yay a new chapter! i'm so glad that this one didn't take as long to write. i actually really struggled with john b's character, so i hope that i did him enough justice. let me know what you think!

thank you so much for all your support so far! just two more chapters left, and then i'll be working on a completely new story that will probably really pull at your heartstrings. sorry not sorry :)

anyway, stay safe everyone! hope you're all doing okay!

-m


Chapter Three: John B

The more he thought about it, the more John B. realized that he was a complete idiot for not noticing the change sooner.

He should have understood why JJ was so different the minute he and Sarah had come back home to the Outer Banks. He should have seen how much more affectionate his best friends were with each other. John B. honestly felt like such a dumbass when he finally found out that JJ and Kiara were together. Like … together together, as they put it.

It was hard to believe that the two of them had broken the most sacred rule for the Pogues. No Pogue-on-Pogue macking. That was their motto. Kiara had been the one to make it in the first place, yet she was the one who completely ignored it and fell for JJ.

John B. knew that he had no right to be jealous. He was with Sarah, after all, the love of his life. That didn't make it easier to shove down the feelings of betrayal and anger that had immediately surfaced when the couple revealed that they really were boyfriend and girlfriend.

He tried to figure out how he'd missed it, how he'd completely ignored the signs. At first, he'd thought that there weren't any signs to begin with, that he wasn't stupid. That there was no way for him to have known that his best friend from the third grade was dating Kiara, the girl they all had vied for at one point or another.

But as he looked back to the last few months, he started to remember some of the most prominent moments he'd chosen not to pay attention to. The one that really stood out was when he'd found the two of them sitting on the pullout together, Kiara holding onto JJ while the young man sobbed, trembling with the aftershocks of a nightmare.

Just a few days ago, he'd had to come back to his childhood home to get some things from his room, only to run into his dad and get into a serious argument. Of course, all that it ended with was a pretty harsh beating. He'd somehow managed to stumble back to the Chateau and spent the next few days sleeping, his body and his mind needing the rest to heal. Recover.

Clearly, that said recovery was still a long ways away.

"It's okay," the brunette had said softly as she ran her fingers through JJ's unruly locks. "I got you. Just breathe."

Her voice was incredibly soft, soothing, and full of so much love. She'd never really used that tone on any of the others, John B. quickly realized. Even when he lost his father, or when Pope wasn't able to get another scholarship, she never spoke to them like she had to JJ that night. There was so much understanding lacing her words. It was … weird.

"He won't … leave me alone," the blond had whispered brokenly, having probably referred to his monster of a father; John B. was pretty sure of it. He'd hated just how defeated and sad JJ sounded. It was clear that he was grieving his lost childhood, the life that he had to suffer through almost everyday. The way that he clung onto Kiara, like his life depended on it, told John B. just how much pain he was in. How hurt he was, and not just physically.

Even so, Kiara refused to let go of him, crying along with JJ, hurting for him. The way that she held him in her arms should have made John B. understand that this wasn't just a friend helping a friend. It was so much more than that. Every once in a while, she would press gentle kisses to his temple and murmuring assurances into his ear, trying to calm him down. Her hands traveled up his battered body like they knew exactly where everything was and how it felt, which hinted at something so much greater than a friendship. The more he watched them, the more John B's brain had pieced together the missing pieces of the story. Yet he refused to listen to his brain and chose to deny everything instead, for some stupid, stupid reason.

In the end, JJ and Kiara fell asleep together on the comfortable couch, both of them - and especially poor JJ - too exhausted to stay awake any longer. John B. couldn't help but think how perfectly their bodies seemed to fit together, and the sight confused him.

The other time was when Kiara had a breakdown during Midsummer's. She'd had enough of her folks constantly showing their disappointment, so she'd rushed to the Chateau, where she collapsed in JJ's strong embrace and started crying about her parents, how sick she was of them. JJ didn't say anything the entire time, just hugged her tight and listened, his fingers stroking her lock locks gently. Again, their bodies almost molded into one another. John B. didn't understand why, still.

"I can't fucking take them anymore," Kiara had said through the tears. "They're so full of shit."

"I know, mama," JJ assured her, looking up to lock gazes with John B. Unfortunately, the other boy hadn't been able to decipher exactly what he had silently tried to tell him. But for the sake of Kiara, he'd simply nodded and decided to ponder what JJ had meant later.

He never figured it out, though if he was being honest with himself, he'd never really tried hard enough. He'd taken the easy way out: ignoring the issue altogether. Sure, it wasn't his proudest choice, but John B. genuinely thought that he would never be able to comprehend what was going on.

Now, today, he finally understood.

JJ had been the one to "spill the beans", stammering over his words and smiling brightly. He had Kiara leaning against him, her hands on his chest, looking at him with so much adoration in her pretty eyes. She looked so happy, the happiest John B. had ever seen her.

That, in turn, was what helped him find enough love in his heart to slowly shove away the dark, mean feelings he'd originally had towards them and replace those with feelings of support. Though it did take a while.

After Pope stormed off, clearly upset, John B. sat down on the couch to try and wrap his head around everything. Sarah joined him, a gentle hand on his shoulder. Somehow, she didn't seem to be as surprised as he was.

"Did you know about this?" he asked, and ran his fingers through his unruly locks.

"I did," the blonde replied.

"Jesus…" John B. let out a deep, long breath, his mind on a rampage. "How?"

Sarah immediately smiled at the memory. "I found Kiara here a few weeks ago, crying. She and JJ had gotten in an argument about his dad. That was when she told me that they'd gotten together."

"Holy shit."

John B. remembered that day. He'd been in the kitchen making lunch when he'd heard yelling nearby, but had decided not to interfere. He'd learned a long time ago that interrupted Kiara when he was scolding one of the boys - and that included him - was a very bad idea.

Later that day, JJ asked if they could go fishing. His tone and how tense his entire posture was told John B. that his friend needed this, so he complied. Oh the boat, he'd asked JJ what was going on, if he needed to talk, but the blond declined. I just need to clear my head, he'd explained, and they'd left it at that.

The rest of the trip was rather silent. John B. could tell that his companion was thinking hard, hence how quiet he was. When they came home, JJ immediately asked to talk to Kiara. Out of respect for their privacy, JB didn't eavesdrop, just helped Sarah with dinner.

"You should go talk to them, or at least just JJ," his girlfriend offered as she pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, pulling him out of his thoughts.

"Yeah, probably."

About an hour later, once Pope seemed more or less calm and announced that he needed to go home, John B. pulled blond aside, leading him to the back of the house so he could speak with him privately.

"Sorry I didn't tell you," JJ said almost right away, arms crossed over his chest. He looked nervous.

"I mean, I didn't tell you about Sarah right away, so you're fine," John B. replied, though he wasn't sure if he really meant what he said. "When did you make it … official?"

"A few days after you came back."

Nodding, John B. smiled. "I'm happy for you, dude, I really am."

"Thanks."

"This better not be just a fling, though. If you hurt Kie, I swear to God…"

JJ laughed at his friend's protectiveness. It warmed his heart. "It's not, and I won't," he said, then added after a short pause, "I love her, John B. I love her so much. She's everything to me."

"I know the feeling. It's the same thing with Sarah."

The way JJ spoke about Kiara made it clear just how much love he had for her. There was so much desperation in his tone, almost as if he was afraid to lose her. John B. knew exactly how he felt because, like he just said, he'd had the same feelings towards his girlfriend.

"I don't know what it is," JJ continued, "but every time she looks at me, my heart feels like it's gonna explode. She saved me so many times at this point, I don't even know how the Hell to repay her."

John B. almost scoffed at the similarities between him and his brother. "Sarah always tells me that me being there for her is enough," he explained. "Don't know why, or how. I think Kiara's is the same."

"I feel like I don't deserve her." As he confessed, JJ looked to the small fish shack, finding his girl dancing to some Bob Marley song with Sarah. He sighed.

"Trust me, bro, you do," John B. quickly said. It always pained him to see JJ think so lowly of himself. It made him angry at Luke Maybank for pretty much destroying his son's self worth. "You do."

"Thanks, man."

The two young men finished off with their famous handshake, and right after, John B. gently pulled JJ into a friendly side hug. "But if you do hurt her, I will beat the living shit out of you," he said softly, meaning it as an empty threat. "Got it?"

"Duly noted," JJ muttered in understanding.

With that, the two started shuffling back into the house, ready to continue celebrating Kiara's birthday. They both had a lot of reasons to be thankful for her.

TBC