Christine and Erik have traveled to his home and have been discussing the events of the last six months. Her emotional explanation answers many questions for Erik, but, in the process, Erik lets it slip that he is not dying, and he struggles for a logical lie.
While struggling to respond to her direct question, I believe my jaw dropped. And, since I wasn’t willing to answer her in depth, I opted for a version of the truth.
“After additional examination of my case, it was determined that I have more time to live than what was previously thought. Does that information change your feelings, Christine?”
Her chest heaved a few times, and her eyes filled with tears, causing anxiety to surge through my unstable heart.
“Oh, thank God—thank God,” she whimpered as she buried her face in my chest. “Oh, thank God.”
My few moments of guilt over my new deception were quickly replaced with our love for each other. I could have stayed right there in her embrace and listened to her express how grateful she was that the diagnosis was a mistake, if it wasn’t for my own fears that still existed. So I pushed her away from me and looked sternly at her.
“We can’t afford to be caught up in this moment and ignore the dangers of not standing on steady ground. You’ve just experienced the full force of my volatile temper directed exclusively on you. You have to understand my warning. You have to be sure of your feelings.”
While rubbing the back of her neck, she nodded. “I understand, but you need to understand why I know for certain that what I’m feeling is true love for you. I’m not going to change my mind—my heart won’t let me. If I finish what I was saying, it should help you feel as confident as I feel.”
We sat back down, and she took a drink of her brandy before continuing. “So many unexpected events happened to me that day you gave me the combs, and I was extremely confused and fearful.”
“I’m sorry if I frightened you,” again remembering that she would have screamed and ran if she’d known what I was thinking.
“No, Erik, it wasn’t you who frightened me. It was what I was feeling. Remember, you were standing behind me in my room?”
I closed my eyes for a second and thought: I’ll never forget those moments.
“I was already a bit flustered after we’d practiced that piece from Romeo et Juliette, and then you gave me the combs. As I was placing them in my hair, I watched you watching me. Then, suddenly, I had an irresistible urge to jump up and kiss you.”
Since I didn’t want to expose my indiscretion in reading her diary, I simply looked at her and said one word.
“Yes, Erik. I wanted you in a way I’d never wanted anything.”
“Not even Raoul?” I asked in all honesty.
“Especially not Raoul. I wanted you to touch me with those long fingers and strong hands that I’d watched in fascination. I loved watching your hands no matter what they were doing. When you positioned your hat, caressed a flower petal, adjusted your cloak, turned the pages of a book, ran your fingers through your hair, and especially when you played the piano.
“I remember closing my eyes for a moment, waiting for you to touch me. I could almost feel you caressing my neck, and, at that moment, I felt you wanted the same thing. I was embarrassed by what I was feeling, and I tried to hide it by talking. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”
I looked down, swirled my brandy in its glass, and responded softly, “I don’t either.”
“Then, when you sighed that low sigh, I could feel your breath on my arm, and it sent chills through my body. And when you ran your fingers through your hair, I wanted mine to join them. I almost forgot about propriety and allowed them to do so.
“And when you backed away from me, I silently pleaded for you to stop. I watched your reflection as you changed the position of your hands; they almost hypnotized me. But, when you crossed your arms in front of your chest and looked so tall and regal, I thought I was going to go mad.
“Feelings were surging through me that confused me. Logic told me I was being silly. Raoul told me you were a deranged man who wanted to harm me. Meg told me you were old enough to be my father so our relationship was wrong, and Mummy told me you were my teacher and to obey you. I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be having those specific types of feelings for you, and I felt ashamed.”
She paused for a few moments, while taking another sip of her brandy, and then she looked at the shelves full of books and nodded, almost as if she was answering a question they’d asked.
“Then, I was right there by the fireplace, and you were over there by the dining table, and I watched you watching me. It was reminiscent of the first time you brought me down here, and I recalled you telling me that if I spent some time here with you that I would love you. I believe it was then that I first began to realize it was romantic love I felt for you. But it was so strong, even primal, that it made me uncertain and again frightened.
“I was about ready to tell you how I felt. After all, you were my teacher, so I reasoned you would know the solution to my problem. You’d helped me with other issues. But then you told me you needed to be alone to compose, and I didn’t know what to think or do. I was so afraid of my new feelings, and I felt I had no choice. Reluctantly, I followed your lead and let you take me back across the lake.”
At that point, I closed my eyes and slightly shook my head, whispering, “We were so close to the perfect solution so often.”
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing. It can wait. Go on.”
“As I was saying, you took me back across the lake. I was watching you standing in the boat, maneuvering it masterfully. My feelings for you became even more intense, if that were possible. I couldn’t bear to look at you any longer. It hurt too much to want something so badly and not be able to do anything about it.”
I glanced at her and nodded in agreement. “I know those feelings quite well.”
“I’m sorry, Erik. I now understand what you were going through all that time, and it pains me to think I was causing it. I’m truly sorry.”
I nodded again, smiled, touched her hand, and she went on. “After you took me up the stairs and said goodbye, I watched you as you walked back down. I secretly followed you, and, even though it hurt, I didn’t want to stop the feeling in me. I didn’t want to take my eyes off of you.
“I watched as you stood for a few minutes on the dock, looking out over the mist, and then you knelt down, removed your mask, and wiped your face. How I wanted to run to you and beg you to hold me.
“But, before I could, you were in the boat, and I again watched until you were out of sight. I remember speaking your name—softly—repeatedly. It was then that I decided I was going to go back to your home and tell you I’d made up my mind. I didn’t want a life with Raoul. I wanted to be with you, Erik. However, by the time I reached the third cellar, a figure stepped out of the darkness and in front of me. It was Oded.”
I took a deep breath, my jaws clenched, and I felt my brow wrinkle with the sound of his name in connection with what I already knew was his interference—again. Fortunately, I didn’t have too much time to think about it before my attention was refocused on her explanation.
“He asked me where I’d been. I told him that was my business and not his. I started to turn and leave, but he said if where I’d been involved you then it was his business. He considers you his best friend and said he didn’t want to see you get hurt. Then his tone started to make me uncomfortable. He said if I cared about your life, or my own he added in an odd way, that I wouldn’t want you hurt either.”
I should strangle him, was the first thought that came to my mind, causing my teeth to clench tighter. Christine must have understood how I felt, so she tried to calm me.
“No, Erik, don’t be angry with him; he was only trying to help us. He said some wonderful things about you, and, in the long run, it helped me to have a better understanding of you and your strange moods.
“He told me it wasn’t safe in the cellars, and that I shouldn’t be down there alone. I questioned his concerns, and he told me you were a complicated man and there were times when it may not be prudent to be alone in your company. I tried to reassure him that you were always a perfect gentleman and would never hurt me, and he said he knew you wouldn’t, at least not intentionally.
“He asked if I’d seen your need for the mask, and I told him yes and that it didn’t matter. That comment made his eyes smile. Then he went on to explain about your tortured life, starting with the way your mother treated you and some of the other cruelties; such as the time you spent in a cage. He had a mixture of pride and concern in his voice when he said it wasn’t only by your genius mind but also by your violent temper that you managed to escape.
“He felt if I knew the details about some of the tortures you’d endured that it would be easy for me to understand how you could be emotionally unbalanced, as he put it. After he finished telling me that, it made me want to go to you even more, and I told him so. His green eyes were nearly piercing through mine when he continued to tell me that I had to recognize how much of a genius you were. I told him I knew you were brilliant, and he asked if you’d shown me your unbridled temper. When I didn’t answer, he knew I’d witnessed it.
“He next asked if I’d seen your controlled anger. Again, I didn’t answer. I wasn’t sure what he meant, so he explained it further. He said your violent anger was nothing to worry about because no one gets hurt, only things, but that your controlled anger is volatile and can be deadly.
“He explained that during those times you can be charming and witty, but, underneath it all, you’re like a sleeping volcano that could cause destruction without warning. He suggested if I ever suspected you were in such a condition that I should leave as quickly as I could.
“I recognized that you had shown me those angers, and I told him so in your defense, but then he said something that took my breath away. He cocked his head at me and shook it. ‘I doubt he’s shown you the extent of it,’ he said, ‘or you wouldn’t be standing here and neither would this building. So be careful. Don’t hurt him or it could be the end of us all.’”
“And he’s right,” I offered, with my face down in shame. “I’m sorry for using that dreadful quality on you. I’m truly sorry. But you have to realize that I’m the same person. I would like to think, with everything that’s happened, I’ve changed and would never do anything like that again, but I don’t trust myself. You should take his advice and leave. As much as I want you here with me, I fear myself and my inability to control my actions. You really should leave.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen, so let me finish,” she added promptly. “He proceeded to tell me that it had been his privilege and misfortune to see both your genius and your temper at work in cooperation with each other, and that it was definitely a frightening thing to witness. He believes that because of your genius, temper, and torturous life that you really don’t know how to deal with the inferior brains and emotions of those around you; such as him and me.
“I thanked him for trying to help me understand, but that it didn’t change the way I felt about you or my wanting to spend time with you. He was quiet and almost turned and left me, but then he stopped and told me there was something else I should know. He told me about the time he spent with you in Persia, and, that while you used your ingenious mind and physical skills to protect and save many lives, unfortunately, some events took place there that he felt left your shrewd mind severely damaged.
“When I asked him what kind of things, he said he couldn’t speak of it, but that you did things there that he couldn’t believe any human was capable of doing. He believed you would never heal completely from those actions. He said that if he described them to me, I would have nightmares for the rest of my life. By then, he felt I should understand how you’ve been affected by having to live with that knowledge continually in your head.
“He was making me feel extremely uncomfortable, and I think that’s exactly how he wanted me to feel. However, he did tell me that he admired your magnificent love and compassion, and that there was a time in your relationship when he’d trusted you with his most valuable possessions. But, after watching you since then, he’d have to think seriously about trusting you at this time. That was why he was warning me.”
While staring at my clenched hands between my knees, my stomach turned when I heard the truth about his feelings for me. But, grinding my teeth, I remained quiet and let her continue.
“I told him I didn’t want to hear any more, but he insisted that I listen to him. He told me he believes what happened in Persia was too horrible for your heart to accept; therefore, your mind forbids you to remember them. He said you carry daily some of those memories, and, on occasion, they explode uncontrollably. Since he saw the results of your anger, he can easily understand why.
“One of his biggest fears is that someday you might remember everything at once, and, if you do, then there’s no telling what new horrors you might unleash. He added that he prayed for you to be alone if that day ever comes. I was becoming quite frightened, but his next words are the ones that had the most impact on me.
“He began to explain about a power he never quiet understood. It was a power you had over women, as well as men and even beasts, and he feared that power was at work in me right then. I again told him I didn’t believe him and that he was making it up. He begged me to believe him for my own sake, not his and not yours.
“In a kind voice, he then tried to tell me that, if I still wanted to go to you, I needed to make certain it was what I really wanted and not something you put in my head. He told me he’d seen you manipulate powerful men and nations with your cunning words and thoughts. He tried to explain that your words, along with your hypnotic voice, could be very persuasive. So he felt I needed to be certain about what I wanted.
“He suspected I was under your spell, but, if I truly cared for you, he wouldn’t hinder me from seeing you. With kindness in his eyes, he expressed how much he’d like to see you happy and in love with someone who loved you in return. But when that kindness turned serious, he warned me strongly. ‘If you’re toying with his affections, or merely curious about him and have no intentions of being his friend, I’ll have to insist you stop what you’re doing while you still can.’ Then his eyes narrowed and his voice deepened, terrifying me, especially when he finished his thought. ‘If you’re only playing with his affections, it will probably be the last flirtatious game you’ll play.’ At that time, I didn’t know if he was warning me about you or about him.
“His voice turned kind again when he explained how he loved you like a brother, but, conversely, he wouldn’t wish your anger on his worst enemy. Emphatically, he told me that he’d seen firsthand how far you’d go to help a friend, but he’d also seen how far you’d go when your heart was broken. He again warned me to stay clear of you and not to trifle with your heart, unless I was certain about wanting to continue in your company—perhaps even forever.
“I told him I had no intention of hurting you because I also cared deeply for you. Then he reiterated strongly that I make certain my feelings were true and not just influenced by your powers.
“From what he told me, he believes he knows you better than anyone else on this earth, and that sometimes he feels he understands you even better than you do. I told him I’d spent a lot of time with you and also knew you well. He felt I was too young to make that statement, and that I could easily be captivated by your charisma.
“He explained how he’d seen you at your best and your worst. I told him I’d also seen you at your best and your worst, which I honestly believed I had. But then he looked at me again in that strange way and replied, ‘I doubt that.’ I was about to ask why when he said something that frightened me terribly. ‘When I think about all the things he’s done, both good and bad, I find myself trying to understand just what he is.’
“When he used the term what instead of who, I lashed out and accused him of making it all up. After all, if that’s how he really felt about you then why did he still consider you his friend?
“He was silent again for a moment or two, and then, as he looked into the darkness by the well, he said softly that the two of you had an unspoken agreement. If he didn’t push you too hard then you would let him live. In addition, he added with a tilt of his head, ‘I know how to protect myself from his anger.’ Again, I argued with him, telling him that that may explain how he stayed your friend, but not why. He said he couldn’t answer that question, and that perhaps he’d also been under your power all these years.
“I continued to tell him that I didn’t believe him, and that he was talking in riddles about power and terrible things. Then he started asking me questions, and it was my answers to those questions, whether they were silent or spoken, that put me back in that place of uncertainty. He asked if I could be certain that what I was feeling was true and not just one of your mind games. He asked if I ever looked at you or listened to your voice and then felt compelled to do something I normally wouldn’t have done.
“I instantly thought of several such occasions, the most recent one being how I felt about you behind me at my dressing table. Then he explained how you could control people’s minds with just a look or the sound of your voice. I again thought about how you had some unnamed power over my voice as you taught me, along with how I, at times, felt you around me before I saw you, and it made me shiver.
“Then he started to remind me about the things that happened here at the opera house. He questioned me about my near impossible rise to fame so quickly and the convenient demise of Carlotta’s career. I automatically placed my fingers around my throat, and then he smiled and told me he could tell I had felt your power and so had Carlotta. I was beginning to reel from what he was saying, but then he made it worse. He asked me what I thought about Joseph’s death and the chandelier’s fall.”
I turned toward her quickly, with an angered tone and shook my head. “Those were accidents, Christine, just accidents. Oded is always interfering in my life. He was speaking of things he doesn’t understand.”
With the thought of his continual interference in my life, and then in Christine’s life, I had to fight with all I had to control my growing frustration with him. I sat forward and focused on my hands and fingers, which were in pain by then from my twisting them. Christine must have known what was happening to me, so, once more, she reached over and ran her hand up and down my arm.
“Hear me out, Erik, please.”
I closed my eyes and nodded, and she went on. “With all the questions about controlling minds and death, I remembered Raoul’s story about the cemetery and how you tried to kill him.”
“That insolent boy,” I growled and turned to face her again with a glare. “Christine, don’t forget, if I was trying to kill him he wouldn’t have been able to tell that tale.” I was feeling truly sick and tried to stop her. “Enough, Christine!” I got to my feet and moved away. “Enough! I need no one to remind me further about my ghastly deeds.”
“I’m sorry, Erik, that’s not my intent. I just need you to know why I’ve been confused. That’s the only way you can understand how I came to what I’m feeling right now. I want no more confusion and secrets or unspoken words or feelings. Can you try to understand and let me finish?”
I shook my head. “Perhaps Oded was right. Perhaps you need to leave and run from here as fast and as far as you can and never look back.”
“No, Erik! That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’m not going to run anymore. Please, sit back down.”
I didn’t want to hear any more. I felt terribly ill—emotionally ill. All my horrible acts came in on me in rapid succession. I looked at the wall separating us from the nightmare of my mirror chamber and saw all that had happened in it that night, causing actual throbbing in my gut. I had to get out of what was at one time my shrouded castle—my sanctuary. I considered running out of my home and leaving her there alone. I looked at the door and my way out.—I needed to run.
I was angry with Oded, Raoul, and right then Christine, but mostly at myself for bringing us to that point. I felt hopeless, useless, and stupid for even considering that anything of real importance could happen between the woman I loved and me. I was too much of a monster, and, after hearing her words, in addition to Oded’s, I knew I always was and I always would be. I stood with my back to her, while feeling the muscles in my jaw, chest, and shoulders again tighten to the point of pain.
“Please, Erik. Please, let me finish,” she begged.
We couldn’t afford a repeat of the scene across the lake only minutes earlier. So, after I asked her to leave me alone one more time, and she refused one more time, I sat back down, only that time I couldn’t look at her again. I once more placed my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands.
Softly, I asked, “After what just happened across the lake, are you sure you want to pursue this subject further?”
“I don’t believe you’ll hurt me, Erik, and what I’m feeling right now has to be said. It’s too important not to be said. May I continue?”
I only nodded my head, which was still in my hands, and listened to her compassionate voice.
“He told me there was only one more thing he wanted to share with me in hopes it would help me understand you better. He said you were an eccentric and an extremist, and that you didn’t know how to do anything like a normal man. He said you had a heart as big as the universe, but, unfortunately, so was your temper.
“He said if you saw a homeless person and it touched your heart, you wouldn’t simply give him a few francs for a warm meal or piece of clothing. Instead, you would build him a home and do something to secure his future welfare. While, on the other end of the spectrum, if someone angered you, you wouldn’t simply double up your fist and send it to his jaw, but you’d put a strangle hold on his neck and threaten his life.
“He said you were an extremist to the nth degree, and if it was only a matter of your large heartedness there’d be no problem with it. But it wasn’t only your large heart, it was also your large temper, and it was something to be cautious around.
“I realized he really knew what he was talking about when he asked me to be honest with myself and think if I hadn’t seen that characteristic in you. He felt certain the first time I met you that you didn't simply approach me and ask me out to dinner like a normal man, but that you made yourself known to me in a grandiose way. Naturally, I thought about you taking me through the mirror and the ride on César down to your home, which was far from normal.
“And then he said he would be willing to bet that my music lessons weren’t started by you first offering your services and then teaching me in a studio with a piano at hand. He said he could see you going to great lengths to make it something that only you could conjure up. Again, naturally, I had to think about you playing the part of my Angel of Music and teaching me from behind the mirror.
“Also, he described the kind of gifts you’d give me, saying he was sure you’d given me plenty of them. He said he knew any gift you’d given me wouldn’t be a simple bouquet of flowers or a box of lace handkerchiefs. He felt certain they’d be something special, and that I’d never forget them because of their uniqueness. He was sure you’d place a special significance to each one of them.
“At that time, I thought about the two red roses you gave me every day and their meaning, and how your entire home was overflowing with flowers the first time I saw it. And I never could forget all the gifts, whether they were jewels or clothing.
“Then he reminded me of where you lived. He said anyone else who might enjoy music would simply go to a music hall for an evening of entertainment, but not you. You would build yourself a home surrounded by music, and, although he’d never been to your home, he said he was certain it had at least two instruments in it and probably more. And, more than likely, you’d built one of them yourself. Again, I recognized how accurate he was in his descriptions when I pictured the organ you’d built that takes up an entire wall of your music room, not to mention your piano.
“Then he asked me a strange question, ‘Mam’selle Daaé, when you hear a piece of music in your head and you start humming it, is it one you’ve heard before?’ I think I nodded. And then he went on. ‘Not Erik. When he starts humming a piece of music and starts taping his fingers on something, it’s music that only he hears, and that’s all he hears until he’s finished another masterpiece. Am I not right?’ I think I nodded again, remembering you staying up all night when you composed One Beat.
“He again gazed into the darkness by the well and said that one day he hoped to see your home because he knew it would be wonderful and contain not only modern conveniences but, more than likely, new inventions that no one had ever seen or thought of before. Instantly, I thought about your luscious marble bath with its gas jets, cool pantry, sculptures and paintings, and all the electrical lighting and stove. He was absolutely right about you, and I believe by then he knew he was convincing me and winning his argument.
“Then he went on to explain that the reason he was telling me what he had was so I’d realize how well he knew you. And, if he was right about everything he’d said so far, which he could tell by my expression that he was, then I had to realize he was also right about everything else. Namely, he expressed with emphatic gestures, your dangerous temper.
“Right before he left me, he said your extremist way of life was commendable and had been a joy for him to be a part of, but, unfortunately, it was darkened by your periods of depression and anger. He asked me to think carefully about what he’d just told me and wished me the best.
“Then he asked me for one last request. He wanted me to use whatever influence I had over you to get you to leave the cellars of the opera house and do something constructive with your life. He said you were capable of great accomplishments, and that your brilliance was being squandered down in the darkness. Finally, he told me good day and left me alone on the stairs to ponder his words.
“I wanted to run to you, and I almost did, but his words made me question if what I was feeling was real, especially considering I’d never felt that way about anyone else in my life. I tried to erase all the things he said from my mind, but his arguments were extremely convincing.
“I stood at my mirror with my stool in hand, and I wanted to go to you—I needed you. But I was right back where I was in the beginning of our relationship—very confused. I felt so strongly for you, but then, with everything he’d just told me, there was a doubt in my mind. Had you manipulated my thoughts? Did I really love you? After all, if you could control the actions of military men and leaders, how could I possibly think you couldn’t do the same thing to me?
“I sat in my chair, and I cried and cried for a very long time. I wanted what I was feeling for you to continue, but Oded’s words and the way he looked at me frightened me terribly. My mind told me to listen to him, but my heart was telling me that I loved you and that was all that mattered.”
Those last words of hers warmed my heart and cooled my anger. To hear her say she loved me was like a soothing compress for my painful soul. She said it with her own lips, and it was almost too good to be true every time she did. I looked in her exquisite eyes and watched as they filled with tears, causing me to take her hands.
“No more, Christine,” I encouraged softly. “It no longer matters. I understand.”
She took a few deep breaths and struggled to keep her composure before she spoke again. “I really need to explain everything to you, Erik. After all, part of what’s happened here is my fault, or at least the fault of my wavering emotions. I really need to get all of this off my chest. Please, let me finish.”
We were in a safe place right then, so fear filled me with the thought of what the remainder of her story might contain. Do I listen to it or do I run away?