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.
“Well Erik … Can you?” Christine sang in his ear when she received no reply.
Erik startled in surprise.
“What … what, my angel?”
Christine snorted and shook her head.
“Can you make Italian coffee Erik? Please??!” she pleaded, adding her comical big eyed pout, the one he could never resist.
Seeing Christine look at him like that Erik swiftly pushed his dark thoughts far away for now. Gently he leaned forwards to kiss her forehead.
“Anything for my dear, talented little wife!!” He said softly, his voice filled with all the love he felt for her.
Despite the dread that had overtaken him, Erik managed to make a near perfect cup of Italian coffee for Christine. The girl had dashed into the kitchen in delight the moment the scent begun to fill their home.
“Oh my goodness!! Erik!!” she had exclaimed as she jumped into his arms.
“You’re amazing!!It smells just like it did in Italy!!”
The compliment made Erik swoon with delight: he was doing well!! Christine seemed truly happy at that moment. Perhaps all he needed to do was work harder at being a good husband for her. She deserved the world.
“Not so hasty mon petit.” Erik smiled indulgently as he lifted her to sit onto the counter. “You haven’t even tasted it yet. The lovely scent might be deceiving.”
A twinkly eyed Christine shook her head. “When it smells like this I know it’s good.”
To his relief he found out the coffee truly was good once drank, though he never tasted it himself. Though Erik liked the smell, his stomach couldn’t handle coffee too well. Years of bad eating habits, stress and anxiety had left his stomach easily upset and coffee gave him terrible cramps. Being sensible for a change he opted for a calming cup of camomile tea, no matter how much Christine insisted that just one cup of coffee wouldn’t matter. The fact was: after the day he’d had he truly needed something that calmed him down and coffee was the exact opposite of that.
The cake was a success as well and for a while Christine’s return felt like the moment he had dreamed off. They talked about her upcoming season at the Opera, the compositions he had written in her absence and planned a shopping trip. The comforting normality, combined with eating something for the first time in quite a while made Erik feel a bit more at ease.
All too soon the bliss of eating cake with his wife was over and it was time for the singing lesson. The first lesson in weeks. Once again Erik felt shaky: what would have happened to his angel’s voice? Had that strange Italian taught her bad habits he needed to correct?
Would she still want to sing with him? They had not sang together in so long!!
To Erik’s delight there was not a hint of any bad habits Christine might have picked up. Her voice was as crisp and clear as it had always been. It felt like bliss to listen to her after all these weeks of silence and Erik had to stop playing once in a while to wipe at his eyes. It was so good to hear her voice.
They ended the lesson with Christine singing Mozart’s “Deh vieni, non tardar”, the love song making Erik swoon to such an extend he almost forgot to play at crucial parts of the melody. A forgiving Christine managed to make it through despite his inexcusable failings.
The aria finished Erik needed a moment to regain himself. All in all it had been a lot for him to take: the long hard weeks without Christine and now this day filled with so many emotions. It almost felt unreal, as if he were in some strange dream.
“Erik, I sang for you … would you sing for me?” He suddenly heard her behind him.
Sing? Erik thought dazedly. The word sounding odd to him for a second. But then he understood. Of course she wanted to hear him sing. He shook his head a little to clear it.
“Of course my dearest. What would you like to hear?”
An excited little sound escaped Christine upon his agreement and she clapped her hands with delight. The excitement in her eyes once he agreed stopped Erik’s breath for a second. Was she more excited at the prospect of him singing than she was about his presence? Was it his voice that had won her heart? It was a pressure that he had felt for most of their relationship, but never as keenly as today.
Quivering a little as he started his playing Erik moved into Offenbach’s “Scintille Diamant” a tale of longing and seduction that he knew Christine loved to hear him sing. The piano introduction finished, Erik began to sing.
Something felt … wrong, Erik realised as soon as he began. Though Christine seemed completely entranced by his vocals as always, Erik found that they sounded off to his own ears. His singing seemed to come forced and laboured, instead of floating from his throat as easily as speaking the way it usually did. For the first time in his life singing seemed to require actual effort. Halfway through the song Erik longed to quit, but he couldn’t do this to Christine. His angel sat there smiling at him so happily, no, he would finish this for her.
Soon enough Erik wished he had not finished the song at all.
It happened during the climax of the aria.
Suddenly, Erik felt a tension in his throat, something that he had never felt in his life. Then he heard it: a crack!! A crack in his voice on the final note!!
Breaking the song of abruptly Erik sat at the piano and swallowed hard as he felt the world sink beneath him. What had happened? How could this have happened?!!
Awkwardly looking to the side at Christine after some time he saw that it had not gone unnoticed by her, she looked at him with confusion in her eyes and … with what could only be described as horror!!!
“I … I am sorry I wasn’t at my best ...” Erik hastened to explain as pins and needles seemed to overtake his body. “I … had a cold while you were away and … this is the first time I’ve sang. I think … I am not fully recovered. I ...”
In one swift move Christine stood and rushed to his side, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Oh, poor Erik,” She said, kissing the top of his head, “don’t apologise. You shouldn’t have forced yourself to sing for me if your throat isn’t well!! I wouldn’t want you to damage that beautiful voice of yours.”
Beautiful voice … Erik thought bitterly. Yes, his only beauty but for how long? Was his voice damaged? It had certainly felt that way. Through the years he had seen singers come and go and a crack like this was usually the beginning of the end. Erik shivered a little. What would happen to him and Christine if he could not sing any more?! His voice was what had drawn her to him and most probably what had driven her to stay with him.
Without his voice … she might go back to Italy, back to Luigi Pasolini and he could not blame her. What good was an “Angel of Music” that could no longer sing? Yes, there where his compositions, but Luigi could give her music too.
Luigi could give her more than just music and a career at one miserable Opera. The Maestro could lay the world at her feet. With him Christine would have the chance to tour with his orchestra and perform in every country she could ever dream of. They could share the stage together and she could sing his compositions as he conducted. Money, fame, beautiful hotels, music and … a husband who wasn’t a skeleton with health issues.
Luigi was a very handsome man, something Erik was only too aware of. True, he had only seen him once, but the image was burned in his mind. Dark haired with dashing symmetrical features, olive skin and piercing brown eyes. The only thing that might be said against him was that he was short. Still he was longer than Christine and the way Luigi carried himself gave the impression that he was taller than he really was. Add to that a seductive Italian accent and a sense of humour ...
No, who was he kidding: that man would be perfect for Christine.
Meanwhile he … what could he give her? With Raoul there had been something he could give her that the Viscount could not. Now … he had nothing. The way she had looked at him just now, the horror in her eyes, it told him everything he needed to know. Without his voice … he would lose her.
An eerie endless silence filled the music room of the house beyond the lake, where Erik still sat at the piano. His hands were still resting numbly on the keys.
“Useless, you are useless …” Voices in his head had started chanting. Erik immediately believed the voices.
“Are you feeling al-right Erik …? You’ve gone very pale …” Christine asked after a while in a soft, worried, voice. It soothed Erik’s nerves a little to hear how much she cared.
No, no he was not al-right, he chided himself. He was shivering and close to fainting.
“I … I think I am not as well as I thought I was.” Erik croaked miserably.
Immediately Christine’s soft fingers begun to massage his tense shoulders and against his better judgement Erik leaned into the loving embrace.
“Then come and rest … I’ll cook.” Erik heard her murmur gently above his head.
Part of him wished the could stay like that forever. That time would freeze right now so he could lay his head against her shoulder and simply go to sleep. No more thinking, no more worries. But sadly wishes like that were always in vain. Life would go on and he’d better make the best of whatever time he still had with her before she found out the terrible truth.
What had happened? Christine wondered with mild dread. It seemed as if Erik was falling apart before her eyes. The fact that even his singing voice seemed affected was the most worrying part of all. This was not just “a cold” as Erik would have her believe.
“Come now sweetie, talk to me ...” Christine insisted, as she shook him a little. “I really want you to have a rest now and I will go make dinner.”
To her relief Christine finally felt Erik move a little beneath her hands, clearly she had gotten through to him at last.
“No, no Christine.” Erik said as he turned towards her with difficulty. “You must be more tired than I am ... you have only just come back from Italy.”
When Erik looked up to her, Christine felt every bit of worry that had tugged at her multiply. The eyes that met her were darkened with misery and his face now had a haggard quality. What was going on with him?
“More tired than I am, you say?” She replied in a clipped voice. “Erik, that obviously means you’re tired. Sweetie, have you been looking after yourself at all? Did you eat, sleep?”
When Erik bowed his head wretchedly Christine knew enough. Of course she had noticed earlier that his suit had become a bit too wide for him and that there were dark circles under his eyes, but hadn’t mentioned it. It was best not to upset him by expressing her disappointment at his lack of self care in her absence until he had rested, she figured, lest he became even more agitated and collapsed on her.
“Well … no wonder you had a cold.” Christine said in the faux cheerful voice nurses often use for frightened children. “Knowing you it was probably the flu and you’re lying to stop me from being concerned. It’s off to the couch for you my dear.” With that she forced Erik to his feet and dragged him off to the sofa.
Feeling too dazed to protest Erik just allowed Christine to do so. Reaching the couch he lay down and immediately burst into tears, much to Christine’s consternation.
“Erik, what’s wrong my love?” She said as she sat herself by his side. What was he keeping from her?
All the tension Erik had locked inside of him for weeks was bursting out now through big moaning sobs that wrecked his thin body.
“Erik … Erik has missed his Christine so much!!” Erik choked out between gasps. “Please Christine, don’t leave me again!! Don’t leave Erik!!”
So that was it? Christine swallowed: deep down inside she had always known that Erik wasn’t strong enough to cope with her prolonged absence. It had been far too early into their marriage for her liking. This was the state she had been afraid to find him in upon her return and Christine silently admired Erik for keeping himself together for so long. Carefully she reached out to Erik and wrapped him into her arms.
“Hey now, I’m back sweetie. Don’t you see that?” She whispered softly. I’m back Erik, and I’m not going anywhere.”
Gently Christine started running her hands over his body and through his hair, wanting him to feel that she was there. Hoping it would calm him a little.
“Would you tell Erik you love him?” Erik sobbed into her neck after a while.
“Of course I love you, silly.” Christine said lovingly, as she pressed a kiss on his forehead.
“Erik … Erik loves his Christine so much.” Erik moaned and with those words the sobbing became so loud it overwhelmed him and he collapsed completely in Christine’s arms.
“Oh, my poor Erik, it’s been hard for you, hasn’t it?” Christine sighed sadly.
Erik nodded against her chest. Oh, it had been hard, that was why he knew he would die if she ever left him. One way or another he had to fight to keep her with him, with or without his voice.
After some time Erik was finally calm enough to be left on his own to rest for a while and Christine went to the kitchen to put the final touches on the meal Erik had prepared for her.
To her relief the dinner required nothing more than a few herbs some grated cheese and heating.
Once she had dinner on the go, Christine returned to the music room, where she found Erik still laying limply on the couch. For a moment she thought her husband asleep, but coming closer she found he was still awake, staring up at the ceiling with unseeing eyes. It seemed his mind was so far away that he had not even realised she was standing right next to him.
Not wanting to startle him Christine cleared her throat to alert Erik to her presence. The sound shook him from his thoughts and he turned his face towards her.
“Christine?” He said softly, making her name almost sound like a prayer.
“Dinner is almost ready Erik. I don’t know why you would act as if preparing it would be too much for me. You had everything ready.”
For a second Erik blinked at her. Then he sat up and Christine sat herself next to him in the vacant spot.
“That … wasn’t what I meant Christine it ...” Erik started, then he sighed. “It just all went so differently than I planned it. I wanted you to be happy when you came home. A clean house, food and cake a husband who wasn’t a failure. Because that is what I am, let’s face it. Erik ruined everything for you, Christine. You were so happy before you came back here … Now … you are frowning and that is Erik’s fault.”
A gasp of horror escaped Christine upon hearing Erik speak like that. Tears pricking behind her eyes she turned towards Erik and grabbed his face between her hands, forcing him to look at her.
“Don’t you ever say anything like that again, Erik!!” Christine strained to keep the grief and anger that ran through her from her voice. “Why are you so low on yourself? What is wrong with you?”
How Erik wished to explain the terrible thoughts and feelings that had been suffocating him for so long now. But for some reason he simply could not. How could he explain to her how useless and worthless he felt, without making her see it too? How would Christine react to knowing she had chosen an incompetent failure for a husband? How could he tell her he might be losing her voice before he even had a chance to process the loss for himself or find out what the problem might be?
No, no. It was best he remain silent for now.
“Christine … I … I can’t tell you, not yet ...”
With a sigh Christine held his face little longer, still wanting him to look at her. Then she nodded resignedly.
“I understand, it’s been a trying day for the both of us.” She agreed. Then she released him and rose from her seat.
“I’m going to check on our dinner now.” Christine said in a dark voice as she walked to the door. Then, before slipping out, she turned to Erik once again.
“Erik ...” she whispered, fidgeting with her hands as she searched for the right words. “If you find that you do want to talk … Know that you can always come to me.”
Erik just nodded his agreement to her and she swiftly stepped out of the room.
With a frustrated groan Erik lay back down again. Why was all this happening to him? All he wanted was to make Christine happy. Why couldn’t he manage to do this one, simple thing?
Less than fifteen minutes later the meal was ready and on the table. But what should have been a celebratory spread was now an awkward diner eaten in silence.
In fact, neither of them were very hungry after all that had happened, but they forced themselves to eat so as to not upset the other.
The moment the meal was finished Christine insisted Erik should go to bed immediately, an order he obeyed gratefully as he was beyond exhausted.
Despite his mind buzzing with worry, Erik was so sleep deprived he fell asleep the second his head hit the pillow. The fact that his body allowed him the much needed rest was mainly due to the fact that Christine decided to make him comfortable by laying next to him for a while. His lovely wife wrapped him into her arms and hummed for him the way he had been longing for all these weeks. For a few seconds Erik gazed at the angel that held him then he could keep his eyes open any-longer and slowly Christine’s voice lulled him into sleep.
The next day Erik found he lacked the energy to get up: depleted of adrenaline the weight of the last few weeks had caught up with him. Not to mention the fact that he was still in complete inner turmoil about that vocal crack and all the mental torment it was bringing him.
Feeling duty bound to get up for Christine’s sake he heaved his body from the bed, then collapsed back limply on the edge, just as Christine entered with a breakfast tray.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She asked, her brow furrowed in displeasure.
“Getting up, Christine I must look after you.” Erik tried unconvincingly.
“Look after me?” Christine scoffed. “Erik, you can’t even look after yourself. Look at you, you’ve turned back into a skeleton in less than a month. You, husband, are staying in bed today and perhaps even tomorrow, we’ll see.”
Christine didn’t need to do much coercing to make Erik return to the warm cocoon of comfort. He was feeling utterly dreadful and … it was safe there. As long as he was in bed Christine would not ask him to sing and he did not run the risk of his voice cracking again. If he could just stay in bed until her rehearsals at the Opera began again he might get away with it for a while. Then, when she was safely above, he could run through some vocal excersises without her hearing him and asking questions he did not want to answer. Three days, he had to get through. Three more days before he could find out if his voice was damaged. Three longs days of tension before he would know the truth …
Three days can last forever when you are unable to express your deepest feelings to the one you love more than anything on earth. To Erik it was hell not to be able to help Christine with her upcoming role in the Opera. The two of them would always run through the music of any new project together before Christine would sing it for anyone else. It had been this way ever since he’d been her angel.
When Erik mentioned it Christine told him it did not matter, but to Erik it did. This was the first time he’d been unable to help her prepare for a role and it added to his already amplified feelings of uselessness. Nothing mattered but Christine so his place was at the piano, not lazing around in bed. Even though it turned out he needed the rest more than he’d ever realised.
After returning to bed that first day Erik ate most of his breakfast at Christine’s insistence. When he had finished she told him to try and rest some more, so Erik lay down and closed his eyes to please her. He had not expected to immediately fall back into a deep sleep, not waking up till late that evening when Christine brought him dinner. After that he surprised himself by falling asleep again and still feeling exhausted when he woke up the next day.
After, thankfully, sleeping through most of the first day, the second day in bed went much like the first. This time Erik did not even make an attempt at getting up. He had no energy, felt empty and nothing could bring him joy any-more. Always impeccable where dressing and personal hygiene were concerned, now even the thought of leaving his bed to wash himself made his wince.
All Erik really wanted was to remain in bed forever and cry, if he could find the strength for it. To his annoyance sleep was harder to come by, giving him more time to think and wallow in his self hate.
It hurt having Christine fussing over him when he felt so very undeserving of it. The whole situation made Erik feel even more guilty. Poor Christine having to run after her useless husband while she’d only just returned from a tour and should be resting while preparing for her upcoming rehearsals.
It was guilt that drove him from his cocoon of safety on the afternoon of the third day, when he decided that: even if he couldn’t sing with her, the least he could do was help Christine run through her songs.
A dejected Christine was reading a book in the living room feeling rather sorry for herself. Her triumphant return from Italy had rather lost it’s lustre. Although she had expected Erik might not take her absence well, she had not been prepared for things to be this bad. She did not mind looking after her husband, but in the last few days she had barely had a chance to speak to him. Of course he could not help this, as he clearly needed rest. Still, it was far from the ideal way of spending her scarce days off.
It also amplified her general feelings of restlessness. After a month of travelling with Meg, being amongst a lot of people and chattering the day away, the silence in Erik’s house was deafening and unsettling. Suddenly she felt lonely and cut off in Erik’s home instead of safe and loved.
Perhaps it was time that they’d discuss moving to a normal house where she would have neighbours and a chance to take a walk when she felt like it.
The soft sound of Erik’s voice startled her from her thoughts, she had not even noticed him coming in!!
“Erik?” Why are you up?” Christine asked gently.
The sight that met Christine’s eyes when Erik shuffled painfully slowly into the room did nothing to ease her worries for him. Erik looked a mess: unkempt and unshaven, clearly not having bothered to wash or change into clean pyjamas even after nearly three days. The robe that he had thrown on looked almost bedraggled on his thin, deflated looking frame.
“I … am sorry Christine.” Erik droned, his voice only a sad echo of the full seductive baritone that she held dear.
“Sorry about what my love?” Christine asked as she stood up and walked to him.
“For neglecting my duties … Neglecting you.” Erik closed his eyes wearily. Since when had everything become such an effort? All he had done was get up, put on his robe and slippers and walk to the drawing-room. But it felt as if he had climbed every staircase in the Opera twice.
A soft kiss on his cheek made him open his eyes again to meet Christine’s loving gaze.
“Sweetie, I don’t mind.” Christine sounded kind, but Erik sensed a slight edge to her voice. “You are ill so I looked after you. Would you not do the same for me?”
Erik nodded at her words. “Yes, but you'd deserve it …” He didn’t deserve anything, Erik knew. Still he felt Christine hug him tighter at this reply.
“You deserve it too.” She urged. “More than anyone, I might say.”
Sweet Christine, how caring she sounded. Would she still sound like this if she found out about his voice? If she knew that he was useless, nothing but a burden to her that kept her chained to a cold, dark house below the ground?
“I just want to do one thing for you now ...” Erik muttered in Christine’s hair. His wife looked up at him in surprise.
“Which is?” Christine asked as she let go of Erik, much to his displeasure.
“Run through your Opera,” Erik said with as much passion as he could muster. Taking Christine’s hands in his he continued. “Christine, let us run through it just once before rehearsals start tomorrow. I … might not be able to sing with you … but …”
Deep down Christine wasn’t in the mood to sing at all, but as Erik was making an effort for her despite clearly feeling terrible, she felt it would be cruel to refuse. So she kissed his now stubbled cheek and smiled kindly.
“That would be wonderful, my dear husband. Though I will miss your voice singing with me.”
And with that she walked to the music room, missing how those last words made Erik double up with agony. Swallowing away his tears he followed her and took his place at the piano.
The run though was a world of pain for Erik: Christine sounded wonderful as always, but not being able to join her in the duets and not knowing if he ever could again weighed on him like a stone on his chest. In the end he couldn’t help but hum the other parts or when showing Christine where she had to change her phrasings. Humming wasn’t dangerous, he reasoned, in fact it might help his voice and breathing.
But the Opera was too passionate for him to just keep humming. The story of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera resonating deeply within him. Then the duet came “Teco io sto” and it was intolerable to hear Christine sing her pleads to him without being able to answer. So intolerable that … he forgot himself and … his voice shot out bright and clearly, as if by itself.
“Ah crudele, e mel rammemori, Lo ripeti innanzi a me!” He exclaimed.
It sounded good, Christine stared at him with a smile. Was it over …? Could he sing again …? Was he sounding well?
But no … a wobble stopped him dead … This was odd … How could he sound well one moment only to wobble seconds later? But he didn’t let on to Christine, it was her run through and he didn’t want to upset her the day before her rehearsal. Instead he simply forced a smile, and a shrug and played on, resorting himself to humming again.
“Erik, what in the world? Save your voice, you silly man!!” Christine chided when the duet had finished, giving him a playful push.
“I’m sorry, you … drew it out of me.” Erik said earnestly, it was the truth. “You sing so passionately Christine. Oh ... you will do well in this.”
A delighted sigh from Christine was his answer “Thank you Erik!!!” she beamed back.
The compliment seemed to make Christine happy, which reassured Erik that perhaps this could work. He could always remain her teacher, could he not? Even if she left him for someone else … she could return to him a few times a week for a lesson?
The Opera continued and after a while Erik felt as if it were draining him. Who’s bright idea had it been to make this show three acts long? All too soon the heavy pressure on his chest returned, as did the pins and needles and blurred vision. Still he somehow managed to make it to the end, even though he felt barely present in the room any more.
Clearly he had overtaxed himself again. But playing piano had never drained him in his life!! Why, he’d had piano sessions that lasted days on end. Maybe … maybe he was dying …? Was that what it was?!! A fresh panic started pounding through him …
Two soft hands on his shoulders, thankfully pulling him back to reality. Christine … His dear Christine. With a sigh Erik closed his eyes and leaned against his dear wife’s stomach. A shiver ran down his back, he was cold, exhausted and he wanted nothing more than to return to his bed. It was only now that he noticed he was drenched with sweat. A whimper escaped him, attracting Christine’s attention.
“Oh my goodness, you’re still not well at all, are you? Well, then there is nothing for it: you’ll be taking a nice hot bath and I will get you fresh pyjamas and put clean sheets on the bed. After that it’s soup and rest for you.”
Those words made Erik sit up straight again. No, no this wasn’t right!! He was the one supposed to be looking after Christine the night before rehearsals, not the other way around!! And even if he was incapacitated that did not mean Christine should waste her precious time on him!!
“No, no, that is not necessary at all!” Erik said more forcibly than he intended. “Just let me go back to bed. Erik does not deserve to be looked after. Christine must rest now and be fresh in the morning.”
To his confusion a scowl appeared on Christine’s face at his words and a groan of annoyance escaped her throat. Why would she do that? It wasn’t good for her voice!!
“Erik, what is wrong with you? You’ve been nothing but down on yourself ever since I returned. It’s really starting to annoy me.” Christine exclaimed, her voice so harsh it hurt Erik physically as much as it scared him. Immediately he scrambled to his feet to let himself fall at her feet and begun his pleads for forgiveness.
“Nothing is wrong my angel!!” Erik urged feverishly. “I swear, it’s just … this virus is making me so tired and … I so want to sing with you. Please, please do not be angry with your Erik.”
Above him Christine stiffened and closed her eyes as she released a tense breath. Then she knelt next to Erik.
“Please, please stop doing this.” she sighed wearily. “I told you that it makes me nervous. Please don’t grovel at my feet every time I get short with you. Sometimes people just argue. You are not beneath me Erik.”
A sad nod from Erik as he took Christine’s hand.
“I … I apologise ...” Erik whispered. “Erik should not have been ill when you returned. It … wasn’t in my plans.”
A snort of laughter escaped Christine at this, it was so very Erik.
“Erik … I don’t know what’s going on in that mind of yours … But … I never once thought that getting ill was part of any of your plans ...”
Even Erik couldn’t help but smile at the absurdity of his words. Still, he knew now that it was perhaps time to hint at that what was troubling him, without making Christine concerned.
“It’s just … I have been … out of sorts a bit … not being able to sing with you. Oh Christine, I’ve not being able to do any of the things I dreamed of when you returned …”
Now he’d almost reached it, the things he wanted to confess. But just as he had found the courage to discuss his worries Christine smiled and kissed him on the cheek.
“Oh Erik, I understand. I miss singing with you as well. Being away from you I kept hearing your voice in my mind and look forward to hearing it again soon.”
Oh no, no!! He couldn’t confess it to her, not at all. It was obvious now: the only reason Christine came back to him was his voice.
What a fool he was, he had almost ruined it all. Why had he even brought up singing or his worries? Erik thought, shame overwhelming him. Did he delight in his own self torture?
There had to be a way to woo her, to make her see him as a person, not a music box. All he needed was time.
“I’m sorry ...” Erik whispered eventually. “It … it might take some time before it’s recovered.”
The flicker of sadness in Christine’s eyes at those words did not escape his notice and suddenly Erik couldn’t take it any-more. Overtaken by panic he flew forward and grabbed his wife by the shoulders, forcing her to look him in the eyes.
“Christine …” He said, his breathing laboured. “What do you love more … me or … my voice?”
For a few seconds Christine blinked at him in confusion, then she pushed him away with a small giggle.
“That’s a silly question Erik,” she shrugged casually, “that’s the same thing.”
What did she mean by that?!! “No. No it isn’t!!” Erik exclaimed dramatically. How could she even say that?!!
For a second Christine’s brow furrowed: why was Erik acting so erratic these days? It made her feel confused and uncomfortable. Perhaps he would calm down if she explained her feelings a little better. Not that she understood why this was suddenly so important to him.
“Yes it is. You are your voice Erik, it was all I knew before the physical reality of you. It is what drew me to you ...”
But much to her horror her explanation did nothing to calm her husband, far from it. Instead the look on his face betrayed a pain she had not seen since the day she unmasked him.
“No … no Christine … please.” Erik whispered, his voice barely audible. “Are … are you saying you would leave me if … if for some reason I couldn’t sing any-more?”
What? Christine thought: All this drama over a hoarse voice? It would be amusing if it wasn’t so infuriating.
“Oh, is that what is bothering you? Don’t be silly Erik, there is nothing to worry about, it’s just a cold you silly man. Now, let’s get you a nice hot bath.”
With that she stood up, still unaware of the truth or the mental agony that tortured her husband.
“But Christine …?” But she already left and Erik couldn’t help but notice that she had avoided answering the question.
You are your voice (…) It is what drew me to you …
A cold … If only things were as simple as that.
Still on his knees and staring at the door that Christine had slipped out of, Erik put his head in his hands and wept.
After a restless night Erik felt broken, but still managed to hold himself together long enough to pretend he was doing better and wish Christine good luck on her first day of rehearsals. This was his new plan: he would act as if all were fine. If he was the perfect husband maybe Christine would not leave.
After a reasonably cheerful breakfast Christine left for the first cast read through and Erik found himself faced with the moment of truth.
For three days Erik had longed for Christine’s rehearsals to start so he could test his voice in private. But now the moment was there the fear of trying to sing felt like a crushing weight and it took Erik several hours to drag himself to the music room and begin.
Once there he begun to shake before even making it to the piano and it felt as if a hand was tightening around his throat. Suddenly he felt cold, so very cold.
No, no, he was not ready for this!!
Slowly, with legs feeling like led, Erik stumbled back to the bedroom where he collapsed onto the bed and curled in on himself underneath the blankets.
After three days of looking after a miserable Erik, Christine found it rather a relief to be back in the world above. It was something that made her feel slightly guilty: Erik couldn’t help being unwell and had tried so hard at breakfast that morning. But it was hard to feel good when the person you lived with was either sleeping or crying.
“Christine!!” Meg cheered happily as she ran to her. Immediately Christine’s mood brightened as she rushed towards her best friend.
A flushed and excited Meg wrapped Christine in a hug, all the while shrieking: “You never guess!! You never guess!!”
Sensing she had missed something big and exciting Christine released herself from the embrace and looked at her friend eagerly.
“Meg, what is it?” She pleaded, wondering how the wife of a former Opera Ghost could miss out on news and gossip.
An enigmatic smirk formed on Meg’s full, pink lips. “He is here!!” she nodded, as if that should be enough. It wasn’t.
“Who is Meg? What are you talking about?!!” Christine chided playfully, but still urgently enough to make it clear she did not like to be kept in the dark.
“Luigi Pasolini!!” Meg beamed. “He has signed on to direct Un Ballo in Maschera, just for you!!”
For a second Christine stared at Meg in confusion. Had she really said what she thought she’d said?
“You must be joking ...” Christine scoffed tentatively, why would Meg make up something like that?
Sure enough Meg shook her head, her wild curls dancing around her face cheerfully.
“No Christine, I swear!!” She laughed. “He’s there waiting just for you. Now come along, we’re late.”
With that Meg dragged Christine to the auditorium where, just like Meg said, the Italian Maestro was waiting for her.
“I found her Signor!!” Meg called and then she skipped out, leaving a confused Christine on her own with him.
In the house beyond the lake, Erik had finally stopped shaking and tried to gather the energy to get out of bed again.
There was so much to be done: the breakfast table needed to be cleared, there was washing up to do, dinner prepared and he had to bathe and dress.
But … he simply couldn’t seem to find it in him to do any of it, it all seemed so daunting and exhausting … so useless …
What was the point of everything? It was safe in bed, he was safe in bed: here he didn’t have to do anything, he didn’t have to live up to anything.
Maybe he would just tell Christine he’d gone too far too soon that morning, that he needed more rest. It was not even a lie, because he still felt terrible and was so very tired. Still feeling cold he wrapped the blankets tighter around himself.
Yes, one more day in bed … just one more.
“Ah, there she is!! La Daae!!” Luigi exclaimed ecstatically as Christine entered the stage hesitatingly. “My dear Piccolo Usignolo!!” He cheered as he ran to her, wrapped her in his arms, lifted her up to spin her round, making Christine giggle and slightly dizzy.
“Maestro … What are you doing here?” Christine said dazedly when she was finally standing again.
Then she immediately regretted using “Maestro” to address the man. Using the term for anyone but Erik inside the Opera felt wrong, somehow.
“Ah, the old tale of mountains coming to Mohammed, Christina my tesoro.” Luigi said passionately. “Once you left, non of the other sopranos I once adored sounded the same. You see, once you hear the voice of an angel … nothing can compare!” with that he took her hand and pressed a kiss into it.
“Ah ...” Christine blushed and felt herself shivering with delight a little. How wonderful this felt, to be treated like this. It reminded her of the way Erik had tried to woo her back when they first met, but without the oddness and awkwardness. It had been a long time since Erik had ever been this passionate and seductive with her. How he had missed it. These days Erik was quiet and withdrawn, almost as if lost in a world of his own.
Not that Erik did not love her, far from it, the man worshipped her. But to be wooed onstage, in the light, in front of everyone was rather exciting. Apparently Luigi had dropped all his work commitments just to chase after her. It was so romantic and seductive and something Christine realised she needed after three days of near silence and darkness.
“Has La Daaé learned some of her arias yet?” Luigi purred in her ear, it tickled a little, which made her giggle again. Stop acting like a schoolgirl, you’re a married woman!! Her mind berated her in a voice that sounded unsettlingly like Madame Giry!!
“I studied Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa ...” Christine demurred, “I think I know most of it.”
A sound of delight escaped Luigi who once again kissed her hand before dashing to the piano. “Ah, bellissima!! Then La Daaé, do not wait, just sing!! Sing for me!!”
Sing for me!!
With a shock and a shiver these words broke Christine’s trance. What was she thinking? What was she doing allowing herself to be wooed by some Italian conductor, while her poor Erik, a musical genius who had more talent in his pink than this man had in his entire body, was waiting below?
She was basically flirting with another man in his own home.
Sing for me indeed!! That pleasure was for her Erik alone.
“I’ll sing for everyone, of course.” She said swiftly – what if Erik had seen all of this? He’d have a fit.
“Che importa ...” Luigi huffed with a slight, irritated, shrug and began to play.
It took two false starts before Christine had composed herself enough to sing the aria about a conflicted wife in love with two men. It was a position she had been in before and she never to wished to go there again. Like Amelia she had to quench any feelings stirred by the Italian man’s grand gestures.
But it was soon clear that Luigi was hard to resist. Instead of the full cast rehearsal that she had counted on, Luigi had set aside this day to work with her and her alone.
What he seemed to want was to know everything about her: her life, her thoughts, her feelings. From her birthday the her favourite music and from her favourite to what she liked to wear, he wanted every detail. After what seemed like hours, they finally returned to the job at hand.
“I need to hear my Piccolo Usignolo’s voice and how she feels about the role. Have you ever had feelings for two men at that same time Christine? Or two men fighting over you?”
The conductor stared at her with burning eyes and Christine felt very uncomfortable at the memories that returned to her of those dark days back then, when she was only a chorus girl landing her first lead.
Her dear Erik and poor Raoul, her childhood friend. Both had gone above and beyond to win her heart, both had almost died because of their love for her.
Trembling at the thought she nodded.
“Of course, I had not expected anything less. What happened to your suitors?”
But Christine was far away, remembering Erik mere minutes from death when she had returned to him at last. The moment she had left him life had lost all meaning to him and he had stopped eating and drinking completely. She had found him in her bedroom, laying on her bed, the dress she had last worn in his house clutched tightly in his arms. Never would she forget that sunken, emaciated face, the tears that streamed from his eyes when he heard her voice. It had been days before he had actually seen her, as he was so weak that even opening his eyes was too much for him, So for days she had sat singing next to his bed, feeding him soup, puréed vegetables and fruit juice, never knowing if he would make it. Until one day she woke up on the chair besides his bedside and found him staring at her lovingly. A few weeks later, when he was strong enough, they had married.
“I married one of them, of course.” Christine smiled fondly, twisting the ring on her finger around a little. “Yes, Monsieur Pasolini, do not forget I am a married lady.” She smirked, reminding herself of this fact as much as him.
For a second Christine was certain she detected the hint of a frown on the perfectly sculptured brow of the world famous composer at those words, but it was so fast that she was certain she had imagined it.
“Oh, indeed … signora ...” He said slowly, just that little less jovial than he usually sounded. But he recovered swiftly and began to smile. “But that doesn’t mean I cannot spoil my dear little diva! Come with me.”
With that he took Christine by the arm to take her to her dressing room, which, it transpired, he had filled with roses, strawberries, chocolates and champagne.
“W … what?” Christine gasped, not sure how pleased this gesture made her feel. The dressing room wasn’t just her personal environment, but also Erik’s safe space to arrive into the Opera. Often he would come up and take a short rest on her sofa to recover from the endless stairwell that was starting to take it’s toll on him a little more now that he was getting older. What if he’d been caught taking a nap?!
... What if he’d seen Luigi?!!
“How did you even get in here!!” Christine exclaimed in confusion. “I always lock the door!!” - From the inside!! She added inside her mind.
The conductor was visibly thrown by her unexpected reaction to his romantic gesture. Clearly he had been rather certain she’d love it.
“I had management open the door, naturally, cara ...” he offered.
For a second Christine tried to swallow her annoyance, but no she couldn’t. This wasn’t just about her but also Erik’s safety and perhaps that of the stupid man himself. Goodness knew what Erik would think or do if he ever saw Luigi and an army of his minions decorate her dressing room like this. The heart shaped chocolates made his intentions very clear to see.
“Monsieur Pasolini ...” she started with a long suffering sigh. “Do not think I don’t appreciate your gesture but … Please do not come into my dressing room without my personal invitation. I keep it locked because it’s my private room.”
The man in front of her looked confused for a second, then he snorted in annoyance.
“A dressing room is not a bedroom, it’s the perfect place for a surprise.” he snapped, his wounded ego clear to see.
But Christine shook her head. “To me it is like a bedroom or a boudoir. At some time during rehearsals I spend more time here than anywhere else!! It has all my … well things. It’s …” My husbands safe space … She thought. “Well, just don’t come in here, understood?” She finished weakly, suddenly feeling rather emotional, but not wanting to show it.
For a second Luigi stared at her again, taking in her words and clearly not appreciating them. Then he released a huffing noise.
“Donna difficile,” he grumbled. “Every woman I know would appreciate a gesture like this!!” he gestured at the room.
An angry gasp escaped Christine at his response, who did this man think he was?!
“But I am not every other woman, Monsieur Pasollini.” Christine snapped. “I am Christine Daaé, Prima Donna at the Opera Populaire and this … this is my home and in my home we play by my rules. Understood?”
Wether it was her words, or Christine’s tones, suddenly Luigi Passolini seemed to realise that he had made a big mistake and horror and remorse seemed to take over from wounded pride.
“No, no!! My Piccolo Usignolo, do not be angry with Luigi!!” The man exclaimed with full Opera seria dramatics. “I was merely trying to delight my diva and show her how much I will relish directing her! If you do not wish for me to do this again, of course I will not!! Tell me how I can make it up.”
With a weary sigh Christine closed her eyes and let her anger fade. The man’s behaviour seemed all too familiar. What was it about her that made grown men behave like this?
“Simply promise not to come here again without my invitation and we’re fine.” she shrugged, wasn’t this literally all she had asked him for the last few minutes?
At that Luigi took her hand, fell to one knee and pressed a kiss onto it.
“You have my word, merciful signora ...” He exclaimed dramatically, looking up at her with the look that seemed half sincere and half … she couldn’t put a name to it. Lascivious seemed the nearest one. Christine rolled her eyes, and couldn’t help but chuckle at the silliness of of it all.
“Now … get up, please,” she then insisted. “Let’s take some of this champagne and things to the auditorium and continue our chat about the show.” A part of her worried that Erik might be behind the mirror seeing all of this and getting the wrong impression.
“No, no, let’s have lunch together!!” Luigi exclaimed as he rose.
“Well ...” she hummed, but then felt she owed it to him after rejecting his kind gesture. “Al right. But first I want all this ...” she gestured at the roses, chocolates and strawberries, “to be shared amongst the corpse du ballet, I don’t like to waste food and flowers.”
The champagne she would keep as it wouldn’t go off and perhaps she could surprise Erik with it one day.
“Consider it done!!” Luigi smiled, happy at her accepting his offer.
The rest of the day seemed to go by like a blur to Christine. Her anger forgotten, she soon found herself charmed again by her Italian conductor and enjoyed his company enormously.
After a champagne filled lunch the two returned to the Opera where they resumed working on Christine’s role. All day Luigi ran after her to compliment her voice and beauty and Christine rather enjoyed being treated with the same egards that were usually given to people like Carlotta. This was the first time she had ever truly felt like a Prima Donna.
It all seemed like a dream to her and she had to admit she wasn’t looking forward to having to share Luigi with so many others when the actual rehearsals started the next day.
“Ah, don’t worry my tesoro …” Luigi smiled as they said goodbye at the Opera doors at the end of the day. “There is plenty of Luigi to go round. My diva will not be neglected.”
With that they said their goodbyes and Christine left to the entrance at the Rue de Scribe, noticing with worry that she had made it far later than usual when she heard the clock strike eight.
Returning to the house beyond the lake a few moments later Christine felt her mood sink: the house was dark, cold and silent. And once she turned on the light things did not improve: the fire was out, the breakfast table was not cleared and there was no dinner waiting for her. For a brief second she hoped that this was because Erik was composing, but the empty music room dashed these hopes as swiftly as they had appeared.
With a sigh Christine turned to the bedroom, where she found an Erik shaped lump outlined beneath the blankets in their bed. Swiftly she tore away the blankets to reveal her husband curled up beneath them, hands wrapped around his knees. The sudden removal of his protective covering made Erik startle in horror.
“Who .. what?” He exclaimed, searching for the source of this injustice, then crumpling into a sad heap once he notice that the perpetrator was Christine. “Oh ...” he sighed, dejectedly.
“Oh, for goodness sakes Erik, you’re still not dressed?” Christine despaired, as she saw him wrap his dressing gown tighter around himself. She had been gone since half past nine that morning and clearly he had not done a single thing that he had promised her.
A dejected Erik bowed his head in shame.
“I … I’m sorry Christine … I …” Erik moaned sadly, not daring to look at her. “I think I overdid it this morning … I felt so … strange … after you left ...”
Hearing this a pull went through Christine’s heart, remembering breakfast that morning. It seemed so long ago by now. Of course, she had been surprised by how fast he had recovered from the near collapse he’d had the day before. How stupid of her not to realise Erik had been pretending … for her sake, wasn’t this what he always did?
“You mean you just pretended to feel better … for me?” Christine asked as she sat herself down next to him. Immediately Erik lay his head on her lap and wrapped his arms around her.
“Erik … knows you expected much better of your return and he failed you.” He said softly. “Er … Erik just wanted to try … You have to put up with so much for Erik’s sake and … he thought if he doesn’t act well, Christine might not want to return to him any-more. Please don’t be angry.”
Guilt crept over Christine hearing Erik’s words and seeing the dark sadness in his red rimmed eyes. Poor Erik, he might not be able to give her the passion and grand gestures the way he he used to do but he loved her so deeply and needed her so much. What had she been thinking? A married lady flirting with another man all over Paris. It had been fun, of course, and Luigi might be dashing and he clearly had a crush on her, but no-one would ever worship her more than her husband did.
“My poor Erik ...” Christine sighed sadly, placing her hand on his cold, tear stained, cheek. “Of course I’m not angry. I’m sad that you felt as if you had to pretend for my sake. Don’t do that again sweetie.”
As she sat there, stroking his hair, Christine was rather relieved Erik didn’t ask why she was back so late. Instead Erik seemed to simply fall back into the slumber that she had disturbed so roughly. Her poor Erik looked so heartbreakingly fragile. Knowing that Erik had not hidden the fact that he felt threatened by the conductor very well, she swore to herself that from tomorrow onwards she’d keep things professional between her and Luigi. A silly fling wasn’t worth risking Erik’s health for.
After sitting with him for some time Christine heard Erik’s stomach churning, it was a surprisingly sad and mournful sound and she doubted any other person’s stomach could produce a noise so utterly depressing.
“Sweetie, have you eaten today?” Christine asked kindly, remembering she had not seen him eat during breakfast. Erik shook his head.
“Erik, you promised me you would eat regularly!!” She chided, “Never mind I will make you something.” Her words elicited a sad sigh from her lap.
“But Christine has only just come home and Erik has not been hungry today.” he moaned sadly.
“Your stomach doesn’t seem to agree, sweetie,” Christine chuckled as Erik’s stomach rumbled again the moment the words left his lips. Frowning a little Christine pondered on what kind of snack she would make him, indeed not having the energy to cook a full meal and still feeling full herself from ... Ah, a smile stirred her lips, that was brilliant.
In the coming months she often wished that her idea had been to bake him an omelette, but hindsight is a wonderful thing ...
“It’s al right Erik.” Christine cheered. “I had the waiters save half a pan of soup for me from my lunch with Luigi this afternoon.”
The second those last words thoughtlessly escaped her throat Christine wish she could push them back. This was not the way she wanted him to find out about this at all; not when the smell of champagne and his strong aftershave still lingered round her. But it was too late as just like that the atmosphere changed and Erik’s eyes shot open. Slowly and stiffly he sat up and looked at Christine with horror and broken hurt.
“Your lunch with … who …?” He gasped.
Erik was numb. He could not move, he could not speak and he was barely breathing, his head was pounding so much he could not hear what Christine was saying. Only the vaguest of snippets reached him.
“Came to direct me ...” “Nothing happened ...” “… friends …”
But he knew whatever she was saying to reassure him was a lie. Even if Christine did not realise she had feelings for this man, she would soon enough. This was what he had been afraid of. In the back of his mind he had always known that Raoul was not the only threat and that one day Christine would meet someone else. A handsome younger man who’d be able to make her happy in every way he could not. And this time he had nothing to fight back with: he no longer had his voice and did not possess the strength that he once had.
“Erik … sweetie … say something ...” Christine said, her voice waving. The silence felt crushing and she was filled with worry. Why was Erik not saying anything? Why was he just sitting there, staring at her? Christine was certain he had not moved or blinked for the last five minutes. What had she done? Why had she been so terribly stupid? Erik had already been so strange and out of sorts and now he had seemingly gone into shock.
“Erik … please ...” she half whispered half breathed.
Hearing her pleads and worry Erik understood that he was frightening his Christine and despite everything, that was the last thing he ever wanted. The dear girl had been so kind to him: marrying him, trying to love him, trying to live in this dark tomb. Did she not deserve better than being chained to an old corpse? He’d had his happiness and had nothing left to give her: she was set for a long lasting career and a marriage to Luigi Passolini would grant her the key to becoming the worlds leading soprano.
Perhaps this was meant to be: he had trained her and prepared her and Luigi was the one who’d take over the care for his beloved from now on. Yes, he’d had to set her free. But he would not tell her that yet: knowing his dear angel she would only pretend that this was not what she wanted to spare him. Perhaps she would even reject Luigi for his sake. But she shouldn’t: she deserved better.
“Erik, Luigi is a gentleman and a friend, who loves my voice almost as much as you do. It’s nothing to worry about.” Christine tried again and Erik took a deep breath, after which he began to play his part. The part that would make him chip a little bit of his heart every day, until he had nothing left but broken glass that would rub his insides till they bled with a burning pain that would slowly tear him apart.
“It … it’s al-right … Erik … believes Christine ...” Erik muttered, annoyed that he was unable to make his voice sound strong or reassuring.
“You don’t look al-right ...” Christine said with worry clouding her voice, her brow furrowing as she looked at him.
“I’m just still so tired ...” Erik sighed, not lying at all, he was utterly exhausted.
“Poor Erik, that flue has really got to you, hasn’t it?” Christine worried, the tone of her voice almost reassuring Erik that she still loved him. Perhaps she did. Oh, how he wished he could keep her with him, he loved her so much. He needed her so much. But he knew now that he was not what Christine needed if his beloved were to flourish in life.
“Luigi and I covered so much in rehearsals today, I could easily skip tomorrow to look after you.” Christine suddenly offered. Not that she truly wanted to miss out on the first full cast day and the fun she would have with Meg. But after having practically dropped that Luigi bomb on Erik like that, she truly wanted to reassure him he and his needs came first for her. Also: Erik’s sudden weakened state did begin to worry her. It was as if he kept getting worse and not better, as he had pretended that morning. If he needed her, she would be there for him. After years of his constant care for her every need she owed him that much.
“Oh no my dearest wife, I could never ask you to skip important rehearsals for my sake!!” Erik immediately and almost automatically declined her offer, almost as if she’d offended him. No, Erik was certain: he could not ask her to do that, no matter how desperately he wanted her to simply sit with him and sing holding his hand, so he could sleep peacefully without nightmares.
“I told you, Erik, I can be missed tomorrow.” Christine said, almost tearfully. “You are my husband, you come first for me ...”
A shaky sigh escaped Erik and for a moment he had to close his eyes. Her husband, his needs. Oh, Christine, how long would she still call him that? How long would she still be there to ask him about his needs?
“But Erik wants you and your career to flourish … He can’t be selfish and ask you to stay with him ...” Erik tried to force out in a voice choked with tears. But it did not convince Christine in the slightest.
“So you do wish me to stay, then?” Christine insisted, seeing his rejection was basically a plea for her to stay. Then there was the pained look on his face: without his mask Erik was the worlds most terrible liar. “Erik, if you were true to yourself and your needs, what would you want? Be honest.”
Honest … Erik pondered the word. Christine wanted him to be honest with her. If he were truly honest he would tell her that he felt cold, ill and miserable. That his brain had been torturing him, that there were moments he could not breath, that his voice was deserting him and that all he wanted was to stay in bed forever. Then he would fall to his knees and beg her to stay with him, to sing for him and never to leave him alone in the endless darkness. He’d bury his face in her dress and weep for hours, until Christine told him it was al-right and wrap her arms around him.
But he couldn’t, not if he wanted to look out for her best interests.
“Erik, say something, what do you want?” Christine insisted again.
Could he be selfish and keep her with him. Have her by his side for just one more day? He’d known so little happiness in his life … surely one day wouldn’t matter? Not if he did the right thing afterwards.
“You … truly would not mind to stay with Erik … for one more day …?” Erik asked hesitantly. If he’d get only the slightest hint she’d rather be at her rehearsals he would not force his selfish needs onto her.
But to his surprise she sank back onto the bed and took him into her arms. Shakily Erik lay his head on her shoulder and Christine began to stroke his hair lovingly. His dearest wife was far to kind to him. The gentle touch was too much for him and Erik began to sob softly onto her shoulder.
“Would I have returned to you and married you if I did, you silly man?” Christine asked, her voice soft and gentle. “Now, what would you like me to do?”
For a few moments Erik was unable to speak, tears clogging his voice.
“Angel ...” Erik sighed blissfully once he had somewhat regained himself. “My dear angel … would you hold my hand and sing … just for a while so I can sleep, if … if your voice is not to tired … of course ...” He finished his ramble then thought for a second.
“And … no … never mind ...” He started and immediately cut himself off. No, he’d surely asked for too much already, Erik worried. But Christine was getting smart to Erik’s ways: he wanted something and knowing him it would be painfully easy to do.
The girl cocked her head to one side and started at him like the long suffering, but loving, wife that she was.
“Erik?” she insisted with a little whine in her voice, sending a much needed blush to Erik’s deadly pale cheeks.
“Some … some tea …” Erik admitted shyly. “Only if … you want some too ...”
With a sigh Christine pressed a kiss on the top of Erik’s head.
“Sweetheart, you can have tea whether I want some or not. Did you have anything to drink today?”
Feeling caught Erik turned his face away from her in shame and muttered a non committal. “I’m … thirsty …”
“Oh Erik …” Christine sighed sadly. “Now come on, lay back down and I will tuck you in properly, I’m so sorry for taking away your blanket like that. I just want you nice and comfy and then I will get you your tea.”
Despite a small twinge of guilt, Erik allowed himself to revel in his wife’s care and tried to push the choking fear and hurt to the background. Did he not deserve this evening? Was he not allowed at-least one more day of being loved after a lifetime of hatred and misery?
After that … there would only be pain for him, as he’d watch Christine drift away from him slowly but surely, even if she did not know it yet. Even though Erik knew what he was doing was what was best for Christine: to save her life and assure her career, it would break his heart. In fact: it would surely kill him. Which was a bonus, really. That was the one comfort he had: he did not have to face a future without Christine, as without her there would not be any.