Vessel

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One

Sumas Mountain, present day

Josephine Bennett has always been peculiar.

Growing up, she didn’t know why she was so much clumsier than the rest of her pack, or why she couldn’t hear the river or see in the dark like everyone else, or why after witnessing her friends experience their first shift when they were 12 she had to wait until she was 16.

She remembers that day clearly. Her parents, her older sister, even her sister’s boyfriend and future Alpha were huddled over her as she cried from the pain. When it was over and she was in wolf form, she expected everyone to be happy – not concerned by her small size.

She didn’t care, because in wolf form she could finally hear the river and see in the dark.

But before that, they discovered perhaps the most peculiar thing about her, and it started as what her parents called “picky eating.” Her sister, Valerie, is 10 years older than she is, so she was her absolute idol growing up. She wanted to like what Valerie liked and do what Valerie did. Imagine her distress when all of her sister’s favourite foods made her want to throw up.

“Eat your vegetables, Joey,” her father would say.

“Stop scraping the mustard off your burger, Joey,” her mother would say.

“Mom! Joey’s sick again!” Her sister would say.

Hushed conversations. Worried faces. But nothing was communicated to her.

One day after a bad morning of crying, clutching her stomach, and throwing up, Valerie decided to take her little sister into the city to shop for whatever she wanted. Valerie’s boyfriend, Andrew, tagged along. As the future Alpha of the Sumas Pack, he deemed it his duty to ensure the health and wellbeing of every single one of his future pack’s members – especially when they were as bright and bubbly as little Josephine Bennett.

That day, Josephine munched on popcorn and didn’t feel sick while her two chaperones guided her through Sevenoaks and to all the stores they knew she’d love. When she was loaded with shoes, dresses, hair accessories, and toys, it was time to go. Until Valerie saw a pair of earrings she just had to get herself.

Into Peoples they went. While they were there, Valerie became so engrossed in the gold earrings and Andrew became so obsessed with paying for them that they didn’t notice Josephine wandering off in her own world. She was surrounded by shiny things. At six years old, that’s all a kid could ask for.

As she walked around staring at the colourful earrings, rings, and bracelets, she happened upon a necklace display that made her stop and stare. Right in front of her was the most prettiest, most shiniest, and best necklace she had ever seen. It was long and dangly and silver and had a big heart at the end and she just had to have it. She had to, had to, had to, had to.

As she reached out to grab it, Valerie looked away from the credit card Andrew was shoving in her face and instantly paled when she saw what her little sister was reaching out to touch. “Joey no, that’s sil–!”

But she grabbed it anyway and looked back at Valerie to see what all the fuss was about. As she frowned at her older sister, the silver necklace that should have been burning her skin was sitting comfortably in her palm. She held it out for them to see. “I want this one.”

And so, in shock, Valerie and Andrew brought her home with the silver necklace in a black velvet box. They were tense and scared, but Josephine paid no mind. She had new fancy dancy shoes, new pretty dresses, new cool hair ties and pins, new awesome toys, and the best necklace ever.

What a day that was. But it wasn’t over yet.

After Valerie and Andrew explained the situation to Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, the parents rushed their daughter and her new necklace to the pack doctor. After a needle and lots and lots and lots of questions, Dr. Patel concluded that Josephine had very little sulfur in her blood.

“What does that mean?” Her mother, Jessica, had asked.

“The abundance of sulfur in a werewolf’s system is what makes us react to silver the way we do. Because there’s barely any in her system, she’s not harmed.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” her father, Robert, had chimed in then. “If werewolves have so much sulfur in their system and she doesn’t, how is she still a wolf? Is she still a wolf?”

“She is,” Dr. Patel had assured them. “She has the gene, but this is where it gets interesting. Based on what food you said makes her feel sick or vomit, I think she may have an intestinal condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO. It’s commonly caused by foods high in sulfur – mustard, gluten, a large variety of vegetables, most meats, most dairy.”

Jessica and Robert looked at each other in confusion and concern. Jessica was the first to speak. “H-How? Werewolf health is... how?”

Josephine, who hadn’t really been paying attention, was very occupied by the silver necklace her parents let her play with during her appointment. As she was distracted, Dr. Patel lowered his voice. “I can’t say for certain because we don’t know her history, but maybe her birth mother had just been turned. If she was turned while she was pregnant there’s a chance there’d be some incomplete transitions with Joey. I’m sorry, I could have caught it when she was a baby but when I saw she had the gene I assumed her levels would be balanced.”

Jessica closed her eyes and Robert exhaled deeply, grasping his mate’s hand.

“The important thing is that she’s fine. Keep her on a low sulfur diet and she’ll feel much better.”

Both parents nodded. And that was that.

When they left the hospital, they ran into an ansty-looking Andrew who had been waiting outside. When Josephine saw him, she smiled brightly and ran over with her necklace held high for him to see. And when she asked him to put it on her – because, what the heck, no one had offered to help her put it on yet – he let it burn him so she would smile.

And thus the lack of sulfur would explain her clumsiness, her lowered senses in human form, and her very small and relatively weak wolf. She wouldn’t understand for a few years because her parents were afraid of breaking her heart with the word “adoption,” but she ended up taking it relatively well.

She was found as a baby, alone on the streets of Abbostford, British Columbia, swaddled up with a note that said I’m sorry and her parents took her home when they found her. And she’s glad they did.

She loves her life the way it is. She’ll love her life a little bit more in just a few minutes.

“Hi! Sorry, can’t make dinner tonight! Training at six! Going wi– Woah!"

Valerie, who had thrown herself off of Andrew’s lap as soon as she heard the front door open, looks up and sees her sister sprawled out on the stairs. “Jesus, Joey, do you ever make it up without tripping?”

“I don’t think so,” she groans, slowly correcting herself and fixing the pink backpack hanging off her shoulders. “Maybe one day. It’s a goal of mine.”

“What’s this about training?” Valerie asks, pushing Andrew away from her neck hard enough that his upper body falls back onto the couch, which she’s now sitting backward on.

“Dina and I are going, it starts at six,” Joey says, catching her breath. She ran all the way from school on the main pack land to her home in the residential outskirts of Abbotsford, right on the edge of Sumas Mountain. Once she’s showered, changed, and beautiful she’ll have to run all the way back.

“I’m sorry, but when did you start training?” Valerie asks, adjusting her crinkled blouse.

“I’m not training, I’m watching the training,” she clarifies.

“Why?”

“Tho–”

“Thomas Miller,” Andrew cuts her off and stands up, casually stretching and dragging his feet over to the Bennetts’ kitchen. “Only the most talented warrior of his year, not to mention the hottest kid in school. He’ll be there kicking and punching and oh my God he might just be shirtless, too.”

Joey watches him raid their fridge and then points to him, giving Valerie an impressed look. “He gets it.”

“And you’re not subtle,” Andrew raises an eyebrow at her with their carton of orange juice in hand. “The amount of times I’ve seen you and Dina just sitting there swooning over him.”

“Well, maybe I want him to see that.”

“Leave her alone,” Valerie tells him lightheartedly before turning to her little sister. “Do you think he’s your mate?”

Joey feels a slight pang in her chest, looking between Valerie and Andrew. She wants to change the subject, and awkwardly begins slowly ascending the stairs. “Uh, I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. Anyway, I gotta go makeup– put on makeup. Okay bye.”

“Uh, Jo? Grandma and Grandpa and coming for dinner tonight.”

She gapes. ”No!”

“That’s sweet,” Valerie nods, gesturing toward her little sister. “Greet them like that.”

“I completely forgot, damn it,” she hangs her head.

“Sorry, kid.”

She huffs and pulls her phone out of the back pocket of her jeans. “I better text Dina then. Crap. Well, I’ll be upstairs getting ready for the next 30 minutes so, please, carry on with whatever you were doing. Or don’t... depending on what it was.”

“I’m leaving,” Andrew chuckles, downing his glass of orange juice.

“Hey,” Valerie perks up and turns to him. “Don’t forget to pick the centrepieces please.”

Andrew groans and throws his head back. “Why?”

“Because it’s your wedding, too.”

“But I’ll just end up picking one you don’t like.”

“Then you’d better choose wisely.”

He sighs and sulks as he makes his way over to the back of the couch to give her a soft kiss. “Fine, I’ll do my best.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he looks at Joey as he makes his way to the door. “And I’ll let you know if I hear Thomas gushing about how much he loves you.”

Joey scowls. “I thought Alphas were supposed to be nice to their pack members.”

“I’m not the Alpha yet,” he smirks, pulling the door open. “Two more years of annoying you.”

When the door closes Joey looks at her sister. “Two more years, my ass. He’ll never stop.”

Valerie chuckles and stands up from the couch. “Well, kid, you make it too easy. Go upstairs and change, Mom and Dad will be here soon.”

“Fine,” she sighs. As she continues up the stairs – slower this time – she turns her attention back to her phone that she had pulled out. Tapping on the messages icon and selecting the conversation at the very top of her list, her thumbs go to work.

‘Dina, I have the worst news in the world...’

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xx

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