- All hail to the days that merit more praise
- Than all the rest of the year,
- And welcome the nights that double delights,
- As well for the poor as the peer!
- Good fortune attend each merry man's friend,
- That doth but the best that he may;
- Forgetting old wrongs, with carols and songs,
- To drive the cold winter away.
A smile playing on her flushed face Christine Daaé dashed down the last flight of stairs of the secret route to Erik’s home. It was the last morning before the Opera would close down for Christmas and she felt the least she could do for her kind Maestro was to bring him a gift before she left.
She was looking forward to seeing him and to wish him a Merry Christmas. As she ascended she wondered if Erik had any decorations out. A man as gifted as him would probably be able to create the most intricate, gorgeous things. Oh, she hoped he would have some decorations.
Why would he? The other side of her brain suddenly chimed in. Why would the poor thing decorate? For whom? No-one will be there to celebrate with him … No one ever will. You are all he has, and you will be gone …
The thought struck her like a knife and made her stop in her tracks as if her breath was taken away. He would be all alone!! All alone for two full weeks and with all her pre Christmas performances and preparations she had already neglected the poor man as it was. That would not do.
Should she invite him to her celebration with Mother Valerius? It would be nice to have a third person and with Raoul away in Switzerland with his family no-one would disturb the proceedings.
Yes, yes, that felt like the right thing to do. Erik would be invited to the party. Oh, she couldn’t wait to tell him!
Arriving at Erik’s home, Christine soon found that things where far worse than she had expected: the house was dark, empty and … cold … so cold she thought she would freeze. She saw in the living-room that the fire was out and had been for some time. What was going on and where was Erik?
She called for him, but there was no answer, that was worrying. Christine dashed into the music room. It was cold and dark there too, and no Erik. She bit her lip as worry begun to stir inside of her.
Then the library; the same, cold dark and empty. The same for the kitchen and the bathroom. Where was he? He never left the Opera!! Something was wrong, she was certain. Oh, she should have made some time for him in the last few weeks. Even a quick chat after her performances would have done.
Her own bedroom in the house was empty too. Well, she would not have expected him to be there, he always made a point of never entering that room, as he respected her privacy.
Well, Christine respected Erik’s privacy too, but worry made her enter his bedroom, a room she feared. Every time she entered that room she was reminded of how poor Erik slept in a coffin. He thought that was what he was: nothing but a corpse. Undeserving of a comfortable bed.
Taking a deep breath Christine opened the door and looked. Nothing?
Just as Christine was about to turn away, she heard it: a soft rustling, coming from the coffin. Squinting in the dark she saw that on top of the coffin lay … a mountain of blankets. The blankets were quivering a little, as if something beneath it was shivering. That something could be no-one but …
“Erik!” she cried out.
The shivering pile stirred slightly, but didn’t answer her call.
“Erik,” Christine tried again, “Erik answer me, please! Are you al right?”
Nothing, no reply. That, Christine understood, probably meant that he was not al right.
Slowly Christine moved to the coffin and pulled away blanket after blanket, until she came face to face with Erik’s maskless, deadly pale futures, his dull sunken eyes looking at her in weary confusion.
It took a few seconds before Erik’s brain could actually resister what was going on, then it hit him: Christine was in his bedroom. Where had she come from? Why was she here? She should not see him like this!! He was a mess!!
“C… Christine w… w...what ...” Erik tried through chattering teeth. “What are you doing here?”
The girl pouted as she frowned at him sadly.
“I came to bring Christmas greetings, but I didn’t know I would actually have to visit the North-pole to do so.”
Christmas? Erik’s foggy brain wondered in confusion. She had come for Christmas? Oh, poor Christine to find him in such a state while she must have been so happy today. A corpse in a cold grave was sure to put a damper on her joy.
“Oh … oh my dear sweet Christine ...” Erik tried, noting with shame how tired and broken he sounded. “My sweet poor angel. Please, you should not have come. It isn’t good for you to be in this cold, dark place.”
A startled look appeared on the face of the girl he loved so much. Oh he had probably ruined everything for her.
“But … but why is it so cold?” Christine asked, confusion rising in her voice. “Erik, what is going on?”
“The wood … Erik’s wood for … for the fire, it was not delivered.” The half frozen man explained as he rose from his coffin with difficulty, keeping several blankets tightly wrapped around his thin shivering frame.
For as long as he had lived underground, Erik had secured the services of a young man who would do his monthly shopping in return for a reward. The man had delivered on his promised each and every time year after year, so Erik could not fathom what had prompted the man to let him down this time.
But it had happened: he had given the man his money in an alcove near the Rue Scribe, which was as far as he now dared to stray from his place of sanctuary, and had awaited the arrival of his necessities. But nothing came: no wood, no coal, no food, no candles, no tea. Nothing! He had not been prepared for this eventuality, things had been going so well for so long. Afraid of the outside world after having been isolated for more than a decade, Erik wasn’t sure what to do. The thought of going into town himself terrified him to the point of paralysis, so he had settled on dealing with the problem by doing … nothing.
The one thing he did do was decide that he would not to tell Christine about his problems: he had no right to burden her during one of the busiest times of the year. The fact that he usually only saw her when she was performing made it easier to remain silent.
As everyone at the Opera readied happily for Christmas, things turned dire for the lone spectre in the basement.
After two days Erik had ran out of wood to burn, a day later the candles ran out. There was only one now, that he kept for emergencies. After the candles came the food, then the tea, then everything else. He had stumbled around his freezing apartment dressed first in his warmest suit and coat, and as the days dragged on layer after layer of blankets followed. But he just couldn’t get warm, the constant cold had seeped into his body. Even in his coffin, covered with a pile of blankets he couldn’t get warm. The cold kept him awake at night, so there was not one moment of respite. He lay there, shivering, exhausted and, after three days, even hungry.
The only moment of joy was when he could sit by the oven and warm himself as he boiled hot water to drink. Even without tea the warm water was a treat as it warmed his hands and insides, if only for a short while.
Then the coal ran out and his misery was complete. He decided he would remain in his coffin, under his blankets, the only place that was bearable now. He had just stayed there, in his coffin, as the sleepless hours made him lose track of time and the cold overtook him. Time having lost all meaning he had thought that years had past by now, that he would lay there forever and no-one would ever come for him. But now … Christine had found him.
Squinting in the dark Christine could see that what she was able to glimpse of Erik looked terrible: paler than usual, emaciated and slightly unsteady on his feet.
“What do you mean?” she asked softly, the worry clear in her voice. How long had Erik been suffering like this?
A tired sigh escaped the man in front of her, Erik seemed barely aware of his surroundings, she noted. Shivering uncontrollably he blew on his hands, that were stuck into fingerless gloves.
“Christine ...” Erik sighed, as if he had not heard her question. “It … it’s so cold ...”
Still not certain about what exactly had happened, Christine did understand one thing: she should have talked to him sooner. Damn that man, why did he always think not asking for help was his best option?
“Erik, sweetie … how long have you been living like this?” Christine asked sadly as she took Erik’s frozen hands and started rubbing them between her warm ones, stirring a relieved sigh from her unhappy Phantom.
“I … I don’t remember ...” Erik sighed between shivers, finally a bit more aware of his surroundings. He thought for a second more, then settled on; “Days …”
A gasp escaped Christine hearing this and before she knew what she was doing she wrapped her arms around Erik to pull him into a hug. Her poor, poor Maestro, how terrible. All alone in the cold and dark while she had been out there, happy in the light. As she held him she could feel the unrelenting shaking and shivering of Erik’s bony body. She also noticed how he seemed to hold her tighter than he usually would, unaccustomed to hugs as he was. In a way it felt as if he held onto her for dear life.
“Erik?” she tried, as she noticed he seemed reluctant to let go of her.
“You are so kind, so warm … so warm. My angel is so warm.” Erik breathed in her hair, sobbing a little.
Unsure of what to do Christine held Erik for a while longer, shocked that things had probably been so bad for him that even her slight body heat could bring him relieve. She decided she would not leave him until she had found a way to save him from his misery.
“Erik, sweetie,” she murmured softly. “If you let me go I could make you some tea ...”
Another soft sob in her hair was her reply.
“There is no tea ...” Erik sighed sadly, “There hasn’t been for a long time. There … there is no coal either … I used the last to warm myself on the oven I think it was … well a few nights ago …”
With a start Christine let go of Erik to look at him in horror. The sudden release caused Erik to groan sadly, as the cold hit him once more with a mighty force. Why had she let him go? Why couldn’t she just hold him forever. Sweet Christine had been so warm and gentle in his frozen arms. He had just wanted to stay there forever, a moment of happiness before he’d die of hypothermia.
He suddenly felt her tug at his arm, stirring him from the confused thoughts he was sinking into.
“Erik … this is …: Christine looked at him as she shook her head. “You can’t live like this, there will be a big freeze tomorrow. How will you survive without heat?”
A big freeze? Erik frowned in confusion. Was she saying it could be even colder than it had been? Oh it probably could. But the last thing he wanted was his angel to worry about him. He would reassure her he had thought things through, even if he had not. As long as she was happy that was all that mattered.
“With everyone gone I assumed I could … stay in one of the rooms above, there is bound to be a place where I could warm myself … and find some food.”
That was a good idea, he thought. Maybe he really would do that. Christine didn’t seem convinced, though, judging from her frown.
“And after that?” She urged. “Do you know if your delivery will ever come?”
Erik shrugged tiredly. “I guess I could burn a painting or two, a few books … and in case of emergency, there is my music ...”
A look of pure horror exploded on Christine hearing him say those last words.
“Don’t you dare!!” she gasped. “Wait, what did you say? Food? You have no food either?”
Erik sighed and shook his head, the movement causing him a dizzy spell that made him swoon. For a second things turned black, was he fainting? Then he felt Christine’s warm arms leading him to the sofa where she settled him and then sat herself next to him.
Silence. Erik didn’t know how long it lasted . But when he opened his tired eyes, Christine was still there. Looking at him with worry. Worry. Oh, he couldn’t believe anyone would ever worry about him, least of all the angel he loved so much.
“Christine ...” Erik sighed. He noticed a sigh of relieve coming from Christine upon hearing his voice.
“Erik, when did you last eat?” she then asked in a long suffering voice.
“Don’t … remember.” Erik sighed weakly, wrapping the blankets even tighter around him. “Maybe … maybe you could leave a fire on for me in your dressing room, just so … I could have one nights sleep without the cold … That … that would mean so much to me. Just … just to be warm and sleep and … and … maybe an apple ...” His eyes fell shut as he spoke, even thinking of a night, just one night, of sleep somewhere warm was intoxicating. He curled into himself and leaned against the headrest of the sofa.
With an angry huff Christine got up, startling Erik awake again. As he blinked in confusion he noted how Christine grabbed the last candle, lit it and stomped to his closet where she begun begun rummaging through his clothes, selecting his best suit and some comfortable day-wear.
“Christine, what are you doing?” Erik asked as he got up to walk to her. The movement causing him a lot more difficulty than usual.
Christine turned to him, and to his horror he saw tears in her eyes. “Christine?!” he exclaimed. Was she crying because of him?
“Can you get a suitcase Erik?” Christine said in a shaky voice as she rubbed her eyes. Then she started her rummage through his closet again.
Erik shook his head as he looked her. He didn’t understand. What was she doing to his clothes?
“What are you doing?” He asked after a while, the confusion palpable in his voice.
An angry sigh from Christine as she turned to him again, this time she seemed more frustrated than sad.
“You are coming with me and I don’t want to hear any objections.”
What? What was she saying? He was coming with her? Where where they going?
“But … Christine …” he started, as he saw Christine turn to his closet again.
“I said no objections Erik.” Christine said, as she fished a couple of socks from his carefully arranged sock pile. “I don’t want my Christmas ruined by the thought of you freezing to death or starving.”
“Bu …” Erik tried as he pulled up a blanket that had slid from his shoulder.
With a flash Christine turned around sharply. “Do you want to ruin my Christmas, Erik?” she almost sounded angry and Erik jumped back in fear. He had never seen her like this.
“Of course not!!” he quickly exclaimed, no, he would never do that to her.
“Good,” Christine sight, satisfied. “Then it is settled. You are having Christmas with us.” humming happily she returned to packing Erik’s things.”
His mouth hanging open Erik just stared at Christine, working her way through his clothes. He cringed knowing that there was every chance she would see his underwear.
With a sigh Erik decided that he should probably start looking for the suitcase she had requested. He wasn’t sure he even had one.
As he searched worry started to overtake him.
Where was he going with her? He didn’t want to go anywhere, he hadn’t been away from the Opera in ten years. Even going as far as the end of the street made him feel like fainting.
But … it was Christine, she wanted him to go with her, for Christmas!! Was this not a dream come true? Should that not override every fear?
Soon the suitcase was packed and Erik found himself sitting on his sofa again, carefully tucked in his blankets, waiting for Christine to return so that they could go to wherever she lived.
“You are coming with me.” She had told him several times. He would be meeting her guardian, Mother Valerius. Christine had often talked of her and from what he remembered of it she had to be a very kind, open minded woman. Still Erik worried; what might she make of a strange masked man coming to stay over for Christmas? What if she refused him entrance? He wouldn’t know what to do, how to go back home without help! He gasped at the thought as fresh fears overwhelmed him.
No, he pondered, trying to keep calm; Christine would never leave him alone and helpless like that. Still his muscles tightened with tension as his anxiety kept growing. He knew he couldn’t go on living in the cold, but he was so terribly afraid of leaving the safety of his lair, to face the outside world again. Wrapping his blankets tighter around him Erik slowly started rocking himself as he prayed Christine would return soon to assure him all would be well.
Entering her dressing room Christine brushed a few cobwebs from her hair. She had taken a rarely used shortcut Erik had shown her once. She now understood why it was rarely used. It was damp and narrow and inhabited by a rat or two. Swiftly she then begun packing a few belongings she might need at home over the holiday season. The moment her quick packing finished Christine dashed to the lobby where she asked a porter to arrange a carriage for her and her “uncle”. She was certain that Erik was in no condition to walk even a short distance, weakened as he was.
During the walk to her dressing-room, Christine had pondered on what story she would tell the carriage driver and had settled on Erik being her uncle who had come to visit. Her uncle wore his mask because his face had been wounded in the war. He had become unwell because of some old injury playing up and she had to get him home swiftly. Yes, that would be best. It would be rather rude of anyone to question a war hero, would it not?
When Christine was certain the carriage was arranged she quickly returned to her dressing room to begin her journey back to Erik. The last candle Erik had owned was no use anymore, so she took an oil lamp with her to lighten her way. It was bit difficult to manage both the lamp and her small suitcase, but thankfully, despite the rats, she navigated her way without accidents.
Returning to the house on the lake she found Erik standing by his suitcase which lay on the table. Christine wondered what he was doing but she was too late to see, as he was already clicking it shut. Then he just stood there, his hands on the suitcase, lost in thought, his posture nervous. Not wanting to startle the man Christine cleared her throat before entering. The second he heard her Erik snapped out of his stupor and turned to her. The look of relief in his eyes upon seeing her was so clear it took her breath away for good a few seconds.
“Christine!” Erik exclaimed with grattitude , “you returned!”
Her brow furrowing Christine came towards him. “Of course I did. Did you really think I wouldn’t?” The tiny flinch Erik tried to hide from her was answer enough. Poor Erik, he would never fully trust anyone, would he? To spare his feelings Christine acted as if she had not noticed. “Are you sure you have everything, sweetie? There is a carriage coming for us soon, so we better hurry to the Rue Scribe entrance.” Hearing her words she noticed that Erik froze, only managing a short little nod of acknowledgement.
His mouth was dry, it had already been dry, as Erik had not drank much fluids recently, but this was a different sort of dry. It was his tongue sticking to his palate dry. He also felt as if his breathing was slightly more difficult than usual. Then he begun feeling strangely fuzzy and it felt as if he wasn’t in his body any-more and everything was getting further and further away.
“Come on Erik.” he heard, rather than saw Christine say. “We need to hurry!!”
Obeying his angels command he grabbed the suitcase automatically and walked to the door. But half a step before he reached it … he stopped. Not because he wanted to, but because his body simply couldn’t move any-more. It was frozen by a terrible, all encompassing fear. He couldn’t go outside, he couldn’t!!
He was already cold beyond measure, now the panic and anxiety buzzing in his body added more and his teeth chattered uncontrollably. Suddenly he could move, not forward, but downward. The floor was suddenly very close.
Turning to see why Erik was not following her, Christine was horrified to see the man shaking as if he were electrocuted and then fall to the floor. Quickly she rushed to his side and knelt next to him.
“Erik,” she cried out. “Erik, what is going on? Are you al right?!!”
She noticed him fumbling, as if he were reaching out to her through a haze and quickly huddled him into her arms. He clung onto her, his breathing fast and shallow, his hands so unbearably cold she could feel them through her coat.
“Sorry, so sorry.” He gasped.
“It’s al-right, sweetie, it’s al-right.” Christine said softly as she rubbed his back. To try and calm him she softly hummed a soothing melody.
Desperately clinging to the safety of her arms Erik leaned against Christine, trying to regulate his breathing. He felt so humiliated. Why could he not just follow her? He so wanted to go with her, into the light above. But but his body betrayed him, collapsing before he could even step outside the door! Was he doomed to stay underground, in the cold and dark, forever?
“What happened Erik?” He heard Christine's kind voice next to him. She was holding him, a monster, as if it was normal. As if he was a real human, a person with feelings who mattered and deserved care. Could he tell her? Maybe she would understand, maybe she could help him! He gulped in a few more breaths, trying to gain his capacity of speech again. “You can tell me Erik, I won’t judge you.” That darling girl, that kind voice, it made Erik want to tell her everything and spare her his pain at the same time. He owed her an explanation for what had happened.
“Christine … I haven’t been outside for … I guess over a decade … I …” he closed his eyes to stop the tears that threatened to fall, the words coming with difficulty. “Erik … Erik is afraid ….”
“Oh ...” Christine gasped in surprise.
“Erik is afraid …”
There they were. Three words she had never expected to hear from Erik. It came as a shock to her how she had always thought that Erik never leaving the Opera was just another eccentric quirk of his. Never once did she suspect it was fear that bound him to the place. Looking back on it all, it seemed rather obvious. But she had to get him out of there now, no matter how scared he was. He had to be warm, fed and put to bed. A real, warm bed.
“There is nothing to be afraid of Erik.” Christine soothed gently. “I'm here, with you, beside you,
To guard you and to guide you.”
He sniffled softly on her shoulder and Christine rocked him for a short while. Then, softly came Erik’s voice again, sounding almost pleading; “Erik wants to go with you Christine … Please help him come with you.”
Holding him even tighter now the girl nodded in affirmation. “I will sweetie, I will.” He had looked after her when no-one believed in her, even if it was as an invisible angel. Now Christine would be strong for him.
Carefully she helped him to his feet and let him lean on her to stop him from collapsing again.
“It’s al-right sweetie, come.” She whispered soothingly as she guided him through the door. “There you go, see nothing to be afraid of. I’m here. I’ll be with you all the time.”
Erik didn’t speak, but he followed her as Christine guided him from his house to the Rue Scribe. They didn’t go as fast as she would have liked, but at least Erik didn’t collapse again. She just hoped the carriage had waited for them. It would be terrible if Erik had to wait outside in the cold for another one.
Thankfully she found the carriage was still there for them when they arrived; even though the driver seemed clearly annoyed at having been kept waiting for so long. This immediately changed upon seeing how Christine was all but carrying Erik towards him.
“Oh, my dear mademoiselle!!” the driver exclaimed. “Let me help you!!”
The driver reached out to take Erik from her, but Christine shook her head.
“No Monsieur, thank you, but please, just take our suitcases.” She didn’t want to frighten Erik by letting a stranger handle him. He was scared enough as it was.
Thankfully the driver did not ask any questions, clearly the porter had instructed him well. The man simply took the suitcases and put them in the carriage. Then it was their turn to get inside.
“Come …” Christine said to Erik as she mounted the little step upwards.
Feeling him tense up the girl turned and smiled at him as calmly as she possibly could. Then she took his shaking hand.
“Come Erik, you can hold my hand all the way. If you feel afraid just squeeze it and I will hum something calming for you.”
Closing his eyes to compose himself Erik released an exhale that seemed to come from the bottom of his soul. Then he looked at Christine and nodded. There was another second that seemed to last a century but then he bridged the gap between them and joined her in the carriage. Deep in her heart Christine knew that Erik would have never done this for anyone else and it both warmed and broke her heart to know how much he seemed to trust her. She hoped she would never do anything to betray this man’s trust as that would surely kill him. Swiftly the girl pushed these thoughts away, as there was no use or time for them. All that mattered now was to get Erik to her house so he could recover and have a wonderful Christmas.
Erik never let go of Christine’s hand for the entire journey, sometimes he clenched her in such a vice it took a lot for her not to cry out. He was quiet and sat there trembling and whimpering, she couldn’t tell what was caused by cold and what by fear. To try and make things bearable for him she would sing or hum softly, Christmas carols and folk tunes, while she circled the palm of his hand gently with her thumb. Soon Christine felt utterly drained from it all, but she never once let Erik notice. The he poor man couldn’t help it and would only get worse if he thought he’d upset her. Still, Christine couldn’t hide the sigh of relief she breathed when they finally reached her home.
She had done it!! She had gotten Erik home safely, now things could only get better!
Stepping out of the carriage Erik’s vision started spinning. Where was he? Could he ever return to his lair again? He was about to meet a stranger in a place he did not know!! Where was Christine? Why was she not holding his hand anymore? Had she left him? The constant fear, combined with the ordeal he had been through and the fact that Erik had been dangerously close to hypothermia for too long, made his body decide it was time to shut down for a while.
They had arrived at her home safely, and Erik seemed a lot calmer. So Christine thought it was safe to let go of his hand for a brief moment. The driver had to be paid and thanked for his help and patience and the suitcases had to be checked on. As she handed the man his fare Christine saw Erik stumble and swiftly rushed to his side, just in time to see his eyes roll into the back of his head. Taking his arm to stop him from falling, Christine called out to him urgently: “No, no Erik, sweetie. Not now. If you’re going to faint please wait till we’re inside.” Seeing what was happening the driver dashed towards Christine to help her stabilize Erik and together they supported him to the door.
If Mother Valerius was in any way surprised or shocked to find an upset Christine at her front door supporting a shockingly thin and tall masked man who clung on to her for dear life she didn’t show it. Instead she simply smiled calmly at the strange trio in front of her.
Seeing her guardian Christine thought quickly: with the driver still there she was better of continuing the “uncle” narrative. The man was always taking clients to and from the Opera and some of the staff also used his services. She dearly wanted to avoid gossip, confusion and suspicion. Hopefully Mama wouldn’t ruin it.
“Mother, Uncle Erik has fallen ill!” Christine tried desperately. She gave Mother Valerius a pleading look, hoping she’d understand.
For a second the brow of the older woman furrowed, then she sprung into action with a zest that surprised even Christine.
“Oh, oh dear, poor uncle Erik” she wailed dramatically. “Good thing you were there to look after him Christine. Let’s get him inside quickly!!” The woman in the doorway beckoned them invitingly.
“Do you ladies need my help to get him inside?” The Carriage driver asked Christine helpfully.
That would be easier than having Erik handed to someone else again, Christine figured. “If you would be so kind sir.” She nodded and together they followed Mother Valerius inside, the spaced out Erik swaying precariously between them.
Once they arrived in the living room Erik was placed in a comfortable chair by the fireplace where a fire roared pleasantly. A soft whimper escaped Erik as he stretched his frozen hands eagerly towards the warmth.
“That’s right sweetie,” Christine said kindly, as she took a blanket from the cupboard and put it over his shivering legs. “You can warm up now.” To warm Erik from the inside and to calm him before meeting Mother Valerius she also pored him a small brandy.
A pull went through her heart when she handed Erik the glass and noticed that he tried to smile at her. His stiff trembling lips, almost hidden by his mask, failing at their task but the love and gratitude that beamed from his eyes was more than clear. Once again she had the overwhelming desire to hug him. He was a genius, a Phantom an angel and lots more and she loved to marvel at that. But it was that helpless, fragile, side that he always failed at hiding from her no matter how hard he tried, that she truly adored. He was so very vulnerable after all he had been through, and often she wanted nothing more than make everything better for him. What she got in return for her efforts was pure and utter devotion and adoration.
Leaving Erik to enjoy his first warmth in days, she turned towards Mother Valerius who was still talking to the driver at the door.
“You have a very kind daughter madame.”she heard the man say as he left. “The way that girl looks after her poor disabled uncle. A treasure to us all!!” Christine put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle, as she wondered how Erik would take being known as her “poor disabled uncle”.
Her laughter disappeared when she heard the front door shut. They were alone now and soon she would have to explain all.
“Christine?” said mother Valerius as she bustled into the room. “Why have I just been talking to a strange carriage driver about your uncle Erik? When we both know you have no such uncle?”
Mother moved towards Christine in concern.
“Christine, who is this man? Why have you brought him here?”
There it was. How could she explain as smoothly as possible? Several scenarios swirled through her head. But her mouth decided to simply blurt out: “Mama, this is my maestro.” as she stupidly pointed at the half dazed man at the fireplace. To her relief Christine immediately knew she had said the right thing as the face of the women in front of her changed the moment she heard her words.
“THE maestro,” Mother Valerius said, her voice filled with awe, “the angel who fell to earth?”
Relief coursed through Christine as she nodded eagerly.
“Yes, mama. He has been through a terrible ordeal and needs our help.”
And just like that Mother Valerius was full of concern for her unexpected guest.
“What happened dear?” she urged. “He looks a wreck!”
Not wanting Erik to overhear things like that Christine took Mother’s hand and moved her to the kitchen.
“Oh, it is terrible mother! He has been living in the icy cold and dark without food, sleep or anything. Mama, I don’t think he has eaten, not in a long time. He has no-one but me to look after him! I could not leave him where he was, could I?”
A sad sigh escaped Mother Valerius and it looked as if her heart broke a little upon Christine’s words.
“Of course not dear,” she said as she wiped her eyes, “you did well to bring him here.”
That sounded promising, Christine thought. “Can he stay?” She urged, “for Christmas?”
The woman smiled and pulled Christine towards her in a loving hug: “He can stay as long as he needs.”
“Thank you.” Christine murmured, cherishing the hug as she breathed a sigh of relief. Erik was safe and would be looked after.
Just as Christine begun explaining more about their guest, a soft snoring sound made them step back into the living room. Christine smiled seeing Erik had fallen asleep, he was clearly utterly exhausted. Mother Valerius seemed to take Erik’s incapacitation as an invitation to stare at him for a while.
“That poor, poor man.” Mother Valerius said sadly as she looked at Erik. “I can see the bones in his neck. Christine, why have you not brought him with you before? I could have cooked for him!”
“This is the first time in years he has left his home. He was so afraid, that was why he was near fainting when he stepped out the carriage. I have given him a small brandy when I settled him here, to calm him. I hope that was al right?”
At her last words Mama froze and for some reason turned to Christine in horror.
“No, that was not all right. Christine, I thought you wiser! How can you give alcohol to a weakened man who has not eaten in days? Who knows what it will do to him?”
That threw Christine for a good second. She had never thought of that, not for a moment. It annoyed her; she wanted to be the woman who saved Erik, who did everything perfectly. She could not be making errors like that. Though why exactly she felt like this was something she could not explain, not even to herself.
“Oh no! I never thought of that!” Christine was close to tears. “I just wanted him to feel warm and calm. I never wanted to hurt him.”
A knowing look in her eyes the face of Mother Valerius softened and she rubbed Christine’s arm warmly.
“Of course you didn’t child. Don’t upset yourself, there’s no harm done it seems. At least you succeeded in getting him calm, the man is near drunk. Thankfully it was only a small glass.”
The two women both laughed and then looked at their inebriated Christmas guest for a few moments longer, wondering what to do next.
The breathing of the man in the chair sounded slightly constrained, making Christine feel sad for Erik. She knew he was wearing his formal mask, a mask that looked beautiful but was rather restrictive where his breathing was concerned. It probably wasn’t pleasant to sleep with. Mother Valerius clearly noticed this too.
“Would he not be more comfortable without the mask, Christine?”
Of course he would, Christine thought sadly, fresh tears stinging behind her eyes. But he cannot take it off, because then you will make him leave!
“Mother … I … I told you before …” she said in a shaky voice. “Heaven … has blessed him with the voice of an angel … but his face … I do not wish for you to fear him before getting to know him.”
A hurt look on her face Mother Valerius walked to the kitchen and returned with a damp cloth. She gazed at Christine as if the girl had greatly offended her.
“Fear him? My dear, how could I? A man who inspired you to sing like an angel, who has shown you great wonder and kindness. How can his face change what I think?”
So she was serious? She wanted to unmask Erik in his sleep?
“But mother ...” Christine gasped as she tried to block her guardians way. She had to dissuade her of this unholy idea.
“No dear,” Mother insisted as she deftly slipped past Christine, “I was a nurse and with a professor as a husband I have seen the most awful things over the years, this poor man cannot frighten me."
That woman is an unstoppable force, Christine thought bitterly. She had promised Erik he would be safe and look what was happening!
As quietly as she could mother Valerius tiptoed to the sleeping man and carefully removed his mask. Sedated by the combination of utter exhaustion and alcohol on a completely empty stomach Erik did not notice what was being done. He just whimpered softly, smacked his lips and slept on, his breathing coming easy now.
Bracing herself for the screams that would hurt poor Erik once more Christine had closed her eyes. To her surprise nothing happened. When she opened her eyes again she found her guardian kindly wiping Erik’s brow with the cloth, a gentle but sad smile on her face.
“There there, that is much more comfortable, isn’t it? You poor man.” Mama said gently as she tucked the blanket around Erik carefully.
The older woman looked at Erik with such kindness it took Christine’s breath away, and made the guilt she still felt over her initial reaction to Erik’s poor face even worse.
Mother Valerius gazed upon Erik’s face for quite some time until suddenly Christine noticed a strange emotion on her guardians face as a tear slid down her cheek.
“Mama?” She asked softly, trying to make as little noise as possible so she wouldn’t startle Erik. The man had suffered enough and she really didn’t want him waking up to whatever was happening right now.
Quietly Mother Valerius walked back to Christine, Erik’s mask still clutched in her hand and the two returned to the kitchen.
For a little while the two women just stood there. Mother Valerius seemingly lost in thought, slowly turning the mask round and round in her hands. Then, to Christine’s relief, she spoke.
“His face … I can’t believe it ...”
“Mother, I often told you … how bad it was. You shouldn't have …”
“No, no. Let me finish. That is not what I mean at all. Your Maestro’s face does not frighten me.
Oh my dear. When … you first told me about what he looked like … I knew.
My little baby … he was like him … he did not survive beyond the first day …”
“You … had a child, Mama?”
“Yes. A boy, a sweet boy. But severely deformed, like your maestro. He was born premature and his nasal passage was underdeveloped. He couldn't breath and they immediately told me to prepare for the worst. Everyone was afraid of him. Afraid of that poor little thing. Who is afraid of a baby Christine, no matter what it looks like?”
Her mouth open in shock Christine was at a loss of what to say. All these years and Mother had never shared this with her? Not even when she told of her of the mysterious adventures in the house beyond the lake?
But she pushed away the thoughts, they had no place in this moment. Instead she stepped forward and took mother in her arms.
“I’m so, so sorry.” Christine whispered lovingly.
They stood there for a while until Mother spoke again.
“I always wondered what would have become of him, had he lived. Christine … Would my little one have had the life your Maestro had?”
To Christine’s relief this was one question that she could actually, honestly, answer.
“No Mother, I don’t think so … As … as I can see you loved your son … No-one ever seems to have loved …”
And just like that the moment disappeared as Mother pushed Christine away abruptly and reverted to the bustling character Christine was used to.
“Hush, hush. Don’t tell me Christine. We have a guest to look after. Now first things first. He needs soup, a bath and a bed.”
“Indeed.” Christine nodded, almost thankful to have something to do. It had been a taxing day for her and it probably wasn’t over yet.
“I will start to prepare the soup. Would he like some bread as well?”
“He hasn’t eaten in ages mother, he’ll probably like anything I am certain.”
“Good. So bread it is. Go and run his bath now Christine, there's a good girl”
And with that Mother took to work, leaving a dazed Christine to run Erik’s bath.
“Would you like some soup, Erik?” The soft voice of Christine entered Erik’s sleepy haze.
Blinking himself moderately awake Erik looked at the kind girl in front of him. He could only nod vaguely.
“Yes ...” he droned wearily. “Hungry ...” his eyes fell shut again. All he really wanted was stay by this nice fire and sleep, but he knew it was true: he was hungry. He had rarely been truly hungry the last few years, trained as he was to survive on little. But now it had been far too long since last he’d eaten anything.
Yes, soup sounded good, but maybe he could stay in this chair till it was ready. He was already nodding off again when an insistent tug at his arm forced him to return his attention to Christine again.
“It is cooking, sweetie. You can take a bath and eat it after."
A bath …? Oh he’d love a bath. He had been wearing his clothes for so long it embarrassed him. But he had not been able to bathe or even wash himself in his lair. The pipes had frozen, so warm water had been impossible to come by and he couldn’t risk undressing for fear of freezing to death immediately. For a man who prided himself on his grooming and impeccable dress sense, this had been quite the blow. Yes, yes, a bath would be wonderful, maybe he would feel slightly like himself again afterwards. It was rude to sleep like this in Christine’s presence, no matter how bone-crushingly tired he was.
He shook his head for a second to clear his mind. What a mess he’d been today. Poor Christine, she had tried so hard even when he’d been a quivering wreck. Why was she so kind to him?
“Thank you Christine, my angel. A bath sounds divine. Right now I would love nothing more than that.”
The happy smile Christine gave him temporarily alleviated his tiredness slightly. Oh surely no-one knew a kinder angel than her?
“Come along then.” Christine said happily. “It is ready for you.”
“You are far too good to me.” Erik said, earnestly.
With a twinkle in her eyes Christine put her hands on Erik’s shoulders and looked at him.
“You my dear, deserve nothing more than all the care in the world after what you have been through.”
She stood there in front of him, smiling like a goddess. Oh how he loved this wonderful girl. Sadly just when Erik had worked up the courage to hug her back Christine let go and reached out her hand to him.
“Now let’s get you into the bath.”
With a mighty effort Erik hailed his exhausted body from the chair. Immediately things begun swaying in front of his eyes. Seeing him swoon Christine quickly steadied him.
“Why … why am I so dizzy?” Erik slurred slightly. He was surprised to hear a small giggle from Christine in answer to his question.
“That … could be my fault, sweetie. I shouldn’t have given you alcohol. Mother gave me quite the scolding for that.”
And it was then, only then, that Erik’s haze truly faded and he recalled where he was. An immediate and crippling embarrassment overtook him.
“Mother? Oh my God … I must have made the worst first impression in the world.”
What was this woman going to think of him? A mumbling, shaking masked man who had never said so much as hello, but got drunk and fell asleep by the fireplace instead. Oh, how dreadful.
“It’s al right Erik. She understands,” Christine insisted as her gentle fingers circled his back. “Don’t worry. I explained what happened and being a former nurse she immediately doted on you. There is enough time for introductions and small talk once you feel better.”
This felt surreal to Erik. How could anyone accept his terrible conduct? It went against every form of social etiquette!
“Are you sure Christine I … I feel like ...”
Every objection was silenced by Christine as she dragged him towards the bathroom.
“Come Erik, you are barely able to speak coherently. A bath and food, some sleep, then we will see how you are tomorrow.”
Incapable of disagreeing on anything, as all Christine’s suggestions felt like heaven to the broken Erik, he could only nod and then let her support him to the bathroom.
The bath was warm and ready for him, and it smelled utterly divine. The bathroom looked pristine, light and welcoming. But unfortunately this bathroom also possessed the one thing that Erik’s bathroom did not: a mirror!!
That was something Erik realised to his detriment the moment he walked in and saw his reflection. It was only then that he realised that he was not wearing a mask!
How had this happened? How long had he been exposed like this? Why had Christine not told him?
Christine heard a gasp next to her and felt Erik freeze in her arms. She followed his gaze and swallowed. Oh, how could she have forgotten? All her efforts to get Erik comfortable and now this. Well, maybe it was a positive thing: in a way she had forgotten because she simply didn’t notice Erik’s face any more.
“Christine … where is my mask?” Erik said through laboured breaths.
“Mother removed it because you were choking in your sleep.”
A jolt of fear shot through Erik. The woman had done what? And here he was worried about his manners. He was certain that unmasking strange men without their permission was even lower on the list of social etiquette!
He swung round to Christine in horror.
“Mother?! She … and … how?” he was too apoplectic to speak.
“What do you mean?”
Why did Christine look so innocent? Why had she let this happen? Why had … Why had that woman not screamed or hurt him? This was too weird for words.
“She removed my mask and … then makes me soup and runs me a bath?” Erik heard himself say out loud. Was he still dreaming?
There was Christine smiling again.
Why did she appear to find this normal? There was nothing normal here at all. Did she not know how people were supposed to behave when they removed his mask? Her own reaction had been the standard one. The only one he’d ever known.
“Christine don’t lie. No-one has ever looked at my face and then simply went to make soup. Are you certain she won’t throw me out at night, when you sleep? Christine, please explain this to me! No-one but you has ever looked beyond my face.”
A sad look filled with kindness met with his. Christine took his hands.
“You’re really frightened aren’t you?” She said softly.
Erik could only nod.
“No, it is al right,” Christine urged, rubbing his arm. He would never get used to how tactile she was with him. He savoured each of these touches after a lifetime without human warmth. “You are safe Erik. Mama was a nurse, I think she has seen a lot worse. She wants to look after you.”
Mother wanted to look after him? But she did not even know him!!
“This I … why didn’t you …?” It was all too confusing.
“Say anything? Erik, sweetie, I forgot …” Christine shrugged matter of factly.
This was getting absurd!
“Sweetie, I guess I’ve grown accustomed to your face ...”
No. Too much. This was too much. He was either dreaming, going insane or ...
“I … I can’t believe this … I … Christine, am I dead?”
A look of surprised confusion overtook Christine’s sweet face.
“No Erik …” She said, her voice worried. Erik smiled ruefully.
“No, I guess not, as I am still in pain. But … for a moment I thought that I was in heaven or possibly experiencing some cruel joyful hallucinations while slowly freezing to death in my house ...”
Christine huffed in exasperation at these ramblings. Clearly done with his questioning of things she begun helping him out of his jacket.
“Erik, you are not the Little Match Girl. Now undress and get into that bath before it gets cold. You can leave your clothes here once you’ve finished, I am certain they need cleaning. No, don’t look at me like that, sweetie, I quite understand. You would have frozen to death had you even attempted a change of clothes. Your pyjamas slippers and robe are all laid out for you, as I want you to be comfortable. There is time enough for formal wear later.”
A warm feeling stirred through Erik as he listened to Christine speak. Could this be real? Truly real? He was safe, looked after and Christine fussed over him as if he were her crippled husband. Was this a Christmas miracle? What had he done to deserve this bliss?
He nodded his gratitude to Christine and she left the room with a smile. Erik then undressed swiftly and slipped into the warm, sweetly scented, soapy water. A gasp of relief escaped him as the warm water embraced him and begun soothing his painful muscles. He leaned back happily and allowed himself to be lulled into tranquillity.
The bath had done Erik the world of good. His muscles felt a little less tense and painful, while feeling clean again did wonders for his confidence. He could have stayed there forever, where it not that the water was slowly cooling down and he kept nodding off.
After immersing himself fully underwater one last time Erik carefully stepped out of the bath, shivering a little as the cold air of the bathroom hit him. Having had enough of the cold to last him a lifetime Erik dried himself swiftly and then slipped into the comfortable night attire Christine had kindly laid out for him. Part of him felt a bit odd about wearing his dressing-gown and pyjamas in front of a stranger, but Christine was right, he really didn’t feel up to wearing his usual formal suits right now. All he wanted was soft fabrics, warmth and comfort.
If Erik were honest what he truly, truly wanted was to crawl under a warm blanket with a hot water bottle and sleep … for days.
He was surprised to find himself wishing for such decadent luxuries, it was not as if he ever did things like that. He never felt deserving of comfort, which is why he slept in his coffin. But ever since he knew Christine, he had begun to learn that most humans did not live like him. When he heard her talk about curling up in bed he'd sometimes wish he could too. He had started longing for it during the long hours in the cold in his cramped coffin, you couldn’t curl up or get comfortable in there. At some point it had slipped into Erik’s mind that a warmer, far more comfortable place was only a few doors away: Christine’s bed! A warm, huge snuggly bed. Oh how he’d longed to go there and rest his painful, frozen body. But he couldn’t: he had promised Christine he would never enter her room without her permission, and this promise was sacred. Part of him wondered if maybe she would understand if he explained the horrors that had driven him to her bed, but he just didn’t have the heart to risk it.
His bath had done a lot to make him feel more alert and the hideous fuzziness was thankfully gone. He actually knew where he was and what he was doing which was a welcome change. But he was still weighed down by an, almost painful, debilitating tiredness. Well, who wouldn’t after the ordeal he had been through.
Erik knew that, no matter how he longed for sleep, he couldn’t yet. He had to push through for Christine’s sake. He had been relying on her kindness and forgiveness for too long. He had to start acting like a normal, polite house-guest. Well, at-least he would attempt to as much as he possible could.
For a second Erik smiled when he noticed that Christine had also left a walking cane for him. His unsteadiness clearly had not gone unnoticed. He gratefully took the support as he begun to make his way to the drawing-room.
Standing in front of the door Erik took a few deep breaths. He wasn’t used to meeting people any-more. Especially people that had already met him when he’d been intoxicated. In the room that Christine had started preparing for him he had found his mask which he had slipped back on. He knew that for some bizarre reason Mother Valerius didn’t mind his face, but he wasn’t ready to be exposed like that. He took one more breath and knocked on the door.
“Come in!” a voice said. Feeling encouraged by the kindness he heard in it Erik stepped into the room.
“Aha, our new house-guest!” Mother Valerius smiled up at him as he entered. The cheerfulness confused Erik, but he decided to ignore it. He had to apologise first.
“Madame Valerius, my apologies for my behaviour today … I ...” He closed his eyes for a second and shook his head. “It was unforgivable. If there is any way I could make it up?”
The woman on the couch stood up and walked towards him. Erik noticed a warm, friendly face with excited sparkly eyes. He felt strangely comforted by her friendly demeanour.
“Oh Monsieur Maestro,” Mother Valerius said, in a rather soothing voice, “there is nothing to forgive, as there is nothing to apologise for. I can hardly fault you for being unwell, dear.”
For a moment Erik stood there blinking. Why was he being called “dear” by this lady? No-one but Christine had ever talked to him this way. And surely there was no need to call him “Monsieur Maestro”. He bowed a little, taking her outstretched hand.
“I thank Madame for her kindness, but please, my name is Erik.”
“Mine is Alma. Now stop being so formal, dear, and get comfortable on the couch. Christine is in the kitchen she will join us soon with the tea. I hope she told you: you do not have to wear your mask around me.”
Feeling awkward in this entirely new situation Erik bowed his head and nodded.
“Please, Madame Alma, for now it gives me confidence. Without it I might as well be naked in front of you.”
A suggestive giggle escaped the woman in front of him. “Now then, we wouldn’t want that. Would we. Or maybe … No, come on dear man and sit.”
Erik sat down gingerly in the furthest corner of the couch, unsure of what was expected of him. He wasn’t a talker as a rule. Maybe he might have been if he’d had people to talk to in his life. He also wasn’t sure what regular people might talk about. Probably sensing his discomfort Alma smiled at him indulgently and said: “Well Erik, tell me, how is Christine’s singing progressing?”
Oh, now he could tell her about that!! Soon Erik was talking so animatedly he hardly noticed the subject of the conversation come in.
A happy flutter went through Christine's heart hearing Erik’s voice drift to her as she pored water into the pot in the kitchen. He was talking! How had Mother managed that?! A warm feeling overtook her knowing she had done the right thing taking him to her home.
Humming to herself Christine put the tea items on a tray and proceeded to walk to the door of the drawing-room, where … she stopped in her tracks as she heard her name mentioned in the conversation on the other side of the door. It was Erik, talking about her singing progress with a passionate delight. She had to laugh. That clever Mother! So that was why he was talking so easily. For a brief moment she stood and listened in, wanting to know what Erik had to say about her when she was not around.
“And her pitch Madame! It’s is pristine, like the purest crystal! She reaches the third F above C with so much ease it amazes me sometime. You … you would never understand the joy she has brought into my life Alma. Not just with her voice but … with who she is. I have never met anyone so kind. I never knew how lonely I was till … she saved me.”
A lone tear slid from Christine’s cheek hearing these words. Poor sweet Erik. In a way she’d always known how he felt about her, but hearing him say it made it even more real. No man, except her father, had ever been as dedicated and loving as Erik. Not even Raoul …
Raoul? She realised that she hadn’t given him a moment of thought since she had started looking after Erik. Well, he could take care of himself. He was out skiing goodness knew where, enjoying life and all it had to offer. Meanwhile, poor Erik, her sad genius, had nothing. Well, that was not entirely true. He had her and now mother as well.
Composing herself before entering Christine closed her eyes, exhaled sharply and stepped into the room.
“Oh, she was a vision of wonder Madame, sadly I thought the pianist didn’t do her justice!!” Erik insisted. Christine snorted, Erik would never consider any pianist but him capable of accompanying her.
“Pianist was fine Erik.” she said abruptly, making Erik turn round in surprise at her sudden presence. “Not as good as you, of course, but adequate.”
Quickly Erik jumped up to take the tray from her.
“Adequate is not good enough. Never good enough for you, Christine Daaé.”
For some reason the intensity in Erik’s voice and eyes made Christine feel rather wobbly. Even standing there in his robe in her own living room, there was something about Erik that made her feel emotions she could not grasp. She bowed her head and swallowed.
“Don’t be silly Erik, Mama can hear us.”
A courteous not as Erik moved to put the tray on the table and sat back down. Only Christine noticed how his eyes closed briefly for a second as he leaned backwards. She would get him to bed the second dinner was finished she noted. She had to remember that he had not slept goodness knew how many days, as Erik was probably too polite to bring it up himself.
As Christine pored the tea she noticed how eagerly Erik looked at it and swiftly handed it to him. Ignoring how hot the tea obviously had to be he quickly gulped the liquid down. The two woman looked at him in confusion.
“Erik, are you mad? You could have burned yourself, you silly man!”
Erik simply shrugged breathed out. “I … Oh, forgive me, it’s just been so long since I had anything to drink, not counting the brandy. I have been yearning for a warm cup of tea.”
While Alma nodded understandingly, telling Erik he could have as many cups as he wanted Christine clenched her fists into her skirt. Another thing she’d failed to do right. Of course she should have made him a cup of tea the moment he arrived. It should have been tea, not that stupid brandy. Why hadn’t Erik asked for anything? Why was he so intend on making her guess?
Poring Erik another cup she put the pot close to him as she at down next to him on the couch.
“There might be a cup or two left, if you want Erik.”
And want it Erik did, desperately. He was surprised he had never noticed how thirsty he was. He wondered when he’d last drank something, not counting the brandy. The tea was welcome, so welcome. He couldn’t believe how wonderful everything was. Christine and Alma, so kind to him, being in a real home, on a comfortable couch, drinking tea, lovely real tea. The only thing he didn’t understand was why every so often things would be so blurry and out of focus and why it seemed he sometimes seemed to miss parts of the conversation.
Christine did know why this was happening: every few minutes Erik’s eyes fell shut for a few seconds or his head would snap forward. She would try to repeat things that had been said the moment he regained himself, just to keep him up to speed. She didn’t want to mention anything, as Erik seemed to delight in simply being there, enjoying things others took for granted.
Time went on as the conversation continued, soon Erik was listening more than he talked as he begun feeling slightly uncomfortable.
Polite as he was Erik had not mentioned an important detail the ladies had seemingly forgotten: he was starving! Delightful as the tea had been, after a while it made him keenly more aware of the almost painful emptiness in his stomach. Clearly it made his stomach aware of being empty too as it begun to make noises he found rather unmusical. Not long after that the sad ache of his stomach made it difficult for him to truly focus on the conversation at all. He hated himself for it: these people were so kind to him, and he should be happy. How could he ruin things by telling them that between hunger and the effects of sleep deprivation he was barely able to comprehend what was said to him? No, no, he had to keep his mouth shut for now and appreciate what was given.
“Tomorrow we will put up the Christmas tree Erik. I am going to bake some cookies and decorate them. Oh, Erik you’re going to love it!!”
Just as he valiantly tried not to moan at the mention of food, Erik smelled something delicious coming from the kitchen. The soup Christine had mentioned, oh it smelled gorgeous! His insides agreed and decided to make their appreciation known by producing an almighty growl that could not be ignored by his hosts.
“What’s that sound?” Christine asked, raising her eyebrows.
Swallowing back the saliva that was forming in his mouth Erik tried to give an innocent smile.
“What sound?” he shrugged as if it were funny.
The polite conversation continued once more but Erik was distracted by the smell and the yearning for the meal it belonged too. Every fiber of his self loathing judged him for his conduct: he had always wanted to be perfect for Christine to compensate for his face, and perfect people did not have bodily needs. He also wasn’t used to his body demanding food like that, but it had been so very long.
Another gurgle, even louder now and to his embarrassment he saw Alma raise a knowing eyebrow.
“I think I know what sound is.” Mother Valerius said, almost horrified. “Oh, you poor dear. Here we are talking nonsense while you are sitting there hungry.”
Erik nodded shyly, once again embarrassed by … everything.
“I … am sorry ...” he sighed.
“I should be sorry sweetie,” Christine said as she rubbed his arm. “I didn’t realise you were this hungry as you never eat in front of me.”
Whoosh! Just like that the world seemed to stop for Erik: “you never eat in front of me.” Oh no, no! How could he have forgotten this? These two angels were probably expecting to dine with him!! With him!! No, no! He couldn’t do that, he just couldn’t!! They couldn’t see him eat, it was too humiliating! He jumped of the couch as if he had suffered a shock.
“No, no Christine! I am perfectly well. In fact, I think I may turn in now. I am not hungry anymore!”
But just then Erik’s poor, tortured, stomach decided to contradict his statement by releasing such a loud growl it physically hurt. Instinctively Erik collapsed back onto the sofa as he wrapped his arms around himself to ward of both sound and pain. He waited till the pain subsided a little and then looked up to see both Christine and Alma look at him in surprise or horror, he was never certain about this.
“Well, that was an example of a mixed message if ever I saw one ...” Alma said matter-of-factly, her brow furrowed.
What was going on? Christine wondered, feeling worry creep over her. What had happened? Why was Erik behaving so strangely?
“Sweetie, what are you doing? What happened?” she asked as gently as she could manage, her hand on his arm. She could hear Erik swallowing and gasping. What had upset him so?
“Christine I … I am so terribly hungry … but I can’t dine with you ...” Erik said, staring at her helplessly, his eyes brimming with tears.
“What?” Christine asked, looking at Mother in for guidance, but she seemed as confused as she was.
“Sweetie, what do you mean?” she tried.
A second of silence in which Erik seemingly tried to raise the courage to explain. Then he closed his eyes and forced it out through ragged breaths:
“I … I can’t dine with you because I can’t eat with my mask on!”
The brow of both women furrowed, was that all?
“Sweetie, we talked about this. Your face … it doesn’t bother either of us!” Christine soothed, while Alma nodded in agreement.
Still Erik didn’t seem pacified by this. There was more to this, Christine understood and Erik soon explained more.
“But … I … I chew … imagine my jaws … chewing!!” He wailed, almost hysterically. “You would lose your appetite, you would be disgusted … Oh …” he bended forward as if in pain when his stomach gave another growl and started sobbing.
“Erik, please, listen. We really don’t mind. I promise. You are safe. You don’t have to hide or feel ashamed, I swear!!” As Christine wrapped Erik in her arms, Mother Valerius got to her feet with an impatient huff.
“I’d rather have you dribble all over my table cloth or whatever your jaw makes you do then watch this for a moment longer.” she said as she walked to the door. “Christine, look after him, I’m setting the table.”
With that Alma left the room, leaving Christine with a sobbing Erik in her arms.
“Listen sweetie”, Christine soothed. “I know it might be hard for you to believe, but you don’t have to worry any-more. You are safe and we will not judge you. So what if your jaws look odd when you chew? It doesn’t look pretty on everyone. Why Raoul looks like a guinea pig when he eats and everyone always teases him with it. Especially Philippe, which is rich coming from him, as he looks like a messy goat.”
To her relief Christine could hear Erik snigger softly between his tears. She heard the soft moans of his stomach and felt sad about not realising Erik had been so very hungry. When had he eaten when she lived with him? She wondered. Probably just a quick snack when she was sleeping, poor Erik. She felt slightly silly expecting that simply taking Erik to her home would solve everything immediately, simply because it was Christmas. The poor man’s life had been nothing but trauma, and he obviously needed a lot of time to adjust to the fact that people could be kind to him. He had to get used to new surroundings and a new person he did not know. They would have to take it slowly and be patient.
They sat there for a while, waiting for Alma to return. After some time Christine noticed Erik’s breathing change and when she looked at him she realised he had fallen asleep. She shook him quickly, before his sleep got too deep. Exhausted as he was, he still should eat first, he needed the sustenance. If she let him sleep now she might not be able to wake him once dinner was ready.
“No ...” Erik muttered wearily, in response to her shaking him. “Please ...” he pleaded.
The poor man, he clearly desperately needed to rest for a very long time after his meal. She wondered if he’d even make it all the way through.
“Erik, you can sleep soon, I promise. But you have to eat first.”
“Hmm” he replied, not even bothering to open his eyes. “If Raoul eats like a guinea pig … I can take of my mask.”
Soon Erik sat behind a steaming plate of soup, filled with both yearning and terror. He had been comforted by Christine and felt certain he could do it. But with both women staring at him expectantly, waiting for him to take of his mask he felt rather pressured and uncertain. Why couldn’t they have just given him his meal in his room?
“Come on Erik, everything is fine. We won’t judge you.”
He felt Christine take his hand for a quick squeeze. The smell of food was intoxicating and weakened years of self preservation. With a sigh Erik removed his mask and grabbed a spoon, filed it with soup and, shielding himself from view with the sleeve of his robe, brought it to his mouth and took a mouthful.
He released a shuddering breath.
Food, real food. Warm, comforting soup. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten anything like it. His ravenous hunger overwhelmed him and he quickly took another spoonful, then another.
With a gentle smile, Christine softly pushed down his arm, knowing Erik was too wrapped up in his meal to notice. She looked at him intently: it looked odd, seeing his jaw at work, but not horrific. Certainly not offensive enough for people to get upset about. Carefully she pushed a piece of baguette in his hand. He blinked at her in surprise, she gave a smile and a supportive nod. Erik carefully dunked the piece in the soup, then took a bite. Head bowed low with shame he chewed slowly and oddly. So oddly he begun to choke.
Christine quickly handed him some water.
“Chew and swallow Erik,” Christine said kindly, rubbing his back, “it's al-right. I am here, I am looking at you. I'm not scared or disgusted.”
The way the man had shrunk into a sad little boy in front of her eyes had melted her heart. He was tense and terrified. Had his parents shamed him for doing something as normal as chewing?
Erik took a deep breath, closed his eyes, swallowed and tried again. He dunked his bread and ate. This time he managed much better, he actually managed without choking.
“See, there you go Erik!” Christine beamed. “You chewed!!”
The girl said it with such delighted passion that it made everyone at the table burst into laughter.
A smile on her face Mother Valerius raised her glass.
“To Erik, long may he chew.”
That almost made Erik blush and he lowered his face to his plate. Still he was unable to hide the smile playing in the corners of his mouth.
From that point on the dinner continued without incident, all of them soon forgetting all about Erik’s jaws that were not all that frightening to start with.
To the delight of Christine and Mother Valerius Erik polished off two bowls of soup and most of the bread. Christine noticed happily that despite the circles of exhaustion beneath his tired eyes Erik had started to look a lot less terrible now he’d finally had some food.
After dinner came dessert, a Cherry Clafoutis, from which Erik ate several mouthfuls with great delight. But after a while he felt like he needed to stop. He wasn’t used to such high quantities of food.
With a delighted sigh he leaned backwards to take in the scene: his beloved Christine and her wonderful guardian were still enjoying their treats. He had been allowed to have dinner with people in a comfortable dining room, even his own parents had never allowed him that. He regretted his initial breakdown and was glad that it had been understood and never spoken off after.
He did wonder about the dancing bunnies that were now on the table in front of him, and the dumb looking guinea pig that resembled Raoul far too much like for his liking.
“Erik ...” he heard a voice, a voice he loved. Then the hand belonging to that voice gently slapped him.
“What … what?” he tried. Why was he suddenly feeling as if there were clouds inside of him? Warm, happy fuzzy clouds. Everything was so nice … so … so nice ...
He could hear someone snoring … how odd. He was certain it wasn’t him. He was having dinner at a lovely floating table.
“Erik!!” That lovely little bell like voice again, insistent now. Another slap.
He might not actually be at a floating table, he slowly realised. He forced himself to try and open his eyes. Once he managed he thought he was probably still dreaming, as there was Christine in front of him, surrounded by a lovely halo.
“Beautiful ...” he managed to mutter, before his head lolled forward again.
Poor Erik, Christine thought with a smile. All that food had probably made him even more sleepy. She had to prevent him from slumping head-first into his desert twice and he clearly couldn’t open his eyes more than half an inch. He did seem happy, though, very happy. In fact she could not recall ever seeing him so calm and at peace. He looked adorable with a soft smile on his face and his cheeks flushed. Looking at him she felt like she could just scoop him up into her arms and kiss him.
“Shouldn’t you put your friend to bed now, Christine?” The voice of Mother suddenly broke her train of thought.
“Yes, I think that might be best,” Christine laughed as just at that moment Erik actually started snoring.
“I’ll heat some water so I can fill him a nice warm jug to take to bed.” Mother Valerious said as she smiled indulgently at her sleeping guest.
“Thank you mother,” said Christine happily, “I think he’d love that.”
When Mother was gone Christine gently shook Erik, almost feeling badly about having to disturb his much needed sleep again. But he’d really be better off in an actual bed. “Erik, sweetie, wake up, I’m taking you to bed.”
“Bed ...” Erik echoed in a sleepy voice. “I … am not in bed …?” He sounded confused.
“No sweetie, you are still at the table.”
“Still at the table ...” Erik echoed sadly. “Oh Christine … I keep embarrassing you. Is Alma angry with me?”
“No Erik, I promise.” Christine said as she rose to stand next to him. Erik barely heard her as his eyes fluttered closed again.
“Come, get up now Erik.”
“I am standing,” Erik droned indignantly. He was not, in fact his head was actually resting on the table now. Biting her lip Christine realised that getting Erik to bed would be harder than she thought, the man was completely out of it by now. Then to her relief Mother returned.
“Mother, I think he is too exhausted to get up ...”
A giggle escaped her guardian when she surveyed the scene at her table.
“We’ll try together my dear. If you wake the poor thing one more time we’ll immediately make him stand between us and walk him to his room. Do you think that would work?”
It would have to, Christine thought as she nodded her agreement.
For, thankfully, the last time that day, Erik was woken up once more and being forced to stand and walk, much to his annoyance. But once he understood that there was a warm bed just waiting for him only a few yards from there he soon became more agreeable and allowed himself to dodder along blissfully between the two women.
“Erik … Erik … has … bed …?” He sleep slurred to no-one in particular. He felt boneless, as if he was floating, falling.
“Yes, come now.” Christine was growing impatient, Erik was practically sleeping on the top of her head now. “Only a few more steps. You are getting a warm water bottle and everything.”
“I … I can curl up … with a bottle?” Erik asked as if Christine had offered him jewels, while he allowed the two women to walk him faster. He didn’t mind, he wasn’t walking anyway. Erik was, in fact, flying: he was getting a hot water bottle, all to himself!!
“Yes, nice and snuggly.” Christine’s impatience disappeared when hearing Erik’s stunned delight at something so normal. She would buy him his own hot water bottle, she mentally noted.
“I … longed to do that …” Erik smiled, as they arrived at his room.
Once inside the bedroom Erik turned to the two women hesitatingly.
“Can … can I really?” He still couldn’t believe he could get into a bed in Christine’s home.
“Yes Erik. For goodness-sake, get into the bed before you collapse again.”
Not waiting for Erik’s response Christine and Alma helped Erik out of his robe and opened the duvet.
As Erik crawled into the soft, wonderful bed Mother handed him the bottle that he eagerly took in his arms.
He curled up, as he had longed for, for so long: it was bliss.
The last thing he saw before his weary eyes fell shut was Christine’s angelic smile. Then everything disappeared and finally he could truly sleep. His last thought was that tomorrow his first ever Christmas would begin.
What was supposed to be a short cute Christmas tale has become a rather long slow burn of a Winter's Tale. I have atleast two more chapters planned, so hope non of you will mind Christmas lasting till mid January?
The next day Christine and Mother Valerius were up bright and early to go to the market. It was their last chance to do some shopping as that evening it would be Christmas Eve!
It had become a tradition of sorts: Christmas Eve day was the day they would do their final shopping, decorate and bake. It was a happy, chaotic event that Christine would look forward to each year. It was also the day they would get the tree, as Mother Valerius knew a tree stand where they could get the best and biggest tree of all at half the price if they bought it last minute.
As they left the house Erik was still sleeping happily. Neither women was surprised by this, they expected the man to sleep till at least late that afternoon, beyond exhausted as he was.
Just in case Erik would accidentally wake up after all, Christine had left a note on his bedside table explaining to him that they would return soon with all sorts of goodies.
To make certain no cold would disturb his rest she carefully replaced his now cooled warm water bottle with a new warm one. The soft happy sigh Erik made in his sleep in response to the new warmth in his arms melted her heart. For some reason she also found herself longing to be that bottle for the briefest of moments. That was quite an odd thing to wish for, Christine felt and she swiftly pushed it away.
The market was cheerful and crowded, Christine and her guardian brushed through the crowd swiftly, knowing exactly where they needed to go. Usually Christine would take her time to look at all the beautiful decorations and other festive things, but now she couldn’t manage more than a quick glimpse. She felt strangely rushed, a part of her wanting to be home and prepare things for Erik. Despite her note she didn’t like being away from him, she wanted to be there when he woke up. She hoped he would feel well enough to get up, even for a short while, to look at everything once it was finished.
Things were bought: snacks, a few new decorations, ingredients for the meals.
All the while Christine kept thinking about the look Erik had given her when he fell asleep the evening before. She kept seeing those two painfully exhausted eyes that had looked at her, so full of love.
More shopping done: candy, cake, and other yummy things. The girl felt sad when she realised that she couldn’t buy Erik a special treat as she didn’t know what food he liked.
“What is it my dear?” Mother Valerius asked kindly, when she saw Christine’s face fall.
“I don’t know what food Erik likes, so I can’t get him anything special.” Christine said regretfully.
“You don’t have to feel sad Christine,” Mother smiled soothingly. “I am quite certain he will be very happy with what we bought.”
But Christine wasn’t pacified that easily. “But I want to have something just for him …” she sulked.
Mother had to laugh at this, but then offered earnestly: “He never mentioned food any sort of food, ever? Oh, he must have. Think it through dear...”
That was true, Christine realised, there had to be something he had mentioned during all their time together. Following Mother as they continued their errants she let her mind ponder on the topic. Erik so rarely discussed anything to do with food that something had to stick out. Oh, but yes! Not that long ago in fact, he had asked her for something.
“Mother,” she exclaimed cheerfully as she quickened her pace. “He mentioned … he mentioned … an apple!!”
“Good girl!” Mother smiled.
That had cheered Christine up. Erik had specifically mentioned a craving for apples when they talked at his house the day before.
“Oh, I will get him four apples and give them to him on Christmas day with my pre … Oh no!!” She gasped and immediately her smile was gone again as a horrified expression appeared in Christine’s eyes.
“What is it, Christine?” Alma asked with concern, surprised to see Christine suddenly close to tears.
“I left my gift at his house and … I can’t go back there!!”
Christine knew that even barely conscious from misery and exhaustion Erik had remembered to seal his house securely. She didn’t know how the mechanisms worked and there was no way on this earth that she would drag poor Erik back and forth through town simply to retrieve her gift. But …
A hand on her shoulder that gave her a quick squeeze.
“I am certain he won’t mind Christine. It will be a nice surprise for him when he gets home.”
When he gets home? Christine didn’t even want to think of Erik going back to living in the cold and dark, sleeping in that wooden horror of a coffin. A lot had to change before she would let him set foot there again.
Meanwhile, this was now and this was Christmas.
“It’s his first Christmas and he will get a gift from me on Christmas day!!” Christine exclaimed rather more passionate than necessary. But maybe that was because the second she said it, Christine knew what her gift would be and she swiftly ran back to a stall she had seen earlier to purchase the item she knew Erik would love. Then she also bought not four but seven apples. Four for Erik to enjoy by himself and from the three others she would make lovely caramel apples for New Years Eve. She didn’t even question the fact that Erik would still be with them by then.
Job finished Christine returned to Mother Valerius who was waiting patiently for her to return, glad her lovely girl was smiling again.
Then the final event: the Christmas tree!
Every year Mother chose a giant hulk of a tree and this year was no exception. Still this time the tree she selected was so big Christine was very certain it would never fit inside the living room. She voiced her concern but Mama was insistent she wanted no other tree but that one.
"Oh well," Christine relented in the end, "if it doesn’t fit the delivery man can always saw off the top …"
Satisfied with their shopping trip Christine and Alma returned home.
When she arrived Christine immediately went to check on Erik to find he was still sleeping soundly.
“Poor Erik … you must have been so terribly tired and miserable ...” Christine murmured softly as she stroked his hair gently. Then she smiled. “Just think … When you wake up you are going to be so happy. We will have decorated, there will be a tree and cookies.” Suddenly she frowned. That was odd, Erik’s skin was usually cold to the touch, now he felt slightly warm. Was he running a fever? He didn’t seem delirious or uncomfortable so it probably wasn’t serious.
Just to be on the safe side she asked Mother Valerius to check on Erik, which the woman did immediately. To Christine’s relief mother agreed with her: it was probably nothing more than a mild fever caused the cold and the strain he’d been under. All he needed was rest and care and where the two women were concerned he would get that in spades.
What Alma seemed more interested in was Christine’s admission of Erik always feeling cold and she had Christine tell her all about Erik’s ailments as two women happily took to work to get the house Christmas ready. Cookies and all kinds of goodies were baked, decorations hung and laid out and then the tree arrived.
The tree gave Christine and Alma rather a tense moment as Christine had been right: the tree was too tall and didn’t fit in the house! Thankfully one of the workman carried a saw and once the top was cut of, the tree could be brought in after-all. This now left them with a small, bonus, baby tree which Christine found just adorable.
Before the women would decorate the tree, they decided to stop for a brief lunch and tea. To Christine’s surprise all the noise had seemingly not roused Erik at all. She knew in her heart that he needed his rest, but she had begun to miss his presence. Growing impatient after lunch, Christine decided that she would wake him with a cup of tea. Unfortunately Mother Valerius caught her leaving the room.
“Where are you going with that Christine?” Alma said, eyeing the mug of tea the girl held suspiciously.
“To wake Erik, of course” Christine said through a strained smile.
Mother got up to wrap an arm around Christine. “No dear, you are to let him sleep!” she said as she led Christine back to the sofa.
“But …” Christine tried, she didn’t want to sit on the sofa, she wanted to talk to Erik, know how he was feeling.
“Did you not see how exhausted he was last night?” Mother urged as she took the mug from Christine’s hand. “No, you are to let him sleep until he is ready to wake up.”
“But that could take forever ...” Christine pouted sadly.
With a shrug Alma put the mug on the table and then walked to the box of Christmas tree decorations which she opened and begun to rummage through.
“Then let it take forever.” she said as she held up a glittery red bauble for inspection. “It’s rather selfish to want Erik to be dragged from his bed just for your entertainment. As you said yourself: he rarely sleeps, so would it not be best to let him rest when he has the chance? I am certain he’ll enjoy the festivities more once he is rested. Now come along dear, that tree is not going to decorate itself.”
Grudgingly a chastised Christine had to agree with Mother and followed her to the box of Christmas decorations. Soon she was so immersed in decorating she all but forgot about wanting to wake up their house-guest.
It was not till five that afternoon that a confused Erik awoke from the deepest and longest sleep he ever had. He felt rather disorientated; as if he had been sleeping forever, but also as if he could and needed to sleep for much, much longer. His mouth was dry and Erik wondered why it felt as if his eyes were stuck together for some reason. Waking slightly more Erik felt that his bones and muscles ached and there was a general feeling of maladay coursing through his body.
Then he wondered why, despite all of that, he felt so very comfortable where he was. It was soft, cosy and spacious. It was as if he were sleeping in a cloud. There was something in his arms that radiated a slight heat. This was not his coffin, this was a soft place of bliss. He decided he didn’t need to open his eyes or think and would just lay there forever. Wherever he was, it was good and he would sleep.
Just as he had decided on that and let himself go back to sleep again, he heard a soft noise next to him. Then a voice.
He knew that voice. Now he was certain that he was sleeping in some form of paradise. He muttered the name belonging to that voice; “Christine ...”
“Erik, you’re awake!!”
With a happy sigh Erik lay the soft warm thing he was hugging away so he could rub his eyes and soon his vision cleared. When his eyes managed to open the first thing he saw was a flushed looking Christine hovering above him. What a wonderful way to wake up.
But where had he woken up? Everything seemed so jumbled up in his mind.
“Chris … Christine ...” He repeated again in his gravelly sleep voice. The girl smiled at him.
“Where … where am I?”
Christine laughed. What a sweet sound.
“Oh my, you have been sleeping too deep. You are in bed in Mother Valerius’ house. Don’t you remember?”
Erik did now, as her words made him recall the blurry haze of desperate exhaustion through which he’d experienced the previous day.
“Yes … yes. I do now.” he said, sounding slightly vague. “I thought that was a dream.”
A smile met his words.
“I am not surprised, you were so exhausted it must have felt you were sleepwalking at the time.”
Erik nodded, knowing that it had gone beyond feeling. At some points he had actually slept standing up for a few seconds and how he’d even come to be into this wonderful bed at all was a mystery to him.
“How do you feel?” Christine asked kindly.
“As if a chandelier dropped on me ...” Erik said trying to jest, but only succeeding in making Christine utter a good natured tut. “I … never knew I was this tired.” he then admitted honestly.
Standing by his bedside Christine was torn between her care for Erik and wanting him out of bed and celebrate Christmas with her as soon a possible. She had been waiting so long!
After finishing the Christmas tree, it had gone half past four, and Christine had decided it could not be long till Erik woke up. To make sure she’d be there she had settled herself in a comfortable chair next to his bed and read from a book of Christmas stories for a while. It wasn’t long after that Erik woke up, seemingly a little dazed. He looked so sweet, in that bed as he rubbed his eyes to look at her. Clearly she had done well to be there when he woke as he had no idea where he was.
The rest seemed to have done him good, but he was still slightly off.
“But how are you feeling Erik?” Christine urged gently. She knew he was still slightly feverish, but other than that she wasn’t certain.
“I ...” he looked kind of helpless, as if he wasn’t used to talking about his health. Which of course he was not.
“Are you in pain?” Christine offered. “And be honest.”
A brief silence, as Erik tried to find the right words to describe how he felt.
“I … Just … a bit indisposed I guess and … well everything hurts.”
Hearing him say these words and seeing how wan he still looked, Christine felt almost selfish when she heard herself say: “You have to get up now, sweetie.” it was out before she knew it. That really wasn’t how she had wanted to say it, but all the same: Erik had to get ready, Christmas Eve was very close.
“Oh ...” Erik sighed, his voice filled with confused disappointment. “Do I have to…? I wish I could just stay here … It’s soft … warm. I haven’t been this comfortable since …” he frowned, trying to recall a time he’d ever had a comfortable nights rest, but nothing came to mind. “Forever …” he finished dolefully.
“Well, that’ll teach you to sleep in a coffin.” came Christine’s reply. “Maybe now you’ll get yourself a proper bed.”
“I guess ...” Erik smiled sadly. He so dearly wished he could lay there for a while longer. He had never been this comfortable before and with how he was still feeling there was no place he would rather be. But he knew Christine was right, he couldn’t lay there all day, he had been rather selfish sleeping for that long as it was. Especially with his wonderful angel who for some indescribable reason seemed rather impatient to spend Christmas with him. Then there was Alma to consider, goodness knew what she would make of him after his conduct yesterday.
“I … I will get up Christine … I promise.” he sighed, but he just couldn’t make himself. “Just a few more minutes …?” he asked hopefully, his eyes pleading for understanding.
A smile pulled at the corners of Christine’s lips. Erik did look ridiculously cosy laying there, it would almost be a shame to make him get up if he enjoyed his bed so much. She figured that his exhaustion might not just be caused by the terrible sleep deprivation he’d suffered in the last few weeks, he probably had decades of sleep and rest to catch up on, the way he’d been mistreating himself and his body. Self loathing was the root of his problem. When she thought of all those years he forced himself to sleep in that horrible, uncomfortable coffin. He could have had at-least some respite from his misery in a proper bed …
“Erik is sorry if he disappoints Christine in any way.” Erik offered, fearing the silence and her sounding so impatient where his fault. He probably should not have slept this long, he should have been there to help. But he’d been so terribly tired. “I … I am so sorry Christine. Erik will get up he promises. Please Christine don’t be angry with Erik.”
Oh no, Christine thought. What had she done now? Why had she been so short with Erik when he had done absolutely nothing wrong? He had only just woken up and was still clearly mildly incapacitated. The poor man couldn’t help it if she had waited all day for him to be up and ready to see it all. All he had wanted was rest. Had she not wanted him to relax and get better? She wasn’t doing a great job so far, she had only succeeded in upsetting him the moment he woke up.
Quickly Christine set herself on the edge of the bed and took Erik’s hand. “No, no Erik. I am sorry. You have done nothing wrong. I was just being silly. It's just that I have spent all day getting the house ready for Christmas with Mama and I so want for you to see it.”
To her relief the tension left Erik’s face as she talked.
“So … Christine is not angry with Erik for sleeping?” he offered softly.
“Angry with you for sleeping? Sweetie, of course not!” it hit her that Erik really did take everything she said the way a terrified child would and she had to be wary of that. “You need rest, I know that. So it was silly of me to snap at you.” Christine stroked Erik’s hair as she spoke and Erik enjoyed the sensation happily.
“It was silly of Erik to ignore Christine’s wishes. I want nothing more than to spend my first Christmas with you and Alma.”
These words calmed Christine, and she now felt silly for trying to make Erik get up so fast. He obviously needed to collect himself and get ready in his own time.
It’s rather selfish to want Erik to be dragged from his bed just for your entertainment.
Mother Valerius’ words returned to her. What if Erik now thought he wasn’t allowed to sleep any more? Knowing how literal he was she had to assure him he really had done nothing wrong.
“Erik, sweetie, you can lay in this bed as often as you want. I promise.” she said carefully. “You know what? I’ll make you a cup of tea and you can drink it in bed. But after that you’ll have to try and get up, even if just for a bit. But if you can’t I’ll understand. Promise.”
“Promise ...” Erik sighed happily as he nestled himself pleasantly and promptly fell back to sleep.
Shaking her head at the absurdity of it all Christine walked back to the living room. Thinking about it, she realised that Erik might not truly understand why she was so excited about the concept of Christmas itself. For him being near people who cared, a warm, welcoming, bed and getting some sleep might actually mean more to him than looking at pretty decorations.
“Well?” Mother asked, looking up from a book she was reading.
“He doesn’t want to get up.” Christine grinned. “He says it’s been so long since he’s been comfortable he’d love to lay there forever.”
“That poor man.” Mother Valerius shook her head. “Well, that settles it.
“He obviously can’t return to wherever he came from until it is made habitable again.”
Christine could do nothing but agree with that sentiment. In fact it was exactly what she wanted.
In the kitchen Christine made tea for the three of them and added a small biscotte for Erik. She wanted him to have something in his stomach before dinner, but not too much as he wasn’t used to eating a lot. What she hoped was to get him in a regular routine of eating and sleeping daily, so he might start to feel better both physically and mentally when he returned home. IF she let him return, that was.
Mother decided to join her and Erik in the bedroom, taking the small second Christmas tree with her. She and Christine had decorated that too, but had not yet decided on a place for it.
“I thought it would go well on his night-stand, dear, so he still has some Christmas with him when he has a rest during the day.”
“That is a lovely idea!!” Christine beamed.
Thankfully Erik was a lot more alert and animated when the women arrived with tea and biscotte.
Finally he was able to talk to Alma a bit more normally. Even though he was aware that sitting in bed with a tray he wasn’t as presentable as he’d like. He comforted himself with the thought that, having been a nurse, she was used to people being in bed like this.
As he acclimatised he and the ladies discussed the Opera, music, travel, fairy tales, literature and lots more. Erik noticed that Alma was an avid reader and shared a lot of his opinions on certain stories and books. It felt good to talk to people like a normal person.
Propped up in the pillows Erik felt almost at peace: here he was having breakfast in bed with Christine and Alma talking to him and a small twinkly Christmas tree on the nightstand next to him. It was as if, for a moment, he was living the normal life he’d always wanted. For a second he imagined himself to be Christine’s ill husband lovingly looked after by his wife. That would make Alma his mother-in-law. He would love that, he would finally have the family he always dreamed of.
But no, no. He told himself. This would just be for Christmas. His heart chilled over when the realisation hit him: soon his happiness would be over! Soon he would be back under the ground in the cold and dark and Christine would marry Raoul. Raoul who already had so much would have it all: Christine’s love and Alma as his mother in law. While he would be all alone, with nothing but the fading memories. It was unfair, so unfair!
“Erik?” he heard Christine from far away. “You are so quiet, did you fall asleep again? You really don’t need to get up if you don’t feel up to … Oh, Erik, why are you crying?”
What? Was he crying? He had not even noticed. Oh, but Christine was not supposed to know his thoughts, they would only hurt her! He quickly sat up and wiped his eyes as he muttered a quick “It’s nothing”.
Then it happened: a splash!! What was that? He looked at it in horror: he had knocked over his tea!!! He had stained the bedspread and cabinet of the kind woman who had taken him in!! Terror shot through him like a flash and his breathing seemed to stop. Memories came flooding back. Terrible, frightful memories!
“No,” he gasped. “No!! I am sorry, please. I didn’t mean it!!”
They would surely punish him for this? He deserved it!!
He saw Christine and Alma come toward him and his fear rose to new heights. He curled in on himself and tried to disappear under the blankets.
“Erik, Erik, what is going on?” he heard Christine.
“Erik … Erik is so, so sorry!!” He pleaded in a voice muffled by blankets. “He will pay for any damage, he will clean it!! Please, please don’t hurt Erik!!”
From under his duvet shield he heard Christine and Alma’s soothing pleas.
“Erik, sweetie, listen to me; it’s al right. We know it was just an accident."
“Listen dear, it is perfectly fine. It can all be cleaned and the bedspread won’t stain. No damage done. Would you like a fresh cup?”
Erik peaked over his blankets in confusion. What was going on? No insults, no beatings? Surely there would be some form of punishment?
“Should … should Erik go to the basement?” he asked hesitatingly.
“Whatever for?” Alma asked, almost annoyed.
“To … to sit in the corner and think about what I did ...” he muttered. This, for some reason, made Christine run to his side.
“Oh Erik, sweetie …” she exclaimed as she hugged him.
“Now that is quite enough of this.” Alma said as she wiped the night-stand with a cloth. “No one is getting punished over a spilled cup of tea. But you will not like what I have to say next.”
A terrified look came over Erik’s face as his eyes shot up to Alma.
“You … you are throwing me out.” He said matter of factly. “I … I understand, I have been a terrible guest and I can imagine you would prefer to celebrate Christine … I mean Christmas without me ...”
As he spoke Alma turned to him in horror.
“Erik, no! That is not what I meant at all!!”
Erik’s brow furrowed. Now what? Was he not to be punished at all? “It wasn’t?” he exclaimed.
“No, all I meant to say was that you will have to get up and change. Did you not even notice that your pyjama is covered in tea?”
Erik looked at himself in confusion and noticed: yes, he was completely wet.
“Oh ...” he sighed sadly. Why did he keep misunderstanding things and acting like a freak? It was no wonder Christine would marry Raoul and not him. Raoul was … normal, steady. He would not sleep all day and knock over cups of tea. He would have been out there helping Christine with the shopping and decorating, like normal people would. While he? He couldn’t even bear the thought of getting out of bed.
But he couldn’t help it: he’d never had a bed before.
It had all seemed so wonderful, Christmas with Christine at her house. And now he had ruined a bedspread, was covered in tea, had made a fool of himself in front of Alma and disappointed Christine. And it wasn’t even Christmas Eve yet!
Great, now he was crying again.
“What is going on with you Erik?” he heard Christine. She sounded exasperated.
“I’m sorry … I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m not Raoul.” Erik sobbed.
“Raoul? What does he even have to do with anything?” Christine asked in confusion. Maybe Erik’s fever was worse than they’d thought.
“Nothing ...” Erik muttered, already annoyed with himself for even mentioning the dreaded boy. He was being stupid. He should try and salvage what was left of his dignity and make an effort for Christine and Alma. There was still a chance for him to have a good time with Christine and have some wonderful memories to take with him once he had to let her go. Yes, he would stop wasting time and enjoy his first and last Christmas.
“Erik, talk to me. What’s wrong?” Christine insisted.
For a second Erik wavered. “I … I …" he swallowed. "Can I have another bath?”
A stunned Christine looked at him “Of course.” she said, her brow worried.
After Erik was settled in a bath, Alma and Christine quickly cleaned the mess in the bedroom. The mood was low as the women tried to dissect Erik’s strange behaviour.
“It is not the panic attack that worries me.” Christine sighed as she struggled with the clean sheets. “He often seems to fall back on old habits if a situation frightens him, like with the soup. But why was he so sad? He was crying while there was nothing to be upset about.”
“Hmmm” Mother agreed as she helped Christine with the bottom sheet. “Maybe he was happy and it frightened him.”
With a flash Christine’s head shot up. “What? Why?” What was it Mother was saying?
With a sigh Mother pulled back the sheet Christine had dropped and rubbed out the wrinkles.
“Well, because he fears it being over soon.” she explained.
Twisting the pillow she had picked up in her hands Christine pondered on that. “But he doesn’t have to worry about that. He knows I will always consider him my friend. And what does that have to do with Raoul?”
With an impatient groan Alma turned to look at her. “Christine, you are aware Erik loves you?”
Why was it getting so warm? Christine swallowed.
“No mama. He did once, but we're friends now.” she insisted, her voice sounding dul, as she knew she was lying, even to herself.
“Oh don't be so naïve Christine.” Alma said in an almost angry voice as she gathered the stained sheets from the ground. “It is obvious that Erik simply hides his feelings because he thinks you love Raoul. And in some ways, maybe you do. Even though I think it might be more the childhood nostalgia speaking than true love. Be careful Christine and think about this carefully. You could lose Erik forever if you handle this the wrongway. Don't throw away the most devoted man you could ever wish to meet …”
With that Mother walked out of the room, the laundry wrapped under her arm. Her mouth open with shock Christine watched her guardian step briskly out of the door. Suddenly there was a lot to think about.
It's been a while, but I'm still working on this!! More is to come soon.
Finally it was Christmas Eve. After his bath Erik had once again dressed himself in the clothes that Christine kindly laid out for him. He was surprised find, not his suit, but his more comfortable daytime wear. He didn’t question it and dressed, feeling rather relieved his aching body didn’t yet have to endure stiff collars and all the other atrocities of formal evening wear.
The first thing Erik saw upon entering the room was the wonderfully decorated tree that stopped him in his tracks and almost brought him to tears. Was he really allowed to be there? He wondered. Was he really allowed to sit with people near such a lovely tree? All he remembered where his parents words, telling him monsters did not belong near the Christmas tree. Every year they had locked him away in the basement for the duration of the season, only allowed out after New Years Day.
Leaning heavily on his walking-cane he hovered in the doorway for a while, until Christine finally noticed him.
“Erik, sweetie, why do you keep standing there? Come in!” Christine said in confused surprise. Why did Erik not enter the room? Was he unwell? Feeling worried about him after his recent behaviour she walked towards him to take his hand and help him in. But much to her surprise Erik refused her help, almost recoiling from her touch, a look of deep suffering on his face, while in his eyes she could see an aching fear.
“I … I can’t be here Christine.” Erik gasped, his breathless voice shaking, “I … I am an offence to Christmas!”
A jolt went through Christine as she heard Erik say the saddest words she ever heard. Had he truly been called “an offence to Christmas”? That poor man! She was aware that she was not the only one who had been moved by Erik’s words, as she heard a gasp from Mother Valerius who was just arriving from the kitchen with a bowl of cookies.
“Erik, what? Who told you that?” Christine asked sorrowfully as lay a protective hand on his arm. How often had he been hurt, insulted or told he did not belong somewhere?
“My … My parents ...” Erik whispered, his head low.
“Your … your parents did not deserve you!” Mother Valerius exclaimed angrily as she slammed the bowl cookies on the table and walked towards Erik as well. “How dare anyone say something like that to a child!!”
Had his parents been wrong? Erik thought, feeling confused. He looked at Christine who nodded at him, clearly agreeing with Alma’s statement. Still he hesitated. His upbringing, if you could call it that, had caused terrible damage. It had conditioned him to think that he truly was a monster that no-one wanted. He had lived for decades certain he was not allowed to be around for things like Christmas celebrations and other joyful gatherings. For others to be happy he had to be out of sight, hidden away. Even in the Opera he had consciously shied away from anything to do with Christmas. How could these two wonderful ladies be so different from anyone he ever knew?
“So … so Erik can come in … near the tree?” he asked in shy disbelieve, almost physically morphing into the sad little boy that still existed inside of him.
“Yes sweetie, of course!” Christine said as she took his arm, Alma took his other.
“Come along now, dear.” Alma said gently. “It’s far too cold to stay out in the hallway like that. We don’t want you to get even more ill, do we?”
Erik closed his eyes and swallowed at the lump in his throat. It was really true! They wanted him to be near that pretty tree! He was allowed to sit in a room where people were happy, celebrating. He!! The monster!! The devils child.
He barely realised that Alma and Christine had already helped him in and had walked him towards the tree. He only noticed when he opened his eyes to find the tree right there in front of him.
“Oh!” he gasped as he started shaking a little, seeing the glow and the wonderful sparkling things so close to him.
His trembling fingers reached out to the lights and the shiny glittery garlands and baubles.
“So beautiful ...” he breathed, feeling his throat close up as his vision blurred. “So … beautiful ...”
Her heart broke when Christine saw Erik crumble as he stood by the tree, carefully touching its branches and decorations. Had he never been near a Christmas tree before? It almost looked like it.
“Erik ...” she said softly, wanting to move to his side but Mother put her hand on her shoulder.
“Leave him Christine. I think he may need a moment to himself.”
For a while a softly sobbing Erik stood by the tree, his thin fingers gently caressing the garlands and ornaments. Then, slowly, he turned round, looking at the cosy room with it’s decorations and lights. Then he looked at Christine and Alma, his eyes shimmering. “Thank you ...” he whispered in a broken voice. “Thank you.”
At that Christine couldn’t hold out any longer, she rushed forwards and enveloped her precious Maestro in a giant hug.
“Oh, oh Christine ...” Erik sighed as he answered the hug and lay his head on the top of her head for all to brief a moment. “It … it is all so, so beautiful.”
How could something so wonderful happen to him? A dangerously overwhelmed Erik thought. Truly he had tasted all the happiness the world could offer. He had Christine in his arms, there was a wonderful caring lady that looked at him with a kindness he had never known. He was in a loving house near a Christmas tree and all this, all this without wearing his mask. Maybe Christine was wrong, he had to be dead, as how else could something so miraculous happen to him?
If it were up to him he would have stood there for all eternity, but all to soon Christine let go, or so he thought. Instead she just shifted a little, smiling up at him as she leaned against him, her arms wrapped tightly around his impossibly thin waist.
“So Erik …” she said in a sweet voice. “Did you notice something missing from the tree?”
A silence as Erik tried to process her words, his brain too overcome to function.
“Missing?” he then asked, his voice almost slurring.
“Yes,” Christine insisted, “some people think it might be the most important thing of all ...”
Frowning in confusion Erik looked at the tree as he thought, what could be missing? But thinking too much seemed exhausting so in the end he just shook his head.
“I’m sorry … I … I can’t see it. Is that a bad thing?” he couldn’t help sounding worried. Would Christine be angry if he didn’t understand?
“No, of course not sweetie.” she said much to his relief. “Wait.” Christine let go of Erik and took a box Alma was now holding. Erik had been so wrapped up in the moment he’d never noticed her getting it. Swiftly a beaming Christine returned to a confused Erik and opened the box carefully in front of him to reveal: a beautiful golden angel.
“My father made this.” Christine said almost reverently. “It goes on top of the tree … and I want you to put it there Erik ...”
A sharp intake of breath was heard at those words followed by a silence in which the two women looked at Erik, who seemed frozen on the spot.
This cannot be true … Was all Erik’s brain could think as he stood looking at Christine holding out the box to him with the sweetest smile he had ever seen.
At Christine’s words it felt as if the wind were knocked out of him. All he could was utter a gasp as he stared at the glittering angel. Her father had made this and she wanted him … to touch it? She wanted him to put it on the tree? It was … too much … It was far too much.
Suddenly he was aware of the room spinning violently, his breathing seemed to stop, grey appeared at the corners of his eyes and then things moved out of focus.
“I think he might need to sit down Christine.”
Erik felt how he was aided to a chair and given a glass of water that they helped him drink. He closed his eyes, feeling limp and powerless.
“Breath, Erik dear ...” He heard Alma’s voice from far away. She was counting breaths for him and he obeyed her commands. To his relief his breathing soon regained itself and after a few seconds he returned to the room to find a slightly shaken Christine stare at him sadly.
“Erik, sweetie, what happened?” he heard worry in her voice.
Not wanting her to be worried Erik forced a smile: “Christine …?” he tried, his voice still shaking, “it’s just …”
He felt a supportive hand on his shoulder. “You were a bit overwhelmed, weren’t you?” Alma’s said kindly.
Looking up at her with gratitude Erik nodded dolefully. “Thank you so much for helping me … I’m so sorry.”
But Alma did not seem upset at all. “Don’t be, it is not as if you did it on purpose.”
He would never understand it, why was this strange, wonderful women so kind to him? Was it because of Christine? Even then he did not deserve it. Once he was well enough he would repay her kindness, he vowed.
Then his thoughts returned to Christine, he had disappointed her yet again.
“Poor Christine … How Erik must have ruined your moment …” He noticed that speaking was still rather difficult, the words feeling odd in his mouth. Thankfully Christine did not notice.
“That’s al-right.” the girl shrugged, “You can do it when you feel ready” How casually she tried to sound, but Erik could see right through it. His sweet Christine did not consider it to be truly Christmas without her father’s angel shining brightly on top of the tree.
“I … I want to do it now ...” Erik insisted, wanting nothing more than make his angel happy. He succeeded, he realised to his relief: a beaming smile spread on Christine’s lovely face at his words.
“If you’re sure?” she said doubtfully. Erik nodded more confidently then he felt. “I’ll help you,” Christine said, a bit too quickly. But Erik did not mind.
When Christine reached out her small, lovely hands to help him rise from his chair, all his health issues were soon forgotten and only the miraculous moment between the two of them mattered.
Once again a shiny eyed Christine held out the box with the angel to him.
For a second Erik looked at her, could he really? She nodded encouragingly.
At first Erik’s hands shook so much that he could barely get his stiff fingers to grip tight enough to lift the angel from it’s confines. Then Christine’s slender fingers came to his aid and put the delicate figure in his hand. Without a word she took his other hand and led him to the tree, where she looked at him expectantly.
For a few seconds Erik stood there blinking rapidly and wondering why his mouth was so strangely dry. Then his gaze fell on the the angel in his hands. Had Christine’s father meant for it to look like her? The angel Christine in combination with the affection in the eyes of the reality by his side made him regain himself.
For the first time since he’d arrived Erik managed to stretch himself to his full posture as he turned to the tree. Then he lifted his arm to carefully place the angel onto it’s intended spot. The moment he did it seemed as if the room were suddenly brightened in a way Erik had never known.
“Anges purs, anges radieux ...” he whispered the lyrics from the trio in Faust, almost unsure which of the three angels surrounding him these words were aimed at. Maybe all of them … He was surrounded by loving angels.
A turn in events finds Christine with a lot to think about.
Seeing the angel in place a beaming Christine clapped her hands in elation.
“Now it’s truly Christmas!” The girl thrilled in delight, before turning to Erik excitedly. “Come on Erik, I’ll show you all the decorations we put out. Let’s do a house tour!”
Feeling slightly light-headed and faint after the emotional roller-coaster that his day had been so far Erik would have preferred to sit down for a moment. Or rather, lay down and rest. But how could he deny Christine this joy? And, oh, he really wanted to see it all. His angel loved Christmas so much, and for her to want him to be part of this, how could he refuse her?
An excited pull at his arm startled him from his thoughts.
For a moment Erik held his reply, taking the time to gather himself, forcefully pushing away the part of him that wanted to tell her how drained he truly felt. His gaze fixed on Christine it didn’t take long for him to smile at the sweet girl he loved so much.
“I would love to Christine,” he assured her. The clear shakiness of his voice earning him a raised eyebrow from Alma. Did she sense how he truly felt?
“Wonderful!!” Christine relished and she dashed forward eagerly.
Meanwhile Erik moved at a much slower pace. Leaning on his cane he dragged himself after Christine round the living room, as she talked him through her decorations, obediently acknowledging all the things she pointed out.
“And this star,” Christine chirruped, “I made that when I was a child in Sweden. Do you like it Erik?”
For a second Erik stared at the star, imagining Christine as a little girl, painstakingly decorating her creation with gold dust and glitter.
“It is the most divine star I ever saw in my life.” Erik agreed earnestly, earning one of Christine’s adorable bell like giggles he loved so much.
“Oh, and Erik, look at this! Oh I must tell you all about this candle!!”
Lifting the strange, multicoloured, candle Christine told Erik how she and her father had at one time collected all the leftover candle stubs they had and melted them down. They had then sieved out the fuses and pored the liquid in a mall that old father Daaé had made. The result was this candle. It was so strange and wonderful that neither of them could ever bring themselves to light it.
Wrapped in her stories Erik followed his girl, imagining himself part of her life. He was so tired, but he never wanted her to stop talking as it made him feel included in a way he’d never felt he’d been before.
Leading him through the room in a daze Christine didn’t see Erik’s legs buckling for a second as he begun leaning just that little heavier on his stick. That was good, as Erik didn’t want her to know. But someone else did see.
The living-room done, Christine excitedly dashed to the kitchen. There was so much she wanted to show Erik there as well: her special cookie cutter, all the way from Sweden. Lovely spices and the special kitchen ornaments, only used at Christmas. She was so happy that Erik didn’t mind her babbling on for hours. Her maestro seemed genuinely interested, though very quiet most of the time.
As she stood waiting for him near the sink she frowned: Erik had been rather slow today, but for him to still not be there by now was odd. What was keeping him?
After a few seconds more Christine returned to the room. “Come on Erik!!” She begun, then the girl stopped in her tracks in surprise. Why was Erik leaning on the table like that?
As his eyes were closed Erik had not seen her come back into the room so he froze when he heard her voice. Christine? She wasn’t supposed to come back to the room, he’d been planning to follow her as soon as he could. All he’d wanted was a second to catch his breath.
“I … I am coming Christine.” He forced out with a rather wobbly smile, though he was reluctant to let the table go. At that moment simply leaning on the surface felt as if he were resting, especially when his eyes were closed. The world was nice and woozy. Maybe that was it: he’d been dreaming all along. His eyes fluttered a little. Two more seconds, just two more, then he’d be fine again. Just as he was about to keel over there was an arm around him, kind but insisted.
“No Christine, Erik really needs to lay down now. It’s been far too much too soon for him.”
For Christine’s sake Erik had wanted to disagree. If she wished he wanted to follow her anywhere she went. But he also knew that if he didn’t lay down soon he might faint. Maybe he already had? Feeling spaced out he wasn’t sure about anything any-more. All he knew was that he was grateful for Alma’s kind arm that guided him to the sofa and helped him sit down. The moment he sat the world started spinning so he closed his eyes for a second, or perhaps longer as the next thing he heard was Christine’s dejected voice.
“Oh Erik, I’m sorry.”
Blinking his eyes open he was surprised to find that Christine was now standing next to him instead of in the kitchen doorway. How long had he been away? That poor girl, she looked so upset. His fault, again!
“Why didn’t you tell me things were getting too much for you?” Christine near whispered.
Oh his poor angel, she sounded close to tears. His fault!! Why had she even brought him with her? All he did was ruin her joy with his weakness!!
“It’s nothing Christine …” He tried, trying to keep his voice from shaking too much. “I just need to sit down for a few minutes and after that I’ll be more than happy to look at all the wonderful things you did in the kitchen. I … can see quite a few already. Oh, it’s all so wonderful.”
Before Christine could answer, Alma suddenly interjected forcefully.
“Christine can wait my dear. You are going to eat something first, you did not even get to finish your tea and biscotte.”
Slowly Erik turned his face to Alma. Why were these women looking after him with such care? They shouldn’t, he was unworthy of all this. Especially of all their wonderful food. Never did Erik allow himself the pleasure of a good meal, he only forced down the bare minimum to survive and even then not every day. Cold porridge or dry bread, that was good enough for him. Or so he’d assumed. It was Christine being around that had made him start to crave real food again. The meals he prepared for her had often made his mouth water and his stomach do things that confused him. But he never tasted, never. These were her meals. All he was allowed were his quick midnight snacks of bread or porridge.
Sometimes, though, sometimes he had sinned against his own rules: there were times that he’d go overboard in the meals he prepared and Christine would leave a lot of leftovers … Well, it would have been rather wasteful to throw all that food away, wouldn’t it? Those midnight meals of cold scraps were a joy for him and after eating them he would often feel strangely better than he usual did the next day.
But it was nothing compared to what he’d had the night before: hot, fresh, soup and warm crunchy bread. His tortured insides cried out longingly for more of this. All things considered he might well need food more than he thought he would, weakened as he’d become as of late. Maybe … he wasn’t a living corpse after all? But did someone like him truly deserve all this?
“Oh, but Erik does not want to put you through any trouble, he does not eat every day.” He tried, his voice still rather sluggish.
“He does when he lives with me.” Alma said pointedly and with that she grabbed Christine by her arm and propelled her towards the kitchen. “Erik, you have some rest while Christine and I talk," she said before she closed the door.
Seeing the look on her guardian’s face Christine realised that she was probably in for a reprimand and braced herself.
As the door closed behind the two women Erik released a sigh and rubbed his face with his hands. After a brief moment he noticed a folded blanket and a pillow someone had kindly readied for him. Gratefully he wrapped the blanket around himself and lay down facing the Christmas tree. For a while he just stared at it dreamily, lost in visions of a world he thought he would never belong to until now.
“Christine Gustava Daae, I never knew you were such a selfish girl.” A seething Mother Valerious said as she closed the kitchen door behind her.
“What?” Christine gasped, feeling as if Alma might as well have slapped her. “Why?”
Mother sighed and closed her eyes, Christine sensed that the woman in front of her tried to compose herself and decided that silence was probably her best option at that moment.
“I know you think you are giving Erik a wonderful Christmas,” Alma said, her voice strained, “and up to a point he may be happy, but all this excitement, it’s not good for him.”
For a the briefest of moments Christine wanted to interject: “But … but I asked, he said …” she begun, then she faltered. Erik had not been fine, had he? He had nearly fainted. What if her guardian was right, she had been a nurse, had she not? Had she been wrong again? Christine sniffled a little, feeling tears welling up. The moment she did she felt Mother Valerius’ arms around her again. Her guardian could never stay angry with her for long, especially when she cried.
“Oh my little sötnos so much still to learn.” the older women said gently. “Of course Erik will say he is fine if it will make you happy. You need to learn to trust your instincts, not just go with what he tells you.”
“That ...” Christine begun, but she stopped, there was nothing to object, as Alma wasn’t exactly wrong.
Softly Alma released her stepdaughter and lifted Christine’s face so she’d look at her.
“Christine, think about it: Erik has been through hell. Had he been where he was any longer, had you not found him … He could have died.”
What did she say? Erik could have died? Christine felt as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice over her. A fresh sob escaped her and soon she was back in her guardians arms again. Oh, had she not known that this was a possibility? No, no. that wasn’t true!! Even without her Erik would have found a way to survive, wouldn’t he?
Are you so sure? It seemed as if he were close to giving up before you came … the voice in her head kept taunting.
Without Erik … there was no music, he had made her find her voice when it was lost, he had reawakened her passion and spirit. That man!! That man could not die!!
What if you had gone to Switzerland with Raoul and had come back after new year? What would you have found then?
Had she gone with Raoul? She hadn’t even considered it, although he had offered. She had wanted to sing in the Christmas gala, give her cards and presents to all her friends, including Erik, be with her Mama. But … next year, were she to marry Raoul … all that would be gone.
Had she gone to Switzerland Erik would have died and the realisation of that broke her heart. She could not imagine life without him. She did not want a life without him!! What if she could never see him again because of Raoul? What if next time she was too late? But she didn’t want to risk there being a next time, she wanted Erik to stay here in this house, with her and Mama.
Above her head Mama was still talking and Christine tried to focus on her words.
“ … in any other circumstances I would have sent a man in his condition to hospital. He should at least have stayed in bed and rested today, which is what you told me he wanted.”
Christine nodded slowly against her shoulder. “Until I kept pushing him to get up …” she whispered sadly.
Why had she wanted Erik to see and do everything immediately so badly? It wasn’t just the desire to give him the Christmas he never had. Was it because part of her sensed that all this might end once Raoul returned? That this could be her first and only Christmas with Erik? Did she even want that? If she would lose so much by marrying into Raoul’s family was it worth it?
Did she even love Raoul enough for this? What was it they shared? A childhood and good memories. Was that enough? Before they reunited at the Opera he hadn’t even bothered to contact her for years. This was because Raoul was certain there was no chance for them: he could not marry her because of his status. So what about friendship, was that not enough? Come to think of it, why did he immediately take over her life once he had returned? He had acted as if she’d been cheating on him when hearing a man’s voice in her dressing room. Why had she not been more angry? She had not seen Raoul in years and the moment he returned he was angry that there might be someone else? Had he expected her to enter a monastery and pine for him the rest of her life?
Then, once she was away to Erik’s lair, he had visited Mama and had asked her if she, Christine, was still “pure”. What kind of person asks the mother of the girl he loves if her daughter is still a virgin?!! Oh, Mama had been furious with him and so had she.
When asked Raoul had explained he’d only behaved like this because he was in love with her and was afraid someone had replaced him. But why was he surprised after he had left her to fend for herself for so many years? Now he did want to marry her. What had changed? Did he only want her as a wife now that she was a big name? Why did it take for her to become a star to get back in touch?
While Erik, he had been content to just be her angel for more than three years. He had taught and supported her during the difficult times. He had listened to her and boosted her self esteem, he had guided her career. He had done all that while certain they would never meet in reality. That had been enough for him.
It took the possibility of her leaving him, of throwing her gift and career away for “some boy” to reveal himself to her.
After that, things had been rough for a while. In a way he had kidnapped her, or … something like it.
Was it kidnapping if you had actually asked to see your angel hundreds of times? Pleaded with him to visit his realm and he complied one day? When your jailer threw himself at your feet and acted like your slave? If he seemed more afraid of you than you were of him? If he never touched you or harmed you? If he gave you everything you asked for or even everything you didn’t ask for, including your freedom once he trusted you? Everything about this had confused her.
There had been the issue of him lying to her for such a long time, but she had understood after seeing his face. He had so desperately wanted to talk to her, help her, but he’d been certain no-one would trust a masked man, certainly not a “sweet angel” like her. Not wearing a mask was something he had not even considered, no-one would talk to a man as deformed as he. And it was true; she had feared his face, for quite some time, something that she still felt guilty about.
Thankfully they had overcome that, because Christine had soon sensed that beneath the mask she had so rudely ripped from his face, and beneath that poor deformed countenance was the same man she had known as an angel. After that … it soon seemed as if nothing had changed between them. Well, at least not for her. But Erik …
How had she not seen this: Erik had not been happy at all, not truly. When did he ask for things from her that he wanted? Never, all that mattered was that she was happy. As time went by he had even pushed aside his feelings for her for her sake. “It is your happiness that matters Christine. I know Raoul can give you the life you deserve. The life I could never give you,” he had told her.
Christine had unquestioningly accepted what he told her, happy Erik had made the choice for her and knowing he was right: Raoul could give her a normal life and so she’d accepted his offer.
But for some reason she kept postponing the actual wedding. Did she really want to be away from all she loved: her friends, her career, her music … Erik? Was giving up all she was really a normal life? Giving up music and performing was unnatural for Christine, but she had to if she ever wanted to be a countess. But she stubbornly refused to think of it. Instead she and Erik continued their lessons and he helped her train for every role. Each time she sang with him she felt a happiness she no longer felt with Raoul, not since they were children. In fact she often stayed over at Erik’s home for days on end, hiding away from Raoul’s endless questioning about when they would finally marry.
Other men might have been angry about the girl they love using their house as a place to get away from the rival they were about to marry. Not Erik, he actually seemed grateful and treated her with the utmost care and reverence when she was there.
It was heartbreaking now that she thought about it. The poor man was grateful for even the slightest crumb of attention she gave him.
Lately she clearly had failed to give him any attention at all. For how else could he have deteriorated into the broken man he had become without her noticing? With Erik everything was always for her, even now.
A shock went through her as the truth hit her: Erik would have gladly died from hypothermia or hunger, never asking her for help, simply because he didn’t want to ruin her Christmas! Even when she had, thankfully, found him Erik had still wanted to downplay his suffering to spare her. He had wanted to sent her away so she would be happy, while he …
Christine bit her lip. It was true, she had been so focused on giving Erik a perfect Christmas that she never took a moment to actually think about Erik and his own feelings and needs. He had almost pleaded with her to let him stay in bed, the first time he’d ever had a real bed, but no he had to get up and see her decorations now. And of course he did, as it was she who asked him, even though he was barely able to stand. He would do anything if she asked him. He would always do anything to please her. It was a power she should be very careful with.
“Oh mama ...” Christine gasped through tears she did not even realise were still running from her eyes. “I’ve been so very foolish!”
Then, over her mother’s shoulder she saw a card leaning against the teapot. In bright beaming letters it’s cheerful greeting glared at her: "Herzliche Grüße aus der Schweiz".
“My dear Litte Lotte ...” the card begun, and Christine immediately cringed. She had not been “Little Lotte” since she was sixteen, even her father had stopped calling her by that name by then. Why did Raoul insist on seeing her as a child?
“My Dear Little Lotte,” she tried again.
“The skies are blue, the air is fresh, the snow is white and crisp. The Edelweiss blosoms, my skiing has much improved. The parties are spiffing, the fondue is delicious, the gluhwine got me drunk!! Yes, everything is wonderful, except for the fact that you’re not here. Well, next year Lotte you will have no choice but join us, as my wife!!”
Was this supposed to be romantic or a threat?!! Christine wondered in annoyance as she tutted at the shallowness of the message on the card. Would meaningless holidays like this be the highlight of her existence once she married him? With a sigh she tried to focus on the rest of the massage.
“In fact … Let’s not wait any longer!! Come to Switzerland and let’s get married right here as soon as possible!! Sent me a telegram with your answer.”
Christine gasped: Had Raoul gone insane?!!
Feeling a surge of anger course through her, Christine promptly tore up the card. How dare Raoul sent her a message like that?? Could he not sense that the reason she kept postponing their union was because she wasn’t ready yet? Did he really think blind-siding her like this was help helpful in the slightest? Or worse: romantic? Well, no!!
With an angry huff she stood from the kitchen chair and decided to forget all about the message: She had Erik to look after so there was no time or place for Raoul’s silly whims. Poor Erik would have a nice dinner and then return to bed for his much needed rest. But first she had to go and see if he was comfortable or if he perhaps needed anything.
Expecting Erik to be asleep she was surprised to see him lift his head a little to look at her when she entered the room.
“Christine ...” he asked quietly. “Are you alright?”
With a smile she sat herself on the edge of the couch, Erik’s thin frame left enough space for her to sit relatively comfortably.
“Should I not be asking you this after only just fainting on me?” Christine asked with a slight scoff, then she turned more serious. “Why are you not asleep, sweetie? You need your rest.” She asked as as she looked into his tired, questioning eyes. Eyes filled with nothing but love for her.
“Oh, Christine …” Erik sighed wearily. “How … could I sleep when I could hear you crying? I had to know if you are al right. If Erik could help, or was the cause of your tears ...”
Hearing this Christine almost felt as if she would burst into tears again: her sweet Erik. He looked utterly exhausted but had forced himself to stay awake just for her.
“Oh, you did not need to do that, sweetie.” She swiftly said, the last thing Erik needed was to think he upset her, especially since he had done nothing wrong. “I’m al-right it was just … a memory of my father ...” She added quickly, glad the thought had struck her. Erik certainly didn’t need to know what she and Mother Valerius had been discussing either!!
To her surprise and despite her quick thinking Erik’s face fell at her words. “Oh … but then it must be my fault ...” he muttered, much to Christine’s regret.
“Erik, sweetie, no!!” She exclaimed. “Why would you think that?” When would he stop blaming himself for things that were not his fault?
“I ruined things for you … didn’t I …?” Erik asked dejectedly, seemingly close to tears. “With … the angel and not being able to finish the house tour?”
With a mighty effort Christine resisted the urge to slap him: Now he was blaming himself for being ill?
“No, oh my goodness!! You did nothing wrong!!” She said despairingly. “Don’t ever think that!! You are ill, sweetie! In fact I should be apologising to you for overtaxing you like that.”
A wobbly half smile almost stirred on Erik’s face at the reply, his hand tentatively searching for hers, but stopping before he could touch her. Moved by the gesture Christine carefully took his hand in hers, hoping to make him understand that he was allowed to take her hand if he needed to.
“My angel, you never need apologise to Erik, you are light itself.” Erik muttered sleepily.
“Do … you need anything, sweetie?” She asked, hoping to get him comfortable enough to rest a while.
“Can I ask for water?” He asked after considering her question for a few seconds.
“Of course you can ...” She smiled indulgently.
“I wouldn’t ask as … my mouth is so dry …” Erik muttered, fearing even the slightest request was too much as always. “I … I can get it myself ...” He offered, already trying to sit up. But Christine pushed him back before he had the chance to go far.
“You will do no such thing, you hear me!!” She tutted as she rose from the couch. “Erik, I wouldn’t ask you if you needed anything if I didn’t want to go and get it!!” Silly man worrying about a glass of water. I would have squeezed some orange juice if you’d wanted it.
With that she swiftly left the room to get Erik his water, making certain he didn’t see the tears that started welling up in her eyes again.
In the kitchen Christine took a moment to compose herself, before poring some water in a glass and returning to Erik.
“There you go ...” she smiled as she helped him sit up so he could drink. The thirsty man finished most of the glass before laying back on the pillow with a sigh.
“Thank you ...” A happy smile stirred on Erik’s face as his eyes fluttered sleepily.
“Anything else?” Christine tried, almost hoping Erik would need something more difficult: she had the strange urge to do things for him. To show him she cared about him.
“Nothing ...” Erik dashed her hope with a single word.
“Nothing?” Christine almost whined. Why were this man’s needs so easily met? How could she look after him when there was nothing she could do?
“I need nothing, my dear Christine.” Erik repeated, clearly confused by her response. “Nothing but just to lay here till dinner … just being here quietly near that lovely tree with your company would be wonderful beyond meaning …” His voice wavered a little during the last words, and he seemed to wince as if in pain. Immediately Christine sat by his side again.
“Erik, are you al right?” she urged with worry.
“It’s nothing. I am just still so very tired Christine ...” Erik muttered as reassuringly as he could, opening his eyes to look at her again. The exhaustion clear for her to see.
“Shall I … read for you?” Christine offered, not sure what else she could offer him.
When she had bad days and stayed at his him, Erik would always sooth her by reading for her. When she was feeling particularly dreadful his gentle voice would be the only thing that could calm her. It had been this way ever since he’d been her angel.
“Oh … that would be wonderful my dear, but only if you truly want to ...” Erik said as eagerly as his tired voice could manage.
A smile broke on Christine’s face at this reply: at last!!
“Of course.” She beamed. “I will get my book from your room. I won’t be long.”
And so, less than two minutes later Christine sat on a chair next to the couch, reading Erik from her book of Christmas tales. The first tale was “The Snowman” by Hans Christian Andersen. As she read to him Christine was very aware of Erik’s loving eyes aimed at her as she told of the snowman’s burning love for the stove he knew would melt him. When she reached the passage where the snowman declared he would rather suffer than lose his love Christine noticed a change in Erik’s eyes that made her uncomfortable. Maybe choosing a story that had the symbolism of a love so great that it would drive a snowman to let himself melt away just for one look at the one he loves wasn’t a great choice to read to Erik. She felt a great relieve once the short tale had finished and swiftly decided to skip the story of the “Fir Tree” and especially “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, lest Erik would identify too much with these tales as well. To her relief she then found a story that was much lighter fare under the circumstances. Indeed, three pages into “The Snow Queen”, Christine heard the sound she’d been waiting for: Erik’s soft strange snort of a snore. It was a sound only Erik could produce, caused by his lack of a nose. Much to her relief Erik was asleep and that was just what Christine wanted: he needed to rest until dinner was ready.
“You rest, sweetie,” she whispered as she stood up softly to join Mother in the kitchen to help prepare the meal.
To allow for Erik to lay propped up on the sofa, Christmas Eve was spent, not as a formal dinner party, but eating delicious snacks in the drawing room round the tree. Despite everything that had happened earlier in the day the evening was a success for Erik. After recovering from all the emotions he managed to stay up and alert for several hours without incident, much to his relief.
Just being there with these kind people brought him more joy than he’d ever known. He didn’t speak a lot, much preferring to hear Christine and Alma talk about all the wonderful Christmases they had enjoyed. At other times the ladies would take it in turns to read poetry or Christine would sing a traditional Christmas tune. The three of them even played a few card games. To others it may have been simple or boring, but to Erik it was bliss.
A little past eleven o’ clock Erik begun to feel tired again. To prevent his two kind hosts from having to drag him to his bed once more he quietly admitted to it. To his relief neither women seemed to mind.
“Of course dear.” Alma said kindly. “But don’t go just yet. I have something I want you to try first.”
The woman got up and returned a few moments later with a large glass of what looked like wine, which she handed to him.
“Christine told me that you are always cold. Looking at your complexion and with what I have understood about your eating and living habits, I am rather certain you might be suffering from some form of vitamin deficiency, especially iron. This is a medicinal wine that will do you good.”
Too tired to question it, or even think about anything much, Erik took the glass and drank it. To his surprise he completely trusted Alma and felt safe in her home. This was something he had never expected to feel in his life.
“Thank you ...” Erik muttered after finishing the drink, noticing how it made him fell calm, warm and sleepy. Even if it did nothing for his health, he was looking forward to his bed even more now: he felt as if he were wrapped in the softest blanket in the world. It was almost a shame he had to get up, he felt so comfortable where he was.
“Erik, sweetie, I think you better get up now, before we have to carry you ...” Christine startled him from his near sleep.
“Er … Erik is … is … so comfortable … Can’t Erik sleep here?” Erik slurred drowsily.
“No sweetie, the fireplace will go out and you’ll be cold. Come, off to bed with you.” Christine smiled as she helped an unwilling Erik to his feet. The man immediately proceeded to swoon against her.
“Oh dear … Maybe I should have given him the wine in bed ...” Mother Valerius smiled as she shook her head. Then she got up to take Erik’s other arm and for the second night in as row the two women supported their lodger to the bedroom.
“Have I got … a bottle …?” Erik asked in a sleep heavy voice as they arrived at the bedroom.
“Yes my dear, I made a nice warm bottle just for you when I got your wine.” Mother Valerius smiled warmly.
“Erik is happy to be … warm ...” Erik muttered as he stumbled into his room.
Seeing Erik so cosily befuddled made Christine happy: he was ill and exhausted, but wore the happiest smile she’d ever seen on him. His far too pale cheeks were now rosy from wine and sleepiness and he was just … adorable and so very hugable.
“I’m happy Erik is happy ...” Christine smiled as she wrapped her arms around him and pressed herself against him affectionately.
“Erik is happy Christine exist …” Erik sighed gratefully, trying to hug her back as best he could, “because he would be long gone without her …”
A fuzzy warm feeling spread through Christine hearing those words and from feeling his arms around her, a feeling she had never felt before, not even for Raoul. Never for Raoul! The feeling both surprised her and felt natural all in one. With a sudden start she began to understand what Alma had already known and what she had kept hidden away in the deepest corner of her mind: the reason why she kept postponing her marriage!!
Even though she was exhausted by everything that had happened that day, Christine knew she could not sleep before she had spoken to Mother. If there was one person who could make sense of her confused mind, it would be her.
Dressed in her nightgown and warmest dressing gown she tiptoed into Alma’s bedroom. Much to her relief she found the woman awake, reading a book of recipes on a chair by the bedside.
“Mother?” Christine asked meekly, unsure of how to begin.
“Christine, dear?” Mother asked in surprise as she put the book aside. “I thought you were asleep. What’s wrong? You look upset.”
And just like that Christine burst into tears again, for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last two days.
“Oh my poor little girl!” Mother Valerius exclaimed as she got up to wrap an arm around Christine to bring her to her chair, making herself comfortable on the edge of the bed.
“Now what is it sweetheart, tell mother.” she fussed lovingly.
“Mama … I … don’t think I can marry Raoul.” Christine hickuped in-between sobs.
“Of course not dear.” Alma smiled reassuringly, as she took her hand. “Not when you are in love with Erik.”
A gasp escaped Christine as she looked at her guardian in stunned surprise.
“How … do you know that?!”
Mother Valerius looked at her and shook her head, as her eyes twinkled.
“Oh my little sötnos, it’s rather obvious.”
Was it really? Christine pondered. If Mother Valerius had known all along, how come she herself had always thought Erik was simply her friend? A friend she cared about very, very much but … Was it because Raoul seemed the more natural choice, the easy choice? Erik was so different from everyone she had ever known … and yet … he wasn’t. Perhaps she had acted on what society dictated she was supposed to feel rather than what she truly felt.
“But it is so confusing,” Christine sighed, unsure of how to put her thoughts into words. “I was not even certain till tonight. What should I do?”
Not missing a beat Alma looked at her sternly: “Tell him.”
Tell him? But how?
“Oh … I couldn’t. What if I’m not right for him …?” Christine expressed a fear she had not even realised she had.
For a second Alma blinked at her in confusion, then she rolled her eyes and sighed with exasperation.
“Christine, the man adores you. He would crawl behind you on broken glass and kiss the ground you just stepped on if you asked him.” She eventually replied, not easing Christine’s worries one bit.
“But that’s exactly what I’m afraid of!! I have a power over him that I don’t want. What if he hurts himself because of me?” the thought alone was enough to make her feel like crying all over again.
At this Mother’s face softened, the woman gave her a smile and took her hand again, reassuringly.
“All you need to do is be kind to him, dear, and have patience.” Alma said as she gave Christine’s hand a gentle squeeze. But Christine had not finished listing her fears.
“Then there is his health … He needs so much care. And I can’t look after him, not like you can.”
For some reason this almost seemed to make Mother laugh.
“Oh my baby. This is the result of years of training as a nurse and being married to a professor with a tendency to injure himself. When I was your age I made mistakes too.”
Mistakes? That was the last thing Christine wanted to hear about. The girl jumped from her chair and started pacing the room.
“But I don’t want to make mistakes!! Erik has been through enough!!” She exclaimed, suddenly feeling completely out of her depth and hopeless. “Oh Mother, he would be better of marrying you!”
With that she flailed herself on Mother’s bed dramatically. It was simply too much to take in. At first she heard Alma chuckle a little at her dramatics, but within a few seconds she felt her gentle hand stroke her hair as she gave her a soothing reply.
“But Christine … he does not want to marry me. Look, don’t worry: we will make sure Erik is recovered before you marry him. You are not doing this alone dearest, I will help you look after him, of course I will.”
These words calmed Christine a little, maybe things could work out if Mother helped her out.
“Even after we are married …?” She pleaded, her voice almost like a little girl’s.
“Of course dear. And if need be, I have a lot of friends from my nursing days, all eager to help and non of them would fear Erik’s face in the slightest.”
Those reassuring words felt like a blanket of comfort to Christine. A heavy soft blanket that made her feel so very sleepy. For a brief second her brain tried telling her to go to her own room, but then the lights went out.
“You stay here, my little sötnos and rest. Tomorrow you will feel better.” was the last thing she heard before she fell into a peaceful slumber.
“Christmas day ...” Erik thought as he woke up from another deep, healing, sleep. Christmas day with Christine. Who would ever have imagined that? For a short while he allowed himself to lay in bed and think about how lucky he was, as he stared at the little Christmas tree on the night-stand.
Then, suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by a knock on his door.
“Erik, can I come in, sweetie?” Christine!
“Yes, of course.” Erik smiled, such bliss.
The door opened and Christine padded into the room in her dressing gown, her hair still tousled from sleeping. To Erik she had never looked lovelier. Seeing her like this made him feel like he was home and the thought that Christine wished him to stay for longer so he’d have more mornings like this warmed his heart.
“Merry Christmas Erik.” Christine smiled.
“Merry Christmas, angel ...” Erik said warmly.
Carefully Christine sat herself on the edge of the bed.
“How are you feeling, sweetie?” She asked, concern clear on her face.
“Much better, strangely.” Erik replied truthfully. “Alma’s wine seems to be rather miraculous.”
To his surprise Christine’s face seemed to brighten at his words. Did this mean she cared about him so much it physically affected her if he was ill? What a sweet girl she was.
“That is so good to hear.” Christine beamed. “Do you think you are ready to have dinner in the dining room or would you prefer breakfast in bed?”
Did he want to leave his bed? Certainly not yet, the wine had left him comfortably warm and drowsy. But it would be rather rude to sleep the day away again, even though of course Christine and Alma would assure him it didn’t matter.
“It would be impolite to ...” He started, but Christine shook her head.
“No, don’t think in manners Erik, it’s about how you are feeling.” The girl insisted.
That was even more difficult: what he felt was a longing to rest but a yearning to be in the dinner room to celebrate with Christine and Alma.
“I … I don’t want to be alone on my first Christmas morning ...” Erik muttered sadly.
“Erik, no matter what you choose, you won’t be alone.” Christine urged. “If you want you can have breakfast and go back to bed after for a nap, if you need it. You see, you don’t have to dress up or anything, it’s strictly sleepwear.”
Oh, that sounded appealing, which was odd for a man usually so strict where his appearance was concerned. This way he could have the best of both worlds: a cosy breakfast in the dinner room, followed by perhaps another nap after, before washing and dressing.
“Did you decorate the dining room, Christine?” Erik smiled at the sweet girl sitting with him.
A bright, beaming smile was his answer.
“Of course and if you want to eat there I will do my Christmas setting of the breakfast table. I only do that for the most special of guests.”
The most special of guests!! She thought he was special?!!
“Then I want to go there, Christine. I have seen the world, but never have I seen a Christmas breakfast.”
Oh, he would run there now if he could, if she thought he was special enough to earn her Christmas setting.
“You are adorable.” Christine murmured as she brushed away a stray lock of his hair.
For a brief second Erik’s still sleepy mind was lulled into a deep sense of comfort, his brain playing out that dream again: his loving wife stroking his hair. Only half aware of what he was doing Erik sat up and took Christine in his arms.
“I love you ...” he breathed, as he moved forwards, only stopping himself inches from her lips as he felt her freeze in his arms.
What was he doing? But before he had time to think Christine had pushed him away and jumped off the bed. Without looking back she ran into the hallway, leaving a crushed Erik behind her, a single tear rolling down his sunken cheek.
If you’d asked Christine years later why she had ran from Erik at that moment, she would not be able to give you an answer. All she knew was that she felt she had too: Feeling Erik’s love for her, his utter worship … It was too soon, she was not ready!!
As she dashed into the hallway Christine almost bumped into Mother Valerius, whom had just stepped out of the bathroom.
“What happened Christine?” The woman asked in surprise.
“Erik …” Christine whimpered almost breathlessly, “he … he said he loved me and tried to kiss me!!”
For a second Mother stared at her and something in her eyes betrayed that she was annoyed by Christine’s reaction.
“And you ran away?” She exclaimed, a hint of long suffering desperation clear in her voice.
“Worse,” Christine replied miserably after a deep breath. “I pushed him off me and ran away ...”
Mother Valerius released a sigh as she pinched her brow. “Oh Christine, you stupid girl.” she grumbled. “Get back in there immediately, before it’s too late!!”
Not waiting for a reply Mother pushed Christine back into Erik’s room, the man startling as he saw her return.
“Erik …?” Christine squeaked stupidly, lost at what to say.
Erik’s breath was going faster than it had any right to as he forced himself out of bed so he could kneel at Christine’s feet. “I … I am sorry. I should not have said that, I should not have done that it was inappropriate.” he stammered wretchedly.
Seeing Erik weeping at her feet Christine feel terrible. Swiftly she bent down and urged him to get up.
“Sweetie, please don’t do this!! It’s al right, I did not mind at all!!”
But Erik rejected her outstretched hand as his shaking hands fumbled with the hem of her dress nervously.
“Oh, oh, but you should!! I … I am sorry Christine, after all you have done for me. If Erik has to leave… if you do not wish him as your friend any-more, I will understand. I shall leave as soon as possible!!”
A cold hand grasped Christine’s heart. What had she done? Why had she ran away? Now Erik probably thought she was repelled by him. She had shunned him when he told her he loved her!! The poor man had been open and vulnerable and she had frozen up and pushed him away. Had she not wanted to tell him the exact same thing?
What a great friend she was being to Erik, she had brought him to her house to nurse him back to health, to give him a happy Christmas and here she was ruining it all for him. Her unhappy Erik had never once had a Christmas and now she had rejected him on Christmas morning!! How Christine wanted to make things right for him; but for some reason she could not say what she truly felt.
“Don’t … don’t be silly Erik … Please get up!!” Christine tried in a faux cheerful voice as she pulled at his arm. Noticing she really wanted him to stand up Erik obeyed and Christine brought him back to bed, babbling nervously. “You are staying right here. Just have a lay in till breakfast. I … I will set the table.”
As she dashed out again Christine once again bumped into Alma, who said nothing, she just gave her an annoyed “tut”, and Christine felt she had deserved it.
Curled up beneath the blankets Erik felt conflicted: had Christine rejected him or had he overwhelmed her with his confession? Maybe that was all it was. But she had frozen up when he tried to kiss her, that could not be good at all. Why had he done this?
For a while he tried to go back to sleep, wanting his mind to quiet until Christine called him for breakfast. Once they sat down and ate, once she smiled at him again it would all be well. With a groan he soon realised that he could not rest any-more: the panic had made his mouth unbearably dry.
Perhaps if he quickly went to the kitchen for some water, maybe then he could enjoy his lay-down. It would be fine, he told himself once again, Christine said she was not angry.
She would tell him: tonight at dinner!! Christine decided. Yes. The uncertainty would end tonight, she had made Erik suffer enough. From this moment on this would be the best Christmas ever!! To make things extra special she asked Mother Valerius to help her select the perfect dress for the occasion. The woman happily agreed to help her choose and told her to select the ones she liked best and they would then decide which one was best for the all important dinner.
Humming to herself Christine selected her favourites and, as it was bitter cold in her bedroom, decided to lay them out in the kitchen. Other people might think it odd to dress in a kitchen, but as a singer Christine had changed in far stranger places, all she cared about was that it was warm.
The dresses selected, Christine put them in a little suitcase and brought them to the kitchen, where she laid them out again. The task done, Christine decided to freshen up and change before starting up the breakfast.
The moment he got up Erik realised that the effects of the wine had worn off by now: he felt weak and exhausted and needed his cane to shuffle slowly to the kitchen. Or maybe it wasn’t the wine, but the anxiety over what had happened between him and Christine that worsened his condition. He had upset her so much.
Entering the kitchen Erik frowned, noticing the suitcase and Christine’s dresses scattered about. That was strange, he pondered. Alma seemed such as tidy lady, would she really allow Christine to leave her dresses all over the kitchen? Such fine dresses they were too. He smiled a little at a silk pink with tulle one: he had bought that dress for her, and she looked so very pretty wearing it.
Then his eyebrow raised a torn postcard laying scattered on the kitchen table. The wording on it’s greeting was clearly German, he noticed. For a second his curiosity urged him to see what message it contained, but he shrugged of that urge: nothing to do with him he told himself. He should not be nosy in the house of people who cared about him.
But the corners of his eyes betrayed him, as they made him see words he wished he did not: “married” and “Raoul”. The moment he noticed these words, it was as if his brain switched off and his breathing stopped and before he knew it, the torn pieces were in his hands.
Swiftly his shaking hands pieced the card together and soon the message became readable. A message that tore up his heart more than the postcard had ever been.
Oh, his poor Christine!! Erik thought. That must have been why she had been crying: a beautiful Viscount had asked for her hand and invited her to marry him in such a magnificent place, but here she was stuck looking after a corpse. A corpse that had the audacity to kiss her and confess his love to her. Oh, how he’d misunderstood the signals … Was that why all these beautiful dresses lay about the kitchen? Had he upset Christine so much she was now packing to join Raoul? He had betrayed her trust!! Driven her away from him!! Oh, what had he done?
All thoughts of water forgotten, Erik staggered to Christine’s bedroom and knocked on the door.
Having settled on a cosy breakfast in sleepwear for Erik’s sake, Christine decided that she would wear her cutest nightgown and dressing gown combination, just because. It was both comfortable and pretty at the same time so absolutely perfect. She had only just managed to tie the ribbon when she jumped at an anxious knock on her bedroom door.
“Christine ..?” Erik’s shaking voice called out. “A … are you there?”
Confused by the broken sound of his voice and why he was up at all, Christine quickly opened the door, to find an utterly distraught looking Erik behind it.
“Christine … I saw it … in the kitchen … Please ... forgive me!!” Erik sobbed, tear filled eyes boring into her. “I will leave now, I will punish myself!! Please tell me how I can make this up to you!!”
What was happening? Christine wondered. Why was Erik so distressed? Had he been over-thinking when she left? Perhaps she should have made Mother keep an eye on him when she freshened up.
“Erik … What is going on?” She urged. “I told you, everything is al-right. I did not mind.”
But Erik was inconsolable.
“I understand that you may not wish to see me any-more … But … please don’t think of me to harshly. Don’t hate me …” Erik choked out in a strained, tear filled voice.
Christine could only stare at him in confusion, unable to comprehend what was happening.
“Erik?” She asked, trying to reach out for him, but he backed away from her.
“I don’t know when you leave … But if I don’t see you any-more after today … I wish you all the best for your wedding ...”
A silence, as Christine looked at Erik, what was going on? What was Erik going on about? What had happened to the happy, peaceful Christmas she had hoped to give him?
“Wedding?” she repeated dully.
But Erik had already turned away and left the room before Christine had even understood an inkling of what he had been saying.
Then something began to dawn on her and with a frightened start Christine dashed to the kitchen, where her fears were confirmed.
The card, the suitcase and the scattered dresses, her rejection of him earlier. Christine didn’t have to be a mind reader to understand what Erik was thinking and the room started swaying around her.
Where was he now? She needed to explain, and quickly!!
Had he left the house? Was he out there in the cold in nothing but his robe, slippers and pyjamas? Without his mask? But he was ill, weakened!! This could kill him!!
The only thought in Erik’s head when storming out of the house was: leave!
Leave Christine to live her life. Let her go right now. Stop torturing yourself.
But the moment he stood outside was the moment he realised: he had no-where to go!! It was cold, it was snowing, he didn’t know the way home. Feeling his legs buckle it also dawned on him that he was too weak to walk anywhere and had no money for a carriage. What was he going to do? He was terrified of the world outside and now he was out there without anyone to help him!! Soon the extreme cold grabbed him and made him acutely aware that he was wearing nothing but thin pyjamas and a robe … He did not even wear socks inside his slippers!! Then horror struck him as he felt a prickling of cold on his face: he was not even wearing his mask ...
What was he going to do now?!! He was cold and exposed and feeling utterly exhausted. His weakened body wasn’t prepared for this, it needed to rest after the eventful morning. But he could not go back inside; it had taken all he had to leave Christine and seeing her again so soon would break him.
Desperate for anywhere to sit and hide so he could rest and think about the horrible situation he had found himself in, Erik’s eyes fell on the little shed behind the house. Perfect! As fast as his body would allow he staggered towards his new hiding place.
The shed was even colder than his home had been all these days ago. How ironic, Erik thought; Christine had wanted to save him from a miserable cold Christmas, but now his situation was even bleaker. A sad lollop from his stomach told him that he might have liked to have breakfast and somehow this made him burst into tears of misery. Perhaps Christmas truly wasn’t meant for him.
Back in the house a frantic Christine was screaming for Mother Valerius at the top of her lungs, utterly disregarding the damage this might do to her voice.
“Christine, what is wrong dear?” Mother asked as she rushed into the kitchen, where Christine stood weeping, clinging onto the kitchen chair.
“Erik … Erik has gone!!” Christine wailed though her sobs.
For a second Alma stared at her in confusion.
“What? Why? What do you mean: “gone”?” She asked.
It took Christine a lot of effort to settle her breathing long enough to blurt out:
“He … he misunderstood and … left the house, in his pyjamas!! I have to find him, he could die in this cold!!”
With that she collapsed to the floor and began sobbing even harder, her body overtaken by grief. Why had she not told him that morning? Why had she been such a fool?
For a second Mother watched her sobbing her heart out but, apparently, it seemed to bore her quickly. “Well, seeing he can barely walk, I can’t think he’s gotten very far.” Alma said, quickly moving on to the practical side of things. Then she frowned at something she noticed through the window. “You stay in the house and compose yourself. I think I have a pretty good idea of where our friend might be.”
And with that Mother Valerius put on her coat and stepped outside determinedly. Seeing her leave so certain of herself Christine calmed a little: if Mother knew where Erik was, maybe everything would soon be al-right again. It just had to be.
“Erik, dear, wake up!!”
What? Erik wondered as a voice reached him through a haze of sleep. Where was he? Why was he so cold? Where was his warm bed? His hot water bottle? Had he dreamed it all? Was he still in his house below the Opera? No, not even his coffin was as uncomfortable as whatever it was he had been sleeping on just now.
“Erik … What are you doing here in the cold? In your pyjamas no less!!”
The voice sounded kind, and very familiar. It also made him remember why he was so cold. It was Alma and this was her shed. Hers and … Christine’s …
With a pang of pain it all came back to him: The failed kiss, seeing the suitcase, that card … Then he’d fled the house with no-where to go but the shed. Feeling ill and miserable, Erik had eventually curled up on a pile of potatoes, the most comfortable place he could find to rest. It was what he deserved after what he had done to Christine. Had Alma come to send him away?
A broken whimper escaped him and immediately a gentle hand squeezed his shoulder.
“Erik? Oh, you poor man. Are you al right?”
The sound of her voice showed no anger, only care and perhaps … concern. Slowly Erik managed to pry his eyes open to see Mother Valerius hover above him, stared at him with worry in her eyes.
“Alma … I … Don’t tell Christine I am here.” Erik sleep slurred through chattering teeth.
“Why not, dear?” Alma asked as she looked him over carefully, as if she were examining him.
“I … have let her go, so she can go to Switzerland and marry Raoul.” Erik was surprised he managed to say it so calmly, when every word felt as if someone were grinding glass inside his chest.
Alma’s warm hand that was checking for his pulse dropped away as she gazed at him in sad confusion.
“You have what? Whatever made you do that?”
Oh … Erik thought sadly, she didn’t know what had happened? For a second he closed his eyes. Did he really have to tell her of all that he had just been through? What if she got angry and sent him away after-all?
Erik felt fear rise in the pit of his stomach: Alma was the only one who could help him back to his home. If she turned against him now … he’d be lost.
But perhaps he deserved it, his self hatred piped up. Knowing there was nothing he could do but tell her Erik bowed his head, not wanting to see Alma’s disappointment as he told her the truth.
“I confessed my love for her and she rejected me …” Erik started, but he seemed unable to make his story come out coherently, it was as if his brain was numb. “Now she is packing her bag to leave for Raoul. Perhaps she has already left. I am so sorry I ruined Christmas for everyone. I truly am an offence to Christmas … I understand if you now wish to punish me.” He finished in a rambling panic, feeling as if his throat was closing up.
“Punish you? Oh you poor thing ...” Alma said, much to Erik’s surprise. “You should not be outside like this at all. Where were you planning to go to in this cold, dressed like this?”
It was not the response he had expected, but still Erik did not dare to look up.
“I … wanted to go home but … I don’t know the way …” He continued as good as he could. “I just needed to hide here for a while to think … But … I was so tired and it’s so cold …” The world was swaying a little, and he let himself slump forward when things started turning black. “I’m sorry … I’m not feeling so well.” he managed to mutter.
Within a second Erik found Mother Valerius’ coat wrapped around his emaciated shoulders. In an immediate reflex Erik wrapped it round him tighter, the sudden warmth making him shiver uncontrollably. Then things became hazy.
This time Erik was certain that he had fainted. Because once he returned to reality he found Alma sitting next to him, holding him in her arms protectively. A sigh escaped him at the sensation: no-one had ever been this gentle with him besides Christine. It was so confusing: why was a woman he’d never met before this week so kind to him?
Hearing his sigh, Alma looked at him and smiled warmly.
“Ah, there you are my dear.” she said kindly, but then her face turned serious. “Erik, I am taking you back to the house, no argument ...”
To Erik it seemed as if her voice came to him from underwater, this made her words even harder for him to comprehend.
Back to the house? She wanted to take him home?
“You are not angry with me?” Erik muttered quietly, resenting how childlike he sounded.
Alma shook her head as she replied in a tone that left no room for argument.
“No, at the moment I am angry with Christine for making you feel that you are not wanted when the truth could not be more different.”
“Different …?” Erik parroted weakly, confused about what was going on. Did this mean he could go back to the nice warm bed and perhaps have a Christmas after all? And Christine … Oh, he hardly dared to think about her.
“Christine … is she … I … don’t understand.” he stammered helplessly.
For a second Alma closed her eyes and sighed as if something was frustrating her, Erik hoped it was not his fault.
“Erik,” Alma said, her voice still kind, though he could hear a little strain in her tone; “all I can tell you is that Christine is rather confused right now, but the one thing that is certain is that you are wanted in our house and you can stay as long as you want … or need.”
A shock went through Erik when he heard words that he’d never expected to ever be directed at him in his life. Someone invited him to stay … as long as he wanted?
He sat up to look at her in surprise ...
“A … are you certain … because no-one wants Erik for company.” His pleading eyes were met by nothing but genuine kindness, as well as an unexpected hug and a squeeze.
“Oh, very certain. Now come along my poor dear. Oh my stars, you’re turning blue.”
An overwhelmed Erik could only nod and allowed Alma to help him up and allowed her to support him back to the house.
The moment Christine saw Mother bring an exhausted, shuffling, Erik back into the house and realised how badly he was doing her heart broke and guilt threatened to drown her. This was her fault!! Erik’s condition had worsened because of her!!
What if he ended up with a pneumonia because of her cowardice?
Quickly she ran to the door to let them in.
“Oh Mother, you found him!!” She exclaimed excitedly. “Where was he?”
Briskly Mother walked past her, dragging a barely conscious Erik with her. To her worry Christine could see Mother was in nurses mode.
“He was hiding in our shed.” Mother said in a clipped tone. “Quickly, get the kindling and poke up the fire. He need to get warm.” Clearly feeling Christine was not responding fast enough she added another: “Quickly!!”
Worry pounding through her, Christine dashed into the living room to poke up the fire. Poor Erik, poor, poor Erik!! Hiding in that horrible, cold, shed all because of her. The fireplace became blurry as tears started to well up again. But there was no time for crying as Mother arrived hot on her heels, all but carrying Erik by now.
“Erik cold … so tired ...” Erik muttered, clearly unaware of his surroundings, as he was placed on the chair by the fire.
“You have a nice nap dear. You and Christine will have a chat together once you’ve recovered a bit.” Alma said as she wrapped a blanket around him.
His mind blank from exhaustion and the relief of feeling warmth again, Erik immediately fell asleep. Completely oblivious to the guilt that was overwhelming Christine.
“Mother, is he ill?” Christine asked, her voice quivering from fear and worry.
Clearly sensing her distress, Mother wrapped a reassuring arm around her. Needing the comfort Christine lay her head against the woman’s shoulder.
“Thankfully he has not been out there too long, so I don’t think he has caught anything serious. The main thing is he needs rest and warmth now. And food. We’ll let him rest for now and make the breakfast together. Then, once he is comfortable, the two of you will need a very long and honest chat.”
Christine nodded wretchedly: After this Erik deserved nothing but the best and her complete honesty.
After he was rested, fed and feeling better, she would tell him what she should have told him long ago.
In the end breakfast became lunch and it was served in Erik’s bedroom, to give him as much rest as possible, in the hope that he’d feel better at dinner that night.
Even though Christine wanted to have the important talk later in the day, she knew there was something that needed to be said before they ate, just so Erik would feel comfortable enough to enjoy his food.
So once everything was ready, Christine asked Mother for a few minutes alone with Erik, so she could settle him. Her guardian agreed happily.
But the moment Christine stepped into the bedroom and was faced with Erik gazing up at her from his bed … The moment those sad, frightened eyes stared at her pleadingly, it became difficult to find the right words. All she wanted was for Erik to be happy. Why was that so hard to achieve?
It was Erik who spoke first.
“Forgive me … I ruined your Christmas.” he sighed sadly, sending a jolt through Christine.
“No, Erik, no, you didn’t!!” She hastily urged. “If anyone ruined it, it was me. I’ve been very foolish.”
For a second Erik stared at her in confusion, then he nodded dejectedly.
“You … you wished you’d gone to Switzerland …” he sighed sadly. “I understand …”
Swiftly Christine shook her head, and repressed the sting of tears she felt at those words.
“No. why would I go to Switzerland when all that is dear to me is right here?” She smiled, and her heart warmed at the look of surprise she saw on Erik’s face. The poor man, she hoped she could explain it all to him in a way he understood. Gently she sat herself down on the edge of the bed, much to Erik’s obvious relief.
“Erik ...” Christine started, nervously playing with the ribbon of her dressing gown. “I need you to be certain about a few things: I am not angry with you. You will always be my friend … I invited you to stay over Christmas, so you did not ruin it. And most importantly: I am not going to marry Raoul, ever. After Christmas I will post a telegram to inform him of this.”
A surprised sound escaped Erik at her words and for a second he seemed more upset than relieved, much to Christine’s confusion.
“Aren't you? I hope I have not ruined things for you. Christine I swear I will never stand in the way of your happiness … If it means I have to let you go and never see you again. I would … for you.”
The pain Christine could hear in Erik’s voice at those last words hurt her on a physical level. It made her understand that the thought of losing her, even as a friend, had been the looming dread that seemed to be hanging over Erik these last few days. It had probably been the reason he had been crying yesterday.
“Oh … Erik, my dear sweet Erik. Is that what you were so upset about? I will always be there for you and if Raoul doesn't like that, that's his problem. But that’s not even important any-more, as I will not marry him, ever. What I want is to be with my friends, to sing on-stage and to keep singing with you. That is my own choice.”
At that Erik released the deepest sigh of relief she had ever heard. It was as if a weight had fallen of him. A little smile stirred in Christine’s heart: if just the thought of her staying his friend brought him that much joy, she couldn’t wait to see what would happen tonight!!
A moment later she was glad she had chosen carefully building up to the moment of truth over blurting it out, even though the words burned in her heart, as Erik’s weary eyes fluttered shut again.
“Don’t go back to sleep, sweetie, the food is coming.” Christine said good naturedly.
“Hmm ...” Erik sighed, clearly unable to decide what he craved more: food or sleep. Christine bit her lip: he’d been doing so much better that morning and she’d ruined it.
“Are you tired sweetie? Is there anything you need?” Christine asked softly.
A soft rumble came from Erik’s stomach and Christine felt bad about the day all over again. She had planned such a wonderful day. Well, she would do it all again tomorrow and just organise a third day of Christmas to catch up on all that they had missed out on.
“Erik, sweetie. I am so, so very sorry.” She started apologising all over again.
Hearing her words, Erik managed to pry his eyes open to look at her in surprised, sleepy, confusion.
“What should my Christine apologise for? She is perfect.” Erik insisted without question: she was an angel who cared about him, of course she was perfect!!
But Christine defiantly shook her head, they’d had this conversation before and she had accepted his forgiveness too easily. This time she wanted to do things right.
“Oh no, no Erik I am not. I have been so very wrong and I am sorry.”
Ignoring Erik’s confused blinks and head-shakes she continued steadfastly.
“I am sorry for not listening to you sweetie. I should not have forced you to get up when you didn’t feel like it and I shouldn’t have pushed you away when you kissed me. You are so dear to me … All I wanted was for you to have a wonderful Christmas and … it just hasn’t been so far.”
A gasp escaped Erik as he looked at her: was his Christine been thinking that she had done wrong? Besides his illness and except for this morning he had never been happier in his life!! He saw Christine’s little hand resting on his arm and carefully placed his own long fingered bony one over it as he tried to give her an earnest, well meaning, reassuring smile.
“Oh Christine, don’t be hard on yourself.” Erik said in a voice filled with love. “Simply asking me to come with you and being in the same house as you … meeting a wonderful woman like Alma … I was allowed near the tree, to put the angel on top. I had food, the best food I had in … decades. My angel, you worked so hard to make everything beautiful for me and I am very happy here, I promise.”
A watery smile was his answer. Looking at her Erik understood Christine was glad to hear he’d been happy, but still wasn’t convinced of her efforts.
“I am glad Erik.” Christine said with a sigh. “But still, I should respect your wishes as much as you respect mine.”
Knowing Christine always squeezed his hand to reassure him when he felt insecure, Erik carefully tried to give his angels hand a squeeze. To his relief the girl didn’t reject him, instead she gave him another smile. Still he felt worried as Christine was the only one apologising, he’d been wrong too. Swallowing a little he closed his eyes and clenched his jaw.
“I was wrong too …” he forced out. “I kissed you without asking … I misunderstood your signals Or … I thought they were signals … I am so sorry ... I am unused to being cared about and …”
What he’d planned to say would remain unsaid, as Christine gently placed a finger on his lips.
“Shush Erik, it’s fine.” She reassured him, “I should not have pushed you and ran away the way I did and I certainly should have stopped you from leaving this morning. Even if I think about what could have happened to you out there in the cold …” A shiver ran down her spine even thinking about it. Then Christine lowered her gaze to their hands that were still entwined and she felt her heart fill with joy. “Sweetie … there is something that I have to tell you … tonight.”
Confusion filled Erik’s brow, but he nodded his agreement. Then, for a few moments, there was silence.
The silence was only broken when Erik’s eyes threatened to fall shut again. Wanting him alert for their meal, Christine lovingly shook his arm.
“So, do you want anything, Erik? I don’t mean food or drink wise as that is coming soon. But something that would make you feel better or more comfortable ...”
Thrown by the sudden question Erik stayed silent for a while. Did he need something? She’d already given him so much. Well, there was something … something he desperately needed once he was back home … home …? When he thought of his dwellings beneath the Opera it hardly seemed like a home now … But if she gave him permission to do that one thing …
“I can just … say what I want?” Erik asked hesitantly.
A loving eyed nod was his answer.
“Of course.” she assured him.
“Christine ...” Erik said, his eyes lowered, looking away from her, as he usually did when he thought his question impolite.
“Yes Erik …?” Christine tried to encourage him.
“Would … would you find it in your heart to allow me to … No, never mind.”
Oh, he could not ask her!! It was improper, terrible!! It was the one thing she had demanded when she had agreed to stay over once in a while. How could he ask this of her?
“What is it Erik, you can ask me.” Christine noticed Erik’s panic, but was certain that whatever he found so difficult to ask for was small, it always was.
Erik didn’t want to say it any-more, he’d rather swallow his need and suffer than scare her with a request like this. But he had started it now and she truly wanted to know and … his brain did not seem able to make up anything else. So he tried to explain, even though his body filled with dread as he spoke.
“Would … would you allow me to use the bed in your room in my house sometimes when … when I’m not feeling well? I know I promised not to enter your room, and … and I won’t if you think it would be wrong.”
Oh no … Christine thought sadly as she heard him confess his need. Such a small request and not even something he should have to ask her: it was his home!! She kept forgetting how strictly Erik would obey every little thing she said. In a roundabout way he was obviously telling her that he would have desperately wanted to use her bed when suffering in that awful cold. But his promise to her meant he obviously had valiantly refrained from using the only source of comfort he had left. He had denied himself a comfortable resting place in his own home when she was not even there. She would not even have known about it and certainly would not have been angry about it if she had. Erik had suffered more than he would have if he’d had the luxury of a warm bed. But she would not let this happen again.
“Oh Erik, I’m so sorry. Of course you can.” She immediately replied, trying not to get emotional by the surprised relief on the face of the man she knew she loved. “Oh sweetie you can sleep in my bed whenever you want or need to.” A thought occurred to her, maybe she could use a little of that power she had for good. Why not use it to make Erik do things that made him feel better? “But would it not be far easier for you to always have a nice bed of your own in your own room? It would make me feel better to know you were comfortable when I am around as well.”
Erik felt almost overwhelmed by her words and acceptance and how much she seemed to care for his well being. “It would?” he asked in sheer overwhelmed confusion.
“Yes …” Christine nodded, “that coffin makes me sad!”
A bed of his own? At his home? A comfortable warm place, just for him? Erik had never thought himself deserving of something like that. A corpse belonged in a coffin, even living corpse. But perhaps … if Christine did not see him as a corpse, if Alma didn’t seem to regard him as one … wasn’t it time to stop thinking like this and try and live as the living did?
“A bed … for me … I … Yes … perhaps ...” Erik muttered, mulling it over. “But … How will I ever get a bed to my house? I was able to furnish my home during the war, when no-one noticed me.”
Feeling happy to hear Erik even consider her request so readily, Christine’s mind immediately begun searching for ways to make this work for him. Soon a practical solution came to her.
“Not a full bed no … but how about wood, planks? You are so clever and artistic sweetie, I am certain you could build a bed easily. I would love to see what you make.”
A smile started appearing on Erik’s face, Christine wondered if it was because he liked the idea or her compliments.
“Oh, Christine, yes!! That sounds like a wonderful idea!!” Erik said, delight in his voice. But then, just as suddenly his face fell. “Oh ...” he sighed.
“What is it? What went wrong?” Christine said with disappointment: it had been going so well.
“That … that would mean having to go into town … meet people … they would have to deliver it somewhere … No … it just wont work ...” Erik said dejectedly: he didn’t want to go into town and talk to people other than those that were trusted by Christine. Most of all: he didn’t want to be anywhere he did not know on his own. The thought itself almost brought him panic attacks.
Christine bit her lip, thinking of a solution. Erik deserved a nice bed of his own, but his fears did make things difficult. But there were always solutions, even for this.
“Well, if you draw up a design and make a list of what you need, Mother could order it for you at the store and then we’ll have them delivered at the alcove where I collect them and you can bring them to your home … Would that work? I will help you carry them, of course!”
The smile returned to Erik’s face: Yes, that could work, how practical his little angel was. But her helping him carry those heavy objects?
“No, Christine, no lady …”
But Christine shushed him before he could finish his thought: she actually shushed him!!
“I am not a fragile little doll Erik. This ‘lady’ can easily carry a few planks to your boat and I could help you with sanding or holding or … lots of things. I always helped Papa and it was so much fun!”
Oh!! She wanted to build his bed with him? It would be a project they could do together? That sounded wonderful.
“It … it would be lovely to do something like that … with you … But …” But … then it hit him: doing this would meant leaving this house behind. It meant returning to the darkness of his dwellings under the ground. The thought of going back made Erik's face fall again as he released a mournful sigh.
“Erik?” Christine asked, surprised to see his joy fade so quickly.
“Nothing … nothing …” Erik shook his head as he tried to raise a smile for Christine’s sake. “I'm just being silly …”
But Christine didn’t want to hear his excuses: she wanted to help Erik as much as she could. He had to be free of fears and doubts as much as possible.
“No Erik, I want to know.” She insisted. “I want you to be as carefree as possible today.”
Carefree? He? It almost made Erik laugh: It would take a miracle for that to happen.
“It … would just burden you Christine,” Erik tried to deflect, “and I don't want to ever be a burden for you.”
She had already offered him her bed, she and Alma had shown him more care than he’d ever thought possible. No, it was fine.
But to Christine it wasn’t.
“Erik, stop this. I just told you, you can talk to me. You burden me with worry when I see you go in and out of sadness like that.”
And as always, making Erik aware that his silence made her worry about him even more, did the trick. As Christine knew only too well. So, once again, Erik complied, knowing she wouldn’t let it go if he didn’t and at that moment he was both too drained and too hungry to do battle with his cunning little angel.
“Well … it’s just … this conversation made me realise that I am afraid of going back after tomorrow.”
Erik started shyly as his finger traced the pattern of his blanket, not noticing how Christine’s eyebrows shot up as her brow furrowed in surprise.
“Who says you're going back after tomorrow?” She almost shouted at him in frustration. What was he thinking?
“You said I … was just for Christmas.” Erik stuttered, a little taken aback by her reaction. “Your mama invited me to stay, but I am not sure if she meant it … Or if you … still want me here …?”
In his eyes he’d been the worst guest he could imagine: constantly asleep, too ill to have fun and the panic attacks had to be frustrating to be with. Add to this that he didn’t truly know how to be amongst other people and he just wasn’t certain if he wasn’t wearing both of his kind hosts down.
But, as always, it seemed that he had completely grasped the wrong end of the stick and Christine seemed almost offended by his doubts.
“What?” She exclaimed. “You really think I would be cruel enough to drag you out of that terrible lair of yours for two days just to throw you back when you're not even recovered? Without food or heat or anything? Oh sweetie, no. You can stay as long as you want and need. I certainly want you till stay till after New Years and am not letting you go until you are fully recovered. After that, we'll see.”
So, it was true? Erik thought as a warm feeling started spreading through him. Alma had told the truth? He could stay with them as long as he wanted?
“You mean … you'd allow Erik to stay … with you … indefinitely?” Erik urged, wanting to make certain he’d understood correctly this time.
“Of course sweetie.” Christine nodded.
“Does Alma want that too, truly?” He hoped he wasn’t wearing her out begging for this constant reassurance, but it was so hard to believe that he, Erik, was wanted somewhere.
Sensing his disbelieve, Christine just nodded at him, with a smile.
“Oh yes. She'd be angry if you left.” She soothed warmly.
Erik might have asked to hear this over and over again: he, poor unhappy Erik, had people who enjoyed his company!! But before he could ask Christine all over again, there was a knock on the door, it was Alma with an overloaded breakfast cart.
As Christine lit the little tree on his bed-stand and Alma pored the tea, Erik breathed in the delicious smell of their breakfast lunch as he revelled in the two women’s cheerful chattering.
Christmas had begun, at last!!
The day continued a lot happier than it had started: After the breakfast lunch, Erik was left to rest a little longer while Christine and Mother cleared the tray and begun preparations for the rest of the day.
After some time Erik gathered the energy to leave his bed and have a bath. Soaking in the warm, lavender scented, water aided his recovery immensely.
Then, for the third time that week, Erik dressed in what Christine had prepared for him.
“Still no suit?” he had asked in surprise when watching her ready his house coat.
Christine shook her head.
“Tonight, at dinner we’ll have plenty of time to be dressed formally. First we’ll remain comfortable.”
The girl smiled a little when she saw that Erik actually looked relieved at her words, making a mental reminder to make certain he’d keep up this comfort in future as well. Erik didn’t need to be dressed up as if he were going to a gala night at all hours of the day simply because she was staying at his house.
“If you say so.” Erik had shrugged, unaware of her thoughts.
Once dressed and placed in an easy chair in the living room near the Christmas tree, Erik simply let it all wash over him:
His first Christmas …
Hot cocoa, cookies and cake, fun. board games. Cheerful chatter, smiles … Christine’s gentle touches, a shoulder squeeze from Alma … It was all perfect, so perfect. And to think that Christine wanted him to stay, that they would remain friends and that one day days like this might be a fixture in his life. With Raoul gone there might truly be a place for him. Oh, Christine did not have to love him, just having her care about him, just being part of her and Alma’s world, as he was at this moment, was enough. Releasing a contented sigh Erik leaned back in his chair and just quietly revelled in the sights and sounds of Christine and Alma clearing up some games to make way for afternoon tea, with a “surprise”, as Christine had said with a mischievous grin.
“What are you thinking about, Erik?” Christine laughed as she came in to clear away a few final items before the tea was ready.
“What a wonderful day this has become.” Erik smiled back at her. “To be part of this, to be part of anything as if I belong … It is like a dream.”
With a smile Christine walked to his chair and kissed the top of his head.
“You do belong, Erik.” She said lovingly. “Here with me … with us.”
At those words a gasp escaped Erik and emotion overwhelmed him.
“Belong ...” Erik whispered softly. “I … I belong with you …? Here?”
Christine nodded gently.
“Yes, sweetie, you’re not alone any-more because you have us now.”
A shuddering sigh coursed through Erik: these were words he had longed to hear for as long as he could remember. Perhaps since birth.
“That … that’s the greatest present I could ever receive ...” Erik whispered, his voice cracking as the tears started to come. Tears of joy: after a lifetime of pain and loneliness he was home at last!!
Swiftly Christine placed herself on Erik’s lap and begun running her hands through his hair.
“Oh my poor Erik ...” she sighed holding him as he sobbed onto her shoulder.
“I … I think I might be happy ...” Erik choked out after some time, making Christine laugh.
“You have an odd way of showing it …” She murmured as she softly rocked him.
For a few moments they sat there, Erik sobbing softly and Christine giving him the comfort he needed. It only ended when Alma stepped out of the kitchen to tell Christine something in the oven might need attending.
With a gasp Christine startled and slid from Erik’s lap, then she pressed another kiss on his brow before she dashed to the kitchen.
“Don’t want my surprise to burn!!” she exclaimed cheerfully. And Erik just smiled and reclined into his chair. As he pondered the moment he had just experienced he barely noticed his eyes falling shut as he waited for his two gentle hosts to return.
Rushing to the kitchen Christine worried that her surprise might have burned, but much to her relief it was not. In fact it was baked to perfection!! Smiling brightly she placed a plate with the baked goods in the middle of a decorated tray and … just like that, it was ready to serve.
Entering the room with Alma in tow, Christine chuckled softly upon seeing Erik had fallen asleep again.
“Oh, bless him ...” she sighed. “I think we’ve worn him out.”
“Indeed … I think we need to take it easy till dinner.” Alma nodded, seemingly as endeared by the sleeping man as she was.
With as smile Christine placed her tray on the table and turned to Erik, carefully shaking his thin shoulder.
“Erik, sweetie, wake up. Tea’s ready ...” she sang, sung in his ear.
A soft sleepy sniffle came from Erik, before he muttered his drowsy reply.
“Erik … will be too full for dinner …” he said, while snuggling deeper into his chair. “Sleep a while ...” he sighed.
“Do you think we should just let him sleep till dinner …?” Christine pondered almost dejectedly. “It will ruin my surprise ...” She worried her lip a little at the thought.
“He’s sleeping, so has no idea where he is, dear.” Mother pulled her from her worries calmly. “It would be a shame if he missed this. Try again and tell him it’s Christmas.”
So Christine tried again while Mother readied the crockery on the table.
“Erik, it’s Christine, it’s Christmas, we’re having my surprise ...”
This time Christine got a little more response, as Mother had predicted.
“Christine … surprise …” Erik muttered, his eyes opening a little. “Oh … I’m so sorry … I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” He added a little shaken when realising where he was.
“Please, sweetie, don’t apologise. You’re not well, it’s absolutely fine.” Christine swiftly eased any worries he might have. Then she immediately moved on to the next, far more important, subject. Namely, her perfectly baked goods. “Now, here’s my surprise. Yesterday at the market I remembered how you asked for an apple at the Opera … so I bought some. You get some fresh ones to eat when you feel like it but … I also made us all a treat … I was planning to make it for New Year but … after today you deserve it right now.”
And with a big smile she presented Erik with her special tray filled with Knäckäpple. It was her own Swedish recipe for caramelised apples which she hoped Erik would like.
“That smells wonderful …” Erik smiled warmly. “Did you make that, Christine?”
even though her eyes briefly misted over.
“Yes, it’s my Papa’s special recipe and … I hope you enjoy it.”
Looking at his dear Christine, Erik knew he would enjoy it for her sake whether he liked it or not.
arefully, as to not upset the lovely decorations she had made, Erik took one of the apples from the tray and stared at it for a few seconds.
“They look amazing ...” He nodded. “I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it ...” Then again, Erik thought, he didn’t know much about food, except for the meals he had taught himself to cook for Christine.
“Aren’t you going to try it?” Christine urged. “They taste best when they’re warm!”
Seeing her expectant eyes Erik carefully took a bite and … To his relief he did not have to pretend: it was absolutely delicious!! The apples had a soft and chewy texture, and each bite brought him buttery sweet flavours.
“Oh, Christine!!” Erik exclaimed in delight. “This is absolutely delicious!!”
A bright smile exploded on Christine’s face as she could tell he absolutely meant it.
“Oh, that’s wonderful!!” She said as she clapped her hands in delight. “I am so happy you like it.”
That sweet girl, Erik thought, she looks so relieved. But there had been nothing for her to worry about: it tasted so good. Everything he had been served these last few days had been like a wonderful symphony in his mouth. It was a surprise to learn that eating could actually be a joy
“I don’t think I’ve had anything quite as good as the food I’ve eaten in the last few days” he mused softly, “and this … this is miraculous.”
These words earned him yet another of Christine’s happy hugs.
“Well, you better expect more good food to come to you in the coming days.” she cheered, almost keeling him over chair and all in her enthusiasm.
“Careful, I’m not that used to eating!!” Erik faux scolded, the humour clear in his voice.
“You will dear, don’t worry about that!” Alma chimed in. “In a few weeks time you’ll might actually have some skin on those bones.” the woman said as she sat down at the table.
“That would be a Christmas miracle indeed.” Erik chuckled, then continued to slowly nibble at Christine’s treat.
After everyone had finished their delight, the three of them sat quietly in their chairs for a while, with Erik dozing a little. Though soon enough, though, he noticed that Christine seemed distracted and almost agitated, jiggling her little foot nervously.
“Is anything wrong my dear …?” he asked carefully, but still making Christine startle a little.
“No … Of course not.” she said quietly, obviously she had not thought anyone would notice her slight jitteryness.
“Angel, I can see you’re nervous ...” Erik insisted, he knew her so well and wondered what on earth could be wrong on such a happy day as today.
With a sigh and a shrug Christine relented, when seeing that Mother raised her eyebrow questioningly.
“Oh … well … I just … We haven’t carolled in all this time and I so wish to sing ...”
Sing!! Erik immediately shot up, exhaustion momentarily forgotten. Christine wished to sing? And here he’d been thinking that the day could not get any better.
“I would love to hear you sing … though I do hope you’ll warm up, even for caroling ...”
Immediately Christine jumped from her chair and wanted to dash to the middle of the room, but then she seemed to have second thoughts and turned to Erik shyly.
“Erik … what I want to ask … and you can say no if you want to … but … would you …?”
Erik frowned in confusion.
“Would I what …?” he asked, wondering why on earth Christine would act as if it was difficult to ask him for something: Did she not know that he would do anything for her?
“Play piano …?” Christine continued in a tiny voice. I know you’re ill, and please don’t feel obliged …?”
Play for her? Why did Christine think she even had to ask!! He stood up and walked to her. “I would love to but … I don’t know any carols ...”
But an excited Christine had already taken his hands and beamed at him.
“We have sheet music!!” She exclaimed with delight.
A happy jolt went through Erik: he could play Christmas music and hear Christine sing!!
“Then by all means, of course!!” Erik cheered and with that Christine uttered a little happy cry and dashed out of the room to gather the partitures.
“Erik, you truly don’t have to!” Alma’s voice was suddenly next to him, but Erik knew that this time she had nothing to worry about.
“It is absolutely fine Alma,” he assured her, “hearing Christine sing is like a healing tonic … It might be the best cure yet.”
Then he looked back at the door his angel had ran out of, not quite expecting to hear Alma mutter something under her breath.
“Lovesick fool ...”
A nd for the first time in, he did not know how long, Erik actually burst into laughter.
“Oh my dear lady …” Erik chuckled, “I dare-say you know me too well …”
“Or you are too easy too read.” Alma smiled. “Now, run along and play for her.”
Just at that moment Christine dashed into the room, her arms filled with piles of sheet music.
“I found them!!” She beamed.
“Christine dear, you can’t expect Erik to run through all of this!!” Alma exclaimed, looking at the giant pile of music the girl had dragged with her.
“But I will certainly give it a try ...” Erik smiled, as he saw her face fall at Alma’s near scolding.
Giggling a little Christine handed him the papers,
A big grin spread on Erik’s face as he lifted the lid of the piano:
now he was in his element!
It had been far too long since he’d last been able to play
it was only now that he realised how much he’d missed it.
“Let’s start!!” Christine cheered as she selected her first song.
“Warm ups first, as you well know!” Erik insisted, falling back into his tutor role with ease.
“Aw ...” Christine pouted, wanting to start right away, but she swiftly relented, knowing Erik would simply refuse to play if she did not.
For a moment she tried to rush, but Erik was wise to her cheating.
“A proper warm up my dear, you have not sang fully in days. Let Alma hear how well you can do. Has she ever heard your G10?”
“A G10?!!” Alma exclaimed. “Don’t you dare Christine Daaé, I’ve got my best stemware out!”
“Oh, it will be a magnificent break!!” Erik grinned again, feeling slightly lightheaded from a rush of joy he’d never felt before. Had he ever smiled this much? Smiled at all? Now that there was music it was as if he were truly at home now.
For well over an hour Erik and Christine were immersed into a world of their own: a world of music. After the warm up exercises the Carols started. Much to Christine’s delight Erik was so adapt to reading music that he only had to glance at a sheet for mere seconds before playing a song as if he had done so for years. In fact he was already making improvements in them as he went along that she really enjoyed. Under Erik’s hands t he songs transformed from mere Carols to actual arias that complimented her voice. Had she enjoyed carol l ing before now, this time it was a true delight. But perhaps this feeling simply came from singing with Erik, who looked happier than she’d ever seen him. A feeling of true bliss overtook Christine and it was as if her voice reached new heights because of this and Erik’s playing joined her in that magical place. It was true: they belonged together, she and Erik.
An extra chapter leading into a plot point that still needed to be addressed.
It was late in the early evening when Erik and Christine finally stopped Carolling and only because Christine noticed that Erik had begun surreptitiously rubbing at his finger joints before moving into the next song. Knowing him well enough to be certain he would deny it if she asked him if his hands had started to ache, Christine feigned fearing her voice might go hoarse if she sang for much longer. They ended their session soon after that, only to find, much to their surprise, that the table was set an d dinner would be served as soon as they were dressed and Erik had rested for a short while.
“But Mama … I was supposed to help you with that!!” Christine said, feeling rather embarrassed about forgetting her duties like this.
“Oh don’t worry about that, dearest,” Mother smiled. “You and Erik were having such a lovely time and it was a rare treat to cook surrounded by such wonderful music. I must say I have never heard you sing like this before, but then again I have never heard anyone play like this either.”
“Just wait till he is well enough to sing!!” Christine smiled as her heart filled with pride for Erik. “You will understand why I thought he was an angel.”
Never would she forget the first time his strong, but delicate tones filled her dressing-room. Moments before she had been crying, certain that no-one except Mama cared about her and her faith. She had felt so lonely, but suddenly it was as if the unknown voice had lifted her up and wrapped her into a loving hug. This was the angel!! She had been certain, especially when checking every other room around her had proven that there was no-one around within the vicinity of her room.
“I’m certain ...” Mother nodded warmly.
For a few seconds more Christine pondered the wonder that was Erik’s voice. Then she decided that it might be better t o get dressed for the evening
B efore going into her own room, Christine quietly sneaked in to Erik’s and smiled to see him fast asleep again. When Mother had insisted he’d rest after their impromptu recital he had proclaimed proudly that h e was not tired in the least, he was in fact “ reinvigorated ”.
Gently Christine stroked the hair of her sleeping maestro.
“I love you, you silly man ...” she whispered softly, before shaking his arm. “Erik, dinner time, sweetie.”
For a second there was no answer, just a few soft weary sighs, before Erik regained a semblance of consciousness.
“Dinner ...” Erik repeated the word carefully. “Dinner …” Then he recalled. “Oh … Oh yes … of course ...” Erik muttered. “I’ll .. I’ll be dressed … soon ...”
The poor man looked so deliciously dazed and sleepy that Christine took pity on him. Knowing that she had a lot of preparing to do to look the way she wanted for dinner, Christine decided to let him nap on and ask Mother to help him get dressed in his finery once she was almost ready.
“Oh, poor sleepy Erik.” She smiled. “You can lay a little longer, if you want to sweetie. I’ll prepare your clothes for you.”
A sluggish smile of content spread on Erik’s face at these words.
“Christine is too good for her Erik.” Erik sighed happily, as he made himself comfortable. “Just a few moments longer would be nice.”
Barely finishing his words Erik was back to sleep and Christine begun her rummage through the wardrobe she had taken from his home, delighting in how much Erik seemed to be enjoying the comfort of having a bed.
Erik’s clothing prepared, Christine left the room to go and prepare in hers.
Finding herself alone in her bedroom, a little later, Christine suddenly became overwhelmed by nerves. Thinking about it and preparing herself for this had all been well and good … But now that the moment was almost there … things suddenly seemed so very real. It should be so easy: she loved him and it was abundantly clear that he loved her. So all she had to do, truly, was kiss him and tell him the words he longed to hear.
This should be the easiest thing in the world but somehow … it wasn’t.
For a few minutes Christine sat there, on her bed, her knees pulled up below her chin, her arms wrapped around them. Sitting there she tried rehearsing her speech, find the right words. But minutes later she decided to stop wasting time: the moment would always be different from anything she could come up with. She just had to say it when the time was right.
First bathing, hair, make-up and dressing up awaited her attention. A bath would certainly sooth her nerves.
It was some time later that Erik was woken up by Alma with a cup of tea, after which she helped him dress up in his best suit. To his surprise he had lost a lot more weight than he’d realised: his sharply tailored clothing hung loosely around his frame.
“Oh dear ...” he muttered in surprise as he squinted at the image in the dressing mirror. He truly looked like a skeleton in a stolen suit.
“Our first goal will be having you fit into that again.” Alma nodded warmly, as she adjusted his suit as well as she could.
“I never knew how bad it was ...” Erik sighed, only now truly understanding why Christine had been so worried and why he was still feeling so devastatingly exhausted and weak.
“You have been through a lot and it might take quite a while for you to recuperate and you can take all the time you need.” Alma smiled reassuringly, as if sensing his thoughts.
A warm feeling spread through Erik at her words: for once he would be looked after and, to him, the joy of experiencing kindness was worth every moment of pain.
“I … I don’t think there are words in the world that could express my gratitude to you ...” Erik muttered, trying valiantly not to cry despite being overwhelmed every time he was told he could stay, he had cried too much these last few days. “I … I can’t understand how someone like you could be so kind to a creature like me, especially since you don’t know anything about me.” It all seemed like a dream to him. At this, Alma took his hand in hers and looked up at Erik with kindness in her eyes. A kindness mixed with a hint of sadness that confused him.
“Erik, dear ...” Alma said, a slight tremor in her voice. “I … will explain it to you, one day. But for now just know that all that Christine told me about you was enough for me to care for you as if I’ve known you all my life.”
Erik nodded, unable to reply to this: he had heard more kind words in these last few days than he’d heard in all these years he’d been alive.
“And please … Erik ...” Alma continued, giving his hand a friendly squeeze.
“What?” Erik asked, feeling a bit thrown by a sudden intense look that burned in Alma’s eyes.
“Don’t you dare call yourself a creature again: you are a kind, generous, living, breathing man.” She said with an urgent tone to her voice.
These words send a tremor through Erik. To be seen as human, a person … Not a monster, a creature to be killed, locked up or abused but … human ...
A sob escaped Erik.
“Thank you ...” he managed, before his resolve to stop crying evaporated and his eyes overflowed.
Carefully Alma sat Erik down and held him as he sobbed and hiccuped in her arms.
“There, there now ...” she said softly. “It’s al right, let it out. Come on now, poor, dear man.” She shushed as she rocked him carefully.
“I … I’m not a monster …” Erik sobbed, his crying so forceful it physically hurt his chest.
“Of course not, dear …’ Alma said gently. “The world had no right to treat you like this. Your face is not your personality or your talent. You deserve everything that is good and you will get that, I promise.”
Something better than what he experienced at that moment: kindness, care and two gentle ladies who looked out for him? People who saw him as someone who belonged? Erik doubted if he even had the right to want anything more. But he didn’t argue with Alma’s sentiment, why would he when he was held and comforted? To have two people touch him like this, it was a blessed miracle.
Then he suddenly felt a wetness on his face and it seemed as if Alma was shaking a little. It took him a little while to realise that she too was crying.
“My boy ...” The lady muttered as she gently stroked his hair. “My dear little boy ...”