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A Gift for Christine

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“Erik!! Erik!!!” Christine announced her presence long before she had reached Erik’s home, singing his name loudly with the breath support he himself had taught her.

A rare smile crept over Erik’s face hearing her approach. Swiftly he hid the glasses he had to use when composing too long underneath the sheet paper he’d been writing on. His sweet girl already knew about his face and accepted the mask, she didn’t need to know about any other ailments.

After that he smoothed his hair and straightened his clothing, hoping to make himself as presentable as possible after working for most of the day.

“Yes, my angel?” He called back.

From closer now he heard her laughing. Oh, not even the queen of the fairies herself could own a sound sweeter than this. Then she entered the room and his breath stopped as it did every time he saw her: how beautiful she was! Christine’s eyes sparkled and her face was flushed, her rosebud lips smiled in such delight. Her blue dress accentuated the blue of her eyes as she gazed at him in excitedly. How he loved her. How he wished to sweep her up into her arms and kiss her.
But he could not … Of course he could not.

Christine was not his, would never be his, he had long since given up hope for that. The moment she had seen his face he had given up on the dream being loved by her and had gratefully accepted any form of friendship or kindness she still wished to bestow on him. He felt honoured and lucky in knowing Christine would still want to be friends with him after he had pretended to be an angel to her, only find out that in fact he was nothing close to a demon instead. Any morsel of attention she saw fit to throw his way was was accepted by him as water in a desert.

Now, instead of trying to win her love, Erik exhausted himself in being as good a friend to her as he could possibly be. Whatever she wanted, suggested or even only hinted at he did it for her. When she needed advise or a listening ear he was there. Even if it meant he would lag behind in his work more often than not.

Once aware that the Opera Ghost was a valuable asset to the Opera the management paid him handsomely for his advice on all the workings of the Opera. They relied on him for casting advice, direction, hiring and even took his word on what play should be performed when. Sometimes they even relied on him to rewrite music if a new Opera simply wasn’t working. This meant Erik had an actual job, one he took rather seriously. Still, he forgot all about any pressing matters the moment he was near Christine. The second she was near nothing existed but Christine. Because despite doing his best to be “just a friend” to her … he loved her! He loved her so very much it sometimes hurt just looking at her. But he would never tell her that, not if it could hurt their friendship.

“Thank goodness you’re home!!” Christine exclaimed happily once she found Erik in his work room. How sweet, she thought as she saw his table filled with piles of paperwork, breaking off whatever he was doing just for her. She often worried that she was intruding on his time far too much, but he never seemed to mind. Still, she had overheard the management complaining that the Phantom wasn’t as punctual as he used to be and she hated to be the cause of any problems for him.

“I am so glad that I am, I would hate to miss a visit from my dear Christine!” Erik said earnestly and Christine could see that vague pang of sadness in his eyes as he said her name but tried to ignore it, as she always did.

“I have big news Erik ...” she begun swiftly, “and I wanted you to be the first to know!”

A gasp escaped Erik at those words: “The first?” He exclaimed in disbelieve. “I am the first you reveal this news to? The first? Even before …?”

“Yes, even before Raoul!” Christine smiled cheerfully as she came closer to Erik and wrapped herself around his long thin arm to pull him towards the sofa.

“Oh ...” Erik almost swooned in delight at this: his sweet Christine thought he was important enough in her life to hear about an event first! “Please tell me!!”

“Of course! That’s why I’m here!!” And with that Christine pulled him down on the sofa next to her and begun eagerly: “Guess who is among those invited to sing at the big gala next week?!”

Erik raised an eyebrow in confusion: this was her news?! “You, of course …” he shrugged.
With that Christine’s face fell and immediately Erik panicked: was this the wrong reply? Had he failed his duty as a friend?

“Oh … so you knew?” Christine said disappointedly. She had hoped to surprise and impress him, even though she wasn’t sure why. It was probably because he was her tutor that his opinion mattered to her above all else.

“Knew …? No … no I didn’t … It’s just not a surprise to me. With your talent the only thing that would have surprised me is if you had not been asked and let me tell you my dear, the management would have known about my anger had you been snubbed.”

The smile returned to Christine’s face. Of course Erik wasn’t surprised, he believed in her capability more than she ever had. The only one who had ever championed her as much as Erik had been her father.

“But come on Miss Daaé, gala performer ...” Erik smiled kindly, “tell me all about it: what will you be singing and more importantly wearing?”

A shock went through Christine … wearing?!

“What do you mean?” She squeaked. “Is what I am wearing on the night important?”

Why had those words scared her so? Erik wondered as his eyebrow rose again. “Yes, very much. It is an event to see and be seen. The crème de la crème is there all expecting to be dazzled by the divas on stage.”

With a sigh Christine hung her head. “But … I don’t have a dress like that …” she muttered sadly, feeling close to crying. All she had was her Sunday dress which was cute but not for a gala where Carlotta would probably prance around dripping with her patrons diamonds. Oh, she’d look a fool, be a laughing stock.

Seeing the joy fade from his Christine broke Erik’s heart. This would not do, Christine should not be sad, she deserved the world. She at-least deserved the best dress he could get her. But how? His salary was not due for another month and he was careful about pushing the management too far these days. He needed the job, if not for him then for the sake of Christine and her career.

Then, slowly, an idea appeared in his mind. Yes, thank goodness: he could help her!

“Don’t be sad Christine. Your Erik will help you.”

A confused pair of eyes met his: “How?” Christine asked sceptically.

“Don’t worry my dear, I promise you everything will be al-right.”

He said nothing more about it and Christine decided to drop the subject for the moment. Instead they took to work on her song selection for the big night.

That night Erik rushed through all the work he needed to be doing for the Opera that week. Thankfully, with the gala approaching, it was not that much.

The next day Erik rehearsed Christine through her official song selection for most of the day all the while dropping hints about dresses: What would her dream dress be, what colour did she like best on stage, did she like stones? He mentally made a note of all her answers.

After the rehearsal Erik explained all the things Christine needed to work on and wrote them down in her vocal logbook because he would not see her until the gala. The cast would be locked-down for extensive rehearsals the coming days.
Usually this would make Erik sad to the point of depression, but now he welcomed it: it meant he had all the time in the world to prepare her surprise.

“If you sing like you did today you will be the star of the night …” Erik said kindly as they parted at her mirror that night.

“You’re too kind, sweetie.” Christine smiled up at him. Deep down Christine always worried that Erik exaggerated how good she truly was to boost her confidence, but at that moment she truly wanted to believe him.

“And please, my dearest …” Erik urged her as he gently ghosted her shoulder with his gloved hand. “Do not worry about the dress. Erik is making arrangements and you will have it on the day. I give you my word.”

With that he touched her cheek and gave her a loving, almost longing, look before he disappeared into the darkness once more.

Despite having already suffered one sleepless night Erik knew he had to take to work immediately if he wanted Christine’s surprised to be ready before the big night.

During his long travels Erik had picked up a skill he rarely mentioned, but that had often come in handy: he was a rather good tailor. It was a skill he was forced to learn so he could make his own costumes during the years he had been on display. Wearing a costume instead of rags at-least gave him some sort of dignity …
As soon as the memories came flooding he pushed them away. No time, no time to wallow, he was doing something good for Christine.

There also was no time to design anything from scratch either, so Erik reluctantly settled on altering and building on one of the dresses in his costume collection. The one that came closest to what Christine had told him she dreamed off.

As he walked through the room where the old costumes he had collected hung he rejected them all: they all looked so much like stage clothes. Carlotta would guess if she saw Christine in something like that. No, it had to be perfect.

Then he remembered: his mothers wardrobe! Yes, there was a dress, a tulle fantasy he had often gazed at in adoration through a crack in the floor of the attic where he’d been locked away from the world. It looked like the dress a fairy would wear by itself … but if he updated it … if he could do what his mind showed him he could … It would look like the dress of a goddess!!

And with that he took to work.

For four days and nights Erik worked tirelessly on the dress: updating it to the fashion of the day and fitting it to Christine’s exact size. Then he added alterations and applications: flowers around the neckline, lace, a sheer mini cape and anything else that would make Christine stand out. Once this was done Erik begun the exhausting task of sewing on section after section of rhinestones. It was important that the dress would sparkle just so once the stage lights hit it.
Oh, he could almost picture her standing there, in the dress he made her!!

Aware of how little time he had for the dress to be finished and his promise to Christine weighing heavy on his mind, Erik worked without a single break.

After a while his hands ached but he persevered until the point he found himself falling asleep against the mannequin and his sight had deteriorated so much that even with his glasses on he couldn’t see the dress any-more. All he saw were stars and flashes. It was only then that he allowed himself some rest.
Only an hour, mind, as there was not much time left. To make certain he would not oversleep Erik took his alarm clock into his coffin with him and placed it next to his head. He was so very tired that he feared he might sleep through it otherwise. Despite his precaution his sleep was so deep he still barely heard it once it rang, and it seemed so very soon that it did. Had it really been an hour already?

Soon he realised that his all too brief nap might have been a bad idea: his aching body protested at having to get up again and his burning eyes refused to open, it almost seemed as if he’d stitched them together as well. Feeling cold and sick with exhaustion he came close to giving up, but Erik knew that was not an option: It’s for Christine ...” he muttered to himself like a mantra and somehow saying this gave him the strength to heave himself from his coffin to drag his weary limbs back to his workroom.

Shivering even when wrapped in his warmest housecoat and unable to keep his eyes open more than an inch, Erik finished his final stretch of sewing like a sleepwalker. It was only the fact that his blurry sight made him stab the needle into his fingers so often that kept him reasonably awake. Still he he could not help nodding off every once in a while, which caused him to slump head-first into the beads on more than one occasion.

The distraction of his body craving sleep almost ruined his work completely when he blacked out just when he began applying a new line of rhinestones. Basically asleep he had somehow continued to sew, only to find that he had sewn half the dress shut once he had managed to pry his aching eyes open again. This meant having to carefully undo several dozens of stitches and redo an entire section, an action at which his overworked hands protested in the most painful way.

At that moment it was more than he could bear in his beyond exhausted state. It was his breaking point and for a short while Erik cried in frustration. Then he, once again, reminded himself of why he was doing this: his Christine. He reminded himself of how happy she would be when he gave her that dress. That was the thought that gave him the strength to carry on no matter how many times the needle stabbed his throbbing fingers, no matter how many times he found himself face first in rhinestones that stuck to his weary face. Despite it all: he persevered and succeeded.

On the morning of the fifth day his present for Christine was finished just in time for the gala. Swiftly he placed his gift in a lovely box which he wrapped in the best paper he could find. Then he added a bow and a card with his good luck wishes. After that he hurriedly washed and dressed in his best suit: he couldn’t wait to present Christine with his hard earned surprise.

It was early afternoon when he arrived at the dressing room, knowing he was just in time for Christine to try on the dress before the final run through.
Filled with nerves and excitement Erik had momentarily forgotten just how tired he was: the thought of what Christine would think of his gift pumped his overworked body full of adrenaline.
Would she cry? Would she laugh and clap her lovely hands? Perhaps she would even bestow him a kiss on his cheek as a thank you!! That would be a dream. But he would not be greedy, even just seeing her on stage in the dress he made her alone would be worth it.

As he stood in front of the mirror, his precious parcel clutched under his arm, he gave his customary tap and his heart soared when hearing his Christine’s voice after so long:

“It’s safe Erik sweetie, you can come in!!”

With that Erik stepped into the room, hope and joy rushing through him. He eagerly turned towards Christine almost reaching out the parcel to her when … he froze.
There she was … his Christine resplendent in a gorgeous golden, diamond encrusted gown.
A gasp escaped him as his breath left him and Erik felt himself sinking into a bucket of ice.

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of his heartbreak, Christine smiled at him happily.

“Hi Erik, are you coming to wish me good luck for the gala?” he heard her as if from far away.

Unable to speak Erik could only nod as he stared at her brokenly as his head started pounding. Where had that dress come from? Why had Christine not believed him when he told her he would be the one to provide it? At the same time he was struck by how beautiful she looked in that dress.

“Do you like the gown? Raoul bought it for me.” Christine sounded slightly strained at his lack of response, Erik understood even as the world had started spinning in front of his eyes, so he tried to make an effort to not show her his upset.

“It’s beautiful.” Erik forced out. It was, he wasn’t lying, he could not begrudge her not waiting for him when given the chance to wear something as grand as this. This was made by skilled, expensive tailors, of course his sewing could not compare to this. Oh, poor unhappy Erik would not even dare to show her his clunky work now. Surely it would only make her laugh at him.

As he stood there silently, trying to compose himself Christine’s gentle eyes captured him, then moved to the parcel in his hands and they lit up happily.

“What’s in that parcel, sweetie? Is it for me?” The girl asked excitedly.

A jolt went through Erik at that question: Oh no! She could not see that dress: not now, not any-more!

“It’s … it’s nothing ...” he said wretchedly, his head bowed low. Feeling tears prickle behind his eyes he willed himself not to cry.

Nothing ...

All his hard work had been for nothing, he had sewn till his fingers bled and that boy had… just bought her a dress. As he had worked all those endless hours the only thing that had kept him going was the thought of how Christine would smile as he gave her the parcel, then her joy as she found the dress within. For a brief second he had dared to hope for a hug … perhaps a kiss. Just one kiss.
But as always, such wishes were not meant to be for him. Who had he been trying to kid? Happiness was not meant for Erik. Never for Erik. Erik felt as if his heart were breaking. But it was not Christine’s fault and he swore that she would never know.