I was a little nervous when we arrived at Bernard's home. It was my first appearance as Erik's wife in any sort of official capacity. Visiting Nadir was different since he was family, and anything at the opera felt equal between the two of us. This was an important impression for me to make as the foreman's wife, although I hoped to take advantage of Emily's experience with motherhood and ask some delicate questions as well. I took a breath and pretended I was playing a role in an elaborate modern opera; poised wife of well to do business man.
Bernard opened the door and ushered us inside, smiling wider when he saw me beside Erik. "Madame Karan." His sincerity twinkled in his eye. "Welcome to our home, we are very happy to receive you. This is my wife Emily." A small woman, in apron and kerchief came towards me with an awed expression as she wiped her hands down her front.
"A pleasure to meet you." I dropped into a formal ballet curtsey that Meg had diligently taught me for the stage. There were only so many ways a performer could thank the audience for applause, and with a generous dipping of my chin to my chest, I hoped it was a good enough apology for visiting their home uninvited. Erik's hand helped me rise and he introduced me with a clipped speech about my singing. It was difficult not to turn and give him a strange look for introducing me as "a lady of the stage", instead of just his wife, but I was also distracted by Emily's hands. She kept rubbing them down the front of her apron as I questioned their cleanliness, knowing we would more than likely touch at some point.
"Madame Karan." Her words were spoken in a soft monotone, too shocked to react. "The pleasure is mine, m'lady." Emily stared at me, her eyes not wasting a single second on Erik, and I ended up giving her my hands because she approached and suddenly reached for them with such enthusiasm.
"I'm so happy to meet you. My sister said you were brilliant as Marguerite, she never felt so moved by music before. We can talk for hours about you, pouring over all the bits in the paper. Here, let me take your cloak. Would you like some tea? I have some tarts I made with the children today. Would you like some food? I can easily prepare..."
"Emily." Bernard laughed and put his arm around his babbling wife taking my cloak from her hands. "Why don't you let them in the house before you wear her out with your questions, hmm?"
She blushed, but she looked incredibly excited to meet me, her eyes wide with eager delight, and I shot a quick glance at Erik. Did he know she would react this way and so introduced me as a singer primarily? He was removing his cloak and met my eye with a small roll of his. Bernard must have mentioned his wife's obsession to him, and Emily continued talking about having me here, and wanting to meet me, her sister being jealous, not believing that I was married to Monsieur Erik, her children all asleep and finally. "I can't believe you are really here. You are so famous..." Here she glanced away quickly as Erik returned to stand by my back. She did not greet him as she swallowed, and spoke to the room. "Would Madame like to come with me down the hall?"
Before I could say a word, I felt Erik bring his frame in contact with mine. His hands ghosted over my shoulders and down to my hands, never quite touching, and I could not tell if he meant to hold me back or push me forward.
"Thank you for your hospitality." His voice was stiff as he pulled away and I knew he was not at ease with something, but had no time to see to his insecurities as Emily made to bring me into their home. I gave Erik an encouraging pat on the arm.
"Emily and I can go speak elsewhere while you two go over your work. Better that we don't interrupt you." His brow furrowed down, but Bernard began unrolling the contents of a document tube and Emily led me to an inside door. Erik seemed to battle with himself to follow me, and I remembered him saying he only stayed in the kitchen, and there he remained as Bernard quickly asked for a measurement before holding the papers closer to his own nose. Erik grabbed the papers with a grunt and spread them out over the cleared table pointing with authority as I was dragged away.
Emily brought me down a dark hall to a cold dark sitting room, but I took absolutely no offence to that. It was quite late and I was completely unexpected, but I shivered at the chill on my forearms and rubbed absently. She struck a match and lit a few lights as she nervously provided a stream of words.
"Forgive the chill. I didn't even have a fire in here today. I'll fetch your cloak back from the kitchen. I'm shocked you have come finally. I never believed he would actually bring you, and yet here you are! Standing in my house! My sister won't believe me when I tell her! I am going to go fetch us some tea and will be right back."
She fluttered out the door and I was left to curiously poke around her sitting room until she returned. I turned a circle and took in the neat little room, bursting at the seams with acquired clutter. Briefly the thought occurred of my own unfinished, much larger sitting room. The chairs and carpet had been delivered today but there was so much work left to do on our home before we could have visitors.
Would Erik even want visitors? Did I really want people dropping by? Other than Meg and Nadir, I couldn't really imagine anyone else walking through the halls of our home, although there was a chance I was making a new friend here today. Good thing there was more furniture coming soon.
I idly walked past the bookcase and gave a few moments to little trinkets and momentos, but my focus was on a line of paintings that must have been done by the children. Four in a row, they were lined up along the wall, each one becoming more abstract as I went down the line. Little names written in each corner, James, Clara, Mary, and Bryan, her children obviously making pictures for mama. The thought made a warmth pulse in my stomach and I placed my hand over the feeling, holding the baby close for a private second.
Earlier today Erik had put his hand just there, over my stomach, and whispered in my ear that he wanted to hear me sing. He led me through some warmup with a mischievous twinkle added to his strict maestro persona. Other lessons that had started like this had led to the bedroom, or the floor, or the bench, but today he was focused on the music. We sang some new numbers that I had just begun polishing for performance, and I made a few notes on my sheets where he recommended I breath and pause. Business taken care of we began exploring the music within us and I felt the glorious tethers of sound tie me to my husband. I soared on wings made of notes while his music moved the air between us. My entire body came alive as his hands on the keys, danced their inspiring melodies into my soul. My voice spilled from my throat, a spiritual genesis of sound, joining to caress him, and he threw his head back as if in ecstasy. I was so busy devouring the sight of him that it took me a few bars to notice he was singing with me.
My heart began pounding with desire but I refrained from falling on him so we could complete our heartfelt masterpiece. Erik wove a tender but powerful song as I provided height and colour and the music became our bodies, minds and souls. It filled the holes and scars upon us, both physically and spiritually, it strengthened our hearts, made them beat in time and rhythm. I became quite wet between my legs, as if my body prepared itself for its soul mate, waiting for that singular joining. But we only sang as he made me throb in sync. We slowly tapered to an end and I forced myself to stop singing as Erik continued to play delicately. I stood at his back, my hands provocatively on his hips, as my thumbs pressed circles into the taut muscles of his lower back. His long white hands gamboled over keys as my fingers caressed his sides, both of us touching a loved one in our strange love triangle. I watched those seemingly delicate hands moving as he spun his song into beautiful runs up and down the keys, climbing and peaking, sliding and falling, arching like rainbows filling my head. My hands looped under his arms and I leaned into him, holding onto my maestro as he took me on an impossible journey through the heavens.
Emily returned to the kitchen without my wife and I could not help the sudden surge of panic that flared to life. Logic told me she was merely down the hall in some sitting room or family room but I watched Emily as she swiftly prepared a tray. Irrational thoughts had me leaving the table and approaching Bernard's wife as she fetched a small bowl and creamer.
"No sugar." I barked out softly, sending my voice closer to her ear than I would ever stand to her and she jumped as she turned with a hand to her chest. When I saw the terror on her face I explained quickly. "It can damage the voice."
Her terror turned to horror as she dashed the bowl away. "My apologies." She appeared sincere as she turned back to her preparations but I couldn't seem to allow her the privacy to finish. I didn't like the thought of Christine eating or drinking anything sub par, so I examined the tarts and quality of tea and the dishware. If it made me seem like some dominating controlling freak of a husband, then strike me down where I stand, I am guilty of it all. What exactly was I planning to do if I found her preparations lacking? Take over?
Emily kept glancing at me nervously because I'm sure I was invading her kitchen horrendously, but I stood back satisfied with what I observed and tried to lighten how crazy she might think me. "Honey, on the other hand, is soothing to the throat and a suitable substitute for sugar."
"W-we do not have honey." She replied quietly glancing at her husband who was completely absorbed in his work. I didn't really have more to say to her so I nodded curtly and went back to her diligent spouse.
There was some noise down the hall and I put a hand to my flushed cheek, glancing around the room again. Daydreaming about Erik and his mastery of the keys was a dangerous way to pass time, so I focused back on my surroundings. In one corner was a basket full of yarn and a pair of needles sticking out of a small blanket, as well as a small pile of clothing that needed mending, with a few toys scattered around it all. Seeing the worn toys made me wish I had thought of Emily's children at Christmas time. I leaned close to the wall to read a faded poem in a frame, and Emily returned with arms full.
I twirled the cloak back around my shoulders, noting that she had removed her apron and put on a thick sweater, as well as taken her kerchief off, although if she had been trying to improve her appearance she did not quite succeed. She looked completely frazzled and now that her kerchief was off I could see that her hair was pointing off in many directions, a disorderly braid at the end of a long day. I voiced my concern that she did not have time for this visit. "I hope I'm not interrupting your evening terribly."
"Not at all. Not at all. The children are all still asleep." She was enthusiastic so we sat with her tea and tarts. The conversation remained light, as she asked about the opera and being a singer. She stared at me with wide eyes, as if every word I spoke was committed to her memory with relish, so she could relay it to her sister in great detail. At this point, I wouldn't have been surprised if she began taking notes. The visit was becoming a little tedious when I finally wrestled some courage from within me and spoke bluntly. "Would you mind if I asked you a few delicate questions?"
"Delicate?" She giggled sweetly. "What would I know?"
"I was only wondering if you could provide some insight into pregnancy and childbirth." My hand wandered unconsciously to my stomach, and my companions eyes followed. "My mother passed when I was very young and I'm afraid my knowledge is quite limited in those areas."
Her face transformed into a look of shock and then worry as she glanced over her shoulder towards the door. "Is the child his?"
"I beg your pardon?" My face flamed red with her accusation of infidelity and she realized her blunder with widening eyes.
"Oh! Christine! Oh my goodness. I can't believe I just said that! I only thought...there was no way that you and him...I mean, you're a stage girl! Everyone says your marriage is one of convenience. You need the false protection...?"
"We married for love, of course." Anger flowed through me, but I attempted to mask my true hurt feelings and stay seated beside her. Leaving in a huff was definitely out of the question.
"But he is...terrifying." Her whispered words made my lips press as I fought to stay calm, but defensive words flew from between them anyway.
"When I met Erik, the world and other strangers were far more terrifying to me than he ever was." I suddenly wondered just how terrifying Erik acted around these people. There was no way they had experienced even half of how terrifying Erik could be. My cheeks reddened slightly as I verbally defended my husband. "He has always been a perfect gentleman, and wisely guided me to avoid the pitfalls of stage life." Emily looked like she didn't know what to say, having just shoved her foot in her mouth so badly, and for a moment I relished the power I felt over her, but it withered quickly, knowing I must remain civil to this woman. "Everyone has different life experiences which colour their perspective." I shrugged gently, trying to let her see that I held no hard feelings with the fake, friendly expression on my face. She knew first hand about child birth and everything that came afterward. I intended to seek my answers despite her poor opinion of me. She already seemed to think little of me anyway. What would a few scandalous questions hurt now? "Could you tell me about your children? James is the oldest?" I guessed simply because the painting by James was the clearest to interpret.
"Yes. He will be nine in a few weeks."
"She is seven."
I managed to get her talking about her children and a maternal glow took over her face. She shared about the sleepless nights and difficult learning moments, not only for the children but for her and Bernard as well. There would be joy, pain, laughter and tears, as with all of life, but through it all the family ties bound them stronger together.
"It seems your marriage is a love bond as well." It was a slight barb, and I was smug in my assessment. I could feel her love for Bernard as she spoke, and I briefly wondered how I'd given the impression that Erik and I did not marry for love.
"I've been so rude." She leaned forward and pressed her palms together, her features strained with anguish. "Can you forgive me? Please, truly ask me anything you wish to know."
With that invitation I unleashed my curiosity and she was candid with me about sickness in the morning and swollen ankles, the real pain of childbirth and breastfeeding, the euphoria of holding your child, and even intimacy after giving birth. She answered all of my questions without an awkward blink and I felt it was her way of apologizing. We lapsed into silence as I tried to think of any other questions and Emily asked softly.
"Does he talk to you? I mean, how do you listen to that voice all the time?"
"His voice is beautiful." I smiled absently thinking of my last view of Erik, bent over their kitchen table, hands planted firmly over the documents. He had been scowling, which used to be his ever present expression, emphasized by the white mask, but recently his scowls had been few and far between.
"Unnatural." I heard her whisper, and I climbed out of my fantasy to really look at her.
"You have no reason to fear my husband." My brow was furrowed down in frustration because I knew it didn't matter what I said, not just to Emily, but every person to cross our path would feel and fear what they wished. Unfortunate for Erik, his very presence instilled fear in the feeble minded.
"He examined the tarts, and the plates!" She burst out, gesturing to the tea tray with a flailing hand, as she stared wide eyed. I wasn't sure what she was trying to convince me of, but as I fully examined the tray myself, I noticed the missing sugar bowl. I hadn't thought to look for it since singers should not use sugar in their tea and we were trying to keep my voice in its prime. Why else would Emily not bring sugar with her? I couldn't help the annoyed purse to my lips when a deeper meaning to the omission of sugar led me to believe that Erik did not trust that I wouldn't put the sugar in my tea if given the option.
Poor Emily didn't know what to say and my annoyance with Erik shifted easily into extra annoyance with her. My facade began to wear on me. I waited for her to speak and dwelled on the sad truth. All people fear what they do not know or understand. My Erik being both magnificently talented and strange would always create a distance between himself and others. Since my place was at his side, it removed me to the same distance and I was learning that I actually enjoyed that distance. My father had never needed other people in our life. We had each other which was more than enough. Erik and I were similar in that regard. Not only could I not imagine other new people in our home, but looking at my hostess grapple to find words to deny her fear, explain away her prejudice, or perhaps apologize, I couldn't imagine a day when Emily would not be afraid of Erik.
My innocent, nervousness at the beginning of this meeting had mellowed into an intimate conversation which now had become a guarded poise that I felt settle comfortably upon me. A much deeper understanding of my public role as Erik's wife was coming to light. I was the wife of a well to do business man, not only that, but also had my own career to be proud of. We were above other commoners, untouched by their thoughts and perspectives, in a position of power and influence. I'd gleaned all the tips from Emily that I could, and had many delicate questions answered with honesty and first hand experience, I practically squeezed her for information like a wet rag. She was a seasoned mother and housewife, and I felt no awe of her accomplishments as she wrung her hands nervously in my calmly put out presence, her mouth opening and closing as she sought the right words to beg forgiveness or defend her words.
I was years younger than her and yet I felt highly superior. Although part of me cringed inwardly at my pompous air, I wore it like a cloak to hide my disappointment. She was unaccepting of Erik, which meant that we would never be close friends, although Bernard seemed to enjoy our company. This issue required further thought and Erik's insight as well. Bernard's easy manner around us, laughing and poking fun at Erik, led me to believe that Emily would be the same.
I struggled to not sigh wearily as I put down my empty teacup, but I was a stage girl so I acted my part. She finally found her voice to drastically change the subject and show off the blanket she was working on. It wasn't difficult to remain social and politely interested, I often did the same at the opera, so I asked about her stitchings and listened. But I'm sure Bernard saw the relief on my face when he appeared at the door announcing they were finished.
I swept ahead of her into the kitchen, letting her clean up the dishes, and found my husband donning his cloak and hat near the door. His eyes flicked over me and I knew he was observing things with his keen senses, even as I determined for myself that he looked relaxed and well. I thanked Bernard warmly for his hospitality, holding his hands briefly to convey my appreciation, and verbally thanked Emily for the tea and chat when she appeared at the doorway laden with the tray. I didn't move towards her or wait for her to put it down though, and promptly preceded Erik out the door.
Christine swept out the door like a snubbed royal, and I refrained from asking until we were on our way home.
My evening had gone well, except for the part where Christine and I were separated, that always seemed to feel like I was being torn apart from within myself. Bernard only needed a few questions answered and I was finally noticing how much I trusted him in business areas of my life. It was suddenly plain to me that without Bernard I would have no business, so I indulged in minor small talk as our evening progressed. No reason for me to be completely focused on the drawings. He answered off-handedly, as if his attention was focused solely on my drawings, and it made me like him even more. Asking casually about his children seemed an appropriate topic, and with his attention diverted he answered a few questions about his brood and the occasion of their births without even looking at me.
Right before leaving to fetch Christine, he paused and regarded me with a knowing look, making up for the entire evening with one stare. It brought to mind the look Nadir often gave me, weighing and measuring.
"Children are the product of love, it is a natural process, but that does not mean it is easy. Women tend to go slightly mad as the child grows inside, best to be on your toes." I certainly never meant to stir this outpouring of brotherly advice, but he patted me on the shoulder as if to console and then left with a quiet chuckle. No more was said on the matter since Christine left so abruptly, which brought me to my wife's mood.
She was avoiding my eye and I could easily tell her feathers were ruffled.
"How was your visit?" I started mildly.
"It was fine." Her answer told me the exact opposite, and as she glanced coyly to see if I was watching her, she sagged from her stiff posture and gave up the lie. "She was overzealous in trying to please me and had a rabid attention to my details. I didn't care for it. She must be more than a decade older than me and to have her so nervous around me..."
"She should be nervous. You are her superior." Her eyes flashed to mine and the guilt I saw made me want to know every exact detail of what happened while Bernard and I effortlessly went over the drawings in companionable conversation. I traced her hand, as if to coax our fingers to mesh, which they did, much to my pleasure and relief. "You were so excited to meet Emily and now I sense that..." She wouldn't let me finish.
"It could have gone much better. I was rude to her..."
"...but she said some awful things to me." My eyes narrowed as the warm feelings from a good evening rapidly turned cold. This is what happened when I let my guard down, when I let her out of my sight. It could be anywhere. Even somewhere I thought was safe.
"What awful things did Emily say?" The words created a whip of a question and I could tell it hit Christine with accuracy. I felt immediate shame for my lack of vocal control, even as she answered with alacrity.
"She assumed that we married for convenience, as some sort of protection from admirers, and that the child in my stomach could not possibly be yours since I have the loose morals of a stage girl!" My sweet woman was horrified she just said those words out loud and clapped a hand over her lips with a glimmer of tears in her eye.
My mind swirled into a frenzy of urges and voices, I wanted to bite my twisted tongue and the darkness tried to ooze, my core vibrated with a multitude of ragged emotions. I did the most intelligent thing I could. I sat back and drew Christine to my embrace, where she nuzzled to me seeking comfort. Everything became a little easier and I was able to breath normally.
I wasn't sure if Christine was upset due to her tarnished reputation or if it was the slight to our marriage that had her fists clutched into my clothing. But it was becoming clearer to me that Christine truly believed herself to be with child if she was telling people over tea. Even Bernard alluded to the child in Christine's stomach. He would know the subtle things to look for seeing as Emily has experienced the miracle six times over. I would have to face the reality of our intimacy and accept that a child, no matter what they look like, would be ours to care for and love. A shudder ran down my spine.
"I'm so sorry." I spoke out loud, not knowing entirely what I was apologizing for, but I did know she wanted to make a new friend tonight. I wasn't even opposed to the idea, but now, it would never be. Emily could not be trusted.
"No, I'm sorry, Erik. This is my fault. I somehow made her think I didn't love you!"
"That is ridiculous." I held her tighter and she followed suit.
"It's true! And then she mentioned how scary your voice is and I got mad at her for her fear, which she can't even control and probably doesn't even understand...I mean, even I was afraid when I first met you...It's not like you've given her a chance to get to know you..." I tilted her face up as she prattled on and easily placed my lips over her moving ones. Her shock melted quickly as her hands began to caress me and I sought to convey my devotion to her with the stroke of my tongue.
Christine came alive suddenly as she manoeuvred into my lap and stripped the white mask from my face. The air was still a shock on my sensitive flesh, but my wife's actions were no longer surprising, I even found myself relishing that she would remove the encumbrance.
"I love you so much. And nobody knows how I love you. It's not fair!" She feverishly pressed her mouth to mine, as if she had to make up for something, and although I was not following, I was actively participating. Kissing my wife took me away to a better place and my hands spread to worship her curves as hers drew my jaw closer.
We dissolved into one another. I fervently lived in this moment of acceptance, disappeared into her embrace. We existed only to please the other as thoroughly as possible still clothed within the confines of the carriage. Fingers pulled at hair, plucked at clothing, stroked skin and sleeves and backs, while mouths tasted and took. When the motion beneath us stopped, we broke apart panting, and while I didn't quite know what to do or say as my heart and cock thrummed, Christine grinned and bit the edge of her lip playfully.
"Are you going to be able to walk?" She whispered, brushing her plump, rosy lips to my face a few more times, her lashes fluttering over mischievous eyes.
"Stop kissing me so I can find out." I growled in her ear and gave her bottom a pinch. Her giggles washed over me as I set her off my lap with deliberate purpose.
Walking would be fine as soon as I could stand without injuring myself.
I took a few breaths to calm my racing blood and thought of Emily's minor treachery. It's not as if she tried to tear Christine and I apart, but her opinion of Christine was not very flattering and she clearly is afraid of me and I never even noticed. This was a surprising blow since I'd begun to feel as if Bernard and his family could be brought into my inner circle. It seemed my judgement was off. Christine made me believe I could be accepted everywhere but the truth was here for me to see. Not everyone could withstand me. Why did Bernard never mention it to me? Or did he not even know? Her terror in the kitchen made more sense, but at the same time, how dare she think so little of me! I've supported their family for so many years!
Bernard had taken the time to mention Emily was enamored with my wife, the singer, which in reality turned out she thinks quite little of her. Why not mention his wife is petrified of me? He must not know, otherwise he would have met me elsewhere. He would have kept me away from his home, protected his wife. I liked to think I knew Bernard well and he was very protective of his family, I didn't like to think that he was ambivalent to their comfort. I drew my hands through my hair a few times, calculating.
"I will have a word with Bernard regarding Emily. I never thought my simply being in her home bothered her. We could have met elsewhere. I was trying to accommodate their family life..."
Christine ducked to catch my eye and her thumb silenced me as her fingers raised my chin to her widening eyes. Her gaze was coloured with such boundless awe and passion that I was breathless in its wake. She was a wellspring of love, spilling over from within her body, a radiant creature resplendent with tender emotion, and it was all for...me?
"You are so beautiful." She whispered musically and I felt my face heat, as my heart pounded an awkward rhythm. Her lips and eyes made truths out of things I patently knew were false and yet, a dominant part of me believed her when she looked at me like this. Beauty in the eye of the beholder. I could feel my essence reaching out, as her devoted regard warmed me. I was being drawn within her loving eyes, safe and sound and never to be alone with the dark again.
This luminous creature of love is My Wife. I wanted to sing it from the rooftops.
But her mind wandered, observed through the change in her encompassing eyes, and the moment receded into a memory of a savoured feeling. That feeling of being one.
I was suddenly cold and empty, my heart rattling in my chest. I wanted to go back and live in that warm moment of slavering devotion, prostrate myself at her feet in worship, but Christine spoke regally and my attention was thankfully diverted. "Emily does not deserve to know the real you." She patted my leg and deposited the mask in my lap. "Go ahead and scare her." And before I could react she flung the door open and descended gracefully.
I squeezed my eyes shut and controlled my breathing to take charge of my entire unruly body. Within a few breaths I was able to follow her out smoothly enough and thank Gil, before we headed through the darkness to our home. The walk was mostly silent as we both reflected on our own thoughts, and kept within the words that wished to spill forth. This day had been another wonderful example of what life was going to be like with Christine. How many times did I leave Bernard's and walk in the chill night air back to the cold catacombs of the opera? Alone. Depressed. Repressed.
Yet tonight I was gifted with a thousand kisses on the warm ride home and a pledge of adoration. And now Christine was humming a familiar melody, flicking her skirt over grasses and brush, as I made a mental note to figure out a path to our home. Perhaps I should make it a road so a carriage can deposit us directly at the door, not that I didn't enjoy strolling through the night with my wife, but we were lucky so far that the winter had been mild.
A smile curled my lips as I watched Christine from a pace back, studying the way she moved. She was in her own world, dance walking through the natural landscape to her very own music, and I admitted to myself that if Christine was of the mind that she had my child inside her, she seemed quite content and pleased with the idea. Worry attempted to claw up my chest but it was becoming easier to squash it down. The child would be healthy and whole. The child would look like Christine.
Erik was only a shadow at my back as we moved through the night. I could feel him pacing my stride as if there was a tether between us, pulling him this exact distance behind me. Our heated kisses had warmed my body so that I barely noticed the cold air around me, but I was keenly in tune with the shadow at my back. His step was so silent that I wanted to keep checking he was still behind me. I was worried if I sought his eyes I would lose all control and fall upon my stealthy guardian to make love to him beneath the stars right here in the grasses of our kingdom.
Instead, I fantasized about coming together as I hummed sweetly to myself. I couldn't allow such freedoms on my part though, not when he was so afraid to lose control of himself and tonight I knew he had to take laudanum. I pushed away the disappointment over Emily and instead went over all the information she had given me regarding my future. This child would change me, but it was a part of Erik that I could nurture and mold, and that was a gift I intended to appreciate with relish.
Our home loomed sooner than I thought possible and I realized I had been so deep in my own thoughts that I had walked to the front door alone. My husband had been silent because he hadn't actually been there.
"Erik?" I turned a circle to make sure I was truly alone and then pouted. Where did that man go and how did he do it so quietly? The door opened behind me and I jumped back in alarm until I saw Erik's cheeky grin, his face already bare for me.
"Christine? What a lovely surprise. Do come in?" He stepped back and invited me in with a flourish of his hand. Happiness stretched across my face to join in his mirth and I shed my cloak into his waiting hands. "Would you care for a drink, something to eat perhaps?" He asked playfully and instead of dragging him straight to the floor as my innermost desires called for me to do, I headed to the kitchen to make him his tea. This is how responsible adults acted, how they took care of important things. I kept repeating it to myself because I still dreamt only of stripping his body and straddling his lean hips and finding my pleasure. Heat flamed over my face as I filled the kettle from the kitchen faucet with fresh water from the stream. I was glad I had things to occupy my hands. Otherwise, I would be hard pressed to keep my idle hands from my husband's body.
I began to wonder if having a part of Erik inside me was urging me to take him inside me more often. I'd never fantasized this much of the many ways our bodies could come together. Perhaps it was only that we were trying to take things slow so he could control himself better. Perhaps the inability to make love was making me want it even more, and holding myself back was providing more fodder for the fire. As I fondly recalled the first days and weeks of our intimacies, when we never held back, when we ripped the clothing from each other in our haste to be one, I wondered if every couple reaches a point where other things become more important than feeling that connection. When you actively choose to resist your body's natural desires.
Pondering this made me see Erik's personal struggle in a different light. Was he constantly struggling against himself, resisting his body's desire to turn to the darkness? Was his mastery of his darker self a constant battle? How did he know when he was himself and not himself? Could he control it every time the darkness called? Was there some situations that made it harder for him? Had I caused some of those situations? Memories flashed through my mind of how wanton I could be around him, stripping off my clothing, telling him I needed him, straddling him in the carriage on more than one occasion. There were many times I could fully take the blame for pushing him beyond his control. And if Erik couldn't control himself then things between us might definitely be rougher and more dangerous.
My heart fluttered as I thought of the times he has ripped my nightgown. Was that truly my husband or were those times of erotic pleasure given to me by the other Erik?
I told myself that the pulsing between my legs was my desire for Erik as a whole, and not the thought of being grabbed by my husband and dragged to the floor of our kitchen.
After hanging our cloaks and starting a fire, I watched my wife as she puttered in our kitchen. I should be caring for her, after neglectfully taking her into a disastrous situation, but I didn't have the heart to make her stop. She seemed to have something to prove to me and I was sad to note that visiting Emily had striped some of Christine's effortless happiness that I had spent nurturing these last two days.
She was tense and I wanted to put my hands on her to massage her worries away. Her shoulders were being held at a rigid responsible angle, as if her papa was watching her be a good house wife from above. I could almost hear her innermost thoughts, this is how a wife is to behave, I must take care of my husband, make sure he gets enough to eat and enough sleep, because Lord knows he won't take care of himself...
She turned to the table and began laying out our bedtime snack, while the kettle warmed, and I was rewarded with beautiful views of her blushing bosom as she leaned forward to place items before me. I wasn't particularly hungry for food and didn't waste my sight on whatever she was preparing, my eyes raked their way over Christine's curves, drinking in her details. Her rosy cheeks were begging for me to ask what she was thinking about as she kept her eyes cast down from mine, attention strictly on the food. The kisses in the carriage had only fueled my desire for her and it was possible she was feeling the same. If I was being honest with myself there was only one thing I was currently hungry for.
But I still wasn't sure I trusted myself anymore. Making love in the morning light seemed the safer option over dealing with the darkness, both in and around. My prolonged sleep after the multiple seizures kept weighing on my conscious. The darkness had clung to me then, not wanting to release me to the light. I could remember the thick cloying feel to it as I struggled to return to my angel. I remembered finally waking and Christine leaping onto the bed to hold me in her desperate love. The bruises beneath her eyes were gone but I worried that my illness left a permanent bruise on her heart. She wasn't meeting my eye and I wanted to pull her close and make her smile.
"I have the most radiant wife." I mentioned casually as she sat to butter herself a piece of bread. She smiled for me, some of the lightness returning to her face.
"And I have the most stubborn husband. You have barely eaten today." She pushed a plate towards me with encouragement, but I ignored it.
"I don't like to eat before taking laudanum. It slows the digestion process the following day and if I'm not careful..." I wasn't sure what I was saying to her, as I watched her eating. There was an obscene amount of licking and moving that plump moist mouth through which the most seraphic voice emerges.
Hearing her sing this afternoon had temporarily filled me with the magic we create together and I vowed to myself that we would sing everyday together. Why deny ourselves that part of our connection? "I must take laudanum tonight."
"I know." She seemed about to say more but took another bite instead. My sweet song bird seemed hungrier than usual and with an odd lightness in my chest I allowed my words to wonder.
"Do you wish for a girl or a boy?"
Her eyes widened at the direct question and she took an extra moment to drink some water before catching my eye and smiling in a secretive way. "A boy."
Those expressive eyes of hers told me she would love her son, love him and squeeze him and kiss him and hug him. Her love would blanket our child in care, no matter what he looked like.
"I would prefer a little girl," who looks like you, was left unsaid.
"Have you picked her name?" Christine queried with a smirk before devouring more of the food in front of us.
A name would make this child real. A name would mean that we truly created life together. A name to go with Karan. A name to carry for the rest of this child's life...
"No. No names yet." My throat felt dry so I indulged in a few pieces of fruit that my wife carefully laid out, watching the smile grow on Christine's face, as I put the food in my mouth. Warmth grew within me as I watched her, easing the tension in my frame. Her happiness was our happiness, and I so wanted to see laughter sparkling in her eyes.
I made sure to reach out and touch Christine's hand the next time she reached for food and her glorious eyes embalmed me with a curious light. I only smiled and nabbed the piece her fingers were upon and cheekily took a bite.
It was difficult to chew with the stupid smile stretching my face and keep the food in my mouth at the same time, but as I made a fool of myself laughter spilled from my wife's mouth, her eyes bright with joy, and serenity filled me to the brim.
He kissed me one last time before he fell asleep and I couldn't help propping myself up in the dim light to stare at him. I'd feigned more fatigue than I felt to encourage him to take his sleep aid and allow the rest he needed. The thought of him not taking care of himself cut me deeply. Did he not want to have this life with me? He certainly had turned it around now, since waking up from his extended rest under the opera house, and of course, finding out I have a child within me.
I stared at the deformity of his face and imagined my child bearing the same mark. Fear and shame never appeared and so I surmised whatever God decided to bestow on us would be precisely what we could handle. I rose from bed and fetched ink and paper. There were so many words floating in my head that I needed to write down all the tips Emily had given me. Once I removed all of those, I would have room for the rest to take up residence. I quickly filled five pages in the small book, then I had to stop and think back on the visit.
I let myself recall her sitting room and how I felt at moments, to help me remember some of her words. A few more pages later I began making a list of all the things we still needed to purchase for the house and after that I stared into the banked fire, Erik's crystalline laughing eyes the foremost thought in my head. It seemed absurd to me that those same eyes once looked at me with black malevolence and that those long masterful hands fit around my throat.
Ink and book were put away and I crawled back into bed, staring down at my husband. I ran my fingers through his hair, knowing he was insensible to the world, and gazed down at the dark lashes hiding his depths. Those eyes delivered his soul to me all day today and I felt incomplete without their light. He was so different the last two days, upbeat and positive, even silly. The perfect husband, supportive and indulgent to a fault. His happiness was contagious to me, but also strange to have him so drastically flip his attitude. He was almost a different person now, with his jests and smiles and sparkling eyes. He was so different from the man in the mask that I met on the rooftops that I felt I barely knew him. Even though I knew him better than any other, he was still an anomaly to me. He internalized so much of his feeling that when the opposite came about I found it almost jarring. I never expected Erik to be anything other than what he was when I met him, but I knew that was not enough for him. He wanted to be better, he wanted to be good. He was trying to do everything on his own still, not turning to me for help although now at least he was giving me his attention.
And his music...
The memory of his creation this afternoon had me squirming in bed next to him. The song had been so full of feeling, so full of elated emotions that I tingled from head to toe just by recalling the moment again. The music had filled me with his hope, as ragged and frayed as it was, he still harboured those tender emotions even after all he'd been through and to me, that made him more precious. That he could still love and hope and laugh with me, made me so proud of my husband.
The laudanum would keep him asleep all through the night and in the dim light of our room his face was still and calm. The same emotionless relaxed face from his lengthy drug free sleep beneath the opera. I couldn't help the dark memories from arising. Those days were so close to the surface that the anxious worried feelings came roaring back. Why did he sleep for so long? Why could I not rouse him? Did he want these same questions answered? Should I talk to him about his illness?
I nuzzled Erik's cold skin with my nose and felt the rise and fall of his steady breath. Once heavily reassured of his continued life I slid off of my favorite pillow and adjusted the feather one beside him. I couldn't shake the feeling that he was putting on an act for me but even I was not being honest with my husband. All night I thought of kissing and caressing his body but never followed my hearts desires. My heart seized to think that we were both acting a role instead of participating honestly in our own opera.
I would stand it no more. This is my husband and my home and I can choose the path we follow. When I was laying with him out of wedlock I never held such reserves. I pulled my nightgown over my head and shimmied closer to Erik's slack body. He would find me naked and willing when he woke tomorrow. My breasts grazed his slight warmth and I tingled from head to toe. Why could we not have enjoyed our marriage for awhile before all these problems and issues arose to tear our unity apart? First it was Buquet's untimely death, then Erik's heroic injury.
The inspector had yet to find himself alone with me but I always felt on edge at the opera now, waiting for the moment he would find me distracted and I would give some slip up that would lead him to suspect Erik and then he would be taken away from me and I would raise our child without my husband as he rotted away in prison.
My hand had unconsciously drifted to my stomach. Now that I knew every milestone along the way I imagined I could feel a change in my stomach. There was a hard knot down below my belly button and my skin always felt flushed now, and it was ridiculously easy for Erik to make me blush. One look from his stormy eyes would send heat over my face and chest, to my tender bosom.
I dreamed of babies growing in a cabbage patch and making love in the tall grass, my sleep fitful as I thought of big bellies laying naked next to my husband. When he moved and stretched beside me my eyes flew open to bright sunlight and I waited a breathless heartbeat before taking the decision out of his hands.
I quickly rolled into his embrace, fully intending to seek pleasure there, but my body betrayed me as nausea swept my senses. Blindly pushing away from him, I stumbled from bed and hurried to make it to the washroom. My stomach seized repeatedly, as the most grotesque sounds echoed in the bathing chamber.
Mortification heated my limbs as I felt Erik's firm cool hands holding my braided hair back and steadying me. He murmured soothing nonsense as my body finally relented and released me from its twisted purging. I felt lightheaded and therefore didn't offer any protest when Erik lifted me into his arms and carried me back to bed before I could even cleanse my mouth.
"I will make you some soothing tea." He kissed my forehead and left to care for me, but I couldn't help the disappointed tears that slid from my eyes.
I was a coward. I should be with her, not down in the kitchen falling apart. Witnessing just what this spawn of mine did to my sweet Christine made my insides coil with rage and loathing. How purging the stomach in that manner could be considered normal was beyond me. Poor Christine even had tears in her eyes by the end.
This damn child was a nuisance and a bother already! Causing its mother to vomit with such unforgiving vigour and wracking her delicate frame with full body upheavals. I wanted to scour the fetus from her womb, scrub it from existence.
I wanted to break something. I wanted to scream. The darkness was pressing in my mind, offering solace in its fathomless depths. The gypsy women who sold me the neem oil would more than likely have a well known cure for this internment.
A creature never meant to exist could hold the power to overwhelm its host.
We made this mistake with our passionate love and now it would seek its revenge for being brought into the world.
Christine would be nourishing her death, right to the end. She would waste away while this virus feeds on her life force.
Enticing refrains of curing my wife's ailment floated through my sickened head.
I slapped myself. Christine needed me strong and supportive, not manically contemplating thoughts of poisoning her.
I would never allow a poison of any kind past my wife's lips. The succubus must be allowed to stay.
I gripped my hair and resisted the invitation to forget. I knew the darkness was all lies and misdirection. But this was twice now in less than a day. When I felt weakened again, it would beckon with renewed strength.
I splashed my face with water and then set it to boil, before fetching the violin from the music room. I would play some cheerful tunes for her on her father's violin. She had rebounded from such episodes remarkably easily before. There was no reason to worry.
And there really was not. By the time I made it back upstairs with tea and my instrument she was smiling, sitting against the headboard, running her fingers through her loosened light catching hair.
"I feel much better, Erik. I don't need to stay in bed, unless you join me." Her grin was contagious and quite provocative as she finished off her drink. I could have fallen on her with ravenous hands and hungry lips and been welcomed with relish. Licked the taste of tea from her rosy beguiling mouth and tore the nightgown from her unblemished body. Instead I tuned the violin absently while gazing at her stomach, recalling the jolt of her frame in my arms as the fetus caused her to vomit.
"Humour me, darling." I answered offhandedly and then caught her eyes devouring me. "Does the lady have any requests?"
She stared at me, her eyes glowing with an ethereal light as the sun enveloped her in golden rays. I felt I should cast my eyes down from such loveliness, from such devoted desire. I thought of the night before in the carriage when she began to pull me within her love and my hand trembled at the strings and nervously fluttered over them. When did she become so much more powerful than I? When did I relinquish that power?
Wanting to bolster my failing dominance I strung some opening notes into a beckoning curl of music before she had a chance to voice her obvious request. Her eyes closed in reverence as a shiver passed over her. The music swelled for us both and I became lost in the pull to express all the things I couldn't say out loud. I needed her to understand my sincerity. I needed her to see the depth of confusion I felt in this struggle to be her husband, her protector and also remain myself. At least, a version of myself that was safe for her to be around.
A knock at the door shattered the song and I quickly ordered Christine to stay in bed before heading through the unfinished part of the house and down to the front door with my violin still in hand. Pitifully few people knew of this home, so the list of knockers was short but I drew a blank as to whom might be outside. I realized at the bottom of the stairs that my face was bare, but luck was with me. The white mask was sitting on the bench where I'd left it last night so I pushed it into place before opening the door.
Bernard turned quickly and he immediately began talking with a wild look in his eyes, his hair askance.
"Erik, please forgive my wife's behaviour. I had no idea she would be so inappropriate towards Christine. Emily is naive and listens to too much gossip, but she meant no harm. I do hope that Christine and yourself will forgive me for allowing her to..."
I held up my hand and he snapped his mouth shut. "There are no hard feelings, trust in that." It was rare to see Bernard look so unhinged, he appeared to have not slept last night although his clothing was definitely his Sunday best and freshly pressed this Wednesday afternoon. "I do wish you had told me earlier of your wife's distaste for my presence."
He drew breath, most likely to defend, but I shook my head. "The problem is easily solved. You may come here when there are papers to go over. Or you could come to the opera and we can meet in the offices there. That would be closer to your home."
"Whichever you prefer, Erik. I am so grateful that you will still employ me and hope you continue to support my family, my children." His eyes began to shine and before he began crying, I nodded quickly.
"Of course. I would be mad to let you go just when I've gotten you trained to my specifications." His face was so relieved I thought he might burst into tears anyway, but we both heard the sound of slippered feet behind me and I cursed in my head before turning to see Christine in her bedclothes and wrapper smiling at Bernard.
"Good morning, Bernard. Have you come to help Erik with the house?" My lady changed the subject effortlessly, although she had a repeated tendency to not listen to me and poke her head out in less than perfect attire.
"Madame Karan. I do hope you will accept my apology for my wife's behaviour..."
Christine laughed joyously and I watched her as she presented a calm and mature front. "Bernard, please. Call me Christine. I do hope what happened last night will not cause you to treat us any differently than you always have. I can understand how your wife feels." Here Christine looked at me fondly and reached to hold my hand. "Erik can be very intimidating when you don't know him as well as we do."
Bernard clasped his hands together and bowed his head. "I was concerned you would be offended by her gossip. Her sister is quite overzealous with it."
"I am beginning to wonder what they write about me in the paper now." She cocked her head to one side and I stiffened.
"No good can come from reading your reviews, Christine."
"Even the good reviews?" She asked but I firmly shook my head.
"You do not need the accolades when you know very well that you are incredible."
"Oh, you are biased." She grinned up at me and I saw Bernard glance between the two of us.
"I truly apologize for last night, Christine. From the bottom of my heart." His voice was in danger of cracking and I suppose if you felt your employment was in jeopardy, you would fear for your family's safety. I wondered if I should invite him in. Christine's idea of having him help with the house made me think of everything I could accomplish today here, but I knew he was supposed to be on another site, overseeing the less knowledgeable men on the team. I would trust that he had either sent them home for the day or given them a few simple tasks to accomplish since he would clearly need time to get home and change if he planned on helping them once this unnecessary trip was completed.
"Won't you come in?" Christine invited as she stepped back and motioned for him to enter. I gave her a pointed look that traced down her inappropriately clad body and she continued speaking with a pointed look of her own. "Erik, can you start the water? I will just be a minute." She floated away to get dressed and I gestured towards the kitchen. He knew where it was since he helped me raise the house from the ground.
"I never knew she was afraid of you." He obviously needed to keep talking about this although I had hoped we were done.
"Many people are." I left it at that.
"But it doesn't make sense. Emily is a sensible woman, not prone to fits and flights. She was incredibly embarrassed by some of the things she said to Christine."
"Bernard, I will admit that her reaction to me is what I am most accustomed to. You and Christine are the strange ones who don't seem to fear my voice or my odd looks."
"Certainly you can be fearsome, but what is there to fear about your voice?"
I couldn't help chuckling as I prepared the water again. "Exactly."
Bernard sighed and before he could keep chewing this like a dog with a bone I interjected with a question about his schedule for the week. I did want this house finished eventually and we were able to discuss some of the future work to be done in the house. Christine joined us once she was properly dressed and we spent an hour around our kitchen table talking about children and finishing this house, while consuming tea, coffee and biscuits. I watched Christine's face as Bernard told an amusing story about his eldest. Her eyes were wide, her attention rapt as she listened intently, and then at the climax, she laughed and joy transformed her features.
I thought back to earlier when I struggled to allow her this power over me and realized I was still being an idiot. Her love and goodness washed over me, like an absolution for every dark deed in my past. She was unlike any person I have ever met. Her goodness was able to stretch from within her and blanket those within her sights. She passed on her gentle way of talking and gesturing to those who spoke with her, and she garnered their respect and attention by fully giving hers. I could see that Bernard genuinely enjoyed his morning with us and when he waved goodbye, with a promise to return tomorrow to work, he had a wide smile on his face, reassured of his position in our lives and in my business.
Christine took my hand once the door was closed and led me up the stairs to our bedroom.
"I want to show you something." I allowed her to lead me because I wanted to do whatever it was she wanted me to do. I would be what she wanted me to be. I was hers to command, I obeyed her every word. I would do anything to make her smile and laugh as she had mere minutes ago.
"What are you showing me?" My question was gruff as I fully realized how dependant I was on her for happiness. Did I even know how to find happiness without her in the picture?
"You'll see..." She glanced coyly over her shoulder as she removed her dress and I didn't need any more motivation than that. She was in my arms, glowing with her inner light, burning with passion, and I was happily consumed by her growing fire.