Come Death, Come Life, Biding Love

The last thing he expected when he opened the door was to see her face.

Christian blinked, trying to decide whether or not the serene, well-dressed woman standing before him was a hallucination. He was rarely visited those days, let alone by women who had Satine's face. Could this be pure coincidence?

"Monseiur?" she said finally, when Christian still hadn't spoken.

He realised that they had been standing in silence for several moments. "I beg your pardon," Christian said politely. "Please…come in."

The woman thanked him and stepped inside. Perching primly on a chair, she glanced around for a few moments, then met Christian's gaze.

"I don't suppose you know who I am," she stated.

Christian surveyed her. The woman's dark hair was neatly pulled back in a low bun, and she had quiet hazel eyes. A silver cross hung from a chain around her neck, and she also wore a small silver locket. She was dressed like a well-to-do housewife, but something in her posture told him that she was more important than a housewife. She was elegant rather than pretty, but her face was shaped exactly as Satine's was. But he couldn't imagine why she was so resembled Satine, unless the two were related.

"No," he admitted. "I don't know who you are."

"I am Colette Joubert," she told him. "I don't suppose the name is familiar?"

Christian shook his head.

Colette sighed. "But you must have heard the name 'Satine' before."

His head shot up, suspicious blue eyes meeting her hazel ones. "How do you know Satine?"

"I'm her sister," Colette said quietly.

Dozens of thoughts flooded Christian's mind. Satine's sister. She had a sister? Where had she been all this while?

"Excuse me, did you say—sister?"

Colette nodded. "Yes, I did."

Christian swallowed, mulling over his situation. "Why have you come here?" he asked finally.

"I'd best explain things," Colette said with a sigh. "Satine's real name was Gabrielle. Gabrielle Joubert. My sister. We grew up together on the streets of Paris. Our father had died early on, and our mother passed away when I was six, and she was nine. Gabri had always been impulsive, and always loathed our state of destitution. She told me that she was meant to shine, and that no one could see her shine beneath layers of dirt. And I was the shy, frightened, younger sister. She always took care of me, and couldn't bear to go off on her own and simply leave me behind. I was what kept her from shining.

"Gabi told me that it would be dangerous for me, where she wanted to go. But she wanted so badly to be seen, to be idolised. So when she was sixteen, Gabrielle left me, with a few francs and a locket that had belonged to our mother, on the steps of an orphanage for girls. She said that the nuns there would take better care of than she ever had or ever could." Colette gently touched the silver locket around her neck.

"The locket has a few strands of Gabi's—Satine's—hair in it. I missed her terribly, but being young and naïve, didn't quite understand that she wasn't coming back. I kept telling myself that she would return for me. I waited and waited. But I never saw her again. All I remember is Gabi looking down at me, with tears in her eyes, smiling and telling me that she loved me before the nuns came out and took me in."

Colette took a deep breath and brushed tears from her eyes. "For years, I tried to guess where Gabi would have gone to 'shine'. I'm married now, with a beautiful daughter, and it wasn't easy to keep up my own personal life and search for my sister at the same time. Eventually, however, I came to the conclusion that Gabi was either at the Moulin Rouge, the centre for all the starlets in Paris, or that she had left the city. But I was too frightened —I couldn't go to the Moulin Rouge, I couldn't! I'm married and respectable and shy, and Gabi—she was always so bold. I tried to go once, a year ago, but I couldn't bring myself to do it after a drunk man attempted to…" She stopped, regained her composure, and continued. "But a week ago, I decided that I had to find her. I would go to the Moulin Rouge, accompanied by my husband, and see if she was there."

Christian found himself sympathising with this quiet, meek lady. He could imagine the pain she felt when she arrived at the Moulin Rouge, only to find that Satine was dead.

"My husband and I managed to avoid the dancing girls, and the unruly men, and everyone else, and finally someone asked us what we were there for. When I told him that I was looking for a woman named Gabrielle Joubert, he directed me to a man named Harold Zidler."

Colette's eyes fastened on the floor, not daring to meet Christian's. When she didn't speak for several moments, he said gently, "And what then?"

"Monseiur Zidler seemed surprised to see me. He told me yes, there had been a lady named Gabrielle Joubert there. I was excited, until I noticed that Monseiur Zidler looked troubled. I suddenly realised the implications of his words. Had been. There had been a lady named Gabrielle. Had she gone? I wondered. Had Gabi left Paris?

"And then Monseiur Zidler told me that—that—" A few tears spotted her dark blue linen lap. Colette swallowed. "That Gabi was dead."

The words hung suspended in the air. Christian's breath seemed to become heavy, weighed down with sorrow. It seemed so strange to hear such words from Satine's sister's mouth. He himself still hadn't recovered from Satine's death. He couldn't learn to cope with it.

"They say that she was called 'Satine' at the Moulin Rouge," Colette said softly. "That she was the most beautiful creature they'd ever seen. That she was called the Sparkling Diamond. That she was truly wonderful. And I know this. Because—because no matter what dishonorable actions she did, she will always be my sister."

Christian lowered his head so Colette would not see the tears forming in his eyes.

"I was in shock," Colette explained. "I could hardly move. Monseiur Zidler led me to a small, dark room. There was a box in it. He told us that the box was full of her belongings. My husband said that it was time we returned home, and we thanked Monseiur Zidler and went back to our house with the box.

"It was several days before I came out of my room. I couldn't believe that she was dead. From consumption, they tell me. It's strange, to me. Gabrielle was always the strong one, and I was weak. She would always take care of me. And when I was needed to care for her, I—I wasn't there.

"When I finally gathered the courage to look inside the box, I found, at the top of silk dresses and brooches and other jewelry, a letter. It was addressed to you." Colette dug through her purse and pulled out an envelope. "I don't know who you are, Monseiur Christian, but I know that this letter holds something important for you."

She rose, smoothing her dress. He stood next to her, uncertain of what to say.

"Thank you for your time, Monseiur," Colette said politely, handing him the envelope. "And before I leave, let me give you one more thing."

She reached behind her neck and unfastened the locket. Colette dropped it into his hand and closed his fingers around it. "I feel Satine would want you to have it," she whispered.

Christian stared into her shadowy blue eyes, Satine's eyes. Colette was a sad woman, he could see it. They both had lost a part of their souls when Satine died.

"Thank you," he murmured.

Colette smiled gently and left, closing the door softly behind her.

Christian sighed and sat, the locket clenched in one hand and the letter in another. He tore open the envelope with shaking fingers, recognising Satine's spidery handwriting. Carefully, he unfolded the letter and began to read.

My dearest Christian,

I have only an hour until the show starts, but there is something I must tell you. Marie has told me that she will give you this letter, but as she is forgetful at times, it is likely that you will never receive this. But I had to confess, and if this is the only way I can do it, then I must be content with that.

I love you. I always have, and I always will. And you know this.

I want more than anything to run away with you. You are everything to me—I have nothing else but you. The Moulin Rouge holds nothing for me anymore. It is imprisonment, not freedom. And you, my love, have liberated me.

You must forgive me for breaking your heart as I did. It was not my choice. I have to explain. I went straight back to the Moulin Rouge to pack after leaving your apartment, with every intention of leaving Montmarte and Paris and everything here for a life with you. But Zidler found me and told me something awful. I still can't believe it.

I'm dying, Christian. I have a disease that the doctors cannot cure.

He also said that if I do not sleep with the Duke tonight, the opening night of our play, that the Duke will kill you. I was scared, Christian, terribly frightened for your safety, and for mine. The last thing I want to do is sleep with him, but I know I have to protect you.

Zidler instructed me to go to you and lie, to say that I accepted the Duke's offer to become an actress. I am not to see you again now that I have told you.

I'm really not sure what will happen to me now. Life was like a dream until now. And since you're gone…I don't know. I feel as if I have been suddenly shaken into reality. I wish you could be here with me. Nothing will be the same anymore.

I remember how much I wanted to simply fly away, far from the Moulin Rouge and everything that I knew, to be free. But then you came and changed me forever. If I could run away with you I would, but I don't have much longer.

You gave me wings. Before you came, I was living a dream—fantasising about flying away, but having no means to do so. And then you came, and your love gave me wings. I felt that I could do anything. I'd never felt that way before. It breaks my heart to know that this disease has torn my wings from my body. I will never fly, Christian.

It feels so strange to be dying…Like I'm living and breathing in a world that will soon be gone for me. I should be frightened of death, but I'm not. Since I no longer have you, nothing is worth living for anymore.

Christian, my dearest Christian…I love you. I will never stop loving you. And I want you to know that you were the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.

My love forever,

Satine

Christian stared at the blotches made on the ink by his tears, longing for a way to bring her back. If tears were wishes, surely Satine would be alive even now.

He gently pried open the locket. A few fine strands of red-gold hair rested against a tiny photograph of four people. The man and woman were beaming, and before them stood two small girls. The elder one had bright reddish hair and a radiant smile, and the other had sweet dimples and a delicate, fairylike face crowned with dark hair. Satine and Colette.

He clutched the locket and letter to his chest, feeling sobs force their way up his throat…not again, he didn't want to cry again! He wanted to remember Satine with love, not grief. He wanted to let go.

Suddenly, Christian felt a strange feeling stir in his heart, and the heaviness was lifted from his shoulders. He breathed in deeply, letting air flood into his lungs. Tilting his face upward, he imagined that he could see the grief wafting upwards, away from him. And further up was Satine's beautiful face.

She smiled. Come what may, I will love you until my dying day.