Continuing Tales

A Ceux Qui Attendant "To Those Who Wait"

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 1 of 1

A Ceux Qui Attendant "To Those Who Wait"

"Will you still play when all the rest of us are dead?" the Vicomte creaked, the Sister of Charity leaning over his shoulder trying to look attentive. He gazed at the music box for a moment longer, then waved the porter away with an almost injured gesture. I noticed that he had finished bidding, even though the lovely mahogany vanity chair from Christine's old dressing room was among the remaining lots; but I was not surprised. The boy always did have a selective memory.

From my perch, the catwalk high above the stage, I could survey the auction without the inconvenience of being noticed by those assembled below. Of course I cared little one way or the other; these petty bourgeois bidders fancied themselves great philanthropists, purchasing relics from the ailing Opera in the hopes of reviving its now-empty financial coffers. The current managers had nearly fallen over themselves cow-towing to them at the wine-and-cheese reception that had preceded the auction, and I shook my head in resignation to the irony of the way things happen. The Opera's greatest patron was present today, and the managers heedlessly dipped and curtseyed to a gaggle of rich fops were only here to have their names in the paper. There, in the corner, a reporter from Le Miroir skulked, taking notes on who had purchased what bit of theatrical memorabilia. Ridiculous, really - to think they believe that to own the poster from Hannibal is to have been there, to experience what those grand fleeting moments had written on the persons and objects which were lucky enough to have been present! de Changy was the worst of the lot, purchasing that music box and dreaming that, by stroking its leaden face or its fading silken robe, he might regain something of her.

Her. How I wanted to laugh, and for a moment I nearly succumbed. So many years had passed - was it thirty now? - and still that bitter desire to gloat flooded my body, like some sickening bilge stirred by an unexpected list of my ship of memories. Instead I remained perfectly still, hanging over the tableau onstage; I was a bat concealed in the darkest corner of a cavern. Oh, I shall admit it freely: I had come with every intention of descending upon the scene and frightening them all to kingdom-come, all the while filling the hollow theatre with the reverberations of my once-famous laughter. I could see the headlines in my mind: Phantom Still Reigns at Opèra Populaire - Suréte Baffled Once Again. But now I felt no need; the theatre was haunted by something entirely different. de Chagny's self-pity flooded the stage, and my last triumph was achieved quietly, and without having to swing on a stray rope from wing to wing while bellowing phrases from Faust. I must admit I was slightly disappointed: I had had such a spectacle planned ... but instead, I crouched out of sight until the last stragglers had gone, and only when even the footlights had been extinguished did I descend. I planted my feet firmly on the stage, the place where it had all begun, and gazed out over the sea of seats that broke from the orchestra pit. It was a strange victory; instead of seizing it as I had envisioned, I had had it handed to me by the defeated Vicomte. When all the rest of us are dead, I repeated inwardly. Dear Raoul, you and I are the only ones left now - and it didn't quite turn out as you'd expected, did it?

After all these years, I am still unaccustomed to events working out in my favor.


I had remained as still as I could inside of my chair for hours; although little Meg Giry had shouted over and over that I was not there, the mob ransacked my home in search of me. When I finally believed it safe to venture out again, the sight was pitiful: candles shattered across the floor, my beautiful organ wrenched to pieces. They had not spared a single article; the only thing intact was the darkness. I lingered over the broken pieces of the life I had dared to build for myself ...

Of course it's been destroyed - haven't you learned that there is no life for you, not anywhere? the blackest part of my mind whispered.

I expected this loss to break me - having withstood the world's blows for so long, I expected to lose my grip completely in the face of such complete destruction. But somehow, I did not, could not care about these objects that lay in pieces at my feet. Instead I felt like a strange fantastic bird - mythology names him "the Phoenix" - spreading his wings above the rubble of the past.

Christine's kiss still burned on my lips, and when I looked down at my hands I found them trembling. For a blessed moment I had possessed her love, had it handed to me like the most delicate of glass baubles. And I had not broken it! But neither had I trusted my hands to cherish such a fragile thing, and I had given it away before I could even memorize the feeling of it in my palm. I wavered still: had the kiss been honest, or ... no, I would not allow myself to think such things. The choice had been made, and the page turned; for once I would not second-guess, for once I would believe in the truth of human hearts.

As my eyesight grew gradually sharper I was able to discern a patch of white in the gloom, and stepping toward it found the veil balled up near the remains of the organ. It was a bit trampled, but more or less unharmed. I touched it tentatively, wondering irrationally if it would disappear; but in a moment I held it in my arms, its soft waves cascading through my embrace. I allowed myself to press it to my cheek, to inhale the scent of her hair that lingered in the web of filmy whiteness, to caress it as I had dared not caress her - even though I would have sworn to Heaven and all her saints that she had invited my arms about her.

You let her go, simpleton. She chose you, and you let her go.

For once I exerted all my strength and crushed my sardonic inner voice, silenced it and left myself in peace to look back with the faintest glimmer of optimism. In letting her go I had consummated our love; regardless of where her path now led, she would always be mine. Knowing that was enough somehow. As beautiful as was this bit of whiteness in my arms, as much as I wanted to keep it close to me always, it did not belong in a cellar like a dead thing.

Nor do I.

This new thought startled me, and for a moment I thought that the foundations of the Opera might crack and bring the entire structure down around me. For the first time in my memory, I no longer cared to hide. Christine was gone but I breathed still, and having borne that little death filled me with the desire to live. Perhaps the consummation had freed me as well, and I found myself fingering the key to the Rue Scribe door which lay safely in the pocket of my dress coat. What, I wondered, what indeed can the world do to me now that has not already been done? Nothing remains to be upset; everything that mattered has already been upset.

With these strange new ideas coursing through my blood faster than poison, I found myself dashing among the ruins of my cavernous home, resurrecting what belongings I could. Luckily I had constructed a secret vault for my most important possessions; this had not been violated by the mob, and soon I had collected a semblance of luggage.

A sudden sound drifting down from above made me freeze. Although it was nothing terribly alarming, a thump or creak rather than a smash, it had not come from as far above as I would have liked. Fool, my darker side regained its voice; do you really think you can pack a few bags and stroll out of here unseen? The entire place will be crawling with gendarmes for weeks.

I listened hard a space, straining to grasp any further shreds of sound. None came. It seemed silent enough, but I realized that I had nearly been carried away by my thoughts. I must be more careful. Although it had been hours since the mob quitted the cellars, it would be weeks, perhaps months before the Opera would be entirely safe for me again. A change of venue was what I needed, some safe place to wait until the tide rolled out again. I had been motionless for years; a few more days would mean nothing.

I can go anywhere I like ... Norway, Russia, India ...

I felt as though a clock had chimed inside my head.

Or someplace closer to home ...


The trip from my house beside the lake to the door on the Rue Scribe, which ought to have taken mere minutes, took me in excess of two hours. I felt compelled to take the utmost care in choosing my steps, and more than once I felt for certain that I was being pursued. As it was, I had waited until the cover of night - and yet I was still painfully aware that the Opera was no longer a sympathetic space for me. I actually breathed a sigh of relief as I locked the door on the Rue Scribe and secreted the key around my neck for some future time when I would return. Then I whirled, sending my cloak spinning about me - I felt the need for some small degree of drama in my final exit - and slipped into the shadows on the street.

The farther I walked from the Opera, the stranger I felt; of course I had ventured outside before, but never with the intention of not returning before the sun destroyed my shadows. Yet in the danger I felt safe, or perhaps merely safer than I had felt in my ruined home. André and Firmin would not give up so easily, I knew. Even if the Vicomte disappeared with Christine and left them to their own devices, they would act again; it might take them several days to gather more than one intelligent thought together, but there would be a second reckoning. With any luck, I would be firmly ensconced by then: concealed somewhere, well enough to hear about their failure and enjoy a good laugh over it ... and perhaps a glass of sherry.

It was shortly before dawn when I entered the battered tenement on the Rue de Rivoli. I had seen the building before, but never in the half-light; and I had never climbed the stairs to the flat on the second floor. I clicked my tongue in disapproval at the dingy carpeting and the scuffed walls; surely the Shah's pension could purchase better. I would speak to my host about his living arrangements ... as soon as I made him aware that I would be his guest for a while.

Perhaps hammering on the door as I did was a bit extreme, for though the manservant pulled it open slowly I could see the glint of a pistol in his hand. "Come now, Darius," I said, shouldering my way into the apartment. "Surely you have better manners than to hold an old friend at gunpoint." I glanced around and chose a slightly threadbare yet still-sturdy armchair in which to arrange myself. "Please tell the Daroga that I will see him at his convenience," I instructed Darius, smoothing my cloak as I sat, so as not to wrinkle it. "And perhaps ... a cup of tea?" I added when he had not yet moved from the door. He stared at me, eyes wide, for a moment; then, seeming to remember himself, he hurried through another door, presumably to fetch his master. He emerged shortly, and with a grudging glance in my direction lit the samovar that stood in the corner of the small parlor. I was poking the floating lemon slice in my cup with my teaspoon when the door to the inner room opened. The form that emerged was clad in a faded flannel dressing-gown over a white nightgown, the nightcap set at a disgruntled angle over a furrowed brow.

"Nadir, old friend!" I was pleasantly surprised at how honestly happy I was to see him. It had been some time, and I had forgotten how our friendship, strange though it was, comforted me. "You really must speak to your manservant, Nadir," I said, placing my cup on a nearby table and rising to greet him. "This tea is quite dreadful. But how are you?"

Nadir cast me a look that, though bleared with sleep, strongly resembled annoyance. "Erik, what are you doing here?"

"Is there something wrong with a cordial visit?" I asked, crossing my arms before myself. "Where are your manners, Daroga?"

Nadir sighed and drew a hand across his face. "Erik ..." But he trailed off and lowered himself wearily to a chair opposite mine. "I should know better," he said quietly to himself. Then, looking up at me, he continued, "Please be seated, Erik, and tell me why you've come."

Several hours later, Nadir opened the parlor's small window slightly so as to allow the smoke from his cigarette to leave the room. He offered the small silver case, but I declined it wordlessly and absorbed myself in balancing his fragile glass tumbler on my knee. It had been filled with sherry when he handed it to me, but I had drained it long ago and now was studying the way the cut glass refracted the light that was spilling through even so tiny a window. "It has been so long since I even saw a window," I mused, mostly to myself. "I had forgotten what it was to be alive ..."

Nadir took a deep pull of his cigarette and regarded me gravely. "Erik, I must have your word. Will you promise me you have not left the Opera to pursue Christine Daaé?"

"Don't be absurd, Nadir," I retorted, letting my head tip backwards to rest against the plaster wall.

"I absurd?" he asked, an irritated turn to his voice. "It was not I who came barging into your home at such a ridiculous hour, and without so much as a word of apology."

I folded my fingers together and tried very hard not to let the corners of my mouth turn up as I replied, "But if you had, I surely would not have expected you to give me a solemn vow about it."

He closed his eyes and exhaled through his substantial nose. "Please, Erik. You woke me from a very restful sleep and I am in no mood for your games ... promise me you will not follow them."

I found myself running the tip of my shoe back and forth across a thin place in Nadir's aging carpet, examining how the threads weakened to reveal the bare floor below. "I have no intention of following him," I responded, a slight hint of bitterness seeping into my tone. "And as for Christine ..." I paused to will back tears. "She is free to go wherever she likes, and I am hardly so rude as to accompany her without an invitation."

Nadir finished his cigarette in silence; when he finally spoke, it was as he crushed it out and exhaled the last puff of smoke. "I do not understand you, Erik. What have you done?"

I placed my elbows on my knees and shook my head slowly. "I needed to let her go, Nadir. I knew if I stayed there I would go mad with seeing her ghost in every corner, hearing her footsteps in every shift of the building above. I needed to let me go." Fixing my eyes on his, I added, "Surely you must know how that feels."

It was his turn to sigh, and though he said nothing at first I could read Rookheeya's name in his face. "Yes," he finally replied, "that I can understand."

"Good," I said, rising to my feet. "Then perhaps we can end our interview and get some sleep. It has been a while since I was able to rest easily."

"Of course, my friend," he replied, rising too. "I shall have Darius bring another cot into my room."

Later, as he drew the shade and lowered himself to his mattress, he glanced over to where I lay. "How long will you stay, Erik?"

His voice reminded me of Reza's, or rather of a similar question Reza had asked me upon our meeting so many years before. In his father's voice I could hear what his would have been by now - the child's whine deepened into the solid baritone of a grown man. Turning my back to Nadir and the sad memories he inspired, I answered, "Only as long as it takes for them to forget me, and God willing that shouldn't be long." When he made no response, I continued, "I want only to return for the rest of my things and be off. My limbs are stiff from sitting in one place so long, Nadir. The world is calling to me."

I heard him turn over in his bed, and minutes later the slow drone of his breathing filled the room. I lay awake for some time, but finally anxiety loosed its grip on me and I relaxed into blessed darkness.


A few weeks passed quietly; Nadir surveyed me and my behavior as if I were an insect under glass, but never again pressed me as he had that first morning. The promise I had given him was honest, and I suppose that he believed it in his heart, although his knowledge of me excused his vague suspicion. I remained indoors most of the time, reading the newspapers Darius would fetch for me and making myself as useful as I could. Occasionally, and only after dusk, I would venture forth and test my newfound freedom by strolling through the markets that continued to bustle into the evening. At every available opportunity, I would purchase small items and bring them back to Nadir; he would not accept money for my keep, and so I brought him gifts instead in the hopes that eventually his foolish pride would break and allow me to pay my own way. Though I had left my home in a hurry, I was by no means a pauper.

One evening, I noticed something tentative in Nadir's manner as he returned to the flat. He seemed to tread more carefully than usual, and the fleeting glances he frequently cast in my direction made me feel as if he were sizing me up. Finally I folded yesterday's paper into my lap and asked, "So, Nadir! What news from the world outside?"

He paused to look at me, and there was a strange look in his eyes. "The Opera has reopened," he said quickly, turning from me as he spoke.

"Really," I responded blandly, wondering what troubled him. "I am surprised they can manage it so soon; their production must be rather thrown together. But I cannot imagine it can be anything good ... what are they giving?"

He fixed his gaze on me. "Don Juan Triumphant."

I laughed. "Nadir, you never cease to amuse me. You really are quite funny, you know. Come now, tell me the truth."

"I am telling you the truth, Erik," he said, his tone as cold as the grave. "They are giving Don Juan Triumphant."

"Bah," I said after a moment of silence. "The management has finally decided to set another trap for me."

"Yes, Erik," Nadir responded in that same disturbing tone. "I believe that is precisely what they are doing."

My thoughts reeled, wondering what the bait might be ... I opened the paper again and tried to appear nonchalant as I inquired, "And will Miss Daaé be singing Aminta?"

He seemed prepared for this question. "Miss Daaé has not been seen or heard from in weeks, Erik. The suréte believe that she is being held somewhere in the vaults of the theatre."

"That is ridiculous," I retorted, turning a page impatiently. "She has most likely eloped with de Chagny."

"I know that," he told me, his voice careful and measured, "but they do not."

I threw the paper down, now quite out of temper. "Come on, man," I snapped. "Enough of your confounded tact. What are you not telling me?"

Nadir glared at me. "I have tried to tell you carefully, Erik, because I know it will injure you deeply. But since you insist, you shall know the truth." He stepped across the room and placed his hands on my shoulders, a gesture I had never experienced firsthand. I stared at him, surprised, my anger defused for the moment ... until he continued, "Carlotta shall sing Aminta."

I have never seen a volcano, but I have read that they are caused by tremors from deep within the earth that force molten rock through the surface. This description fits quite well the sensation I experienced at Nadir's words: I felt as though I might rise up and wreak peril on the entire city of Paris. That harpy, sing my triumphant Queen of love and beauty, and in my opera? My impulse was to wrap my fingers around the first neck I came upon; luckily for Nadir, I was able to suppress my urge by forcing myself to remember what he was to me. Instead I dug my fingers into the arms of my chair and ground my teeth together, trying with all my might to withstand my rage.

Nadir's bravery did him credit - his palms never left my shoulders even as wave after crimson wave of anger washed over me. As they finally began to subside, I became aware of him repeating, "Erik, compose yourself."

"I am composed, Nadir," I snapped, in a voice that clearly indicated my falsehood. The words ripped from me in a sob; the tears I now strove to hide were the only remaining - and suitable - outlet for my fury.

He looked down into my face, a strange look of sorrow and compassion creasing his brow. "I know it is unfair, Erik ..."

"Unfair?" I nearly shrieked. "This is the cruelest injustice imaginable. They have done this deliberately, to insult me and to degrade my work!"

"They have done this to cut you to the quick and goad you out of hiding," Nadir replied frankly, tentatively releasing some of the pressure on my shoulders. I brushed his hands away and he withdrew, both of us aware that my outburst was over - although the wound still gaped.

He took a few steps across the room and contemplatively lit a cigarette. Glancing in my direction, he continued, "But you will not let them, Erik." The firmness in his voice made me look at him pointedly.

"What can you mean, Nadir?" I asked flatly, my voice intentionally sardonic.

"You will not attend," he said in that same frank tone.

I watched him take a deep pull and expel a puff of silver smoke; the evening light spilling through the window lent a strangeness to it as it drifted across the room. "You really expect me to stay away?" I finally asked, in as controlled a tone as I in my misery could muster.

He moved quickly to one knee before my chair. "Don't you realize that this is what they want, Erik? They are banking on your being enraged, on your storming the Opera in a state of upset and walking directly into the hands of dozens of officers." I jerked my head to one side, but he craned his neck to continue speaking directly into my face. "You have said so many times in your weeks here that you intend to start a new life. Was it all lies, Erik? The master storyteller's game? Come now, I know you better than that. Will you really sacrifice your freedom on this moot point?"

"It is not moot," I protested, more lamely now. I was beginning to regain my senses and to realize how right he was, but I was still too injured to admit it. "If I allow them to do this, more than my opera will be destroyed; they will have my pride."

"And they will have your life if you try to stop it," Nadir said softly. When I finally looked into his face, the expression in his eyes betrayed what resembled true concern for me. "Erik, do not be foolish. Damn your pride, if only for once ... do not let them trap you like an animal. The gala planned for tonight has nothing to do with your Don Juan - it is an execution."

At last I hung my head, defeated by Nadir's logic and my own pain. "Yes, old friend," I muttered, grasping his forearm, "perhaps you are right."

"Then you will not go?" he asked.

"Damn you, Nadir," I blustered. "There is no need to play the police officer with me. No, I will not go. And yes," I added with a glare, "I will promise."

He chuckled slightly under his breath and rose to his feet. "Good man. But I shall go and bring back all the news I can ..." He moved towards the bedroom but paused at the door. "News of the management's frustration and failure, of course."

"Of course," I mumbled, feeling broken and angry. "I cannot wait to hear."


In envious silence I watched Nadir swirl on his cloak - a fine black cashmere lined with cream silk, quite a complement to his tuxedo - and prepare to leave for the Opera. "Erik, I see you watching me like a cat in the shadows," he quipped, straightening his tie in the mirror that hung beside the door. "So tell me - how do I look?"

"Rather elegant for someone who chooses to live in a battered old flat with fading wallpaper and a balding carpet," I retorted dryly, running my finger along the mantelpiece. "Shall I make myself useful while you are out - by dusting, perhaps?"

He threw his head back and laughed. "Ah, your sarcasm betrays that you are close to yourself again. I trust that when I return to tell you of the embarrassment of Firmin and André , you will be quite in your right spirits again."

I turned from him, partly to convey a disdain for his aggravating certainty and partly to hide the tears that threatened to form in my eyes. "I cannot believe I allowed you to talk me into this, Nadir. To hide like a coward - this is truly the weakest thing I have ever done."

"No, my friend," he said softly from the doorway, "it is the bravest thing you have ever done. And you shall think so too, in the morning, when you awake to find your life is still your own."

"Bah," I muttered. "A paltry life it will be, with dozens of blank years stretching before me."

"Better, if you ask me, than getting your neck stretched."

After a moment of silence I glanced over my shoulder and gave him a curt nod, acknowledging his point. He smiled broadly.

"Very well then. Bon soir, Monsieur."

I sighed. "Adieu, Nadir." Stiffly, I turned my back to him again. "But I will not say, 'enjoy yourself.' I trust you will have enough taste to do no such thing."

"Erik," he laughed, "you are ever as you always were." With that, he was gone.

After the door clicked behind him, a silence fell upon the apartment. I had been alone there before - almost daily, in fact, whenever Nadir went out into the city and Darius went about his household errands. But this was like no silence I had ever experienced before; it was heavy, suffocating. I was pacing the sitting room floor and found myself flinging open a window, even removing my dress coat. A fine sweat was forming on my forehead, under the mask; I mopped my good cheek with my handkerchief, but it did no good. Finally I planted my feet and announced to the oppressively empty flat:

"All right then, I shall let myself think about it!"

And I did. I nearly wept for my Opera, imagining the beauty of Aminta's role being corroded by the caustic voice of Carlotta; but suddenly I took hold of myself.

Why imagine its worst performance when I can create its best?

I realized that all I need do was close my eyes and listen, and I could hear the notes of my composition being played flawlessly by the orchestra; and above all, Christine's angelic voice soaring in Aminta's most exquisite phrases. Her face, her movements ... her voice ... they were seared into my memory. Why deny that I remembered her so well, and why deny myself the right to cast her as the diva of my dreams in the opera of my imagination?

Arranging myself on a sofa near the open window, I reclined my head against a cushion and closed my eyes, allowing myself to slip into a reverie. Before long my mind had become a swirling pool of opera, and I sunk deeper and deeper, never struggling or resisting. By the time Christine made her first entrance onto the stage in my brain, I was already drowning in it; and I was blissful, creating my own performance in lieu of the misbegotten one that went on as I lost myself in fancy. In my mind the lead tenor gracefully yielded to me and I triumphantly took my place at Christine's side, singing with her the words I had written and that she had perfected with the beauty of herself. Long after the final notes resounded in my ears I lay still, not wanting to break the land of make-believe where Christine's cheeks glowed, where her eyes glistened with tears, where her voice filled a cavernous auditorium for my sake and mine alone.

In the end it was not I who pulled myself from my dream; it was Nadir and his noisy ascent of the stairs leading to his flat, followed by several exaggerated moments of scraping off his boots and shaking out his cloak before he opened the door. Apparently it had begun to rain.

"Erik, have you moved at all since I left?" he asked when he noticed me upon the sofa.

"Of course I have," I replied, barely lifting my eyelids. "I removed my coat, as you can see." I nodded in the general direction of the chair where I had draped it.

Suddenly swearing under his breath in his native tongue, Nadir rushed past me. "And opened the window too, to let in all the rain!" He slammed the sash closed and clicked his tongue over the mess that had apparently been made of the carpet.

I interrupted his hen-like scratchings to say, "So tell me, Nadir. My opera ...?"

He stood and slowly turned to face me. "Whether you believe me or not, Erik - it was well-received. The cast took four bows. But I must admit - though I know little of the nuances of music - I was able to perceive that it was not as you would have wished it to be."

I merely nodded, and a silence fell between us. Finally I inquired lightly, "I dare not ask about Carlotta; I am sure I know the answer. But tell me, who performed Don Juan? Please tell me it was not the stuffy second tenor. The man is insufferable; he sings from somewhere entirely too far south for it to be his heart."

Nadir shot me a look I could not work out. "Signor Piangi sang Don Juan, Erik."

I almost smiled. "Piangi?"

He crossed his arms, and I knew I was in for a scolding. "Erik, do not play the fool with me. You knew all along that he was not really injured during that first performance."

I lifted myself from the sofa and resumed my coat. "I cannot think what you mean," I replied, smirking slightly when he could not see my face.

"Allah Be Praised that he was taken to the hospital and not directly to the morgue," Nadir continued. "I suppose I might understand why you knocked him unconscious, but the tightness of the noose caused such discoloration in his that he is extremely fortunate to not have been placed in a box. Really, Erik, you should be ashamed."

"Would you had rather I killed him?" I asked, sending a pointed glance over my shoulder.

Nadir exhaled sharply. "Erik, your humor is in poor taste."

I turned and seated myself. "Well, at least I know Don Juan was performed well."

"Well indeed," he retorted. "His grudge against you is fresher than anyone's, and he refused to allow anyone else the role. He wanted to see you shot like a dog tonight."

I waved his words aside. "So he was saddened at my decision to remain at home. And what of my dear friends André and Firmin?"

A silence fell, in which Nadir struggled but managed to forgive my nonchalance. "They too were quite disappointed at your absence," he remarked, becoming wry in his own right.

"To be sure."

"But something else disturbed them, something far stranger than your failure to appear."

I quirked an eyebrow, interested. "Go on."

He suddenly started, as though he had found himself standing far too close to the edge of a precipice. "No ..." he muttered, "perhaps I had better not ..."

"Nadir," I said, annoyed, "don't be petulant. Tell."

Fixing his glance with mine, he continued, "Miss Daaé was in attendance."

My stomach lunged at his words, but I managed to smooth my countenance into a frown. Quickly analyzing the thoughts that raced through my mind, I chose to express one which might be appropriate. "I am shocked Monsieur de Changy permitted such a thing. I should think he would have taken her far from Paris by now."

"M. de Changy did not accompany her," Nadir answered in a low tone. "She came unescorted."

"Whatever for?" I asked, perhaps a little too quickly.

"I did not speak with her myself," he admitted, "but Madame Giry told me ..." He trailed off, seemingly unwilling to speak. But I would have the story, or whatever he knew of it.

"Madame Giry," I repeated, rendering my voice wistful. Perhaps if I did not seem impatient, he would be more likely to tell. "One of the kindest souls to ever breathe."

"She is a very good woman," he agreed quietly.

"I was unaware that you knew her."

"I too have acquaintances at the Opera," he said with a pointed look.

"I see," I said, allowing a small smile to crease my lips. "So you have been spying on me all these years." He said nothing, so I continued in a more jocular tone, "I am surprised, Nadir, that you did not recommend yourself to the management. I am sure they would have paid handsomely for your help in apprehending me."

"I was turned away," he replied, almost in a whisper.

I stared. "You actually went?" Silence. "When?"

His face hardened. "After the chandelier fell," he answered. "People were killed that night, Erik."

I rose and turned my back to him, stepped to the tiny window and gazed out. "I have often grieved for my behavior, Nadir - on that night and many others besides. I aam not without a soul, and I do feel. Regret of the most supreme sort has been my companion these many years." I reached out tentatively and touched the windowpane, which was misting over with my breath and the coolness of the outdoor air. The steam fascinated me, but more importantly distracted my mind from the pain his words had caused me. The creature he must think me, even after all my time in his home.

Behind me, I heard him sigh. "Erik ..."

"When will you believe me?" I demanded, whirling on him. "What must I do to prove to you that I am human, that I have a heart that bleeds when injured, that I can and do feel remorse for the horrors I have known?"

"When you see a priest," he answered evenly and without even pausing to think. "When you have your God's absolution, I will no longer deny you mine."

It was my turn to speak softly. "I am thoroughly ashamed, Nadir, if my actions have lost me an ounce of your friendship."

He folded his hands in his lap. "I am your friend still, Erik; but I did not like to stand by and watch you run your road to destruction."

"But I am a reformed man now," I replied lightly, sweeping him as deep a bow as my trembling limbs would permit. "With much thanks to you, sir. And now," I continued, perceiving the vague discomfort in his face, "will you tell me what Madame Giry told you?"

Running a hand through his hair, Nadir murmured, "Erik, you are inexorable. I must have some tea if I am to stay up all hours reporting to you." Minutes later, as he stirred a cup of dishwater that I had declined, he began: "Madame Giry tells me that there was quite a scene in the managers' office this evening."

"Before the performance?" I asked.

He nodded and continued, "Apparently Miss Daaé burst in upon Firmin and André and begged them to cease their efforts to apprehend you."

"Madame Giry was present for this meeting?"

"No; she had followed Christine ever since being made aware of her presence. I believe Miss Daaé spoke with the younger Giry upon her arrival at the Opera, and daughter told mother all that was said."

He stopped to sip his tea, and I could have strangled him. She has come back and you pause for refreshment? Continue, damn you - tell me more!

Luckily for his neck, he began again. "Naturally they refused, although they were greatly shocked to see her standing alive and well before them. Madame Giry tells me that they asked several questions about the Vicomte, which she answered evasively. She appealed to them from every angle not to allow the performance to go on, and eventually she was ejected rudely from the office."

"You said you never spoke to her ..." I almost whispered, my throat clenching tight from the intensity of my emotion. "But you did see her ...?"

"I saw her from across the dress circle," he admitted, stirring his tea. "She seemed more intent on examining the crowd through her opera glasses. I do not think I once saw her looking in the direction of the stage."

"What else?" I demanded when he fell silent.

"There is no more to tell, Erik. She slipped out before I could try to speak with her, and her presence was the only unusual thing to occur the whole evening. I met with Madame Giry in the corridors and together we stole to the outer door of the managers' office, where we heard Firmin and André lamenting their failure. Carlotta and Piangi were present too, and demanding that the ruse be continued until you were captured; but Firmin flatly refused to perform your opera again. I was surprised, for every seat was filled that night and I am sure their profit was tidy. Apparently he is not so ruled by money as is generally thought."

"No, no, no," I nearly shrieked, dying of thirst for more of Christine. "There must be something else. You saw her - at least tell me how she looked!"

"I do not know her well enough to tell you, Erik, although her cheek seemed rather paler than most young ladies in health. And I saw her weep as Carlotta sang her aria; but many other eyes in the audience were filled with tears."

I dismissed these small details. "What of Madame Giry? She saw her more closely - what did she tell you?"

"Nothing that I have not already related," he said, growing impatient. "Really, Erik, you are not behaving as though you have really let her go."

I forced myself to reply calmly, "Perhaps you are right, Nadir. My nerves are raw and I must be behaving erratically ... I shall go to bed now." Deliberately I rose from the chair and stepped towards the bedroom door, exerting all my strength so as not to do him harm in my frenzy.

As my hand touched the doorknob, he said, "Oh - something does come to mind. Madame Giry mmade the strangest remark ... I had almost forgotten."

"Yes?" I prompted quietly. Every muscle in my body went rigid, but in fear of seeming too eager I did not turn around.

"She said, 'The hem of her dress was dirty.'"

I began to tremble so violently that I barely trusted my ability to remain upright. "Good night, Nadir," I replied as evenly as I could, stepping across the threshold and closing the door behind me.


I refused to allow myself to dwell upon what Nadir had said until I was safely horizontal, buried in the bedclothes on my cot. But once I pulled up the covers, my thoughts broke upon me like a tidal wave and I sank, limp and exhausted, into their oblivious embrace.

She said, "The hem of her dress was dirty." So small a detail, so insignificant even to Nadir. But could it mean - could it possibly mean that she had gone ddown into the cellars to find me?

She came unescorted. Surely de Changy would never have permitted her to scamper about the bowels of the theatre in search of his rival. So where was he, and did he know of her doings?

They asked several questions about the Vicomte, which she answered evasively. Why should she avoid speaking of him? Why had they not married and left Paris? What had she gone through to come to the Opera tonight?

And why would she plead with the management on my behalf?

She seemed more intent on examining the crowd through her opera glasses. Had she been scanning the auditorium for me? Had she come - dare I even think it? - to save me from myself?

And I saw her weep as Carlotta sang her aria ... then she, too, felt the cruelty of what had been done to my work tonight.

My God, I shall run myself mad with these thoughts ...

But if she still cares for me, I would be mad not to go to her ...

I froze as I heard the doorknob turn. Nadir, too, had decided to retire, and I thought it best to feign sleep while he shuffled around the room in preparation for bed. Finally he extinguished his lamp and pulled up his coverlet. I lay still for what seemed hours until I was certain he was sleeping by the strange sound of his breathing, somewhere between a wheeze and a snore. Then stealthily, quietly I rose and crossed the floor. Hating to walk noisily, I had long ago memorized all the squeaking spots; I was thankful for it now as I crept around them to avoid the chance of waking him. Once in the parlor, I donned my cloak and hat and dashed forth into the gloom, heedless of the rain.

I am only going home to collect the rest of my things, I told myself as I fingered the key to the door on the Rue Scribe.


I stumbled recklessly through the corridors beneath the Opera, forgetting the haste and unease in which I had left it. I felt as though I were tumbling downhill, as though I could not stop the descent that plunged me inexorably towards my house beside the lake. As I approached, my mind ran in endless circles - would she be there? Was I dreaming?

Of course you are, I scolded myself. Why would she be there? Just because she attended the performance doesn't mean she loves you.

But I didn't care - I threw the cautious man I had once been to the wind. All that mattered to me now was that there was some small chance that I would find her there, waiting for me and wondering if I would come. And if I found my house empty, I would have lost nothing but a night's sleep; her absence had come to be something that proved no surprise and would cause me no additional grief.

The darker part of my mind knew that hoping to find her there was foolish; it was hope and nothing more. But in the passing weeks this side of me had weakened and was easily felled by the new man I was becoming, who dared to dream of Christine searching the labyrinth for me and of meeting her there to right the blundering wrongs of our inexperience.

As I drew closer to the house, I wondered if my mind were playing tricks on me; I was sure I sensed a presence. As though the very air were filled with an electric current, my arms and the back of my neck tingled. Still I pushed onward; I reeled between the extremes in my heart. Don't be foolish - it is your imagination - a dream, and nothing more ... but hurry, hurry, you mustn't keep her waiting ...

I had not yet even crossed my threshold when I began to hear the sounds of weeping.

Instinctively I slowed my steps and drew my hat farther down so as to cast darkness across the luminous white of my mask. I slipped soundlessly through the front door and made my way toward the sound, so anxious that logic fell completely aside and only one thought pounded in time with my racing heart.

Christine ... can it be ... that she has come back to me ...

I found myself in the main chamber, and the brilliant Bird of Paradise, my very own Angel of Hope, knelt there amongst the ruins. Christine had never been more lovely than she was at that moment: her loose curls cascading down her back, a river of darkness against the pale satin of her dress, and I holding my breath for fear that she would disintegrate like so much stardust. Her small lantern threw a pool of pale illumination around her; I concealed myself carefully in the silence and gloom outside her ring of light, gorging myself on the sight of her.

She knelt among the broken pieces of my life, which still lay scattered about the floor, untouched in my absence. Her left hand caressed the shreds of organ pipes and the shattered candle wax while her right clutched a handkerchief to her lips. As I watched her in fascination, I could perceive a trembling in her small frame whose source could only be the tears that trickled down her porcelain cheeks. I ached to embrace her, soothe her pain and sing to her until she smiled - but I remained rooted to the spot like some buffoon in a fairy tale, powerless in the presence of such beauty.

Insensible of my presence, she soon began to speak.

"Erik, Erik," she whispered, her voice cracked and swollen, "where have you gone? Why did you send me away? I was wrong, Erik - you were always the choice, the only choice, my only choice. I knew it that night, when I wore your wedding gown and kissed you, here in this very room."

She spread her fingers wide and fanned them over the floor, stroking it as if to commemorate what had happened here. A sob wrenched its way from her throat, and she collapsed, pressed herself to the carpet in grief. "Do not hide yourself from me, my angel - forgive me my foolishness - do not punish my weakness. In every thing I hear your voice and I cannot bear this separation ... this silence that is worse than death! If you can hear me, Erik, as clearly as I can hear you in my heart, then know that I love you far dearer than anyone in the world. Do not make me pour these words into an empty cellar. Erik, come back ... come back so I can tell you ... come back and forgive me ..."

Hearing her words I was transported back to that night, and all the pain welled up in me as fresh as blood from an open wound. I loved her - and for a moment my love was twisted with hate, wishing I had the strength to stem my love for her, wishing I could make her feel the heartbreak she had caused. But in spite of the hurtful past, the sight of her tears dissipated my anger like tendrils of smoke. Erik, you are a fool, both halves of my mind cried in rare unison. You know you were made and meant to love her.

Even as I thought these things, I felt myself moving towards her. In fear I half-willed myself to resist, but I was overcome by her words and the feelings - the love, the passion, the hope - they resurrected in me. She will do herself a harm if she continues to carry on in this fashion, I thought ... and so without even considering the consequences (as I had done once before with disastrous effect) I opened my throat and called her name.

"Christine ..." My voice wavered through the stagnant air like shimmer on the sea.

"Erik ..." she sighed, motionless on the carpet. Her voice had a dream-like quality, as if she did not believe in my presence but rather that she was imagining me speaking her name.

"Oh, speak again, my beloved," I entreated, my voice firmer now. She started and rose to her feet. I pulled my cloak tighter around myself, desperately wanting to and desperately afraid to reveal myself.

"Erik?" She quieted her tears and turned her head, seeking the shadows for my form. "Are you really there?" she called into the darkness, her voice gaining strength.

"Say those words again, Christine," I murmured; it was my turn to succumb to tears. "Say you want me with you ..."

"Erik," she cried out, nearing hysteria; "please be real! Show yourself and I will say anything you wish!"

In that moment my heart was ripped in two and resealed by her tears. I tore off my hat and cloak and fell towards her, letting my form slice through the darkness to her side. "Oh, Christine," I sighed, sinking to my knees. I was able to raise my hand and extend it toward her lamely, but could not bring myself to touch her, to take her in my arms as I so wanted.

Her eyes shone through the darkness; her slim fingers, chilly from the damp air, tentatively brushed my extended digits. We were locked together in a gaze that seemed to last for hours; finally, she broke it by throwing herself into my arms. I held her to me tightly, wanted to take her into myself and protect her for the rest of my days.

We wept together, our bodies shaking with huge heart-wrenching sobs, until we were exhausted. Then, all our tears and energies spent, we simply held each other close; she buried her face into my shirtfront and I ran my fingers gently through her hair. In the calm that followed our grief came the absolution of each other's embrace.

"Erik," she murmured into the heavy material of my dress coat. "You came back to me."

"My Christine," I answered, pressing my good cheek to her temple. "We have come back to each other."


How long we remained there, pressed together in contrition for months of missed caresses, I do not know. For a time Christine relaxed against me and slept, her breath coming slow and shallow. I looked down at her with awe and wonder, and worry too - for I could see that her face was pale and the circles beneath her eyes the product of many troubles too great for her small hands. Wanting nothing for her but all the comfort my arms could supply, I cradled her gently and sang my sweetest songs for her; she snuggled closer to me, a sigh of happiness escaping her drowsy lips.

Finally she woke, and looked up at me with large liquid eyes. "Erik," she greeted me softly, touching one tentative finger to my hastily tied tie. "So you are not a dream?"

"No, Christine. I am here." I smiled at her and traced a faint line up and down the center of her back. "I am afraid I must be dreaming, though ... whyever are you here?"

"I came to the performance tonight," she said, seeming to consider her answer very carefully. "You do know about the performance?"

"Yes," I said, shaking my head slightly.

"I did not see you there." Her tone was leading.

"I chose not to attend," I replied softly.

She looked shocked and blurted, "Not to attend? Erik, do you know what they did to your opera tonight?"

"They gave your part to Carlotta," I answered as lightly as I could. I was trailing my index finger along the delicate skin behind her ear to distract my mind and to calm her. "It must have pained you to hear it sung by such a dreadful voice."

"It pained me more to know that it was done deliberately to destroy the integrity of your writing," she said, her voice impassioned. I was intrigued by this new side of her, this steadfastness and conviction. She gazed up at me with tears wavering in her eyes. "They did it to hurt you, Erik."

"I know they did," I replied, giving her a slight squeeze. "And I very nearly came - but I was advised against it by a wise and wonderful friend. But you - what made you come tonight?" Remembering our last goodbye, I faltered; I felt as if a fist had closed around my throat, but I managed to continue, "I thought you would have been far away from Paris by now."

"With Raoul, I suppose?" she inquired in an oddly flat tone.

"Well ..." I stammered, hardly knowing what to say.

She made a rough, rather unladylike sound. "I have seen little of Raoul in the last few weeks."

"Little?" I repeated dumbly.

"As little as possible, in fact." She looked up at me with a faint upward turn to her lips. I just stared at her; a thousand possibilities rushed through my mind, but I willed my face smooth.

She seemed to expect me to speak, but when I did not she snuggled closer into my arms and lay her head on my shoulder. "I never intended to marry Raoul, Erik," she whispered.

"But ..." I protested weakly, drawing back to look her in the face. "That night - you left together. And his ring ..."

"You took his ring," she replied with a smile and a touch to my shoulder. "And I have never worn it, nor desired to wear it, on my finger."

My gaze darted to her left hand, and saw that she was in truth; no bauble sparkled there. I closed my eyes. "Christine ..." I did not understand, but I did not have the will to ask her to explain. Speaking of that night, remembering what I had nearly done to him, remembering how she pleaded for him to my madness - it hurt too much.

"Erik? Listen to me," she said, taking one of my hands in both of hers. My eyes snapped open at the firmness in her voice and I regarded her with wonder. Who is this girl? I wondered.

She looked at the floor a moment and bit her bottom lip, seeming to collect herself. But when I cocked my head to one side to peer into her face, she boldly met my gaze and began, "I don't know how to explain it all to you, Erik. It is all so strange ..."

"Then don't," I protested nervously, suddenly afraid of the declaration that hung on her lips. I had so anxiously waited for this moment, perhaps even dreamed it into existence - and now that I stared it in the face, my courage failed. I was terrified that she would say something dreadful - or something too beautiful to be borne. "There's no need for explanations, Christine..."

"Erik, please," was her reply as she placed her right palm on my good cheek. I almost fainted at the pressure of her skin: so soft, so gentle, so much more like satin than I had ever dreamed. So lost was I in the feeling of her touch that I was powerless to hush her as she began again.

"I cannot tell you when I first knew it, but it has been some time since I realized I would never marry Raoul. I think it must have been when the Opera was closed those six months ..." She lowered her eyelashes, but kindly made no mention of the chandelier. "He hovered over me like an oppressive nanny, always asking questions whose answers were none of his affair. He wanted to know who you were, what I had done to encourage your attention. His jealousy was maddening, and the more I was subjected to it the more I wanted to tell him to go to the devil. Truly, Erik," she said almost coyly, a smile dimpling her cheeks, "I thought your spirit had possessed me."

I gaped. Her eyes sparkled, and she continued.

"But most of all, he pressed me and pressed me to leave Paris with him. When I refused, he took it not as a personal rejection but as a display of modesty. So he patted me on the head - patronizing, as if I were a child! - and gave me an engagement ring. Not knowing how to decline the gift, I wore it around my neck - until you were kind enough to relieve me of it. My God, Erik," she whispered, pressing my hand impetuously. "You have no idea how your presence at the Masquerade effected me. But let me tell you.

"I went to Perros to mourn my father; but as I stood in the graveyard I found I could not keep my thoughts from you. The longer I tried to pretend to be engaged to Raoul, the longer I remained a prisoner of my past ... and all I wanted was to be free to make my own choices." Here she paused to blush and look away from my eyes. "Perhaps that is why I persisted in choosing you in my heart, Erik ... it was the one thing I would never yield on, the one decision I would make for myself come what may. And ..." she faltered a moment, but when that moment was over she raised her eyes to mine, and they shone with a light like none I had ever known. "... and in this room that night, you answered the prayers I had sent to Heaven from Perros. You gave me a way to chose you without injuring Raoul."

I continued to stare at her; I must have looked daft. Christine searched my face for a reply but found none. Finally she whispered, "Erik? Won't you say something?"

I parted my lips, and at first only a stupid stammer issued from them. "Are ... Christine ... are you telling me you loved me ... all along?" But I felt my voice rising out of my control; as my words grew louder, they also grew stronger, and so bitter they stung my tongue. "When you left me in the cemetery, with the image of you holding his hand - you loved me then?" Her eyes filled with ttears, but I spoke on. "And that night on the stage, when you stripped away my mask - when you laid bare my greatest shame before all the world - you loved me then, too?"

"Erik," she responded, her words trembling with sorrow but her chin set in injured pride, "that night was doomed from the rise of the curtain. You know it and so do I - and we both did things that night, Erik ... things that we regret. Yes," she cried, noting my wince of penitence, "yes, you feel it too, as I do. I am sorry for hurting you . At that moment I was thinking only of the choice you laid before me, and I wanted to prove to you - and to myself - that I could look on your face without fear." She pulled her body from my arms, her voice louder than I had ever heard it. I was astonished; she was scolding me!

Kneeling before me, her beautiful eyes flashing in melded anger and sorrow, she squared her shoulders and concluded her tirade. "To accept you, Erik, is to accept your face - to love you is to love your face; and although I know you hate the thought of it, to love your face is to look on it. So do not berate me for it, for my lack of reason or judgement or compassion or whatever other cruelty you wish to peg me with." Her strength had carried her voice to a fevered pitch, but now it seemed to disintegrate; her face fell into her hands and she sobbed, "We called each other angels, Erik ... but we are neither of us perfect."

"Am I Adam?" I whispered after a brief silence. She looked at me questioningly, and I began again. "By your hand, madam, I have suffered my fall from ignorant pride." I smiled softly and offered her my open palm. "Shake hands with me, Christine, for you have earned an honor that few may boast - you have humbled me." Her eyes conveyed tangled doubt; leaning in, I told her with all the tenderness in which I held her, "You are right, my beloved; I have judged you cruelly. I am not without sin and I shall never again cast stones at you - you who are far purer than I, and more deserving of grace." I reached toward her, and she let me stroke her cheek with the tips of my gloved fingers. "Sweet Christine," I murmured. "Forgive me all my trespasses."

Her eyes blinked open, and the expression in them fanned the flame that had lain banked so long within me. She gently took my hand in hers and pressed a kiss into the palm; her gaze never left mine. It was inviting, encouraging - daring.

I felt a warm wave crashing over me, threatening to pull me down. "Christine," I whispered, curling my fingers possessively around hers. "Remember the next phrase."

"Yes," she replied, an almost devilish tone in her voice. She leaned closer to me, returned to my embrace; her fingers pressed at the nape of my neck and my vision was filled with her face, her eyes, her lips whispering ...

"Lead us not into temptation."

Though I know not whether it was of her will or mine, our lips met; and we did not part for a long, long time.


What followed seemed like the stuff of my most fantastic dreams. As soon as we began to hear hints of life in the structure above us, I led Christine out of the bowels of the theatre and through the door on the Rue Scribe. In the quickly dissipating darkness I hailed her a cab and she turned her face up sweetly, inviting my kiss. I handed her gently into the brougham and watched it drive away through a haze of lovesickness; I hardly knew if I would cavort through the streets laughing madly, or collapse in tears where I stood. She loves me ... my besotted mind repeated over and over; she belongs to me and me alone. I held the scrap of paper tightly: she had hurriedly pressed the address of her flat into my palm. "So you can write me love letters," she had whispered playfully, her eyes glittering with mirth. My love for her welled inside of me in an ache that I would not have traded for all the tea in China; even now, though I had not had a decent cup of tea in weeks. Something was dreadfully wrong with Nadir's samovar ...

I was wrenched most unkindly from my daydream. Nadir. My God. Pulling the brim of my hat as low as I could, I rushed through the streets of Paris. Those who were about at that early hour must have paused to remark over what they saw of me: a tiny patch of midnight fleeing the rising sun.


"Monsieur Erik," Nadir's quiet baritone greeted me as I pressed the door closed.

Damn, I thought, damn, damn, damn A whole day and night had passed since I left Nadir's apartment, so there was no chance he would not have noticed my absence. I had hoped to delay the inevitable confrontation until I composed myself - but Fate had been as kind to me as she intended to be.

"How good of you to return, sir," he continued. I turned to face him; he sat in one of his threadbare armchairs, with his arms folded and cigarette smoke swirling around him. "You are often much like a cat, Erik, and I suppose that your disappearing in the middle of the night should come to me as no surprise. But you have an advantage over a dumb creature - you have a voice to explain your strange errand. Please be so kind as to make use of it, and tell me where you've been all this time."

I did not answer; instead, I fixed him with a look as stern as the one with which he assailed me. As shaken as I was with love and anxiety, I felt more like myself again and eager for a game of any sort to stretch my mind. We were silent for several minutes, each staring down the other.

Though Nadir was angry with me, I was the stronger between us. He finally slouched his shoulders in resignation. "Come, Erik, have pity on your tiresome friend. If I must tell you, I was concerned; I thought perhaps last night's performance had disturbed your thinking and that you might have done something rash. Won't you tell me where you've been?"

I almost laughed irrationally, but as I removed my cloak and hung it on the dilapidated hat-rack that leaned in the corner, I concealed my mirth with a theatrical sigh. "Nadir, you are tiresome." I took the room in several long strides and, leaning over him, placed my hand on his shoulder as he had done me just the night before. "But I have done something rash, and so I am not cross with you; I am far too ..." I grew suddenly lightheaded, and passed my hand over my face. "Mon Dieu, I cannot even tell you." Thoughts came rushing to the front of my mind - the things Christine had said to me, the ffeeling of her body in my arms - and I was overwhelmed, speechless.

Nadir was on his feet and pressing me into a chair. "Good God, Erik," he cried, "what is wrong? Are you hurt?"

"Hurt?" I laughed quietly. My chest felt tight, as if my breath would not come fast enough. "No ... just faint ... with joy ..."

"Erik!" He was digging his fingers into my shoulder now, and I was vaguely aware that he was shaking me. "What on earth has happened?"

I rolled my head back against the fading upholstery of the chair and smiled at him. "I have been ..." I began, then stopped, thought a moment, then leaned my face close to his and continued under my breath, "No, perhaps better to whisper, Nadir. I feel like I must do everything gently ... I don't want to break this fragile reality ..."

His eyes grew wide. "Erik, are you drunk?" he demanded.

"Drunk?" Again I repeated his question and chuckled to myself. "No, my friend, I am lucid ... far more lucid than I have ever been, my whole life ..." I grasped his arm firmly, to assure him of my sobriety. "I have been with Christine," I whispered like a visionary, confessing my joyous secret into the confiding ear of a priest.

A look of supreme horror crossed Nadir's face and he shook me again, this time violently. "What are you saying, Erik? What have you done?"

Mentally, I was floating on a plane high above the physical realm, so his reaction had little effect on me. I continued in an almost sing-song voice, "I returned like a dead man to my grave, and I found an angel bending over it ..."

"Erik!" Nadir boomed, lifting me bodily out of my chair and bringing my face only inches from his. I was startled; I had never seen such a display of strength. Perhaps he was not the frail, aging Daroga I had imagined him to be. "Erik, stop speaking in riddles. Tell me once and for all, what have you done to Christine Daaé?"

"Done to her?" I asked, confused and cross at being jerked from my reverie. "Surely you don't think I have harmed Christine?"

"I don't know what you've done," he seethed. "You refuse to tell me sensibly!"

"God in Heaven, Nadir," I retorted, "why are you so damned prosaic?" My dreaminess was completely gone by now, and I wrenched myself from his grasp. Righting my feet on the floor and straightening my coat, I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I was unable to sleep and returned to the Opera, thinking to collect the last of my belongings. When I reached my home I found Christine there. We spoke, and wept, and she let me hold her ... she loves me, Nadir, and she came back to tell me so." I sat down again and breathed a heavy sigh. "And now you have sobered my love-drunkenness, so I suggest you fetch some brandy."

He stood as if frozen for a moment, staring down at me in disbelief. "Erik, are you telling me the honest truth?"

"Are you telling me the old police chief cannot tell the difference between honesty and madness?" I asked with a lift of one eyebrow. "What do you really believe? That I've left my beloved murdered in a gutter, and am concocting this story for your unimaginative amusement?"

His face, blank with confusion, did not change. I rolled my head back and sighed. "Come, Nadir. Bring the decanter and I'll tell you all that happened."

Like a man in a trance, he did as I had asked. For a second time we assumed the tableau: I sipping the liquor and telling my tale, he staring at me as though I were the either a winged Cherub or the Devil himself. The storyteller in me awoke and I let my voice rise and fall on the waves of emotion; but as I became more and more overcome, words began to fail me. My fingers ached for a piano, a violin, even a flute to play my joy.

"A pen," I finally gasped, emerging from my story like a fish leaping into air; "Nadir, for my sanity's sake - a pen!"

He would have stared at me in confusion had it not been for the urgency in my voice. He curled my fingers around some writing implement and, in the margins of the rumpled edition of Le Miroir that had lain scattered across the table, I was off and scribbling a bursting, joyful melody. If ever the perfection of my love for Christine was strung upon a staff, that tune is the evidence. Nadir watched me, shocked beyond words, for nearly half an hour; finally my feverish writing was over - the tune was written. I threw the pen down and cracked my knuckles, which were spent and aching almost pleasantly. It had been too long since I had written.

"Erik?" Nadir finally whispered, and when I looked at him I realized I had all but convinced him I was insane.

"Nadir," I breathed, clasping one of his hands in mine, "you are my dearest friend. I beg you to forgive my erratic behavior. I am quite well, I assure you - quite well, quite sound. But do you hear what I say? She loves me, Nadir ..." I threw back my head and gulped down a breath, not knowing if it would re-emerge as a sob or a peal of laughter ... or as a joyful shout. "She loves me!" I bellowed, then slouched into a quivering mass of something between laughter and tears.

The clouds in Nadir's face drew back and I could tell that he believed me - how this could be possible still escaped his critical mind, but I knew his heart. He had loved Rookheeya with the strength of a thousand men, and he recognized my symptoms all too well. He closed his other hand around both of mine and pressed them gently. "Erik, you will do yourself a harm if you do not go to bed now, I am sure of it."

I continued to laugh and cry all at once. "Bed?" I giggled. "I couldn't go to bed ... imagine! When she is alive in the world and loving me ..."

"She is probably at home, sound asleep," he replied, his scolding almost tender. "And you would do well to follow her example. You are exhausted, Erik - you are trembling!"

"Oh, what of it," I cried as passionately as a child who wants to stay up after his bedtime. "I cannot go to bed now - I must rewrite this music - I will send it to her! Nadir, fetch me some paper."

"It will wait, Erik," he said softly, effortlessly removing the pen from my hand. It was then that I knew he was right, and quieting myself, meekly allowed him to guide me to the bedroom door. Within moments he had drawn the shades and closed the door again behind him, leaving me seated on my bed. Soon enough I surrendered to my exhaustion and clambered beneath the covers without even so much as removing my shoes.


I slept the day through; but as the sun began to set, her orange-red evening rays came like fingers to draw apart the curtains of my consciousness, and I woke. As I took a deep breath and flexed my weary shoulders, I reminded myself of my wakefulness. It is not a dream ...

The clearness of my mind as I moved about the small bedroom was almost startling. The cold water from the pitcher tingled on my skin as it never had before; the feeling of a fresh suit was that much crisper and smoother. It was as I had shed a layer of myself - a dark and heavy greatcoat that kept off all the sensations of the world. I nearly wept for the new lightness of my heart.

Emerging from the bedroom, I found Nadir not at home; but he had left a good stack of fine letter-paper on the low parlour-table, and a fresh pot of ink. I smiled to myself and let the strange, pleasant sensation of our friendship wash over me in waves. It was good, I decided later, that he was not present at that moment; I might have embraced him, and neither of us was yet ready for such a display.

Instead I lowered myself to the floor at that low table and rewrote my music for Christine. My hands seemed possessed of a new lithe and grace, for they flowed across the paper in more sweeping motions than I had ever conjured. When the ink was dry, I added a brief but tremulous note to the package: "My Beloved, I ache so to hold you that even music will not suffice." Tying the papers with a bit of ribbon, my eyes focused on the hat-rack; but as my fingers reached for my cloak, I froze.

I have seen little of Raoul in the last few weeks, she had said. But as comforting as that thought is, it betrayed one dreadful truth ... she had seen something of him. And he might be there now, most likely begging her to return to him, as I stood rooted to the balding carpet in Nadir's little flat. Oh, were I to arrive and find him there ...

I let my hand fall back to my side. Clearly, I was not yet brave enough to make a social call, even upon my darling Christine. Once I chased my thoughts of de Chagny from my mind, the idea of appealing to the landlady to call upon her tenant was equally appalling. I could see her pinched face peering nosily beneath the brim of my hat, and could hear her voice shrilling: "Mam'selle! Death Himself is here to see you!"

So by some other hand my letter must reach Christine ... at least for now. And Nadir has gone out, damn him.

Just at that moment the door from the kitchen opened, and Darius emerged.

I must have been staring at him like a buffoon, for he eyed me questioningly before granting me a deferential nod. "Master Erik," he greeted me, obviously thinking me stranger than usual - quite a feat, for from the very beginning I had always been vaguely conscious of Nadir's manservant eyeing me cautiously. This knowledge had kept us as a comfortable distance, each of us distrusting the other - until now, when I again was nearly overcome by the urge to embrace another human being.

At that moment he was like an answer to my prayers, and yet I found myself at a loss for words. Throughout my stay under Nadir's roof, Darius had done much to assure my comfort - but, I reminded myself, all his actions were at the Daroga's command. He was not my servant, and furthermore he disliked me; to make a request of him would be an act of the boldest presumption. There was no reason he should even consent to do as I asked, and for some reason I feared his refusal more than anything: the faint pulling back at the corners of his mouth as he haughtily declined to do my bidding. There was a momentary war in my brain; but finally, victory was granted to the feeling that the world would come crashing down around my ears if my notes did not reach Christine.

"Darius," I ventured, my voice vaguely betraying my lack of assurance, "I will give you five francs if you will deliver this letter for me." I lamely extended the beribboned package.

He regarded at me with his large liquid eyes, his expression unreadable. "The Daroga has asked me not to take your money, Master Erik," he replied solemnly.

"Not take my money? What, it isn't counterfeit!" I blurted, embarrassed. It was bad enough that he had not said 'yes;' this unexpected, and bizarre, answer destroyed what little poise I had thrown together and allowed me to slip into sarcasm.

"You misunderstand, sir," he continued quietly in that even tone of his. I was unable to understand his placidity, and had I not hung so on his next words I might have throttled him from impatience and humiliation. But his words struck me as a hammer does a bell. "You are the Daroga's guest and your wish is my command ..." His glance suddenly turned sideways as he added, "... provided that it is an honorable letter."

My discomfiture shifted. I was now regretting my hasty comment, and yet that sensation was secondary. The greatest part of me wanted to throw back my head and laugh at this new view of Darius - a moral philosopher who simply could noot make a decent cup of tea - but outwardly I maintained my composure. His manner was honest and unassuming; and although I was still unused to such behavior from any fellow being, least of all this taciturn nemesis, I believed in it. I suddenly realized what I had done: I had pledged myself willing to trust him with my communication to Christine. Trust ... a funny word, and a painful concept ...

Upon collecting myself, I replied, "I assure you, Darius, it is quite honorable - and the recipient will be expecting it." I could see his mind working, wondering if he too should bestow his trust. Finally he nodded his assent, and I returned the gesture respectfully as I handed over the delicate parcel. "I am in your debt, sir." I tried not to betray my anxiety at placing my loving words into his hands, but I could feel a flush rising in my skin; hastily I began my retreat.

"Master Erik?" he asked just as I was turning away. "Shall I wait for a response?"

The thought had not crossed my mind, and his small act of consideration unleashed full-fledged waves of trust - and gratitude - over my skin. "Thank you, Darius," I managged to answer, sweeping him a brief bow and quitting the room as quickly as I could. I found myself once again in the bedroom, closing the door behind me; in its comfortable darkness, I felt the prickling of tears in my eyes. "Kindness," I whispered, rolling the words over my tongue. "How very strange."


A short time later, I was startled by a tapping at the bedroom door. "Yes?" I inquired as I opened it and beheld Darius, looking rather more beleaguered than when he left.

"I beg your pardon, Master Erik," he breathed, apparently winded from a hasty ascent of the stairs. "But she would not be dissuaded ..."

A disembodied voice interrupted Darius' apology. "Erik?" Christine called. I flung open the door and beheld her, pulling back the hood of her cloak and hurrying towards me with extended arms.

"Christine?" I felt the corners of my mouth twitching upwards into an unbidden smile. Her presence lit the room better than any shabby fire or smouldering gas lamp, and I stepped into the parlour to receive her. "I cannot believe you are here."

"She insisted upon accompanying me back, Master Erik," Darius interjected quietly. I noticed his voice sounded rather harried.

"Darius," I murmured as I took her proffered hands. "I could not have wished a better response. I thank you from the depths of my heart." I turned from my beloved for a moment to ask him, "Are you certain I can give you nothing for your pains?"

He bowed briefly in response. "I am glad to have been of service, Master Erik. Is there anything else you require?"

"No sir, nothing at all," I replied, looking at Christine, allowing myself to sink into her beautiful eyes. "I now have all that I shall ever need."

Christine blushed modestly and turned her eyes away from my gaze, but Darius did not seem to notice. With another bow the manservant slipped through the door to his own small bedroom, leaving us in privacy. Moments later I had lit the samovar, determined to master the damned thing myself, and claimed a seat beside my love on the sofa.

There we lingered, she speaking softly and I caressing her hand even more gently. She had placed it upon my knee as she exclaimed over the tune I had sent her; but when I began to find her praise excessive I had captured her fingers in my own hand and pressed a series of tender kisses into her palm. Sighing, she had slipped into my embrace as effortlessly as the butterfly mounts a summer breeze, and I held her against my chest, cherishing the weight of her dear head against my shoulder.

"Erik," she murmured into the heavy material of my jacket. "It would have been so lovely if you had delivered it yourself."

"I suppose I am not yet that brave," I whispered back, stroking her hair with my left hand and daring to curl the right about her waist.

She laughed softly into my collar. "Whatever could you be afraid of?"'

"I have had a vision of a chimerous landlady," I replied with a chuckle.

"She is rather portly and kind," Christine giggled, "not frightening at all."

Sobering, I drew her back so I could look into her face. "Perhaps other company is what I wanted to avoid," I said quietly, my eyes burning into hers. She looked back at me questioningly, and I continued, "I did not know who you might be entertaining this afternoon."

She started. "Erik - you cannot possibly think that you would have seen Raoul had you come to call on me?"

Bashful now, I cast my glance into my lap. "I know he must come to you sometimes, Christine ... you said as much, yesterday ..."

"Oh, Erik," she sighed, and when I looked into her face again her forehead was wrinkled with a sad expression. "Please, my darling, you must not persist in thinking this way. Let me explain to you exactly what is, and more importantly what is not, between myself and Raoul."

She took a deep breath and began, "That last night at the Opera ... oh darling, don't flinch," she interrupted herself, seeing my face contort at the humiliating memory of those events. "It was awful, yes; but it brought about my presence here today." She gave my hand a reassuring squeeze and spoke on. "That last night at the Opera, when I left with Raoul, I only moved because of the pressure of his hands on mine, pulling me away. At first I was as limp as a rag doll, but when I finally regained my senses I managed to wrench my hand away and return to you. Oh, how I wanted for you to ask me to stay ... but the resignation in your shoulders and the tears in your eyes were too much for me. Everything in your manner told me to go - and so I did, weeping all the way. Raoul pressed me to leave Paris with him that very night, but I refused, telling him all I wanted was my own bed and some time to cry and think.

"Since then it has been a game of cat and mouse, although I am never quite sure which of us is which. He will wheedle and cajole, trying very hard to keep impatience from hardening my voice, and I will demur and make excuses, trying just as hard to slip this trap without harming either one of us. The blame is mine, of course; he is so certain of my love for him only because I lack the courage to tell him to go.

"For it would be much more than that, you see ... with Raoul nothing is that simple. Were I to tell him that my affections have changed, he will demand to know the reason; and I know his oafish pride will never accept any explanation for why I choose you over him. And so I began to avoid him; I would hide from him like a coward, rather than standing up as I so wished I could do." Her downcast face grew pink with shame, but she pressed onward. "I found his company unbearable, his conversation insufferable. But in that respect I remained the mouse, and was silent; my best defense was rejecting his dinner invitations and praying that you would somehow come for me.

"The weeks began to weigh on me like bricks of solid stone, and I felt trapped; with every passing day I grew more convinced that my reluctance to wound Raoul was sealing me block by block into my own tomb. And I was overcome with guilt, Erik ..." Here she clasped my hand tightly and I saw tears wavering in her precious blue eyes. "I knew that my timidity had done the same to you, that you could have had any life you wanted; and I had cruelly kept you from it, dangled you mercilessly from a string of hope. Oh, Erik," she sighed, pressing my hand to her cheek as if I were a saint with the power to absolve her of a sin. "You cannot know how many rosaries I prayed, to someday be worthy of your forgiveness."

"Christine ..." My voice was cracked and desiccated, anxiety having it of any moisture or pliancy. "All this time - you thought of me?" I was all at once frightened and amazed and enraptured with the words issuing from her lips.

"Always," Christine confided with an almost-sly smile. "Raoul spoke of you constantly, and so his fine plans of persuading me to marry him began to deteriorate; although I know he intended to make me forget or at least despise you, he only succeeded in keeping you in my mind. And it was also he that brought me the news of the final performance of Don Juan Triumphant. He laughed - seemed to think it a good joke - and was startled when the knowledge agitated me. He actually put down his cigar and told me to be careful of my tone. We exchanged a few choice words that afternoon, and my attendance at the performance was unknown to and unsanctioned by the illustrious M. de Chagny.

"In fact, that afternoon was the last time I saw him: he has sent letters and asked permission to call, but I have refused to allow him into my flat since the day of the performance."

"And tell me, my darling," I whispered like a child begging for more bedtime stories, "why did you come to the performance?"

"Erik, can you be so blind?" she replied, suddenly coquettish, batting her eyelashes at me.

I took her in my arms, emboldened by the declarations I had just heard. "I am, a bit," I murmured. "My eyes are not yet used to the light." Smoothing a stray curl back from her forehead, I allowed myself to slip into the swirling pool of her beauty. "Please tell me," I whispered, hope and desire and anguish all intertwining in my voice.

"I came to find you," she replied simply, resting her tiny hands on my shoulders. "I was so afraid for you, for what you would do to Firmin and André to repay what they had done to your opera - for what their cruel trickery had done to you." She cocked her head to one side and a tiny tremulous smile dimpled her cheek. "I came because I love you, Erik. I didn't always know it as clearly as I did then, or as I do now, but I have always loved you from the moment I was born. And I came to tell you, even if you took me by the throat or threw me over a balustrade railing or worst of all, turned your back on me. I came to right a wrong that there might as well have been no righting, but I needed to try. I needed to.

"And when you didn't come ..." She just shook her head, the emotion too strong for words. I held her tightly, nodded, silently entreated her to continue. Her words were pouring into my wounded soul like a miraculous elixir, and old scars were melting away; I dared not speak, dared not interrupt the healing magic she was swirling around my heart.

"I searched the audience for you ..." Her voice was much smaller now; a tear dropped onto her cheek, and a second, and a third. I took her face in my hands, wiping away each droplet with the pads of my thumbs, cradling her delicate chin gently in my palms. My touch seemed to strengthen her. "I never watched a moment of the performance. And when it was all over, I went down into the cellars - alone. I think that the managers suspected I might; I had spoken with them briefly before the curtain rose, and when I began my search for a way down I found all the doors and passages guarded by gendarmes. In the end Meg Giry threw a ballerina's wrap around me and hurried me through to the parts of the theatre that the performers use. I was able to enter my old dressing room, and through the mirror made my way to your house." She blinked away her tears now, to meet the loving gaze I cast down into her face. "And there we found each other."

My heart soared at the expression in her eyes, their clarity and the light of love that shone in them. "And are you glad?" I asked almost shyly, playing the coquette now myself.

"Of course!" she cried, throwing her arms around my neck and hugging me tight. Her voice was tiny and yet brave, like a child's. "I swear to you, Erik, I will never lose you again."

"Oh, I don't know," I smiled, drawing her back to look her in the face. As if by instinct my fingertip traced the line of her jaw, my skin thrilling at the sensation of hers. I allowed my eyes to sparkle with all the intensity of my happiness as I purred, "I rather enjoyed the finding."

She laughed, and for a moment I simply absorbed the perfection of the sound. Then a force like gravity seemed to seize me and I was falling towards her, powerless to prevent myself from stopping her lips with a kiss. I was growing bolder, and she did not seem to mind.


In my few still moments after learning about the final performance of my Opera - and before learning of Christine's change of heart - I had made a plan. It was rather begrudging, made in the bitter resignation that seeped into my sensibilities that evening I lay on Nadir's sofa and created a painstaking imaginary performance of my Don Juan Triumphant to eclipse the horrific actual one. But I made it nonetheless, perhaps only to prove - to no one, incidentally - that I would not be broken by the managers. I would remain with Nadir a bit longer - no more than a few weeks at the most - and allow the last of the Opera hubbub to die down; then, with a single trunk, I would go out into the world again in search of what life remained for me.

This plan had flirted with the edges of my reason for all of a few hours - until Nadir had returned from the Opera and spoken Christine's name.

In that moment my very universe had shifted upon its axis, throwing everything into a state of chaos. Even when Christine and I found each other in the mad spiraling darkness, reality did not right itself immediately. It took several days of holding her close to me to bring solid Earth beneath my feet again; but once I regained my balance, I very nearly ruined it a second time with the very pride I had promised Christine was dead and buried in the basements of the Opera.

Perhaps two weeks after our reunion, she refused my invitation of an evening carriage drive. It was dank and rainy, and her brief note cited the beginnings of a head cold. To this day I feel for Darius, for my behavior upon his delivery of this note was nothing short of unpleasant. Through my frustration and the bedroom door, I heard him straightening the parlour long after my outburst.

My anger that night was mostly directed at myself, however; I was furious at my weakness. You've given her too much reign over you, my suddenly-reborn sardonic side taunted me; and remember how it worked out last time? I had to admit to myself that it was true: when my spinning universe had finally calmed, I had settled it once again with Christine at the center. Now, as I sat silently weeping in the darkened bedchamber, I was torn between my all-consuming love for her and the stinging fear that she might leave me again. A head cold - you simpleton, he could be ascending her stairs with a bunch of roses right now...

I wanted to throw on my cloak and hat and run all the way to her flat, pound on the door and demand to see her. I wanted to smash every glass thing in Nadir's flat to quell my jealousy. I wanted to climb to the very top of the Opera and throw myself off; because it was suddenly and awfully clear that I was nothing but a trinket in her hands - that I was still hers to have or to hurt, whichever she would. I was not the strong new man I had allowed myself to imagine; her power over me was stronger now than ever, and grew stronger with every passing moment.

I very nearly set off into the rain alone that night, on the journey I had originally planned. It would not be defeat to refuse to be toyed with, I told myself. I could not make myself believe it. Instead of packing a trunk as I had intended to, I sank to my cot and watched the rain smear the street-lamp-light across the windowpane.

I barely heard the faint tapping on the bedroom door, but it did not signify: Darius entered without waiting for an invitation.

"Erik," he said softly. I had asked him to do away with the formality of Master shortly after he carried my first correspondence to Christine, and since that afternoon he and I had nursed a fragile but strengthening confidence. I somehow knew he never told Nadir of his new messenger's role.

I was impatient, cross with myself, and miserably lonesome; but even so, I could not find the strength to demand his absence. "Yes, Darius," I replied, turning my head into the shadows and trying to render my voice nonchalant.

"I know it is not my place," he began; if he noticed my strained tone, he ignored this indication that I was in no mood for conversation. "But Miss Daaé certainly appeared ill when I saw her."

"I understood that from her note, sir," I said tersely, trying to communicate with him without words. Every muscle in my body tensed, whispered, Please go, Darius, please leave me in my misery.

"You disbelieve her, though," he returned, and I found myself peering at him out of the corner of my eye.

"And what makes you so damned perceptive?" I snarled to hide the sob that trembled in my throat.

"Because I was once that foolish," he answered frankly. "I loved a woman in my youth, Erik: she was beautiful and I was jealous, always doubting her affections. One day we quarreled, and to show her I did not need her I left our village. I meant to seek my fortune and return a rich man; but in the end I resorted to petty crimes to feed myself. The Daroga arrested me on his own manor, but took pity on me and allowed me to work off my debt to him rather than sending me to the gallows. When my penance was paid, I hurried home again to reunite with my love, to tell her how much I regretted my foolish actions. I arrived home in time for her funeral; after my disappearance, her family had given her in marriage to a man who had beaten and finally killed her because he was dissatisfied with her dowry."

The bunched and ugly skin of a scar does not bleed even when pierced by a needle. This was all I could think as I stared at Darius with my mouth half open. He stood as still as a statue as he spoke, his voice flat and free of any feeling. In that moment his empty, lonely years broke upon me like ocean waves. The glimpse I caught of his pain made me cringe: it was so like mine.

"Darius," I ventured, "I am sorry."

"No, Erik, I am sorry," he almost spat; the dam of his always-modulated tone was finally broken, and bitterness spewed forth. "I have lived alone in the world with my burden. I have sent countless prayers Heavenward. It is I who am sorry, especially now as I watch you with your beloved. I assure you, if you do not check yourself, you will understand my regret all too well - and all too soon."

He turned smartly on his heel and stormed towards the door. All I could manage to utter was a lame, "Darius, please - do not be angry with me."

"Erik," he said between his teeth, whirling in the doorway to look on me, "do not repeat my mistake. Trust in your love, and hold her while you can."

I do not remember seeing him quit the room; the sound of his chamber door slamming entered only vaguely into my senses. I was astounded and humbled by his simple eloquence. These few painful moments solidified the respect for Darius that had been recently blooming in my heart, and I found myself moving to the parlour to retrieve my cloak and hat.

Clumsily, as if I were fumbling through fog, I made my first trip to Christine's flat. I found her alone, wrapped in an afghan and lovingly leafing through the love notes I had sent her over the course of the past weeks.

"Erik," she smiled brightly, though her voice was stuffy from sickness. "Whatever are you doing here?"

I have never been so grateful to another person as I was to Darius in that moment, as I pressed my palm to her cheek. "I've come to make you some soup," I replied.

Hours later, when I had sung Christine to sleep and tucked her lovingly beneath a warm coverlet, I returned to the flat on the Rue de Rivoli. A soft knock on his door revealed that Darius was still awake, reading by candlelight in his small bedroom.

"Darius," I greeted him softly. "I thought perhaps you and I could enjoy a cup of your delicious tea."


I grew gradually accustomed to calling upon Christine at her flat, but I chose only evening hours for my visits and still preferred her to come to me at Nadir's. My host, incidentally, was markedly silent on the subject of Christine. He never objected to her visits and always received her with the utmost respect; but there was something chilly in his manner that I could not quite place my finger on. Perhaps he is jealous, I joked with myself. You have forsaken him. I chuckled at this thought at first, but soon sobered when I realized the truth in it. I had indeed been spending the greater part of my time in Christine's company, when in the past I had bided most of my hours with Nadir, playing chess or discussing politics over a good stiff drink. Now we spent little time together and spoke even less; I began to notice him casting me furtive, almost pleading looks. Immediately ashamed that I was neglecting the man to whom I owed so much, I began a conscious effort to rekindle my friendship with Nadir. He looked at me askance at first, but in time we reinstated our afternoon drink-and-debate.

One such afternoon, we had been sharing a great laugh over some foolish thing or another we had read in the newspaper. In the midst of all our mirth - for we had had perhaps one glass too many of sherry - Nadir suddenly became very serious and asked me, "What are your plans, Erik?"

I was caught off-guard by his swift change in mood. "My plans?"

He fingered his tumbler, as if embarrassed at what he had said and yet unwilling to retract it. "Yes, your plans. For the future." I must have looked at him blankly, for he added with a significant tone to his voice, "You cannot mean to set up permanent residence in my flat."

"Oh, no, naturally," I fumbled, embarrassed now myself. I grasped for something, anything to tell him - for the truth was that I did not know what my plans were. My original ideas of vanishing into thin air now seemed impossible, since I could not - would not! - leave Christine. You might take her with you, I thought - but we had not discussed it. Oh, what to tell Nadir?

Finally I managed to form a sentence. "If I have overstayed my welcome, Nadir, I am most heartily sorry."

He shook his head quickly, as if he had anticipated and hoped to avoid such a response. "You have done no such thing, Erik," he said, placing his hand on my arm in a slightly-tipsy act of camaraderie. "I would just ... well, I would just like to know what you decide to do, when you decide it."

I stared at him for a moment, then threw my head back and laughed. "Nadir, I rather think we have had enough conversation for one afternoon. The spirits have gone to both of our heads - a do believe you are trying to mother me." I caught his eye, and after a moment of silence he snickered too and called for Darius to come and take the decanter away.


The next day brought a lovely spring breeze to Paris; Darius opened all the windows and allowed it to waft through our flat, freshening all it touched. It also brought Christine knocking on the door, laden with a basket and a large piece of hideous flowered cloth.

"A nice day is the perfect excuse for a picnic," she explained with a smile, "and since we cannot go to the park, I thought Nadir's parlour might do as well."

I felt a pinch of guilt at her words - I may have preferred to remain indoors, but Christine was a child of the light and must surely feel stifled by all her catering to me. I concealed the sensation, however, and helped her to flap the cloth out across Nadir's pathetic carpet.

Christine had prepared a delightful luncheon which included a bottle of fine wine. When I remarked at the label, I noticed her blush and dart her eyes away from mine. "Christine," I cajoled, reaching for her hand, "what are you not telling me?"

"I didn't want to spoil your lunch," she said, the corner of her mouth turning up; but I could not decide whether her expression was a true smile or a nervous gesture.

"What is it?" I asked again, more determined now.

She looked at me, something like veiled shame in her eyes. "We have been drinking compliments of the Vicomte de Chagny," she explained softly.

I took a breath and willed down the jealousy that rose like gorge in my throat. "Have we?" I replied, channeling all my strength into keeping my tone nonchalant.

She watched me carefully for a moment, but seemed satisfied by my calm enough to give a sigh of relief. "I was afraid you would be angry," she confessed, running a hand across her face. "In truth I could not tell you what possessed him to send me such a gift. He has been sending all manner of things recently, accompanied by flowery notes begging my forgiveness and entreating that I allow him to call on me." She seemed to relax, placed her palms on the floor behind her and leaned back on them. With a wry smile she added, "He is so dreadful, Erik. I wish we could just disappear. Won't you convince me to run away with you?"

I almost dropped my wine glass; the thought of saving Nadir's crystal was what stopped me, rather than concern for the Vicomte's wine. "What did you say, Christine?" I managed to say, overcome with a rush of feeling and convinced I had imagined her remark.

Her eyes glittered; she was feeling playful now. "I said that you should ask me to run away with you. That would surely end all my troubles with Raoul, don't you think?" When I did not speak, or even move, she reached out and stroked my hand tentatively. "Erik?" she ventured. "Have I offended you?"

"Offended me?!" I cried, seizing her in my arms and collapsing with her into a heap of limbs and kisses on the picnic-cloth. "Offended me by wanting to run away with me? What an odd creature you must think me!" She giggled and flirtatiously attempted to extricate herself from my embrace, but I held her tight. We wrestled for a few moments, until finally she resigned the fight to escape and leaned her head against my chest. I smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead. "Christine," I whispered between my breathing, which was heavy from our tussle. "Do you really want me to take you away from Paris?"

"I would go anywhere in the world with you, my love," she murmured dreamily into my shirt-front.

I placed a hand on her cheek and, furrowing my brow, looked into her face. "Why did you never mention this before?"

Her shoulders twitched as she laughed. "Generally, it is the man who proposes such a thing, and the woman who asks a million questions," she rebuked me playfully.

"Forgive me," I chuckled, infected by her beauty and the bell-like tinkling of her laughter. "I am new to these things ..."

"But you are learning fast," she murmured with a quirked eyebrow, after interrupting me with a kiss.


My luncheon with Christine brought a tingling new clarity to my vision. After I closed Nadir's door behind her I pressed my dizzy forehead to it, feeling rather as though I had drunk too much liquor. I knew there was much to be done: passage to be booked, luggage to be assembled; and though I also knew I was probably ill-equipped to make these plans, I felt nevertheless compelled to. Christine had placed her future trustingly into my hands, and I would provide for her the best as I was able. Swirling my cloak around myself, I slipped out under the cover of darkness to begin the preparations. I was only vaguely aware of what this entailed.

I wandered through the streets, not knowing my destination or even entertaining an idea of what I was looking for. Finally, I chanced upon a shop whose windows were still lit despite the hour: a tailor's.

My mind's reeling lent a bizarre aura to the events that followed; everything from the smouldering oil lamp to the bells that tinkled when I passed through the shop door seemed exaggerated, nearly grotesque in extremity. A little man sat cross-legged on a table towards the rear of the shop, pins protruding from between his lips; he started at the sound of the bells and fixed me with a look of amiable curiosity. "Good evening, Monsieur. How can I help you?"

I let my glance meander over the contents of the cluttered shop as I fumbled for something to say. I was more unprepared for this venture than I had originally anticipated. "You keep strange business hours, sir," I finally managed, self-consciously tugging on the brim of my hat.

"I often work late, Monsieur, to feed my growing children; but I must admit, I rarely have customers at this hour." He had clambered to his feet despite his rather generous circumference and was now advancing on me ever so slowly, his head cocked slightly to one side in fascination. "May I be of some assistance?"

"Yes, forgive me," I stammered, passing a hand across my face. "I am distracted, unaccustomed to ... all of this ... I need a set of travelling clothes." I nipped off this last remark tightly, vaguely aware that I had started off sounded rather foolish.

"Certainly, Monsieur," the tailor bobbed, producing a small writing tablet from the pocket of his leather work-apron. "What is it that you require?" I looked at him blankly and after a moment, he prompted, "A heavy winter suit, perhaps, or something for warmer climes ...?"

"Actually, I believe I shall be needing just about everything," I replied, feeling suddenly and painfully stupid.

"Everything, sir?" It was his turn to look blank.

I cleared my throat. "My situation is ... rather unusual ... I have nothing other than what you see." I drew my cloak to one side to display my evening dress.

I heard him take in a reverent breath and he stepped closer, leaned in to examine my suit and my cloak in the shadowy lamplight. "Upon my word," he whispered, impressed, "it is beautiful work, Monsieur."

"Yes," I agreed, "but rather inappropriate for daily wear." As much as I enjoyed my cashmere coats, the fine linen shirts, I knew such things would surely attract attention aboard ships and trains - something a pair travelling incognito <would dearly wish to avoid.

"You mean to tell me that you have no other clothes?" He had straightened up now and was looking right at me again, one eyebrow quirked. "Forgive me, sir, but..."

I became uncomfortable under his scrutiny, and became aware that his eyes were searching the shadows beneath my hat brim. I am mad, mad to have come in here! "As I mentioned, my situation is somewhat out of the ordinary," I bumbled, taking a few steps backward. My inexperience had made me careless, and my eyes now darted about like those of a caged animal, whose only thought is that primitive urge - ESCAPE.

"Please," the little man's voice was quiet, reminding me of the tone Nadir used when trying to cajole me. He held out his open palms in a gesture I understood was meant to be friendly - for he had realized that I was thinking of fleeing. "Monsieur, I have made you uneasy - forgive me."

I suppose I must have jerked my chin in surprise at this sudden display of compassion, for my eye caught a shaft of light as it played across my face. All my muscles tensed in a silent oath as the tailor's eyes widened and his mouth formed a silent O.

I whirled to dash into the street, but the tailor was quicker and stronger than he looked. His small, heavy hand closed just above my elbow and caught me fast; my senses reeled and I was somehow helpless to pull myself out of his grasp. Then his voice cut through the spinning room:

"Monsieur, please don't go!"

Reality seemed to hold its breath as I turned to face him again. I stared at him in wonder. He must have seen the mask.

I realized I was moving; he was leading me to a chair. "Please stay, Monsieur, and let me help you."

I was struggling with all manner of thoughts and feelings that I could not express, but outwardly I was pliant, posable. The smaller man pressed me into the chair with no more effort than if I were a puppet. I managed to say, "You don't know what you ask ..."

His small round face was resolute. "I do," he insisted. Then, sitting back on his heels on the rough wooden floor, he spoke again. "Monsieur, please take off your hat."

Instinctively, my tone went icy; I leapt from the chair. "I shall do no such thing."

But he paid no heed to my reaction and, placing a hand on my forearm, drew me into the lamplight. I followed him as meekly as a lamb for no reason I could explain; I was simply powerless to resist his will. Horrified and yet indefinably hopeful, I stood rooted to the floor as he reached up and unceremoniously relieved me of my hat. My eyes closed as the illumination flooded over my face; I could feel the faint change in temperature from shadows to light.

"You poor soul," the tailor breathed. I peeped at him out of barely lifted eyelids and saw that his forehead was creased - not with fear, but with empathy. In my surrprise I allowed myself to stare openly at him, as he ran a compassionate gaze across my face. No words came to me, and I remained silent.

Finally he spoke again, only a fragment of a sentence. "May I ask ...?" He trailed off, perhaps embarrassed to be so bold.

To my own great surprise, I found myself answering him. "A defect of birth,"" I whispered, my voice low but free of tears or trembling.

"Have you always worn the mask?" He was relentless ...

... and I could not deny him. "As long as I can remember." I continued to stare at him, unable to process what was happening to me, what compelled me to share with this complete stranger my deepest pain.

If he was sensible of my personal tumult, he gave no indication of it. Under my wide eyes he crossed his arms and shook his head. "When I was a child, I had a brother whose face was scarred from birth." He locked his eyes with mine and continued in a soft, confiding tone, "Though he did not live to adulthood, the memories of the cruelties he suffered remain with me to this day. I know a leather-worker," he added hastily, enjambing his own painful tale with a more benign tangent, "who could design a new mask for you, Monsieur, one that is ... less shocking.."

"Shocking," I repeated vaguely. The scene in which I was immersed was slipping like grains of sand between the fingers of my consciousness. It was as if I dreamed.

"Yes," he replied, "perhaps of a flesh-toned material. This white must surely attract prying eyes - something I am sure you try to avoid."

"I am never without my hat." I heard my voice as though I were standing outside of myself, observing this exchange; it sounded hollow.

"Then I am sorry to have taken it from you. Here," he said, pressing it into my hand with a faint tremor of emotion to his tone. "But I hope you will feel comfortable removing it in my shop - if we are to work together." This last remark was leading, an unasked question.

At first I said nothing; but fingering the felt of my hat seemed to jolt me back to reality. The confusion that had initially clouded my senses suddenly cleared, and every event of the past few minutes came rushing back to me like water from a burst dam. I trembled as I finally spoke.

"Yes ... I thank you." My voice was a wavering whisper.

He smiled, a kindly expression that spread over me like a warm liquid. A complete stranger! Turning up the lamp to its highest flame, he guided me to the bolts of material against the wall and indicated to me the materials he had in mind for my new wardrobe. I nodded absently, allowing him to make notes on his tablet. I had trusted him with the sight of my face - masked, but a significant act nonetheless. I could certainly trust him with the production of my clothing.

Numbly I submitted as he lifted the cloak from my shoulders and manipulated my limbs to take my measurements. I barely noticed the swatches of cloth he presented to me, choosing colors and textures at random.

Finally, he tucked his pencil behind his ear. "I believe all is taken care of, Monsieur. A few weeks should accomplish the work."

"Thank you," came my awe-struck whisper. I had been unable to use any other tone since he had removed my hat - but as I resumed it and my cloak, I began to return to myself. I fumbled for my pocket and, producing a purse, ventured, "How much ...?"

He waved away the proffered money. "No, sir, you shall see the garments first, to be sure they are to your liking."

I wanted to protest, but all I could manage was a feeble, "Monsieur ..."

He clasped one of my hands in his own; his warmth seeped through my glove and nearly seared me. The shock of this feeling against my skin was greater even than one I had experienced years ago when I miscalculated the placing of my pole and tumbled headlong into the icy water of the lake beneath the Opera. "I think I know," he said, his voice confiding - and in a way, reassuring. "You have seen little kindness in your life."

A businessman - a saint - and now a mind-reading soothsayer. I could only nod in response.

He pressed my fingers. "Then let me show you the good of which man is capable." His eyes glistened faintly in the lamplight.

The full meaning of what had transpired tonight struck me like a bolt of lightning. But instead of horror, my mind responded with a surge of camaraderie - this new sensation I had discovered in Nadir, in Darius - and now in this man whom I had only just met. I suddenly regained my voice. "Very well," I replied, turning our contact into a handshake.

He tipped his chin to one side, his interest piqued again by my change in mood. "I never did ask your name, Monsieur."

"Erik," I answered without hesitation, an act that gave me pause afterwards.

He seemed surprised that I offered no surname, but at the same time pleased. I realized only later that he believed I was inviting a first-name basis; of course he did not understand that I had no surname. "Erik - I am Claude," he replied, giving my hand a few more hearty pumps before releasing it. "You may return whenever you wish to survey my progress, though I think I shall have at least something ready to be fitted by the end of the week."

A smile twitched the corners of my mouth as I walked home again through the misty evening streets. The world may be a wonderful place, after all.


My encounter with Claude gave me confidence, and over the next few weeks I visited other business establishments, purchasing necessary items for a long trip abroad. Christine exclaimed over the gift of a trunk I presented her. "Really, Erik, it is too much," she cried, throwing her arms around my neck. Then, looking into my face with tears in her eyes, she whispered, "I am so proud of you."

"Proud of me, darling? Whatever for?"

"For going out and doing these things ... you hardly seem to mind the daylight now ..."

"Oh," I replied nonchalantly, waving the compliment aside. "That credit goes to Claude and his leather-working friend." The new mask, which I wore when mixing with the general populace, so closely resembled human skin that I now felt oddly comfortable being seen, even in broad sunlight. Coupled with the few suits Claude had already completed, it gave birth to a new disguise for me. I went out into Paris now, dressed not as a shadow, but as any other man. I delighted at how inconspicuous I could really be.

My now-frequent absences, and even more so my returning home with parcels, could not long escape Nadir's remark. One afternoon he stood in the bedroom doorway without my noticing at first; I was attending to a suitcase. The boat that would take us from Paris to England would sail within the fortnight, and our final preparations were now upon us.

"Erik," he addressed my back. I turned and noted concern in his creased brow. "Please do not misunderstand me; Mademoiselle Daaé is a lovely creature. But do you really think all this gallivanting across the globe is wise?"

I simply gazed at him for a moment, marveling at myself. In times past such a remark would have drawn an angry response from me; but now, I felt only gratitude for my friend's worry. I thought it foolish worry, but it was still dear to me. "You may be right, Nadir," I finally answered. "But please understand ..." I stepped across the room and placed my hand on his shoulder. "While it lasts I cannot turn my back on the chance to live impetuously. I need it, Nadir ... I need to bask in this fever of living while it is still mine to cherish. In five years it won't matter what came of it: 'What is done, is done, and I have had my hour.'"

"I cannot believe what I am hearing from you, Erik," he replied. "You sound nothing like yourself - I barely know you these days."

"Of course not, Nadir," I replied nonchalantly, turning back to the valise that lay open on my cot. "I am a changed man."


The few days before our departure dawned cold and rainy, and despite my fury of activity my mind grew despondent. For Christine's sake and to keep Nadir from prying into my thoughts, I maintained an outward calm; but internally I churned with dread. This is too easy, I repeated to myself. There is no reason that he would not pursue us.

I had endeavored to keep Raoul out of my mind since the evening I had tea with Darius, but I must admit I had not succeeded as wholly as I would have liked. Occasionally he did creep into my thoughts, and now that I was staring our journey in the face, I wondered if the Vicomte might not, and at any time, slip just as effortlessly into my life with Christine. I could not bear the thought. I will not allow it, I thought, pounding a fist against my knee.

"Erik?" Christine's voice wafted to my ear from somewhere in the hollow of my shoulder. We had decided to take advantage of a break in the weather and take a moonlit drive on the Bois. The darkness of the carriage's interior had beguiled my senses until I nearly forgot that she sat beside me, her dear head reclining against me and her hair spilling into my lap. My motion must have jarred her.

I unclenched the offending fist and laced my fingers with the vast stream of her locks that was cascading down my shirt-front. "My Christine," I sighed, pressing a curl to my lips and kissing it reverently.

"You were thinking of something just now," she persisted quietly, seeming to understand my wish to distract her. How she had grown to understand me in these weeks! Though my purpose was thwarted, I wanted to embrace her and wallow in the joy of being known, truly known, by another person. "What was it?"

I snaked my arm about her shoulders and traced delicate patterns on her arm with an idle finger. "I was thinking that, if I were Raoul de Changy, I would not allow you to just disappear," I finally confided, knowing I could never convince her that I was thinking of nothing at all.

She straightened, stretching her back gracefully as she moved. By God, she is beautiful. "You are afraid he will follow us," she ventured, possessively sliding her hand into the one that had crashed against my knee just a few moments before.

"The thought would not escape me," I whispered, feeling strangely as though I were near tears. I did not want to upset her. "I tried to make it go."

She shook her head. "No, Erik, it's all right. I've had it too ..." She turned towards me, and the moonlight caught the porcelain surface of her skin; she glowed like an angel. It is moments like this that make me wonder whether I did not die and miraculously enter Heaven.

"... and I've arrived at a plan," she continued, a grin suddenly breaking across her face. She threw her arms around me and cuddled into my collar, impetuous and adorable as a child. "I will write him a letter," she murmured, her voice muffled by the cloth of my ascot.

"A letter?" I asked, gently drawing her back and looking down into her dear face. "Christine, what can that solve?"

"Quite a lot, if it is the right kind of letter," she smiled, her eyes glittering impishly. Without waiting for me to press her for more details, she charged theatrically onward. "'Raoul, I have struggled for weeks in vain. I cannot bring myself to consent to be your wife - too much scandal rests upon my shoulders, too much shame waits for you in our marriage-bed. And yet - I cannot live without your love to keep me safe.'" She wrinkled her nose at the words, but continued, "'I have decided - and I hope you will forgive me, dear Raoul - I have decided to go home to my Savior. In life I could not choose you, but from Heaven I can look down upon you. Adieu.'"

She concluded her soliloquy with a dazzling grin, and I just stared at her in wonder. Finally she posed a question: "Do you see, darling? He will think I am dead. It will give him leave to treasure my memory - he can manipulate my ghost as if it were a doll, and my true body will be free to fall into the embrace it prefers. So, my beloved," she smiled broadly, throwing her arms about my shoulders, "what do you think of my plan?"

I spluttered. "Christine, I ..." I was undone with love for her, with awe at the ingenuity of her plan, with joyous disbelief that she truly wanted to break free of the Vicomte and travel the globe at my side. "I ..." I have to say something coherent. "I cannot believe you could tell such a scandalous lie," I concluded sheepishly. It was the only thing I could think of.

"But it is not a lie, Erik," she whispered lovingly, returning her cheek to press against my collarbone. "I could not choose him, because I love elsewhere. And you, my darling ..." She accentuated her words by slipping her fingers into my hair; the pressure of her fingers on the nape of my neck made me shiver. "You are my Savior."


Finally, finally, the evening of departure arrived. A kind of mad lucidity swept a veil across my vision and I felt as though I were in a dream. I waved away Nadir's worrisome offers of help, but in the end I acquiesced as he handed me into the brougham. I suppose I must have been trembling.

Nadir and Darius had insisted, with all the quiet dignity in their arsenals, upon accompanying Christine and myself to the wharf. I had accepted initially only because I did not want to repay all their kindnesses with refusal; but now, as I walked the last familiar mile, the presence of friends was very comforting. I think Christine was glad of them, too; the hand that she placed in mine seemed light and nervous.

The silence in the cab as it rumbled towards the docks was oppressive. Nadir gazed out the window, too polite to stare at me, but Darius had not the breeding nor the idiotic tact of his master. I felt his eyes on me from the opposite wall of the cabin, silent and watchful as they had always been. But there was a change in the look now: it was more like the way he looked at Nadir than the way he had always looked at me in our past acquaintance. The suspicion he had once directed at me was now projected to either side of me, into the air that surrounded me; it was as if I were at the center of a protective orb that would sense and destroy any danger before it reached me. I was grateful for his friendship.

Nadir too would cast a glance in my direction; but it was furtive, and so I did not betray my notice. It would have embarrassed him, just as it would have embarrassed him to admit that he would miss our strange relationship. I understood that discomfiture all too well. In the beginning, Nadir was the only man on Earth whom I could call my friend; I had come to love him as deeply as a brother, and I knew he felt the same. But we had known each other in times long past as men of action, and such sympathetic feelings were still strange to us. I had already begun to dread our farewell handshake, if only for the fact that I did not trust myself not to break down and embrace him. Will I weep? Can I bear to see him weep?

Most of all, I felt for Christine, who was setting off on a journey without a friend to wish her off. I felt cruel for uprooting her so, wanted desperately to do something to make her smile and set her at ease. She was silent, her head bowed in a serene pose; but the rigidity of her posture gave me to know how very tense she was. Even I was not at ease, the new flesh-colored mask making me feel alien and outside of myself.

Something must be done to break this funereal air ...

A random sight wafting between the coach's curtains struck me like a stone between the eyes. Slapping open the flap that separated us from the driver, I called up, "Young man! Stop here, if you please!"

Three sets of wide eyes fixed themselves on me in the gloom of the cab. Nadir's voice creaked to life. "Erik, what in Heaven's name ..."

I brought a finger to my lips and gestured with my other hand as I slipped out of the compartment. "Do not question, Nadir - just come ..."

A brief conversation with the driver and the exchange of a rather hefty purse assured he would wait and guard our trunks. Then, with an ill-concealed smile, I took Christine's hand and led my strange entourage back down the road to the cathedral we had just passed.

The church's heavy doors admitted us into its dim interior; the air was heavy with the scent of incense, perpetually lit candles and fierce Catholic devotion. It had been years since I had entered such a building, and I breathed in the atmosphere of solemnity like a parched plant. I felt welcome and proper in this space, and this surprised me.

Christine, who had been silent since we left the cab, now plucked at my sleeve. "Erik?" Her voice was a sigh of comfort, a good Catholic child in the familiarity of the nave.

"Christine," I replied, smiling at her in the dimness. "We have forgotten something in the midst of all our furious preparation."

"What have we forgotten?" she asked, tipping her precious chin to one side.

I raised her hand to my lips. "We have forgotten to be married."

Nadir and Darius lingered near the western doors, uncomfortable in such a Christian space, but my words did not escape them. I thought I saw a tender look dart across Darius's face, and I was silently pleased to receive his approval. Urging them in to us, I called, "Come, Nadir, don't be shy. It's the bridegroom, not the best man, who should have jitters."

My voice echoing strangely through the nave arcade brought a priest from one of the radiating chapels. He was clad in a plain cassock; obviously there would be no services tonight. "My children," he greeted Christine and I as he approached, attempting to conceal the curious urge to stare at our Saracen companions. "What brings you to our church at this hour?"

"We come to beg a favor, Father," I replied, willing my voice confident and steady. I took Christine's hand. "We wish to be married."

He nodded solemnly. "I must admit that your request smacks of elopement, especially at this hour of night. The Church does not usually sanction impetuous weddings."

"Please, Father ..." Christine spoke, rising to the joyous game; her voice trembled with emotion. "I assure you, this is no elopement."

"You are young, my child. You do not defy your mother and your father by seeking to be wed?"

She bowed her head a moment, then replied, "My parents are dead, Father, and I have no guardian to give consent on their behalf."

He glanced at me, then back to Christine. "Then you have given your own consent, free and willingly?"

She set her chin, but I thought I saw tears forming in her eyes; she gave my hand a squeeze. "I have, Father."

"Very well." He turned to me. "And these gentlemen you have brought ...?" He nodded towards Nadir and Darius, who still skulked near the door.

"They will stand witness to the marriage, if you will permit it," I replied, with a bow of my head. "But first, another favor ..."

"Yes, my son?"

His words echoed strangely in my head, but I forced myself not to dwell upon them. "I would like you to hear my confession, Father, before the wedding."

I heard Christine's breath pause as she turned her chin to look at me. I could also sense that my remark had not escaped Nadir, and his amazement pleased me although it was behind me and out of my sight.

"Of course, my son," the priest replied, too interested now to hide it. He motioned me to a small chapel and closed the door behind us.

I knelt on the stone floor and bowed my head, a gesture that still seemed second nature though I had not performed it since my childhood. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," I began, "so many times and so horribly that for many years I have lived a wretched life with only death and Hell to look forward to."

Never lifting my head, I poured my black history into the priest's waiting ear; I told him of my anguish, of the deaths that had come at my hands, and of the salvation that had been granted me in the form of my beloved Christine.

"She loves me, Father," I concluded, "and that love has lifted me out of the despair where I have wallowed for so long. She makes me crave forgiveness - all I want now is her at my side; a good life, moral and recognized in the eyes of God. I had thought for so many years that He despised me; but now I know that it was only a trial, only to test me and prepare me to be worthy of her love."

He bowed his head, and I believe I saw him wipe a tear away with the sleeve of his robe. "Erik," he sighed, for I had told him my name in the course of my confession, "I have been a priest for thirty years and never have I heard a story like yours. I am without the words to tell you how it has made me feel.

"I can think of no penance to assign you - such sins as you have committed must come before God to judge. But I cannot deny you compassion when it has been kept from you for so long. Your sufferings, my son ..." He passed his hand across his face. "Perhaps you have earned forgiveness. Perhaps, indeed."

He prayed over me and granted me absolution, and as we emerged from the chapel I felt as though I must be radiating an unearthly light. Nadir and Darius came forward to the altar and bore witness as Christine and I took communion; the priest stood for her father and gave her to me in marriage. The cathedral was empty as I finally embraced my bride, but I heard joyous music as if the pews overflowed with the members of a heavenly choir.

It could not have been much more than an hour later when we returned to the brougham. I handed Christine into the compartment, but Nadir held me back a space. "Erik," he began, but seemed to choke on something unsaid.

I clasped his shoulder reassuringly. "You said once that you, too, would forgive me," I whispered, looking at him with eyes that brimmed with tears.

His lips trembled; he placed his own hand on my shoulder and took a deep breath. "I do," he replied, "I have."


And so Christine and I slipped aboard a boat on the river Seine and disappeared, Nadir and Darius waving from the quay the only evidence that we existed. In the end it was all surprisingly easy: Christine had done as she said, leaving a purse with her landlady and tacking a rather melodramatic note to the door of her flat. For the first few months, I would go out of my way to locate a Paris newspaper; but I could find no indication that Raoul de Changy had put up much of a fight. Either he was enough of a buffoon that our ruse had fooled him, or he did not care enough for Christine to pursue her. Perhaps for my own sake, I convinced myself it was the former.

But I had little time to dwell upon these final vestiges of ties to what was past, and gradually they loosened their hold on me. The world lay out a rich banquet before us, and we feasted like Hansel and Gretl at the house of sweets. I especially found myself famished for new sights and new places, so much so that I might have glutted myself on each new city all in one day, then moved on to the next before nightfall. Christine took to teasing me. "You're just like a little boy on St. Nicholas' day," she would giggle, a flirtatious turn to her voice. "And I thought I was the child." I would take her in my arms and show her just how young I felt.

If Christine and I had not been angels when we left Paris, we certainly became them in the course of our travels; we grew to love the rush of spreading our wings and finding ourselves in a new sphere. We drank in China, America, the savage glory of northern Africa, any and all places that would open their arms to us - even Paris. We were daring enough to return to her several times in the ensuing years, and never hesitated to call upon our friends at the Rue de Rivoli. Once I even insisted that they accompany us on an excursion to the northern parts of Italy. Nadir assumed a solemn countenance and played the cool, experienced globetrotter; but for once Darius lay his composure aside and gaped openly at the foreign beauty of a place he had only ever heard of. I delighted in his amazement, and I could tell Christine enjoyed being once again in the company of friends.

Five years went by and the Earth continued to whirl past us like a kaleidoscope. Christine's eyes were constantly wide with appreciation for the loveliness of some new place; mine were wide too, but with joy in finally being able to walk the world at her side. I had originally feared that time would bring her to realize that she wanted more than I could offer her, that she would thank me for the trip and disappear. But every morning I woke to the press of her fresh pink cheek against my bare and sunken one, and sent a silent prayer of thanks heavenward. Then she would stir and the mad whirl of our life moved on, setting our senses reeling with intoxicating beauty.

But like so much drunken revelry, our fanciful flight could not go on forever. After a few more years my funds began to dwindle; we had liquidated most the effects from my former home beneath the Opera, and my personal fortune was no longer as substantial as it had once been. At first I was almost ashamed to admit it to Christine, but I should have known better. "We can settle down at last," she breathed, a rapt expression on her face, "and have a real home."

"Christine," I breathed, my forehead creasing in confusion. "You don't mean to tell me that you've been unhappy with our life?"

"Of course not," she cried, pressing a kiss to my exposed cheek. "But still, it has been eight years now, and I grow weary of living out of a trunk. I miss a house, with a parlour, and a hearth, and feeling like I belong to a place." She stroked my temple lovingly. "Just think, Erik - to have a music room again!"

Christine and I were of a single mind: if we were to settle down, it could only be in America. Together we chose a home on the outskirts of the greatest city we had ever seen - New York - and slipped into an unobtrusive life there. I brought in money and entertained myself by dabbling in architecture, and Christine established herself as a teacher for young ladies with dreadful singing voices. We were comfortable financially; we loved our chosen home and the new friends we made there; we were happy.

Of course it could not last.

Perhaps some fifteen years after I stood in the dimness of the cathedral and pledged to cherish Christine even in sickness, the time came to live up to that vow. Though her eyes and skin seemed feverishly bright, she often fainted or trembled. When the doctors said her heart would not last more than a few more months, I nearly did myself a harm with grief.

It was she, now, that was the braver of our pair; she staunchly refused to dwell upon her illness and would not allow me to transplant her from the bustling city to the more wholesome pastures of the European countryside. She said simply, "I want to go on living as I always have, while I can."

She could, and did, for a further five years; the doctors pulled on their plentiful whiskers, blustering and baffled. Though an occasional attack of weakness might send her to bed, she never missed a step in her waltz of living - and she lived with abandon now. She was fearless and beautiful, and I loved her with a passion that paled only in comparison with the fire in her eyes.

She continued to teach, to bring her spoiled pupils and their stuffy parents into our lovely walnut-paneled music room. But she also indulged herself by returning to the stage, something she had long-ago abandoned with a blush and a claim that her humility forbade it. Humility gave way now to her desire to stretch her voice to the amazement of listeners, and she sought some excuse to tread the boards again. At first she could find audience only at church; but with my help she polished her glorious instrument until it shone, and she ignited a brush-fire of exclamation among any and all who heard her. Soon she was sought after to perform at cultural events and social gatherings; her name was used to attract wealthy patrons to benefit concerts. One such gala, to be held on behalf of orphaned children, tugged at her heartstrings enough to induce her to accept the board's invitation despite a recent spell of illness.

That decision altered the course of the rest of our life together, however brief it was to be.


Upon entering the theatre that evening, I immediately could sense something unpleasant; perhaps my time among the gypsies had made me superstitious, but something in the air gave me to know that a disaster was about to occur. I discovered the source of my premonition only when Christine took the stage, and I felt a surge of excitement from the orchestra seating. Below and slightly to the right of the box where I sat concealed in shadows, a man with broad shoulders and sandy hair was leaning forward in his seat, his jaw nearly on his knee as he watched Christine perform.

Of course I was forced to understand his shock. Raoul de Chagny had been under every impression that Christine was dead.

Hating as I did to miss one moment of my beloved's song, I slipped out of the box and began to search the lobbies for some member of the board. The people who arranged these benefits rarely cared to watch the performances, I had discovered through Christine's involvement with them; and I had also learned that, inevitably, one of them was always to be found at the bar.

There, seated on a tall stool and already beginning to loll over the counter, was a man I recognized. He was a Mister Pedersen, one of the more powerful members of the charitable organization that had coordinated tonight's gala. I found it ironic that someone who cared so deeply about orphaned children saw nothing immoral in being tipsy even before the first intermission; but I waved the thought aside and approached him.

"Monsieur Pedersen," I greeted him cordially, taking a stool beside him. I had tipped my tall hat slightly over my forehead, a habit I could not seem to break myself of despite all my years above ground. I had met the man before, when I had accompanied Christine to sign her contract with the board, and so he returned my salutation with a hearty, and slightly drunken, slap on the back.

"Monsieur Rouen!" he cried, and I winced. Christine and I had taken on this pseudonym upon our initial departure from Paris, so I was quite used to it by now; but the way the man butchered the pronunciation in an inebriated attempt to mimic my French accent disgusted my ear. "Your wife is performing splendidly tonight."

"She always does, Monsieur," I replied in a soft, persuasive tone, choosing not to mention that he had not even entered the auditorium to hear Christine sing. "Let me buy you a brandy, to celebrate."

"Oh, sir, you are too kind," he blubbered, greedily taking up the glass the barkeep placed before him. "Her health, and yours," he muttered, sloshing it briefly towards me before taking a generous gulp. Then, rolling his eyes toward the mirrored ceiling, he sighed, "Ah, now that's a good brandy."

"Indeed," I replied, even though the glass I held was resting motionless and full in my gloved hand. "And this seems to be a good benefit, Monsieur. The house is quite full."

"It is that, it is that," he chuckled, warming under the combined effects of my voice and the spirits. "And most of the are filthy rich," he added confidingly. In leaning towards me, he nearly toppled off his chair. I repressed the urge to laugh and spoke on.

"I must confess to some curiosity, sir: I noticed another Frenchman in the crowd and hear a whisper that he is of noble birth. Do you know anything of him?"

"A nobleman? Here, let me think," he replied, tossing back the rest of his drink. "Ah, yes, the Viscount de Changee or something to that effect. Terribly wealthy, family fortune from ages back."

Again I ignored the horror of his pronunciation and plied another question. "I believe I have heard of him, Monsieur; but ... it cannot be. That was years ago, in Paris."

"Oh, it might well have been," Pedersen replied, gesturing to the barkeep to bring another brandy. "He's a newcomer to New York, just here a year or two. I believe he did come from Paree." It took all my strength not to strangle the man for how he was mangling my native tongue; but I somehow allowed him to live, and continue. "Interesting fellow: rich, handsome, and yet a confirmed old bachelor. They say he loved a woman years ago but lost her, and now he only spends his money on things that remind him of her." He paused to take a slurp of his new drink, then added with a chortle, "Not that we mind the donation. He gave us quite a sum. This lost sweetheart of his must have been an orphan, eh?"

"Perhaps," I replied, straining to keep my voice steady. "A shame for her, and yet a windfall for you. But pray, excuse me ..." I interrupted myself, rising. "I would not want to miss Christine's performance."

"Yes, of course!" he cried boisterously. "That wife of yours, Rouen; what a prize! She's beautiful, and she sings like an angel. And - pardon me, but ..." He gave my shoulder another slap, adding with a vile expression, "She must be about half your age. You're a lucky man, a damned lucky man." He quirked his eyebrow, as though I had not already taken his meaning. My fingers twitched, but instead of throttling him I ordered him another drink and bowed, slipping away to the stage door. The doorman started at the strange visage of my flesh-coloured mask, but yielded to me when I said, "I am Christine Rouen's husband. May I pass, please?"


As soon as I learned where Christine's dressing-room was, I bolted through the corridors. I must, I must reach her before he does, I repeated to the cadence my feet pounded against the floors. I knew he would try to come to her; after all, he had done so once before.

I turned the corner to the hall that would lead me to Christine's room, and began to slow my pace so I could identify the correct door. I realized, however, that I need not have done so: de Chagny was already standing outside it, knocking feverishly. I marveled at his talent; somehow he had managed to procure an obscene bunch of roses in the ten minutes it had taken me to interview the drunken Mister Pedersen.

"de Chagny," I growled from the shadows, and he turned towards me with an expression of horrified recognition.

"You," he breathed in mingled shock and hatred, just as Christine opened the door.

"Raoul?" she gasped, her hand going to her throat.

"Christine!" we both cried in unison; he turned and shot me an icy look. I returned it and attempted to shoulder my way past him into the dressing-room; but I could not shut the door to, as he wedged it with his body and forced it open again.

"Christine!" he cried again. "What in God's name is he doing here?"

"Monsieur." I whirled to face him, gently pulling Christine behind me so that my body shielded her from his view. "I will thank you to leave my wife in peace."

"Your wife!" he shrieked in the very throes of anger and disbelief. "My God, Christine - tell me it isn't true!"

Seeing the oafish Vicomte explode in this manner strangely eased my temper. I crossed my arms before me and reproached him, "Really, Monsieur. Such a display of bitterness is hardly becoming."

"You monster, don't you dare to taunt me," he blathered, his fingers clenching into fists that trembled. "Christine, speak to me!"

His entreaty made me realize that Christine had not said a word since she opened the door to find him standing there. "Christine?" I said softly, turning my head to glance over my shoulder.

What I saw made me whirl bodily, forgetting the Vicomte who stood behind, and might very well attack, me. In that moment all I saw or felt or cared about was Christine, who stood wavering behind me, her cheek pale and her lips slowly going blue. "Erik ..." she whispered, collapsing just as I threw my arms about her.

"Mon Dieu," I swore, then shouted at the Vicomte, "Open the door, you fool!"

He rushed to my side and placed his hand on her forehead. "Christine," he called to her, perhaps believing his touch would revive her. I pulled her closer against my chest and out of his reach; her head fell limply against my shoulder.

"She's ill, don't you see!" I hoisted her gently into my arms and rushed to the door. "Open it, open it!" I nearly screamed, drawing ever closer to hysteria. "I must get her to our carriage, I must get her home!"

The Vicomte gaped at me for a moment, but then his eyes fell on Christine's face and he hurried to do my bidding. He rushed before me all the way to the street, opening each door for the sake of my precious cargo. As I jumped into our waiting carriage I heard him hailing his own driver and bellowing out instructions for him to follow us; I did not care. Inside the compartment of our carriage, I was rubbing Christine's wrists vigorously, trying to restore life to her greying features. She did not stir and my heart rose higher and higher into my throat. The shock, my inner voice wept, the stupid boy has killed her.

We rattled crazily through the streets and lurched to a stop before our house; the driver hurried before me to rouse the other servants. I took the stairs two at a time, exerting all my strength to make my movements smooth so as not to jar my beloved in her state of unconsciousness. Once I had laid her in our bed, I resumed my attempts to revive her. My manservant slipped into the room, his trousers thrown hastily on atop his nightgown; I dispatched him at once for the doctor.

The house was in such an uproar that none of the servants thought to stop the other well-dressed gentleman that came dashing up the front stairs. I heard him all the way in the foyer, shouting, "Where are they, where are they? Christine!" He thundered up the stairs, drawn to the bedroom door by the light spilling from it.

I wanted to give him a venomous welcome; but in my state all I could manage was, "If you must enter the sickroom, sir, I will thank you to keep your voice down." It seemed to serve, though, for my voice arrested him in his tracks. He had come, I could tell, with every intention of wrenching Christine from my arms; but the sight of me kneeling at her side in the bedchamber where she and I had shared so many nights seemed to shame him into stillness. Casting a glance about the room, he slunk into a chair in the corner and resigned himself to lurking there, watching my every motion like a man obsessed.

Moments later her eyes fluttered; I had been applying a cool cloth to her forehead since placing her in the bed, so it must have been my voice that roused her. "Erik?" she whispered.

"I am here, my love," I replied passionately, forgetting in my relief that we were not alone. But as I leaned over her, I could see the veil descending in her eyes. I nearly wept, but she startled me by reaching weakly towards my face.

"Erik ... please ..." Her fingers brushed the mask. "Let me see you." Her voice was trembling, as though she too was aware of what was happening to her.

"Christine," I breathed, reaching up to undo the ties of the mask. Words slipped through my fingers like the tear that slipped down my good cheek as I whispered, "I love you."

Behind me, I heard the Vicomte draw in a sharp breath; briefly I recalled that this was only the second time he had ever seen my face. But I did not care for him, and focused all my attentions on Christine. She was gazing into my eyes and running her fingertips across my ravaged skin. "I love you too, mon Ange ..." she whispered, then drew in a short, painful breath. Her eyelids fluttered and she murmured, "Sing to me, Erik ... sing me to sleep ..."

I clasped her hand in both of mine and began to sing to her words I had learned in my very early childhood - words that had been sung over my own cradle, not by my mother but by another, more well-intentioned lady. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want ..." By the time I reached the psalm's end I was weeping, and Christine had closed her eyes. I pressed her fingers to my lips and kissed them, infusing her final moments with my love. I sat for a long time at her side, but I finally smoothed her curls, clasped her hands upon her breast, and rose.

"Monsieur," I sighed, "I hope you will forgive my asking you to go. My grief would prefer solitude." My voice was, for once, free of sarcasm; I was too exhausted to go through the trouble.

Raoul stood too, and glared at me through eyes that were red with tears. "You monster," he seethed. "I knew you would never have done with her until she was in her grave. At least she is free of you now, in the hands of her Savior."

A moment ago I would have allowed him to slip peacefully from the room, the pain of Christine's loss numbing me even to our still-bitter rivalry; but his words injected me with an indignant rage and I took three huge steps across the floor, pausing only inches from his face. As I stared straight down into his eyes, my fingers twitched with the long-forgotten urge to span the diameter of his throat and squeeze. I exhaled. "Because you loved her," I replied in the lowest, evenest tone I could muster, "I will forget you said that. But you are alive today because she loved me, and you should never forget that. She was my savior, de Changy, and yours too - but for her, you would have been cold in your grave these twenty years at least." I moved to the door, feeling weak and close to tears; at the threshold I paused. "Go home, boy," I said over my shoulder. "You are not wanted here. You have never been wanted here."


It was raining at Perros the afternoon I buried Christine beside her father. The stone I had commissioned from the finest mason I could find was graced with lines penned by Lord Byron: "A mind at peace with all below, A heart whose love is innocent." When the small crowd had dissipated, I clasped the iron mausoleum bars with both hands and wept. "Watch over her," I whispered to the man who, through Christine's fond tales, I had come to love as my own father. "Keep her safe for me, as I have kept her safe for you, until Death brings me home to you both." The rain poured down and soaked me through, but I was senseless of the wet or cold; I lingered past nightfall and tried vainly to warm myself in the coach that returned me to Paris, to the empty echoing halls of the house I had rented. I had declined Nadir's offer of his company, still not being able to bear his seeing me weep.

The evening after Christine's funeral Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, stole into this house with his pistol cocked. The great amount of brandy he had imbibed had made him brave, but also clumsy; he stumbled on the escaliers and when he reached the bottom, his spine was shattered. The crash of his landing woke me from my shallow sleep; and so I carried the bleeding carcass of my would-be-murderer to the surgeon in my own arms.

The elderly doctor shook his head. "He may survive this night and live many years more," he told me softly; "but he will never walk again, to be sure." I pressed gold into his palm, told him his patient's name, and took my leave. When he recovered from awe at the young cripple's title, he would know where to send the bills.

I had not seen the Vicomte since that night; I was unaware that his hair was white now. Perhaps the shock of the injury has bleached it before its time, I mused into the blackness. But I did not want to think of him, now that the stage was empty and the theatre silent: and so I let my mind relax into beautiful, flowing memories of Christine.

My beautiful bride was a true Angel at last, and in the huge expanse of the cavernous theatre I could hear her singing for me across Death's divide. It seemed I had been cursed with longevity as well as a horror of a face; I am well above seventy and still as limber as I was the first time I pressed my cheek to Christine's dressing-room mirror in awe of all her loveliness. But I sent a smile heavenward for my beloved, and quit the Opera - for the last time. I would not linger in its tomb-like interior, suffocating slowly under the oppressive weight of Christine's loss. The music-box will play on, even though she is dead, and I intend to let her spirit guide me through the waltz of living. When the time comes for our eternal reunion, I will go to her arms happily ... and having lived.

A Ceux Qui Attendant "To Those Who Wait"

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 1 of 1