Vessel

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Ten

Despite being pressed up against her mate the entire night, sleep didn’t come easily to Joey. Andrew even tried emitting some calmness and tranquility when he realized how tense and frightened she was feeling. It brought her some peace, but it wasn’t enough. Thus, she didn’t get any rest.

With school out of the picture whether she likes it or not (and she does) and her parents off at work knowing they can trust their daughter with Andrew, they have the whole day to simultaneously spend time together and start working on some sort of recovery. Getting out of bed to shower and eat breakfast wasn’t on Joey’s to-do list, and yet she finds herself sitting on the couch in the family room with damp hair and a bowl of berries on her lap.

“Hey.”

She removes her unfocused eyes from a spot on the wall across from her and looks to her right where Andrew is sitting with a forkful of fruit held up to her mouth. She looks between the food and his eyes.

“Two more bites please,” he says softly.

She sighs and parts her lips, allowing him to gently enter the fork into her mouth. She clears it and chews quietly, looking down at the near-empty bowl she hadn’t even noticed she’d gone through so quickly. All she can see and focus on are her attacker’s brown eyes and that black balaclava. She has no idea what he actually looks like, but she can’t forget his face.

On top of that, her sister spent the night in another city and hasn’t contacted her or their parents. She has no idea what she’s thinking and if, despite telling her she loves her through Andrew, she’s upset or disappointed in her. She also doesn’t know when she’s coming home. If she is.

“Last one,” Andrew breaks her train of thought again. He’s collected the last of her berries on the fork and holds it out to her. She finishes them slowly and Andrew grabs the bowl from her lap and gets up to load that and the fork into the dishwasher. She feels his absence even though he’s gone for less than 30 seconds.

When he returns, he reclaims his spot on her right side and wraps his arms around her. She’s dressed in a baggy white sweater and black sweatpants with a thin blanket draped over her legs. Andrew’s in his own jeans and a hoodie – both of which he found in Valerie’s room. Joey’s necklace is still on her bedside table, knowing that she needs to remain close to her mate.

She tucks her face into his neck and breathes in deeply, chocolate and hazelnuts swarming her senses. Though her racing mind isn’t put completely to rest, it does slow down. She melts further into him when he pulls her onto his lap.

“Are you sure you don’t have to help your dad with security?”

“Positive,” he kisses the side of her head. “He and Gamma Aleks have it under control.”

“Won’t he be upset if you don’t show up?”

“I told him we’re mates. He knows I have to stay.”

She lifts her head to look him in the eyes. “You told him?”

He nods. “When he mindlinked me yesterday to say they didn’t catch the guy. I told him and said I’d be staying as long as you need me. And then longer.”

She smiles briefly. “What did he say?”

“Please stop thinking everyone’s going to hate you. He’s fine with it. He’s working even harder now knowing you’re going to be Luna. And my mom reached out just as we were going to bed to ask how you were doing and congratulate us. She may have demanded to see you right then and there but I got you out of that one.”

This time, her smile is less timid and sticks around longer. She’s always been very fond of Alpha Charles and Luna Rita, and they’ve always been extremely welcoming to her. Alpha Charles was the man who her parents went to when they first found her and he and Luna Rita made her part of the Sumas Pack without question. Now, they’re her in-laws.

“I’m so excited for everyone to know. To be mates out in the open. To live life with you by my side. I’m honoured to be yours, Joey. You don’t understand how grateful I am to have you.”

She feels her nose sting and she knows her eyes are starting to shine. There’s no trace of doubt or insincerity in his expression. He meant every word and it makes her heart skip a beat. She’s known him since she was a child, so she’s loved him for a very long time in a very different way. But now, in his arms, feeling protected, and having heard his beautiful words, she knows it won’t be hard or long to love him in a deeper, more meaningful and intimate manner. In fact, it may just take one more word, one more look, one more kiss.

His eyes run over her hairline before he tucks a few stray strands behind her ear. His lips quirk when he tilts his head. “You’re beautiful.”

Yep. That’s all it took.

But then, then, he starts leaning forward and she almost goes into full cardiac arrest. He’s going to kiss her. She’s never been kissed. What does she do? Does she let him come to her? Does she meet him halfway? Does she close her eyes before they kiss or as soon as their lips touch? Where do her hands go? Is she in a comfortable spot on his lap? Should she move?

So many questions fill her mind that she almost doesn’t realize his lips are against hers. Naturally, her eyes close and her arms loosely wrap around his neck. She feels his flat hands grasp her waist over her sweater and shivers run up her spine. When his lips leave hers, she’s about to pounce on him to get them back but he just kisses her again and she relaxes.

He’s soft and warm. And he smells good. She already knew that, but with her eyes closed her other senses are amplified. There’s a slight tremor in her fingers because of the excitement, but at the same time she feels so calm as a result of his affection. Their kiss is long and slow. The attaching and reattaching is something she has to get used to, but Andrew moves closer every time so she must not be that bad.

She doesn’t want this to end, but she’s worried her amateur excitement may make it hard to stop herself from stripping him and mating right there on her parents’ couch. That can’t happen. And then she starts thinking about all the things she has and hasn’t seen he and Valerie do in that same spot. That makes her pull away.

He doesn’t chase her. He loosens his grip on her waist slightly and tries to catch her eye, keeping his distance as much as he can with her on his lap. “You okay?”

She sighs and nods, knowing this is just a temporary obstacle – it’s not a hard stop. “I’m fine. I just got caught up in... other things that have happened on this couch.”

He grunts awkwardly and squeezes his eyes closed, gripping her waist again and quickly twisting her from side to side. She can’t help but laugh as her body is tossed around. Andrew doesn’t like awkward situations, so he acts out in odd ways. That’s what this is.

“Sorry, freak,” she giggles, grasping his shoulders tightly so she doesn’t fall.

He huffs and stops his twisting, simply holding her gently instead. He rests his head against the back of the couch and looks at her with hooded eyes. “No more making out on this couch.”

“At least for the time being,” she says.

He nods.

She bites her lip as another thought enters her mind. Maybe she doesn’t want to have this conversation, but she’s curious. “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

She clears her throat and shifts herself on his lap slightly to look at him head-on. “How many times did you and Valerie sleep together?”

“Oh my, God,” he groans, removing his hands from her waist to cover his face.

She winces. “I know, I’m sorry. I just have to know. Val never came right out and said you did but I know you did.”

He huffs and starts making weird noises.

“Andrew,” she laughs, grabbing his wrists to remove his hands from his face. “It’s fine. I’m not asking for details and I’m not upset. It makes sense that you would. I just wanna know.”

He removes his hands from hers and reaches forward to pinch both of her cheeks. She sits there and lets him stare at her like that for a few seconds before he drops his hands. “Fine.”

She smiles and rests her hands on his chest, waiting.

“We waited for a long time. We knew there was a chance we’d have to break up. The original plan was that we wouldn’t do it, similarly to why we put off any marriage plans.”

“It could’ve ended at any minute,” she nods.

“Right. So like our wedding, the plan was to wait 10 years for that as well. We ended up... we were together but we each felt lonely. We just needed some comfort. We were sad that we weren’t mates and that we didn’t actually know who our mates were at all. So, when we were 24, we had a very long and difficult conversation about it but decided to do it. It wasn’t a regular thing after that because we both felt pretty guilty afterward, but that was the first time. And I can count on one hand the total number of times.”

Joey takes a deep breath and nods. She can feel how fast his heart is beating under her right hand. “Okay. I understand.”

“I’m sorry, Jo.”

“I’m honestly not upset,” she assures him. And she means it. “This is an odd situation. You can’t expect everyone who has to wait so long for their mate to hold out, especially when they love someone like you both loved each other. You gave each other much-needed comfort. Do I wish I was your first? Yes. Do we have so many more firsts to experience together? Hell yes. I’m not upset. I’m excited for our life.”

She feels his heart begin to slow and he looks less anxious and uncomfortable. He sits still for a moment before grabbing her by the neck and pressing a gross, open-mouthed kiss to her cheek, departing with a loud smooch. “It’ll be my first time not feeling guilty and wrong. I don’t know what that’s like.”

“Right,” she nods once and beams. “And plus, you can teach me all the fancy tricks.”

“Jo, I’ve cried more times in my life than I’ve had sex. I don’t know tricks.”

She shrugs. “Then I guess I gotta start reading Cosmo.”

“Jesus,” he sighs, wrapping an arm around her neck and pulling her to his chest.

“Prepare to have your mind blown,” she says muffled into his hoodie. His hand loosens around her and when she expects him to offer a retort, he doesn’t. She frowns and sits back to see him. His eyes are unfocused. Someone’s talking to him. When he blinks and slightly shakes his head, his expression gets serious. “What’s wrong?”

He clears his throat. “How do you feel about your friends coming by later to check on you?”

And just like that, her mood returns to its previous state and her attacker’s face reappears in her mind. She winces to herself and rolls off his lap. Andrew panics.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he gushes, leaning into her to delicately grab her face. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Joey. I’ll tell them not to come.”

She shakes her head. “It’s fine. They can come.”

“Not if it doesn’t help you get back on your feet.”

“It’ll be good to see them,” she says. “It’ll help.”

“Are you sure?”

She closes her eyes and nods. “I’m sure.”

He exhales and leans forward to press and quick kiss to her lips. “They’ll be here after school.”

“Can we just lie down for a bit then?”

“Anything, Jo, anything you want.”


When there are a few knocks on the front door, Joey and Andrew are in the kitchen about to put a batch of gluten-free muffins into the oven. Andrew offers to let her friends in, but Joey stops him. He’s ordered to finish filling the tray with the last of the batter and get them in to bake while she’s gone and he does as he’s told. Joey wipes the palms of her hands on her sweatpants while she makes her way through the family room and to the front door.

When she pulls it open, she only catches a quick glimpse of the anticipation on her friends’ faces before Dina, Priya, and Harper bound forward to gather her into a hug. Much of her stress melts away and she closes her eyes, taking in the comfort. She answers their rushed questions about how she’s doing and what happened before Harper sobs and Dina and Priya step back.

“I’m so sorry, Joey,” Harper says into her shoulder. “I should’ve gone to get you.”

“It’s not your fault,” Joey assures her. “I was distracted and forgot I had to meet you. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You could’ve been killed.”

“And it would’ve been my own fault.”

“But–” Harper pulls back, about to continue what she’s arguing, but she looks behind her friend and freezes. Joey frowns and turns, seeing Andrew standing further back in the family room. Harper detaches herself from her friend and hurries over, bowing her head and kneeling in front of him. “Alpha Andrew, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to put my Luna in danger. I’ll take whatever punishment is necessary.”

Andrew looks down at her with sympathy while Joey blushes at hearing her friend refer to her as her Luna. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Harper. It was an unfortunate situation. You won’t be punished for anything.”

She lifts her head. “But–”

“Don’t question your Alpha.”

"Future Alpha,” Joey smirks. “Don’t get ahead of yourself there.”

He glares at her. “Do you want me to slip some flour into your muffins? ’Cause I’ll do it.”

She rolls her eyes and leads her friends – who are trying not to laugh – into the family room. “Come on guys, let’s leave him be. He’s PMSing today.”

“Flour and peanut butter,” Andrew mutters, turning back around and heading into the kitchen.

When he’s gone and the four girls are huddled around each other on the couch, Joey friends immediately move on from the incident and to Andrew.

“I can’t believe you’re mates,” Priya says. “Is that why you got so drunk at your party?”

“Yeah,” Joey answers. “Didn’t handle it very well. I thought he was gonna reject me.”

“How’s Valerie?” Dina asks.

Joey’s heart cracks a bit. “She’s staying with her friend in Chilliwack. So, not the best. Everyone’s telling me it’ll all be fine. I believe it to a degree. I mean, she is my sister. But still, imagine the person you’ve fallen in love with finds someone else and all you can do is watch them love them while still being in love with them yourself.”

“I totally get it,” Harper says. “I think Mason’s gonna ask Patty to prom. Which is twice as painful because I also have a small girl crush on Patty.”

“That’s so not the same thing, idiot,” Dina says.

“Well minus the bad stuff, isn’t it the best feeling ever?” Priya asks, being the only other person to understand the mate bond.

Joey blushes and can’t help but smile. She knows Andrew can probably hear them so she doesn’t completely spill, but she doesn’t want to keep any more secrets from her friends. “Yeah. It really is.”

“Great, now I’m even more jealous,” Dina grumbles.

“Dina, when you find your mate you won’t even think about all the time you spent waiting,” Priya says. “You won’t care about that one boy you had a crush on but had to watch find his mate in someone else. All you’ll be able to comprehend is your mate, he’s all that matters. You may not find him the day you turn 18 but that won’t matter when the time comes. The wait is worth it.”

Dina smiles softly and nods at her friend. Harper on the other hand gapes in horror. “Dude, you both found your mate on your 18th birthday! What do you know?!”

“She’s right, Harper!” Andrew calls from the kitchen.

Harper’s disbelieving face drops and she sits back. “Now him, I believe.”

.

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xx

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