- SJF – Chapter 1
- SJF – Chapter 2
- SJF – Chapter 3
- SJF – Chapter 4
- SJF – Chapter 5
- SJF – Chapter 6
- SJF – Chapter 7
- SJF – Chapter 8
- SJF – Chapter 9
- SJF – Chapter 10
- SJF – Chapter 11
- SJF – Chapter 12
- SJF – Chapter 13
- SJF – Chapter 14
- SJF – Chapter 15
- SJF – Chapter 16
- SJF – Chapter 17
- SJF – Chapter 18
- SJF – Chapter 19
- SJF – Chapter 20
- SJF – Chapter 21
- SJF – Chapter 22
- SJF – Chapter 23
- SJF – Chapter 24
- SJF – Chapter 25
Darius found getting used to his new schedule incredibly difficult. His first week on the job he only worked three shifts in a row—Wednesday, Thursday and Friday—with Saturday and Sunday off. Saturdays and Sundays were Manny’s days off, and since Manny was training him, Darius kept the same schedule.
After the weekend off, Darius found himself struggling to adjust to his schedule when Monday rolled around. He stayed up late Sunday night into Monday morning, but he still woke up early. He ate breakfast at the same time most people were eating lunch, and at 4:00 he reported to Trang Nguyen’s office for what would become part of his regular routine.
Darius fought to stay awake during his meeting with Trang. She could tell that he was exhausted.
“Are you going to be able to handle the night shift?” Trang asked. “We can find a spot for you somewhere else.”
Darius thought about switching to a different shift over the weekend, but decided against it. He liked Manny, and that went a long way for him. And the fact that Captain Freedom had personally recommended him for training under Manny meant Darius would do what he needed to do. “I’ll adjust,” he said.
“Next week you’ll start an online class to get your GED. I’ll take you down to the library and introduce you the Miss Evelyn, who will help set you up on the computers,” Trang said. “It’s a self-paced program, which given your schedule seemed like the best plan.”
On Tuesday, Darius had his first private counseling session with Dr. Sam. His weekly schedule included two required counseling sessions—one with Dr. Sam, the other a group session with other Chancers. Darius had yet to attend a group session, but given his feeling about crowds of people and anything that appeared social, he wasn’t looking forward to it.
He wasn’t looking forward to his first session with Dr. Sam either. Darius didn’t like talking, especially about his feelings, and Dr. Sam would no doubt want to talk about feelings.
I know that I’m messed up. But this works for me. I don’t need to put my pieces back together again.
Dr. Sam’s immaculate office looked like it wasn’t used often. On one of the walls there were framed pictures of Dr. Samson Omatete in his Marine uniform, confirming what Darius had suspected all along. Other pictures of Dr. Sam hung on the wall, photos with celebrities, superheroes and presidents of the United States dating back forty years—encounters with power and fame creating a biography of images frozen in time.
The first counseling session with Dr. Sam went well, more casual than Darius had expected. Dr. Sam asked Darius how his first few shifts had been, if he felt like he was adjusting to his new life. No conversation about Darius’s innermost feelings. Not a word about the anger he sometimes had trouble controlling. Nothing of how he often wished he had died with his family during The Attack. Instead, Dr. Sam encouraged Darius to attend the barbecue that Otto Rekker had invited him to.
The rest of the week Darius spent getting a basic overview of how nearly everything at HQ worked. He ate lunch with Manny everyday, who alternated between cracking jokes and quizzing Darius with job-related questions.
For the first time in eight years, he felt like maybe he’d found a place where he belonged. He made friends—including Z-Boe, who had come by just to see how he was doing—and met new people everyday. One afternoon, while heading down to the cafeteria for breakfast, he rode in the elevator with Amazing Grrrl, who looked much shorter in person, and Kid Spectacular, who looked at least twenty-five. Both Amazing Grrrl and Kid Spectacular introduced themselves, asked Darius how he was doing, and wished him well.
“It’s all pretty crazy,” Darius said. “I haven’t even been on the job two full weeks, but I feel like I’ve been there my whole life. In a way, I guess I have been there my whole life—this new life anyway.”
He wasn’t really talking to anyone in particular, just to the tombstone that marked the gravesite of Dwayne and Janae Logan and their newborn son, Dwayne Jr.
The cemetery wasn’t located in the city, making it difficult for Darius to get there. It took one subway and two buses, and over an hour to make the trip on a Saturday, when the buses ran with less frequency. But the last bus he had to take to get to Otto Rekker’s house passed by the cemetery, so Darius had to stop.
Manny had insisted that Darius go to Otto’s barbecue. Dr. Sam also thought it would be a good idea. “It will give you chance to get to know your co-workers and help you assimilate to life at SJF,” said Dr. Sam.
He and Manny filled out the proper paperwork, so Darius could travel beyond the two-block radius that confined him to HQ. The STATU around Darius’s ankle was calibrated to allow him to travel nearly twenty-five miles from HQ, and gave him until midnight to return.
The cemetery had a special section just for victims of The Attack, their names carved into the huge stone monument. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, or what day of the week, someone was always at the monument, or at one of the thousands of grave markers, laying flowers down for someone they had lost.
Darius never had flowers to bring. The first few times he went to the cemetery, when Edith O’Malley brought him, he felt guilty about it. In those days the cemetery was crowded all the time, littered with flowers and plants and ribbons and crying people. But Edith told him that it didn’t matter to his family if he brought flowers or not. She told him that his parents could see him, and all that mattered to them was his being there.
He never fully believed that his parents could see him standing at the grave—especially because they weren’t really buried there. Like so many other victims of The Attack, there was nothing left of them to bury. But he needed to do something, and visiting the grave of his mother, father and baby brother a few times a year seemed like the best thing to do.
When he was younger, he would talk to his parents and his brother, but he hadn’t said a word at their graves in years. Those earlier conversations came from the hope and desire that his family could actually hear him, and maybe, somehow, his words could bring them back to life. But as he grew older, and life grew more difficult, he accepted the grim reality that he was just talking to himself. Nothing Darius said could bring the dead back to life.
He had no intention of talking to his family, but for some reason, he just began to open up. He told them everything.
“I’m sorry for the things I’ve done these last few years. I know you raised me better than that. It’s just…it’s just…,” Darius struggled to find the words. “I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it? Things are going to change. You’ll see.”
Dwayne and Janae Logan, and their newborn baby son—dead for eight years and counting—couldn’t hear a word Darius said. That didn’t matter. For the first time, he didn’t wish he had died with them. For the first time, Darius almost felt good about being alive.