“It’s good waves,” Casey said as he saw Romeo loading up the lifeguard truck. He had just spent the last two hours with Ruby and (it might be hopeful thinking but he thought maybe they could started going out and) he was in a good mode.
He wasn’t even mad anymore. Romeo was, in fact, a good friend.
“You should get out there.”
“I can,” Romeo said as he got the flags into the back of the truck. “Now that I’ve finished my shift.”
Casey nodded and kept walking.
With a sigh, he stopped and turned back. He knew the day had been going too well.
Romeo turned and walked over to him.
“About the assignment.”
“Look, forget it, okay,” Casey shook his head. “I’m not going to need your help again.” Nor would he ever subject Romeo or anyone to his house ever again. His brothers might be insane, but his mother coming around was just plain bad karma.
“Miles knows I talked you through it,” Romeo told him.
“So what?” shrugged Casey. There wasn’t anything wrong with that, but of course in his life someone always managed to fuck things up.
“So I told him the work was yours, but I’m not sure he believed me.”
“That’ll be right,” Casey rolled his eyes.
“Can you blame him?” Romeo shrugged. “You haven’t handed anything in yet.”
“So the one time I make an effort, I get hassled about it?” Casey glared. “Is that it?”
Romeo couldn’t help but look sympathetic.
“Look, no matter what I do here, mate, people always look down on me,” Casey told him.
“Miles is just trying to help. He’s not the enemy,” insisted Romeo.
Casey laughed. “Who is?” he asked sarcastically.
He was making himself the victim, and Romeo could see that in a lot of ways, he was. And maybe that was the way things worked in Mangrove River. Romeo had certainly been in places before where people looked down at him no matter what he did. But Summer Bay was different. People in Summer Bay had given him a chance, and they had given Miles a chance. With time, they were always able to accept people as their own.
Romeo didn’t feel like letting Casey fall into the landslide of allowing himself to think that everyone was out to get him.
“Well, if anyone, I have to say it was you,” he told him. “When things get difficult, you just flip out. Like yesterday-
“Look,” Casey stopped him, getting agitated at how the conversation was going. “Forget yesterday!” he certainly was trying to.
“Casey! You totally lost it!” Romeo told him. “And I can see things aren’t great at home -
“It’s none of your business,” Casey cringed. “Just forget what you heard there, okay? That’s not how things are normally, and things went to hell fast, so just forget it.”
“You can’t just lash out like that,” Romeo told him. He saw a lot of himself in the younger teen. But for Casey, it was worse. It’s what could have been. Had his mother still been around, had his foster homes been worse. Had he not found Miles.
“Get off my case!” Casey snapped. “Alright, serious!” Romeo didn’t know him. He couldn’t know what he was about from just one evening. And that had been his mother tamed. Brax and Heath were right there. They were in control, though there was never any controlling of their mum’s mouth.
If he had a dollar for every time that he had seen her drunk or listen to her ranting about or that she’d been dumped by the latest bloke, they would be rich.
Casey just shook his head and headed back down the sidewalk. He had thought about going back out to surf, but he would rather not be near Romeo, or much of Summer Bay, just then.
Behind him, he left a confused and disappointed Romeo Smith.
No one was home.
As Nash and Jagger walked in from school that evening, they were pleased to see that the place was empty.
When Brax had taken them back to school and discovered that they had been suspended, he had been pissed. So pissed, the school had let them back three days early.
“Rueben did say take it home and get it sighed,” Jagger said, pulling out an envelope from her backpack.
“We are home,” Nash shrugged. He went over to a kitchen drawer and got a pen. Walking back over to the table, he handed it over to his twin.
Without another thought, Jagger grabbed it and put ink to paper. Within another second the paper was signed as if Darryl Braxton himself had done it. Practiced ease.
“He’s going to kill you,” Nash shook his head.
“Us,” Jagger insisted. “Don’t try and be innocent.” She folded the paper back up and placed it once again in the envelope, handing the pen over to Nash. “I did this for you, after all.”
Nash took a seat at the kitchen table, kicking off his shoes and tugging off his shirt, leaving him in just his school shorts.
“Only reason we’re not suspended again, is that they don’t want to have to face him.”
“Well, I don’t want to have to face him either. So, they should understand. Look, I know what I did was wrong –
“You mean, getting caught?” Nash smirked.
“Exactly,” Jagger nodded. Stuffing the envelope back into the bag, it was tossed over to where her own shoes had been left by the door. Soon Jagger’s shirt joined Nash’s in a pile on the back of the couch. “We should head out of here, before anyone makes it home.”
“That’ll seem sus,” frowned Nash. “Besides, Brax said to stay home.”
“Half an hour, Wilsons and back. Just one quick surf. He’s-
“Don’t,” Nash stood up, shaking his head. “You’re lying if you even think he won’t know. You realize he’s going to find out today, and someone will see us out there surfing. I’m not saying I won’t go, but don’t lie to yourself about unrealistic safety.”
“Fine, we’re dead. Brax’ll beat my ass because he’ll know, like he does, that it’s all my idea. And then he’ll more likely than not give you a matching set for going along with me. Does that sound better?”
“We better get going, before I change my mind.”
They headed over to their bedroom, changing into board shorts instead and grabbing a bag that they had for such occasions. Nash went and grabbed them a few things from the kitchen and stuffed it into the backpack while Jagger grabbed them a few tees and sunblock. They heard a car approaching as they were getting ready to leave.
“It’s Heath,” Jagger peeked out a window.
“He’ll tell Brax he saw us,” Nash cringed.
“We’ll go out the front,” shrugged Jagger.
So they headed towards the front door and waited as Heath dragged his slightly drunken self from his truck into the house. They went around back and grabbed their bikes and their boards, silently making their way out of the backyard and down the street.
Wilson’s was pretty crowded for a calm day. Over to the far end, they could make out a few of the River Boys mucking around.
“Steer clear,” Nash said, leading them down towards the other side of the beach. “Brax is only a call away if we go there.”
“Heath might show up,” Jagger followed down.
“Too late now,” Nash shrugged. “You always make me wish I was a single birth,” he groaned.
Overtaking his stride, Jagger got beside him and slammed her side against his.
“You wouldn’t know what to do without me,” she rolled her eyes.
“I’d live a quiet, peaceful existence,” Nash muttered.
“You’re a Braxton, Ellis,” Jagger whispered. “There’s no such thing as quiet or peaceful in our vocabulary.”
The waves were pretty decent. They extended their reprieve for two hours and were still soaked when they rode back home.
“Of course,” Nash groaned, as they placed their boards against the shed to dry out. “Braxton luck is bad luck.”
Brax was home.
They figured he would be mad at them as soon as they entered, which had been the main reason for their extended surf session. Being grounded would mean no surfing. And if they did go surfing, Brax would tell the other Boys to keep them off of the beaches. And that would be utter hell.
They would have to sneak over to Reefton for a surf, and they had some terrible beaches, surf wise.
“Try not to talk, yeah?” Nash told her over his shoulder.
Jagger glared back.
“I’m not going to make things worse.”
Nash scoffed. “You have a way,” he shook his head.
Jagger shouldered past him, moving to the door first. No one was sitting in the kitchen area, or the living room. For a moment, they wondered if Brax and Heath had left on foot. They really, really, hoped that they weren’t out looking for them.
Jagger glanced around and shrugged.
“They’re not here?”
But Nash was frozen. Jagger turned to look at what had caught his attention and felt her stomach doing flops. On the coffee table that had seen more beer bottles in one day than coffee in its lifetime, laid open their backpacks.
Jagger reached over and grabbed Nash’s wrist.
“Don’t say anything,” she whispered.
Down the hall, a too familiar whistle startled them.
Turning, they spotted Brax frowning and Heath coming out of Brax’s room behind him.
“Nice of you twos to turn up.”
Heath spotted them and smirked shaking his head. He was never one to stand between Brax and anyone, including their younger brothers. Brax was law in their house and Heath followed Brax. They all did, except for the times when they didn’t.
“This should be good to hear,” he teased as the oldest two walked into the living room.
Brax turned his head. “You need to leave,” he said, giving him a pointed look.
“This can wait an hour,” shrugged Heath.
“Now, Heath,” Brax insisted. “While we still have the upper hand.”
Heath rolled his eyes.
“Whatever you say, big guy,” though he sounded upset at not getting to hear him reading the twins the riot act.
Better for them, they wouldn’t need the audience.
“Nice knowing you,” Heath stated, punching at Jagger’s arm and swiping at Nash’s head as he passed. Both ten year olds hissed at the rough treatment but said nothing. It was nothing compared to what they knew Brax had in store.
“What were you thinking?” Brax started in on them before Heath even left. “Because I know for certain you heard what I told you both last night and this morning. Or did I need to have your ears checked?”
“We came right back,” Jagger frowned. Beside her, Nash groaned.
“You shut your mouth!” Brax stated flat out, pointing a finger towards her head. “Between you two and Casey, I’m starting to ask myself if you’ve somehow forgotten who it is you’re talking to!”
“That’s absurd, Brax,” Jagger shook her head.” How could we forget who you are?”
“Stop. Talking,” Nash jabbed at her hip.
“Nicholas, go shower off,” Brax glared at them.
“Really?” the little boy frowned. “I thought you were-
“Now,” Brax growled. When had his little siblings decided it was a good idea to test him, and where could he burn that memo? “I’ll deal with you later.”
Nash cringed at the words. Brax was dividing them up. Which meant that he would be questioning them separately. Which meant that they were doomed. Nash was good at lying, but he was bad at coming up with things on the spot. That was Jagger’s forte. He was sneaky and charming and a wiz at mechanical things. Jagger was the brains and the one who would get in people’s faces and looked authority in the eyes and laughed in their face.
“But Brax,” he frowned.
“Either you walk yourself over to the bathroom and shower the surf off you now,” Brax crossed his arms. “Or I beat your ass for not listening and pissing me off, and I drag you there myself.”
“Just go,” Jagger nudged him with her elbow.
“You keep quiet,” growled Brax. “And you need to start thinking for yourself!” he glared at each twin in turn.
Nash walked forward, tensing as he got closer and closer to his irritated brother. Sure enough, as he passed Brax’s side, the eldest brother dropped a mighty smack against his still wet boardies. Nash cringed and kept walking, not even turning to see what kind of face Brax was looking at him with or Jagger’s reaction.
They were doomed.
“You went surfing,” Brax said to Jagger as soon as her twin was in the bathroom.
“Yes sir,” she sighed. Seeing her brother’s face as he landed the swat on Nash pretty much sealed her fate. Now it was just a process of how badly.
“What’d I tell you earlier?”
“To come straight home,” Jagger replied. “And we did.”
“Don’t start with your loopholes, kid!”
Brax walked forward until he was standing beside the couch, just out of arms reach from her.
“Look, I’m sorry, alright, but it was a nice day. And you know how much we hate being indoors. You should be glad we’re not like those kids that only ever play on video games and watch the telly.”
Brax glared down. It was the wrong things to say; it usually was when Jagger spoke. Brax tried to keep calm with her, with the lot of them, but she was too much like Heath. And if he was deadly honest, too much like himself. Nash and Casey were calmer and quieter and listened better. Heath and Jagger seemed to live for causing trouble.
The last thing Brax needed was for the twins to enter their teens and Jagger to be an uncontrollable brat. Heath had been, to a point. He’d pulled the younger boy over his lap a few times, but Brax hadn’t felt he could once Heath was fourteen. Of course, that’s when his brother really became a terror. Brax tried everything then, talking, grounding, taking things away, having other people rat on Heath.
It all worked to a point.
Then, when Heath had been sixteen and Brax was twenty, his brother had been taken in by the police. It was the first time, Brax had hoped it would be the last, but if wishes were dollars.
Heath had been caught joyriding. But that hadn’t even been half the story. That’s just what the coppers knew. Before Brax had gone to pick him up from the station, he had made a few calls. Three guys had been seen fleeing from a convenience store in Yabbie Creek. Three guys that sounded a lot like Heath’s best mates.
Heath had been their getaway driver.
That day, Brax had tossed all cares of his kid brother’s age aside and reinstated his own rulings. Heath had scoffed, having grown confident and cocky. It had taken a bit of a fight, but Brax had been careful not to actually hit Heath. Heath had tried his damnest to get away. Brax had cornered him and had tried to get Heath into his bedroom, but during the struggle a lamppost had crashed to the ground, shattering the glass. It further infuriated Brax, and he grabbed his brother close, landing a serious number of hits against his trousers. He’d growled into his ear, warning him he would use his belt if he didn’t stop and Heath finally stopped.
It might have had something to do with eight year old Casey standing, wide eyed, at the edge of the couch. The youngster having been awakened by the crash and rushing out to investigate.
When Brax had managed to get Heath into his room, he had again tried to remain calm. Heath had taken that as a showing that maybe he could talk his way out of the beat down that was coming his way. But it didn’t take Brax long before he had his ass bared and leaned over his bed.
Not a pleasant memory for the eldest Braxton, but certainly one that made him stand firm in his belief that there was just no letting things go. He had been treating Heath like a little adult, and he shouldn’t have. Even now, there were moments when he had to step in and tell his brother how things were going to get down. Thankfully, it hadn’t ended with Heath getting his ass literally beat for a while now.
The twins however, seemed inclined to pick up his slack.
“You think surfing is okay because at least you weren’t vegging out in front of the telly? Really? That’s your stand?”
Jagger sighed. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Do I look stupid to you?”
Jagger shook her head.
“You knew exactly what I meant then, yeah?”
“Jags, don’t make me repeat myself.”
“I figured we’d be back before you noticed,” she relented, her hand coming up to rub at the back of her head. Her dark hair was still wet and the motion was making it look in even more disarray.
It was hard to ever look at her like a little girl. They all knew she was, but Jagger never acted like one. She would scoff at fashion, roll her eyes at dolls and would likely attack him if he dared ever put her in a dress or pink. She was tough, a real craze ass Braxton, and a part of him was glad she would always know how to handle herself. A part of him also wondered if they would have all the same problems if they had started treating her different from the beginning.
“You figured wrong.”
Jagger scoffed, her momentary moment of weakness passing.
“I’d say! You’re never home this early.”
“I knew you were supposed to be,” Brax crossed his arms again. He took a few slow steps forward until he was right in front of Jagger. “Called the house phone, and when Heath answered, he said he hadn’t seen tooth or hair from either of you. That was almost three hours ago.”
“Well,” she started.
Brax reached over and placed his hand over her mouth.
“Don’t bother,” he said. “You’re at a point now where it’s best if you keep your mouth shut. Understood?”
Jagger pouted but nodded.
“Don’t you want to know why I was calling?”
Jagger raised an eye brow. This was a trick question. She would not like the answer.
She shook her head.
Brax scoffed. He had to smirk at her, the little shit. Too much spunk in that one.
“I’ll tell you anyway.”
“I got a rather interesting call today, I’m sure you can imagine from who.” Jagger’s eyes widened. Brax’s smirk darkened and his eyes met the youngest Braxton’s. “I’m guessing you can. So I guess you know what I’m going to ask for next, then.”
Jagger couldn’t believe her bad luck. She had signed her brother’s name on dozens of things throughout the years. He had never caught on, or if he had, he hadn’t cared.
“Uh,” Reaching back up into the dark messy strands.
“I’ll stop you before you bury yourself in further. Go get it.”
Jagger turned and walked the long away around the couch to the table. She wondered why he hadn’t just gotten it himself. It wasn’t like he hadn’t gone through their things before. The backpack wasn’t the best place to hide things, but she had figured that for just one moment, not even a full day.
She had figured wrong.