Casey walked into school and noticed that people were giving him some side glances. It was like his first week of school all over again. Except, this time people weren’t exactly avoiding him either.
There were the ones making the kissing noises and the ones who outright laughed when they spotted him.
This thing with Ruby wasn’t going away.
Casey rolled his eyes. He needed to keep telling himself that it was all just stupid, but he was feeling more than a little embarrassed. Everyone thought he had done something that he hadn’t done – which was kind of used to a bit, to be honest. But this was different.
As a guy, it didn’t really matter that he’d had sex. Guys talked about it all the time, but no one actually had as much as they said they did. It was known, but no one ever really talked about it either. Other than Brax breathing down his neck, Casey wasn’t bothered by that.
Well, Brax and the memory of Sgt. Charlie Buckton, aka Ruby’s mother, opening the car door to their partially nude and seemingly conjoined selves.
His classes were annoying, nothing new, but the one time he did see Ruby, she wasn’t getting the same treatment he was.
Actually, Casey noticed that after a bit, people seemed to just ignore him. The same couldn’t be said for Ruby.
“Hey Rubes!” he tried to call out after their third period class, but Ruby just headed for the doors and ignored him. Or maybe she hadn’t heard him at all. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea for her to try and ignore those around her. What things Casey had heard wasn’t all that great.
“Well, that wasn’t dramatic at all,” Dex Walker said, coming beside Casey and watching Ruby leave.
“She’s probably heard all the jibs at her too,” Casey sighed. He hated that people were being rude. He had heard from the same comments about how Ruby had loudly declared to everyone present at the Diner, that she had slept with Romeo Smith – right to Indi Walker’s face. And to say that Indi had been upset with her boyfriend was an understatement.
Dex sighed. “I can’t exactly feel too bad about that right now.” The shorter teen shrugged. “Indi’s miserable. She barely got any sleep last night, which means I barely got any sleep last night. All she did was cry and listen to some terrible music. I mean, she always listens to terrible music, but I could have done without the crying.”
The boys started to their next class, joined by Xavier Austin as they sat, listening to their teacher drone on about geometry or something.
“Romeo didn’t even come to class,” Xavier pointed out.
“I’d wag too,” Casey shrugged.
“I’d love to go home,” Dex said with a yawn. “Maybe I can get Dad to get me medically excused. I need my 9.5 hours of sleep!”
“You think your Dad could actually write a note like that?” Xavier asked interested.
Dex sighed. “Unfortunately, no. He keeps worse hours than I do, and he still goes to work. You would think he would know better, being a doctor and all, of that, but you would be wrong!”
“I doubt he would’ve started handing them out like party favors, Xave,” Casey shook his head.
“My mum’s the Principal, and all it ever gets me is early to school,” Xavier sighed.
“At least Palmer can tell you about the next surf waves things, right?” Dex offered.
“Yeah, that’s better than Mum’s job,” Xave laughed. “Hey, Casey! The surf’s going to be sick, you want to hit some waves later?”
“Sounds good,” Casey said, feeling slightly enthusiastic. He was still thinking about Ruby, and it was hard to concentrate on anything but Ruby.
Somehow, Dex was still taking notes. He would have to ask the kid to copy them later. Xavier was taking notes too, but his handwriting was barely legible. It was hard enough to read without trying to decipher what language Xavier was inventing.
They all headed their own way for lunch, Casey eating a sandwich he’d packed into his bag as he sat watching the waves. He was a bit of a walk’s away from the school, and he was debating even going back.
He was closer to where Brax was spending most of his days, at the Surf Club, particularly the restaurant named Angelo’s on the second floor of the Club. Casey wasn’t sure what was drawing his brother to the place, but he was getting the idea that the people of Summer Bay weren’t exactly talk-shy. If he started wagging classes, word would likely get back to Brax. And just after the Ruby thing, he didn’t want to test his brother. Even the twins were being better behaved the last few days.
So, Casey found himself going back to finish off the school day, finding that he was actually looking forward to going surfing. Surfing was his friends was different than surfing with the Boys and his brothers. With his friends he got to goof about, with his brothers, while they took him to some pretty massive swells and let him out on the cusp of storms, he was under no delusion of being under their watchful eyes. He didn’t mind it, he was too used to it to mind, but it was different.
Getting to the High, Casey thought he heard Ruby’s voice as he walked over to the Year 10 lockers.
“That’s bull, and you know it!” Xavier was saying to her, crowding up behind Ruby as she grabbed her things from her locker and prepared to leave.
“I’m not talking to you!” Ruby told him, slamming her locker shut and preparing to leave.
Xavier stuck his arm out to stop her. Casey saw them and frowned.
“You’re the one that went after him,” Xavier continued. “The whole thing is your fault!”
“The whole thing is not my fault!” Ruby retorted, shoving Xavier back.
“Yes it –
“Get back!” Casey shoved Xavier away from Ruby. He didn’t like what he had heard, and could easily imagine that they were talking about Romeo. He was Xave’s friend, though he was Casey’s friend too.
Things in Summer Bay were so freaking complicated.
“Whoa! Case,” Ruby called out to him. “Casey, I can fight my own battles.”
Casey started down at Xavier who was looking at him like he was being stupid. He was probably right, but Casey didn’t want to think about that. He didn’t think it was right for Ruby to be caged in like that either.
Casey turned to looked down at Ruby, but instead of thanking him or anything, she just turned away and left them. Left him.
Xavier shook his head, clapping Casey on the back and walked in the opposite direction.
Leaving Casey alone.
He watched their departing backs, and sighed. They were arguing, and he had tried to help Ruby out, though he hadn’t done anything wrong. And yet, somehow, he felt like the last idiot standing.
Casey thought that his day couldn’t get worse, but then he was wrong. Or kind of right. He wasn’t sure yet.
He had forgotten his homework for his French class. And by forgotten, he meant he hadn’t bothered to do it and now he wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to do. He hadn’t wanted to take French in the first place, but language was a requirement. As if English wasn’t hard enough.
Then, just before the last period of the day, while they all sat half-heartedly listening to Mr. Pryce prattle on about History, Mr. Copeland interrupted.
“Just a moment, Les,” Mr. Copeland insisted to the older man. Mr. Pryce didn’t look happy, but he never really looked happy. He looked more like the teacher from that Beuller movie.
“Alright, I won’t take up too much of your time,” Mr. Copeland said, addressing the class. “I should probably not leave the Year 12s alone too long. BUT, I just got this in from the office!” And he held up a letter, shaking it with slight flair for them to see.
But of course, they weren’t as excited as Mr. Copeland, since they had no idea what he was on about.
Many in the class, Casey included, snickered. The guy was too much sometimes.
“What is it Mr. Copeland?” A girl, Nancy something, asked.
“I’m glad you asked, Nancy!” Mr. Copeland nodded at her. “I hold here the official invitation for this year’s Intra School Science Competition!”
Casey rolled his eyes. Not that he wasn’t glad to be doing anything but listening to Mr. Pryce, he was, but he couldn’t care about the competition. Brax hadn’t said anything about his being able to do it, and he didn’t think Heath was going to relent. But if Casey it brought it up again, he was likely going to earn one or both of his brother’s ire.
“And I think you should all join me in congratulating Dexter, Casey, and Xavier as Casey Braxton goes to present their original concept in the name of Summer Bay High!”
Casey could feel his face blush as heard Mr. Copeland’s announcement. Beside him, Xavier and Dex cheered, and accepted the praise from their classmates. Mr. Pryce looked unimpressed and Casey felt sick to his stomach.
Presenting to the class had been hard enough. Not to mention, Brax had yet to sign anything.
“Cheer up, Case!” Xave shoved at his shoulder. “That’s like a guaranteed A in Science!”
“Neat!” he smiled wide, but he couldn’t decide it he was happy or not.
“Uh, Case?” Mr. Copeland motioned him towards the hall. “Thanks, Les!” he waved at Mr. Pryce who got up from his seat and resumed his teachings, though it took the class a moment to quiet down.
Casey followed behind Mr. Copeland. In the hallway, Miles turned and scratched at his head.
“Uh, Case, I think we have a bit of an issue here.”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Casey sighed.
“I was sure you’d have turned in the forms by now, Casey,” Miles sighed.
“I’ve been trying to, Mr. Copeland,” he insisted. “But, well-
“What more does your Mum have to hear from me?” Miles placed his hand on Casey’s shoulder. “This is a pretty big opportunity Casey! Even if you don’t win at the competition, your group beat out the rest of the school on that project. All of your form teachers were very impressed! Honestly, you three boys are all quite bright and imaginative, but you and Xavier haven’t always professed your best face forward, if you catch my wave.”
“I’m not the best student,” Casey nodded. “But, we didn’t have Dex doing all of the work!”
“I know, I know, relax,” Miles insisted. “This was all dealt with already, remember? Not only can multiple females around Summer Bay collaborate your story, but I just couldn’t imagine Principal Palmer allowing her son to treat another student in that way.
“You fellas earned this, Casey. And, honestly, your presentation of the material was thorough and engaging. You’ll be doing yourself, your team, your school, and your work a great disservice if you don’t get those forms in by tomorrow – Get it?”
Casey couldn’t help blushing. It was hard to think of someone, especially a teacher, counting on him to do something scholarly. Casey had never been one of the best students. He hated doing his classwork and absolutely loathed his homework. He’d be much happier if he never had to step inside school again!
But, something about Summer Bay, and he was actually feeling like he was learning. Sure, he still found everything beyond his grasp, but things were slipping through. Like Mr. Copeland’s class. The man wasn’t like much any teacher Casey had ever had. He was fun, and it wasn’t all book work, even if they were an English class.
“I’ll get after it,” Casey nodded.
“Good man,” Miles nodded. “I’ll be seeing you tomorrow!”
Casey nodded and watched as Mr. Copeland rushed back to his own classroom, and instantly called the crazy class antics to a still.
Casey hoped that telling Brax this latest development would get the man to see reason. Stopping him from this opportunity, all because Heath got his shorts up his arse, was completely unreasonable. He was willing to beg for his brother to finally sign.
“Okay, that was not how I thought the day was going to end!” Dex laughed, shutting his locker.
“Ugh,” Xave groaned. “I want to go to the Conference Competition Science thing!”
“You just want a day out of school,” Casey rolled his eyes.
“Ugh,” Xave groaned again. “I really want a day out of school! Maybe I can convince Mum to have the whole of Year 10 go?”
“Please don’t!” Casey cringed. “There’s already going to be loads of people there!”
“You get to take someone from your family,” Dex offered, seeing the troubled look on Casey’s face.
“I don’t think that would actually go down well,” Casey shook his head.
“Your Mum maybe?” Xave offered back. “Mums love that stuff!”
Casey shook his head. While Dex’s mother was dead, Xave’s mother was actually pretty amazing. She was loads nicer than the previous principal that Casey had had to deal with.
“Or one of your brothers?” Xave tried, though he didn’t sound so enthusiastic.
Casey gave him a look that told Xavier just what he thought about that.
While Casey could see Brax being proud of him, he couldn’t see his brother sitting through all of those presentations. The twins would get a kick out of it though! Heath, however, would probably find a seat in the back of wherever they would be and loudly fall asleep.
Heck, Heath would probably do that for his own presentation – had he ever had to give one.
“I don’t think we’re the kind of family that goes out to competitions,” Casey shook his head.
“They’d go to your surf comps?” Xave asked.
“Yeah,” Casey nodded. “When I was little. Brax and Heath and …the Boys. But they get surfing. And they get, you know, sports.”
“They wouldn’t be able to deal with the talky-talky of it all, would they?” Dex offered back.
Casey shook his head. “I wouldn’t want to subject any of us to that torture.”
“But, I mean, you are doing this, right Case? You have to do this! This is too huge not to! We’ll help you prep, of course,” Dex insisted. “It’s going to be just like in class, but with a few more people.”
“Loads more people,” Xave added.
Dex punched Xavier’s shoulder. “Not helping!”
Xavier seemed to finally notice the bothered look on Casey’s face. “You’re going to be fine,” Xave shook his head. “You’re not scared of anything, right? I mean, you were telling us earlier of the waves on Wilson’s being like thirty feet!”
“I said thirteen,” Casey shook his head.
“Well, they might as well be thirty,” Xavier shook his head. “The whole place is insane. Mum always says she’ll take my boards away if I even think about surfing over there. Granted, John runs the Surf Club and he counts on me for most of those competitions, so I don’t think he’d let her, but I don’t want to risk it.”
“And also, the River Boys wouldn’t let you so much as touch the sand,” Dex offered back.
“Well, I doubt even Brax would let us go on thirty foot waves,” Casey shook his head. “We’d get killed!”
They made their way out of the school.
“You still want to surf?” Xavier asked Casey.
“I uh,” Casey stopped himself from agreeing. He needed to get to his brothers and get Brax to sign the forms. He might need a lot of time to plan for this. “I should probably go home. If I’m going to represent the school in something, I might want to start finishing my homework, you know?”
The other two laughed and they all walked to where Dex caught the city bus out to his family farm.
“You want to come over?” Dex offered to Xave instead. “We can get our work done and got over the new Call of Duty?”
“You hate that game,” Xavier shook his head at his friend. “But, I’m in. See you around, Case!”
As the bus approached, Casey saw his friends off and waited for his own out to Mangrove, in the other direction.
He tried thinking up what he could say to Brax to convince him, and what Heath would say.
He tried to think about what it would feel like, presenting their science fair experiment to an actual conference of science minded people.
He tried not to think about the actual speaking, but of how awesome it would feel once he was done.
Arriving home, Casey was surprised to see Brax’s ute outside. The eldest Braxton had been spending more and more time at Angelo’s and it was rare to see him back so soon. Casey wondered if the twins had managed to get themselves in trouble again as he entered.
Instead, he found the twins and Brax in the kitchen. The twins were setting about making some kind of dinner, and Brax was helping.
“Brax, you’re cooking?" Casey cringed as he set his bag down.
“He’s helping us reach the tall stuff,” Nash explained.
“And for some reason,” Jagger rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t think we can handle the stove.”
“I don’t want the house burned down,” Brax glared down at her.
“You burnt the toast this morning,” Nash pointed out.
“I thought you swore off all cooking?” Casey frowned.
“We have a recipe!” Jagger held up Brax’s phone, which must have been holding the information that they needed.
Casey shook his head. It was downright justice, seeing Brax so easily handled by the twins. Casey couldn’t remember being able to convince his big brother of too many things, but the twins had somehow gotten the big guy to allow them their hand at culinary arts. Brax himself was a terrible cook. It was a wonder they all didn’t wither away having been fed by the guy.
“How was school?” Brax changed the subject, turning away from the twins’ activities to the teen.
Casey smiled. “Actually, today started out pretty awful, but it ended kind of awesome.”
“Did they cancel school for the week?” Nash offered.
“Did they give out a box of donuts for every classroom?”
Casey rolled his eyes. “No!”
“Did they offer up any way of keeping certain someone’s from talking when no one asked them a thing?” Brax offered back, glaring at the twin’s direction.
It was clear to Casey that the guy had spent quite his fill of the duo and they were driving him insane.
“Duck tape?” shrugged the teen.
“Probably,” Brax shook his head. “So what happened?”
“I kind of won that Science competition, and now the school wants me to go to the conference and present it.”
“Oh,” replied Brax.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of reaction that Casey expected. Jagger looked over her shoulder at them and glanced over at her twin. Neither had any idea what they were talking about, which was rare. They were pretty good at eavesdropping.
“Casey,” Brax sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“You don’t really have to say anything,” the teen shrugged. “You just have to sign. I won’t say another word about it.”
Brax scoffed and couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. The kid was persistent, he had to admit that. He just wished it didn’t get on his own nerves so much.
“I thought we went through this already.”
“You said you’d think about it, and honestly, I didn’t think we would win school overall! And now I have until tomorrow for the form. Come on, Brax! You’re the one that wanted me in this place. If you want me to do well, you’ve got to stop blocking me! And the few friends I’ve got are going to hate me if I don’t do this. So I’m worse off than I started.”
“What are you even talking about?” Nash finally asked.
“Mind your business,” Brax groaned.
“Brax won’t sign my form because Heath hates my teacher. Even though Mr. Copeland already dropped the charges! What’s the point of him doing all that, if I can’t even do this?” Casey stated anyway.
“Why would Heath even care?” Nash frowned.
Brax glared at the teen.
“Heath has his reasons.”
“Isn't that the guy that said that Heath bashed his head at that bar?” Jagger questioned this time.
Brax sighed. “Why are you even asking if you already know?”
“To confirm,” Jagger shrugged.
“If Heath has a problem with the guy, and the problem’s gone, I don’t see the issue,” Nash shook his head.
“Me neither!” Casey insisted.
“I’m not in the mood to have Heath heated up over this thing!” Brax insisted.
“Since when do you take anyone else’s reactions into count? I thought that was the whole thing of you dealing out all the rules and stuff,” Jagger frowned.
“And why would Heath react badly? Wouldn’t that just bring him back in trouble with the guy?” Nash added. “I think it would be better for everyone if Casey did his whatever and everyone moved on.”
“And no one mentioned the teacher again,” Jags finished.
“Yeah,” Nash nodded.
“I agree,” shrugged Casey.
The three youngest Braxtons all glanced at the eldest, who was now in an uncomfortable spot. He didn’t want to look stupid in front of the kids, but he also wanted to put the whole thing behind him. And what Casey was saying was true, he wanted the kid to succeed. Summer Bay was a great school district, and if they thought that his kid brother was able to put forth such a display, he should be encouraging about it.
But Heath was a loose cannon. And he had enough to deal with, with the Boys and his stepping in to Angelo’s.
But if he said no, Brax was well aware that Casey would make his next few weeks unbearable. The kid didn’t often hold a grudge, but when he chose to, he made certain everyone knew about it. That was the opposite of what Brax needed at the moment.
Honestly, he could deal with Heath.
He held out his hand. “Give me that damn thing, before I change my mind.”
Casey grinned and dove into his bag. The twins turned back to their casserole experiment, like it was all no big deal. Brax sighed, hoping the rest of the day went smoothly.