Erik lay on the hard floor, curled up in a fetal position and hoped for death to come to him and end his suffering. Three weeks ago, when he had sent Christine away with her lover, he had thought that nothing would ever hurt him as much as losing her. In fact, he had fully expected not to be able to survive without her presence in his life. But his poor, broken heart had deceived him. It had continued beating and death had eluded him so far. Apparently it was possible, after all, to live on with a shattered heart in your chest.
But tonight… Erik shuddered at the thought of what would be happening tonight. Antoinette had been careful to keep it from him, she had not told him in so many words, but when she had seemed so ill at ease yesterday, when she had mentioned that she would be out all day and therefore could not give him a precise time when she would be able to stop by and bring him food and water, he had suspected where she would be going. He had therefore been alert, and when he had heard commotion outside in the morning, he had carefully peeked out through the keyhole of the little hut where Antoinette was hiding him from the authorities, and sure enough, he had seen her and her daughter, dressed to the nines, climbing into a carriage. He had known for sure then, and he had felt his heart break all over again. There was only one explanation for why the two ladies would have dressed up like that and why they would probably be gone all day. They would be attending the wedding.
Erik moaned like a wounded beast. This made it final. Today, Christine, his Christine, and that – boy – would be joined in holy matrimony, and Erik knew that the pain he had felt three weeks ago, when he had let her go was nothing compared to what he was going through right now. Somehow he was losing her all over again. As much as he kept repeating to himself, that nothing had really changed, that she had been as lost to him before as she would be now, as long as she had not been married, he had clung to the hope that maybe she would change her mind and return to him after all. But once she would have spoken her vows that would not be possible anymore.
Today Christine would do just that, she would speak her marriage vows, binding herself to his rival till death would part them, and tonight… Erik shuddered at the thought. Tonight, the Vicomte would take full possession of Christine. The mere image of Christine, naked, in the Vicomte's arms, that boy's hands and lips all over her perfect body, caused Erik almost physical pain. Tonight, this worst nightmare would become reality, though, and Erik prayed that death would be merciful and take him now, since he feared he would not be able to stand the certainty that something so ludicrous had happened.
"Oh Christine," he groaned, "why could you not love me? Why did you have to pick this boy, prefer him over your Angel of Music, who has been watching over you so faithfully all these years? Do you not know that it is killing me to think of you in his arms?"
When Mme. Giry came home that night, she immediately went to the little hut, which served as storage room for gardening tools, fire wood and similar items, and where she had allowed Erik to stay ever since the fire at the Opera Populaire. She knew that this arrangement could only be temporary, that sooner or later, Erik would have to find himself a more suitable new home, preferably far away from Paris, where he was a wanted man. So far, however, Erik had been in no condition to take his life into his own hands once again. Losing Christine had thrown her friend into a severe emotional trauma and Mme. Giry had been worried about him. Therefore she had thought it best not to remind Erik of Christine and had never mentioned the young soprano to him.
Over the past three weeks Erik had somewhat calmed down, his despair over Christine's loss had given way to a quiet resignation, but Mme. Giry had not wanted to reopen Erik's barely healed wounds by telling him that his love was going to marry his rival today. She had only told him that she would be occupied elsewhere all day and would only be able to check on him late in the evening.
Mme. Giry was not sure, though, if Erik had not guessed. He was not stupid after all, and he had looked at her so strangely, when she had mentioned that he would have to wait for food till night. His eyes had been haunted…
Mme. Giry was suddenly in a hurry to see Erik, to make sure he was all right. If he had figured it out, if he knew, where she had been today, how would he deal with that additional blow to his already precarious emotional and mental state?
She quickly unlocked the door to the hut and stepped in. "Erik?" she asked softly, then gasped. Not her wildest dreams would have prepared her to the sight of Erik, lying on the floor in a fetal position, his shoulders shaking wildly with soundless sobs, his eyes red and swollen from tears, but dry now, as if he had cried so much that there were no tears left within him. Not even that night three weeks ago, when he had let Christine go, had he looked so miserable and broken.
"Oh Erik!" Mme. Giry knelt down next to him, and, wrapping her arms around him, raised him up into a sitting position. "If only I could help you!"
Erik stared ahead. At first he did not acknowledge the ballet mistress' presence, then he slowly turned to face her and whispered, barely audible, "Antoinette, I know."
His eyes had taken on that haunted look again. "I know where you have been today," he continued, his body shaking convulsively. "And I know what is happening now."
Mme. Giry nodded. It was not hard to guess what Erik had been referring to.
"He is undressing her now, making her spread her legs…" Erik's pain at that thought was palpable in the monotonous way he pronounced these words and Mme. Giry's heart went out to him.
"He is her husband now," she said softly, pulling Erik even closer to show him her compassion. "He has the right, there is nothing inappropriate about it, and.." She hesitated for a moment. "They love each other."
Erik groaned. "I know," Mme. Giry whispered to him. "I know that you love her, too, and that this hurts you, but sometimes fate throws us a monkey wrench, and things do not always go as we would like them to." She rocked Erik, as if he were a small child, trying to make him relax.
"When we love, we always hope that we can spend the rest of our lives together," she continued, "but more often than not that does not happen that way. I know what it is like to lose the person you love," she added, now fighting her own tears. "When my Jules was taken from me, I thought I could not live on without him," she confessed. "But I had Meg to think about, so I learned to lock my pain away in the deepest recesses of my heart and to live on."
Erik made a move as to interrupt her. "Shh," Mme. Giry cooed. "I know that the two situations are not exactly the same, but think about it – would you rather have Christine dead, like my Jules, or happy, even if with another man?"
Erik shuddered in her arms and Mme. Giry almost smiled. He was listening to her, and maybe, just maybe, she would be able to get him out of this stupor. "Living on without Jules was not easy," she continued, "but after a while I learned to concentrate on the positive memories instead of on the pain of losing him. See, Erik, love is always a gift. It may be short-lived and doomed, but the experience always enriches our lives, wouldn't you agree?"
Erik did not reply, and after a while, Mme. Giry spoke again. "You made Christine very happy," she whispered. "You were there for her, when her father died and nobody else could reach her but you. You taught her how to sing and helped her to achieve her dream of becoming a prima donna. Those were happy times, were they not?"
Erik nodded, tears running down his cheeks again. "Nobody can take that away from you," Mme. Giry reminded him. "No matter what has happened recently or what will happen in the future, those memories will always be there to comfort you, just like I will always have the memories of those long ago days, when my Jules told me he loved me."
Mme. Giry sighed. "We only had about two years. Half a year after I first met Jules, we got married, and slightly over a year later he died. Meg was only a few weeks old. But those two years were the best years of my life, and I am glad I had that long with Jules. I have learned to be grateful for what I had, instead of crying over what could have been."
Erik once again did not reply, his shoulders heaving with silent sobs. "Christine and you had this wonderful teacher-student-relationship for about ten years," Mme. Giry continued. "It may not have been exactly what you would have wanted your relationship to be, but it meant the world to her then, and you know that, too. Focus on that, Erik. Remember all these many hours that the two of you spent together over the past ten years, the joy you both derived from music, your pride at her success at her debut… Really, Erik, there must be so many happy memories from that time. Concentrate on what you had instead of on what you lost."
Erik groaned. "She left me." His mind could not get past this one fact, this one final action of hers that had poisoned all his previous memories of their time spent together.
Mme. Giry shook her head. "No, Erik, that's not quite it. You let her go. You practically raised her, helped her become an adult, able to make her own choices, and even though it was not what you had hoped for, you ended up accepting her decision. You allowed her to leave with the man she loves, to live the life she had chosen for herself. You gave her the ultimate gift of love, you set her free. You ensured her happiness by letting her go. Does that not mean something to you?"
Erik sobbed, unable to speak. "I know it seems inconceivable to you right now," Mme. Giry continued softly, "but believe me, the time will come, when you will be able to look back on the past and appreciate whatever joy your love has brought you during your years with Christine. I am not promising that your heart will ever heal completely, for I know from personal experience that one can never stop missing a lost loved one, but it will scar, and take the sting out of your loss."
Mme. Giry smiled at Erik. "Christine did love you in her own way," she quietly stated. "Maybe not as a man, a potential love-interest or husband, but as a teacher, friend, mentor, father-figure. I do not think she would want you to waste away like that, just because she was not able to return your feelings the way you would have wanted her to. If she saw you like that, I am sure it would hurt her."
Erik looked away. "She does not care," he mumbled.
Mme. Giry shook he head. "That is not true, and you know it as well," she scolded him. "When she told me about what happened between you, her and the Vicomte that night,…"
Erik looked up. "What did she tell you?" he cried angrily.
"Not much," Mme Giry assured him. "Just that you took her to your lair and the Vicomte followed you. That you threatened the Vicomte and that in order to keep him safe, she promised to stay with you, but that you then realized that she did not love you and let them go. And that she returned the ring to you… But when she mentioned how sad you had been, how heart-broken, when she left you, she was crying. She does care, Erik. She would not want you to be so miserable."
Erik sighed. "She kissed me," he remembered. Mme. Giry gasped. Christine had failed to mention that particular detail to her.
Erik's face fell. "It was only to save that – boy," he stated. "She did not really mean it, but it felt like heaven. Can you imagine? She kissed me, ugly, hideous Erik?" He looked down. "Maybe with time,…" he sighed. "If that blasted boy with his handsome features had never re-entered her life, maybe she could have learned…"
Mme. Giry rubbed his back. "Don't, Erik," she admonished him. "Don't think like that." She turned his face so that he was looking her straight in the eyes, then quoted:
"Think of all the things we've shared and seen,don't think about the way things might have been…"
Erik stirred in recognition. "You do remember that song, don't you?" Mme. Giry's voice was soft and gentle. "You studied it with Christine, you helped her prepare for her triumph that night. This song contains a great wisdom, Erik, an advice you should follow. Think of her fondly, remember the good things and do not dwell on the might-have-beens."
Erik closed his eyes. "I think of her constantly," he confessed. "Of her voice, her smile, her beautiful hair, her expressive eyes, of the way her soft lips felt against mine and how she ripped my mask off in front of the audience… and it hurts. It hurts to think of her, knowing that she is gone from my life forever."
Mme. Giry sighed. "I do understand," she admitted, "honestly, Erik, I do. When I remember that I will never see my dear Jules again in this life, that thought rips my heart apart, even after all those years. But when I think about all the things the two of us did together, the time we could spend together, those memories warm my heart and brighten my day." She paused. "I know that immediately after I lost him, I was not able to concentrate on the happy memories either, but one learns to do so with time. Just remember what I told you and work towards reliving your fond memories."
Erik nodded. He was unconvinced. Right now, Christine's loss was the predominant memory connected with her, and it overshadowed any other, happier memory he might have had of his time with his former student.
"You should leave Paris," Mme. Giry suddenly interrupted Erik's thoughts, "and probably France. It would be better for you. Here you are not safe, and here everything reminds you of Christine. A change of scenery might help you deal with your broken heart, and you cannot live in this uncomfortable little hut forever. And you would need something to do, something that will keep your mind off your heartache."
Erik stared at her. "What would you have me do?" he asked sarcastically. "I cannot compose anymore with Christine gone, and you know pretty well, that nobody will want me to work for them. The world had no use for a freak before, why would they want anything to do with a heart-broken freak now?"
Mme. Giry sighed. She knew that even outside of France, where Erik was not a hunted criminal, it would be hard for him to be accepted, because of his face.
"I will give it a thought," she promised. "I am sure that sooner or later something will come up. But what about my other suggestion? Would you be willing to go abroad, at least for a certain time?"
Erik sighed. He had spent a large part of his life outside of France, in various countries. The memories from that time were not really pleasant, especially the experiences he had made in Persia still haunted his dreams. The East was therefore definitely off limits, as was Italy. It would not help to flee from France in order to escape his memories of Christine's betrayal, only to be reminded of Luciana's violent death. That did not leave many options.
"Maybe I could go to Germany," he finally said uneasily. "I do have a basic understanding of the language, but I have no idea how I could get there safely. Surely the borders will be watched?"
Mme. Giry nodded. "I have been thinking about that problem as well," she admitted, "and so far I have not come up with an idea how you can get out of France, but I am sure it is possible with the right approach…" She was glad that she had found a way to turn Erik's thoughts away from Christine and the distress she had caused him.
Erik racked his brain. "Nadir," he finally said. "He helped me get out of Persia, when the Shah wanted me killed. He should be able to help me get past the French border controls as well." He sighed. "The man is probably worried about me anyway. I should have contacted him weeks ago and let him know that I survived the fire, it simply never occurred to me to do so."
Mme. Giry smiled at him encouragingly. "You were preoccupied," she told Erik. "Your friend will understand. Now tell me how I can reach him and then the three of us can plan your escape."