JJ’s mom left when he was 6 years old. One morning he woke up and she was just gone. JJ searched the house for her, but found nothing except a note in his top drawer where he kept his most valuable belongings.
JJ, my sweet boy, I’m so sorry that you have to read this. I hope you know I love you more than anything on this earth. J, I have to leave for a little while, but this time I can’t take you with me. I want you to know that even though I left, I’ll come back J, I will. I don’t know when baby, but god forbid it’s not before you open your locket I want you to know one thing. If your locket is empty J, don’t go searching for something that doesn’t exist. I know this might not make sense to you right now, but don’t forget that J, okay? I love you my sunshine, stay strong for Mommy so I can see you again.
JJ cried that whole day. He didn’t get on the school bus that morning, and when Luke found out he was not happy.
That was the first time he ever hit JJ, and JJ learned to no longer cry about his mom, especially not in front of his dad.
As days turned into weeks, weeks turned to months and months to years, JJ slowly began to lose hope that his mom would come back for him; and he slowly began to feel less love towards her and more anger. As angry as JJ was though, deep down he knew that if his mom came back he’d crumble again. He would never admit it, but he knew it was true.
As time went on and JJ grew up, he lost all faith in soulmates. Even if his locket wasn’t empty JJ didn’t think he’d ever be able to be loved. How could he? If his own mother couldn’t love him enough to stay, why would anyone else?
JJ became comfortable with the idea of living alone. He wasn’t looking forward to it, definitely not, but he would much rather live alone than lose someone again. JJ always thought that if when he opened his locket, if it was empty he’d be okay with that. That was until he met Kiara.
JJ was 11 years old when John B brought Kie into their group, Pope and John B welcoming her right away. JJ however was not as warm. JJ didn’t know why he felt so twisted towards Kie. At first he told himself the reason he didn’t like her was because he didn’t want things between him and his friends to change, and especially because of a Kook. The moment JJ finally realized that there was more to his feelings towards Kie was when he saw her do something crazy, but didn’t know he was watching.
JJ had been walking home from his first ever real job on Figure Eight. Sure, mowing lawn was definitely not much of a job, especially since he was only offered the opportunity since his older cousin couldn’t that week. But JJ got paid more than he ever had before for 4 hours of work. And even though it was by the hand of Kooks, it was enough to make 12-year-old JJ happy for once.
As JJ walked back to the cut with a skip in his step, he heard a cry from a near-by playground. JJ did his best to stay focused on walking home, to remind himself this was unknown territory, but when he heard Kiara’s voice he ditched his plan. He cautiously moved over towards the playground, hiding behind a tree to see what was going on. Once he was close enough to understand the situation, his heart stopped.
Kiara had Rafe Cameron pushed up against the blazing-hot metal of the jungle gym as he struggled to get out of her grip, wincing as his skin burned. She looked him dead in the eyes and what came out of her mouth caused JJ’s stomach to twist up tighter than it already was.
“Don’t you DARE talk about JJ like that again. Or any of my friends for that matter. Pick on someone your own age.” Kiara gritted through her teeth.
She released Rafe and he scurried away, his friends trailing behind him. Once they were out of sight JJ saw Kiara visibly soften. Her shoulders slumped as she let out an exhale. She brought a hand up to her mouth and winced, that was when JJ noticed she was bleeding.
JJ didn’t know why he rushed out from behind the tree, or why he had the sudden urge to help her, but before he could stop himself he was running towards Kie calling out her name.
“Kiara!” Kie whipped her head around, eyes wide with fear until she realized who it was.
“JJ? What are you doing here?”
“What happened to your face Kie?”
Kiara was shocked that he even noticed her swollen-bloody lip, let alone cared, but all that came out of her mouth was…
“I asked first.”
JJ paused for a second, as though he was trying to come up with an excuse. But then after a few moments of silence he let out a sigh.
“I uh, I had a job here today. Not like a real job! Well you know, I just mowed someone’s lawn and I was walking back to the cut and then I um, saw you here, and you looked like you could use some help.”
Kiara’s expression was unreadable, and JJ nervously fidgeted with his fingers.
“Why would I need help? What did you see?”
“Nothing! I uh was just walking by and I saw you were hurt.”
“JJ, you know you’re a terrible liar right?”
JJ gasped, acting offended.
“Am not! I am a great liar! How do you think I manage to get out of detention?”
Kiara giggled and the corners of JJ’s mouth turned upward at the sound. He couldn’t help but smile at her laugh, and butterflies built up in his stomach for a split second before he remembered who he was talking to. He was snapped back to reality by Kiara speaking again.
“JJ, did you see me fight Rafe?”
JJ’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. She fought him?
“You did what?! No! I mean, well I saw you push him up against the jungle gym and tell him- uh yell at him, but not fight him!”
Kiara sighed and rolled her eyes, but there was a glint of a smile on her face. But her expression quickly turned serious again. She looked up to meet JJ’s eyes and she opened her mouth to say something but JJ did before she could.
“Why’d you do that Kie?” He asked softly, looking away from her eyes. “Why’d you stick up for me?”
Kiara felt her heart clench at his question. She didn’t understand how JJ couldn’t see that she cared, even though he didn’t want her to. She stepped towards him, and carefully lifted her hand to his face to tilt his gaze towards her.
“JJ” she whispered.
He looked up into her eyes, and she noticed that his were wet with unshed tears.
“JJ, don’t you see that I care about you? I know you may not like when I hang out with you and the pogues, but I care. You guys are better people than anyone on Figure Eight, and you all deserve better. But J, you deserve way better. I know your mom left you JJ, John B told me. And I know it’s hard to let someone new into your group, I understand, but just because you don’t want to be around me doesn’t mean I don’t want to be around you. Why wouldn’t I stick up for J?”
Kie saw his bottom lip tremble, her hand still on his cheek when a tear fell down it. She immediately pulled him into her arms, his face resting in the crook of her neck. She squeezed him tight and let him have a moment to regain his composure before pulling away.
When JJ finally could speak without his voice cracking he looked up at her again.
“Thank you Kie.”
Kiara smiled gently in response.
“Of course JJ.”
That night when JJ got into bed he couldn’t sleep. His mind was racing with the thought of Kiara. Everything he tried to think of led back to her. And when JJ finally convinced himself that he could get close to one more person, that it would be okay, he was able to calm his heart and fall asleep.