Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 1 of 1


"If pride will let her return to me, her teacher, her teacher..."

The words reverberated in my ears and seemed to make the room dissolve. Too long, too many months since I had heard his voice ... I reeled from it as from an imprudent draught of strong wine - and I never had a head for it.

Could this be? Could he really want me back?

I had thought, all those months ago, that he had meant it when he'd shouted, "Go!" I feared it as I fled the roof, knowing that he had witnessed my foolish behavior and knowing also that he might never forgive me for it. So when the chandelier crashed, I waited for its bulk to crush me, the ultimate penance for the ultimate betrayal; and when Raoul snatched me away from its path, it was as if Erik had stood there and forced me into his arms. "Yes, go!" he shouted. "If this young fop means more to you than I, if he touches the farthest reaches of your soul, if the sound of his voice in the darkness dries your tears, then go to him and torment me no more with your inconstancy!" I wept for weeks after that fateful night, but it was not because I was "still shaken," as I often heard Raoul murmur in tone of concern mingled with condescension.

My sorrow flowed in a tide of realization that had sprung up within me and I could not stem. In the dark passages of Erik's opera house I had been taught suspicion and fear of the unexplored passions that lay, waiting, in the shadows. The glint of Raoul's gilded buttons and the golden shimmer of his attention had tantalized my naivete; but now I felt "too much in the sun," and found myself longing more and more to return to the cool-yet-electric darkness of Erik's domain. I felt as though I had been cheated out of his magnificent presence by Raoul's sweeping promises. As I opened my hand to inspect what I had received in trade, I was heartsick; all I held now were worthless "magic beans."

Before the Opera reopened, Raoul tried to entice me to leave Paris with him. "Who knows how long the renovation may take?" he wheedled, placing his hand possessively over mine. "There is nothing to hold you here." But I recoiled from his touch now; I could not bear it since it had brought about my parting from Erik, and I pulled away as my eyes filled with tears. Nothing to hold me? I wanted to scream. Nothing to hold me when, if I stay in Paris, there is still some small chance I may see him again? You silly boy - I would give all your insipid embraces for the hem of his cloak to brush me as we pass by pure coincidence in the marketplace.

So when the Opera did open again, I insisted on returning. Raoul pouted at first, although my brief ballet costumes seemed to help him forget his displeasure. After all, he did enjoy putting on his evening clothes and being seen in the manager's box. He even fell back into his old habit of surprising me at the stage door with obscene bunches of roses. I thanked him in my own way - by playing along with his game of engagement. We both knew it was just make-believe, but he relished it more than I and soon began to behave as though he thought it real.

His greatest frustration, which he tried uselessly to conceal, was that I refused to demand a new dressing room. He mentioned several times that I deserved it, having risen to the position of Carlotta's understudy, and that a larger apartment closer to the stage might prove more convenient - for us both. But I swallowed my distaste at his insinuation and demurred, explaining that I much preferred the privacy and close comfort of my own remote dressing room. I never mentioned that I clung to that room because Erik's spectre lingered there; even its current silence, the tiny space rang with the memory of his voice. I often relished that silence for hours after the other cast members had gone home, leaving me to stare with longing past my own reflection in the huge mirror. Countless times I watched myself sobbing bitterly at the loss of my dark angel, my maestro, my friend.

But Erik, if he heard me, was unmoved. He never came. With time, I was convinced that he no longer cared for me, that perhaps he had left the Opera for good and forgotten all about me.

Until the Masquerade! Suddenly his presence was more than just a raw hope in the back of my mind, and his voice sang to me in the managers' office though his words were only penned on paper. But what words they were! "Pride?" Did he really believe that such a foolish thing kept me from him? Oh, to think that he still wanted me, still loved me...

Had I known sooner, I would have rushed back with winged heels. Nothing of this earth could stop me.

The odd feeling that I was being watched brought me back to reality. All eyes in the room were on me; oh, bother, were they waiting for my response?

Best to give them what they want to hear, and not let on what I really feel...

"I can't ... I won't do it," I whimpered with a childlike quiver of my lower lip.


My pulse raced as I closed my dressing room door and pressed my back against it. I had run all the way from the manager's office, my nervous anticipation passing fairly well for fear. As I turned the lock, I realized the only fear I felt was that Raoul might have followed me through the passages; but that was dispelled when the key clicked home. I let my head fall back against the wooden door and stared for a few moments at the cracked plaster ceiling; I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from me. The air I breathed felt suddenly colder and more refreshing. Beneath my voluminous skirts, my knees shook with exhilaration.

Erik wants me.

The thought seemed to pound, beat for beat, with my heart. I could barely grasp it and hardly knew what to do with myself. But the moment my wide eyes lighted on my mirror, I knew exactly what to do.

Of course he never came. I never called him.

I stepped across the room and gazed deeply into the mirror. Mirrors are entrancing things - even the ordinary kind, ones that are not doors to hidden realms - and even before I had known my mirror's true nature I had often dawdled before it, allowed myself to catch and look over my form as it floated across the reflective surface in perfect unison with my own movements. But now that I knew what secrets it concealed, my mirror was like a magical thing. I pressed my palm to it reverently and stared into my own eyes. They shone almost feverishly with the light of revelation. I inclined my head and rested my face against the glass; its cool smoothness soothed my burning cheek and reminded me poignantly of Erik's mask.

The thought of him seeped into my mind like rainwater to the soil surrounding a parched plant and I closed my eyes, drinking it in. In the six months since "Il Muto," I had been forced to cope with my separation from Erik much as if he had died ... and much like my dear Father's, his loss had caused me nearly-physical pain. The days passed inexorably, and I often tangled my fingers into my hair with grief, not understanding why or how life should go on so heedlessly. Though I clung to them as if they were all that lay between me and the pits of Hell, my memories of him decayed: the nuances of his voice, the firmness of his hand, the feeling of his presence that I knew only with my sixth sense faded. I could no longer mentally draw the lines of his face - with or without his mask. Like ashes, like dust, the particles that had once assembled Erik in my mind blew away on the capricious wind I had stirred when I allowed Raoul to embrace me on the roof of the theatre.

But he still loves me.

I had the power now to catch that wind and turn its course backward, to reassemble what my foolishness had destroyed. His invitation resounded in my heart and made my fingers tremble as they instinctively touched the hidden spring. The invisible counterweights made the mirror open wide and I stepped across the threshold into Erik's world.


As I stumbled through the hidden passages without a lantern, I began to worry; it had been months, after all, since I had last navigated the labyrinth. Even though I knew I could reach the underground lake with a fair amount of certainty, I was unsure what exactly I would do when I got there.

It was foolish of me to bother with such thoughts. As soon as I came to the lake, spreading out its vast blackness before me, he was waiting for me.

He stood in his boat, which was moored at the small dock he had constructed shrewdly from an outcropping of rock. From almost every angle, the boat was concealed by the stone; from where I stood I could not see it at all, and he appeared to float in the air above the water. His form was tall and still, listing vaguely as one with the invisible craft that held him; the pole rested daintily in his lithe hands as he waited. I wondered at his presence for just a moment, but caught myself. He was Erik: one did not ask questions. That was explanation enough.

His voice floated over the air like fingers over silk. "Charon awaits, mademoiselle. Do you require passage?"

Remembering my old school-day mythology lessons, I replied with similarly stiff politeness, "I do, monsieur. But I have forgotten my fare."

"Perhaps the boatman has already collected his price ... " His voice trailed off as he extended his hand. As if by magic, a glinting object tumbled from it and was caught in midair; I leaned in and stifled an ironic smile. It was the engagement ring Raoul had given me, still attached to the chain that had held it, hidden, around my neck. I realized he was testing me; at what price would I have him back?

I raised my chin and looked him straight in the eye. "Yes, monsieur," I replied softly. "That will surely cover my fare."

Time seemed to freeze for a moment as he contemplated my meaning. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, Raoul's ring was gone; only Erik's white-gloved palm remained. He offered it to me. "Come then."

I placed my hand in his and stepped into the boat. He poled us to the other side without a word.


The house on the lake was not in its usual condition as Erik ushered me inside. It looked very much as though he had torn the place to pieces in a rage and attempted to restore it later. I noticed that the carpets were slightly askew, a wall hanging here and there crooked, the normally pristine stacks of entablature hastily arranged. I looked over my shoulder at him with a question in my eyes.

"Perhaps you find the place altered," he said, sternly and without apology.

I only nodded in response. For the first time I realized that he must be very angry with me. I had been so enthralled with the idea that he still wanted me that it had never entered my distracted mind. My eyes dropped to the floor, ashamed.

What is he to you, some devoted poodle you can spurn at your pleasure and yet expect to welcome you with wagging tail whenever you decide to bestow your favor once again? Cruel Christine!

He must have sensed the sadness in my air, and misinterpreted it. "Your room is, of course, as it ever was," he continued softly, stepping around me and guiding me with fingertips that barely touched mine through the concealed door in the paneling. I caught my breath; the room was exactly as I remembered it, the delicately carved wooden furniture glowing softly in the candlelight, the scent of new roses from the freshly-cut blooms in small vases atop my bureau and dressing-table. I moved as a person entranced towards the vanity and gently ran my fingers across its surface, caressing the combs, the brushes, the tiny hairpins that were scattered there as I had last left them - six months ago. My eyes wandered everywhere, drinking in that dear room - for I realized now how very dear it was - and finally met with Erik's face as he watched me reuniting with my old surroundings. The look in his eyes fled instantly, but I thought I had caught a sense of relief and a feeling of being home again, as if bringing me there was the last labor in his task of restoring its home to completion.

I broke the silence. "Why not this room, Erik?" Still stooping over the dressing-table, I picked up my gilded hairbrush and took a step towards him, offering it. "To punish me ... why the other rooms, and not this one?"

He sighed and passed his hand across his face, like any man might do. (He might be any man, you silly girl.) "It was not to punish you, Christine."

"But you were angry with me," I persisted. "Very angry, I should imagine."

His eyes burned into mine. "Yes, I was angry," he replied. "But not with you."

The desire not to hurt me was so strong that he would not even admit his anger to me! Perhaps he was remembering the first - and last, for that matter - time he had shown me his anger: when I removed his mask against his wishes. He must have remembered how his rage had frightened me and was now trying as hard as he could to remain calm, to avoid another scene. I was so ashamed at his concern for me, and the lack of concern for him that I had so lately shown, that I could no longer meet his gaze.

"It is kind of you to say that," I murmured, looking away. "I have not been so kind to you."

He made a sound of nervous embarrassment and turned so that I saw him in profile. "We had best not have this conversation now," he said. "My ‘Don Juan' opens soon, and you must learn your part."

"You mean to help me with it?" I asked stupidly. Immediately I gave myself a mental shake. Ridiculous child. Heaven knows how any man could find you charming; you are as dull as a spoon.

"Of course," he replied, apparently heedless of the idiocy of my question. "It is a difficult part and you should not struggle with it alone when I am here to help you." A moment of silence descended and I fumbled for something to say, but he finally continued, "I always mean to help you, Christine." I raised my eyes and saw him take a timid half-step towards me. "I never mean to do anything else."

I closed my eyes and felt a blush of shame creep over my cheeks. Cruel Christine! It was all I could do to whisper, "I know, Erik." My eyes tingled and the spicy scent of threatening tears assailed my nose, but I shook myself and forced myself to look at him again. "But I have forgotten my libretto."

He exhaled as if in relief that the conversation had turned to music, a topic with which he was infinitely more comfortable. "I have a copy of the score," he responded, gesturing across his body to the door. "Come, we shall rehearse."

I too was somewhat glad that we had turned away from tiptoeing around each other's feelings. He was right, we had best not have such a serious conversation so soon after reuniting; but I vowed to myself that before our relationship resolidified, I would think of a way to express to him my supreme regret for the wrongs I had done him. At the moment, though, I could think of no words great enough for that regret.


Several days passed and a pattern began to develop; I would rehearse with the cast in the late mornings and afternoons, dream up an excuse to refuse Raoul's offers of dinner, and spend the evenings with Erik, working on my role. Often I would remain in his home until quite late, and I actually spent several nights sleeping in my dressing room, frustrating Raoul's attempts to call on me at my flat in the mornings.

The Vicomte grew impatient as he realized that my avoidance of him was becoming consistent; it was cruel of me perhaps, but I could not bear to send him away outright despite the fact that I found his attentions increasingly insufferable. Once we even quarreled because, since he found it so difficult to see me outside of the Opera house, he had taken to lounging in my dressing room while I was at rehearsal. Because of the dual nature my life was beginning to take on, this habit made me nervous; I dropped a few hints insinuating that I wished he would find some other place to bide his time, but as usual he paid my opinion little heed. The night we argued, however, I was not so subtle.

I had been frustrated that day at rehearsal by Monsieur Reyer's constant sarcastic criticisms and was eager to disappear into Erik's darkness. I knew his help would iron out the kinks in my performance, and I looked forward to the astonishment that would adorn Reyer's face the next day when he found me much improved since only yesterday. Imagine my dismayed surprise when the anticipated sanctuary of my dressing room rang with Raoul's boisterous, "Darling!"

My hand flew to my throat and I felt my face go white. "Good heavens, Raoul!" I exclaimed sharply. "I wish you would not skulk around my dressing room. What are you doing here?"

"I was only waiting for you, darling," he replied, seemingly insensible to my annoyance. Taking me possessively in his arms, he continued, "I was hoping I might entice you to accompany me to dinner tonight. Or perhaps you would rather have a more private meal here," he added in a tone that insinuated ... more than I cared to thing about.

Under different circumstances I would have been gentler with him, but tonight I was aggravated and in no mood to humor him when he was the last person I wanted to see. I pulled away from his embrace and crossed my arms. "I'd rather not," I said, perhaps a bit icily. "Rehearsal was tiring today, and I would like to go home to bed."

"Christine!" His voice betrayed annoyance only thinly veiled by concern. He placed a patronizing hand on my shoulder. "What is wrong with you these days? I don't understand the way you've been behaving."

I shrugged away his hand and turned my back to him. "You startled me," I replied shortly, begrudging him the attitude that I should explain myself to him.

He would not be so easily rebuffed, however. "But this is the fourth time you've refused me in the last week," he persisted petulantly.

My temper flared, and I whirled back to face him. "And what of it?" I demanded. "I may certainly choose my own supper companions! I hardly relish sitting through an extravagant meal and listening to your dreary conversation when I am already tired and cross." Internally, I was slightly surprised at this new side of myself. Perhaps my time with Erik was affecting me more than I'd realized.

Raoul, on the other hand, was obviously taken aback. His jaw hung open and he stared at me in disbelief. Again I felt Erik's influence, for I was struck with the most powerful urge to laugh at him. I managed to swallow it, however, and instead retorted, "Don't stand there looking daft. Go home, Raoul."

"But - Christine!" he protested stupidly.

"Raoul," I sighed in frustration, pressing my fingers to my temples, "I ... want ... you ... to leave. This is my dressing room, and I want my privacy. Please, just go."

He stared for a moment, then exploded, "I don't know what's come over you, Christine! I never thought someone I loved so much could be so willful. But what else could I expect from a painted, parading diva? No," he finished, stepping towards the door with his hand extended palm-first, his face red from shouting. "Don't see me out. Don't trouble yourself." With that he flung the door open, stormed out, and slammed it behind him.

The silence that followed was as long as the slam. Tears prickled behind my eyes at his insult, and for a moment I permitted myself to daydream of Erik wrapping his arms around me, comforting me. But then I caught myself.

What am I doing?

Although Erik and I had begun to reestablish our friendship in the course of our lessons, we had never broached the subject of the events that had initially driven us apart. He never spoke of his feelings for me, and he had certainly never touched me in affection as I was now imagining. Why was I painting him as such in my mind?

Could I be ... in love with him? Could that explain my growing irritation with Raoul?

I sank into my armchair in amazement. In love with Erik. Of course I knew that I treasured him as my teacher, my protector and my friend. And I knew that he must love me, because of the tenderness and patience he showed me - and perhaps more importantly, the violence of his jealousy for Raoul, which I understood even though he tried desperately to repress it. And even though I had missed him sorely during the six months of our parting, when I despaired to think that he must hate me, I had not considered the possibility that I was in love with him - until now. Silly child, I chided myself.

But I am not a silly child - if I were I would be in love with Raoul. And I was growing constantly more and more that I no longer was...

I shook my head - too baffling, this knotted mess I had created. I would sort it out later, after my lesson with Erik.


He greeted me quietly as ever, handing me into the boat with only a breathed, "Christine." Some days I would talk to him as he rowed us across the dark water, but today when I did not he respected my silence. I trailed my fingers in the cold lake, hoping to shock some sense into my addled brain. If I allowed myself to mull over my feelings for Erik in his very presence, I knew I might say or do something painfully foolish. I was certainly not prepared for the consequences of such a disaster.

When we reached his house, I felt his eyes on me as he took my cloak. Then, rather than proceeding directly to the music room, he beckoned for me to follow him into his study. Motioning me to a cushioned velvet footstool, he poured me a glass of water. "I would offer you tea," he explained, "but the heat would not be good for your throat before a lesson. Perhaps afterward..." I nodded, thanking him by sipping the cool liquid. It did do some good in calming me. He watched me drink, then ventured, "You are unusually quiet today."

"Yes," I admitted. "I am a bit tired."

"I had guessed at that," he replied softy. "Was rehearsal stressful?"

I chuckled under my breath and took another sip of water. "Reyer was very cross," I said, smiling in spite of myself. The mental image of the tiny man in his checkered waistcoat as he scurried around the stage like an aggravated beetle was amusing to me in retrospect.

The visible corner of Erik's mouth twitched upward slightly. "He is a rather humorous little fellow," he said. "I have made it a point never to pester him - he seems to do a good enough job without my help." I giggled outright at this remark, and his eyes danced at having made me laugh, but grew concerned again as I ended my mirth with a small sigh. He pulled his armchair nearer to my footstool and seated himself, leaning ever-so-slightly towards me. "Is something troubling you, Christine?"

I looked down at my hands; I hardly knew what to say to him. I knew that, if ever a time would come when I should confess my confused feelings to him, now was not that time. Grasping for an excuse, I murmured, "I had a rather unpleasant exchange with Raoul this afternoon."

Erik was silent for several moments, and I began to worry that I ought not to have mentioned Raoul. But he seemed to collect himself, and he asked, "How did it happen?"

Still not meeting his eyes, I explained, "He has become so restrictive lately. Tonight I retired to my dressing room for some rest after rehearsal, and he was waiting there, even though I have tried to tell him that I dislike it when he does so. And when I asked him to leave, he became angry." My face colored at the memory of the things Raoul had said in leaving.

Erik noticed the redness rise in my cheeks and persisted, "What did he say?"

"He insulted me, called me a "painted diva" and demanded to know what's wrong with me lately," I said, my indignation making me brave enough to look him in the face. "He is obviously annoyed that I want a life of my own."

It was Erik's turn to look at the floor, though through his mask I had no way of telling what he was thinking. After a pause, he replied, "What did you do?"

I smiled guiltily and answered, "I insulted him and told him to leave."

He looked me in the face again and matched my mischievous grin. "Good girl," he said almost too softly for me to hear, with what I could have sworn was a wink. I laughed out loud.

As my mirth subsided, I sighed again. "I find him so irritating these days - what I mistook for charm is really only bravado. I can hardly stand to be around him. I wonder what I was ever..." But I trailed off, realizing that I was drifting into unknown territory. I knew that if I continued to speak, I would surely make some remark that would make Erik feel like the second fiddle, rising to my favor only now that I no longer wanted Raoul's attention. Such a thing would wound him, I knew, and that was the very last thing that I wanted.

For he sat across from me, concern in his eyes, talking to me gently about the stresses and pressures of my day ... such a little thing really, but such an expression of friendship. Raoul had not even thought to ask me how I felt during our brief meeting. In fact, he very rarely if ever solicited the mundane details of my rehearsals; they probably would have bored him. But Erik asked me, and he understood about Reyer; he understood that I needed not an extravagant dinner at an overpriced restaurant, but rather small talk and laughter; he understood that I ought not to drink tea before singing. And as I mulled over it, I knew that there would never be a single detail of my life that would not interest him, a single daily event that would not give him some pleasure in the hearing.

Perhaps that is why I love him...

I felt tears prickling behind my eyes again, but this time they were of confusion. Parts of me so much wanted to tell him the new thoughts that had overtaken my brain; but another part stood firm, and won the battle in my heart. I resolved that I would not say a word until I was certain, until I knew that I could look him in the eyes, with or without his mask, and tell him that I loved him dearest in the world. Anything short of such a declaration would be unworthy of him, and besides he would not believe to be true. It would take strength greater than what I now possessed to prove my love to him, and he must not be disappointed a second time.

I must have sat silent for some time, for Erik's questioning gaze at last gave him voice. "Christine?"

I blinked, took in a breath and smiled briefly at him. "I wonder what I was ever thinking at rehearsal today. I must have been truly awful. Come, Erik - help me with my part or Reyer will surely never let me have an afternoon's peace." I stood and extended my hand to him.

A dense silence fell, harder than the chandelier. I watched Erik examine my outstretched palm and realized that I had never before initiated touch between us. It was a fair guess that he did not know whether to trust me.

But if I pull my hand back now, I will be a coward ... and unworthy of his trust...

I let our gazes meet, and gave him the softest look I could. Please, Erik ... trust me as I trust you, I whispered inwardly. And finally, as if that long-ago-smashed chandelier were once again lifted to its original grandeur, he reached out very tentatively and gave me the tips of his gloved fingers. A warmth flooded my senses and I smiled at him as I knew I had never smiled at Raoul. The energy that surrounded him crackled in response, and he took over our hands' union, leading me gently to the music room.


For the most part, Erik was an ideal maestro: knowledgeable, dedicated and patient. His ingenious lessons and expert training ironed my technique to linen crispness while at the same time rendering my tone as soft and flexible as silk. He always corrected calmly, made suggestions carefully and never became irritated with my mistakes.

However, when his "Don Juan" became the subject of our lessons, he seemed a changed man. He would play the accompaniment with such furious abandon that sweat glistened on his exposed cheek. And though he tried to remain patient with me, I often sensed that I would never measure up to the triumphant diva in his inward ear: even the smallest imperfections would make him jerk his head and say, "No - again, from the beginning of the phrase..." And so we would double back on verses and bars, endlessly repeating the same notes until they sounded to his satisfaction. He was relentlessly precise, and sometimes would become so intent on one passage that we might spend hours perfecting only a few measures. Through all this he tried to hide his frustration, but the way he turned the leaves of his manuscript often betrayed it.

He had just cause for it, however. "Don Juan Triumphant" was an inexpressibly demanding composition, both vocally and emotionally. The violence of the angers and passions it contained dwarfed my own innocent experience; it told of feelings I had never imagined and rocked with explosive, possessive sensuality. It was intimidating and taxing to perform, and yet intoxicating - it seemed to invade my body and take over my blood so that I hardly knew myself when I began to sing it. Erik's voice mingling with mine inspired me with its usual breathtaking quality, and as our rehearsals progressed I began to feel Aminta more and more. Her sorrows brought tears to my eyes, and her desires caused a warm, wanton ache beneath my sternum that hurt me and yet aroused me in a way that made me blush in retrospect. However, to achieve such atonement with the character, it was necessary to give myself wholly over to the part, and this would often leave me exhausted when the lesson ended. My voice grew tired from the dizzying range of the part, and my heart wrung with unfulfilled, all-encompassing emotions that Aminta left behind when she surrendered my body.

Today, however, was terrible: I was already so tired from my day on stage that my performance was very, very poor. As we rehearsed "The Point of No Return," I struggled to understand Aminta and failed; I remained mostly Christine and was daunted by the difficult phrases that challenged my voice and the passionate lyrics that felt spicy and flagrant in my mouth. Erik corrected me time and time again, and with every error his voice became more and more tainted with agitation. I was growing frustrated too, and every correction made me feel a little more proud and indignant that he was being so critical. The tension between us was mounting like a mass of grey-green clouds convening before a violent thunderstorm. It was only a matter of time before lightning struck.

And strike it did. Erik's composition made use of a scale that was fairly new to the operatic world, and my greatest failing lay in the intervals of that scale; I did not always hear them properly. Although Erik had drilled me through it innumerable times, I was still capable of making the same mistakes over and over again. This same error, combined with a flubbed lyric, brought his normally gentle hands crashing down on the keyboard. The organ let out a discordant sound of fury that matched the flashing in Erik's eyes and the flushing in my own cheeks, and the battle-lines were drawn.

"No, no, no, NO!!!" he roared, releasing the keys and rescuing my ears from the torment of that sustained alarum. "HOW many times must we rehearse the scale, Christine?!?"

I stomped my foot angrily. "I know about the wretched scale, Erik! I heard the misstep the moment I made it. You needn't point it out over and over again!"

"And how else do you propose to learn it, if you do not correct your mistakes!"

"I will learn it as soon as you stop badgering me about it!"

He was on his feet by this time, and he took a step towards me. "I am not badgering you - you are butchering my opera!"

I threw my libretto to the floor in indignation at this accusation. "I've done no such thing!"

"You have - the pitches are incorrect - and you have not learned your lyrics!" His voice was growing steadily louder and although I was intimidated, I held my ground firmly and never stirred.

"I have learned my lyrics, I pore over them constantly! You know that!"

"Then explain to me how you still cannot deliver the line "How long shall we two wait before we're one?" correctly! You stumble over it every time!"

I threw my hands into the air. "Of course I stumble over it, Erik - no one speaks that way! What sort of people are these characters of yours? Vile and immoral-"

"You are not criticizing my writing ...!" The exposed part of his face was red with rage, and the knuckles of his clenched left hand were white from strain.

"I am! They are nothing but wantons and debauchers - listen to them, deceiving each other in carnal ways and making plans to lie together!"

"You little hypocrite! Do you think I did not hear you making your own plans that night on the roof of the Opera?"

My jaw dropped open and I gaped at him for a moment, then choked out, "That was cruel ... that was months ago..."

"Yes, it was cruel, wasn't it?" he spit out bitterly, standing so perfectly still that I wondered if he were made of stone. "But what would you know of cruelty - what do you know of how I suffered through those months?"

I let out a strangled cry of frustration and shame. "That has nothing to do with this, Erik! All I asked was what you mean by writing such music ..."

"What do I mean?" he bellowed, loud and clear as the night the chandelier fell. "What do I mean, you foolish child? Don't you know anything? Don't you understand? Those words I heard you speak to the Vicomte - those words of adoration - those are sounds I will only ever overhear! I will never know the sensation of your confession of love! This is the only way I can ever come close to knowing how it feels!"

His words washed over both of us like a violent ocean wave, and for a moment we were both dragged down into the dark silence that followed. But Erik resurfaced, took a fresh breath and continued, though in more sotto voice. "Do you begrudge me that, Christine? Can you be so cruel as to deny me the one dream in my heart, the one pleasure I long to taste before I die..."

My anger disintegrated instantly into tears. My voice trembled as I shook my head and vainly tried to reply; all I managed was, "Erik, no..."

He closed the distance between us, so that we were only inches apart. Looking down into my face with eyes that burned with mingled pain and longing, he rebuked me, "You don't even have to mean it, Christine. I wrote the words for you to sing, as if you were someone else ... as if you were Aminta and I were Don Juan ... so that it's not even you - or me - at all, and you don't have to mean the things you're singing..." It was his turn to choke, and he hid his face in his coat-sleeve. After a moment, he continued in a small, childlike tone that was muffled by his hand over his face, "You don't have to love me, Christine..." He raised his face again, and tears glistened in his eyes, ran down his good cheek and wet the mask on the other. "...but please - just once - say you do."

I could feel my heart ripping in two, a sensation like rough burlap being slowly shredded by a dull blade. It wracked my body so excruciatingly that I doubt I would have hurt as much had he plunged a knife into my chest. For a moment I stood paralyzed, but when that moment ended I surrendered to the domination of hysteria and watched what followed as if I stood outside of myself. My entire body seemed to explode like a volcano; tears coursed down my cheeks and I convulsed with sobs of such force that I sank to my knees, unable to support myself. I wept uncontrollably, burying my face in my hands and rocking with the force of my misery. Erik stared at me in complete bewilderment, apparently unable to believe the emotional explosion he had just witnessed. Then an expression of horror crossed his face and he collapsed before me, touching the hem of my skirts in a gesture of supreme supplication.

"Oh, Christine," he whispered urgently, forcing his voice to be free of tears although they clung yet to his eyelashes, "I cannot bear to see you weep! If it upsets you so, forget it - forget I ever said it. I will rewrite the opera for you if you ask it ... please, do not even think of what I said! Oh, damn me to the blackest regions of hell..." he cried, burying his face in the carpet. "I cannot stand to cause you pain!"

"Erik!" I gulped through my tears, reaching to touch his hand. I wanted to tell him that he misunderstood my tears, that I was really mourning my own folly and the thoughtless cruelty with which I had treated him; but he fled from my touch as if my fingers were red-hot pokers. I could feel him shrinking away into his heart's fortress, and knew that if I allowed him to barricade himself there once again there would never be any coaxing him out to me, ever. I clutched frantically at the cuff of his coat-sleeve, but he eluded me and retreated across the floor. His voice was pleading as he gasped, beseechingly, "Christine, please, forget what I said ... I don't want anything from you ... I won't make you play along with my gross fantasy..."

His words were like arrows shooting through my heart. I was sure I would die if he would not listen to me, if I could not touch him and assure him of my love. For I knew now, that I was faced with losing him forever, how very much I loved him. I reached again, but he jerked away and began to rise, going up on one knee.

I hardly knew myself in the moments that followed. I shrieked, "Erik! No!" and threw myself across the room to him. I prostrated myself on the carpet before him and pulled him down with me with strength I never knew I possessed. I was no longer motivated by logic or even by thought; I was driven solely by the fear and hysteria that gripped me.

Erik stared at me with eyes that were wide with horror. "My God, Christine," he whispered. "You poor child, I've driven you to madness-"

"No!" I screamed in the very throes of grief and repentance. "Erik - don't stop me, I want to say it - I need to say it - I love you!"

His eyes overflowed and he turned his face from me, but I placed a hand on each of his cheeks and forced him to look at me. "Erik!" I continued to plead, "don't you hear me? I love you - I love you - listen to me!" He squeezed his eyelids closed and threw his head back as if my words were causing him extreme pain; his lips trembled with repressed sobs. "Look at me!" I cried, pulling my face so close to his that I could have rested my forehead against his. He resigned to my force but kept his eyes screwed tightly shut. His face, my face, my hands were so wet with tears that it was impossible to tell if they were his or mine.

I do not know how long we lay there, stretched prone on the carpet, but it was long enough for both of us to regain some of our composure. As my heart calmed and my breathing slowed to normal, I became increasingly aware of my palms still pressed to his cheeks, the contact which he did not try to break. I studied his masked face, which he hung against his chest, for any signs of emotion, but it was in vain; that dreadful mask hid everything, as always. I was unsure if I would be able to ward off tears if I tried to speak, but decided to risk it. "Erik?" I began softly.

In the smallest voice I had ever heard him use, he sighed, "Oh, Christine." He lifted a tentative, trembling hand and, after a moment of hesitation, placed it over my own as it rested on his exposed cheek. I felt a tremor pass through his body, as though the feeling of my skin caused him supreme delight. He still did not lift his eyes as he whispered, "You are such a good, sweet girl."

I craned my neck downward, trying to force him to look at me. "But I am not," I insisted quietly. "I have been stubborn, and selfish, and cruel, and I have caused you more pain than I can bear to think about." He shook his head lamely, but I continued. "I have been headstrong, and stupid - and because of these things I have made you to suffer - but ..." Here I faltered, but swallowing hard I managed to find the courage to whisper, "but now I understand my mistakes, Erik."

Finally he raised his eyes and looked at me questioningly. I managed a small smile. "You told me that I must learn to see my errors so I can correct them. Without you near me these past months, I learned how miserable your absence makes me, how very much I want you close to me..." He began to lower his face again, but I boldly cupped his chin and compelled him to return my gaze. "I need you, my savior, my maestro ..." I rolled the words around in my mouth like sweetmeats for the savoring. "My love..." He closed his eyes again, his strong lips quivering. I touched his cheek gently with one fingertip. "Please, Erik - won't you say something?"

He shook his head vaguely, then in a hoarse whisper replied, "I ... cannot think what to say." To my sudden surprise, he fixed me with his gaze; when I met it, I felt as if his eyes would sear my very soul with the strength of the passion that lay therein. A moment passed, and he seemed to find words. "Christine - you must know how I love you ... " I blushed and nodded, but it was his turn to cup my chin in a strong hand. "In the end I am nothing but a trinket in your hands. I tried endlessly to deny it in our months apart, but I knew it was a lie. I would die for you, gladly," he whispered, a firm, deliberate edge to his voice. "And I will surely die if you continue to toy with me this way."

I opened my mouth to protest, but he lay a slender index finger to my lips. "My dearest," he murmured. "You have caused me the sweetest pain any man can know - to hear his beloved pledge her devotion. Please, leave me with that memory. I know the truth, and you needn't speak it now - wait until tomorrow." With this he gently took my hand and helped me to my feet. "One more moment is all I ask..." he purred, allowing his fingers to trace the line of my cheek and tuck my tousled hair behind my ear. "Let me love you, just this once." I glowed under his admiration but floundered with his words; I did not understand him until he stepped back and said, "Now come, I will row you back. You are a good girl, Christine, and I release you; you need never come to me again."

I stood rooted to the spot, unable and unwilling to cooperate with him. He gave my fingers a small tug, but I refused to budge. He looked at me with what might have been a furrowed brow - I could not tell through the mask - but said nothing. I chuckled darkly.

"Why so silent, good Monsieur?" I asked, mockingly. Then, possessed by the sudden need for his hand on my face again, for his eyes gazing into mine, for his arms around me, I boldly went to him and tilted my chin upward. "Did you think that I would leave you for good?" I continued, placing my palms on his chest. When he moved to step away, I curled my fingers around his lapels and pulled him back to me. He stared at me like an animal in a trap. I leaned in closer to him and pressed my cheek into his shirtfront. "Hold me, Erik," I whispered into the sharp pleats. "Don't send me away. I love you."

His hands were on my shoulders, pushing me gently away from him; his eyes were burning down at me. "Christine, I beg you - end this game of make-believe and let me take you back."

I stomped my foot, thinking sardonically what outburst my last stomp had preceded. "I am not playing now, Erik." He sighed and took his hands away, moving as if he would turn away from me. I seized his hands. "Why don't you believe me?" I beseeched, the corners of my mouth twitching. "Would you have me swear it?" I lifted his hand and pressed my lips to its back. "Shall I kiss on it?" I demanded, kissing his hand again and again, turning it to kiss his palm, his fingertips. He let out a long, shuddering sigh and I lowered his hand again, guiding it about my waist. With a sudden cooperation, he flung the other arm around me and hugged me close, pressing his cheek into my hair. His hands traced the small of my back, and I tangled my fingers in his hair. "Erik," I whispered in his ear. "‘My games of make-believe are at an end.' These are your words, my love. ‘Abandon thought and let the dream descend.'"

He pulled back slightly, gazing fervently into my face. "My God, Christine; I don't know how I shall live if you don't mean what you are saying."

"You ridiculous man," I cried, my frustration goading me over the precipice. "You are too stubborn for either of our goods!" I tightened my fingers at the back of his neck, pulling his lips to mine. We blended together in a beautiful moment that was something like dying, though more like being set free.

When we parted, his graceful hand guided my head to the hollow of his shoulder. "My darling Christine," he breathed just above my ear, "I hardly existed before you sang your way into my heart. And now I can never live without you."

"Then live forever, Erik," I murmured, hugging him fiercely. "You will never be without me again."

I snuggled into the thick material of his jacket, drunk on the taste he had left on my lips.


He did not take me home that night. I must have fallen asleep in his arms, for when I woke the next morning I found myself laid carefully on the bed in my old room. He sat on the floor with his arms folded on the coverlet, as if he had lingered for hours watching me sleep, then fallen prey to it himself. His head rested on his arms in such a way that only his good cheek was visible, and I caught my breath in realization that he was a very handsome man. My fingers were drawn to his face like magnets towards the North; at their pressure on his cheek, his eyes fluttered open. "Christine," he sighed, catching my hand in his and filling my palm with kisses.

"Erik," I smiled, pulling my hand gently away and drawing him to his feet. I blushed to think of my next words, but I spoke them evenly. "Come to bed, Erik."

He looked at me incredulously. A moment full of unspoken exclamations passed, and then, in a stunning display of the character that I so dearly loved, he began to laugh. His shoulders jerked with laughter; he threw back his head and roared with it. He looked at me with tears of mirth streaming down his face. "Who are you, Madame?" he gasped between great peals of laughter. "The Christine Daaè I know would never be so brazen!"

My blush deepened, but I answered, "The Christine Daaè you knew had never felt your kiss, Erik."

He sobered instantly and lowered himself to sit beside me on the bed; he stroked my bedraggled hair and looked lovingly into my eyes, then enfolded me in the strong, soft warmth of his arms. He held me for a long time, seeming to relish the feeling of my body in his embrace and the weight of my head on his shoulder. When I finally lifted my chin to examine his face, the tenderness I beheld there melted my heart; but the flood that ensued was not enough to tame the fire he ignited in my veins when he touched his lips to mine. He kissed me as if he would draw me into himself and keep me safely there forever, and he enveloped me in a heat and a passion the likes of which I had never dreamed.

But he broke the magical tie a few moments later and looked at me gravely. "Christine," he whispered fiercely, "I would hold you for a thousand years and never notice them ticking by. But we cannot ... the curtain has risen, and we cannot stray from the script now."

I knew that he meant the performance of "Don Juan Triumphant," which was scheduled ... mon Dieu! I swore inwardly as I counted on my fingers. It was scheduled for the following evening. Only a few precious hours before the conductor would tap his baton, before the overture would begin...

"We make certain the doors are barred - "

"We make certain our men are there - "

"We make certain they're armed..."

I dug my fingers into the thick material of his coat sleeves. "Erik!" I gasped, my eyes wide. "There is something I must tell you..."

"Hush," he sighed, pulling me into his arms again and rocking me like a child. "I know that you had planned to run away with the Vicomte after the performance tomorrow night."

I pushed against him with all my might and finally tore my way out of his arms. "My God, Erik; you are as stubborn as a Changy!"

He looked at me questioningly for a moment, then chuckled. "I believe the expression is ‘as stubborn as an ass,' my dear."

I set my chin at a determined angle. "Yes," I replied, "that is what I said." Amusement flickered in his eyes, and I took the opportunity to surmount his lowered guard. I took his hands firmly in my own and looked him square in the face. "But I have to warn you, Erik. Raoul and the managers are planning a trap for you at the performance."

"I knew they would," he replied with a sigh, "and somehow, it's all right - His judgement cometh..."

Shocked, I interrupted. "Erik! Are you resigned to it?"

He set his jaw and tilted his head to the side. "I am never resigned, Christine. Of course I will fight; I'm not too old yet for that." He chuckled grimly. "But the theatre will be full of gendarmes, I suspect. And though I am hardly a soothsayer, I know that there will be no escape from them."

"Then don't come," I interjected impetuously, clasping his left hand between both of mine.

He looked at me with disapproval. "Not come? You would have me miss the opening performance of my life's work, my finest hour, my only triumph?" I cast my gaze into my lap in shame at my thoughtlessness. He tipped my chin upwards again with a lithe index finger. "Miss your final performance? Not on my life, wasted though it may seem."

I gaped at him. "Erik," I replied, dumbfounded. "You cannot still believe that I plan to run away with Raoul tomorrow night."

He seemed genuinely surprised at my conviction. "What is it that you plan to do, then?"

I blushed. "I was hoping... another man... would ask me to run away with him instead." When he did not answer me directly, I leaned into him again. His hand caressed my hair lovingly, possessively.

He finally replied slowly, deliberately, as if the words took great effort to speak. "Christine - you've made your choice - I am your choice?"

I pressed my cheek into his collarbone in affirmation. "Start a new life with me," I whispered fervently. "I am nothing but their prisoner, their puppet. If I stay here, it won't ever end, and they'll always hold my strings." Tightening my hold on him, I beseeched, "Buy my freedom with your love, Erik."

He stared down at me, incredulous. Weakly, as if he had not the strength to hold me any longer, he released me and whispered, "Christine - my face..."

Damn, damn, damn - damn Fate for hurting him so, damn me for having done the same. I closed my eyes for a moment and twisted my fingers together. "Erik," I said as evenly as I could, "There is nothing I can say that will assure you of my feelings for your face. And my feelings - " here I am sure my eyes shone with the liight of truth, for it flooded my senses as I spoke - "my feelings are so different from what they once were. But no words can show you that; all I can do is ask you for the time to prove it with my actions." He said nothing, did not even lift his eyes to meet mine. I impetuously reached out and placed my hand reassuringly on his knee. "Please, Erik. Let me love you, and you'll see."

Gingerly, he reached down and took my hand into his; he did nothing but hold it for quite some time. I bit my tongue. You must believe me, Erik. I don't know how I'll prove myself if you don't. I tried to be as patient as he had been, all this time waiting for a declaration of love that might never come. I've hurt him to his very core, I repeated to myself. Of course he needs to think it over...

Finally he broke the silence with a sigh, and looked at me with eyes full of love, fear and hope. "If I order a cab tomorrow night, and have it waiting on the Rue Scribe..." He stumbled here, looking flustered for what was likely the first time in his life; but he pressed my hand between his and managed to finish, "I don't know where we'll go, but oh, Christine - will you come away with me?"

The corners of my mouth stretched upwards as if they would grin, but my lips trembled as if they would sob. I shook my head in that small, foolish gesture of confounded joy. "Yes, Erik," I whispered. "If you want me, I will go wherever you wish."

His arms came around me so swiftly that it took my breath away. His embrace was almost crushing, and he rocked us both with a lifetime of withheld happiness. I clung to him, unwilling to relinquish my hold on him ever again.

But from his study, we heard his stately grandfather clock chiming. Nine deep, sonorous chimes echoed through the house on the lake.

I nearly jumped out of my skin. "Nine o'clock, Erik!" He stared at me, not understanding. "My rehearsal begins in an hour!" I exclaimed.

Without a word, he pulled me to my feet beside the bed. A moment later he was draping my cloak around my shoulders and leading me out into the labyrinth. "Must you go home to your flat first?" he asked. I nodded dumbly. "We'll go out the door on the Rue Scribe," he said to me over his shoulder. "I'll flag you down a hansom and you'll be there in time enough to freshen up."

Moments later he was handing me into a hired cab. Pressing my palm, he whispered, "I love you, Christine. Don't worry, you'll be back on time. I'll pay him well." Closing the door, I heard a sound very much like a purse of gold coins being tossed to the driver. Erik's voice boomed, "Wait for the lady to finish her business upstairs, then bring her back. She must be returned to the main entrance of the Opera by ten o'clock."

"Yes, sir," the driver responded, with a surprising amount of respect. I could only imagine how much money Erik had given him. The cab lurched to life, and I peered out the back window as we drove away. Because of my rush to get home, I had not even taken the time to wonder that Erik would actually venture outside. Of course he must, silly Christine. He cannot live on music. But as my eyes found his regal form in the already bustling Paris crowd, I realized that he had at some point donned his own cloak and black fedora. The hat was tilted so as to cast shadows across his mask; but at that angle it not only served its purpose but also made him look debonair, rakish... The cab rounded a corner and I lost sight of him, but his image burned itself onto my brain and before I even realized it, the cab was pulling up before my flat.

After a brief word with the driver, I hurried up the stairs to my apartment and looked around in bewilderment. To think that I would leave it tomorrow morning, never to return! I allowed myself a moment to wander through the threadbare sitting room, my tiny, sparse bedroom, trailing my fingers absently over the familiar furniture. Poor though they were, they had been my dear surroundings for the years since my father's death, and I loved them.

I might have dawdled all day, but a glance at the clock made hurry beat in my heart again. I dove into my closet for a fresh dress, and laid it on the bed as I pulled on a thin dressing-gown. I was trying to pull the pins out of my tangled mess of hair when there was a sudden pounding at the door. Hairbrush in hand, I went to answer it.

My jaw nearly hit the floor when it revealed Raoul, his cheeks flushed as if he had run the whole way from his fine house. "Christine," he greeted me breathlessly, extending a huge bunch of pink roses. "I came to beg your forgiveness for the way I behaved last night. Please, may I come in?"

I stared at the flowers, and fumbled for words. "Raoul ... I am late for rehearsal..."

He did not seem to hear me, however, since he stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him. "I'm sorry to arrive so suddenly. I couldn't stay away one moment longer." I turned my back and suppressed a scream at his self-centeredness, then hurried to my room without a backward glance. I splashed water from the pitcher into the basin and began to wash my face. He followed me and leaned against the doorframe, watching me. As I patted my face with a towel, our eyes met; his forehead wrinkled. "My God, Christine. You look terrible, as if you've been up half the night." He crossed the room in three hulking strides and took me in his arms. My skin crawled; his touch was not rough, but neither was it as gentle as Erik's.

As I looked at him and as he stared back at me with what appeared to be concern in his face, I decided that I could not bear to hurt him. I no longer loved him, and my decision had been made; but I could not just tell him to go. Our childhood friendship meant more to me than that - and besides, I knew he would never listen. And I was pressed for time; another argument with him would make me inexcusably late for rehearsal.

Forcing a small, wan smile, I told him, "I was, Raoul. I couldn't sleep a wink for crying. I was so upset that we had argued..."

"Christine," he interrupted, pulling me tight to him. I fought the urge to struggle, and instead went limply into his embrace. In a moment he took a small step back, releasing me slightly. "I cannot tell you how sorry I am for the things I said."

The pain in his face was genuine, and I replied softly, "Please, Raoul, don't do yourself a harm over it. I forgive you." And I did. Lately he had become a nuisance, but I did care for him and did not wish to part from him with anger between us.

He did not seem satisfied with my forgiveness, however. "Christine," he wheedled, perhaps thinking himself terribly subtle. "Won't you tell me what's been troubling you lately? You just don't seem ... yourself."

I lowered my eyelids and was silent for a moment. Once again, I found myself in a position where the truth would do me no good. The noose was tied and the only way to slip it now was to tell poor Raoul what he wanted to hear. Somehow, however, I felt no qualms as I looked at him and boldly lied, "I've just been so nervous, Raoul. Thinking about the opera tomorrow night - thinking about him watching me - oh Raoul," I staged a sigh and hid my face behind my hand. You brazen little actress! I rebuked myself, swallowing a grin.

It seemed enough for him; he wrapped his arms around me again and held me close. "Don't worry, Christine," he blathered into my hair. "I'll protect you - I swear, nothing will happen to you. You'll be perfectly safe. Every gun in the place will be trained on Box Five."

I pulled away from him gently, so as not to rouse his suspicions. "I'm so glad we've talked, Raoul. Our argument last night ... it upset me so much." That, I thought ironically, is at least true. "But please, I can't stay any longer; I'm going to be late for rehearsal." I gave his arm a squeeze and pulled away, beginning to brush out my hair.

"Would you like me to drive you? I have my carriage."

"No, thank you," I replied smoothly, peeking out the window that overlooked the street below. "I asked my landlady to call me a cab ... oh look, it is waiting. Please, Raoul," I said sweetly, turning to face him. "I can't be late, we open tomorrow night."

"All right," he sighed, placing the roses into my water pitcher. He turned a boyish smile on me. "There, don't they look lovely?" Touching my cheek possessively, he added, "But not as lovely as you, Christine..." I looked at him a moment, then turned my head and broke the contact between my face and his fingers. "Yes, yes, I am going," he said with a smile, looking back over his shoulder. "I will come for you this evening, then, after rehearsal."

Following him to the door, I demurred quietly, "Oh Raoul, I mustn't go out tonight. I will need my rest for the performance tomorrow..."

"I won't keep you out late, Little Lotte," he chuckled, one foot in the hallway. I pressed myself against the door, ready to close it; he leaned in and kissed my cheek quickly before walking away.

I shut the door quickly and looked at the clock in dismay; I had only a few minutes before I absolutely must leave to be at the Opera in time for rehearsal. I threw off my dressing gown and pulled my dress on hastily; I stuffed my brush, hairpins and a few other necessities into a small satchel, stuffed my feet into a pair of slippers, and rushed out the door with my cloak billowing behind me. Jumping into my cab, I ordered the driver to hurry; I was back in barely enough time to lay off my things and smooth my hair in my mirror. As I gazed into it, the surface seemed to flicker; I heard Erik's voice, wavering as if it were coming through water. "Christine..." it whispered. I knew he was lingering on the other side of the mirror, and I longed to reach out, touch the secret switch, and disappear into his arms. But with the performance tomorrow night, I also knew rehearsal was not negotiable. I reached out and pressed my palm to the smooth surface. "Erik," I murmured, "until tonight, my love."


Despite the disastrous lesson I had had with Erik the night before, my performance at the dress rehearsal that day was nearly perfect. Even Reyer could not find fault with me. As the chorus gaped, recalling how dreadfully I had muddled my part only yesterday, I gleamed inside; I knew that Erik was somewhere near, listening, and I sang for him and him alone.

In the mid-afternoon, Reyer informed most of the cast that they would be required to stay late because they were performing so shamefully. However, with a deferential bow to Signor Piangi and myself, he added that the principles had done marvelously and might leave early, "to go home and rest," he said emphatically. I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to my dressing room; I planned out the note I would leave on the door for Raoul, explaining that I could not meet him. I would think up some small ailment, perhaps a slight hint of a headcold, that would require me to quarantine myself until after the opening.

Upon reaching my dressing room, however, I discovered that there would be no need for such a note. Raoul sat in my armchair, with one leg slung up over the arm, reading his newspaper as if my private quarters were his own sitting room. I suppressed the urge to scream and pummel him, and mustered as pleasant a tone as I could. "Raoul!" I greeted him with carefully crafted cheerfulness. "I had not expected you to be here - Reyer has let me go early."

"I had no other engagements for the afternoon, so I thought I would surprise you," he replied, folding his paper and placing it on his lap. "You look tired, my dear," he murmured, with a touch of something - could it be disapproval? - in his voice. It was easy to imagine him prevailing upon me to leave the Opera, it being such an exhausting and unsavory life for a vicount's wife. Raoul's wife ... there, but for the grace of God, go I!

"I am," I sighed. "You really must excuse me this evening, Raoul; I need to go home and rest."

"Christine," he cried, coming to me and taking me by the waist. I disliked his familiar manner but did not pull away; the last thing I wanted was another argument. It might make him suspicious and I would never be able to sneak away. "You turned me out last night, too; you don't mean to do the same thing again!"

"Raoul, please," I protested, gently pushing on his shoulders and trying to slip out of his hold. "I told you I had a sleepless night, and now I am beginning to feel a bit ill. I cannot have a cold tomorrow night; I must go home."

"All right," he said, stepping away and reaching for his hat and gloves, which lay on my couch. "I'll come with you, then."

Frantically my mind worked. "No, Raoul..." He looked at me almost sharply, as I floundered for a reasonable excuse. Finally, after shooting a very significant look to my mirror, I batted my eyelashes at Raoul and said, flirtatiously, "I don't think that would be wise, monsieur. How would I get any rest with you for company?"

This seemed to pamper his vanity; he puffed up like a peacock and grinned at me. "Perhaps you're right on that account. I might not be able to ... help ... myself if we were alone together..." His tone made my stomach turn, though I forced my lips into a smile. He pulled me into his arms again, and with his back to the mirror held me close. I peered over his shoulder with wide eyes, beseeching Erik - who I knew watched from beyond it - to understand that I was only acting, trying to get rid of troublesome Raoul.

"Oh, Christine," the Vicomte murmured in my ear. "I cannot wait until after tomorrow night - there will be no more need for worries... " But he trailed off and went stiff against me. I looked up at him questioningly. He moved away from me and towards my vanity table; I followed his gaze and saw what he saw, though my reaction was somewhat different.

On the tabletop rested a single red rose, its long stem stripped of its thorns by a deft hand, its sensuous crimson petals just beginning to open. I tingled to think of who had left it; it was surely not Raoul, since he seemed so upset by it.

"Christine," he demanded, picking up the bloom and examining it. "What is this?"

Desperately, I grasped at the hope that he paid less attention to flowers than he did to my opinions. "Don't you recognize it?" I asked, taking a bold chance. "It's one of the roses you gave me this morning. It was so lovely, I brought it with me."

He looked at me with an expression of flattered surprise and pleasure, clearly not remembering that the roses he had brought me that morning were pink. "Christine - you were thinking of me?"

"Of course," I lied sweetly, every atom of my being pulsing with the wish that he would leave.

He swept me into his arms again and leaned to kiss me, but I turned my chin and forced him to bestow that honor upon my cheek instead of my lips. Luckily, he did not seem to notice, and after a moment's embrace, gathered his things to go.

"All right then," he conceded, "you do look tired, so go home and get some rest. I shan't be able to call on you tomorrow morning; I have business with the sûretè, arranging tomorrow evening's ‘surprise.'" He grinned at me cockily, and though I winced internally at the thought of the trap he had planned for Erik, I smiled back. "So I shall see you tomorrow night; I will do my best to find you before the curtain rises." He moved to leave, then paused to clasp my hand again. "Don't be worried, Little Lotte," he said with repugnant indulgence, as if I were a child of four. "This will all be over by tomorrow." I was so full of rage that all I could do was nod, but he did not seem to be looking for a response from me; he kissed my hand briefly and then was gone.

I locked the door behind him and raced to the mirror; my fingers frantically sought and found the hidden switch, and I nearly threw myself into the space beyond. However, when the mirror swung back it revealed Erik, apparently too surprised by my sudden movements to have had time to steal away.

The look on his face nearly undid me; I fell to my knees on the stone floor. "Erik," I whispered urgently, growing closer to hysteria with every word, "please hear me. All of that was a lie ... I was humoring Raoul. I wanted nothing more than to make him leave, and so I told him everything that he wanted to hear." I seized his hands and pressed them to my cheeks, which by now were wet with tears. "Please, Erik. Please trust me; please believe me."

For a tremulous moment I feared that he would walk away from me, but instead he knelt and wrapped his arms around me, burying his face in my shoulder. "Christine... I trust you," he breathed, though I thought I heard tears threatening in his voice.

"I love you," I replied, stroking his pristine hair. Then, with a tender touch to his good cheek, I confided, "I love my rose. You left it there for me, you darling man."

He smiled a tiny smile and nodded once in affirmation. I laced my fingers in with his. "You are sweet and wonderful, Erik," I assured him, nuzzling his left cheek with mine. "Now, since I clearly had no desire to be the Vicomte's dinner companion, were you planning to offer to take his place?" I asked teasingly.

He was grinning broadly now. Without a word, he swept me a deep bow and then, straightening up, offered me his arm. I giggled and took it, whereupon he spirited me away into his blessed darkness.

That evening, he handed me into a cab on the Rue Scribe and surprised me by climbing in himself. He said he wanted to be certain I arrived home safely, but I suspected that the cover of night made him bolder, more desirous to play the part of a normal man. So I let him escort me home, and even allowed him to embrace and kiss me in the street after he had helped me out of the cab. Once I was safely upstairs, I waved to him from my window and watched the cab drive off. So excited was I at the thought of the following night, I could not sleep and rather stayed up for another hour or so, assembling two small bags to take with me to the Opera tomorrow morning. I knew that if I was discreet, no one would notice as I dropped them at the appointed spot on the Rue Scribe; nor would anyone notice the lithe, cloaked figure that would come for them only moments later.


Rehearsal was minimal on the day of the opening, since no one wanted to strain his voice or twist her ankle today, of all days. By mid-afternoon we had been fed a conservative meal, given a motivational speech by Reyer, who seemed frazzled but hopeful, and sent on our way to be dressed and made up.

At six o'clock, as I was waiting for the hairdresser in my room, I was summoned rather brusquely to the managers' office. Monsieurs Firmin and Andrè, along with Raoul, the Vicomte de Changy, had pressing need to speak with me, I was informed by Claudia, the hairdresser's assistant who had been sent to fix my curls and had been prevailed upon to deliver the message. Irritated by the management's apparent unconcern for my preparations, I donned the rest of my costume and took Claudia with me to the meeting.

My bringing a guest to what may have been meant to be a private party displeased the managers. While Firmin glared from behind his desk, Andrè spluttered, "But, Mademoiselle Daaè, what we must discuss with you requires some degree of ... well, confidence."

I smiled wryly from the chair that they had offered me, while Claudia primped and brushed behind me. "I'm quite sorry, Messieurs," I said with a slightly impish turn to my voice, "but if I am to be ready to perform at eight o'clock, I must have my hair done. Claudia is needed elsewhere after she finishes with me, and I would not like to keep her waiting."

Firmin jumped to his feet and exclaimed with a frown, "Mademoiselle, please remember who you really are and do not play the diva with us."

Before I could even collect my thoughts to formulate a retort to this rude comment, Raoul stepped in and said, "Come now, gentlemen. We have no time to waste. Let us just ensure Mademoiselle Claudia's silence..." Here he slipped a gold coin into Claudia's apron pocket, and patted her young flushing cheek. "There now, are we agreed?" he asked the girl. She nodded fervently, her huge flapping mobcap making her look quite like an obedient poodle. "Very good," Raoul replied. "Now, on to business."

The three of them lectured me for nearly an hour on the plan for the evening; pedantically, they recited where gunmen would be posted and whom I could expect to see backstage. They instructed me over and over again, in the most condescending manner, to be extremely careful in the wings. I swallowed my indignation as best I could and excused myself as soon as possible on the pretense of "warming up." Fuming at their patronizing attitudes, I imagined fantastic ways to exact revenge upon them until the curtain rose.

Finally I was called to the wings to await my cue. The stage was set.


The opening was a huge success; the audience was on its feet from the very beginning of the curtain call and I would wager a guess that every heart in the room was pounding at a furious pace. In each flushing face and gleaming eye there was emotion, anger, passion, despair; for Erik's opera had all of these in abundance and more. The cast took eleven bows before Reyer gave the signal for the house lights to be brought up. Even then the ovation went on for minutes, until the ushers began to hurry people along out of the auditorium.

I myself was hurried off the stage into the waiting presence of the managers. Andrè was nervous, but this was not unusual; the fact that Firmin looked discomfited was what gave me a bit of amusement. "He didn't come," he murmured, as if to himself.

Andrè plucked at my sleeve. "Mademoiselle," he fluttered, "have you by chance seen the Vicomte? He was to meet us here at curtain but he seems nowhere to be found."

Raoul missing? "No, Monsieur, I have not seen him since our meeting before the performance." I felt a twinge of guilt; had Erik given in to temptation and used this evening to exact revenge upon the poor oafish viscount? He was a pest, to be sure, but surely not deserving of actual harm. "I cannot imagine where he could be."

"Then turn around, the lot of you!" growled a familiar voice behind us.

Turn we did, and I nearly choked on suppressed laughter. Raoul emerged from the shadows, very much the worse for having been in them. As he came towards us, the rage that poured off him served only to amplify the hilarity of his appearance.

He was dressed completely in a costume that had been apparently pilfered from the Opera wardrobe. A wig and hat were pinned upon his head, and his face was completely made up in a ridiculous and racy fashion. The crowning insult was that the costume he wore was a woman's, and the stays had been laced so tightly over his tuxedo that he could not raise his arms high enough to remove any of his raiment.
"Damn it, don't stand there looking daft!" he shouted at Firmin and Andrè. "Get me out of this confounded get-up!"

The two men, who had stood as if rooted to their spots, immediately sprang to life and began to pull on the knots of Raoul's lacing, attempting to free him. While their fingers worked, he grunted gracelessly. I was pleased; he was uncomfortable but unharmed, and the chuckles I heard from the wings gave me to know that Raoul had not been able to escape being seen by a great number of the cast.

"Did you at least get the bastard?" he roared to the managers when they had loosed him enough for him to draw a deep breath.

"N-n-no, Monsieur," Andrè stuttered as we watched the enraged Raoul tear the costume off of himself. "He never came."

"Yes he did, you imbecile!" Raoul shouted, going even redder in the face. "How else do you think I ended up like this?"

"Perhaps a hobby you had not told us about," commented Firmin wryly. Raoul whirled on him and for a moment I thought he might pummel the older man. But his clenched fists remained pinioned near his sides, and he struck out only with words.

"He dressed me up like this, you fool," he seethed. "I was watching the performance from the curtain line when suddenly I was grabbed from behind. A gag of some kind kept me from making any cry for help, and my hands were pinned behind me so I could not strike back. The man's strength is phenomenal," he muttered, pushing his mussed blond hair back from his forehead and doing his best to wipe the greasepaint off his face with his handkerchief.

"I tried to struggle away, but he had me at a disadvantage. He pulled me back into a deserted part of the wings, into an unused prop closet, and proceeded to tie me up and ornament me as you just saw. I heard him whisper, "Now, monsieur, we shall see who is a painted diva," and then he was gone. That was sometime in the second act, and it took me until now to squirm free of my bonds."

"So he was here," Firmin replied dryly, "but whether he was or not is immaterial. The fact remains: we did not get him."

Feeling left out of the fun, I contrived my most convincing concern and mused, "What shall we do now?"

Raoul spun to glare at me; his eyes were like a mad creature's. "What shall we do now?" he mimicked me sarcastically. "There is only one thing to do, Christine - we will stage the show again!"

"Again?" Andrè, Firmin and I echoed in unison.

"Yes, again!" Raoul cried in the very ecstasy of frustration and rage. "And again, and again, and again - as many times as it takes! I will not rest until that bastard is caught!"

A silence descended upon our little quartet. I am sure that Madame Giry's words were ringing in their ears ... This is a game you cannot count to win...

But I was not preoccupied with such things. No thoughts within her mind but thoughts of joy...

"Well, gentlemen," I said a bit coldly, resuming my diva act, "if we are to perform this opera again tomorrow night, then I beg you to excuse me; I will be needing rest." Wrapping Aminta's scarf around my shoulders, I stalked off in the direction of my dressing room.

"Christine!" I heard Raoul's voice echo down the corridor behind me, but it seemed that the managers detained him. I heard Firmin hiss,

"Let her go, monsieur. If she wants to be a proud prima donna, let her - but her contract is still ours; she will sing for us!"

The corners of my mouth twitched. The corridor stretched out in front of me endlessly into the blackness, but soon enough my hand touched the familiar knob of my familiar door and I slipped inside, locking the door behind me. I quickly shed my costume, scrubbed away my greasepaint with the soap and water the dresser had left me, and donned the dress I had worn to the theatre that morning. Then, after one last wistful look around the room, I touched the secret switch and my mirror admitted me to Erik's realm.

Within moments I was opening the door on the Rue Scribe, tucking the key into my pocket with shaking fingers. Beneath a lamppost some hundred feet away, I caught Erik's cloaked and fedora-topped silhouette; he held out his arms and I seemed airborne, running to him. He pulled me close and kissed me fleetingly in one brief moment, then hurriedly handed me into a waiting hansom.

Perhaps an hour later we stood on the banks of the Seine, watching the ships bobbing in the midnight-black waters. Erik turned to me and said with laughter in his voice, "Well, Christine? Where will it be? England? Russia? Italy? China? It is your choice, my darling; the world is at our feet."

I smiled up at him, my heart overflowing with love and fluttering with the excitement of our looming freedom. "Then let it be the world, Erik; I want to see everything!"

He pulled me into his arms right there on the dock and swung me around in circles until I could not laugh any harder. My feet still dangled above the boards as he kissed me with all the tenderness in the world. Then, arm in arm, we ambled down the quay, mindful to board whichever ship took our fancy.


We strolled along the docks for a brief while, and I marveled at how enchanting the night air felt now that I was free. Erik held my hand tightly in his but did not speak; he was listening as attentively as a cat to the voices of sailors, trying to glean information about which ship would be best suited to us. Eventually he leaned in and spoke very softly in my ear. "This one seems to be heading for Italy, Christine." A curt nod of his head indicated a nearby vessel, listing gently in the nighttime waters. I squinted, and could make out men in the rigging. "They are preparing to sail ... " Erik breathed. His fingers tightened gently around my upper arm, and I could feel the coolness of his mask pressing against my cheek. "What do you say to Rome, my lady?" I could hear the laughter silently sparkling in his tone; I smiled and nodded fervently, imagining the grace and beauty of an ancient city I had never seen except in dreams.

"Yes," I whispered. "Rome will do quite nicely, I think."

For a moment the night became richer and deeper, for Erik chuckled softly. "Then Rome it shall be," he replied, sweeping a small bow and offering me his arm. I took it, fighting the urge to giggle or dance with glee like a small child.

We sought, and were granted, audience with the captain, a man by the name of d'Amiens. He regarded us with a quirked eyebrow, and I was glad I had chosen to wear one of my better gowns. I felt that, if not for the richness of Erik's clothes and my own fine appearance, he would have turned us away. As it was, he protested at Erik's first offer - a rather handsome amount, I thought - saying that he had already taken on several passengers and that he did not think there was room for us.

Erik gently pulled away from me and took the captain by the arm in a gesture of camaraderie that might have been natural for any other man. Withdrawing him from my earshot, he spoke to d'Amiens for a moment. I saw the man shake his head, but Erik took his hand and placed a hefty-looking purse into his palm. After staring for a moment, his posture relaxed a bit and he seemed to assent; slyly, or so he thought, he tried to peer beneath Erik's lowered hat-brim. But Erik took a step back and extended his hand, dropping a few more gold coins to the deck at the captain's feet. A stray breeze carried me the words, "Your cooperation, monsieur, and our privacy, are paramount." Wide-eyed, d'Amiens nodded. Turning toward me with what I perceived to be a small grin, Erik extended his hand and called, "Christine."

I went to him and placed my hand into his; he tucked it into the crook of his elbow and turned to face the captain. I could tell by the gleam in the man's eye that the money Erik with which had showered him had put him in a very friendly mood. "Captain d'Amiens," Erik said formally, "may I present Mademoiselle Daaè." I started at Erik's use of my real name and watched the captain's face fearfully for a sign of recognition, but none came. "Mlle. Daaè is my fiancée, monsieur ... " His voice trailed off and he cast a mischievous glance at me, as if he were getting an idea; then he continued, fixing his gaze once again on d'Amiens, "but perhaps you may set that to rights."

Surprise furrowed his brow. "I, monsieur?"

"Of course," Erik replied, his tone as smooth as silk. "As the captain of this vessel, you can perform certain ceremonies, can you not?"

"Oh - " d'Amiens tipped his head back slightly, understanding. "Of course, monsieur."

Erik turned to me and looked tenderly into my face. "Darling," he said in a tone that was gentle and yet loud enough for the other man to hear, "would you care for an impetuous wedding?"

I was glad of the darkness, for it hid my blush. "Yes," I murmured, blinking my eyelashes shyly, "very much."

Erik swept me into his arms and spun me around in a joyous waltz. The captain, too, seemed infected by our happiness, and he chuckled. "I think Monsieur has forgotten, dancing usually follows a wedding."

Throwing his head back and laughing deeply, Erik replied, "I have not forgotten, Captain. This is to be no usual wedding." He pulled me close against his chest, and I hugged him as tightly as I could. "Uph!" he protested. "You mustn't crush me, Christine, or I shall be unable to say, ‘I do.'"

Leaving us laughing like children on deck, d'Amiens went to fetch his wife and his first mate, who stood as witnesses to our union. Erik removed the gold ring from his own hand and slid it on my finger at the captain's signal. Later, as he held me in the moment after our first kiss as husband and wife, he whispered in my ear, "I am sorry it isn't grander, Christine ..."

"No," I rebuked him, admiring the smooth black stone. "It's lovely."

"It is too big for you," he said. "I shall buy you something more delicate in Italy."

I drew a breath, but he stopped my lips with a gentle kiss. "I will listen to no protests," he smiled. "I am entitled to spoil my wife if I choose."

"Perhaps," I grinned back. "But what if she becomes spoiled as a result?"

Smoothing my hair tenderly, he replied, "I somehow doubt that possibility."

Madame d'Amiens interrupted our conversation by dousing us with a shower of confetti she had somehow managed to tear during the ceremony. We laughed, and the captain passed around glasses of wine from his own cabin; after a merry interlude, we were shown to a small but neat cabin where we spent the several nights of our journey.

The last morning, as a light rain fell on the deck above our cabin, I awoke in his arms to a strange sensation: as I lay still against him, he seemed to tremble. It took several moments for me to realize - he was crying! I tightened my hold on him and laid my cheek on his shoulder. "Erik?"

"Christine," he sighed, pressing his palm into the small of my back.

"What is wrong, my dearest?" I asked, peering into the darkness with concerned eyes.

"Nothing is wrong," he whispered, pulling me closer. "This is just the first time I've ever woken in the arms of a beautiful woman with rain pattering on the roof."

Joy and love welled in my heart, and I began to cover his face with kisses. He wriggled away from my assault, protesting weakly, "Please, Christine ... I am not wearing my mask..."

"And what of it?" I giggled. "I am not wearing anything at all."

"Is that so?" he asked, lifting the covers slightly as if to peek under. I pushed them down again, and resumed kissing every inch of his face. He did not shy away again.

Later that morning, the crew carried our few small bags ashore. Upon our disembarking, Erik shook hands with d'Amiens, and his charming wife wished us well.

Time melted away in Italy; Erik whirled me around Rome, Florence, and Naples. He told me of times he had passed in these places and more, speaking so passionately about the architecture and Italian culture that he became transformed before my eyes. I had never known him to be so inspired by anything other than music.

Music was never far from us, however. We frequented the opera houses, concert halls and even street performers with equal devotion. We visited Venice for a time, and Erik poled me through the waterways singing in a voice that elicited jealous glances from other gondoliers. I was in heaven, melting happily beneath Erik's loving gaze; and he was happy too, for he seemed to bask in the outdoor light, heedless of the occasional odd look his appearance would stir. Indeed, he was like a new person, and I grew to know and love him more with every passing day.

We traveled the whole of Europe and many parts of Asia in the years that followed. Erik led me by the hand through some of the most wondrous places I had ever seen, and I followed him with joy in my heart. With him at my side I was an empress, with no desire left unmet and no dream unfulfilled.

Years later we returned to Paris, and Erik insisted that we return to the Opera House for one visit. We felt like ghosts of ages past; the structure itself was unchanged, but the faces we encountered were strange to us - with one exception. During Act II of the performance - Faust, ironically - I happened to gaze across the dress circle with my opera glasses and catch a strange sight. My old friend Meg Giry, dressed in an elaborate gown with nearly obscene jewels around her neck, fluttered in a box across from us. Her dear mother, too elderly now to lead the corps de ballet, sat to her right; and to her left, a man whose face was so changed with time that I hardly recognized him. It was Raoul! I nearly grabbed Erik's cuff in surprise, but I caught myself at the last moment; better to leave that ghost unmentioned, I thought. As I regarded Raoul, I wondered what had befallen him in the time since we had parted. His once boyishly handsome face was hardened now, his forehead creased and his frame almost gaunt. He looked as if he had been through some hardship; but he held Meg's hand tightly as he watched the performers on stage. I looked away, feeling loath to examine him like some scientific experimenter. I bore him no ill will, only reflected on our relationship as something that had happened a million years ago; and whatever life he led now did not deserve my scrutiny.

We left Paris shortly thereafter, and never returned again. That night at the Opera had brought closure to me, and to Erik as well. In the years that followed we visited my old country in the north, the crisp air of Sweden bringing my childhood happiness back to me in waves. We settled there in time, in a small house in the country where I kept a garden and Erik, a music room. I would sometimes walk into the nearby village and sell preserves or needlework at the market, and passersby would pause to hear me singing achingly beautiful melodies. One matron clasped her hands before her and cried, "It seems to have been written for your voice!" With a demure blush, I replied that it had been - by my husband.

"Oh!" the woman exclaimed, enraptured. "Some day I know we will hear of this great composer-husband of yours!"

"Yes," I replied, with a small knowing smile. "Perhaps you shall."


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Heather Sullivan

Part 1 of 1