The question startled me out of my daze. For just a moment, I’d forgotten where I was, happily distracted by whatever daydream I had been in. Focusing back in on the present, I looked around the circle of ragged faces that surrounded the fire.
“I’m from D.C. Got out when it all started,” I answered. The guy who’d asked me the question, Danny, nodded. He was from the Bronx if I remembered right. He, ironically, wore a tattered Mets jersey, dark jeans, and a baseball cap backwards. He couldn’t have been over twenty-five years old.
The rest of the people in the group continued with whatever conversation we were having before I got distracted. I’d been doing that more and more lately.
“My family was vacationing in Philadelphia when all hell broke loose,” said a man on the other side of the circle from me. He’d introduced himself as Rodger when we’d found him, hiding in a bowling alley. Middle-aged and weary, I could see him twisting a gold band on his left hand as he spoke. “I was home, in Miami. And I came up here as soon as I could, but…” his voice broke, and Lucy, Danny’s wife, who was sitting next to him, patted his shoulder reassuringly.
Juliet, an older lady, spoke up then. “I lost mine, too. My husband went to Boston for a procedure, but I got held back. By the time all the chaos blew over, there was no way I’d be able to find him.”
“Don’t say that!” quipped Danny. He looked at Lucy through the flames. “We’ve all got to hold on to something. There’s always the possibility that your family,” he gestured to Rodger, “or your husband,” he gestured to Juliet, “are saying the same thing about you right now.”
There were a few murmurs of soft agreement around the circle. I supposed he had a point. But I hadn’t known my family before the world ended; I had no reason to believe I’d run into them now. But, I wasn’t going to say that out loud. The others didn’t need my pathetic situation, and I didn’t need their pity.
“Well,” Danny said, standing up. Ever since I’d joined this little band of survivors, it was obvious that Danny saw himself as our leader. Everyone else was fine with that though- he was optimistic and hard to beat down. “I think it’s time for the group dedication, and then I think we can call it a night.”
I heard a groan amid the crackling of the fire. “Why do we do this, again?” It was Rodger. “What’s the point?”
Despite Rodger’s slightly condescending tone, Danny did not seem affected. “We do it to remember what we’re going to do. And to remember that were not uncivilized, that we’ve got roots in humanity. It’s tradition.”
“Tradition or obsession?” retorted Rodger. But I felt like he didn’t really mean any harm. I got the feeling he was just tired of having to recall memories of family that he didn’t have anymore.
“Is there a difference?” joked Juliet, earning a couple smiles from the group, and even a chuckle out of Rodger. Rodger stood with Danny, and the rest of us followed suit. I gazed around at us, taking it all in. The five of us, all from different places, with different stories to tell, and holding on to different hopes, were all here together by some lucky coincidence.
Maybe not a coincidence, the lighter side of me chattered. I guess there was a chance that this wasn’t chance. Out of all the people in the entire world, maybe meeting these people was supposed to happen. Whatever the case, here we were.
“I’ll start,” said Lucy. “Tonight, I dedicate to my father, last known to be home in New York.”
Together, in synchronization, we repeated, “For Lucy’s father.” Next in the circle was Rodger, who appropriately dedicated to his family. We chanted together, and continuously went about the circle, one by one dedicating our hopes to friends and family. Finally, it was my turn, the last dedication of the night.
I only took a second to decide what I’d say.
“I dedicate to us. Because we deserve to be found, too.”