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The Ties That Bind

Guest mizziette

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Story Title: The Ties That Bind

Type of story: Long fic

Main Characters: Braxton family

BTTB rating: T/A

Genre: Drama.

Does story include spoilers: no

Any warnings: drugs, violence/death, adult themes.

Summary: Set eighteen years ago, Brax is overwhelmed with responsibility after his dad abandons them and his mum starts self medicating. He has to look after his mum, Heath and Casey while juggling school as well.


Brax heard his parents fighting in the lounge through the closed door. He was used to the raised voices; smashed objects and the occasional smacking that resulted from his parent’s daily ritual. Trying to comfort the crying baby in his arms was a giant feat in the loud, unfriendly environment. After what seemed like forever, the front door crashed shut as his father stormed out and all that was left was his brother’s wailing. ‘It’s over Casey.’ Brax whispered into the baby’s ear as he stroked his soft hair. ‘It’s all over. They’re over.’


2 months later

Brax woke up and walked into the lounge room to find his mum Cheryl in her usual spot for the past few months; passed out on the couch with empty beer and pill bottles strewn everywhere. After clearing up around her, he heated up a milk bottle for Casey before getting ready for school. His baby brother had kept him awake all night with his tears but Brax was used to it by now. Walking into the nursery, he found little Casey in his crib, smiling up at the ceiling as calmly as ever, and gave him the bottle while holding the child in his arms. ‘Heath, you ready?’

‘Yeah’ Heath walked into the nursery in his school uniform, looking as glum as always. Even though he was only starting the fifth grade, he already hated going to school, and didn’t understand why his big brother was making him go. It wasn’t like mum was going to care, after all.

Quietly as they could, in case Cheryl woke up, Brax left a note on the coffee table and the three brothers left their tiny house in Mangrove River and walked next door. Brax knocked on the door and a frail woman in her mid sixties answered. ‘Good morning, Darryl. First day of school, is it? You boys sure do grow up fast. What year are you in at school now, eight?’

Brax nodded. ‘Morning Mrs Stevens. I hate to bother you so early but mum’s not feeling the best this week, and we were hoping you could look after Casey while we’re in school. She can barely get up.’ He tried to keep his story as close to the truth as possible. Mrs Stevens didn’t need to know the gory details of why mum felt so sick. It was none of her business.

The two older boys strolled through the streets of their sleepy town, parting ways at the primary school and Brax caught the bus from there to Yabee Creek High School. While the kids were in school, back in Mangrove River, Cheryl finally managed to coax her eyes open against the too bright sunlight streaming in through the window. For the heart broken woman, it was another lonely day for her without her husband. Since he’d left her after knocking up her best friend, Cheryl felt as if her whole world had collapsed and everything she did seemed meaningless.

Sitting up on the couch, she reached for the glass of water Brax had left for her on the coffee table and tried to nurse her hangover. Groaning at her throbbing head, Cheryl sauntered clumsily into Brax’ room but found his bed neatly made. She went into Heath’s room and found his bed empty too; sheets rumpled in disarray, and noticed that his school bag was missing. She vaguely remembered Brax mentioning that today was the first day of school, although her memory was still a little fuzzy. Now a little more alert, she was shocked to find the nursery void of her youngest. ‘Casey?’

Cheryl didn’t expect an answer from the baby and she received none. For a split second, she almost worried that she had done something while under the influence the previous night, but dismissed the thought. Calling his name out in the front yard, she began to panic.

At that moment, Mrs Stevens walked out of her house with a sleeping Casey in her arms to see what the commotion was about. ‘What do you think you’re doing with my son?’ Cheryl stormed up to the old woman and snatched her child back from her, waking him abruptly. He started crying but his mother was too busy reprimanding their neighbour. ‘How dare you take my baby?’

Mrs Stevens, the sweet lady she was, was horrified. ‘Cheryl, sweetheart, you must be mistaken. Little Darryl brought him over. He told me you weren’t feeling too well. Are you alright?’ She couldn’t understand what the young woman was doing out of bed when she was sick.

‘Do I look sick to you?’ Cheryl stormed off in a huff leaving her poor neighbour dismayed.

The clock struck four as Brax walked in home after school after school with Heath in tow. Immediately on entry, he sensed trouble as he heard clashing in the kitchen. ‘Well, I’m outta here.’ Heath walked straight into his room and shut the door.

Cautiously tiptoeing through the hallway into the living area, Brax found Cheryl slamming the kitchen cupboards, as if she was looking for something. ‘Mum?’

At the sound of the barely deep voice, Cheryl jumped and turned to find her eldest standing in front of her. For a brief moment, she was surprised to see how deep his voice was getting and how tall he was growing. She barely recognised the blooming young man before her. ‘I want a word with you.’ She pointed her finger at Brax and sauntered up to him threateningly but the boy didn’t flinch. ‘What right do you have dumping my son on other people, huh? And not even the gall to tell me either. You give me one good reason why I shouldn’t-‘

‘Shouldn’t what? What are you going to do mum?’ Brax walked to the coffee table and held out the large note to her face. ‘I left you a note. See this, in big black letters. ‘Gone to school, Casey next door.’ Maybe you should pay more attention next time, eh?’

Brax winced as Cheryl kicked a stool in frustration and ducked into his room while she was distracted.

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About an hour after the boys got home from school, Casey woke up from his nap and started crying. ‘Oh Christ. What do you want now?’ Cheryl got up reluctantly and headed to the crib; she hated being interrupted when watching TV. Getting Casey out of the crib, she groaned again as the phone rang, and picked it up.

Brax heard cursing in the living room and got out of his room, to find out the reason behind the commotion. ‘Mum, what’s up?’

‘Bloody manager wants me off maternity leave. Wants me back at the co-op tomorrow. What am I supposed to do with the kid now?’

‘Mrs Stevens will watch him if you apologized for this morning.’

‘Apologize. What the hell do I have to apologize for?’ Casey finally ceased crying, and Cheryl handed him to Brax. ‘Oh alright, I suppose it wouldn’t kill me. Here, take him, would you? I got to be somewhere.’

‘What about dinner?’ Cheryl looked back at her son, halfway about the door.

‘What about it? Just grab something or other out of the kitchen. You’re thirteen. Wouldn’t kill you to show a bit of independence.’ She walked out, grabbing her purse on the way.

With his four month brother on his hip, Brax walked into the kitchen and started rumbling through the cupboards to find them all practically empty. He only found a couple of cans of sardines and some crackers which he took to Heath’s room with a baby bottle. Heath leant on the foot of his bed, his minidisc Walkman blaring Nirvana. ‘Want some?’ Brax sat down next to him.

Heath took his earphones out, grabbed a can and dug in. ‘Where’s mum?’ He asked with his mouth full of food, chewing as he spoke.

Brax sat Casey between his legs, feeding him the bottle with one hand and eating his own food with the other. ‘Out. Didn’t say where. But you could guess.’ Both brothers didn’t have to say it out loud. As far as they were concerned, their mum would be in one of two places; a bar or casino. Either way, she was going to be a while.

They ate their barely sufficient dinner in silence until the phone rang. Heath went to pick it up and found Brody on the other end. ‘Brax, it’s your mate!’

Brax took the phone off his brother. ‘Hey, what’s up?’ There was silence while Brody spoke. ‘Nah, I’m stuck babysitting Casey and the twerp.’ This earned him an annoyed punch in the arm from Heath. ‘Why don’t you come here instead?’

‘I’m going to be eleven soon, you know. I don’t need babysitting.’ Heath hissed grumpily when his brother put down the phone.

‘Well, since you’re so big, you won’t mind staying alone with Casey while I’m out then would you mate?’ Brax smirked as Heath looked at him sulkily. ‘Thought so.’

Ten minutes later, Brody Upton emerged through the Braxton’s backdoor, while Casey was falling fast asleep after his burp. ‘Hey, have you seen the weather report? There’s meant to be huge waves down at River beach tomorrow. We should go.’

‘Can I come?’ Brax and Brody looked at Heath and laughed. ‘You can barely stand on the board mate. How’d you expect to surf with the big boys?’ Brax joked as he went to put Casey in his crib.

‘I can so surf.’ Heath hated it when his brother and his mates picked on him. ‘I could be better than you, for all you know.’

Brody chuckled sarcastically. ‘I bet you could mate. I bet you could.’

The older boys went into Brax’ room to check out his X-men comic collection, leaving Heath on his own. All three Braxton boys were in their rooms for the better half of the night when a loud rapping on the door brought the three older boys out. ‘Crap, it’s my old man.’ Brody groaned. ‘Don’t let him in.’

Brax went to close the screen door, reluctant to let the angry man into his house, but as Mr Upton was taller and stronger than him, it was a pointless effort. Brody’s dad barged past the boy and grabbed his son by the arm. ‘Did you not hear me tell you not to go out? But you have to sneak off anyway don’t you. Out the window like a petty thief. I should have the right mind to box your ears.’ He dragged Brody and walked out with him, not even bothering to acknowledge Brax and Heath.

Brax closed the door behind them, silently hoping Mr Upton would go easy on his friend. It was common knowledge that Mac Upton had a temper, especially when it concerned his son. Nothing Brody did was ever good enough; the poor boy was kept on a short leash, but there was nothing Brax could do about it.

Instead, he set about shutting the house for the night. Closing all the blinds and locking all the doors, Brax put down a glass of water on the coffee table for his mum, just in case she needed it in the morning to nurse the inevitable hang over before work. As the clock struck ten, he lay on his bed and turned off the bedside lamp.

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Brax went to the beach with his surfboard as soon as mum had gone to work and dropped off Casey next door. Brody had been right. The surf was amazing and he couldn’t wait to get in there. He looked around but couldn’t see his mate anywhere. Heath stood next to him looking a little overwhelmed by the size of the waves. He had insisted on coming with Brax until he caved and now he was worried he wouldn’t be able to handle it but was determined to fake confidence.

The boys hit the water and Heath found it hard to keep the balance on the windy morning. While his older brother conquered the waves with certainty, he felt a little inadequate. The waves were too big for his small frame and still relatively new to the sport- he’d only tried it on the boogie board until a few months ago- he still persevered, wanting to prove himself to his brother. After many wipe outs, Heath finally managed to stay standing. ‘Brax, did you see that? Did you?’

‘Yeah, I saw. Maybe you’re not just a pretty face after all, eh.’ Brax ruffled his little brother’s hair, who looked pleased at the praise. ‘Come on, we should head to school.’

Brax walked into the maths classroom that afternoon and sat next to Brody in their usual spot at the back. ‘Hey, I didn’t see you at the beach this morning. How’d it go last night?’

Brody looked at him knowingly. ‘That bad, huh?’ Brax sympathized. ‘You think you’ll be allowed to hang out after school tonight?’

‘If I’m not, I’ll just sneak out again.’ Brody chewed on his gum as the teacher began class. ‘See him try and stop me.’

The two boys walked home after school to grab their surfboards. They met Rick and Gordo who went to Reefton Lakes High, at the usual spot on the beach. The weather was windier than it was in the morning and the boys tried to make the best of the waves. There was little that Darryl Braxton couldn’t do on a surfboard. His dad had first put him on a surfboard when he was five and now, Brax just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

The sky went orange but the boys were reluctant to get out just yet. They sat on their boards, as the tide began to change and the waves started to get smaller. ‘Ready to head out?’ Brax began to lie back on the board and paddle back and his mates followed suit, except for Gordo.

‘I want one last wave.’ He paddled out into the ocean, not waiting for an answer. ‘Don’t wait up.’

‘Suit yourself.’ Brax called out. When the three boys reached the beach, they heard an agonizing shout from where they had just left their friend. Turning around, they couldn’t see him anywhere on the water. ‘Gordo?’ Brax, Brody and Rick grabbed their boards and swam back out to look for him. Being a fairly quite beach, there was no one else around.

They followed the painful screams and found Gordo barely on his board. ‘Found him!’ Dragging him onto his board, Brody dragged him back to shore, as their friends hurried closely behind.

‘Gordo? You right, mate?’ Brax shook the poor boy as he screamed in pain. ‘What happened to you out there?’

‘It stings!’ Gordo grabbed his leg in pain. The boys checked his leg and found painful straight red blotches on his calf.

‘Must’ve been a jelly fish.’ Brax said. ‘Some one go to one of the houses nearby and get help.’

The three youngsters waited in the hospital hallway, waiting for news, but no one seemed eager to tell a bunch of thirteen year olds anything. When the Gordon family got there, it was well after dark, and they were dismissed home after the vague assurance that Gordo was going to be fine.

Brax got home at nine to find the lights were all off. He hadn’t eaten anything since lunch and he was hungry. Raiding the fridge, he found nothing in it as usual. Closing the fridge door, he turned to face the startling angry shadow of his mum.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ Cheryl demanded, her voice getting louder with every word. ‘Do you know what time it is?’

Brax tried to explain but Cheryl cut off his words before he opened his mouth. Now relatively closer to her son than before, he could smell the vodka on her breath and scrunched his nose. ‘Don’t give me your excuses. You don’t even have the sense to tell me you’ll be late. After everything I’ve been through-‘

‘You know what mum, I’m tired and believe it or not, you’re not the only one with problems. I'm not in the mood for the concerned mum act, alright?’ Brax tried to push past her but she grabbed him roughly and pulled him back in front of her.

‘Don’t talk to me like that. How dare you talk to me like that? I’m your mother.’ Brax smirked at this and pulled his arm away from her grip and went to his room.

‘Oi, get back here. I’m not done with you.’ Cheryl followed him and tried to open the door but found she couldn’t open it. She knocked on her son’s door relentlessly until she got sick of it.

On the other side of the door, Brax stood rubbing his arm where his mum had handled him and cursed her silently. He hoped his arm wouldn’t bruise too badly. Before settling for the night, he double checked that the door stopper stayed in place.

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Brax, Brody and Rick stood by the hospital bed in their school uniforms, hanging out with their friend. They had all decided to skip school and go to the hospital the night before. ‘I’m all good.’ Gordo assured them. ‘The doc gave me some meds and I’ll be outta here by the weekend. I get all this week off school. Just too bad I can’t spend it surfing.’

‘You couldn’t spend it surfing anyway, mate.’ Brody sat on the plastic chair. ‘I went down to the beach this morning and the lifeguards closed it down. Apparently it’s too dangerous or something after you got stung.’

Brax couldn’t believe it. ‘They can’t do that. Where are we supposed to surf now? That’s the only decent beach in this town. We can’t take the bus out to the next town every time we want a surf.’

‘I don’t think we have a choice.’ Brody shrugged. All four boys were devastated. ‘The lifeguard who was patrolling there said it would be closed for at least the next couple of months.’

At three, they left their friend to rest and went their own way. Brax took the bus home and went straight next door, to Mrs Stevens’ house. ‘Hey Case. How was your day, mate?’ He took his baby brother from his neighbour’s arms when she opened the door and let him in. Casey gurgled in response. He was beginning to make really loud noises. ‘Hey Heath.’ The middle sibling sat by the island eating a sandwich.

‘Do you want me to make you a sandwich too, Darryl?’ Mrs Stevens went into the open kitchen. ‘You must be hungry after a long day at school.’

‘Thanks Mrs S.’ Brax loved it when Mrs Stevens let the boys stay in her house when his mum was at work. This was how it was supposed to be, the adult taking care of the kids. He sat on the couch to play with Casey, tickling him and making funny faces until the poor baby was giggling uncontrollably.

After their snack, Heath and Brax fought over the TV, unable to decide between Superman and MTV. As usual, Heath lost the debate, and the music awards captured the screen. Hours later, the doorbell rang and Brax was disappointed when his mum stood at the door, ready to pick up Casey.

‘Thanks for keeping an eye on him again, eh.’ Cheryl seemed to be in a better mood today. ‘Don’t know what I would’ve done otherwise.’ She noticed the two other faces in the living room. ‘What are you two doing here?’

Mrs Stevens handed the baby to the young woman. ‘Oh, I thought they might like a little snack so I invited them over. I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty. I love having them around. Reminds me of back when I had my little one running around. Of course now that he’s all grown up, I’m lucky if I get a call.’

Brax looked at the framed photo of a young blonde boy and felt sorry for Mrs Stevens. Her voice sounded so sad when she talked about her family. He knew her husband had died a few years ago and hated the thought that she was so lonely. On their way out, he gave a quick hug to the old woman, just to let her know he cared.

That night, Cheryl grabbed a block of cheese, tuna and a loaf of bread and put them on the kitchen island. ‘Dinner if you want it.’ She called out after making herself a sandwich and settling in front of the TV with a six pack of beer. A while later, Brax walked out of his room and made sandwiches for both him and Heath before taking it inside. The boys sat and ate alone in their rooms, not wanting to see their mum as she slowly got tipsy.

Days later and Brax and Heath were both getting restless. They hadn’t been to the beach in days and Brax was sure he was suffering from surf withdrawal. The ocean pulled him towards it like a magnet and it killed him knowing he can’t enjoy it all because of one stupid beach closing.

He decided he couldn’t take it anymore. He needed to go out into the ocean one way or another. It was the weekend so he had the whole day to go to Summer Bay and back. He couldn’t skate or bike there with his surf board and that only left the bus. Using the phone, he rallied his mates and they all agreed to meet at the Bay beach. After enduring an hour of puppy dog eyes and sulking from Heath, he agreed to take him along too.

The bus ride was only twenty minutes, but to Brax and Heath, it felt like forever. They had never ventured out of town on their own before unless it was for school and it was an entirely new experience. As they arrived in Summer Bay, Brax saw how different it was from their beaches back home. It was sunny, bustling and friendly, something he wasn’t used to.

‘Sorry.’ Brax bumped into a girl a little older than him with straight mousy brown hair. He thought she was really pretty as she smiled sweetly, bending down to pick up the book she’d dropped. Brax bent down and helped her. ‘That’s okay. Don’t worry about it.’

‘Sally, are you coming?’ An older woman with frizzy hair called from outside the surf club.

‘That’s my mum. I gotta go.’ She smiled apologetically at the younger boy and walked off to meet Pippa.

Everyone seemed to be so kind and sweet and generally just happy with their lives in Summer Bay. Brax knew he wanted to be one of those people one day. He was going to get out of the rut that was Mangrove River and make something of himself.

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It had been almost two months since Brax and his friends had first started to surf in Summer Bay, which had now become their usual hang out spot. Because of school, they always waited impatiently until the weekend and then took the bus out at first light every Saturday morning. Brax hated the lack of surfing on weekdays but the friendly atmosphere in the bay was worth the wait. He always felt more at home there.

Although he hated to admit it, the frequent bus rides in and out of town were not the most convenient. If their parents found out they were going so far away, there was sure to be trouble. There was also the little problem of money. None of the boys had much money and the bus ticket was starting to verge on almost unaffordable. If they wanted to surf they needed a better solution.

One day, after school, not feeling like going home, Brax decided to walk around for a while and kill some time. Strolling aimlessly through the streets, he found himself on Wilson’s beach. Wilson’s had a reputation for having the most notorious surf in the Mangrove River area and it lived up to its reputation. The waves crashed into the abundance of rocks at lightning speed; it would take a miracle to surf there. He sat and admired the large waves barrelling in at warp speed and wished he could ride it.

Brax pictured himself on his surfboard and put himself on one of the notorious Wilson’s waves. He imagined himself flying across the water. He’d have to go into the ocean from the side rocks; it looked to have the easiest access and the least dangerous. He was actually contemplating it and even he had to admit it sounded crazy and stupid. No one’s ever surfed at Wilson’s before.

The next morning, he called his mates and told them that they weren’t going to the Bay that day. Brax had bigger and better plans. He told them to meet him at Wilson’s, surfboards in tow. ‘What’re we doing here?’ Rick couldn’t understand why his mate had called them to such a volatile beach.

‘Thought we could go for a surf.’ Brax spread his arms wide, advertising the open water. The other three boys looked at him like he was crazy. ‘Oh, come on. I’ve been thinking this through all night and I think we can pull it off. Just have to go about it the right way.’

‘No one surfs at Wilson’s’ Brody expressed his concern.

‘Then we’ll be the first. Come on, if we pull this off, we’ll be legends. It’ll be our beach. No more tourists and newbies stealing our waves.’

The boys didn’t move. ‘Look, you want to be a wuss, go home. Go on.’ Still no one moved. ‘Otherwise I’ll see you out there.’ Brax’ mates slowly followed their leader reluctantly yet excitedly. With each step, their confidence grew and the boys started running in.

It was the best surf they’d had. The rush was incredible as they flew on the waves faster than ever before. It took a while to manoeuvre around the rocky parts but they managed. Brax had been right. They felt like legends. More so, they were legends in their own right.

The adrenaline pumped through Brax’ veins long after that first wave at Wilson’s. He couldn’t sleep that night thinking about how incredible it had been. He had pushed a boundary and it had felt great. From that day on, Wilson’s beach had become a regular hang out for him and his mates.

Eventually, word got around about the boys from Mangrove River who had conquered the unconquerable waves. At only thirteen they were considered surfing heroes by their fellow peers. More and more people started hitting Wilson’s but Brax and his mates chose to be very selective on who they let onto their beach. Only the best from the river were allowed to join them; before long they were locally branded the River Boys.

In the middle of winter, Brax, Brody and Heath were sitting on their boards waiting for a wave at Wilson’s when a tough looking kid around Heath’s age paddled near them. He was new to the beach; they hadn’t seen him before. ‘Oi, who’re you?’ Heath called out and he stopped.

‘Pete.’ The new kid sat up on his board next to them. ‘Pete Weed.’ This ensured laughter.

‘Pete Weed.’ Brody spit out his words mid laugh. ‘Pete Weed. Pee Wee sounds more like it, don’t it boys?’ Heath slapped his hand in approval. ‘Your parents lose a bet or something? What’s with the rhyming, eh?’

Pee Wee didn’t seem fazed by the joke. In fact he looked like he was holding his own, which impressed Brax. ‘Might’ve lost a bet. Might’ve hit their head pretty hard. One or the other. Either way, guess I’m stuck with it, eh.’ He joined in the joke and didn’t take it as an insult and that took confidence, which Brax liked.

‘You surf much, Pee Wee?’ He spoke up, surprising Brody with his friendly tone. Pee Wee said he did. ‘Well, how about we see what you’re made of, eh? Not everyone can hit Wilson’s.’ The three boys paddled out towards the waves with their newly made friend.

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Casey sat on Brax’ bedroom floor playing with his brother’s shoes. He peered into it, almost fitting his entire head through the hole and tried to lift it above his head but it was too heavy. For the ten month old boy, at that particular moment, the large tennis shoe was the most fascinating thing in the world.

Around him, Brax, Brody and one of their mates from school sat hanging out. They listened to the Walkman player and checked out Brax’ CDs. ‘Hey, did you hear about that kid from school who got busted for dealing?’

‘The one from Reefton Lakes? What about him?’ Brax wasn’t particularly interested in what went on behind the scenes in school. He knew some of the kids did drugs but he didn’t make it a habit to know about that market. He just wasn’t into that.

Brody continued on while flicking through Brax’ things. ‘Word is he made hundreds from the Yabee Creek kids alone. Now that is some serious dough. Plenty of money in the underground business.’ Brax raised his eyebrows and he backtracked. ‘Not that I’d do it.’

‘Why not?’ Heath asked innocently, not understanding that they were talking about drugs. To him, money was money and he didn’t know why Brax and Brody were being so against it. He was just happy that his older brother was letting him hang out with them. ‘Why wouldn’t you want money?’

‘We want money. It’s just complicated mate.’ Brax’ eyes moved towards Casey who was leaning on the bedside table and attempting to stand, as if it was the most strenuous thing he had ever had to do. And for the young boy, it probably was. After a few setbacks, he was on two feet and proud of himself for achieving such a feat, clapped his hands together in pride. ‘Look at you. My little bro’s standing. Next we got to get you on a surfboard, eh?’ Brax and his mates clapped him on as Casey took his first step.

Heath, who had felt so included a moment ago, now stood leaning on the open door. He felt like he had been dismissed. Before Casey had come along, Brax and his parents had always taken care of him; he had been the youngest. Now, he felt like all the attention was constantly on the new addition and he wanted his family to be proud of him too.

Walking out of the room, he ran into his mum just as she got home from work. She smelt a little like fish, but that was Cheryl and he didn’t care. ‘What’s all the commotion in there?’ Cheryl asked the middle child, gesturing to Brax’ room. Heath looked at where she was pointing.

‘Oh nothing.’ He lied. Heath wanted his mum all to himself while she was sober, even if only for a little while and didn’t want Casey’s accomplishments to ruin it. ‘They’re just being idiots.’

‘Yeah, that’d be right.’ Cheryl scoffed and her face softened when she finally noticed his glum face. ‘Eh, what’s with the pout? Something bothering you?’ Even though she wasn’t the world’s most intuitive mother, the look on Heath’s face could’ve made any heart melt.

Heath hugged his mum and she sat on the couch, cradling her son and turned on the TV to watch ‘Deal or No Deal.’ They both knew that Cheryl Braxton’s parenting skills were questionable but she did the best she could and he loved her all the same and found solace in her comfort.

Cheryl Braxton woke up on her day off a week later and went into the kitchen to make her daily breakfast hangover cure. She found her kids eating toast at the table in their school uniforms. She didn’t understand the point of school; she couldn’t wait until they were old enough to pay their way and drop out. It costed money and effort, none of which Cheryl possessed. The only reason she put up with the whole school nonsense was because of the stupid education laws.

Looking forward to a day of doing nothing, she wished she never had to go back to that awful Fish market but she knew she had to. For her kids, she had to. When they left for school, she fixed Casey some oats- he loved his oats- and went into the nursery to find he had manoeuvred himself out of the crib and was walking around in circles, falling on his diaper padded butt every few seconds. Cheryl lifted him up but he protested. ‘No. Dow’ He gestured for her to put him down.

That afternoon, Cheryl coaxed a fussy Casey into the car seat and went into Yabee Creek to do some much needed grocery shopping. They walked along the main shopping strip and the baby store captured her attention. On the display window stood a wooden fire engine car walker and Cheryl was intrigued. Casey could hold onto it and walk without falling. She walked into the store and looked around at the price tags on the items; it seemed fairly cheap. Strolling through the aisles she heard a familiar voice.

Looking through to the other side of the shelf, Cheryl saw her ex-husband and her ex-friend. They were laughing and holding hands while admiring the newborn body suits. She watched from her hidden position as Sean patted the pink blanket in his girlfriend’s arms. Inside the blanket lay a baby girl with soft rosy cheeks and fair thick hair; they were the ideal image of what a family should be.

Cheryl couldn’t bear it any longer and ran straight out of there before she was noticed. Unnerved, she took her pills out of the purse and popped three into her mouth. Just for the nerves, she whispered, trying to convince herself and justify her actions, before slipping into the nearest licensed venue.

When Brax and Heath went home, they found their mum a mess on the couch. Brax rolled his eyes and walked past to go put Casey -who was trying to climb onto the coffee table unsuccessfully- in his room but Cheryl grabbed his arm desperately. ‘I’m sorry.’ Her voice broke through the tears. ‘I’m sorry. Darryl?’

Seeing the plead in his mum’s drunken face, he sat next to her and held her while she wept. ‘It’s okay mum. It’s okay.’ Brax stroked his mum’s hair softly until she fell asleep in his arms.

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It had been a little over a year since Sean Braxton had left his wife and three sons. Casey’s first birthday had come and gone as had Christmas, spent alone eating cold spaghetti as the stove had acted up during the last few weeks of 1994. Brax could see everything slowly falling apart around him both physically and metaphorically and he wondered how it could be fixed.

Cheryl made very little in the fish co-op and even working double time, she didn’t bring enough money and living on one income was proving to be unconventional, especially when half of it got spent on gambling and booze. When his dad had been there, there was a lot more financial security but he was gone now and Brax decided to get a part-time job. It was time he stepped up.

‘Up.’ Brax looked down and saw Casey leaning on his leg reaching for him to be carried. ‘Brac, up’ He picked up the one year old and carried him to his room to finish setting up the toddler bed that both he and Heath had slept in when they were kids.

‘It’s Brax. Can you say Brax?’ Casey still had trouble with pronunciation but he was an early bloomer. At only 15 months he could say a dozen words, walk backwards and had the memory of an elephant; a proud Brax knew his brother would go places. The kid was a genius in the making. He pointed at the unravelled bed. ‘Yes, that’s yours. You’re getting a big bed, you know why? Because you are a big kid now. Are you a big kid?’

‘Yup. Bi-Ki.’ Casey nodded his head eagerly. Brax laughed. That afternoon, after his mum got home from work, he was planning on going to go to Yabee Creek and scope out some possible jobs he could get although he knew a fourteen year old school kid wouldn’t get much. They needed the money; to fix the hot water system, to look after Casey, to pay for all the school supplies they’d need next month.

Brax walked around Yabee Creek asking anyone and everyone if they had anything available but it seemed like no one wanted to hire a school kid. He even took the bus to Summer Bay. He walked into the Bay Diner and went to the counter. ‘Hey love, I’m Irene. What can I get you?’ A lady with cropped hair greeted him from behind the counter.

‘I was wondering if there was anything job wise in this town. I’m looking for something part time.’

‘Nah, sorry love, we’re full here at the moment. Don’t think Marilyn’s hiring either. Did you try the surf club?’ Brax nodded. ‘Aren’t you a little young to be looking for a job, love? You should be enjoying your younger years while you can, once you work, that’s all you’ll ever do.’

‘Just looking to earn some extra money. Thanks anyway, eh.’ Brax walked back out abruptly, leaving Irene scratching her

head at the curious young boy. Brax walked back through Summer Bay to the bus stop, passing through the residential area on the way. He skipped through the caravan park and saw the large Summer Bay house. He could hear the laughter and togetherness coming from inside and felt envy. He wished he had a family like that who he could laugh and just be with. The closest he ever had to that feeling was the river boys, which had grown considerably in the last few months but it wasn’t the same as a real family.

Brax caught the bus from the station at Yabee Creek road and getting off near Heath’s school began his slow walk home. Walking through the residential area, he remembered the soulful atmosphere he had witnessed in the bay before and sighed. ‘I just wish I didn’t have to find someone else to mow my lawn. It’s a shame the last one quit. ’ Brax’ ears perked as he walked past two young housewives chatting to each other on the porch.

He slowly walked up the driveway while the two women chatted oblivious to the young boy. ‘Excuse me?’ Brax stood before them and they looked up to see who it was. ‘Sorry to interrupt but I couldn’t help overhearing that you were looking for someone to mow your lawn. I’m Darryl Braxton; Brax, I live a few blocks away. I’d be interested in the job if you’ll have me.’

‘Well Brax, how old are you?’ The blonde woman asked and Brax answered honestly. ‘You know how to trim bushes, pull out weeds? Because I can’t do all that hard yakka with my bad back. Snapped it when I was about you size, never been the same since.’

After a few more questions, Darryl Braxton was hired. He had the skills and enthusiasm and the woman’s friend decided to hire him for her lawn as well. It was settled. Brax had two gardening clients and would work every Saturday. ‘I’m Lisa Callaghan. I live here and this is my friend, Vanessa Unley.’ At that moment a little blonde girl about Heath’s age ran out of

the front door.

‘Mum, I’m going to a friend’s house, okay?’ The girl finally noticed Brax and smiled. She thought he looked cute in his board shorts and he had the potential of muscles. For the twelve year old girl, it was like at first site. ‘Hi.’ She bit her lip nervously

but Brax didn’t seem to notice. ‘I’m Teagan. Who’re you?’

Teagan was flirting with him but he seemed unfazed. To him, she was another primary school girl. There was no part of him that believed she was interested. ‘Hey, I’m Brax. Your mum just hired me to do your garden.’

Teagan couldn’t help but smile. That meant he’d be around all the time. She couldn’t wait to tell her friends about the cute high school boy she had just met and reluctantly ran off.

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Heath sat on the bench at recess with Pee Wee annoyed that he was back at school. He was seriously sick of it, and hated having to go to the primary school while his brother hung with the big boys at the high school. Watching the younger kids playing tag, he couldn’t wait to get out of there. Only one more year to go.

‘Hey, you’re Heath right?’ A pretty blonde girl stood blocking the sun with her posse. ‘Heath Braxton?’

‘Yeah, what’s it to you?’ Heath looked up to find Teagan Callaghan. She was notorious around school for her mischievous attitude and he wondered why she was bothering with him.

Teagan couldn’t stop thinking about Darryl Braxton for the past two weeks since she’d first seen him. She’d made it a habit to stay at home on Saturdays just so she could check him out while he was working. She flirted, brought him water and snacks but he never seemed to give her another glance. ‘Your brother’s working for my mum. Doing our lawn. He’s nice, huh?’

Teagan knew she was only twelve and that Brax was two years older but he was her first crush, and she wanted to scope him out.

‘If you say so.’ Heath knew how manipulative Teagan could be and didn’t want any part of it but she sat down next to him and her friends joined them. The girls bothered Pee Wee and Heath for the rest of recess.

The kids got home to find Cheryl drinking her third bottle of beer. It was Friday which was Bingo night at the local bar and Brax knew she wouldn’t miss it for anything. As soon as she left, he went into his room and opened his sock drawer. Reaching under the socks, he took out the envelope he had hidden there. Not wanting Cheryl to get her hands on the money and waste in gambling, Brax hadn’t told her about getting a job and instead used the money to pay for his family’s expenses as discretely as possible. The last thing he needed was for his mum to feel unappreciated.

Brax checked all the money was in there and took out a twenty to buy something decent for dinner, leaving Heath in charge of Casey. Returning with canned soup, he heated some in the newly fixed stove. Hiding the rest of the money, he got a fussy Casey to sit down only to have him run away again. ‘No.’ He smiled cheekily. It seemed to be his favourite word; he used it the most often.

It took an hour to feed Casey and Heath watched in amusement as Brax chased after him every few minutes, trying to get him to stay still. Although he was smiling, Heath felt a little jealous. It seemed everyone had attention except him. Brax was too involved with mum and Casey, their mates all admired Brax’ leadership, even that Teagan girl was more interested in hearing about his brother at school.

After dark, Brax woke up to a thud in the middle of the night as Cheryl clambered in through the door and plonked herself on the couch, drunk off her face after bingo. He looked at his alarm clock. It was two am.

The students at Yabee Creek high got a day off for parent teacher interviews every third Friday of March. Cheryl of course, had no interest in his son’s schooling and didn’t go. Besides she had to work, which left Brax all to himself at home with Casey. Dropping off Casey next door, he decided to spend the day at the beach surfing with Brody.

Later that day, Heath walked through the sliding doors of his house and ran into Brax. ‘What happened to you?’ He noticed his little brother’s purple eye.

‘Don’t worry. The other guy’s worse.’ Brax raised his eyebrows. ‘What? He deserved it. Kept teasing just because Teagan keeps following me around. Wouldn’t let it go.’

‘You’re mates with Teagan Callaghan?’ Brax asked and Heath scrunched his nose.

‘No, I don’t even like her. She’s just annoying and hangs around all the time.’ With that, he went to his room to change.

Before they knew it, Saturday came and Brax went off to work. He started in Vanessa Unley’s house and opened her garage, getting the gardening sheers. ‘Morning, Brax.’ Vanessa waved from her porch, sipping her spiked coffee. Beside her sat a little girl about Casey’s age, who shared the same wild blonde curls as her mother.

While Brax worked, Vanessa was in a chatty mood. ‘I remember when I was your age. Back then I was what you’d call a wild child.’ Her voice slurred as she bordered on tipsy and Brax could definitely see the wild child in her. With her wild curls, tight clothes, fake tan and caked make-up, she looked a woman trying too hard to stay young. A woman still living in the past.

‘Me and my best mate, Gina, we were it, back in the day. My Georgie girl was a real trooper, always up for anything. It was all party, booze and boys. That was all we did. I bet you’re a bit tamer than that, aren’t you, Brax?’

After finishing up, Brax headed to two more houses before going to do the Callaghan house. He had a decent gardening business going now, with an increasing clientele although he still didn’t make as much as he’d like.

It was the start of autumn but the sun was still scorching and he took his shirt off and fanned himself with it, trying to dry the sweat. Putting down the shovel, he heard girlish giggling. Looking at the Callaghan house, he saw that the living room curtain had been pulled back and four twelve year old girls were peeping and giggling. Great, Teagan had her friends over. Feeling a little self-conscious, he waved unsurely and they just laughed more.

Teagan walked out the front door with a glass of ice water. ‘Thought you might be thirsty, working so hard.’

‘Thanks.’ Brax took the glass and gulped it down thankfully. He pointed at the window. ‘Listen Teagan-‘

‘I know. They’re immature, but what are you going to do? They just don’t understand teenage maturity. Not like us.’ He didn’t point out that Teagan was actually twelve and not a teenager yet herself. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll tell them to stop ogling you.

Although, I can’t say I blame them.’ She bit her lip seductively but Brax was still clueless as to her intentions as she strutted back into the house.

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  • 2 weeks later...


Brax sat slumped in his chair in Science bored to death. They had been studying the same thing all year and he was sick of hearing about it. Five minutes into class, the door opened and his eyes immediately caught focus. The girl had dark hair and brown eyes; her school uniform giving way to endless legs. Brax sat up straight, his boredom evaporated.

Mr Bartlett introduced the newcomer as Lara Fitzgerald. Her smile was sweet and friendly as she sat next to Brax in the only available seat. She fiddled through her bag, looking for a pen. ‘Hi, I’m Brax.’ He handed her one of his pens and smiled his gorgeous smile. ‘Thanks. I’m Fitzy.’

Class finished and Brax rushed to follow his new interest before she walked off. ‘So, are you new to the area?’ He put his bag over the shoulder and walked with her through the hallway.

‘No, my mum put me in the church school before but I managed to convince her to let me try a real high school for a while. She thinks I’m going to turn into a punk rocker or something if I hang out in the real world. Do you know where commerce is?’

‘I got commerce next too. I’ll walk with you.’ Brax couldn’t believe his luck. He had not only one but two classes with her. ‘What’s your mum’s philosophy on surfing?’

‘She’s pretty much against anything fun or remotely interesting. It’s all about the church for her. My dad’s a minister.’

‘What about you?’ So she was from a religious family. This might be a challenge given Brax’ reputation but he was willing to be optimistic. Fitzy looked at him confused. ‘I mean, are you against anything fun or interesting? Like say, surfing?’

‘I’ve never tried.’ Fitzy had never had a boy so intriguing interested in her before.

‘Guess I’ll have to teach you then.’ Brax gave her his cheekiest smile as they entered their next class.

Commerce was the only subject Brax liked, aside from math, mainly because he was good at it. He didn’t understand science or history but when it came to crunching numbers, he was all on it. Money and business was definitely his thing.

That weekend, Brax put off as much of his work as possible and took Lara to the Bay beach to teach her to surf. They started on the beach and Brax stood behind her, discretely wrapping his arms around her and positioning her body correctly. Fitzy was shy at first but eventually started flirting back, leaning into his touch.

‘What do you want to do when you finish school?’ She asked as Brax bent down to put the foot strap on her, before they tried it on the water. He was very aware of her tan smooth legs as he gently strapped in her ankle. He looked up as she asked the question and saw her bikini clad body below her sweet face. No one had asked him that before.

‘I never thought about it.’ Brax stood up and shook the sand off him. ‘I guess I’ll just do my own thing. Be my own boss. I got a small gardening business mowing for my neighbours.’

‘You work?’ Brax nodded. ‘That’s cool. I always wanted to be a cop, ever since I was little. My grandad was a cop, so I want to be like him.’

Fitzy wanted to be a cop. This just got a whole lot more interesting. And a lot more challenging. Brax was beginning to like her more and more. Tripping on the surfboard, Fitzy fell into his arms and mumbled in embarrassment. Their eyes met and leaning down slowly, he brought her chin up to meet his lips in what would be his first ever kiss.

When Brax got home, he found Heath and Brody on the porch looking glum. ‘My dad and you mum.’ Brody filled him in. Going inside, he saw Cheryl and Brody’s dad kissing in the kitchen. There were bags on the floor beside them. Seeing Brax, Cheryl broke away from the kiss.

‘Got good news, Darryl. Me and Mac have been seeing each other for a couple months now and him and Brody are moving in.’ Brax looked shocked. It wasn’t good news at all. Everyone knew about Mac’s temper and he didn’t want it in his house.

‘You’re not serious?’ Brax walked closer in. ‘Mum, are you crazy?’

Mac took a step forward, angered that the kid had the nerve to talk to his girlfriend like that. Brax didn’t flinch. He had grown taller and buffer in the last year and now stood a little taller than his mum. Both of them maintained eye contact, both in a rage and eventually they were interrupted by gorgeous little Casey. ‘Uh oh, Brac trouble.’ He puffed his cheeks, holding his ripped teddy.

That night, he set up the spare mattress on his bedroom floor and his new roommate Brody turned off the light, both worried about this new turn of events. There was no doubt in their minds that this would all turn very ugly.

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Casey, now almost twenty months, couldn’t understand why everyone looked so sad except for his mummy and Mac. Alone with his brothers, he tried to take the dust pan and help Brax clean up the cereal he had spilled, but couldn’t manage to hold onto the handle properly and sweep as it was too heavy for him.

He was very proud of himself for helping out around the house; he had tried to fold the laundry with his mummy the other day and got Heath his socks from his room that morning although he thought they were a little smelly. Casey looked at Brax sweeping with the big broom and tried to get it from him. ‘I want.’ His older brother gently nudged him out of the way, annoying the little boy.

Teagan pulled back the living room curtain and saw Brax in her garden. It was an amazing view. Smoothing down her hair and fixing her dress, she commenced to move away from the window and meet him but something caught her attention. A brunette girl walked up to Brax, all smiles. He turned off the mower and went over and grabbed the girl by the waist, pulling her in for a quick kiss.

That afternoon, Heath went for a walk along the beach to clear his head and saw Teagan upset. At first her constant presence had been annoying but the blonde girl had grown on him over the last couple months and she really wasn’t that bad. They had been hanging out quite a bit lately, and Heath found it refreshing not having to prove himself with her like he had to with the boys.

‘What’s wrong?’ Teagan looked up to find Heath sitting next to her. He seemed a little comfortable like he didn’t know what to do with a crying girl. Which he didn't.

She sighed. ‘Why doesn’t he like me?’ Heath knew she was talking about Brax. It was no secret she had a crush on him all year. The only person oblivious to this little fact was Brax.

‘He likes you. You’re mates right?’ Teagan glared at him. She didn’t want to just be his mate. ‘Look, my brother’s an idiot. Just forget about him. Let’s go for a surf.’

‘Easy for you to say.’ She wiped away her tears. ‘No, I can't giving up that easily.’

When the boys got home, they found the house was dark and couldn’t see very well. They saw the silhouette of their mum on the couch and didn’t blink an eye; they were that used to it. Turning on the light, Brax rushed over to her and nudged her and

she groaned.

Cheryl’s face was puffed and bruised, and she bled all over. Heath reached for the phone to dial emergency services but it was disconnected; they hadn’t paid the bill. ‘Get the car keys.’ Brax told Brody as he walked into his new home, startled by

the scene.

With his brothers, Brody and his mum, Brax took to the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition. He had never tried to drive a car before but seen Cheryl do it thousands of times; how hard could it possibly be? He fiddled, reversed and zigzagged out of the driveway barely missing their fence and rushed the uncontrollable car down the road.

It was sheer luck that Brax managed to get them all to the hospital in one piece. It was also only luck that hadn’t gotten him pulled over by the cops for driving like a maniac but he didn’t care about any of it. He just wanted to make sure his mum was okay.

The boys waited in the hospital hallway for news. They had known this might happen which was why they had been so apprehensive about Cheryl being with Mac. He had anger management issues and Brax could only hope his mum wouldn’t be stupid enough to go back to him after all this.

Cheryl lay in the hospital bed drowsy from the pain medication and couldn’t understand why her life was so miserable. She always seemed to be messing up, nothing ever went right. When she had met Mac, she was lonely and he made her feel better. He took the pain away, even momentarily and she hated that he had returned that pain back to her so brutally.

Mac and Cheryl had had fights before and he had lost control, but it had never been this bad. Cheryl felt a presence in the doorway and turned to find Darryl walking up to her. ‘Hey mum, how are you feeling?’ He sat next to her and held her hand.

‘You shouldn’t have brought me here. We can’t afford it.’ She grunted unemotionally. Brax noticed that she was distancing her emotions and hated it when she did that. Sometimes he just wanted his vulnerable, loving mum instead of the cold, stoic front she put on.

The doctor wanted her to stay overnight and Brax paid the bills out of his own pocket. Again, he drove the boys’ home and again, he was lucky not to get stopped by the cops for underage driving.

Brax was angry. He was angry at Brody’s dad for doing this to his mum, he was angry at himself for not being there to protect her and he was even more angry that his dad had left Cheryl to fend for herself. He wanted justice.

The next night, for the first time in his life, Mac Upton was the punching bag instead of the boxing glove. A group of teenage boys jumped him in the alley behind his workplace and the last thing he remembered before he passed out was the dozen pairs of shoes hitting every part of his body. He got what they thought he deserved for Brody, for his mum, for Cheryl and every other person he had hurt. For the boys, it was their own brand of justice.

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