Casey walked over to the house where he had dropped off Romeo that one time that they had had detention together and the Boys had given them a ride. It was a large house, and Romeo had told him there were always people staying over.
Brax had dropped Casey off early, too distracted in his own dealings to realize the bullshit story Casey was giving him. Or maybe he just didn’t care.
Casey walked right to the house, the door wide open. He eyed the large space, living dinning and kitchen all in one. The whole of the area he could see looked about as big as his house. The place was lived in, photographs of people lining the mantle, the walls, and the coffee table.
He found Mr. Copeland over to the side, gathering up his things for the day while nibbling on a piece of toast.
Casey knocked against the door and Miles looked up as he entered, instantly leaving his things and walking over to him.
“Casey, what a great surprise!”
Casey offered him a smile, though it felt a bit sarcastic. Could a gesture be sarcastic, he wondered. Instead, he handed over the stack of papers the man had tried to give him the day before.
“I can to give you those back,” he said.
“I like your enthusiasm,” smiled Miles.
Well, Casey watched him look the papers over, and knew that the happiness that Miles was feeling would be short lived.
“You haven’t filled them out,” Miles frowned.
“I can’t go against my family,” Casey explained.
“That’s crazy!” shrieked Miles. “This has got nothing to do with your family! This has got to do with school.”
“Yeah,” Casey sighed. How could the guy still not get it? After seeing how Heath was and everything. “But it’s your idea and…you’re the one that’s pressing assault charges against my brother.” Casey shrugged and Miles looked downright disappointed. Casey felt bad enough has it was.
He wished he didn’t have to be the one to burst Miles’ bubbles on the reality that Casey lived, but that was that.
“Look, I want to do it,” Casey started again. He wanted to be able to tell Miles that he was so very thankful, but it just couldn’t be. Heath would lose it, and Brax wasn’t exactly on his side on this either. “It’s just, after you left last night, Heath made it pretty clear how he felt. It’s just too hard, I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Miles looked so sad, and Casey didn’t feel much better either. He had thought that he would be able to just hand the papers over, maybe tell Mr. Copeland that he shouldn’t bother him again, but how could he take the hostile route when the man was being so kind with him?
“Well, can I talk to your Mum?” Miles offered. “Would that help?”
Casey rolled his eyes, he couldn’t help it. Talk to his mother would be the opposite of helpful.
“No, there’s no point. She reckons I shouldn’t be doing it,” he lied quickly. “She hates what you’re doing to Heath.”
“What about Darryl?” Miles continued on.
Normally, Casey would have to agree that that would be the way to go about things, but Brax wasn’t too keen on the man either.
“He’s the same,” Casey shook his head. “Look, I’m really grateful for what you’re trying to do with me, but there’s no point. I’m sorry.”
Casey hung his head and turned to leave. Miles’ face looked defeated. He saw something in Casey that few people bothered to look for. He saw so much potential, a smart kid that was constantly pushed off of the path towards success.
Miles shook his head, watching the teen leave. He had enough experience with kids in troubled situations. He had enough experience in his own life. He hated seeing a kid like Casey counted out before he was even in.
There had to be something he could do.
Brax sat in the parking lot of the Yabbie Creek police station wondering if he was doing the right thing.
Usually, he wasn’t out looking to be anywhere near the police station. If he was, it was either because he had been nabbed by the coppers, or because one of his brothers had been.
This was different.
Brax sighed. “This is stupid,” he told himself as he got out of his ute. But he couldn’t shake the look that Casey had given him all morning. The kid had such a forlorn sense about him, that you could practically see a doom cloud raining over him.
Walking into the station, even early as it was, Brax wasn’t surprised to see most of the coppers faces turned, frowned or glaring, towards him. He got to the reception desk and tried to keep his usual devil-may-care tone to himself.
“Is Sgt. Buckton in yet?” he asked, trying to pose as cordial as possible, for Casey’s sake and all. He stood up straight and had even thought better of showing up in his usual boardies and shirt combo, least they thought he was there to stir up trouble.
“You can file any complaints against any officer here without their presence,” the officer before him stated. “Or online.”
“No, uh, I just want to talk with her.”
“I doubt she has anything to talk with you,” the officer scoffed.
“I’ll take Mr. Braxton, thank you Yates.”
Brax turned, and there was Buckton, standing in her fresh, pressed uniform, giving him the kind of look he wouldn’t be surprised to find out in the jungle before an animal devoured another. He smirked.
“Sergeant,” he nodded.
Buckton motioned towards her office, and Brax moved forward, but instead of letting him in first, she walked in instead and he followed.
Jagger finished wrapping up the game that they had gotten for Casey.
“I can’t believe you’ve talked me into this,” Nash groaned as he rummaged through one of the chests that they had under their secret lifeguard house.
“It was your idea,” Jagger scoffed, tossing the tape into another chest and placing the gift into her backpack.
“A good twin would have stopped me from seeking revenge,” Nash shook his head, seating back on his heels.
“A great twin is going to provide lookout, and a fail-proof plan.”
Jagger walked over to Nash and frowned. “Did you find it or not? We’ve still got a bit of time to get more if we need to.”
“We’re already late,” Nash shook his head. “I’m not wagging another day. Besides,,” he held up the small package with a cringe.
Jagger pulled Nash to his feet and then led the way out.
The twins got onto their bikes and started for their school. Locking up their rides, they were clearly late, since no one else was outsides. The twins ducked behind a few bushes, knowing that there were no cameras there. They crouched down, practically crawling up the wall, past one camera, until they got to the corner where there was a vent opening. Jagger got a small screw driver from her bag, Nash glancing over the bushes occasionally.
Soon enough, the two climbed into the space that they knew a little too well, and Nash put the cover back together.
“See you in twenty,” Jagger said, silently crawling the space over to where her class would be.
“Be careful,” Nash cringed, watching her go. He sat for a moment more, thinking about what he had in his backpack.
Miles Addington. This all went back to that overgrown idiot Miles Addington. The kid was larger than most twelve year olds, and he was still in Year 5! He had a tendency to pick on kids, and he had been making Nash his sole focus the past two weeks. Nash wasn’t sure what had triggered it – either his being the first up the rope challenge, or when Ms. Magura had used his paper as a shining example of persuasion, but that past Tuesday Miles had started trying to tease and taunt Nash.
The thing with that was, Jagger couldn’t stand the guy on principle. They had both had a couple of run ins with the big brute, but he had never truly engaged them back in any kind of tete-a-tete. Until now. Sort of.
And while with any other student, Nash and Jagger would be able to put into their place probably no problem, the thing to know about Miles Addington was that he was the son of divorced parents, and who had his father remarried but the ever-evil Mrs. Howler – or Hallman like they were supposed to call her.
It really wasn’t fair to have one of the meanest kids in the school being the stepchild of the principal.
Nash moved slowly towards his class. He and Jagger knew the vents pretty well, having spent more than one detention the last year going through the place. Fortunately for them, an elderly teacher, Mrs. Paulsen, usually fell asleep within the first ten minutes of the afterschool activity. Whoever would think that should would last for a full hour after the 3pm bell was fooling themselves.
Still, it was usually just Nash and Jagger there, and they would either one or both go to the back of the room, screw driver open the vent in the closet, and begin to explore.
It beat sitting there watching the eighty-year old sleep any day of the week!
But Nash didn’t want to go to class. He was got top marks in his gym class, but he wasn’t doing too well in his other classes because they bored him to sleep. Still, he knew it would be a bad idea to skip it; the alternative was letting Jagger in on his full plan, and then they would both get into trouble again.
The plan was to meet up after first period and move towards the science wing, where Addington would be heading into his weekly tutor session instead of joining the rest of the class in the lab room. Then, Jagger was going to distract the tutor, Ms. Holley, while Nash snuck in the room and released the stink bomb, rendering the room useless.
But that would once again be a Jagger plan, though pretty good in delivery, they would most definitely be in trouble after. Miles had no trouble with Jagger, most people did avoid them because Jagger had a rep, but Nash had just been through three days straight of the guy licking his finger and digging it into his ear and he couldn’t stand it.
Also, the guy ripped one of Nash’s notebooks in half, though of course Nash couldn’t prove it hadn’t fallen apart itself. And the whole shoving Nash into the janitor’s closet, where he would have been locked in all period, had he not known there was a vent in the back.
Actually, that last one had been pretty cool, seeing the confused look in Addington’s face when Nash got to the classroom before the rest of them.
So instead of Plan A, Nash had made his own Plan B.
He moved towards the hall, dropping down into the vacant space and tossing his backpack up to close the vent again. Then, he walked over to locker 5412, pulled out a small wire, and had the locker opened just like YouTube said it would.
He had barely five seconds to move about his plan. With no time to rethink, Nash spring into action.
“I appreciate you hearing me out.”
“You’ve got two minutes,” Buckton stated as Brax entered her office.
Brax raised his eyebrows but said nothing. He moved to take a seat, and tried not to smile at the sergeant ever-present frown.
“After you left,” Brax started. “I had a good talk to Casey about what happened.” And what did not happen. “And, he told me he really likes Ruby,” he continued with a deep sigh.
What could he say, did Brax want his brother dating an older girl that was a cop’s daughter? Hell no. Could he really tell the kid to back off of the first girl he’d shown interest in? Well, he could but it wouldn’t be right.
“He wants to keep seeing her.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen.” Buckton stated without a second’s hesitation. “The last thing she needs right now is to be involved with one of you lot.”
Brax closed his eyes, stopping himself from overreacting. He was trying to help the situation, not create a new one.
“You’ve got it all wrong!” he insisted. “Now, I know my brother and I’ve got a certain reputation, or whatever, but Casey is a good kid, alright. He’s not like me and Heath. He’s had to figure a lot of things out on his own, but all things, I’d say he turned out alright.”
“How do I know you’re not trying to use Ruby to get to me?” Buckton asked instead.
“Because, I wouldn’t use my brother that way,” Brax shook his head. The lady couldn’t know all the things he would or wouldn’t do, but anyone who knew of the Braxtons knew that they looked out for each other. And that certain didn’t come from their parents.
Brax leaned forward. “Look, I’m sorry I tried to kiss you the other night, alright? I was trying to be, I don’t know, funny or whatever. It should never have gone that far. I know that.”
Buckton rolled her eyes.
“The thing is,” Brax continued, ignoring her reaction. “I hate to think you’re punishing Casey because of me. Alright, this is a huge deal for him. He’s never had a girlfriend before. The fact that he’s even told me he likes Ruby, is massive,” Brax confessed, trying and hoping that stone cold Buckton would see reason, for the kid’s sake.
“All I’m asking,” Brax leaned back. “Is that you give him a chance. They’re old enough to know their wants, make their own mistakes, shouldn’t we just, let them?”
If possible, Brax thought he saw Buckton deflated a little.
“Well, I don’t know how many more of Ruby’s mistakes I can take,” she answered honestly.
Brax knew a bit of what Buckton was talking about. He had spent the night checking into this Ruby chick, and while he found that she was a pretty, smart girl, he also found that the last three years she had lived at Summer Bay, she hadn’t exactly been a model citizen. She had gotten to the Bay loudly, making her newly installed then-sister Charlie Buckton embarrassed and her father fuming. Ruby was older and more experienced than Casey, and a large part of Brax wanted to keep her far away from his kid brother, but Casey liked her. Really liked her.
And damnit if he didn’t try to see things from the kid’s side.
“Well, you know, I’ve seen my fair share of out of control teenagers,” Brax stated. Not counting his family, there were plenty of River Boys that fit that description still. “Maybe I could help you.”
Buckton gave him a cautious, skeptical look. She wasn’t someone that took to advice much. He could tell she was the kind of woman that could forge ahead on her own. He definitely admired that about her.
“Alright,” Brax laughed, seeing Buckton’s eyes rolls again. She probably didn’t think about him more than whatever his police file stated. He could see how that would make just about everyone skeptical. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“Well,” Buckton sighed instead. “I guess, I’m just not sure how to deal with Ruby.”
Brax nodded. That was certainly one way to put it. He had heard about how recently it had been found out that Charlie Buckton was her sister’s mother. That dynamic change, after their mother’s death and all, wasn’t going to be an easy one.
“It’s like, every time I try to talk to her or do something, we end up screaming at each other. And the only advice anyone seems to give me is to just stay strict, and she’ll break. But I’m afraid that’s just going to push her away if I keep doing that.”
There was a defeated kind of look on Buckton that Brax had never seen before. He felt badly for her, could see how much she cared about Ruby. Like a mother should care. He knew that not all parents were like that, knew that too well, and the girl in question didn’t know how lucky she was to have that.
Not that telling a teenager something like that would help.
“Or drive myself insane,” Buckton added softly.
“It’s just because, teenagers are a weird breed,” Brax said with a slight shake of his head. “You just gotta be smarter than them.”
“They like to think they’re adults already,” Brax continued. “So, let them. Don’t fight it. Use it.”
“How?” Buckton was openly skeptical, but listening.
“Next time you see a confrontation coming, you just treat it like you’re having a normal, adult conversation. Even if she starts screaming at ya. I mean, she can’t keep yelling if you’re not getting angry. And, whatever you do, you choose your battles. Let her win sometimes, and then, when it really matters, maybe she’ll listen to what you’ve got to say.”
“That easy, huh?”
“Yeah,” he nodded confidently, before breaking into a wide grin. “No.”
Buckton sighed and dropped her head.
“It’s like, this thing with Casey,” Brax started up. “Maybe it would be good for her to hang out with him.”
“Hear me out,” he added with a smile. “Casey’s had his troubles, but he is a good kid. He keeps me informed of where he’s going, what he’s doing, who he’s with. And he’s a bit of a home body, so we’re always trying to get him to go out more, if anything. He’s healthy, he’s athletic, he’s smart.”
“Sounds like a loyal dog,” Buckton smirked.
“Yeah, he is,” Brax grinned. “I mean, he’s still a kid. He’s impossible to get up in the mornings and I’m pretty sure he’s willing to survive on nothing but cold cereal if we let him, but he’s a regular teenager. He’s got no beef with anyone. If anything, his old friends are becoming dicks and he’s had to drop them, all his own.”
“Just, give it some thought,” he finished with a shrug.
Brax sat there, watching Buckton think. It was funny how quickly adults lost sight of their teenage selves. Brax had spent the better part of his life around troubled kids, starting with himself. He probably created more problems for himself, and Heath, than there would’ve been had he had the sense of mind to just shut his mouth half of the time. Casey was different, that kid was more quiet and thoughtful. He didn’t deserve to be labeled bad just for being their kid brother. The twins might be leaning towards insane, and Heath was always toying with the bad boy image, but Brax knew that all of his siblings really were more heart than brawn.
“I’ll see myself out,” he stood up. And walked to the door, noticing Buckton snapping back to the moment.
“Right, thank you,” she stated. Brax gave her a nod and left.
Hopefully, that would all turn into the right outcome.
Casey walked up to the backdoor of Ruby’s house. She hadn’t been in school that day, and he decided to use his lunch time to go check on her. Was she blaming him for what had happened that weekend? Maybe her mother had been so mad that she had pulled her from school altogether?
Though the thought was a bit ludicrous, Casey had had a lot of time to think as he walked the two miles from the school to the Buckton-Patterson home.
Maybe she wouldn’t even want to see him.
Casey knocked on the back door, and Ruby answered.
“So you are okay,” he stated with a sigh.
Ruby looked down, not meeting his eyes.
“Everyone’s concerned today,” she scoffed, crossing her arms and looking away.
“Yeah, well, you didn’t turn up at school, and you didn’t reply to my texts,” Casey shrugged. He had tried to respect her space, but as the hours passed, he was more and more worried about why.
Ruby looked up at him, her eyes soft and green like the sea can take.
“I’m sorry,” she sighed, her tone no longer so confrontational. “I just didn’t want to deal with anyone today.”
“Not even me?” Casey asked.
She looked up again, slight surprise to her eyes now. He wished he could read her mind, but her eyes told so much.
Ruby gave him a small smile.
“For you I’ll make an exception,” she nodded towards the inside. “Come in.”
And Casey followed, closing the door behind him.
“Although, you do know, if Charlie catches us, she’s gonna lose it again.”
“Yeah, I know” Casey nodded, following Ruby into the living room. “I just need to see you.”
They sat on the couch, and Casey couldn’t believe that she wasn’t mad. Brax was right, which Casey should have known by now. Brax was always right.
“Yeah, well, you don’t have to worry about me. I’m fine.”
“And I’m glad,” replied Casey, his hands clasping nervously in front of him. He had had some of his most bold moments this last week, and they were all due to Ruby, who in fact hadn’t given him much thought. But that weekend had been different. Even with Brax and his talk, and Heath ready to bash his head in every time they crossed paths, Casey had been in his own mind.
There was a gap between them, maybe almost a foot, and Casey couldn’t help think about that. He had been remembered those few moments alone all weekend, and this gap was reeling his mind. Should he move in closer, should he just stand?
“But that’s not the only reason I’m here,” he continued. Casey looked up and Ruby’s eyes were watching him. For a moment, less than a moment, he just stared into them and wished they could give him all of the answers.
Why did this feel so hard?
He had always seen his brothers go from one girl to another, sometimes on the same evening, and he had wondered if it could really be so simple. In his old school, he hadn’t bothered to give any girl a second glance, mostly because he had been around them most of his life. He knew which girls were exes with who, and which girls would sooner slaughter him than talk to him. There were girls who had been with a number of the Boys, and other girls would turned their noses up at the mere mention of them. A few of the older girls had probably even been with Heath, but he didn’t exactly go out of his way to ask them.
“Look, I wanted to know, what’s the deal with us? I mean, are we cool?”
Ruby sighed and looked away. “Casey, I really like you,” she started, and Casey knew not to count that as a victory. She had said enough of the same before.
“I really like you too.”
Ruby smiled, but she looked away. “What happened this weekend, between us, was really special-
Special. That was about the worst word a guy wanted to hear. Yikes.
“And it meant a lot to me,” she continued. “It’s just, Charlie’s never going to be okay with this. She hates your family, especially Brax.”
Casey sighed and turned away. He had definitely been here before. Friends, teachers even. They all had an opinion on his brothers and were often too cowardly to tell them so that just left Casey.
“Yeah, but isn’t it worth fighting for?” Casey offered. “I mean, I’m not a bad guy. And I’m sure she’d change her mind. We can’t give up that easily.”
“It’s just not going to work,” Ruby stressed.
“Look, Ruby, I know she’s you’re Mum, but you don’t have to do everything she says.” It was the opposite of trying to get on Charlie’s good side, but the fact that Casey didn’t do an ounce of whatever Cheryl tossed their way just told him that parents didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. Brax had more of a clue, and Casey wouldn’t exactly say that his big brother was happy with the idea, except that Brax hadn’t exactly told him ‘no’ either.
“Yeah, I know that,” Ruby sighed. “But it’s just, it feels like everything is against this. And the fact that I’m still dealing with this other guy, and we happened really fast –
Casey thought she was definitely seeing things glass-half empty, but when she combined everything like that, he could see that she probably felt she was dealing with too much.
“Sorry, but it’s just too hard.”
Casey sighed. He stood up and turned to leave. What was the point? He couldn’t believe she was going to just dump on them before they even became a thing.
He walked out of the house and kept going. Casey ran his hand through his hair. He wanted to be able to just tell Ruby what he felt and what they wanted could be. He wanted more than anything that things be calm. Everything didn’t need to be a big deal, but apart from him, it seemed like everyone was intent on making it such.
Part Twenty-Three ->