Music filled the air of the parlor, light and happy, played with the precision and mastery of a virtuoso. I listened with deft attention to every turn of phrase and glorious articulation, awe and adoration glowing in my unending smile. A final ornament and determined cadence, and as large blue eyes darted to me for my approval, I clapped with an exuberant giggle to proclaim my delight.
"He's going to give Mozart competition for the title of prodigy!" Erik exclaimed as he rushed to embrace Bastien, pride written in tears upon his unmasked face. "Three years old and already playing sonatas with the skill of a trained pianist!"
"You are not building a concert around him," I insisted back. "He's a little boy. He should be outside getting dirty and climbing trees, not obsessing over the perfect allegro with his father."
"Climbing trees? Getting dirty?" Erik shook a doubtful head and scooped Bastien up into his arms, asking, "What do you say to that, enfant? Do you want to play outside, or do you want to practice your allegro?"
"Allegro! Allegro!" the little boy shouted and hugged his arms about his father's neck.
"All right!" I conceded with another giggle. "How did I end up with two musical geniuses? As if one weren't enough!"
"God made you lucky," Bastien replied with a wide grin. "Did I say it right, Daddy?"
Erik chuckled and pressed kisses to Bastien's cheeks. "Exactly, enfant! Your mother likes to forget just how lucky she is!"
"Well, it is difficult to recall when the two of you play dueling pianos in the middle of the night," I agreed and gazed in adoration at my gentlemen. Bastien's dark curls had gone askew in his frantic playing and now sat upon his brow, tufted and framing his little features. Yes, he had my curls, but his face… I was convinced he looked exactly like his father should have. It made his every expression dearer to my heart. And Erik… He was happy and as close to ordinary as he'd ever been, and I loved him for it.
"That's inspiration time, right, Daddy?" Bastien quoted, and I shook my head. He was quite a facetious child, who took after his father in more than musical terms. How often he parroted back Erik's words as if they were scripture teachings!
"Right indeed, enfant."
"The two of you may enjoy being night owls," I continued to chide, "but Susanna and I favor our rest, and that is impossible with pianos playing day and night."
As if on cue to her name, a wail resounded from the nearby cradle, and I rushed to pick Susanna up, lifting her high in the air and deciding, "Your fervent agreement is appreciated, sweet girl."
Susanna regarded me with an unamused expression on her plump, little face. Four months old, and she had made quite an impression upon our household. She was a diva in the making, but despite Erik's best efforts, she was not the musical genius out of the womb like her brother. She was a normal little girl with flawless porcelain features that Erik proclaimed at every glimpse were my image.
Susanna… Well, Erik had insisted on the name of an opera heroine, and I had insisted right back that it couldn't be a heroine connected with suicide or insanity, who died before the final chorus, or who did anything overly provocative. That cut his list to a handful of choices, and I had pushed for Figaro's Susanna. Evidently, it had been the perfect inspiration because by my husband's own decree, our small opera house company would be performing Figaro in the spring. It would be in Susanna's honor with her Mama in her namesake's role.
I brought Susanna to the couch and sat her on my knee. "Did you hear your brother's playing, Susanna love? Someday he can accompany our duets, and you and I will sing beautiful harmonies."
"You don't want me to force music on Bastien, and yet what are you doing, ange?" Erik taunted as he and Bastien joined us.
"Following in your footsteps and encouraging musical growth," I replied with a grin. "If they are our children, it's their inevitable future."
I saw the gleam in his eyes that said he was fantasizing it again, and true to prediction, he concluded, "I see Bastien playing sold out concerts all over the country."
"And this little one?" I pushed as Erik stroked Susanna's cheek and made her smile.
"I will have my cherub singing before she's even speaking; mark my words."
"Oh, I never doubt my omnipotent angel."
As I watched, he leaned at Susanna's level and caught her chubby hand, bringing it to his lips for kisses. I was so proud of him. All this time with our children, and he didn't wear the mask. He left his scars exposed, and they never gave his face a second thought. To them, it was ordinary. The mask only appeared in the public eye, and Bastien found that the oddity. He laughed whenever Erik put it on and called it his 'costume'.
Gazing at him with my heart in my eyes, I said, "Perhaps you should present the choice to Bastien instead of making it for him." Cupping my son's face in my palm, I asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up, sweetest boy?"
"Daddy," Bastien answered as if the answer was obvious, and Erik beamed and kissed his crown.
"What do you think of that?" I asked Erik and caught the flicker of tears he quickly hid. "To our son, you are his greatest hero and idol."
"And what a blessing that is! Every detail of our life is a blessing. I feel as if God has smiled upon me, and I am not forgotten."
"Any man who is loved is never forgotten," I replied, and as he pressed his hand to my cheek with adoration, I turned and kissed his palm, daring to linger with a telltale arch of brows.
I savored the provocative promise I received in his returned stare and a soft vow. "Later, ange."
Laughing softly to myself, I asked, "And would you say then that your dreams have come true? And that happily ever after includes a prodigious three year old, a baby who refuses to sleep through the night, a wife who becomes a dramatic diva around performance times, and running an opera house as a manager rather than haunting one as a ghost?"
Bastien heard the term 'ghost' and began to howl like a lamenting soul and prove my point, but Erik chuckled with exuberance and declared, "As if I would have it any other way! This is the dream. I never want it to end!"
Happiness danced along his damaged face and made him more beautiful than I'd ever seen him. My adored husband and our lovely, little family. Sometimes I considered our story and every obstacle we'd endured to arrive at such a moment, but if nothing else, hardship made us appreciate bliss more. It was a nightmare in blacks and greys, and now we'd awakened to a dream in rainbow hues and excited clarity. As long as we kept dreaming, happily ever after would continue on. I was certain it would last forever. Forever in a dream. What better bliss existed than that!