Gabriel Tanner unlocked his front door, pushed it open, and immediately was nearly knocked off his feet by his youngest siblings. He manoeuvered his way past them, kicked the front door shut, and handed them each a plastic bag.
"Liam, Rose, you take these into the kitchen and start unpacking them, please." Gabe ordered the six-year-old twins. They nodded their curly blonde heads and ran into the kitchen with the bags, their blue eyes sparkling happily. A loud crash from the kitchen told Gabe they’d knocked over one of the dining chairs, and the clatter of the tins of tuna rolling across the tiles floor soon followed. "Phoebe, can you make a start on dinner, please. I need to shower." He told the dark-eyed thirteen-year-old. She reluctantly got up from the sofa, where she was reading a paperback novel, and went through to the kitchen. "Jordan!" Gabriel bellowed up the stairs. "Come down and set the table, please!"
"In a minute!" The fifteen-year-old shouted back.
"Now, please!" Gabe shouted back firmly. A loud groan, and the thud of two heavy feet hitting the floor above, showed Jordan was obeying, albeit reluctantly. Gabriel ran upstairs and showered quickly, feeling the dried sweat and saliva rinse from his slim body. He wrapped a towel around his waist, went into his bedroom, and rifled through his wardrobe, searching for a clean set of clothes. He finally found a pair of faded jeans with holes in the knees, and a ratty old shirt that once had a motto emblazoned over the chest, but now was just a solid moss-green colour.
Gabe fetched the laundry basket from the end of the hallway and made his round of everyone's bedrooms, collecting all the dirty clothes he could find. He went down to the kitchen and quickly shoved the clothes in the washing machine, before hanging the washing basket onto its hook on the wall and taking his seat at the table. Phoebe set a chipped old plate in front of him, and settled into her place beside Jordan. Gabe breathed in the scent of scrambled eggs and fried bread, and smiled gratefully.
"How did you do on your maths test, Jordan?" Gabriel asked as he tucked in. Jordan shrugged, his eyes uninterested. He defiantly had some black ancestry, with deep olive skin, jet black hair and eyes so dark they were almost black.
"Alright... Seventy seven per cent." Gabe nodded slowly.
"I thought it was algebra. You're good at algebra."
"Not on this test apparently." Jordan said lightly.
"Well, perhaps you would have done better if you would've studied." Gabe suggested quietly. Jordan's dark eyes flashed dangerously. Gabe saw, and readied himself for a battle. "I've told you before, Jordan, you need to study to get your grades up, in order to get your scholarship for college."
"I don't go to college for another year." Jordan snapped.
"And they look at your grades for your entire school career." Gabe said coolly.
"I don't even want to go to college." Jordan said moodily.
"Oh? And what are you going to do with your life?"
"Mechanic." Said Jordan.
"Which requires going to college, and taking a course." Said Gabe patiently.
"Tracy's dad said he'd give me a job. An apprenticeship. I'll learn on the job." Jordan said.
"Jordan, the chances of you and Tracy still being together when you leave school next year are small. And when you break up, the chances of her dad still taking you on are even smaller." Gabriel said as gently as he could. Jordan was silent for a moment, before he slammed his knife and fork down on the table and pushed himself violently back from the table.
"You know, Gabe, just because you have a miserable outlook on life doesn't mean we all have to!" Jordan shouted, making Liam and Rose jump. Before Gabriel could answer, Jordan stormed from the room, slamming every door he came across as he made his way up to his room.
"How about you, Phoebe?" Gabriel asked, ignoring Jordan's outburst. "Did you get your geography project back?"
"Yep!" She popped the 'p' happily. "I got an A." Gabe smiled at her.
"We did science today." Liam butted in excitedly. "We looked at a leaf."
"And drew it too!" Rose added. Gabe smiled at them, reaching across to ruffle Rose’s hair affectionately. He stood up, taking his empty plate with him, dropped a kiss on Rose's head, and put his plate in the sink.
"Would you mind washing up for me, please, Phoebe?" He asked her. "I need to have a word with Jordan before I go back to work." Gabriel went upstairs and knocked on Jordan’s bedroom door. After waiting for a couple of seconds and receiving no reply, Gabe pushed the door open. Jordan was laid on his bed, on his back, his eyes closed. Gabe could hear the music blasting from Jordan’s earphones. Gabe went over and gently shook Jordan’s shoulder. Jordan’s dark eyes snapped open, and hardened when he saw it was Gabe, not one of his other siblings.
“What?” He snarled.
“Can we talk?” Gabe asked.
“Nothing to talk about.” Said Jordan shortly. “Stop trying to rule my life.”
“I’m not trying to rule anything.” Gabe said, feeling his temper rise. “I’m trying to help you. You’ll thank me when you’re older.”
“Wanna bet?” Jordan said moodily.
“What’s wrong, Jordan?” Gabe asked wearily. “We never used to fight like this. We used to get on fine.”
“That was before you insisted on playing parent.” Jordan rolled over to face his wall. Gabe rolled him back over firmly, and kept his hand on Jordan’s hip to keep him from rolling away again.
“I’m not playing, Jord.” Gabe said quietly. “I have to keep this place running. There’s no-one else.”
“You’re not here half the time.” Jordan snapped. “And when you are you’re acting like a commandant.”
“How else do you suggest I get everyone to do their chores, huh?” Gabriel asked. “Asking nicely doesn’t work. And someone has to work to earn money to pay the bills and buy food.”
“Well, you never wear a uniform when you leave for work.” Jordan said. “You said you worked at the Black Pig, and they wear a uniform. I go in there sometimes, looking for you, and you’re never there.” Gabriel sat quietly for a moment, before he sighed.
“Fine, I lied. I don’t work at the Black Pig.”
“So, where do you work?”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t need to wear a uniform for my work, because… well, my work’s a little… unorthodox.” Jordan snorted.
“Whatever, Gabe.” He said. “I don’t care what work you do, or don’t do. Just stop preaching to me about school when you dropped out yourself.”
“Someone had to go to work after mum died.” Gabriel snapped. “Unless you’d’ve preferred I let you all be taken into care by strangers.”
“We could’ve used the savings mum left us.” Jordan said.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Jordan, use your bloody head!” Gabe shouted, losing his temper. “What savings? Do you seriously think four absent fathers and a crack-head mother put aside money for us in the event of an untimely death? No! We’ve never seen a penny from any of our fathers, and mum spent everything she had on her next goddamn fix! Christ, your school told me you were intelligent!” Jordan scowled.
Gabe sighed heavily, and ran a hand through his hair. “I work,” he said in a voice of forced calm. “Because there’s hardly any money in the bank. About a thousand pounds, perhaps a little more. And that’s what I’ve managed to save since mum died. And… I know you’re smart, Jordan. Your teachers rave about you. Even mum knew you were smart, and she was barely aware of anything, ever. I just want you to do the best you can with your life. You could be a doctor, or a lawyer, or something really worthwhile. Just… be a mechanic for fun, in your spare time.”
“I don’t want to be a doctor, Gabe.” Jordan groaned. “I want to be a mechanic.” Gabe looked at his brother’s stubborn face for a moment, before he sighed.
“Do your best in school for the next year. Promise me that. And if you still want to, at the end of the year, you can go to college to do a mechanical course, then join Tracy’s father’s business.” Jordan hesitated for a moment, before he nodded reluctantly.
“Alright, Gabe.” Gabriel ruffled Jordan’s hair affectionately, and grinned when Jordan brushed his hand away with a huff.
“One more thing,” Gabe said when he reached the door. “Don’t rebel in front of the others again. I can’t deal with an uprising.” Jordan smirked. “I’m off to work. Keep an eye on them for me.” Gabriel went back to his room, quickly changed, and headed downstairs, pulling on his long black trench coat as he went. He went into the living room and kissed Liam and Rose goodnight. “Bedtime at seven guys, eight thirty for you, Pheebs.” Phoebe nodded absently, her eyes glued to the Lion King, which the twins had insisted on watching before bed. Gabe smiled at the picturesque scene for a moment, all three of them curled up on the battered old couch together, before he slipped through the front door and locked it securely behind him.