Gabe made his usual round the next morning, shaking everyone awake and ushering them all, half-asleep, into the kitchen for breakfast. He ignored the now painful ache in his lower back, given to him by an enthusiastic customer the night before, and rummaged through the fridge for milk. Jordan pulled cereal boxes from the cupboard, and poured two bowls for the twins, before toasting himself some bread.
"I'm not hungry." Phoebe said, when Gabe handed her a box of cereal.
"We're not going to have this argument again, Phoebe." Gabriel told her sternly. "Eat." Phoebe growled angrily, but poured herself a miniscule amount of cereal and added a tiny splash of milk. Gabe decided to drop it while he was ahead, and didn't bother trying to make her eat more. Phoebe gulped her breakfast and ran upstairs to pack her school bag, and fetch the twin's rucksacks. "Keep an eye on her at lunch." Gabe told Jordan. "Make sure she eats something." Jordan shot him a look.
"She won't listen." He said. "She never listens."
"Well, what do you suggest I do?" Gabe asked him wearily. "I can't force food down her throat. Nagging works… For now." He added at Jordan's look. Gabe sighed. "I'll come in at lunchtime, and talk to the school nurse. Perhaps Phoebe'll listen to her."
"She doesn't need to lose weight."
"I know that." Gabe snapped. "That's why I make her eat."
"Don't snap at me, Gabe." Jordan snapped back. "It's not my fault she won't eat." Gabe sighed again. "I was only going to suggest that you push her to exercise. That way, if she insists on losing weight, she can lose it slowly, in a healthy way, and still eat." Jordan shouldered his bag, called Phoebe and stormed from the house.
"You two really need to stop arguing." Liam and Rose said together.
"He's a teenager." Gabe told them, dropping a kiss on each of their heads. "That's what teenagers do. Now, you two are lovely." He grinned at them. "You never argue, and you eat your carrots. You're my favourites." He whispered conspiratorially. They giggled happily and ran to collect their bags from Phoebe. Gabe locked the house, said bye to Phoebe and Jordan, and set off to school with the twins. Their teacher greeted them warmly and ushered them into the classroom, where the students who'd arrived early were playing with chunks of clay in the art corner.
"Good morning, Mr Tanner." Their teacher turned to Gabe with a smile. "Could I have a quick word?" Gabe nodded, and followed her into the corridor. "As you know, we've got a residential trip coming up at the beginning of October, and we've got the final numbers for how much it will cost."
"Oh, right?" Gabe asked, immediately beginning to worry about money.
"It's going to be one hundred and thirty pounds for both of the twins. That includes the coach fee, the hostel charges, and entry to London Zoo and the Imperial War Museum."
"Okay. When is the trip?"
"The third to the eighth of October. The coach leaves at eight thirty."
"I'll have them here in time. I'll bring the money on Friday." Gabe sighed inwardly. To earn enough to pay for the trip, he'd have to work every lunchtime this week. He bade the twins' teacher goodbye, and set off for Jordan and Phoebe's school, on the other side of the town, meaning to talk to the school nurse before lunch.
He arrived just after their morning bell had rung. Gabe signed in at the reception, was issued a visitors badge, and made his way down through the art block towards the school nurse's office. He knocked on the plain white door and waited until he heard the nurse call him inside. The school nurse, Mrs Dower, had been the nurse when Gabe attended the school, several years ago. Gabe had dropped out at fifteen, three years ago, to care for his siblings.
"Gabriel Tanner! I've not seen you for years."
"Hello, Mrs Dower." Gabe smiled, and shook her hand gently. "How are you?"
"Can't complain. The little one's teething at the moment, so I'm up most nights with him."
"I didn't realise you had a baby. Congratulations."
"Thank you." She settled herself behind her desk, neatly organised with a few stacked papers and a couple of pens. A long, immaculately made bed ran the length of the back wall, and the walls were painted a light cream colour. Gabe took a seat behind her desk. "How can I help you?"
"It's my sister, Phoebe, in year eight. She's in form Shakespeare8."
"Ah, yes. She's good at art, isn't she?" Gabe nodded.
"Well… recently, I've noticed Phoebe's not been eating very well. She only had a tiny breakfast, and my brother, Jordan, said she eats little or nothing at lunch. I'm worried she might be…"
"Anorexic?" Mrs Dower asked. She nodded understandingly. "There's a lot of this now a days. Some of my friends, nurses at other schools in the town, say they sometimes get three or more cases a year."
"How can I help her?" Gabe asked. "Do we ignore it, and hope she stops by herself?"
"No… Talk to her about food. Explain about the different food groups, what's good for you, what's bad. And try to encourage her to turn to exercising, instead of crash dieting." Gabe nodded. Mrs Dower looked at him sympathetically. "Are you alright, Gabriel? You look a little run down."
"I'm fine, Mrs Dower. Just a little tired."
"What're you doing now? Did you get into a college?"
"No. I work to pay for the kids. The twins have just started school, and they've got a residential trip coming up."
"Aren't they a bit young to go away?" Gabe shrugged.
"I thought so, but there are about ten parents going with fifteen kids, to supervise them all, so they should be fine."
"Well… it wouldn't hurt you to take some vitamin supplements. They should give you a little energy boost." Gabe nodded dutifully, but knew he wouldn't. He couldn't afford an extra ten pounds a week on vitamins.
"Could you write me a note to excuse Phoebe for the rest of the morning?" He asked. "I want to take her out to dinner somewhere. I'll explain everything to her properly." Mrs Dower nodded, and wrote a swift note to Phoebe's second period teacher.
"Take this along to Mr O'Brian. You remember where his classroom is?" Gabe nodded. "You can take Phoebe for as long as you need. Just ask Mr O'Brian to pass the note along to her next teacher if she isn't back." Gabe nodded, thanked her, and set off through the school to the history block. He knocked on the door of the history room and slipped inside.
"Gabriel Tanner?" Mr O'Brian smiled as he came inside. "It's been a while."
"Hello Mr O'Brian. Sorry to disturb you. I'm here to pick up Phoebe." Gabe held out Mrs Dower's note. "Mrs Dower asks that you pass this note along, if Phoebe's not back for the next period." Mr O'Brian nodded, and excused Phoebe. She quickly gathered her schoolbooks and shoved them into her bag.
"Where're we going?" She asked Gabe as they made their way down the hallway towards the reception. Gabe signed out and returned his visitors badge.
"We're going to get some lunch." Gabe said, taking her bag and slinging it over his shoulder.
"You took me out of school to… get me lunch?" She asked, frowning. Gabe nodded.
"I'll explain everything later." Phoebe sighed, but followed Gabe obediently into the town. He wandered down the high street, until he found a little café which sold takeaway sandwiches and tortilla wraps. "What do you want?"
"Just… some water, please."
"And to eat?"
"I don't want-" She began, but stopped at the look on his face. "Just a ham sandwich, please." Gabriel bought her lunch, and a coke and tuna sandwich for himself, before he steered her towards Green Park, in the centre of the town. Gabe settled down beside the pond and motioned for Phoebe to do the same. "Why did you bring me all the way out here for lunch?" She asked, once they'd opened their sandwiches.
"I wanted to talk to you. Away from the others."
"Oh?" Phoebe took a nibbling bite of her sandwich. "About what?"
"This." Gabe motioned her nibbled sandwich. "Why don't you eat much anymore?"
"I just don't feel hungry." Gabe snorted.
"So, I'm just imagining your stomach rumbling at every meal, am I?" Phoebe wrapped her arms around her knees.
"All of my friends are size ten or smaller."
"So?" Gabe said. "You're taller than all of them by at least five inches. You're bound to be a bit bigger."
"I'm a fourteen, Gabe." She snapped. "No-one in my class is a fourteen, except Sarah Mulligan, who's about a twenty."
"You're still growing." Gabriel said patiently. "As you grow, your weight will sort itself out. Remember a year or so ago, Jordan was really pudgy? He's skinny now, because he had his growth spurts, and everything redistributed itself."
"He was never as big as me." She said moodily.
"Excuse me," Said Gabe. "But there's a size eighteen shirt in his wardrobe that says otherwise." Phoebe gave him a small smile. "Listen. I'm worried about you. If you're really serious about losing weight, start exercising. You could do hockey at school, or football, or rounders. Take up swimming, or badminton after school. Just, please, stop this crash diet. You'll make yourself ill, and we don't want that, do we?" Phoebe leant against him and rested her head on his shoulder.
"I'll try, Gabe… Can you make Jordan play football with me?" Gabriel laughed.
"You know I can't make Jordan do anything nowadays. But I'll have a go." Phoebe hugged him.
"Jordan loves you, you know. He's just a teenager. All teenagers rebel against their parents." Gabe smiled.
"I know. I just wish that sometimes I was able to rebel, instead of having to play the bad guy all the time." They sat quietly beside the pond for a while, before Gabe smiled at her brightly. "I have an idea. In a few of weeks, the twins are leaving for their residential trip with the school. Why don't you and me and Jordan do something fun together then."
"Whatever you want to do." Gabe said. "We could go camping for a few days. Just the three of us. I think we have a tent somewhere in the cellar."
"That'd be fun." Phoebe grinned. "Can we roast marshmallows?"
"We can eat marshmallows." Gabe said. "Whether or not we can roast them depends on whether or not we can have a camp fire. We'd have to check with the campsite." Phoebe nodded eagerly, and Gabe smiled at her enthusiasm. "Alright. I'll look for the tent and sleeping bags and stuff tonight, and we'll see what we need to buy." They scrambled to their feet and threw their rubbish in a bin as they walked past. "Right. I need to get to work. I've got to get some money together for the twins' trip. And ours." He grinned at her. "I'll see you tonight." He kissed her forehead and watched her leave the park, before he turned and wandered down to the alley behind the rundown old supermarket on the edge of the town. The family owned business was quickly being forced aside by newer, conglomerate supermarkets, and the family had turned to back alley trading to keep afloat.
Gabe slipped into the alley and waited for almost half an hour before someone ambled into the alley, looking interested. Gabriel saw it was one of the men he usually met when he worked the lunchtime shift, which wasn't often. He usually spent lunchtimes showering the men of the previous night off his body. The man dug into his pocket, pulled out fifty quid, and thrust it into Gabriel's hand. Gabriel pocketed the cash securely, and turned to face the wall, unbuttoning his jeans as he did so.