For a moment she stood there facing the audience as they continued to applaud. It was surreal. Hundreds of people were clapping for her.
Cameras flashed in her eyes, blinding her a little, but once she blinked the light away she saw her family. At such a prestigious and serious event catcalling was unacceptable but they were clapping as hard as they could with crazy grins on their faces.
Violet. Noah. Kaleb. Nathan. Oliver. Even Michael and Mandy, though their reactions were a bit more reserved than her children's. And dear Aaron.
Her heart thudded erratically in her chest. For a split second it was as if all the sights and sounds had been stripped away. She saw nothing but him, beaming up at her and mouthing the words 'I love you' when he caught her eye.
None of this would have been possible without him. She never would have gotten the funding she needed to continue her research without his help. And he had been with her every step of the way, listening to her technobabble and helping her with the kids so she could achieve her dream.
When Keeley started out, all she had wanted was to help people like her brother live normal, healthy lives. No one should have to spend their life going in and out of the hospital all the time or live in fear over a simple cold.
She had never imagined getting this far. It had seemed like a dream—a crazy, impossible dream. But she supposed winning a Nobel Prize wasn't as impossible as reincarnation.
When she was first reborn, Keeley's sole focus had been fulfilling the dream she had abandoned to be the perfect socialite wife. She had thought that if she never met or interacted with Aaron that she would be able to get her PhD and hope to cure cystic fibrosis someday after an entire lifetime of dedicated work as a professor somewhere.
What if she had never met Aaron in the first place? Her options as a professor would have been much more limited. She probably wouldn't have accomplished a treatment until she was in her 60s, if at all.
No one else would have been able to support such a goal-driven workaholic so even if she had married someone else it likely would have ended in divorce. Aaron understood her dream and wanted her to achieve it almost as much as she did after realizing the mistakes he made with her in their first life. Only he could support her dedication so fully.
It had taken two lifetimes to stand here on this stage but everything had happened exactly the way it was supposed to. All of the pain she suffered in her first life only fired her up more about becoming a geneticist when she was reborn.
Keeley had more than achieved her dream. She had a beautiful family who adored her. Life could not possibly be better than this.
It was crazy how much a single moment could change the entire course of your future. Aaron had told her once that the reason he was initially interested in her was because she had offered him pencil lead without asking during the middle of a quiz. Such a simple, tiny action that set off a chain reaction spanning two lifetimes.
So many people had been affected by the her persistence in trying to be friendly with a taciturn boy who seemed to want nothing to do with her. Some were born. Some died early. And many, many others lived longer. All because of the actions of an insignificant high school girl.
The applause began dying down as she made to return to her seat but Aaron was still grinning at her with eyes swimming with tears of pride even as the speech honoring the next laureate began. Their eyes remained locked on each other as she sat back down.
Keeley was certain that her mother, father, and brother were watching her from wherever they were. She had always believed the loved ones who passed on were able to see them somehow down on earth even though she wasn't particularly religious.
More than once she had wondered if her mother or Kaleb had something to do with why she was reincarnated. If they had seen everything she went through in her first life and wanted everything to be reset so she could do it over right and pleaded with whatever force had been in charge of her and Aaron's rebirths.
Maybe she could ask them when they met again someday in the afterlife. In return, if they were to ask her if she would still reach out her hand to a cold, proud boy who had never had a real friend knowing the horrors she would face, Keeley would say yes. Without hesitation.
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