Chapter 13 – Tea Time
At that moment, Nadir appeared. "So, how is it going?" he asked, "are the two of you getting reacquainted?"
Erik was starting to feel angry again. This interruption came at a most inconvenient point. He had just realized that he had drawn Christine's debut performance from memory, and he was about to learn how Christine had finally found out the truth about him and seen his face. He was ready to explode and to tell Nadir to mind his own business, when Christine's voice made him relax.
"Yes, Monsieur Khan," Christine said, beaming, "We have renewed our friendship, and imagine, Erik is beginning to remember bits and pieces!" She looked at her angel lovingly, before she continued, "he just showed me this drawing of me, which he did this morning. It shows me at my debut performance. He did it, before he even knew I had been a singer at the Opéra Populaire, or that he had taught me how to sing. The buried memory must have reasserted itself somehow. Now, when I mentioned 'Hannibal' and my role as Elyssa, he knew what the drawing meant."
Christine turned to Erik and gave him a radiant smile. "I am certain that this is a good sign," she told him. "You are most likely beginning to make real progress, and it cannot be long now, before you will regain your full memory."
Erik smiled. Christine's confidence was contagious, and her joy at seeing his condition improving was sincere. She definitely did care about him. But what exactly was the nature of her feelings? Did she see him as a teacher, mentor, father figure, friend, or….
Erik closed his eyes to clear his mind. No, it was not possible that this lovely, young woman might see him as a man, a potential love interest. He should not get his hopes up in that regard. He must keep in mind that no matter what his own heart wanted, he would never be able to win the love of somebody like her. If he tried to court her, he would be setting himself up for a heart-breaking disappointment, and, worse, he would make things awkward for her. He had only spent a short time with this Christine-girl, his former voice student, yet he already knew what made her tick and that it would greatly upset her having to turn him down. She would not want to hurt him, yet she would have to, in order to pursue her own life, with somebody at her side that was more her age and looked like a human being, not like a demon from hell.
Nadir's voice brought Erik back to the presence. "Erik, that's great," the former daroga said. "I know how much it has hurt you that you do not remember your past, but as Miss Daaé just said, there is reason to believe that your condition may finally be improving. You may soon regain your full memory!"
A tiny smile played across the visible part of Erik's face. Only now did he realize the importance of the fact that he had drawn Christine from memory. "I did remember," he whispered, enthralled by that thought, "deep down I knew about this production of 'Hannibal' and when I thought about Christine, I remembered her in a moment of shared triumph…" He frowned, then looked at Christine and whispered, "my spirit and your voice in one combined…"
Christine nodded, radiant with joy. "That's how we both felt that night," she told Erik, "that together we had achieved something wonderful. Your spirit, your teachings, had helped my voice to reach the level of perfection that allowed me to take on such a major role."
She blushed under Erik's adoring gaze and looked down. Oh, the happy memories of that night! Her triumph on stage, meeting Raoul again after all those years, and finally, meeting her angel and being introduced to the wonders of his world. She sighed. It had also been the night, when she realized that her loving, caring angel was no other than the famous Opera Ghost, who terrorized the whole theater. And it was the night of her first betrayal, the night when she had ripped off his mask for the first time.
Nadir noticed her embarrassment. He knew that part of it was caused by being reunited with Erik again. It was obvious to Nadir that the young woman was deeply in love with Erik. Her shy nervousness around his friend, her frequent blushing, her furtive glances at Erik were sure signs that she wanted nothing more than for Erik to remember his feelings for her and to act on them. But Nadir also realized that this slightly awkward situation was not the only reason for Christine's uneasiness. He understood her only too well, since he shared that uneasiness with her. They were both worried about Erik. What if he truly remembered? How would he react when he finally knew about his ignominious past at the Opera – and worse, in Persia. How would this knowledge affect Erik, and would he understand that they had withheld part of the truth from him, because they wanted to protect him? Would he be able to forgive them for telling him half-truths, for making him believe that he was an honorable citizen? How would he take the fact that he was a wanted criminal?
After a few minutes of a slightly awkward silence, where each of the three pursued their own thoughts, Erik addressed Nadir. "I am a musician," he stated. "I play several instruments and I compose. I am apparently so good at music that Christine here at one point mistook me for an angel, the angel of music."
Nadir smiled a bit uneasily. "So I've heard," he finally uttered.
Erik stared at him. "Why?" he asked, his voice shaking. "Why did you not tell me? Now that I know, I am certain that music has always been rather important to me, has helped me deal with difficult situations. With music I can work away frustration by playing wild, fast-paced pieces, I can express myself and let off steam. You must have known that. Why did you keep this means of dealing with my problems away from me?"
Nadir swallowed. There it was, the moment he had feared, the moment, when Erik would remember things that he, Nadir, had chosen not to tell him, when Erik would ask him to justify this neglect. "I thought," Nadir began, trying to stall for time and thinking hard at the same time how to answer Erik's question. He knew pretty well, why he had not mentioned music. Even though in a way he wanted Erik to remember his past, he had hoped Erik would remember on his own. Nadir definitely had not wanted to be the one to tell Erik about the horrors of his past, and while music per se was a harmless thing to remember, in Nadir's opinion it was too closely related to both, Erik's time as the Opera Ghost, and to his unrequited love for Christine. Mentioning music had therefore definitely not seemed a good idea at any point of these past three years. The situation with Christine had changed in the meantime, though, but even so Nadir was reluctant to bring it up. He had a feeling that Christine had not yet had time to tell Erik everything about their relationship, and in his opinion these two would have to resolve their differences themselves, his interference could possibly hurt more than help.
"Because of me." Christine's words made both men look at her. Christine blushed with embarrassment. "Please, don't blame your friend, Angel," she pleaded with Erik. "You see, he knew that you had taught the new prima donna Christine Daaé and that we had had a certain friendship. But he did not know me personally, he had only seen me on stage. After the fire, the employees of the Opera were all going their own ways, and he may have lost track of me."
Christine cleared her throat, embarrassed. Fat chance that Nadir would have lost track of her. News of her engagement and impending nuptials had been all over Paris at that time. She felt awkward and decided that she would have to tell Erik the truth soon, namely that Nadir had hoped to keep Erik from remembering her betrayal and his heart-break.
"I think that Monsieur Khan feared that reminding you of music might make you remember me and ask for me, because of our close previous friendship, and since he could not bring me to you, should you ask for me…" Christine bit her lip. At least that last part was true. Under no circumstances would Nadir have been able to go to the de Chagny-mansion, and not knowing how she truly felt about Erik – something she herself had not been fully aware of at that time – he would not have bothered going there and talking to her, even if he could have done so.
Erik nodded slowly. Even though he had not remembered this slip of a girl until he saw her in the front yard of her home two nights ago, he already was painfully aware of the fact that she owned his heart. Her presence soothed him in a way he had never thought possible. It was almost a miracle, how one word from her, one friendly gaze, or the touch of her little hand could calm his rising anger, as he had noticed two or three times this afternoon already. It most definitely made sense to him that it would have made him very unhappy, if he had remembered her, but not been able to see her, talk to her. And since it was rather likely that the memory of his music might have also made him remember this girl, this desirable woman, this…. "She was your student," Erik reminded himself. "Nothing more. You are her teacher, a father figure, keep that in mind. She is way too young for you, and way too lovely to fall for somebody like you. She belongs with beauty and youth, not with the likes of you."
Embarrassed of his desires for a loving relationship with his former pupil, Erik made himself concentrate on the current conversation again and turned to Nadir. "You wanted to protect me," he stated flatly. Nadir nodded, grateful that Christine had been able to sort of explain why he had not reminded Erik of his music.
Then Nadir looked at Christine. "The reason why I came looking for the two of you," he said brightly, thus changing the topic, "is that tea is ready. I bet you are both hungry and thirsty."
Erik and Christine looked at each other. Neither of them had been thinking of food, but now that Nadir mentioned it, they both realized that they were, indeed, hungry. But even more than food they both wanted a chance to continue their conversation. Erik wanted to learn about the circumstances when she had finally seen his face and how she had reacted to his revelations, while Christine wanted nothing more than to confess to Erik her betrayal and ask for his forgiveness.
Nadir smiled at them. "I know," he said, "there is so much more for the two of you to discuss after all this time, but we cannot send Miss Christine home hungry, and she cannot stay here that much longer, if we do not want to completely ruin her reputation. In fact," he continued, looking at Erik, "it is already verging on inappropriate that she came here alone, without a chaperone, and only the fact that you once were kind of her guardian makes this situation at least somewhat acceptable. If the two of you want to meet again, I highly recommend that next time, you also invite Miss Christine's foster mother, who is also an old acquaintance of yours. But we can discuss these things over tea…"
With that he lead the way to a little terrace, where Darius had prepared the tea table. Erik looked at Christine. He knew that the polite thing to do was offering her his arm and lead her to the table, but would she take his arm? Would she want such close contact with a freak like him?
Erik cleared his throat before hesitantly addressing Christine. "Would you mind…," he began, "I mean, may I offer you my arm?" He looked at her nervously. Christine's face lit up. How she had waited for him to say something like that, to give her a chance to snuggle up to him a bit!
"My pleasure," she said happily, took Erik's arm and nestled against his side. She felt him stiffen, but did not care. It felt so right to cling to him like that, as if this were the place where she was meant to be – by his side. "Please, make him forgive me, please let me win his love again, that love that I once scorned and walked away from, and that I will regret till the day I die, if I cannot put things right between us again," she prayed, while she followed Erik to the tea table.
Tea time passed rather uneventfully. Nadir's presence kept both, Erik and Christine, from discussing their relationship – past or present –, and thus the conversation became a bit stilted. Erik announced that he wanted to buy a violin and a piano as soon as possible, since now, that he remembered his talent for music, he missed music terribly and wanted nothing more than to play again.
Christine was thrilled with Erik's plan to acquire instruments. She wanted to ask him to help her with her singing and to retrain her voice, which would certainly be much easier, if he had the means to accompany her. Nadir also approved of this "musicalization of their home", as he jokingly put it. Apart from the undeniably therapeutic effect that music would have on Erik, just like Christine, he, too, hoped that music would bring these two star-crossed lovers closer together once again. In his opinion it would be best for them to grow very close before Erik fully remembered. Things might go smoother that way. While Nadir had no doubts that love would win out in the end, he had a feeling that it would be more difficult for Erik to trust Christine, if he remembered her betrayal before he had fully accepted her love for him.
Then it was time to say good-bye. Nadir offered to escort Christine home. "Unless you want to do it," he told Erik. Erik hesitated. On one hand he wanted nothing more than a chance to be with Christine for a few more moments, but on the other hand, this would mean leaving the protection of their home, while there still was daylight outside, thus risking potential exposure. He finally shook his head. "I cannot," he mumbled. "I cannot go out. Maybe one day I will have the courage, but not yet." He looked at Christine. "You do understand," he asked pleadingly, "don't you?"
Christine smiled bravely. She would have hoped that Erik would bring her home, but she understood his reasons. Considering how awkwardly he had behaved at her arrival, she had a pretty good idea how the thought of maybe encountering one or two of their neighbors on the way might affect him. It was too much for one day. She could not ask this of him. She had to content herself with the progress they had already made.
"I do understand, Angel," she whispered. Then she looked up at him and asked, "when will I see you again?"
Erik fidgeted nervously. He wanted to say that he hoped she would be able to come over again tomorrow, but certainly she would not want to see him that often? "Maybe, once I have my new piano?" he finally suggested, glancing at Nadir for advice. "We could then sing together…"
Christine smiled at him. "I would like that very much," she assured Erik. "In fact, I was going to ask you to help me with my singing again…." Erik's face fell. Of course, her singing. She needed his guidance again. That was why she put up with him, the hideous monster.
Nadir sighed. Erik was obviously determined to misunderstand even the most harmless comment. Christine definitely had her work cut out for her. It would not be easy at all to convince his stubborn friend that his love was reciprocated.
"In that case, I will have to make sure that we soon get a piano," he tried to defuse the tension. Then he addressed Erik. "Have you thought about what I mentioned earlier?" he asked, "about Miss Christine needing a chaperone? Do you think you can deal with meeting yet another one of your old acquaintances? Can I tell Antoinette Giry that you are ready to see her as well?"
Erik stared at him. "Antoinette…" he murmured, while the face of a young girl appeared before his mind's eye. She was holding his hand, and he was a small boy, probably a bit younger than her, wearing nothing but tattered shorts. She was pulling him along, towards a huge building, they were running, running from something or somebody, he needed to hide, and she showed him how to enter the basement through a window. She saved him.
"Antoinette," he repeated. "She hid me when we were children, she protected me." Then he looked at Christine, puzzled. "Is she your foster mother? How did you meet her?"
Christine smiled. She knew the story about how Mme. Giry had helped Erik escape from the gypsies, her foster mother had told her all she knew about Erik, when Christine had gone to her for help after Raoul had cast her out. Christine had a feeling, Mme. Giry would be pleased to hear that Erik had remembered that bit about their relationship.
"Yes, she is my foster mother," Christine finally replied, "and she has told me about how she helped you when you both were children. I met her during my time at the Opéra Populaire." She scanned the visible part of Erik's face for a sign of recognition, then added hesitantly, "she was the ballet mistress there."