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Push and Pull of Me and You

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On the list of people that Sarah searched for some company, he was actually the fourth. And it was deliberate. Cleo came first because she was about to go on a trip to the Caribbean and her enthusiasm and free spirit were what Sarah needed the most at the moment.

“Why don’t you come to the Caribbean with me?” Cleo suggests when they leave the water, one hand covering her eyes from the sun. She did not disappoint when it came to keeping Sarah busy. From very entertaining ships stories to draining their limbs in the sea, she’s had a pretty great day hanging out with her friend. And they were yet to finish it with a good old fire, the Bahamian announced earlier. “I bet it would do you some good.”

Once they dried themselves, the girls laid their towels on the sand and sat facing the back and forth of the waves. It’s not like Sarah hadn’t thought about it. It was very appealing to dodge reality and just be a tourist in a stunning, adventurous island. But it also felt fake. She didn’t wanna run away to not deal with John B’s absence. She’d live through it and, eventually - well, that was the plan - overcome it.

“Thanks, but I’ll pass.” she looked at her friend with a appreciative thin smile. “There’s nowhere else I wanna be right now.”

It was true, as painful as the nostalgia was. 3 months in since his trip to an undisclosed location with his dad and they still hadn’t heard from him. None of them. It was ridiculous that he was going to meet him alone in the first place, but not telling the destination to anybody - the Pogues, his family - that was selfish.

And she told him that. They survived greedy parents, crazy relatives, and 56 days with little to no resources in a island. Survived each other’s outburst and insecurities. They got JJ three years sober now. Kie is out in the world right now doing what she loves: exploring nature. After all they’ve been through, Sarah thought she knew him better than that. But she could understand the part of him that wanted to be with his dad, for whatever reason it was, just the two of them, trying to regain some sense of fatherhood. She knows this feeling. And she wouldn’t hold that against him, just like he couldn’t hold it against her the fact that she no longer would sacrifice her sanity worrying about his whereabouts.

But it was easier said than done, and some days are harder than others.

The second person was Topper, and by midday Sarah was more than done. Physical activity to channel her inner struggles was not it for her. He made up for it by taking her to get ice cream though.

They were incredibly better off as friends. There was no pressure from both parts, and they could just be with each other. He stepped out of his mother’s wings and got himself an athletic scholarship at Chapel Hill, shinning in the institution’s on the soccer team. She couldn’t be prouder and happier for him.

Now, Sarah didn’t know if her offer to drive Pope to the airport and pick up Cleo counted officially as her third attempt to be distracted, but then again, she offered really hard.

He did most of the talking, as usual, and she didn’t mind one bit, as usual. The aftermath of the gold chase gave each one of them a pretty generous amount of money, which was how he was able to pay for his college after his scholarship fell through because of the missed interview.

The pride seeping through his voice while talking about subjects that to Sarah seemed to be in a whole other language never ceased to amuse her.

While Cleo being back and Kiara finally landing in a place with an stable internet connection made things a lot easier, she didn’t feel like pushing too much on her girls. On their video calls Kie would constantly say something between ‘you can always talk to me’ and ‘I’m never too busy for you, you know that’, but she just didn’t feel like bringing the whole missing-her-ex-boyfriend-who’s-nowhere-to-be-found thing over and over again. It was time to let it fade. So she went to the person that reminded her of him the most. Her fourth attempt.

JJ.

Four years of coexisting can give you quite a handful of useful and disposable information about a person, and Sarah knew from day one that JJ was a lover and not a fighter.

But it wasn’t like he had a choice on this one. His borderline messed up relationship with his dad - who to this day never set foot again on the island - put him through all kinds of unimaginable things, and the fact that he’s still in Outer Banks, monthly pimping his best friend board, giving Heyward a hand whenever he can and riding his bike by her house every week - not as subtly as he thinks he’s being - is more than enough proof that he’s the most loyal of them all.

And that includes to himself too.

Which is why he was alone right now, surrounded by a bunch of wood and the skeletons of a boat trying to come to life.

He and Kiara were insanely happy, travelled around the world twice and even built a cute little cabin for themselves in a woodsy area that was only 10 minutes away from the beach. But while it was all JJ could possibly want for himself, Kie wanted to dive deeper around the globe, see all the things they haven’t managed to get to during their trips. He was satisfied. She wasn’t. And he’d never put her in a position where she’d wonder what things would’ve been like, so he told her to go, even though it shattered his heart. And Kiara did, even though it broke her to pieces, because she, too, knew that he deserved better than her resentment if she couldn’t handle staying.

That was eight months ago, and JJ was doing fine.

Well, as fine as he could manage.

The board at the entrance of his place displaying his more than 1000 days sober was his greatest support, and he had full intention on keeping the numbers growing. The Pogues would stop by every other day and if he kept his focus solely on the extraordinary waves before them, it would be like nothing’s happened, and there was no hole in his heart.

But then John B left too, and he lost his pace. He couldn’t help the feeling of betrayal that crept in every once in a while when he thought about the fact that his best friend for life was out there going through God-knows-what and he didn’t want any back up. That just wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

A crack of a stick made him look up and his eyes met brown ones looking as equally drained as he felt.

When Kiara left, she always made a genuine effort to check in on JJ to make sure he was okay. He knew that Sarah knew he had come a long way and things don’t make him snap like it did before, which only made him appreciate more her gestures, whether it was her bringing her surfboard for some fixing, stopping by with more fruits other than coconut for him - which was all he would eat if the could - or simply showing up every once in a while.

But then it was her boyfriend who left and he figured she was the one who lost some of her balance as well.

He did try to show up for her like she did for him, but at first it just wouldn’t go well. They were both furious and who knows what that combination could combust into. So he took baby steps. He asked Pope to keep an eye on her more often and keep him updated and even stopped by Topper’s house during his college break for more insight of how she was doing. Then he progressed and started riding by her house to take a look on her himself.

It’s what John B would’ve done for him and it’s what Sarah deserves. She’s his friend and a Pogue too. And just like him, Sarah stood her ground and did what was best for both sides of her relationship.

“Is that a duck?” he asks, toothpick going up and down between his lips. It’s the next thing he notices, something yellow wrapped in what JJ believes it’s her jacket.