Turn of the Tide: Apologies
It was an entire week from that awkward meeting until the next unfortunate encounter – this time, however, it was in letterform by Christine's own hand. I admit that I initially poured over the paper like an adolescent receiving first words from their crush, but after a day of heckling from my esteemed flat mate, I quickly dismissed its importance. In short, Nadir made no attempt to hide that he had read it from top to bottom.
"In the absence of any true detective work, you find it necessary to investigate my mail?" I demanded that afternoon. I was more annoyed than angry, which surprised even me.
"A letter, mysteriously addressed from a young ingénue to her stalker…what, you thought I would take no interest?" he toyed.
Casually I got up and poured myself some coffee. "Given the intriguing life you now lead, how could I have possibly underestimated your boredom?"
Nadir lifted his cup, implying he was in need of coffee as well. "I only read it to ensure that you weren't about to make a terrible mistake." That brigand! In response, I maturely poured the hot drink into his lap. "Damn it, Erik!" he shouted as he leapt from his armchair and began swatting at his trousers. "These were just cleaned!"
"Oops," I said innocently. I then leaned back against the fireplace mantel and sipped my coffee.
"If I didn't know any better I'd say your mask is on too tight," he snapped as he looked up from his useless attempts at removing the stains with his handkerchief.
"Judging by the damp condition of your trousers, I'd say that you missed a very important life lesson." If it were possible, Nadir's face turned a deeper shade of red as he stared daggers into me. I had to chuckle. Eventually the color in his face returned to some vestige of normalcy and we returned to the subject.
"So, are you going?" he asked.
"To their estate, of course. As it asked you in the letter."
"Well," I began as I moved slowly toward the window. "I had considered going there in the middle of the night – one o'clock, if you need specifics – kidnapping her and running away to make her the star of some Hungarian opera, but then I thought…why not just go and have dinner. Perhaps look at a horse while I am on the property."
"That's a terribly normal choice of plans."
"Yes, but the first one is what dreams are made of."
"Erik, be serious now for one moment," Nadir pleaded. His tone reflected his need to dispose of the pretense. "Are you prepared to talk about this?"
"Speak, man," I demanded. "God knows we're all dying at this very moment waiting for you to begin the discussion."
"She's invited you back into her life. I do not know why, and I will not pretend to agree with it, but…what do you intend to do about it?"
I stared blankly ahead through the window. "I do not know." There was a long silence as I pondered the situation. It was an unforeseen change in our circumstances – initially, I had rejected it, satisfied to retreat into a black hole and again close myself off from the world. Then I began to accept that perhaps being a part of her life could be somehow acceptable. Now I was agonizing over the course of action that would be best for everyone. Admittedly, this was not a talent of mine. "I made an offer on that gelding," I said suddenly, setting my coffee cup down on the nearest table and returning my stare to the bright sky outside the window.
"Which one?" Nadir inquired.
"The dark bay that was screaming itself into a fit that day before I left the Chagny estate."
I could feel Nadir's confused stare on my back. "What on earth are you going to do with a horse?"
"I read somewhere that you ride the damned things," I declared as I turned about to glare momentarily at Nadir. "He was a pair horse, his driving partner died, and they have no use for a single at this moment. Nice animal; I'd hate to see him off to someplace horrible because he had no purpose for the time being, so I thought I'd pick him up."
"Compassion for animals, yet none for yourself," Nadir began.
"Oh here we go."
"No, I'm beyond happy that you're taking this horse in. You wouldn't want him to develop a disassociation from the rest of society or acquire a drug habit, would you?"
"Wait, we're not talking about the horse now are we?" I asked, the sarcasm dripping from my words.
Nadir stared on ahead of me, disapproving. "Perhaps you should attend dinner. It might knock some sense back into you."
"A shovel would have the same effect."
"Nadir." My patience was beginning to wane. I left the window and returned to the mantel, directly across from my worrisome Persian friend. "It is more than obvious that you do not approve of this invitation, yet you sit here and insist that I go. Does that not seem a bit contradictory to all the work you've tried to accomplish in this melodrama from Hell?"
"If she truly wants to have you there, and this isn't one of your clever tricks, this may be a perfect opportunity for you to show who you truly are."
"I pour coffee in your lap and take your money. Now, that could be because you deserved it and are a terrible poker player, or it could be because I'm a terrible human being."
"No. This whole thing could mean that someone is willing to take another chance on you as I have done."
I stared across to Nadir in fake disbelief. "Oh you're good. Very, very good. You really ought to put some consideration in authoring some cheap romance novels rather than just reading them."
His face wrinkled with displeasure. "Honestly, Erik. Then maybe you'll have more than one friend in this world. Though if I didn't know any better, I'd say that scares you."
It did scare me. Outwardly, I was content to lead him on, but he knew me better than that. Having people that were capable of reading me did nothing to set me at ease – my cold demeanor was one of the weapons in my arsenal, and having more than one annoyance able to predict me did nothing to comfort my paranoid nature. So there I sat across from Nadir, half-smiling in deception. "I suppose you should plan on attending the dinner as well, then. Yes, you're coming along so don't bother making faces. Come prepared to talk horses."
"I must confess," Nadir began. "I am a bit suspicious of a motive here, Erik. Honestly, you don't even eat without a motive."
My brow furrowed with displeasure behind the mask. "Right," I spat. "Because in that instance, my motive is to stay alive so that I may carry out my other motives." I took several steps toward the window before turning back toward him. "What exactly are you worried about?"
"Nothing. I just would like to know if I should tell the Comte to guard his neck, that's all."
"I have much larger problems than your darling Comte."
"Such as?" Nadir inquired, his tone tinged with a bit of sarcasm.
Nadir scoffed, and then paused for what seemed like an eternity. Quietly, he finally admitted, "I'm nearly relieved that you're asking me along."
"I decided that my jailor could not possibly stay home and miss the excitement."
That last remark did not seem to please him as much as the invitation. He rose and as he exited the room, he spat, "Consider yourself on probation."
I smirked and called after, "That's an improvement from being in jail then, is it not?"
It certainly was not. In all reality, I considered this probation period quickly evolved into its own unique form of Hell, in which Nadir hardly said anything to me at all. One might consider that a blessing to be cherished – for the first five hours or so I happily indulged myself in the silence that blanketed the entire flat. However, Nadir's brooding became painfully obvious, and increasingly aggravating. For five more days, his poor attitude hung over me like a black cloud. For the better part of my life I had dealt quite famously on my own with little human interaction, but his avoidance nearly drove me mad. Co-existing in silence with the one person I actually did not mind conversing with was, if anything, increasing my desire to commune as others normally would. In short, Nadir's logic was working perfectly. By the time the evening of the dinner came around, I was actually open to talking with anyone except Nadir. Hell, I even had a conversation with the library manager the night before.
The cab ride to the Chagny estate was as I had predicted – uncomfortably silent. My mind was leaping back and forth between the events of the last several months and the potential events of the evening. I was prepared to be civil, but more importantly, I was prepared to leave in a hurry. Absently I tugged at my cuffs and glanced to my right at Nadir. "You really ought to find yourself a lady. You don't want people to get the wrong idea about us," I taunted.
"Yes of course," he seethed. "I shall go retrieve two prostitutes straight away after dinner."
"No blondes, please. Having long, golden locks all over my clothing is hard to explain to the Mrs."
"What are you, ten years old?" he demanded, finally breaking his forward stare to glare at me.
"A very precocious five, actually." This conversation was annoying him beyond all comprehension, but it was better than arriving at the estate having had no conversation at all. It was certainly a more interesting and perhaps satisfying activity than sitting in silence as that gnawing feeling in my stomach continued to grow. I very much regretted the moment where the two-beat rhythm of the horse's trot came to an end, and we had officially arrived for the evening. Hypothetically speaking, if I had come on my own, intent on taking Christine far away from this confusing turn of events, I would have been perfectly cold and calm – confident in my meticulous plans and genius. It was the unpredictability of it all ahead that made me long for the comfort of a dark hole in another location.
"I see the reality of the evening has finally set in," Nadir declared as he noticed my silence.
"She's lost to me, Nadir," I admitted solemnly. At that moment, I needed him to understand that I was in full possession of my wits. That, unfortunately, was still terribly difficult.
"Yes she is."
"So, I have no agenda."
He gazed at me, somewhat apologetic. "I know."
"Do you?" I pressed.
"I was hoping you'd be able to prove that to me tonight." Nadir then replaced his gloves and exited the cab, and I did the same. We walked in silence across the drive, and were greeted at the entrance by one member of the household staff. I thought to myself that he must have been the lucky bastard to pull the short straw. We were led to the foyer where our hats and cloaks were taken from us. The house was not entirely appalling – I casually investigated the surrounding marble and other features of the room as we waited for our intrepid hosts to arrive. "It is a good thing you're going through with this, Erik," Nadir declared in a hushed tone as he, too, pondered over the room's décor. "Though in jest, I do admit I'm surprised you haven't tried to off yourself before this evening."
"It has not yet started, Nadir," I noted with my back to him. "You could shoot me."
"I am not going to shoot you."
"It'd be the kind thing to do."
"Be quiet before you get yourself in trouble," he demanded, as much as one can demand anything in a whisper.
I smirked as I fingered the stone accents. "You know, there is an inferior quality about these…"
"Erik." Nadir's plead went unheard, as it usually did.
"Really, I find it quite repugnant that stone of this nature be used for this sort of household."
I leaned in to examine something on the wall. "As an architect I'd be thoroughly mortified to live here."
"Then perhaps you'd do us the honor of repairing the flaws," declared a familiar, yet not terribly welcomed voice. Slowly my hand fell back to my side and stood erect. I half turned to find Chagny standing in the doorway of the adjoining parlor, holding Christine closely about the waist. He wore an annoyingly self-satisfied grin.
"Ah. Isn't this embarrassing," I admitted under my breath. My eyes fell to the floor briefly, before returning once again to the couple and resting on Christine's soft features. She gazed at me with a look that was difficult to place. It seemed to be a mix of uncertainty, relief, curiosity, perhaps a slight tinge of fear, but that disappeared after several moments of truce. Once again I felt her looking me up and down, as if to assure herself that I was indeed present. Poor girl, what had I done to her?
Squarely I stood, awaiting their next move from across the foyer. There was a slight dryness to my throat then as the seconds flew by. I caught myself with my eyes fixed on Christine. I thought of her words at Nadir's and smiled faintly. Lord knows she must have seen me, for her elegant lips did the same. As they did so, her entire figure seemed to relax some, as if she exhaled a good majority of the tension in the room. Raoul looked down to her for a moment before glancing once more to Nadir, then to myself. "Monsieur Khan, it is a pleasure to see you again sir. And Monsieur…?" The idiot wanted my surname. How darling. Why I did the following I am not yet quite certain.
"Rienne," I replied casually. Nadir shot me a baffled look, which I ignored. "Though I am quite sure we are all well aware of my first name should you feel obliged to dispense with the formalities."
"Well," he began. "Would the two of you care to join us? Dinner is recently prepared and awaits us on the table."
As we made our way to the dining room, Nadir whispered to me, "Rienne?"
"Later," I replied.
Dinner was well enough without the reluctant conversation and occasional stares from the household staff serving us. I ignored their nervous looks and hesitant movements, though Nadir, Christine, and Raoul certainly did not. Admittedly, each one pained my spirit ever so slightly. Here I was at dinner with the three people who seemed somewhat accepting of me – two for certain, in any case – and I had nearly relaxed into some vestige of normalcy. However, the cautiousness of the servants only reminded me how I was seen to others. If I was not quiet before, I grew increasingly so over the course of the meal. The discussion could not move along any faster if I had prodded it with a hot iron – it constantly revolved around Nadir's damned book club or some insignificant business matters. Raoul and Nadir did the majority of the talking while Christine and I sat diagonally from each other, relatively silent. Something was eating me from within, and the prolonged exposure to the unwanted stares was urging me to remove myself from the table. I sat in my own world, staring into the tablecloth while Nadir and Raoul continued on with their own conversation. Finally I snapped out of the stupor and rose from the table. "Terribly sorry," I interrupted as I looked to Christine. "Might I have a word with you?" Raoul's eyes shot from me to Christine, then to Nadir. Caution oozed from his very being; his unspoken words stung of distrust. "Just in the adjoining room," I said, hoping to put them at ease. Nadir, under the weight of Raoul's stare, slowly looked up to me. I glanced to him in assurance. He then nodded to Raoul, who nodded ever so briefly in return. The poor boy's breathing seemed to increase as he, too, rose from the table when I made my way around to Christine.
Like any other polished gentleman, I helped Christine from her chair and offered her my arm. I whisked her into the next room and pulled the door to. When I turned back to Christine, I found her standing no more than four feet away, looking up to me with eyes I could not read. I paused before I could say anything; my heart was racing, and I felt the need to take a slow breath or two to calm myself. She stood steadfast as she did so many months ago in that Hell that I had created for all of us. This time, however, her face was not that of the marionette she had become. Her features were soft and concerned – expectant to hear what I had to say. There was a black cloud hanging over the lot of us, and if anything were to happen, it had to clear.
"I never said that I was sorry," I began. Christine furrowed her brow. I straightened up from the door and took a step toward her. "That day you found us at Nadir's flat; you were angry because I had left without a goodbye. I also left without saying that I was sorry."
She shook her head and mouthed the word "no." By now I could see her choking back a tear. "Erik, you do not have to - "
"I am so very sorry, Christine." She only nodded, as she was now incapable of speaking. I, too, was nearing tears, and when she stepped toward me, gently placed a hand on my left shoulder, and kissed me delicately, I confess I could barely hold back. Again she showed me no fear, no pity. Only compassion. After that heavenly touch of her lips to my skin, she placed a hand on my chest. To maintain what little composure I had left, I strode across the room and sat – ironically enough – at the abandoned piano bench. Christine came to my side a moment later, and there we remained in silence for several minutes in our mutual acceptance. Any tears that were shed had been freshly dried when Raoul and Nadir came in together to find us by the piano. I could tell by their poster and the glances they shot at each other that they were curious, if not a bit confused. Casually, I lifted the dust cover off the keys and placed a C chord with my right hand. I then looked up from Christine to Raoul and declared, "Your piano is hideously out of tune."