Chapter One

Christine

Doubt is a terrible feeling. Especially when there is a life resting on the decision that you doubt making. I made a decision, and now after a year, I feel the cold pang of doubt knock against my heart like a mourning bell. I've nearly driven myself mad trying to justify the actions that I took a year ago, down in the cellars of the Opera House.

I was so young... I guess I still am very young, and yet I feel as though I have aged a hundred years in these passed months. I was afraid. Afraid of him... No... on second thought, I was not afraid of him... I was afraid of the way I felt when I was with him. I feared the way my heart beat so violently against my chest that I was sure it would rip my body apart. I feared the effect he had over me. The dramatic transition of my voice from mediocrity to ... well, I don't even know what my voice is now... My voice has brought audiences to their feet, and like some strong opiate has thrust my soul into a dream world of music... Music is my drug... but drugs can be dangerous.

I have been such a child! Too naive and innocent to recognise the love that I felt for him. What I took to be fear at the time was nothing more that the first tremblings of a love too intense for my own chaste heart to comprehend. My God, I must have killed him with my stupidity! My disgusting, angelic, naivety! At the time I thought that I wanted what I had with Raoul... A simple, ordinary, respectful relationship with my tall, handsome suitor... I was so wrong...

I did not marry Raoul. After that night by the lake, even though I was, at the time, so relieved to be free, somewhere deep inside myself, I kept finding excuses not to marry him. It's been like this for a year now. He pines for me so, and yet I have become increasingly numb to his unfailing devotion. I feel nothing when I am around him... None of the heat that I felt for Erik... There was a time when I would have taken this lack of constant emotional turmoil to be a blessing... but now... now our relationship is bordering on the monotonous.

I lay in bed now, watching the early morning rays penetrate the delicate sheers that hang across my window. I often wonder what has become of Erik... I have not sung at the Opera since the first and only performance of Don Juan Triumphant, and have dared not even return to the building itself, let alone the dressing room where we first met. At first, this act of restraint was out of respect for Raoul, but now I find that it is out of fear that he may no longer be there... I don't think I could withstand the blow of kneeling next to that mirror and hearing no answering whisper to my pleas.

I reach over to my bedside table and retrieve the small brass key that opens the top drawer. I haven't used this key in a year and I'm surprised at how easily it turns in the hole, showing no sign of age or stiffening. As I pull open the small drawer, memories come flooding back to me.

"Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime. Lead me, save me from my solitude..."

His hand extended towards me and my heart beat wildly within my chest...

"Say you'll want me with you here beside you. Anywhere you go let me go too..."

He opened his palm to reveal a simple, gold wedding band. Beautifully simple... He took my hand and, with all the tenderness and love of the world placed the ring devotedly on my finger. Unconsciously, I found myself doing the same right now, imagining his face above me as I gently fingered the precious band.

"Christine, that's all I ask of..."

A knock on my door awakens me from my reverie. As soft as the tapping was, it sounds like thunder inside my head. I struggle back to my senses and slam the drawer shut hastily. The door opens a crack and a kind, pleasant face appears around the corner. Madame Ballamont was hired by Raoul about eight months ago to wait on me. She was a kindly soul but often received the nastier side of my personality for her efforts. I was not accustomed to being waited upon.

"Excuse me Mademoiselle, but the Viscount is here, and requests an audience." she said graciously.

Yes, I'll bet he requests an audience. Only Raoul would ask to see me as if I were a queen, and I can't help but wonder what precious bauble he has brought me today, or what exotic picnic he has arranged for us this afternoon. Oh, it was kind of him, yes, but I just cannot bring myself to appreciate such material gifts. Even his love seemed to sometimes focus too much around possession and social appearance. He always insisted on bringing me to his family's soirees and shamelessly boasted about my vocal endeavours.

"I'm proud of you" he protested when I once addressed this subject with him.

He was proud of me... Who could blame a man for being proud of his lovely young fiancee? Who on this earth would shy away from his excessive compliments and strangling devotion... I would, and I have.

With a curt nod to Madame Ballamont, I venture meekly out from under the warmth of my sheets. I won't rush myself to get dressed. It's still early in the morning and I sincerely doubt whether Raoul would complain about my taking a moment to make myself presentable.

Finally I make my way downstairs to the small drawing room across the hall. I enter quietly, calm and composed as usual. Raoul stands nobly by the mantle, patiently fingering his pocket watch. He looks up when he sees me enter.

"Good morning, my dear!"

His voice is a little too cheerful for a casual good morning. He takes my right hand in his and I feel his lips gently caress my skin. I pull away a little too soon and sense the mild contempt in his face. I allow him to lead me to the chesterfield where we sit a respectable distance apart under the mindful watch of my day maid.

"You're rather pale this morning. Christine, have you not been sleeping well?"

He always addresses me with such infuriating stiffness as though his entire family were watching us. He always speaks so properly and with such maddening civility that I sometimes wish I could just slap him to raise a temper. I almost wish that he would just cry or scream or laugh uncontrollably... Something! Something other than this infernal gallantry that he never seems to dismiss from his personality.

"I'm fine Raoul." I answer shortly.

He shifts his eyes apprehensively around the room as though searching for a topic of conversation. This, I have come to know, is a habit of his whenever there is a subject he wishes to avoid for the moment. Today, however, his unfortunate gaze came to rest upon my left hand... My left hand, where I had unconsciously placed Erik's single token of unflinching love... Sensing his attention, I hastily bury my hand in my skirts, but to no avail. The damage has already been done and he grabs hold of my wrist and pulls my fingers towards his face.

"Raoul..." I have no idea what exactly I intend to say after that, but I had to attempt some kind of explanation.

"It's his isn't it?" he snarls accusingly.

I have nothing to do but nod resignedly and lower my eyes from that horribly pained look on his face. Somehow, after all of the hurtful thoughts that have been running through my head this morning about Raoul, I now feel only horrible shame at having put him through this. I should have ended it months ago and not dragged him cruelly through this dream world.

What happened after that horrible realization, I can only vaguely recall. He spoke softly to me, kissed me tenderly and walked out my door. I sat quite still for a moment in silence. Then, I ventured to the window and watched his tall figure fade away from my vision. He did not slouch, or appear outwardly to be anything but fine. Always the composed and civil gentlemen.

A single tear was all that I shed for Raoul on that day. A single tear that slid helplessly down my cheek and dropped unnoticed to the floor.