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among the stones

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It started with a violin.

I married Raoul the winter after Don Juan, the events that occurred at the Palais Garnier buried in a haze of memories and grief. During the months following, Raoul was the only thing that lightened my spirits, and the knowledge we’d spent eternity with each other was what gave me life. We moved into a grand house far outside Paris after our marriage, everything in it far grander than anything I’d ever known. The two of us spent every second together, and when we were not at home, we visited the Comte’s own great house.

Philippe was not my favourite member of the family, but I endured his disinterested glances for the sake of my husband’s deep admiration of him. His wife was lovely enough, though she had the same air of class arrogance that many others I had met carried. I was very aware of my place in the world and only my time spent with the Girys or Raoul kept any sadness at the knowledge at bay.

The nightmares of my time at the Garnier carried through the year I spent away from it, but the violent pain they used to bring me had dwindled.

It always began with mirrors, with voices just behind them. I’d often wake up shaking, my own hands around my throat as if to keep my voice inside, so that he could not take it. It was like the mermaid fairytale, that my voice was being taken from me. Raoul pretended to understand how much they scared me, but I knew what little he experienced of the horrors behind my dressing room walls had left his mind long ago.

While it wasn’t as bad now as it had been in the beginning, there were still some nights that left me shaking.

One of those times occurred in early spring, when there was nothing but rain on France for days on end. The heavy presence of water must have caused me to dream of Sweden, of the sea and my father’s violin. His voice had been gone for me for so long that I no longer could hear it in my dreams, but his music was ever present. It dawned on me in that waking moment that my journeys to Perros had come to a halt after my angel tried capturing me once more at my father’s grave.

My gasps came loudly at the realization, waking Raoul.

“My father,” a weak explanation caused him to wrap me in his arms, rocking me until I fell back asleep. The sea came to me once more, but this time a young Raoul triumphantly holding a red scarf was running through the tide.

By morning I knew a journey to the cemetery was in order.

Raoul had the carriage prepared after breakfast, and I dressed in clothes fit for such a task. Matches and a fresh candle tucked into the pockets of my outer dress, I pulled my hood over my head and made my way to the stables.

The ride there caused many thoughts to stir within me, of my angel, ones I had often. I wondered about him almost everyday, if he was still alive. Of course, the gendarmes claimed he was dead, that they had burned his monstrous body, but I knew that the man would never have given himself up so freely. Meg told me of his disappearance when I saw her after Don Juan. In my mind I pictured my angel and my father in the same light, the two of them now bound in my memories as one. I wanted to believe that my father would have forgiven him, as he had given me such wonderful things.

Music, such beautiful music.

I’d forgiven my angel for what had happened, all that occurred within the opera house, but I knew I would never be the same. My music would never be the way it was. I still hummed and sang small tunes around the house, but I would never sing the way I once had, on that grand stage. The ballet rat and prima donna had left me. All I planned to be now was a wife and maybe one day, a mother.

Though my soul had forgiven him, I doubt any of that forgiveness could have prepared me for what I encountered in the weeks to come.

Raoul stayed by the carriage, talking to the driver as I weaved my way through headstones and plantlife. The path to my father was one I had memorized at a young age, and I found his resting place quickly. A dank fog had settled on the cemetery, and when I turned back I could no longer see my husband.

I knelt on the dais of my father’s headstone, pulling the matches and candle from my cloak, placing the candle in the small covering before setting it aflame. It’d been so long since I’d prayed to my father, and I spent several moments in silent reflection, my head bowed and my cold hands clasped together. After finishing my prayers, I began to tell the spirit of my father all about the year I spent away from him.

It was a long tale to retell, and saying it aloud after so long felt foreign. I’d told the police so much after everything that had happened, time and time again, the same story, that I had put it out of my mind once I moved out of Paris. It was quite a story, and while I am sure my father watched it all unfold from heaven. as a girl I enjoyed telling him things more than allowing him to simply observe.

I pressed a hand against the small relief carving that held his likeness, tracing each detail as if I were touching his face. I smiled sadly before standing and brushing any debris from skirts. Pulling my cloak tighter around me, I sighed.

I missed my father, missed his voice and his music. Missed the innocence my young self had known before the identity of my angel had been revealed to me.

As a parting gift to my father’s spirit I began singing a Swedish lullaby he had often played for me as a young girl. Moments after beginning, strands of the tune began to fill the air, floating from the fog. It was such a faint sound that I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, or that the groundskeeper was enacting a cruel joke. I stopped singing at once, and the violin stopped as well. Hearing the clamp of a hand over strings alerted me that there was indeed another among the dead.

My mind raced as I glanced around, searching for the source of the music, silently refusing to believe what I thought deep in my heart. Briefly, a memory flashed before my eyes.

Carlotta singing the aria; the set dropping as Meg’s terrified scream announced the presence of my angel.

I felt as small as I did then, a little ballet rat, and tears welled as a pair of yellow eyes began to appear through the haze. They’re solemn glint was unmistakable, and I held back a sob with my hands, shaking against my mouth. I had no doubt that he would not hurt me, but the intensity of his eyes, and his very presence, startled me.

He was haunting, like this. With no bravado, just a violin clutched against his side, the bow hanging limply in his other hand.

“Christine,” he whispered, my name a plea from his lips.

“Angel?” The sob ripped through me, my hands holding in my gasping breaths. It was overwhelming, what was happening. I never knew the man’s name, and the title I’d given him as a girl felt foreign on my lips. When I first knew him he was Gustave, as I had truly thought him my father, but after an affirmation, he was Angel.

“I’m no such thing, madame.” His voice was rough, sounding unused, with a slight rasp in his tenor timbre.

I took a moment to wipe the tears that had shed, my shaking hands against my cheeks.

“I do not know your name, monsieur,” I told him truthfully, my voice so quiet I wondered if he could even hear me over the patter of the rain. He hesitated slightly before walking a few paces forward. It was a dark morning, but the sheltered candle gave me enough light that I could see the sharp angles of his face.

I could only stare, the man who had inspired my voice and done such terrible things standing in front of me for the first time since the awful events in his home by the lake. His lasso around Raoul’s throat, the black ring on my hand.

“Erik, madame. My name is Erik.” I could hear the apprehension in his voice and despite my terror, I willed myself to smile slightly.

“A very Scandinavian name, monsieur.” It was strange, the formal way in which we addressed each other, but I guess that we were as good as strangers after so much time had passed. I never really knew him, anyway. He was always just a voice.

“You need not address me so politely, Christine. I am not a man, not after all this time.” A hollowness consumed him just then and as I laid eyes upon his face, masked from the world once again, I wished that I could reach out and touch him.

I lowered my hands from my face and gripped my skirts, keeping myself from my urges.

“I had always said that you were nothing but.”

I sobbed my way home in the carriage, a confused Raoul cradling my head on his shoulder, my damp curls sticking to my face as the tears flowed freely. I could not explain it to my husband, could not tell him what had occurred, only because I barely believed it really happened. I could not fathom that my angel, Erik , had been there in front of me.

I stayed away from Perros after that morning, cooped up in my house, wandering around thinking about Erik. The rain continued, and with it brought an illness on both Raoul and I. That day in the cemetery caused us both terrible coughs, a fever overtaking me for many days.

In the haze of delirium, I dreamed of yellow eyes and candlelight, my memories haunting me in unending visions. Raoul sat at the bedside each hour of each day, giving me all that I needed. I dreamed of a little boy by the sea, but this time it was not young Raoul, but a boy with dark curls and pale eyes.

I must have told Raoul of it while out of a dream, as he asked me about it weeks later, who ‘Erik’ was. I told him that I did not know, but that I had dreamed of someone I did not know. He took that as a satisfactory answer, that I made someone up in my head.

He had embarrassedly asked me if I was with child, if the boy in my dreams was our child. I didn’t know the answer, but after a visit with a physician, and the appearance of my monthly blood, it was certain that I wasn't pregnant. It was disheartening to know that after being married for so many months that God had not blessed us with a child, but perhaps it was for the best.

I told him that if there was a child, it most likely would have died during the fever, and as I experienced no bleeding during that time, there was no babe.

It was two months later before I could work up the courage to go to Perros again, spring transitioning into summer, the rain gone, replaced by many growing things and the bright sun. Raoul allowed me to go by myself now that the weather was sure not to cause me any more sickness, and I journeyed there on a Sunday after church.

An overcast day, the damp earth melded to my shoes as I walked through the headstones. Had it been the cold rain, I would have pulled my cloak against me, but only a light breeze swept it behind me. When I began returning to my father, Raoul would give me his heaviest cloak for extra warmth, and I was glad for his care.

Reaching my father, I noted that the candle was almost done burning and reminded myself to bring a new one next time. In my days at the opera, with little money to travel to Perros often, I kept a small photo of him that had been taken once. It was my only picture of him, and he’d never had his likeness taken by an artist.
I said my usual prayers and recounted my days. I talked about the hope Raoul and I held for children. I sensed that my husband longed for a song or daughter more so than I, but his sweetness and love for his family guided my heart more in the same direction.

I knew before any sound was made that there was someone with me, and I turned my head to the side to find Erik standing between a row of hedges. I stood and arranged my skirts, brushing back unruly curls. I gave him a smile and he nodded his head.

“I see there is no violin today, monsieur.” His hands, shroud in tight leather, flexed slightly. “I believed you’d left me for good.”

“There have been matters to attend to, Vicomtesse,” he replied quickly. “While living with the Girys has been most convenient since my departure from the Garnier, in that space I cannot create.”

“I had wondered where you’d been all this time, Erik.” While it did not surprise me that Madame and Meg took him in, it stung slightly that Meg could not trust me enough to let me know. I rarely spoke in person to my foster family, but we sent letters often enough. “And do you find that in this place you can create?”

“You of all people should know how I feel about the dead, madame. It was only convenient that the groundskeeper passed away from sudden heart attack.” He paused for a moment, hands clasped behind his back. “Only those that look like the dead can take care of them, my employers have told me.”

“Oh, Erik,” I sighed.

“I do not ask for your pity, Christine.”

“And I do not ask for your govern over my feelings any longer, Erik.” The retort was quite harsh but I learned that I could no longer be anything but frank with Erik. I looked into his yellow eyes, shadowed by the mask that covered his face. “I only ask for your friendship.”

He was silent for moments afterward. I feared I had insulted him, but there was no anger in his eyes. For a small moment they were filled with only guilt and anguish. It was a look I knew, from those moments down in the bowels of the opera, my discarded veil in his shaking hands.

I reached out my hand toward him and his posture stiffed.

Erik let out a harsh rejection, one of his gloved hands coming up to stop me.

“I don’t wish to be touched, Madame.” My hands froze in mid air as I stared at him. His outstretched hand seemed to tremble and I regretted my actions. “I could not bare it.”

“I, of all people, should know that, I apologize.” Giving him a small smile, I brought my hands to my sides. “If forgiveness is not in my future, Erik, then I will leave you.” He softened then, relaxing slightly. Taking tentative steps toward him, I brought my hands up again, reaching out for his face. My palms could only feel his mask, but the trembling beneath it was clear. I was much shorter than my old instructor, and I stretched onto my toes to give his chin (the only bit of skin on his face besides his mouth) a small kiss.

His head bent forward, he refused me eye contact as I cupped the sharp features of his mask.

The smell of his papery skin brought a memory of the great opera’s halls, littered with sconces and gold statues. My moment of nostalgia caused my eyes to close, and I didn’t notice Erik pulling his head up to study my face. I must have looked as if I was in prayer. My thumbs, resting next to his lips, felt a twitch, and I believed it was a smile.

As my eyes opened, they saw the wetness in his, pooling under his mask.

It was a memory that caused my heart to swell, if only for a fleeting moment.

The sun had been gone under the clouds for too long, and I conceded that it was a sign I should return home. Smoothing back a lock of his black hair, I told Erik farewell. There was a strange feeling in my chest as I rode back home, leaving the cemetery as Erik’s friend, not his object.

When I relive the memories, events tend to muddle in my mind if I think too long on it. As the summer months came I found myself at Perros often, if not to retell my life to my father, but to converse with my ever mysterious friend. He was no longer the Phantom in my dreams, he was simply Erik now; the man who would never smile with his lips, but with the peculiar twinkle in his yellow eyes.

Though Erik is gone, I keep his face in my memory, unmasked and unafraid those few times he allowed it.

One summer morning I found him fiddling on the dais of my father’s headstone, eyes closed as Swedish folk tunes flew from his hands. I could only stand and listen, always perplexed by Erik’s fascination with my father. It shone through the way he played sometimes, that he was playing for Gustave, and not for me. There was never any doubt that he must have seen my father before, him and I visiting the Garnier many times before his death. Erik could not have known my voice if it weren’t for my father, the two of us making music in the opera’s halls.

I was caught up in another moment of reflection (I’ve realized I have a fondness for them) when the summer wind whooshed past me in a dance. The notes had stopped and Erik sat on the stone, staring at me with an amused expression on his face. He’d grown more familiar and what I could only perceive as friendly with me as our time together continued. It warmed me to know that he seemed genuinely happy the times that he saw me.

“Good afternoon, Erik,” I said, somewhat embarrassed that he’d been staring. He inclined his head toward me, an acknowledgement. “Lovely playing, monsieur. I’m sure my father appreciates music instead of the silence he’s had all this time.” I smiled, coming to sit as his side. “There are days when I miss making music with him. Besides the classical things we’d perform for money, he created a love for folk music inside me. When I knew Raoul as a girl, my father would play as Raoul told dark legends as if to frighten me.” I smiled again at the memory.

The mention of my husband caused some discomfort in my friend, Erik tucking his violin away and falling into a tense upright position. He looked down at his ungloved hands, knitting his thin fingers together. I noticed he had shed his coat, left in a waistcoat and a white shirt with the topmost buttons undone. It revealed his too pale collarbones, and I could see the beginning of a scar on one side. I’d never seen him so relaxed with his appearance, and conceded that he was definitely a changed man.

“How long have you been here, Erik?”

“I can’t remember. I always come here after my morning rounds to play or to think,” the answer was quite truthful and it warmed something inside me. “The Girys lack a proper piano or organ and it has frustrated me greatly. Madame Giry doesn’t like me to be cooped up in the spare bedroom playing my violin all evening, so I bring my music here during the day.”

He paused for a time, fiddling with his shirt cuffs.

“Your father provides no interruptions, in any case, and mourners often think I’m a ghost, so they don’t bother me. It is far enough from Paris that no one recognizes me. It is quite peaceful.” The comment caused me to smile, and he looked up at me then. His usually harsh yellow eyes softened.

“I’m glad for you, Erik.” He nodded slightly as thanks. “We have a piano, as expected, but it is not the same these days,” without you, I did not say. “I am sure that when I am blessed with a child that he will learn, for me if not for themselves.” Again, Erik stiffened, looking away to stare at something ahead of him.

It seemed. though he had deeply changed, Erik was still a bitter man and mention of Raoul was none too welcome.

“Erik, I do not wish to be insensitive.”

“I cannot deny you your personal life, Madame,” he replied. I looked at him closely just then, seeing the tiredness in his unhidden features, the afternoon sun beating down on them.

“Yes, while that is true, I don’t want to cause you pain. If you have not forgiven me for all that has been said and done, I understand.” I have never felt any regret for what happened in Erik’s home after Don Juan, I loved Raoul and even through my delirium that night, it was a decision that never wavered. “I have forgiven you for what you have done to me, to my family; I know you are not a monster.” He inhaled sharply. “You have done some terrible things, Erik, but I forgave you a long time ago. I only hope that you will come to the same conclusions.” I moved closer to where he sat, our arms flush against one another.

He looked at me with a perplexed stare and nodded slightly. I offered him a small smile before we fell into a comfortable silence.

That summer our meetings became more frequent. I came to Perros every week, sometimes twice, rising early for the five hour carriage ride and coming home late in the evening. Raoul was confused as to why I had to go so often, and sometimes I felt guilty that I had to lie to him about Erik. I knew he wouldn’t understand the friendship. I told him that I was making up for lost time, and that I had so much to tell my father.

I did not go the week that Philippe and his wife came to visit, which was disheartening, but Erik held no grudges against me for such matters. I was so relieved to be rid of my brother in law by the end that I cared little if I hadn’t seen Erik that week. It had been full of tense conversations and brief looks. His wife and I spent time away from the men, having tea in the garden or doing embroidery together, but she wasn’t the most exciting woman, and the week left me wanting for better company.

The more time I spent with Erik, the more I wanted to get close to him, to break through (quite literally) his mask as I had done in small moments a year earlier. I did not want it to be violent this time, and so I forced myself to be patient. It started with soft touches and warm words, as I wanted him to understand that I was so deeply fond of him, that our time had caused my love for him to grow.

My capacity to love had not stopped with my husband, as Raoul held a permanent position in my heart, but I extended the same kind of love to Erik.

Years have gone by without seeing his face, and I still love him tenderly.

Each meeting welcomed more touches: a hand on his arm, or his hands in mine as I spoke to him, soft caresses against his neck or mask. He flinched less and less as my contact became frequent, and that alone caused warmth in my heart. I smiled each time his hands squeezed back or his arm was offered out to me. One time I had taken a horse out on my own (despite Raoul’s fears) and Erik and I spent the day facing each other, hands intertwined. I would tell him about my time at home or abroad.

I scarcely mentioned Raoul, but I never spoke ill of him either. Erik let the subject alone as well, no longer referring to him as ‘boy.’ It soothed me to know that progress had been made on his tarnished soul.

Perros was my haven, my place to connect with my companion. I’d titled him as such in my head, as friend was too simple a term. As Raoul saw my spirits lighten, he cared less about my outings. He’d told me that praying to my father and also to God would help us in our struggle to have children.

I knew Raoul prayed for his soul almost every night and I left God many a silent prayer whenever I could. The both of us were so hopeful for the gift of a baby inside me, but as moons passed and I received my monthly blood, hope dwindled. Raoul was close to tears each time the sheets were stained with blood. In some ways I think he wanted to prove my worth to the world, that I could bring something good into the family. I both pitied and loved him, my heart breaking for my poor husband.

Erik noticed the tension around my heart the day after a taxing discussion with my physician (and later my husband), and like a gentlemen he kept to himself as I poured out my thoughts to my father. I do not know if Gustave Daae could even hear what his daughter tearfully said to him, but as I sobbed words into his headstone, I wanted to believe that he could.

It felt as though my loud hiccups could be heard throughout the entirety of the silent cemetery, if not all the way to my father in heaven. I’d been kneeling on the dais during my speech, but by the end I had thrown myself against the hard stone, tears flowing from my eyes as heavy breaths haggardly left my lungs. I carried on this way before feeling a tentative touch on my shoulder.

There was a pause before arms were wrapped around me, and in that moment I had believed it to be Erik. My husband’s soft voice caused me to start, looking around wildly for my masked companion. Erik was gone, and while I knew that he was smart enough to disappear, there was a clench in my chest as I realized I had wanted his arms around me, not Raoul’s.

Raoul’s impossibly blue eyes searched mine but I could only bury my face into his neck. I accepted his comfort but my mind raced, the realization that I felt more than I’d originally thought for Erik. I loved Erik, loved him more than I could ever have known.

There are days when I ask myself who I loved greater: Erik or Raoul?

I have never been able to discern who was heavier in my heart. Raoul had been a constant in my life, back to our days as children, and then to the opera house. My father had been so fond of Raoul as a boy and I was very happy to know that he would have approved of my husband if he were alive.

I’d known Erik as a voice in my adolescence, but when he became the brief face over the year he terrorized me and everyone at the opera house, there was no part of me that deeply loved him. I was too afraid of him to comprehend loving him. Thinking of him as my father for so long stopped any kind of romantic feelings from developing, but when he became simply Erik, my heart began to swell.

While Erik was still heavily guarded, he was my dearest friend and companion.

He still trembled when I touched him, even if it was only slight tremors or a brief clench in his jaw. In the beginning I had thought Erik loathed me, but I now understood that he had been touched so rarely out of love that he expected the worst when I came near him.
When he would share facets of his life before the opera, a rare occasion, I cherished what memories he gave me, piecing them together so that I could have a better image of who the man really was. What I knew of his mother, Madeleine, was that she shamed Erik for his face, but other than that he never spoke of her.

Erik stopped playing the violin in front of me long ago, something I was glad for. He was becoming more of my close companion and less the father figure. I tried to banish his role as my father’s fairytale Angel of Music long ago, although there were still some memories that flashed in front of me if I said something that once upon a time would have angered Erik. His attitude toward me had changed dramatically, the tense and dominant figure softening into calm and caring.

I knew I was still on a pedestal of sorts in Erik’s mind, but it lessened considerably as he came to know me as a simple women and not the saviour of his soul. When he quipped about mortality, I would bite my tongue and keep my ensured responses to myself. It usually caused him to grit his teeth if I did object, but he no longer fought me on it like he used to.

I didn’t see him for some time as Raoul claimed we didn’t spend enough time together, despite the only two people living in a house together. I only spent time with maids when I needed to get ready in the morning, and if Raoul wasn’t in meetings or doing work in his office, we were thick as thieves. I think he was insecure about my journeys to Perros, that I was leaving so often because I could not stand to be near him.

We spent a month only with each other, Raoul pushing his affairs on his colleagues. We traveled to Austria-Hungary and saw the Viennese opera house. It was gorgeous, and for a week straight we saw all the operas and ballets. It was mesmerizing and far more grand than the Palais Garnier had been to me. It was strange seeing all of this from the audience, and I was caught up in thoughts of my stage days, watching the ballerinas in beautiful synchronization.

There were so many beautiful cathedrals and we spent every Sunday mass in a different one. Though I could not understand the German, there was enough similarities that I could follow each service. After leaving the Garnier, I’d rarely gone to church because the organ scared me so, but now all it brought me was tranquility. I hummed along with the choir, closing my eyes as incense wafted past me. It was a peace I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

We reluctantly left the beautiful country, one last look at the mountains in our minds, and traveled back to France, the beginning of winter welcoming us home.

My monthly blood did not come, and when it did not come a second or third time, the physician told me I was pregnant.

That winter was harsh, and Raoul was too afraid to let me go anywhere, an intense fear for our child preying on his mind. I had not seen Erik in six months and was beside myself with worry at the thought of poor, lonely Erik all by himself among the cold stones of the cemetery. The pains of pregnancy only increased my feelings of dread, and I was none too happy about anything. In the quiet moments, when the baby was still and Raoul was asleep at my side, I could breathe and pray to God that Erik did not think I abandoned him. I prayed that God let him know how loved he was.

The news of my pregnancy quickly spread to Philippe, who made appearances at our house monthly. While he still looked at me with disdain, there was a different air to him now. I assumed the proof of my fertility was enough for my his opinion of me to lift slightly. It would all be final when the baby was born and he was a strong, blond baby boy, a staple of the de Chagnys.

Part of me hoped for a little boy with my father’s curls, but time would tell.

I wrote to Madame and Meg during my second trimester, when it was past the point where miscarriage was at high risk. I extended an invitation to our home, claiming that so long without seeing my foster family pained me. While that was true, I felt obligated to inquire about Erik.They promptly wrote me back, setting the date for their arrival. It filled me with glee, to know that I would see them, but to know that Erik was well.

They came and stayed for three days. It was a quiet affair, but full of discussion and laughter, something of a change to my daily routine. Whenever I found myself around Meg, I felt like we were children again, not a mother-to-be and a Prima ballerina. It was strange and comforting all at the same time.

We did not talk about the Garnier, where she was still working, but I did ask Madame how she felt about her daughter’s rise in the company. Long ago I had wished that the two of us could have been headliners side by side, but that life was gone from me forever.

The afternoon that they were set to leave I pulled Madame aside, claiming that I was showing her the nursery, to talk about Erik.

“Madame, please. I must know,” I told her as she nervously looked around her.

“He is restless, child. I had wondered what had given him such good moods this past year, and I should have known it was you, but I wanted to believe that he had forgotten you.” She was very clearly uncomfortable, but I pressed her for more. “He read the letter you sent us and was so emotional that he left and did not come home for days. While he has always been aloof, I could always sense when he was in the house. He had not returned by the time we left.”

Clutching a hand to my chest, my eyes began to tear. I loved him so dearly and yet I could not show it properly, miles away and married.

After moments of silence, I pulled a small envelope from my skirts pressed it into her palm.

“Please, give him this, from me.”

“Christine, this cannot end well,” she said quietly, grabbing my hands in hers, the paper sharp against my fingers. “You must know this. Erik’s violent love for you will never end. Think of your child.”

I withdrew from her immediately.

“Antoinette, he is changed! You do not know him clearly, as I do. Erik will never hurt me again!” With that, I walked away from her, composing myself for their departure.

It was painful to watch them leave, the tension in Madame Giry’s shoulders following her all the way into the carriage. I waved them off with one hand on my belly, feeling astonished that she could assume Erik would harm my child. I was not dull, I knew his capabilities, but he was no longer this way around me.

He would not hurt me, I knew he would not.

Guillaume, while a small baby, was beautiful in every way. Golden locks that mimicked the summer sun adorned his head even at birth, and as he grew they became identical to his father’s. Raoul was so happy after his birth, he smiled brightly for so many weeks, kissing both Guillaume and I every time he saw us. Guillaume’s cries never bothered him, Raoul was simply happy to have such a healthy and beautiful son.

He looked nothing like me, but Raoul claimed that he had my nose. I laughed at the comment, but accepted it nonetheless. He was born in July, something the both of us were glad for, as a baby with a winter birth was one to be worried about. The heat bothered all of us, but the three of us suffered through it as a family.

It was strange to call myself a mother, but when I looked at Guillaume, there was a swell in my heart that I could not place. He was my light. He took my mind off all that tormented me, soothed my worst moods and made me feel whole.

I’d refused a wet nurse, so the two of us were very close.

When he was no more than three months old, we brought him to Philippe’s grand house for many weeks, where his wife fawned over him day and night. She disapproved of my nursing, but I would not accept criticism on it.

After that, we spent five days with the Girys, at Raoul’s suggestion. While time with my family was welcome in my mind, I feared that Raoul would discover Erik. I prayed the man made himself scarce. I had not seen him since before Raoul and I left for Austria-Hungary, and I could not anticipate how I would feel if I saw him again. Worse so, if Raoul saw him.

I did not wish to unleash my crying Guillaume on my foster family, but I had missed them terribly during the last trimester of my pregnancy and birth. While in labour, I had wished that Madame could have been there to guide me through, as my mother was in heaven with my father.
Our time spent with the Girys was lovely, if not too brief.

I spent most of it with Meg. She was working for most of the time, and as a way to confront my past, I agreed to come see her rehearsals at the Garnier, as I could not be there for the premiere. They were performing Carmen, which I had never seen or heard the music from, but I knew from the newspapers that it was revered as scandalous.

Raoul and I spent the day in the auditorium’s seats, quietly watching as rehearsals took place. I felt again the same strange nostalgia that I had when in Vienna, that I should be on that stage, not with a baby in my arms watching it all unfold. Guillaume cried when the music was too loud, but thankfully the orchestra was busy enough that I could sneak out the doors when he became too fussy.

Some of the ballerinas that I’d been friends with came to congratulate me on the baby and to pinch his soft cheeks, but other than that, the opera workers stayed away from me. Even three years later, there were still many faces that I knew, and most likely feared my presence in the opera house. I smiled at them nonetheless, and left them alone when the day was done, riding back to the Giry house in a carriage with my husband and friend.

I did not speak to Erik while at the Giry’s house. One night, when Guillaume was inconsolable and would not let me put him down, I took him down to the parlour, away from those that needed their sleep. I lit one candle and paced, rocking my son into stillness. I could sense someone in the room, and in the shadows I saw his yellow eyes.

We stared at each other for some time, saying nothing. I wanted to run to him, take him in my arms and kiss his masked face, to say that I was still his friend, I had not abandoned him. His eyes were not angry, but hollow and without any light. I wanted to cry. Here was my Erik, hiding from me in the shadows once again, and I could do nothing.

I began to say something, but Guillaume’s cries interrupted me, and when I looked back up from hushing my child, Erik was gone.

One of our maids, who was quite skilled as a nanny, offered to watch Guillaume one morning, Raoul out with a colleague for most of the day. I kissed her cheeks and thanked her. I was finally able to visit Perros after a year and a half absent. I spent all my days with Guillaume, or out with Raoul, and had no time to go see my father. While I was glad for the time with my son, an ache had grown inside me since I saw Erik weeks ago. He’d looked so sad, and in that moment I had wanted to comfort him, not Guillaume.

I made the carriage driver park outside the cemetery, walking the familiar winding roads alone, like I had done before my marriage. Before, when I had spent much time with Erik, I would have the driver leave and come back to get me at a certain time, so that he could not spy on me and my companion. I did not know if Erik would show today, so I let him stay outside the gates.
I pulled a candle and match from the purse, discarding the old one, and knelt to light it. I prayed to my father for a very long time, head resting against the relief carving of his face. There was a peace between my father and I that I had not known for so long, one I’d missed, sometimes more than Erik. Some people that knew me found my relationship with my dead father strange, but they did not know how close we had been in life. At one time he had been everything I had; he had been my music, my family, and the only thing that mattered to me.

A rustle of leaves caused me to break away, looking around me.

A couple graves away I saw him. He was not looking at me, simply staring off into mid-hanging sun. I called his name and he still did not look. I called again, louder, and he turned slightly. Was he angry with me? Did he not wish to speak to me?

I feared I had become his enemy.

“Erik, please,” I cried.

“Shouldn’t you be at home, Madame?” He asked coolly.

“I came to see you, it had been too long,” I told him, but he turned his head even farther from me. “Do not shame me for living my life, Erik! I have a husband, a son. They need me just as much as you do.”

“I do not need you, Christine,” he lied. I’d learned how to spot his lies early on, and the quiver in his lips told me the truth. “A ghost does not need friends.”

“You are not a ghost. You are a man, standing in front of me.” He chose that moment to look at me, his yellow eyes wet. I stepped in front of him and took his pale hands in mine. His face trembled as I touched him and he sobbed openly. I brought his hands to my lips and kissed them repeatedly, warming each palm. “You are my only friend, Erik. We need each other more than anything.

“Oh, Erik,” I said and he continued to cry.

It went on the same way for three years.

I had two more children, and I was given many harsh looks from my female peers that couldn’t conceive. I pitied them more than anything, and I did not let their stares bother me. Benoit and Simone were darlings. My daughter looked identical to her father, with flowing blonde hair and the same eyes as Guillaume. Benoit looked much like my father did as a boy (I’d seen very few pictures) and even as an infant adored his older brother.

Guillaume, now a toddler, was a handful and half, tugging his sister’s hair and knocking his brother over at every opportunity. I chastised him everyday, but still loved him dearly. I could never dreamed such a family as this six years ago. Raoul was an amazing father; he told them the same stories he used to tell me as a girl and I wished that my father could be there to play his violin. We were more in love than I could even describe.

I visited Erik as often as possible, when I wasn’t taking my children out to pray to my father. Despite living with the Girys, he stayed at the cemetery many nights, finding an empty crypt to bring him a familiar slumber. I made no comment on the morbidity, I’d done so at the opera house and received a chilled response. We took long walks along the cemetery’s winding road, my arm in his. Some days I would help him trim flowers and discard decaying bouquets.

I kissed him often. It should feel wrong, as a married woman, but I loved him. I loved both Raoul and Erik with every inch of my heart. I regretted keeping secrets from my husband, but Erik was a secret I was willing to hide, if not for his safety. While I was grateful for my husband’s protection all those years ago at the Garnier, I feared he’d hurt Erik if he knew.

Erik is still not used to my kisses and sometimes it makes me laugh. He was such a strange, intriguing man. Often on our visits, he’d bring me around to fresh graves and tell me stories about the person who had been buried. I did not know if he was making up tales, but I adored him for it nonetheless. Some days he played the violin, or we simply sat with each other by a pond, watching ducks dive for food. If I remembered, I’d bring a bun to tear and throw for them.

He complimented my children sometimes, and I’d tell him about them. I loved talking about my children, and Erik was always an attentive audience. When he complained about the Girys, I chuckled quietly. While I knew Madame and Meg still feared him, Antoinette was still strict and didn’t take any of Erik’s nonsense. He complained that she never made his tea correctly, or that she’d disturb him while he was composing.

It was rather amusing, his daily prattles. It shattered evermore the Phantom figure he’d once been. Of course I never think of him that way anymore, but sometimes I remember how he used to be. I admired his progression more than anything. He was still Erik, yes, but a softer version.

Raoul sometimes came with me to the cemetery, but he didn’t find it as interesting or calming as I did. He was a good husband, however, and said nothing. He respected me too much to object my graveyard visitations.

Once, when Guillaume was nearly five, he spotted Erik among the graves, and came running to me, telling me about the masked ghost in the fog. I gasped, looking for my love, but Erik was gone. I told my son that he was merely seeing visions, and that he would not repeat the words to his father. Like all children who guard secrets, he was confused, but ultimately he forgot about the incident.

Benoit and Simone saw nothing, thank God, but I was sure to scold Erik the next time I saw him.

When Benoit was no more than two, a letter came to our house from the Girys, detailing their departure from France. They were moving to America, to a city called New York, where there were many performance opportunities. I begged Raoul to let me go see them, but he was too busy with his affairs to join me. I left the children in care of the maids and set out to their house.

When I arrived, there was the distinct feeling of emptiness. I told my carriage driver to come for me the next day at noon, and then made my way up to the front door, knocking furiously. For several minutes, there was no answer, and I pounded my small fist so hard against the wood I feared I would dent it.

The door finally opened a moment later, and instead of Madame or Meg, Erik’s face was staring at me through a small opening in the doorway. When he saw that it was me, he stepped back, opening the door just wide enough for me to make my way through.

“Have they left already?!” I asked, stricken. “I only got the letter this morning, it can’t have been this quick.”

“They sent the letter the moment they made way for Calais, my dear. The Girys send their regards, however.” He noticed the shake of my hands, as emotions welled within me. My own family, deserting me without so much as a hug or a kiss, no parting words or smiles. I was furious, but immensely saddened. “They have been eager to leave France ever since the opera’s events, Christine.”

“Yes, but it does not mean they can simply ignore me! I loved them so much, and they have deserted me.” I openly wept then, my hands clutching my cheeks in the foyer.

Erik stepped forward and tentatively pulled my hands away.

“My dear, I am certain they will not forget you. They will write you while in America, I am sure of it.” He attempted to calm me.

“Erik, my Erik, you’re all alone in this house. What will you do?” I sobbed, his hands still around mine.

“Christine, perhaps you should sit.” He guided me numbly to the parlour, setting me down in one of the high backed chairs. I could tell this was his favourite, it matched his imposing nature. He squeezed my hands, though I barely felt it in my grief. “The invitation to America was extended to me. Once the property details were sorted, I would leave for Calais myself.”

I froze. Erik, across the ocean? I could not bear it. My voice is weak when I do speak.

“Will you go?”

He was silent for several moments, carefully planning his answer, and I feared the worst.

“It is undecided. It has been many years since the events at the Palais Garnier, but I am still a known face. The gendarmes could not find me in America. I would be invisible.” He lost himself in the idea and the corner of his mouth twitched. I knew it to be his version of a smile. “I could find another opera house to haunt.” He let out a small laugh, harsh and quick.

“I see,” I replied quietly.

“The anonymity is tempting, but this house is secluded enough that I would be undisturbed. I have no need of servants.” He sighed, running his fingers over my knuckles. He stared down at my hands as he spoke.

“The graveyard, Erik. You love it there.”

“Yes, I do. It is not ideal; I miss music, Christine. I have composed so much and performed so little. In America, I could prosper. Think of the orchestras and operas I could produce. It would be unlike anything France has ever done for me.”

He looked up at me then, his yellow eyes soft for once.

“And what of me, Erik? Will you leave me like my family has? Without a goodbye?” Though the questions were whispered, they were still sharp and he flinched.

“Of course not, my dear.”

“I will drown without you Erik.”

“Christine, Raoul is a good husband,” he reminded me. “He deserves your full attention.”

I did not listen to him then, I simply leaned forward and kissed him viciously.

I awoke the next morning as dawn brought the sunrise through the curtains. The room was cold, the fire having gone out in the night, and the blankets were not nearly as thick enough as they should have been. Such was Erik’s way, I figured.

I turned my head, hoping to find his lithe form in the bed next to me, but the space was empty. I should have expected it, but I cried nonetheless. I wept for hours in the cold room, feeling empty and too full all at the same time. He made me furious, that man. I wished him dead and by my side all simultaneously.

I knew the moment we got into bed that it would be our last moments together.

The remainder of the morning passed in a haze, my body numbing itself against the tormenting emotions it felt. I dressed in the second dress I brought with me, not bothering to make my unruly hair look presentable. The disheveled curls mirrored my state.

I stood in the foyer for what seemed like years until the clip-clop of horse hooves came and stopped. I exited the house, unsure what to do, as I had no key to lock it. I stared blankly at the wood for several moments, so much so that my driver called out to me. I turned back and nodded.

I do not remember the day after that.

It was a cool summer day, and the breeze filtered through the trees and gravestones, a constant hum. My four children knelt on the dais of my father’s grave, all fidgeting through their prayers except for one. Gustave, my youngest, was perfectly calm, his hands pressed together, head bent as he mouthed words to God and my father. I smiled at the sight.

Like Benoit, he was like my father, but his hair was a black instead of brown. The sun caused the red undertones to shine through his curls. His brown eyes completed his dark colouring. He looked more like me than the other children, with large cheeks and a small forehead. His nose and chin were sharp, however, both coming to a point.

“Children, I’m going to stand in the shade for a while,” I called out, retreating to a tree not too far away. I could still see them.

Thinking I was out of sight, the rascal Guillaume tugged at Simone’s braid and began to chase Benoit around the headstone. I sighed, leaving them to their games. Simone joined in the chase, but Gustave just watched, standing at the foot of the dais, the gentle boy he was.

There was a rustle as the wind swept past me, disturbing the leaves.

An arm brushed against mine, but I did not jump. I could tell well enough who it was.

“Hello, Erik,” I said quietly, watching my children as they played their games.

“Christine.”

“How is America?” I ask half-heartedly. I have missed him dearly, yes, but I learned to get over his absence. Seven years went by without word from either him or the Girys, and while it stung, I ignored the feeling.

“Well. I’ve opened several theatres and the Girys have fared well among the sideshows. Meg is the star of Coney Island, these days.” His disinterested tone tells me that he has little to do with them. “You’ve had another,” he notes, nodding his head toward Gustave.

“Ah yes, Gustave. He is my little prince.” I smile again, thinking of the small boy. “None of the other children like music. Simone attempted singing lessons, for me, but ultimately decided her passion was cross-stitch. She’s still young. Gustave loves it, though. He just started piano lessons and we sing together every day.
“It feels odd, being the tutor, this time,” I add after a moment, humming.

“Yes, I assume it would.” We aren’t looking at each other, simply regarding the other in our peripheral vision. “I’m glad at least one of them is as gifted as their mother.”

“Father, I would say,” I told him, turning slightly to meet his gaze. I gave him a knowing smile and departed, walking back to my children. I hugged Gustave to me, his small hands clutching my skirts.

It started with a violin, all those years ago, and ended with a little boy.