Chapter Summary: So, now would be the perfect time to tell her, wouldn't it? Seeing as I've so utterly ruined everything else I've touched. Why not? Nothing left. Nothing in me. Just this one last thing so she can laugh in my face at my misery, and I can tunnel into some rock and just stay there, contemplating my perfect navel forever. Joy.


"Not everything is sexual, Rosalie," I said to the closed door of the outhouse.

I don't know why I feel this, but somehow I feel more confident, in this little tiny space behind the safety of the closed door of the, yeah, I know, potty, not having to confront her impenetrable, critical eyes.

"Oh," Rosalie answered coolly from outside. "Is that a fact?"

I could sense her antagonism, even through her calm disposition, and it made me want to fight her.

"Yes, it is!" I said, feeling the heat rising. It's like she has to fight me on every single thing? And I'm like, why? Particularly on this point where what I said is so obvious. I mean, arguing that everything's sexual is just plain ludicrous.

But, reflecting on it: this whole situation was ludicrous, us arguing over something like this, that so ... pointless, but, I mean, from the potty, too?

That's rather embarrassing, come to think of it.

"Like, for example ...?" she asked, trailing off her words expectantly.

"Well, like, ..." I answered back, "well, like, a lot of things."

I mean, there're so many things that aren't even ... I mean, you can't even possibly say they are sexual, so why is she even asking?

She can be so annoying at times, I swear!

"'A lot of things' says nothing to me, and doesn't help your argument at all," irritation tinged her voice.

I paused. If she were annoying to me, maybe it sounded like I was annoying her, too, at the same time ... for the same reasons? ... for opposite reasons?

I never could tell.

She continued: "Tell me something specific. You're thinking of something in particular that has to be 'not sexual,' so tell me me what exactly what you mean."

Actually, I wasn't thinking of anything at all. I was just annoyed that she made this blanket statement with no proof, just expecting me to believe it, so I didn't know what she meant by me thinking of anything in particular.

But I played along, for her sake, I guess. I don't know why.

"Well, okay, ..." I said, slightly miffed that I was playing her game by her rules again. Then I thought of what could be the most obvious, boring, non-sexual thing in the world.

I hit on it right away. "Well, off the top of my head," I said, pleased again at my spontaneity, "baseball, for example, that's totally non- ..." I paused, feeling ill-at-ease saying the words 'non-sexual' so casually, as if being like that, talking like Rosalie, would somehow corrupt who I was, making me more world-weary or ... carnal, you know? "... I mean, that has nothing to do with, you know, well ..." I had to say the word, "... sex."

I cringed.

There was quiet for a moment, then there was a quiet chuckle.

"You have got to be kidding me, right?" came Rosalie's surprised reply. It was if I had offended her by saying that baseball was obviously not sexual.

I didn't get it.

"Huh?" I said, surprised myself. "No, I'm not," came my quick reply. "I mean, it's the most ..."

Wait.

Oh, shoot! She was talking about her baseball.

I shuddered at the realization, glad I was in the outhouse, so she couldn't see my embarrassment.

"No, Rosalie," I said even faster, my nervousness seeping into my words. "I didn't mean the, you know, that thing you were talking about baseball, I just meant, you know, the game that the high school boys play that ..." Oh, my God! ...

Oh, my God!

I can't even explain a real game of baseball without making it sound exactly like what she was talking about earlier that caused the terrifying blow up from her: boys playing games.

The double meaning was obvious, even to a stupid little girl like me.

I tried to salvage what I could, desperation making it hard to think, making it hard to breathe. "I just meant baseball, Rosalie, not the thing you were talking about earlier," then I whispered, terrified: "I just meant plain old baseball."

Her voice came to me quietly, calmingly, somehow lower to the ground, it sounded like: "That's what I meant, too," she said. "I meant the game of baseball: nine boys fielding on one team, a batter on the other. Baseball." she said.

"Oh," I whispered. Then I said: "So, see? There's nothing sexu-..."

Rosalie continued on: "Totally sexual."

"Huh?" I asked in surprise. "Rosalie, c'mon! Are you joking? You have to be joking, right? Baseball is the most boringest thing in the world! You just sit there in the bleachers watching a bunch of boys stand there for hours and then ... and then ... what? Nothing happens, and then you go home and fall asleep, p. that you're getting further behind on your homework and chores and why did you just waste a night doing ... nothing!"

I don't know that 'boringest' is a word ... strike that: I do know that it isn't, but it should be, because that's what baseball is.

"Ah," she said in understanding. "They are over there, and you are in the bleachers. They have nothing to do with you, and you have nothing to do with them. A nice, little, safe choice to prove your point."

"Yeah..." I said cautiously. Her voice was even, but there was an undercurrent of menace to it.

"Do you know what I just so love?" she asked, now sounding furious, like her anger was building and building inside her.

She didn't wait for my answer.

"I just so love sitting here, looking out into the forest, talking to the fucking trees while you sit there in the crapper, nice and safe behind a closed door talking about nice and safe little topics that mean nothing to you and your life."

"Uh ..." I said.

The door ripped open, and light from the outside world burst into the outhouse, bathing totally exposed me, and there stood Rosalie, glaring at me with black, furious eyes, her face pinched with anger.

I shrieked, shocked by her sudden appearance and squeezed into myself, shutting my legs together and hunching down over myself.

"Hello!" I shouted. "What the hell, Rosalie? You ever hear of knocking?"

My protest left her totally unmoved. She ignored me and what I said. It was like I had said nothing at all. Or nothing of importance. Or like: she didn't care.

"Get up," she snarled. "Let's get going."

I felt my face go white. "And like, okay, you know, what if I had to, you know, poop, Rosalie, huh? You ever think of that?"

"Again? Right after you did this morning?" She looked at me with contempt.

"Maybe?" I said weakly.

"And what if you didn't, and you were cowering in here, so you wouldn't have to face me? Have you considered that?" she demanded. "What would that make you?"

I looked away, unable to face her harsh, judgmental eye.

"Would that make you a chicken-shit?" she demanded.

Her words hit me hard, and my face stung as if I had been actually slapped.

"I'm not a chicken-shit, Rosalie," I whispered, trying to sound insulted.

But I didn't sound insulted. I sounded petulant. I sounded like I had been caught.

"Glad to hear it," was her sarcastic reply. "So that means you'll get up now so I can have the pleasure of seeing the lovely expressions parade across your face as we talk, right?"

I bit my lip. "Uh, okay," I whispered.

She just stood there, glaring at me.

"Uh, Rosalie?" I said.

Her expression didn't change. I couldn't look into her glaring eyes. I turned my head away, and made shooing motions toward her with my hand.

"What?" she demanded. "It's not like I haven't seen it all before." Then she added: "Every day." Then: "Regularly."

I swallowed. "I know, but ..."

I couldn't continue. So I waved her away again.

Rosalie snorted.

I heard the door close and felt the the darkness prevade my little, tiny space of safety and privacy. A place of privacy that wasn't at all yesterday and before, as Rosalie just said.

So why was it so important to me now?

Think, little chicken-shit, I thought to myself. Don't shy away from yourself.

Why am I so shy about myself now, when before I wasn't?

Well, before there was nothing I could do about it, right? I mean, she's seen me naked, and stripped me naked, even, but those times it was like I was dying or freezing or something, and she had to do that, and I knew that.

And besides, I was much too weak then to do anything about it, even if the only thing I can do about it now is just to protest and wave her away. She's the one who can do anything and everything. She's the one who had to decide to step out and to leave me alone.

And she did.

But why is that so important now? My privacy?

It's important now, because ... because I can take care of myself now. I don't need her to strip me down of my wet and freezing clothes and hold me up by the stove to keep me alive. No, I'm perfectly fine now.

But I know that's not the real reason. That's the plain, nice, and safe little reason.

The real reason is ... I guess ... well ...

The real reason is that ... well ... she's been hugging me and I've been hugging her, and ...

And, okay, there is that shared intimacy, that connectedness that I now have with her, and I like it.

I just realized that I like it.

But she's been saying that everything's sexual, and that makes me really uncomfortable, and ...

And I don't want ... to cheapen this. I don't want her to look at me in a sexual way. I don't want our connectedness to be degraded something like that ... to become something sexual.

Wow!

Rosalie's right! When I try to deflect away from myself, I don't learn anything: I just make safe little excuses, but when I look into myself, I see what I'm doing, and why! And that little handwave of mine, so automatic? I now see that there was a lot more to it than me being shy. Or I was shy, but it was for a good reason. I wanted to protect what's just become ours. I am shy, but that's not bad, nor selfish. That can be good even, or noble.

I smiled to myself, pleased. I felt, having looked into myself, ... I felt a new confidence.

I looked up and around for the tp.

Uh, oh.

"Shoot," I muttered. No tp. Just my luck. And why would there be?

"What is it?" came Rosalie's voice.

"Uh, sorry, Rosalie," I said, "but there's, uh, nothing to clean myself with in here."

The door opened again. Rosalie took out another hanky and handed it to me.

"How many of those do you carry?" I asked.

"Enough," was her reply. Then she looked at me critically. "Why did you say 'sorry'?" she asked.

She framed in the doorway, so imposing.

"I didn't want to bother you," I said simply.

"So you were going to sit in here for how long so as to not bother me?"

She sounded bothered.

I looked down. "I'm sorry," I repeated helplessly.

"For ...?" she demanded.

I sighed.

What was I sorry for? This time, I mean.

"I guess," I said, looking back to her. "I guess I think I'm supposed to have it all together, and I don't, and I was like, just a second ago, well, I thought of something and you said I wasn't supposed to shy away from myself, so I didn't, and I was pleased that I didn't, but then when I wanted to tell you I went to ... you know ... wipe, but, gee, can't do that when I don't have tp and I felt bad because I should've thought of ..."

Rosalie held up her hands.

"Too fast," she said. "You're going too fast."

I stopped.

"Breathe," she said.

I breathed.

She regarded me as I tried to pull myself together.

She brought her hands together in a crushing motion. "You're collapsing everything together."

"Huh?" I said.

She had my attention now, so she paused then explained herself calmly. "So you had a realization now. Good. And you didn't have paper. Okay, I don't see how that's your fault ..."

"But I wanted to ..." I began.

"Sh," she scolded.

I bit my lip.

"Let me finish," she said, impatience in her tone. "So there was no paper. Not your fault. It just wasn't there. But you made it your fault, didn't you?"

I looked away.

She cleared her throat, so I looked back.

"What you're doing," she continued, "is that everything has to be perfect for anything to work. This is a perfect setup for paralysis and despair, don't you see? So you have this realization, but then you immediately sabotage yourself. Nothing you do is good enough, because it all depends on everything being just right, doesn't it?"

"I just ..." I said.

She held out her hands.

I stopped.

"Do you get what I'm saying?" she asked.

I sighed. "Yeah, I got it."

"Then why do you have to reply right away, without even listening to what I'm saying?" she demanded.

I wanted to snap back that I heard her every word, but then, wouldn't that be doing what she was just scolding me for what I was doing?

See? Do you see how she's always right? and how I'm always wrong? How she makes me always wrong?

"It's just that, ..." I began sadly. "You're so ..." I sighed. "You're so perfect, in everything, all the time. And I just don't ..."

I looked down.

"And I just don't measure up," I said.

Rosalie regarded me closely.

"Okay," she said finally.

I looked at her sadly, a girl in the potty, imperfect, looking at perfection.

"I see what you're saying," she said. "But consider this: what if it doesn't matter if you measure up?"

"But it does matter," I blurted out.

Her lips twitched upward. And she put one finger to them.

I shut up, chastised.

"And what if you do measure up? Have you considered that?" she asked.

I didn't. The thought didn't even enter my mind. Because why would it? She's always angry with me and scolding me, so obviously I didn't measure up.

Equals. I thought bitterly. How can she offer me 'equals' when I can't even hope to measure up? Was it like some cruel joke of hers that I was just too dumb to get, and she would laugh at little, stupid me behind my back as I tried and tried to be her equal?

But I just didn't get that feeling about her, that she was cruel like that. I mean why would she keep pushing me, just to watch me fail all the time? I'm sure there are people like that, I mean, I don't have to look past my own town and in my own school to see people just ... happy to see the misery of others ... of me: laughing at me when I was embarrassed about my period or looking dumb in class, whispering to each other and pointing at me.

But Rosalie wasn't like that. She didn't laugh a cruel laugh at me. She didn't point at me and have a wicked smile on her face when I failed. She was hard, and she pushed me, but it felt like she hurt when I was hurting, that she was frustrated at my not getting something.

"No," I said eventually. "It's just that I keep making mistakes, and you ... don't."

She nodded in understanding.

"What if I'm not allowed to?" she whispered.

I felt my eyebrows crease in surprise.

"I don't know what you mean," I said after trying to figure out why she said that.

"You can make mistakes, and you can recover and grow from them. You're human," she said, her lips twitching, smiling lightly at me. "But when I make a mistake, there's no recovery from it. I can have anything I want," she said with no pleasure, nor delight, nor hope in her voice. "I can just reach out and take it." She demonstrated, grasping the air in a lightning-quick grasp of her fist. "I can have whatever I want: money, power, a place to stay, ... blood." She smiled at me: "All I have to do is murder and destroy to achieve my aim. It's all so easy to do."

She looked at me for understanding.

"But so I get whatever I want, whenever I want, no mistakes, because I wipe those off the face of the Earth. Do you see the problem?"

I nodded.

Her eyes narrowed.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"You feel ... bad for ... having to kill, right? To get what you want?" I said.

"Phfft!" she snorted, then added a raucous "Wrong!" for emphasis.

"What do I care about people in the way? I didn't care before, so why should I care now?"

"Oh," I said. I guess I didn't see, then.

"The problem is now that I can have whatever I want, what's the point? It all becomes valueless, drained of any purpose or meaning. What do I need money for, when I can just take what I want? What's the point of power when I can force my will so effortlessly on anyone or anything, and kill or destroy them if they don't play by my game?"

"Like me?" I asked.

Then I looked away quickly from her hard glare.

I was surprised to hear her chuckling lightly.

I looked back at her. "You just don't get it, do you?" she asked.

"Uh..." I said.

Her look became hard again. "So," she said, all business-like, "are we going to continue this conversation like this, you on your throne, showing me your altogether, and me out here, looking at your altogether, or are you going to freshen up first so we can carry on this conversation in the nice, fresh outside air?"

I blushed and turned away quickly. "The second one," I mumbled.

She wanted to talk and talk to me while I'm in the potty, then she scolds me for it? What was I gonna do? Wipe right in front of her? I think not!

"Very well, then," Ms. Bossy said, "get along with it; we don't have all day."

Then she closed the door to the outhouse.

"'Get along with it'?" I murmured. What's gotten into her? I felt my brow cloud as I muttered to myself: "Does she think she owns the joint?"

"I heard that," she said, clear as a bell, from outside. "And, yes, I do own the joint. Deal with it."

... and her perfect hearing! Hmmphf!

I looked down at the hanky she gave me, it was printed with an elegant emerald design with gold trim. It felt like a crime to use this piece of art, perfumed with her scent, to do something so base as to wipe myself. But else was I going to do? Not wipe and walk back with panties I know had pee on them? If I didn't die from embarrassment at every step, Rosalie'd probably kill me for not tending to my hygiene like a good and proper lady that I was supposed to be now.

Heh. 'A good and proper lady' talking about sex with her ... friend who's a girl. Do ladies do that? I never, never, heard adults talking like this and about these things when the wives and moms got together and twittered among themselves as the kids played at the Friday fish fries.

Never.

I sighed and wiped myself with a hanky that would've put every piece in the 'Ekalaka Fine Arts Museam' to shame — that is: if we had one — and pulled up my pants.

I looked down at the hanky.

"What do I do with this?" I asked quietly as I opened the door, looking at the teen-dream-beauty queen, looking every bit as regal as royalty if we did have kings and queens in America.

She nodded back toward the stalls. "Discard it."

I looked down at the hanky.

I felt my face tighten. Such a waste! I thought. Then, feeling determined, I folded it neatly and put it in my back pocket.

Rosalie gasped. "What are you doing? That's dirty!"

"I'll wash it," I said. It was hardly even damp, and just throwing it for this one use felt like a crime.

Rosalie's eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips in displeasure.

"And your denim trousers? You'll wash those, too?" she said with distaste, looking at me if I were some bug.

"Yeah, I'll wash those, too." I said. I shrugged internally. They'd have to be washed, anyway: that's what you did with clothes you wore, not just throw them into the fire because you wore them one time.

I felt annoyed. I don't know where she got this attitude about things or money, as if she could pluck it off trees or let bills fall to the ground like pine cones, but these were hard times, and people were suffering, and she just used stuff and threw it away like she was too good to have cloth touch her that was ever worn once before. You hear about those ultra-rich people, so filled with their own entitlement that they had closets so big that they had a bag labeled for each day of the year, and each bag they had a dress.

That's the kind of excess that got our Country in trouble in the first place: the 'Roaring '20s' with champaign fountains lead to this decade of famine and hard times where you heard about people actually starving in the cities Back East and freezing to death in their tiny apartments because they could only afford the rent but not the heat nor food bill.

That was the price of excess. And she's been running the show up to now, but we weren't Back East, we were here so it was about time for me to start taking charge and showing her how things were done here.

Leastways when it came to clothes, anyway.

"'Yeah'?" she asked reprovingly.

I grimaced.

What fights did I want to fight?

"Yes, Rosalie," I said, acknowledging her, but then: "I said 'yeah.' I'm not super-formal like you are, and we're not at some high-class restaurant or ... I don't know, in one of your soirées talking to your banker friends, like I'd ever do that, anyway. But I can be formal and polite, I suppose, if need be, but I just got out of the potty and just answered your question about laundry, so I don't have to be all stiff and say 'yes, Mistress Rosalie, I shalt wash this handkerchief with water for the washing of cloth.' 'Yeah' is fine ... I didn't go to finishing school, and I don't need to be finished or polished or anything like that; I'm fine just as I am, ..."

Then I paused, getting really angry. "And why do I have to fight so hard just to say 'yeah,' anyway, Rosalie? I mean, really: c'mon! Jeez!" I spat out the last words in annoyance.

Rosalie regarded me coolly. Measuring me, again. Always measuring me.

She broke into a smile. "'Commonjeese'?" she imitated my irritated words perfectly while still injecting bubbling laughter into them.

"YES!" I shouted, not letting go of my anger. She could laugh at me and my country ways, but I didn't have to find it funny just because she did.

Rosalie looked at me again, being patient, I could tell, masking her amusement for my sake, for the sake of my anger.

How come she's always so calm when I'm angry at her? That just annoys me more sometimes. And other times she just blows up when things are light and easy and funny.

She scares me, she annoys me, and ...

... she's my anchor, grounding me, keeping me alive, caring for me, pulling me back together when I fall apart.

She totally, totally ... pisses me off in her unpredictability. I can't breathe without her help, sometimes it feels she has to hold me together or I'd just burst into a million pieces, and other times she so infuriates me or scares me, I get all choked up and feel smothered by her, like she's squashing me underfoot, and not even trying at that!

"Two things:" she said. "Firstly, I'm nobody's mistress, particularly not yours ..." she glared at me for that. I guess I got her goat with the formal title, for some reason. She continued: "...and you're nobody's servant. Please remember that."

"Okay, ..." I said, thinking a 'whatever.' She wants me to be all proper and then she's like, no, it's not like that. Like I said: whatever.

"Secondly," she added, "yes, you have to fight for what you are. Always. If saying 'yeah' is important to you, and to who you are, then: yes, fight for it."

"Fight for saying 'yeah'?" I asked incredulously.

"Yeah," she answered easily, smirking.

I narrowed my eyes at her. "How come you get to say 'yeah' just now, and it's okay, but when I say it, it means I'm not ladylike, and you scold me for it?"

She shrugged. "I know who I am."

"And I don't?" I demanded.

"No," she said, disagreeing, "in this, you showed that you do know who you are, and I respect you, and your choices. You showed your mettle in this."

"Oh," I said, surprised. She took that so easily.

But why did I have to fight so hard for it, then?

Why doesn't she have to?

I felt to to be unfair: she gets to do anything and everything, even no-no things, according to her. And that's okay for her, but the second I step out of line, she's onto me, pouncing like a hawk, and as soon as I defend myself, she either just lets it go or beats me down so hard with her guilt-trip questions and reproaches that I just want to crawl under a rock and die rather than face her arch looks.

It was unfair, but I could whine and pout about it like a baby, or I could be an adult. If she just let it go, and let me say 'yeah,' then that's what I wanted, right?

Why throw a tantrum about the unfairness of it all when I got exactly what I wanted after all?

I sighed, capitulating, accepting her acceptance with as much good grace as I could. "Okay," I said, and smiled a small smile.

That actually made me feel much, much better. I suppose if I were Rosalie, I would've fought and fought until I made her think the way I wanted her to think and be happy or at least be beaten into the ground with her superior reasoning. But I wasn't her, I was me, and I didn't have to fight over anything. I could just go along with her, and still be me, and still be happy about it.

I felt a warmth suffuse me. I now knew how I could beat her: instead of fighting with her, I'd just agree with her.

She saw my smile, and the warmth in my eyes, and smiled tentatively back at me.

It was as if she were shy around me, for some reason.

My eyebrows creased.

"Rosalie," I said, "you know, before I had to, you know ... pee, I had a thought, but then I had to pee, and I thought something about me, and then ..." I sighed. "You said I just don't get it, and ..."

I blushed and looked away.

"And I don't get it. I don't get what I don't get, do you ... well, get it? And ... I've got all these thoughts in my head, and that's exactly what I was thinking and ..."

Rosalie lightly touched my chin with her fingertip, turning my eyes to her.

She smiled faintly at me. "One thing at a time, remember?"

I stopped and breathed.

"Focus, right?" I said.

She smiled in confirmation.

"Does that help you?" I asked. "When it's all coming at you? Do you just take one thing at a time?"

Rosalie shrugged easily. "I suppose it helped when I was human. Successful or dedicated or motivated people do that, but as I am now..." She shrugged again.

"What's that mean?" I asked and imitated her shrug.

The corner of her mouth twitched up. "I am in Eternity now. I can handle whatever's thrown at me, no matter how many things come at me, and no matter fast."

"Oh," I said, "so, you're thinking of a bunch of things when you're, like, talking to me now?"

"Yes..." she said.

"Isn't that distracting?" I asked.

"No," she said. "Not really. Baby," she explained, something like sorrow in her voice, "humans are so slow! You speak so slowly, you think so slowly, you move so slowly. I can take in everything you're thinking and feeling and saying and all those spaces when you pause to think or to breathe or to form the next word, I have an Eternity to think then to dismiss many things."

She shrugged apologetically.

"Oh," I said, and I felt my head hang. "That must be why you think I'm so dumb..."

"No," she came back forcefully, "that's why you think you're so dumb." Then she added just as firmly: "I don't think that at all. In fact, I'm very impressed with you. I've met both vampires and humans, and you're the one who impresses me, not them."

"Really?" I asked, almost shocked, feeling my ears turn pink at the compliment.

She smirked. "Yes, really."

"Oh," I said humbly.

I couldn't see how she could say that. The most intelligent thing I've said today is 'oh,' unless you count the sign language, and then I scored bonus points with her by signing the word 'potty'! I mean, way to step up my game, huh?

"So, your question?" Rosalie asked.

"Oh," I said, coming back to the point. And saying 'oh,' again, I realized. Great.

"Ahm," I added helpfully, "Well, you said you can just push people around, like, ... me, you know? You boss them around and then when they don't do what you say, you off them, but then when I said that, you said I just don't get it ... so, ..." I ended weakly, looking into her disapproving eyes.

"You know what else I just love?" she asked with distaste.

I waited for her rhetorical answer to her rhetorical question.

She glared at me.

"I just love," she said, "how you filter everything I say to you through those layers and layers of thoughts you have until what I said is translated into that unrecognizable composition of self-criticism masquerading as my voice."

"You love that, do you?" I asked to the ground.

That's good that she loves that, I thought, because I'm really good at doing that, I guess, according to her.

"Yes," she said with evident displeasure. "I just wish that you would listen to my words and take them in as simply what I said, not what you thought I said, nor how you can blame yourself somehow with what I'm saying, instead of what I'm really saying."

She paused, glaring at me. "It's as if you delight in your own misery. You Germans have a term, Schadenfreude, which means to delight in the misery of others, so how can you take such pleasure in reveling in your own?"

"I don't 'delight' in my own misery, Rosalie," I said quietly.

She looked at me levelly. "Mmhm," she said dismissively.

Then I dared something. "Do you ... I mean, ... I think you don't but ... do you ..."

"Ask the question," she ordered impatiently.

I looked at her. "Do you shadenfroidy me? I mean ..."

"You mean ...?" she demanded.

"I mean," I said, "I think you don't, but I ... Rosalie, I just have to know. Are you just ... setting me up all the time so I fail, and like," I looked away, "and like, pretending to want me to make it, but every time I don't, and are you like ..."

I swallowed.

"I mean, are you like ..."

"Yes?" she demanded cruelly, not helping me at all. Not one ounce of sympathy in her voice.

"Rosalie," I looked back at her, "are you just setting me up every time to see me fail, 'cause that's what you wanna have happen, really? I mean ..."

She held up her hand. "Stop with the 'I mean,'" she ordered.

She waited.

Then she turned it around on me. "What do you think?" she asked.

"Oh, God, Rosalie," I said. "I m-..." — Shoot! Not supposed to say 'I mean' anymore, either! — "I hope you're not doing that, but I just have to know!"

"Because ...?" she asked.

"Because," I said desperately, "because if you're doing that, then me trying is just pointless! Don't you see? It means that no matter how hard I try, I won't measure up, and that's on purpose and you're just ... God, Rosalie! ... you're just feeding on my misery, like that shaddy-thingy."

She regarded me levelly. "You still didn't tell me what you think," she said coolly.

"Can you throw me a line here, please, and help me?" I begged.

"Not this time," she said firmly.

"Why not?"

Silence.

What? It was a real question. But she just looked at me, coolly, so regal.

"Why not?" I repeated.

She sighed. "If I told you to trust me, would you just trust me, because I told you I was trustworthy?"

"Uh, maybe?" I said.

She smirked at that. "No, you wouldn't. You would choose to trust me, and then trust me, or you would choose not to trust me, and not trust me. Trust comes from you, not me, and that's exactly what you're asking: am I toying with you? Well, am I?"

"Uh, no..." I said hesitantly.

"Why not?" she demanded.

"Um, ..." I said, and thought silently the hopeless and useless ''cause you're not. 'cause I hope you're not.'

"Think!" she commanded.

I thought. Helplessly, I thought.

I didn't know what to think.

She said sadly, "I just wish you could see how far you've come these past few days. Would a person who was toying with you, building up your hope, only to hurt you and revel in your misery, would that person celebrate your successes? actively help you to better yourself?"

"Uh, no, Rosalie," I said, defeated, "I guess not."

"You 'guess not'?" she snapped angrily.

"It's just that ..." I said, "you hold all the cards, and you have all the answers, and you can just do anything you want and I have no way of telling you anything different..."

"Yes," she said evenly, "I hold all the cards, I have all the answers. I come from a position of strength. So, let me ask you: if I can do anything I want, and I can, by the way, then why would I bother setting you up? Hurting others? Hurting you? ... and delighting in that? Only a weak person would do that, and I am not weak."

I looked at her in shock.

"But you are," I said.

She tilted her head to one side and snorted. "I beg your pardon?" she asked in an affronted tone.

"I said, Rosalie, that you are weak," my voice was somewhere between awe at this realization that I was revealing to her, of all people, and fear, not knowing where this was going ... or knowing where it was going, but not knowing how she'd react when I played the one card I had against her.

She waited.

"You're the weakest person I know," I said. I took a step toward her, raising my hand, chest-high. She looked down at my hand and backed a step.

She was so, so ... weak. Fragile. Hopeless.

I took another step forward, and my hand rested on her chest.

"I know you, Rosalie Hale," I said, in a voice I didn't recognize. It wasn't mine. It was filled with certainty and confidence.

She barely whispered a shocked "What?" rooted to the spot, my hand on her chest.

"You asked me who I am," I said, "and I couldn't answer that. But now I can. I know you. I know your heart. You didn't die of ... anything. You died of a broken heart, and it's still broken, isn't it?"

I looked at her.

Her eyes were fixed on me, her hand was over my hand on her still chest.

She looked like a cornered animal: trapped, scared, and, being scared, very, very dangerous.

"Isn't it?" I demanded, ignoring everything but her. Ignoring the scared, ferocious animal, cornered and dangerous, and looking into her soul to see the scared little girl inside who just wanted ...

Who just wanted ... what?

What did this scared little girl want?

Rosalie's eyes hardened, and her hand over my hand gently but firmly removed it from her chest and put it down by my side.

"Yes," she said, now distant again, now cool and untouchable. "Yes, I died of a broken heart. I thought I could give it to Royce. I was wrong. I thought I could give it to Edward. Edward! I thought I could give it to anybody, ... Please, God, just anybody, but ..."

She turned away from me.

I reached out my hand to her back, my heart going out to the void that was the empty shell I now saw as her.

"But I don't have a heart now, anymore," she whispered to the still air.

She turned back to me quickly, catching me with a look as I was in mid-step toward her.

Her look froze me in place, arm outstretched toward her. She looked down at my hand, then back up into my eyes.

"You see me," she said sadly. "You see the nothing inside me that was."

I looked out to her, arm outstretched, heart beating against my chest, tugging to be free of the tightness in me to go out to her.

"Rosalie, ..." my whole being cried out to her, wanting to comfort her, "please, ..."

Then I saw it.

She couldn't hurt me.

She was hurting. All she was was hurt. But she couldn't hurt me.

She looked down at my arm.

"Please," I said, "let me ..."

Let me what?

"Let me," I hung my head, giving myself up. "Let me fill you, okay? Let me fill the emptiness inside you."

Rosalie looked from my hand to me.

"No."

I ... wait. What?

She said something, but I didn't understand what she said.

"What?" I asked.

"No," she said, "you can't."

And then she turned away from me.

I still didn't understand her. Or maybe I did, but I didn't want to believe her. I couldn't.

"Rosalie, ..." I said.

My arm was just hanging out there. I looked like a complete idiot, begging a piece of carved stone to let me in. I felt so lost, so forlorn, not knowing what to do or how to help her.

I let my hand fall to my side.

"Did you want a hug?" I asked hopefully.

"No."

Okay.

O-kay, ouch. I just found out she could hurt me.

There was something like ten feet between us, but that space was nothing to the utter distance I felt from her as she closed herself off from me.

She was utterly lost, and from the depths of her pain, all she could do is close herself off, and hurt me.

And we stood there. Two hurting people.

And I nodded my head.

And then I got fucking furious.

She was the strong one, was she? She was the one who was gonna hold me until I got better?

"Rosalie, ..." I said, now my head shaking, ever so slightly with the bottled rage inside me.

No response. She was gone.

This just fueled my rage.

I walked right up to her, the snow crunching under my boots, and I wrapped her in my arms, pressing my face against the back of her neck, pulling myself into her as tightly as I could.

She stiffened.

"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded angrily.

I held her.

"I told you I didn't want your hug," she added after I didn't answer.

I was so furious. I just held her tightly, not moving an inch.

"Tough," I said as calmly as I could. It came out as a snarl.

Her hands came up to mine, her forearms covering mine. "You know, I could rip your arms right off you," she said coolly, as if she were considering the option seriously.

"You said I have to fight for what I believe?" I whispered intensely. "Well, guess what? I'm fighting."

"And you're willing to fight for what? This? Me?" she said quietly, disbelievingly.

"Yes."

"Why?" she demanded.

"Rosalie," I sighed, my breath passing over her shoulder. "You are my hope, and I'm willing to fight, I'm willing to die, for you, even if you're not, you quitter."

I put that last jab in, and I said it really hard, hoping it stung her.

"Well," she said, considering, "that's all very noble, but also pointless. There's nothing to fight for in me. I'm just an empty shell, ravenous, filling the emptiness with darkness and blood over and over again. There's no room for your misplaced hope."

She started to pull my arms away from her.

"Stop," I said.

"What?"

Her voice was calm, but it was dangerous.

I didn't care.

"Yur gonna hafta rip my arms off," my voice was slurring and my eyes were blurry for some stupid reason.

"What?" she repeated, but this time incredulously.

"Yhou," I said, "are gonna hafta rip my arms off if you try'n ta take'm off now, goddammit!"

My voice got more strident with each word.

She stopped. She stopped pulling my arms off her chest.

Then ...

My hands returned to her chest, my arms covering her front.

Her hands covered mine again, over her.

She was quiet for a moment.

"How long until you let me go?" she asked quietly.

It was like ...

It was like she was my prisoner, or something.

Well, okay, goddammit, she was!

I sucked in a huge gasp of air, of her, her absolutely pure and beautiful essence.

I hadn't realized I had been holding my breath.

"Imma gonna ..." I hiccoughed. "I'm gonna ..." I tried collecting myself, "hold you 'til you're you again, and not this empty nothing of despair."

She was quiet.

Then she asked: "What if 'this empty nothing of despair' is me?"

"Then we're aren't moving from this spot for forever, 'cause I don't believe that ... line, Rosalie, and nor do you ..." I bit off a 'so there!' nearly biting my tongue off in my conviction that translated right into the very tight feeling I had in my jaw.

"'Forever,' eh?" she asked and I heard a bit of sardonic irony tinge her voice. "That's an awfully long time."

"Yup," I said, almost sobbing with relief.

She was cynical, but at least she was back.

Leastways a little bit.

Her voice became contemplative. "I'm tempted to take you up on that. I certainly can last that long, but how long will you last before we have to turn around again to visit your favorite place in the world?"

"Ha, ha!" I muttered sarcastically, then I felt myself grow grimmer with determination. "I'll take that bet, Ms. Rosalie-who-has-got-me-all-figured-out. I can pee right here and right like this, you know."

Let's see how Ms. Prim-and-proper takes that!

"Hm," she said, totally unperturbed. "A very, very tempting offer. You have peed right here, and on me, too, so there's nothing new there with which you can threaten me. But nice try, sweetie."

"Oh," I said, and thought: shoot! I can't even out-shock her!

And I thought those lady-like types were supposed to be all dainty and stuff. So much for that.

"So what do I get if I outlast you?" her voice became sly and crafty, gleefully anticipating all manner of evil things she'd get out of winning.

"Um ..." I said, shifting uncomfortably.

She chuckled lightly and patted my hand.

"No," she said, "too much to do now. I'll pass on that bet ... or would you like a rain-checque?"

I sighed with double relief. "It sounds like you're feeling better ...?"

"Yes," she said.

Then she paused, and said very, very quietly: "Thank you."

If I could've crushed her into me, I would have.

She patted my hand again lightly, kindly. "Let me go? We have much to go over."

"No," I said, letting her go.

"'No'?" she asked.

I took a step back, and she turned to look at me, curiosity filling her eyes.

"No," I said firmly. "We don't have nothing to go over."

"I beg your pardon?" Rosalie's eyebrows creased.

"You heard me," I said, my jaw tight.

She regarded me coolly, again measuring me.

But this time, she was right.

This time: she was right. The measurement didn't matter. Not anymore.

"But, ..." she said, almost helplessly, "your questions. The lie... I have to show you ..."

I shook my head. "No, Rosalie," I said.

"But..." she said.

"Listen to me," I said firmly.

She stopped her protest, stilled, and looked at me, surprised.

"Rosalie," I said. "I don't have questions any more. I don't care."

She started to shake her head.

"No," I said more forcefully. "Listen to me!" I almost shouted.

She stopped again. Her lips pursed.

"Okay," she said quietly.

"I don't care, Rosalie," I said slowly. "I don't care about my questions any more. I don't care about your mind games, your 'lie'-thing with Edward, or anything else, I just ..."

"It's not just about me and Edward, baby, this lie is ..." she interrupted.

"SH!" I hissed. "Sh! sh! sh! SHHH!"

Her head tilted on its side. She glared at me.

Then she asked incredulously. "Did you just shush me?"

I realized that, yes, I just did shush her.

If I were in a better mood, I would've felt pretty darn good about that.

But I wasn't.

"Rosalie, okay. How did you learn all those things?" I demanded.

Her eyes became caring and sympathetic. "Baby, the hard way." Then she repeated sadly, "The hard way."

"Well," I said, "okay, then guess how I'm gonna learn them."

It wasn't really a question.

"But..." she began.

I shook my head again. "No, Rosalie," I said. "You being the teacher ...? No. It's not working. You don't know nothing about ..."

I put my hand to my chest.

But then I stopped. "No," I said, with a dawning realization. "No, maybe you know everything about the heart, but you learned all the wrong things. You can't teach me the right things by telling me about lies and the wrong things, Rosalie. You can't. And you can't ..." I paused and gulped. "You can't ..." Then I interrupted myself. "No, I know some things now, too, Rosalie Hale. I know some things about me, and I know some things about you. And you being the teacher is not us being equals. No, what it is is it's you being in charge, again, and me just nodding my head and going along with it. You want equals? Well, then, you have to take me like this. You have to take me ..."

I looked away.

Then I whispered. "You have to take me taking you in my arms when you're broken, too, Rosalie Hale, 'cause ..." I tried to breathe. Then I tried to slow down my breathing.

Two tears squeezed out of my eyes. I didn't mind them.

"'cause I think you need me. I think you need me, Rosalie Hale, even though you say you're all alone and you don't need nobody nor nothing, but I think you ..."

I swallowed.

I think you need me more than I need you sometimes, Rosalie Hale, and that's what I think.

I couldn't say it. The tears were flowing freely down my cheeks now. I didn't mind them.

I tried not to.

I just stood there. Alone.

I put everything out there, in front of her again. And she could laugh at me. She could hurt me.

I was doing this all the time now.

Was this what adults did? How come I never saw an adult doing this back home? How come this hurt so much, ... all the time?

A hand gently touched then rested on my shoulder.

I sniffled.

"So what do you want to do now?" a small voice asked me.

It was a girl's voice. A voice that wasn't all Rosalie, so strong and sure and masking all her anger and having to know everything.

It was just a girl, talking to a girl.

I turned to her and looked at her face.

I had never seen anything more beautiful in my life. Her hard lines had softened. It was as if she dropped the mask. Finally.

"Rosalie," I sighed. "I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm cold, okay? I've been out here all morning, and I'm cold. I'm not like you, okay? I told you that. I can't last all day and ..."

She held up her hand.

I stopped.

She smiled shyly.

"Okay," she said quietly.

She looked at me, examining me. Little me.

"Would you like me to carry you back to the cabin?" she asked solicitously, "Or ...?"

"Or?" I asked.

"Did you want to walk back?" she asked softly.

I looked at her. She looked so ... fragile. Like I had just dashed everything she was, everything she hoped for, because I wasn't going to play her game anymore. Not by her rules, anyway.

"I can walk, I guess," and sighed dispiritedly.

"You 'guess'?" she asked reprovingly.

I didn't know whether to laugh or to smack her.

I just looked at her for a second, then shook my head.

"What?" she asked defensively.

I smiled grimly. "It's really, really hard for you to give up that ... bossy-teachy ... thing," I said, floundering, and failing to find a better word than 'thing.'

"Oh," she said surprised. Then she looked away in shame.

I just looked at her. It was so ingrained in her, she didn't even realize she just did that little corrective comment to me.

I touched her shoulder.

She turned back to me.

I looked at her forgivingly. "Yeah," I said, "I can walk. Just ... just don't wear me down, okay? A walk to the W.C. and back, that's all it was supposed to be, right? Can we just make it back to the cabin without you going screwy on me?"

"I..." she said, then turned away, looking despondent.

"Is that too hard a thing to ask?" I asked, disappointment creeping into my voice.

She needed me. But she couldn't just trample over me. I'm not a doormat. I have my space, and if she can't give that to me ...

She read my mind.

"Maybe it's best you go alone," she said sadly. "I can't tell the future: I can't say 'I'll be on good behavior,' when you see that I'm not. You see what happens. You say something, and I just ..."

She shrugged, not facing me.

"Can you at least try?" I pleaded.

Going alone? Is that what she wanted?

Sure. I could go alone. I knew my way now. Not like what? two? three? days ago where I got lost and almost died.

I wasn't worried about that. I could find my way back.

But was she going to divide the cabin in half? Her on her side, me on mine? Or was she just going to give me the cabin and sleep outside? Or strike that: she didn't sleep ... was she going to stay outside because she didn't trust herself with me anymore? or at all ever, anyway?

What was the point of that? She needed me, and I ...

I needed her.

It hurt for her to ... pull away like that. It hurts. It hurt me.

She turned back to me, looking at me, looking for something inside me ... for her? for me?

"Yeah," she sighed. "I can try."

She smiled a sad, apologetic smile.

"Okay," I said, relief flooding me.

Then I thought of something. "That's what adults do, right? They try, right?"

She nodded dispiritedly. "Yeah," she said, "they try."

"God, Rosalie!" I said, "what is it? What is it, please?"

It seemed like everything just left her, leaving this broken creature in front of me. It was just so wrong. She was the most beautiful, the most powerful ... thing, being, creature ... no: person! ... I had ever been around in my life, and it was a crime seeing her so low.

"I just ..." she began brokenly, "I'm just too ..."

She sighed. "Everything, Lizzie, everything I've done, everything I wanted to do ... it's all gone now."

She turned away: "It's all gone, and I'm just too bleak for words."

I blinked.

"What did you just call me?" I whispered.

She turned back to me.

She smiled sadly. "Lizzie," she said. "I called you by name."

She touched my cheek, then said quietly: "Elizabeth Lucia Aurora Hale. Your name. I wanted to give it to you when you earned it, baby, but ..."

She looked down. "You didn't earn anything from me. You surpassed me. I thought it was Lucy at first, Lucia, so beautiful, so clear and bright, so you, ... but you told me differently yourself. So ..."

She smiled to me. "It's yours, if you want it, and ..."

She looked away. "And if you don't..."

She couldn't even shrug.

"'Elizabeth Lucia Aurora ... Hale'?" I repeated, dumbfounded. I was tasting the words, trying to grasp them as mine, as ... me, and utterly failing, in shock of it all.

She turned back to me and nodded. "Caught that, did you, Lizzie?"

She said that word so easily, as if she had said to to herself when she looked at me hundreds, no, thousands of times.

She smiled.

I gasped. "'Elizabeth Lucia Aurora Hale' like, Hale, like in ..."

She lifted her hand to my forehead, oh, so gently, and brushed back an imaginary strand of hair.

Or a real strand of hair. I didn't know. I couldn't feel her hand on my head, nor the clothes on my body, nor the snow beneath my feet.

"I never had a sister ..." she whispered.

There was such hope in her eyes. Such utter helpless hope, such terrible longing.

"I-... I..." I looked at her. She became really blurry really quickly ... did you ever notice that? "I n-never had a sister, t-too," I said.

She smiled wistfully at me.

And I realized, again, that she couldn't cry.

Her lips twitched for a second. She said: "Hungry?"

I think I said something.

She put her finger to my cheek. I felt an icicle burn me where her finger rested.

She brought her finger to her mouth, breathed in the scent of my tear, then her lips kissed her finger.

And her eyes blazed golden, like the sun.

And her pupils disappeared into two tiny pinholes in the sea that were her golden irises.

"Me, too," she said softly, then turned, deliberately, her whole body groaning, although silently, for me, and gently took my hand, and started walking back toward the cabin.


A/N: Happy Easter.

Okay, I have no idea what the Hell got into either of these two. This was supposed to be a nice, safe little academic chapter about ... well, about nothing at all other than phenomenological theories, and then ... Fine. Fine. Whatever. They want to do this, they want equals-equals, then I'll just have to ... God, I'm in so much trouble now! They had roles, see? But ever since I took that three year break, they're like: "No, we're not going to play that safe little Stockholm captor-captive game, anymore, geophf: you have to write us as living, breathing (human-vampire) characters now, so deal." Fine. Whatever.

Yeah, and the name. Love me, hate me: don't say I haven't given you fair warning, and in two books, too. Or, do say that. I'm in a world of hurt already here, so bring. it. on. It'll help you enjoy your Schadenfreude all the more.

Oh, and wait 'til we get to the really interesting parts back in the cabin tonight and tomorrow night. ... Rosalie takes a brush and paints a white line down the center of the cabin. The 'your side/my side' line will work really well, now, won't it.

Joy.