Chapter summary: I feel it: that fissure in the marble. The crack is spreading. I'm doomed. She's doomed. I don't know how much longer I can fight. And she looks so happy, wanting to care for me. Poor girl.


We sped into the cabin, and Rosalie plopped me down onto a chair at the table.

"Now, lunch," she commanded no one in particular.

As she appraised the boxes and bags under the sink, I started taking off the over-clothes. The exertion of walking was perfect when I was outside, but in the heat of the cabin, I became hot quickly.

"Hmmm," she said, looking at me. What did I do?

She took my things from me and put them neatly in the clothes pile in the corner, and then set the bowl of not-blueberries in front of me. She got a cup, went outside, came back and scooped out some water from the pot.

She set the water in front of me, got a couple of logs and stoked the stove.

"Can you wait a half-an-hour while I get some things for lunch?" she asked. "You may eat the berries while you are waiting."

I didn't see a problem with that. I nodded, "Okay," I said, and asked shyly, "Will you be getting something to drink, too, while you're out?"

Everything stopped.

The cabin was hot from the fire in the stove, but I suddenly felt cold from Rosalie's stare.

"Because ... well, ..." I pushed into her silence, "... you said you were thirsty, so ..."

"What is that to you?" Her coldness seeped into the fury she barely contained in her very controlled response. "That is not your concern."

"Oh, yes, it is, Rosalie," I snapped right back, standing up and facing her. If we were going at it, I was going to fight her on even terms, eye to eye. Well, okay, she was a head taller, so not eye to eye, so maybe toe to toe? "You can't just be pulling that 'that isn't your concern' thing all the time, because it is!"

"How could anything about me or about what I am possibly concern you?" Her posture was so rigid as she pushed her answer through gritted teeth.

"Well, you just get so surly when you being so ..." But here I paused; I didn't know how to put it delicately, and the situation seemed very delicate. We were in a fight, but I didn't want to insult her.

But Rosalie herself supplied my answer, "'Rosalie'?" she asked, quoting the word with her raised hands and giving me a superior look.

"Well, yes, or hungry or whatever," I responded, not at all cowed by Her Highness. In fact, I was definitely a little bit defiant. "And your eyes are always black now. Rosalie, you need to take care of yourself, too. And if you don't make sure you're doing it, then, well, I have to."

Here she snorted at me.

"You, take care of me?" she asked in derision.

But I felt the tension in the cabin ease just a little bit.

I ignored her sarcasm. "Yes," I replied firmly. "Like, when was the last time you ... well, you know?"

"Hunted?" Rosalie looked at me as if she couldn't believe we were having this conversation, but she finally did answer after a pause, "I drank this morning."

"See, I did, too, and I'm thirsty again, so you ..." I started my reasoned response, but it was interrupted.

"A vampire hunts at most once every ten days!" Her voice as so cold and cutting, and her arms were tightly crossed over her chest. I don't know what she was trying to do more: to hold herself together, or ... to keep me out.

"Oh," I responded.

I couldn't process what she said. She said vampires only hunt once every ten days, but then why would she say she was thirsty again if she just hunted this morning. And when she left me two nights ago after that horrible night by the mirrors, she said she was going hunting. And she said she hunted a lot in this past week or two, I mean, a lot, and she had Dolly, and ...

I looked at her in confusion. She looked away in embarrassment.

"No," she whispered, "I'm not going to dally for snack," she spat out this last work quietly, looking at me severely, "for I have other obligations."

"... And so do you," she finished, looking at me significantly.

I didn't like the sound of that.

She got my notebook, and opened it for me, turning to a fresh page, and placed it on the table.

"While I'm gone, write a description of this cabin," she said, and put a pencil by the notebook.

"You mean," I swallowed, "like an essay?"

"Yes, exactly ..." she started matter-of-factly, but then looked at me. "What is it?"

I looked down.

She exhaled in exasperation. "Look, just keep it to a couple of pages," — a couple of pages! — "that should be easy enough. Now, if you'll excuse me ..." and she was gone.

...

I looked at my stupid notebook as I ate the not-blueberries.

Why was she doing this to me?

God, oh, God! First she makes me essay myself, then she makes me do algebra, and then she makes me essay the cabin.

Why the cabin, for crying out loud!

I put another not-blueberry in my mouth and peeled the fruit off the pit. I've become quite good at it as I wrote my "essay." The berries grew on you after a while; they tasted really good after you got past the initial sandiness of their consistency.

My "essay." Hmmphf! My essay consisted of all of two words so far. The word "The" followed by the word "cabin."

I was sorely tempted to add two more words to the essay: "The end." That way I'd double the size of the essay and be done with this assignment.

I mean, what in the world is there to write about it? It's just a one room cabin in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere. What's there to describe? It has a bed, a stove, the table, the triptych (with the ... well, you know ... on the other side of the lacquered engraving), and that's it. I mean, why pick the cabin for an essay? There was less to write about it than the Great War, and that was all of one sentence in my book.

"Arrrrgh!" I howled, and forcefully wrote, "THE END" in big John Hancock letters.

And, wouldn't you know it? Of course, Rosalie decided now was the perfect time to walk through the door.

My fury turned to embarrassment in an instant, like I had been caught with my hand in the cookie jar, and I quickly and sheepishly shut the notebook.

Rosalie paid my furtive movements no mind, however — thank God! — and went right to the stove. She was humming to herself pleasantly.

She pulled out a smaller and handled pot from the bags she had brought with her and poured some boiling water in that pot, then she got out a smaller bag. She unwrapped a couple of chicken breasts from butcher paper and dropped them into the small pot and added spices to the water as well.

She turned to me and smiled. "Well. Now. While that's cooking ..." She went over to the mirrors and beckoned to me.

Oh, brother.

I sighed in resignation. Now I knew why she was cooking chicken soup. That would be just enough time for her to give up in frustration on her little "Bella's improvement project."

I walked over to the gallows.

"Okay, now. Three seconds." She said encouragingly.

Maybe I could ask to work on my essay more? I looked to her pleadingly, and met eager and hopeful eyes.

I looked away. No, she was just so excited about "helping" me. It would crush her, I just knew it, if I suggested anything else.

Well, okay. Three seconds.

I looked into the mirrors ...

... and looked away. Right away.

I looked away from the mirrors. I looked away from her. I looked away from everything.

"Look, Rosalie," I stated quietly. "I just can't do this, okay?"

Silence.

I looked over to Rosalie. I know I shouldn't have, because I knew what was waiting for me there. Anger and shouting.

But it wasn't. Rosalie was quiet.

"No," she answered just as quietly, just as firmly. "No, it's not okay. It's not okay for you to say you can't do something, and it's not okay for you to see yourself in this way."

"Rosalie," my exasperation and desperation bled into my voice, "why? Why, why, why, why, why, why, why!" I was panting, and, yes, those stupid tears were coming out of my stupid eyes.

"Look," I said, trying to be reasonable, "you're going to kill me, so what does it matter, okay? You're taking your time for whatever reason, fine!" Well, it wasn't fine: it was confusing and frustrating, but that was a conversation for another time, "but this whole 'improving me' project just isn't working! I'm just a nothing girl from a nothing town from a nothing ..."

I didn't even know what to add there. I was just from a nothing nothing, and that's what I was: a nothing nothing.

"Look," I said, trying again. "It's nice and all that you want me to be a lady and everything, but that's not what I am, and I can't change, okay?"

"You've got it backwards again," Rosalie looked at me so ... sadly.

"What?" I was lost in the look in her eyes and the softness of the words from her perfect mouth.

"You can change," she explained. "You are mortal. It is I who cannot. I've been judged already. I've been changed into this ... well, this nothing that I am, and the world changes around me, but I do not."

And she looked at me steadily as she said: "But you can, and you do. In fact, your body changes right now as we speak. You are in time. You change. I am in eternity. I do not. You can hope, and reach for hope. I cannot."

I remembered her list of five things she couldn't do anymore. The first one on her list was hope.

"I don't get that, Rosalie. Why can't you hope?" I asked her.

"Hope is a mortal thing. Hope is a temporal thing. Do you understand?" She asked back.

I shook my head in a no. No, I didn't understand what she was talking about.

Rosalie sighed. "When you hope for something, doesn't that mean that things will get better? That you will get better?"

I nodded yes; I was with her so far on that.

"For me, it will never get better. It will always be just this." Here she waved through the empty air, but I knew she was talking more than just about the air or this cabin or me. "So I can only experience hope like the angels experience it, through you. My only hope is that you better yourself and achieve your hopes, that you be the best that you are. See?"

But there she lost me.

"And then you'll kill me?" I asked.

So I was supposed to become a lady, and then she'd be so happy for me that she'd off me? I just didn't get it.

Rosalie recrossed her arms. She was always doing that. She'd open up with something that would confuse the Hell out of me, and then she'd shut right down.

"Let's not talk about the future and what may happen in it," she started — what may happen in it? — "For the present, let's concentrate on the now."

"Now?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered firmly. "Now. As in the next three seconds of this now," and she reached out and turned my head to the center mirror.

I looked away, again; right away, again.

Rosalie blew out a long, long breath.

"Look, Rosalie," I turned to face her angrily, "I just can't do this!"

Was she deaf? No, she heard me, all right, I could see the anger building in her.

"Don't you get it? I just can't do this!" I was shouting now.

"STOP!" She shouted louder. Much louder. My ears rung. And then I could barely hear her words as she said more quietly: "Stop saying that!"

She didn't get it.

"Rosalie, I don't know how else to tell you, I just can't ..."

Her hand flashed out and rested on my chin, a finger covering my lips.

"Do you hear that sound?" Rosalie asked very quietly, and her posture was listening and intent.

Hear what sound, I wondered, besides the ringing in my ears?

I listened. Hard. I listened until the ringing when away. Nothing. I didn't hear anything. Rosalie removed her hand, and I raised an eyebrow, totally befuddled.

"What sound?" I asked quietly back, still listening.

"That is the sound," she replied reverently, "of the girl not saying she can't do something."

I shook my head. How could I tell her that this wasn't working?

"Look, Rosalie," I just had to keep trying, "I don't even see myself doing these things you want me to do or being that person you want me to be. It's just not me. I'm not that perfect person you're trying to make. I'm not. I want to be that person for your sake, but there's just no way. I just ca-..."

Rosalie held up her hand.

"There's that word again," she glared warningly at me.

"See?" I asked mournfully. "I ca-..."

Rosalie put her finger to my mouth, but I forced my words past it.

"... -n't even form the words to tell you what I can't do!" I finished by shouting in frustration.

Rosalie dropped her hand from my face and looked at me appraisingly.

"Maybe," her voice was speculative, "you shouldn't try to form those thoughts into words. Did you ever think of it that way? Maybe you should form thoughts that help you instead of hurt you, hm?"

Now I didn't get her. "How?" I pleaded. I just couldn't see anyway of me succeeding here. Me, staring at myself for — what? — however long she wants me to?

First, why?

And, second, no way.

Her 'answer' surprised me: "That's it!" she smiled as she said this in a pleased voice.

Huh? I really, really needed the vampire code book right about now.

"Would you please explain what you just said?" I still remembered my lesson on the log outside, but I wasn't pleased about this. I was "making progress" by falling further and further into confusion. In short, it didn't feel at all like I was making progress; it felt like I was getting stupider. Instead of becoming more lady-like, I felt all the more foolish.

I've never felt so low and so confused in all my life.

But Rosalie seemed oddly pleased with me: "Yes, certainly," she answered happily. "What I'm happy about here is that you've taken that step. You've gone from not seeing any way for you to do something — saying 'I can't' — to looking for a possibility, a way, for you to do it — saying 'how.' See? For whatever the mind can see, it can achieve. All you have to do is to see it, and then you can do it."

I blinked at her. Her answer made it sound easy. It wasn't. I didn't see it, and even if I did, how would that help me now?

"Rosalie," I threw up my hands in frustration, and let them fall hopelessly, just like my voice sounded to me. "I don't get it. I'm not trying to fight you here. It's just that I don't get it. What am I supposed to see? How is that supposed to help me to ..." I waved to the mirrors "... for three seconds or whatever?"

"What if it wasn't three seconds?" she asked like she was trying to entice me into something. "What if it wasn't for thirty seconds?" Thirty seconds? She had to be crazy. "What if you were looking into the mirrors at yourself, easy as you please, for thirty minutes or an hour, ... or longer?"

That last bit didn't make any sense at all. I knew she was using the English language, I just didn't understand the words she put together.

I stared at her blankly and waited. I waited for her to explain herself, to make the words make sense.

Her posture was leaning into me when she asked these questions, but now she seemed to relax in her stance, giving me a little room to breathe something other than that beautiful smell of honeysuckle that overpowered my reason. And that rose ... oh, that very subtle rose scent!

I was a little bit sorry that she leaned away from me, because the smell of rose was harder to tease out of the air. I wanted her close, so I could smell that scent again easily. I wanted her right next to me again, even if the ice-cold water had to be knifing into me for her to be that close again.

I recollected myself, for her words were coming quietly from her lips, and I had to pay attention to catch them.

"What if, ..." she started, but then changed directions. "Just pretend with me here, and see the vision I do," she commanded.

I nodded, listening intently now.

"Pretend you are the most beautiful girl in the world," she began, but my snort interrupted her. She put a finger to her smiling lips.

"Pretend you are the most beautiful girl in the world," she restarted, "and you are being prepared by your servants for the coming out ball in your honor, and you are dressed in your gown of finest silks, maybe something in blue? Sky blue? Sapphire? Aquamarine? I'd have to see it on you to know at the time which one would be best, so we'd need several gowns, just to be sure. And your servants are misting you with a very light perfume after you've bathed with lavender soaps and strawberry shampoo to bring out that wonderful floral scent of yours, and they are applying the very lightest of rouge and eye liner, but no lipstick at all. Just the very smallest hint to enhance your beauty that needs no enhancement at all. And they are brushing your hair, then combing it, then brushing it again, so lovingly tending to you. Hour after hour they do this as you regard your reflection, making sure the perfection that is you is perfectly represented. For this is the most important day in the world: the day you are being introduced into society. Can you see it?"

I was entranced. Her words weaved a spell, and I was totally taken in by it as I looked at the most beautiful woman in the world telling this fairy tale. I saw it.

"Yes," she said, and turned my head to the mirror.

And then the spell was broken. It was if the image in my mind was the mirror's reflection, and it shattered into a million pieces, and what was left was me. Plain old me. Plain old horse-manure colored hair and eyes me with pasty skin.

I turned away, looking at Rosalie, because I wanted to see something beautiful again after what I just saw, and I felt the tears in my eyes.

My throat was so tight that it hurt. "Rosalie, I just can-..."

She raised her finger to her lips this time. "Shhhh," she commanded, but not harshly.

"Yes, you can," — she just didn't give up — "and you will."

"Rosalie," I sighed, "there's no way. That girl you were describing? I know who she is, okay? She's you, okay? She's not me; she's you."

"Wrong again," she answered. "That girl is you, and you saw it, even if it was just for a second. And you shall look in this mirror, today, for three seconds, even if we have to take it a second at a time."

Well, maybe I could do a second...

"Starting right now," she commanded.

Now I wasn't so sure.

She sensed my weakness, my wavering.

"Be strong," she ordered. "You can do this. It's just one second, but you have to fix that image in your mind of yourself triumphant, ..."

Here I just shook my head.

"... triumphant and beautiful," she demanded, "and look right into your soul and see it until I say you may look away."

"But it'll be just one second, right? No cheating, right?" I asked suspiciously. Leave it to her to make me stare for, like, fifteen hours.

"Yes, I'll tell you after one second, but it will feel much longer, so you have to place your trust in me." She looked at me with such sincerely that I felt ashamed for feeling that she might want to cheat on me.

"Hokay," I breathed.

"Okay," she smiled. "Now, look."

She didn't turn my head this time. I had to. I did. And I looked.

And I looked and looked and looked.

"There!" Rosalie's voice released me, and I felt a smile in it.

I looked away, forcing myself not to fall apart. That felt like a lot longer than a second. That felt a lot longer than three seconds, but I was suddenly shy about calling her on it.

Rosalie moved to the table. "Would you like some lunch?"

I looked in confusion from the mirrors. "I don't have to do this again now?"

"Not unless you wish to ..." she began. I moved quickly to the table and sat down.

"No, thank you," I responded.

She smirked at me. "Well, then," was the only answer I got from Miss Pleased-With-Herself. She went to the sink and got a box of spaghetti from one of the newer bags and opened it.

"Um, Rosalie, what are you doing?" I asked her hesitantly.

She turned to me and raised her eyebrow. "I'm completing the preparations for your lunch. See? Chicken noodle soup: very wholesome." She seemed so pleased.

"I'm lost, Rosalie, was in front of the mirrors for two hours just now?" I asked her. Was it that long?

She looked at me, perplexed. "No, just a couple of minutes. Why do you ask?"

"Well," I answered, "because the soup will be wholesome after a couple of hours of cooking, but now ...?"

"A couple of hours?" Rosalie repeated my words in shock. "A couple of hours of this stench?" I didn't know what she was talking about, the smell coming from the pot was mouthwatering. But then again, the smell of blood — salt and rust — made me faint dead away. Maybe that's what things that weren't blood smelled to her. Then she looked confused, "But the steak was fine after a couple of minutes ..."

"Yes, Rosalie," I informed her, "because that was steak. Chicken has to be cooked through. All the way through. Didn't you know that?"

"No," she whispered, crestfallen, "I didn't know that." Her voice became even more wistful as she explained, "Chicken broth was always prepared for me. I never knew what went into making it."

This was a real shame, because I was really hungry by now. And that chicken broth? Ugh! I was feeling my stomach cramp with want for just that.

Well, I always rescued Pa, I suppose it fell to me to rescue dejected Rosalie now.

"Welp," I said easily as I got up from my chair, trying to be casual to diffuse the situation, "let's see what we can put together for a lunch."

I looked in the bags. I saw a loaf of Kleen Maid Sliced Bread. There was my answer. I remember when pre-sliced bread came out, and it was the greatest thing, since ... well, since ever.

"Ah! Excellent! We can make PBJs!" I exclaimed.

It looked like Rosalie didn't understand what I meant, but she caught on quickly when I pulled out the bread and reached for the peanut butter.

I felt shocked to find myself flying through the air, but then I landed gently in my chair. Rosalie had caught me.

"Please let me make that for you!" Her words started to blur together in her excitement. "I-was-going-to-make-that-to-accompany-the-soup-anyway!"

Before I could answer, she had already blurred to the counter by the sink. Two slices of bread flew onto a plate, she picked up a knife and then quickly pulled the jar of peanut butter out of the box.

Then I heard it. Glass shattering. Oh, no. I guess she didn't pick the jar up carefully enough.

I had so wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I suddenly realized.

Rosalie was facing away from me, and she was very still now. I guess I had better check on her.

"Rosalie," I said, rising. "Are you okay? Did you get cut on the glass?"

She was so quiet. Her head and shoulders were bowed, and despondency was just pouring out of her.

I stood next to her.

"Rosalie?" I asked quietly.

"I ruin everything I touch," she didn't look up when she whispered this so quietly. She was holding the shattered jar of peanut butter in one hand, still pretty much in its original shape, but the oil had oozed out, and the glass had firmly embedded itself into the peanut butter, and probably into her hand, too. She held the knife tightly in the other hand. I had a sudden fear, seeing her brought so low, that she might do herself a harm.

"Hey, hey!" I whispered consolingly. "Where's Miss Positive-you-can-do-anything that was just here a second ago? It's okay, okay?"

She looked up at that with sad eyes, a spark of hope in them.

"Do you mean I can still make you the peanut butter sandwich?" she asked.

Um, well ...

"Well, no, Rosalie," I chuckled, "unless you were planning enjoying watching me die coughing up blood ... speaking of which, how's your hand? Are you hurt?"

From the look on her face, she did look hurt, deeply. "I couldn't even make a peanut butter sandwich for my father when I was a human girl," she said, shaking her head in disgust. "You'd think now I could do just one thing right without ..."

She stopped suddenly, and I saw fury cross her face as she blurred in place. Then I heard it, the muffled crack of the jar of peanut butter hitting something. I looked to where Rosalie was now looking. The jar of peanut butter was now splattered in a tight clump against the wall across the cabin by the door.

"That has to be cleaned up," I noted dryly. I made to move to do just that, but Rosalie's voice stopped me.

"I'll do that;" she said harshly, "it's my fault."

"Well," working on being calm. One of us had to be calm here. It looked like it was my turn. "Let me just check your hand before you do that to make sure you are okay, okay?"

"My hand," Rosalie's voice barely contained her fury, "is fine."

She put the knife down, and stalked off muttering something like, "check my hand." I looked at the knife. The handle was now grooved with a perfect hand-print, Rosalie-sized. I looked over to the hand-print-maker in question. She had retrieved a towel, wiped her hand clean of the peanut butter (I could hear the glass grating against itself, and I winced in sympathy), and was now gathering the remnants of the jar of peanut butter stuck on the wall, still muttering to herself.

She put the towel full of peanut butter and jar shards in the center of the cabin, then fetched another towel and went to the stove, passing me, picked up the large pot and poured that boiling hot water over the towel, returned the pot to the stove, took the towel and wiped the spot on the wall clean of all traces of her anger.

The whole time she didn't look at me once.

She threw the wet towel next to the one full of peanut butter and went to the center of the cabin by the towels. Then she dragged her eyes up to look at me finally.

"I'll get another jar of peanut butter, it shouldn't take me long," she said quietly.

"Rosalie," I said, "I don't want you to get another jar now. I've had enough adventures for lunch already."

"There's no adventure in getting a jar of peanut butter," Rosalie replied pragmatically.

"Nor in making a peanut butter sandwich," I answered right back.

Rosalie dropped her eyes and whispered, "Touché."

"Rosalie," I said seriously, and waited until looked at me again, "you really need to control your temper."

"Yes," she gave me a small, sad smile, "I really do, don't I?"

"Yes," I responded firmly, "you really do."

I stared at her intensely; I really meant this.

Rosalie's smile left her face. All that was left was sadness.

She looked at me for a moment, then straightened up, looking at me so sadly.

"I'm sorry," she said.

It was nice — and unexpected — that she apologized, but I needed more than that.

"Rosalie, why did you do that?" I asked her. "It was just a peanut butter sandwich."

Rosalie looked away and shrugged, looking lost.

"Are your parents like that?" I asked her.

She looked back. "No ..." and she paused, "I mean, I guess not. From what I know my father was always so even tempered, so distant, and my mother? Well, she ... no, I guess she wasn't like that either."

So, it wasn't her parents. "Did they let you do that when you were growing up?"

She shrugged again. "I don't know. I suppose not. I suppose they wouldn't allow me to do that."

I was confused. "I thought you said you couldn't forget anything. How come you don't know?"

Rosalie looked at me intensely for a second. "Everything in this existence is ever before me. But my human life ..." She looked away. "It's mostly gone." Then she looked back. "I don't know most of who I was or what made me. I don't know my own brothers' names any more. I don't know my best friend Vera's husband's name. I didn't even know ..." — and here she whispered — "I didn't even know some of the men who raped me or what they looked like, I had to find that out, person by person. Most of all my human life is gone, and all that's left is ..." She blew out some air angrily. "... all that's left is this angry, vicious monster. All that's left is this."

"How can that be?" I asked. "How can you remember some things and not others? Why don't you remember everything?"

She looked at me in quiet for a moment. "Just be grateful that you will not be in the position to find that out."

I pressed: "But you're still you, aren't you? How could you not remember everything from you human life?"

She tilted her head to one side and gave me the oddest look. "What am I?" she asked. "What are you?" She ignored the towels and strode purposefully toward me, raising her hand to chest height.

"Am I touching you?" she asked. Her hand was inches from my chest.

I looked at her. Why was it that I was always so lost whenever she spoke?

"No, Rosalie, your hand is ..." I started, but stopped.

And gasped.

She had taken one more step forward, and now her hand rested on my chest.

Her gaze bore holes into my eyes.

"Am I touching you now?" she asked.

My breaths came in short gasps, and my heart was beating a mile a minute under her hand. I was lost in the depths of her eyes again, as I felt myself being pulled into her. I noticed, for the first time, that her eyes, pure black, seemed to be pulsing ever so slightly.

"Yes," I gasped out an answer.

"Am I really?" she asked, her voice filled with doubt.

I couldn't answer, so she did.

"No, I'm not, I'm touching cotton, not you. But if your shirt weren't between us, I would be touching skin."

"Is your skin you?" she demanded.

All I could do is shake my head from side to side in a no. My eyes couldn't leave her intense black eyes as I breathed in the scent that was her.

"You are right. Your skin is not you, so if I were to press just the slightest bit, I would be holding your heart beating so rapidly now in my hand. Would I be holding you?"

The walls started to fade, as the honeysuckle and rose scent grew stronger, and I started to feel funny again. I started to feel myself go away. It was just her hand, her scent, her eyes and my heart flying like a hummingbird.

Rosalie's eyes narrowed, and her hand shifted. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the chair facing her, and she was standing on the opposite side of the table by the sink.

She answered her own question, quietly, but intensely: "No, your heart is not you. So if it's not your shirt, and not your skin, and not your heart, what, then, is you?"

"Is it your memories?" She seemed to pick up a new thread. "If you memories fade away into blackness, but you know you had had them, would you lose yourself when you memories were gone?"

"I don't ..." I cleared my throat as I refilled my lungs. "I don't know, Rosalie."

"But certainly you know yourself, don't you?" she asked rhetorically. "Know thyself, and all that. Certainly the self is the one possession we truly have, so it must be the one we know the best, hm?"

"Certainly," she asked quietly, "you know what you are, who you are, and why you are ... don't you?"

I dropped my eyes in shame. But then, suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration. I looked right back up at her.

"Do you?" I asked her.

Now it was her turn to look away quickly, but she did answer. "Yes, I do."

Of course she did, even when she seemed lost, she was always so self-assured.

"Will you tell me?" I asked.

She looked back at me, measuring me ... and finding me wanting. "Not now," she responded evenly.

"When?" I felt a little bit bolder that she didn't just say no or shout at me.

"When you are ready," was her response.

"Oh," I said. I knew what that meant. Mother knows best. That may as well as meant no, because it sure sounded like that she would say, "Oh, you need to do this" whatever it was and then keep on adding to that list forever.

"Is throwing peanut butter part of that answer?" I asked quietly.

"I wish it wasn't," Rosalie responded ruefully, "but I suppose it is. I've been trying to tell you what I am, and now you see it."

"I don't believe it, Rosalie," I was getting ticked at her oh-I'm-so-bad refrain. "You just told me you didn't grow up like that, so it's not you. You've been trying to sell me a bill of goods, but I'm not buying. You say you're a mean vampire, but you're not, and I know you're not. A mean vampire wouldn't be taking care of me like this, accompanying me on a walk to the outhouse and feeding me three square meals and making sure I brushed my teeth and everything."

"'Mean vampire' is redundant," she stated in a correcting tone. "This isn't Wizard of Oz, my dear girl, there aren't good vampires from the North and South and wicked vampires from the East and West."

"Besides," she continued, "if I were this chimera you imagined, how do you explain that?" When she asked this question, she waved at the now clean wall.

"I told you you get surly when you get peckish," I answered peevishly. "Maybe next time you won't be so superior and instead listen to me when I'm telling you what's good for you."

She looked at me in awe.

"What?" I asked in confusion.

"You really do believe you have to take care of me?" Her voice was filled with wonder and disbelief.

"Well, yeah," I answered matter-of-factly — didn't she get it? — "somebody has to."

She gasped out a surprised snort. "Will wonders never cease?" she asked herself, looking at me.

"No," I answered firmly, "but throwing peanut butter better. So, are you going out to eat now?" I asked, business-like, as I rose from the chair.

She just looked at me like I was some new person, or something.

"No," she eventually answered. "Aren't you hungry now, anyway?"

"No," I answered, "I'm not hungry, I'm starving!"

"'Famished' is more appropriate," she corrected.

"You know, Rosalie," I said after I grimaced, "I just got an idea. I think part of your problem is that you're just too hard on everything, including yourself. I think you should soften some of those hard edges of yours. Quit trying to turn me into a lady, because it's just not working and it's making you frustrated, and maybe ease up on yourself in that department, too, you know?"

Her face hardened. "That," she waved to the wall, "is what comes from unladylike behavior."

"No," I retorted, "that is what comes from you being too hard on yourself. You want to be a lady, fine, but don't beat yourself up on every little slip, lunch may not have been chicken noodle soup or PBJs, so we'll make do with something else. No big deal."

Rosalie's eyes furrowed. "We'll make do with what else?"

"Well," I said, rubbing my hands together, "lessee."

I started rummaging around the bags she had just brought in.

"Ah!" I exclaimed. "We'll make toad-in-the-hole!"

"You prefer French cuisine?" Rosalie's question was filled with confusion.

"Huh?" I asked. Now I was the one who was confused. "Oh, sorry, um, I don't know if it's French or not — I don't think so — but it'll only take a couple of minutes to make, so let's give you a pick-me-up first."

Rosalie looked even more lost. "I have to go miles to find ..." Suddenly, her eyes became stormy. "No, don't even ... where are you going?"

I was now standing in front of the mirrors, smiling, and waved her over to me.

Rosalie gave me a cautious look as she glided over to me. "Who are you?" she asked disbelievingly.

"Just one more second, okay?" I answered. "Don't get yourself excited and don't start expecting anything either." I pointed an accusing finger at her.

"Okay ..." she answered hesitantly.

"Tell me when one second is over, okay?" I demanded.

Rosalie nodded.

I turned to the mirrors and looked into my eyes, trying to see that fairy princess that Rosalie had described.

She wasn't there. It was just plain, old me, but I kept looking for Rosalie's sake.

"Okay, you're done," Rosalie said, releasing me.

But I kept looking. One Mississippi. Just plain, old me. Two Mississippi. Making sure Rosalie was taken care of. Three Mississippi.

I looked at Rosalie and smiled. "Was that three seconds?" I asked with a note of triumph.

Rosalie's face was totally unreadable.

She reached out with one hand, cupping my cheek, and I felt the burn of my blush as it seared against the cold of her hand. She took her other hand and rested it, lightly, on my shoulder. Then she leaned in ... closer, ... and closer, ...

And her forehead touched mine as here eyes stared into the depths of mine, and she said in a fervent whisper, "I am so, so proud of you."

And I felt her breath caress my face, and I could only breathe in her.

And then she bit her lower lip and looked away quickly.

I couldn't breathe.

Just as quickly, she let me go and stepped away.

As I caught my breath, she answered my question. "Yes, that was three seconds."

"Just now," I panted, "or was that the total for the day?"

Rosalie smiled. God, she was so beautiful when she smiled like that! "For the day," she answered.

"Oh," I answered disappointed. I thought I had done three seconds just now.

But then a thought cheered me. "So I'm done for the day, right? No more mirror time, right? You said." I reminded her.

"That's right," she answered easily. "No more compulsory mirror time."

"What does that mean?" I asked suspiciously.

"Well," she smiled again, "if you wish to spend more time voluntarily ..."

"No, thanks," I answered and quickly made my way back to the sink.

Rosalie chuckled.

"See," I turned quickly back to Rosalie, almost bonking into her. It turns out she had followed me. Creepy silent vampires. "I told ya that would be a pick-me-up for you."

"And you were right," she answered.

"Ooh!" I said. "What's today's date? I'll have to put that one in my journal: Rosalie admits I was right. Lightening up, see? It works."

"Yes, all right, little crowing mortal," Rosalie answered primly, "you made your point, but that in no way deflects me from working on your social graces. I'll make you a lady yet!"

I groaned, which elicited another chuckle from Rosalie. Well, we could work on her ideas about this grand remaking-of-Bella scheme of hers over time, I suppose.

"Why don't we make lunch first, okay?" I asked. I turned, and pulled out a cast-iron skillet from the bags and put it on the stove. Boy, that baby was hot. I got out the oil and coated the bottom of the skillet and then put the oil away, blotting my forehead with my sleeve.

"Now," I commanded. I got out two slices of bread and reached for the knife.

My hand hit Rosalie's chest.

"Jeez!" I exclaimed in shock, "warn a girl!"

"I think it would be better if I handled the knife," Rosalie stated firmly.

"I'm not a little girl anymore, Rosalie," I retorted, "I can han-..."

"Both ends," she interrupted forcefully, "now have sharp edges, thanks to my fit of pique, and we cannot afford to have you bleeding, hm?"

"Okay, okay!" I conceded grudgingly. I did see her point. "Well, then, cut a circle in the center of the bread for me, will you?"

Rosalie did. "Like that?" she asked. I saw two little quarter-sized holes in the bread.

"Nope," I answered. I grabbed a slice, folded it into quarters, and took a big bite. "Thzis bhig," I said around my chewing. The bread tasted really, really good to my empty stomach.

Rosalie cocked her eyebrow at me. "We really need to work on your table manners, too, I see. They aren't exactly Emily Post."

I waved nonchalantly. "Later," I answered after I swallowed my big bite.

"Now, would you please put the bread into the skillet?" I asked her. She complied as I rummaged in the bags again. I pulled out a carton of fresh eggs and a spatula.

I handed the spatula to Rosalie. She looked at it quizzically. I giggled.

Rosalie holding a spatula. I wish I had one of those new Contax cameras. It was one of those new-fangled ones, too: 35mm and everything.

"How amusing!" Rosalie didn't look amused. "What am I supposed to do with this?"

"Well, you brought it, so you should know." I smirked. "Just wait for the bread to singe then flip it over, okay?"

She did that almost right away. I still couldn't get over it. Rosalie standing by the stove, cooking lunch. It was a perfect domestic scene, all it needed was Rosalie wearing an apron to complete the image.

While she was carefully flipping over the bread, I snuck the other piece into my mouth and chewed quietly.

"I heard that!" Rosalie said, concentrating on flipping the second piece.

Drat! Caught! "Cahn't help it!" I complained. "Hunhgry!"

"Don't speak with your mouth full," Rosalie scolded and turned to me, waving the spatula warningly.

"All right, already! No time for this; there be toads to cook!" I proclaimed.

Rosalie looked at me as if I were some space alien or something.

What? She's the mythical creature here, not me!

"Now," I said. I cracked open an egg, walked over to the stove and emptied it into the bread hole. Then I went back to the sink and cracked open the other egg, emptying it into the other bread hole.

"So, when they're cooked on the bottom side, flip them over, okay?" I asked. Well, okay, I didn't so much ask as ordered.

"Why don't you do that?" Rosalie asked. "You seem to be the expert here."

"Well," I quipped. "I can't stand the heat, so I'm getting out of the kitchen."

Now it was Rosalie's turn to groan. I ignored it, pleased with my quick-on-the-feet répartée, made a show of excessively wiping my forehead, and sat in the chair farthest from the stove, where it was, like, half a degree cooler.

Rosalie shook her head at me, but I saw her fighting to hide her smile. She looked like she was about to say something.

"Now," I commanded, "flip the eggs, already!" Jeez! Was she cooking chicken in the skillet? No, she was cooking eggs!

She gave me this imperious I'm-only-obeying-you-to-save-the-eggs look and turned back to her work.

"So, do you preface every statement with 'now' when you feel you've seized command of the situation?" The words floated over from the stove. That Rosalie; she couldn't resist getting her digs in.

"Anytime you want to serve those eggs, there, is fine with me." Did I mention I was starving? Or, according to Her Highness, famished.

Rosalie got a plate, poured the slices in, and placed it in front of me.

"Wait," she commanded.

Grrrr! Wait for what?

Rosalie got out tea things, and had a cup of tea and the silverware in front of me, and sat across from me, shielding a little more heat from the stove.

I looked up at her, and I felt a wicked grin cover my face. "So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Rosalie sighed. "Okay, I'll bite." But then she frowned and muttered "poor word choice" to herself. But she quickly recovered seeing my irrepressibly good mood. "I don't know, o happy girl; which came first?"

"The egg!" I started laughing in the middle of my answer. "See? I'm eating egg first, and then later I'll have chicken when it's ready ... geddit?"

Rosalie looked at me blankly, and I was just about to explain it, when she held up her hand.

"That is sad, sad, so very sad!" She scolded me in dour tones, shaking her head, but I saw her lips twitching upwards.

I sniggered, and then I dug in.

Heaven! I just found out what Heaven was: toad in the hole.

Or it would have been, if I had some coffee. I sighed as I took miserly sips of the tea.

Rosalie watched me eat for a moment, but then got up, went to the boxes and pulled out one of the cans. She forked out a whole tomato onto my plate. It, too, was gone in seconds.

"Ahhhh!" I sighed when I cleaned my plate.

"Was that good for you?" Miss "How amusing" asked sarcastically as she took my plate, waving me to sit when I made motions to take care of it myself.

"Oh, yeah! That really hit the spot." I responded contentedly, reclining in my chair.

I burped, covering my mouth with my hand, and made embarrassed excuses.

Queen Rosalie raised her eyebrow at me from where she was at the sink.

"So it would seem," she commented dryly. She returned to cleaning the plate.

I watched her for a moment.

"Rosalie, ..." I asked shyly.

"What is it?" Her back was turned to me as she washed.

"Did your ma leave you, too?" I asked quietly, looking at her back.

"What makes you say that?" Her back was still turned to me as she dried the plate.

"Well, you said you had to take care of your pa, you know, making him lunch and everything, so I wondered ..." I ended weakly as Rosalie turned to regard me with thoughtful eyes.

"No," her eyes slid away from me. "She didn't leave our family ..." and I thought I heard her murmur "... unfortunately."

"Was she that bad?" I asked. I couldn't imagine a child unhappy with her parents, but it seemed like that was what I was looking at.

Rosalie's attention returned to me. "Bad?" I couldn't tell from her tone what she meant. "Look at what happened to me! If she hadn't pushed me toward that murd-..."

But then she stopped.

"No," she said firmly. "That's uncharitable of me. She always did the best she could with what she had. It was she who took care of my brothers after both my father and I died. If she had left, who would be there for them? My brothers are alive and being looked after by their mother. And that is the best that they could ask for given their current situation. No, she didn't abandon us. Why do you ask?"

Suddenly I was very embarrassed. I had been prying, and felt ashamed for it.

"I'm ... I'm sorry, Rosalie. I was just wondering, 'cause ..." I swallowed and looked down at my hands on the table, "'cause I had to take care of my pa after my ma left, and it sounded like you had to do that, too, is all."

"Always trying to find a nonexistent similarity, aren't you?" Rosalie's voice pierced me. "Always looking for some kind of connection?"

I didn't look up.

But then I did. "Where's my sweater?" I had the sudden need to hold it.

Rosalie's onyx eyes and silence pierced me just as much as her voice did a second ago. I swallowed again. She pointed to right where she was sitting.

The sweater was there, draped over the chair back. I guess she had washed it again. Maybe during my fainting? And there it was, right there across from me, drying.

"Oh," I said. Rosalie picked it up and brought it to me. "Thanks," I murmured, and buried my face in it. It was washed; it smelled of soap and nothing else.

"Rosalie, ..." I asked.

"Yes?" She looked at me from the sink, so remote.

"Would you wear this for a while, please?"

"I'm going to hazard a guess as to why you are asking this, hm?" Her eyes narrowed to slits. "Do you know why you like the smell of me so much, hm? Do you?" She took a step toward me, and suddenly the hot cabin cooled noticeably. "Do you know why my scent calls you to me, mortal?" She was right in front of me, and I looked at her looming over me. "Do you?"

"Rosalie, I don't care. I don't care! I just ..." I was panting and breathing in that beautiful smell of honeysuckle with just a hint of rose, and I didn't care what it was for.

Rosalie picked me up by pressing my arms into my sides. My face rested on her shoulder, my lips brushing against her cold, cold neck, and I could taste her, her scent was so strong now, and my heart was beating to burst, and I felt her lips touch my neck, and I wanted this. I wanted her. I wanted this more than anything in the world.

And she spoke right into my neck, and I felt right on the point of death. I felt it.

"It's to bring your little neck right to my mouth so that I may drink you dry. That is what my scent is for, little mortal." Rosalie hissed. The sound of her angry hiss was more beautiful than angel choirs. It had to be. It was the most beautifully menacing sound in the world.

Then she placed me, very gently, back in my seat, and took the sweater from my nerveless hands.

"That is what my scent is for." Her dispassionate words floated out from her perfect mouth as she regarded me coldly from beside the sink.

"Rosalie, I ..." I realized my cheeks were wet. Tears were spilling out of my cheeks freely. "I don't care." I whispered helplessly. "I don't care. I just want ..."

But then I couldn't speak past the lump in my throat, so I gasped around the tightness of it.

Rosalie regarded me coldly, then she shook her head. She turned away from me, and I thought it was because she couldn't stand the sight of me anymore.

But I was wrong.

She pulled off her own shirt, tossed it onto the pile of clothes in the corner of the cabin, and put on my sweater, and turned back to look at me.

If you put a loaded pistol to my head, upon my life I would not be able to tell you what shirt she was wearing seconds ago. All I could see was her, now, wearing my sweater. If you threatened to pull the trigger, I couldn't even tell you the color of my sweater she was now wearing. All I could see was her, blurrily, through tear-filled eyes, wearing my sweater.

Then she uttered something I never would've thought to have heard: "You are the most dangerous creature in the world."

And all I could do was to look at her through blurry eyes, totally lost to her meaning. I tried to say something, but I couldn't. Anyway, what would I say, even if I could?

I don't know how long Rosalie looked at me, and I, at her, because I didn't know I was supposed to track it by counting Mississippis.

Rosalie broke the spell. She looked away, then came to me, grabbing my tea cup. I watched her the whole time as she left the cabin, came right back in, filling it with water from the big pot and replacing it beside me.

"Drink up," she ordered, "you need to get ready for quiet time."

I lifted the cup to my lips and drank, emptying the cup after a few gulps. Rosalie came to me, taking the cup in one hand, and offering me her other. I took it, that cold hand, and it led me to the sink. She handed me the tooth brush and power, and I took care of the teeth then gargled the Listerine mechanically. After I spit out the green goop, Rosalie carefully blotted my face, wiping away the tear tracks, with a wet towel.

I just stood there as she took care of me, wearing my sweater.

"Outhouse?" she asked.

I nodded a yes in response, and she blurred away from me, returning seconds later to scoop me up into her arms. The woods blurred past us, and I was standing in the steam-heated outhouse watching Rosalie light the candle.

"I would have liked to have walked," I said quietly.

"Enough exercise and enough adventures for your first day out and about," she responded crisply. "We'll see how you are doing tomorrow."

"Oh," was my intelligent reply. "What's 'quiet time'?"

"You'll find out soon enough," she responded unmoved. She waved to me. So I unbuckled, dropped trou and sat.

"Rosalie, are you angry with me?" I looked at her as she stood impassively.

She raised her finger to her lips. "Shhh," she hushed me, "why would you think that?"

"Because I asked you to wear my sweater, and that made you angry."

She gave me a small smile. "Not your fault. I get angry so easily, don't I? Everything that I am now angers me. My fault; not yours."

"But I reminded you of that when I asked you to ..." I began.

"Shhh," she said again. "You need to decompress for a couple of hours from all that you've experienced today."

"Why do you keep doing that, Rosalie?" I begged.

"Doing what?" she asked calmly.

"Why do you keep flipping like that? One moment you're, okay, I'm going to say it, you're kind, and then the next moment you shut down or shut me out or you're furious, and then the very next second you're taking care of me. Why do you do that?"

She smiled cryptically, and she eyed me sadly. "Because I'm a mean vampire, you told me that yourself."

I just shook my head. "I wish ..."

"What do you wish?" Rosalie asked quietly after a moment of my silence.

"Never mind," I said, because I didn't even know what to wish. I didn't even know that I could hope to be able to wish any kind of wish now.

"I'm done," I said. And I was done going, but I knew we weren't done. I wondered if we ever would be.

Rosalie took care of me and the outhouse and raced me back to the cabin. And I looked at her, the perfect, beautiful vampire, where everything physical came so easily to her, and where everything mental, well, that came so easily to her, too.

I looked at her, and saw the perfect mirror of me. Everything was easy and perfect and beautiful and scary and sweet for her, and everything for me ...?

We reentered that warm cabin, and she sat me on the bed, went over to the pile of clothes, and stripped off my sweater, putting her shirt back on, and came back to me, holding my sweater in her arms.

The last time she did that by the sink, I was too shocked to know what I was seeing. This time, did I look?

You bet. I looked. I looked hard. All I saw was her back, her perfect back. I would kill to have a back like Rosalie's.

She stood in front of me, and if there was a definition of stillness, it would be Rosalie, standing there, looking at me.

"And now," she stated impassively, "quiet time."

And she extended my sweater to me.