Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 21 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

It was eight in the morning, and nearly time for Gustave to depart for his first day of school, and yet he was nowhere to be seen.

"He'll be late," said Christine with a sigh. She was seated by the fire in the sitting room, wrapped up in blankets, working on some knitted garment for the new baby. Erik didn't think he'd ever seen her looking so...domestic. He was constantly seeing new facets to her now that they lived together, and he loved every one of them. "Erik, would you find him? I want to finish this before Laura and I go out shopping."

"You shouldn't go out in the cold," Erik remonstrated, but they'd had this discussion when Christine had first declared her intent to see more of the town, and she had promised to be careful, refused to countenance any suggestion that she stay at home.

He wanted to kiss her again, and there was nothing to stop him now, so he leaned down, kissed her forehead, her mouth. She had been here for over a week and he still marvelled that he could kiss her whenever he wished, could hold her and speak to her whenever he wanted to.

She kissed him back, tasted of sweet tea, and then she pushed him away, her eyes dancing with amusement. "Go and find him," she urged. "He'll be late, and It's his first day."

Erik sketched an elaborate bow and left the room, followed by her soft laughter. He liked making her laugh, liked seeing her amusement – wished she could always be like that, made impossibly more beautiful when she smiled and laughed.

He went upstairs, knocked lightly on Gustave's bedroom door. There was no answer, and Erik frowned, paused with his hand on the doorknob, then turned it and stepped inside. But the room was empty; Gustave was not there. Erik's frown deepened, and he went to check the other bedrooms, came downstairs again and went to the music room – Gustave was often to be found there, but not now.

He almost went back into the sitting room, but he paused near the front door. Gustave's boots were gone, and Christine had been most insistent that he not wear them in the house. His coat and hat were still there, but Erik nodded to himself, picked them up and donned his own coat, opened the front door and closed it quietly behind himself.

Gustave was hiding in the empty garage, sitting on an old paint can, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. He didn't look up when Erik approached him, didn't say anything, and Erik sat down beside him, cross-legged on the cold floor.

"You left your coat," said Erik eventually. "You must be cold." Gustave shrugged, and Erik looked at him, saw his white hands, the shivers he was struggling against. He reached out, wrapped the coat around Gustave's shoulders, dropped the hat into his lap. "In case you change your mind," he said.

He was aware that time was passing, that Gustave should not be late for his first day of school, but there was a reason Gustave was hiding here, and Erik would be patient, would wait to discover it.

Finally Gustave moved, put his arms through the coat sleeves, buttoned it up, thrust the hat over his blond hair. Erik didn't comment, didn't want to drive Gustave away.

"I don't want to go," Gustave said then. "I don't – my English isn't good enough, and I don't know American history, and they'll make fun of me for having a tutor before."

Erik's mouth twitched, but he was careful that Gustave didn't see his amusement, careful to only show concern and support. Gustave was afraid, that was clear – or nervous, perhaps, was the better word for it, and Erik understood perfectly. He had never been comfortable going among strangers, but he had a better reason, or so he thought to himself, and Gustave must learn to do what Erik could not.

Gustave, after all, had no mask to invite stares, laugher, curiosity. Gustave had a perfect face, and Christine's insatiable curiosity, and he would make friends easily. He could not see it, but Erik would try to help him to conquer his nerves.

"Your English is extremely good," he said, "and you will only improve with practice, which you will get at school." Gustave muttered something inaudibly, but Erik didn't ask him to repeat it. "As to not knowing the curriculum – you are clever, Gustave. You'll learn quickly, and I can help you." Gustave glanced at him then, shrugged. Erik waited to see if he would say anything, and then continued. "You know you have to go to school. It's the law here, Gustave. And you won't make friends if you don't go."

"I don't want friends," Gustave said defiantly, but Erik shook his head, knew his son was only trying to deceive himself. "I don't! I just need you and Mother. And the baby," he added, almost as an afterthought. "If I go to school I'll hardly see you."

"School finishes at four, and there are the weekends," Erik pointed out patiently. "And soon enough I'll be working again during the day." Gustave scowled, stymied, and Erik wanted to smile again, a little. He felt the same, felt he didn't want to be parted from Gustave and Christine for a moment more than necessary, but Gustave had to be schooled, and Christine was right, he needed to be among people his own age. "I understand," he said, voice gentle, "but you will enjoy it, Gustave. I promise."

"Will you take me?" Gustave asked then, looking at him with wide, hopeful eyes. "Just – just today?"

Erik hesitated. He'd seen the school, of course, but from a carriage, and to walk there in the daylight – to walk in plain sight of everyone about their business in the town…he was used to it in Phantasma, where visitors simply took his mask as part of the mystery of the place, but here…

"Never mind," said Gustave then, with a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."

Erik couldn't refuse him. He rose, held his hand out to Gustave. "I'll come," he said. "But just this once, for your first day. It's only fifteen minutes' walk, and your mother assures me you're capable of going alone." He didn't think much of that – could still remember, all too vividly, that terror of finding Gustave was missing, had been taken, and thought there were far too many opportunities for something to go wrong if Gustave went alone. But he could accept that it was right for Gustave, could try at least to check his protective instincts.

"Really?" Gustave asked, used Erik's hand to lever himself upright. "Truly?"

Erik laughed then, nodded. "Truly. Now run and get your books, and don't forget to kiss your mother goodbye."

Gustave hurried to obey and Erik followed slower, paused to close the garage door and then waited for his son at the foot of the porch steps. Gustave wasn't long; when he reappeared he had acquired his books, a slate and his lunch in a pail.

"I'm ready," he said, and sounded resolute. Erik stared for a moment, caught the line of his son's jaw and recognised it from the mirror. He saw so much of Christine in Gustave that it was a surprise when he saw any reflection of himself in the boy's features. "Father?" said Gustave, and Erik shook himself, offered a faint smile and led the way down the path to the driveway.

The walk was not long, mainly through residential streets, and Erik was relieved to be mostly unobserved even as he dreaded the turn onto the busier streets that led towards the school. Those who did observe him didn't quite stare, gave him more than a second glance, but Gustave talked to him, chattered nervously, and Erik tried to focus on his son, to ignore the stares of the people they passed. Focused on his voice, and the feel of his hand in Erik's.

He paused when the school was within sight, at the corner of two streets, and he looked down at Gustave, saw his son's nervousness.

"You'll be alright," he said softly, and Gustave nodded, although it was clear he didn't believe it. "Gustave," said Erik, firm now, "don't worry. We'll be waiting for you when you get home. You're sure you know the way back?"

Gustave nodded again, gulped in a deep breath, released Erik's hand. "Don't tell Mother I was scared," he said, words tumbling out of his mouth, and then he was gone, trudged down the street towards the school.

Erik watched him go, waited until Gustave was at the door before turning back towards home. It was bittersweet, and he almost wondered why Christine hadn't walked Gustave herself. But then she'd had him for ten years, while Erik was still getting to know him, still craving every moment with him, still amazed at every word and friendly look Gustave gave him.

Was it easier for her, to let Gustave grow up, go to school, because she had seen him grow from infant to boy? He couldn't imagine that it was, not really.

Christine was crying when he returned to the house, her knitting discarded on the floor, and he hurried to her side, dropped his coat on the sofa and knelt before her. He reached up to wipe the tears from her eyes, took her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.

"What is it?" he asked her. "Christine, what's wrong?" She didn't stop crying, silent sobs that wracked her body, and he tightened his grasp on her hand, felt helpless and hated it. "Christine, hush," he said, brushed his thumb across her cheek again. "Tell me what's wrong."

"I'm being ridiculous," she managed at last. "I'm sorry, there's nothing. It's nothing. I'm just…" She waved her hand, reached for her handkerchief, and Erik was helpless. He knelt up, offered his arms and she leaned forwards, clung to him awkwardly. "I'm sorry," she said again. "It's just…watching Gustave going off…he's growing up so fast."

Erik almost sighed in relief, stroked her hair gently, waited for her sobs to subside. "He is growing up," he murmured, "but surely that's not enough for you to be so upset?" He pulled back a little, looked at her, kissed her hand again.

"It seemed enough," she said, almost plaintively. "Oh, I'm sorry, Erik. I'm being so silly, but…" She lifted the handkerchief, wiped at her face with sharp, cross movements and he took the cloth from her, gently dried her cheeks.

"I don't like seeing you so upset," he murmured. Her lip trembled, as if she would start crying again, but she took a deep breath, another, and he nodded, stroked her cheek. "Gustave will be fine," he assured her then. "He'll make friends and learn new things…"

"I know," she sighed. "But sometimes it feels as though no time at all has passed since I first held him." She touched her belly then, the rounded swell of new life, and a smile lit up her face. "I'm sorry," she said once again. "I'm being so emotional."

"I'm told it's normal during pregnancy," said Erik dryly, and he rose, picked up her knitting and returned it to her. "I have some letters to write," he said, "but I'll bring them in here." Her smile widened, and Erik went to the music room, found his papers and returned quickly to the warm, pleasant sitting room.

Christine's needles clicked as she worked; Erik sat at the desk, dealt with his letters swiftly and then tried to focus on his music.

But she was so beautiful, sitting by the fire, and the sight was so novel to him that he was drawn back to her again and again, unable to concentrate on the music that usually held his attention.

"What are you making?" he asked at last, and she looked up at him, her needles moving ceaselessly. He could remember when she first leaned to knit, one of many members of the corps de ballet taking instruction from one of the costumers at the Opera Populaire. She'd been a tiny slip of a thing then, not quite ten years old, struggling to find her place in the vast opera house. He'd begun teaching her not long after that, begun to watch over her.

"A cardigan," said Christine, and held it up to show him. Even to his uneducated eye, it was nearly finished.

"It's so small," he murmured, and thought of how fragile the baby would be, if it were truly that small. Tried to think of holding it, but couldn't imagine it, couldn't see how he could hold something so fragile, so delicate.

"She will be small, at first," Christine told him, "although actually I'm making this large. Babies grow very quickly." She seemed to guess at his thoughts, for she smiled, put her knitting down and held a hand out for him. Erik went to her gladly, sat at her feet and touched his hand to her stomach. He couldn't seem to help it, this urge to touch, to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him.

Christine was here, and the baby was real. And he would learn, he knew, learn how to hold the baby, how to care for it.

Christine resumed her work, and Erik leaned against her legs, gazed into the fire and thought of a baby with dark eyes and soft curls.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 21 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>