Chapter summary: One of the many things vampires shouldn't do is to play "house". All vampires are islands, and it's best that they stay that way. Of course, Esme doesn't really count as a vampire, though. Esme, the 'mommy' vampire! Does she even drink blood?

WARNING! Contains a very suggestive and visceral description of the murder of a mother and child by a newborn vampire.


This was turning into the normal family routine. You know the kind, yes? The kind I was supposed to have. The husband would come through the door, all smiles, announcing: "Honey, I'm home!" after earning the family's daily bread. And the wife would sweep in from the kitchen, holding the latest infant in her arms, pecking the husband on the cheek. "Dinner's on the table, dear!" she would sing.

A normal family, like I said, like Vera has ... like I should have had.

What I do have is not normal, and is not a family. It is, however, my just reward.

So, like the husband in the normal family, I would return to the cabin, "earning the daily bread", by hunting ... meaning, by not killing the girl. And like the wife in that normal family, the girl would give me her extraordinary greeting. In her case, it would be by drowning, or by freezing, or, in the last case, by choking, but always by dying. That and baked goods were her specialities. So, instead of smoking a pipe after dinner as the husband would do in a normal family, my routine would be to restore life to the girl, primarily by not killing her first ... again.

Primus non nocere, and all that. I wonder how many times each day Carlisle recites this precept. Yesterday, I had to pause three times to say it. Three times. One time because she was begging me to take her.

A vampire as a life-saver. One would think there could not be a non sequitur as profound as that. One would think that, but in light of the fact that Carlisle has been a practicing surgeon for over one hundred years, the profundity shifts to something else entirely: vampires preserving lives.

To get my M.D. I "interned" with Carlisle, so I never was exposed to any risk. Now, with this girl I was beginning to appreciate the enormity of what he was doing. Every day. Voluntarily.

And, after saving her life, am I done? Oh no, nothing is ever easy with this little strawberries and crème brûlée! You would figure she would be grateful enough having her heart restarted or her diaphragm moving again ... or both, but then comes needs to tend to the hypothermia, in the first two cases, or the "hold me, mommy" in the last two.

I'm not quite sure "hold me, mommy" is medical condition, but it should be, because she surely has it in a bad way. I wonder if a cure would to give her a spoonful of castor oil every day. Actually, that might backfire on me, as the frequency of her needs "to go" would increase. Grrrr! This little thing was just so needy!

But in all cases, whatever she was wearing at the time before her attempted trip into the next world turned out to be a hinderance for her staying in this one. Each and every time she dances with death, I've had to strip her and clothe her with something that would help her live a bit longer, not a bit shorter.

The first time I stripped her was after her little swim in the Belle Fourche. I restarted her heart and her breathing, but the wet clothes were stealing her life as they stole her body heat. I stripped off her top fully intending to do the same for her bottom and then wrap her in a blanket. But I stopped at her top, confused out of my action.

I thought she was a girl. The evidence before me said otherwise.

Well, I guess they could be called breasts. And she was female; I could still taste the estrogen from her saliva. Perhaps she was much younger than I first thought? Twelve, maybe? ... or even ... ten? I stripped off her bottom. No, she was a fully mature female. In fact, coming up on Phase III of her cycle. Hm, I thought, this is going to be a problem.

I wish I could look forward as clearly as I see back. That way I could have seen me now shredding me then. A "problem"? The understatement overwhelmed me.

Looking at her, I could not help but wonder if perhaps Edward was threatened by the female form. Perhaps that's why he didn't see me, or any other woman, as a potential mate. He had said he was self-sufficient. Maybe he was just scared of women? And too scared to admit it? He was, when it came down to it, just a boy.

I also wondered how she would ever be able to bear and to raise a child. Her whole form was just too small and too flat to survive carrying and delivering an infant. The baby would be just too demanding on her frame, probably consuming her from the inside during gestation and tearing her apart during the delivery.

Not that it mattered for her anymore, with my intentions. Not that it mattered for me anymore, either. I carried the regrets of those twin thoughts as I wrapped the vital areas of her body in a blanket so the little heat she did generate would be retained and help her fight off the hypothermia, then I wrapped her major heat diffusers in wet, warm cloths I had created by shredding her clothes and heating them on the stove.

I did not then make the connection that we were connected in this shared loss. We both would never see our own children.

Then I stopped in shock. She would never see her own children? Never say never. What if she did bear a child? How would that change things? What would happen if instead of her cycle continuing onto Phase III in the next week, that it simply stopped for nine months? What if she were pregnant right now? Would that change anything?

That would change everything.

I could kill this girl because her inquisitive mind had pieced together what we are. I would kill her. But if she were pregnant? Would I kill the child, too? I knew what the answer must be — one law, no exceptions — the child and the mother must die. But I knew what my answer would be. I would preserve this new mother's life, and I would preserve the preborn child's life. Consequences be damned. I would be forced to keep them separate and hidden for the rest of their natural lives, but my task of killing this girl would turn on its head if she were with child. I would take on the whole world, because this girl under my power would now be under my protection. And, come what may — human rescuers, nomadic vampires, the Cullens, or the Volturi — I would take them on, individually or as groups, and I would destroy them all.

Neither man nor vampire touches a Hale or what belongs to a Hale. Seven men found that out, and seven million more would if they came for this one. With her child. A child under my care. A child I could never have. Her child ... my child.

I could have the child call me Aunt Rosie when it learnt to speak. If I were clever enough, it would never know I am a vampire, that way I could release it when it came of age, keeping the mother with me, and I could visit my grandchildren, and my great grandchildren, and my ... They would never get to see me, of course — I would be discreet — but I would check on them from time to time. Loving their silly human triumphs and failings from a distance.

I knew I would because this creature in my arms had enough silly foibles to echo across more than several generations. Not that I loved her foibles, mind you, because, obviously, I didn't love her. They were just funny to watch sometimes. Like when she was making comfortable bedding to lie down in the snow.

Silly girl.

You may cry injustice at this, claiming that the girl was an innocent just as much as her unborn child. So I couldn't very easily claim to be able to kill the one and turn around and so viciously defend the same one for the sake of the other. I would agree that it is an injustice, but I wouldn't agree with your equivocation. Besides you could say whatever you would like, argue with whichever force you desired, but the time for talk would have passed from the moment I had determined my charge was carrying a child. You could speak if you desired, but if you did anything more than that, pieces of you would decorate the forest floor in pretty red patterns ... or pretty pale patterns if you were a vampire. Emphasis on the past tense.

I realized I had become so worked up over a possibility that may not actually be. I was so used to having the unexpected occurring with such regularly that I had just started making plans around this impossible case, because the impossible case always seemed to materialize with this creature. I could wait a week or two to see if her period arrived, but what if she had a naturally prolonged cycle? I didn't think I would go insane with the anticipation, but the situation — me watching over this deliciously tempting treat — was already precariously balanced. I removed the make-shift loincloth and probed very gently and carefully.

The hymen was intact.

Of course, the absence of the hymen, her maidenhead, didn't prove anything, because sometimes it would disappear through normal stresses of growth and aging as the girl matured into the child-bearing age. But its presence was a very strong indicator: history had not recorded many virgin births, and I was pretty sure this girl, albeit special, wasn't going to brighten the night sky with a star for her child.

I was pretty sure this little thing in my arms was not destined to be the queen of the world. I would have breathed a sigh of relief then, but her scent was already too strong, and the taste of her saliva had my mouth swimming in venom.

I returned the loincloth to cover her vaginal region and bundled her back into the blanket, allowing the small amount of heat her own body produced pull her out of the shock of hypothermia. So it was back on track: no need to defy the Volturi for the sake of a child this girl was not having.

The perhaps-not-Queen-of-the-world recovered well that time. Not the least bit of screaming.

Not like the next time.

Her deaths became progressively more ludicrous. It was if she needed to become more inventive each time with the way she tried to meet her demise. This time it wasn't going for a swim in the river to avoid wolves. That was at least reasonable, I suppose. No, this time it was an endurance test: how far can I walk in the snow in socks before I succumb? The former near death was obviously accidental, but the latter? Definitely by design.

The answer to her test question: one and three quarters miles. The outhouse, by the way, is less than a half a mile from the cabin.

She's quite the walker! Or stumbler, as that was what she did just as I caught sight of her body following her scent blazing a trail through the forest. It was if she were handed her own can of yellow paint to divide the highways springing up all over the country. That's how easy her scent is to follow. That's how alluring it is to me; it draws me right in.

When I say 'highways springing up all over the country', I actually mean springing up all over the populated parts of the country. Of course, the Cullens had to pick the most backwater part of the U.S.A. for their next haunt. I knew they did it just to punish me.

Let's create a new vampire and see how long she lasts before she goes insane.

No servants. No amenities. No comforts. No entertainments. No diversions. No plays or assemblies — "Oh, you might accidently expose us, Rosalie, with your uncontrolled bloodlust!" Please! I wasn't Esme, for goodness sake.

Worse: no respect. No consideration.

All I had to console me was just my revenge. Which I would have taken even past their objections.

And then the last straw: this little thing.

I should be furious at her for casting me adrift, and, originally, I was. But now I was feeling a bit of gratitude. Almost all my kind were nomads: it was the Cullens who were the freaks. The more vampires together in one place, the more unstable the situation became. And this situation would have exploded if I hadn't stepped in when I did.

Yes, this situation. After I picked her up from the snow, I had to take emergency measures. She had started a trek to the outhouse, and I brought her there first. I shouldn't have. She had already excreted what she needed to on her odyssey, and her body temperature was dropping too quickly. She still had her heartbeat and respiratory functions, but that only lulled me into acting later than I should. When I did act, it was almost too late.

I held her near lifeless body near the stove, tenting the blanket around her to force as much heat as possible to work its way back into her. She screamed the whole time. It seemed like hours and hours of screaming, and each scream cut through me, like as if I were human again, and each scream was a knife slashing through my stomach.

I don't know which was worse, however: her screams, or the complete listlessness of her body. The sounds should have been accompanied by an arching of her back or by a tensing of muscle groups, but the thing I held could have just been a bit more of the blanket, the way she hung there. Eventually, she couldn't even scream anymore and the air just went in and out of her in silent spent gasps of agony.

I remember my transformation, of course, but I experienced it first hand. She was not going through a transformation — I hadn't injected her blood stream with venom — but seeing this as an observer ... I just didn't know what to do except hold her away from me toward the stove.

What I wanted to do was not to hold her away from me but to hold her into me. To cradle her in my arms, to take away her pain, or at least to tell her that the pain would recede, that it would get better. She was naked, both because she was unclothed but also because she was fully vulnerable, fully open, fully present. I saw her naked pain. But, deeper than that, I saw her soul — naked? No. Revealed! — and saw that it was beautiful, even in her agony. I wanted to kiss her and to make it all better. To give her some comfort, some strength to make it through this agony that just wouldn't go away for the longest time for her in her mortal swim through time. The pain that would never go away for me trapped in eternity. Even now, ever now, as I do cradle this sleeping girl in my arms, comforting her, her screams then still shake my very being now, as the beauty of her soul still pierces me. I envied her her sleep, and I was grateful that she had it to escape from those screams, to be healed by that sleep. To wake to face a new day refreshed and revitalized.

I will never again face new days. I am always face-to-face with this unrelenting Now. I would never be revitalized. I am always just an animated shell: lifeless. No, not lifeless: dead. I am dead; I am Death.

And that's primarily why I could not comfort her through her screams. It wasn't going to get better for her. With me, it can only get worse: the closer she draws to me is the closer she draws to Death.

And I could not kiss her to comfort her, because vampires, as a rule, do not touch. We don't shake hands, we don't embrace each other in hugs, we do not kiss. Well, we only kiss after we, as vampires, have been changed at-most-only-once. The change from a solitary being to an eternally paired one. In our little Cullen "family" only Carlisle has made that irrevocable change. And it was rather disgusting to watch how he dotes over his little wifey. Esme didn't even go through a change at all. What was there to change? She had already had stars in her eyes for her Carlisle from when she was a human girl.

I worry about Esme. I really do. No human had ever volunteered to become what we are. It was only the very recent trash that has been circulating through the literature these days that had started to put a romantic fog over the eyes of humanity. What reaction does saying the word vampire now elicit? Swooning and desire. What reaction did it elicit not even one hundred years ago? Brands and pitchforks. Living in time was not always advantageous, for I could never unknowingly repeat a mistake or forget a lesson. People these days: ooh! Vampire! Bite me and love me tenderly in your cold embrace!

Oh, I'll bite you alright! ... three days of excruciating pain and an eternity of never satisfied want coming right up! That is, if I can stop myself from finishing you off first.

But that's what Esme would have signed up for if she wasn't already knocking at death's door ... pounding on it, actually. If she had seen Carlisle before she jumped off that cliff, she would have leapt right into his arms instead off the cliff's side. And she would have asked him to change her right then and there, not because she was blinded by some romantic notion of vampirism, but because she wished to be with him, by his side, forever. Right as she is now. She got exactly what she always wanted: being Carlisle's vampire-wife.

That's the first reason I worried about her. She had her head screwed on backward: seeing this curse for what it is and embracing it with open eyes and opened heart.

The next reason was that although she embraced her new existence, she couldn't properly be called a vampire, because she failed at being a vampire in every single way possible. Vampires don't touch. She's always touching Carlisle, obviously. She touches him in every single way possible: her hands brush against him, she embraces him, she kisses him. Of course. But then her eyes don't necessarily stay glued to him, because they do leave him from time to time, but only on the occasions when she knows exactly where he is. If she doesn't know, she looks first with her eyes and ears and nose, and then, if she can't sense him, she drops her knitting needles and leaves her chair searching until she knows where he is again.

Carlisle works long hours at whichever hospital he joins, out of necessity: he must travel during the dark. So, from 5:30 am to 8:59:59 pm Esme busies herself about the house, making the perfectly cleaned mansion more perfectly cleaned. But at 9 pm — two bells — she starts looking at the door.

I had told her, on several occasions, that it takes time for Carlisle to leave his office, that he wouldn't just appear after just finishing his shift. Esme would nod to me absentmindedly. Sometimes she could even tear herself away from looking at the door. Sometimes.

When Carlisle is home I don't know how he can keep up with his reading. Esme often just happens to be cleaning the house near his study. "Study". More like "lab", as in "lab partners" conducting "experiments".

Totally besotted. You would figure after fifteen years of marriage she would regain some measure of dignity ...

I was glad I was a newborn. It would have been difficult to come up with reasons for hunting on Carlisle's days off after a while. Edward seemed to need to help me improve my hunting techniques those days as well, I noticed. We also used that away time to practice out of Carlisle's and Esme's oversight. They didn't seem too keen on me slowly destroying pigs, preparation work for my plan to destroy those five swine in the shape of humans.

And on the subject of hunting: Esme didn't. If she were capable of crying, she would ... at every single animal she killed. And then taking the blood from the animal ... on several occasions I was tempted to ask her if she wanted me to finish that for her. I think the only reason she hunted was because she was afraid she would be kicked out of the house if she didn't take care of herself.

Vampire speed? Vampire agility? It only showed up for her when she attacked Carlisle at the door. Or surprised Edward with a hug. One time ... one time! ... Edward lifted up his arms to touch the back of her shoulders — Edward didn't like to touch or be touched ... which is funny, seeing as he's such a touchy bastard — I thought, when he returned that one hug she was going to explode with joy, and we'd be picking up Esme-pieces all over the house for weeks.

Oh, look, I found her right index finger, right here by the table leg!

She gave me hugs, too. But it was just a matter of form. I could feel it in her body language: oh! I guess I'd better hug Rosalie, even though I don't want to, ... she is living with our family after all ...

I didn't like to be touched, either. So I had to hold back the reflex to shred her, or to scream in her face: "Do NOT touch me!" I don't think she'd like either response, and she'd pretend to act all hurt — she had that act down pat — and then I would never catch the end of it from the Cullen boys: Esme doesn't want to make a scene, but when you shouted at her ... blah-blah-blah. She acts all weak and motherly, but she has both of those fools under her thumb. I see her playing those games that our sex plays to make men do exactly what we want them to do.

I let her get by with some of those "I'll be the mommy and you'll be the daughter" games, but one game I cut short right quick. One time she called me 'Rose'.

Only people who love me call me 'Rose'. Nobody calls me 'Rose' now.

Royce had called me 'Rose' when he courted me. I let him do that, flattered with his attention.

Royce called me 'Rose' as he ripped my legs apart to break his way through my virginity, shoving my panties aside because he was too stupid with drink to form the first tear to rip them, and too uncoordinated to pull them down. Then, after he stood up from his handiwork, Royce called me 'Rose' when his well-aimed kick cracked my ribs. Apparently, the cigarette branding my eye wasn't a clear enough message for me. A bit of fun for the boys and a big send-off for me, don't you know, the week before the wedding.

Royce had called me 'Rose' then. I am never going to allow anyone that close to me again.

Nobody calls me 'Rose'. Nobody.

Except tonight. Yes, except tonight, but the girl could be excused. She was deep in sleep and didn't know what she was saying. She could be talking about the flower, for all I know.

Yes, nobody call me 'Rose'. Esme got that message loud and clear. She called me 'Rosalie' after that. But she still gave me hugs, even tighter ones after that little talk. No, I spared her the details, but she still got a very clear message from me. And she seemed to find a way to make my suffering just another reason for her to play mommy.

Esme, the 'mommy' vampire.

She seemed entirely beyond herself, the way she fawned over Carlisle, Edward, and even me. But if she ever tried anything on me, I knew the one thing that would touch her. The one thing I could say to her that would entirely crush her: Anne Hansen's baby.

Oh, yes. I could joke about Esme not being a vampire, but Anne Hansen and her baby couldn't. Not anymore. When the Cullens were living Greater Ada, Michigan with their brand-newborn addition to the family. Esme stayed indoors, of course, under the pretense that she was blind. Red eyes aren't considered fashionable these days, I should know. Of course, neighbors want to be neighborly, don't they? So while all the husbands were off to work, little Mrs. Anne decided to pay her new blind neighbor a visit, to check up on her. Maybe she brought biscuits, too, as her last act. Just like the girl in my arm did.

And babies. Everybody loves babies, right? And you can't leave little Dick in the crib.

Or maybe it was little Jane?

Yummy. Babies. Very tasty. Not that I would ever do that, even after my very first day of transformation. I have never tasted human blood. And babies are a concept a little too close to the bone for me to consider. Like they should have been for Esme.

But Esme was a newborn ...

I wonder if she burst through the door and took them on the porch as poor Mrs. Anne walked up to ring the bell.

Or maybe. Maybe Esme invited them in. You know, for some tea to go with the biscuits and the blood. Maybe Esme invited them in, so that she could satisfy her thirst with a nice, long, slow, leisurely drink. Maybe she held the baby while she drank the mommy. Maybe she held the baby while she drank him.

Or her.

I'd have to ask the 'mommy' vampire that question, when she decided to cross me.

The Cullens had to leave that day, of course. Anne Hansen and baby are nice and safe in the basement under twenty feet of earth ... beneath the freshly repoured foundation. Missing persons. Just like my little missing person right here.

But, of course, Esme wouldn't cross me. She couldn't: it was antithetical to her very nature. And, upon reflection, I would never use this bludgeon against Esme, even if she were bent on my destruction, which she wasn't. A lady never cheapened herself by descending to such mean, such common, such vile invective. A lady sees and compliments the good qualities of others ... and makes herself better than by improving on not by detracting from. And I am a lady. I am a Hale, after all.

But, when I entertained this newfound knowledge, this newfound power over Esme, Edward happened by.

The shocked look on his face was the last I saw of him, the last any of us saw of him, for four days. Mommy Cullen started to worry that her little Edward had back-slid, returning to his dark days. Dark, not because he killed humans, they forgave him that, but dark, because he had left them for so long. They ... forgave him for that, too. But they tended to watch him, and to watch over him more these days.

It wasn't always bleak for me and the Cullens, and I didn't always dwell on the ending of my humanity or my new family's dark histories. We would sometimes have fun, the Cullen family and I. We would play tag. Edward always won. So we switched the games to 'Fox and Hounds'. Edward always won. We're fast ... well, except Esme, of course ... but Edward makes 'fast' seem like 'standing still'. Plus he's got that little gift of his. He would make a game out of the game. I saw him keeping an internal score: how many times he could make us collide with each other when we made a lunge for him. He gave himself bonus points if all three of us got into a scrum.

So we changed the game again. Escort. Edward had ensure Esme went from one end of our hunting range to the back door of our new house under her own power. Fifty miles, so it would be a fast game ... well, an hour, because Esme wasn't all that fast — it took her a whole seventy seconds to run a mile ... like I said: Esme thinks molasses runs too fast. We had a rule for this game. Rule number one: no carrying! We couldn't catch him even if he was carrying an extra load of a half-ton vampire mommy. All Carlisle and I had to do was to tag her. A really easy game for us. Tagging Esme? Come on! A really hard game for Edward. He looked forward to winning as much as we did. Well, his "team" looked forward to it.

Edward and Esme actually high-fived before the start of the game. Those Cullens. Well, it was Edward and Esme, so they were dainty high-fives. Go Team Edward! I snorted as I watched their pep rally.

Team Edward almost won. Almost. My dear brother handily took me and Carlisle out time and again as we lunged at Esme. We thought we were smart, because we were staggering our attack against Esme from opposite sides, making it, we thought, impossible for Edward to take us both down. With Edward most impossibilities aren't even challenging. But as Esme got closer and closer to the door, miles disappearing under her feet, we decided to rethink our strategy. We both lunged at her: Carlisle from above, me, attempting to knock her over with a flanking attack.

Edward took me out, of course, but Carlisle was wily: he was picturing Esme from the side and thinking 'flank, flank, flank!' as he fell from an obliging pine. Edward reading the misdirection with his gift totally misjudged Carlisle's position and leapt away from his father. Edward relies too much on his gift. I tell him that sometimes, but he's too far above me to listen to my girlish nonsense. That cost him the game. He would have won if he simply used his 'normal' vampire senses and his extraordinary speed. You rely too much on one weapon, and eventually you'll get shot by it.

Carlisle landed on Esme like an avalanche, mere feet from the finish line.

"We win! Finally!" he crowed, and did a herky-jerky victory dance that only a bookworm like Carlisle could do. Esme giggled. She was so happy one of the teams won, even if it wasn't her team.

Like I said, I worry about Esme. I think something went wrong with her transformation. Maybe she didn't become a vampire at all and was just faking it to be by Carlisle's side? Me, I would have shredded a vampire landing on top of me, not giggled.

His herky-jerky dance was hilarious, though, I did have to admit that point.

Edward shook his head in disgust, but then he froze. I looked over at him, curiosity overcoming my delight.

"Um, let's go hunting, Rosalie." It was our first week in Ekalaka, and I did need to hunt, especially after that visit from that sweet little thing Edward brought by my room, but he had already hunted just before dawn. Why did he ...?

I looked where Edward was refusing to look. Carlisle and Esme had started celebrating the victory. Right there on the lawn.

Edward and I went hunting. We came back that night, but we actually had to turn right back into the woods. Edward suggested it would be a good idea to explore farther afield. Much farther afield. My hearing confirmed his hint. Carlisle and Esme were now celebrating in their bedroom. I didn't think the lip-smacking sounds and the "Oh, Carlisle!" sounds were Esme's pleasure at adding in a solarium.

Her joy was architecture, but her, ahem, pleasure was currently excited by an entirely different field of study. Dr. Carlisle was playing "doctor" with Nurse Esme.

Rabbits, I tell you: just like rabbits, those two.

I'd give her maybe two seconds on the outside. She'd last a whole two seconds without her Carlisle.

As a vampire, Esme never changed: she always loved Carlisle, from the beginning of her existence as a vampire, her love for him was her defining trait. As a vampire, Carlisle had to change to love Esme, for she hadn't existed yet to meet him for almost three hundred years. Once changed, though, a vampire solidified into that change, permanently. Humans fall in and out of what they call 'love' so easily. Vampires don't have a choice. Vampires never have a choice. We are trapped in our eternity, and when we love, we are trapped in that, too. Forever.

You don't believe me? Carlisle told me about one of the Volturi. Marcus. He had loved his mate, Didyme, for two thousand years. Imagine that: loving someone with the devotion Carlisle and Esme show each other for two thousand years.

Loving forever as if in that first moment of true love. Wonderful, isn't it?

She was destroyed nearly fifteen hundred years ago. He would have followed her, but the Volturi is a triumvirate, so he was not allowed to destroy himself, as that would throw the balance of power askew. He has sat and waited for her impossible return, neither moving nor speaking through each and every day of the last fifteen hundred years. He will sit and wait for her another fifteen hundred years, fifteen hundred times over. Once a vampire loves, a vampire loves forever.

Loving forever. Still think it's so wonderful?

If I were to kiss this girl, then that would mean I loved her. And I cannot love her. I simply cannot. So I could not comfort the girl in my arm in this way.

Besides, if I were to love her, it would make my task rather difficult, now, wouldn't it?

As I completed this ironic thought, my eternity flashed an image in front of my eyes. I held the girl at arms length in the forest not too far from the Belle Fourche river then I brought her to me, kissing her one cheek. Then I raced around her and then brought her to me again, kissing her other cheek.

I had kissed her. I had already kissed her twice.

The girl shifted in my arms, and, as earlier this night, she wrapped her arm around my chest ... embracing me possessively in her sleep.

I knew these next thoughts I was about to think were to be the most critical thoughts of my existence, binding me for eternity ... or not.

I had kissed her. Vampires kissed the ones they loved. Therefore, I lo-...

No, wait. I didn't start that thought correctly.

Did I kiss her? Did I really kiss her?

Yes.

No. No, it wasn't a real kiss. A real kiss was one motivated by the force of affection, comfort, ... love. When my lips touched her cheeks then — not really kissing her — the expression was motivated by my relief and exuberance of releasing myself from those Cullens. Put it this way, spend a year in solitary, you may just kiss your horse when you're let out. Just an abundance of relief and release. So, my action had absolutely nothing to do with any feeling of affection I had for the girl.

I hadn't really kissed her.

The relief I felt was close to the rush I had felt earlier this evening when this inquisitive, playful, feisty girl who I did not love under the force of her dreams ...

Well, I can think about that moment later. I do have an eternity. The important point is that I do not love her.

Yet.

Where did that come from?

I said: I do not love her!

... Yet.

This was becoming worrisome. Edward heard voices in his head, and that was because of his gift. I am a Hale, and I am in complete control of my mind.

I do not love her. Full stop. That's it.

I waited, concentrating with all my might to maintain the mental silence. Nothing. Good. Mentally, I breathed out a relieved sigh from my empty lungs.

...

... Yet.

My mental sigh almost turned into a real scream.

Okay. Fine.

There are things that I can control, and things that I cannot. I do not love her yet. Fine. I can work with that, too. My not loving her yet was still as freeing for me in this moment of the eternal now as my not loving her ever. All I had to do was to make sure that 'yet' never arrived. Simplicity itself.

I mean, not that there wasn't anything to love. The depth of her eyes reflected the depth of her feeling, and that slip of a body I had first seen really hid a beauty that required true admiration to see past the world's flawed sense of lustful eroticism to perceive the real classic, shy, vibrant ...

I wasn't helping my case here. The point was that she had a flawed perception of me. She worshiped me as some kind of guardian angel. Obviously wrong. All I had to do was to keep my distance from her so I would not allow my feelings to be muddled by her adulation and to help her realize that I am truly a monster: not something to admire; no, something to fear, something to hate, something to despise.

Because.

Because I am hateful. I am despicable. I am to be feared. After all, I am a bloodthirsty, murderous monster. An automaton set on a singular course of destruction. That is the sum total of all that I am: blood-thirst-blood-thirst-blood-thirst.

I would fix this course before my eyes. She would see the error of her ways and distance herself from me, and that would help me to keep her from loving her yet ... indefinitely. Indefinitely, that is, until I murdered her, too.

Not like Royce. Of course, not like Royce. Her purity deserved ... well, everything. But at least I could give her a quick, merciful killing, and her pure soul would at least have a chance at Heaven.

God would be grateful for the gift. He'd better be! I'd absolutely shred Him otherwise.

There. That was easy. See? I don't love her.

... yet.

Well, relatively easy.

That's what I thought. I had no idea that this relatively easy resolution, that required everything I had to keep myself free from becoming entangled in this girl's snare was nothing to what I was about to face when I came back from a little foodstuffs gathering trip to keep the girl alive.

She was always such a surprising creature.


Rosalie's thoughts of Esmé, are they accurate? Perhaps. Do they do her a disservice? Perhaps. But perhaps a greater disservice to Esmé is not to think of her at all, that is: to take her for granted (see my thoughts about Esmé on my blog at twilight-dad(dot)blogspot(dot)com).

At least Rosalie does Esmé the honor of measuring her. Maybe Rosalie's scales of justice are off, but she does do Esmé her own brand of justice.

Do we?