A/N: I want to thank everyone who has come across this story and enjoyed it. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. Special thanks to all who took the time to review or to send me an email personally to chit-chat about it—you know who you are, and I feel blessed to have such beautiful readers. Also to all you anonymous people out there, who don't have time to review or don't have an account—I know you're out there, and I appreciate you just as much. Thanks for bearing with this story all the way to the end.
Special thanks to BleedingHeartConservative, EpluCequealsLUV, debkay, Sarah Crawford, Darcimkire, Broken-Vow, MaskedOperaGhost, HDKIngsbury, gravity01, and a ton of other people who inspired me, helped me, and made this story worth writing.
I probably won't take a break from writing, so you can still check out my new story, Fleur Du Mal, which is on my profile. I will also try to go through this story and correct some grammar and spelling mistakes that I've found, thanks to all of you. It's been a long journey; I'm both sad and elated to see it through.
Any last thoughts, ideas, opinions?
I hope you enjoyed it. I love you all so very, very much!
Six Years Later
"Adora, if you don't stop eating those, we'll have none left!"
Adora stares coyly at me, and sneaks a few more in her mouth, which is already stained blue with the blueberries. When I give her a stern look, she only blinks and says, "But Mama, we have hundreds!"
Admittedly, we do have another crate full, but if she continues eating like this, she'll be ill for sure. To distract her, I say, "Why don't you go find Papa and tell him we'll be ready to go in a few minutes?"
She furrows her brow, as if thinking. "I don't hear any music." She gives me a simpering look. "Papa doesn't want to come out. He said not to bother him until we were ready to leave."
She is speaking the truth, but I conclude that if there is anyone who can draw him out of his music room, it would be Adora, not me. "Please?"
She thinks again for a minutes, and then nods quickly.
"Go find him, now," I encourage, and she hops off her stool and navigates around the many crates and parcels that have filled our living room.
Interestingly enough, it had been unanimous in our little family that it was time to move back to France. I can't really remember who suggested it first, but Erik and I agreed that it would be a fine decision. Adora, who had heard many stories of things that had happened in Paris, was absolutely thrilled. She knew Mama had been an opera singer at the famous Paris Opera House, and she wanted to see it, too.
Adora is not quite as into music as I would expect Erik's child to be, but she an unusually fond attachment to it all the same. Erik tries to coax her to play the piano, but she prefers to take books and read them while Erik plays the piano to her.
But we really are going to France, and we are looking forward to it.
"We shall miss you!" Marianne says when I first tell her. "Now it will be your turn to write me and tell me of everything you see!"
"I'm sure it hasn't changed much from when we were there." I laugh.
I asked Adora if she would miss Gabriel. The two are good friends, although they're not quite as close as Marianne and I once fantasized. They see each other once a week when Mari comes over, or maybe a bit more if he comes over to play.
"A little." Adora had admitted. She looked up at me with her dark, shining eyes. "Will you and Papa be coming?"
"Why, yes." I replied, smiling. "Papa and I are taking you with us."
She gave me one of her smiles, and went off to go play.
I will miss Marianne and Karl, as well as Gabriel and their baby Hanna, but it will not be so hard as when they left, when I depended on Mari for my only companionship. Now I have my own family, and do not need to depend on anyone else's.
Our situation is interesting, however, as Erik pointed out—Adora will be a young girl moving from Sweden to France, leaving behind her blonde-headed friend.
"Don't forget her father is a violinist." I add cheerfully. Erik frowns, his face upturned.
"Gabriel will have nothing to do with her." he says. "And what is the chance that the boy will ever go to France. Although if he did, that would be very ironic."
"If it's meant to be, they'll be together." I say, a little too firmly to be only speaking of Adora and Gabriel.
"Yes," Erik agrees, someone reluctantly. "As long as there is not someone else already after her!"
I finish packing a loaf of bread into the basket, and I hear the plink of small fingers pressing against the keys of the piano in the other room. A minute later, Erik comes out carrying Adora in his arms; she looks at me smugly.
"Your hands are blue." he complains, and takes her in the direction of the washroom.
"Bravo, Adora." I murmur, and continue putting food in the basket. They return only a moment later, Erik setting her down on her stool. Her expression clearly says that she expects to be compensated for her feat, so I push the bowl of blueberries toward her.
"I don't want anything." Erik says at once, looking around at all the food I have.
"Of course not." I say automatically, but I keep everything in, just in case.
For all of Erik's odd, little traits, Adora has always had a better appetite than him. She is still very tiny for her age, with a familiar thin frame, and she hardly weighs more than forty pounds. She still resembles me in her face, her hands, the wave of her hair… but I still think it's easy to see who her father is.
Erik and I wondered how young she would be before she started noticing there was something different about Erik's face… It was a topic that disturbed Erik greatly, and one that I characteristically ignored. But she has never uttered word to Erik about it, nothing at all. The only reference at all was asked to me, one night while I tucked her in bed.
"Mama," she had asked quietly, while I patted her pillow. "Why does Papa not have a nose?"
I had to gather myself for a minute and make sure that Erik was not at the door—and then I answered, "God made everyone very different so he could tell us all apart and love us in different ways. You are special in a different way, because you are loved very much, no matter what's different about you. In fact, anything that makes—"
"Won't you sing to me?" Adora interrupted, bored with my scrambled explanation.
Her attitude only made me see that it really doesn't matter to her; she just wants it to be known.
Gabriel wondered incessantly about Erik's mask, until one time, Marianne had actually hit him around the head with impatience. Erik mostly stayed away, but when he was around, Gabriel's eyes followed him everywhere.
"Does he have a face?" "Has anyone ever seen him without a mask on?" "Why doesn't Miss Christine wear a mask?" "He does have a face, right?"
I chuckle to myself, and both Erik and Adora look up at me, their faces identical to the expression of, Is she losing her mind?
"I was just thinking." I say hastily, fastening the clip on the bag and taking it into my arms. "Are we all ready to go?"
"Yes!" Adora proclaims, and she stretches out on her chair to reach towards Erik.
"You must let her walk!" I order, half-jokingly, half-stern, but he scoops her up anyway and smiles patiently at me.
"She looks like you when she pouts." he says simply, as if that cleared the matter.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Adora used her own two feet for more than five minutes. It's our fault, and now we're dealing with it the best we can—but she is utterly, ridiculously, and irrevocably spoiled and yet she remains the sweetest, quietest girl we could ever hope for, so eventually the matter has come to an impasse. She prefers to be carried, rather than walk herself… and how is it a problem when she has two parent's who wait on her hand and foot?
Besides, if Erik minded her wouldn't do it. And he does.
"Put her shoes on anyway," I tell him, determined that this day will at least go my way for the most part. I have been planning this for a long time… It is been in the back of my mind for a year at least.
Erik obviously senses this matters much to me, and he goes off to get Adora ready.
At nearly eleven, we all leave the house, walking straight across the top of the hill, rather than down to town.
"Are we going to all of your favorite places before we go to Paris?" Adora asks curiously.
"You know where we're going, silly." I laugh. "We've been here several times."
"Your hill." Erik reminds her quietly, and her face brightens.
She finally gets down from Erik after we've been walking for a while so she can run through the tall grass. She gets caught in a few weeds and laughs delightedly, spinning and twirling and running some more. Erik and I wander easily behind her, our hands linked, our eyes watching closely.
We can never be watching too closely… That one evening had been her first seizure for a very long time… It was the day after her fourth birthday, and perhaps she'd been too rambunctious, too wild… She was shaking for minutes… The longest few minutes of my life. Erik and I both had stayed up that entire night, watching her sleep peacefully in her bed, until I eventually fell asleep on Erik's shoulder around dawn.
So perhaps it is not so bad that she is spoiled, and that we are protective. I don't mind taking care of her for all of my days, and Erik has double the fun spoiling both of his girls.
We finally settle down in the middle of the large meadow right on the slope of the hill, and Adora eagerly takes the basket and sits on the blanket. "What did you bring me?" she asks, tottering up and down on her knees.
Erik winds up some long-stemmed flowers that he's pulled from the winding path, and winds them through her light brown curls. "Whatever you would like." he answers, and she claps her hands.
"Mama, you shouldn't be eating that!" Adora scolds me as I pull out my frosted biscuit. "It coats your throat and ruins your voice!"
Erik laughs while I raise my eyebrows at her. "I am not planning on doing any singing with Papa today, am I? Who told you that?"
"You must take very good care of your voice." she says seriously, her eyes and manner so much like Erik's that for a moment I feel light-headed. "It is your special gift."
Erik looks very deliberately away from me, and begins making a grass chain.
"Well, it's obvious you pay very close attention." I mutter. "I assure you it won't ruin my voice. I will still have plenty left to sing for you tonight."
She tilts her head uncannily like Erik's, and then nods slowly.
My idea is still in my head… but I don't bring it up, not yet.
She falls asleep after she eats, and Erik and I talk softly as to not wake her up.
"Do you think she will like Paris?" he asks.
I think for a moment. "She'll love it." I say confidently. "She's very adaptable. As long as we're with her, she'll be fine." I hesitate. "Will you be alright in Paris?"
He looks at me a little coldly. "You think I won't be?"
"I just want to make sure, before we go." I reply, and his face softens.
"Wherever you go, I am happy." he says.
She wakes up after noon, her hair still tousled from her position on the ground, and crawls instantly into my lap. Erik offers her more flowers; tempted, she glances wistfully at me, and then crawls to him.
I don't deny her. Erik is far more tempting than I am.
The breeze is very nice up here. I make believe that I can smell the sea, only a few miles away. Strangely enough, we have hardly been to the sea since we've been her, only three times since Adora was born. It was salty smelling, and very cold. Erik preferred to stay in the distance with Adora, who was afraid of the water, while I strolled in the waves, the bottom of my petticoats getting wet. I could see the way it attracted me once, but something about it was missing, which made it desperately lonely and more beautiful. It was such a mysterious element, the sea… always moving and growing, while essentially being the same being over and over through the years.
That was the last time we'd gone to the shore. I wasn't too sorry to say goodbye to it. Something about Erik is far more calming and peaceful.
"I could be happy if I tried."
"But… you do not… try?"
If Erik and I had loved each other like this right away, something would be missing. Our pain, our struggles, only made us bond deeper, until I want to explode with love and devotion to him.
"I don't know how to be happy like this. How can I be happy with you when you are distant with me? When I try to care for you, you—you brush me away. I'm close to giving up."
"I want you to be happy."
"I want you to be happy too."
I hadn't known how to make him happy. How could I have made him happy when I was feeling so miserable at the time?
"Love me, Christine! Love me and I will be happy!"
The time, I believe, is right. I select my words with as much care as I can, just like the one afternoon where Erik and I sat at our table, and I realized how to love.
"This hill is very special to me," I begin, speaking both to my husband and my daughter. "Do you know why?"
Adora shakes her head, while Erik watches me with solemn eyes.
"When I was a little girl, my Papa used to take me here." I say, speaking directly to Adora now. "Sometimes he would bring his violin, sometimes he would bring one of his books—but we always talked. I was very young, like you, and some times are very difficult for me to remember. I hope when you are all grown-up, you will remember this hill. You will, right?"
Adora smiles, and pats the ground. "I like it here." she declares. "Did you like it, too, when you were as little as me?"
"I did." Adora opens her mouth to say something more, but Erik says, "Hush." He is watching me very intently.
"Papa told me many stories," I say dreamily, and for a moment I am looking out into the distance, and I am the little blonde girl in my dear Papa's lap, both of us speaking and giggling like the children we both were. I blink, and it is Erik and Adora, both of them watching me. "One of my favorite was the story of the Angel of Music."
Adora squeals; she has heard it from me once or twice.
"I liked it very much when he told it to me." I explain. "I remembered it forever, even when I was all grown up." I am speaking to Erik now, and his eyes are wet. I cannot look away. "Will you tell it to Adora?"
He blinks. "Me?" he whispers.
I smile, and my eyes are full of tears, too—Erik and I are so insufferably dramatic!—and I nod.
"You know it better than I do." he murmurs, but Adora turns and watches him expectantly.
"Will you tell it to me, Papa? I want to hear about the Angel of Music. What is he like?"
"He comes to some people," Erik says quietly. "When they are very good and seek musical talent. One little girl had the Angel of Music come to her."
"What was her name?" Adora breathes, quivering with excitement.
"Her name was Little Lotte." Erik recites, his voice becoming hypotonic, every fiber of his being placed into this tale, until I feel that the whole world is wrapped into the timbre of his voice, and that nothing matter but the story that is being told. "Little Lotte thought of everything and nothing…"
My mind drifts away into another world. What was life, in the end? Did it matter what you achieved, or how you achieved it, if it meant nothing to you? What I couldn't have possibly known was that I did receive the Angel of Music, sent by my Papa… He was just a little different than what I'd expected.
But the one thing I can be certain to have given my child is the Angel of Music… How lucky she is. How lucky we both are!
I have been through much in my life. My childhood was sheltered and unstable, and broken by the tragedy of my father's death. I was a lonely girl, with my only friend being dear Raoul, who I barely saw. At the Opera, I was discouraged and unhappy with myself for not living up to my Papa's expectations. And at the core of it all, the one promise I had clung to all of my life was not being fulfilled.
I have been through more than that. I have been through a spurned lover, a boy whom I used as a souvenir to the promise I wanted, and ultimately a man who I turned away. I do not regret leaving Raoul the way I did, but I do wander where he is and what he is doing occasionally. From the bottom of my heart, I do hope he is just as happy as I am, although I fear that is impossible.
I have been in the precarious situation of an intimidating suitor, a forced marriage, and an ultimate act of love. I have gone through trials and tribulations, nights where I cried myself to sleep with sorrow, days when I wanted to rip my hair out at Erik's demeanor. I have gone through the trembling sensations of a first kiss, a first caress, and a first expression of physical love with someone who was just as inexperienced as I was. I have been in-between two men who swore they loved me… But I had to choose the one that I loved.
Choices, choices. Where would I be now if I hadn't made my choices?
I have moved away from the place where I had grown, the place where my dream finally came true. I have suffered the impossible arguments with Erik, and the little bickering that built a wall between us.
I have lost my baby… Something I can never overcome, never forget. But it is something I have forgiven myself for. My little Erik… He will never know the impact he had on my life, or how deeply he touched me for those few months. But he would have forgiven me, I am sure of it. He was not meant for this life, but for one up with the Almighty Lord. I love him, and I love my Adora.
My Adora… my adored one will never leave my mind. She belongs to me just as surely as she belongs to Erik. To us. How could my love for two people reach such an extent? I see myself in her, I see Erik in her. She is my joy, my comfort, my reason for breathing.
How can I dwell on all my misfortunate's when I look into her sweet face? How can I doubt any of my actions when Erik is always over my shoulder, reminding me of how much he loves me every day?
I look forward to Paris. As long as I am with my family, I am happy. Wherever you go, Erik, I am happy.
"One night, the Angel of Music came to her, because Lotte was such a good girl…"
Perhaps I did something good after all. I want to sing with Erik tonight. Will Adora grow upset if I eat my frosted biscuit? I smile to myself, but Adora is too caught up in her father's story to notice.
I am not an orphan, and I am not a child. I am a mother who loves her own child with more love than the sea can contain. And I love Adora with more heart than I ever could have dreamed I possessed at the Opera. And I love Erik. I embrace his faults, I worship his strengths, and I need in him in every move I dare to take. I belong to him, just as much as I did the very first time I heard him through my mirror… "Do not be frightened, child. I will take care of you."
I am more than the orphan trembling in her dressing room, in awe at the wondrous voice she was hearing. I am with the Angel of Music, for now and forever.
And I am his living wife.