The teachers were gathered together in a mini meeting, and one of the topics of Casey Braxton.
Miles Copeland took his seat after getting himself a snack bowl.
“Anyone else finding Casey Braxton difficult?” he asked as Gina put away the preliminary budget changes they had just talked about.
“Difficult,” she scoffed. “would be an understatement when it comes to Casey Braxton.” Gina pulled picked up her coffee mug. “He’s been sent to my office on more than one occasion.”
“He never does his homework,” Bianca Scott, Casey’s language teacher, added.
“Really?” frowned Liam Murphy, Bianca’s boyfriend and a (former) rock star. “I found him okay. He sent a tape in the other day, I haven’t listened to it yet, but he’s really attentive in class.” Liam taught music – vocals, guitar, song writing, collaborations, the whole enchilada.
“Maybe he just likes music,” Bianca frowned at him.
“I’m finding him rude, uncooperative, and sullen in my class,” Miles added, not noticing the current drift that was passing between the High school staff’s lovebirds. (He never was good at noticing those kinds of things.) “But today,” he continued. “He was all smiles and he handed me in this.”
From his lap, Miles pulled out the paper that Casey had recently written. He held it up in the air as if it was a certificate or medal for the other teachers to see.
“His first assignment.”
Bianca besides him reached for it, and Gina frowned.
“Is it bad?” it was hard for her to not want to help the young Braxton. She had read his full file, had even made calls over to his high school counselor in Mangrove High. No one there seemed too fond of him. They talked about his bad behavior, bad attitude, and bad reputation. When she had asked about whether or not his family responded if they called, they had laughed. His mother never contacted the school, and any form of dialogue they had towards the Braxtons had always gone through Brax. Even when he himself was a student, and for Heath. Neither had graduated.
Casey, she felt, deserved a better chance.
“It’s…good, actually,” Miles shrugged. Bianca passed the paper over to Gina. “Perhaps too good?”
Gina frowned. There hadn’t been too much as far as work from Mangrove either. The Braxtons often times were let slip on things, she had been told. No one wanted to deal with Brax. And for the last straw, they had tried to avoid it. But it had been very public, cops had had to be called and everything.
Perhaps too good. She shook her head.
“Well, what are you planning on doing?’ Bianca asked Miles.
He sighed and looked over at Gina. He too didn’t want to always believe the worse of people. His own history wasn’t great. After his mother had died, his father hadn’t been able to care for him and his twin sister both. He had given his sister up for adoption, and as they years passed became an awful alcoholic. Miles stood by him, hoping he could return to the loveable fun man he had known in his infancy, longing still to return to his sister, Sally. But that had never happened. His father had died a sad, angry drunk. And Miles had almost became like him when his own wife and daughter had perished from him. He had become scum, trash of the streets that people would turn away from. He couldn’t connect with people, and he certainly couldn’t teach.
But he had found hope again, thinking about Sally, and when he did find her, right there in Summer Bay, he had found purpose and a reason to live again. Sally was gone from Summer Bay, had her own hopes and dreams and daughter; but they had each other as well.
Miles was all about trying to offer a helping hand. He knew that a person’s history wasn’t the defining factor in who that person was, or who they could be.
“I want to come ask him straight out,” Miles confessed. “But I don’t think he handles himself too well in confrontations.”
“I’d rather you didn’t either,” Gina sighed. Casey had already once been in Miles’ face. The last thing she needed was to call the police, or Darryl Braxton, in for another fight. “Perhaps, you could ask around?”
“Not many people know him,” Bianca frowned.
“Hm,” Miles nodded. “But if he did cheat, someone had to help him. I’ll snoop about, report back.” he saluted with a peanut in his hand and as serious a face as he could make.
Gina scoffed and again shook her head.
“Thank you, Miles,” she had long ago learned not to think Miles’ eccentricness as rude or demeaning. He just had a different, sarcastic sense of humor that had grown on her.
“Now, moving right along…”
“What have I done now?” Casey frowned as he was walking down to the beach and Ruby approached him.
She shrugged. “Don’t know, you tell me.” She started walking besides him, she still in her uniform, Casey having taken to changing out as quick as possible in the Surf Club behind them.
“Miles was asking about you today,” she informed him. “Want to tell me why?”
Casey rolled his eyes. They stopped walking and he staked him board into the sand.
“So, I just thought I’d let you know,” Ruby continued. “In case you need to, you know, bury some bodies. Burn some fake IDs.”
Casey smirked at her. Most people avoided him in fear of what he might have done. Just the name Braxton was enough to have people walk on the other side of the street. But not Ruby. There she was, taunting him and teasing him.
He had to admit, the girl was really growing on him.
“Funny,” he said instead. “You going out today?” he asked, looking over at the ocean. It was a pretty decent swell. Nothing to get the Boys out of Wilsons over, but nice enough to have a few people already surfing.
“Oh, has Romeo stood you up, is it?” she smirked.
Casey frowned. He didn’t want to think about Romeo. He had made a complete idiot of himself the previous night, and now the guy had to think he was a total headcase. Scratch that, he would know he was a total headcase, and have the proof! His abrupt dismissal of the teen hadn’t helped much either. Once Heath had left after Cheryl and Brax had taken the twins with him, probably to deal with whatever the school would be saying about their wagging off, Romeo had tried to get them back on track.
But Casey had lost it.
In the end, Romeo had made the decision to go home and it had been for the best. Casey had sat there for almost two hours, pissed and worried and not a bit happy with himself or his situation. When Brax arrived back with the twins, he had asked Casey about Romeo.
“He’s not going to say anything,” Casey groaned.
“You don’t know the kid,” Brax had frowned and crossed his arms. It was clear he was already not having a good day, but his brother never left anything half finished. “You can’t say that.”
“I asked him not to!” Casey yelled back. “Not everyone is out to get at us, you know. And if you want me to go to that stupid school, you had to figure I would meet some people there along the way.”
“Calm yourself,” warned Brax. “I’m not saying to not make friends, I’m saying you’ve been here a week, and now he knows things that people we’ve known for years don’t know. That kind of information is delicate.”
“I know, Brax,” he grit his teeth, trying to register the warning his brother’s body was projecting. “And I will deal with it.”
“You think you can deal with it?” Brax had just shaken his head. “How about you leave your thinking to your school work and leave the rest to me?”
Casey hadn’t taken that so well.
“I’m not an idiot, you know!” he’d spat out. “I’m a good judge of character and I’m not saying I’d trust him with everything. You don’t have to breathe down my neck just because things aren’t going the way you’ve planned!”
“You think I’m breathing down your neck?” Brax straightened up from his leaning position against the wall. “Boy I’m asking you a simple question, and you’re turning this into something it’s not. You better calm yourself down before I have to remind you exactly how this family works.”
He should’ve heeded his big brother’s words, but he was just reeling off of a bad day getting thrown at his face, and just like he was accusing Brax of doing, Casey was taking it out on him.
“Yeah, fear and delegation,” he growled. “Why even bother going to school when you’re just going to stand there and make all my decisions for me!”
Brax shook his head and yanked Casey out of the armchair he had been sitting on. He yanked him down the hall, stopping in front of Casey’s room and sending him in with a sharp smack against his backside. Casey hissed at the pain, but was glad when no more came. He had no idea what he had been thinking yelling at Brax and had seen his oldest brother take out guys for less. Even Heath knew when to shut the hell up and back down.
Hormones were going to get him killed.
“Keep your smartass in here,” Brax said. “Because you don’t want me to have to deal with you right now.”
The door was slammed shut behind him and Casey walked slowly over to his bed, sitting down with a grimace. He glanced over at the door, wondered how long Brax would confine him to his room and wondering why he couldn’t just keep his mouth shut.
But the truth was, Casey had lived his life keeping his mouth shut about a lot of things. Talking to his mother was a 50/50 chance of it becoming violent. His few recollections of his father weren’t pleasant and his brothers had their moments. The twins were kind of miniature jerks, but they were nice and sweet to him and he loved them. He loved all of his brothers, and even his mother and probably his father too if he really ever stopped to think about it. And that was why he felt okay enough to lose his shit with Brax. He might complain about not being allowed to think, but it was just the opposite. With Brax, he knew he could speak his mind, and if he usually kept a civil tongue his brother would listen. Not to say that he would be allowed to do what he wanted or that his suggestions were always taken seriously, but Brax at least listened.
An hour later, he had been allowed out, and he sat at the table as Heath cooked and spoke to Brax in low whispers. He finished up his homework, jotting down the things he and Romeo had talked about and feeling like such a child. It took him a bit of time, but as he went to bed that night, he couldn’t help being pleased with himself. The paper wasn’t half bad and Mr. Copeland couldn’t get mad at him. Which meant no new trip over to Principal Palmer’s office or any more calls to Brax.
Still, now, with Ruby, he didn’t want to think about Romeo or the previous night.
“What’s this got to do with Romeo?” he asked her instead.
“Okay,’ Ruby frowned. “I didn’t realize it was a sensitive topic.”
“I mean,” Casey turned his thoughts away from Romeo and his family and tried to play cool. “He’s not here. We are. So why not make the most of it?”
It felt as cheesy as it sounded, and from the amused smile on Ruby’s face, he knew it sounded as cheesy a line as if felt.
“Okay, so how do you intend on doing that?”
She was testing him, always teasing, and Casey had to smirk. Normally, he would probably put his foot in his mouth about now. He would try for smooth, just to prove once again that he was not smooth.
Instead, he thought about what he really wanted to do. He wanted to kiss her. He had been wanting to kiss her since the first time they met. Calling her out hadn’t been the smoothest move then either, but she hadn’t bristled then, and he hoped she wouldn’t now.
And damn it, if this kind of shit worked for Heath all of the time, his brother had to have some kind of clue, right?
“I can think of one thing.” She looked amused, hopeful maybe. Casey leaned in close and tried to tell himself not to think.
His hand came to her cheek, her smile widened. He was going to do this. He was going to kiss her and she wasn’t going to go screaming or anything.
It felt like a thousand years passed by before his lips reached hers, but then it felt like time was moving too fast. He tried not to think about what he had had for lunch, what his teeth felt like in his own mouth, what the heck he was going to say next, what if she bit him.
She kissed him back. Ruby kissed him back, didn’t bit or slap or scream or anything except kiss him back. He had his eyes closed and thought she probably did too and when the first kiss turned into two and three he was sure he was dreaming.
They pulled apart and his heart felt like it was about to jump out of his chest and scream for all of the world to see.
“I’ve wanted to do that for quite a while.”
He had no idea what had prompted the honesty, but Ruby smiled again. Or she hadn’t stopped smiling. Her eyes were big and wide and her full face brimmed with joy.
Casey could feel himself blush. He was so very glad none of the Boys were at the beach that day. Everything was just too perfect and he knew something was going to come around and ruin everything. It had to, that was just the way his life went. Probably Heath, with his luck.
But he couldn’t keep the smile from his own face.
“Yeah,” he grinned wider.
“But, you haven’t even like, tried to get to know me,” Ruby added, still smiling and looking up at him.
He couldn’t stop from looking at her. He could stop himself from touching the side of her face and the soft curls of her sun bleached hair.
“I’m getting to know you now.” Casey tilted his head and her eyes moved with him. “Are you cool with that?”
“Yes sir.” If possible, her smiled got even bigger and brighter.
This time, they both leaned into each other. Ruby gave a little laugh. They kissed. It was perfect.
Miles walked over to where Romeo was sitting under the lifeguard tent. It was a pretty calm day and he thought he might like to spend more of it outside if he could. Of course, he was there on business, so to speak.
“Any action?” he asked as he sat down beside his foster son.
Romeo looked up and sighed.
“Not much.” Not that Romeo wanted people in trouble. But his job was boring and hot. He would have rather been out in the water than watching it.
“So uh, you and Casey have been hanging out a bit,” Miles started.
“Yeah, a bit.”
“Enough for you to do his homework for him?” Miles figured he might as well say it outright. Romeo, he knew, wasn’t one to mince words. He didn’t have to worry about the teen’s feelings because he was a tough kid.
“No,” Romeo rolled his eyes. Miles waited. “Alright look, I talked him through the essay question, but whatever he handed in, he wrote himself.”
Miles nodded. That’s what everyone had been saying. The other teachers hadn’t been able to give anything to base off of either, but from what little Miles had found from the kid, he was able to compare it to Casey’s latest paper. It looked legit.
“What was it actually like?” Romeo frowned. “I’m surprised he actually put pen to paper.”
“Well, it was up there with one of the best,” Miles confessed.
Romeo looked thoughtful. He knew he himself, even taking a second stab at everything this second year around, wasn’t all that great. He was passing everything and some things were improving, but he was still in the easy stages of the beginning of the year.
“Well, he seemed to know the answers when we were talking about it,” he confessed. “But when it came down to actually writing it down, he just flipped out.”
“Well, whatever you’re doing is working,” Miles looked over the beach. “That’s more than I can say for most of us teachers.”
“Well, don’t ask me how I did it,” Romeo grinned. “Because I have no idea.”
“What, you’ve got no techniques? None, whatsoever?”
“Not unless you want your classes to, uh, you know, end with things being thrown at your head,” Romeo stated, his gaze on the water. “The guy needs help, Miles.”
Romeo glanced back at Miles. Miles could see the concern in Romeo’s eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“I went to the Braxton house yesterday, and,” Romeo stopped himself. He thought for a second and sighed. “And just seeing how that family lives, it’s no wonder he flipped out.”
Miles could see that Romeo wasn’t mad. He hadn’t said anything before, so he knew that Romeo wasn’t hurt. It had taken them a while to trust each other, but Miles’ previous foster son, Jai, was practically a little brother to him. They trusted each other and looked out for each other. And Jai trusted Miles. Miles had been there for Jai just after they had both lost their families. He had looked out for the little kid when he had needed something to do, someone to cling to. When Jai had been taken away, he had felt empty inside. But it had been enough for Jai to keep fighting and believing.
And in that fight he had found Romeo.
Miles trusted Romeo’s judgment almost as much as his own.
“Okay,” he nodded. He didn’t need to ask anymore. Romeo had come to his own conclusion and could handle himself. Miles knew enough to not pressure responses from him. Whatever had happened he knew Romeo was okay, because the kid was sitting there in front of him not complaining or whining. He was concerned for Casey, much like Miles himself.
“Thank you,” he patted Romeo on the shoulder and stood up, brushing the sand from his pants as he went. “See you soon.”
Romeo sat quiet again, thinking back and watching the water. Casey Braxton wasn’t as clean cut a case as he had originally thought, and Miles was seemingly in the same frame of mind.
When Miles returned to the school, he found Liam and Gina seated in his classroom. They were assembling packets, for students or another meeting or the board members. He had thought that she would’ve been gone by now, but was pleased to find her.
“I’m so glad you’re here!” he said, closing the door behind him.
“Well, that makes one of us,” Gina sighed. “We thought we’d finish this ages ago.”
Liam nodded and Miles dropped his bag, Casey’s paper still in hand.
“What can I do for you?”
“Uh, it’s about Casey,” Miles stated. “Again.”
Gina glanced up and frowned. “Well, did you talk to him about his essay?”
“Not yet,” Miles nodded. “But I know that Romeo helped him through it.”
“Well, if he helped with his music assignment,” Liam added in. “Cause I actually listened to Casey’s tape and it’s pretty good.”
“Well,” Gina stated. “Going through a question with another student is not cheating.”
“Yeah,” Miles nodded again. “I know that. But,” Miles gestured at the paper. “I looked the assignment over and I’ve compared the handwriting to other little bits and pieces he’s done in my class before, and it’s legit.
“I’ve also noticed there’s a kind of weird word jumbling going on.” He handed Gina the papers. “Now, I didn’t see it as a concern at first, but now I’m starting to.”
“You think he’s dyslexic?” Gina asked.
“I picked up on that vibe,” Miles frowned. “Do you think it’s possible?”
“These days, most teachers know what to look out for,” she stated.
“Yeah. But Gina,” Miles sighed. “You know students like Casey get by on hiding their problems. They’re disruptive in class, they’re rude, they’d do anything to avoid handing in work.”
Liam was nodding alone, glancing at the papers with them. Thought the Casey that showed up in his class wasn’t they one that they were describing, he had heard enough from Bianca, and her frustration to know that the young Braxton certainly had those qualities. Liam’s own class wasn’t much reading or papers. Liam didn’t want to have to go through them to begin with.
“I get it,” Gina held up her hands. “Okay.” She sighed and began putting the Casey papers back together. “I guess there’s no harm in getting him tested. But you’ll need to get permission from the family.”
Miles cringed. He wasn’t going to share what Romeo had confided, but he knew this would be a problem.
“The mum’s a bit of a worry,” Miles said.
The teachers exchanged glances. Sometimes, the hardest part of their job wasn’t the students or the paperwork or the day to day. It was the parents. They had the power of tearing down the students and school system alike.
“Alright,” she sighed. It was one of the duties she tried to avoid. But as a principal, she had learned how to compromise and how to get things done. “Leave it with me.”
Miles grinned and picked up his back once again. “Thanks.”
“Eh,” she sighed, ignoring Liam’s grin.