Back to the BeginningbyNephylim©
Joe was angry, very angry: so were Ben, Sean, Luke and Isobel. Although they were angry for very different reasons, they were all angry with the same person – Ephraim. At that particular point they were all hunting for him, baying for blood. He couldn't have cared less. He was letting himself in through the back door of the house as everyone else was converging on the front.
Isobel was angry with Ephraim because he had stood her up. They were supposed to have met for dinner and then a movie and... well, whatever came after. Isobel had had such high hopes.
Granted, she hadn't seen Ephraim for almost four years, but before that they had been close, very close and after the time they had spent together the previous day she had really thought there was a chance to rekindle the feelings they'd had for each other. At least that she'd had for him. Now she wasn't sure what he felt for her.
True they had both changed, grown up; Ephraim far more that she had. He'd moved away to the big city and was a successful model. He'd always had the potential but it had still come as a shock. It had been so sudden, almost a case of one day he was there and the next he was gone.
And now he was back to launch a new line of clothes he had designed. To Effy it was all about the design, and not the hype – at least it would have been to the Effy she knew. He'd changed so much; far more than she had over the last five years; more than she could ever have imagined. Of course he was taller, that was to be expected, and he'd filled out which wasn't a surprise but... it was more than that. It was more than the designer clothes, the poise, the styled and bleached hair, the confidence and certainly more than the flashy red sports car he now drove. It wasn't something on the outside at all.
Initially he was a little intimidating, with his tanned good looks and bright smile, until she realised that the smile was as open and guileless as it had always been and the twinkle in his bright blue eyes was as mischievous as ever. After that it didn't take long for her to relax in his company and within hours it was just as it used to be – almost. There was something, something indefinable about him that had changed. She couldn't put her finger on it but it was there, hanging in the air between them; unacknowledged; unsaid.
She had taken a lot of time and care over her appearance, wanting it to be just right. He had changed so much, was so bright and beautiful that the least she could do was try and live up to his image. She'd missed the part where he'd said that the best thing about being home was that he could drop the image and be himself for a while.
After taking all day to get ready she was ridiculously excited... and ridiculously let down when he didn't show. At first she was upset, terribly upset. And then she got angry. How dare he? He might be some big shot in the city now but he was the same Effy who had thrown her in the river and almost drown getting her own. He was the same Effy who had broken his arm trying to get her new kite out of the tree. He was the same Effy who had sat with her on Star Rock and promised to love her forever.
She fingered the ring he had given her on that day; the one that she had worn off and on ever since. Squaring her shoulders she set off to throw it back in his face.
Joe was angry with Ephraim because he had failed to turn up for the press conference. There had been no word at all, nothing. No call; no note; no message. And when he'd tried to ring the boy had his bloody phone turned off.
Being agent to someone like Ephraim was a dream. Usually he was so obedient and undemanding, unlike the prima donnas who usually passed through his books. His abiding regret was that Ephraim had never been interested in going into films. He could have got him some fabulous jobs. He was 'the face' and everyone wanted a piece of him. Ah well.
He'd been over the moon when Ephraim; shy and hesitant as usual when he was presenting something he wanted, rather than what someone else had told him to do; showed him the designs he had been working on for a new line of clothes. He'd spotted the potential immediately. Ephraim certainly had a flair for design and the clothing range was appealing. Aimed at older teenagers and young adults they were 'Chic but casual: evoking the child within.' which was why they were in this godforsaken place in the first place; seeking Ephraim's 'child within'. Not that he'd ever lost it.
Ephraim was the most childlike client he'd ever had. Not in the needy, immature and spoiled way – he had plenty of them; no, in a free spirited and full of wonder way. Many of them were like that at the start until the harsh realities of work and the world hit. With Ephraim no matter what hit he seemed to remain untouched by it; his natural optimism making him bounce back from the hardest knocks. That's why people liked him... no loved him. Once word got around that, not only did he have a beautiful face and damn near perfect body but also a personality that wasn't all about complaints and demands; they couldn't get enough of him.
They had both invested a lot in this new venture, although Ephraim was under the impression that Joe had put in a lot more effort than he actually had. Ephraim was grateful for everything, another very attractive trait in a business where everyone was out for what they could get for themselves and to be damned with everyone else. He threw himself 100% into ever venture he undertook and believed that everyone else did the same. Because things happened he believed it was because Joe had been working hard when, in fact all Joe had to do was mention Ephraim's name to a few people, drop the right hints in the right places and he had people falling over themselves to help and have their fingers in the pie.
The press conference today was meant to be as much about 'the secret life of Ephraim Carter' as anything else. He was a very private person who guarded his family and friends jealously. One of the reasons he had reluctantly cut himself off from them was to protect them from the attention he drew from all sources. But it was important. It was a key brick in the carefully erected wall Joe had constructed around the launch which guaranteed the success of this venture. And then he bloody well didn't turn up.
Joe was a professional, and he had learned a long time ago that damage limitation, if skilfully handled could be as beneficial as if things had gone as planned . This time he had outdone himself. No only had he increased the mystique that surrounded Ephraim; he had also managed to get assurances from a couple of the major players that they would attend the launch, by promising them an interview afterwards. He smiled, knowing that where the big boys went the rest invariably followed; and knowing that the press were attending would guarantee that there would be a good turnout of other designers and fashion houses and that many of the larger manufacturers and distributers would also be there.
Things were going well; better than he could have hoped after Ephraim's no show but still. .. He'd had to work a lot harder than he would have if Ephraim had turned up when he was supposed to. Since when had he become an unreliable diva? He was damned well going to make sure that he didn't make a habit of it and that he knew this kind of behaviour was unacceptable. He ground his teeth and set off for Ephraim's house and their first major confrontation.
Ben was upset and angry because Ephraim had promised he would call in to his school on the way to the press conference, to watch him rehearse for a play he was performing in. Secretly, although he was not averse to the kudos of his 'famous' big brother turning up at school; his real desire was for praise. He wanted Ephraim to tell him that he appreciated his skills, which were frankly superb, far better than anything Ephraim was capable of.
It was hard growing up in the shadow of Ephraim Carter, who had shone like a lighthouse beam all his life. Even before the day he'd been 'discovered' by a modelling agency on a day trip to London, he had been in the spotlight; the bright one; the popular one; the good looking one; the best one. Someone else might have grown envious or bitter but Ben loved his brother as much, if not more, than everyone else. All he wanted was to be appreciated by him, to get some recognition and praise now and again... not from anyone else, only from Ephraim.
It had been even harder for Sean, the youngest Carter boy. He'd had to cope with both Ephraim's effortless success and Ben's hard won success. It seemed as if nothing he could do could ever match up to either of them. A lesser person would have just given up and taken up a place at the bottom of the food chain. Not Sean. He wasn't as bright and naturally talented as Ephraim, or as hard working and committed as Ben, but he was lively, optimistic and reasonably academic. He had friends and sporting talent and he was generally happy.
But he wasn't happy today. He'd told all his friends that Ephraim was coming to the school and they were hyped up. When Ephraim didn't show, Sean's reputation took a body blow and he lost face, which is just about the worst thing that can happen to a teenage boy.
Neither Ben nor Sean could get away straight after school because of extra curriculum activities: Ben in the hall and Sean on the field. Therefore their mother had been deputised by two separate but equally angry and distressed phone calls, to rip a shred off her eldest son for letting his brothers down.
And that left Luke. Luke was Ephraim's best friend, or at least had been before he'd left with the promise of keeping in close touch. But the promised telephone calls and visits never materialised. At first he was disappointed, then angry and then bitter. When he'd learned that Ephraim had returned without even telling him he was coming home, and had made no attempt to contact him when he got there, the anger rolled over him like pus from a lanced boil.
After sulking for a while and letting the anger and bitterness simmer he had to confront him and he headed for the house unaware that there were others on the same path. He arrived at the front door at about the same time as Isobel, which was just after Joe and just before Mrs Carter.
Very soon the hall was full of a cacophony of voices, raised in anger. They were quickly joined by Mr Carter's. He had been roused from his football coma and was not happy.
"What the bloody hell is going on here?" He bellowed, achieving instant silence. For a moment they all looked at each other sheepishly and then they all started speaking again, at once. They stopped again and glanced at each other. Rolling his eyes in exasperation, he said. "Rose, perhaps you can enlighten me as to what this circus is all about."
"Well, I don't know about anyone else bit I am looking for our son to give him a piece of my mind for breaking promises to his brothers and letting them down - again."
He rolled his eyes once more. "No need to ask which son." She shook her head tight lipped. "And I suppose you are going to tell me that Ephraim let you down too Joe."
"He was meant to be at a press conference at two."
"And he was meeting me at four. Isobel piped up."
"And what about you Luke?"
Luke shrugged. Of them all he was seeing the funny side of the situation. "Just generally pissed off with him for not keeping in touch and telling me he's home."
Mr Carter allowed himself a small smile at Luke's lighter tone. "Wait here," he commanded and disappeared. He returned a few minutes later. "Well, his car is out back; his keys and coat are on the kitchen table; so it's safe to assume that he's in here somewhere."
Ephraim was lying on his bed, clearly fresh out of the shower, and dressed only in pyjama bottoms. It was quite obvious he wasn't intending on going out anywhere that night. Even from the doorway they could hear the thump of the music pounding through the earbuds he had stuffed into his ears.
He was lying on his side with his back to the door so he didn't at first notice the entourage enter his room. The first he knew was when his father appeared in front of him and ripped the earphones out of his ears.
"What the bloody hell has got into you now?"
Noticing movement Ephraim turned his head and saw the others forming a semicircle of shame around the bed as his father exploded in his ear. He immediately sat up and dragged himself into a defensive huddle against the headboard.
No one saw him wince, or if they had they knew it was with guilt. As he stared around at the angry faces with wide eyes no one saw the fear in them, or if they did they knew it was because he was about to face the music.
"What... what's happened?"
"That was what we were hoping you could tell us."
The fear notched up. "What? I..."
"You missed the press conference; no reason; no excuse. You didn't even have your bloody phone turned on."
"Oh shit. My... my phone." He groaned and briefly closed his eyes.
"Never mind about your bloody phone. Where the hell were you? You know how important the press conference was. Don't you want the launch to be a success?"
"Yes, of course I do. I..."
"Then where were you?"
"You stood me up Effy."
"You let your brothers down."
"You could have told me you were home."
"You upset your mother."
"You didn't care."
"You didn't show."
"You didn't keep your promise."
"You didn't take responsibility."
"You didn't care."
"You didn't care."
Lifting a hand to his head Ephraim massaged his temple. His eyes were suddenly very bright and he was shaking but his voice was carefully calm when he said. "I'm sorry I let you down; all of you. You deserve explanations but I can't give them; not now. Please leave me alone."
"Leave you alone? Ephraim do you realise how hard I had to work to salvage the press conference?"
"Do you realise how upset I was?"
"Do you realise how disappointed...?"
"Do you realise how let down...?"
The pounding of the voices and glare of accusing eyes were making him dizzy. This really was the last thing he needed and he just couldn't deal with it right now. The tears were welling up inside. In a while he'd have to let them out and when he did they would drown him.
Suddenly he was angry. What the fuck did they expect from him? What did they know? They were supposed to be there for him. They were supposed to care for him. They didn't know. They had no idea and they didn't even bother to ask.
"Get out." It wasn't so quiet this time.
"Get out! Get the fuck out of my room! Get out!"
"Don't you dare use language like that," his mother snapped.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" His father took up the reigns. "You're getting too big for your boots young man. Maybe you are the big man in the city but you do not behave like that in this house. You try putting on your airs and graces here and you'll soon be cut down to size, my lad."
"No! Don't say that! Don't you dare say that," he spat out, with real venom. "Just go. Get out. Fuck off. Leave me alone. Just – leave me alone." He was practically screaming and, in the face of his hysteria they really didn't have much choice.
"You and I are going to have words later, young man. I don't know what being in the city has done to you but I don't like it."
"Just get out. Get out of my room and leave me alone." He wasn't shouting now. He was too tired; too defeated. He just wanted them to go away and leave him alone. "Why can't you leave me alone?"
No one gave him a second glance as they stormed out. Except that they didn't all storm out.
Luke had fallen silent a long time ago and was watching his friend closely. As everyone else was leaving he watched the anger fade and the pain rise as Ephraim buried his face in his hands and began to weep. Luke sat quietly on the bed and watched him.
Ephraim looked up. "I thought I told you to leave," he snapped.
"Then get the fuck out and leave me alone."
"Not a chance." Ephraim opened his mouth for another angry retort. "I'm not moving from here until you tell me what's going on. What's hurt you so much? What the hell happened to you today?"
He felt the anger, which had only ever been half hearted towards him freeze and shatter. He saw it in Ephraim's eyes. Ephraim opened and closed his mouth like a goldfish a few times and then he threw himself forward into Luke's arms so hard he very nearly knocked Luke off the bed.
"Woah. Hey what's wrong? What...?"
He gave up because there was no way Ephraim was going to hear him; he was sobbing too hard. All he could do was hold on tight and try to breathe normally through the bear hug that was crushing his lungs. Ephraim was past knowing or caring that he was doing it.
Luke had no idea what to do; where to put his hands even. He settled for putting one around his friend to support his body and burying the fingers of his other hand deep in Ephraim's hair, stroking the back of his neck; something his mother had done to him when he was a child and upset about something. It seemed to work and slowly Ephraim's sobbing calmed as his breathing deepened.
Eventually Ephraim raised his head and looked Luke full in the face. "Why did you stay?"
"You're my friend."
"You were pissed with me too."
"Not so pissed I didn't see you were in pain. What's going on?"
Ephraim shook his head jerkily and bit his lip, tears welling up again.
"I wasn't joking Effy: I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on. This isn't you. Something happened today; something bad and I'm not leaving this room until you tell me what it was."
Ephraim shook his head again. "I can't," he whispered. "I can't."
"Screw that. There has never been anything that you haven't been able to tell me; to talk to me about."
"Is that what you think?" A strange expression crept into his eyes and he smiled; a tiny ironic smile "You're wrong."
"Well... maybe so; but you can talk to me about this. I'm your friend Effy; always was; always will be. I was your best friend once and if that's changed it's not because of me. It hurts me to see you like this. I knew that living in the big city would change you but I didn't realise it would hurt you this much."
"It didn't. It's not that. I'm happy there Luke, honest I am. It's not that. It's not..."
"Then what? Tell me Effy. Please. What happened?"
Ephraim lowered his head and stared at a place between them. He was clearly struggling with something. Eventually he seemed to fold in on himself and he sagged forwards, resting his head on Luke's shoulder while his startled friend put an arm around him again.
"Hush. It's alright Effy; you're safe now. Whatever happened, you're safe now, I'm here."
It was as if something he'd said had unlocked the chains that bound Ephraim's voice. He started to sob again. "Oh god Luke. Oh god... they hurt me, Luke. They really hurt me. I thought I was going to die. I was so scared. Oh god... I feel... I feel... Help me. Please... please help me."
Luke was utterly shocked. Whatever he'd been expecting it hadn't been this.
"Who hurt you? What do you mean? What happened?"
Ephraim sobbed for a while and Luke just held him. This time he was the one who was gripping as if he would never let go. His heart was pounding with fear and anger that someone would have hurt his friend.
Eventually Ephraim began to calm down and, still clinging to Luke with his face buried in his shoulder he started to talk in a strange, detached voice.
"I was on my way to the school; to see Ben and Sean. I was driving along the river road and someone came up behind me. I was annoyed at first because they were really tailgating me. I pulled over to let them pass and they started to, and then swung over and ran me off the road. I just sat there, shocked and scared and then..." He swallowed heavily.