Chapter summary: I see it, in her eyes. She works things over and over in her head. Every time she asks a question, it hits the mark. She finds this work exhausting, but what about me? I have to do all her work, and then I have to answer her. And I have to not care. And not long to look at her as she thinks. She's merely human, after all. Why should I care? I see it ... in her eyes.


We were walking.

It was like ... life moved on. Like, this is what you do after the ... well, what is Rosalie? a girl my age? an ageless woman? ... tells you, and shows you, how she'll kill you. You walk through the cold and the snow to go to the outhouse so you can pee and ... yes, hm, poop, too. Damn that whole-wheat bread!

But it doesn't stop, the mind, from thinking, and wondering.

And not being able to put most of it together.

And it's funny what nags the mind, what won't let it go, it wasn't that Rosalie's going to kill me, I've accepted that, and that doesn't bother me. No, what bother's me is that she won't kill when I tell her, ... I mean, like, why?

But Rosalie doesn't like why-questions, and you'd figure that if I asked enough why-questions, she'd get ticked off and, well: off ... me, but no, she gets it into her head that I have to be a little-Miss-Perfect lady and if I'm not doing a good enough job, I don't deserve to die, or something, so I have to go on living under Miss Autocrat here.

And then when I get good enough in her eyes, then she'll kill me?

Okay, two things: 1. c'mon. I mean: really! and 2. in what kind of universe does that make sense at all, except in Miss Bossy's universe, which never makes any sense about anything at all ever!

So, besides the 'Oh, I'm gonna kill you, ... but not now' thing bothering me, that doesn't really bother me because it's just...so...stupid, but tell Miss I'm-always-right that and then you get the lecture and then, worse, the questions afterwards that you have to answer the way she wants you to answer, because if you don't, she starts digging in with more and more questions showing you how stupid you were for not answering the first question her way, and God forbid you get any of the follow up questions wrong, because it starts the whole process over from there!

Okay, living in a cabin in the woods in the dead (har, har!) middle of winter when you're the only living person for miles ... there might be some people who would wonder what you'd do with yourself in all that boredom and monotony...

I have a favor to ask you: when somebody says that? Send them my way. I have a few things to scream at them.

So, yeah, all that doesn't really bother me, except when it really bothers me, because I've accepted it.

It's all just so ... Rosalie.

I sighed, the steam escaping through my scarf covering my mouth and nose, eddies of my breath curling around the very little tiny part of my face that felt the cold non-breeze of the still air knife into my being.

And I could feel it, in the utter silence broken only by my trudging boots breaking through the icy layer of snow crust. I could feel Rosalie hear my sigh, and I could feel her eyes follow the eddies of my breath, and I could feel her process every single one of my thoughts and categorize each one of them.

And I could, at the same time she dissected me, the vivisectionist, I could feel her monitor me, just like I imagine her father, ... well, her 'father,' I say, but Dr. Cullen, would monitor me if I were one of his patients. He would monitor me like ...

Like she's doing right now, with care, with concern, making sure I can do this simple, stupid thing of walking to the outhouse without killing myself or worse, in her mind, I'm sure, tiring myself.

Not that I haven't given her ... okay: multiple, okay? MULTIPLE, okay? ... examples to justify her concerns, okay? but if her goal is to off me, why doesn't she just ...

Well, why doesn't she just let me die, the three times a day I almost nearly die, except I don't because she rescues me each and every time.

Yeah, that one bothers me, too. A lot.

But, like I say, it's funny, here I am trudging through snow, with the black spot in my hand, given to me by the very, okay: vampire right next to me, but instead of just offing me, she okay: cares for me! And she like ... she like ...

I feel my throat constrict at the thought of her every pleased and encouraging smile at my 'progress' which is whenever she sees me do something really stupid like make a sign for 'I need to go potty' for God's sake, or when she ... oh, God, ... when she held me and held me and held me as I cried and cried and cried, well, most recently, this morning, like two seconds ago, or when she held me by the fire and nursed me back to life the last time I got lost in this impenetrable woods and was about to lie down and ... 'rest' but I know that's a lie: that is to lie down and to die on the snow that would hold me in its embrace forever, I know because it told me.

I feel my mouth go dry, remembering it telling me all those horrible lies, okay? LIES about Rosalie and then trying to take me back again, it's lost prize snatched away from death by Death Herself, with angelic wings and hands of lightning and eyes of molten gold fire.

Yes. Her. Death saved me from death and nursed me back to life.

Because she lov...

That is, because she doesn't love me. She told me.

She told me.

She doesn't love me. I'm just ... what did she say? 'In her care.' or 'hers' or something, and she doesn't let things get hurt or something when their hers or ...

The lump in my throat just wouldn't go away.

And she told me. She told me I would be insane to love her.

She told me.

She told me. And she knew I know what that means. I know what they do to insane people. I mean, I don't know first hand, but Pa works in law enforcement. He's had to cool down some situations, he's had to have some people take a night after a hard day out in the fields then a hard night at the bar, he's had to let them cool down for a night...

But when they don't cool down ... well, ...

There are ... asylums, Back East, for people who ... lose it ... and ... I've heard ... stories.

They keep trying ... 'treatments.' In the Teens it was electroshock, and they still do that, and they've shown people who've been 'cured' and ...

I've read about it. They bring them out, and show everybody how peaceful this violent, disruptive, ... insane ... person was, and the person sits there, and smiles, and everybody goes away, and then ...

... they put that person back away.

And now there's a new procedure that's just come out ... not 'come out' as it's been used, but there's some stuff in the newspapers about it. It's called leucotomy.

Then put a knife in your nose, ... and gut your brain.

And they've said that people come out of that procedures, the very, very violent ones who even resist electroshock treatments, and they come out ... docile.

It's because they were insane, and now they ...

well, now they can't even compete with the carrots they're being spoon-fed for holding up a conversation.

And that's what Rosalie knew I knew she meant when she said I would have to be insane to love her. Because then, all she would have to do is to bring me to one of those asylums, I'm sure, she being in a doctor's family, she knows where one is, and then just say, 'I found this girl in the woods.' ... a truthful statement, and then let me explain myself.

She'd let me say everything.

And then they ...

They.

They would nod their heads, knowingly, kindly, and ask me to come with them, please.

And if I went with them, they would do that to me.

And if I resisted, they would restrain me, a violent patient, resisting treatment for her own good, and then sedate me, and then

... they would do that to me.

Rosalie asked me, 'what are you?'

I don't know the answer to that question. Not to her liking, anyway. When she asked, when she touched my ... my, okay, my shirt that was right above my heart, ... yes, there, and you know where, but you can't say, 'Uh, Rosalie, you're touching my breast, okay?' Because she would say, 'No, I'm not: I'm touching your shirt, not you. What is you?'

And you have no answer to that, except to stand there and try to breathe and not to faint.

Well, I do know one thing: I do know what is not me. I know it twice now.

The one thing that is not me is that carrot in that asylum for the insane that Rosalie dropped off after the carrot, that used to be a girl, told Rosalie she loved her.

And the other thing that isn't me is the shell that Rosalie, here, ... right here, I'm sure of it, sucked the very soul out of my body, and then ...

And then, she could do anything she wanted to do to that body, because, you see, that body isn't me. Rosalie told me that. That body is just a shell, soulless now, filled with blood, heart pumping it to every extremity, just pooled in a certain girl's certain place coming out of her period, right there, right against the skin, right there for the taking.

But Rosalie is a Hale. And a Hale doesn't drink human blood, so she wouldn't do that, right?

Right?

But is a shell she just sucked the soul out of ... it's a body, yes, but is it ... human? Because a human has a soul, but I ... or, that is, my body, ... didn't have a soul then, right here.

Right here.

I don't know if she ...

I can't even think of her, seeing me lying there, bending down to me, closer and closer, my soul consumed into her infinite eyes, as she now had me, completely, in her power as she does now, as she does always, but me, no longer there in my body, defenseless, pliant ... so easy to ease the pants off my legs, so easy to spread my irresisting legs, so easy to lean in, licking her lips and ...

The eddies of my breath started to condense on my scarf, and I had to control my breathing from coming out in ragged pants.

Not that my control did me any good. Not from her.

"What's wrong?"

A beautiful voice, I would say, a musical voice broke into the silence like a symphony of sound: sweet, compelling, ... perfect.

I would like to say I heard concern in that voice, concern for me. Maybe that concern was there, maybe it wasn't.

I had learned, over the infinity of time these last few days in these woods, that my feelings and thoughts are always wrong when it comes to me, when it comes to her.

"Uh," I stalled, quickly trying to divert my thoughts from what I was thinking about me on this snow-covered forest floor, and her, above me, leaning in, to take me.

I couldn't think of anything else, or, more correctly, I couldn't think of anything that wasn't completely stupid.

As usual.

"Uh, nothing," was all I could muster, and I said it hurriedly, hoping she wouldn't pounce on that, and on me, like she always does when I'm being stupid.

That is: all the time.

There was a contemplative silence next to me, but that didn't stop her presence from filling that void of silence, filling the woods around me, filling ... me.

And I waited for her to pounce, but, after a few seconds I dared to hope that this time, unlike all the other times, she wouldn't, that she would choose to cut me a break.

But the waiting ... everything, always, is on a knife's edge for me now.

But we kept walking, and, thankfully, the atmosphere wasn't filled with her intensity and her anger and fury that she directed, always, right at me.

After a few steps I dared to hope that she'd let it pass, and just ... walk alongside me.

I dared to hope that, for one time in our now shared existence, something as simple as walking to the outhouse would be as simple as, well ... walking to the outhouse.

So we walked, and the sadness and fear in me dissipated.

It was turning out to be a normal walk, ... nice, even.

But then I forgot to factor in the one thing that always screws everything up.

That is: me, and my big fat mouth.

"Rosalie ..." I began, and then winced. I wish I had a two-by-four, so I could smack myself with it.

The silence that was Rosalie answered casually, "Yes?"

But I heard the control, the masked caution in her tone. She said she felt the ground beneath her feet shift dangerously when I asked these questions.

I wonder if ...

Nah, couldn't be. Stupid thought. Rosalie? Afraid of me? Ridiculous!

But I'd better withdraw my question before she hears it and then starts shouting at me, calling me stupid with every word in the dictionary, and ruining our nice walk.

"Never mind," I said, "It was just a stupid thought, so forget it."

Bad call. I felt the silence become thoughtful.

And that never was a good thing for me.

"Hm," she said disapprovingly.

I grimaced when I heard that. When Rosalie hums, I've learned to expect a long drawn-out 'conversation,' which means tears from one party and anger and shouting from the other.

"How am I to judge if your thought is stupid if I am not permitted to hear it?" she demanded reasonably.

But it was a demand.

My bit-off rancorous reply of, Well, you could just read my mind, like you always do! would not have helped the conversation, nor the mood any. So, I had to try to get out what I dug myself into, and somehow gracefully, at that.

I've never been successful in finding that 'somehow.'

"Well, ... okay, Rosalie," I began cautiously, "the thing is, it's a why-question, and I'm not supposed to ask why-questions ..." because only stupid people like me do that, I thought bitterly, "... so how do I ask a why-question without ... well, asking a why-question?"

I dared to sneak a peek at her.

Mistake.

It was a mistake, firstly, because, you know how you try to have a brain and be intelligent to somebody else when you're talking to them, right? You know, when you're trying to impress them, or at least not look stupid?

Now imagine that person isn't the most beautiful person in the world, because 'the most beautiful person in the world' can't touch the angel limned in light walking beside me, with coal-black eyes radiating a molten-gold fire and face and hands reflecting the sun as lightning.

'Take your breath away'? Not even close. You forget to breathe, looking at Rosalie.

And the other reason why it was a mistake was because this beautiful, terrifying angel was ...

Frowning.

Worse: frowning ... thoughtfully.

I hate it when Rosalie pauses to think.

She wasn't looking at me; she was looking off into the distance, but presently she returned and did look at me, as we walked, me trudging through the snow, her gliding above it, and said quietly, "I've tried to make sense out of what you just asked me, but I'm afraid I have to label it as pure metaphysics." She gave me a chiding look. "Please," she said kindly, "just ask your question so we do have something real we can talk about."

I sighed. Of course she would say that, because why? Because she always gets her way, that's why, and if she doesn't get her way, then she nags you and berates you and scolds you and browbeats you, or, worse of all, reasons with you until she does get her way.

There's just no winning against her.

You figure I would have figure that out by now, but no.

Rosalie wasn't the only good nagger here, however. There was one better, and she knew it, too, damnit! And that better nagger was my infinite and insatiable curiosity. I mean, once something caught my attention, I just. had. to. know. And I wouldn't stop until I did know... even if knowing was the death of me.

"Well, okay," I stuttered, "so, remember when you showed me, you know, about the that Bible verse and how it was talking about vampires and stuff, or something?"

I was stalling, not really knowing how to get started with my question, because with a question like that, you just can't ... ask that, right?

I could feel Rosalie's frown, because I didn't dare look at her, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the ground ahead of me, so I wouldn't trip over a fallen tree branch and flatten my face on the snow.

Least-ways that why I told myself I wasn't looking at her.

"... how some might interpret those verses that way, yes, I remember. Your question?"

She wasn't letting me stall, and she just had to correct me, even in my stalling.

"Well, ..." I said, and bit my lip, "well, I noticed that ... well, when you dropped trou ... you, you know, weren't wearing panties."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was what was nagging me. Not that vampires exist, as that's common (to me) knowledge now. Nor that they (or, specifically, she) wants to kill me. Nor that she wants to kill me, but she. just. won't. But instead is teaching me sign language and is walking me to the potty and, worst of all, is making me stand in front of the mirror and making me look at plain little me next to gloriously beautiful her for seven whole hours and calling that three seconds and then requiring that I call myself beautiful when everybody in the whole world knows that just ain't so. No, none of those things were nagging away at my little tiny brain.

The thing that was nagging at my brain? Why is Rosalie not wearing panties?

"Yes, I am aware of that." was Rosalie's unperturbed response.

"Huh?" I was forcefully shaken from my reverie.

See, that's another thing I hate about her. I know she can read my mind, because I've seen her do it, like, a zillion times, I've even seen her invade my dreams, and no, like, she was in my dreams, no, not like that, but that she actually came into my dreams and she did whatever she wanted to do with me (which was a whole lot, including throwing me into the river and I'm not going to forget that, Rosalie, so you can just watch yourself, 'cause I'll get you back, I swear!).

She knows I know this, but then she goes ahead and denies it every time, and then she goes and turns around and answers my thoughts, just like that, and pretends she's just answering my questions, and puts on that, 'oh, I'm so innocent; I'm just answering your question, is all, I'm not reading your mind at all,' when I know full well that she is, the LIAR!

But what can a girl do but play along with her mind-games, because she gets really persnickety if you call her on anything, but when she calls you on stuff, does she let you have your fully justified huff? HUH? I ASK YOU!

I swear to God, that woman/vamp/angel is gonna drive me nuts!

"I said," she said patiently, "that, yes, I am aware I am not wearing panties. Your question?"

"Well," I said hesitantly, but then I didn't see any other way around it. "Well, why?"

"I would have thought you would have notice that I wasn't wearing a brassiere as well."

Her statement was a question.

"Well, I noticed that, too."

"But you didn't ask about that." She stated this factually.

"Well, yeah, 'cause I know you don't need the support, just like me ..." Then I blushed and added quickly, "Well, I mean, not like me, 'cause ..." and then I swallowed in embarrassment, not finishing that in no way, shape or form was she just like me, "... but I don't need the support either, and you don't for some reason so I guess that's why you don't need to wear one."

"You figured all this out on your own, did you?" her tone was clipped and disparaging.

"Yes," I whispered, blushing, knowing she could hear me.

"Good for you," sarcasm dripping from her voice, "... but you couldn't figure out the rest?"

"No," I said simply, still looking down at the ground.

"And that's bothering you, isn't it?" I heard the emphasis, and I knew that spelled trouble for me.

"Yes," I said.

"You really need to work on your posture," she stated.

I sighed and straightened my back a little bit as I trudged through the snow.

"... and you need to look the person in the eye when you address them, as that shows respect," she added, then said even more quietly, "and not to make eye contact is an insult ... to them."

My whole body tensed up, and I tasted bitterness in my mouth, ... but I still couldn't look at her.

"But what if you're shy?" I asked shyly.

"I am not shy," she stated reprovingly.

I sighed again.

"It isn't that hard." she scolded.

I felt my lips crush together, holding in the emotion welling up in my chest.

Simple walk to the potty, indeed.

I forced my eyes up to hers, my dun-colored eyes to her blazing golden ones with coal-black centers, my weak ones to her determined ones, and tried again: "But what if I'm shy?"

She looked at me for a whole second, and then slapped me on the face, hard, with her next words: "Then you need to stop being so selfish."

And she nodded her head up, once, as if saying, take that, Miss I'm-too-shy-to-respect-you-Ms.-Goddess.

I gasped, and froze in my tracks, so she stopped alongside me, glaring right at my eyes, now misting over with the injurious insult.

"Rosalie," I gasped, "I didn't say anything about me being selfish, I said I was shy, that's why I couldn't loo..."

Her voice was cutting: "Did you ask me a personal question?"

There was nowhere to hide from her glare.

"Uh, yeah," I admitted.

She scowled. "Not, 'uh, yeah,' you either did or you didn't. Don't prevaricate!"

This was hurting more and more. A single tear fell from eye down my cheek, scarring it with icy cold as it burned its way down to be lost into my scarf.

"Yes, Rosalie," I said quietly, "Yes, I asked you a personal question."

"But you are concerned, not its impact on me at all, but how you feel about yourself in the asking?" Her voice rose to an incredulous pitch, even as the volume of her voice remained steady in normal speaking tones.

I didn't look at it that way.

I bit my lower lip, and blush, and looked away.

Then I forced my eyes to look back at her. "Yes, Rosalie," I said humbly, "that's what I did, I thought about how I would feel, not how you would feel when I said that."

Her eyes narrowed, and she grimaced.

"Then," she said coldly, "you need to stop being so selfish and concerning yourself with only you and your feelings and start thinking how what you do and what you say affect the recipient, yes?"

"Ye..."

I stopped, my obedient answer caught in my throat, even as I said it.

Because now, I just slapped myself hard, in the face, with my new realization.

"Do you?" I asked her, the surprise of my own realization filling my own voice.

She stopped.

From leaning in, scolding me, she drew herself erect.

"Very good," she said, but her compliment was delivered equally coldly. "You asked the question that noone dares to think, but you already know the answer, don't you?"

I nodded. I wish I could say I nodded with confidence, but I didn't. I nodded shakily, unsteadily.

You see: when you don't know where you stand, you also don't know on what you're standing ... I didn't know if I were on shaky ground or if I were making progress or if I was in big, big trouble.

I never did: when I felt I was in big trouble, Rosalie would be 'so pleased' with my 'progress' when all I was doing was feeling stupid and saying everything wrong and saying things I had no idea that meant what she thought they were supposed to mean. And when I was trying to be nice ...? That was so, so much worse. So much worse. I would try to say something nice to her, or try to help, or try to thank her for saving me again or feeding me or taking care of me, but instead of being pleased, she would turn on me and savage me for being so stupid, so wrong-headed.

Like now: I have this realization, and she says, 'Very good,' but the look in her face, the hardness of her eyes, tells me she means anything but that.

I nodded, mutely, trying to become smaller, to weather the coming storm of her answer.

She grimaced, displeased. "And what answer have you arrived at, then? How do you see me?"

"I..." I gasped, stuttering in fear of her anger, and in shame of her displeasure.

"Answer me!" she snarled viciously.

There was nothing I could do to defend myself from her. When her voice cut, it cut right into me, into my bones, ... no: into my very marrow.

I swallowed past the lump in my throat and whispered my answer: "You don't give a damn what anybody else thinks, Rosalie," I said, shocked that I said such a forbidden word.

Then I looked away from her hard, beautiful eyes. "You don't care what anybody else feels."

I whispered that last into the cold, crisp, callous air of the forest surrounding us, listening intently to our exchange. Listening to the sound of my heart breaking. She didn't care about anybody. She didn't care about one person in particular as she watched me sink lower and lower into the abyss of this snowy prison.

I felt Rosalie's cold, smooth, perfect hand touch my chin, and turn my head to face her again.

"You are correct," she said, coolly, as she stared right into my eyes, glaring, even, "I don't care what anybody else thinks, nor what anybody else feels."

"Then, why ..." I breathed out, fighting to control my emotions.

She waited, then raised an imperious eyebrow.

I soldiered on, finishing my question. "Then why do you tell me I have to?"

This seemed to please her, for I saw her press her lips to prevent her grin from showing.

"Listen to me," she said curtly, "I don't care what people think or feel, because, for the most part, they are all idiots — all of them! — and they don't deserve my good opinion, and I can't be trifled with being poisoned with their wrongheaded notions. And," she added, "yes, isn't that shocking! Who would dare hold that view? Noone, correct? We can't be thinking that somebody in this egalitarian society is better than, because that just goes against the grain! 'Oh!'" she gasped in mock-surprise, "'Oh! Look at Rosalie! She's actually right, when all of us said the opposite! That must make us all idiots, and we can't have that!'"

She snorted derisively, dismissing all of us idiots with a careless wave of her hand.

"But ..." I said.

"Don't interrupt!" she pounced.

"You have something to learn," she commanded, "so don't insert your preconceived arguments that you've given absolutely no thought to, and are only repeating because somebody else told you, and it sounds good because it's humane!"

She spat out that last word like as if she were spitting out ... oh, I don't know, something that tasted terrible ... like bile ... like dung ... like me, Bella-the-dung-haired-idiot.

"But one thing I do not do, girl," she continued forcefully, "is I do not disrespect the other person. If I am talking with another person? If I am asking them a question, then I've imposed on them, and the least I can do," she glared significantly at me, "is to show them respect by giving them my full attention."

"... even if they are idiots." I finished for her.

Rosalie tsked. "So headstrong," she sighed, looking at me regretfully. "Yes," she added, her tone softening, "even though they are idiots, I give them my full attention."

"Why?" I asked.

I was just asking why-questions all the time, but I didn't see any way out of asking them, except by just totally not understanding, and being entirely befuddled and confused.

"Because, girl," Rosalie said, her mercurial mood again being firm and strict and righteous, "I rise above. They may be pigs of men or empty-headed girls, but I, I, am above all that, above them, and they will know they were in the presence of greatness, and their littleness, and their meanness cannot touch that, cannot touch me. Quite the opposite, in fact, for, having seen me, true decorum and uprightness, maybe they will have a height to which they can aspire, and, maybe, letting go of their pettiness, maybe one day they may reach up to something above themselves, beyond themselves, and be better persons than they ever hoped they could have been, seeing how I refuse to condescend to grovel at their level."

I just stared at her, taking it in, and not believing she had the gall to say these things at the same time.

You had to hand it to her, she was so wrapped up in her conceit, she felt she was doing people a favor by walking all over them, and she had the absolute altruistic pride to be entirely blind to her own delusion.

I could never pull something like that off. Ever.

I mean, back at school, if anybody did that? They'd be laughed out of class, and the teacher would carry her by the arm the the Principal's office.

And if I stood up in the cafeteria, and made these bold statements?

I think my tongue would come out out of my mouth and strangle me before I could experience the shame I would feel of everybody staring, then pointing, then laughing and laughing and laughing at me as the ground opened up and swallowed me whole.

"In fact," Rosalie said thoughtfully, pulling me away from my own thoughts, "I'd prefer the company of people strong enough to admit their idiocy, admit their shortcomings, instead of being smug in the conceit of their own blindness."

"But, Rosalie," I countered, "I say that all the time! I say I'm stupid, and you don't, what did you say? 'prefer' that. No, you get all angry about it and shout at me!"

"The difference there, girl," she shot back forcefully, "is that I've been in the presence of distinguished men: scientists, financiers, capitalists, doctors, philosophers. I've walked in the first circles, and the difference between a snob and an idiot, a buffoon and braggart, and the truly great man, is that the great man admits his shortcomings, yes, and delights in learning what he doesn't know, from a pretty young girl just out in society that, oh, my God! has a head on her shoulders and views relevant and topical and who can hold her own in a conversation, be it about art, or music, or finance, or the latest news on the drought on the Midwest and what's to be done, and ..."

She paused for breath.

"The difference between them and their delight and learning what they didn't by admitting first that they don't know everything, or even the things they thought they did, and you admitting, what? your insufficiency? Is that they state what they do not know to advance into learning what they can. You? You don't admit you don't know. No, you crow it. You hide behind it. You use it as a justification to stay as plain, little you, because that's what you are, after all, you just admitted that, didn't you?"

She regarded me scornfully.

There was just no winning against her. Even when you did what she told you to do, she found a thousand reasons why you were doing even that wrong.

"At least they have some measure of respect, no: nobility, even, in delighting in what they can learn, by admitting they don't know everything. But you?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

Lost cause. That's what I read in her body, as she regarded me. She saw me as ... broken.

"So," Rosalie's stern voice brought me back to the present, "what have you just learned?"

Oh, mercy me! I didn't know school was in session, out here in the middle of this nowhere wilderness!

I collected myself, and tried to think what I was supposed to have learned in the vitriolic river of angry words that flowed from her mouth.

"Uh," I said, and winced at Rosalie's grimace, "um, you're supposed to show other people respect because ..."

Because why? Because they are idiots, and you are better than them? Because you're not supposed to be thinking of yourself and how you feel when you ask them a question? I kind of lost my train of thought.

"No," she cut me off curtly, "you are not supposed to show other people respect 'because ...' of this or that, you are simply to show them respect."

"Oh," I said humbly.

"Try again," she ordered.

I looked at her. She was serious.

She just never let anything go.

I sighed, and said resignedly, "You're supposed to show people respect, Rosalie."

She nodded. "And I do," she stated coldly, "just as you are to do, from now on. Now, ask your question to me again ... respectfully."

I blushed angrily. "Jeez, Rosalie, can we just please drop it?"

"No," was her absolute response.

"Oh, come on!" I entreated. "Look, I'm sorry for bringing it up, but there's no respectful way to ask that, okay? I see that now, okay? So can we just forget it and move on?"

Rosalie brought herself upright fully and glared at me, a sun, reflecting the sun, and out here, both terribly cold.

"Wheat and chaff," she stated.

I brought my mittened hands to my face and covered my eyes, muttering an exasperated, 'Oh, Jiminy Cricket!' under my breath, but not even daring to think the real oath I wanted to exclaim with the same initials ... I didn't need to be whacked on the head now, too, on top of what-all else has happened on this 'peaceful' walk to the outhouse.

Rosalie glared at me. I sighed, and capitulated, "Would you kindly explain what you mean?" and added a Miss Meanie, with my glare.

"Yes," she said imperiously, "there's a difference between the few," she indicated herself, resting her hand on her chest, "and the many," she opened her hand and waved to the rest of the world.

She didn't point directly at me, but I can take a hint. I'm not stupid.

Well, not all the time.

"... and the difference is this," she continued, "the many start a thing, but for the most part, don't finish, and so they leave in their wake a lifetime of uncompleted works and broken promises. Have you heard the phrase, 'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions'?"

She waited for my answer, so I guessed she wasn't asking a rhetorical question. I nodded my head, mutely, just in case she was, so she wouldn't bite my head off.

Her eyes were hard as she examined me.

"Oh?" she asked sardonically, "do you know what it means?"

I gulped and nodded again.

"Explain it to me, then," she demanded.

You see, that's what I was afraid of. An essay question, right here in the middle of Cold, U.S.A., but if I had said, 'doi, doi, doi, no, I don't know what that means, Rosalie,' and gave her my best stupid-head look, then she would've been fully justified to hurl me in the Belle Fourche, however distant it now was from us, and this time, she wouldn't fish me out.

So, now I had to answer her.

"It means, Rosalie," I said, looking into her critical eyes, "that people mean to do good, but they mess it up, or something, and bad things happen instead."

Rosalie smirked. "Exactly," she said, "but moreso than that, these well-intending ... these well-meaning people," she spat out the word, "can walk away from the messes they've made in their lives and, worse, in the lives of the people affected, and say, all innocence, 'Oh, well, I meant to do good, so ...' and they just walk away from what they, themselves, have caused, but because they meant well it's all okay, isn't it?"

This I took to be a rhetorical question, so I just looked back into her angry eyes.

"Never taking responsibility for what they've done. Never cleaning up the messes they've made. And they say, 'Oh, well, let's forget it and move on,' but the thing is, they move onto make worse and worse messes in their lives and all the victims they afflict with their good intentions."

She paused, glaring at me, then continued, quietly.

"One way ticket to Hell, that is, running from something you've started because you refuse to look ahead to see the logical consequences of your actions, or, looking, you refuse to take responsibility for the unintended consequences that always come from an action."

She looked me up and down. I noticed that she had stopped taking about 'people' generally, and she was now talking to me and about me directly.

It hurt. A lot.

"Taking an action, doing something, asking a question, always has unintended consequences, that's called life, and living life! Or you can tuck your tail between your legs, hide in your corner, and let life roll right over you as you back away from everything you start."

I snickered. "Do I get to choose?"

Because I knew which way I would choose, if Rosalie allowed me to. She did give me a choice, after all.

You see: that's me trying to lighten the mood, a little bit. See?

Rosalie didn't see. Or if she did, she wasn't amused.

"You have been choosing," she said sadly. "You have been choosing your whole life to live small, in your small town, with your safe, quiet, small life, and what does your life amount to? And when you die your small, quiet, lonely death, what will it have meant?"

She waited a bit. I thought of making a crack of wondering if she wanted me to die big, then, but all my jokes were falling flat.

"And the different between the few, and the many? The difference between the ones who make something of their lives, and those who life rolls over? It's called 'integrity.' It's called 'being your word.' It's called 'finishing what you've started.' It's called 'doing what you have to, despite your fears.'"

"Do you know anyone in your small life and in your small, little town with this greatness? Or do you see little people living their petty lives?"

I felt myself get hot under my collar. "Ekalaka has good people. We're ..." and I blushed, not knowing how to defend the farmers, the merchants, the families of my small, little town, "... good people," I finished weakly.

"I'm not asking about 'good people,'" she said and waved dismissively, "'good people' meaning nothing to nobody, doing the same nothing they've always done for generations, being swept by the wave of this Great Depression and the meaninglessness of their lives. I'm asking have you seen greatness anywhere? In anybody? No, you've ..."

"My pa," I said, the words being wrenched from my chest.

She stopped and regarded me, finally measuring me as something more worthwhile than an ant to be crushed underfoot.

"He ..." I swallowed, and a tear trickled down my cheek, "he don't come across to you as nu-nothing, ..." It was hard to speak, but I pushed through my emotion, "... but he fought in the Great War and there's nothing he...he wouldn't do for a body in a tight spot or even j-just needing a hand and he ... he ..."

My lips pressed together, hard, and I dragged in a ragged breath as two, then three, more tears spilled out of my eyes, and I squeezed my eyelids shut for a moment, and then I looked at her, again, and I whispered, firmly, "... and he's a great man."

And I waited.

I saw a million thoughts pass in front of her, my captor, my tormentor, my ...

I couldn't finish that thought as the tears stopped, leaving dry, salty tracks on my cold cheeks.

Finally, she answered me, quietly, with a considered voice. "That you honor your father so, shows the greatness in you ..." and she paused, then added, "... and in him."

And she looked away, and I thought her whisper, "... and I will say nothing more regarding the matter."

And I don't know if the 'matter' was my pa, or greatness, or was she reflecting on her life, and her pa?

I didn't know.

"You have greatness in you," she addressed me gravely, "and I will not permit you to extinguish it, nor to back away from it anymore."

Her crusade to make me ... whatever: a lady, or a great person, or choosing to be something or somebody, even she had to force me to do it.

"So," she said, her tone brightening a shade, as she turned back along the path, tugging my elbow for me to resume the walk, "ask me your question. Finish what you've started."

I snuffled. "So," I said, forcing some semblance of steadiness back into my voice, and confidence, that I didn't feel, "Rosalie, why don't you wear panties?"

I looked at her as I asked, walking along, to the potty, a place, I just now realized, where I'd be taking off the just-now-mentioned article of clothing to take care of my private business, ...

That Rosalie didn't give a fig about enough to ask me personal questions about.

I blushed.

Rosalie turned, and, seeing me looking at her as I asked, smiled warmly, ... encouragingly, at me.

"It's simple, really," she said factually.

As if anything were simple with her.

Then she turned the subject around on me. "What are panties for?" she asked, looking at me expectantly.

I gulped. "Gah! Um," I was taken aback ... obviously everybody knew what panties were for, so to ask a question was, well, a lot of things: not proper, you know? What's in the dark, you keep in the dark.

"Well," I said, "to cover your ..." and I paused, blushing, and whispered quickly, "you know."

"Yes, yes," she waved, rolling her eyes, "we know this, but for what purpose ... or," and she paused then added, "for what purposes are the covering?"

What? This is a multiple answer embarrassing question quiz?

When would it ever end?

And I had the terrible realization, that me, being with Rosalie, it never would.

I shuddered.

"Um ..." then I looked at Rosalie helplessly.

She smirked. "So you just wear panties because you wanted to demonstrate to mommy you could dress yourself after she had been the one who was dressing you from your infancy?"

"No, Rosalie, Jeez!" I exclaimed.

"Mmhm," Rosalie smirked dismissively, "so, then, obviously, you have a reason, or reasons, for covering as you say, your 'you know,' so what are they?"

She regarded me as if she were looking at a little child.

"Well, ..." and I stopped.

"You have to push beyond everything, girl," Rosalie chided softly. "You have to push beyond what everybody tells you what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is forbidden, and why are these things this or that? There are no reasons given, ever, are there? You wear panties because you have to wear panties. But what are there the whys and the wherefores of it? If you don't push past these rules that everyone gives to you, just because everybody else does these things and tacitly agrees them them, then you'll lived this boxed up little life, following the herd to the end, and you find that end to be over a cliff, or dying, parched, in the dustbowl, no beginning, no middle, no end, just you, blindly following everybody else who're all just as blind as you."

She waited for this to sink in.

I mulled this over.

"So," I concluded, "I don't have to wear panties just because everybody else is wearing them?" I paused, and quickly added, "I mean 'everybody else', I mean, 'girls', 'cause ..."

"No, no, no!" she interrupted impatiently. "Everybody else is wearing panties, because, yes, everybody else is wearing panties, but think, girl, there are ..."

She glared at me and snarled, "Argh! Do I have to tell you everything?"

Well, given the track record, it seemed that, yes, she had to tell me everything.

"People, yes: girls," she corrected scornfully, for my 'benefit,' "wear panties primarily for two reasons, they catch discharge and they prevent abrasion of your nethers from rubbing against outer garments."

Oh. I could've told her that. Why didn't she just ask me that in the first place?

"So," she concluded, "now you know why panties are superfluous in my case."

She looked at me, triumphantly.

I saw that triumph turn to surprise, then disappointment as she looked at stupid me looking like a total stupid failure, stupidly not getting it.

She sighed.

"So," I said sadly in defeat, "I guess this is the part where I say, 'No, Rosalie, no I don't get it, and could you please explain it to me, and maybe try not to be super furious with me if that's possible, please?'"

"And ..." I added quickly, "please, Rosalie, I'm not trying to make you angry, okay? I'm ... okay, I don't get it, okay? I don't get anything, okay? But I'm trying, okay? I'm really trying, okay?"

Rosalie turned away and looked at the ground. "Okay," she shrugged.

But, in her tone, I could tell it wasn't okay.

And I could tell, that, even as I was trying so hard, all the time, to try to ... I don't know ... be better ... be a person that was, well, worthy, of just being in her presence, I could tell that she was trying, super-hard, to ...

... put up with me.

Loser me.

"I work so hard," she said, "I work so hard to reach you, to pull you up where I know you can be, and then, ..."

She paused, looking down at the ground and said sadly, "then when you've gone beyond yourself, ... beyond me, ... you'll spread your wings, and fly, and the gates of Heaven will be in your grasp, but ..."

She looked back at me, "but you have to meet me half-way. I reach down to pull you up, but you have to reach up, up, above and beyond yourself."

"I'm trying," I whispered, repeating my affirmation, trying to reach her in her sadness and loneliness in the impossible task of whatever she saw she had to do for me.

She continued looking at the ground, but then she looked at me.

"I see that," she said. "I see you trying." And she smiled, sadly, at me.

"So, ..." I said slowly, "there's hope? ... So, ..." I mulled over this, "you haven't given up on me?"

She smiled at the ground, and reached out and patted my arm.

A warmth suffused me, heating the insides of my body, spreading out to my arms and legs, and I felt the heat expand from my chest to the insides of my coat and warm my cheeks.

And I smiled at the ground.

We walked in silence for a moment. It was, finally, a nice, peaceful moment.

"So," she said quietly, breaking the silence gently, "I will tell you why I am not wearing panties, why I do not need to."

"Thank you," I said humbly. The outhouse was coming into view. I don't remember passing the tree she felled then impaled with the cross.

I don't remember most of the walk, in fact, I just remember her, and fighting so hard over the simplest of things, a stupid why-question.

She reached out and removed my mitten, and held my hand.

I gasped at the touch, the intimacy of it.

"Do you feel that?" she asked.

Feel what? My heart trying to jump out of my chest?

"Yes," I gasped.

"My hand, in yours?" she asked calmly.

"Yes," was all I could manage.

"My hand, all of me, is the prime material, or, put another way, it's purely 'it' or 'what.' Do you understand?" she asked, searching my eyes for understanding.

I nodded my head obediently.

But I didn't understand her, so I frowned, and admitted, "No, Rosalie, I don't understand."

She smiled wistfully. "It ... I ... this stone that I am, is matter reduced to its simplest form, it's undistinguished, absolute potential, purely negative, ... indestructible. That's why I found your prescient dream incredulous. Fire doesn't harm me; it doesn't touch me. How could it?"

She slipped her hand out of mine, and gave me back my mitten.

My hand burned from the icy fire of her touch. I put back on my mitten, and as I did, my hand tingled, missing her touch.

"So, that dispenses with one of the primary reason for wearing panties ... I can't be abraded down there; there is nothing, no friction, no pores for outer garments to catch against, to abrade and to rub raw."

"There is nothing there, just a memory of what could have been, and now what can never be," she said to the ground, then turned to me. "Do you understand me?"

I nodded solemnly, remembering her regret-filled whispered 'always' of last night.

She continued into the silence, "And the other reason is that I have no discharge, not anymore, so ..."

She shrugged.

And I remembered her regret that I could have my periods, and she couldn't anymore.

I wondered, and then I knew, in my wondering: is that ... her? Is she all loss and regret?

Is she only looking at life from the outside, and never, ever able to participate in it, to fix her mistakes, to enjoy a moment of happiness?

Was that why her smiles were sad when she reflected on her former life and her current state?

"Well," she added quickly, "I have no involuntary discharge, so ..."

She paused, then visibly brightened at the outhouse right in front of us: "Ah!" she exclaimed, "here we are, you go take care of your business."

She shooed me into the outhouse — you could almost say she pushed me into it — and quickly shut the door, nearly in my face.

She didn't light me a candle, but that was okay, as light came in through the slit of the window at the top of the structure and through little cracks between the wood slats. She didn't provide me heat from coals from the fire, but I reasoned, that she couldn't haven't walked alongside me, instead of speeding me back and forth as fast as lightning.

But she pushed me and slammed the door in my face, like as if she were embarrassed about something? Impossible! Or hiding something. Hiding what? What did she say last to me before she pushed me out of sight.

I dropped trou, sat down on the cloth-covered cool seat, and wondered.

"Rosalie, ... what does 'not involuntary discharge' mean?" I asked as I ... 'discharged' my ... whatever, okay? and never you mind, anyway.

Rosalie minded. I heard her sigh heavily.

I think that's what she's hiding.

But what does 'not involuntary discharge' mean?

I had no idea.

I had a nagging feeling I'd soon find out. And, from the sound of her sigh, I think I just might regret finding out.


A/N:

1. leucotomy was the term first used for the procedure we now call lobotomy. A new procedure in the 1930s, much debated at the time, but used for decades thereafter.

2. 'Jiminy,' is a contraction of 'Jesu Domini'