She doesn’t know how it starts. JJ climbing in through her bedroom window in the middle of the night that is.
He just stands in front of her house one day, throwing tiny rocks at her window like he is in some kind of cheesy romantic comedy. When Kiara lets him in she expects him to make some suggestive remark about letting him into her room after midnight while wearing his usual shiteating grin. But the look that greets her instead is somber, devoid of any cheekiness. Never before has she seen him look so old.
Without a word she takes him by his shoulders and leads him over to her bed where he immediately drops down as if the mere prospect of standing up for just a second longer would cost him too much strength.
They don’t talk about why he is there, where he has been, what has happened. She doesn’t try to think about the strangeness of having him in her room.
They never meet at her house. Sure, the guys have picked her up there once or twice, but they never really hang out at her place. They usually spend most of their time at John B’s. His father is almost never around anyways and even if he is, he never particularly seems to mind the three additional teenagers lounging around his house like a bunch of strays.
With her parents it is different. They have more or less arranged themselves with the fact that their daughter prefers to hang out with a bunch of Pogue boys instead of exchanging makeup tips with other girls on some Kook’s yacht. But while they trust her to make her own choices, it doesn’t mean they want her friends hanging out anywhere near their place.
It is a similar situation with Pope. While being a true Pogue by birth, his father has always seen potential in him. He knows that if anyone is smart enough to make a name for himself it is his son and the rest of them are mere obstacles in Pope’s way of reaching that goal. Pope’s father doesn’t really seem to mind her, but whenever either JJ or John B show up, a little concerned frown appears on his face. So Pope’s place is naturally out of the picture too.
With JJ it is different though. She doubts anyone has ever really been to JJ’s place even just for picking him up. When they went to John B’s, often times he was already there, obviously having spent the night even if Pope and her didn’t. JJ never talks about it and no one ever asks.
So, the first time he shows up, she simply looks at him lying on the other end of her bed and stands up to go and get her laptop. She opens up Netflix, puts on some old episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine while JJ rolls a joint. They silently hand it back and forth between them and when she feels some of the tension leave his body and he starts giggling along to the show, she finally feels like she can breathe again.
“Man, just imagine how different life would be if cops were actually like that,” he murmurs after taking another drag. Those had been his first words ever since he showed up. But she doesn’t know how to answer, doesn’t know if he even wants her to. So she stays silent, offering him the company he came asking for.
Eventually they fall asleep like that. Jake Peralta delivering one line after the other in the background while there are only inches between JJ and her.
When Kiara wakes up the next day, he is gone. And when they all meet up that afternoon, he acts like nothing happened, hanging on John B and teasing Pope like usual. He doesn’t mention it, so she doesn’t either.
She had expected that occurrence to remain a onetime thing, but after that first night he shows up again and again and again. There is no pattern behind it. Sometimes once a week, sometimes only once a month and sometimes two nights in a row.
They never talk about why it is that he comes over. Something within her knows asking him about it would only make him stay away. And she likes having him around. So, when he shows up with a black eye or bruises on his wrist, the shape of strong fingers clearly visible, she doesn’t ask who did it to him, she doesn’t ask why he comes to her of all people, why he doesn’t stay with John B instead like he used to do.
She stays silent and does everything in her might to make JJ lose some of his tension. They watch silly shows, smoke weed and shush each other as to not wake her parents when laughter rolls over them.
She has always felt comfortable with the boys but this is a new kind of comfort. Lying there in companionable silence, exchanging not more than a few words with the usually so loud, slightly obnoxious JJ. It opens up a new side of him, one she wasn’t aware she had been missing out on so far.
It becomes a routine she grows fond of, almost being disappointed on the nights when he doesn’t show up.
But then suddenly things change. John B’s father disappears, they find a shipwreck and all of a sudden they are in the middle of a treasure hunt.
There aren’t a lot of visits from JJ during that time, mostly because she doesn’t spend that much time at home in general. None of them do. There are people now that come after them with guns, people who want them dead and they realize that they have entered a world far more dangerous than any of them can handle.
And yet that doesn’t make the monsters already invading their lives disappear.
The night in which Pope and her find JJ in the whirlpool, bruises covering his chest, more black and blue than she has ever seen on another person’s body, she understands what a terrible mistake she has made. When JJ breaks down crying in their arms, whispering over and over again that he can’t take it anymore, she feels such rage. Rage at his father for ever laying hands on him, this boy who has never done something wrong, who always puts up a cheerful front. This boy who does not deserve any of this.
But mostly she is angry at herself, for not noticing sooner just how bad things are. For not speaking up. She feels like she has failed him, like they all failed him and when she looks across JJ’s shoulders she sees a similar sentiment in Pope’s eyes.
They stay like that all night, huddled together, calming the blond down while waiting for John B to come back. Way into the night, when they all have gotten comfortable on John B’s pullout couch and Pope has long since fallen asleep, she feels JJ’s gaze burning on her. Almost like he can hear what she is thinking, he reaches out, gently taking her left hand in his right and says, “You couldn’t have done anything, Kie.”
“I should have at least tried. I should have done something. We have to figure something out. I’m not letting you go back to this place.”
“I have no choice, Kie.”
“Yes, you do. I won’t just stand by watching anymore. I can’t.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do? I’m sixteen. It’s not like I have a lot of options.”
And he is right, he doesn’t. It is either staying with his father or being shipped off to dry land into foster care. Why is it that no one actually ever talks about how much it sucks being a teenager some times?
“I’m so sorry JJ. All the times you came over…I should have said something,” she chooses to say eventually, because there is no way she can argue his point. They both know he is right.
“It’s not your fault,” he whispers in attempt to not wake the silently snoring Pope, “Besides, there is no one I’d rather get high with than you”. There is a lopsided grin on his face now, not as stark, not as vibrant as usual but it calms her down immediately.
She smiles back, painfully aware of how her vision starts to get blurry from the amount of unshed tears. She slides closer to him, lets her arms slowly embrace his torso, careful not to put too much weight on his still aching bruises. His arms encircle her body in return, drawing her in even closer and she feels his heart thumping beneath his chest. The stay like that for the rest of the night, skin pressed against skin, breathing in each other’s scent and eventually fall into a restless sleep.
Somehow, things get even worse after that. When she thought that they had been in deep shit already, the universe apparently decided to prove her wrong.
Because suddenly John B is chased by the police for attempted murder and then he’s just gone all together. They don’t know if he’s alive or dead. If he and Sarah made it out of the storm and went into hiding. Maybe they’re already in Mexico, living their best lives. At least she hopes so, because thinking about him being gone is far too painful, something she is not willing to accept.
That night of the storm, after their parents show up, after they receive the news that they have lost them, she goes back home and immediately into her room. She locks the door and heads straight into bed, pulling the covers over her head.
She doesn’t close the window, already expecting him to show up. How could he not?
JJ enters her room quietly and slides under the covers as well. When she sees his face, feels his arms drawing her in, she finally allows herself to let her pain loose. She cries until there are no tears left. JJ mirrors her actions, his body shaking violently from the pain and tears.
“He can’t be dead, Kie. He just can’t,” he whimpers and with it echoes her thoughts. Without John B they aren’t complete. Without John B neither of them knows how to move forward.
“He’s not, okay? We just…we just can’t give up hope. He’s out there still. He just has to be,” she answers and she knows it is silly to think like that. The chances of Sarah and John B to survive a storm like that are minimal but she isn’t ready to face the reality of what it would mean if they didn’t.
Some of the determination on her face must convince him or maybe he is just equally as desperate as her to believe in her words. He reaches towards her face, gently stroking her cheek, wiping away the last remains of her tears. His eyes are never leaving hers and before she fully registers what is happening his lips are already on hers.
The kiss is short but desperate. It is no sweet brushing of lips nor is it rough and filled with heat. It is quick and sudden and coming from a place full of fear and pain. It is JJ clinging to her and her clinging to him in a desperate attempt to find comfort. And then suddenly it is over before it even started and he draws back.
The look in his eyes is scared and maybe even slightly regretful and she knows she must wear a similar look on her face. Because this can’t be happening. It’s not their rules that are holding her back, she is far past caring about all of that. It is the fact that their friend might be dead and that they have just spent the last hour crying. She knows they are both confused, overwhelmed and not thinking straight.
She can’t let this happen right now. Not like this.
“What are you doing?” she whispers, not sure if she is talking to JJ or herself.
“Fuck, I’m sorry, Kie. I don’t know what-“
“Ssh,” she interrupts him, “You don’t have to be sorry.”
And maybe that is enough for him, enough for now, because JJ then buries his face in her hair and holds her close all throughout the night.
It is weird trying to find a routine again when one of your friends might be dead and you have no idea how to figure out what happened. She gets it now, why John B was so reluctant to move on after his dad’s disappearance. This uncertainty of not knowing, the inability of getting some kind of closure, it is omnipresent. It feels like something is slowly gnawing away on her.
It has been weeks since that night and still there are no news about John B and Sarah. No one found their bodies but no has heard from them either. Pope, JJ and her take it as a win, as much as you can see it like that. As long as their bodies aren’t found they can at least pretend that they are still out there.
After days of crying and moping and cursing the universe, the guys and her try to go back to how things were. They meet up, hang out, go surfing, smoke some weed and try their best to pretend that things are normal. But things aren’t. No one can ignore the fourth member of their group missing and even the lack of Sarah feels striking. Kiara can’t help but notice that Pope joins them later and says his goodbyes earlier than usual. Pope throws himself into work, helps out his father and studies like never before. He’s determined to do everything in his might to get a second chance with his scholarship and Kiara can’t blame him for at least trying.
But it feels like he’s avoiding them, like being in their presence hurts him even more. Well, people do say that everyone deals with grief differently.
However, where Pope seems to can’t stand being around them, it’s like JJ and her cling to each other even more than usual. JJ comes through her window almost every night these days and it isn’t simply out of his need for comfort anymore. She needs him around just as much. He becomes her anchor. Only with him she feels at ease. Only with him she feels like she can finally let go of the façade she puts up for everyone else.
They haven’t talked about the kiss, about what it might mean for them and she knows they probably should, but at same time it feels so unnecessary. They’ve grown closer in a way that makes any attempt of a confession or a talk feel like a waste of time. It’s like a silent agreement between them to not talk about, to not mention it, but they’re both aware of the fact that something between them has changed. She’s not sure when and how but maybe that’s not important after all.
These days they’re always around each other. Where there is one of them, the other is usually not far. When they’re together they always sit close, arms pressed against each other, her legs thrown into his lap. It comes naturally to them, reaching out, touching, reassuring themselves that the other is there. It’s not awkward or strange, acting like that with him. It just feels just right.
So, if she wants to, she now simply reaches out to him. They walk hand in hand like they’ve never done anything else. Sometimes he draws her in, hugging her from behind and resting his head on top of hers. And at night, they always end up falling asleep in a mess of tangled limbs. It’s easy, being with JJ. And she might not have a word for what they are or how she feels, but none of that seems to matter anyways as long as she’s able to fall asleep in his arms.
When he’s lying next to her, his face only inches away from hers, she wonders if this was always how they were bound to end up. When he looks at her like he does in that moment, she couldn’t ever imagine herself being with someone else like that. Just existing in the comfort of each other’s arms.
So, when he reaches out again, fingers stroking her face in a feathery touch, an echo from his actions only weeks ago, she isn’t scared or nervous. No, she has never felt so at ease than in this moment and was never so sure about what she wants.
And when JJ asks her if he’s allowed to kiss her, she isn’t overthinking it. She simply moves forward to close the gap between them and presses her lips against his. She fells a warmth blooming up in the center of her body. It feels exciting, like waves crashing down upon them. And she finally allows herself to feel it.