"Yo, Josh, go long!"
Joshua Levi Uley squinted at the sky, tracking the football as it passed the sun. He waited a moment, long enough for the rest of his team to grow increasingly frustrated. Then he crouched, the muscles in his back rippling, and he sprung forward. The teak colour of his exposed skin blurred with the dark green of the surrounding forest as he ran, leaving a trail of soil and leaves behind him.
Josh had run fast enough that he had to wait, arms outstretched, for the ball to reach him. It had travelled far – Milo had a good arm.
"Josh, over here," he heard his mother's voice and he turned around. Emily was leaning against the tree outside of their house; her face looked amused.
He turned back towards the direction of the forest, where his friends were waiting for him. Taking a pen out of the back pocket of his sweatpants, he scribbled a note onto the football. I've got to go – catch you later. Then, he walked back a few steps and threw the ball back into the dense forest. They would catch it. They always did.
"What have I said about playing ball so close to the houses?" Emily reprimanded him, but her voice was not angry.
Josh looked around him; there was his house, and garage, and the neighbour's place. He must have run about a mile.
Emily seemed to be thinking the same thing. "It's just taken you twenty seconds to run what would take a normal person five minutes," she said in disbelief.
Josh grinned. "Hey, I never said I was normal."
"So true," Emily's face broke into a wide smile. Her perfect white teeth stood out against her dark skin, the painfully obvious livid red scars fading into insignificance.
"Hurry up and get inside, we've got people over," Emily said over her shoulder as she walked towards the front door of their small house. "And put some clothes on," she added as an afterthought.
Josh smiled to himself and strode towards the house. After scaling the stairs in just three steps, he opened the door to his bedroom.
"Josha!" his little brother Caleb somersaulted off the top bunk bed right into Josh's chest. The deadweight of the five-year old didn't even make Josh flinch. He held the squirming boy by his left ankle and tickled his foot, until the squeals of delight were responded by a yell from downstairs.
"Josh, Cub, living room. Now!" called a man's booming voice. Josh made sure that Caleb was the right way up before dropping him on the rug. The young boy scrambled out of the room and bounded down the staircase.
"Coming!" Josh called back. Shaking his head fondly at his little brother, he grabbed a t-shirt from a pile of scattered clothes and yanked it over his head. He was still pulling it down when he reached the bottom of the stairs.
"That's definitely an interesting theory, Sam," he heard someone say quietly as he reached the kitchen door. He waited outside, trying to decipher who the owner of the voice was. Behind him he could hear his mother and Caleb chatting away in the living room.
"It's all we've got to work with at the moment, Billy," his father muttered in reply. Ah, Josh nodded to himself. Billy Black, of course. He still made no move to enter the kitchen. Both men were talking in hushed tones – it was clearly not a conversation wanting to be heard. He leaned in closer to the door, his massive body squashed against the doorframe.
"You're right, Sam," Billy continued. "He's the first-born of the new generation. He'll be the marker – the one we'll have to watch."
"Are you concerned?" Sam asked.
Billy hesitated. "No," he said eventually. "Not yet, anyway. There's still some time."
"He's eighteen, Billy," Sam sighed, and Josh leaned in closer. I'm eighteen, he thought. They're talking about me.
"You turned when you were nineteen, Sam," Billy reminded him.
"And as far as we know, that particular feature is not hereditary. Our generation turned at younger and younger ages with the presence of the Cullens."
"But like I said, Josh is the first –"
Billy was cut off by the entrance of Emily and Caleb into the kitchen. Josh had been so engrossed in the private conversation that he hadn't even noticed them squeeze past him. He edged into the kitchen guiltily as his mother threw him a significant, warning look from across the dining table. He hurried into his seat.
"Hey Josh," Billy said loudly, wheeling himself to a space at the table. "How are things?"
"Good, thanks," Josh replied, grabbing a handful of potatoes. "Hey mom?" he said with his mouth full of food.
"Honestly, you boys eat like animals," she said reproachfully. Josh caught his father's eye and spluttered, choking on his mouthful of food. "And yes, Josh?"
"No offence to Billy," Josh swallowed his food and winked at the old man in the wheelchair.
"None taken," Billy waved at him to continue.
"You said we had people over. Plural. I know Billy's worth two men and all but I was wondering if we were expecting someone else? That, and there's another place setting." He gestured to the empty seat on the opposite side of the table.
"Oh, Jake's coming over," Emily replied.
Josh smiled at the thought of his favourite uncle. He didn't see a lot of Jake, who was also his godfather – he tended to stay over the other end of the reservation, closer to the Cullens.
Josh had not grown up with the same prejudice and suspicions of the Cullens that his father's generation had. Ever since Jake's imprinting on the Cullen daughter, pack rules meant that any animosity between the wolves and vampires had to end. He had only met the vampire family a few times, some members more than others.
Nessie already had the physicality of a teenager when Josh first met her – he was two days old – but now her rapid growth had stopped and her natural age had caught up with her physical age. She was the prettiest girl that Josh knew, and that was saying something, as the Quileutes produced exceptionally good-looking descendants.
"Jake never comes over," Caleb said, sounding surprised.
"He's busy a lot of the time, Cub," Sam responded. 'Cub' was Jake's nickname for Caleb, and it had kind of stuck – Jake thought it witty and appropriate, given the situation. Josh used to have his own – 'J-Dog' – but its usage had waned over the last few months. Given the conversation he had just overheard, Josh could guess why.
It was frustrating playing the waiting game with the whole wolf thing. Like Billy had said, he was the first-born of the pack's children, and it would him who would act as the indicator for the rest of the kids. Jake didn't have any children of his own, so if a new pack were to evolve, Josh would be the rightful Alpha. Until then, Sam and Jake kept the group together, although they did not run as often as they used to. In fact, Sam, and most of the others, had stopped running altogether. What with the new generation of pack children, the wolves had other priorities.
Josh's best friend was struggling with the same frustrations, too. Milo was about six months younger than Josh and the second kid to be born (Jared and Kim's first) – that meant that he was the most likely to turn after Josh. It was all just one big waiting game, and, as the previous lot had proved, nothing was impossible.
A loud knocking at the door announced Jacob's arrival and Josh leapt up from his chair to greet him. As he opened the door, he was immediately tackled in a bear-like hug, his feet leaving the air. When Jake put him back down, Josh had to stretch to release his muscles from the severe squashing they had just endured.
"Thanks, Jake," he moaned, and then flashed him a wide grin.
"No problem. How's my favourite guy?"
"Oh, Cub's in the kitchen," Josh joked, leading Jake through the hall. "Not bad, thanks. I'm glad school's out."
"JAKE!" Caleb squealed and barrelled into him. Jake pretended to buckle under the boy's weight and sank to the floor, groaning in mock-pain. Caleb laughed, attempting to climb up the man-mountain of Jake, before he was whisked away by Emily and put back in his seat.
"Hi everyone. Sorry I'm late, bit of a situation down at…" Jake trailed off, looking out of the window in the direction of Forks. "Bit of a situation with Nessie," he finished.
"Is everything all right?" Emily asked, concerned. Jake slid into his seat and began piling food on his plate.
"Yeah, everything's fine now," he replied, although there was a distinctly wistful tone to his voice. Josh rolled his eyes – he had seen this behaviour before. The whole imprinting thing was kind of freaky, but he was so used to it that it rarely bothered him anymore.
"So, Jake, how is Nessie? We haven't seen her in a while," Sam said between mouthfuls.
"Oh, she's good," Jake responded, putting down his fork. "She's starting Junior year at Forks High in September."
"Junior year already?" Emily's eyes widened. "Time flies so fast."
"Not when you're a vampire," Josh smirked, but his comment was ignored.
"I know, it's crazy," Jake agreed with Emily. "She's been there two years now, and we reckon she can probably stay for Senior year too. The Cullens think that if they're careful enough she can get away with it."
"Good, good," Billy said, vaguely. He had been taking furtive little glances at Josh all evening, and they had not gone unnoticed. Josh was sure that there was more to the conversation he had overheard, and that Billy and his father would be resuming it at a later date. He scowled at the food on his plate.
"She's got a lot of friends," Jake was still talking about Nessie. "Girls and boys."
"And from what I've heard," Billy resumed the conversation as if he had been there all the time. "One boy in particular. A Senior, did you say?"
Josh took a fleeting glance at Jake, expecting some sort of change in the happy expression he always wore when he spoke of Nessie. There wasn't any.
"Unlucky, Jake," Josh said, and the rest of the table turned to look at him. "Bit of competition, eh?"
The way that Jake looked at Josh was annoyingly complacent. "If she's happy, I'm happy. That's the way things are." Once again, Josh's attempts at conversation – however provocative they may have been – were rebuffed.
Jake put down his cutlery, took a long swig from his cup, and stood up. Everyone looked at him in surprise.
"Thanks for dinner, Em," he picked up his plate and put it into the open dishwasher. "It was lovely, as always."
"You're leaving?" Billy asked, staring curiously at his son.
"Yeah, I should probably be getting back to –"
Josh felt as if flames had been ignited in his stomach, and he was suddenly furious. His abrupt rise from his chair caused his cup to fall, spilling juice everywhere. "Nessie," he spat, finishing Jake's sentence. Everyone in the room turned to look at him in alarm.
"Josh, sit down," his father commanded, but Josh remained standing.
"It's always about Nessie. Nessie, Nessie, Nessie," Josh felt the fire rise, spreading to his chest.
"I said, sit down," Sam's voice was dripping with Alpha command, but it had no effect on Josh.
"When are you going to get a life and realise that maybe she doesn't want you around all the time?" It was as if Josh was not present in his own mind – as if he was watching the scene unfold from an outside perspective. He implored himself to stop talking, to sit back down and finish eating, but he had no power over his mouth.
"Josh –" Emily tried a different approach to Sam's, her voice was calm and comforting.
"When are you going to realise that there are other people on this planet? And that the world," he kicked his chair out from behind him so that it toppled to the floor, "does not revolve around Nessie!"
And with that, Josh left the kitchen, flung open the door and sprinted into the forest.