Rachel had gotten lost in thought while gazing at old photos of her little boy when a honk from outside brought her back to the present.
She walked slowly out to the car where her son sat behind the wheel waiting for her; she wasn't in at all in a hurry.
Meanwhile, Phoenix, who had insisted on driving, checked his tassel impatiently in the mirror; as far as he was concerned they couldn't get to the graduation ceremony soon enough.
And soon enough, indeed, Phoenix was leaving city hall with his diploma clutched triumphantly in his hand.
Rachel sniffled, trying to hold back her tears so her melancholy wouldn't mar Phoenix's big day.
She wasn't the only who was emotional about such a life-changing event, though.
"I can't believe it, it's over and we'll never be high school students again," Sadie's voice quivered.
"Hey, that's a good thing," Phoenix comforted her, "Who needs high school when we've got the whole world open to us now?"
"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Sadie tried to smile bravely.
Rachel tried not to think too hard about what her rebellious son might do with the whole wide world at his fingertips.
And she was right to worry. Phoenix knew that his mother never would have given her permission while he was a minor, so his first act as a high school graduate was to get the tattoo he'd always wanted.
"There, all done," Janette Velez stood back to admire her work, "You handled that pretty well, most people are pretty squeamish their first time."
"It wasn't so bad," Phoenix shrugged before thanking her and setting off for the next item on his to-do list.
Now that he'd had some fun, it was time to get a bit more serious and apply for the work program at the hospital.
Tanner Rice was visiting and looked somewhat concerned that someone with dyed hair and skulls on their shirt was going to be working there, but I don't think he recognised Phoenix as his old acquaintance's son.
Phoenix paused at the door, uncertain for a moment himself. Had he really made the right decision? What if he didn't get into the program?
He had nothing to worry about, however, and a few hours later he strode out of the building confidently, having been accepted immediately after filling out the required paperwork.
The next morning Phoenix awoke to his mother making breakfast in the kichen, which was uncommon for a weekday, "That smells delicious, mom, I'm starving!"
Rachel had the day off and had decided to send her son to his first day of work with a warm meal in his belly. She didn't want to give any reason for this day to not go smoothly for him, so she bit her lip and tried not to stare when she noticed the fresh ink on his shoulder.
She watched as Phoenix scarfed down his pancakes and hurried to get ready. She was so proud of how he had figured out what he wanted to do and was making it all come together as he moved forward in his life.
Then the carpool was there and Phoenix was calling a quick goodbye as he sped out the door.
After clearing away breakfast, getting dressed and tidying up the house, Rachel settled down with the newspaper, not knowing what else to do with her free time and an empty house.
She was browsing aimlessly through the headlines when one caught her eye. The annual international Sim Fu competition was coming up, and that was always worth reading about. This year it was going to be held in Shang Simla, China, at the Phoenix Martial Arts Academy.
Rachel slowly folder the newspaper and put it down. A jolt had shot through her body when she read the name of the city that had changed her life. She knew that Zhan couldn't be living in Shang Simla anymore - he would have gotten her letter if he was - but would he visit for an international competition? Would he even want to see her after all these years? Did she still want to see him?
Her heart racing as these thoughts tumbled through her mind, Rachel decided she needed to meditate on this new information before making a decision on what, if anything, she wanted to do.
Bonus graduation pics: