The next morning, Casey didn’t feel like going to school. He laid in his bed, trying to think up a way to get out of it. His mother wouldn’t care, she was probably not even there herself. Heath was home, he had heard his brother getting in around one in the morning and start watching the telly, and he had probably fallen asleep there too. The twins were already in trouble, and Brax was trying to maintain a leveled head.
There was just no way that staying there would be a smart option.
“CASEY!” he heard Brax calling him from the kitchen. There was just no way that Brax would buy into his staying home, and if he pretended to be ill, there was a strong likelihood that Brax or Heath would be sticking around because of the twins’ suspension. They would know in an instant he was lying.
“Stop your yammering!” he heard Heath’s reply.
He heard his brothers voices mumbling, and groaned as he twisted off his bed to get dressed. Casey didn’t need either one of them on his back. Brax would already be irritated with having had to discipline the twins the night before. It was obvious when it happened. Brax would get all moody and the twins would be on their best behavior for the next day or two.
Cripes, if Brax ever found out that his teachers were thinking he was cheating, he would lose it. Not that Casey would cheat, he really had worked too hard in school his whole life to do something like that, but he certainly hadn’t left his last school with the greatest of records.
Casey stood up, stretching his arms up over his head. He kept telling himself that he was going to go to school for Brax’s sake, and that he didn’t need to talk to anyone, least of all Romeo.
He was constantly making a fool of himself.
“Hey!” the door swung open with Brax standing there in his beige cargo pants and still wet from his shower. “You deaf?”
Casey sighed. I don’t want to go to school, he thought to say. The words were just at the tip of his tongue.
“No,” he groaned instead.
“Do you need me to dress you?” his brother glared.
Casey turned and dragged his feet over to his closet. He had tried stuffing his clothes into his drawer, where he wouldn’t have to look at it, but Brax had insisted on his ironing and hanging his uniform. Even before he had been tossed from Mangrove High – where, coincidentally, kids had been known to where the same stained shirt all week.
Not that he was willing to bring that up to Brax, who had probably seen similar things occurring when he had gone to school.
“I’m coming,” Casey said instead, reaching for a shirt and his jeans and yanking them down without even bother taking it from the hangers.
“Casey,” he could hear Brax frowning.
“I’m getting dressed,” he glared just enough to show his brother how truly unhappy he was. “Leave me alone.”
“I’m going to ignore your rude awakening,” Brax said instead. “And move your ass if you want any breakfast.”
By the time they reached Summer Bay, Casey was wishing he hadn’t ever gotten out of bed. If there was a way that he could have hidden from Brax and not been found out, he would have definitely done it.
When they got there, each Braxton went their own way. Casey made like he was headed to the school, but he headed instead towards the beach when he saw Brax headed towards the surf club again.
He sat there, thinking about what he was trying to do in school, what Brax wanted from him, and what he wanted. And while he was waiting, he was lucky enough to bump into Ruby. She even took his invite to sit beside him on the beach. Clearly, she was at least half as interested in him as he was in her.
And then, of course, Romeo stopped by.
Casey wasn’t sure yet how to act with Romeo. The guy was nice enough to be friendly to him, after being a complete dick of course, but now that he knew what kind of lifestyle Casey was living under, then he wasn’t the best of buddies to hang around.
Who knew what was going on.
As the day went on, he bumped into Ruby getting her own breakfast at the Diner. Every time he saw her, he couldn’t help but smile. Ruby wasn’t the same as everyone else, but she wasn’t as interested in him as he was her, he knew it. But he could change that.
“Hey,” Ruby said as she entered the Diner that Casey was readying to leave. “What happened to you this morning?”
“What do you mean?” he smiled down at her.
“Well, as soon as Romeo turned up, you bailed,” she pointed out. “What’s going on with you two?”
“Nothin’s going on,” Casey replied. Other than his confusion and his otherwise unease at everything. Nothing was going on, that was the truth, because he had no idea what he was even doing.
“Oh, yeah. Right, so all of a sudden, your new bestie has problems with you? Come on, what's the story?”
Of course, Casey couldn’t help but think. Blasted Romeo. Instead of forgetting his time at the Braxton house, he seemed to want to broadcast his business to all willing to listen. First Mr. Copeland, now Ruby.
“What’d he say,” Casey wondered, trying to not rush into any conclusions just quite yet.
“He just said to stay away from you,” Ruby replied.
“Is that right?” Jerk.
“Yeah,” nodded Ruby. “Apparently you’re trouble.”
Trouble. Him? Casey Braxton? Sure, he knew that he hadn’t given Romeo the best of impressions of himself, or anyone really, and he was, after all, a Braxton, but really?
“Is that right?”
Apparently, Romeo hadn’t told her why he felt that Ruby should keep away, but that didn’t make Casey feel any better.
“I mean, obviously, it has something to do with me,” Ruby concluded, her face somewhere between interested and worried.
“I mean, are you guys arguing about me? Did I do something…
“Oh, we’re about to be, don’t worry,” Casey scoffed as he started heading for the door.
“But, Casey!” Ruby called after him, but he continued on.
If it wasn’t one thing, there was always another. He had barely been in the new school a whole month, just over two weeks, and he couldn’t seem to get his grip on the Summer Bay scene – not that he was even interested in his own community, but school had certainly never needed this much attention.
And now, with Romeo and Ruby, Casey didn’t even have friends at Summer Bay. The thing with Dexter Walker wasn’t helping his image, and it was a miracle that Romeo was still talking to him. Casey liked the guy, he was calm and smart and didn’t talk down to him. He was actually stupid enough to try and pick a fight with him too. Romeo had seen his family, all of them, and wasn’t spreading it around like wild gossip.
But he couldn’t seem to keep his head out of Ruby’s relationships.
As Casey headed briskly over to the school, where he was sure to find Romeo – the guy did after all live with a teacher. He would be there early enough that Casey shouldn’t have to wait up for him.
Spotting Romeo Smith was easy. Casey headed over to the lockers and there he was.
Instantly, he could feel all the teenage raging hormones that kept getting him into trouble ignite in him. Without much more thought, he marched right up to the guy and shoved him back against eh lockers.
“Is your own life so boring that you have to mess with other people’s? Is that it?”
“What?” Romeo frowned.
“Say what you like to my face,” Casey growled into his face. “But don’t talk behind my back!”
“Chill out, okay?” Romeo replied back, calmly and not getting into the angered fervor that they were both so quick to jump into before.
“Just chill out, mate,” Romeo repeated.
“Mate? You’re not my mate!” Casey grounded back. “You act like you are, and then you stab me in the back! First with Copeland, and now with Ruby!”
Kids were starting to gather around, piling in with their cell phones held up, recording. The day was getting off to quite a ruckus.
“Why’d you tell Ruby to stay away from me, huh?”
“I guess I was worried about her,” Romeo answered honestly.
Casey could see the honesty in his words, and he wasn’t sure that he liked that. Worried? For Ruby?
“You think I would hurt her or something?” Casey asked, insulted. How many times did he have to say, he was nothing like his brothers. And his own brothers didn’t go around hurting people either!
From the corner of his eye, Casey saw someone approaching, and he figured a teacher would soon be pulling them apart. Again.
“You seem to be in a bad headspace,” Romeo nodded at him, still calmly speaking like he had it all figured out. Jerkass jerk.
“Where do you get off saying that?!” Casey exploded, lunging at Romeo, who brought his hands up enough to stop a blow and push Casey back.
“Hey!” Romeo shouted at him, but among the shouts of the other kids chiming in around them, Casey could barely hear him. The blood pounding on his ears wasn’t help much either.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!”
Suddenly, Liam Murphy was there, jumping in between the two and shoving them apart. With one hand out to each teen, he glared at each in turn.
“You want to tell me what’s going on here?”
The short answer, was no. The long answer was hell no.
Casey glared at them both.
“It’s nothing,” he retorted, though every fiber of his being was screaming otherwise. It was everything! New school, no one liked him or trusted him or even dared to look at him. Ruby may or might not like him. Romeo was a horrible friend, even if he was partially right to be concerned for Ruby. Brax was going to kill him. School sucked. Home sucked. The twins got to stay home and he still had to get up mad early to drive an hour to school.
A whole lot of nothing and Casey Braxton exploded every time.
Liam glanced over at Romeo, who was just looking over at Casey. Casey who looked betrayed and hurt and mad and like he wanted to ripe Romeo’s head clear off of his body.
He shook his head.
“Well, you’ve both got detention this afternoon then,” Liam told them, releasing their shirts and shaking his own head. He already knew Romeo well, and Casey's reputation wasn’t painting the best pictures.
“I can’t,” Romeo finally spoke up. “I’ve got to be somewhere.”
“Oh, really?” Liam looked over at the young blond in disbelief. “If you ask nicely, I could make it two afternoons.” He knew Romeo, and while the kid would give you the shirt off his back, he also was prone to diving headfirst into situations without thinking. Liam wouldn’t want to point that out, since he was in the same boat himself, but as a teacher, he couldn’t go on letting behavior like that go. As a friend, he thought Romeo was a great person and he knew that Miles was taking great care of him and that he was proud of all that Romeo was trying to do.
“Now back to class!” Liam announced, turning to shove Casey in one direction and Romeo towards the other. “That goes for everyone! Come on guys! Back to class.”
As the others cleared out, Ruby stood out against the lockers.
“Ruby,” Liam turned to her. “Do you know what’s going on here?”
She shook her head. Liam sighed and turned away. Teenagers were the death of him.
As Casey walked towards his own class, turning back when he realized he had left his backpack back in the hall, he was just grateful that no one had bothered telling the principal or worse, Brax.
Casey sat all of detention glaring at the back of Romeo’s head. When he finally got out and headed home, he was more than thinking about Ruby.
He showered and changed and waited until Brax and Heath had headed out for the night.
“Twenty bucks,” Jagger insisted as he told them he was headed out for the night.
“What?” he scoffed.
“Each,” insisted Nash.
Casey rolled his eyes. The twins were suspended, so they were also grounded, not that they went very many places. And again, that seemed to mean that Casey himself was stuck with them. In his brothers’ defenses, Heath had been with the two all day, and that was either really fun or really exhausting. And Brax was Brax. Who knew what the eldest Braxton was up to?
“Twenty, and you can devi up however you like,” he started to pull out his wallet.
“Where you headed?” Jagger asked.
“Who more like,” Nash giggled.
Casey glared at them. “For twenty bucks, you don’t get to ask any questions.”
“How are we supposed to keep Brax from finding ya, if we don’t know where you’ll be?” Nash reasoned.
Casey frowned. He didn’t want Brax anywhere near this. He wanted to see Ruby, had wanted to see her all day. Each of their interactions had been interrupted or gone horribly wrong. And then he had gone and fought with Romeo, who was her friend. He wasn’t feeling quite optimistic, but not only had he no intentions whatsoever to tell any of his siblings about his crushing on Ruby, he knew Brax especially would kill him for going after a cop’s daughter.
“I’ve got a cell phone,” he rolled his eyes. “Call me.”
Nash took the twenty from Casey, being the closer twin to him as they sat on the couch.
“You could always just say you needed to get something from someone for school,” Jagger shrugged.
“Or that you have to meet up with some of your old friends,” added Nash.
“You never see them anymore,” nodded Jagger.
“No way,” Casey sighed. “Lying isn’t going to help me. Besides, the only thing that could get me in trouble is if you two snuff it up! You know Brax doesn’t want you left alone.”
The twins shared an annoyed look.
“We can handle ourselves fine,” Jagger shrugged.
“If we could somehow get rid of the house phone-
“-And alter the numbers on file-
“We wouldn’t have any problems with anyone.”
Casey just shook his head.
“Don’t plan anything! The last thing I need is you guys to break into the school just because you want to get back at getting caught while seeking revenge.”
“We’re not planning anything,” Nash shrugged.
“And we wouldn’t get caught!” Jagger frowned.
For a second, Casey thought about staying. If his older two brothers were known as hardcore fighters and in a gang, his younger two were going to be known as criminal masterminds with too much bravado. And he would be the Braxton in the middle, hoping beyond hope that people wouldn’t think that he was as bad off as his brothers.
Not that they were really all that bad off.
In fact, he was having himself quite a Braxton day. Fighting and sneaking off to seek a potentially dangerous girl; it was completely unlike him.
“Play videogames or something,” he groaned. “And be in bed by ten.”
They gave him looks that he chose to ignore and instead he made certain he had his wallet and his cellphone, and he headed out the door.
Romeo had let it slip before the area where Ruby lived, and when Casey reached it, it wasn’t too hard to find her house. It was, after all, the only one with a police sticker on the window.
He walked towards the house and wondered what he would do if Sergeant Buckton came to the door. Casey would probably dive into the bushes or something. Buckton sure had it out for the Braxtons.
But when he got near the house, he was happily surprised to spot Ruby, just Ruby, sitting at the table and diligently doing her work. She was smiling, looking at her cellphone and glanced up when he knocked against the opened window frame. He smiled.
“Hey. I realize I’m the last person you want to see right now, but.”
“Well,” she placed her cell down. “You’re perceptive at least.”
“Well, I know when people think I’m bad news, anyway.”
Her face softened a little at him putting himself down. He didn’t mean to do it, often, but it was the truth.
“I don’t think you’re bad news,” Ruby insisted. “I just …I don’t know what to think you are. Come on in.”
Casey straightened up and headed over to where Ruby was sitting.
“Yeah, well, the stuff you said about me before, about me being some River Boy? You were wrong.” Casey sat down and looked right at her, seeing the interest in her face.
“Right? So you’re not a River Boy?”
“No, I’m a boy from Mangrove River,” Casey identified. “There’s a difference.”
“Don’t your brothers like, run the place or something?”
That was a common misconception based on truth. Brax always insisted that they weren’t a gang, Heath always insisted that they were, or better than a gang. The River Boys were family, when so many of them had no one else to call family. But the Braxtons were a family above being the River Boys.
“I’m not like that.” Not to even get into the fact that, whenever something “River Boy” like happened around them, Brax made certain to keep him and the twins out of it. Brax and Heath were all about their Boys, but they put family first.
“Well, it sure looked like that today,” Ruby countered.
“That was a mistake,” Casey said, hating himself again for what he had done.
“Right, so you don’t normally go around chucking people into lockers,” Ruby insisted, not letting him off the hook so easily. “But today, you just couldn’t help yourself?”
Casey rolled his eyes. It was hard enough to explain to people that knew him how he wasn’t like his brothers, Ruby and Romeo and all of the others at Summer Bay, they weren’t to know him any better than his own actions. And that wasn’t exactly something he was doing in his favor.
“When people expect you to act a certain way all of the time, sometimes, you tend to act a certain way,” he tried to explain. “Understand?”
Sometimes, it was just hard to not give into the anger and frustration and lance out.
“Why are you telling me this?” Ruby wondered.
“Because I wanted you to know the truth,” he answered honestly. He found that he liked being honest with her. She was blunt and smart and pretty and funny and she didn’t take things standing still.
“I didn’t realize you cared so much about what other people thought,” Ruby replied.
“I don’t,” he shrugged. She glanced up from where she was pretending to do some notes and he could feel his heart pounding out like he was about to jump out onto a speeding train.
“I care about what you think,” he emphasized.
“Because I like you Ruby.”
Ruby started to straighten up, unsure what to do with this. It wasn’t a complete surprise. He had after all, kissed her. But Ruby’s mind hadn’t latched onto Casey’s triggers and clues and flirts just yet.
“You say what you think, you’ve got guts, and I think you’re really, really beautiful.”
She blushed. She had never had anyone say things like that to her. Her previous relationships had always been intense and instant connection and they tended to fizzle out just the same. But there was Casey Braxton, declaring himself to her and telling her that he thought that she had confidence and beauty. Most people would prefer if she didn’t speak out so much, but Casey seemed to think that made her attractive.
And there he was, not half bad himself. He was tall, and he was very athletic. She had seen him surfing a few times, and he could certainly keep up with the other River Boys. He could probably have heaps of girls at school after him. He was mysterious and dangerous and exciting, what teenage girl wouldn’t?
“Um,” she didn’t know what to say. She could hear her own voice falter. He was so sweet, to call her those things and to go out of his way so that she knew how he felt. To care that she thought the right things about him. “I suppose, I have been a bit harsh on you haven’t I?”
Casey couldn’t help but grin. She had been nothing but hard on him. Direct and unafraid. It was hard to notice anything or anyone else when Ruby Buckton was around.
“In saying that,” Casey tried to calm his own nerves and steady his decision. He hadn’t come all this way, potentially invoking his brother’s wrath, just to leave things too soon. “Maybe we could hang out some more? Maybe go out on a date or something?” Please say yes. Please say yes.
“Yeah,” Ruby nodded. “I’m going to think about it.”
“If you want to say no, you can,” Casey insisted. Please say yes. Don’t say no. “You don’t have to lie to me.”
“No,” Ruby grinned. “I know. I’m going to think about it.”
“I suppose that’s better than a no,” Casey smiled.
Casey stood up and smiled down at her. She was going to think about it and he was going to let her and try not to obsess over every little thing.