Chapter 16 – Face
Erik stiffened. The thought of exposing himself to her like that frightened him. The incident Christine had just described must have happened over three years ago, and she had mentioned that he had covered his face with his hand almost immediately. She therefore probably did not remember too clearly just how ugly his deformed face was. Seeing it again now in all its hideous glory might therefore still be a shock to her despite her assertions that it did not matter. Then there was also the question of the new scar. The angry red line which ran all the way down his disfigured temple and cheek certainly had rendered his face even scarier and more repulsive than it had been before his accident.
Christine sensed Erik's discomfort. "Please, Angel," she begged softly, trying to reassure him. "It would mean so much to me."
Erik trembled. How could he deny her when she talked to him like that? He knew that there was no point in delaying the inevitable any longer. He would have to show her his face. "At least then I will know for sure that she only cares for me as her teacher," he told himself. "At least, once I'll have seen her reaction to my face I will be able to accept that there is no hope for me to gain her love one day. The sooner I accept that fact, the better for me."
Erik nodded, steeling himself for the scene about to unfold. He stood and turned his back to Christine. After hesitating for yet another moment he raised his hands to his head and took off the hat. Christine sighed in relief. She had not been certain at all whether or not Erik would actually remove that garment and reveal his face to her. "He needs to see that I accept him," she thought. "He needs to know that he can trust me now, or I will not be able to help him when he finally remembers everything."
Christine stood as well and walked over to Erik. She stood behind him, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Turn around, Angel," she asked him. "I want to see you. Please."
Erik groaned. Her voice was so sweet, so full of genuine affection. All this would soon be over. Once she had laid eyes on the abomination of his face she would not talk to him like that anymore. She would also not come close to him anymore, she would keep her distance then and most certainly would she not dare touch him anymore.
Resigned that this was a lose-lose-situation, that he would either displease her by not letting her see him or disgust her by doing so, Erik slowly turned around, first showing her his perfect left side, then, preparing himself for the worst, he turned a little bit more, thus exposing his entire face to Christine. Erik closed his eyes. He did not want to see the revulsion in Christine's eyes. It was bad enough that he would have to hear her reaction to that utter horror which was his face.
His eyes closed, Erik waited resignedly for a piercing scream or at the very least a sharp intake of breath from Christine that would confirm that he had been right about her inability to bear the sight of his repulsive gargoyle-like head. To his surprise nothing of the sort happened. Instead he suddenly felt the delicate touch of her hand on his marred right cheek.
Erik trembled under Christine's shy caress. He was not sure if he could believe his senses. He must be imagining this, she would not touch his horrid face, nobody would do so without necessity. Sure, Nadir had had to touch his face too, when he had treated his head injury, but there had been no other way. Christine certainly did not need to touch him like that, and there was no way in hell anybody would do so out of their own free will.
"It's what I want to happen," Erik told himself, "not what really is happening. I imagine her accepting my face, because I want her so badly to do so. I need to open my eyes and look at her, to see the disgust in her eyes, to see her turn away from me, in order to accept the truth."
With almost inhuman effort Erik forced himself to open his eyes and look at Christine. He very nearly fainted at the view in front of him. Christine was positively radiant, smiling at him lovingly. The fingers of her left hand were tracing the deep red scar on his deformed right cheek and temple.
"This is the new scar," she whispered softly, "that is the injury which cost you your memories." Erik did not have the strength to answer her. He was in shock at her reaction to his face. So he only nodded silently.
"It looks nasty," Christine continued, noticing how thin Erik's skin was around the scar. It was a miracle the skin had not torn even further when Nadir had stitched the wound and Christine was fairly certain that it would not take much to reopen it. It was clear to her that Erik should never in his life wear a mask again. The chafing would most certainly cause the extremely thin skin to break again.
"Does it still hurt?" Erik felt as if Christine's voice was coming through a fog. How come she was still looking at him? How could she look at him like that, sound so concerned about him? He fought for words. "No," he finally mumbled, then explained. "Sometimes I have a headache, but most of the time it does not bother me, except…" He did not have to finish the sentence, Christine understood him anyway. Except for the fact that he could not remember.
"My poor Angel," Christine whispered, caressing his marred flesh again. "As if you had not suffered enough yet with this," she sighed, her voice full of compassion.
Erik trembled again under her caress. He could not remember anybody ever touching his abominable face like that. He was certain that nobody ever had done so. "Not even my mother…," he whispered, tears beginning to run down his face. "Not even she would want to touch this face of a monster…"
He shuddered as his mind suddenly pictured him a pretty young lady in a widow's dress, turning away from him in disgust, ordering a maid to keep this disgrace of a son God had burdened her with out of her sight.
"It's all right, Angel," Christine cooed softly, and, sensing that Erik was fighting a turmoil of emotions and was in dire need of comfort, she wrapped her arms around him on impulse and pulled him close. "I am here with you, Angel," she whispered, "and to me your face does not matter. It does not change who you are." Christine bit her lip. Maybe she should not have said that. After all, it had been his face, which had turned Erik into an outcast, shunned by society, hated, feared, abused, and thus had ultimately made him retaliate in the same way and do the terrible things he had done.
Christine decided to slightly change her approach. "You have always been kind and understanding to me," she told her sobbing angel, holding him tight. "That is all that matters to me. Not your face. If you were the most handsome man in the world but nowhere near as caring as you have been with me when I needed somebody after my father's death, I would not like you at all." She closed her eyes at the memory of Raoul. He was attractive, but how much of his beauty was merely on the outside and did not extend to his personality? Where had he been, when her father had died? That poor creature in her arms, though, this man who had never experienced love or kindness, who had been abused and mistreated his entire life because of a birth defect, something that was not his fault, he had enveloped her in his love, made her feel safe and given her hope again.
"You were there for me when I needed a friend," Christine continued. "You gave me new hope when I thought all the happiness had left my life forever. You watched over me all those years, you taught me so many things, not just music. Your vast knowledge in so many areas helped me countless times, and you always had a solution for my problems. Your beauty is on the inside, Angel," she whispered. "You do not need a pretty face to impress me. I…" Christine interrupted herself, embarrassed. She almost had said that she loved him anyway.
"Oh Christine," Erik sobbed. He was close to an emotional breakdown. He was not used to any of this. He had little to no experience with human relationships now, and he was pretty certain that his experience in that area had been seriously lacking even before his accident. He had not expected Christine to react to his face like that at all. It was hard for him to accept that she could look at this curse that he had been carrying all his life without fear or disgust. That she would willingly touch his marred flesh was way beyond even his wildest dreams, and the way she was holding him and comforting him…. Was he dreaming?
This was all too much for him. Erik slowly slid down to his knees and buried his face in Christine's stomach. "How can you treat me like that," he sobbed, "me, the repulsive carcass?"
Christine joined him on the floor, once again wrapping her arms around him. "You are no such thing," she scolded him, "don't let me ever hear you speak like that about yourself. You are my angel, a very important person in my life. Please believe me, when I tell you, that appearance is not everything. I am sure Nadir agrees with me on that and Madame… Antoinette as well. We all know you. We all know that there is so much more to you than your face. Your kindness and caring, for instance, that you lavished on me when I was a lonely, heart-broken child, your many talents, architecture, music… That is, who you really are. These qualities define you as a person, not your face."
Christine pulled Erik even closer, touching her left cheek to his disfigured right one. "You mean the world to me, Angel," she whispered.
Nadir had shown Mme. Giry the garden. He had taken his time, trying to give the two star-crossed lovers as much time to discuss their situation as possible. When he finally could not come up with anything else he could do or say to keep the former ballet mistress away from the parlor any longer, the two made their way back to the house. They were about to enter the parlor, when they heard sobbing. They cautiously peeked in through the half-open door and saw their two charges on the floor, wrapped into each other's arms, sobbing. Erik was not wearing his hat.
Nadir pulled Mme. Giry back. "We are in the way here," he murmured softly. Mme. Giry nodded and followed him out onto the terrace again. Once they were out of earshot, Nadir stated bluntly, "they are in love." Mme. Giry nodded again. "I know," she said.
Nadir looked at her quizzically. "Does that mean you approve?" he asked. "I know it is too soon, to think about it, but once they will have cleared up all the misunderstandings I am sure that Erik will propose to Christine. I know she is like a daughter to you and she told me you are about to adopt her. How would you feel about her marrying Erik? Would he be welcome to you as son-in-law?"
Mme. Giry smiled. "I hoped they would find the way to each other when he tried to court her for the first time, my opinion in this regard has not changed, now that I know that his feelings are being returned by Christine. I will be happy for them, once they will finally be together."
Nadir was satisfied. He had no doubts now that his friend's future would be bright. "I think that in that case we should help our couple-to-be that they can spend a lot of time together and get reacquainted. They both deserve happiness now, after all they have been through. The sooner they can resolve their problems, the better. I guess that means," he added, chuckling, "that you will have to accompany Christine here for 'music lessons' quite often."
Mme. Giry sighed theatrically and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. "The lengths one goes to to make these children happy," she joked.
Erik calmed down a bit, the comfort of Christine's arms soothed him and helped him regain a semblance of composure. "We should not sit here on the floor," he told Christine, giving her an adoring look that made her blush. She trembled in his arms, while Erik helped her to get on her feet again.
"Christine," Erik asked, encouraged by her blush which once again ignited the flame of hope in his chest. "If you truly mean what you just told me…" he hesitated once again. Was he about to make a fool of himself? Had he misread her feelings after all?
"I mean, if you do not feel revolted by my hideousness," he stammered, "and if you do appreciate what few qualities I might have… would you… that is… please do not be offended… but … do you think there is a chance… might you be willing to consider… " Erik began to sweat. He had not imagined it could be that hard to ask a girl if he might be allowed to court her.
Christine smiled at him encouragingly. "What is it you want to know, Angel?" she asked softly.
Erik summoned all his courage once again. "Could you love me?" he blurted out, then, shocked by his own words, he mumbled, "I know it is asking much, and I will understand if you say it is not possible, but…."
He looked at her, imploring her with his eyes. "I love you so much," he confessed, "I think I have always loved you, even before… I only ask to give me a chance, to let me try and win your heart, to not refuse me right away, to give it some consideration…"
Christine started sobbing and buried her head in his chest. "Oh Erik," she whimpered, "I wish I could say yes." Erik tensed, he prepared himself for rejection. He realized now how foolish it had been to even ask. A pretty girl like her might be able to deeply care for the likes of him, but love? And intimacy? No, she would certainly not want a man with a corpse-like face make love to her, not to forget the little detail that he was almost twice her age and almost old enough to be her father.
"Forgive me, Christine," he begged, mortified to see her in tears. "Forget about it, if I had known it would upset you so, I would never have brought it up…"
Christine shook her head. "No Angel," she said, "you misunderstand. Pretty much the opposite of what you are thinking right now is the case." She smiled at him lovingly. "Now that you have told me I can admit my feelings for you. I do love you as well," she blushed deeply as Erik's arms closed around her. "But," Christine continued, suddenly looking sad, "a lot has happened between the two of us that you are not aware of right now. Part of it you do not remember, and there are a few things that you do not know about, because they happened in the past three years when we did not see each other." Not for the first time Christine wondered if Erik would still want her once he learned that she was a used woman, and whether or not it would matter to him that she apparently was not able to conceive.
"It would be unfair of me, if I gave you hope right now," she continued, her voice shaking with tears, "when you do not know all the facts. Being the honorable man that you are, you might feel bound by your word even if you later found out things that might make you want to not marry me anymore."
Erik pulled her close. "Nothing," he promised, "nothing will keep us apart, if only you love me. Nothing else will matter. Say it again, Christine, is it true, do you love me? Will you marry me?"
Christine sighed. "I do love you," she stated, "but I cannot marry you. At least not now," she added, when she saw Erik's sunken face. "You need to know all the facts first," she added softly. "Everything that I did and everything you did, and all about me during the time of our separation. Once you do know everything, you will have to think about it and decide if you still want me. If yes, then you may ask me again, and then, only then, will I be able to accept your proposal."
Erik beamed. "Then you will marry me," he said happily, "for I know that nothing and nobody will be able to make me change my mind about you. I will always love you."
Christine looked up at him uncertainly. "Let's talk about this again, once you know everything," she whispered.
Erik smiled at her. "My little bride," he murmured, "my fiancée, whatever it is that you fear, my love will be stronger than any obstacles. I know that nothing will be able to keep us apart as long as you love me." He looked her in the eyes and lowered his head to kiss her. Christine gasped. She wanted nothing more than to feel Erik's lips on hers again, to feel his tongue…
Resolutely Christine freed herself from Erik's arms. "Not now, Erik," she told him, "wait till everything is clear between us, till I can accept your proposal without feeling as if I tricked you into marrying me, as if I were abusing your love for me. Once I have freely agreed to be your bride, you may kiss me as often as you want."