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I had cried myself to sleep. Exhausted in all ways possible. And the others had been quiet and considerate. They let me sleep. Apparently, barely moving or talking at all. And my body needed the rest so badly, when I opened my eyes, the sun was sinking low in the sky. A beautiful kaleidoscope of orange and red that I could admire from my window view. It was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes and the haze of sleep began to clear.
The world seemed muted and quiet. When I pulled my eyes from the pretty view, I soon came to realize Talon, Malachi, and Josh were also all asleep. Talon's head was against my left shoulder, bouncing and bobbing with the movements of the car, while next to him Malachi snored softly, his brown head against Talon's left shoulder. I moved slightly, not trying to disturb Talon, taking in Josh asleep directly behind me, as his head resting against his hand.
Even Elias and Isaac sitting in the backseat were still and quiet while their eyes were wide open. It all seemed so peaceful. Luke was driving and I couldn't see his face, but he had had one hand relaxed on the steering wheel, lounged back in his seat. But when I glanced at Gideon riding shotgun, the illusion was shattered. He looked tense, exhausted, bleary-eyed. Haunted even. And why wouldn't he? His son had just died this morning, I had died and he had to give me CPR. I had brought Talon back and now he had to deal with all the aftermath. As badly as it had hurt me to watch Talon die, for Gideon it had be a million times worse. And for all the trouble I had brought into their lives. And now I put an even bigger target on all their backs. No one was safe and Atticus knew where we lived. Gideon probably resented me. How long before that resentment turned into hate?
I wish I knew the right words to say to Gideon, but there were no right words. All would fall short. This was all my fault and there was nothing I could do to make it better for him or any of them. So like a coward, I didn't even try. I closed my eyes again and pretended to sleep.
About eight hundred miles from EL, Paso, we arrived at the Elson's farm in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas just after sunset. I pretended to be asleep for a couple more hours and listened to the others stirring around me. Their soft voices and whispers not to wake me up. Talon slept until Malachi woke him to tell him we were there. Actually, he gave him a 'wet willy' and Talon gave Malachi a punch to the arm in return. My "wake up call" had been a gentle shoulder shake.
The Elson's farm actually looked like a farm. Theirs was a gated entrance with a sign that said "Mossy Brook Farm" and an electric fence which ran the length of the property. Not as high a fence that a prison would have, but higher than your average livestock electric fence. I didn't see anyone, but the closer we got to the property I could make out the surveillance cameras attached to the nearby trees and farm sign. When we stopped at the gate and I looked harder, I could see what looked like deer stands up in the trees occupied by hunters in cameo gear. I would have missed them if I hadn't been looking for them. In the distance, I could make out a silhouette of dwellings, as the property was quite expansive.
The camera on the sign moved and zoomed into the van. Luke gave a cheerful wave from the front seat. A dog came up to the fence line and began to bark enthusiastically. It was a collie and looked like Lassie. Soon afterwards the gate rolled open and a human appeared. I recognized the man from the Fourth of July picnic last year at the old Theron compound back in West Virginia. He was an older man in his early sixties with thin white hair, tall, and with one of those foo man choo mustaches, matching bushy eyebrows, but still in remarkable shape. I couldn't remember his name, but his green eyes reminded me of Eden Elson's.
Apparently, just like chocolate eyes ran in the Theron family, light green eyes was common in the Elson clan. I wondered if I would get to meet Jordan Elson. Talon's legendary, gorgeous, ex-girlfriend turned model who'd been away in in NYC at a photo shoot during the holiday last summer. I suddenly found myself feeling very self-conscious with my tangled brown hair, blood shot eyes, and in Isaac's black shorts and t-shirt. I pulled my messy hair free and ran my fingers through it as the man began a conversation with Luke and Gideon. I noticed his eyes fell on me and lingered longer than the others but not long enough to be impolite. His name was Tim. He made small talk and invited us to drive up to the house where supper was waiting.
The farm was a beautiful, lush combination of woods and cleared land for the animals and people. There was a massive black barn, an equally impressive white stable, some smaller buildings for storage, and a garage. Cattle grazed in the south pasture contained by its own electric fence. Horses ran and frolicked in the north pasture. While some strays animals roamed freely, particularly some chickens, and a goat which briefly blocked the gravel road, and bleated loudly in the glare of our headlights.
The thing that truly set the Elson farm apart from our old home was one massive house all the Elson's lived in instead of separate homes. It was a beautiful, old black and white Victorian house, with spirals and turrets, and a wrap-around porch. I was trying to wrap my head around the logistics of so many people living in one house, wondered about things like privacy, and how they kept from killing each other. I imagined trying to share one roof with all the Theron's and knew I probably would have killed Ben especially ages ago.
More Elson's loitered on the porch curiously and a child darted across the yard in our headlights. I recognized a few of them from the picnic, including the little boy who had become fast friends with Talon's little brother Samuel, and the teenaged boy who'd made a rude comment about me last summer. He'd gotten intoxicated with Colton Theron. I shot him a dark look as he stood with his hands shoved into his jeans pocket on the porch watching me warily.