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A Hope Lost

A Hope Lost

Background

Erik has just discovered that Christine and Raoul are married, so he returns to his underground home dejected. He is by the lake and pondering his options when he hears footsteps. Fearing it might be someone he has to do battle with, he hides behind a pillar.

Chapter Two

A Hope Lost
 
He didn’t let go until I encouraged him with the right pressure against his wrist, and then his words about getting the police followed me down the steps. I shook my hand at the driver, telling him to drive. I no longer cared where I went; I just needed to think. It couldn’t be true. They couldn’t have married already. I refused to believe it, but my fears mounted as I unfolded the letter, lit a match, and began to read.
Dear Raoul,
  It’s done. Erik is dead. His poor and tortured soul can finally rest. You’re now free to take Christine for your wife.
  Normally it wouldn’t be my place to speak about this private matter, but I feel I must, especially after the time the three of us have spent together during this past week. I’ve given this much thought, and I keep coming back to the same conclusion. If Christine was mine, I would take her far away right now. Don’t take her back to Erik’s home. I fear for her in her delicate emotional state. She’s been through much more than anyone should have to go through, and I believe it will inflict needless pain and suffering on her to go back there.
  I’ll go to Erik and take care of his needs. He’s been my friend for a long time, and I count it an honor to lay him in his final resting place. So, take Christine away from all the tribulation of the months past and comfort her.
  I do have two requests though. The first, I’ll need instructions from you on how to get inside Erik’s home. You can send them by letter or we could meet, whichever you prefer.
  The second, please don’t think or speak badly about Erik. He really wasn’t the monster he was made out to be. He was a genius in every respect, but he was also just a man, with needs, hopes, and desires just like you and me. If it wasn’t for his deformity, I know he would have been a wonderful husband and father, and he would have contributed amazing inventions for the advancement of mankind’s comforts.
  He really wasn’t as mad as he appeared during the time you knew him; that is, unless you want to count him being madly in love with Christine. She was the only woman Erik ever loved, and I know he loved her right up to his last breath. He gave the greatest sacrifice a man can give a woman—his life.
  So, please, don’t think badly of him. He was a remarkable man. The world may not miss him, but I will—immensely.
Respectfully,
Oded
   I blew out the match, put the letter on my lap, and my head back against the seat. I watched the lampposts and trees pass the window, and I didn’t know if I wanted to tear up his letter and throw it out in the gutter in anger or frame it and put it on my wall. I wondered how many men had had the chance to read their eulogy.
   That meddlesome fool Oded; he’d destroyed my chances once more. I started to give the driver his address with the intention of having it out with him. But I didn’t. I was tired of arguments and hurt feelings. What was done was done and couldn’t be undone. Wrapping my fingers around his neck would accomplish nothing. I felt drained of all will to do anything.
   With Oded’s words added to the butler’s words and Raoul’s desire, tears formed in my eyes and I sighed, I’ve lost her for good. She’s married and she thinks I’m dead. There’s no getting her back now. I pictured her beautiful body wrapped in Raoul’s embrace, and my heart broke, causing the trees passing the window to blur.
   I rode around the city for a while, listening to its sounds and the sounds of the horses, wondering if this was the end of it all. I thought about what I’d told Raoul and Oded about my death being best for Christine. Perhaps it still was. I didn’t know, and I couldn’t think, so I told the driver to take me back to the opera house—to what I wasn’t certain.
   I entered the side door, alone and in the dark, just as I had hundreds of time before, but that particular night I felt so alone and empty. Everything was different—even the air I breathed. I approached the wharf and my boat that sat like a lighted guidepost directing me home. I knelt on one knee, preparing to untie it but dropped my face in my hands instead. I’ve lost her. In my senselessness and arrogance, I’d lost her for good. How universally stupid of me. What was I going to do without her?
   Ah, Christine, my heart moaned. I would have loved you with a passion beyond all imagination. I would have spoiled you in ways you couldn’t even dream of. If given the chance, that flicker I saw in your eyes would have turned into a blazing fire that never could be put out. Just one last chance and your Angel of Music would have become the man you truly loved. Just one last chance; that’s all I needed—but it was gone. Choices. I’d made so many wrong choices in my life, and the decision to end my life was truly one of the biggest, if not the biggest.
   I stood up, wrapped my arms around my chest and looked out over the light blue mist moving in eerie waves across the lake. I’d been there on that wharf more times than I cared to count. Secure in my private sanctuary, I carried on my life for 16 years all alone, and never before had I felt the way I did right then—empty.
   Do I return to my original plan and what’s left of the vial? I shook my head as if arguing with myself. What original plan? It wasn’t my original plan to end my life, but to try to live it to the full. Venice? Whatever happened to Venice and all the splendid things I planned to accomplish there? A life spent on a lighted stage—not a life spent in darkness beneath it.
   While quarrelling with myself, I began pacing on the small wharf, putting off my trip back to my vacant and silent home. Venice was nothing more than a foolish childhood fantasy fed by an overly proud father. Venice! No! I’m too old to start over—too old and too tired. There’s no more strength or desire left in me to try again.
   With Christine by my side, I wasn’t an old, deformed man. I was just a man in love. She gave me strength and hope beyond compare, and I could have accomplished anything with her in my life. But it was simply too late. She was gone forever. Gone somewhere far away and married for a certainty. That young, handsome face had won her and taken her away from me; taken the angel’s voice far away to never sing for me again. Oh, how that thought sliced me through to my core, worse than a thousand swords.
   I closed my eyes tightly against the picture forming in my mind and stopped pacing, and then I covered my masked face with my palms, forcing back the tears. That repetitive conversation with myself was tiring my weary soul.
   Just then, I heard my father’s encouraging voice: You can’t turn back the clock, Erik, but you can wind it up again. Thirty-five years later and his words still gave me what I needed to go on. So I lifted my head, knowing I could still do something with my life, even though I didn’t know what.
   Perhaps I could become like Jacob and travel the world. I enjoyed the time I’d spent with the gypsies and traveling, so that thought appealed to me. But, if I did, I wouldn’t have a piano at my disposal, and that thought saddened me. I needed a home where I could have a piano. A piano was an absolute for my happiness, so my thoughts again focused on Venice.
   With the thoughts of what could be ahead of me, instead of the treasure I was leaving behind, I prepared my mind to go home and start packing. But, as I picked up my lantern and attached it to my boat, I feared my heart full of tears might be a bit harder to convince.
   When I again knelt and started to untie my boat, I heard faint steps on the stairs. Then years of instinctive training took over, and I quickly and quietly moved back into the shadow of the closest pillar, waiting to see who the intruder into my sanctuary might be.
   That was something else I’d be glad to be rid of; that same scenario over and over again—me hiding in the shadows with a coil wrapped around my fingers. It had happened so often that the lasso might as well have been an extension of my fingers. It took no forethought whatsoever to have it ready and waiting. It was as much a part of my life as breathing, and that was a sad realization to admit.
   Once I got rid of the fool invading my painful privacy, I was going to leave Paris just as quickly as I could to prevent that repetitive scenario from ever happening again. So, with my lasso at the ready, I secretly willed that the trespasser be Oded or just someone lost in my dark world and not someone I’d have to battle.
   Hoping it was only my friend coming to bury me, I waited with conflicting emotions. It would be nice to see the expression on his face when he realized I was still alive, but, then, I wanted to strangle him for writing that note and perhaps altering my destiny. If he hadn’t, I might have caught them before they married. So what was the stronger of those two feelings? Sad to say, wanting to strangle him came off the winner of that debate.
   As the steps got closer, I recognized the familiar sound of a skirt’s rustle, so I thought it could be Christine and Raoul coming to bury me. I looked around the pillar, hoping above all hope that it was the woman I loved so I could see her one last time. Then, there she was—in a mint-green evening gown with her golden hair swept up on top of her head. Since she appeared to be alone, I looked quickly toward the stairs to see if Raoul was following her. When I saw no one, I looked back at her graceful figure approaching my empty boat. Confusion, glee, fear, and hope surged through me all at the same time, and my heart leapt.
   “Christine?”
   My voice reverberated across the lake, and, as I stepped out from behind the pillar, she turned.
   “Erik!” she exclaimed and began running toward me.
   With her arms spread out from her sides and her gown billowing behind her, she resembled a radiant angel in flight. Her voice kept repeating my name until she slammed against my body, almost knocking me off my feet. She then buried her face in my chest, causing her words to muffle.
   “Erik! Oh! Erik!”
   At first, I was so stunned I could only stand there, but, then, I gladly wrapped my arms around her small soft frame, engulfing her. I closed my eyes, lowered my head, and smothered my face in the full fragrance of her silky hair.
   “Christine! Ah, Christine,” I whispered. “I thought I would never see you again.”
   I felt light-headed, my knees became weak, and I could hardly breathe. I felt for sure I must be dreaming; otherwise, why would she be in my embrace? What I was experiencing couldn’t be happening, and, for a moment, I again thought I might be hallucinating. If I was, I didn’t want it to end. The feeling of her being back in my arms, basking in her sweet scent, was all too wonderful to end. It couldn’t be real—could it?
   “Erik. Oh, Erik,” she whispered.
   I struggled to open my eyes, although I didn’t want to. I didn’t want that feeling to end. I pulled her body so close to mine that our hearts could feel each other’s beats. Her hands were moving up and down my back and shoulders as were mine over hers. Oh, please don’t let this end, my heart pleaded loudly.
   She pulled her head away from my chest, looked up into my eyes, and murmured, “You’re alive. I was so afraid—afraid I would be too late. Thank God you’re still alive. I’m so thankful.”
   “So am I,” I responded softly. Then, not wanting to for fear I’d spoil the precious moments but knowing I needed to, I asked, “Why are you here? Where’s Raoul?”
   Her eyes appeared almost black in the soft light coming from my boat, and her lips so inviting as she answered, “I don’t want to talk about Raoul right now. There’s only you—only you and me. I need you to hold me, Erik.”
   I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and started to pull her close to my chest again, but she resisted me and pushed back away from me. I searched her eyes for answers to explain her curious actions, but all I saw were expressions of passion and love in those eyes as they moved across my masked face and lips.
   Bewildered, I frowned as I continued to search her eyes and silent lips. I so wanted to touch them with my own, but, again, I feared doing anything that would spoil the moment. Therefore, with our lips silent and our eyes locked on each other’s, our bodies remained motionless, resembling two lifeless marble statues powerless under the sculpture’s hands.
   She stood on her toes and moved her face up closer to mine, causing my heart to beat faster. I tightened my jaw, resisting the temptation to close the gap between our lips. Then, with just a few soft words, I nearly lost all control.
   “Erik, please, kiss me.”
   “Ah, Christine,” I whispered and came close to succumbing to our mutual desires, but I couldn’t. I took her shoulders in my hands and moved her back. “Christine, wait! This isn’t right. Where’s Raoul? I thought you were on your honeymoon.”
   “What? No! Oh, no! There’s no Raoul right now and certainly no honeymoon,” she responded with a shake of her head. “I don’t care how much time you have left; I want to spend it all with you. I don’t care if it’s a month, week, day, or hour. I want to make memories with you that I’ll have for as long as I live. Now, Erik, will you please kiss me?”
   I was confused but something, somewhere deep inside me, took complete control of my actions, and I gave in to my unprepared desires. Without giving any further thought about the boundaries of propriety or impropriety—or Raoul—I embraced her waiting lips with my own famished ones. Then five months of restraints were quickly broken through with the first feel of her lips pressed against mine—our first real kiss.
   All the floodgates opened, and the dam crumbled completely. The world started turning around me, causing the lone light in my boat to move in strange streams around us. I’d thought the feel of her lips on my forehead was exquisite, but the sensation of her lips on mine sent me far beyond my expectations. There aren’t words to describe the difference between the two feelings—there aren’t words.
   I felt as if an explosion had gone off in my chest, and I couldn’t breathe. Feelings I couldn’t even dream of began to stir in me, feelings as old as time and, yet, like the first sunrise to me. My lifetime of wild fantasies couldn’t come close to comparing with the reality of our first real kiss. All in the world ceased to exist, and we alone were on the world’s stage—sharing the first expressions of our mutual love.
   Her body again melted against mine, and lightning bolts flashed through every nerve in my being. I was alive on an entirely different and wonderful new plain, swirling in a sea of passion.
   Our lips parted long enough for mine to move across her cheek and down her soft and sensuous neck. Then they moved to her tender décolletage that I’d only been able to admire from afar, and there they soaked up every tender morsel of her femininity. As the world turned around us, only the sound of our breathing could be heard in the blue mist surrounding the lake.
   I once more looked down into her dark eyes that were telling me she wanted all the same things I desired. She was giving herself to me without question, and I was completely prepared to take her for my own. I kissed her again and again, and I could feel every movement of her fingers as they traveled up and down the tense muscles in my back.
   One last time, I searched for that look of acceptance in her eyes, and it was there—just as clear as a cloudless sky. She smiled seductively, and, with anticipation surging through my veins, any questions or doubts about what we were doing evaporated completely.
   My lips explored every inch of her face, neck and shoulders, only taking a few seconds here and there from their feast to express my verbal love for her. Then, with my lips on her neck, she whispered against my ear the words that released any restraints I might have had left.
   “I’m yours, Erik. Take me.”
   The endless might of the stars and the relentless tides of the sea were powerless to halt my expressions of love. My hands and arms couldn’t hold enough of her. And if my own actions weren’t enough to carry me away, her hands moving all over my body backed up her request.
   If there was ever a time in my life when someone could have put a bullet in my brain or a knife in my back it would have been right then. I was completely under the control of the woman in my arms. I was lost with her touch—lost and yet found as never before in Christine’s warm and loving embrace.
   I grasped her waist and lowered us both gently to the ground, while repeating how much I loved her. The mist moved between us at the same time that her bare shoulders and back pressed against the cold stones, causing her to shiver and gasp. That visual of what was actually taking place helped what small amount of decency I had remaining in me to return, and I knew I didn’t want the joining of our souls to take place on that cold and filthy ground. Thankfully, my love for her spoke louder than my passion for her.
   If she was going to give herself to me, I wanted our union to be an honorable one in her eyes, with a ring and priest and all that went with it. It couldn’t be a few moments of hungry passion in that musty cellar. I had no use for a priest, I never had, but I knew she did, so I kissed her gently, rose up away from her, and tried to explain.
   “Not like this, Christine. I can’t treat you, my precious angel, like a common whore in a dark and foul alley. You deserve better. Our love deserves better.”
   She took a deep breath and nodded, and I put my arms completely around her and lifted us up to our feet. She shivered again, and I wrapped my cloak around us both; then, once more, she melted against my body.
   “Christine,” I whispered in her hair. “I love you and want you in more ways than words can express.” Then, as I looked at my waiting boat and thought about where it could take us, the butler’s words entered my thoughts, and, even though I didn’t want to, I had to question her. “What about Raoul?”
   She looked up at me, smiled, shut her eyes and sighed, “I don’t want to think or speak of him right now. I only want to be with you while I can. I want to be yours, Erik, for as long as I’m permitted. I know now that I love you with a love that defies description.”
   With her words of love caressing my ears, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She said she loved me. I cradled the back of her head, pressing her cheek against my chest. She said she loved me. I lowered my face into her hair while still thinking, she said she loved me. My heart swelled beyond recognition. I held her close once more, while the thought of taking her to my home mixed with the butler’s words, causing another battle to rage inside me that I wasn’t prepared to fight.
   I listened to the silence around us, only being disturbed by our breathing, and waited for her to stop shivering. It didn’t take long for my overheated body to warm hers; then she relaxed.
   “Christine, you’re such a child. Why are you out tonight without a wrap? You know it’s not good for your voice.”
   From inside the folds of my cloak she responded, “I left in a hurry. I needed to get here quickly. I guess I forgot.” She pulled her head back and looked up at me. “I need to talk to you about something important.”
   I searched her eyes much the same as I had on many occasions, but, right then, I was so fearful of what I might find. My mind flashed back quickly to the butler’s words about a honeymoon; however, with the way she’d just responded to my advances, I felt she couldn’t be married to Raoul. In either case, her eyes and tone of voice were telling me that something threatening, something I may not want to know about, was on our horizon.
   I motioned toward my waiting boat. “There’s much I need to talk with you about also. We can go to my home. I suspect a nice glass of brandy will warm you sufficiently while we talk.”
   She once more smiled with those sensuous lips, and I had to taste them again before we left. So, with my palms on her cheeks, I guided her lips to mine for a soft and gentle kiss. When our lips parted, we gazed into each other’s eyes for a few beautiful expressive moments.
   “We must go, Christine, before you get cold again, and before I lose my ability to resist you.”
   I swung my cloak off my shoulders and wrapped it around hers, again pressing her body close to mine. I ran my hands across her shoulders and down her arms, which were still clinging around my waist. I grasped her wrists and pulled them up close to my chest, enclosing her hands inside mine and watched the expression on her face—that beautiful face. Again, I saw that look of love that I’d seen the last time we were in my house on that fateful night. How I loved that face.
   I squeezed her hands, turned, and started leading her toward the boat, but, before I got very far, I realized something didn’t feel right. I swung back around and lifted her fingers to the dim light. At first, I was dumbfounded, and I’m sure my mouth dropped open as I stared at the enormous diamond surrounded by a myriad of other diamonds on her ring finger—where my gold band should have been. I was scowling when I looked at her and then at the large stones again. The butler’s words once more formed in my confused mind, and I shook my head, thinking, he was right—she was married!
   Confusion, anger, disbelief, hurt, frustration, were all emotions that rushed in on me, mixing together and forming one mass of unrestrained power. Since I was still alive, I considered her finger should hold only my ring, especially after what had just taken place. It wasn’t possible, I told myself. Then the lights and sounds on the rooftop surrounded me—along with all the pain of that horrifying night. I saw my gold band under the bench, sparkling in the moonlight, and I could feel my tears as they stung my eyes.
   It was happening again! But it couldn’t be! I couldn’t have been deceived by her yet another time. It wasn’t possible for her to leave her honeymoon just to taunt me. It simply wasn’t possible. With rapid breaths, I looked in her wide eyes, with disbelief and growing anger, I’m sure, emanating from mine.
   “Erik, it’s not what it…”
   But with wrenching pain in my heart and my temper growing rapidly, replacing my passion, I silenced her words.
   “It looks like a very large wedding ring, is what it looks like, Christine! It looks like something that young man of yours would give you! Something he might give you on your wedding day.”
   “Well, yes, but no…” she tried to say.
   “Quiet!” I screamed, while throwing her hand down violently. “I can’t bear to hear any more of your twisted words and excuses. Just be quiet!”
   I paced away from her and clasped my fingers around my arms—instead of around her neck. I lowered my head and clenched my teeth, attempting to control my temper. “I knew it,” I muttered. I knew she was married. I knew it was simply too good to be true; it always is. I entwined my fingers to make one large fist and slammed it against the stone wall, followed by my forearms, and then I pressed my forehead against them.
   I pushed harder and harder to force the anger away that was beginning to rage in my heart. My body felt as if it was being consumed in a swirl of volcanic flames. I was trying desperately to prevent yet another scar from forming on my already callused heart. Harder and harder I pushed, but it didn’t prevent my anger from growing or her traitorous voice and pleas from penetrating my senses.
   “Please, Erik, let me explain.”
   “Go!” I growled from deep in my throat and heart.
   My emotions had always been a struggle to keep in balance, but, right then, with the added fuel of my sexual frustration thrown into the mix, I feared the pressure within me was beyond my ability to control. I glanced over at her and then quickly back again as all the memories of her vacillating back and forth between Raoul and me became a vivid reality one more time. The sight of her and the sound of her voice trying to calm me was like pouring lamp oil on an already raging forest fire and caused my anger to mount; much too reminiscent of our last night in my home.
   “Just go!” I bellowed.
   “Erik!”
   “No, Christine! Leave me while you still can!”
   She hesitated and then took a step back from me. “Erik, you don’t understand.”
   “Don’t try to tell me I don’t understand,” I growled as I turned and faced her. “I’ve had a lifetime of having understanding forced on me. I know only too well human nature and more importantly your weakness and needs—I know them only too well.”
   I raised my fist toward her and shook my head. “I have needs also you know, Christine. Did you ever give any thought to how hard it’s been to keep my hands off of you all these months? I have an extremely deep and passionate need for you, my dear.”
   I turned away from her, trying to gain control. “You know I love you. God knows I’ve told you that enough times. You made me love you more than life itself. How could you come here now and torture me this way? Why, Christine, why?”
   “Erik, please let me…”
   I turned back toward her and roared, “I’m warning you, woman, leave here if you value your life. No more of your lying tongue and vacillating heart, just leave—now!”
   “Erik, please listen. This isn’t…”
   “Listen to what?” I yelled. “More of your falsehoods? That you’re married to Raoul but love me anyway? That you made a mistake? That you’re so confused? Is that it? You want me to feel sorry for your plight? Oh, poor Christine. She has two men who love her and she just can’t make up her mind between the rich Raoul and the pitiful Erik. Poor Christine.
   I turned my back to her again and crossed my arms in front of me, clenching my fingers around my arms to keep them from doing something I’d regret.
   “You’re married, aren’t you Christine? You married Raoul and you say you love me. I can’t believe this. When did you plan to tell me? After I’d made love to you?” I snarled as I looked back over my shoulder at her. “Why did you come here like this? I’d prepared myself for the reality of you marrying, but after what just happened between us, I thought…I thought…I hoped I was wrong.”
   I turned my face to the wall and huffed at her. “What’s wrong with you? Do you have a death wish coming to me like this?” I twirled back toward her that time with my fists clenched. “Do you realize how close I came to taking you right here and now?” I took a step toward her and raised one fists and snarled. “I still could take you!
   “Erik, wait! Please, listen to me for just one moment.”
   I closed the space between us and hovered over her. “No! You listen. You know what’s worse, Christine? You were willing—no—you were asking me to take you. Damn you, Christine! You tramp! You Jezebel!”
   Shaking her head, she tried one more time to reach the Erik she loved. “No, Erik, please, please listen. It’s not like that at all. Raoul took me…”
   But the Erik she knew and loved was hiding skillfully behind his newly-constructed wall, and the Erik that was left for her to deal with refused to listen to any more of her lies and torturous words. The last thread of my sanity snapped, and, before I knew it, my long fingers were around her delicate neck, and my voice was a cold and viscous hiss.