Chapter 6 – Regret
Christine de Chagny was sitting in front of her vanity, staring at her face in the mirror. She had just spent half an hour having her unruly curls pinned up by her maid, forced into an elegant hairstyle. Now she was waiting for her husband to come home and appreciate the result of this boring ordeal. Christine hated elaborate hairdos and preferred just tying her hair back with a pretty ribbon, but Raoul liked her hair pinned up. He thought it looked more "aristocratic" that way.
Today was the second anniversary of their wedding, and Christine felt somewhat compelled to make that day special. Maybe if she made an effort, her marriage could still be turned into some kind of friendly relationship? Christine doubted it. How could she ever expect to repair her relationship with Raoul when her heart mourned another man?
Two weeks ago had marked the second anniversary of the fire at the Opera Populaire – and the death of her angel. Christine fought back tears. She could not cry tonight, Raoul would get angry. Tonight belonged to her husband. It was their anniversary and therefore wrong to think of her angel tonight.
Her angel! Thinking of him made Christine's heart ache with grief, but at the same time it flooded her whole being with such a strong feeling of tenderness and longing, that it almost made her forget her bleak existence. Christine was not quite sure when she had finally realized that she was deeply in love with her angel. It had been a gradual thing, but there was no denying now that her heart would forever belong to a man that had died two years ago.
The first step towards realization had probably been when Raoul had denied her music. Music had always been such a strong tie between her and her angel, something they had in common. Music might have helped her deal with his loss, but without it, she had missed him even more and thought about him even more often.
Raoul's busy schedule and his lack of interest in her problems adjusting to her new social status as a Vicomtesse had been a factor as well. It had made her compare the two men, and she had started to see Raoul not as a hero and savior but as a human with flaws. She remembered little things, comments he had made, the way he had reacted to things she had said, and the more she thought about it, the more she got the impression that she had been of interest to him mainly because he saw her as a damsel in distress in need of a knight in shining armor. The fact that there was competition for her affection had probably played a role as well. She began to wonder how quickly his interest in her might have faded had she gone out with him the night of her debut in "Hannibal". The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that he had only seen her as a nice flirt back then. After all, he had not even considered the question of a chaperone. Her reputation had not concerned him in the least.
It was true that Raoul had promised her a lot of things, that he would always be there for her, protect her, guard her and guide her. Reality had proven to be quite different, though. He barely had time for her, and he did not even seem to understand her problem, her loneliness, her isolation, her desire to have a purpose in life, to do something meaningful.
Christine remembered a day, several months after their marriage. She had once again been overwhelmed by the utter boredom of her days, the uselessness of her existence, and she had cried for the better part of the afternoon. Even though she had washed her face and cooled her eyes before Raoul had come home, she had looked terrible. Raoul had of course noticed, and after scrutinizing her pale, haggard face, had asked, full of hope, "You are so pale, Little Lotte, could it be that you are finally…?"
She had had to look away then, fighting back tears again, and it had taken her a few moments before she could answer calmly, that no, she was – alas – not yet pregnant. Raoul had been slightly annoyed at her negative reply, but at least he had bothered to ask what else was wrong, since her condition could not be a mother-to-be's hormone-induced mood-swings. Christine had then hinted at the way she was feeling without a real purpose, with no duties, with nothing that she could do, hoping that Raoul, who always was so busy, would understand how much she suffered under this lack of work. He had stared at her uncomprehendingly, though, and called her "ungrateful" for not appreciating the wonderful life in luxury he had made possible for her by making her a Vicomtesse.
Then he had dragged her off to bed. "Since you are not pregnant yet…" he had said. He wanted an heir. Christine could understand that. She wanted a baby as well. But weeks and months passed, without her showing signs of being with child, and Raoul became more and more anxious to get her pregnant. While their love-making had at first been somewhat enjoyable, with the growing pressure of producing an offspring, it had turned more and more into a cumbersome obligation. Whenever they were spending an evening at home, not attending an official function, Raoul insisted on going to bed early where he made her submit to her marital duties until they both were exhausted. Foreplay and tenderness did not matter anymore, all there ever was between them now was a joining of bodies in order to create a child.
As a result, Christine had long ago stopped enjoying the process, but her desire to finally become a mother had kept her going. Deep down she hoped that with a child things would get better between her and Raoul again. At the very least, a child would have been able to fill the void in her heart. But no matter how hard or how often they had tried, Christine had not become pregnant in two years of marriage.
A few weeks ago, Raoul had finally forced her to submit to an examination by several experts in that area, to make sure that nothing was wrong with her. Christine shuddered at the memory. Never in her entire life had she felt more embarrassed and humiliated, than when she had had to bare her lower body to the eyes of three complete strangers, who had forced her legs apart and poked and prodded her in the most private area of her body. She had felt as if she would die with shame. Even now, weeks later, the memory of this experience made her feel sullied and unclean. That Raoul had refused to stay with her during that ordeal and at least make sure that none of these men groped her more than absolutely necessary had driven a new wedge between them.
By then it had not really mattered anymore. Christine's so-called love for Raoul had died long before that, and at the same time a deep and strong feeling for her dead angel had taken root in her heart. Unlike Raoul, her angel had never promised her the moon and the stars, but unlike Raoul, he had been there for her when she had needed somebody. She owed him so much and she had abandoned him so cruelly when Raoul had begun to worm his way into her thoughts and her heart.
Yes, she had been shocked when her angel had killed Buquet, and she still was. But now she knew that all her fear of him had been nothing but a side effect of this shock. She had been deeply hurt, too, and had felt somewhat betrayed by him. After all, she had seen him as her idol for so many years and then he had thrown himself off the pedestal she had put him on by committing a crime. She understood now that she had been much more furious at her angel that night for destroying her illusions about him than actually frightened by him. She had also felt bad for having put her trust in a criminal. She had been in a very precarious emotional state that night and Raoul had taken advantage of the situation. He had somehow insinuated that she needed protection from a dangerous man and that he would save her and rescue her.
She had been too agitated that night on the rooftop of the Opera to think clearly, but the idea of having another choice, of being able to show the man who had disappointed her so deeply that she did not need him after all, had held some appeal. She had been easy prey to Raoul that night, and yet… while she had exchanged her words of love with him then, her mind had been full of her angel's songs and melodies.
In the following months, whenever she had started to think about her angel, especially during his long absence prior to the New Year's Masquerade, Raoul had always been quick to remind her what a dangerous madman he was, a criminal, the man who had murdered Buquet. Raoul had somehow managed to blow her angel's crimes out of proportion and make her fear him. And yet, deep down she had always known that her angel was no threat to her, that she would always be safe in his presence. That's why she had walked up to him at the Masquerade, why she had approached him at the cemetery, and why she had abandoned herself so freely to his embraces and caresses during the performance of "Don Juan Triumphant".
That evening had ended in a nightmare. Christine tried to suppress the horrors from her memory, Piangi's body, the chandelier, the fire, her angel's raving madness and his threat to kill Raoul. But a tiny voice in her mind kept reminding her that Raoul had been plotting to kill her angel first. Raoul was not so different from her angel after all. He, too, preferred his rival dead. He, too, was willing to kill in order to get what he wanted or to protect what he thought was rightfully his. Her angel had only defended himself and retaliated. And she had to admit to herself that his precarious state of mind at that point had been mostly her fault.
"I just left him because of Buquet," she thought. "I never bothered to give him a chance to justify his actions. He may not even have been aware that Buquet had caused my change of heart, he might have thought that I turned from him because of his face, like everybody else has done in his life, that mother of his for instance, who made him wear a mask when he was still a baby, so that she would not have to look at his poor features. His self-esteem was so low already because of this birth defect, thinking that I despised him as well for something that was not his fault, may well have been the final straw."
Christine sighed. How much she missed her angel, his beautiful, soothing voice, his expressive eyes that could look at her so full of love, his strong arms around her, his hands, that had caressed her so tenderly, his lips…. Christine closed her eyes and tried to remember their kiss. The ugliness of his deformed face had not mattered to her then, she had put her own hand on top of his marred right cheek and it had felt so right. She had been way too agitated then, though, to realize how very special this kiss had been, how different from her kisses with Raoul.
If only she had understood her own heart then! "I would never have abandoned him," Christine thought. "We might have died together, but at least I would not have broken his heart." Tears welled in her eyes at the thought that her angel had died without ever knowing that she did love him after all. "If at least he were alive," she thought. "We could not be together anyway, since I am married to Raoul, but I could at least tell him, ask his forgiveness…" And she began to daydream, imagining what she would say to her angel, if he had survived the fire and they were reunited one day, how she would convince him of her love and show him that she had no problems with his face.
"I was so stupid," Christine thought. "I could have had the most wonderful, deep, meaningful marriage in the world and I threw it all away, because I did not understand my own heart until it was too late. I think I have always loved my angel, right from the start, from when I first heard his voice. My love for him may have changed over the years and grown, but it was always there, I was just too stupid to recognize it for what it was."
An old song that she had almost forgotten suddenly crossed Christine's mind. Her father had taught her that song when she was a child. She had often sung it then, her father accompanying her on his violin, hoping to earn a few francs with their music to pay for dinner, but she had sung the words automatically, not grasping their meaning. She had been way too young then, and the word "love" had had no other meaning for her then but the feelings she had for her father. She had not thought about this song anymore since her father had died. It was strange that she remembered it now. Now, that she knew what gigantic mistake she had made.
"It's almost as if my father had known," Christine whispered in awe. "As if he had wanted to leave me an important advice, his guidance, so that I might achieve happiness." If only she had remembered that song sooner, it might have opened her eyes and helped her make the right choice.
"Look with your heart," she repeated the song's refrain from memory, "and not with your eyes, your heart understands, your heart never lies…" How true those words were! Her heart had always told her that she need not fear her angel, her heart had made her walk up to him at the Masquerade, her heart had made her enjoy his caresses on stage, her heart had made her kiss him.
The more Christine thought about that particular song, the more lines she remembered. "Love is not always beautiful, not at the start…" She had to smile at that. This line almost sounded as if it had been written for her and her angel. They had certainly been off to a rough start, what with him playing an angel for so long and not telling her the truth until much later, or with her ripping off his mask, thus causing his temper to flare, and, worst of all, Buquet. But on the whole, the positive memories by far outweighed those dreary ones, and Christine would have given almost anything, to turn back time and live through these days again, to have him at her side again, to sing with him, talk with him, blush under the adoring look of his expressive eyes.
"Love's a curious thing," Christine remembered yet another line from the song, "it often comes disguised…" Yes, by now she knew that much from personal experience as well. Whatever she had thought her feelings for her angel were - friendship, gratefulness, admiration of his talent - love had not come to mind then, and yet, there was no denying that she had loved him right from the start.
Christine shuddered as another half-forgotten line resurfaced from her memory. "Love you misunderstand, is love that you'll regret…" Tears were streaking down her cheeks now freely. How true these words were! She had not recognized love when it had been staring her in the face. She had turned her back on it and walked away from it, and now she had to live with the consequences, with her guilt and her pain.
"There you are, Christine!" Her husband's voice woke her from her reveries. "Why did you not come down and meet me at the door on a day like this, our anniversary?" he asked slightly annoyed. "At least your hair looks presentable today," he continued, almost appeased. Then he noticed her swollen, red eyes and his mood worsened again.
"You have been crying." He stated flatly. "I hope it's not that nonsense about a meaningless life again!" Christine hastily dried her tears and forced a smile on her face. "No," she assured him. "It was just that… I remembered something my father once said and this memory reminded me once again how much I miss my dear papa." She inhaled deeply. At least the part about remembering words her father had told her, was the truth.
Raoul seemed appeased. "I know how much he meant to you," he admitted. "But today is a day to celebrate. Two years ago we were married. So dry your tears and smile at me."
Christine tried her best to concentrate on her husband. "I remember our wedding very clearly," she said non-committally. "It was a happy day."
Raoul gazed at her sweet face. The expression of her eyes was indescribable. There was sadness, melancholy, a memory of happy times and at least half a dozen other emotions that he could not define, and it turned him on. As annoyed as he sometimes was with his wife's moods, he still desired her body.
"I know that dinner will be ready soon," he said hesitantly, "but I think there are better ways to celebrate this day." He glanced at the large double bed. Christine winced. She was not in the mood for that kind of activity at all. Then she nodded, resignedly. Raoul was her husband, after all. It was his right to ask that of her. Maybe, if she closed her eyes, she could pretend…. Or maybe at least this time would finally result in a pregnancy…