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The Moments of Truth

The Moments of Truth

Background
Erik and Christine have shared their memories and feelings of the last months when she was in his underground home. Christine has agreed to leave Paris and Raoul with Erik and start a new life together.
Chapter Six
The Moments of Truth
____________________
 
I kissed her neck, then her cheek, and then her forehead where my lips remained. I was savoring every second I held her in my arms, but I knew we had to make some quick decisions before Raoul came looking for her. My boat was on our side of the lake, so he couldn’t use it; however, there was one trap door that was working. I put myself in his place; I knew I’d stop at nothing to get to her, and I feared he would do the same.
   I wished I had a window to look out of. That was a habit I’d found hard to break. Staring into the distance, over trees or water, was something that helped me to think straight, and right then I needed to think clearly. In addition, I had to help Christine do the same, so I questioned her firmly and yet calmly.
   “We’re probably safe as long as we’re in here, at least for a short while, but we can’t stay here for much longer. What do you want to do? What do you want me to do?”
   With a deep sigh, that told me how tired she was, she answered, “I want you to hear me out.”
   “What! You mean there’s more?” I asked in confusion.
   “Yes, much more. You need to know why I insisted on coming to your home.”
   With anxiety mounting, I glanced at the door, gave her a squeeze, and told her to continue.
   “I know now that I have to be with you, Erik. You’re the only one who can make me feel this way. I’ve never been as terrified of anyone as I have been of you, but, then, I’ve never felt safer. I’ve never felt as much anger for anyone as I have you, but, then, I’ve never felt happier. You’ve been driving me crazy—especially now after what happened by the lake.”
   “Christine, I’m very sorry. You have no idea just how much.”
   I felt so much shame, but she snuggled her head against my shoulder and placed her hand on top of mine as encouragement before she continued her explanation.
   “I’m not talking about your hands around my throat and your scolding words, I’m talking about your kiss. I’ve been kissed by Raoul on many occasions and enjoyed each and every one.”
   Again, with my eyes closed, I interrupted her. “Is this necessary?”
   “Please, Erik, listed to me. When you kissed me, something I never knew existed happened to me. I no longer had control over my actions. I just wanted you, all of you. I didn’t come here tonight with any thought of what happened out there. I just wanted to talk to you, be with you, and help you in your last hours. What happened by the lake was out of my control. I wanted to be yours, completely yours. I can no longer deny what I feel for you. This night has changed my life, and I can never go back to the way it was.”
   “Christine,” I whispered. “I don’t know what to say. I’ve waited all these months to hear you say those words, and…I don’t know what to say in response.”
   She pulled her head back and smiled at me. “Now would be a good time to tell me how much you love me.”
   I sighed and kissed her tenderly before giving her a verbal response. “I do love you, Christine. I’ve never made that a secret, but I have to be sure—you have to be sure—where do you see us going from here? I don’t think it’s wise for the three of us to stay in the same city for too long, but I understand this is your home, and you may not want to leave it. You may not want to leave the stage, although there are many stages in the world, and I know you would astound any audience. Where do you want to go from here?”
   “Wherever you go is where I want to go, Erik. I don’t care where it is. I just want to be by your side. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
   “That warms my heart, and a week ago I would have jumped at the chance to take you away, but after what happened out there and what you just shared with me, I’m not so certain. I’m not sure of myself any longer. This information also frightens me. I don’t know what new disaster might befall us, and, worse than that, I don’t know how I’ll respond to it. It frightens me terribly. It truly terrifies me. Aren’t you also frightened after my third attempt on your life?”
   She shook her head. “No. Apprehensive, perhaps, but not frightened; not anymore. I want to help you through whatever it is that terrifies you. Will you let me?”
   “Oh, Christine, I want you by my side so much, but I’m not sure I know myself well enough to be trusted with your life. Can you be certain you know me well enough to make such a statement; especially after what Oded told you and what I just did to you?”
   “Erik,” she sighed as she raised her hand and stroked my cheek. “I know I love you, and I know you love me. Besides, I believe I know more about you than you may think. I know all the really important things; your genius mind, your generous heart, your compassion, and your music. In addition, I want to learn more.
   “I also know so many little things that fascinate me. I know that when you’re deep in thought your left eye closes more than your right. I know when you’re thinking about something sweet to say to me that the left side of your lips smile first before you express your thoughts. I know the degree of anger you’re holding back by the amount of bottom teeth you show when you speak.
   “And then there’s the way your eyes close and that lone wrinkle appears between your eyebrows when you play music that moves you. I know the way you take a breath, look away, and swallow when you’re trying not to show emotion. Then there’s the way you get a dreamy expression in your eyes and begin tapping your fingers on your knee or leg or anything else that might be around, and I know I won’t be able to count to ten before you’re up and headed for your piano.
   “I’ve seen the way you get a certain faraway look in your eyes and then within a few moments you’ll reach for that gold band on your finger and twist it, even when it isn’t there. Then there are the times when you focus on your watch and run your finger over the horse heads. I know during those times you’re reliving special memories, and I want you to share them with me.
   “Often, I see in your eyes many words that your heart wants to speak to me, but you won’t let it. I want you to be comfortable enough with me to share your innermost thoughts. I want to learn all there is to know about you without the interference of this place. I want to go where you want me to go. I may not know everything there is to know about you, but the things I do know I feel are very intimate expressions of yours. And, most of all, I know we love each other.”
   I studied her eyes, and I felt I had to be dreaming. What she was saying couldn’t be real. In my head, I’d listened to her saying things I wanted to hear, but what she’d just expressed was so much more eloquent and heartfelt. I thought for sure my heart was going to explode with love for her.
   I kissed her again, and then raised her hand and kissed her finger and my ring. I believe I was smiling broadly as I slid off the divan and knelt before her. Then I kissed her hand again and looked into her questioning eyes.
   “Christine Daaé, will you grant me the greatest honor I could ever receive and be my wife?”
   She swung her arms around my neck, kissed me, and said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes! A thousand times over again, yes! I thought you’d never ask.”
   I was still smiling broadly as I kissed her fingers again. “In that case, I have to take my ring back,” I said as I slid it off her finger and put it on mine. “This pretend role you’ve been playing and this story we’ve been a part of has finally ended. A new score and a new story is in the making. In it, your role will be a real one—an everlasting one as my real wife.”
   I looked at the band on my finger and then back at her before I finished my thought. “I know my simple gold band isn’t worth nearly as much as the one Raoul gave you, but it carries my heart. It won’t be long and I’ll return this ring, and, soon, I’ll give you the ring you rightly deserve—one with many large stones.”
   For a moment our roles reversed, and she took my hand, kissed my band of gold, and looked in my eyes. “You’ve given me many gems over the months, and I can see you giving me many more, but there’ll never be any that will reach the value of this band.” She ran her finger and eyes over it, looked back at me, smiled, and continued. “This band has a history, and I don’t mean just our history. I can tell when you look at it that it has a long history, and someday I hope you’ll let me in enough to tell me about it.”
   Before I could respond, she gave me a tender kiss, shook her head, and chuckled. “Oded was so right.”
   “Oded?” I questioned with a frown. “How did he get involved in this intimate occasion?”
   “Remember? He said you never do anything like a normal man. Instead of giving me a ring with your proposal, you took it away.”
   I shrugged my shoulders. “What can I say?”
   “It’s perfectly all right. You need say nothing in your defense. Your peculiar quirks are some of the reasons why I love you. I can see my life isn’t going to be a normal one, and I can’t wait to start it.”
   “Speaking of starting it, if it’s agreeable with you, I’d like to start it tonight. I know where we can get married—discretely. I think it’s wise if we don’t leave Paris without being married first. It will be many days before we reach another suitable place, and I don’t trust myself to keep my hands off of you that long.
   “I was once told that it takes an exceptional man to resist the beautiful woman he loves while in the moonlight, and I’m not that exceptional. If something were to happen before we wed, I fear you would regret our union, instead of remembering it fondly. So, what do you say?” I asked with a broad smile. “Can we make this the shortest engagement on record?”
   She held my face in her palms and smiled just as broadly. “As far as I’m concerned, the shorter the better.”
   “Good. So tell me, what do you need to do before we leave Paris?”
   I returned to my place beside her and wrapped my arms around her with a happy heart, but then her response made a piece of it sicken.
   “I need to find Raoul and explain to him what I’m doing and why.”
   Fortunately, with her in my arms and her head again on my shoulder, she couldn’t see my expression when hearing those words. I was going to question her about the safety of such a decision, but when I thought about what she’d just gone through with me, along with knowing her reasoning, I couldn’t do anything but support her in her decision. What she wanted to do was who she was—my thoughtful and loving Christine.
   Even though I feared another confrontation with Raoul, I responded softly, “I’ll take you there.”
   “No!” she came back quickly. “I can’t take being a referee between you two tonight. I just don’t have the strength. I need to go alone.”
   “I can’t let you go alone, Christine. I won’t let him see me, but I have to be there—just in case.”
   “Well, that might protect you from Raoul, but who’s going to protect Raoul from you? No! I must go alone.”
   “My dear, if you know nothing by now, you should know if I wanted Raoul dead or even hurt we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But, if it will make you feel better, I’ll stay in the brougham, I promise. I won’t listen to your conversation or watch. I’ll stay in the coach. I won’t leave it unless you call for me. I promise. You might as well agree to this, because I’ll be there one way or another. Either in your coach or in my own, but I’ll be there. You can’t stop me, so you might just as well agree to my wishes.”
   “But I don’t need protection from Raoul, Erik. He would never hurt me.”
   I pulled her head away from my shoulder and gazed into her innocent eyes. I lowered my eyes, sighed, and then looked back at her. While running the back of my fingers across her cheek, I warned her, as well as reminded her.
   “A man desperate with love can do things he’d normally not consider possible. I need to go with you. I’ve just found you, and I can’t lose you.”
   She closed her eyes and nodded, understanding my meaning. She then left for her bath to freshen up, and I headed for the kitchen to do the same. I threw cold water on my face, which felt very good. Those last few hours since I’d woken had been difficult, so I stood there for a few minutes, enjoying the cool water and my new hope for a bright future.
   I was drying my face when I heard Christine shriek my name. I dropped the towel, automatically replaced my mask, grabbed a lasso from my pocket, and stormed through the door, anticipating finding Christine struggling with Raoul. After two long strides into the dining room, and with a lasso at the ready, I came to an abrupt halt. Christine was standing in the doorway to her room with her hands spread open in front of her.
   “What is this, Erik?”
   Before she had her words out, the expression on her face told me what she was thinking. Her hands were holding the syringe and bottle of morphine I’d neglected to pick up and put away. I believe my mouth might have dropped open, as my mind searched for the perfect explanation without telling her that I was stupid enough to try to take my own life.
   “That’s my lung medicine,” I replied, as I walked toward her with my hand out and ready to take the dreadful evidence away from her.
   “Since when is morphine used as medicine for the lungs?”
   Again my mind searched for another lie to cover that one, but I fear the hesitation told her the truth that my lips were fearful of expressing.
   “Sometimes,” I tried again, “because of another’s over-zealous attempts to put me out of existence, it’s necessary for me to use it while I try to put back together what they’ve torn apart.”
   That was the truth, just not completely.
   “You’re telling me that you’re seriously injured right now? Who tried to hurt you this time?
   Again, my hesitation to find another lie signaled her that my words were not completely forthcoming.
   “Don’t lie to me, Erik. I’m giving my life to you forever, and our life together can’t start with a lie. Please, don’t lie to me. Am I about to marry a man addicted to opium?”
   “No! Certainly not, Christine.” That time my answer was quick and precise. “No, I’d never do that to myself. I could never give my will over to something as meaningless as a drug. On a few occasions, I’ll admit, perhaps to the bottle, but never a drug.”
   “Then what’s it for, Erik?”
   A lie. A good and logical lie is all I needed right then. But before I could find one, she took a few steps toward me and squinted as she looked intently into my eyes.
   “Don’t lie to me, Erik, please. We can’t start our journey together based on a lie.”
   I opened my mouth to say something, although I hadn’t the faintest notion what. “Christine, I…”
   “Yes, Erik. The truth, please.”
   “I…”
   I looked away from her, with my normally quick mind floundering in a pool of fabrications, searching for the perfect lie.
   “Erik?”
   Her voice brought my gaze back to her flashing eyes, which were stripping me of my ability to speak an untruth to her. I spread my hands from my sides and struggled for a few words of my embarrassing reality.
   “I needed you to be free—really free, Christine.”
   Her squint turned into a serious frown, her brow rose, and her eyes widened when her mind began answering completely the question I was unable to admit to her aloud.
   “No,” she whispered, as she began backing away from me, glaring down at the proof of my stupidity in her hands.
   Her chest rose and fell quickly in rapid succession, and her hands went limp, allowing the remainder of my proposed demise to fall to the Persian rug at her feet. She gasped and stepped back, without removing her sight from what had just turned into a frightening nightmare. With a steady flow of quick breaths, her fingers moved slowly to her lips to embrace her whimper.
   “No.” Then she looked at me. “Your lungs and heart weren’t going to take your life? You were, weren’t you, Erik? You didn’t get better, and the doctor didn’t make a mistake. You were never that sick. You weren’t going to die, were you, Erik. You…you,” she stammered as she moved her sight back to the vial and syringe lying between us. “Why, Erik? Why?”
   My hands were still spread, my mouth was still half opened, and my mind was still half empty and still in a searching mode. What could I say to her?
   “Please, Erik. I need the truth.”
   I shook my head slightly. “Christine, I love you so much. I only wanted you to be at peace and free to live your life with Raoul unhindered—that’s all. I wanted everyone to be safe from the monster that Oded spoke to you about.”
   “Erik! No!”
   She turned her back toward me, lowered her chin to her chest, and shook her head, while I stood there, not knowing what to say or do. I couldn’t dig myself out from under the pain of the truth. I didn’t have one intelligent thought in my mind—my normally quick-witted mind—not one.
   She turned slowly back toward me and locked her moist eyes on mine. Then, almost cautiously, she moved toward me and placed one palm on the center of my chest. I was trying to read her eyes, but I was having a hard time reading my own thoughts right then, so trying to read hers was impossible.
   She slipped her hand away from my chest and replaced it with her cheek, then she moved both of her hands under my coat and around my back. She moved close to my body, and, that time, I melted into hers. I wrapped my arms around her and dropped my face into her soft curls. After closing my eyes, I stood there motionless and silent, but alive in the same room where I’d almost lost my life just a mere few hours earlier.
   Time seemed to stand as still as we were, and that’s the way I wanted it to stay. But I knew we were on borrowed time, and that soon someone or something would spoil our time together if I didn’t take control of our destiny.
   “Christine, we need to go. We only have about six more hours before sunrise, and, if we’re leaving Paris, it’s best if we’re far away from the city before then. Are you all right with this?”
   She nodded, without removing her hands from my back or her cheek from my chest. “Erik,” she said softly. “Please don’t ever stop this heart from beating. If you love me, you’ll always keep it beating for me.”
   “Always, Christine,” I said as I moved my hand to the back of her head and lost my fingers in her hair. “I’ll do anything for you.”
   “I surely know that now,” she responded as she pulled her head away and looked up into my eyes again. “You’ve just proved that to me.”
   She placed a kiss on the ruffles of my shirt and then pressed her cheek again against my chest. “Erik, there’s been many times in the last weeks when you had the opportunity to kiss me. One of those times we were standing right here. There were plenty of times when I was silently asking you to kiss me, and I felt it was what you wanted also. Why didn’t you? Why did you never kiss me?”
   I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, remembering each and every one of the times she was speaking of before I answered, “I was afraid.”
   She quickly pulled her head back and looked up at me. “Afraid? Afraid of what?”
   I halfway smiled at her, knowing there was no way she could understand, but I tried to answer anyway. “I was afraid of your rejection, and, more importantly, I was afraid of my response to your rejection and my accompanying disappointment. I’ve never taken rejection gracefully. After what has happened this evening, I think you should have an inkling of what I mean.” I ran my fingers along her throat. “I wanted to hold you and kiss you often, but it was easier to refuse my wishes than to chance my disappointment.”
   She rose up on her toes, then, while sharing her gaze between my eyes and lips, she whispered, “You’ll never be rejected or disappointed again, Erik. I’ll make certain of that.”
   I smiled softly, joined our lips, and held her close to me, savoring the moment. Our lips parted, and we gazed into each other’s eyes with no spoken words, only the unspoken words shared by two in love; the words that can’t be formed by the tongue of any language—the ones known only by the eyes of hearts in love.
   I looked at her bed, and I knew if I didn’t stop what was starting, we wouldn’t be getting out of there anytime soon, so I forced myself to do something difficult. I swallowed hard and moved her away from me.
   “We must go, Christine.”
   I grabbed her cloak out of her armoire and wrapped it around her shoulders, squeezing them just a bit. She tilted her head and looked back up into my eyes. Then she turned and rose up on her toes again, preparing to kiss me, while I watched her eyes waiting for my next move. I glanced at her bed again, looked back at her, then, with a nod toward the bed, I cautioned her.
   “We really must go now while I still have a measure of self-control left in me.”
   She smiled softly and almost huffed, “You and your self-control.”
   Finally, we left that room that was full of many memories and my means of death behind us.
   There were warm smiles shared between us as we traveled across the lake one more time. We also shared our feelings about being at the point in our relationship that we’d both been working toward.
   At one point in the labyrinth, my thoughts turned to earlier that evening, so I asked her, “Why did Raoul’s butler tell me he was on his honeymoon?”
   She had to think for a moment before her eyes widened with understanding. “So that’s what he meant. While we were on our way to the playhouse, he told me no one would bother us any longer, not even Oded, because no one would interrupt a man on his honeymoon. At that time, I was so numb that I only looked at him without questioning him, especially after I saw the look in his eyes.
   “It was the same look he always got just before we entered an argument over you, and I couldn’t bare that thought. Then he looked out of the window and said to himself, ‘I don’t trust him.’ I thought he was talking about Oded, which didn’t make any sense, because Oded had been very helpful to us, but now I see he was referring to you. It was you he didn’t trust. That must have been why he was talking to Marcel about a honeymoon; so you wouldn’t bother us any longer.”
   I nodded, thinking that made sense and it worked. Then there was silence on the lake with only the sound of the pole and boat moving through the water. Shortly, I had a thought.
   “When you see the young vicomte, be…”
   “You mean, comte? He’s Comte Raoul de Chaney now that Philippe is dead.”
   I stopped pushing on the pole and stared down at her. “That’s right. He is, isn’t he?”
   I began pushing us through the water again, but not with the same happy spirit. Mention of Philippe’s death took me back to that fateful night when I found his scarf in my boat, and my mind swam in the mist with unanswered questions. Then I looked down at Christine, wondering what she was thinking.
   “What’s your opinion, Christine? Why do you think the comte was here that night? What do you think happened to him?”
   Almost reluctantly, she responded, “I think he was looking for Raoul, but as far as what happened to him, I don’t know. R…”
   “Finish your thought, Christine. You don’t need to fear me.”
   “I don’t fear you. I fear hurting your feelings.”
   I shook my head. “Go on.”
   “Raoul believes you killed him.”
   “I figured as much. No, Christine, it wasn’t me.” She didn’t look completely convinced, so I tried again. “It wasn’t me. I had no reason to kill him. I don’t care for aristocrats, but I respected Philippe. He had a good reputation, and he placed his family first in his life, instead of his own selfish desires—like most of the elite. I admired him for that. I saw him often in his box, but I never saw him down here.”
   “You had his scarf,” she added hesitantly.
   “The scarf,” I whispered. My sight darted around the pillars and mist, as my mind tried to put the pieces of that night together. “It wasn’t me, Christine. I found his scarf in my boat, but my boat was empty. I saw no one.” I looked down at her. “You must believe me. I didn’t hurt him. I didn’t even see him.”
   She cocked her head. “I believe you.”
   There was silence again as I continued to push us through the water, but the thoughts in my head were far from silent. I looked around again at the columns that were closing in on me. I couldn’t breathe as I tried to force that night from my mind. I stopped pushing on the pole and slumped to the seat, dropping my face in my hands and trying to think. Did I do it? Was I responsible? I only remembered the scarf in my boat, but then I didn’t remember anything about the campfire in Persia either. Did I kill him?
   “Erik! What’s wrong? Answer me!” she asked while placing her hand on my head.
   While I searched for answers, I was unable to respond, and then I panicked. That was one of the times when I had to run. But I was in a boat surrounded by water, and then there was Christine, so I couldn’t simply dive in and swim away. I began rocking and groaning. It was Christine’s fingers running through my hair and her caring voice that helped me to focus.
   “Erik, what’s wrong?”
   I looked at her and shook my head. “Not now. We have to get out of here.”
   I looked around, and with nervous energy surging through me, I got back to my feet and began pushing the pole quickly through the water, making for a quick trip to the wharf.
   “We have to be quick about getting out of Paris, Christine. The comte’s death is being blamed on me, and they’re sure to be looking for me as we speak.”
   “I don’t think so, Erik. I believe they ruled it an accidental death.”
   I shook my head at her again as my old paranoia forced its way through. “I don’t believe so. They’ll blame me for sure.”
   I took her by the hand and helped her out of my boat, and then I wrapped her in my embrace for one last kiss before we left. But our sweet and peaceful moments were shattered by harsh and demanding words.
   “Take your hands off of her, you disgusting old freak!”