Vessel

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Seven

Joey hasn’t touched her plate of berries. Her fork pushes them around but she lost her appetite as soon as she sat down and heard Valerie complaining about Andrew.

It’s been a few days since they found out they were mates and then spent hours together in the forest. They’re still the only ones who know. Well, them and Dina. She never thought this would be easy, but she didn’t think it would be this hard. Has Valerie always talked about Andrew this much? Or do her immense guilt and jealousy just make it seem like he’s a constant topic in their house?

She can’t talk to Andrew about it because she knows he’s just as bothered as she is. She completely understands how difficult it must be for him to break the heart of someone he’s been committed to for over 10 years. Someone who – no matter how much it pains her to think about it now – he’s been in love with. He needs time, and the least she can do is give it to him.

She has talked to Dina about it. Some of it. Just what happened when they talked at her party. She didn’t mean to confess to Dina at first, but part of her is relieved that she can rant to someone even if she’s only shared the basics so far. Dina’s been gently urging her to open up more, but Joey doesn’t have the clearest few of the future. Maybe then.

For now, though, she has to keep to herself and not eat her breakfast while Valerie sulks about not having heard much from Andrew over the past few days. It’s moments like this that force her mind to picture either a life with Andrew but without Valerie, or a life with Valerie but without Andrew. Those seem like her only two options.

Her heart clenches and she reaches up to run her fingers over her necklace. She’s worn it every day since she put it on. She hasn’t seen Andrew, but it makes her feel close to him.

“I don’t know what’s going on with him, Mom,” Valerie sighs with her phone in her hand. “Something’s off. I mean, I know he’s stressed about the disappearances but usually I can help him manage.”

“Well this is closer to home than it’s ever been,” her mom responds with a forkful of scrambled eggs in her mouth. “Maybe he’s just trying to wrap his head around what’s going on and formulate some sort of plan before bringing you into it.”

“But I’m gonna be Luna. I should be part of the planning.”

I’m the Luna, Joey thinks begrudgingly. She takes a deep breath and tries to keep it as silent as possible while her mom and sister continue to talk. She needs to calm down. She needs Andrew. She hasn’t heard his voice in a while and neither of them have mind-linked. She’s scared doing that will give her away, but right now she’s just desperate for some comfort.

Andrew?

Hi, Joey.

She has to force herself not to smile at how quickly he responds, like he’s been waiting for her. She tilts her head down to hide her blush.

Are you okay?

Yeah. Just eating breakfast with mom and Valerie. They’re talking about you.

She hears him sigh and she suddenly feels guilty for putting this on him when he’s already dealing with so much else. It doesn’t go unnoticed. I can feel how guilty you’re feeling. I don’t want that. I told you you’re my priority. Listen, I’m thinking we can tell Valerie on Friday when you’re done school. My schedule opens up a little then and I’ve kind of backed off a bit already to soften the blow as much as possible. We can do it at your place so she doesn’t suddenly feel like an intruder or anything. And you won’t have to do any of the hard stuff. I’ll do the talking and the explaining and the apologizing. All you have to do is be there.

That sounds okay. She’s not super hyped about it being only two days away but they have to do it sometime. They can’t keep living a lie.

Your sister loves you, Jo. Probably more than you realize. This’ll be hard but it won’t be the end of your relationship, I can promise you that.

“Joey, are you listening?”

She jumps and lifts her head, staring at the expectant faces of her mother and sister. “Sorry, what?”

“I asked why you’re not eating,” her mom says. “Are you okay?”

Andrew, I have to go. I’m onboard, we’ll tell her on Friday. “Yeah just, feel a little residual nausea from the french fries I had yesterday.”

Jessica tuts and shakes her head. “You and french fries, you know you can’t have them.”

“They’re just so good, Mom. How can I resist something so good?”

“By remembering the state you’ll be in an hour later.”

She scrunches her nose and throws one berry in her mouth. Calling that breakfast, she swings her bag onto her back and wishes the women a good day before running out of the house. It’s a cold October day, so she zips her jacket all the way up to her neck and wraps a thick scarf almost completely around her head.

Today she’s walking to and from school with Harper and her mom, who she can already see on her street – no heavy jackets, no thick scarves, because, well, they’re normal. Harper’s mom is an English professor at Sumas U – Joey may even have her when she starts there next year. Mrs. Montgomery is a lovely woman and Joey’s not terrible in English class, but is English really necessary in every single post-secondary major?

She doesn’t think so. She mainly just doesn’t want to write two long form essays every semester.

The walk to school is uneventful, but Joey can see just how peeled Mrs. Montgomery’s eyes are. She surveys their surroundings endlessly and barely makes conversation. Valerie was the same the past two days. Plus, the higher number of patrols along the perimetre of their forest is unmissable. It’s a scary situation made a little scarier, but Joey knows it’s necessary.

Mrs. Montgomery watches them enter Sumas High School before continuing on to the University. When they’re inside, Dina and Priya are waiting for them. They still have about 20 minutes before the first bell, so they do their usual locker rounds. Priya’s is the closest and they head there first.

As they walk and talk, Joey stays relatively silent. She’s so much closer to Andrew here. Just the university and the main square lie between them. She can feel how close he is and she’s been able to every day at school. It shocks and excites her every time and all she ever wants to do is run out of the school and straight to his house. The longer they stay apart, the harder it is to do so.

Joey thinks about what would happen if she did run out right now. He’d be surprised and a little confused, sure. But he’d welcome her with open arms and keep her locked away for the day, so the two of them can be together with no intrusions. Alone, they don’t have to pretend. Maybe he’d finally kiss her. Maybe he’d look deep into her eyes, grab her face, and plant his soft lips on hers.

The thought makes her shiver.

On the way to Dina’s locker, she’s still daydreaming. So much so that she walks right into Dina’s open locker door when they arrive. She blinks a few times and rubs her forehead, catching sight of all of her friends staring at her in concern.

“You good?” Dina asks.

Joey clears her throat. “Yeah, sorry.”

“What’s going on with you?” Priya asks. “You’ve been acting weird all week.”

She takes a deep breath and flashes a small closed-lipped smile. “I’m fine, just have a lot on my mind.”

Dina gives her a meaningful look.

“You know what? I don’t actually have to get anything from my locker. I think I’m just gonna head straight to class. Or the hospital maybe because, you know... hit my head. Whichever comes first, right? I’ll just see you guys at lunch.”

As she rushes off awkwardly, she remembers that she actually does have to grab her history textbook from her locker. She huffs and decides to go the long way so her friends don’t think she’s avoiding them. She kind of is, but they don’t have to know that. She turns the corner and makes it to the stairwell.

“Joey, wait up!”

She freezes and turns around. Dina’s running after her. She lets her catch up before continuing up the stairs.

“Talk to me, please.”

“I was just daydreaming. Good things.”

“Andrew things?”

“Yeah, Andrew things.”

They arrive at her locker and Dina stares at her while she unlocks it. She doesn’t say anything, just waits for Joey to continue. Joey gives her a look and then grabs her textbook.

“We’re telling my sister on Friday.”

Dina tries not to react but Joey can tell her jaw wants to drop. She also knows she has a million questions to ask. She closes her locker, locks it, then leans against it.

“I didn’t tell you about the next day. I had a forced shift and he was on his way to my house to get Val for that pack meeting. He ended up staying with me and...” she pauses to close her eyes and take a deep breath. “I’m freaking out because I need to be with him properly, but I’m so scared Valerie will hate me and never talk to me again.”

“Hey, you didn’t ask for this to happen,” Dina tells her. “You didn’t expect Andrew to be your mate. It’s not your fault. Sure, she’ll be devastated but she can’t be mad at you. At least, not for long.”

“I hope you’re right,” she nods. “I’m losing my mind not having him near me all the time.”

Dina smiles. “What’s it like?”

“Well, he was the Nutella I was smelling all day. It made me want to pass out until we saw each other. It was like feeling loved and safe and important and wanted at the same time. It was a high. It is a high.

“Every time I’m around him or near him, even now I can feel him. I can feel him feeling me. I can literally feel how much he wants me to ditch school and spend the day at his place, and I’m positive he can feel how much I want to do that, too. It’s weird because until Saturday he was just like my older brother who annoyed me and ate out of my Nutella jar and whipped pillows in my face.

“But now... now I see him as my protector, my rock, the man I’m meant to love with all my heart. It’s different and it’s scary, but we’re made for each other. I’m his, he’s mine. We just have to get some other people onboard.”

Dina sighs and steps forward to hug her. “I’m onboard. You’ll always have my support, I can promise you that.”

Joey closes her eyes. “Thank you.”

When the bell rings, they step back from each other and promise to sit together at lunch before heading to class.


“Alright before you go, I’ve marked all your tests. Class average was 86% on this one. Stay where you are, I’ll come around.”

Joey’s bag lies on her desk in front of her. She’s ready to leave and be done with school after another long day of zoning out and thinking about Andrew and Valerie, but now she has to wait to get her test back and she knows it’ll take a while because Mr. Gilbert loves to take his sweet time. She crosses her arms and sits back in her chair.

Everyone in AP Biology remains silent as the tests are distributed. It’s always a weird atmosphere when marks are being returned, and Joey’s surrounded by people who still think they bombed even though the average is an A. She has to admit, sometimes she can slip into that group. She’s never failed a test in her life and yet she sometimes panics that she will.

But this one was easy. She barely had to study. She’s definitely getting between 85% and 90%. There’s no way she failed.

Finally, Mr. Gilbert makes it to her table and he gives her a pointed look before setting the papers face down on top of her bag. “See me after class.”

She frowns and waits for him to continue on before grabbing her test and flipping it over. 100%. A perfect score? Since when have any of her teachers wanted to see her after class for getting a perfect score on a test? Then, the panic settles in. He thinks I cheated. Oh, God.

Taking a deep breath, she mind-links Harper to let her know that she won’t be ready to go right at the bell. Harper tells her they’ll wait for her. Then she’s left to sit and stew in fear until the last person gets their test, the bell rings, and they all leave. She stays seated and watches Mr. Gilbert shuffle through papers on his desk until they’re alone in the classroom. She stands and makes her way over to him, test in hand.

“You wanted to see me, Sir?”

“Yes, I did,” he says without looking up. Once his desk is tidy and everything he needs is back into his satchel, he looks at her from his seat. “You got a perfect score on your test.”

“Yes, and I didn’t cheat,” she blurts nervously.

He chuckles. “I didn’t think you cheated, Joey. I wanted to talk to you about what that means.”

Her eyebrows furrow. “And what does that mean?”

“How much did you study for this test?”

She clears her throat. “Uh... n-not much?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Not much?”

“Not at all,” she admits.

“Not at all,” he repeats.

“But I didn’t cheat.”

“Joey, relax. Sit down.”

She sighs and sits on the desk right behind her.

“I’m not reprimanding you. You, of all people, need the least amount of discipline. I want to know what your plans are for after high school.”

She calms down a bit. “Well, I applied to Sumas U to work in pack medicine.”

“You want to be a pack doctor,” he confirms.

She nods.

“That’s a great path to go down, don’t get me wrong, but I strongly urge you to explore human schools where you can become a human doctor.”

“What? Why?”

“You’ve been a straight A student since you were a child. Your parents once told me that you’ve always taken extra math and science courses because the classes other kids find fun bore the hell out of you. You can come in on a test day and barely know the requirements and still get a near perfect score – or perfect, in this case. Joey, you dissected a frog in this class and then proceeded to sew it back together without actually having learned how to do that. Being a pack doctor is a very important, very respectable job. But werewolves heal in the blink of an eye. Your talents would be wasted and plus, you’d breeze through school like nobody’s business. Give yourself a challenge, set yourself up for success in the future.”

She’d be lying if she said she’d never thought of it, but she always ends up with the same conclusion: No.

“What’s stopping you?” He senses her apprehension.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess... I guess I’ve always felt like I owed it to the pack.”

“Why?”

“Well, I’m not a true member.”

“Put those thoughts to bed,” he says. “Lock them away, don’t let them get to you. You are a true member of this pack. Now instead of not having a challenge at school and having a boring job once you graduate while trying to prove yourself to a pack who already wants you here, put your brain and talent to work. You still have two days to apply somewhere else. I think it’s in your best interest.”

Right, applications close the same day she and Andrew are talking to Valerie. She pushes that from her mind and nods. “Okay.”

“Promise?”

She laughs. Mr. Gilbert has always been her favourite. “Yes, I promise.”

“Thank you. And just out of curiosity, how did you learn to suture?”

She shrugs. “Mix of common sense and YouTube.”

“Okay, now promise me if you get bored of school you won’t build a career in medicine off common sense and YouTube.”

“I can’t promise you that, Sir,” she hops off the desk. “That’s how I’ve become a successful baker. And you know what they say about baking, don’t you?”

“What do they say?”

“It’s basically like performing surgery.”

He rubs his temple. “Go home, Joey.”

“Bye, Sir,” she laughs.

Once she’s out of the classroom and on her way to her locker, she admits she feels good about possibly studying human medicine. But then she gets into her head again. Is it really the best choice? Will she fail? And can she even do it if she’s supposed to be the Luna?

Most mates are around the same age, but Andrew’s 10 years older than her. He’s ready to become Alpha and she’s ready to graduate high school. It’s customary that the Luna step up at the same time the Alpha does, but medical school is going to take much longer than two years.

Great, now she has a whole lot more to think about.

She switches out what she needs when she’s at her locker and throws on her jacket and scarf again. She likes the hallways the way they are now – a little quieter and emptier than she usually sees them after school. Maybe she’ll wait a few extra minutes after class every day to avoid bumping into people in everyone’s rush to get home.

It allows her to hear her thoughts more clearly as she leaves. Luna, doctor, mate. Luna, doctor, mate. Luna, doctor, mate. Those are the three main things occupying her mind. And then, of course, there’s Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, always there no matter what. She closes her eyes as she exits the school, both to brace for the cool breeze and see if she can reach out and feel what he’s feeling. On edge, like usual.

She stuffs her hands in her pockets and follows the small crowds of people into the trees. She walks slower, taking the time to kick stones and leaves and twigs as she does. She just wants to feel as normal and stress-free as she did as little as one week ago. Life was so much easier when she and her friends just sat outside and watched Thomas and all the other warriors train. God, she wishes she could go back in time.

But she wouldn’t have Andrew.

As she enters the forest and loses sight of the people who were in front of her, she thinks of the necklace she’s wearing. She thinks of Andrew. The trees block the sun but her body starts to brighten up with him on the forefront of her mind. She imagines Valerie taking the news well. Unforeseeably well. So well that Joey can gather up all her things on the spot and move in with him right away. Maybe Valerie would help.

Maybe Valerie would be okay being a bridesmaid at Joey and Andrew’s wedding, when the time comes. Maybe Andrew will even ask her for advice about how to propose. Maybe things will work out and Valerie won’t hate her for something she can’t control. She hopes things turn out like her fantasy, because she can’t lose her mate, or her sister, or both. She just can’t.

Jo, where are you? My mom and I are waiting outside SU.

And it’s only at that moment that she realizes she’s completely alone in the middle of the forest with no escort and no patrols in sight. She’s about to panic, about to respond to Harper, about to turn and sprint back to safety, but she’s stopped by a firm hand closing around her mouth from behind.

.

.

.

uh oh

xx

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