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Tony had decided not to go home for the holidays. He had told Effy as much the last time she called in tears over the state of her parents' disastrous separation. Effy wanted reassurance from her older brother, she wanted to know that her world wasn't completely falling apart at the seams. In that regard, he had failed magnificently.

"What do you want me to say, Effy? That it'll be alright?" Tony asked distractedly as he stood in the kitchen, with a mixed drink in his hand. It was the third week into his freshman year at Cardiff and he was at a social with a few mates from his dorm, taking in the local... flavor. He eyed a gorgeous blonde, nestled between a group of less attractive females. If he played his cards right, he would see more of what she hid behind that slip of a dress. "You know how Jim and Anthea are--"

"Tony!" Effy cried. "I know! I can't believe...."

"What, Effy? Can't believe what?"

"Nevermind," Effy answered coldly. "I just wanted to let you know, dad's moved out. Mum's a fucking nutcase. Have fun at Uni."

"Effy. Wait."

"What," Effy asked impatiently. Tony made the his decision quick, before the brown-eyed beauty turned her attention elsewhere.

"I'm not coming home for Christmas. I'm staying with a mate near Cardiff. Don't tell them, please."

"Whatever, it's your life." With that, Tony heard the dial tone click, and Effy was gone. Tony knew that instead of the comfort she needed, Effy had found rejection. And it was all his fault. Later, after they had made up for the lost time, she would tell Tony of the things she did, the people she hurt just so she could feel close to normal. But for now the only thing on Tony's mind was getting to know the blonde that leaned casually against the counter next to him, grinning like perfection. Home could wait. So could Effy.

"I'm Tony, Tony Stonem. Your name?"

*~*~*~*

Tony always considered himself lucky. No, more than that, Tony considered himself a genius when it came to matters of authority. Cardiff University allowed students to stay on campus during the winter holidays, but strictly forbade any group gatherings, fearful of the dangers of leaving large groups alone while most of the students and staff were away. By the time Tony had left the administration building, where he signed his party rights away under the close eye of an uptight senior Resident assistant, he was on his mobile, making plans until the new year rang in. Before Tony could call back Kat, his local spiff dealer, he was interrupted by a call. From Effy. Thinking back to the ill-received night it had been six months since he last spoke with Effy he looked at her name as it flashed across the screen of his mobile, unsure of what to do. Before he let it go to voice mail, he pressed 'send', cleared his throat as loud as he could, and answered.

"Effy?" In the background, Tony could hear shouting in the speaker, and wondered what was going on. Tony called Effy's name again, but there was no answer. The shouting and loud cursing continued, unabated. "*For fuck's sake Effy? What's going on?"

"Come home Tony."

"Effy, we talked about this...."

 

"Tony. Please. Come home," Effy said, her voice neutral and without emotion. But she had asked Tony, practically pleaded for him to come home, and Effy never pleaded or begged for anything. In that moment Tony knew what he had to do.

 

"Effy, stay home," Tony demanded determinedly. "I'm on my way."

*~*~*~*

"Thanks for the lift. Cheers," Tony slammed the car door with more force than necessary. The little unexpected trip home, near Christmas no less, had cost Tony the rest of his spiff and party money, not to mention the time wasted on finding a loser who would drive Tony home. With a sluggish wave of his meaty hand, Tony's ride was off to spend his hard earned money. The wanker. Tony sighed and looked toward his.... his mum's flat, where Effy should still be. Straightening his wrinkled clothing from the ride over, Tony walked up the stairs to the front door and unlocked it, where he promptly crashed into someone who was exiting. Before he could figure out who he walked into, he was enveloped into a hug by Anthea.

"Tony! Dear! I didn't know you were coming home so soon! Come in my love."

"Mum--" Tony tried to interrupt, but his mother ignored the look of seething anger in his eyes, the questioning tone in his voice. Anthea led him to the bedroom where Tony's bed and old furniture was stored-- Effy's former room. She sat down on the edge of his bed and invited Tony to do the same, patting the powdered blue spread that now covered his bed. After a moment of stony silence, Tony slipped down to the bed and dropped his overnight bag to his left.

"Good, good. Once you're settled in I'll make us a nice cuppa, hmm? Would you like that? We have so much to discuss Anthony, so much to go over--"

"I know dad doesn't live here anymore," Tony said dully.

"Really?" Anthea eyed him with surprise. "Well that is a surprise. I know you expected us all together for the holidays. Your first back from Uni. Who told you--"

"Who else would it be, mum?" Tony asked, more of a bite than a question. Tony breathed heavily through his nose, failing to hold back the anger in his voice. Tony noticed his mother had cringed out of the corner of his eye and he felt a deep feeling of satisfaction rise within. "Anthea. Mum. I'm sorry. Yeah, Effy told me back in Uni."

"Um ok. Are you alright Anthony? I know this must be difficult to understand."

"Not really," Tony said nonchalantly. " You were caught shagging Dad's friend, he cursed and left you, you and Dad separated, and now he lives with that bird with the great--"

"That's enough!" Anthea shouted. "Tony I can't take more of... of this bashing. Not from the both of you."

"Sorry Mum," Tony gave another empty apology. He could care less if his mother was hurt by his words and his refusal to commit to home for the Holidays. He stayed away from his old life, numb from the loss of Sid, Michelle, and everyone else he cared about who had left him to go their separate ways. He had come for Effy. Cause Tony knew that when Effy called, that was when she needed him the most. This was Effy on the edge, his sister who had no one else to turn to.

"No, no. You're right dear. No need to hide anything from my brilliant boy."

"Where's Effy?" Tony asked, ignoring his mother's complement. He hadn't had time to survey the house since his mother had rushed him up the stairs to talk, but as he sat next to his mother, he noticed the rest of the house was quiet... too quiet. "Where did she go, mum?"

"Well I don't know dear. She might be off with that Pandora girl."

"Which was?"

"A couple of hours ago. You know how your sister Elizabeth is when she's in a mood."

"Right. Thanks," Tony said. He stood, thinking of the places Effy ran to when she needed to get away from home. Tony sighed heavily, pulling his fingers through his hair, grimacing at the idea that he would have to start with that prick Cook to work his way through all of her mates. If she had any left.

"Tony," Anthea called to stop him. She positioned herself, blocking his way out of the bedroom. "I'm sure Effy's alright. She's a strong, strong girl."

"No, mum, she's not. Not as strong as anyone thinks. You should know that she needed us! She needed me! And you know what? We all let her down. I need to make it right," Tony demanded. He left his room, leaving his mother to stand alone.

*~*~*~*

As Tony passed a window shop near downtown Bristol, the digital watches displayed the time as nine at night. Tony was out, still searching for his sister. She hadn't been at the rave in the cave. Cook's place turned out to be a bust, as for most of the houses of Effy's mates, though Tony could only claim to know two or three at the most. Effy's mobile was switched off and without any other sign of his sister Tony wandered the streets of Bristol aimlessly, worried sick and angry at the same time. What good was it that he had rushed home from Uni just to have Effy disappear into the night like gypsy or a ghost? Tony berated himself in so many hours, blaming himself for her absence. If he had come home more often, he would have known the trouble that Effy was getting herself into. His whore of a mother and his tosser of a father stabbed both of them through the heart. Tony and Effy suffered silently while their parents tore their family further apart, their only refuge had been the friends in their life. But Tony had taken the first opportunity to run away to Cardiff, to blank out his existence with spiff, vodka, and sexual pleasures. Effy had taken another route which ended with her going round knocking people over the head with rocks and running away with arseholes. Tony felt that they had both dealt with their demons in the hands of others-- Tony assumed Effy, disgusting as it was to think about, fucked her problems away just as much, if not more, than he did. They were too similar for their own good, Tony thought, and the path that Effy had chosen was not the path that would lead her to happiness, only ruin. Tony's attention quickly focused back to reality as he stopped a small cross street, for he never crossed anything bigger than a crack on the sidewalk now, without looking twice. Safety assured, he assumed his path towards his mother's flat, hoping that Effy would be there waiting for him. As he walked Tony felt his trousers buzz with the ringing of his mobile and he rushed to answer the device, desperate to hear Effy's voice.

"Effy? Effy are you there? Answer me!"

"Tony?" Effy's voice rang out, slurred by whatever substance she was on. "Lovely to hear your voice. Where are you?"

"I'm home Effy. I'm back home. Where the bloody hell are you? You said you would wait at home, for me Effy. What happened?"

"Oh right," Effy said quietly. "Didn't you hear, in the background? They were fighting again. Tony I... I couldn't stay home. I had to get away. And I did! Tony its so wonderful, I wish you were here. We could celebrate the holiday here, its so nice... so warm and lovely."

"Where's 'here' Effy?" Tony snapped. He didn't have the patience for her vague ramblings. He needed to know she was safe, and for the most part she seemed ok as her voice held no hint of panic or worry. "Just tell me where you are."

"Why?" Effy's asked harshly. There was the bitter accusation of his abandonment tinged within her voice, and Tony winced in shame. He couldn't blame his sister-- he knew exactly how it felt to feel abandoned, alone, and he had decided to turn his feelings on his sister. Wasn't right, what he did, but Tony would start to make it right.

"I'm sorry. I was an arse, I should have came when you needed me."

"Whatever, Tony. Why'd you come back? Talked to mum? Seen the worry on her face? Once you think I'm ok you'll go away, just like the rest of them."

"Fuck the others, Effy. I only care about you Eff. Only you. Tell me where you are and we'll celebrate Christmas wherever you want. Just let me know that you're ok...."

"I am Tony, I am," Effy said, her voice cracking. She was no longer clouded by the drugs circulating through her body. "I want... I, I can't--"

"Eff? Effy?" Tony asked as her voice suddenly cut out. In the background there were sounds of struggle as Effy's voice mixed with those of the unknown. Tony's heart lurched down to his stomach as he stood helplessly on a cold street corner. If anything happened to Effy, if she-- if he couldn't get to her in time… "Effy say something! Where are you?!"

"Right, give me this," One of the unknown voices ordered through the speaker. Tony locked onto the voice but failed to identify the tight, crisp person who had produced it. It didn't come from one of Effy's mates that Tony could remember but the feminine voice lacked any hint of cruelty that a person intent on harm would posses. Tony's shoulders slumped down in relief as he slowly gained back his composure. "Who's this then?"

"Tony. Effy's fucking brother, that's who. Who the hell are you?"

"Naomi, one of the few people who still puts up with your sister's shit. Where are you?"

Tony took a look at his surroundings. Surprisingly, he was near his home. "I'm near our flat. Know where that is?"

"Yeah, yeah," Naomi sighed into the speaker. "I supposed you'll want me to bring Effy home then?"

"If you could. I'm sorry for all--"

"Save it. I consider her my mate. I wouldn't do this for just anyone."

"Uh, thanks. I mean it."

"Mind if a mate of mine stops in as well?" Naomi asked. "Effy kind of ruined our evening."

"Yeah, no... no problem," Tony said, relieved.

"So you decided to come back, Tony."

"What? Did Effy--"

"--Tell me about you? From time to time," Naomi interrupted. "Look, I don't know exactly what's happening between you and your parents, but Effy really could have used you. When she's sobered up a bit, maybe you two should talk."

"Yeah," Tony said with a smile. "We will. Naomi?"

"Yes?"

"Can I speak to Effy? For a second."

"Why not? Its her phone. Effy, talk to Tony."

There was a shuffling of hands again before Effy spoke. "What is it Tony?"

"Happy Christmas Eff. I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," Effy said, her voice bright with emotion.

END