Things were getting out of control.
The kid was in his grade, but small. He was annoying, but when PeeWee and Rick had started going after him, Casey lost control.
Not that he had any to begin with.
He would've just been happy deleting himself from the camera, but the boys started roughing the kid up.
Dexter Walker. That was the skinny kid's name. He was in Casey's year but he could easily pass for younger.
Casey tried to get the guys to stop, told them to just leave it, but they ignored him. He wasn't Brax and he wasn't Heath. They wouldn't treat him badly, but they didn't respect him.
Just as suddenly, they took Dex to the boot of their car and drove away.
Casey paced up and down the empty parking lot for a moment. His backpack and Dex's shoe were the only things left.
Talking to Romeo made Casey feel a hundred times worse. Harmless, Romeo had said. Weird but a good kid.
And his sister was dating Romeo.
Even if he could tell someone what had happened, what good would it do? They had to bring Dex back eventually, right?
The next morning, the second Casey saw Principal Palmer entering their class, he knew it was bad. With Dr. Sid Walker a step behind her, he could feel his heart pounding a hundred times hard.
Dexter hadn't gotten home.
"If anyone knows where Dex is, now is the time to speak up."
He could see the worried looks on the adults. Around him, kids were either hiding their amusement or horrified.
Casey frowned. He tried not looking too interested, after all he barely knew Dex. He knew he couldn't bring attention to himself.
He should've told Brax, or at least Heath. But Heath hadn't been home last night and Brax had had enough problems trying to get the twins to do their own school work. Dinner had been watching a game and before he knew it he was in bed and trying to fall asleep.
He had seriously thought the guys would have left Dex be.
He could feel Romeo's eyes on him as that cop lady talked. He took slow breaths and maintained calm. Nothing he had told Romeo the previous day was a lie. Plenty of people had seen Dex filming him. It wasn't a lie.
"Why were you so interested in Dex yesterday?" Romeo asked him as the copper turned away for a moment.
"I told you," Casey replied. "I saw him filming me." he couldn't look at Romeo. He knew how that might make him seem guilty but he couldn't help it.
Was he guilty?
Dexter shouldn't have been filming him. He wasn't an exhibit for the kid's viewing pleasure.
But that didn't mean he deserved for Rick and PeeWee to grab him either.
Romeo kept looking at him, unconvinced.
"And you came to me about it?"
Casey nodded. He had gone to Romeo, almost by accident really. He had been walking around, looking for a ride back to Mangrove River. Heath had been hanging around there the past few days. Or any other other guys.
Maybe if he had seen Heath, he would've told. Or Brax. Maybe.
"Yeah, so?" he took a quick glance at Romeo and hoped it was enough to stop his growing suspicions.
He had no idea how his brothers did this.
Romeo did not look convinced.
"So, that's not how you guys operate," Romeo retorted.
Casey scoffed. He wasn't a River Boy. He was a Braxton. There was a difference, even if no one else seemed to understand that.
"I've seen it. If there's a problem, you go to each other and you do something about it."
"You don't know what you’re talking about," Casey shook his head. He glared at his desk.
"You did something," Romeo frowned.
"I didn't do anything," Casey said, though his heart was pounding out how true that was. He hadn't done anything. Not a damn thing.
"Then who did?"
Casey turned away. Officer Buckton, Principal Palmer, and Dr. Walker were a small huddle of concern over by the door. Just one small from Romeo and not even big brother Brax could save his hide. He should've said something the night before. He should've stopped the guys. He wasn't ten years old anymore, he could hold his own.
He should've never gotten in the damn car. Or gotten out. Or gone over to Dex at the boat in the first place. He could've just given him the finger, it would've been enough.
But Casey hadn't thought that the guys were paying attention to him. Just his luck, the one time he didn't want the attention and couldn't seem to lose it. Not from the teachers. Not from the students or residents. And not from Romeo or Dex. However did he get so lucky?
"If something's happened to him, you have to say something," Romeo stressed. "Come on man, he’s my girlfriend's brother!"
"I don't have to do anything," Casey whispered. "Now shut your mouth, or I'll shut it for you."
He had NOT expected Romeo to hop up, loudly threatening him. Blasted blonde! It was like he deliberately had it of for Case.
And he accomplished exactly what he wanted, everyone's full attention.
"Yeah? Go on then, shut my mouth."
Casey groaned. This was probably why his brothers had dropped out. It was endlessly stressful and frustrating, even without the grades stuff.
Had Casey not been from Mangrove River, had he not been a Braxton, Romeo would've probably ignored him. Heck he could've probably made friends.
Oh to live in the "what ifs".
"Romeo? Casey? What's going on?" Palmer asked them.
"Go on tell her," Romeo said.
Buckton and Walker's eyes widened. Casey could punch Romeo in the mouth for this. He should. But there was no point now.
He felt sick to his stomach.
"Nothing, Mrs. Palmer," Casey said, sounding a bit smug. "Sorry."
He glared at Romeo. The older teen couldn't prove anything. He had only asked a question before. It was innocent enough. Casey hadn't done anything.
"Casey, if you know something, then we need to hear it." Casey knew better than to talk to cops. They might be around to help people, but that did not extend to Braxtons.
He stayed silent.
"Do you know what happened to Dex?" Buckton tried again.
Silence now was his best friend.
He'd been brought to the principal's office. They had tried calling his mother, but that was a laugh. They left a message on Brax's voicemail, and Casey hoped his brother would ignore those like he so often did.
"Casey," Palmer sighed. "Romeo seems to think you know something about Dexter, now why would that be?"
"You do understand how worried we all are," she said instead. "Wouldn't you be worried if your friend or your brother went missing? Dexter is a lot of things, a very bright boy, but he is not known to go off on his own. He isn't strong and he could be hurt. Please, Casey, anything could help."
"I didn't do anything," Casey sighed.
Palmer shook her head. "No one is saying you did."
"Romeo is concerned. We are all concerned. We want Dexter home safe, that's all. That's all that matters."
Casey fidgeted and looked away.
He had hoped, still hoped, that Dex would've been home by now. He thought he would give Case the cold shoulder in school, and he might try and apologize. But he hadn't thought he would still be missing.
"Please Casey. Anything can help."
Casey sighed. He couldn't tell the truth. Not really. Not without getting in massive trouble.
"He was filming me all day yesterday," Casey shrugged. "And I asked Romeo about him. That's all."
"Filming you where?"
"Here. In the halls."
"Yes," she nodded. "He's been doing that a lot lately. He's a bit of a nervous kid. I think the camcorder helps him connect somehow."
"It makes him weird. Weirder."
Principal Palmer nodded.
"I can see that too. It can make others uncomfortable. Did he film you anywhere else?"
This was it. He would be actually lying if he denied it now. What if Dex was hurt? Casey didn't think Rick and Peewee would hurt him, but he couldn't say for sure.
"I don't know," Casey sighed.
Gina Palmer watched him closely. She could see the conflict in the teen. He knew more but he was afraid. It wasn’t her intention to cause more problems for him.
"Maybe you didn’t see him. Maybe he was just following you."
Casey frowned at her.
"Where did you go, after school? You didn't head straight home?"
Casey shook his head.
"Dexter might have been fixated in you this week. He could have followed you around, filming you without you realizing it. He could've been far off, you wouldn't have seen him. Where did you go?"
"I had detention," Casey replied.
"Right, but after?"
His heart ponded on his chest. He was a horrible liar. Most of the time, he wouldn’t even fully form a lie in his mind before he was caught. And the way Gina Palmer was looking at him, Casey was worried.
"I was just walking a bit," Casey started, but then he remembered that Romeo had seen the two guys pick him up. If Romeo hadn’t been there, Casey could’ve denied it. "The guys dropped me off at the beach."
It was honest enough, without revealing too much. Casey was worried for the geek kid, but it was ingrained in him to never daub in the boys. It would be like turning on a cousin or something. Brax had known Rick for almost ten years, PeeWee since their high school days. Not to say that he knew them very well, Brax didn’t exactly let him hang around too much, but he knew enough. They were River Boys, thats all he needed to know to keep his mouth shut.
Gina just nodded.
The question seemed simple enough, but it weighed heavy on Casey if he said anything, the guys would be in trouble. And Brax would find out. And Brax would be mad.
"Just, in case they saw something. Casey, I don’t have to remind you how important this is. Dexter is not the wilderness type."
She had to know something was wrong. She was looking at him so strongly, and he realized she was really trying there, for Dex. His principal was giving him an out, and if he really didn’t take it now, how would he live with. Himself if they found the kid's body in a week?
With a silent prayer that Brax never found out - as totally unlikely as that would be - Casey finally unburdened (part of) his load.
Part Five ->