“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.
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.
It was only when Christine returned from the final lesson with Erik before the gala and saw the clock in her dressing room that she realised how late it was: eleven thirty! A shiver ran down her back. She was exhausted! Did she really have to walk all the way home to her flat only to return to the Opera nine hours later? Why had she not thought to ask Erik what time it was before they left his house? She could have had dinner with him and by now would have been sleeping peacefully in the lovely room he’d created for her.
“Idiot!” she hissed to her own reflection in the mirror.
Knowing there was no use in waste any more time wallowing over this Christine put on her coat and purposefully strode out of the dressing room. Where she found … Raoul waiting for her.
It took a lot of her composure to not betray her annoyance at this turn of events: she had told the Viscount over and over again that she did not want him waiting for her at the end of her days at the Opera. When Christine had spent the days rehearsing with Erik, or rehearsing with the cast for a show all she wanted was to be left alone for a few while afterwards. She loved to walk the empty building and feel her mind calm down. What she did not need was to feel on edge and expected to speak, as she felt obliged to when Raoul visited. The Viscount was a chatterbox, well meaning but exhausting when you were still mentally going over all you learned.
For some reason Christine never felt this pressure with Erik, who would remain silent when he sensed her need for calm, or he would hum a peaceful melody when her mind was overworked. But that was probably because he knew what it was like to be anxious, she guessed.
Whatever the case, Raoul was the last person she wanted to see at that moment as she knew she could not avoid him or tell him “later” like she could with Meg or any of the chorus and ballet girls who had grown used to her need for calm.
“Christine!!” Raoul exclaimed, smiling the biggest smile his face could manage without cracking. The delighted Viscount’s enthusiasm made her feel guilty for her thoughts, but she was so tired: she and Erik had been rehearsing for almost a whole day. All she wanted was to go home and sleep so she had the energy to start her locked-down gala rehearsals with the cast the next day.
“Hi Raoul ...” Christine tried, hoping to sound as cheerful as she possibly could. “How have you been?”
But her voice had an edge and for once Raoul wasn’t as oblivious as he usually was. The Viscount’s brow furrowed with worry as he looked her over.
“But Christine …!! You look positively exhausted!!” He exclaimed dramatically. “Are you al right?”
Feeling grateful to Raoul for noticing she calmed down considerably. “Oh Raoul, yes, I truly am. My Maestro and I have been preparing my recital for the gala all day and all I want is to go home and sleep. I am sorry for your wasted journey, I guess you had expected to find me in a rather different mood.” She gave him a faltering smile.
A laughing Raoul shook his head: “Oh Lotte, you don’t have to apologise for that. I can see you are positively asleep on your feet. Guess what: I will bring you home in my carriage: I don’t want you to walk all that way home like this. Would you like that? You know what, climb my back and I will ride you there like that time you sprained your ankle in the woods.”
A giggle escaped Christine at the memory: “Oh Raoul, I couldn’t!” But the Raoul was insistent and soon the Opera witnessed the surprising sight of a Viscount carrying an Opera singer on his back.
In the carriage the pair exchanged some small talk but later Christine could not remember much of it. In fact, her next memory was waking up on the sofa still in her clothes, a note next to her on the table.
“I really have to stop making a habit of having men carry me to bed ...” Christine thought as she shook her head and blinked to wake herself before she reached for the note.
Dear Little Lotte, Sleeping Beauty,
Hope my note finds you well as you rise. Last night I came to tell you that I have a surprise for you. I will meet you this afternoon – I will ask Richard to give you a few hours off so I can show you!!
See you soon!
For a moment Christine pondered about what the surprise could be. Then she realised that she was dangerously close to being late for her first rehearsal day and she had to get ready.
When Raoul arrived that afternoon the first thing Christine did was beg him to take her to lunch first, as she had not eaten a thing since her lunch with Erik the previous day and she was starting to feel rather dizzy.
Hearing this Raoul begun to fuss over her and feeling rather sorry for herself Christine allowed herself to be pampered by him. Soon she was tucking into a delicious brunch at a luxurious restaurant and finally felt herself calm down a little after a blur of singing and rehearsing.
“Thank you so much for taking me here Raoul ...” Christine sighed with relief.
“Poor Lotte, you have been working far too hard, haven’t you …?” Raoul asked kindly, but somehow Christine could detect a hint of smugness in him, for being the one to “rescue the helpless damsel.” That was a thing that always mildly irritated her in Raoul: he always had this self congratulatory air about himself when he could “help” her with something which could feel a little condescending at times.
No matter how Christine had enjoyed being fussed over a bit, she somehow wished it had been by Erik, instead of Raoul. When Erik did something to help her he was never smug about it, more often than not he seemed awkward when she thanked him. Almost as if he felt undeserving of her gratitude, even if he had done something extraordinary. Poor Erik … she sighed, remembering how proud he had been those few days ago just because she had visited him to tell him some news.
Sweet Erik, Christine allowed herself to wonder how he was doing, worrying if he was eating. Erik had a habit of neglecting himself when she was not there and five days without food was a long time.
“Are you listening, Little Lotte?” she heard from far away. Christine cringed a little, she didn’t mind Raoul using his nickname for her, but he really overdid it sometimes. Much to her embarrassment he had even called her “Lotte” in front of Meg once and now half the ballet teased her with this.
“What is it Raoul …?” Christine tried to give him her best smile, as she felt guilty for not listening to his stories.
“I said that I’m so proud of you, making it all the way to leading gala performer. Who’d have believed it, eh?” Raoul grinned back.
Well … my father and Erik did … Christine thought, her smile feeling strained now. Had Raoul not believed in her?
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I always thought your voice was lovely, Lotte.” Raoul quickly tried to correct himself, when he saw her face fall. “But you were so shy and awkward back then I never thought you had it in you to make it in the big bad world! I always felt that I had to protect you from everything. Not that it would have mattered if you didn’t make it Lotte, really, as my wife you would still have a chance at entertaining our guests with your voice during recital nights. And you would sing for our children too, of course.”
For a second Christine nearly choked on her dessert.
Wife … recitals … children? When had she married Raoul? All she’d said yes to was lunch!
Could she even see herself as his wife? All Christine could see when she looked at him was their childhood together. The sweet little boy who’d protected her from trolls during nightly forest walks and whom she’d loved like a big brother. No, she was not ready to think beyond that and from what Raoul was saying it was clear that he too still saw a little girl when he looked at her.
“Erm … Raoul … I think you might be thinking ahead a bit too much?” Christine finally managed to say after a very painful silence. Why did he have to ruin such a lovely lunch with talk of marriage and her giving up her career? She certainly had no intentions too. Forgoing her hard earned place on stage to sing for his silly sisters at Chagny family recitals? What was he thinking? Besides: he seemed to be forgetting that he would have never found her again had she not been on stage.
“Oh, am I making you uncomfortable?” Raoul laughed a bit too over-exaggerated. “I am sorry about that … it’s just I can’t wait till we can leave all this behind to get married and we’ll live happily ever after in my castle in the country!!”
A sigh escaped Christine and she suddenly found her piece of cherry cake very interesting.
“That sounds … nice …” she muttered as she carefully cut of a piece with her spoon.
Her mind frantically searched for a way to derail this conversation.
“So … you … have a surprise for me, you said?” She forced out as eagerly as possible. To her relief Raoul’s face lit up and nodded, marriage temporally forgotten.
“Yes, yes Christine! Eat up quickly and I’ll take you to see!!”
About fifteen minutes later Christine and Raoul arrived at the most expensive boutique Paris had to offer. Seeing where Raoul was taking her a feeling of dread overtook her, after all his talk of marriage she was suddenly worried he had the dress made already.
“What are we doing here … Raoul?” She asked in a tiny, fearful voice.
“It’s your surprise, it’s waiting for you here!” Raoul exclaimed, grabbing her wrist and dragging her inside as an overeager dog on a leash would it’s owner when it’s been too long since it’s last walk.
They ran through half the shop, much to the surprise of the costumers and annoyance of the floor-walker and assistants.
Then, just as suddenly, Raoul stopped in front of a dress or rather … an extremely opulent, ornate, golden, diamond encrusted garment. It was beautiful in every way, but Christine knew at once that it was not her style and deeply hoped this wasn’t her …
“Surprise!!” Raoul almost sang brightly, gesturing cheerfully at the dress.
“Wait … what?” Christine gasped.
Once again sporting his most excited grin, Raoul cupped her chin in his hand, making her look at him.
“I know you don’t have a patron, Christine, so I know that you’d never be able to get a dress like all the other divas. So I bought this for you!”
Shaking her chin out of his hand, Christine gasped: he had bought this … dress … for her? It had to be worth a fortune. Was this really what Raoul wanted to see her in? But he knew her, did he not? He knew that she preferred to dance and move around as she sang: this dress looked so heavy and restrictive. Not that she did not appreciate it, of course; but it was more something an older member of the upper-class would wear or a diva like Carlotta and she knew she would feel stifled by the heaviness of the fabric. Christine always loved light material that moved around with her. This would not.
Also, there was Erik to consider: had he not promised that he would buy a dress for her? But could she really believe he would be able to? Raoul was offering her this chance to shine in the most expensive dress she had ever seen, should she truly refuse it on the off chance Erik would come through? Raoul had meant so well, and it had already been altered for her …
Smiling up at Raoul Christine tried to ignore that part of her mind that told her that if it was for her sake Erik would always come through with his promise, no matter what. That accepting the dress from Raoul, a dress she did not even like, after Erik as good as begged her to wait for him was not just rude but mean.
No, Christine pushed it all away as she hugged Raoul in gratitude and thanked him profusely.
“Oh, Raoul! It’s beautiful.” she lied and sealed her faith: immediately the dress was fitted on her by the tailors.
The moment the dress hugged her body Christine knew she had been right: the fabric was heavy and stifling. Looking in the mirror she could see it did look good on her, but it felt like a costume, not her own at all.
“You look wonderful Lotte!!” Raoul beamed as he entered. “Like a true Viscountess!! Once we’re married I will buy you hundreds of dresses, everyone of them as gorgeous as this one.”
And Christine smiled a faltering smile as her heart sank. For a second she felt as if she could not breath. Oh, Raoul didn’t know her at all!! Not any-more!! And by accepting that dress she had made it worse. This would be her life now: playing dress up in his castle? True, long ago that is what they had dreamed up during their pretend play. But now the only place where she wanted to dress up and play roles was on the stage.
To Raoul this might as well have been a wedding dress. What a fool she had been to say she loved it and an even bigger fool to accept it.
At that moment she would have given anything to rip off that dress and run to Erik, to hide away in his house where no-one could find her until this had blown over.
But Christine was not about to throw away a chance to perform at the gala and she knew Erik would never forgive her if she did.
The rest of the week was spent rehearsing, avoiding Raoul as much as she could without upsetting him, and longing to speak to Erik. Never would she ask Erik to stay away during rehearsals again: she needed his advice on so many things and longed for the comfort only he could give. It was clear to her now that his rehearsal notes were actually helpful instead of distracting. He also was a far better sparring partner in a venting session than Meg, as being a dancer, she saw some things rather differently.
Oh, she just needed her best friend.
Then, at last, came the day of the gala and instead of nerves Christine just felt relieve: Erik would be there and take her away afterwards she’d make certain of it.
Are you not being selfish, Miss Daaé? Her mind asked. Using a man who clearly loves you to avoid another man equally in love with you?
“I know, I know ...” she sighed as she looked at herself in the mirror. “I will make up my mind about everything. But I need some rest and quiet to think, so I actually know what I am doing.”
Just at that moment there was a tap at the mirror: Erik’s tap! Christine’s heart leaped with joy.
“It’s safe Erik sweetie, you can come in!!” she beamed.
Slowly the mirror swung open and Erik stepped in. The moment she saw him Christine forgot all about her terrible week and the things she wanted to ask. As the moment she saw him she knew there was something terribly wrong with him ...
Something was definitely wrong with Erik, Christine knew. It was obvious to her the moment he stepped into the room. Erik’s usually suave and elegant movements were now slightly clumsy and unsteady.
But there was also something else that confused her: Erik was holding a parcel and for a brief moment it looked as if he were to hand it to her. But then, as he looked at her it seemed as if something shocked him and he froze. Clearly thinking she had not noticed, Erik manoeuvred the parcel behind his back and stared at her strangely in silence for a while.
If there was one thing Christine had learned during their friendship then it was never to let Erik know that you worried about him, so she attempted some conversation but to no avail: Erik seemed confused and unresponsive. Then, to her horror, he slumped against the wall, the parcel slipping from his grasp to the floor.
The room spinning around him, Erik found it hard to pretend that all was well, while his heart was breaking. All his hard work had been in vain and Christine obviously preferred Raoul over him; why else would she not have waited for the dress he had promised her? But had he not known that all along and could he blame her for it? Who wouldn’t prefer a handsome rich man over … whatever he was?
As his mind rushed his body, now depleted of it’s adrenaline, begun to protest against all the demands he had put upon it. The shock and heartbreak had been too much for him. A debilitating exhaustion and weakness started threatening to overwhelm him. For a moment Erik felt close to fainting. Trying to hide this from Christine, he begun to lean against the wall, hoping to regain himself enough to have a brief, normal, conversation with his angel to wish her luck and give her some last minute advice. Maybe if he closed his eyes … they hurt so much and his eyelids were so heavy … Maybe the world would stop spinning if he just closed them … only … only for a few seconds.
For a while he stood in silence, or something like it. The reality was: he had fallen asleep, standing up.
With a start Erik’s eyes flew open, or they would have flown had they not weighed so much. What had happened?
“Erik, are you al-right?”
What had happened? Erik wondered again, feeling utterly confused. All he remembered was seeing Christine sit in the chair. Now she was standing before him.
“Yes …” He tried to smile. “Yes … I am al-right Christine.”
Doubting his words Christine blinked at Erik and what she saw worried her a lot: he looked terribly tired and out of sorts. His eyes were red rimmed and accentuated with dark circles, they also seemed rather clouded. She hoped he wasn’t coming down with something. Much to her distress it seemed as if he had lost a lot of weight as well. Already painfully thin on a good day, it now seemed as if his fitted suit was hanging from his fragile frame.
Clearly unaware of the fact that he had dropped his parcel, Christine reached to pick it up, wanting to spare him the effort.
To her confusion she noticed that there was a card attached to it with a small note addressed to her. So it was for her, she realised, and he had meant to give it to her today.
“Erik … what is ...” she begun, as she held out the parcel. But before she could finish her sentence, much to her surprise, a flash of fear shot through Erik’s eyes and he snatched the parcel from her hands.
“No … no … don’t … this is not for you!” Erik exclaimed in a strange, shaky, voice.
“But ...” Christine really didn’t understand what was going on any more. What was wrong with Erik? Why was he acting so strangely? “But the card ...” she tried weakly.
“No … no … this is not for Christine ...” Erik sighed again, brokenly. “Christine does not need it … Christine … would not like it … Erik … was a fool.”
Then, much to Christine’s horror, Erik burst into tears.
“I’m so sorry …” he sobbed.
“Sorry, why?” Christine tried to sooth him, as she stepped closer to him and begun to rub his back, feeling him shiver beneath her touch. That poor man, he is obviously not well, she thought sadly.
“Erik is a failure … he has nothing to offer his Christine ...” Erik choked out, and with that the crying became uncontrollable.
With a frown Christine looked at the parcel Erik was now clutching to his chest as he wept, its very existence bothering her. Why had he taken it up to her if not as a present? Erik always gave her something before a show. If he was low on funds he would steal a rose from the in house flower store or give her a trinket from one of his journeys.
Had something happened that made him think he could not give it to her? Was he worried she’d hate it? Impossible, Erik had impeccable taste she had never hated anything he’d given her.
Then she froze as the realisation hit her: the box!! It had the shape of the parcels most boutiques wrapped their dresses in!!
A feeling of guilt overtook Christine: As always Erik had kept his promise. He had bought her a dress and knowing Erik it could not have been easy for him to do so. Christine’s heart broke at the thought of her loyal friend trying so hard to keep his promise to her … only to find … Oh, how terrible!! The worst thing was that, as always, Erik was not upset with her for breaking a promise to him, but taking it out on himself.
Unsure about how to deal with the situation, Christine decided that she would ignore it for now. The first thing that had to be done was comfort Erik, so she wrapped her arms around him and begun her attempts at soothing him.
“No, no, don’t cry sweetie. It doesn’t matter … You are not obliged to give me something before a performance. Just having you here with me is enough.”
Soft sniffles in her neck accompanied, she realised, by the sounds of a very empty stomach. How thin and fragile her poor Erik felt in her arms. When had he last eaten? Why was he so unwell? Whatever was wrong, she would go home with him after the gala and look after him. It was the least she could do.
“We’ll be alone for some time, Erik, wouldn’t you sit down and have tea with me?” She coaxed, hoping to get him to eat something with it.
Tea … Erik mused, once things started to make a little sense to him again. Yes … he’d like tea, he was very thirsty. “If you wish?” he muttered, still sobbing a little in Christine’s arms, almost too exhausted to find the strength to stand by himself any-more.
“I wish it very much, I haven’t seen you in so long.” Saying that Christine already led him too the sofa when she noticed Erik seemed to dazed to put up a fight.
With a weary sigh Erik sank onto the couch and immediately his eyes wished to fall shut. The only thing that had still kept him from falling into a deep sleep was the fact that he had not allowed himself to sit down for longer than a few seconds after finishing the dress. So he prayed that he would not fall asleep halfway through one of Christine’s stories, especially as her sweet voice always calmed him so much.
Christine noticed Erik’s struggle to remain alert and it worried her. Quietly she begun to ponder if Erik had been overworking himself again in her absence, as he so often did if inspiration struck. If he fell asleep she would allow him to remain on the couch, she immediately decided. It would be dangerous to let him walk all these stairs and row across a lake like this. Yes, she would ease him into a comfortable position and lock the door so no-one could disturb him. Keeping Erik blissfully unaware of all the questions she had Christine forced out a smile as she pored him the tea she had promised.
“I had the staff make the voice tea you suggested to me.” Christine chimed as cheerfully as she could manage. “I hope you will enjoy it.”
For a brief second she saw Erik’s tired eyes light up, clearly happy she had been remembering his tutelage or more importantly: him. As if she could ever forget her strange friend and tutor.
“Very good, angel,” Erik smiled gently, “it will sooth your voice and clear your sinuses pre performance.”
As Erik spoke he took his cup from Christine and she frowned: his usually fluid, captivating hands were stiff and shaky and she noticed bandages around some of his fingers. This was a new mystery to her, adding to her worry. But first things first: it was important to feed him before all else, she was certain. He would feel so much better with food in his stomach. Swiftly she stood up to fetch something from her table: a basket filled with delicious gifts from a local bakery that all performers had been presented with that morning.
“I have been presented with a selection of cakes and pastries today, Erik. I thought you might like a few with your tea.”
It was only then that Erik realised that his stomach had been using his ribs as a xylophone in a hunger symphony for quite some time. When had he last eaten? He could not recall. Oh … he’d love a pastry he was so ...
“Hungry ...” he groaned wretchedly, as he saw the food in front of him. His sudden, overwhelming, hunger had accidentally made him finish his thought out loud, much to his embarrassment. “I … I mean … no thanks ...” he tried to recover.
“Hungry?!” Christine exclaimed in horror. “Erik, you will have some right now. As many as you want. My dear, I have left you on your own for five days and you look as if you’ve barely survived a famine!”
With that Christine placed the basket of fresh, delicious, crisp, pastries in front of him.
“No … this is your big night, you should not be looking after me.” Erik unconvincingly protested as he was finding himself almost salivating at the sight of the basket in front of him.
With a sigh Christine rolled her eyes as she sat back down in her chair.
“Erik, all I did was hand you some pastries. What would truly ruin my night was you fainting from hunger. Please unmask and eat, or else I’d be very upset ...”
As expected a famished Erik did as Christine asked, as always, and she only just managed to hide her gasp when she saw what lay underneath his mask: her poor friend looked a wreck. Pale, haggard, utterly exhausted. What had he been doing to himself? She was grateful to see him tuck into her pastries and swiftly pored him more tea, which he drank thankfully.
Watching Erik eat Christine’s thoughts returned to the package and what kind of dress Erik might have bought her. How would his vision of her differ from Raoul’s? How did he see her? This was a way of finding out how well she knew Erik and how well Erik knew ... her.
The thought suddenly became rather insistent and Christine knew she had to find a way to see that dress, even if Erik clearly did not want her to see it any-more. But one way or another, she had to know. And Christine started to ponder on a plan.
Having finished off most of the pastries and tea, at Christine’s insistence, Erik felt slightly better. But he was also very, very sleepy. Part of him insisted that it would be better for everyone if he got up and went home that very instant, lest he’d fall asleep in front of Christine. But for some reason his body refused to listen to that thought, it was broken. He simply couldn’t find it in him to get up any-more even if he truly wanted to. So instead he stayed and listen to Christine talk about her week of rehearsal through a blurry haze that made everything seem so odd and unreal. It was only the feverish chill in his body that reminded him he was not dreaming.
“Erik … can you hear me, sweetie?” Christine asked with a hint of worry in her voice after Erik had stared straight ahead into space, not blinking and not responding for much too long.
At that a startled shock went through him.
“Yes … yes of course … Chocolate cake, you said?” Erik muttered dazedly.
“Chocolate cake? Erik, I never said a word about …” With a sigh Christine shook her head, Erik was clearly miles away. “I asked if you were cold, Erik. You’re shivering.”
As always Erik said no, not wanting Christine to do anything for him. But as his teeth were actually chattering Christine simply ignored him and wrapped her matinee blanket around his bony shoulders. This was a warm, cosy, blanket she used when she napped in-between shows on matinee days.
“Better?” Christine asked with a smile. Erik nodded slowly, his heavy lidded eyes staring up at her with a sluggish gratitude. Seeing just how sleepy her friend was, a thought hit her: if Erik slept, (and once he did it was obvious that sleep would be deep,) she might be able to take a peek at what was inside that box!!
“Now sweetie, you’re tired. Yes you are, don’t deny it. So if you wish you can nap a while on the couch. I go to final rehearsals in a bit anyway so I won’t mind if you go to sleep right now. Would you like that?”
Slowly turning his weary head towards Christine, Erik blinked in confusion. “Should … Erik not be at final rehearsals … to advice Christine?”
“No, Erik is in no state to do that. What if you fell asleep in your hiding place in Box Five and started to snore? Madame Giry would have a fit!!”
Erik sniggered softly at the thought as he wrapped the blanket tighter around his shivering frame, biting back the urge to nestle and close his eyes. The offer to just lay down and sleep was so very tempting, but to sleep in Christine’s presence?! Oh, he couldn’t! But … perhaps ...
“If … Christine allows, Erik would like to sleep a while on her sofa once she is gone?” Erik forced out: it was so impolite to request something like that from her.
No, Erik should go to sleep right now! Christine thought in annoyance. But never mind, the state he was in she did not think he would last much longer.
“You don’t have to ask, my dear. The couch is yours.” she said graciously. “You can sleep whenever you like ...”
When she saw Erik’s eyelids close for a second at the mere mention of “sleep”, Christine knew that all she had to do was sit, wait and talk.
For a few more minutes Erik bravely struggled against it, but soon it was impossible to keep sleep at bay. First his tired, heavy, head wished to sink against the headrest of the couch, he could not stop it as he lacked the strength to keep it upright. Then his eyes finally lost the battle against his eyelids: slowly they fell shut and this time they stayed like that. Still he fought to at least remain conscious enough to listen to Christine, even if his responses became more and more delayed. But after a point she might as well have been talking in Swedish as words begun to lose their meaning to him. After a while he begun to miss out on parts of her sentences as they were interrupted by strange images, flashes of dreams. How odd to dream when still half awake, he thought. But he wasn’t truly sleeping, he told himself. He was not sleeping in her presence … He would not … He was just resting …
Everything around him became hazy and slowly he seized to care for his surroundings. After sometime he barely remembered who he was. Then his body became limp, it was as if he were made from clouds. As if from far away he heard the sound of something falling, a kind voice mentioned someone called “Erik” she sounded worried.
Somehow he knew the girl with that voice was important, he had done something for her … but … but she should not know about it … as someone else had also … But his brain could not process what it all meant. He should go home … but where did he live …? Maybe he was home. It did not matter, he could not move, he could not even open his eyes. All he could do now was …
“Erik … sweetie.” he heard a gentle voice from far away, “you can go to sleep now if you want to … I won’t be upset.”
All he could do now was …
As she spoke to him, Christine soon noticed that Erik barely responded to anything she said. And even those responses gradually delayed considerably, as if Erik had difficulty processing what she was talking about. Sometime later his replies actually stopped making sense.
“Then Carlotta told the management that she would either have Carlos as her duet partner or no-one at all!”
“Yes … birds do that sometimes …”
Then Christine saw how Erik’s head begun lolling forward and backwards, until he relented and started leaning against the headrest.
Sometime after, his eyes fell shut, but still he kept trying to talk to her, trying not to sleep, even though every part of his body seemed to insist that it desperately wanted to. Then the teacup he’d been holding slipped from Erik’s grasp onto the floor. It worried her that Erik did not even seemed to notice it. How long had it been since that poor man had slept?
This had to end right now, Christine decided. Softly she got up and set herself next to Erik, placing her hand on his freezing cold one. Colder even than usual, she sensed with a shiver.
“Erik …?” she said softly, careful not to startle him out of his cocoon of sleepiness. A soft whimper was her answer. “Erik … sweetie you can go to sleep now if you want to … I won’t be upset.”
A sound that seemed like a sigh of relief escaped her strange friend and promptly he fell asleep. It was almost as if he’d clung on to consciousness just for her sake, Christine thought sadly. And as this was Erik, she knew that this was probably true. Carefully Christine lay Erik down on the sofa, propping a pillow under his head and covering him with the blanket. She felt a weird sense of relieve seeing him sleep: It was as if his desperate struggle to stay awake had weighed heavily on her.
Now, at last, to open the parcel, Christine thought eagerly. Bursting with curiosity she took the box with her to her chair.
Carefully she unwrapped the bow and the paper and then, finally, Christine could open the box. The moment it opened a gasp escaped her, as within it lay … the most adorable dress she had ever seen! It was pale blue and white, scattered with thousands of rhinestones that sparkled in the light.
“Oh Erik …” Christine whispered softly, as her shaking fingers lifted the garment from the confines of the box. She was holding a soft fantasy dream of tulle, lace and silk that airily floated and swayed as she stood up to inspect it fully. The dress was incredible and unlike anything she had ever seen before, but at the same time everything she would dream of if she ever had the chance to design anything herself: An airy dream of light tulle that would move around her as she sang. Oh yes! She could just imagine the stones glittering around her as she swayed during “Je Veux Vivre.”
That wonderful man, Christine smiled to herself lovingly. Erik had clearly listened to everything she had said when he asked her what kind of dresses she might like. But how, how could he have found something so close to her wishes in such a short time? Her brain suddenly wondered loudly. No store in Paris made dresses like this, she was certain. Probably no store in the whole of France. Actually … somehow it looked as if this dress did not come from a store at all …
Then suddenly it hit Christine with an intense clarity: Erik’s extreme tiredness, his stiff hands and damaged fingertips: he had made this for her!!
He! Had made this! For her!!
A sob escaped Christine as she pictured her poor Erik, working so hard to give her a beautiful dress for the gala. Clearly he had been working on it for days and nights on end, not even stopping to eat anything!! How long had it taken him to sew on all these rhinestones? She could not even imagine how he had managed to finish it at all with those poor stiff hands.
All this work, just for her. How eager he’d looked when he arrived today, hoping to surprise her. But then ... once he had seen her in the dress Raoul had bought he obviously thought his work was not good enough for her.
But it was!! The dress was made with so much care and everything about it was so much more to her taste than the heavy, ornate piece Raoul had gifted her with. Oh why had she ever said yes to that stupid dress? Christine berated herself. She didn’t even like it!!
Christine was now truly crying at the magnificence of Erik’s gift. He had to love her so much, her poor, poor, Erik. How it must have hurt him to think all his work had been in vain, but still he kept silent. As always putting himself aside for her sake, even after working himself beyond exhaustion.
In an ideal world, the one Erik had obviously dreamed about so often, Christine would have been waiting for him in her dressing gown and he would have come in and handed her his precious work of art. What a perfect moment it would have been to unwrap his gift and then jump from her chair to rip off his mask and … kiss him all over his face, take him into her arms and … and ...
Christine swiftly hushed those interesting but overwhelming thoughts that included feelings she had tried to push aside for so very long.
There was no time now, non at all. There was a rehearsal to go to and her blocking had to be just so, as Erik’s dress had to sparkle for everyone to see. Tonight it would be as if part of him was with her as she sang, even more so than usual.
To her surprise she did not feel the least bit of guilt for rejecting Raoul’s well meant present. A shop bought gift was nothing compared to the pain and effort Erik had put into making this for her.
Oh, there was no doubt, she would somehow make it up with Raoul, but it was Erik’s dress that she would be wearing tonight!
It didn’t take long for Christine to slip behind her dressing-screen and change into her new dress.
The sensation she felt when wearing it made her smile: Erik’s dress felt soft and light against her skin. Once it was on she rushed to her … Erik’s … their mirror to see how it would look on her and the image that met her was like a dream come true.
She was Titania!
The fairy queen she had so often imagined had stepped from the painting and smiled back at her in the mirror. Oh, she could hardly wait until tonight: when she would wear her hair up and put on make up and then she would add the tiara, necklace and earrings that Erik had once given her.
As Christine excitedly rushed off to he costume rehearsal there was one slight detail she had forgotten: Erik himself who was still blissfully asleep, quite unaware of all that had happened. And a young Viscount, waiting with flowers in the auditorium; Eager to see the rehearsals start and even more eager to see how Christine would look on-stage in the dress he had picked out for her.
The final rehearsal went well … mostly. Christine’s new dress was met with gasps and admiration from the ballet and chorus girls and lots of praising glances from the male crew and singers. The only person not happy with all this was, surprise, surprise: La Carlotta.
“Rhinestones mio caro? How cheap!!” the grande dame scoffed as she rose from her seat in an exaggerated pose to give Christine a full view of her own dress. “Why I, my dear, am dripping in diamonds.”
Her thoughts still with Erik and all his hard work to give her this gown Christine had almost snapped when Carlotta dared to scoff the rhinestones he had so lovingly sewed on. That was until she actually saw the dress the diva was wearing and burst into an uncontrollable fit of giggles: Carlotta was wearing the exact same dress that Raoul had given her!!
“What?” Meg asked, her sparkling eyes pleading with her to share the source of her merriment.
To her annoyace Christine did not reply. “Come on Christine! What is so funny?!” The younger girl begged. But Christine shook her head: not in front of the entire Opera!
“I’ll tell you later, promise.” Christine hiccuped and Meg accepted grudgingly.
Thank goodness for Erik, Christine thought as she saw Carlota strut about like a peacock with an attitude problem. Without him Carlotta would have gone to war on her, had she dared to show up wearing the very same dress as her. What would have happened then? Whatever Carlotta would have done, it would not have been pretty. Christine shivered at the thought.
Then all thoughts of Carlotta’s imaginary revenge were forgotten as her run through began. Remembering Erik’s advice Christine hummed her way through most of her repertoire or simply sang very softly, to save her voice for the actual performance. This once again earned her Carlotta’s scorn: the soprano rolled her eyes at her all the way through her rehearsal.
But Christine was pleased: the order of her songs was just right and she had figured out where the lights hit the dress best so the sparkles became part of her dances.
“Who cares about diamonds when rhinestones can dance!!” Meg smiled admiringly once Christine had finished.
A perturbed Carlotta then followed and ran though her repertoire at such volume Christine and Meg worried if the woman would even have a voice left that night.
For a while Christine and Meg watched rehearsals from the side of the stage sharing observations and jokes. But after some time Madame Giry came to collect Meg for a final rehearsal of her solo dance and Christine’s mind returned to Erik and the dress. Once in a while thoughts of Raoul floated by as well: what could she tell him?
“Christine?” a voice suddenly came from behind her. It was a voice she knew well. Not Erik but …
With a start Christine turned round. Yes, it was true: behind her stood her childhood friend clutching a bouquet of roses and looking a little confused.
“Christine … I …” Raoul began, blinking nervously, “What … what are you wearing …?”
A pang went through Christine’s heart seeing Raoul look so lost and nervous. Of course she had not meant to hurt him with her actions. Then again: he had not told her he would be watching rehearsals, had she known she would have talked to him beforehand.
“Oh Raoul … I am sorry … I was planning to explain … but ...”
To her surprise Raoul lifted his hand to stop her, as he smiled sadly and handed her the roses.
“Oh Christine, don’t apologise, just tell me that this is the dress you will be wearing tonight …”
“What?” Christine was utterly confused: of all the things she had expected Raoul to say … this was not one of them. Chuckling at her clear confusion Raoul cupped her cheek with his hand.
“Dear Little Lotte … You always hated the dress I picked out, didn’t you?” he said gently.
Christine bowed her head sadly, away from his hand. It was clear that they would be having a conversation that she was not ready for.
“No … no, I didn’t hate it. “ Christine started softly, hoping to deflect for a while. But Raoul as not so easily dissuaded.
“Please Christine, you don’t have to pretend for my sake. The dress I bought, it is all wrong for you. I saw it in your eyes just for a second when I showed it to you in that store, but when you said yes I thought I was mistaken. Now I know I was right.”
Her stomach churning a little Christine placed the roses on a table as she tried to gather her mind together. By now the dress was so clearly a metaphor for everything that remained unsaid between them, that it was beginning to feel absurd. Still Christine kept clinging to the vague hope that it was just her who felt this.
“No Raoul, I never hated it.” Christine said with difficulty as she turned back to Raoul. “I thought it was beautiful but … not for me. I felt stifled in it, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
For a second a shadow crossed Raoul’s face, making him look like a man who had been confirmed right in something he had known all along.
“I’m sorry that I made you feel like you couldn’t tell me, Lotte.” he then said, sadly.
With a sigh Christine pulled him into a hug.
“I’m sorry too. It wasn’t just your fault, silly. I should have just said no, but I was a coward.”
They both sighed in unison and Christine smiled up at him.
“So, when did you realise?” Christine grinned cheekily, happy now the air was cleared. Raoul smiled back. For a brief moment he almost looked like the friend she used to know as a child.
“Oh, the moment I saw Carlotta wearing the same dress I knew that I’d been an idiot …” He looked her over happily. “This … this is you …” he said, his voice filled with awe.
“It is the dress I am wearing tonight Raoul ...” Christine said quietly sensing the last elephant in the room might be arriving imminently as she saw Raoul sigh and swallow at a lump in his throat.
“Did he give it to you?” he asked hoarsely, a hint of sadness tinting his voice.
Christine closed her eyes. “Who do you mean?” she asked stupidly: knowing very well whom Raoul was alluding too.
“Your Maestro.” Raoul said almost bitterly, but somehow Christine could hear a vague praise that surprised her. “If it was him I have to hand it to him … he knows you better than I do ...”
Sensing no anger in the Viscount Christine nodded in agreement.
“He did, I can’t deny it. And he didn’t just give it to me. Raoul … he made this for me ...”
A gasp of surprise escaped Raoul as he stepped closer to Christine, taking in the dress even more intently.
“He did …?” Raoul asked in confusion, running his fingers over the material.”But when? Something like that … Those rhinestones! It must have taken ages …!”
Christine nodded eagerly in agreement.
“He worked day and night for over a week … He did not even take the time to eat. Oh Raoul, he was ill with exhaustion when he brought it to me today.”
For a second Raoul simply stared at her, something in his eyes that Christine could not understand. Then he turned away from her as a choked sob escaped him.
“He loves you …” Raoul’s voice sounded almost muffled from unshed tears. “I always knew he did but to do something like this … he must love you more than life itself ...” he bowed his head.
“Raoul ...” Christine said, unsure of what to do.
“And you love him Christine …” Raoul suddenly said firmly as he turned back to face her. “You might not admit it to me … or even to yourself … But there is something about you when you speak of him; a sparkle in your eyes, something wishful.” He looked her in the eyes intensely as he repeated it firmly: “You love him.”
A shiver ran down Christine’s spine as Raoul’s words resonated inside her. Yes, yes it was true, she could keep denying it to herself, but Raoul was right and if he was big enough to accept it, she certainly should!
“I … I think I do.” She whispered, her head low. “I’m sorry Raoul.”
From somewhere above her Christine heard the sound of a sigh, then strong arms wrapped around her and Raoul kissed the top of her head.
“Dearest Lotte …” Raoul whispered sadly. “Don’t apologise. I guess I always knew. Silly me. I thought I could win you with expensive gifts and talk of marriage. But this man … I get it now, someone who understands you so well, who cares this much … Don’t worry. I am not angry or jealous, Christine.”
A breathy sigh escaped Christine as she lay her head against his chest.
“Thank you Raoul.” She sniffled almost inaudibly.
“I guess I was always more of a brother than a potential lover for you.” The Viscount tried to jest.
“You will always, always be my best friend, I promise.” Christine insisted, and she meant it.
Then they were silent for a while, until Raoul spoke again.
“Speaking as your protective best friend … Could I meet him one day, your Maestro? Perhaps at the concert tonight?”
At that a startled Christine jumped out of Raoul’s arms to look up at him, realising another important detail that she had quite forgotten.
“The concert … Oh … should … Of course! Erik should be at the concert … to see me in this dress … The dress he made!! Oh … he has not even seen me wear it because he was so unwell!! Oh goodness!! Raoul! I had quite forgotten!”
As she babbled Raoul’s brow furrowed in confusion, then he started to laugh.
“Am I correct in thinking that there is yet another problem in the life of Christine Daaé?” He almost chuckled. “And is it anything I could help with?”
A laugh, almost a like a snort escaped Christine at the absurdity of it all.
“Lover, brother or best friend, Christine Daaé will always gladly accept your help. But of course my dear, as this involves the man you consider your rival I would understand if you’d rather not be involved.”
At that Raoul shook his head. “I have heard you mention he is not well and he has not seen you in your dress yet. I don’t see how I could help with this …? But if you think I somehow can …?”
Christine licked her dry lips before starting to speak. “Now … this might seem a little complicated ...”
The course of action decided and the rehearsal done, Christine returned to her dressing room, where she found her poor Erik still fast asleep. She had expected nothing else, that man probably needed to sleep for days after what he put himself through.
She allowed herself to stare at him for a while, surprised at how fragile and vulnerable he seemed laying there like that. To her concern he appeared to be fussing a little, as if feverish, which was probably the case.
“Silly man, making yourself ill for my sake.” Christine tutted melancholically.
“You are coming home with me tonight.” She babbled softly as she carefully tucked the blanket around him again. “There is no way I am letting you sleep in your cold, hard coffin if you’re sick. And I know for a fact that you haven’t had a chance to do any shopping if you’ve been slaving over my dress all this time. Oh Erik, your cupboards were so barren the last time I was there and what little you had must have gone off by now. No my dear, I am taking you home.”
Christine gently stroked Erik’s hair, before reluctantly tearing herself away from him to prepare her hair and make up and to do her warm up.
Two hours later Christine was ready to go on-stage with an hour to spare. An hour to wake up Erik and begin her plan.
A feeling of guilt crept over Christine for waking Erik, he looked so peaceful and he had not even come close to sleeping enough. But he had to see her on-stage in the dress he’d made for her, she knew it would upset him to miss out on it after all his work He also had to be awake to come home with her, so she had no choice. If she were able to wake him at all, that was.
Carefully Christine sat herself on the edge of the sofa, silently worried that there clearly was so little of the poor man that there was room enough for her to sit easily.
“Erik ...” She said softly, as she shook his shoulder and ran her fingers through his hair. There was not even a response, the Phantom was out cold.
She shook him more urgently now, eliciting a soft weary sob from him that made Christine feel even more guilty about waking him.
“No …” Erik gasped sadly as the shaking of him continued.
“Erik, sweetie,” Christine tried gently. “I know you’re tired, but you can go back to sleep soon. I just want you to come and see me on stage ...”
“I … I’m coming ...” Erik mumbled as he nestled his head deeper into the pillow and curled up comfortably, “I’m come … coming …” he trailed off, promptly falling back to sleep.
This was going to be harder than she thought, Christine realised. Erik was so out of it he clearly had no clue where he was and who was trying to wake him.
“Erik, it’s me, Christine …” Christine tried as a last effort. If he didn’t wake up she and Raoul would simply have to carry him to the Viscounts carriage after the performance. Conscious or not, Erik was coming with her after the gala and that was final.
But to her surprise the mere mention of her name had some sort of effect on him, as a shiver passed through the sleeping man.
“Stine ..” Erik slurred, lost in that moment between dream and reality. “Erik loves … Stine ...”
Hearing these words made Christine’s heart jump into her throat: so it was true! Dear Erik; he did still love her but had kept silent all this time.
“Erik …?” said softly, as she noticed that the man started to curl into himself as if ashamed or … afraid.
“But … Stine mus mustn’t know ...” Erik’s sleep-talk continued, now pleadingly.
“Why can’t Christine know, Erik?” Christine urged, worried why it seemed to upset him so much where she to be reminded of his love for her.
“Know?” Erik asked, dazedly, still not anywhere near awake.
“Why can’t Christine know that Erik loves her?” Christine urged, worried Erik would shut down once he woke up fully. Much to Christine’s consternation Erik started moaning and fussing at her question, clearly terrified.
“If … if Stine knows she will be angry with Erik ...” Erik slurred, sounding almost as if in a trance.
That shook Christine to the core. The reply sounded almost rehearsed, as if Erik had made peace with this fact long ago. Somehow Erik had convinced himself that she’d be angry at him for ... loving her? It hurt Christine to know this. What had that man been thinking of her all this time?
“W … why does Erik think Christine will be angry with him?” Christine asked him, feeling close to tears.
“No … no one wants to be loved by … by a corpse …” Erik croaked sadly, then he started sobbing in his sleep. “All … all Erik wanted was just one kiss …”
Hearing him say these dreadful words about himself and seeing him so distressed broke Christine’s heart and soon she could not stand it any longer. Slowly she stood and then lowered herself towards his face until her lips pressed against Erik’s cheek.
“I love you Erik,” Christine exclaimed, “and I love the dress you made me!!”
At this a jolt went through Erik and with a gasp he sat up. Seconds later his eyes opened to stare at her in complete disbelieve.
Someone was shaking him! This was something Erik sensed vaguely from far away, lost in a dark cocoon of sleep. He was ill, he was exhausted! Why could they not leave him alone?
Then there was a sweet voice asking him about Christine … his dear, dear Christine!! Still dreaming he saw her in his minds eye, so beautiful, so wonderful … But wearing the dress Raoul had bought her. Not his … never his!! The pain at this sight overwhelmed him: Not even in his dreams could they share what he had longed for, for so long. No-one could ever love a corpse, Erik thought, unaware that he was speaking these words out loud. As the pain overtook him hot tears began welling up. A kiss!! Was it so wrong to long for a kiss?
Maybe it wasn’t wrong. As suddenly he felt something … something so real: soft skin … lips? Pressed against his face!! His face!! And then a voice, a gentle voice like the fairy bells of dawn!!
It said something he could not understand:
“I love you Erik!! And I love the dress you made me!!”
It was Christine!!
Christine had … kissed him?!!
Barely awake Erik sat up, the room spinning as he did. His heavy lidded eyes opened with difficulty to a sight he could not comprehend. There … within the spinning blur was Christine looking like a fairy queen wearing … his dress.
“Must be dreaming ...” Erik muttered, the shock and his barely awake state making him swoon.
“Erik,” Christine sang sung sweetly as she shook Erik’s shoulder. This made Erik understand he might be awake: her gentle hand felt too realistic to be part of a dream.
“Oh my goodness … It’s real!!” Erik gasped breathlessly. Then the memories came flooding back: everything that had happened before he’d crashed on the sofa. Clearly she had unwrapped the parcel. He should have expected nothing less: Christine was far too curious for her own good … Yes, she had looked inside the parcel, that much he could grasp. But why was she wearing his dress when there was Raoul’s expensive superior one? Had she realised that he had made it and was she taking pity on him? Oh, that dear girl. She didn’t have to do that!!
“Oh … oh Christine …” Erik panicked as he tried, but failed to scramble to his feet. “You were not supposed ...”
To his surprise Christine soothingly pressed her hand on his shoulder again and shushed him gently.
“You were not supposed to ...” Erik tried again, but was once again stopped. This time by Christine’s finger that was suddenly pressed against his lips.
“To see this …?” Christine finished the sentence, shaking her head in disbelieve. “But Erik, sweetie!! It’s beautiful!”
A strange noise escaped Erik’s throat at those words. What was she saying? She thought his dress as beautiful?!! It was too much to take in: Christine preferred his imperfect dress so much she’d actually kissed him for it? She had also said something before that kiss … something important … but he’d probably misheard that as he’d been asleep so deeply, dreaming of her …
“It … it is?” Erik asked tentatively in a tiny voice, afraid to do anything that would disrupt this confusing but wonderful moment.
An excited Christine clapped her hands and twirled around, light flashes cascading around the room from where the rhinestones caught the light.
“Yes!! Oh Erik, I love it!! The colour, the stones, how light the material is. Oh, it’s absolutely perfect!!”
Seeing this vision in front of him Erik decided that he just might be dreaming after all. Either that or he was in heaven; Christine was an angel, after all.
“But … The Viscount … The dress he gave you ...” Erik stammered, still unable to understand Christine’s choice.
Looking at Erik, Christine saw a pool of confusion, disbelieve and … hope … all swirling in his eyes. Lovingly she took his hands in hers and gently smiled down at the pale, wretched, face staring up at her. What she wouldn’t give to make Erik see what she saw, to wash away all his doubts and fears. How could he not see how beautiful this dress was? Or if he could: why would he doubt that she could love it too?
“Erik … that dress … Raoul’s dress … might be expensive and true, it is beautiful in a way …. But the fact is that … it’s not me. This dress Erik, it’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen!! It is as if it has been made for me. And it is … by you!!” Then she couldn’t control herself any-more and peppered those poor overworked hands with kisses.
As she kissed his hands it seemed for a moment as if Erik were frozen in time. Just staring at her, in shock at this sudden gentle contact. Then, after a few seconds, he began to shake uncontrollably and then … he broke, collapsing into an overpowering flood of tears.
“Erik ...” Christine said dejectedly, as he pulled back his shaking hands to bury his weeping face in them. Why did everything make him cry today?
With a sigh Christine realised Erik was in no fit state to do … anything. Slowly she sat herself next to him and pulled Erik towards her. Utterly flaccid with sleep and emotion he slumped onto her shoulder. Realising this Erik sobbed something that sounded like “I’m sorry” and tried to raise his head to move away from her. But Christine was faster and wrapped her arms around him tightly.
“You are staying right here.” Christine insisted. “Oh sweetie, don’t cry like that ...” she then sighed.
“I’m sorry ...” Erik sobbed again. “It’s just … I never thought … seeing you in … dress … kissed me … my hands … Never dreamed ...”
Hearing Erik stammer like that made Christine love the poor man even more.
“Poor Erik, I guess it was just too much to take in for you when you were already unwell, wasn’t it? Don’t worry, I understand.”
For a while Erik revelled in Christine’s touch as he let her comfort him. Then his mind begun to ruin things again as it began asking question he ideally would not have wanted to think about.
Clearly Christine was fully dressed and prepared to go on stage. Had the gala begun? If so, why was she wasting her time comforting him?
“Should Christine sit with Erik?” Erik suddenly panted worriedly. “Should Christine not be ready for stage? Is Erik ruining her performance?” There was a strange sense of panic rising in his fatigued body that felt rather uncomfortable.
“Erik, for goodness-sake calm down.” Christine exclaimed in exasperation as she felt he was staring to shake again. “No, there is plenty of time before the gala.”
Good, that was good. Erik thought with relief, his breathing slowing down again. He would hate to be the cause of her missing the gala where she would be wearing … Oh no!! This very dress he’d been weeping on!! Another bubble of panic rose and he lifted his head with difficulty to look at Christine in shame.
“I … hope I have not ruined the dress with my tears!” he muttered weakly.
Seeing Erik’s sluggish sleepy face gaze at her so apologetically Christine couldn’t help but smile at him gently.
“No, it’s al-right Erik, look.” Christine said lovingly as she brushed his face with her fingertips, eliciting a happy sigh from her worried friend.
Carefully Erik looked down at the place where his head had been a moment ago. It was true, there was no mark on the dress at all. Thank goodness!!
“That’s good ...” Erik sighed with relief, now missing the comfort he had felt as he’d sat with Christine just now. “Can … I stay like this a little longer?” He asked carefully, giving a cautious nod towards Christine’s shoulder. To his relief he saw no rejection, only kindness on the face of girl in front of him. All he saw was kindness.
“Of course Erik.” Christine said happily, pulling him back towards her.
“Is it not too forward … I am not forcing you or making you uncomfortable?” Erik wanted to make sure. If she wished him to stop being in her personal space he would understand.
“No Erik ...” Christine said patiently and Erik decided he would be selfish and believe her.
“Thank you … thank you so much ...” Erik sighed, as he nestled his head onto Christine’s shoulder.
It was so nice sitting like that, he thought. If this was all the kindness he would ever receive, all the touch he would ever feel … It would be enough. He felt calm, at peace and … for a brief moment … loved. It was all he could have ever wished for.
They sat for a while, revelling in each others nearness, until Christine became worried. Erik sat so quietly, his breathing slowing to a calm she knew only too well: He was falling asleep again!!
Immediately Christine shook her shoulder, causing Erik to groan in annoyance.
“No, no Erik, please don’t go to sleep. Don’t you want to see me on stage?!” Christine tried to alert him. For a few seconds there was nothing but silence.
“Yes … yes … of course ...” Erik then sighed. “Erik … should be going if he wants to reach box five in time.”
But he made no attempt to get up clearly preferring to doze just a little longer. As long as he remained reasonably awake this was fine with Christine, as there was a detail she wanted to discuss with him first.
“Now … Erik …” Christine said wringing her hands a little as she pondered on how to explain. “I have planned something for you … but please don’t get upset or angry when I tell you ...”
A soft snort of laughter met her ears at her words.
“You don’t have to worry Christine, I do not posses the energy to be angry … Just keeping my eyes open takes all the strength that I have ...” Erik said in a voice both tired and tender.
“Poor Erik ...” Christine said as she carefully moved to stroke his back, her touches eliciting little purring sounds from Erik. She continued her ministrations for a while, making sure Erik was as calm as he could be before blurting it out:
“Raoul will be here in a few minutes ...”
There was nothing but silence after Christine had spoken, making her wonder if Erik had even heard her or might accidentally have fallen asleep after all.
“Erik …?” Christine asked with worry, when the silence lasted too long for her. “Did … did … you … hear me?”
A soft sigh came from beside her, but still no reply. But just as Christine thought she should repeat the announcement Erik’s confused voice floated into her ears.
“Raoul …? But why?” To her surprise there was no malice to his voice, just confusion. That meant that Erik had probably not lied when he said he did not have the energy to be angry. Maybe that was not exactly a good thing where Erik’s health was concerned, but it did make things easier for her in regards to “the plan”.
What Christine was not aware of was that inside of Erik’s body and mind there was no calm or quiet at all. On the contrary: thousands of pins and needles had started throbbing at his nerves while small dwarfs where pounding little hammers against his chest. Raoul was coming? Why? What was going on?
The pins and needles swiftly moved to his brain where buzzing begun. If Raoul was coming to meet him … this could only mean one thing!!
A sharp intake of breath as Erik sat and looked at Christine, pain, terror and sadness swirling inside him.
“Christine … please tell me? Why is Raoul coming …?” Erik rasped hoarsely. “Will you announce your wedding tonight?” A sob before he could continue. “Did you put on the dress I made simply to tell me goodbye …?”
That was it!! Erik thought brokenly, that why she was so gentle with him tonight!! Raoul was coming to tell him he could not see her any more and she was taking pity on him. As the hammering against his chest build towards a crescendo the room started closing in on him while once again the world started spinning. Christine was leaving him!! He couldn’t breath ...
“Erik … What’s wrong? What are you doing?” He heard Christine’s worried voice from far away.
What was going on? Christine wondered as she noticed a raw terror in her friends eyes, it was as if he was lost in a world of pain. His hands desperately reaching out for her.
“Don’t leave me …” Erik panted. “Christine, please don’t leave me!!”
After forcing out these words Erik suddenly hunched over, gasping for breath, one freezing hand clenched around Christine’s wrist.
Why was he saying these things? Christine worried, shaken by the fear that seemed to have overtaken Erik. This was not how things were supposed to go!! Clearly it was her fault, announcing Raoul’s imminent arrival like that. Oh, she had handled this in completely the wrong way. What could she do to get him out of this downward spiral?
“Erik, Erik, listen to me: I am not leaving you!!”
Christine pleaded hoping he would hear her. When Erik vaguely tilted his head towards her she swiftly she wrapped her arms around him, her hands running through his hair.
“Erik, I am your friend,” She said slowly, to make certain he heard her. “I would never leave you and I will never marry Raoul, I told him that tonight.”
Sounding like a mum telling her child why the nanny is coming Christine rocked Erik in her arms as she tried to explain her reasoning for making the two rivals meet.
“Raoul is coming to help you, Erik. He will be helping you to box five tonight to make sure you are safe and won’t get discovered. I am worried you’ll get an accident or get caught the state you are in. Did you hear me Erik? I am not leaving you!!”
Holding onto his Christine like a drowning man, Erik slowly felt the air return to his lungs.
Not leaving! She was not leaving!! Slowly the dwarfs stopped their hammering, until only a few over eager ones continued for a while after. The pins and needles gradually faded as well.
Christine would stay with him, that was good.
“Christine is not leaving ...” Erik muttered his understanding slowly. A warm, gentle hand squeezed his freezing one.
“That’s right. Everything will be fine Erik. Don’t worry.”
A shuddering breath escaped Erik as he nodded at Christine.
“But Raoul … Raoul will be here?” He then added, still feeling worried about this, despite her reassurance.
“Yes, really don’t worry Erik, he truly is a good man. He is actually looking forward to meet you.”
But Erik wasn’t, he wouldn’t even be on a good day, meeting people was hell to him. But the way he was feeling now? It was only the thought of disappointing Christine and the longing to see her on-stage that kept him from collapsing there and then. How could he be expected to talk someone in this state?
“But … Christine … I … cannot meet your boy like this … What will he think of me?”
With a sigh Christine took the emotional, quivering, wreck that Erik had become deeper into her arms, wishing this night was over and he were safely tucked in bed.
“I told him about everything Erik.” Christine soothed gently. “He knows that you are not well. That is why he is coming to help you. He will help you to box five and sit with you. Then after the gala he will bring us both to my house ...”
And just like that Christine had ended her explanation with another major announcement and this one made Erik sit up with gasp and stare at her in disbelieve for the good part of a minute.
“Christine I … I don’t understand. Are you sure we’re both awake?” Erik panted once his breath had once again returned to him.
“Yes, I am sweetie.” Christine nodded as she took Erik’s hands again.
For a while Christine stared at Erik, watching as a series of emotions passed over his face, utter confusion being the most recurring one. Then he shook his head as if to wake himself up.
“I am … coming to your house?” Was the only thing he could think of to say once it had finally sunken in.
“Yes ...” Christine smiled.
“But … why?” Erik said, his brow furrowed with confusion.
With a smile Christine sat closer and begun rubbing Erik’s arms. Erik didn’t understand why Christine was so tactile with him, but he certainly did not complain. After a lifetime of rejection being touched like this was the greatest gift he’d ever received. And now … now she was taking him with her, to her home? She was taking a monster to her home? Why?
“Because you need care, rest and good food.” Christine explained sweetly. “Non of that is available at your home – well the care as it would be coming from me. But …”
How wonderful that sounded, Erik thought. To rest where she lived. But he could not accept: Christine should not waste her time nursing him and … if her neighbours knew … It could get her in trouble.
“But … No … Christine …” Erik forced out, rejecting her offer was akin to cutting his skin with a knife. “It is not proper for a man to stay at a ladies house!”
But Christine simply rolled her eyes at that, even snorting at his words.
“It’s not proper for a lady to stay at a man’s house either. Really Erik, we’re way past the point of propriety.” She scoffed.
Looking at her Erik understood that he would be wasting what little energy he had left on declining Christine’s offer: she had made up her mind and his little Christine was a very determined woman.
“No comeback?” Christine smirked after a second or two. “Good,. So that’s settled: you’re coming!”
For a while there was silence, Erik’s tired mind had to work hard at taking everything in. Tonight he would leave the Opera, something he rarely did. But he would be going with her! Going with his little Christine: she was taking him to her home!!
“So …” Erik said softly, his eyes shimmering with all kinds of emotions. “So … Erik will see Christine’s house and touch her furniture …? Sit on her chair and walk her floors?”
With a smile Christine folded herself against Erik. That poor man, he sounded like an overwhelmed child.
“Erik … you really need more rest ...” Christine chuckled gently. “The only thing you’ll be touching the coming days is the bed in my guest-room.”
A soft sob escaped Erik at these words and then, for a while, there was silence, until Erik asked one question he still could not make sense of:
“But why would Raoul … of all people … help me?”
Beneath him Erik felt Christine shrug.
“Because I asked him to ...” She simply stated.
And that was enough for Erik.
“I see … That explains why he would.” he said wearily, but satisfied. As he spoke his eyes fell shut again, the panic and confusion had exhausted him.
“What do you mean?” Christine asked, sounding confused at his acceptance of her answer.
“You are Christine and … neither of us could ever refuse you anything ...” Erik mused, his voice thick with sleep. Judging by the rustling of Christine’s dress she was sitting up, clearly noticing his drowsiness.
“Erik, please, stay awake!!” Christine pleaded. “It’s only twenty minutes before the gala starts.”
“Don’t worry, my little Christine … your Erik … your Erik is just resting his eyes. Just … just … resting his eyes.” Erik droned, his voice ever slower. How he wanted to stay awake to see his Christine on stage, but he was so tired and felt so very ill. “Could my little Christine not say things to keep Erik awake?” Erik mumbled softly as he forced his eyes open again.
Both of them longed for this night to be over, but Erik wouldn’t dream of being the cause of Christine missing her gala: he would fight his exhaustion with all he had if him seeing her meant this much to her. Meanwhile Christine knew that Erik would never forgive himself if he were the cause of a missed performance, especially on the biggest night of the year. So even if every fibre of her being longed to simply have him home with her and let him sleep, she would push ahead with this performance.
“Could Erik not tell some tales of his travels again?” Christine offered gently. “I think talking might help. Or maybe do something? Or … a glass of water perhaps?”
“Water is good ...” Erik agreed. It could help and even if it didn’t, he was rather thirsty.
As Christine went to get Erik some water, a young Viscount walked his way to the dressing room carrying some items Christine had requested. As he walked the long corridor he, not for the first time, wondered how he had ended up in this bizarre scheme. Which self respecting man would help out his rival in love? But it was Christine who had asked him and he just could not refuse her.
It had been an odd afternoon for Raoul Vicomte de Chagny. After his conversation with Christine he had found himself shopping for a few pyjamas for The Phantom at Christine’s instructions. As they were not going back to Erik’s house that night he needed night attire. The size that Christine insisted on was confusing to him: how thin was this man? Did people even make clothes for adult males in that petite a size? In the end he settled on the smallest size he could find, hoping it would do.
Then he’d been forced to talk to the Opera management, claiming that he would attend that night’s performance in box five, at the Phantom’s orders. If he did not attend this meeting alone – without Madame Giry or any other box keeper – there would be consequences. The Vicomte had waved a note he’d received from The Phantom … Erik … weeks earlier for effect, hoping no-one would bother reading it. Thankfully no-one did, used as they were to The Phantom’s erratic demands by now.
At first Madame Giry had huffed a little, but once Raoul had kindly offered her the chance to watch the gala from the de Chagny box she had graciously caved to the whims of The Phantom. Then she had ran off to dress in her finery, ecstatic to see her daughter dance from so fancy a seat.
Things settled Raoul had now arrived at Christine’s dressing room carrying the parcel containing the pyjamas and a large can of coffee.
To Christine’s annoyance the water had done nothing to revive Erik and with only ten minutes left until she had to inspect her make-up and clothing before going on-stage there was little else she could do.
Thankfully, just when she had decided to just let Erik sleep, as keeping him awake was beginning to feel cruel to her, three loud knocks on her dressing room door startled him enough to make him sit up with a jump.
“That’s Raoul!!” Christine smiled and ran to the door.
The moment he saw Christine dash towards the door a jolt went through Erik as he realised something, something crucial.
“Christine wait!!” He cried out, but it was too late, Christine had already opened the door and Erik locked eyes with the Vicomte. Immediately both men froze much to the surprise of Christine.
“Erik … what is it?” Christine asked in confusion.
“Christine …” Erik said, his voice dull with horror. “I am not wearing my mask ...”
A deadly quiet fell over the room during which Erik could not have felt more exposed and humiliated and Christine not more mortified.
How could she not have noticed Erik was not wearing his mask? Christine wondered. Had she grown so accustomed to his face that she simply didn’t notice any-more? It was probably the case. To her he was just Erik, she truly didn’t see the deformity any more. In other circumstances this realisation would probably have been a good thing. But not now, not with Erik and Raoul staring at each other as if frozen in time.
“Erik … th … this is Raoul ...” Christine offered, weakly. “R … Raoul … this is Erik ...”
Neither man said a word, it was as if they had not heard her and Christine felt as if she could cry.
“Please say something … either of you!!” Christine called out in a slightly shrill voice. “I have to go on-stage now, but how ever can I sing while worried about you two?”
Hearing her words Erik blinked from his trance with a start. Poor Christine, he thought, she couldn’t help it. If anything it was his face that was too blame, so it was his responsibility to solve this painful situation. Taking a deep breath Erik rose from the sofa with difficulty and extended his hand to Christine’s friend.
“Monsieur Vicomte de Chagny … A pleasure to meet you.” Erik begun as casually as he could manage under the circumstances, while he tried to reach for his mask at the same time. “The Phantom of the Opera at your service. My apologies for showing you this face but I must admit you quite caught me by surprise. Do not worry, I will mask up immediately.”
This impressive gesture of civilised politeness from the older man broke Raoul out of his stupor and he quickly took the hand Erik had offered him and shook it firmly.
“No, no please do not apologise, my behaviour has been absolutely appalling. I cannot imagine what you must think of me, gaping at you like this. My aunts taught me better manners than this, I assure you.”
It was a genuine apology as Raoul could kick himself for letting Erik be the one to reach out first when the fault was clearly his. Knowing a lot about Erik’s life from Christine’s stories he was aware that his behaviour must have reminded Erik of the gaping mouths circling his cage. The one rule his aunts had imprinted on him was that “it’s not polite to stare,” but stare he had done, and make up for it he should and not just for Christine’s sake. What a terrible first impression he had made!!
“No hard feelings, Vicomte, I swear, I am used to it.” Erik shrugged off the apology tiredly. “Won’t you sit down?” he asked, not for Raoul’s sake but simply because he saw no reason for standing any longer than absolutely necessarily before making his way to box five.
As he sat down he moved to put on his mask, not looking forward to the material rubbing against his feverish skin. But to his surprise Raoul shook his head.
“Don’t!” the young man said firmly.
Erik raised his eyebrow. Don’t? What was that boy blabbering on about? Did he not want him to hide the horror that was facing him?
“What?” Erik asked in confusion, the mask hovering near his face in confusion.
“Don’t put that on my behalf.” Raoul said, almost pleadingly. “I have already seen you by now. Sure … I was startled at first but … well … I have seen some things on my journey’s ...” then he cut himself off, was there ever a good way to end that sentence without it coming across as an insult? What was he even trying to tell this man? A small trickle of sweat in the back of his neck and the annoyed look on Christine’s face told him this wasn’t going well, as he’d feared.
“That were more horrific than me?” Erik finished his sentence in a clipped, almost cold tone. “Feel free to finish your sentences with me Vicomte. It’s not as if I haven’t been called worse.”
With that Erik threw the mask to the other end of the sofa and turned away from Raoul with a huff. What had Christine been thinking, making him meet up with that bumbling idiot of a Viscount? This was testing his already damaged nerves to the limit. Suddenly there was a soft hand on his shoulder, Erik knew it was Christine but did not have the energy to look up.
“Erik, Raoul didn’t mean it like that, surely you understand.” Christine tried to sooth him, while shooting Raoul a pleading gaze.
The sad sound of Christine’s voice touched Erik: his angel had meant so well ...
So with a mighty effort he tried to calm himself and turned to look at the Viscount, who actually seemed to have the decency to look apologetically.
“No, no … I didn’t.” Raoul stammered helplessly. “I wanted to say … well … It just came out all wrong ...”
The terrified stammers and the hopeless look on the face of the man Erik had always considered as lording it over him seemed almost comical in his exhausted state. The apology and clumsy kindness seemed somewhat genuine as well, the Viscount was clearly trying. Stupid boy, Erik thought, this probably isn’t easy for you either, let’s just try and make the best of this.
“Don’t worry,” Erik said, almost laughing now. “I am not offended, just amused. I must say, I had expected our first meeting to go quite, quite differently.”
The pair locked eyes again and for some reason both men started to laugh, breaking the ice between them.
“I must say, dear fellow. So did I.” Raoul snorted after a moment.
While this took place Christine had ran through her final preparations, all the while keeping an eye on the two men. Seeing them laugh together made her sigh with relief: perhaps she could leave them to it now.
“I am leaving now, you guys.” Christine said as she approached them. “Do … do you think you both can get along without me?” The girl asked asked hopefully. “I really need to get going.”
Two faces turned to her, two pairs of eyes met hers.
“We’ll be fine Christine, don’t worry!!” Both men replied as if one.
Seeing the “guys” share an awkward grin at this, Christine felt reassured that things would work out and dashed out of the dressing-room chuckling to herself. What an odd day this was.
The moment Christine left Raoul heard Erik release a weary groan as he slumped forward, cradling his head in his hands.
“Monsieur Phantom … erm Erik … Are you al-right?” Raoul asked with worry as he stood to check on him.
“Yes … yes … it’s … nothing.” Erik sighed, not looking up. “Sit back down Vicomte.”
Raoul did so reluctantly. To his confusion he felt no animosity at all towards Erik: in a way he’d always known that he and Christine shared a different bond than the one she shared with him; he just had not wanted to admit it. What he felt, strangely, was … sympathy … and worry: the man Christine loved looked as if he should be in hospital not attending Operas. He felt as if he truly had been introduced to a living corpse and it had nothing to do with his face. He couldn’t believe that this emaciated figure was the famed Phantom that everyone feared and admired. The genius that basically kept the Opera running. Raoul also sensed that this sudden swoon was not “nothing” as Erik made out.
“I … heard what you did … for Christine … You … must be exhausted.” Raoul offered carefully.
Slowly Erik unfolded, surprised at Raoul’s friendly attitude towards him. So it had not just been an act for Christine’s sake? Could Raoul be genuinely nice to him? That was unexpected. He blinked at the Vicomte as he regained himself from his near collapse.
“Yes … I am sorry …” Erik tried wearily. “I am not pleasant company today. I … tried for Christine, Vicomte, but … I have nothing left.”
Once again everything felt odd and unreal around him, he had clearly pushed himself too much for Christine’s sake again.
“Please don’t faint old fellow ...” Erik heard his strange new Vicomte friend pipe up from far away. “I … I … I brought coffee.”
For some bizarre reason those words brought him back from the brink. It was such an odd thing to say in this situation, so odd in fact it made a smile form on Erik’s lips: what a strange day this turned out to be.
“Why?” he chuckled softly as he tried to focus his eyes on Raoul who shrugged shyly, still clearly as uncomfortable as he was.
“Christine hoped it might wake you up.” Raoul offered matter of factly.
Erik nodded sagely: that probably meant he was drinking it, even though he really wasn’t a coffee person … at all. In fact, he hated coffee, he was a tea person. But if Christine thought drinking the bitter liquid would help keep him awake to hear her sing …
“Then by all means let’s drink a cup before we walk to box five.” Erik decided, pushing through all his ailments again to find some untapped strength. The day was almost over, he might as well try and make it to the end. All the things awaiting him after this were good: he would see Christine sing, wearing his dress. Then he would go home with her and then … then sleep! Sleep in a soft bed at her home.
After that … who knew. One step at a time was best at this moment and right now that step consisted of black coffee and a trip to box five with Raoul.
“Ah, about that … How … exactly are we getting there?” Raoul asked as he wrinkled his nose a little. Was that a thing some people with noses did when they worried? Erik wondered.
“Is … is it true there is a secret corridor?” Raoul urged as he pored the coffee. The young man’s eyes looked at him eagerly, clearly hoping for an adventure. Or perhaps some truth in the stories he’d been told about the Phantom.
That innocent bright eyed look wormed it’s way through all the walls Erik had put up around himself more than the words they had spoken so far. In those eyes he saw the evidence: the boy was genuinely nice to him, there was no pretence. But he also saw a longing to see some magic and a bit of glee alighted in Erik at that, thinking of the wonders he might show Raoul on the way to the box. It was more invigorating than coffee.
“You’ll see soon enough, Vicomte ...” Erik chuckled good naturedly. This could actually be fun!
When he’d woken up that morning Raoul had not expected to follow a Phantom through a secret corridor that night. But that was exactly what he was doing after he had made Erik drink at-least three cups of strong black coffee. It hadn’t had as much effect as he’d hoped it would have, but at-least the man seemed a little more alert. Which, considering he’d admitted that the place was booby-trapped, was probably a good thing.
The entrance to the secret corridor itself was a work of marvel for Raoul. He’d heard all about the secret mirror door and the walkway hidden inside Christine’s dressing room wall, but to experience it for himself was something else entirely.
“This is amazing!!” Raoul exclaimed. “It’s like the haunted houses at the funfair!!”
Raoul said as he stepped through the mirror for the third time, still marvelling at the effects created once it opened. Flashes of light, his image reflected ten twenty times in various sizes and all sorts of other effects he could not begin to understand.
“So it should be!!” Erik grinned, clearly delighted at the compliment. “I designed them as well!!”
At that Raoul had gaped in astonishment for a second. “You did?” He had exclaimed. “My man, you are an absolute genius!!” Over the last few months Raoul had already come to respect Erik in a way, seeing the detailed plans and directions he had made for the last few Operas as well as a few of the scores he had written. But meeting him and walking his own domains beside him made it all the more obvious.
What a waste of such an incredible mind Raoul thought, to squander away his time below the ground running this opera and writing wonderful music without a credit to his name.
Walking through the corridors with his unexpected guest Erik was surprised to find the Vicomte surprisingly pleasant company. Part of him blamed his exhaustion: he was always sentimental when sleep deprived. But he knew that it was not as simple as this: despite having locked himself away from the world for decades he had a slight social streak and sometimes the need for someone to talk to as a fellow human had been agonising. His sweet little Christine had been a tonic into his well of lonely solitude, making him feel part of the world again. But still it was an unexpected pleasure to show this silly young man around his domain. A new pair of ears to listen to his stories, that strange joy of having someone else to talk to without being separated by a pillar or a wall. Yes, maybe it was good that Christine had introduced them after all. Now there where two people that knew him as Erik without the façade and the pretence of being a Phantom or … and angel … just Erik. The fact he did not have to wear that uncomfortable mask with either of them was an unexpected bonus.
To his joy Raoul seemed interested, and knowledgeable in all the technical aspects of the corridor and the traps. A mix of delight and the coffee high temporally made him forget his tiredness as he explained all the techniques he had used.
“I was right, you are a genius!” Raoul cheered after a while, then he looked at his watch with worry. “But I think we should go up to the box now, the first half has started quite a while ago.”
“Of course Vicomte.” Erik smiled. “But let us wait just a while longer, La Carlotta is taking part in the first half as well, unlike our dear Christine. No need to put us through that twice.”
A shiver went down Raoul’s back at the thought and he nodded earnestly.
“Well, having experienced her at full volume once today already I won’t disagree with you on that.” he agreed.
After lingering a little longer, the two men eventually made it up to the box, where the pair was immediately greeted by a full blast of … Carlotta.
“Well now … that … that is just bullying ...” Raoul muttered darkly, causing Erik to snigger.
“I told you we should have stayed inside five minutes longer, Vicomte.”
For a second the stared at each other then they burst into laughter again, both surprised at how easily they seemed to have found a friend in the other. That clever Christine …
To both Erik and Raoul’s frustration Carlotta seemed to have no intention of stopping the attack on her audience’s eardrums, her poor duet partner catching the brunt of it.
With an annoyed groan Raoul sat himself in one of the chairs in the more visible part of the box, allowing Erik to sit in one of the more secluded ones. The moment Erik sank down he could feel all the aches and pains he’d briefly forgotten about returning accompanied by all his other physical malaise. Overcome by the sudden onslaught he uttered a heavy sigh of pain.
“Everything al-right Erik?” Raoul asked with worry in his voice, sensing a sigh like that wasn’t a good thing.
“It’s nothing, my body just reminded me of a few things.” Erik tried to brush it off rather badly.
“It’ll be fine old fellow.” Raoul tried to lighten the mood. “Soon Christine will be singing and you’ll be feeling right as rain, you’ll see.”
A breathy chuckle escaped Erik’s throat in answer to that. Sadly just then Carlotta burst into the most bombastic version of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries ever sang and both men stared at each other in dull horror.
“If only Carlotta would stop screeching ...” Erik sighed. “It’s bad enough on good days … but … this … today.”
Oh, on any other day Erik knew he would have done something to stop this offence against his ears: he would have caused a scene to end this torture. But now he was powerless, not just because he was too ill; he might have tried something anyway if he were alone, little as he cared about his well-being except his musical ear. But he could not ruin Christine’s night and he could not put Raoul in jeopardy either.
“Don’t worry.” He heard the voice of the Viscount cut of his train of thought. “She can’t keep stretching this song it must be over soon, then there will be a break and … well after Christine has sung we’ll just leave. There is no reason to stay after that.”
But there was a reason, Erik knew. Leave before the final applause? That would not do, not for Christine!!
“Christine deserves our applause at the end. I won’t allow Carlotta’s cheers to be bigger than hers!!” Erik exclaimed which so much horror that it made Raoul laugh.
“Wasn’t it you who told me that the finale after Christine’s recital exists of at-least four more songs by Carlotta?” Raoul retorted smugly, his arms crossed across his chest.
That was an important thing to consider, Erik thought, and he nodded at the Vicomte. He would see how he felt when the time came. For now there was the brief relieve of the conductor forcefully ending the song much to Carlotta's indignation. Then there was blessed silence. Or … maybe not so blessed: the one thing Carlotta’s penetrating screeching had done was keep him awake. The silence felt like a soft blanket, willing him back to the darkness of sleep. Why was this day so horrifically long? It seemed like a year since he’d left his home to present that dress to Christine.
“Erik?” He heard the Vicomte, from far away. Had he blacked out for a second?
“Did you take that coffee with you?” Erik asked as he tried to regain himself with difficulty. Not that he was looking forward to drinking more of it, the liquid having left him feeling rather nauseous earlier on, but he could feel the effects evaporating quickly. In fact he was starting to feel slightly delirious.
Biting his lip Raoul gazed at Erik, the man really didn’t look well at all. The Viscount didn’t even know how it was humanly possible for him to look even more ill than he’d done earlier that night, but his face seemed to go whiter with every second.
“Erik, if you feel really unwell … I could take you to Christine’s home now. She wouldn’t want you to suffer for her sake. She’ll never forgive me if something happened to you!”
Slowly Erik lifted his head to look at Raoul and shook his head.
“Vicomte, I can’t quit now,” he whispered, “not when ... Please, just give me some coffee.”
With a sigh Raoul obeyed Erik against his better judgement, taking the flask and poring a cup, which he handed to the weakened man.
Swiftly Erik tried to take a sip, but his body immediately revolted at taking more of the thick, dark bitter liquid and he gagged, bile swirling in the pit of his stomach.
“I … don’t think you should have any more dear fellow.” Raoul stuttered, as he looked at Erik’s gasping and retching with dull horror.
“But … I have to see Christine ...” Erik panted, his voice desperate. He swung to Raoul and grabbed his arm, his long shaking fingers twisting into the fabric of his coat jacket. “Please Vicomte, please keep me awake till my little Christine sings.”
Two weary yellow eyes stared at Raoul pleadingly, eyes that sparkled but with tears or fever, Raoul couldn’t tell.
“She looks so beautiful in her dress Viscount, my little Christine. Oh, she does. ..”
Raoul nodded his agreement with rising apprehension: Erik’s voice sounded off, as if he were rambling in a fever dream.
“I made her that dress Viscount ...”
“Raoul … please call me Raoul!” Raoul pleaded weakly, the constant usage of his title to address him was disconcerting and far too formal for the bond they had started to share.
“Raoul ...” Erik muttered softly as if trying the word out. “I made her that dress Raoul … A dress for my little Christine … every stitch every rhinestone a testament of my love for her. Ah, to think she chose it … over … When your dress was so beautiful and professionally made. I do not understand how … how she could prefer … to … to ...”
Noticing how Erik’s voice slowed down and his eyelids started fluttering Raoul shook him a little. Erik’s eyes snapped open again.
“Surely it won’t be long now …?” Erik sighed. “Please talk to me Raoul.”
Instead of the coffee and hoping it would take the taste away for him, Raoul pored Erik a glass of water from the carafe which had been placed there at his request. Erik took it gratefully.
To Raoul’s relief Erik seemed a little more coherent again after that and he searched his brain for something to talk about. His eye fell on the programme.
“Meg is dancing soon,” he tried. “You like Meg, don’t you? I heard you are helping her and her mother.”
At that Erik sat up and nodded in agreement, the subject seemingly interesting him enough to rouse him momentarily.
“Meg Giry is the best dancer in this entire Opera company, it is true ...” Erik said thoughtfully. “But she is often overlooked because she is focussed on her profession while others are dedicated to finding the best patron, thus gaining favours. That is why I sometimes use my influence to get her to the position and roles she deserves. I often try this for talented performers that are overlooked for whatever reason. Because … you see, Vicomte … Raoul … the person who becomes a star isn’t always the person who is the most talented or deserving. More often than not it is the one with privilege: beauty, high placed friends, favouritism, a wealthy influential family.” Suddenly Erik stopped and worry crossed his face. “I … am sorry. I hope I have not offended you.”
Noticing Erik looked almost anguished at that thought Raoul quickly shot him a smile.
“No, not at all. I understand what you mean …” he said jovially. “It is not something I ever thought about and that worries me. As a patron I must look into this because it is not a system I condone. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. It should be about talent, nothing more. Everyone deserves a chance, no matter who they are or where they came from.”
A rare smile crept over Erik’s lips at this answer, his expression a strange mixture of happy combined with surprised, as if it was rare for him to have someone agreeing with him. And perhaps it was, Raoul pondered, reminding himself that besides Christine Erik rarely had any normal conversations at all. How amazing to find that this man, who had been shunned for most of his life would be the one who cared for the people of this company the most.
“I am glad to hear you talk this way Raoul,” Erik murmured a few seconds later, sounding deep in thought. “The rumours about you do not do you credit. You have a good head on those young shoulders. I am glad to see Christine has a friend of good character.” He gave him such an approving look that it almost made Raoul blush.
“I can say the same about you, Erik,” Raoul chuckled feeling slightly abashed, “though the Opera ghost has always been praised for his keen intelligence and knowledge.”
The way Erik’s eyes lit up for a second made it clear that he wasn’t used to receiving compliments. But all too soon his eyes turned dark, as a thought hit him.
“Oh … Oh, no ...” Erik then sighed dejectedly. “But … But I’m so tired ...” For some reason he now looked as if he were about to cry.
“Is something wrong Erik?” Raoul asked, sad at having lost their moment of camaraderie.
“My job …” Erik said in a crestfallen voice, then he looked at Raoul. “Raoul … you know about the Opera Ghost’s job?”
Of course he did, who in the Opera wouldn’t know about that?! “Indeed I do … Erik … what is wrong?”
For a second it looked as if Erik was not going to tell him, as he remained silent while looking utterly hopeless. But suddenly he continued, his voice dark.
“There will be work to be done tonight. The managers willl be expecting notes for their meeting tomorrow. I have been neglectful in my duties. I guess there simply will be no rest for me.”
Work to do? Raoul couldn’t believe what he was hearing: was Erik fully intending to work, the state he was in? Not if he had any say in it. And thank goodness: he had!!
Turning to Erik, Raoul put his hand on Erik’s knee to look him in the eyes.
“No, Erik, listen to me. You are not going to work, you need rest. As I said, I am the patron here, the highest paying one, I might add. Let me use my influence for you this once, after all you have done for the others round here. You will go home with Christine tonight, rest, recover and only go to work once you feel up to it, understood?”
Raoul was not prepared for the emotion those words stirred in Erik. For a second the man stared at him in disbelieve, then awe, then something Raoul could not place. “You … would do that … for me?” Erik asked him in a hoarse, shaking voice.
It was all just as Christine had told him, Raoul understood: Erik had rarely received any help or kindness in his life. Raoul couldn’t bear to think what Erik’s life must have been like if something so mundane as this would overwhelm him as much as this.
“Of course!” Raoul insisted gently. “You really think I’d want you to run the Opera like this? You’re barely conscious!!”
When Raoul smiled at Erik the man muttered a quick “Thank you.” Then he lowered his head and looked away, fixing his gaze onto his hands. Pretending he did not see Erik surreptitiously wipe his eyes before he started to fidget with his hands nervously, Raoul looked out into the auditorium. The interval was over and people where returning to their seats. Not long until all this was over, he thought with relief.
“You must have expected more of meeting the Opera Ghost.” He suddenly heard Erik’s mournful voice behind him. Raoul sighed: did that man ever give himself a break?
“I’m sure I might get to meet the true Phantom under better circumstances.” Raoul said as he turned round to look at Erik again. The reply obviously pleased him as Erik seemed to perk up immediately.
“Absolutely. I will give you the full performance and guided tour and that is a promise.” Erik replied firmly and Raoul found he was actually looking forward to it: Erik was engaging company, even in this state, so he couldn’t wait to socialise with him once he was in full health.
Then the second half begun, opened by a delightful baritone Raoul could have sworn he had never seen or heard before.
“Erik? Who’s that?” Raoul whispered during a piano sequence.
“It’s Faberman he has been with the Opera for years but … Carlotta doesn’t like him ...” Erik replied, but instead of whispering Raoul had the odd sensation of having Erik’s voice actually transported inside his head without the Phantom moving his lips. It was one of the things Christine had mentioned about him, for which he was glad as it would have been rather disconcerting otherwise. Still, it was an amazing trick once you experienced it, Raoul found, as he told Erik. At the same time making a mental note to make sure Faberman would land a lead in the near future.
The evening went on, Meg danced a solo, the Petit Rats had a fun introductory dance. Singers, dancers, pianists, violinists and harpists came and went, all talented, all wonderful and most of then on the list at Erik’s insistence. A spotlight for the neglected, all of them bringing the house down. But, to Raoul’s worry, the man himself grew more and more quiet and pale. It was clearly getting too much for him, but Erik never complained, only uttering a quiet sigh once in a while.
Then, at last, Christine stepped onto the stage and Raoul heard a gasp coming from Erik. The man seemed immediately as if lost in a trance, his eyes fixed on the girl who’s translucent tones begun to fill the auditorium. As she sang, swayed and danced, the dress he had made her sparkling in the light, tears begun streaming down the Phantoms hollow cheeks.
“My little Christine ...” He whispered at the elfin like figure on the stage, his shaking hands clasped as if in prayer. Watching him Raoul felt overcome with emotion: this was not simply love, infatuation or admiration: Erik utterly worshipped Christine.
Song after song came from Christine lips and throat, her voice filling the auditorium but for the two men in the box it was as if these notes where theirs and theirs alone.
The dress was a hit, the audience murmuring their approval at how it was almost a part of her performance the way it caught the light just right and sparkled around her, thus complimenting her movements. This combined with her engaging personality, exquisite vocals and dancing firmly cemented Christine as the highlight of the evening. Once again it was clear that she was destined to be a star. The toast of Paris and perhaps one day … the world.
Then the Soprano on the stage began her last song, a climactic “Casta Diva” from Bellini’s Norma.
For a moment Raoul listened and soaked up the hypnotic melody, then he startled as Erik rose from his seat and staggered closer to the edge of the box as if drawn by an invisible force. It was clear that Erik was lost in a world of his own his hands conducting the melody, his lips mouthing the words.
Quickly Raoul looked out from the box into the auditorium, worried someone might see. But to his relief all eyes were firmly directed to the stage, hypnotised by the wonder of Christine’s voice that rose into a soaring climax.
The moment Christine reached the end of her song Erik froze. A gasping sigh escaped him at her final note, followed by a sob. Then, suddenly, he collapsed to the floor limply as a marionette who’s strings had unexpectedly been cut, landing at Raoul’s feet with a dull thud.