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Relative Difficulties

Guest Red Ranger 1

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So, here is the latest in the storyline that has encompassed Where the Heart Lies, The Honeymoon's Over, In the Adult World, The Mistakes We Make and Blood Ties, the links to which can be found on my profile.I'm having a hard time remembering what happened in them all now, so good luck to everyone else...

Story title: Relative Difficulties
Type of Story: Long fic
Main Characters: Romeo, Ruby, Xavier, Indigo, Ric, Cassie, Mink, Drew, Sasha and others
BTTB rating: T/A
Genre: Drama/Romance
Spoilers: No
Any warning: Sexual content:Mild.Violence:Mild.Language:None.
Summary: Ruby is still having to deal with renewing contact with Grant's family, Romeo is having to cope with Mink's presence and an old face shows up to add to the chaos. Part 6 of Where the Heart Lies.


Ruby opened up the back door and allowed Julia and Colin to run into the house ahead of her.“Keep the noise down and no shoes on the bed!”she called after them, shutting the door behind her.She went through into the living room, where Romeo was crouched on the floor, a bemused look on his face.“Did you see a hurricane pass through here?”
“If you mean our two oldest, I think they’re having a pillow fight at the moment.”
Ruby raised her voice.“Julia!Colin!I’m going to be through there in a minute and you’d better be behaving!”She crouched down with Romeo, who had been doing a children’s jigsaw puzzle with their youngest, Louisa.She stroked Louisa’s hair.“You’re going to be better behaved than that when you’re their age, aren’t you?”
Louisa seemed to think about this for a moment, then gave a grin and shook her head.
“No?”Ruby repeated.Louisa had had her first birthday two months previous and, while she hadn’t yet mastered the art of talking, she could usually understand what people said.Ruby tickled her on the stomach and she giggled.“You are so going to regret that.”
“She’ll be an angel,”Romeo promised,“Like she’s always been.”
Ruby allowed her gaze to wander across to the other child her husband had been playing with when she’d come in.“Romeo, why is Brixx here?”
Romeo patted his nephew on the head protectively.“He’s been helping us with our puzzle, haven’t you?”
Ruby took Romeo’s arm and led him away from the two children.“Seriously, again?”she asked quietly.
“She needs our help.”
“Romeo, you’ve given her loads of help.Including giving that boy one of your kidneys.And giving up half your shifts at Austin’s, even though you’re meant to be the manager.”
“Not like I’ve been much of a manager since Indi came back to work.Anyway, next year Brixx’ll be starting school and things will be different.”
“They’d better be because this can’t go on.”
“How was school?”
Ruby smiled ruefully.“Nice change of subject.Everything went fine.”
“No problems over a certain student?”
“Nope, everything’s fine on that score.”But the comment reminded Ruby that the situation with Peter, the half-brother she’d recently been reunited with, was still far from resolved.

Xavier headed into Austin’s restaurant, carrying his fifteen-month-old daughter Pammy in his arm. Indi gave a broad grin as she saw her family.“Hey!This is a nice surprise,”she greeted them, kissing Xavier on the cheek as he reached the bar and then Pammy on the forehead.
“Well, I was thinking of giving Pammy her first surf lessons but she still hasn’t got used to standing up so we thought we’d come and see Mummy instead.”
“And I’m very pleased to see you.”Indi grimaced slightly.“It’s good to have some pleasant company.”
Xavier gave her a reproachful look.“Come on, Indi.”
“I know I told you and Romeo I’d give her a chance but come on.She’s rude to me, she’s abrupt with the customers…”
“She’s learning?”Xavier attempted.
Indigo didn’t look convinced.“I know she’s had a hard time lately but we’re going to lose our business at this rate.”
Mink came over to the bar and slammed her pad down on it.“Table 6 wants a bottle of chianti.Don’t know whether you should give it to him, he looks like the type who’ll develop wandering hands once he’s got a few glasses inside.”
“You didn’t say that to him, did you?”Indi asked worriedly.
“No but if he lays a finger on me where he shouldn’t, I’ll break his hand.”She turned to Xavier with a smile.“Hey, Xav.”She tickled Pammy under the chin.“Hey, Pams.”
Xavier looked her up and down.“Nice outfit.”Mink had adopted a black dress since she’d started working at the restaurant.
“Should be, it cost me two weeks’ wages.”Mink accepted the bottle Indi handed to her.“If it comes back broken, it means I hit him on the head with it.”
As she stalked off, Xavier shot Indi an apologetic look.“She doesn’t mean it.”
Indi glared at him.“How come you get all the smiles and I get a load of surly attitude?”
“Just charm, I guess.”

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Thank you for all the comments, glad you like it.


Indi sat down at the table with Ruby and Sasha.“Don’t mind, do you?I could do with a break.”

“Hey, we’re the ones taking advantage of my big sister owning a bar,”Sasha replied.

“New staff giving you problems?”Ruby asked, knowingly.

Indigo grimaced.“I know she’s your sister-in-law and everything but she’s not really a people person.”

“No, I’ve found that out lots of times myself,”Ruby agreed,“But she did help you and Xav get back together after April died.”

“That was nearly six years ago!”

“Just feel like someone needs to stick up for her.Which, I guess, by default, is me.Maybe we should talk about how someone else is getting on at work instead.”

“Like you, you mean?”Sasha asked.

“Or you.How are things at the hairdresser’s?”

“They’re fine, so don’t change the subject.We all know what happened with Peter…”

“Yeah but thankfully Gina doesn’t and neither does Mum, so let’s keep it that way, okay?Things have been fine between us since…”

“Since he kidnapped you?”

Ruby sighed.“I don’t think he was ever really serious about that, he was just messed up over what happened to Grant.”

“Well, I’m not sure I could go on teaching him after that.”

“What about his mum?”Indi asked,“Is she happy with it?”

Ruby shrugged.“I haven’t seen her since we took Peter home that day.She hasn’t turned up at the school ranting, which is probably a good sign.As for me and Peter, well, we’ve kind of reached this holding pattern where we pretend we only know each other from school.It’s working fine for us so far.”

“Maybe I should try that with Mink,”Indi mused,“Pretend she and my husband don’t act like they’re besties and…”

“Sack her?”Sasha suggested.

“Treat her like any other employee.”

Ruby gave her a sympathetic look.“Hard, isn’t it?”

“Mum, I don’t need to hold your hand anymore,”Summer complained.

Ric gave Cassie a sympathetic look, squeezing her other hand supportively.She couldn’t help noticing that Elizabeth didn’t seem to have any problems holding his other hand.“Oh, you’re a big girl now?”she asked her daughter.

Summer nodded.“I’m nearly at high school.”

“I thought you might like holding my hand.”

“No, that’s what babies like Lizzie do.”

“I’m not a baby,”Elizabeth protested, not for the first time,“I’m seven.”

Cassie reluctantly let go of Summer’s hand.“All right, but you’re not to go too far from us, okay?”

Summer grinned.“I’m going to go in the water,”she announced, pulling off her t-shirt to reveal her bathers and dashing in the direction of the sea.

“Can I go too?”Elizabeth asked.

Cassie noticed that Ric had spotted Drew further up the beach and realised he wanted to talk to their friend alone.“Sure, Lizzie, I’ll take you.Come on.”

Ric gave his girlfriend an appreciative smile before heading over to Drew.“Everything okay at the garage?”

Drew nodded.“Sure, Ric.Everything okay here?”

“Yep.”Ric’s tone didn’t sound too sure.

“New family still feels a bit weird, huh?”Drew asked understandably,“I think Mattie would approve.”

“Yeah, I know she would and sometimes it doesn’t feel weird at all, it feels great.It’s just every now and then…Anyway, what about you and Sasha?You going to be starting a family any time soon?”

Drew looked like he was going to choke at the question.“We’ve only just moved in together.”

“Biological clock’s ticking, mate.She knows you’ve turned thirty?”

“Well, it’s not like I’m on the verge of turning sterile.”Drew shrugged.“I guess if the time comes, the time comes.”

Ric nodded.“Guess you never know what’s around the corner.”

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Thanks for the comments, hope you like this update.


Ruby was packing up her folders at the end of the day when she heard a voice from the classroom doorway.“Miss?”She looked round at the voice.She had been unaware that any students had hung back.She was even more surprised to see it was Peter.“Can I come in?”

“Of course, Peter.”Ruby sat back down at her desk, motioning for Peter to take a seat across from her.“What can I do for you?”

“I wondered if I could talk to you…Ruby.”Ruby was surprised to hear him use her name.He’d never said it before.She could tell it had taken a lot of effort and he looked up anxiously.“It’s okay to call you that, right?”

“Yeah, of course.So long as you don’t do it in class.”Ruby remembered the curiosity she’d felt about him when he’d first come back into her life.Even though she’d done her best to keep her distance from him, that curiosity remained.“So…what did you want to talk about?”

“I…I guess I wanted to thank you.I don’t think I ever really thought that you’d be fair to me after what happened but you have.”He took a deep breath.“And I wanted to tell you that…my mum’s coming to parent/teacher night.She says she wants to see you.”

Ruby had been aware the date was coming up and the possible pitfalls of having to speak to the Bledcoes but she’d pushed it to the back of her mind.“To discuss how you’re doing in class, right?”

“Right.”Peter didn’t sound entirely certain.

Ruby looked at him cautiously.“Is there something wrong?”

“It’s just…she keeps talking about you.Asking if you’re giving me a hard time.I mean, I say you’re not, I say you’re fair, but…she might not be all that happy with you.I just thought you should know.”

Ruby smiled.“Well, thanks for warning me, Peter.But your mum and I both want what’s best for you.I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Mink was sat on the beach, gently rocking Pammy’s carry cot.Brixx was playing with a bucket and spade nearby, filling the bucket with sand and then upturning it, creating a row of mounds of sand.He smiled at his latest creation, gesturing to it with his spade.“Look, Mummy.”

Mink smiled at him.“That’s great, Brixx.”

“Do you want to have a go?”

Mink hesitated, glancing at her other charge, before nodding.“Okay.Don’t go away, Pammy, will you?”

“Why are we looking after her?”Brixx asked as Mink shuffled closer to him and took the bucket and spade in her hands.

Mink looked out to sea and saw Xavier catching a wave, feeling an odd twinge of nostalgia as she did so.“Well, because her mummy’s at work and her daddy’s surfing, so I said she could stay with us.”

Brixx followed her gaze, watching Xavier for a moment.“Is that what you used to do?”

Mink lowered her head.“Yeah, that’s right.”

“You were really good at it, weren’t you?”

Mink smiled.“Mummy was the best.And if anyone tells you differently, they’re lying.”

Xavier had apparently finished his surf, since he came running over to them, board under his arm. He grabbed a towel and began drying himself.“Surf’s pretty good today.I can keep an eye on Brixx if you want to have a go?”

Mink shook her head.“Haven’t got a board.”

“Borrow mine,”Xavier persisted.

Mink gestured to the light top and trousers she was wearing.“I’m not exactly dressed for it.And if you’re hoping I’m gonna go surfing in my underwear, you are out of luck.”

“I thought you might have a bikini on under there or something.”

“Oh and you regularly imagine what I’m wearing under my clothes, do you?”

Xavier sat down next to her.“Look, Mink, I know you.Surfing’s what you love.But you’ve been back living here six months and I haven’t seen you go out once.”

“Well, maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do,”Mink snapped.She looked out to sea but she could feel Xavier’s eyes on her and knew she’d have to say more.“I haven’t been surfing since my accident,”she admitted.

“The one that meant you had to quit the circuit?Why?”

“Because I knew I’d be no good at it.Surfing wasn’t a game to me, it was something I was serious about.I don’t want to go out there just to mess about.”

“You’re just scared people will see a former pro champ fall off her board,”Xavier teased.

Mink glared at him.“No, I’m not.”

He jostled her with his elbow.“Go on, admit it.”

“Don’t do that when you’re wet,”Mink warned him.Xavier continued poking her.“Xavier!”She grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him past her, so he landed on his back with her bending over him.He grabbed hold of her other arm with a grin and the two of them started wrestling, rolling back and forth in the sand.Brixx was obviously amused by the game since he started throwing sand over them with his spade.

“Not interrupting, am I?”asked a familiar voice.They looked up to see Indi standing over them, eyebrow raised.

The pair got up and dusted themselves down.“We were just leaving,”Mink offered, taking Brixx’s hand and leading him off down the beach.

Xavier smiled at Indi.“Hey, good day?”

He leaned in towards her but she took a step back.“Don’t even think of kissing me when you’re wet and sandy.”She picked up Pammy’s carry cot and started for home, Xavier at her side.“What were you doing down here anyway?”

“Having fun.”

That I could see.”

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Big thank you for all the comments.Hope you like this one.


“You’re looking pensive,”Romeo remarked.

Ruby had been drumming her fingers against the side of her cup of early morning coffee.She hastily laid her hand flat on the table.“It’s just work stuff.”

Romeo continued looking at her, obviously not happy with the vague explanation.“What sort of work stuff?”

Ruby hesitated, obviously trying to decide whether she could get out of giving a fuller answer or not.“I was talking to Peter the other day,”she admitted at last,“About parent/teacher night.”

“Are you gonna have to give him a bad report?”

“Not really.I mean, he’s hardly the best student I’ve ever had but he’s not bad.It’s more the fact that I’m having to do it at all.Speak to his mum.”

Romeo looked at her blankly.“Why?”

Ruby rolled her eyes.“Come on, Romeo, first time I met her I accused her husband of raping my mum.”

“He did,”Romeo pointed out.

“Yeah, somehow I don’t think that mattered much.You know the image Peter had of him, she’s probably been insisting he was just misunderstood ever since.And she wasn’t too happy to see me the last time I went round there.”

“Well…you’ll be at school, there’s not a lot she can do in front of everyone.You’ll be okay.”

Ruby didn’t seem to brighten up much.“I hope so.”

Xavier kept a close eye on Pammy, who was standing in the sand in front of him.Standing, he had to admit, wasn’t quite the right word.Tottering might be more accurate.She kept transferring her weight from one foot to the other, never really seeming comfortable with either and looking as though she was going to fall over at any minute, hence his having both his arms ready to catch her just in case.

He glanced across the beach and saw Mink walking towards the water, wearing a wetsuit and with a surfboard under her arm.“Hey, Mink!”he called, waving.

Mink saw his arm in the air and went over.“Hey, Xav.”She looked down at the girl.“Hey, Pammy. When did you start to walk?”

“It’s a new thing we’re trying,”Xavier explained.He gestured to the board and the outfit.“You took my advice then?”

“Yeah, I borrowed it from Romeo.”Mink caught Xavier’s quizzical look and rolled her eyes.“The board, not the suit.I found that in the back of my wardrobe.”

“You still look good in it.”

“Thanks.Hopefully I’ll still look good on the board too, even if I do have to keep catching the little waves so I don’t hurt myself again.No spleen really cramps your lifestyle.Ironic, given that people used to tell me I had too much spleen.”

Xavier grinned.“Hey, let me see if Indi can watch Pammy for a bit then I’ll join you.”

“You’re not exactly dressed for it either.”

“Well, unlike you, I don’t mind doing it in my underwear.”Xavier pulled his shirt off so he was just standing in his shorts.“See?Instant surfie.”

Mink seemed to take a step back.“Look, can you just let me do this?”she asked, sounding slightly irritated.

Xavier was puzzled by her sudden change in mood.“What’s wrong?”

Mink glared at him angrily.“Look, I’m doing this for me, okay?”she snapped,“I’m not interested in your buddy games.”

She stormed off towards the water.Xavier was forced to reflect that what she’d said was true:For someone without a speen, she did a good job of venting one.

Indi smiled as Xavier and Pammy came in.“Hello there, to what do I owe this?”

“Pammy just wanted to show you her new trick,”Xavier explained.He set their daughter down on her feet and she stood there, tottering, smiling up at her mother.

“Awww, who’s getting to be a big girl?”Indi cooed.

“Yep,”Xavier confirmed,“Next thing you know she’ll be smoking, staying out late at parties and dating unsuitable people.”

“Well, we never did that,”Indi protested.She caught Xavier’s look and blushed slightly.“Well, I’ve never smoked.You?”

Xavier pursed his lips.“Not a cigarette…”

“Oh yes, Ruby’s filled me in on your bad boy phase.”

“Hey, I’m a mature and sensible adult now,”Xavier assured her with a grin.He frowned suddenly. “By the way, have you seen Mink today?”

“No, I haven’t seen her since her shift yesterday.”

“It’s just I saw her down the beach earlier and she was a bit off with me.”

“Oh, she didn’t clamber all over you again?”Xavier glared at her and she held up her hands.“Okay, I’m letting go.So what is up?”

“I don’t know.Something though.”

Mink peered through the doorway as she lent the board up against the house and saw Romeo sat at the kitchen table with Louisa.“Thanks for lending me this!”she called to him.

“No problem,”he answered,“Can you stay for a bit?”

“Well, Miles said he’d look after Brixx as long as I wanted so yeah, I guess.”She sat down opposite Louisa, giving her niece a little wave.Louisa smiled back, then returned her attention to her colouring book.

“So, how did the surf go?”Romeo asked.

“Yeah, fine,”Mink agreed,“I mean, it’s annoying that you can’t do things that you used to do but it helped me work out a few frustrations.”

“Well, you’ve certainly got plenty of those,”Romeo replied with a grin.

Mink thought for a moment.“Romeo, how did you know you loved Ruby?”

Romeo blinked in surprise.“That’s a bit out of nowhere.”

Mink shook her head.“Forget it.”

“No, it’s okay, it’s just…we didn’t really have the most conventional of starts.”Romeo recalled how he was still seeing Indi and Ruby was still seeing Casey when they first started their relationship.“I guess it kind of crept up on me.Everything blew up and pretty much the whole town hated us and the thing that mattered the most was not losing her.I guess…I realised I was happiest when I was around her, more than I was with anyone else, had ever been with anyone else.”

“You didn’t find yourself getting…you know, a bit hot when you were around her?Especially when she didn’t have much on?”

Romeo could see Mink colour slightly and had a feeling he was doing the same.“Yeah, that too. Mink, what’s all this about?”

Mink swallowed hard.“I think I love someone.”

Romeo smiled at her.“Mink, that’s great!”

“No, it’s really not.”

“Well, I know you like being a loner but…”

“No, it’s not that.It’s Xavier.”

Romeo stopped and stared at her.“Xavier?”

“Yeah.”Mink sighed.“I fall in love and it’s with a married man.Typical me, huh?”

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Romeo and Mink sat in the front room, their attention focused on Louisa playing with her plastuc bricks on the floor.That was what they were pretending to focus on, anyway.“So, do you hate me?” Mink asked.

Romeo shook his head.“Guess I can’t blame you in the circumstances.I mean, falling in love with the wrong person.”He looked at her worriedly.“You’re not actually..?”

“What, gonna break up a marriage?”Mink shrugged.“I’m tempted, don’t get me wrong.I mean, I reckon Xav and I would make a cute couple.”She saw Romeo’s stricken look and smiled.“Relax, little brother.He’s got a wife and kid.I know it’s been hard on Brixx growing up without a dad, be harder still when he goes to school and has to listen to all the other kids talking about their dads.I wouldn’t want that for Pammy.”

Romeo relaxed slightly.“So what are you going to do?”

“I dunno, try and avoid him, I guess.Hope I can make myself stop thinking like this.”

“Well, it won’t be easy, but I think that’s for the best.”

“Yeah, I know.”Mink sighed.“God, being responsible sucks.”

Romeo smiled.“It does, yeah.”He stood up and gave her a hug.“I’m here if you need to talk.”

“Yeah, I know.”

It was at that moment that Ruby came in.She stopped when she saw them.“Hi,”she greeted them awkwardly,“Should I…leave you alone?”

Mink shook her head.“No, I was just leaving.See you later.”

Ruby waited until she had gone before moving closer to Romeo.“Is she all right?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Romeo sighed.“You know I want to but I kind of think she wants it kept to herself…”

“Yeah, okay, I know, not your secret to tell.”She kissed him lightly on the lips.“I’m here if you want anything.”

“You’re looking sullen.”

Xavier glanced round at Sasha’s voice and saw her and Drew walking along the beach towards where he was sitting.“Sorry,”he murmured.

“Anything we can help you with?”

Xavier considered the question.“Have you seen Mink today?”

“No, I’ve been lucky so far.”Sasha saw Xavier scowl and realised she’d gone too far.“No, we haven’t,”she replied in a more reasonable tone of voice.

“It’s just…she snapped at me earlier.”

The pair waited, expecting more.“Isn’t that how she normally behaves?”Drew asked at last.

“Well, yeah, with most people but we usually get on okay.Maybe in the early days but now?”

Drew shrugged.“Well, I wish we could help you but we don’t really know her that well.”

Sasha nodded.“You’re about the only person who’s really friends with her, aside from Romeo.”

“Yeah.”Xavier got up.“Maybe I should give up thinking I’m a special case, huh?See you both later.”

“Look, maybe you should just let Mink get over whatever it is she’s got to get over,”Indi suggested when Xavier told her about it at home later.

“You’re probably right,”Xavier conceeded sadly.

“I know she helped us out after April died…”

Xavier looked at her in confusion.“Mink wasn’t in town then.”

“But…”Indi remembered the incident Ruby had reminded her of, when Mink and Dexter had arranged for them to meet on the beach and talk over their problems.Then she remembered:It wasn’t April.It was after their daughter, Jane, had been stillborn.She wondered if Ruby had been trying to spare her feelings.“Anyway, my point is, there’s no need for us to get involved.”She was interrupted by a knock at the door.“See who that is.”

Xavier answered the door and a tall muscular man pushed past him.“Cheers, blondie.”

Xavier took a few seconds to recognise their visitor, who seemed to be making himself at home on the couch.After all, he hadn’t set foot in Summer Bay in over six years.“Heath?What are you doing here?”

Heath and his older brother Brax had been arrested for drug possession and served two years.As far as everyone knew, on their release they had moved up north and were now legitimate.Although Heath’s attitude didn’t seem to have been improved.“Got tired of the Gold Coast scene, thought I’d try my luck in the old home town.Rocked up in Mangrove River first but they don’t have as nice seats.”He shifted slightly on the couch, as though checking the padding.

“I think what Xavier meant is what are you doing here?”Indi interjected,“As in, our flat.”

“Thought you’d give me a place to stay.I mean, we are family now, what with your brother and my brother…How did he manage to turn Case gay anyway?”

“I think Casey realised he was gay before Dexter did…That’s not the point.”Indigo glared at him. “You can’t stay here.”

Heath adopted a mock mournful expression.“What, you’re gonna chuck a brother out on the street? Have me sleep on the beach and then the tide comes in and I drown?”

“Sleep wherever you like,”Xavier told him firmly.He looked at Indigo for support but her expression looked a less firm than his.“You’re not actually considering it?”

Indi moved closer to him, lowering her voice.“He is Casey’s brother.”

“Does Casey even like him?”

“I don’t know.But you’ve got Mink, we’ve got the Braxtons.At least let him stay here until I’ve rung Dexter and found out what’s going on.”

Xavier glared at Heath.“Okay.But you sleep on the couch.I’m not chucking Pammy out of her room.”

Heath gave a mocking salute.“You’re a regular Good Samaritan, blondie.”

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When Heath woke up, it took him several seconds to recognise the face looming over him.When the memory finally clicked into place, he gave a curt nod.“Doctor Walker.”

“Heath,”Sid replied in a tone that didn’t exactly qualify as warm.

Heath glanced around the room and saw Xavier, Indi and Pammy congregating in a corner.He glared at them.“Decided to call in the big guns, did you?”

“They didn’t ask me to come here,”Sid replied,“But when Indi let me know that they had a new house guest, I thought I’d better come over and…”

“What?Make sure the Big Bad Heath hasn’t murdered them in their beds?Well, I managed not to, so now you can go.”

“Yes, I can.And you can come with me.”

Heath stared at him in slight confusion.“Come again?”

“I’ve got three spare rooms on the farm and Xavier and Indi haven’t got any.It makes sense for you to stay with me.”

Heath shrugged and grabbed his bags from the floor near where he’d been sleeping.“Suits me.”

“Have you got any plans as to what you’re doing to do for work?”Sid asked as they headed for the door.

“Nah, just thought I’d ask around, see if any old mates want some help…”

“Well, until you do, you can help out around the farm to make up your board.”

Heath stopped in his tracks and stared at him.“Hey, no way am I a farmhand.”

Sid met his gaze without flinching.“As long as you’re going to rely on this family’s hospitality, Heath, that’s exactly what you are.”

Heath looked away and followed Sid out of the flat, grumbling as he did so.

Xavier, Indi and Pammy watched them go.“Your dad can be awesome sometimes,”Xavier noted at last.

Indigo nodded.“He has his moments.”

Romeo paused at the doorway of the garage.“Ric?Drew?You guys in here?”Getting no response, he looked around and was greeted by the sight of Ric and Cassie kissing next to one of the cars.He quickly looked away.“Sorry!”he called.

The couple ended the kiss, slightly embarrassed smiles on their faces.“That’s okay,”Cassie answered,“I was just going.”She gave Ric another quick kiss.“See you at home.”

They both continued smiling as Cassie walked away, Ric’s eyes not leaving her until she’d left the building.Romeo stood still, unsure how to proceed.“So, er, things are going okay between you two then?”he asked.

“No, we hate each other,”Ric answered jokingly,“Ah, Drew’s having lunch with Sasha if you wanted to speak to him…”

“No, it might be best if it’s just the two of us,”Romeo acknowledged,“Have you ever had a sister?”

Ric thought for a moment.“Well, Cassie was kind of the closest thing I ever had, so probably not the best example.”

“But before the two of you were together, if you thought she was getting into a relationship that wasn’t going to be any good for her, you’d have said something, right?”

“Oh, yeah, all the time.Not that she ever listened.”

Romeo sighed.“Right.”

“Is this about Mink?”Ric noticed Romeo’s surprised look and shrugged.“The mention of sisters kind of gave it away.”

“She’s interested in someone.Someone she shouldn’t be.”

“He’d be bad for her?”

“Could put it like that.”

“There any chance she’ll make the right choice?”

Romeo had been wondering about the question for quite a while.“I hope so.”

“Well, you know if you try and tell her something that she doesn’t want to hear, she’ll hate you for it?”

“Yeah,”Romeo sighed,“That happens a lot.”

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Sid parked his ute in the driveway, feeling a certain amount of trepidation as he headed up towards the farm.He’d turfed Heath out of bed before going to the hospital and given him a list of chores but he wasn’t particularly optimistic about them being completed.

He headed round to the back of the house and stopped in surprise.He could see Heath, minus his shirt as usual, attacking a patch of overgrown grass with a rake.A large area around him had been cleared.“You been at this all day?”Sid asked.

Heath stopped and looked at him.“No, I had a bit of a break round lunchtime.Caught the bus down to the beach and had a surf for an hour or so.That okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.I mean, you’ve obviously been hard at it the rest of the time.”Sid surveyed the cleared area, feeling somewhat impressed.“Heath, you surprise me.”

There was a flash of annoyance in Heath’s eyes.“Yeah?How’s that?”

Sid sensed he was on dangerous ground but he’d said too much to back off.“Well, I didn’t expect you to get all this done.”

“What, because you just see me as a River Boy?Think I haven’t done a day’s work in my life?”

Sid struggled to remain calm, despite his rising frustration.“Heath, I’m trying to pay you a compliment here.”

“Yeah, that I’m not the useless layabout you thought I was.Thanks a bunch, Doctor Walker.”Heath threw down his rake and headed off down the drive.

Sid sighed.

Mink slammed her pad down on the counter.“Well, that’s my break.”

Indi shot her a disbelieving look.“Mink, you can see what this place is like.We’ve got three large groups in.At least wait until they’ve all ordered.”

“Uh-uh, contracted hours,”Mink retorted,“You want me to work in my break, speak to my union.”

Before Indi could fire off a returning barb in her direction, Xavier appeared with Pammy.“Hey, Indi, I was wondering if you fancied to join us for a coffee.”

Indi threw up her hands in surrender.“Sorry, Xav, we’re flat out here.And Mink’s just going on her break.”

“Oh.”Xavier glanced at Mink.“You fancy coming with us then?”

Mink snatched up her pad.“No, you and Indi go, I’ll cover.I’ll just go and take Table 7’s order.”She hurried off.

Xavier and Indi looked after her in bemusement.“That was weird,”Indi commented.

“Yeah,”Xavier admitted,“Still, look a gift horse in the mouth?”

“I’ll be right with you.”

Ruby rechecked her appointment card, just to make absolutely sure she hadn’t made a mistake and could look forward to a pleasant chat with a parent who didn’t hate her.The card said the exact same thing it had said every other time she’d looked at it.She checked her watch and glanced at the doorway…in time to see Tracey enter, a smile that completely failed to appear friendly on her face, with an awkward looking Peter next to her.

Ruby stood up, putting on her best welcoming face.“Mrs.Bledcoe.”

“Miss Buckton,”Tracey responded.She saw Ruby wince and raised an eyebrow.“Oh, of course, I’m supposed to call you Mrs.Smith now.”

“That is my name these days,”Ruby agreed, trying her best to sound jovial as she gestured for the pair to seat.She took out a file.“So.Peter.”

“Have there been any problems in class?Disagreements?”

“Peter’s conduct has been fine,”Ruby confirmed,“But his results do concern me a little.”

Tracey continued to look unfriendly.“Really?How?”

“His marks aren’t bad but they’re below the class average.I’m worried that would affect his HSC.”

“His marks in his other classes are fine.”

“Well, maybe it’s just Music he has trouble with…”

“Or the Music teacher.”

“Mum,”Peter hissed warningly.

Ruby did her best to ignore the comment.“I can arrange some special tuition if you want, there are plenty of tutors I can recommend…”

“And how much would that cost?”Tracey asked.

“Or I could arrange to have Peter transferred to another subject.”

Tracey looked triumphant.“Oh, so that’s your game, is it?Get rid of him by giving him bad marks and sending him to another class?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,”Ruby insisted,“I’m happy to have him in my class, I’m just worried about his future…”

“So am I,”Tracey replied,“And I won’t have it jeopardised by your vendetta against our family.”

“I don’t have anything against your family.Or Peter.I just think…”

Tracey had already stood up.“I’ll be talking to your superior about this.Come on, Peter.”

Peter gave Ruby an apologetic shrug and followed Tracey out.

Ruby sank deeper into her chair.

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Thank you, Romeo&Indi Forever, Jarliefan, JosieTash and pembie!Hope everyone likes this one.


Ruby was having curious flashbacks to her time as a pupil as she sat outside the principal’s office. The door was open a crack and she could hear the conversation going on inside.Although she knew Peter was there, it seemed to be Gina and Tracey doing most of the talking.

“You need to do something,”Tracey was saying.

Gina’s response was calm and collected.“I’m not quite sure what you’re accusing Mrs.Smith of doing.”

“She’s been victimising Peter.She’s always hated our family, goodness knows what lies she’s been feeding him about his father…”

“Peter, has Mrs.Smith mentioned your father in class?”

“No,”Peter answered quietly.

Tracey wasn’t to be put off.“Well, of course she wouldn’t say anything, she’s too clever for that.But his marks…”

“Mrs.Bledcoe, I’ve looked over all Peter’s assignments,”Gina answered,“As far as I can see, Mrs. Smith has marked them perfectly fairly.Even generously in some cases.”

There was a frosty tone to Tracey’s response.“So you’re not going to do anything?”

“I don’t believe there’s anything to be done.”

“Well, in that case, I will.I’m removing Peter from this school, since he’s obviously not going to be given a chance while he’s here.Come on, Peter.”Tracey led her son out of the office, not even bothering to look at Ruby as they passed her.

Gina appeared in the doorway.She gave Ruby a resigned look.“Ruby, do you want to come inside?”

Ruby followed Gina into the office, closing the door behind her, and sat at the other side of the desk.“What are we going to do?”

“There’s not a lot we can do.Peter’s sixteen, we can’t force his mother to keep him here if she doesn’t want to.”

“I don’t think Peter wants to leave, he might not be that good at Music but he’s made good progress here.”

“Sadly, it’s not up to us.And his mother’s unlikely to change her mind at present.”

“I guess she just finds it easy to hate me and Mum.I mean, I kind of understand.I’d known Charlie all my life and I didn’t want to believe what she was saying about the sort of person my dad was. Tracey was married to him all those years, I guess it must be hard accepting what he was really like.”

“That may be true but it’s Peter’s education that’s going to suffer.And there’s not a lot we can do about it.”

It was Heath’s favourite part of the day:Surfing time.He didn’t really mind the chores Sid made him do around the farm, he’d done a lot worse and, while Sid tended to look down on him, Heath had to admit, to himself if no-one else, that he was always pretty reasonable.But he still preferred getting away from it all, just himself and the sea.

As he was making his way towards the water, he noticed a fair-haired boy of about four years old sitting on the beach.He looked around for a responsible adult, or even an irresponsible one, but no-one seemed to be in any hurry to claim the boy.Heath stopped next to him.“What you doing, little fella?”

“I’m watching my mummy,”the boy answered,“She’s really good.”

Heath followed the boy’s gaze and saw a young woman who bore a certain resemblance to the boy surfing.He didn’t think she was anything special, although he had to admit she showed a certain understanding of technique.“Okay, well, if you’re sure…”

But the woman had obviously noticed him chatting to the boy, since she suddenly came running out of the sea towards them.“What’s going on?”she demanded.

“Just checking on the kid,”Heath answered, bracing himself for the usual barrage of abuse from people who caught him near their children.

Instead, the woman looked as defensive as him.“I was watching him from the water,”she insisted, “His uncle usually looks after him but I thought he could watch me today.Who are you anyway?”

“Heath Braxton,”he answered wondering if that would set her off.But again, he was taken by surprise:If she recognised the name, she didn’t show it.

“Mink Smith,”she replied, putting an arm around the boy’s shoulders,“This is Brixx.”

Heath winked at the boy, who didn’t seem certain whether he should respond or not.He vaguely remembered a kid named Smith with an odd first name from the first time he’d been in Summer Bay. Their seemed to be a vague similarity but then it was a common name.“His dad not around?”

Mink shrugged.“His dad doesn’t even know he exists.”

And then the last thing Heath was expecting happened:He turned on her.“Where do you chicks get off?”he demanded angrily,“You think you can play with men’s lives.Bet you’ll go running to the poor sucker when you need help, won’t you?Who cares what it does to his life?”

He stormed off towards the water, leaving Mink, for possibly the first time in her life, too stunned to respond.

Ric and Drew watched the heated end to the conversation from the headland.“Who did you say that guy was?”Drew asked.

“Heath Braxton,”Ric answered,“According to Grandad, him and his brother caused a load of trouble a few years back.”

“And what did Romeo say about Mink?”

Ric knew where the conversation was going.He didn’t like it any more than Drew did.“That she liked someone that would be bad for her.”

Drew nodded.“Guess we know who that is now.”

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Thank you for your comments!Hope you like this one.


“Heath?”Casey called out cautiously as he and Dexter stood in the entrance hall of the Walker farm. They stood in silence for a few moments but heard nothing.

“Maybe he’s out?”Dexter suggested hopefully,“Or maybe he’s moved away.To the South Pole.”

Casey glanced at him.“You didn’t have to come.”

“Well, I kinda did.I mean, we’re a team.I’m just not looking forward to the reunion with your big and scary brother.”

“Crazy as it may seem, I think I am.I mean, I haven’t seen Heath and Brax in so long.Maybe it’s about time we had a catch up.”

“I’m just counting down the seconds until I get his fist in my face.”

Casey turned round to face Dexter.“I promise that won’t happen, okay?”

Dexter smiled at him fondly.“Ah, my big, strong hero.”

“Don’t you know it.”Casey leaned in and kissed him, lightly at first but then letting the kiss deepen as they held each other.

“Don’t let me stop you,”Heath remarked as he walked past them into the lounge room.

Dexter and Casey sprang apart.“Heath,”Casey greeted his brother, then floundered as he realised he wasn’t sure what to say next,“How’ve you been?”

“Not as good as you, little brother,”Heath responded as he sat down on the sofa and began draining a can of beer,“So let me guess.Doctor Walker told you I was here so you and your wife decided to come round and make sure I stayed in line.”

“No…”Casey faltered, since that was a pretty accurate description of what had happened.“I just thought it’d be good to see you again.”

Heath shrugged.“Lot’s changed.”He glanced at Dexter.“I know Case got his head messed with by Ruby but what happened to you?Last time I saw you, you were dating that April chick.”

It was a conversation Dexter didn’t want to get into.“She died,”he replied, hoping Heath wasn’t tactless enough to request details.

Heath shrugged.“Bummer.What about that hot older sister of hers?”

“She and Liam moved away a while back.Said the town reminded her of what happened to April.”

“Heath, what are you doing back here?”Casey asked him bluntly.

Heath got up and walked over to him.“Family business,”he answered,“I’d tell you but…you don’t really think of yourself as family anymore, do you?”He walked out.

Casey sank wearily into a sofa.“That could have gone better.”

Dexter came up behind him, putting his arms around Casey’s shoulders and kissing him on the top of the head.“He’ll probably realise how wonderful you are soon enough.”


Ruby had been enjoying a quiet coffee at the Diner when the voice interrupted her thoughts.She had a feeling of trepidation when she looked up to find Peter standing there, a feeling that was not allayed by the fact he was looking round furtively.“Does your mother know you’re here?”

Peter shook his head, confirming Ruby’s suspicions.“Can I talk to you?”

Ruby could think of several very good reasons to say no, not least being the fact that Tracey was just looking for another excuse to accuse her of wrongdoing.But instead she found herself gesturing for Peter to sit down.After all, they were in a public place.There’d surely be plenty of witnesses to back her up if things got out of hand.“Where are you going to school now?”

Peter lowered his gaze awkwardly.“I’m not.I got kicked out of my last school and now I’ve been taken out of Summer Bay High.No-one wants to touch me.”

Ruby was shocked.“You can’t not go to school!I can talk to someone at Yabbie Creek, see if they’ll take you…”

“No point,”Peter replied,“Mum’s decided I’m finished with school.She got in touch with an old business colleague of Dad’s, got me an apprenticeship at his office.”

Ruby tried her best to see Tracey’s point of view.At least she was trying to make sure Peter had some sort of qualification behind him.“Well, that’s okay, I guess.”

Peter shook his head.“I don’t want to be stuck in an office all my life, I want some options.I want to get my HSC.”

“Well, I’d offer to talk to your mum but she’s not gonna listen to me.I can ask Mrs.Palmer to have a word…”

“I was wondering if you’d tutor me.”

Ruby looked at him in shock.“Your mum’s not going to agree to that.”

“We don’t have to tell her.”

Ruby could feel alarm bells ringing in her head.“Peter, your HSC’s over a year away!I can’t tutor you in secret for that long!”

“Well, Mum might change her mind.I just want to make sure I don’t fall behind in the meantime.”He looked at her pleadingly.“Please?”

Ruby knew she should say no:The practicalities, not to mention Tracey’s hostility towards her, meant the idea was unworkable.And yet, somehow, with this odd blood tie they had, she felt responsible for Peter.So she found herself slowly nodding.“Okay.We’ll give it a try.”

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Thank you for the comments, Jarliefan, JosieTash and pembie!

Wondering if you are going to bring Ruby's half-sister into this fanfiction?

Wait and see...


“Well, I think you’ve got everything you need there,”Gina noted, placing the last of the files she’d collected in her office in Ruby’s outstretched and already full arms,“But I can still think of several reasons why this is a bad idea.”

“So can I,”Ruby conceeded,“But Peter needs this education.”

“Well, I’m all for education, I wouldn’t be in this job if I wasn’t.But given your relationship to him and his mother’s feelings about you, wouldn’t it be better if I recommended another tutor?”

“I suggested that but it’s me he trusts.Which is kind of nice, actually.”

“You know you can’t keep on doing this indefinitely.”

“I know.I’m just making sure Peter doesn’t fall too far behind.Hopefully, his mum will come round soon and he can come back here.Or at least find another school that will take him.”

Gina nodded.“Well, I appreciate your intentions if nothing else.If there’s anything else I can do to help, let me know.”

“You are crazy,”Xavier opined when Ruby and Romeo explained the situation to him and Indi at Austin’s later.

“Yeah, Rubes, aren’t you kind of looking for trouble here?”Indi agreed.

“That’s what I’ve been telling her,”Romeo noted.

Ruby sighed.“Look, I don’t need you guys to tell me how badly this could go, I’ve thought of everything myself.But Peter needs my help and I kind of need to give it to him.”She nodded towards Indi.“Wouldn’t you do the same for Sasha?”

“Okay, I can see the similarity,”Indi admitted,“But you’re still putting an awful lot on the line for this boy.”

“Does Charlie know about this?”Xavier asked.

Ruby looked awkward.“Are you serious?The less she knows about me and Grant’s family the better.”

“Hey, guys, why all the long faces?”Dexter asked as he and Casey suddenly appeared next to their table.

Indi jumped to her feet and hugged her brother while Xavier shook hands with Casey.“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back?”she asked,“Have you seen Dad?”

“Yeah, we’ve been hiding out at the farm the last few days.”

“Trying to get Heath to open up,”Casey added.

“And how is your prodigal brother?”Romeo asked.

Casey gave a rueful look.“Actually, I think he sees me as the prodigal one.”

“Well, you are meant to be the white sheep of the family,”Ruby pointed out.

“So everyone keeps telling me.”The pair joined their friends at the table.

“How long are you back for?”Xavier asked.

Dexter and Casey exchanged a look.“It’s kind of open at the moment,”Dexter stated at last.

“Has anyone seen Heath around much?”Casey asked.

Romeo shrugged.“From a distance.But I don’t think anyone’s really spoken to him.”

Heath felt somewhat ridiculous standing around on a beach but he didn’t know where else to go.The fact that every now and then someone would shoot a look at him and make a whispered comment didn’t help.He kept looking up and down the coast until finally he saw her:Mink, walking along the sand with Brixx holding onto her hand.He went running up to her.“Mink!Wait up!”

He was half-expecting her to try and bolt.But instead she stood her ground.“If you’re going to tell me what a lousy mother I am again, can you not do it in front of Brixx?”

Brixx gripped her hand protectively.“You’re a good mother.”

Heath looked at him awkwardly.“Yeah, she is, mate.”He looked back at Mink.“I meant to say sorry, okay?I don’t know you, I don’t know this bloke you hooked up with…All that stuff was meant for someone else, y’know?”

“Yeah, I kinda guessed that.For the record, I don’t know how to get in touch with Brixx’s dad.I only met him the once and we didn’t swap details.If I did know…maybe I’d tell him, maybe not.I don’t know.”She paused.“So what’s your story?”

Heath sighed, obviously uncertain about what he was going to divulge.“I’ve got a kid,”he said at last,“Darcy.Didn’t know about her until I was inside.I mean, I knew she existed but her mum always said she wasn’t mine.Then she suddenly changed her story.Figured a dad who couldn’t demand visits was worth stinging for maintenance.So I paid up, then once I got out, I tried to see her and they both disappeared.Darcy’s gran lives near here so I thought I’d come back and try and get something out of her.She’s clamming up though.”

Mink looked at him awkwardly but sympathetically.“Must be tough.”

“Yeah.Look, you’re the only person I’ve met here that doesn’t look at me like I’m dirt.So, I’m sorry that I judged you.”

Mink nodded.“Maybe see you out in the surf sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe.”Heath headed up onto the headland.As he was heading back to his car, he found Ric and Drew standing there.“Who are you?”

“We’re friends of Romeo’s,”Ric answered.

Heath clicked his fingers.“Romeo!Yeah, that was the wimp’s name.So what can I do for you?”

“We’re here to tell you to stay away from his sister,”Drew replied.

“Yeah?Looks to me like she can look after herself.”

“Look, she’s had a pretty rough time,”Ric argued,“She doesn’t need you messing her up.”

“Haven’t done anything, yet.But she’s hot and she’s better company that you two, so who knows, maybe I will see her again?See you around.”Heath pushed past them and got into his car, driving away.

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