AN: I am so sorry to all of you that it's taken me…forever…to get back to this. I started writing it and then my computer was stolen. Then I started again, and the hard drive crashed. Then I just got frustrated with life and lost my muse. But here I am! I got a review recently and thought "damn, I really don't need to leave them hanging." So, I'm back. I will try to be more regular.
Side by side newspaper headlines read "Extravaganza Opens on Coney Island" and "French Viscount looses small fortune at craps." It almost felt like their lives continued to be linked, even with thousands of miles between them. Eric stared at the paper reading every word of both articles meticulously. He wanted the opening to go off without a hitch and be publicized well, but he also wanted desperately to find a way to lure Christine and his son to America. And if the opening went well…he might be able to…thanks to Raoul.
Giry burst into the tent he had sheltered himself in while the cacophony of shrill little voices sang a vaudeville tune and shook their behinds. "We open tomorrow! You should be encouraging the girls!"
"They don't need encouragement. They need talent."
Giry fumed, snatching the paper from his hands. "You spoiled child! You mustn't behave this way if you have a prayer of us becoming something here. Then all of this work, of this money, of this time will be wasted entirely. People like to see girls like those out there. Men LOVE to see those girls. If you were normal you would understand that-"
He grabbed her wrist, standing up over her, feeling like a dark cold shadow. "You know better than to speak to me that way, Giry. I am not normal. I have never been. But I would not go about telling me what I was and was not, and what I would and would not do if I were you. You've seen the things I'm capable of."
She stood her ground though her soul was shaking, "Well you do not know what a mother of a wounded child is capable of either." She snatched her wrist from him, wringing it, then turning on her heel.
A wounded child? What did he have to do with Meg's illness? He knew she had been sick, hospitalized, but he had not bothered himself with the details. She was back on her feet now, and while having never had much talent, she was brighter than the other girls on stage. Her blonde curls were an attractant to many men, and if he had ever seen her as anything besides the daughter of a woman who was very much like an older sister to him, he might have even called her pretty.
"Please, Raoul, don't." Christine called to him as he slung another glass against the wall and it shattered into more sparkling shards on the floor.
"Those bastards! How dare they print such slanderous lies about me!"
"But Raoul they're not-" He spun on his heel. "..true…" she lied, trying to cover herself.
"You believe them, don't you? You believe the filth they print about me? You believe your husband is a philandering drunk gambler?"
"No, I don't believe you've been unfaithful," she said with kind caring eyes. The rest…she knew was true.
"Oh? But I am a drunk? And I have an addiction?" he raised his hand to her and smacked her across the face. She drew her hand to her cheek, trying not to let the tears forming in her eyes roll down her face. "You worthless whore. I went to Monte Carlo for you! For you and that boy upstairs! The both of you need so much from me. You demand so much from me. You weren't even decent enough to be a virgin for our wedding bed, and you dare accuse me of my flaws? Perhaps you should look in a mirror!" He grabbed her by the back of the neck and thrust her face into the dresser mirror. It shattered, cutting her cheeks. She closed her eyes just in time that none of the glass got into them, but on the lids were some scratches. A large shard lodged itself in her forehead, and Raoul pulled her close.
"Oh God! Christine! I am so sorry!" He tried to pull the glass from her face, and she shrieked. "Help! Someone! Christine's been injured! Please call the doctor!"
"She'll be alright. Don't be so hard on yourself," the bartender comforted, wiping off another whiskey glass and putting it under the counter.
"I did that to her…" he shuddered, throwing back the rest of the dark liquid into his mouth before slamming the cup down and staring into its empty, stained bottom.
"Bitch was askin' for it-"
Raoul's head shot up, and his hand darted to grasp the throat of the man in front of him. "That is my wife. You will NEVER speak that way about my wife. Do you understand?" The man's breath was caught, and no words escaped. "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" He squeaked a little and tried to nod, and this motion satisfied Raoul enough to drop him and sit back on his stool. "Now," he said, pushing the glass toward him, "another."
"What a beautiful performance Meg!" Giry cried, hugging her daughter as she came back into the trailer after the opening night's performance.
"He wasn't there." Her voice and eyes were hollow.
"Who?" Giry asked, taking a step back, hands still on her shoulders and looking her over.
"Eric…he wasn't there…"
"Of course he was, my dear. He wouldn't have missed the opening," Giry lied. She knew where he was. He was in that damned trailer composing…for Christine.
"No…I scanned the crowd, and though it was large, I would have seen him. He wasn't there mother. He knows. He knows I'm talentless and barren, and he could never love me now."
"Shh, child. He knows nothing. You are very talented," she pushed Meg's chin up with her thumb. "And don't you forget it. You are here. And you are now. And you get stronger every day. You feel well?"
"Yes Mama." She hung her head once more.
"Well enough to see Mister Jones tonight?" she asked, skeptically.
"Yes, Mama." Meg walked over to her little dressing table and began taking off her gloves.
"If you don't feel up to it, I can tell him to come again tomorrow. He just wanted to congratulate you on your success. Even if Eric doesn't see it, you were a STAR tonight, mon petite. You shined so beautifully. All the men in that crowd were in love with you."
"Except him…" Meg took off her earrings and set them down on the table next to the folded gloves and ran a comb through her finger waves.
"Don't redo your hair. It looks beautiful," Giry assured her.
"Fine," Meg half-snapped, but her voice was too tired to hold anger. It was just bitter and empty. She slipped off the costume, laying it over the chair back before grabbing a grey formed dress.
"Not that. You look like an old maid in that." Giry snatched in from her hands and replaced it with a soft cream lace dress with three quarter sleeves and a square, charming neckline. "This makes you look beautiful, young, and virginal."
"Well we both know I'm not that," Meg spat back.
"It is all about the illusion my dear. Men don't care what's real. They care what you make them believe. So make Mister Jones believe you are a young, vibrant, virginal, doe-eyed girl just looking to be taken care of. He will admire you, adore you, and give you whatever you ask."
"But I don't want anything from him-"
"This show cannot run without patrons, Meg. You know this as well as I. We still have quite a debt to repay. And it won't hurt Erik to see you being treated well by other men. A man is a jealous creature, and he will not wish to share you. You will see."
She looked at herself in the mirror, still holding the dress draped over one arm, ivory corset laced tightly round her waist. Her collarbone was very apparent, and her jaw line jagged. Even after several weeks of recovery she was gaunt and pale. She pinched her cheeks to try and return some color to them. She ran her thin fingers along the curve of her neck and shoulder, feeling the protruding bones. And after a moment of resting her hand on her elbow she stopped staring and began to put on the dress, just as her mother had said.
"You'll have to help me with the pearl buttons. I can't reach all the way around…"
Christine drew in air through her teeth, making a sharp hissing noise as the doctor dabbed salve onto her wounds once more. "I know it stings a bit, but we don't want any infection."
"A bit? It hurts more than falling through the mirror."
"And you're sure you FELL?" the doctor repeated.
"I've told you every time you've asked for the past week. I tripped over my skirts and fell into the mirror. Nothing more, nothing less. I just need to have dresses made in that new fashion of shortening the skirts. Apparently I am too clumsy to walk in my old ones." She winced as he moved on to the next wound.
"And on your arm?" he asked, pointing to the ring just above her elbow that was blue and purple.
"Maybe it happened in the fall," she replied, pushing down the sleeve to cover it once more.
"I know you love and want to protect him, but if he's hurting you…you can tell me."
"He doesn't know he does it. It's just the alcohol-"
"Damn drunk," the doctor mumbled under his breath. "I'd love to pour all that stuff in the Seine."
"He's just not the Raoul I married when he drinks. He's a good man, doctor. He truly is." He patted her hand and smiled.
"I know, Christine. I believe you. I knew him since he was a boy. Liquor's no good for anyone. My father was a drunk. A doctor and a drunk, what a combination. I've never touched the stuff. Best not to." He squeezed her hand gently, "But if you need anything, you have them ring me right away. I won't stand to see you hurt like this. You've got too much to live for. Namely, that little boy in the other room who is growing up too fast. You don't want to miss a moment of that."
"No, I don't." she assured him.
"And he needs his mother not to FALL anymore, lest he lose her."
"Would you help him? Can you?" she pleaded.
"If he's willing, I can surely try." He assured her, smiling then standing from the edge of the bed.
"And you will be back tomorrow to reapply the salve, yes?"
"Yes, viscountess, I surely will." He placed his hat back upon his head, tipped it, and turned to walk out of her room.
Christine knew that any of her maids could apply the salve with no real experience. It was not a difficult task, but she also knew Doctor Browning was doing more than just dressing her wounds. He was trying to heal her soul. Her eyes wandered up back toward the door and saw a shadow approaching. Raoul's hair was disheveled, but he looked more hung over than drunk. He slowly walked into the room holding a vase with lilies in it and placed it on her bedside table.
"A peace lily," he said.
"Actually they're day lilies, but they are lovely nonetheless. Thank you Raoul."
"Well, not a peace lily but lilies for peace. I love you Christine. I don't want to hurt you." He had realized when the bartender had made his jab that he would protect her with his life, so why was he making hers so miserable by his existence?
"They're beautiful, and of course. You needn't apologize. I'm going to be just fine. Doctor Browning just told me so himself." She half smiled, her face still not fully mobile as the nerves caused pain when she moved it too much.
"I've marred that beautiful face…" he said, shaking his head, shrugging off his coat.
"No. Only temporary. You can ask Doctor Browning yourself tomorrow when he comes again." At least if he were there perhaps the doctor could talk some sense into him.
"Christine I'm so sorry." He said, stepping out of his shoes and crawling onto the bed, grasping for her hand. "I'm so sorry. I've treated you so badly. It was never you I was mad at. It was myself. It was HIM."
"He's not here, Raoul. Don't let him ruin our lives. He's dead, a ghost."
Raoul laid his head upon her chest, trying to hold back the tears in his eyes. "Why didn't I protect you? Why didn't I end him the moment I found out…?"
"The past is passed. Let is lie there. Let us move forward. Please, Raoul." She pled, eyes closing, hoping he would leave the topic behind. Her heart still stung to think of him. Why hadn't she woken when he did? Why had he left her? Why did he take her into his arms and flee? Did he really think she couldn't love him in daylight the way she had in darkness? Would it have made a difference if he had known about Gustave? Was he even alive?
They each laid there in their own private hell created by a man they both despised in their own way, and fueled by a love they could never fully express. Raoul had not the gift of music to share his soul with Christine, and Christine had lost the man who gave her the music. They were both utterly helpless lying there in each others arms, wishing for something else, anything else, because this was not the life they had meant to live. The absence of him was more unshakable than his physical presence had been in the Opera house. So they sat in silence, eyes closed, and listened to the sound around them, the music of the life they had made.