EPILOGUE

Steve loaded the last of the groceries into the car and closed the trunk. He looked around at the small town. The West Virginia countryside was always so beautiful in the fall. In the eight years he and The Colony had been there autumn had become his favorite season. The leaves were just beginning to turn and he made a mental note to take Tanlor on drive through Skyline Drive. She always loved the drive when the leaves were in full color.

"Well, I was able to get that book that Shemarr wanted," said Tanlor walking up to him. "That girl is getting so big. Do you know this is actually a textbook for an advanced college course? She's reading well beyond her age. Well beyond my age."

"She was always extremely bright," said Steve, kissing her on the cheek. "I guess it's part of her birthright. She does have some large shoes to fill. I think Shemarr would have been pleased how her namesake has turned out."

"I miss her," said Tanlor. "We used to talk all the time. I miss those talks."

"I know," said Steve. "And I'm a poor substitute for her. But at least you have our child to occupy your time. Joe says he can't keep up with her. No matter how hard he makes the tests in class she always aces them. We might have to think about hiring a private tutor for her. Someone who can properly challenge her."

"We should be getting back to the compound," said Tanlor. "You have the Wilson's coming in this afternoon. Joe says the family study went well. We should be able to finalize their adoption of Gretchin within a couple of weeks."

"They're a nice couple," said Steve. "That old hippy commune Cain found for us was absolutely perfect for The Colony. Secluded enough so the children don't become objects of curiosity but close enough to town so that we can arrange for the adoptions without much trouble. It's the perfect solution."

"As you've told me many times," said Tanlor. "And I've never seen the children so happy. Even Cain seems more at ease than he first did. He still lives in that abandoned mine but at least he does have contact with The Colony on a regular basis. I don't think he's as lonely as he used to be. I've even found him coming up with reasons to visit The Colony."

"Well, like Seth said," said Steve, "the children have a way of growing on you."

"Hey mister, you dropped this."

Steve turned to see a young boy of about 8 holding a loaf of bread. The boy was dirty, as were his clothes. The clothes were ripped and torn in places and there was the indistinguishable mark of a healing bruise on the side of the boy's head. He was holding the loaf of bread out for Steve to take.

"Well, thank you, young man," said Steve, taking the bread. He glanced at Tanlor. "It was very nice of you to bring it to me. It saves me having to go back and get some more."

"No problem," said the boy, looking hungrily at the groceries piled in the backseat of the car.

"So, what's your name?" Tanlor asked.

"Jeffey," said the young boy. "I'm 8 years old."

"Isn't that a coincidence?" said Steve. "We have a daughter about your age. Shouldn't you be in school right now, Jeffey?"

"I don't go to school no more," said the boy. "No one wants me there. They make fun of me."

"Well, I can relate to that," said Steve. "They made fun of me when I went to school, too. That will pass, you'll see."

"I don't think so, Father," said the boy.

"Father?" questioned Tanlor. "Why did you call him that?"

"I don't know," said Jeffey. "It just seems sort of natural, that's all. I didn't mean nothing by it. I'm sorry."

"No need to be," said Tanlor reaching into the front seat and pulling out a box of chocolate. "Would you like some chocolate?"

"I'm not supposed to take stuff from strangers," said Jeffey. It was clear the boy was very hungry as he eyed the box of chocolate.

"Where are your parents?" Steve asked.

"My dad's working," said the boy. "I guess my mom's at home. She don't stay around much. She's always out with one of my uncle's. I got a lot of uncles."

"How'd you get that bruise on your face?" Steve asked.

"I fell down," said the boy self-consciously. "I'm kind of clumsy. My dad always says so. He said I ain't good for nothing. He told my mom he wished I had never been born."

"Well, Jeffey," said Steve. "How would you like to go some place where you'll never 'fall down' again? Where no one will ever tell you that you're clumsy or that they wished you'd never been born? And a place where no one will ever hurt you again?"

"Is there such a place?" questioned Jeffey.

"Yes, there is, sweetheart," said Tanlor. "It's our home. And there are a lot of children there you can play with. And like Father says, no one will ever hurt you again."

"Well, my parents don't care about me," said Jeffey. "They'd probably be more happy if I wasn't around. Where is this place?"

"Just up in the mountains," said Steve. "It's not far. You're welcome to come with us if you want. And while I'm driving there you can help her eat that box of chocolates. She always eats too many, anyway."

"Okay," said the boy. "I guess it will be okay. You seem like nice people."

Steve smiled at Tanlor as they all got into the car together. They both knew that Shemarr would eventually begin drawing children to The Colony. Children who belonged there. And neither of them had any doubt this was one of those children. The first in what would surely be a long line of unwanted and unloved children who would find a home in The Colony.

The End