Chapter Thirty Two
Over the next week or so, Gabe noticed Jordan was a little distant, although not as rude as he'd been over the past few months. He couldn't blame his brother; he was still feeling a little awkward himself about their… incident… of the previous week. He didn't know if Jordan was feeling as confused about it as he was. But from his brother's short answers to questions and leaving the room if he and Gabe were alone, Gabe guessed he was.
He and Phoebe were in the kitchen when he heard Jordan come through the front door.
"Hey, Jord. Late football practice? How was school?"
"Fuck off!" Jordan shouted, slamming the door and running up the stairs. Gabe looked at Phoebe for a moment, before he threw down his dishtowel and ran upstairs after Jordan. He knocked on the teenager's door and slipped inside. Jordan was curled up on his bed, his shoulders shaking as he wept. His shirt was torn across one of his shoulders, and his jeans were muddied and ripped at the knees.
"Jordan?" Gabriel went over and laid his hand on his brother's shoulder. Jordan shrugged it off, twisting to push Gabe away. As he shifted, Gabe saw Jordan's right eye was blackened, and his lip was cut and swollen. "What happened? Did someone hurt you?"
"What do you think?" Jordan growled, sniffing.
"Were you mugged?" Gabriel asked gently. Jordan shook his head, and winced. "Hang on." Gabriel went and fetched a flannel, wetted it with warm water and returned to Jordan's bedroom. He gently wiped the dried blood from Jordan's lip and eye. Jordan sat up slowly, groaning softly in pain. "Do you need some painkillers?" Gabriel asked him. Jordan shook his head. He pulled off his shirt, and Gabriel saw large, foot-shaped impressions darkening Jordan's tanned chest. "Christ, Jord. What the hell happened?"
"It was… Billy Cartwright and his friends." Gabriel frowned. He remembered Cartwright from his own days at school; even at thirteen, Billy had been a bulky, overweight kid, and a bully. A mini-psycho in the making, Gabe had always thought.
"What happened?" Gabriel asked quietly.
"Billy accused you of…" Jordan sniffed, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "His brother's just come out. He's gay, and Billy accused you of 'converting' Jay. He said… he said he'd seen you screwing guys in the abandoned pub beside the railways tracks, and down the alleyway behind that little grocery shop. The one that's always shutting and re-opening." Gabe paled slightly, but managed to change his shocked expression into a frown.
"So… you hit Billy to… defend me?" He asked softly. Jordan nodded slowly. "Jordan…" Gabriel sighed. "You absolute pillock." Gabe said, embracing his brother gently. "Why did you do that? They're just words, Jord. They can't hurt anyone."
"They were lies, Gabe." Jordan whispered. "He was going to spread those lies about you around the school." Gabe paled again, and this time, Jordan saw. He sat up a little more, clutching his injured ribs, frowning. "Gabriel… They're lies." Jordan said, more of a statement than a question.
"Jordan…" Gabe sighed wearily. He'd wished this conversation would never happen.
"Oh, God." Jordan recoiled from Gabe, his expression suddenly disgusted. "They're… true?" He asked.
"I just… we need the money, Jordan." Gabe whispered.
"You… have sex with guys for money." Jordan said weakly. Gabriel nodded slightly, unable to meet Jordan's eyes. Gabe placed his hand on Jordan's arm, seeing the expression in his brother's eyes. He knew Jordan was about to fly into a rage. "Don't touch me!" Jordan roared, leaping up from his bed. "Stay the hell away from me!"
"Don't!" Jordan bellowed. He pushed Gabe away from him as though he were carrying a contagious disease. Gabe slammed back against the wall with a soft groan, the breath leaving his body with a 'huff'. "Oh, God." Jordan muttered. "Is that how you pay for the twins' school trips? And Phoebe's new clothes? And my gym membership? How many guys did you have to screw to get that together?" He snarled.
"Nowhere was hiring." Gabriel whispered. "Nowhere. I couldn't find work… then this guy saw me one night, and offered me thirty quid to-"
"Shut up!" Jordan roared. "I don't want to hear it!" He shuddered visibly, and yanked his wardrobe open. He pulled out his clothes and shoved them roughly into his gym bag, before pulling on his trainers.
"Where're you going?"
"Out. I need to get out of here. I need to get away from you." Jordan shouldered the bag and ran from the room.
"Jordan, wait! We can talk about this! I can explain everything!" Gabriel shouted, following him quickly.
"Leave me alone!" Jordan shouted, bolting down the stairs. "I don't want to hear it, Gabe. Christ, I can't believe I've been sharing a house with a whore!" He spat, before disappearing through the front door. Gabriel stopped dead in his tracks, shock rendering him immobile. He felt tears spring to his eyes at Jordan's words. He stared at the closed door for a moment, before he walked slowly down the stairs and locked the door. He leant against the door for a moment, trying to gather himself, to stop his tears, before he turned, with the intention of going back into the kitchen. However, as he turned, he saw three faces peering over the banister at him. Phoebe also had tears in her eyes; Liam and Rose looked confused.
"Where's Jordan gone, Gabe?" Rose asked, shivering in her pyjamas. Gabe managed a weak smile, and went back upstairs to hug her.
"He's gone to stay with a friend for a few days." He said softly. "We… well, we've had a bit of an argument. He needs some space." Rose hugged him back, and he felt how cold her body was against his own. "Come on." He picked her up and took her down to the dining room, which had been converted into their bedroom, and tucked her in to her bed. Liam crawled into his own bed, just next to hers, and snuggled down. Gabe looked at them for a moment, before he ran up to Jordan's room and fetched his brother's thick duvet and the blanket that covered the armchair in the corner. He added them to Rose and Liam's beds, tucking them in warmly, before saying goodnight and going back through to the kitchen.
Phoebe was stood at the sink when he went in, washing the dinner plates. Gabriel picked up his dishtowel again, and dried the clean pots, putting them away as he did so. They didn't speak as they worked, or afterwards, as Gabe made them both a mug of hot chocolate. Phoebe sat down at the kitchen table, sipping her drink, eyeing Gabe carefully.
"Do you want to talk?" She asked tentatively. Gabriel sighed, and sat down opposite her with a shrug.
"We just had an argument." He said quietly.
"About where you work." Phoebe said. Gabe nodded.
"Jordan doesn't… like what I do. He doesn't understand that it's… necessary for me to do the work I do, in order to keep you guys."
"Because you sleep with people for money." Phoebe said bluntly. Gabriel stared at her, feeling his cheeks flush.
"How do you know about that?" He asked quietly.
"I was looking for my white trousers a few months ago. I thought they might have ended up in your room after they were washed, because they had done before, and I looked in your wardrobe. I found a bag of… stuff in there. Since you never had a girlfriend, and never told us a specific place where you worked, I just… guessed at what you did. Then, we met Angela, and I wasn't so sure."
"And you don't… hate me?" Gabe asked tentatively. Phoebe smiled.
"I hate that you have to do it." She said quietly. "But… I know Jordan can't work enough hours to bring in proper money. He's busy with schoolwork. And I can't work at all, except the occasional baby sitting work next door."
"I do look for other work." Gabriel said softly. "But nowhere is hiring at the moment. And when they are, I'm… not the sort of person they're looking for." He rubbed his eyes wearily, and drained his mug. Phoebe looked up at their individual money jars on the top kitchen shelf for a moment, before she grasped his hand.
"Don't go out tonight." She said quietly. "Stay here. I've borrowed a DVD from my friend we can watch instead. I think we have some cookies somewhere." Gabriel looked at her for a moment, before he smiled.
"Alright, Pheebs." He put his mug in the sink. "Go and fetch it. I'll find cookies, and I'll get a blanket from my room." She ran upstairs to get the film. Gabriel rooted around in the cupboards for a while, before finding two packets of chocolate nut cookies. He fetched a fleece blanket from his room and went back down to the living room, where Phoebe was setting up the film. He settled down on the sofa and wrapped the blanket around his knees. Phoebe curled up next to him, snuggled close to his arm, and he tucked her in too, before handing her a packet of biscuits.
"A whole packet?" She asked, frowning.
"It won't kill you." Gabe replied. "Besides. These are Jordan's favourite biscuits. After storming out like he did, I think we should eat every last one." Phoebe giggled and nodded. "What're we watching?"
"Dirty Dancing." Gabe groaned.
"Great… a chick-flic." He said sarcastically.
"Shuddup. You know you secretly love them." Phoebe nudged him gently. He kissed her temple and smiled.
"They're alright every one in a while. Not all the time."
"Mm." She said sceptically. He wrapped his arm around her and settled in to watch the film. They were about halfway through, when Gabe noticed Phoebe was shaking a little beneath his arm.
"Hey?" He said softly. "What's the matter?" Phoebe sniffled and shifted closer to him.
"Will Jordan come back?" She whispered.
"I don't know," Gabe muttered. "I hope so, but… the look on his face when he left… I've never seen him look like that before. Ever. He really hates me."
"He hates the situation we're in." Phoebe amended quickly. "He hates that he needs to work so hard in school, to please you, instead of leaving and becoming a mechanic, like he wants to become. He hates everything's always left to you. He hates that he can't help more." Gabriel sighed.
"I hate it too." He said softly. "But, would he prefer I let you all go into care? If you did, I could go back to school. Get some qualifications, get a proper job, have a life of my own. But I can't do that. I love you all too much to let you go to strangers."
"I'm glad." Phoebe whispered. "I don't want to leave." Gabe smiled.
"I know… I hope he comes back, though. But if he does, he certainly won't have much to do with me anymore." He sighed and kissed her forehead gently. They watched the end of the film in silence, before Gabe said goodnight and went up to his room. As soon as his head touched the pillow, he burst into tears.