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Chapter no 63

If He Had Been with Me

All through the ceremony, I stare at Shawn O’Brian’s tangled mullet, and I think, Someday this will be the only thing I remember about my graduation. Adults march on stage and give speeches that are full of advice for us. I try to feel as if I have accomplished something, but all I feel is that I lived through a few years of my life; getting though high school was just what I did on the side.

“Autumn R. Davis,” a teacher says, and I’m moving forward to take the diploma. I remember I’m supposed to smile. Adults shake my hand and say congratulations, and I’m surprised that they look so sincere. A photographer takes my picture when I shake hands with Mrs. Black. I see spots for a moment, and then I am walking back to my seat, but it feels more like wandering.

Afterward, when we’ve taken off our robes and the teachers set us free to go find our families, the lobby is too crowded to move around and find them. I see Angie with Dave and her family and I hug her before the crowd pushes me away. I see Brooke and Noah in a corner, holding hands and talking quietly. I wonder if they are talking about their plan to break up in the fall—I still don’t understand.

I feel my cell phone ring in my pocket.

“Mom?” I have to nearly shout to hear myself.

“Honey, we’re over by the display case. Can you see us?” She’s shouting too. I look around and stand up on my toes.

“No.” I see Jamie, Sasha, and Alex. They see me and I wave them over.

They start pushing their ways toward me.

“Where are you? We can send Finny to come find you.”

“No, I’ll find you,” I say. Jamie stops in front of me, with Sasha next to him and Alex standing behind them. “I’ll be there in a sec,” I say. I hang up. “Hey,” Jamie says, “we’re going to go eat. Wanna come? I’ll give you a

ride home.”

“I have to go eat with my family,” I say.

“Oh,” Jamie says. “Can I come over tomorrow then? We need to talk.” I feel my cheeks heat up.

“Yeah, I know,” I say. I lean forward and Jamie kisses me quickly. “I saw Finn and your mom over there,” Sasha says.

“Thanks.” I hug her and Alex quickly and push my way in the direction she pointed.

When The Mothers see me, they begin to wave excitedly, and Finny watches them and laughs. Dad is in Japan. He called me this morning.

“Picture, picture,” my Mom says. Finny and I stand next to each other and smile. The crowd is beginning to thin, and The Mothers try to find enough space to get full-length shots of us.

“So, congratulations,” Finny says. We’re still looking straight ahead at the cameras, fake smiles in place.

“For what?” I say.

“I don’t really know,” he says. I hear him laugh next to me. “I don’t either. Congratulations for surviving maybe?”

“Maybe. But come on, it wasn’t that bad was it?” I look up at him.

“Nah, I guess not,” I say. He smiles, and out of the corner of my eyes, I see The Mothers’ cameras flash.

That was the picture they framed.

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