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Todd sat on the bed in his parents room, as his mother looked in the mirror, turning left and right, stretching her neck to look at the reflection of her rear view, and she sighed.

She reached down and picked him up, gathering him into a hug. "Back to the rabbit food for me, I think," she said, as she held him tight, "not that it really does any good, but I suppose I should make the effort."

She sighed again, as she put him down.

He knew what this was about. Grandma had been over for dinner last night. She had stared at Mum for a long, long time, and then said, "You really must do something about your weight, Angela. It isn't good for you, being so big, and it would make it much easier for you to find a job, if you were thinner." Grandma's voice had that cold hardness it always got when somebody was doing something wrong, and somehow, he had noticed, when Grandma was around, someone always seemed to be. Usually Mum. Mum had bitten down on her lip, and not said anything then, but when Grandma had gone, she had turned to Dad and said in a tight, angry little voice, "She never comes here without some dig at me. You would think she would have come to terms with me by now, we've been married for sixteen years, after all. "

Dad had put his arms around Mum, and cuddled her, until she lost the stiff tightness, and put her arms around him too, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"She's just worried about you, Angie," he said softly, "she's always had a gruff way about her, you know that."

Mum had snorted then, and it wasn't a nice sound. "She's never liked me, and that's the simple truth. She's never thought I was good enough for you."

Dad laughed. "Oh, you're good enough alright. If you were any better, I'd be dead from exhaustion." Mum had giggled at that, and although Todd didn't understand why, he had been glad she was happy again.

Mum sat him up at the table, and bustled round the kitchen, throwing some Weetbix in a bowl, and heating milk in the microwave. When it pinged, she poured the milk all bubbling-hot over the cereal, and sweetened it with a generous spoonful of sugar.

"There you go, love," she said, putting the steaming bowl in front of him, "tuck into that. At least you don't need to worry about getting fat, you've inherited your Dad's metabolism, all you kids have."

He had no idea what a metabolism was, but from the way she said it, he thought it must be something good to have, so he smiled. His Mum was big. She was big and soft and comfortable and warm, and he would rather be hugged by her than anyone else in the world. He heard her sigh again, as she poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat down beside him at the table to drink it, without milk.

His oldest sister, Beth, raced into the kitchen, throwing her schoolbag into a corner, grabbing a yoghurt out of the fridge, and slamming two slices of bread down in the toaster. "Coffee hot?" she asked, and when Mum nodded, she poured a cup and sloshed in the last of the hot milk. She took a big gulp, and shovelled the yoghurt into her mouth as she waited for her toast to pop up.

"Raine not up yet? She'll miss the bus." She commented, taking the toast, and covering it with butter and honey.

'It's a teacher-only day at St Judes," Mum said, "she's not going in today."

Beth nodded, muttered, "Lucky cow!" and sat down, peering into Mum's cup. "Black?" She asked. "Are you dieting again? Face it Mum, you were born to be fat, and that's how we like you. Bugger Grandma, and just enjoy your cream cakes."

"Thanks, I think." Mum's voice didn't sound very thankful, Todd noticed.

Beth gulped down the rest of her mug of coffee, and finished the last of her toast, brushing the crumbs of her black high-school jersey. "Did you make my lunch?" she asked, looking round the kitchen.

"It's on the bench."

Beth scooped the bag up from the floor, and swept the lunchbox off the bench into it. "Seeya later," she called, as she dashed out of the door, ignoring Mum's yell to "Take a COAT!"

Mum, looked around and stood up. "She's like a tornado, your sister," she said to him as she threw away the yoghurt pot, put the lid on the honey, and returned it to the cupboard, and the butter to the fridge. "In and out in a minute, leaving chaos in its wake." She wiped up spilled milk and coffee and crouched down to put the dirty plate, cup, spoon and knife into the dishwasher.

"Have you finished your breakfast, Todd?" When he said he had, she asked him to bring the bowl over. Feeling very proud of himself, he slipped it into a rack in the machine and dropped the spoon into the basket, with the other cutlery.

"You're such a good boy." Mum said, and hugged him again, her face right up close to his, and smiling.

As she stood, Todd's other sister shuffled through the kitchen towards the bathroom. Her blue towelling robe hung open, and underneath she wore pink pyjamas with teddy-bears on.

"Mornin'" she mumbled.

Mum picked up a brush, and started to do Todd's hair. There was a flush, and Raine wandered back.

"What do you want for breakfast?" Mum asked, "There's..."

"Nothing now," Raine said, "I'm going back to bed. I'll get myself some Ricies later."

"Hang on a minute." Mum stopped her. "I have to take Todd to kohanga in an hour. I'll only be a couple of ticks, but I want you up and ready when I get back. I have to go into town."

"Can't I stay here?" There was a whine in 'Raine's voice.

"No, you can't. I'm going to be at least two hours."

"You let BETH stay home." She was sounding seriously sulky now, and Todd waited with anticipation for Mum to explode. She hated being argued with, and she hated sulking too. He quite liked to hear her shouting, when she wasn't shouting at him, it reminded him that other people did things wrong as well.

"Beth is fourteen, you're eleven. Just be ready, Raine, do I make myself clear?" She didn't shout, but that bossy voice was almost as good, Todd thought.

Mum finished his hair, and tucked his shirt back into his jeans, pulling his jersey down again, once he was neat enough to please her. "Would you like to watch cartoons for half an hour, before kohanga?" she asked.

Todd, nodded his head enthusiastically. He loved cartoons, but she didn't like him to watch too many, and he could make the telly work himself. She went with him through to the living room, turned on the TV, and switched channels to the cartoon network. "Thanks, Mum" he said, as he settled down in front of Pokemon.

As he watched the programme, he heard his mother singing, while she got ready to go out. She had a lovely voice, and she sang to him every night when she tucked him into bed, but he'd never heard the song she was singing now. "Keep young and beautiful, it's your duty to be beautiful, keep young and beautiful if you wanna be loved. Keep young and beautiful..."

"You'll be lucky!" Raine's voice came in spiteful satisfaction.

He heard his mother's voice falter, and then stop. She didn't shout, no sound at all. She just went quiet. As the silence went on, he jumped out of the chair, and went through to his her room.

She was sat in front of the mirror, and she had dressed carefully in a black skirt and jacket, with a white shirt. Her hair was rolled up, somehow, into a pretty, twisty shape, and big silver earrings hung from her ears. Her glasses were on the table and she had made up her face. In her hand, she was holding a tissue, marked with a dark red print of her lips. It was shaking, and she was crying. Not noisily, the way Todd cried, but with silent tears sliding down her face, making lines in the powder on her cheeks.

Seeing him standing at the door, she sat up straighter, grabbed another tissue, and dabbed the tears away. With a quick flick of a brush, the powdered face was perfect again.

"I think you're beautiful." He said, meaning it.

She gave him a watery smile, as she perched her glasses back on her nose. "Thanks, love," she said, "that's nice to know."

She stood up, and straightened the jacket. She really did look lovely, Todd thought, as she slipped her feet into a pair of black leather shoes with narrow heels. Like a newsreader off the telly, or one of those ladies in the adverts who did big important jobs.

She took helped him slide his arms into his warm fleece jacket, and held his gloves while he stuck his hands into them, then she wrapped a scarf around his neck and pulled a woollen hat onto his hair.

"Off we go," she said, taking his hand.

"What are you all dressed up for?" Raine was sitting at the table, in the tatty jeans that mum hated, boxer shorts showing over the waistband, eating a bowl of cereal. Todd hated her. She was mean, and she had made Mum cry. He scowled at her.

"Don't look daggers at me, squirt," she said, "or you'll pay later."

"Leave him alone," Mum snapped. "I'm dressed up because I have to go to the bank, if you must know. The manager wants to see me about the mortgage. Things haven't been easy since I got made redundant. Something you prefer to ignore whenever you want money for the movies, or to buy those expensive scruffy clothes you wear. I'll be back in ten minutes. Be ready to go."

Todd wondered what a mortgage was. He knew 'redundant' meant that she was home all day, and that he came straight home after kohanga, rather than going to his friend Martin's house for the afternoon. He didn't think she liked it much, and nor did he, really. He loved his Mum, but Martin was fun, and they had a dog, and a hamster, and Martin's mum knew heaps of neat games.

As they walked out of the door, Mum's mobile rang.

"Hello, Angela speaking"

She listened for a moment, then a smile spread across her face. "Of course Claire. I'm seeing the bank manager at 10.30, but I can do it any time after that. Lorraine is off school, but she can go to the library while I'm in the interview. You say they sounded really keen?"

After another pause, the smile widened. "That's great. Thanks Claire, I'll be there."

She put the phone away in her bag. "I think I may have another job, Todd. That would mean you would have to start going back round to Aunty Pam's in the afternoon. Would you like that?"

"Sure," he told her, "I like Aunty Pam, and Martin and Mitzi and Ratso. It'd be cool bananas!"

She smiled, and stopped at the door to give him a kiss. "Have a good time," she said.

As she walked away, he heard her singing again. "Keep young and beautiful." She sounded happy. He liked it when his mother was happy.

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