Chapter summary: She said she wasn't going to torture me. I thought I could last through anything for seven seconds. But not this. Not this.


I hate her. I hate her!

Oh, God! I HATE HER SO MUCH!

I was curled up in a ball of the floor, my eyes red, my face flushed, and my cheeks? Stained. Stained and stinging from the salt of my tears. But that pain was nothing to what my throat felt. I had been begging, screaming at her, to stop, to please stop.

But she wouldn't stop.

Rosalie stooped down.

"No, Rosalie, please," I whispered, my voice cracking. She started to turn me toward the ... "NO!" I screamed until I couldn't scream any more.

She picked me up, and I clung to her desperately, fearing what she might do, fearing that she might make me face it again, but fearing more that she might leave me. She brought me to the bed and set me down.

"Rosalie, no. Rosalie, please don't leave me. Please." I begged, but my words didn't touch her. Nothing touched her, for she had turned into this cold distant monster that even my worst fears couldn't have conjured. She looked down at me as if she were regarding a cockroach and shook her head in an imperious and distant no.

I lunged at her: "NO!" I screamed again and grabbed hold of her sweater. I would not let go of her sweater. I would force her to stay.

Rosalie moved and twisted in my grasp faster than my hands knew what was happening, but I wouldn't let go of that sweater. I wouldn't!

I didn't. In two quick movements she was out of the sweater and had me tucked in bed under the blanket, sweater in my bewildered grasp.

"Hunting. 'Bye." The monster spoke these distant words. She knew exactly what these words weren't doing to me. They weren't killing me, that's what they were doing.

She had to torture me tomorrow, too, you see.

"Rosa..." I was talking to the air; she was gone.

No.

I cradled her red sweater in my arms and buried my face in it.

"Rosalie, please don't go," I whispered into her sweater. I just couldn't believe she was gone, so I talked to the only thing that remained of her. I talked into her sweater, breathing in her scent, the scent of honeysuckle and rose as if it were the air that I needed to breath, curled up into a ball, facing the wall, facing away from the cabin and everything in it, ... facing away from it.

She was gone.

I hate her. I hate her so much. Oh, God, I hate her.

"I hhhhhhh..." What was I saying?

"I hhhhhhhhaaaahate you, Rosalie." The whisper hurt. It hurt so much. It burned my throat as the air came out of my lungs, and then scarred my tongue and grated against my teeth it came out of my mouth, and when I heard it, it hurt my ears.

And then the whispered words went from my ears and touched my soul.

That's when I wished Rosalie had kept it, had kept my soul, because now I did prefer nothingness to this agony. This agony I was inflicting on myself.

But I couldn't stop the deluge of words coming out of my mouth like the tears now flowing freely from my eyes again.

"I hate you." I couldn't stop saying it. "I hate you! I hate you!" My whispers became more frantic, and I was screeching now.

"Oh, God, Rosalie, I hate you so mu..."

I felt something pressing lightly on my shoulder, and the coldness of it bleeding through the blanket. The cabin was now dark. Someone had just extinguished all the kerosene lamps.

Oh, God, no! I twisted my head up and around quickly to see in the moonlight the silhouette of Rosalie looking down at me. There was just enough light to see the most beautiful and the most cruel thing in the world: her golden eyes. She whispered something quietly, smiled sadly, and was gone.

What did she say? What did she say? Oh, God, what did she say!

I strained every nerve to hear the words my ears couldn't hear at the time of my shock. And then I did recollect them. I did hear them.

She had whispered: "Stay alive."

"WHhhhhhhhyyyyyyy?"

I did not realize my scream formed a word, had asked a question, until the sound of the silence of the cabin echoed its non-answer.

Because there was no Rosalie to answer it now. She was gone.

Why had she come back to say that? Why had she come back to say that after she had done all this to me?

Yes. Why did she come back, because ...

Because something was very different when she left this time. Something was ... I felt dread creeping over my soul ... something had the feeling of finality to it. What was it? What was different?

What did she say? She had said: "Hunting. 'Bye." and then she had said: "Stay alive." Why would I need to stay alive now? Well, because I was always dying ... but I had stayed alive today. Twice, even. Well, I don't know if the time when she sucked out my soul counted, but ...

Don't think about that. Don't lose focus. What was different? She had said: "Hunting. 'Bye." Had she ever said that before?

No.

Wait: l had heard "'bye" before. When?

And then I did wish Rosalie had killed me, because I did know when I had heard "'bye" before.

I had heard it when Ma left Ekalaka. She had said: "'Bye" with a cheery wave from the coach ...

... and that ten year old girl watching her go never saw her mother again.

Because "'Bye" meant "Good Bye," and "Good Bye" meant "God be with ye."

And that meant "Goodbye forever."

And after Rosalie had said that, she did come back. But what did she come back to? Me, saying I hated her. And so she had said "stay alive" with a sad smile because she knew I couldn't. I couldn't stay alive without her help. But she had heard me, and she probably thought to herself, "Fine, she hates me; great! She was too much work, anyway. Let's see how long Miss I-hate-you lasts on her own," and left.

And this time for good.

Because why?

Because I not only said "I hate you" out loud, but she read my mind, too.

I had said it in my heart.

I had said it in my hateful, stupid, ... broken heart. I had just broken my own heart. Just now.

And she had heard that, and understood that, and was never coming back.

Unless ...

"Oh, God, Rosalie!" I whispered, "I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry, Rosalie, please!"

What are you sorry for, you hateful girl?

"Rosalie, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I said I hated you. I don't. I don't hate you. Rosalie, please, come back. Please."

Why would she come back? You say you don't hate her, so what? Why would she come back to you?

Say it.

No. I couldn't. If I said I loved her, she would really never come back. Why come back to a crazy girl saying "I love you" who for seven seconds couldn't even ...

But she wasn't coming back, anyway. She was never coming back, and this was the only chance I had to say it, when she still might be able to hear my mind.

Rosalie, I love you.

But I knew saying it my mind wasn't enough. I had said "I hate you" out loud, and Rosalie had heard it, and she was never coming back, because she didn't even stoke the fire, and I could feel the chill seep through the walls onto the blanket, like Death. I had to say it out loud, because I would go to sleep, and I wouldn't wake up again. I had to say it out loud, and I had to say it now.

"Rosalie, oh, Rosalie ... oh, God, I love you. Please come back. Please." I whispered, ... and waited.

Did she come back? The silence of the cabin echoing my fervent whispers was the answer to that question, so I kept whispering her name and kept telling her I loved her. I wanted those words to be my last conscious, living words.

"Oh, God, Rose, I love you. I love you, Rose. I love you."

I didn't care ... no, I did care what name I called her now, because it was like she was two people, well, two things, like that book: the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She was either Her Majesty, Queen Carmilla Rosalie asking me mean questions, stealing my soul and then this torture, or she was my Rose taking care of me when I was sick or holding me when I cried or cooking me steak dinners or telling me she loved me.

Not the last one. That was just my delusion, remember? But I needed something — no, I needed her — to hold onto because I knew what waited for me on the other side of the cold and sleep and death creeping into my body and soul.

What waited for me were seven seconds, not of Heaven, but of Hell.

And I couldn't make it ... I couldn't face death with imperious Rosalie, so cold and distant ... so cruel. No, I needed my Rose, holding my hand. I needed her.

I buried my face in her sweater, and breathed in her scent being washed out by my tears, and said the only thing I knew, the only thing that mattered: "Oh, Rose, oh, please, I love you."

The physical and emotional exhaustion had finally overcome me. I tried to keep my eyes open, calling her name, but I couldn't help it. My eyes began to close on their own, and I just couldn't hel...

.......

Seven... Six... Five...

.......

I remember being proud, oh, so proud of myself, because even though I was nearly paralyzed by fear, I got up from the bed, got the cup from the sink, filled it half-way with snow outside and came back in and tipped it into the pot without burning myself.

Look! I could get my own cup of water! My very first own cup of water without Rosalie's help. I sat down at the table, sipping it, feeling a little proud and a little bit braver.

I looked over to the carpet bag full of books, tempted, but I turned away with regret. I didn't win those.

And then the door opened.

Rosalie peeked her head in, saw me at the table and grimaced. I was confused. I thought she would be pleased that I could take care of myself better, but she simply motioned to me with her head toward the bed.

Okay, well, whatever she wants. I stood up from the table and went to the bed and sat on it. Rosalie scowled at me, disappeared for a second, then came in closing the door behind her. She walked right up to me, displeasure evident on her face, and held out her hand. I blinked in confusion but handed her the cup. She took it to the sink.

Then I realized what she was doing. She was positioning me. She was putting me on the bed for the seven seconds.

It really was going to be seven seconds.

I swallowed in anticipation and fear knotted my stomach. I didn't know exactly — well, I didn't know at all — what she was going to be doing to me, but I hoped I could ask her to be gentle and not forceful or harsh. I hoped she would stop after seven seconds and not just keep going. I hoped she would allow me to ask her to stop when seven seconds were over.

Instead of coming back to me, she went to the door, raised one finger, not even bothering to look at me this time, and disappeared outside. The door opened almost immediately, but Rosalie didn't reappear for a second, but then she did. She was carrying something. Carefully.

It was long — taller than her — so that she had to tilt it on its side to get it through the door. It was also wider than her and a bit thick.

It wasn't a coffin.

It was board-like, but much thicker than a board. I couldn't tell what it was, because it was completely wrapped in butcher paper and tied off with twine.

Butcher paper.

There was enough butcher paper to wrap me up completely. Even if I was torn into pieces.

Rosalie stood it up in the middle of the cabin, between the table and the bed. It almost touched the ceiling. Suddenly the small cabin seemed to shrink around this monolith.

Rosalie reached behind it, and I heard the sound of movement on the butcher paper. She came toward me, pleased about something.

I looked at what she was holding. It was a Moleskine ruled notebook and a box of a dozen ticonderogas.

"For me?" I whispered, still afraid, but hoping, but also afraid to hope. I wanted them, but I didn't want to want them so badly and have her make them a prize for another bet that I couldn't win.

She nodded, but didn't offer them to me. Instead she took them to the table, putting them there by the carpet bag. I noted thankfully that she didn't put them in the carpet bag. I guess they really were for me. But I guess not now ... maybe tomorrow?

Rosalie left the table and then stood by it. She motioned me to come to her.

What could it be? She had to tilt it to fit it through the door. It was a little less wide than the door ...

I reached my hand out and touched the butcher paper, feeling something smooth and hard underneath, and that's when I heard it sighing.

"_-_-_"

I don't know how I got there, but I was on top of the bed, pressed as hard as I could against the corner where the walls joined, staring at it, seeing Rosalie come toward me, impassive, implacable.

Then I realized what it was. I didn't look like a door; it was a door: a doorway, ... a portal.

I was right: there are no such thing as vampires ... in this world. And Rosalie, coming toward me, impassively, imperially, didn't look like a queen. She was a queen: a queen of all the vampires in the world beyond that portal, and she was coming to me to shove me through to the other side, where hundreds of vampires would be waiting. For me.

I was right. She was Carmilla. She was just using the name Rosalie now.

And that's when I knew what she was doing with me. She had used Cullens, or the Cullens served her, just like in the book. I wonder if "Cullens" or "Cuhllenz" was vampire-speak for entourage or retinue? She had used them to collect the next helpless female victim. Not Kristen, because she had a beau; she was popular; she would be missed. No, she had the Cullens pick me: plain, little, out-of-school, nothing me. Somebody nobody would miss, except a small-town nothing sheriff. And she had gotten me out of the way and alone, just like in the book.

She didn't drink human blood. Oh, no, not Rosalie. But those hundreds of other vampires?

.......

Four... Three... Two...

.......

She would shove me through the portal, and they would be waiting: the Cullens, her personal guards. And they would take turns, taking tiny sips.

And then they would lead me out of her private chambers from her beautiful fairy-tale palace to the throne room. And she would be sitting there. And she would present me to her lords in fief to her. See, ever year she had to bring a human over from the other side to keep her rule or else she would have a rebellion.

Last year it was Rosalie, the human Belle of Rochester. This year it was me, just Bella, the Belle of nowhere.

And each lord would get a day with me. That was the rule. And he would take a drink. And then after one lord, I would get a week or two to recover, and then I would be passed to the next and then next, the whole time Queen Rosalie watching over them. Watching over me, making sure they didn't kill me, when they drank my blood, making sure I didn't die.

Because at the end of a year, there would be a grand ceremony, and all the vampires of that world would gather in her courtyard.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what they were gathering for.

And there would be such anticipation in the crowd, maybe even some scuffling, but the Cullens would use there magic powers and make comets fall on all the fighting vampires and only the obedient and loyal vampires would remain.

For the feast.

And then they would tie me to a big stake in the center of the courtyard. And then they would come at me. Slow. Implacable. Unstoppable.

And after all of them had feasted, after I was nearly dead, she would come to me. Queen Rosalie. She would come to me and lift my head with her gentle cold smooth hands and suck out my soul from my body as easy as anything, for she had practiced already, don't you see?

And then the Rosalie body would burn up, because the Queen could only stay in a body for a year, and she would take my soul and hers and enter the shell of my body, and use my soul to make it the new vampire body for the Queen. And it would be cold, hard, and beautiful. But it wouldn't be me any more: it would be her: Her Majesty, Queen Bella. And all the Vampires and Vampire Lords would pay her homage and give their fealty and offer their yearly thanks for the yearly gift.

And then she would come through the doorway again, seven seconds later, because a year in the vampire world was only seven seconds here. She would come through, hunting. Hunting for the next girl. Looking like me, no, being me, because it was me, ... before it was Queen Bella of the Vampires.

And the next victim? It would be a curious girl who would come to her, just like Rosalie said she had met Edward before, just like me investigating the mysterious Rosalie, just like that girl who would say to herself, "Wasn't there a girl named 'Bella' who went missing in the midwest last year?" That was how the queen got her victims, just like a spider caught flies: we came to her.

.......

And, as Rosalie picked me up by the shoulders from the bed, just like a girl would pick up a rag doll, easily and gently, I realized the thing in the forest was right about something: there were worse things than dying, and I was about to become one of those things. Well, not 'I,' but my body would: a sacrifice, a new vessel for the Queen.

But I couldn't stop her. I couldn't stop this endless cycle of girls being sacrificed: she was just too strong and too fast ... maybe the more souls you absorbed, the stronger and faster you became. I was a rag doll in her hands, and she was unstoppable. I was already caught in her web — and I thought I was being so clever, figuring everything out — and, like a fly, there was no way for me to escape; she held me in her unbreakable and cold grasp. I truly was nothing compared to her.

She put me down gently in front of it. It was if she didn't need to be forceful, she knew her strength, and she knew mine.

She turned to me and said calmly: "Doan't be 'fraidt."

Don't be afraid, she had said, and then she put my hand on the butcher paper, nodding. Yes, nodding: open it.

Yeah, don't be afraid. After all, what was there to be afraid of? I'd be vampire food, and a year later there and seven seconds later here my body would Queen of the Vampires. My hand had been dealt, so all that was left for me to lay my cards on the table. What ya got there, Bella? Um, high seven? How about you, Queen Rosalie? Hm, a royal flush; does that beat your hand?

Yeah, don't be afraid, she had said, because I was so totally outclasses there wasn't even a point of being afraid. It would be an ant being afraid of me: just no point.

I was trembling now, so I held onto the only thing I could: her. I wrapped my arm around the back of her waist. I realized this was stupid, of course. She would come through the portal after she pushed me or she would come through with me. I'm sure it didn't matter to her.

But it mattered to me. She was all I could hold onto now, so that's what I held, she pulled my hand pressed against it down, dragging the butcher paper with it, revealing it. She undid the twine and the rest of the butcher paper fell away. I looked to my fate ...

A lark ascending over a sunset of a golden-colored pond was the etched painting in the onyx-stained wood panel. Three wood panels folded together, it appeared, bound on each side by three leather straps, high, middle and low. A triptych.

If I wasn't holding onto Rosalie, I would have fainted and hit the floor. It was just a painted etching, she was just sprucing up the cabin with a decoration! Oh, thank God! Jeez, Bella, you sure have an active imagination!

But ... what was her severe look and "You can do this" and seven seconds all about? What did it have to do with this etching?

As I thought this, Rosalie fanned open the triptych, and I did scream.

It was a portal.

.......

One.

.......

We Germans have our legends, and some of them followed us into the New World, even out as far as the New West. One of legends my grandma would tell me was the doppelgänger: a bald pale creature with empty eyes and dagger-like teeth that would spy you and then change itself to look exactly like you. When that happened, you would die, because it would carry you off and eat you.

Nobody had ever survived an attack by a doppelgänger. The person would disappear, then would show up a few days later (but that was really the doppelgänger) for a few days, but then people would become suspicious, so it would disappear for a few years, and then wait for the next person to double, ... the next victim.

Today it was my turn.

Rosalie opened up the triptych, and it showed an exact duplicate of our world, a doppel-world, but I knew it wasn't our world, because although Rosalie was the same (I guess vampires were the same wherever you went), the creature standing next to Rosalie on the other side of the portal wasn't me. It was if the doppelgänger was caught mid-transformation. Instead of looking like me, it looked like something halfway between its scary monster form and me.

Its eye color was the color of horse manure. That was the color of the irises, the rest of the eye was red-rimmed. The hair was the same color but was tangled and knotted and flat ... flat, that is, where it wasn't frizzied, like it had just been bathed in swamp water. The skin was a pallid white, with a yellow sheen. Its clothes matched my PJs but hung loosely over the body, as if it were leathery skin and bones: just a skeleton, held together by nothing. I raised my hands to cover my face from the horrible sight, and the creature rapidly imitated me, as the doppelgängers do. I buried my scream in Rosalie's shoulder, hoping she'd protect me from that monster.

She didn't. Why would she? She put her hands on my shoulders and turned me toward the portal.

"Yurh boohk." She said.

I lowered my hands to see the monster on the other side lower its own, perfectly in sync with mine.

Then I realized what the monster was.

The monster was me.

I reached out, tentatively toward it, and it reached out, tentatively toward me, but our fingers never touched: the glass of the mirror prevented that from happening.

For facing away from me now was the triptych, but facing me, as I faced it, were three glass panels. Three looking glass panels, stretching from the floor to the ceiling, all pointing at Rosalie, and all pointing at me, the monster.

I swallowed as I looked between the definition of opposites: fantastic beauty and wretched ugliness. Rosalie and me.

Rosalie pointed two fingers to my eyes in the center mirror, and then she brought those fingers to point at her own eyes: watch me, the gesture said.

She removed her other hand from my shoulder, straightened her own, standing very erect and proud, and held up her two hands at chest height. Five fingers when up in one hand, two in the other. Then she looked her self dead in the eye, and slowly, ever so slowly, those fingers closed until she held up two fists, her gaze never wavering.

She looked over at me, withdrew a step, and lifted me to where she just was.

Oh, no. Oh, God, no.

She began to raise her hands again when I spoke quickly, "You know, Rosalie, I'm really tired, so ..." and I turned away, right into her.

She took my shoulders in her hands again, and then held me at arms length, staring at me intensely.

"Pay bet," she demanded coldly.

"I will, Rosalie, I will," I pleaded with a touch of desperation in my tone, "but not tonight ... I'll do it tomorr..."

"Now," she commanded. There wasn't a trace of humanity in her stern features. There wasn't a trace of anything I could talk to.

But I tried: "I ..."

But it didn't work. She turned me back to the mirror and held up both hands. Seven digits appeared.

Okay. She couldn't be bargained with, so I'd just do this. I looked toward the mirror, then looked away quickly, to check my progress. Rosalie's index finger was now down. Okay, one second done so far. That was hard, but I'd just have to do that six more times. She noticed my glance — she noticed everything! — and closed all her fingers ... well, all done, that was easy ... until I heard her say something that rocked me to the core.

"Staat ophfer." and then seven fingers lifted away from her clenched fists.

No. Seven whole seconds staring at that without looking away at all? Was she crazy? What did she want? Why was she doing this to me? What was she trying to prove?

"Rosalie, please, ..." I started, but she pointed her right hand with two fingers toward the mirror, impassively, looking toward my reflection in it, not at all looking at me. It was if I was nothing, and her little wager was everything. It was if I was nothing.

Okay, fine. She wants seven seconds; I'll give her seven seconds, then I'll go right to bed and go to sleep and forget this nightmare. Seven seconds coming right up.

I looked right at the horror that was me in the mirror, and I counted out seven seconds to myself. Onetwothreefourfivesixseven. There, done! I looked over to Rosalie in triumph.

"There, Miss Meanie, see? I could ..." but the rest of the words froze in my throat.

Rosalie still had four fingers up. She looked at my reflection, closed her hand, and then seven fingers raised their way up.

That's when I realized I couldn't do this. The wager was too high, and I couldn't pay the price.

.......

I tried everything.

I had tried closing my eyes. Let's see her pry my eyes open! She can't force me to do this! She can't force me to look! She didn't need to. She just outwaited me. Eventually I had to open my eyes. Was she gone? I had to check. Nope. She was there, hands up, seven fingers waiting.

...

I tried begging. "Rosalie, please. I'm tired. I can't do this. Please, just let me go to bed. Please, I'll ... I'll try again tomorrow, okay? Please; I just can't do this, not now." But this seemed to make her more distant, more angry, more determined.

...

I tried everything, but I couldn't try what I thought was a sure way to get her to do anything. I couldn't use her Hale pride against her, because she was doing exactly what she felt she had to be doing. She was putting me through this torture because she believed she had to for some unfathomable reason.

So, I tried reasoning with her. I told her the truth. I told her what she knew already. "Look, okay? Look, I know I'm nothing already, okay? We don't have to do this, okay? I'm nothing, okay? Is that what you want to hear? You don't need to prove it to me." Rosalie grimaced at that, so I guessed I hadn't gone far enough. I guess I needed to confess everything, but my confession was peppered with my sobs by now. "Look, I'm ugly," it was really hard to breath, "alright? I'm ugly, and you're beautiful. You're so, so beautiful, okay? And I'm ... I'm ..." I waved at the mirror, not looking at it anymore, but still seeing out of the corner of my eye the wretched monster that I was, "... ugly. Okay? OKAY? Please. Please-please-please, just, please, just ..."

Rosalie's face contorted with fury.

"Look, just tell me," sobs were tearing me apart, but I had to do whatever she needed me to do to get away from this Hell, "please just tell me what I need to say ... what I need to do ... just, please tell me, and I'll do it, okay?"

Rosalie did look at me. And now I wish she hadn't. Disgust was evident in her face, and she shook her head, pointing two finger toward it.

I collapsed. I fell to my knees and buried my head into her hip, sobbing. "I can't do this, Rosalie, I can't! I just can't do this." I felt her hands come to my head to comfort me.

I was wrong. Her gentle, smooth, cold, irresistible hands turned my head to the mirror.

"NO!" I screamed at the face contorted in anguish with blood red eyes and tear stained puffy red cheeks. Rosalie held my head in place as I screamed. I began thrashing, trying to get away from the horror Rosalie forced me to look at. I didn't care if I had to tear my head off at the neck, I just had to get away.

I felt myself fall onto the floor, convulsing and screaming. I didn't care. I turned away from it — from me, the monster — and curled up into a ball, whimpering, wracked by sobs.

Rosalie stooped down.

"No, Rosalie, please," I whispered, my voice cracking. She started to turn me toward the ... "NO!" I screamed until I couldn't scream any more.

.......

Zero.

.......

I woke with a start. I was cold, oh, so cold. The fire was out. The cabin was cold.

Rosalie was gone.

I felt that touch my soul.

Rosalie was gone.

I saw, reflected in the mirror from the window, the faintest of blush in the sky: a tint of rose in the early dawn. It was so beautiful. Just like Rosalie: cold, smooth, perfect, beautiful ... cruel.

I grasped her sweater in my hands, cradling it, breathing in her wonderful scent, and despaired. I could wrap it around my head and last a little longer. I could go to the pot on the stove and get some water for my sore throat and cracked lips.

But why bother? 'Why?' I had screamed last night when Rosalie told me to stay alive. What was the point? With her gone, there was nothing ... there was no point. She had tortured me with her cruelty, and I knew that, but I couldn't live with her gone. I didn't want to. I didn't want to go on living. I wanted her. I love her.

But she's gone.

I looked down at the sweater. I would hold it to me. I would hold my Rose to me. I wouldn't just use it as an article of clothing, something to eke out a couple more minutes of life, I would hold it to me as a talisman, as her last gift to me.

Hundreds of years from now, people would come across this cabin and wonder why the girl clasped a sweater to her breast instead of wearing it or instead of wrapping her head to keep herself warm.

A police officer would say: "Stupid girl! Not enough sense in her brain to use clothes to keep warm."

But the detective would look thoughtfully at the scene and point his pipestem to Rosalie's sweater. "That sweater is not the girl's," he would state, smug in his own conceit. "It's too large; it belonged to her mother or older sister who went out gathering berries or wood and never returned because of a fatal mishap."

"This girl didn't die of the cold," this smug detective would summarize, "she died of a broken heart."

And they would all nod knowingly and exit the scene, and one officer would call to another, "So, Bill, you catch the Sea Hawks' game?"

Yes, it didn't matter to them. I would just be a puzzle to solve, but it mattered to me. And they would know that I loved her, more than my own life.

"Rose, I love you." I whispered for the last time, and closed my eyes.