Continuing Tales

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 7 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

Christine felt it should have been raining on the day of Raoul's funeral. It had rained at other funerals she'd attended in her life. At her father's funeral the skies had opened, and the mourners had scattered for cover in the church until it lightened enough to allow the service to continue. It had rained at the funeral of Raoul's brother Philippe, and at that of her closest friend among the French elite, when she had died in childbirth three years ago.

It was hot in New York; hot and dry, barely a breath of wind to ease the heat in the strange, unfamiliar cemetery so far from the graveyard where all Raoul's family were buried. Gustave was itching uncomfortably in his black suit, and Christine wished she could do the same. She wore summer clothes, but black nonetheless, and the heat of it was almost unbearable.

Erik wasn't with them; he'd wanted to come, had expressed concern for both of them, but Christine had been firm. It would be inappropriate for Erik to attend Raoul's funeral. The two men had loathed each other in life, and despite their desire for a future together, despite Gustave's parentage, Christine could not bring her lover to her husband's funeral.

He'd insisted on sending someone with them, though – Mr Squelch, who he'd described as a friend. Christine knew enough of him, both his past and his present, to know he used that word for very few people, and so she had not objected. Squelch waited by the carriage at the cemetery gates, but she was sure he was watching, making sure they were as well as circumstances allowed. He'd been a close shadow during the mass in the church itself, although Christine could see he wasn't a Catholic.

The priest finished; Christine reached for Gustave's hand as they watched the coffin-bearers lower the coffin into the ground, and then she bent, scooped up a handful of dirt and threw it onto the coffin. Gustave did the same, and her heart ached for him. She wished she could spare him this.

"What happens now, Mother?" Gustave asked her, and Christine looked down at him, squeezed his hand.

"Now we go back to the hotel," she said. "And we continue our lives." She looked at him for a moment more and then sighed. "I would like to go to confession," she told him. "Would you mind going back to the hotel with Mr Squelch without me?"

Gustave pursed his lips and looked up at her with a mulish expression. "Erik won't like it," he said, and Christine heard what remained unsaid – that Gustave didn't like it.

But Christine felt she needed to confess to a priest, on today of all days.

"Will you be alright?" she asked him. "You like Mr Squelch, don't you?"

"Yes," said Gustave slowly, "but…" He huffed a sigh and nodded. "Alright, Mother." She smiled at him, released his hand as they reached the carriage and Squelch opened the door for them.

"I'm going to stay for a while," she said to the large man. "I need to go to confession. Will you take Gustave back to the hotel?"

"The Master won't like it," said Squelch at once, and Christine offered him a tight smile.

"I know," she said. "But I need to do this. He'll understand." Erik always had understood, had always known her faith was important to her. As a child, as a youth, when she'd still believed him to be her Angel of Music, he had occasionally given her gifts – trifles, really, nothing that would be noticed by her compatriots in the ballet corps. A new handkerchief, a book of fairytales, and a rosary. It had been very plain, well-worn, and she had treasured it, gave her Angel heart-felt thanks. She had it still, hidden in the bottom of her jewellery box.

"He won't like it," Squelch repeated, but Christine was resolute. At last he conceded with a shrug. "Shall I bring the carriage back in an hour?" he suggested, and she could tell that he meant to do it whether she agreed or not.

"That would be fine, thank you," she said, and pressed a kiss to Gustave's forehead. "I'll see you soon," she told him, and he nodded, let Squelch help him up onto the box. Christine watched them go, and then turned along the path that led to the church.

The priest was inside, tidying away after the service; he was a kindly man, if a little unlike the priests she was used to in France, and had taken great pains to ensure that the funeral preparations had been as easy for her as possible. Now he turned at the sound of her footsteps, surprise on his angular face.

"Lady de Chagny," he said. "I thought you'd left – was there anything more you needed?"

"I was hoping you had time for a confession, Father Martin," said Christine, and he looked at her keenly. She worried suddenly that he had other engagements, that she would have to leave, but at last he nodded.

"Very well," he said. "The confessional is there; I will join you in a few moments." He indicated the booth at one side of the church, and Christine was aware of his gaze as she went to it, stepped inside and drew the curtain closed.

The darkness was almost a comfort; the catharsis of a confession would be even more so. She hardly expected forgiveness, but she knew that even speaking of it to someone would help ease the burden, if not the guilt itself.

Father Martin entered the other side of the confessional. For a moment, before he shut the curtain, she could see his outline through the carved partition that separated priest from confessor. And then all was darkness again, stiflingly hot. Christine removed her gloves, let her bare hands rest in her lap.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," she said quietly. "It has been a month since my last confession."

"What are your sins, my child?" Father Martin asked. Christine closed her eyes, felt the guilt rise up.

"I – I have committed adultery, Father," she said, her words spilling out so quickly she wasn't sure he would understand. "I did not – I did not lay with another man during our marriage, but I loved another." He didn't say anything, and Christine continued. "My husband was…he was a good man, but I never loved him as I should. I was faithful in body, but my heart – my heart always belonged to Erik."

"Who is this other man, this Erik?" the priest questioned, voice gentle.

"He taught me to sing," she said, and opened her eyes to the darkness again. "He was my inspiration. Without him…" She struggled to find the right words. "Without him my voice would have been nothing," she said at last. "But he…he had such a temper, and he was not a good man then. I was scared, and Raoul was…safe." She gave a strangled half-laugh, shook her head. "I was a silly little girl. I did love him, but never as I loved Erik." She paused, clasped her hands together. "I lay with Erik the night before my wedding," she admitted in a hushed whisper. "I would have stayed with him, but he left me."

"And so you married Raoul," Father Martin prompted. She couldn't speak, and he continued. "Marriage is a partnership, my child, founded on many things. Love is precious and sacred, but friendship, companionship…these things are also important for a marriage."

"And Raoul was my friend," she whispered. "If nothing else."

"Did you commit adultery, my child? Did you have relations with a man who was not your husband during your marriage?"

"No," Christine said at once. "No, never. But I was unfaithful, Father." It made her heartsick to think of how unfaithful she had been. "My child is not Raoul's," she admitted after a moment. "He – he is Erik's."

The priest was silent for a long moment, and she closed her eyes again, awaited condemnation. She deserved it, she knew – deserved to be despised and censured. It would not keep her from a future with Erik, but it was what she deserved for the past ten years.

"My child," he said at last, "if you were unfaithful in word or in deed at any time after your wedding, you must tell me. But if your betrayal was solely in your feelings, in your heart, then the sin is not as great as I think you believe."

Christine was silent; she had tried, many times, to tell herself – to make herself believe – that she was not as guilty as she felt. That she had been faithful to Raoul, even if her love had not been the kind she'd imagined it would be. Her night with Erik had been before her marriage –

although only just, a thought that gave her little comfort – and when he had returned to her life they had done nothing, no caress or kiss, until…

Until Raoul was dead.

"My husband is dead," she whispered. "And all I can think about is my life with Erik. My future with him and our son. Raoul told me to be happy, but..."

"The marriage vow is until death do you part, my child," Father Martin reminded her. "You are a widow now, not a wife." He paused. "Many widows remarry, for many reasons. A child grows best with two parents, after all."

"Yes," said Christine. "Yes, but…" She sighed. "It feels wrong, Father. I have always tried to live a good, Christian life, but I cannot see how to reconcile my love for Erik with my guilt."

"Do not try to," he advised her. "Your feelings will resolve themselves in time, I think. But you must take that time, my child. You must not rush to anything."

"No," she murmured. "No, I must not. I rushed to marry Raoul, I think. For Gustave's sake I cannot make any more mistakes." She touched her wedding ring, thought of ten wasted years. "But there will be time, in any case," she said suddenly. "I must return to France. Our estate there…I must settle our affairs. We'll be gone six months."

"Good," said the priest gently. "That is good, my child. Use the time wisely and be sure of your feelings. God will forgive you, and you must forgive yourself as well. If you have sinned, it was not gravely. Go in peace, and God bless you."

"Thank you, Father," said Christine. She made the sign of the cross and then rose, pushed the curtain aside and stepped out, left the church. It was a little cooler now, a breeze had picked up and it was just enough to ease the heat.

The carriage pulled up to the gates just as she reached them, but it was not only Squelch who had returned for her – Erik was inside, his gaze concerned, and he reached out a hand to help her into the carriage.

"I'm alright," she assured him before he could voice the question. "You needn't have come, Erik. And where is Gustave?"

"Safe in my workroom," he said. "Fleck is with him." He didn't release her hand, drew her to sit at his side. "You don't look alright," he said. "Squelch said you wanted to attend confession."

"Yes," she nodded, and leaned against him a little. "It's so hot," she said, and he looked at her – she could see him trying to decide if he should press her about her need for confession. Then he nodded, gave a little shrug.

"It usually is here at this time of year," he said. "In a few weeks it will cool down, and we have snow most winters." He was tentative, but he wrapped his arm around her, pulled her closer. "Gustave will like it, I think," he ventured. He rapped on the carriage roof and a moment later the horses set off, and Christine rested her head on his shoulder.

She was not free from guilt, and she would not be for some time. But Father Martin had lightened her spirits, let her begin to see that looking to her future happiness – to Gustave's happiness and security – was not a sin. They would leave Erik, be parted from him for six months while she settled her affairs. Six months, perhaps a little too soon for a grieving widow to remarry, but she had grown past doing what society expected of her. Society, the kind she had moved in as Raoul's wife, had never welcomed her with open arms.

"Erik," she said quietly, "I am glad you are with me."

She could not see his expression, could not see if he smiled, but he turned his head, kissed her hair, and she knew he was pleased.

Love Will Still Remain

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 7 of 24

<< Previous     Home     Next >>