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I wish I could say I love you.

I try. I have tried. When I couldn't do it directly, I tried a subtler approach. Somehow, though, "Of course, my love," would twist at the last minute to "Of course, my dear," and the word would never come.

Whisper taught me well. Draw the line. Set your own rules, and never break them. That's the way to beat the guilt. You can't live by anyone else's rules, she said. You will always want to rebel. Make a pact with yourself and keep it. Then you won't care how other people judge you. Then the smile will come easy, the mask will hold, and no one will know when you lie and when you are honest.

Whisper taught me other things, too, things I was desperate to know. I made my own rules with her help, as lesson by lesson I moved up in her eyes. Never take an innocent. Never lead her on. Never stay the night. Be all that you claim -- brag if you wish, but meet the expectations you set up. Then you can never be embarrassed. Humiliation must be avoided at all costs.

I broke those rules once. I thought I could change then, in the chaos that had shattered a whole world's faith in reality, I thought perhaps everything I had done was wrong. Perhaps there was a better way.

The woman I hurt that time has never forgiven me.

Whisper was the last woman to sleep in my bed, and when she left I was not surprised. I wasn't even hurt. I was just... empty. I understood, then. I could not be angry with her. She had never lied to me. She gave me exactly what she promised, no more, and no less, and she gave me what I needed to become the person I wanted to be.

The person who can't admit to loving you.

You know it, though. You understand. Something in me was ready to change when I met you. And I am changing, slowly. Someday I will be ready. You're waiting for me, in your gentle way. Wait for me a little longer. We have plenty of time. We have a good life. I'll get there someday.


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