Once you have started seeing the
beauty of life,
ugliness starts disappearing.
If you start looking at life with joy,
sadness starts disappearing.
You cannot have heaven and hell together,
you can have only one.
It is your choice.
Nearly two years had passed since Christine's death and still he lifted his head now and then to wait, to catch the sound of her voice. She visited his dreams and he longed for her, and in her absence, longed for the dreams.
He had placed his heart within Christine's keeping and when she died, he thought he had died as well—not physically, but all that was good and loving and light within him had perished. His busy children repaid him for his loving care of their mother, as well as of them, but more than a year passed before he began to question the validity of his new beliefs; began to question the wisdom of the locks on the music room's door; and the wisdom of living out the rest of what had already been a long and healthy life in abject grief.
His children devised countless diversions to tempt him but little interested him beyond what reminded him of his lost Angel—a song written for her, a kiss feathered on his marred brow. The children and grandchildren missed her as much but they hadn't known her as he had—young and uncertain and yet so pure, beautiful and newly in love. More and more often as he sat at his new piano he played the songs he had written for her, or composed new arias that must wait for heaven for her to hear them.
He missed her so and longed for her and trusted that soon his God would bring him home, that he might sing to her of his love once again. And only when he admitted that while he no longer had Christine to live for, he had all of heaven to live toward, did the music in his mind begin to play once again.
And he began to hear Christine sing songs she'd never learned. Her sweet voice rang as pure and as strong as it had when she'd been a child. He knew she heard him, then, that she remained with him, that the connection they'd always enjoyed had not broken. He heard her only when he was alone, until one fateful music lesson.
On a Thursday afternoon Erik stretched stiff muscles and did what he could to limber his fingers. No longer able to play the sweeping pieces he loved, he still composed and, now, he would teach. In his student, a boy of eight, he'd discovered uncommon genius. He reflected with joy on this child—his daughter's son—so aptly named Erik.
The boy arrived on time, his mother with him. She brought into the old music room the scent of the wind and rain and as she leaned to kiss his cheek he took in the scent. She laughed as he breathed deeply of the fresh air.
"You're becoming a recluse again, Papa."
He laughed. "You have no idea," he said, and in truth; he'd told his children little of his past. He might write it down for them, he thought. The task would occupy him, and bring Christine to ethereal life, and leave his legacy. But his music would be his legacy even if they never knew the truth.
"Young Erik is full of vim this afternoon. I have an appointment and will come by suppertime to retrieve him, but don't let him tire you. He will do fine in the care of a footman."
"He does not tire me." He glanced at the boy, standing with his head bent, a picture of submission—an outright lie. Erik's heart caught as the boy raised his head and he saw the gleam in his eyes. This child looked like his mother—like his grandmother—like his beloved Christine. The world reminded Erik of his Christine.
His daughter hugged the child, admonished him to obey and was gone.
"So." Erik studied Young Erik. "Have you practiced?"
"More than even you told me to." As he glanced toward the piano, the child came to life. "I have learnt Grand Maman's song by heart. Do you want me to play it for you?"
Erik managed to say, "Of course," before he had to close his eyes on the tears.
"I'll play it then and before I work you'll give me tea."
Despite the tears, Erik chuckled. He and his grandson had more in common than music. "It's too early for tea."
"But I'm hungry and I can't concentrate if I'm hungry." The child sidled between Erik's knees, twisting into a loose embrace.
Erik stroked the boy's shoulder. He'd lived countless years without human touch, but Christine had taught him to accept it. Now, even a child's careless show of feeling fed his soul. Each time this child came, Erik swore he would not starve himself of human contact again, only to forget his vow once his grandson left him to his empty home.
"I suppose you can't. You play Christine's song for me and I'll have Troyes to bring you a light meal."
"And after my lesson we'll have tea." Young Erik beamed at his own brilliance. "Don't forget."
"I never forget." But Erik meant Christine. He closed his eyes and wondered if she would come that day—perhaps after Young Erik had gone home with his mother.
The child played and to Erik's joy, he had added his own signature to the notes and execution, deriving even more beauty for the song written by and for the woman he wanted his grandson to remember.
Erik could barely contain his love on watching this child, so much like himself and yet, so different—his namesake would accomplish so much more than he ever had. Would he love as much? Each of them had or would experience a life comprised of both blessing and curse—and both had known great love. Erik would like to keep this boy close, protected, cherished, but consoled himself knowing how many others loved him. As a child he wouldn't know the pain of rejection and so perhaps as an adult would weather it. Perhaps he would find his own Christine. Erik prayed he would.
As Troyes brought in a tray, Erik called, "Here is your before-lesson tea, then." He poured tea for both and watched as Young Erik took to himself the single plate piled with fruit, bread and cheese. He sat back to enjoy the child's enjoyment of his food.
"Last night," Young Erik began in the confessional tone he often used, "Papa took us to Monsieur Simon's concert, and after, we visited him and took him to supper. I will play like that some day. Millions of people will come to hear me."
"Monsieur Simon eats more than Cyprien. More even than me! And he asked me to tell you he would be by to see you within the week."
Erik nodded his thanks for the message.
"Don't forget, Grandpapa. He said you taught him as you teach me, and he told me many stories. He said he was just my age the first time you rescued him. He said that growing up he loved you more than any other person in the world and only resented Grand Maman now and then—a little. He said it's very bad for your music if you are jealous."
"Yes, it is." Erik swallowed a last bit of cold tea and set his cup down, reflecting on the lengths his jealousy had taken him—would take him even now, should the chance arise. "Love composes with great beauty."
Young Erik continued to consume the contents of his plate with alarming speed and determination. "And after, Maman spoke with him about her uncle. Your brother."
Erik's brother. He closed his eyes as his heart constricted, the knife of regret twisting against a blade of sorrow. His brother. He knew Raoul still lived; his agent had instructions to keep Erik apprised of his actions and needs.
". . .because the opera house is to auction off everything," Young Erik finished, gaining Erik's attention.
"And Raoul will come to Paris for that?"
The boy nodded and swallowed a small portion of a huge bite. "Maman has made certain. She would very much like to meet her uncle but she said she would wait on you."
His eyes pierced Erik's soul and the old man spent a few moments wondering. His brother—here in Paris—within reach—where he had sworn never to come. Erik wondered if Raoul had tracked his movements as Erik had his—if Raoul knew he still lived while Christine did not. But he must at least suspect Christine's demise—she had written to him several times a year, but for the last half-year of her life, when she had been so ill. Since their marriage, Erik had never attempted to contact his brother, and hoped Raoul had some way to gain information.
Before he sat at the long piano bench, Young Erik stopped at one of the many music boxes arrayed on a shelf. His fingers walked between various flights of fancy until he came to a box crafted in the figure of a monkey. "Can you still make it play?" He nudged the monkey paw with its cymbal, but it remained silent. "Maman says the music box isn't broken, but your heart."
No—his heart had not broken when his Angel died, but disintegrated, disappeared. And yet, this small child held such power over him; he might even possess the power to make Erik come alive again. Perhaps because he wore Christine's face, or perhaps because his questions rivaled young Simon's, or perhaps—
"Will you make it play for me?"
"Perhaps, but after your lesson."
Erik grinned at his rapacious grandson. "And tea."
"With cake, now? Young master, you are very demanding!"
Young Erik twinkled at his grandfather, and seated himself at the piano. "Yes. But it's good, isn't it? Because Maman says I am just like you."
Even while he instructed his grandson, Erik planned. He would need the help of his old friend, Cecile. She had remained a constant in Erik's life and even now, as they approached the ends of their journeys, she willingly offered any bit of help he needed.
While he sat next to Young Erik on the bench, placing the boy's fingers just as he had placed Simon's so long ago, and feeling some of the vigor of spirit, if not of body, that he'd once enjoyed, he heard her. He lifted his head and let her voice captivate him. He lost all sense of place and company as he listened.
Her song praised God, praised His light, and soared to the limits of Erik's endurance. When she finished he returned to awareness, sure Young Erik must have wandered away in boredom. But the child leaned against his side, as rapt as his grandfather.
"Grand Maman Christine sings with the angels now," Young Erik said, and after that, Erik knew he would never have to hide her gifts to him, nor her presence, and instead, he would work to share her music as she had shared his.
She must have remembered his unassailable love, for she never questioned. Instead she asked only one thing. Raoul is in need of the Light. As you came to the Light only when he promised fealty, so you must bring him toward it now. His lost soul has tempted the abyss far too long and now he is not far from death. Bring him home, my love. Teach him he can still secure right passage for his soul.
I I I I I
He stood in the cemetery, waiting for Raoul to notice the rose and the ring. He saw when Raoul did, and tensed. His brother lifted his head, looked about, and his gaze came to rest on Erik. Raoul nodded. Satisfied, Erik slipped into the bowels of the cemetery, certain now of his next move.
I I I I I
Raoul had taken rooms in one of the newer hotels. Erik sent his card up and a few minutes later a footman met him to escort him to an opulent, if empty, sitting room. Erik took a moment to look around. Raoul's fortunes had never suffered, whatever else he had endured, and for that, Erik was glad. He had wrested enough from his brother.
The nurse pushed the wheelchair into the room and for the first time in more than forty years, Erik studied his brother—his enemy, his rival. He had not weathered well his life and Erik's heart twisted in sympathy. He was older by far, and yet, he felt he must be the healthier of the two.
The nurse left without a word, and the men studied each other. After a long moment, Raoul stirred. "My manners—please, Erik, sit down. Would you like tea?"
"I am in need of nothing." But that was a lie. He needed this man's friendship, if nothing more.
"I was sorry to hear of the loss of your wife."
Erik nodded, accepting Raoul's condolences and feeling something more behind them. But softly—he must go softly. He did not know this man, though he ached to.
"I—I am sure you miss her very much."
"More than I would miss my own breath."
A long silence filled with longing separated them. "As did I."
Erik sighed. "You need not have missed her so much as that. She wanted to see you."
Raoul looked away, his head unsteady in its turn. "I could not have endured that."
"But you read her letters."
Raoul whipped round to stare, more than startled. "How do you know?" he whispered.
"My music box. You would not have bought it for her if you didn't know what it meant to her."
Raoul relaxed and nodded. "Those letters, then—she told you what she wrote?"
"She read them to me. We kept nothing from each other."
Again pain laced the other man's expression. "I kept them all. When they stopped coming I knew—I didn't need the notice in the papers nor word from—others. I knew."
Erik leaned closer. "Christine loved you, Raoul. Perhaps not in the way you would have liked, but she did love you."
"Not enough." Raoul's trembling increased. "Do you know what our father had to do to make you acceptable in society?"
"No." Erik leaned over the veined hands he held taut on his knees. "But I know what our Father did to make me acceptable in heaven."
For long moments all the answer Erik received were the tears trickling down Raoul's worn cheeks.
"Raoul, why did you never marry?"
"Even had you died, your widow would not have had me."
"There was no other."
"Nor for me."
In silence they commiserated the loss of Christine, Erik in thanksgiving that he had been the victor of her love. If he had not, he would have died long ago, and missed so much.
"Erik—" Raoul's voice trembled. "Did Christine—do you think she could have forgiven me?"
"Raoul. You read her letters."
Raoul shook his head at Erik's censure. "That was the written word. A person can write lies—"
"She never lied."
"Did she forgive me, then? I need to know."
Erik watched the need in his brother's face and at last acknowledged the wisdom of coming. Raoul needed so much, and he needed this most of all. And yet, Erik struggled. Even now, after all these years, his own arrogance could destroy all he wished to accomplish—all Christine wished for. Odd that the very man Erik had depended on to show him the Light now seemed so blind to it. And who was he—the Phantom—to teach Raoul of Christ and sacrifice? His faith must be a glorious paradox of God—one of many—to humble His people. Humble me, O God; I cannot do Your work as I am.
On a deep breath he said, "She could no more withhold forgiveness than God."
Bitterness tinged Raoul's voice. "I don't know that God has forgiven me."
"Have you asked?"
Raoul sighed. "No. I never asked that of God."
"Nor of me. However, we both forgave you, Christine and I, long ago. Before we married."
Tears dribbled down the old man's weak cheeks. "Why have you come now?"
"Do you remember your promise to me? The one Christine wanted you to keep?"
Raoul closed his eyes. "Say the word," he whispered. "Say the word, and I will follow you."
"I say the word."
"No." Raoul held up his hand, warding off Erik's invitation. "It's too late."
"Never. You must."
"I have spent my life hating you, denying you. Denying God for having the gall to forgive you and love you."
"All the more reason for you to see that now is the time for you to follow."
"God longs for your heart, Raoul. Give Him your heart." He watched as the younger man's shoulders shook. This was what Christine wanted. Erik knew a moment's joy that again he could offer to his Angel her heart's desire.
The nurse came to stand behind Raoul's chair and Erik waved her away. She retreated a few feet, but watched her patient with great care.
Oblivious to her presence, Raoul reached for Erik's hand. Erik clasped his brother, his heart full. "If you can forgive me—"
"Perhaps He can."
"He will, Raoul. And this is what Christine wanted."
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, died January 15th, 1920.
Erik, Comte de Chagny, died March 29th, 1923.
The music, though, the music will never die.