A shaking hand lit the candelabra on the piano. It was a hand that shook with joy, relief and excitement: Christine was coming home today!! His breathing high from an almost anxious happiness Erik dashed through his house to make certain it was spotless. The two of them had been married for some time now. So it wasn’t as if Christine had never been to his house before, but it had been quite a while. In fact, far too long for Erik. The soprano had been on a brief tour through Italy together with some other members of the Opera company. They had all been invited by the world famous Italian Maestro Luigi Pasolini to perform a series of concerts, to show Italy the best France had to offer.
Christine had refused at first, feeling bad about leaving him behind. But Erik had insisted she’d go, even though it tore his heart apart knowing that they would be parted for a while. Still he knew this would be a major step in her career: A world famous composer and conductor had selected his Christine to perform in some of Italy’s most famous theatres!! She deserved this chance!!
The weeks without his Christine had been lonely and tough and Erik felt as if her absence had aged him by decades. Sleep had been hard to come by and his already small appetite had all but disappeared.
Thankfully all this would all change today the moment she stepped through that door and he would see her smile. Oh, he would wrap her in his arms and hold her for a long, long time. Then they would have tea and talk about her time on tour. After that there would be a lesson to see if there was anything that needed adjusting. It was the first time that Christine had toured like this and it worried Erik that he had been unable to join her and make certain she did not damage her voice.
After the lesson there would be dinner and then they would go to bed. Christine would wrap him in her loving arms, allowing him a peaceful night’s sleep for the first time in weeks!!
For the third time that day Erik rushed round the apartment: the bedroom was spotless, the sheets clean and crisp. The bathroom was perfect, fresh soaps, bath-salts, towels and flannels were laid out. The kitchen was pristine. The living-room …
Suddenly a blurry haze came over Erik as he dashed into the living-room and for a second it felt as if he couldn’t breath. Feeling slightly odd and shaky Erik decided he might sit down for a few seconds before finishing his check ups.
It was annoying: there was no time to feel odd!! No time at all!!
There was a welcome back cake ready to go into the oven, food that needed to be prepared for dinner, flowers had to be arranged and so much more. Everything had to be perfect for Christine!! He needed to be perfect for Christine. There was so much to do his head swum just thinking about it.
Yet, once he’d sat down for some reason he simply couldn’t find it in him to get up again. The odd feeling was weighing him down.
Twenty seconds later it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered any-more anyhow. The lock on the front-door clicked open and Erik heard a delicate footfall that he recognised only too well. It belonged to the most precious being in the entire world!! Odd feeling forgotten about Erik jumped from his seat and dashed to the hallway.
Shaking with excitement Erik threw open the door and …
There, next to a well worn suitcase, stood the woman he had longed for. She had returned to him!!The woman who was his world, his home, his heart and his soul!!
“Christine!!” Erik exclaimed as tears started streaming from his eyes and he rushed toward her to lift her into his arms.
“Erik!!” Christine giggled as his arms wrapped around her. “I missed you so much!!”
A shuddering sigh escaped Erik.
“Not half as much as I missed you.” he sobbed into her hair. “Not half as much!! My dear, dear Christine!!”
For a long time he simply held her, clinging to her like a drowning man. Breathing in her scent, burying his face into her curls, never wanting to let her go, ever again. Only when Christine uttered a clear whimper of discomfort he finally, reluctantly, released her.
Feeling Erik’s arms holding her so tight it nearly crushed her and hearing his heartbreaking sobs, Christine understood that her absence had been tough on herb husband. Tougher than Erik would probably ever admit to her. When he finally released her she kissed his cheek gently.
“Are … is Christine … well?” Erik stammered, looking slightly dazed as he tried to regain his composure.
Christine smiled and nodded. “Yes Erik, it’s been wonderful. Let’s go to the drawing room and sit. Then I tell you all about it.”
Much to Christine’s confusion her suggestion made Erik’s face fall for some reason.
“But why are you back so early?” He asked, his voice tinged with what sounded like a sad guilt. “You said you would be here at five o’clock. It is only two. Erik wasn’t ready. He had only just finished cleaning the house three times, now he was going to bake you a cake, prepare for your food and … arrange flowers.”
At those words Christine’s brow furrowed as she looked at him in confusion.
“You … cleaned the house three times?” She asked hesitantly. Why ever would he do that?
“Yes ...” Erik shrugged matter of factly, but that did not answer her question.
“Why? Was it dirty?” She retorted and Erik looked almost offended at that.
“No, oh no!! Erik had kept the house in good condition … but it … has to be perfect for Christine …”
A feeling of dread begun to cloud Christine’s happiness when she became aware of Erik using the third person when talking about himself far too much. The only times he would usually do this insistently was when he felt ill or panicked. Then again, judging from his rambling he had clearly put a lot of effort into preparing her return, so perhaps he was just overwhelmed.
“Worst of all … Erik … is still wearing his housecoat ...” Erik said darkly as he hung his head in shame.
It took a lot of effort for Christine not to laugh at Erik’s over dramatic announcement of something so mundane. The only reason she didn’t was because of how dejected he looked at not having things perfect for her, it was rather adorable. Swiftly she pulled her poor husband into another kiss and hug, then she took his arm and led him into the drawing room.
“Don’t worry about it Erik, you’ve done more than your best for me. Then we’ll just have our tea a little later. If you put the cake in the oven now it will be ready once I’ve unpacked.”
A shaky sigh of delight met her ears, and she could feel a tiny bit of tension leave him.
“Unpack … Christine will unpack to … stay with Erik.” Erik muttered in a daze, as if to himself.
“Yes … yes I will.” Christine smiled awkwardly. It was unmistakable now: Erik sounded eerily like he had done the first time they had met. Being alone for weeks had clearly not been good for him, maybe it had even brought back bad memories. Not wanting to show him her worry so soon she kept her smile and pulled him next to her on the couch.
“But come sit with me first Erik and we’ll talk a while. There is so much to tell you.”
A small smile stirred on Erik’s pale face, too pale for Christine’s liking. Gently she leaned herself against him and pulled Erik’s arms around her. Then Christine told Erik all about her trip:
The exciting journey to Italy in a luxury train with the entire company. The fun nights with Meg in their communal sleep compartment and all the mischief they got up to. She chirruped in delight about their carriage journey through the Italian country side: how beautiful it had been to see it in all it’s late spring glory.
Erik nodded eagerly, her conversation had calmed him a little. Remembering Italy from when he was a young boy on the run he joined in and soon they were chatting away. With Christine soon having him laughing at her silly backstage stories and stage mishaps.
“I wish I could have been there with you, Christine. I hate missing out on such an adventure with you, what joy we could have had. I can’t believe I lost so much of your life and laughter and to think I missed so much of your singing.” Erik sighed: what good was married life if he could not accompany his wife on things like this? Would he always have to stay behind?
Christine smiled and kissed his cheek again. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it up with you. We’ll have our own adventures and I’ll sing whatever you want. In fact I’ll sing so much you’ll beg me to quit!!”
Erik raised his eyebrows and feigned a mortified look. “Never!! Every thrill of your wonderful voice is the gift of an angel.”
Christine made a satisfied little noise. “You’re sweet Erik. I can’t wait to hear you sing again either. Italy has it’s share of wonderful Tenors and Baritones, but no-one can hold a candle to your voice.”
“Just … my voice?” Erik asked, with a slight hint of worry. It often felt as if Christine thought his voice was the most important thing about him. Unaware of Erik’s doubts Christine just laughed at his remark as she cupped his cheek in her hand to look at him.
“No-one can hold a candle to you Erik.” Christine said earnestly. “Not even Luigi Pasolini.”
The mention of the Italian Maestro led Christine to the next part of her stories. It seemed that he had taken a special interest in her. Knowing the man had a keen musical ear Erik could not blame him … at first. But wasn’t Christine a bit too excited when she discussed him?
When Christine told how Luigi had tried to woo Christine with expensive gifts and flowers he became rather uneasy.
“He called me his Piccolo Usignolo, he says it means Little Nightingale. Don’t you think that’s cute Erik?”
Swallowing away a bit of bile Erik forced his face into a tight grimace that he hoped would resemble a smile as he gave a stiff nod.
“That’s … adorable, Christine.” He forced out. “But I am not surprised, everyone with even the slightest ear for music would fall in love with you the moment they hear you sing.” Or the moment they see you and realise what a gentle, loving, angel you are … he added silently.
That earned him another peck on the cheek from Christine and Erik calmed somewhat again. He had to remind himself that Christine clearly had not returned Luigi’s feelings. If she had she would not be home and sitting next to him right now.
Still the rest of her tale did nothing to make him feel better.
“On the last night there was a goodbye party with the cast and crew and we all sang and danced. It was lovely and so much fun.
Luigi escorted me, introducing me to all the guests at the party. He told them I am destined to be the biggest star in the world of Opera. Isn’t it fantastic Erik?
Then, when the party was over he followed me to my hotel room, wanting to discuss ‘business’, but I reminded him that I am a married woman, of course.”
Saying that she looked at Erik cheekily, but Erik did not even see it. A panic had overtaken him and his body had tensed up so much it actually hurt. “Of course ...” he agreed through a painfully clenched jaw. Don’t show her how these words make you feel!! Erik told himself. The last thing he wanted was for the blinding jealous rage that had nearly scuppered his chances at winning Christine’s heart to return. That was something he had left behind the moment Christine kissed him and then returned to him days later, to tell him she loved him, not Raoul the dashing Viscount.
Smiling happily and blissfully unaware of what her story was doing to her husband’s mental health Christine rested her head on Erik’s chest and begun playing with the buttons of his shirt.
“But it seems I misunderstood him as he truly did have a work proposal for me.” She continued. “You see Erik: Luigi asked me to stay in Italy longer, to star in an Opera gala he is arranging.” Christine smiled. “But I refused … as I couldn’t bear staying away from you for any longer.”
A wave of relief washed over Erik at that last part and he released a breath that he wasn’t even aware he had been holding.
It is al-right, she loves you. Erik thought. She was just excited about her trip, nothing more. Luigi Pasolini is far away in Italy. He was history! Christine was with him!
A silence as Erik tried to regain his composure and relished the feel of his beloved angel in his arms. Drained from the emotional roller-coaster Erik’s eyes fell shut after a few seconds.
“So, how about it Erik. I’ll unpack and you bake that cake you promised?” Christine’s excited voice shook him before he could truly fall asleep. “I’d love a cup of coffee.”
Coffee? Erik frowned, since when did Christine drink coffee? They always had tea.
Sensing his confusion Christine squeezed his cheek.
“Yes, Erik coffee!! You see, they had such delicious coffee in Italy I acquired quite a taste for it. I brought some with me!! You’re such a clever man, couldn’t you make it for me like the Italians do?”
Blinking for a few seconds Erik thought about it: he had learned it when he lived there all those years ago, so he probably still could. Part of him still felt uneasy about it all. It seemed that Christine had truly loved this trip. He had not seen her this happy in a long time. Had she been happy because she’d been away from him? Away from this dark house below the earth? Of course she had: Christine belonged up there, in the light of day. Flowers wither in the dark and Christine was a delicate rose yearning to blossom. She deserved to have fun and trips and gifts and drinks in bars. While he … Erik … he was like weed, growing in the dark and … strangling his rose?
Had he been selfish in marrying her? Was he selfish not telling her to go right back to Italy and sing at the gala? Thinking this he could feel a leaden dread open up in the pit of his stomach.