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The morning of her high school graduation, Theodora White's dad was dead.

She hadn't planned on attending the ceremony anyway—to dress in an oversized gown, to watch her classmates make speeches about new beginnings, to hear the principal read Oh, the Places You'll Go to proud, tearful parents in the audience—the thought of it made her stomach hurt.

Was it because, unlike her classmates, she didn't have an answer to the question, "What's next?" Or was it because she knew it wouldn't be her parents in the audience, wiping tears from their eyes, as the rhythmic words of Dr. Seuss conjured up both memories of childhood and daydreams of the future?

Well, at least now she wouldn't have to ponder that question as she walked across the stage, the eyes of other kids' parents scrutinizing her, to accept her diploma. Because she wouldn't be there.

Because her dad was dead.

And because now she had bigger questions to consider.

She pondered these questions in the busy days following Theodore White's passing.

Question number one was, of course, What do I do now? A complicated question, but one that would have reared its head regardless of her father's death. That only made the stakes higher. She would save it for later.

Question number two was equally, if not more painfully perplexing than the first: Why hadn't mom called yet? Though Teddy wasn't surprised—both her parents had failed her enough times for her to stop expecting even basic manners—she was surprised to find that it was the one thing, among all the grief, to start the tears that had refused to fall for days. She sat up in bed, where she'd spent most the day staring at the ceiling, and cried.

Why hadn't mom called yet?

It was the same question Teddy had asked herself on her sixteenth birthday. By seventeen, she'd had the mind to not even ask. On her eighteenth birthday, she hadn't even thought of Maureen White. But this time, Teddy felt the weight of every occasion—past and future—that her mom wouldn't even bother to call.

Her dad wasn't much better, but at least he had the excuse of being dead. Before that, though, he had put a roof over her head, had given her money for groceries whenever he had it, and had at least tried to love her in the ways his diseased brain allowed him. Sometimes, for example, he would drink light beer for breakfast instead of cheap vodka in the morning before driving her to school.

Teddy cupped her face into her hands as the tears intensified, tried to escape too fast, and finally burst out of her in a violent sob. Around her, the bedroom was a tornado of clothes, books, and other fragments of a teenage girl. A signed poster of a rock band once-loved now hung from a single tack, ripped in one corner. A corral of stuffed animals stared out with sunken, beady eyes. An open suitcase sat on the floor in the middle of the room, where Teddy had attempted to pack but had quit. How do you pack for a new life when you don't know where you're going?

Teddy's chest hitched, her breath caught. She focused her breathing, took a deep breath in through her nose and let it out through her mouth. She opened her eyes and took inventory of the room: three things she could see (the lamp casting a warm yellow glow in the corner, the bookshelf that held all her favorites, and the old stuffed animals she'd hugged too tight over the years—now looking old and mildly embarrassed to be there), three things she could feel (the lumpy mattress beneath her, the old bedspread laying warmly on her legs, the salty tears stinging her face), three things she could hear... The exercise brought her back to the moment, as it had many times before. She breathed deeply and felt her stiff shoulders relax. She wiped her eyes.

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