Chapter 30
"…A lovely apparition...
And yet a spirit still and bright,
With something of an angel light."

-William Wordsworth, English poet

The nurse smiled kindly, appearing not to be surprised at my words. "No, you're not."

Relief flooded into me but disappeared as another notion appeared to me. "Are there... Do I have... any STD's?" Erik's hand jerked again but I kept my gaze on the nurse. I had to know.

The nurse looked at me a moment and I held my breath. "No," she answered, "Perhaps you don't remember, Christine, but you were not raped." I closed my eyes, wilting against the stiff hospital pillow with relief. "This extremely brave young man here stopped your attacker, as I understand," the nurse continued with a twinkle in her eye. I turned my gaze to Erik, a touch of color creeping into his pale cheek as the nurse continued. "He's quite a keeper; I'd hang onto him if I were you." I glanced sharply at the nurse but her face was perfectly serious. She winked once and left.

Once we were alone, I again reached up to touch his cheek, and his resolve to be stoic melted. He sighed and pressed my hand to his lips; his kiss no more than a feather-light brush against my palm. "Erik?" His mismatched eyes rose to meet mine. "How long has it been? What happened?"

He kissed my palm again, and grasped it in his own as if to give me his strength. "You were attacked two nights ago... That night, I started after you but went a slightly different way so I could sneak up behind you." He paused to consider his next words. "I can hardly explain what happened next... You'll probably think I'm crazy but I swear that this is what I saw. I was going, like I said, to sneak up behind you when I saw this blazing light just to my right." His eyes looked faraway for a moment. "I saw a woman standing there... she was very beautiful and had a serene look on her face that I'll never forget. She told me not to be afraid but that I must hurry." Erik's gaze focused on me again, his eyes darkening as he recalled his memory. "She disappeared and I ran to where she was standing... just behind the tree I saw," a muscle in his jaw twitched. "That animal... and you... Luckily for him, my shouts brought the teachers and... well… here we are."

My hand trembled in his. "Who... who was it?" I whispered, my throat feeling dry again.

Erik looked down, shame creeping into his eyes. "I'll never forgive myself for not seeing it right away..." he said softly. "It was Tom Glover."

Shocked beyond belief, I stared at him as memories of the decidedly intimate scenes I had had to act out with Tom in West Side Story flashed through my mind. I swallowed against the bile rising in my throat, gripping Erik's hand which was reassuringly not a dream but real... and infinitely precious to me. "Do... do you know why?"

Erik shook his head slowly. "Not really. It's too soon to know for sure but I heard some people say that he has a history of broken relationships and he comes from a bad home. There was also talk that he was obsessed with Charlotte; but, you know how she is, she wouldn't give him the time of day. If this is true, then… perhaps he saw you as a threat to what he wanted. Maybe he thought that by getting rid of you, her rival, Charlotte would be happy and would reciprocate his feelings."

I stared at him, horrified. "But that's… that's crazy!"

He was silent a moment. "I know," he replied quietly.

I closed my eyes, feeling tears slip out from underneath my closed eyelids. I was so tired suddenly, thoughts whirling around in my head until one thought emerged above them all. Erik caressed my hand, saying nothing, but his presence was comforting and aided by an odd mixture of fear, courage, and whatever pain medication I was on, I looked at Erik, holding onto his hand like an anchor.


He looked up expectantly.

"Erik, I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I know that there's a very good chance that one of us will make it to Julliard while one of us won't. I know that should we both make it, we're going to be very hard pressed to pay the tuition on our own." My lips started to tremble but I pushed myself forward. "I also know that the rest of the school year is still coming and anything may happen between now and the time we apply. But I want you to know that…" I inhaled a shuddery breath and closed my eyes. "I love you… so much… and I don't ever want to be apart from you." I was weeping openly now and couldn't see Erik's reaction. His hand had fallen still upon mine and for a moment I worried that I had said too much too fast. Erik had known so little of what I had just expressed, perhaps it was more than he could handle.

When my eyes finally cleared enough, I saw what had been keeping him from responding verbally. Tears coursed down his face and he had been obliged to take off his mask in order to wipe them away. Finally he brought my hand to his lips and kissed it, leaving wet marks where his tears had dripped down over his lips.

"Christine… I…" he started awkwardly.

"It's okay," I said leaning back into my pillow, exhaustion catching up with me. "You don't have to say anything now… except," I heard my words go desperate. "Except, will you promise not to leave me?"

He hesitated for a moment. "Christine, I can't promise anything… except that my feelings… for you… will never change… that I vow."

I smiled sleepily at him, feeling my eyelids droop involuntarily. "That's good enough for me."

* * *

A few days later, I brought out my dad's violin case to the living room where Erik waited and set it in front of him on a low table.

He looked at me, eyebrow raised questioningly.

"Go ahead," I replied encouragingly. "Open it."

Erik sat down gingerly on the plastic covered couches from the 70's and gently lifted the lid after flipping the latches. My father's violin lay in its blue velvet lining, shining softly in the light that filtered through the curtains behind the couch.

Erik touched the honey colored wood reverently, his fingers twitching as if he ached to let the violin sing.

"It's yours," I said, sitting down beside him.

Erik looked sharply up at me, his fingers abruptly ceasing their tender caress of the instrument. "What?"

"It's yours," I repeated, "I'm giving it to you."

"Christine! I… I can't possibly accept it. I--I have no way of paying you for it…"

"It's a gift, Erik. I want you to have it," I replied gently, "I have no use for it but you will need it. Or did I hear you wrong when you mentioned off-hand that you'd like to double-major in voice and violin performance?"

He winced and looked away from me for a moment back to the violin. "But this was truly your father's. Photos are nothing… His violin was a part of him… It is your best link to the past."

I looked down for a moment and then reached over to cover his hand with mine. "I know that Dad wouldn't have disapproved, Erik. I remember once when I was ten, we went to a museum on a school field trip and he was a chaperone. We walked past an exhibit of old instruments and he remarked to me that it was so sad to see perfectly good instruments go to waste. Violins were made for music; to not use one for its intended purpose is almost insulting to music lovers, and even to the instrument itself." I fell quiet a moment, letting him digest my words. "I've dwelt long enough on the past, Erik. I need to do this so I can move on with my life."

Erik looked up at last and searched my eyes for a long moment. Finally he nodded. "Okay. I'll take it." He took my hand and together we sat, silently gazing at the treasured instrument that had been my father's livelihood. It had tortured me with memories that I wished to relive so badly that I nearly forgot to live in the present. I still missed my father but now, with the help of love from good friends and… I stole a glance at Erik's calm face… other people, I knew that my grief would fade in time. No more looking with longing eyes to the past, now I would look forward to the future, whatever it held.