Brax headed down the beach path a few feet behind the twins. The two were excited to finally be allowed along for the seemingly daily visits to Summer Bay. It was the weekend, and a lot of kids were out on the beach.
Fearless idiots that they were, the twins headed straight to the water, no glance around for lifeguards or anyone they knew. Those two couldn’t care about anyone else but each other and the waves just then.
Spotting the little kid that Heath had saved from drowning, Brax dropped his bag and walked over to where he seemed to be fighting with a skinny blond kid around Casey’s age.
“You could get knocked out by a wave and cop the sharp end on the back of the head!”
“Is this guy bothering you, mate?” Brax asked as he got beside them.
“Nah, it’s cool,” the little kid, VJ, stated. “I was just saying what a mad board this is. Thanks again.”
Brax grinned. From what he had caught of the conversation, that hadn’t been what the two were talking about. He grinned at the easy form the kid took to not only protect his friend, but to not look the least bit uncool in front of him.
“Yeah, and I was just saying that short boards too hard for him to learn on,” Xavier insisted.
“What do you reckon? Think you can handle it?” Brax turned to the kid in question.
VJ’s eyes widened at the seeming challenge. “Yeah!” he smirked, his eyes lightening up in a way Brax knew too well. Kid had a bit of spunk to him, that’s for certain.
“That’s the spirit! You’ll get the hang of it,” Brax smirked back, noting how the teen before him didn’t appreciate the answer. “Who knows,” he continued. “A bit of practice, pretty soon you can be surfing Wilson’s.”
The beach by Mangrove River was notorious for rougher waves. There was a massive cliff that the locals loved to jump off of but that everyone else was too chicken shit to even consider. At the base of the cliff head were numerous rocks, just barely visible during low tide. They were known to take out quite the noob when the tide rose enough to cover them. They were dangerous and a Summer Bay kid like VJ and Xavier, would have grown up warned off about the area.
Brax and the other River Boys called that beach front home. He had taught Heath, Casey, and the twins how to surf there, and before he had been old enough to drive and get around to other places, it was the only beach that they hit up.
“Really?” VJ seemed amazed by the mere thought.
“Maybe, if you want to get smashed,” Xavier added, turning from Brax towards the water with the cheeky comment and an eye roll.
“No one learns anything without getting smashed though, eh?” Brax added, his tone and face calm and friendly, but the threat clear in his eyes as they locked on the teenager.
Wisely, Xavier spotted the show of force and silenced himself without further incident form Brax. He had heard about the kid from the trouble Heath and the other boys were giving him. Brax preferred to stay out of the petty things like that, but if the kid was stupid enough to talk back to Brax Braxton, he might find himself with a fat lip and a story to keep to himself.
“Come on then, mate,” Brax nudged his head towards the waves. A quick glance had him seeing both twins wet and sharing the same wave. “Show us what you can do.”
VJ grinned and nodded, turning towards the water, running forward towards the challenge.
Brax took a step towards the teenager and spoke low, not because anyone was around to hear him, but because he knew exactly what his tone and demeanor could do to people.
Brax made his way into the surf, paddling past VJ and watching as the kid tried to keep up. He had to grin. He saw a lot of ambition in the kid, and being an only child to a single mum probably wasn’t easy. There were moments when his own mum hadn’t been too bad, and being responsible for the likes of him and Heath probably never helped her any. He was glad that the kid had people looking out for him.
As far as Brax’s intentions with the kid? It had started out with him just trying to show face for what people were assuming that Heath had done. The River Boys didn’t mess around with kids. They looked out for the little grommets, and everyone knew that.
A kid like VJ Patterson needed someone to look up to. And while Brax was no father figure (at least not for someone not named Braxton), he could help the kid out. It was the neighborly thing to do, after all.
“Looking good!” he yelled out as VJ got up on a wave.
“He looks frazzled,” Jagger informed him as the twins paddled over beside him.
“That’s your old board,” Nash added. “I wondered where it went.”
VJ was riding out fast, his footing was good, but his stance was wobbly and soon enough before he even had a good hold on the wave, he was dipping and falling into the water.
“Oof,” grimaced Nash. “He is not ready.”
“How old is the kid?” Jagger frowned.
“Not everyone is lucky to have a brother like me and be taught when they’re three,” Brax told them, splashing Jagger in the face as he paddled out towards VJ.
The boy was climbing back onto his board, a saddened and defeated look on his face.
“Heads up, my man!” Brax called out, slowing down to float beside him.
VJ sighed. “I suck.”
Brax couldn’t help but laugh, and VJ’s face turned to him, a look of betrayal and anger creeping in.
“Nah, mate,” Brax shook his head, cupping some of the water to splash back at the boy. “Not laughing at ya. Honestly, you reckon that you’d be medal worthy on your first go?” Brax frowned at him. “What’s the point of it all, if it wasn’t something you had to work hard for?”
“But, you said I was good enough,” VJ insisted.
“Aye,” he leaned back on his own board. “Heard you were pretty decent on that foamy too. But this here is different. If you want to quit, that’s up to you! If you can’t put in the effort and you’re gonna have a sulk each time you wipe out, that’s on you too.”
VJ frowned. “You think I can still do it then? That I can keep trying I mean?”
Brax looked around him and shrugged. “I don’t see anyone who can stop you.”
“Sure,” Brax laid out and turned his board to paddle out again. “Keep at it, and I reckon I’ll be seeing you at Wilson’s soon enough.”
“Wilsons,” VJ scoffed now. He had thought that the offer was good before, but now that he had tried on Brax’s board, he thought he had no chance.
“If you can surf there, you can surf anywhere,” Brax shrugged and left the kid to his thoughts. “Play it smart, and you can surf anywhere. If you know what you’re doing, surf, school, girls.” VJ rolled his eyes and blushed at that. “If you know what you’re doing,” he repeated. “You can do anything.”
They surfed for almost half an hour, before VJ lost control of the faster board and banged his elbow against the tip of it.
“Shit,” Nash grimaced. And Brax swam over, with the twins in tow, to get the boy out of the water board and all.
Getting him on land, he gave VJ’s arm a glance over.
“Looks like you’ll live,” he grinned at the kid, ruffling up his wet sandy hair.
“Mum’s gonna freak,” VJ grimaced, turning his arm and looking as the cut oozed blood.
“Just a nip,” Nash shrugged.
“Not like it’s broken,” Jagger added.
Brax scoffed as VJ took the two in stride.
“Nash, Jags, leave the kid alone.”
Jagger rolled her eyes and Nash shrugged. Both turned and started to head out to the water again.
“Hold on, you lot!” Brax called them back.
“Don’t say it,” Jagger sighed, glaring at her brother.
“We should head in too,” Brax ignored them. “I’ll walk Veej here home and you two can hit the showers or something.”
“Unbelievable,” groaned Nash as they turned as one and went to grab their boards and towel from Brax’s bag.
VJ frowned after them and Brax wondered how he would explain the two when the kid’s questions started.
“They’re on short boards too?” he said instead, looking over at Brax as he walked both of their surf boards to his car.
Brax grinned widely.
“Always have been,” he shrugged. “Growing up in Mangrove River, you don’t get very many options for boards.”
“They surf Wilson’s?” VJ asked, completely taken aback.
“Righto,” Brax nodded. “Learned to surf and swim them, like most of the other kids in Mangrove. It’s not as scary as most folks make it out to be. As long as you’re smart about it."
Brax drove the twins over to the other side of the Bay, heading for The Pier diner. The twins were plenty pleased with the food there, not that Braxtons were known for complaining about food that Brax hadn’t made.
“How about just cake and a flat white,” Nash said, entering the place first.
Brax scoffed. “That’s not lunch, and you two coffee? Not in my lifetime!”
“Flat white’s mostly milk,” Jagger scoffed. “And you said we could spend today surfing. Are we surfing right now?”
“So you don’t want to be fed?” Brax mock frowned down at them. Their longer hair was dripping onto the tee shirts he had fought over their heads. Though he himself was shirtless, Brax firmly believed in raising his brothers as a hypocrite.
“Could be surfing,” glared Jagger. “Nice, smooth, regular swell. There’s food every day!”
“You do not do well hungry,” Nash shook his head. Jagger turned her glare at him.
Brax headed over and ordered them both a plate of pasta with a side of salad and fruit juices. If they were going to go back into the waves, they would need the refuel.
The twins went over to sit at a table just as VJ and his mother, Leah, entered the diner. Leah was a partial owner of The Pier, and she frowned at his undress. They had a no shirt, no service policy there, but she doubted that anyone was going to tell a Braxton what he could or couldn’t do.
“Brax!” VJ greeted him with a wide grin.
“Veej, my main man,” he reached out and gave the kid’s hand the offered fist bump.
Leah frowned at the exchange. She turned towards the counter and headed back there to see how she could help and to give her son a lunch meal.
VJ sighed. “Mum’s on my case about Wilson’s,” the boy complained. “Can you tell her I’ll be able to handle it?”
Brax turned and glanced quickly at the lad’s mother. She was probably already bothered with his involvement with her son, having heard some things about him. But there was no way that he could help that. He was good with kids, he knew that. He certainly had a slew of them around him.
“No, enough of that,” Leah said, come back to their side from the end of the counter. She looked over at Brax with a look he had seen often enough, though never on his own mother’s face. A strong look of concern. “Now, I want to know why you think it’s okay to encourage my son to do something dangerous, when you know he’s inexperienced?”
“Mum!” VJ’s eyes widened as he tried to quiet his mother.
The exchange was adorable in so many ways, and Brax even felt a little bad about being the cause behind such discourse among the two. He could tell that Leah loved her son a whole lot, and he would be lying if he said that he didn’t know Wilson’s was dangerous. It was a thing of pride for the kids of Mangrove River, to state that they rode the waves at Wilson all of the time. It was a staple of being a River Boy too, they claimed the beach as their home more often than not. Plenty of them had grown up sleeping on the sands there to get away from home, Brax included.
VJ’s case was not the same.
“Enough,” Leah told her son.
“Look,” Brax held a hand up in peace offer, not as a sign of defeat or surrender. He had to hand it to the woman, keeping herself together and running a business as she raised her son alone. His own mum couldn’t even be counted on to get home every night, let alone care about what him and his brothers were up to. That was Brax’s job, so he certainly understood the unease of being concerned for a kid. “I was just trying to offer the big fellow some encouragement,” he answered honestly, figuring it was the best thing for both mother and son to hear. “But, mate, if your mum says she doesn’t want you to surf Wilson’s, you don’t. Simple as that.” He certainly wouldn’t have his own brothers going behind his back doing something he said no to.
VJ looked defeated. “But you said.”
“Don’t matter what I said,” Brax smirked. He certainly didn’t say that often. “You listen to your mum, before you listen to anyone else. She knows what’s best for you.”
Leah looked relieved, and VJ looked sad, but thoughtful. It was the best that Brax could do for the moment. He wasn’t going to be the one to cause a rift in any family, if he could help it. Between a boyfriend and his girl? Sure! Between his brothers and anyone he couldn’t stand? You bet! But this kid had a good thing going for him, surfing wasn’t supposed to rip people apart.
VJ turned away and walked out of the diner to one of the outdoor tables. He couldn’t believe that Brax Braxton had agreed with his mother! She was so strict and at times he was certain that she just made up rules to make him miserable. Brax had been being so cool with him, but now in front of his mother he relented. Lame!
Leah sighed watching her son go. Brax turned to her with a laugh and apologized.
“I’m sorry. I never meant to put ideas in his head.”
Leah frowned, seeing this tough man, renown rebel, and general hooligan in new light. If you listened to Colleen Smarts ranting on and on, you would think that all of the River Boys carried knives in their shoes and shoes in their pants. But Brax was standing before her in sandals and shirtless, a prefect physique that revealed he needed no such weapons.
“It’s okay,” she told him. “It’ll pass.”
Brax nodded and turned towards the twins. While he had been talking, they had been served. He turned to the cashier and dropped a few bills to cover for the meals.
“Well, I supposed I’ll see you around.”
“Yep,” Leah nodded.
He turned then and headed over to where the twins were wolfing down their food. And that was them claiming that they weren’t hungry. He scoffed.
“Why do you keep on with that kid?” Nash frowned.
“Who’s she?” Jagger asked behind a mouthful of pasta.
“That’s Leah,” Brax told them, handing them each a napkin with a disgusted look. “She’s VJ’s mum and she owns this diner.”
“Does she cook?’ Jagger glanced up.
“Probably,” shrugged Brax.
“What’s with the kid then?”
“Kid?” Brax leaned back, smirking at his baby brother. “He’s a bit older than you, you know.”
“Can’t even stay up on a wimpy little Bay wave,” Jagger commented, rolling her eyes.
“I heard him mentioning Wilsons,” Nash shook his head. “He can’t handle Wilsons.”
“Leave it,” Brax glared back at them. The twins were territorial, like most of Mangrove River. While they didn’t like being told that they couldn’t be on other beaches, they certainly didn’t like other people going to their beach. But Kids were safe on Wilson’s. Brax and his brothers had learned there and many others had too. It wasn’t right to keep the kids off of the beaches when they really didn’t have anywhere else to go. If they stayed on the streets, they were likely to turn toward drugs and crimes and end up in prison like at least forty percent of the Mangrove population. Surfing was an out that Brax understood. That’s why there were rules and he was a fickler for them.
The twins knew when it was best to leave well enough alone and turned back to their meals.
Brax looked over his shoulder and spotted Leah frowning in his direction again. Most people couldn’t figure him out, and Brax was glad about that. He didn’t need his life broadcasted to anyone.
Back on the beach, Brax was more than happy to ride out and catch some waves with the twins. Casey was keeping close to home and Heath had gone to some party the previous night and hadn’t given more than a heads up that he was alive that morning.
Taking a moment, Brax was certain that the twins would be fine enough, and he headed up from the beach, bumping into Sergeant Buckton as he did.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were trying to stalk me,” he stated with a grin.
Buckton, as usual, did not look amused.
“It’s my job to keep an eye on people who might be involved in criminal activities of some kind,” she said, unafraid to just spit out the truth like that. Well, her truths.
Brax laughed. “And what criminal activity would that be?”
“Fencing stolen goods, for starters,” she offered up pretty quickly.
Brax frowned. He hadn’t done such a thing (lately).
“We’ve had reports of broke ins up the coast from liquor stores,” She informed him. “I’m getting the batch numbers through now.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a busy afternoon ahead,” he commented, not showing her any kind of response. He was not guilty of anything here. The other Boys wouldn’t go so far out of their way to pull a heist. Most of them weren’t even aware of how to get around if it wasn’t local.
He had nothing to worry about.
Buckton continued to frown.
“Shame, eh?” Brax continued to grin. “For a minute there, I thought you were going to ask me out.”
Buckton looked at him like he was nuts. For a moment, Brax thought himself nuts too. What was he doing? He didn’t want the copper to be even more interested in him. He didn’t have the time to flirt with most women beyond just a casual passing. Sex for him was a passing thing. He had plenty of offers lined up, but as far as dating went, there were only a handful of times that Brax could think of even thinking about such a thing. The last time he had seriously dated was just as the twins had been born. Since then, everything was casual. Nothing beyond a few months, maxed.
“The only place I’m ever likely to ask you to, is the police station,” Buckton replied.
It was a clever enough answer, and Brax continued to grin.
“Okay,” he frowned slightly. “That would be a weird first date,” he continued. “But, you know, if that’s what you want…”
“Look,” frowned Buckton. “Your sweet talk might work with Angelo, but it’s not going to work with me. So, you might want to remember that.”
She turned than and walked away, Brax more than happy to watch her as she went. Whatever was going on in his head, she was getting in there in ways that he wasn’t exactly quite sure he understood. Turning around, he glanced back at the water, where Jagger was taking a wave that was easily twice their size. He needed to keep his head focused and away from any distractions.
But the visits from Charlie Buckton certainly made it harder.
Part Eleven ->