Ephram Brown is sixteen and a half the first time he runs away.
Most kids run to New York City, not from it. Ephram, he waits until three weeks after the funeral, saves up all his money, and buys a bus ticket to Colorado.
"Ephram," his grandmother says, "what were you doing at that party?"
Ephram rubs his head, his eyes, his cheeks. "Having fun," he deadpans, trying to smile. She isn't taken in, just waits for the real answer. "I was trying to forget for a while."
"With alcohol?" and it's disaproving, Ephram gets the feeling that she'd be holding up a bottle of tequila with his name on it, frowning, if she could. "That's no way to--"
"With alcohol," he interrupts. Ephram feels a little giddy. "And pot, drugs. Yeah," he says, voice flat again, "I do drugs, sometimes. I'm sixteen and I've smoked up. Amazing, huh? a kid from New York."
His grandmother just stares at him as if she doesn't know him. Ephram stands. "Can I go?"
"You're grounded, young man," she tells him, but it's feeble and weak.
Ephram gets up to leave. He almost says, "my father never grounded me." He goes to the room in their house they've designated 'his', and climbs out the window.
"What are you doing here, Ephram?" Amy says.
Ephram looks at her.
"I mean," and she swallows. "I thought." She opens the door a little wider. "I don't know what I'm saying. Do you want to come in?"
He looks at her, some more, thinking. "I don't know," he says. "Because if I come in, I might see your brother, and that can't go well." He tries to make it funny, like if they just joke about Brite it'll make things easier.
"I, do you want to go get something to eat?" Ephram asks her, suddenly, quickly, to stem the flow from her mouth. "I brought money," and he holds up his wallet. "I'll buy. Anything under five bucks is yours."
"Okay," Amy says softly. She closes the door behind her, and doesn't lock it. Ephram's face crumples for a minute, seeing that. She didn't lock the door. She didn't have to lock the door. The next moment he's fine. "let's go get a hamburger or something."
Delia will be fine.
He tells himself that she'll be fine as he climbs out his window. Delia is a sweet child, but she seemed to weather things all right, and she's responding to the treatment of the city and her family. Treatment, as if they were sick or something.
Ephram throws his bag out to the fire escape. He flags down a taxi, goes straight to the bus depot. The ticket agent asks him questions, like they suspect he's a runaway, but he starts talking about the friends he made in Everwood, the town itself like he's lived there before and is only going back for a visit. It calms everyone down. When they ask him what he was doing there before, Ephram freezes, but only for a moment.
Later, on the bus, he has no idea what he said there, only that it wasn't at all the truth.
Amy finally gets the courage to ask him after they're almost done the burgers. Ephram eats maybe half of his. Normally it might be rude, but he wouldn't be here talking to her if he didn't have a reason. Amy figures she might as well ask. "What are you doing here?" she says.
"for a long time, before," Ephram says to her, "I tried to. I don't even know." He stares down at his plate. "But it's like, we left and that means that the year here was pointless. And obviously there was a lot of point to it, I mean." Ephram dips a fry into the ketchup on his plate. "We both."
Amy is trying not to cry. Ephram finally shrugs. "My dad came here to grieve," he tells her, as if that makes it logical for him to do the same.
No one picks him up from the bus station. He almost calls his grandparents to come and pick him up, because he thinks about how worried they're going to be. But he doesn't. Ephram gets on that bus and doesn't tell them. He doesn't think they'd get it.
"Are you mad at him?" Amy whispers over pie.
During the course of the meal, a few of the other residents came over to say hello to him, to say exactly the wrong thing. Amy replied to them all with "he just came to visit us for a little while."
Ephram blinks. "Mad?" He fiddles with his pie. "Of course I'm mad at him." Puts his fork down with a soft clatter. "He voluntarily left us. He decided that he couldn't handle it and gave up."
"I think maybe, Colin had given up," she says, staring into her plate. Amy is definitely crying now. "Until your dad talked to him."
"Fat lot of good that did," Ephram answers. He blinks. "I'm sorry," he says to her. "I just."
Amy doesn't answer. Ephram pays their bill.
He packs three things into his duffle bag: One. His discman. Two. a change of clothes. Three. Two packets of sleeping pills.
He doesn't really intend to take them, in fact, he bought them almost six months ago. But they were expensive and so he's never thrown them out, and besides, keeping them means that he can look at them and say, "i'm not taking these."
Ephram takes them out on the bus a lot.
"Do you have anywhere to stay?" Amy asks him. Ephram walked her home. "I can ask, if you want."
"Thanks, I." He rubs his head, his cheeks, fiercely. "I guess I kind of got used to having a house here."
"Do you need to call anyone?" and she gestures him inside. Ephram follows only reluctantly. "Your grandparents, so they know you got here all right?"
"I didn't tell them," he says shortly. Amy looks at them. Ephram explains, "that I was going."
"Oh," she says.
Ephram adds, "It's summer vacation," and cracks a smile. "I'm not missing anything at home." He waited three weeks, until after the service, and school's out. "I mean, I tried to get them to hold the service here, but they wouldn't." He shrugs. "So I waited till after it to come."
"Oh," Amy repeats.
"Sorry," Ephram says, but he's not sure for what or why.
The bus ride from New York to Colorado is hot and stuffy and takes almost two days to get there. It costs one hundred and fifty dollars, one way.
Ephram has in his bank account enough to cover the fare. His father, of course, left him money.
"How was Colin's--"
Amy hands him a plate to put down. Her father, surprisingly, was the one who said he could stay overnight. "Nice." She places forks and knives down, carefully, one by one. "It was cold."
"I really wanted to come."
"I know," she says. Softer, "he would have wanted you to come, I think."
"I'm sorry, Amy," Ephram says again. He can't do anything but apologize.
As they pull into the mountains, into very familiar peaks, Ephram doesn't feel any better, not any better at all. He thought that maybe the mountains would somehow heal him. that maybe he could find a little peace of mind here, the kind that he couldn't seem to get in New York City, even with Delia and his grandparents and everything he'd been missing for the past year.
It isn't as easy as moving somewhere with mountains, Ephram knows this. He's been here before.