Chapter Summary: "Uh, so when you say we're 'equals,' Rosalie, um, what exactly do you mean?" I asked as I looked in the eyes of my 'equal.' Yeah, so we're equals, now. Isn't that nice? I'll wake up from this dream, soon, I'm sure.


She was carrying me.

I looked up to her face, and it seemed like I was seeing her for the first time, and I had to memorize her every feature, her eyes, her eyebrows, her nose, her lips, her cheeks, her lips.

Everything about her now was essential for me to breathe, to be.

I had my arms around her neck, and my head was tucked into her shoulder, but I would glance up occasionally, to see if it were still her, for somehow she had changed.

Or, that isn't right. She was still her, Rosalie Hale, but somehow, something in me had changed.

I felt this incredible need to drink her in, every detail of her face, every whiff of her as I breathed her in, the strength of her arms holding me, the utter, complete, and unnerving silence of her chest where her heart should be beating.

I glanced up at her face again, and I felt an ache in my chest. I so wanted to stroke her cheek, but I felt incredibly shy around her, for some reason.

But then I dared, I brought my hand up to her cheek, just to touch it, even with my mittened hand, just to feel her cheek, just to reassure her it was okay.

Because her face said it wasn't okay. It was blank, ... thoughtful.

When I touched her cheek, she didn't flinch away, but she frowned, and she didn't look at me, as I was looking at her.

I so wish she would look at me.

I put my arm back around her neck, and tucked my head back into her shoulder. Her whole body radiated 'don't,' and 'no,' ...

... and 'I don't want.'

She wasn't thoughtful now; no, her frown was displeased.

And ... I was just happy, her holding me, and then, when I found I couldn't get up from the ground, that there was no strength in my legs, and really, my whole body was just so drained, fighting for my life, and then, fighting for my hope ... fighting against her, as she fought the very thought that she could be, that she actually was, my hope.

All that, and I thought I had broken past something. I did, and I should be happy...

And I was. But ...

But Rosalie isn't. I can see it in her. She's holding me into her, and, at the same time, she's a million miles away from me in her thoughts, and even that's too close for her now.

She wants no part of me. I can see it.

And my happiness just kept melting away, leaving a quiet sadness and emptiness in me.

Rosalie is my hope. And I'm sad, ... because she is.

She's sad that she's my hope.

We stopped, and I looked about me. We were beside the felled tree.

She sat on the tree, on the opposite side of my 'seat,' that is: the side closer to the cabin, with me in her lap. I hung onto her neck.

"We need to talk," Rosalie said, and I felt the words in her chest.

I sighed. Yeah. The 'we need to talk' talk.

"Okay," I whispered sadly.

"It's not bad, baby," Rosalie reassured.

How come when somebody says they have to talk to you, and it's 'not bad,' it's like, it'd've been better if you just slit your own throat first, before they told you the 'not bad' thing that you just know was going to devastate you, forever?

Rosalie unwrapped her arms from encircling me, and my legs slid to the ground. I forced my arms to fall from her neck, which was a nearly impossible thing to do, as my arms were screaming 'No!' the whole time, and they were wanting to squeeze her more tightly into my embrace, not to let her go, as I was now forcing my arms to do.

I placed my arms down by my sides, and stared at the ground, waiting for her 'talk.'

She got up and sat on the other side of the trunk, placing the cross between us.

Wow.

Okay. Just wow.

She was probably being gentler than Edward was to her when he rejected her, but ...

But, God, her rejection hurt. And I wanted to hurt myself, I wanted to punch myself, over and over, into the ground, just like she did moments ago, so the physical pain would take my mind off the agony I felt in my chest, in my heart.

I kicked at the snow, listlessly.

"Baby?" she asked softly.

I smiled to the ground. And I wondered if I looked like her when she smiled like that, so sadly. It hurt. Everything hurt. But it really hurt, her being gentle to me because she was about to really hurt me, bad, and she knew it, but ... you know ... me? and me hoping in her? I knew why she couldn't have that. It was because of me. Because there was no way I could measure up, so she was going to be nice, but she was just going to let me know that I reached too high this time because she had no interest in me whatsoever. Just like Edward had no interest in her.

How come I'm on the receiving end of everything bad that happened to her? Royce rapes her, she takes that out on me. Her dad dies, so she takes me away from mine. Edward rejects her, so now it's her turn on me again.

It's not fair. It's just so not fair. Not fair to her, first, I guess, but it really hurts when she turns around and does it to me. I mean, can't she ... move past the hurt instead of passing it along?

"Baby?" she said again.

I'd better look at her quick, before she said that again, and that would tug on my heart too hard. I was tired of crying, but there always seemed to be more tears ready to fall.

"Yeah?" I said, my voice cracking, ... and I tried to look at her.

The Sun was kinda bright on this cold, crisp day, and it reflected off the snow, and it reflected off her more. It was hard to look at her directly, because it was like looking into the Sun. A perfect, cold, beautiful sun: Rosalie.

Her lips twitched up encouragingly to me.

"Remember when I said there were three things?"

"Three things?" I repeated dully.

"Yes, I told you two of them, and, well, ..." she looked away quickly then looked back, "I threw you across the snow, remember? Remember what I told you?"

"No," I said.

I couldn't even think back to before when she was holding me, because my mind recoiled at fierce, angry demon with her cruel, cruel smile taking me by force.

I felt sick, just thinking up to just before she fell off me, because I told her she was ...

I told her that she was raping me.

My face went ashen at the though, and my hands felt clammy.

Rosalie watched me and waited.

I swallowed. "No, Rosalie," I said finally, "I don't remember."

"I told you ... baby?"

Rosalie had started talking, but stopped when I looked down at the snow and started kicking it again.

I dragged my eyes up to look at her again.

"I told you," she said, "firstly, that you have to face the world, right? That it's not just you anymore. And I told you, secondly, that you aren't ordinary, but extraordinary, remember?"

"Okay," I said, agreeing, not because I remembered, but because I just left it all to her, too exhausted to think or to fight anymore.

"That was two things, but I told you there were three," she said.

I just looked at her, separated from me, and that's all I felt: the distance between us. The distance she put between us.

Her lips twitched.

I recognized little things in her now. When she did that, when she smiled encouragingly at me, and spoke softly like this, it meant to her that she had to treat me gently, because I was this close to breaking.

She's always right. About everything.

When she held me, it meant I had broken.

And that's how I felt again, broken, but I didn't feel her arms around me, and that absence ached.

She continued into my silence: "The third thing is that it doesn't stop. It never stops, until you do, and then it's too late, because, God willing, your body is six feet under, and your soul is going home to God."

Her smile again. "So aren't you glad, when you asked it to stop, that it ... didn't?"

I looked away and swallowed hard. "No," I answered quietly.

"Baby?"

I couldn't look at her. I didn't want her to see my tears.

"Baby, if it stopped then, that is, right here, you would've never found your hope, as you did. Wouldn't that have been a loss?"

I kicked at the snow and shrugged.

"Aren't you happy?" she asked, imploring.

"No," I said. All I could manage were one-word answers.

She was quiet for a moment.

"Why not? You were a moment ago," she said.

"It's just that ..." I started.

"Yes?" she asked, patiently.

I shrugged. "It's just that you're not happy, is all ... and, ... well, I'm sorry."

Rosalie regarded me unhappily and muttered: "... and the apology. Great."

"Well, I am," I said petulantly, shrugging again. "I mean, okay, you asked me what my hope was, and I told you, and ..." I shrugged again, "... you didn't like it, so ..."

The snow looked really kickable, so I returned doing just that.

"Shrugging, too. Bonus." The sarcasm was thick in her quiet voice.

I clenched my jaw.

"Okay, okay," Rosalie finally spoke up, impatience evident, "can we stop with the narcissistic self-pity party and get back to the here and now, please?"

Okay: ouch!

I grimaced. "Sure. Whatever," I said sullenly.

"Oh, my God!" Rosalie barked in disbelief. "What is this? It wasn't five minutes ago that I was proud to be in your presence, standing for what you believed in, and now you just want to throw that all away, and for what? Some imagined slight that now has you sabotaging every gain you've worked so hard for?"

Wait.

What?

I looked up, confused. "You were proud of me?"

"No!" she retorted.

Oh. I guess I heard her wrong.

But then she continued forcefully, "It's not that I was proud of you, I am proud of you!"

"Even now, yes," she clarified. "Even as you throw it all away, I am proud of what you've accomplished. Don't you see how far you've come?"

"But you were, like, frowning," I said, "so I thought you were, like, trying to ... you know, say, 'Well, you know, that's nice and all, but ... you?'" And I gave an ick look, showing her thinking about ick-me.

"Ah! I see!" she said, her face showing a dawning realization. "You wanted me to shower you with affection, hugging you and kissing your toes and having me sigh longing sighs — 'Aww!' I would say — as I gave you big eyes of devotion? Did you think that you would make your declaration and that would cause me to melt into a puddle of mush? Did you think I would fundamentally change just because you have this life-changing revelation?"

I blushed.

"Uh," I said quietly, looking back at the ground. "I guess, putting it that way, ... yeah, I guess I didn't expect ..." I blushed again. "Well, I guess I didn't know what to expect."

What I really didn't expect was for Rosalie to be doing any of that what she just said. My feet tingled with the thought of her bending down and kissing my toes.

Okay, my face was really red now. In fact, I was blushing so hard, that even my chest was blushing, now, too.

"No," she disagreed, but mildly. "I put forward you did expect me to change, and when you saw that I didn't do all of that, you reconstructed your victory as a failure. But I think you missed it. Didn't I do those just those things after you made your declaration? Didn't I hold you, just as you hoped? Didn't I just now carry you to this spot when you didn't have the strength to rise from the ground? Didn't I, after all, do exactly as I said?"

"Uh, well..." I contributed helpfully.

"...except for the toe kissing," she added quickly.

"Um," I said, blushing still.

"Oh," she added, "and the big doe eyes. Let me rectify that right now. Are you ready?"

"Huh?" I said, looking over at her.

And then I almost gagged.

There she was, giving be big, big pleading eyes, then sighed out a prolonged 'Awwww!' clasping her hands in front of her.

I actually did gag in surprise. "Gah! Rosalie!" I exclaimed. "Warn a girl before you do that, huh?"

She was laying it on so thick, she had me, Bella-the-pancake drowning in three inches of syrupy her!

She snickered, watching me try to recover from her poor waif look.

I guess she knew how to make a girl blush, no question about that. But her attempt the lighten the mood — and I hope that's what she's trying to do — worked a little bit. But I still wasn't sure.

"But, ..." I countered weakly, "you were frowning at me when you carried me over here, and now you're sitting over there, away from me!"

"As for the frowning," she said, "I wasn't frowning at you. I was mulling over this situation. Remember last night how you crawled into my arms, being all of the big girl you claimed to be, and I said how you made everything so hard? ... Not that you cared."

"Yeah," I said, embarrassed and stung for being caught being mean to her again.

I mean: I say she's my hope, but then I said 'Oh, poor vampire me!' sarcastically to her, not even caring what she has to go through, putting up with me. How inconsiderate is that?

"See," she continued, "when I said that, you may not realize that that statement applies to you. You place your hope in me, and that means, yes, I am now measured against your expectations."

"No, Rosalie, no!" I began defensively. "I don't expect you to ..."

"Shhh!" she shushed me gently, her index finger on her lips.

I shushed.

"You say you don't have these expectations, because you don't want to impose on me, yes? Because it isn't the polite thing to do. But if you truly had no expectations, you wouldn't be in this funk."

She looked significantly at me.

"You do have expectations for me, and that does make it harder for me, because, accepting this rôle, I now have to measure up to them, but — please listen to me — it makes it much harder on you, for you have to now be strong enough to have this hope in me, even as I disappoint you, just as I said I will."

"Isn't that faith, after all?" she asked quietly. "You have to believe in the conviction you held so strongly to a few moments ago, that I am your hope."

I felt my eyebrows creasing. "So ... you're saying that you are? You're not, like, fighting it?"

She regarded me. "Who said I am your hope? Me? or you?"

"I did ..." I said quietly.

"And do you believe that?" she asked.

I pursed my lips. "Yes," I said, again quietly, but firmly.

I was willing to fight her again for this. But she didn't look like she was fighting, and this was so surprising! Isn't she supposed to be angry and shouting right about now?

Why wasn't she?

"Really? You believe that with all your might?" she demanded.

"Yes," I said, firmly, and puzzled.

"And with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength?"

Okay, this was weirding me out, but I went along with it.

"Yes," I said, quietly.

"Then, ..." she said, sadly. "Isn't that enough?"

I realized now what she was doing. She was asking me to believe in myself.

"Yeah," I said, but then added: "but it'd be nice if you were okay with it, too."

Rosalie shook her head in disbelief and laughed quietly. "You are so strange!" she exclaimed.

"Huh?" I asked, surprised.

She smiled at me. "When Royce, of the 'royal' King family of Rochester, began courting me, I took it as a matter of course. Of course, I thought, he would court me. Why wouldn't he? It made perfect sense. And then, later, when Edward refused me, I didn't bemoan my fate with a lamentation of: 'Oh, what's wrong with me?' No, what I said was quite the opposite, wondering what his problem was. I don't measure my self-worth by what others do or think. I could care less. I set the bar, and they have to measure up."

"Not everybody can be you, Rosalie." I said quietly.

"The one and only," she responded just as quietly, her voice filled with pride, even as her eyes danced at the pomposity of her own statement.

"But," she continued, "you seek the approval of others, even in the firmest of your convictions, and that's ... strange ... to me."

She raised her palms and shrugged.

I was about to apologize for what? being a wimp and needing her approval in what I believed, I guess, when she spoke again.

"I will ... try to accommodate this."

World?

Rocked?

Yes.

I tried to puzzle that one through, and then finally gave up.

"Okay, who are you?" I asked her calmly, but on the inside I was flabbergasted.

"Rosalie Lillian Hale," she responded without hesitation.

I shook my head. "Okay," I said, totally disbelieving just how calm she was about this new her, "you really have changed!"

I heard awe in my voice.

"No, I haven't," she said, still calm, looking me right in the eye.

"Okay, Rosalie ..." I said reasonable, "this morning? yesterday? and whenever else? 'Accommodating' wouldn't be the word I would use to describe our conversations. No, I'd say they were more like ..." and paused thoughtfully.

"Dogmatic? Unyielding? Absolute?" she suggested.

"I suppose so ..." I said, thinking those words could be synonyms for 'angry' and 'shouting.'

"So?" she shrugged.

"Well," I answered, "that's a really big change!"

She smirked. "Perhaps," she equivocated. "That is one way of looking at it. Another way is this: wasn't I seeking to hold out for the best for you before? Do you not see that? And, in each conversation, didn't you take something away from that? Didn't you grow from each one? Are you the same person you were yesterday? The day before? I argue that you have taken tremendous strides forward, and it shows, here, and now. Why would I talk to you in the same way as before when you are different now? But am I consistent? I put forward that I am. I will accommodate, but does that mean that I've turned to mush? Do you think I'm going to back down from my principles or back away from who I am?"

I thought about that, then said, "Honestly, Rosalie ..."

"Yes, please. I do prefer your honesty," she interjected, and smiled at me, knowingly.

I rolled my eyes, and she snickered.

"Well," I continued, "I mean, put that way, I'd say there'd be no way you'd do that, but this is all so new to me, that I don't know what to expect, and ..."

I paused, hesitating.

"Yes?" she asked.

I said cautiously, "What happens when you ... flip?" and flipped my mitten over in the air, indicating her infamous mercurial mood swings.

She shrugged off my question easily. "That entirely depends upon you."

"Uh, what?"

"What am I to you?" she asked quietly.

"You're my hope, Rosalie," I said it just as quietly.

And saying it, I could taste every single word, and still not believe I was actually saying those words, that she was letting me say them.

"Do you believe that?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then," she responded, "you will know what to do when that time comes."

I frowned. "I don't know what you mean, Rosalie."

She sighed. "You don't have to."

"Uhhhm," I said, helplessly. "I don't get it."

She looked away thoughtfully.

"Yesterday," she said, "during quiet time, something ... happened ... and you saw that I wasn't in control, so you took that control and did what you had to do. Did you need me to tell you a priori that 'Oh, when this happens, do this, and when that happens, do that'? No. You saw what was needing to be done, and you did it. I don't have the answers. But you do. You have hope, and you have faith in your belief. When I ..." and she flipped her hand over, imitating my action, "... flip, you'll know to hold me to account, to understand what's going on and take whatever action you need to, to forgive me, or not, or ..." She shrugged easily. "You'll know, from your conviction what's to be done. I can say that I will be on my guard, because I will, but that doesn't mean that I won't disagree with you, or that I won't become angry, or I won't fail, because you've seen me do all these things, and you'll forgive me, or you won't."

I shook my head, stunned.

"Rosalie ..." I said, "you're, like, treating me, like ... an equal."

She grinned ... I swear to God, she almost looked shy.

I mean, shy for her. Not shy for me, okay?

"Yup," she said easily, "I'm 'like' treating you 'like' ... an equal ..."

Then she added an extra: "... 'like.'"

And she smirked.

"Hmmphf!" I said crossly, but I couldn't repress my smile.

I stuck my tongue out at her, but at that she then became quiet and just raised her eyebrows in acknowledgement.

... Oh, yeah, that. I remember. The last time we exchanged tongue-sticks, like, just less than an hour ago, it led to me in the snow and her on top of me, where she proceeded to take off my clothes and to scare me to death.

But ...

Rosalie is treating me like an equal?

I couldn't get my head around that.

But then I did.

"If I'm your equal," I said, "then ... will you let me go now?"

"No," Rosalie said after contemplating me, and then she added: "Never, ... you know too much now. You knew too much when I extracted you from your town to this place here. I can never let you go."

"Oh," I said quietly.

"But I'm proud of you for asking that," she said, "as an equal."

I almost cringed.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"Rosalie," I said, "I'm just not used to this, and it doesn't make sense. I mean: in no way am I your equal. You're smarter, and, like, way stronger, and ..." I shrugged, "... and everything. And you're just handing me this. It's like ..."

But I didn't know what it's like.

Rosalie paused a moment, thinking.

"Being equal doesn't mean we're the same, and it doesn't mean that I don't have things that I can do better or can contribute more, just as it doesn't mean that you have nothing to contribute, because you do. Being equal doesn't make everything easier, in fact, it makes many things harder, because I cannot presume any more, nor can you fall back on: 'Well, Rosalie will do that, because she's better at everything.' We're going to have to work at this ... 'equality' ... and we're going to be bumping into each other as we do that. Surely we'll have roles that will fall out of this, but ... perhaps most disappointing is that, on the surface, nothing changes, really. We had things to do before, and those same things need to be done now, regardless of our respective — and respected — status. You have things to learn before, and you still have things to learn now, and ... I have knowledge and experience that you don't. But, being an equal, it's easier to see that I have things I was assuming, that are wrong. I have to learn, and you have been a better teacher to me than anyone has ever been to me in my existence."

I gasped. "What could I possibly teach you, Rosalie?"

She looked at me. "I've never had an equal. Ever. You stood up for yourself, and you believed in something, no matter what I threw at you. And the thing that you believed in is me. No one has ever believed in me."

I stared at her in amazement.

"You taught me that there is something beyond intellect and reason," she continued, "and, if you listen to me now, as I do, then you see that I'm relying on my intellect and reason to see that, so I have much to learn from you in the matters of the heart, where I have failed so miserably my entire existence."

"But, wait, Rosalie," I broke in, "I've been telling you from basically day one that you are kind and you are caring, ... you're not a failure there, you're ..."

"Yes, I am," she denied me.

"No, you're not," I said, "You just don't see it that way, but ..."

"But you do," she said. "See? I didn't see it that way. I still don't. But you do. And you have been telling me from precisely day one, and I didn't listen to you, because I didn't believe you. I didn't have to. But you're an equal now. Something I've never experienced, so I have to at least listen to you now and consider what you're saying ... and still disagree, where I do, or learn from you ... if I am able."

"See?" she said, and shrugged.

I shook my head. "I just don't believe it."

"Then don't," she said. "If you're going to treat me as an equal, then you also have to try to drop how you idolize me. It blinds you to your abilities, you know, and then you feel lesser than, not an equal, and then you don't feel you can contribute coming from that inferior view."

"Well, okay, but you have to do that, too, you know." I came right back.

"Yes," she said, "I know. But I also won't allow you wallow in a sulk nor to denigrate yourself nor to fall back on doing or thinking the old familiar patterns because it's easy or what you're used to, even though these things stunt your growth and hurt you as a person."

"Rosalie," I said, "same for same, okay? Same for same."

She smiled sadly. "Do you see how being equal is harder, not easier?"

"I don't know," I said. "I don't know if it's harder or easier, all I know is this is just way different and it feels really weird, but it could be really good, I think, Rosalie."

"That's what I think," I averred.

She looked at me. "You're strong. Do you know that?"

"Uh," I said, blushing, looking away.

"You are strong. Do you know that?" she asked again.

"Uh, thank you," I said shyly.

"You are welcome," she responded easily.

I looked at her, beyond the cross, her back straight, perfectly poised, totally at ease and in control of everything, taking even this in stride.

"This is hard," I admitted. "'cause I just want to ... you know?"

She smirked. "I did say it would be hard. It's equally hard for me. I don't compliment. I don't tell people I'm proud of them. To me, they either do what they said they were going to do, or they get the fuck out of my way, and self-effacing people?"

She blew out an angry puff of air. "Don't even get me started. You either have a purpose or you have no place near me, and you knew that right off the bat. So, me? Saying I'm proud of you?"

She shrugged. "It's hard. To me, I was ... yes, I was so proud that you stood up for yourself, and I thought you would just know that, but then you fell apart? And then you lost all that ground you made? I just ... don't work that way. You are so different than me."

She didn't say these words with distaste. She said them factually.

"I'm glad you told me you're proud of me, Rosalie," I said quietly. "It really ... It really meant a lot to me."

I looked back down at the snowy ground.

"I know it did, baby," she said.

"Do you ..." I said, "do you feel ..." I said.

I kept trying not to say 'like,' and 'like' kept trying to be said.

"Do you feel protective of me, or something? You keep calling me 'baby,' and 'sweetie' and stuff."

I really, really couldn't look at her. I don't care if she doesn't like me shy, because shy was very much what I felt.

"Yes, I do," she said.

I snuck a peek at her.

She was looking down at the ground, too.

"I thought," she said, "that when you asked your question... Well, talk is one thing, and direct experience something else. Talking about a fire doesn't get you warm, but it also doesn't get you burned. I thought you were ready. But I was ... wrong. You are much more innocent than what I thought possible, and I ... kept pushing, and ..."

She waved back in the direction we came from, head bent, hair hiding her eyes from me.

I recognized that look. I have that look, ... when I'm shy, or when I'm ... ashamed.

"You've never been wrong before, have you?" I asked. "You're always right, right?"

"Hm?" she asked, snapping out of it. "No, of course not. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'd prefer to be wrong. When I'm right, I learn nothing. When I'm wrong, I see my error, correct it, and am better. When something is my fault, I can fix it. If I'm right, and it's everybody else's fault, then there's nothing for me to do but feel wronged, which is a pointless exercise. That's why when you asked if it's your fault that everything's hard, and I said, 'yes,' I was surprised you were shocked. For me, if you told me something is my fault? I would've thanked you, because that's one more thing that I would make right, where everything else that everybody else does is in the state of shit that it is."

Then she muttered to herself: "Fucking losers, everywhere!"

Then she continued, looking at me, again: "And everything hard? You asked me if everything's hard? Ridiculous! You know why? I don't give a f..." She bit her lip. "I don't care if it's hard or if it's not hard, when I set out to do something, I do it. I wish more people in the world would just see this. The world is all f.."

She sighed.

"You don't like my profanity. I see you wince every single time."

"It's okay, Rosalie," I said, "I guess you people Back East speak that way."

"Yes, we do," she said, "we don't have time for this polite ... circumlocution." She waved dismissively at the word 'circumlocution.' "But it's not 'okay.' You don't like it, so I will try to avoid it."

"But you didn't curse when I first met you, Rosalie," I said, "that's what I don't get."

She smiled. "Finishing," was her explanation. "You measure a person from a distance with politeness, and then, when you know them and respect them, you can speak directly, saying what you mean, and how you mean it."

I shrugged. "We don't curse like that out here, even when a person gets to know a person, we call that respecting a person."

"So, you're all polite to each other, then?" she asked.

I shrugged again. "Yeah."

"Uh-huh," she said, disapprovingly.

"But you said there should be more people like you," I said. "Did you ..." I paused, "... you don't like it that I'm not like you, right?"

Rosalie looked back down at the ground.

"Yes, and no," she said finally.

"What kinda answer is that?" I demanded.

"A truthful one. A real one," she said. "I am exactly my mother. She made everything work, and she scared the life out of anyone who got in her way, ... except me, who met her measure, for measure, and then some. And I saw, ..." and she waved behind her, "that that was what I was doing. I was becoming my mother, and I was molding you into me, and I saw that in committing to that course, I would just kill everything in you that ... well, made you alive, and beautiful, and perfectly who you are."

"You're idolizing me, Rosalie," I scolded.

"No, I'm not," she said.

"Yes, you ..."

"Shh!" she said, and smiled.

"You know, Miss Equal," I groused, "I get to shush you back sometimes, too, now."

She laughed quietly.

"What I'm doing," she said, "is saying that what I was doing is all I know how to do, and I saw, so clearly, that it was falling wrongly, and hurting you, but I didn't know how else to do it. And then ..." she said reverently, "you stood up for yourself, and, no matter what damage I've done, I just hoped that ..." she shrugged, "... that you can and will stand on your own two feet, and you don't need me twisting you into being another me, no matter how right I feel about things."

"Nor how righteous?" I ribbed.

"Yes," she smiled, "nor that."

"So, the 'equal' thing?" I asked.

She nodded.

I guess it made more sense to me now.

"So that's why you were frowning, huh?"

She nodded again.

I smiled, "I thought it was because you weren't happy ... well, okay, that you really didn't like that ... you know ..."

"Say it," she demanded, her voice singing.

"That you're my hope," I finally admitted, blushing.

"If you can't say it, you don't believe it," she lectured.

"Yes, Miss I'm-not-molding-you-anymore," I chided.

She shrugged. "It's hard. And there's things that I can give you, as a woman who's been through life, and failed, that maybe you can take from me, if you want, and I hope that you do, so ... you don't fail like I did."

"Okay, I guess," I said, "but why are you over there?"

"Because you're hot bod is giving me warm tingly sensations trembling through my entire body whenever I'm near you?" she quipped.

"GAH!" I squawked, and looked away before all the snow melted off the planet.

She snickered wickedly.

"Well, it's true!" she exclaimed, defensively, "the things I would do to that hot bod of yours if I were on your side of the tree trunk? ... Oh, mama!"

"EEEEKKK!" I covered my ears with my mittens, that had managed not to burn off my head somehow.

She was laughing openly now.

It did not help — at all! — that I had been looking longingly, if not surreptitiously, at her with, well, longing feelings these past few days, but 'hot bod' and 'oh, mama!' from her? She had to be joking.

Which stung, a little bit, even though I knew she was just teasing to lighten the mood.

"You are so cute when you magically turn yourself into a tomato like that!" she proclaimed affectionately.

"Gee, thanks!" I mumbled, sarcastically, trying to recover a measure of dignity, and failing utterly, I'm sure.

"But seriously," she said, a smile still in her voice, after a happy sigh escaped her lips. "I'm over here, and you're over there, because you're on the safe side."

I looked up at that. "The 'safe side'?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "You asked. I'm going to answer. I tried and fai-..."

"Rosalie," I waved quickly. "Really, forget it. Really. Honest. I don't need to know anymore. I really, really don't care."

Rosalie smiled sadly. "Baby, you're growing up. And mommy never told you about anything coming up, and I'm sure daddy never said anything, am I right?"

"Said anything about what?" I asked.

She just looked at me and smiled. "About coming of age ...? About boys ...?"

"Oh," I said. "Well, actually, he did talk to me one time about that."

"Oh, really?" she sounded surprised. "What did he say?"

I remember it now. Pa and me're cleaning our weapons after a day out on the shooting range. I smiled at his advice.

"Pa told me," I said the Rosalie, "'Bells,' he boomed, 'There're only two gentlemen in the World you can trust: Mr. Smith,' he said, ..."

... and I imitated him putting one revolver on the cleaning rag on the kitchen table...

"... 'and Mr. Wesson!' ..."

... and with my other hand I imitated him dropping a rifle on the kitchen table, and made a clunking sound as the weapon, safety armed, chamber cleared, but still pointing away from us both, hit it, denting the wood.

"... and he laughed after he told me this, so I smiled with him."

Rosalie tilted her head to the side, watching me as I relived that memory.

Finally she said, "Actually, that's pretty good advice ..."

"Isn't it, though?" I said, pleased that I could teach her something.

"Yes," she said, "I wish I had taken it when it was timely for me."

"Huh," I said, and wondered if my little story made her feel bad all over again.

She pressed on, "But he didn't say anything about ... feelings? about being a woman? ..."

I hollered with laughter. "Pa?" I asked incredulously.

She smiled along with my laughter.

"So, now, here you are, asking these questions, and here I am, and I can tell you about it, but, again, fire? warmth? And I tried to show you, but then I hurt you. So, you're over there, and being over there, you're safe. And I'm over here, so I'll show you on me, okay?"

"Rosalie, really, you don't have to," I insisted.

"I know, baby, I know. But you did say the question was important to you."

"Not any more, really, Rosalie." I said.

"Not any more, but for how long?" she asked. "And then you'll be too shy to ask again. Let me show you, okay? And you'll be safe over there, okay?"

"Rosalie," I said. "I don't want you raping yourself, okay? Not on my account. I got the idea already."

She laughed lightly. "Baby, I couldn't even get to second base with you, I couldn't even describe second base, without you becoming incapacitated with hysteria. You don't 'got the idea.' What you have is a half-truth, which is much more dangerous than simple ignorance."

She was so serious speaking now.

"Rosalie, ..." I entreated.

"You know," she said, "you are farther along than I ever was in life. You found a truth. You found your hope. And no one can ever take that from you if you don't let them. But there is a lie that the whole world lives. You're living it right now. I see it in your whole being. I saw in how you carried yourself around Edward, around me. Please let me show you the lie. Please? If you see it, you'll know it for what it is, and then you'll have what no one else in this world has, what I never had. You'll have a choice. Okay? Please?"

I bit my lip. "Okay." I capitulated.

"Okay," she said sadly. "You're safe, okay? Stay there. I'm going to go, and I'll come right back, and this," she pointed to her side of the tree, "is my bedroom back at the Hale Estate, okay?"

"Uh, ... okay?" I said.

"Please," she said. "Please see this. It's going to be bad. Very bad. But please don't look away, or you'll miss it. You'll miss the lie, just like everybody else does. And I really, really don't want to have to do this twice, okay?"

"Okay?" I squeaked, even more scared and confused now.

"You're safe, okay?" she said. "Stay there. I won't see you, okay? But please just ..."

She bit her lip and stopped. Then she hung her head, rose fluidly from the tree, and walked away, disappearing into the forest like a mist, evaporating in the morning sun.

"Rosalie?" I called weakly, grabbing hold of the cross, now really scared. Not feeling safe at all.

Nothing.

I waited.

Nothing.

"Rosalie?" I called, my voice quavering.

... and then, coming out of the forest, I saw her.

I could not believe my eyes.


A/N: Happy fourth anniversary to us! Today, December 26, Boxing Day, 2008 was the day when I published chapter 1 of My Sister Rosalie. All my best to you and my girls, who are now equals. I did not see this one coming. That is, not until way into Book II, but now both girls are growing up so, so quickly.