She held the newsprint loosely in her hand, her eyes wide and staring, her mind numb, unable to comprehend.
Erik was dead.
And it was a horrible thought, that one. That a soul could flee this life just as quickly as one could enter it. She had known he must pass on eventually, of course, but what person is ever prepared to receive such news?
It was Raoul's voice, and sure enough, she looked up to see him standing in the doorway.
"Christine… are you all right?" His tone was one of concern, but there was a slight undertone of something else that she could detect even in her numbness, a sort of disapproval. She crinkled her eyebrows together in thought, a frown dusting her lips; she turned her head from his gaze.
"I'm fine," she replied, but her throat constricted with sudden grief and the words were choked.
He sighed and nodded. "I'll leave you alone for a while."
"Thank you," she whispered as she heard the door close and the first tears began to fall.
She closed her blue eyes in despair, bowing her head, her long blonde locks obscuring her face like a curtain, a veil. Unconsciously, she set the paper aside, folded her hands in her lap, said a prayer for the dead.
Erik, her teacher, her master, her Angel… Erik was gone. She had occasionally entertained thoughts of him, what he could be doing, thought of his heavenly voice that often whispered to her in her dreams… her mind dwelt mostly on the guilt, however, the guilt of leaving him the way she had. Guilt and sadness, a sadness that penetrated her heart even more than the guilt, the sadness in knowing there was nothing to be done. He had loved her, God bless him, loved her with all his heart and soul, but she had broken him beyond repair, essentially leaving him for dead.
It was only a matter of time, she had often thought. But why, why did it have to be now?
Her silent tears turned to wild sobs as she cradled her face in her hands, rocking back and forth in immeasurable grief. She wondered who else was mourning for him, who else now shed tears at the thought, the fact that Erik would never again draw breath, never again walk this earth. And it suddenly seemed so unfair to her that he was dead and she was not, wished it could be the other way around, if only to give him more time to spend in this life.
And she cried and cried and cried, shutting out all of the outside world, staring blankly at the floor through watery eyes, until something shone through like a small light in her maelstrom of darkness.
She lifted her head, wiped her eyes and nose, looked around. Somewhere outside, a bell was ringing.
She walked to the window in almost a trance, but there was purpose in her steps, in her movements as she pulled apart the drapes to peer shyly outside. There… a church down the street, its bell tolling, giving voice to the mournfulness within her heart.
There was suddenly a flood of awareness; she could hear the horses' hooves clattering on the cobblestones, the stately steps of people passing in the street below, the gentle call of the birds, even the soft whisper of the breeze in the treetops. All raised in symphony, all accompanying in reverence the deliberate toll of the church bell.
And Christine closed her eyes, raised her face to the heavens, listening to the most beautiful requiem the outside world was unknowingly providing, hoping that he could hear it, too.