Casey Braxton’s days were going from dreadful to downright torture. In school, between most of the students avoiding him and the teachers still flinching when he turned up at their door, he wasn’t exactly loving the reception he was getting.
Of course, there were exceptions.
Principal GinaPalmer, for one. She was rigid and wasn’t afraid to get in his face about things. She warned him about making things harder for himself and that if he didn’t focus he would only be hurting himself. It was all true, but Casey didn’t like hearing it.
And then there was Miles Copeland. Mr. Copeland was making Casey wish he could sink into the ground and disappear.
“Students, students everywhere, and they’ve all done their work,” Miles was saying as he flipped through the papers that the class had handed in as they entered. “Except Casey, Casey sitting there, treating me like a joke.”
He heard a few snickers and Casey sighed. He hadn’t done his schoolwork at all. In the past few days that he had been going to Summer Bay High, he had just barely managed to get some of his school work competed. Mostly maths, and some history. As much as he bitched and whined about school in Mangrove River, at least there the teachers weren’t too involved in their students’ lives to care about what he was doing.
As Miles continued to try and get Casey to talk about the assignment, Casey tried to not seem as embarrassed and frustrated as he really felt.
He hated school. He always had.
No matter how hard he tried, how much he studied, it never seemed like enough. His grades rarely raised, and if they did any movement at all, it was usually plummaging. The only reason he hadn’t failed or dropped out yet was because Brax had warned him. And Brax didn’t make empty threats.
“Today might be your lucky day,” Miles stage whispered as he headed back to the front of the class.
Casey grimaced, doubtful. Braxtons didn’t have luck.
“How do you figure that?” he glanced down.
“Guys, there’s teacher training this afternoon,” Miles stated to the room at large. “So I’m going to give you a half day’s extension. Yes, you love me – I know!” he added among the jest. “Now, that means that I want you to look over your written, or what you have yet to write, Casey that means you, alright! I want this to be the best essay it can possibly be. You need to have it on my desk tomorrow morning. Understand?” Miles glanced at Casey until the teen looked back with a cheeky smile. ”Good.”
Casey was thankful, seeing as Miles was giving him an obvious second chance, but he still didn’t like his own odds. He wished he could just go home, or hit the surf. Anything but have to spend his days in school.
In front of him, Romeo – who wasn’t such a big a jerk these days and was maybe even likely Casey’s only friend now – dipped his head back and looked at Casey with a frown.
“You should’ve told me you needed a hand with it,” Romeo commented, gaining Ruby’s attention from beside him. Romeo, having had to repeat the year, felt like he knew everything there was to know about everything. He was actually pretty decent in English class, and having the teacher as his foster dad certainly didn’t hurt him.
“Who said I did?” scoffed Casey. Though, in all honesty, he probably did.
Anyone else, and they would have likely left Casey to his foul mode. Romeo, even before they had gotten to friendly terms, wasn’t like anyone else.
“Well, you haven’t handed it in,” he answered back.
Casey had to smile. The guy didn’t care that he was (practically) a River Boy and could (maybe) bash his head in at any second. He was stronger, older, and slightly wiser than Casey and he wasn’t afraid to point these things out.
“Like I’m going to waste my time on poetry,” Casey explained.
“Like they’re going to give you an HSC if you don’t,” Ruby added, butting in with an easy smile and turn of her head.
Casey glared at her.
“It doesn’t have to take a whole heap of time,” continued Romeo, ignoring his friend beside him and trying to engage Casey instead. If he followed Ruby’s way of antagonizing Casey, he was just going to make the younger teen angry. He knew that from firsthand experience. “I just reword mine from last year. You could do the same this arvo.”
“Or, we could go to the beach and catch some really good waves,” he added without hesitation.
Those had been his previous plans. The shorter school day meant more time to be with his friends and in the surf. Especially since if Brax caught wind of his slipping grades, it would not be pretty for him. Suffice to say, they might be his last waves in a long time.
“Yeah, I kind of like that idea,” Romeo uttered, a surfer at heart himself.
“Yeah, me too.”
Beside them, Ruby Buckton scoffed and shook her head.
“You guys are hopeless.”
“Hey, you don’t have to come,” Romeo told her.
“Hey, I didn’t say I wasn’t coming,” she amended with a smile. “But you are hopeless, you know that right?”
When school finally let out, Casey was more than happy to toss away his uniform and change into some shorts and a tee. He met up with Romeo and Ruby and the three of them carried their boards over to the beach.
Below them, Heath and a handful of the other Boys were mucking around on the beach.
“I don’t know about this,” Romeo sighed, looking at the water.
“Are you serious,” Casey scoffed. “The surf hasn’t been this good in weeks!”
“Yeah, if you’ve got a longboard.”
“Why are they still here?” Ruby sighed, glaring at the nuisance that were the River Boys. She had to hear enough about them from her mum, Charlie. Don’t talk to them, don’t look at them, avoid them at all cost. As if they carried the plague. But honestly, she didn’t like them at the Bay either. In her years living at the Bay, trouble had been known to come and go in small batches. But the River Boys were a handful that you couldn’t seem to tear your eyes away from. They were everywhere, every day. An infestation.
“Ah, look, Mangrove River’s a dump,” Casey sighed, not catching Ruby’s look of regret when she realized that Casey was one of them. “Ever since they closed the pub, it’s been like a ghost town. You should’ve seen my mom freak when she found out!” Casey added with a grin. Not that it was a terribly good memory, but Cheryl Braxton had been bitching and cursing up everyone that she came into contact with that day. The only thing that woman loved more than herself was booze.
Down at the beachfront, the Boys started to heckle a few women walking by. Heath’s voice was loud and easily recognizable. At least it felt that way to Casey. How his brother was able to spout out such things was beyond him. Casey could barely get up the courage to introduce himself, let alone start catcalling a girl he didn’t even know. In jest among friends, maybe, but out loud like that? Not this Braxton.
“Listen, uh, what about Wilson’s Beach?” Casey offered, thinking that at least today his brother and friend’s wouldn’t be there. And anyone who did show up would give them any trouble. Not with Brax’s little brother around.
“I’m in,” Romeo nodded.
“Yeah, I’m in,” added Ruby.
“You reckon you can handle it, do you?” He teased Ruby.
“Yeah, maybe you should just hang out,” added Romeo.
“Are you serious?” laughed Ruby.
“It’s pretty full-on breaks,” Romeo warned.
“Yeah, I don’t want to spend all arvo digging you out of sandpits,” smirked Casey.
Ruby glared at the two boys. “Okay then, don’t worry about it.”
“Seriously,” Romeo sighed as she turned away, her not okay with it attitude obvious. “Ruby?”
Casey watched as she walked away, wondering about this tough girl who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and didn’t seem to fear his presence. A part of him had hoped she would have taken him up on the challenge, but another part of him liked the less complications of just hanging out with Romeo.
“Come on,” he said instead, turning towards the street.
It took a long bus ride, but soon enough Romeo and Casey were at Wilsons, having the whole beach to themselves. These were the kinds of waves that Casey loved. Untouched almost, a heavenly gift.
An hour later and he was still reeling to go again, when Romeo stopped them.
“So, are we going to do this assignment of yours or what?”
“Or what?” shrugged Casey.
Romeo sighed. “Seriously?”
They started walking down the beach, towards their things.
“You can’t put it off forever.”
“Why waste a perfectly good afternoon, on some stupid assignment?” grimaced the young Braxton.
“Because Miles is just going to keep hassling you for it,” smirked Romeo.
“Yeah, well, he should get the message already.”
“Come on,” insisted Romeo. “He’s done stretched the rules enough for you.”
Casey sighed. “Look, I work a lot better if he just got off my back.”
“It’s no big deal,” continued Romeo. “We could probably knock it off in an hour and be back for a late arvo surf.”
The thought caught Casey off guard. An hour, for a homework assignment? It could take him three, easily! And seeing Romeo insist like only Brax had ever cared to do before, he faltered from his tough-guy don’t care persona.
“Seriously, an hour?”
Romeo shrugged, seeing a spark of doubt and hope in the younger teen.
“Well, two max.”
Casey stopped walking, glancing down back at the ocean behind them. He loved surfing. He loved Wilson’s. He loved surfing at Wilson’s. But he also loved the thought of not having Brax on his back about school, not having Mr. Copeland on his back about his assignments, and not having to be singled out each time he didn’t do his work.
Maybe Romeo was right. And if he kept in mind returning to the beach for a surf, he could maybe focus enough to actually get his work done this time.
“All right, fine,” he finally conceded. “Any more than two hours and my head will explode, okay?”
Romeo full out grinned, glad to see the kid take the initiative. He himself wasn’t the best student – he was after all repeating the year – but if he had learned anything from living with Miles, education was important. If he hadn’t thought so himself, he wouldn’t have bothered returning to school that year.
Arriving home, Casey was more than a little surprised to see two wet surfboards leaning up against the front wall. Brax hated the boards left out in the front and Heath’s almost always stayed in his truck. Casey sighed. He had figured that no one would be there.
“What’s wrong?” Romeo frowned as they headed for the backyard to place their boards.
Casey waited for a moment, wondering what he should say. In one hand, he was starting to really like Romeo as a friend, and he didn’t really have a whole slew of friends as it was. Even at Mangrove River, a lot of people avoided him because of the River Boy association. It wasn’t too bad when he had been littler. He didn’t need his own friends back then, not really. And since Brax almost never let him out of his or Heath’s sight, it hadn’t mattered. But he was sixteen now. He couldn’t be an arm’s length from his brothers forever!
On the other hand, his family’s biggest secret was currently wagging school and in the house now.
“Can I trust you?” he turned to frown at the blond. “I mean, can you keep a secret?”
Romeo frowned back. He hadn’t expected the turn of moment. One second they were joking and now Casey looked incredibly serious.
“This is your house, yeah?” Romeo wondered for a second.
Casey sighed but nodded.
“Case, man, what’s up? You can trust me, alright? I promise.”
Casey took another glance towards the backdoor. It was unlocked, it always was. It would be stupid of anyone to go in there unwanted and stealing from a Braxton was nice to death in Mangrove River. No one would want all of the River Boys on their ass like open season.
“You can’t tell anyone,” Casey insisted. “I mean it, Romeo.”
“Swear it,” Romeo nodded. “You’re freaking me out!”
“It’s nothing bad,” he sighed. Casey crossed his arms and turned his back towards the house. “But if my brothers ever found out I told you, told anyone…”
“I won’t say a thing,” Romeo promised. “Not to Ruby, or Miles, or anyone.”
Casey paused for another moment but finally nodded.
“Alright then,” he turned and headed in the house. Romeo slowly followed behind him.
It took the older teen a moment before he noted what was going on. The television had been left on and there were two plates of half eaten sandwiches on the table. Romeo frowned. The place itself was a bit of a mess, but Romeo had lived in a slew of bad homes before. His mother had been a horrible alcoholic, and if it hadn’t been for his own older sister he had no idea what his childhood would’ve been like.
Romeo was about to point out to Casey that he hadn’t always had a nice, safe life like he had now with Miles when he spotted the real root cause of Casey’s worry.
On the couch, intertwined with one another laid two dark haired boys fast asleep. Even in their slumber he could see hints of Brax and Casey and Heath in them.
“You have two little brothers?” Romeo whispered, afraid to awaken them. “I thought you were the youngest Braxton?”
“Sort of,” Casey answered with a smirk. “Look, no one really knows about Nash and Jagger. If the Braxton connection was made, not only would people start hounding them, but word might get back to our dad in prison. He doesn’t even know they exist. You can’t tell anyone about them, Romeo. They weren’t supposed to even be here!”
“Where the hell have you been hiding them?” Romeo asked now, concerned.
“Not like that,” Casey rolled his eyes. “I mean, people know they exist. They’re supposed to be at school. Mangrove doesn’t have teacher training today.”
“They’re wagging,” Romeo grinned.
“Yeah,” sighed Casey. “And Brax is going to kill them when he finds out.”
“Would your brother really care?” Romeo asked, not able to picture the big tough River Boy leader caring about his siblings missing school.
Casey turned hard eyes towards Romeo, and he knew he had hit a nerve.
“Brax isn’t an ass, you know,” he defended. “Well, he is, but not to me. Not to his family. You don’t understand.”
“Alright,” Romeo held up his hands. “Sorry. I guess, he wouldn’t be too happy to see them out and about, if they’re supposed to be all low-key and all.”
“No, he won’t,” Casey sighed again. “And I hate being the bearer of bad news.”
Casey moved towards the twins, shaking at the closest’s arm until he opened his eyes.
“Case?” he frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here,” he scoffed, standing up and nudging a foot at the other twin. “I should be asking you that question.”
The first twin sat up, glancing around as the second started to open his eyes.
“Shit,” the second one said as he spotted Casey in front of them.
“Who are you?” the first asked, spotting Romeo and getting his twin’s attention.
“That’s Romeo,” Casey replied, nudging his head over his shoulder. “He’s supposed to be helping me with an assignment. You know, for school. Like, where you twos should be!
“Romeo, that’s Nash and Jagger,” Casey pointed out the first and the second boy respectively.
“Hey,” Nash smiled. Jagger just frowned in reply.
Romeo was leaning up against the wall, looking at the scene in amazement. He never would’ve pegged the Braxtons for having little kids. Or rather, not any more. He, like seemingly everyone else, just figured that the Braxton brothers consisted of the trio. Everyone knew who Brax was, the eldest brother and leader of the tough surfer River Boys. And Heath made quite a name for himself too, being a rude, arrogant, ass most of the time and picking so many fights that he supposedly had a whole cabinet dedicated to him in Yabbie Creek. Casey, the youngest (supposed) brother was still young but everyone expected trouble from him too. Romeo certainly had.
He wondered how these two little ones played out.
“Sup,” he nodded back.
“What are you two doing here?” Casey asked them.
“Sleeping,” scoffed Jagger. “Til you interrupted.”
Nash rolled his eyes.
“Damnit Jags!” groaned Casey. “You know what I meant!”
“Calm down, will ya!” Jagger sat up, rubbing at both eyes. “You’re acting like we rubbed an old lady or something!”
“Well, the fact that I have no idea what you’ve been doing certainly doesn’t put that idea away, does it?”
“As if?” Nash scoffed. “You know the rule on old folks. We wouldn’t do that!”
Jagger stood up and started to walk past Casey. He reached out, stopping the kid with a gentle grip on the arm.
“If you don’t tell me something, I’m telling Brax.”
Jagger glared back and pulled free.
“You don’t have to go around telling him everything!”
“How exactly am I supposed to keep this from him?” Casey retorted.
“Just forget you saw us, duh!”
“Don’t be stupid, Jagger,” groaned Casey. “You know I can’t do that!”
“We’re not saying you have to lie,” Nash added. “But seriously, what are the odds of Brax actually asking you, Hey, so what have the twins been up to lately?”
“Nice try, Nash,” he shook his head. “But you guys know how bad off it would be if someone caught you out, or you idiots actually do something stupid. Like your school calling to know why you’re not there? How do you think that would go?”
Jagger scoffed. “I think they’d be more bothered with us actually being there.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, maybe just this one, Brax doesn’t have to know everything. And if we can keep our traps shut for –what’s today, Wednesday?”
Casey sank into an armchair and covered his face.
“What did you do?!”
“Nothing,” Nash replied.
“It just so happens, sometimes nothing gets you into enough trouble,” added Jagger.
Casey peeked up. “Are you two expelled or-
“Just suspended,” Nash shook his head.
“Just,” groaned Casey.
“We can look after ourselves. Look, you tell Brax nothing, and we’ll just get out of your hair,” Jagger insisted.
Casey shook his head. “No sorry. I can’t let you guys leave. Sorry Romeo, thanks for trying to help me out –
“Stop,” Nash stood up and walked to Casey’s side. “Casey, if you have something to do, just do it. We weren’t actually thinking about going anywhere. Nick and Trevor and the guys are all still in school and we have no idea where Brax and Heath even are. We’re not going to bother you, okay?”
Jagger rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Case,” Romeo called out. “You can’t skip this assignment. Miles is a great guy and all, but he’s not going to be happy with you if you don’t turn it in tomorrow.”
“Sounds like you have bigger worries, mate,” Jagger insisted. “How likely are we to get into trouble anyway?”
Casey turned back and glared.
“Don’t answer that,” she said with a smirk.
Part Twelve ->