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‘What Do I Do Next?’: Orphaned by Covid, Two Teens Find Their Way

When they talked about their parents, it was usually with insider humor.

“Her and Xavier, they don’t really like to express their hurt,” said Nicole Alvarez, 18, Adriana’s best friend. “Even the day after the funeral, no one was crying or upset, we were just reminiscing about the good times with her.”

There have been headaches, the kind their mother seemed to handle with ease.

A standout student at MESA Charter High School, Adriana started missing classes in the fall. She was oversleeping, Xavier explained at the parent-teacher conference. Their mother had been the one to wake Adriana for school, something Xavier was too tired to do because of long work shifts.

“They’re still trying to figure out how to bounce back from this without the main stabilizing force in their family,” said Pagee Cheung, the school’s principal, who encouraged Xavier to start a GoFundMe campaign. “At the conference, with Xavier as the parent, it was just very eye-opening, their dynamic was lots of laughing and joking around, but also clearly lots of love as you heard them work out the day-to-day things.”

When the refrigerator broke down a couple months ago, Xavier was not sure whom to call. They had not used the kitchen much before, but when rodents became a problem and the exterminator was delayed, they shut the door for good.

Xavier often felt like he should give Adriana the life their mother would have provided. For Christmas, he took his sister on a shopping spree at Queens Center mall, where she picked out jeans, Nike sneakers, a curling iron and a stuffed Pikachu from Build-A-Bear.

That set his savings back, and he fretted about his budget. But on Adriana’s 17th birthday in February, he pulled out his credit card and took her right back to the mall to let her select a blue satchel and a tote bag from Michael Kors. On Xavier’s own birthday, when he turned 19, he worked an eight-hour shift.

“Him and my mom are really alike,” Adriana said. “He’d rather have nothing and then make sure I have everything.”

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