Chapter 21 – Reunion
Nadir sighed. "Does it really matter now what your life was like before your accident?" he asked softly. "Is it not much more important to appreciate what you have now?"
Erik turned away from his friend. "I have been telling myself that for the past hour or so," he groaned, "but I cannot shake the feeling that I can only be whole again once I remember everything. Even though I have begun to fear the return of my memories," he added dejectedly. "So far there have been considerably more horrors in my past than happy moments."
Nadir gently put a comforting hand on Erik's heaving shoulder. "These things lie in the past, Erik," he stated quietly, "do not let them dominate your thoughts now. Do not let them ruin your future. Do not occupy yourself too much with thoughts like these. Concentrate on the life you have now. Focus on the present and try to put the past behind you, once and for all."
"That's easier said than done," Erik retorted. Nadir nodded in understanding. "I know, Erik, I know," he said.
The weekend passed and Erik had not yet come to terms with the fact that he had killed Buquet. Nadir was more convinced than ever that Erik would never be able to resolve this on his own, that in order to get over this assassination he would need all his friends with him. He therefore sent Darius with a note to the Giry-household, reminding Antoinette and Christine that they had promised to come and take the tea with Nadir and Erik on Monday.
"He needs all the love and friendship in the world," Nadir had written. "Or he will never be able to accept the fact that there was nothing else he could have done when Buquet confronted him in the rafters."
Mme. Giry and Christine promised Darius that they would be there in time for tea. The loyal old servant let out a big sigh of relief. "Your presence will mean so much to master Erik," he said. "He has been so depressed lately, not his usual self." Both ladies smiled at him, deeply touched by the man's obvious concern for Erik's emotional wellbeing.
Once Darius had left, Christine threw herself into her new mother's arms. "Oh maman," she sobbed, "Erik is taking these things so terribly hard. How will he ever be able to deal with all his past?"
Mme. Giry patted her new daughter's back. "You would not love him if he took it any other way," she reminded Christine. "He is reacting that way, because despite all he has done he is a decent man, and now that he does not have to constantly defend himself and threaten others so that they may leave him alone, he realizes how wrong the things he did are."
Christine nodded. She knew that Mme. Giry was right. "I only wish I could help him, take some of the guilt he feels off his shoulders," she sighed.
Mme. Giry hugged her. "You do help him," she said, "more than you realize. My and M. Khan's friendship are important, as is Darius' loyalty, but your love has more healing power than all our feelings for Erik combined. Your love will help him accept his past and put it behind him."
A tiny little smile played across Christine's features then her face fell. "If he can truly forgive me," she murmured somberly.
On Monday, once again, Nadir stopped by at the Giry-cottage on his way home from the office, to escort the ladies to his home. He had not told Erik that the ladies would be coming for tea. He hoped that the surprise, the fact that they were coming even though Erik had not told them yet that he was ready to learn more about his past, would prove to Erik without any doubt, that they cared about him and had been worried about how he was dealing with the recently remembered events from his past.
Erik was at his drawing board, trying hard to concentrate on designing a new wing to be added to Lord Castleborough's country house to accommodate the Lord's eldest son's growing family, when he heard the front door. He groaned. These drawings were due in two days and he was far from finished. With all he had on his mind it was hard to keep his thoughts on his work. Now Nadir was home and would want his tea and Erik would have to interrupt his work again. How would he ever manage to deliver these designs in time?
"Erik, where are you?" he heard Nadir's cheerful voice. "We have visitors!" Visitors! Erik sat straight. For one terrible moment he feared Nadir might have brought one or several strangers to their home. Then he relaxed. No, Nadir would not do that to him. Nadir had respected Erik's need to hide his deformed face from the world for the past three years, he would not force strangers on him now, that Erik was less prepared to deal with additional stress than at any point over these past years.
Therefore these visitors had to be the ladies. But how could they possibly be here? He had not told them that he felt ready to meet them again and expose himself to the risk of remembering further details from his past, which he now knew must have been one long, uninterrupted series of horrors. Any innocent comment made by either of them could spark a memory and Erik was not sure he would be able to deal with that just now.
And Christine! Erik did not know if he could face her. Would not seeing her again remind him of the pain she had caused him when he had watched her lying in this – boy's – arms?
Erik was still trying to decide what to do, when the door to his study opened and Nadir burst in. "There you are, Erik," he exclaimed jovially. "Now quick, wash your hands and come down for tea. It is not polite to make ladies wait!" Nadir chuckled as he noticed Erik's uneasiness.
"They are worried about you," he said softly. "They fear you hate yourself because of some of your past actions. They need to see with their own eyes that you are fine."
Erik sighed. "They are right," he moaned. "I do hate myself, and I cannot understand why they care about me despite the murders I have committed. Or why you and Darius care, for that matter. How can you all like me, me, a monster!"
Nadir patted Erik's shoulder. "We know that you are no monster," he said. "You are too hard on yourself. Now come, and meet your guests. The ladies are genuinely concerned about you."
Erik nodded absentmindedly. He quickly cleaned his ink-stained fingers and followed Nadir to the terrace where Darius had laid the table for tea and where the two ladies were waiting for him.
Christine noticed at once that Erik was still deeply troubled. He seemed less confident, less sure of himself, as if guilt was weighing him down. Yet the way how his eyes suddenly radiated love the moment he spotted her, gave her courage. He still loved her despite her betrayal, so there was hope that her love would be able to help him.
"Angel!" she sobbed, running to Erik and throwing herself into his waiting arms. "I missed you so much!" Erik pulled her close. The moment he held her in his arms he did not think of the night on the rooftop anymore. Forgotten was the Vicomte, Christine's betrayal and all his suffering. The only thing that counted was his love for Christine and the fact that she was there with him, comforting him.
"I missed you too," Erik confessed, "but I was not sure if I had the right to ask you to come back, to me, the killer."
Christine buried her face in his chest. "I told you, I would be back, once you are ready to meet me again," she said softly. "I have been waiting, and when you did not send for me, I have been so worried. I feared you might not want to see me again, that maybe you do not love me anymore…"
Erik groaned. "Not love you anymore! How can you expect me to ever stop loving you," he exclaimed. "It just seems so inconceivable to me that you could still want me, even though you know that I have killed before!"
Christine looked up at his ugly, deformed face and gently caressed his latest scar. "Many men have killed others," she said quietly. "Men kill to defend themselves and their loved ones, soldiers in order to defend their countries. I am not saying that it is right to kill somebody, but I am aware that sometimes there are no other options. Do you really think I could hold it against you that you did what was necessary to preserve your life, to keep yourself alive – for me."
Christine blushed deeply and Erik wrapped his arms even tighter around her. "My angel," he sighed. "My salvation. I do not know anymore how I could function without seeing you, those past few days. Your love, your trust in me, your conviction that there is some good in me despite those crimes, is what keeps me going. Christine, please, don't leave me alone any longer." Erik knelt down in front of her, holding her hands. "Please Christine," he begged. "Say that you will marry me."
Christine closed her eyes. She was incredibly happy and incredibly sad at the same time. Happy, because Erik loved her so much and had forgiven her the pain she had caused him when she had thrown herself at Raoul after Buquet's death, but also sad, because she knew that she could not accept his proposal just yet.
"I will marry you, Erik," she finally said, "once you know everything. I do believe that your love will be strong enough to survive whatever else you will have to remember, since you were able to forgive my transgressions with Raoul, but it would not be fair to bind you to me now, when there is still so much you are not aware of yet."
Erik sighed. "So there is more bad stuff to come," he murmured. "I knew it, I told Nadir that I had a feeling my life has been very miserable. He said, it does not matter, since the miserable part is now in the past. But is it truly in the past, if it keeps you from me in the presence?"
Christine smiled at him. "Not forever," she promised. "The past won't be able to keep us apart, unless you want it to. But you need to remember everything, so that you can deal with it properly and put it behind you, before our future can begin."
Nadir and Mme. Giry silently watched this emotional scene between their "children". If they had had any doubts that these two would one day be able to put the horrors and the pain of the past behind and start a new life together, the way how the couple treated each other, the deep love that shone in both their eyes would have resolved all those doubts.
They smiled at each other knowingly, then Nadir cleared his throat. "Are the two of you joining us for tea," he asked humorously, "or are you going to feed on words of love alone?"
Erik and Christine both blushed and sat down at the tea table. Erik felt better than he had since the ladies' last visit. As strange as it seemed to him, Christine most definitely loved him, even though she knew he had been responsible for the death of two men. Antoinette also smiled at him encouragingly, and made it quite clear that she was relieved to see him about to recover from the shock that remembering the events of the night of "Il Muto" had caused him.
"They can forgive me," Erik thought. "Therefore I must learn to forgive myself. And what Christine said, is true. Other men have killed as well. I am not the only one, and self-defense is not even punishable by law. Even if I had killed somebody in a duel in order to preserve my or my family's honor, I would go free. And even though I have killed before, it does not mean that I will do it again. I just have to do my best to prove to them that their faith in me is not misplaced. I will have to avoid situations that would put me in the need of defending myself, but since I do not leave the house anyway, I am probably safe. I won't have to kill again."
Erik glanced at Christine. She had promised to marry him once he'd remember everything. Erik did not know how much more there was that he did not yet remember, but he suddenly felt a rush to remember as much as possible as quickly as possible. Yes, those memories would probably be painful and he did not relish the prospect of having to come to terms with even more unsavory details of his past, but there would be a reward. As soon as he had gone through the ordeal and accepted his past, all of it, Christine would be finally his.
Erik took a deep breath to steel himself for whatever else he would learn and asked, "so, what else do I need to know before you will marry me, Christine? Please tell me, as quickly as possible, so that we can put the past to rest."
Christine bit her lip. What could she say? Was he ready to hear more about her and Raoul? Could she tell him about the masquerade or their visit to her father's grave which had ended in a sword-fight between him and the Vicomte?
Nadir noticed her obvious discomfort and came to her aid. "Maybe we should start at the very beginning," he suggested, "with your childhood."
Erik gave him an uncertain look. "My childhood?" he asked surprised. "I thought we had already covered that. Did I not live with the gypsies until Antoinette helped me escape?"
Nadir shook his head. "That is part of your childhood," he corrected Erik, "there was more."
Erik's eyes widened. He suddenly remembered something Nadir had told him long ago, shortly after his accident. "I am not a gypsy," he uttered. "I was born into a middle class French family, hence my French surname. You even mentioned my hometown to me once, what was it? Bochebourg or something?"
"Boscherville," Nadir confirmed. "It is a small town in the vicinity of Rouen. Erik, I do not know all the details about your early childhood, but I do remember a few things that I have learned from you over the years. Before you lost your memory," he added softly.
Erik nodded. "What do you know about my early childhood, about my family?" He asked.
Nadir concentrated. Telling Erik about his mother's neglect was not easy, but he had a feeling that Erik would be better able to handle this part of his past than any of the other revelations they would have to make in the very near future. "You never mentioned your father," he finally said, "which is why I assume he must have died early on, either before you were born or when you were still too young to remember him. His name was Charles Lavoisier, you told me once that your mother used to refer to him as 'my dear departed Charles'. Your mother Madeleine was fairly young for a widow, and in your opinion she was extremely beautiful."
Erik nodded. He remembered her now, lovely face, dark clothes, but eyes as cold as ice and as hard as stone. "She forced me to wear a mask," Erik mumbled, "even when I was a baby and did not yet understand that I was different. She could not bear to look at me…"
Christine grasped his hand. "Yes," she sobbed. "You told me once that your mask was the first item of clothing she ever gave you. How could she treat you like that!" Christine felt indignant. How could a mother do that to an innocent baby?
Erik shrugged his shoulders. "I cannot blame her," he whispered sadly. "Imagine her shock, having waited for her baby for so long, having endured all the inconveniences of pregnancy and the torture of giving birth, and then, instead of a child, a healthy infant, a little monster slips out of your womb…"
Christine slapped his arm. "Stop that," she said angrily. "Stop thinking of yourself as a monster. You are a human being like everybody else, you have the same rights as everybody else and that does include the right to your parents' love. Since your father may never have met you or died too soon to have any influence on your development, he is excused. Your mother, however, most definitely is not. She should have loved you no matter what. After all, you obviously were a strong and healthy baby despite your face, since you survived even though she does not seem to have taken proper care of you. Putting a mask on an infant!" Christine shuddered. She felt as if she would personally strangle the late Mme. Lavoisier for having neglected Erik so badly in his formative years, if the woman were still alive.
"She probably wanted to spare people the sight of my disgusting face," Erik made a weak attempt to defend his mother.
"She had no right to do that." Mme. Giry's voice was dripping with contempt for the woman that had ignored her precious, highly talented offspring because of something that was not the child's fault. "No mother has the right to treat her child like that. I am a mother myself, and of course, before Meg was born I also wondered, what would I do if something was amiss with my baby, if the child were somehow ill or handicapped…" She looked at Erik. "You know there are cases when children are born that have serious defects that affect their ability to function normally, babies with no arms or legs, babies that are blind or deaf or even mentally incapacitated. But even they deserve and need their parents' love. None of this is the case with you, though. Your case is far less severe. Despite your face you are able to function normally, you are able to make a living, you do have friends. If you always feel like somewhat of a lesser being it's her fault and hers alone. Your mother is to blame for most, if not all of your problems. By denying you her love she made you feel undeserving of it."
Erik stared at Antoinette, as he whispered forlornly, "she did not want to kiss me, not even on my birthday…"