Ephraim's dark eyes wandered across the living room, hands tapping restlessly against his knee. A black mobile phone sat in his lap, a number typed in, but so far he hadn't even attempted to click call. Instead, he let the phone screen dim as it fell into sleep mode. This had been his third attempt today, never mind the five unsuccessful attempts the night before.
Was he acting like a child? Maybe. Were his nerves, which rolled in his stomach and made him feel sick, an overreaction? He didn't know. All he knew was that after six years, a simple phone call felt like climbing a mountain. No, Ephraim had climbed Mount Fuji in his youth, and that had been a breeze compared to this. Yet he had promised Michelle, and she had been very clear about wanting to help.
Huffing out a sigh, Ephraim let his gaze fall back to his phone. In six years, his sister hadn't changed her phone number - something he knew, since she had sent him texts over the years. Updates on family business that he never replied to, requests to meet up that he always turned down. The guilt swelled then, but he swallowed it down with a grimace.
If he allowed himself to think about it, he would surely back out. So, steeling himself with a deep breath, Ephraim clicked call.
The dial tone rang sharply in his ear - and then kept going. It rang and rang until he was sure no one would pick up - and then abruptly it stopped. A cheerful voice called, "Hello, this is Marsha - wait, Ephraim?"
Silence. He couldn't bring himself to speak, the words clogging in his throat. After a beat, all he managed was, "Hi, Marsha."
He could practically see the gears in her mind turning, even if she wasn't there. He pictured her grey eyes narrowing sharpening focus, much like his own, head tilted in thought.
This was a mistake.
"You actually called?" she murmured, "I thought... well, I thought all those birthday cards Dad sent and the messages I left were a waste of time. Six years, Eph."
"Yes, I know."
A heavy sigh, distorted by the crackle of a bad signal. He heard the phone pass from one hand to the other, restless, and a muffled swear. Disappointment settled heavily in his chest, and despite the Christmas decorations around him, the festive cheer vanished.
"I'm sorry, all right? I didn't mean for it to happen - but Mum made her disappointment pretty clear, and so did Dad, then Liza passed and-"
Marsha's sigh cut him off, but her voice was kind as she replied, "You don't need to apologise, not to me. You're an adult, and your choices are your own. Even if they're stupid." He imagined Marsha biting down on her lip, running a hand through her thick blonde hair. Or maybe it was grey now, like his own.
"I want to come over. To see you, Mum and Dad." He didn't even know if his parents lived in the same house, and Marsha was always moving from one expensive flat to another. But he was here now, talking to his sister for the first time in over half a decade, and he couldn't back out now.
The signal crackled, and Ephraim silently cursed his terrible signal. Yet Marsha's voice was clear as she said, "They really miss you, you know that? They won't say it, but I think she regrets all that stuff she said about you and Liza. You should call her too."
Ephraim's insides twisted. Despite the warmth of his little living room, he shivered. "I think... I think I'd rather see them in person, so it's more personal."
"Do they still live at Kintore Road?"
Marsha hummed an affirmative, and this time the phone didn't distort it. "I'll let them know you called - but don't expect a fanfare-"
"No way," Ephraim interjected, his heart shuddering in his chest, "I wouldn't want that anyway." He hated how his voice shook, but it was pointless to try and stop it. If only Liza was here to offer soft words of encouragement. She would have known what to say, what to do. She always did. Heaving out a sigh, Ephraim let his eyes slip closed and continued, "just tell me when and where to meet, okay? I don't want to make a big deal of it all."
He expected Marsha to reject his plea - she always loved a debate, liked to have her own way. Yet instead she agreed with a quiet, "I understand."
"Thanks, Marsha - and sorry for... you know."
"Six years, Eph. You have a lot to make up for."
They exchanged pleasantries, awkward and stilted but somehow so refreshing. It was a start, and although his chest still hammered and nausea was taking over, it was nothing compared to the relief that flooded through him.
By the time Marsha hung up and his phone was returned to the coffee table, Ephraim's heart was beginning to return to a normal rate. He sat back, hand running through his thick hair, and smiled.
Now all he had to do was wait for Marsha to get back to him - and hope he didn't mess this up. Reaching for his phone once more, he went to call Michelle.