CHAPTER TWO

THE SIDE EFFECT

"Don't you think this thoroughly sucks?" Fin asked Sydney as together they washed the dishes after dinner. "I hate chores, especially when we have to clean up after everyone in this school. I didn't eat off of these plates, they did. And it's your first day! I thought having to show you around would get me off the hook with chores for a little while. I guess not"

"If you stopped complaining and just helped me clean, then it will finish a lot faster," said Sydney, handing Fin a plate to dry. She was feeling a lot more at ease now, after eating dinner with everyone.

"So, you ready for your first day of class tomorrow?" Fin asked.

Sydney shrugged. "I don't know. I've never really minded school."

"Well, school here sucks, too. Just like everything else here. Are you hating it yet?"

Sydney stopped cleaning for a moment and turned to face Fin. "You know, everyone keeps telling me about how I'm supposed to hate it here. I think you all take this stuff for granted. Sure, I have to clean a few plates, and go to class, and talk about my 'feelings' or whatever, but at least I have a roof over my head and food on my plate. I don't have to beg for money or sleep in a dumpster. So, the answer is no, I don't hate it here yet."

"All right, all right," Fin said. "Geez, you don't have to freak out at me."

"I'm sorry…" Sydney said, a little embarrassed about her sudden outburst. "I just…well…."

"Don't worry about it," said Fin. "To tell you the truth, I don't really hate it here yet either. A lot of people do, though. I get annoyed or ticked off sometimes, but I'd much rather be here with my friends, than back home listening to my mom and dad argue all night long."

"Are your parents going to get a divorce?" Sydney asked carefully, not wanting to upset Fin.

"They already are divorced," said Fin. "You'd figure that would ease the tension a little bit. They're not supposed to have to deal with each other any more. But it seems that the divorce just made everything worse. But whatever, I'm rambling. Who cares about this stuff, right?"

"No, I'm interested," said Sydney. She really was. "I just met you, but I feel like we could be really good friends, you know?"

Fin nodded and gave Sydney a smile. "I know exactly what you mean. Hand me that plate, will you?"

Sydney gave Fin the plate, and continued washing the dishes herself. "You'd think with all the money we're paying this school could afford a dishwasher, though," she said.

Fin laughed. "That's probably true. So let me ask you a question. If life on the streets was so tough, how come you kept running away all the time? I mean, you had a roof over your head and food on the table at home, right?"

Sydney nodded. "Yeah, I did. I don't know. I guess running just seemed easier."

"Easier than what?" Fin asked.

Sydney shrugged. She didn't really want to talk about it. "So tell me about this Jeisson kid. What's his problem? I mean, is he nasty to everyone or is it just my presence?"

"No, he's had a bad attitude ever since he came here. I don't know much, but I know more than most. You see, I work in the secretary's office sometimes. The Slavedriver puts me to work there because I'm good with computers and filing and stuff."

"The Slavedriver?" Sydney cut in.

"Yeah, Paula. She's the one who assigns all of the chores and plans all of the outings and stuff. We call her the Slavedriver. Anyway, I snuck a peek in Jeisson's file last week. I only had a few seconds, but I did see some things."

"Like what?" Sydney asked, very curious. This Jeisson guy intrigued her. She told herself it wasn't because she found him attractive, but she knew she was fooling herself.

"Well, he was in jail for a year, and he was out for two months. But he broke parole by ditching school, going out with other parolees and getting high. The judge recommended he be sent here."

"What did he do to get into jail?" Sydney wondered.

"I don't know. I didn't get to see that much. There, we're done, down to the very last fork. Do you want to go for a walk or something? Maybe we can ask Jeisson to join us."

Sydney shook her head. "No, that's okay. I'm tired; I think I'm going to go to bed. I'll see you tomorrow."

Sydney left the kitchen and walked over to her dorm room. Brooke was not yet in. Sydney supposed that was good. She had had enough conversation for one night. She felt exhausted, so she got ready for bed and went to sleep.


Sydney woke up in the middle of the night. She didn't know what had woken her, and she couldn't remember what she had been dreaming. She glanced at the clock and saw that is was three in the morning. Sydney looked over to see Brooke sleeping in her bed. She stood up and slipped on some sandals. She left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Sydney wasn't sure where to go once she was out in the hallway. She decided she'd walk out to the gazebo. From what she had seen it was the prettiest place on the campus so far. But when she got there, she could see a lone figure sitting on the bench, looking out at the lake.

Sydney got closer and was able to see that it was Jeisson sitting at the gazebo. She wondered if she should just walk away, or if she should go over there. She decided on the latter.

Jeisson didn't even look up as Sydney walked towards him and took a seat next to him. He just kept staring out at the lake. They sat in silence.

After a few minutes, Jeisson spoke. "Couldn't sleep?" he asked, not taking his gaze from the water.

"Its not that," Sydney replied. "I woke up and I just didn't feel like going back to sleep. What about you?"

"I couldn't sleep," Jeisson said. "I don't sleep a lot."

"Do you come here often?" Sydney asked.

"Every so often," Jeisson said with a shrug. "Its peaceful out here. It's a nice place to come to clear your head, you know?"

Sydney nodded. "I know."

There was more silence for a long while. It was a nice silence, not awkward. But still, eventually Sydney felt that she had to say something more. "Do you ever feel damaged?" she asked suddenly. She wasn't sure where the question had come from. It had just escaped from her mouth. She decided to continue. "You know, like something is missing or broken. Like you're not complete or you're worn down?"

Sydney could see Jeisson's slow nod out of the corner of her eye. "I used to fish a lot," he said suddenly. "I think that may be why I like it out here so much. I look out into the lake, and I can remember what it was like…."

"What is was like to what?" Sydney questioned.

"What is was like to be happy," Jeisson replied quietly.

Sydney looked out at the water again, this time with a new appreciation. Suddenly she knew what Jeisson meant. She was reminded of a time when she and her family had gone to the beach on a hot summer day. It had been such a blast.

"What is was like to be happy…" Sydney repeated.


Sydney twirled her pencil in her hand, slightly bored by the math lecture that her new teacher, John Salkas, was giving. Math was her first class, and they were behind where she had been at her old school, so it was all stuff she had learned before.

Finally, John stopped lecturing and gave a few homework problems. Math was over.

"Where do we go next?" Sydney asked Fin, who was sitting in the desk next to her.

"There isn't really anything that's set to go next," said Fin. "And we don't go anywhere. We have the same teacher for every class, and in the same classroom. Its like first grade all over again."

"We have the same teacher for all of our classes?" Sydney asked, surprised. She hadn't had a system like that since she was in third grade.

"Yep," said Fin. "Walker says its something about not having too many adult figures in our lives, all giving us instructions at once. It's easier to get close to adults when there are not so much of them. Plus, they don't want to overwhelm us with all of these strange teachers we don't know and aren't close to. That's like the theory behind it or something."

"They really put a lot of thought into the way things work around here, huh?" Sydney asked. This was a new realization for her. She had expected that people at this school would not care much about anything, like everyone at her old school. Although the thought of having one teacher for every class was strange, she felt comforted to know that there was so much thought put behind the decision.

"I guess so," said Fin. "I never really thought about it."

"All right everyone," began John. "Let's begin our section on World War Two. Who can tell me the leaders of the countries involved?"

The classes went on, all in the same room with the same teacher, until the lunch bell rang. Sydney walked with Fin to lunch.

"So this is pretty much how the day goes," said Fin as they took a seat at a table. "We have class, we have lunch, and then class again. After that, the schedule changes a bit. Sometimes we'll have outdoor activities, or sometimes they'll schedule quests for us. Then there's group therapy, or free time, or one-on-one therapy. There's also the chores to be done and homework too."

"So at one-on-one therapy I have to talk to Walker, just me and him?" The thought intimidated her.

Fin nodded. "Its not as scary as it sounds. At first, Walker makes you sit with your back to him, and he sits with his back to you. You get to decide when you feel comfortable enough to talk face to face."

Sydney wondered if it would make it easier to talk about things if she wasn't facing the person she was talking to. She wasn't sure it would work. Still, it was a clever idea. Sydney and Fin finished their lunches, and then went back to the classroom.

The rest of the day went by pretty quickly. Walker had had to leave the school for some reason or other, so there was no afternoon activity. Sydney spent most of the day hanging around and doing homework. Things were actually starting to feel normal, which was strange for Sydney.

That night, Sydney couldn't sleep. She had the feeling that Jeisson was out at the gazebo again, and she had the desire to join him. Eventually she got out of bed, threw on some shoes, and left the dorm.

Sure enough, Jeisson was sitting on the bench, looking out at the water, just as he had been doing the night before. Sydney took a seat next to him, and once again they sat in silence for a while.

Suddenly Sydney thought of a question. "What do your parents think about all of this?" she asked Jeisson.

Jeisson seemed to know exactly what Sydney meant. "Well, my mom's glad to have me off of her hands."

"And your dad?"

"My dad died a few years ago," said Jeisson. "Cancer."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Sydney said, feeling bad for bringing it up. She truly had had no idea. "Were you close to him? I mean, did you do more besides fishing?"

Jeisson nodded. "Yeah. We were kind of close."

"My dad's in jail," Sydney offered. "He has been for almost seven years."

"What'd he do?" Jeisson asked.

"I don't know," Sydney admitted. "My mother never told me, and I never went to visit him. When I got older, I thought that maybe I should look into it, you know? But then I decided that I really didn't want to know what he did. The point is that he abandoned my brother and me, and that's that."

"Maybe there's more to it than that," said Jeisson. "Maybe he's innocent."

"I doubt it," said Sydney. "My mom was pretty angry about it." Sydney wondered again why Jeisson had gone to jail. Usually, people didn't suggest that the people in jail were innocent. Maybe there was more to the story than met the eye, like Jeisson had suggested about her father.

"Were you close with your dad?" Jeisson asked.

Sydney shrugged. "I guess. We did stuff. But he was always messing up, you know? He'd leave for long periods of time. He'd lose a lot of money gambling. It just seemed like he put everything else before my brother and me."

"Are you and your brother close?" Jeisson asked.

Sydney shook her head. "We used to be. But our relationship kind of fell apart." It wasn't something Sydney liked to think about. "What about you? Do you have any siblings?"

"I had a brother," said Jeisson. "He died over a year ago."

"I'm sorry," Sydney apologized again. "It must have been hard on you."

Jeisson shrugged. "I don't know if you've heard this already, but I was in jail for a year. My brother died while I was in jail, towards the end of my sentence. So I didn't really get a chance to mourn or whatever. We weren't that close when we got older anyway."

"Why were you in jail?" Sydney asked. She hadn't wanted Jeisson to know that Fin had told her about his jail time, but she had been dying to ask.

"It's a long story," said Jeisson. "And I don't really feel like talking about it."

"Oh, okay then," said Sydney. She respected Jeisson's privacy, even though she was so curious. "So tell me, why do you come out here every night?"

"I can never sleep," said Jeisson. "I only sleep for about five hours a night. I'm used to it that way."

"Yeah, I don't sleep much either," Sydney said. She woke up constantly in the middle of the night, and in the end she only got about five hours of sleep, just like Jeisson.

"Maybe it's a side effect," said Jeisson.

"A side effect of what?" Sydney questioned.

"A side effect of whatever reason we're all here," Jeisson explained. "Nobody gets to this school by having a peaceful life where nothing bad ever happens. Everyone here has some story to tell; some tragic event that happened to them. Everyone here is holding some sort of pain inside of them. Maybe sleep-deprivation is a side effect of that."

"Maybe," said Sydney. It did make sense. Sydney wondered what Jeisson's great pain was, or Fin's, or anyone else in the group. How would her story fit in? Could any of them relate to her, share in her pain? Sydney realized that the only way to find out would be to talk about it, and that was the one thing she didn't want to do.