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Words Unsaid

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As far as domestic Pogue life goes, Pope's family is probably the closest JJ will ever get to it. Don't get him wrong, JJ has always thought of John B as a brother, as immediate family, but scrubbing dishes with Pope the day after a famous Heyward Feast pulls his definition of "Domestic Pogue Family" to a level he never expected to experience.

Despite the fact that JJ lives in the Chateau eighty percent of the time, JJ doesn't think he's ever washed the dishes there, but he can't think of a single time he's stayed over at Pope's and hasn't done the dishes, or at least helped cook. It's just so rare for someone to make JJ a home cooked meal, that when someone does (unexpectedly, he might add), he feels the need to pay for it in some form.

Hence, scrubbing dishes with Pope for the past ten minutes on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Though, it's worth mentioning JJ really doesn't mind helping clean up. It's kind of...refreshing, to be mindlessly chatting with Pope. Most of the time, JJ forgets he's even washing dishes. Like, he's constantly in motion anyway, and scrubbing a plate relaxes him the same way fiddling with his knife does. Washing dishes is just another way to ease his twitchy hands.

"Hey, man," Pope bumps shoulders with JJ, gaining the other boy's attention, "I gotta bounce in a few."

"Like hell you do," JJ frowns, putting a glass on the drying rack. "I'm not finishing these on my own."

"My dad's not gonna mind if you don't get all of them today," Pope offers.

There's still plenty of dirty plates and bowls to wash, and JJ knows Heyward probably would mind if the boys don't finish them today.

Or, maybe he'd let it slide. Heyward's been kind of...decent to JJ recently. Not exactly generous, but he tolerates JJ sleeping over sometimes, which is a very new development from his previous law of not allowing JJ in the house.

JJ suspects Pope told his mom something about his home life, and together, they overruled Heyward's wishes. He's almost certain that's what happened, because last week, after he'd gone surfing with the family, Mrs. Heyward had pulled him aside, looking all concerned and upset, and asked if JJ's been getting enough to eat. In all honesty, JJ hadn't noticed he'd lost weight until that conversation. 

It's not like it's a big deal. John B already doesn't have much money to purchase food for himself to eat, and JJ feels bad taking from him, no matter how many times John B says it isn't an issue. JJ's own money has other necessities to be spent on and saved for, so if he has to go a few days without a meal, so be it. He doesn't consider that to be shameful, or something to pity, but he knew it would upset Mrs. Heyward. So, he delt her his cheekiest grin and assured her he's doing just fine, and that it was nice of her to check in.

Predictably, she didn't believe him for a second. In fact, she made a point to invite him to dinner that night, absolutely refusing to take no for an answer, even when Heyward was less than pleased with the decision.

JJ's never been particularly bothered by Pope's dad's blatant dislike of him, partially because JJ knows he's not a super likable person, but as he spends more time with the family, it's hard to not try and raise Heyward's opinion of him. Even if it's subconsciously, JJ wants Heyward to like him. Or, at the very least, he wants Heyward to not frown when JJ accepts an invation to stay for dinner.

That's why he makes an effort to set the table, help Mrs. Heyward in the kitchen, or wash dishes whenever he eats with them. Because, it's bad enough that he takes valuable food away from the Heyward family. Valuable food that they could have eaten themselves, but generously choose to waste on JJ. The least he can do is repay them by cleaning up.

JJ groans, "C'mon, bro, at least finish your side."

"Sorry, man," Pope shakes his head, "this Kook family hired me to tutor their daughter, and I'm not about to be fired on the first day."

A sly smile tugs JJ's lips.

"Ooh, I see," JJ smirks, elbow jutting out to playfully nudge Pope. "Tutor, huh," he says, making suggestive finger quotations as he says tutor.

Pope rolls his eyes but grins slightly at JJ's antics, "Okay, relax, dude. She's in the third grade."

JJ's mood instantly drops, and he blows a raspberry with his tongue.

"What're you doing tutoring little kids?" JJ prodes.

"They're Kooks, bro," Pope emphasizes, placing a clean plate on the rack, "they pay me sixty bucks an hour."

JJ's eyebrows shoot up, followed by a high pitched whistle.

"That's not bad for teaching a brat how to multiple," he says.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Pope's shoulders tense. JJ throws a glance next to him, confused at his friend's sudden apprehension.

Pope hesitates and says with practiced causality, "Actually, she has dyslexia, so things are a bit different."

"What's that?" JJ wrinkles his nose, "Sounds like a foot tumor, or something."

Pope pauses, adding more soap to his sponge.

"It's," Pope bites his lip, "it's a learning disorder. It makes it really hard for her to read."

JJ looks up at Pope curiously, but Pope ignores it, staring at their hands washing the dishes. JJ directs his gaze back to the sink.

"Dyslexia makes her process letters differently," Pope explains, choosing his words carefully. "It kinda jumbles it up, makes letters look backwards or upside down. In some cases, letters actually look like they're floating and moving around."

JJ freezes. The glass mug he's holding nearly slips from his hand, and his heart stops dead in it's rhythm.

He flings his head up to see Pope watching him closely.

Is Pope, like...fucking with him? Because what he just described sounds way too similar to JJ's situation. No, yeah, he has to be fucking with him, because there's no way on God's green earth there's just suddenly a...disorder that is the embodiment of the most screwed up part of JJ.


What if there is?

What if there's an explanation, what if there's an actual word for what's wrong with him? JJ wants, needs, it to be true. He doesn't care if Pope's joking, JJ doesn't have the emotional space to be suspicious right now.

"It's-It's a disorder?" JJ whispers quickly, staring at Pope with wide eyes. He's listening so intently, giving more attention and focus than he's ever given Pope.

"Learning disorder, yeah," Pope answers gently. "It's pretty common."

"...Common?" JJ repeats quietly. He draws his eyebrows together, mind moving a mile a minute.

"Yeah, a lot of people deal with dyslexia," Pope continues helpfully. "It doesn't impact intelligence levels, and dyslexic people can still learn to read. Just not the way everyone else learns."

JJ tears his eyes away from Pope, speechless. In the back of his mind, he's aware that if he keeps asking questions and looking distraught, Pope's going to put the pieces together, but he just does not have the capacity to give a shit.

Literally, what the fuck? JJ grew up believing he was so fucking stupid. Like, a whole different brand of stupid, the kind of stupid that makes you so unintelligent, you can't even write your own name. And now, Pope's telling him that not only does this specific brand of stupidity have a name, but it's a disorder? And it's common?

Where was this information when he was younger, crying in the school bathroom because he was so frustrated that he couldn't figure out how to write the two goddamn letters that make up his name? Where was this information when he nearly failed seventh grade social studies because he couldn't understand the textbook, and the dumbass teacher refused to let him sit next to John B?

His stomach churns uncomfortably, and he feels his heart pick up its tempo.

JJ clears his throat again, but his voice still comes out fragile and disgustingly vulnerable, "And, and you know how to cure it?"

JJ feels like he's under a goddamn microscope with the way Pope keeps eyeing him.

"You can't cure dyslexia, you just learn how to live with it. I know how to help a dyslexic person learn to read, if that's what you mean," Pope replies thoughtfully, eyes not leaving JJ.

JJ doesn't respond. Instead, he stares at the murky bubble water in front of him, his expression heavy with bewilderment and shock.

For real, is Pope joking right now? Because JJ feels like he could actually die if Pope's just fucking with him.

Then again, Pope doesn't sound like he's kidding. But why hasn't JJ heard about this before? If it's common, why is this the first time he's ever heard of other people seeing letters the way he does? Why doesn't society ever talk about this learning disorder? Have people been talking about it, and JJ just hasn't been paying attention? More importantly, does John B know about dyslexia?

Pope places a damp hand on JJ's shoulders, forcing JJ out of his thoughts.

"You don't look so good," Pope says with his gentle, cautious voice. "Are you - do you wanna talk?"

JJ shakes his head immediately, forcing his body to relax. He needs time in his head to figure shit out before JJ confides in anyone.

He leans away from Pope, shooting him an easy smile, "Nah, I-I'm good, man."

Pope dries his hands with a rag, and JJ can feel Pope's curious eyes on him.

"Don't you have a date to get to, anyway?" JJ reminds, avoiding eye contact. In an effort to appear unbothered, he resumes his task of scrubbing coffee stains out of Heyward's mug.

Pope falters, sounding oddly disappointed, "I...yeah, I should get going, then," he says, stepping away from the sink.

"See you at John B's tonight, yeah?" JJ calls out flippantly just as Pope opens the back door.

Pope nods, shouting a quick, "See ya," before slamming the screen door behind him.

Just like that, JJ is alone with so, so much to think about.

It takes a whole week for JJ to sort his thoughts and reach the point of being comfortable enough to approach Pope. "Coming out" isn't exactly the right term. It's more admitting to having dyslexia, even though he's never denied having it. What ever the correct terminology is, JJ's ready to commit.

He is ready, he spent the whole week thinking about it. Remarkably, it's the most time JJ's ever spent thinking about a decision. In a way, it's kind of a mile stone, which would be cool if it were under different circumstances.

Mile stone or not, he never wants to think about one thing for that amount of time ever again. It was so repetitive, so indecisive, so incredibly annoying to have a single topic dominate every thought. And then, just when his brain would reach the conclusion of Tell Pope, he can help me, his mind would double back into an endless loop of You don't have any money to pay him, and He's gonna think you're lying to him.

It took so fucking long to settle on the decision. After thinking through almost every possible outcome, he thinks it's more beneficial if he tells Pope and John B. Worst case scenario, Pope thinks he's even more stupid than he already does. Best case scenario, he teaches JJ how to read and write.

So, really, what is there to loose?

Even if Pope doesn't want to help him, maybe once he knows this new information, he'll think JJ's less stupid. Maybe he'll stop making JJ go purchase groceries if he knows he can't read the goddamn list. Maybe him and John B will finally stop making fun of his fucking handwriting if they know why it sucks.

But, no matter how many days he spends thinking about it, JJ can't seem to squash the one unrelenting, nagging thought that maybe, just maybe, his friends will think he's making it up. He spends just about every waking moment with the Pogues, and they definitely know him well enough to notice he has issues with being honest. Them not believing JJ isn't exactly a far-fetched idea.

And then there's that stupid recurring worry of what if when he tells Pope, Pope laughs at him? What if John B tells him to stop making excuses for being stupid?

It wouldn't be anything JJ hasn't heard before.

But, it feels different, hearing those words in the his father's voice, or a teacher's, than it feels hearing it from a friend. He's well past giving a shit what adults think of him, but it's different with John B, Pope, and Kie, because he trusts them. Blindly, subconsciously, unapologetically, he trusts his family with everything. For JJ, that's bigger than friendship, bigger than sex, bigger than love. For JJ, trusting someone is rare and delicate and unfairly difficult, that when it happens, it means the absolute world.

Even when he knows trust is nothing but an invitation for heartbreak, JJ still confides so much of himself into these people. He trusts them more than he's ever trusted anything before. Every single day, he trusts the Chateau to be a safe place. He trusts Kie to playfully shove him and touch him from behind without the intention of hurting him. He trusts Pope to selflessly give him food after he hears JJ's stomach rumble, angry from eating only a slice of moldy bread in the past days. He trusts John B to heal his injuries after taking the brunt of his father's unforgiving bouts of rage. He trusts John B to never judge him.

Not only does JJ trust John B enough to allow himself to be vulnerable and unguarded around him, but also to talk about his shit.

JJ trusts all three of them to be there for him, to not abandon him.

And yeah, JJ knows trusting someone (especially the way he does his friends) is essentially begging them to crush you. But he also knows he's in too deep, and trying to revoke that trust now will hurt just as much as betrayal. JJ's in so deep, if he were to come out and say, "I think I'm dyslexic," and ask for help, and their response was to make fun of him, it would hurt. Badly.

Probably not break him or destroy him, like what happened with Kie's "Kook Year", but it would definitely bruise deeply.

He feels weird about wanting to tell them, and he still isn't completely sure the risk is worth it. Like, maybe JJ's just really fucking dramatic, and he doesn't actually have dyslexia. Maybe he just missed too much school when he was younger, and didn't pay enough attention when he was present. Pope seemed kind of serious when he was explaining it to JJ, and he doesn't want Pope to get the idea that JJ's teasing him.

He doesn't want to accidentally make Pope hate him if he turns out to not have dyslexia. JJ knows how ridiculous that sounds, especially because he's like 92% sure he is dyslexic, and he knows Pope wouldn't hate him over something like this. It's hard not to have those thoughts though, after a week of thinking in circles.

But he's done thinking. The possibility of someone being able to explain and fix whatever's wrong with him outweighs the fear of getting rejected.

The odds aren't too bad. It's time to jump in head first.