Chapter 11 – Meeting
The next morning, Nadir stopped by at Mme. Giry's cottage to inform the ladies that Erik had agreed to see Christine and that he would therefore stop by at three, on his way home from the office, and escort Christine to their home for her meeting with Erik.
When Christine heard these news, she was torn between anticipation of seeing her beloved angel again and nervous giddiness at the thought how this meeting would go. Either he would not remember anything from their past, in which case it would probably be hard to make him relate to her again, or he did suddenly remember, like he had remembered the rose, and then he would probably be rightfully angry at her.
Nadir noted her agitation and grimaced. "Not you as well," he said exasperated, "it's bad enough that Erik is fretting. Just relax and let your heart guide you. I am confident that everything will be fine. At least eventually. Erik may have lost his memory, but he is not blind or stupid, and he would have to be both, in order not to notice the sincerity of your feelings for him. It may take him some time to get used to the idea that somebody could actually love him, deformity and all, but he will come around. If he is a bit distant at first, just be patient and give him time."
Christine forced a confident smile on her face and nodded bravely. She would certainly do her best to convince Erik that she loved him, even though things might not be easy between them at first.
Erik spent a restless morning. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that it had been a mistake to agree to this meeting. He inwardly cursed Nadir, for having persuaded him to see this Christine. Christine! The name alone evoked all sorts of feelings. Love, tenderness, longing, desire, an urge to protect her and keep her safe, to make her happy at all cost, alternated with despair, heart-break, anger, wariness, jealousy, and a pain so excruciating he thought it would kill him.
"No good can come from meeting her," he kept telling himself. "Surely she either has hurt me deeply in the past or will do so now, or both. There is no way perfection like herself can tolerate a freak like me." But deep down his heart yearned for her. No matter how often he reminded himself that all he could hope for her to feel for him was pity, he longed for her presence.
For the first time since he had moved to England, Erik could not concentrate on his work. He caught himself several times sitting there, his eyes closed, trying to remember her sweet face, her huge, expressive eyes and the wealth of dark curls that framed her pretty face. He finally gave up on the design he had been working on and tried to draw her beautiful features from memory.
Erik's pencil raced across the piece of paper, and almost automatically sketched the face of this Christine-girl, who had taken full possession of his entire being, mind, heart and soul. Only when he was finished and looked down at the drawing, did he realize that the hairstyle he had given her in the picture did not match the way her hair had been done when he had seen her in the garden two days ago. It looked much more elaborate in his drawing, she was wearing unusual star-shaped hairpins of a design he did not remember ever having seen anywhere.
Erik stared at the picture. What was that? Had he seen her like that once before? Had she maybe looked like that when he had first met her? Or the last time they had seen each other? Or was this just a figment of his imagination, the way he would want her to look if she were his…. Erik barely dared to finish the thought. But he could not deny that since he had seen her, buried desires had awoken in his heart, and the dream of leading a normal life like any other man, of having a loving wife, had certainly taken on a very concrete form. He knew now that he wanted this lovely Christine to become his bride.
Erik laughed bitterly. Right. Hell would freeze over before somebody as perfect in every sense of the word as her would consent to marry somebody like him. "Don't get your hopes up," he kept telling himself. "Pity, that's all she will feel for you, and maybe a certain curiosity. You cannot expect more."
Erik barely ate at lunch time, and afterwards he just spent his time sitting in front of the huge wall clock in the parlor, watching the movement of the hands and getting more and more anxious the closer the moment of her arrival came. Erik had put on his wide-brimmed hat and pulled it into his face in a way that the deformed right side was mostly hidden by the brim. Of course in order to achieve this result, the hat was sitting on his head at an unusual angle. Erik knew that he looked a bit grotesque that way, but he thought that this was still better than fully exposing his hideous face.
Shortly after three o'clock Nadir and Christine arrived at the front door. Just before pulling out his key, Nadir gave Christine an encouraging smile. "Don't fret," he told her, "just relax. Be strong for the both of you." Christine nodded, she could not speak. Her heart was beating so fast she thought it would burst. Only a few more moments and she would see him again, him, her angel, the man who had been her world after her father had died, and whom she had hurt and betrayed so badly later.
Nadir unlocked the door and called for Erik. "Your visitor is here, Erik, come and greet the lady," he said. Erik heard him and was suddenly certain he would not be able to muster the strength to go out into the hall and face the woman who had impressed him so. He hesitated for a moment, then finally managed to get up and walk the few steps to the door. He opened it, and, holding on to the doorknob for support, he peeked out into the hall.
"There you are," Nadir said jovially. Christine put her hands on her heart, which was beating so fast and so loudly, that she thought everybody must hear it. Waves and waves of emotions cursed through her, and she almost fainted, overwhelmed by joy, when she recognized the tall figure standing in the door to the parlor, his features shadowed by an enormous hat. Even though she had known for about twenty-four hours that her angel was still alive, only now, that she was in the same room with him, did the full impact of this fact hit home. There he was, Erik, the man, who had taken care of her, when she had been orphaned, had shaped her mind and her voice, and had finally taken possession of her heart, without her noticing. The man she had walked away from, because she had been afraid of his temper and his dark past, but whom she had not been able to forget, and whom her heart had longed for those past three years.
There was no mistaking the tall figure. This was her Erik, whom she had thought dead, very much alive, and apparently strong and healthy. Christine felt an urge to run to him, throw herself into his arms, to touch him, feel him, make sure that this was real, that he was indeed there, that she was not dreaming. But her legs felt like lead and she could not move, she simply stared at him in wonder and finally whispered, "Oh Angel, it is true, you are alive after all!"
Erik gazed at her nervously. He thought that she was even more beautiful than he remembered her from two nights ago. Her slightly flushed features looked so animated now, and her eyes looked at him so … almost as if she really did care for him. He was not sure how to react. How did one greet a female visitor? What did she expect him to say or do? And more importantly, what had she just called him? Angel? Surely he must have misunderstood?
"Why…," Erik nervously cleared his throat. "Why do you call me that, Miss Christine?" he finally blurted out, cursing himself inwardly the next moment. Of all things to say, this had probably been the most stupid. He felt awkward and would have wanted to run away and hide.
Nadir laughed. "Erik, why don't you show Miss Daaé the garden with your rosebushes and let her tell you how the two of you met. By the way, you used to call her Christine before, and I think she would prefer this to the more formal Miss Christine. And for Heaven's sake, Erik, take off that ridiculous hat! Are you planning to scare the young lady away?"
Erik glowered at his friend. "You know pretty well, why I must wear this hat," he said defensively. Christine smiled. Some things never changed. Her angel was just as self-conscious about his face as he had been before his accident. Strangely enough, though, Erik's obvious insecurity helped her overcome her own nervousness.
"I would love to see the garden," she said, beaming at Erik. "And while I understand your desire to hide your face, ang.. – Erik - I assure you, that you do not have to do so with me. I have seen your face before, and it holds no horrors for me. In fact, I would love to see your face again."
She hesitated. She had almost told him that she needed to see his face again, since it was the face of the man she loved, but Erik was so obviously confused and at a total loss what to do next, that she had to go slow, to make him feel comfortable in her presence, to make him trust her. She therefore changed her mind and said something completely different. "But if you prefer to wear the hat, at least for the time being, that is fine with me as well," she told Erik. "If it makes you feel safer or more confident to wear that hat, by all means, keep it on."
Erik nodded. She was right, the hat made him more confident. Wearing it was the only way he could get through this awkward situation. "Will you follow me please," he told Christine stiffly, "the garden is that way." Then he turned on his heels and walked towards the garden, not waiting to see if Christine would follow him. If he had deep down expected her to stay behind, he was proven wrong. Christine hurried after him. "Please slow down a bit," she begged him, "if you run like that, we won't be able to talk!"
Nadir followed them with his eyes and chuckled. He had observed Christine very closely during this short scene, and he thought that she had been wearing her heart on her sleeve. Her feelings for Erik had been more than obvious, but apparently Erik had been so busy fretting and being nervous that he had not noticed. Nadir had no doubts that eventually these two would be able to overcome all obstacles and that their love would be victorious in the end, but he also was beginning to think that maybe their road towards eventual happiness might be long and bumpy. "Ah well," he sighed, "Rome was not built in one day either, and haste makes waste, so let's just give them time and be patient."
Christine caught up with Erik only once he had reached his rosebushes. She immediately noticed that they were tied up with black satin ribbons and smiled inwardly. So that was the explanation why he had had the right type of ribbon in the house when he had spotted her in the garden two nights ago.
"Your roses are wonderful," Christie told him. "Nadir told me that you are tending to them yourself. Was it your idea to plant them?"
Erik nodded, he did not think he would be able to get out one single word. He could not remember ever having felt so awkward. What did you say to a beautiful woman, who you were falling in love with and who had known you for a long time, probably knew things about you that you did not know yourself?
Christine noticed Erik's discomfort. It troubled her deeply to see him so ill at ease. The Erik she remembered had always been in control, commandeering. She realized that in a way their roles were reversed now. Now she was the one who held the answers, who needed to make him relax a bit, open up to her, and try to make him remember.
"Would you like me to tell you about how we met?" she asked him shyly. Erik once again nodded. To him it seemed like a miracle that she was talking to him at all. Why had she even come? Surely she had better things to do than talk to an amnesiac freak almost twice her age? Her presence also made him nervous, awaking in him needs and desires he had not known he even possessed.
"In that case, we should sit down somewhere," Christine suggested. "I don't think it would be comfortable to stand here during our conversation." Erik bit his lip. How stupid of him. He should have offered her a seat. How could he have forgotten? He hastily pointed towards a garden bench standing in the shadow of a huge apple tree. "How about – there?" he stammered.
Christine beamed. "That bench is perfect," she said, "come on!" And she lead the way to the bench and sat down. Erik followed her hesitantly, then remained standing next to the bench. Christine sighed. This was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. She patted the bench next to her and looked at Erik encouragingly. "Sit down here with me," she begged him. "This will be a long story. You will get tired long before I will be finished, if you remain standing."
Erik gingerly sat down at the other end of the bench, thanking God that she was sitting to his left, thus facing the normal half of his face.
"We have known each other for a long time," Christine began her story. "We met shortly after my father died." She furtively glanced at Erik. He was sitting stiffly at a short distance from her and oozing nervousness. "I was only seven years old, and since my mother had died a few years before, I was left an orphan."
Erik's brow furrowed. Hadn't Nadir mentioned that the inhabitants of number twelve were a widow with her daughters? If this Christine was staying there with her mother and sister, why was she telling him she was an orphan?
"Your mother," he stammered, "aren't you with her at cottage number twelve?" Then he cursed himself. What a stupid thing to say! She must think him a dim-wit, if he continued to blurt out nonsense like that and did not manage to put together at least one coherent phrase.
Christine smiled. "Oh, Madame…" she interrupted herself. She did not want to confuse Erik even more by mentioning the Girys. "She is my foster mother," she explained. "My real mother died, when I was born, as I just mentioned. I do not remember her, but I do remember my dear papa. His name was Gustave Daaé, and he was my world. We loved each other so much. He was all I had and I was all he had."
Christine once again glanced at Erik, fighting the urge to snuggle up to him, wrap her arms around him and tell him that he was her father's true successor, her world. But she had a feeling that doing so would terrify Erik in his current state of mind, so she composed herself and continued her story.
"We were travelling around a lot," she explained. "My father played the violin and I sang…"
Erik stared at her. "You sang…" he repeated slowly, surprised. Of course, singing! Somehow this Christine and singing were connected. He was not entirely sure how, and why he had not thought of her singing before, but he was now certain that the fact she had been singing was a vital bit of information he had not remembered until she had mentioned it.
Christine nodded. "Yes, I sang," she said softly. "My father and I were rather poor, but we were happy. Until he…" she fought back tears. Despite the number of years that had passed since her father's death, she still missed him terribly.
"My papa fell ill," she continued, her voice shaking slightly. "He started coughing, and he got weaker. He must have known that he did not have much time left, and he must have been concerned how I would take his loss. So he reminded me of a story he had told me, about a girl called Little Lotte, who liked music and singing as much as I did, and who was visited by an angel in her sleep, an angel, who sang to her and made her more comfortable, whose beautiful voice made her forget all the sorrows of her daily life and let her soul experience happiness, at least in her dreams. It was the Angel of Music."
Erik looked at her, startled. "The Angel of Music," he whispered. Somehow this sounded familiar to him. She probably had told him this story before, but – why would he have remembered such a childish story? Was there some deeper meaning to it that he did not quite understand just yet?
A wave of hope filled Christine, when she noticed Erik's agitation as she mentioned the angel he had impersonated for her for so many years. Was it possible that her words were about to make him remember?
"Yes, the Angel of Music," she repeated. "My father promised to send me that angel once he'd be in Heaven, so that I would not be so alone, that his music would comfort me and make me forget my sorrows. And he did," she told Erik. "He sent you to me, and you became my Angel of Music."