I hope you enjoy this one. I'd like to mention beforehand though that you are not required to like the characters here. Weirdly enough, I find that most people have a bigger problem with Christine than with Erik. It's interesting how so many people can excuse his violence and other behavioral problems, and yet so many are quick and more than willing to jump on Christine if she has character flaws and unattractive personality traits. I've had several readers comment that they could not keep reading because of how Christine is portrayed, which is fine. She might not be everyone's cup of tea. Erik might not be, either. But that's the fun of it all; different takes on the same idea, and best of all, you didn't waste any money on it if you don't end up liking it! If you enjoy, let me know. And if you don't, no harm done. I've gotten reviews across the spectrum on this one. I really do hope you enjoy, though!
She dreamed of her days in Sweden.
There was green and blue—the meeting of the sky and the earth. It was a forever line…a rolling, forever line, and she felt that if she continued to run, she would somehow find the meeting point. She would be able to touch that sky and still feel the earth under her bare feet.
Sometimes she tried it. She would run across the hills, the wind ripping into her, pushing her back, tangling her curls and making her eyes water. She would go until her legs were shaking, until she was heaving for breath, and then she would lie down in the green grass and sleep under the bright sun.
The winter would blind her. The snow would be so white, so pure, and she would have to squint against that perfection. Those days were spent making creations in the snow, tasting freshly-fallen flakes on her tongue and feeling her nose and fingers eventually go numb.
Those were the days she dreamed of—she yearned for. The simplicity was so overwhelming. The happiness was constant. She could hear her father, his voice, calling to her across the hills.
And she would fly back to him, back to their little house in the country.
But she was already there, wasn't she?
"Christine. Wake up."
With a grunt, she jerked herself awake, and she blinked sleepily. There was soft laughter in her ear, and she felt her cheek pressed against something warm and solid. When she inhaled, she recognized the cologne.
She groaned, long and unladylike, and the laughter came again.
Rubbing her eyes, she took a few deep breaths to clear her mind, and then she opened her eyes again, trying to focus. The glare of a huge television set met her eyes, and she squinted against the light. She then took stock of her body's position: curled up on a sofa, resting peacefully on a man—a good-smelling, very handsome man. She peeled her cheek away from his t-shirt and looked up to smile at him. His grin was as charming as ever.
"Did you have a nice sleep?" he asked softly, pushing away some curls that had fallen over her face. She nodded, still feeling a little too drowsy to manage words at the moment, and she yawned and then settled back on him. His heartbeat thumped in her ear. It was soothing. After a few moments of blinking herself to a state of some coherence, she managed to mumble,
"Did I sleep long?"
"Most of the movie," was the response, but there was only warmth and affection in the voice.
"Sorry," she said, grasping the stomach of his shirt—like a little girl. "I was just so tired…and you didn't even want to watch it in the first place…"
"Heh. It was fine. You were really tired, like you said, so I understand. I'm just surprised you made it to about thirty minutes." He rubbed her arm.
She grunted in response and nuzzled farther into his chest, feeling warm, safe, and protected. Then she asked reluctantly, "What time is it?"
"A little bit past midnight."
Another groan issued from her mouth. "I should go home."
There was a pause, and then the voice came, somewhat hesitantly this time, "You could stay here tonight."
"I should go home and make sure that Dad's okay," she said. "Thanks for the offer, though."
"Anytime, really. Whenever you need it."
Finally, she sat up, pushing her mass of curls behind her ears and shoulders. Reluctantly, she stood, and he followed suit.
"Let me drive you home," he said, reaching for his car keys on the table.
"No—no," she said. "I'll take the bus."
"Ha," he said facetiously. "No way. Not at this hour. Only crazies ride the bus this late. Come on, Christine. Let me drive you home."
Though she protested for another minute or so, eventually she gave in, and he led the way out of the apartment, locking it firmly behind him. He smiled at her in the hallway and took her hand, wrapping his fingers around hers securely. They rode down the elevator, and she leaned her head against his shoulder tiredly. He was so warm, and he always smelled so good.
"Thanks again," she murmured into his arm.
"No problem," he said graciously. "I always want to make sure you're safe."
He kept her hand in his and led the way over to his shining BMW. Christine never ceased to be a little embarrassed by the differences in their social standings. She had no car to speak of—no car to dream of. The car he led her to was only last year's model, still in perfect condition. He opened the door for her, climbed in on the other side, and drove out of the parking garage.
As they drove, she looked at him and couldn't help but smile a little. Raoul de Chagny was a good boyfriend—a very good boyfriend. Perhaps she only thought that because she had never had any other boyfriends to compare him to, but she knew she was right. He was everything a girl would want in a boyfriend: handsome, charming, kind, funny…rich.
She shook her head a little. Of course she wasn't dating him for his money. She had never accepted a cent of charity money from him, ever (even if sometimes she desperately needed it). Though Raoul often protested that he just wanted to help her and her father get by, she refused everything he had tried to give. It shamed her, humiliated her.
He reached over and took her hand again, carefully steering with his other free hand.
"You're quiet," he said, squeezing her fingers. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah." She yawned. "Still tired, I think…"
She leaned back on the headrest and stared out of the window. The city zoomed by, the streetlights and stoplights creating glares on the window. Some lights flickered by in office buildings or in convenience stores. A few people were walking down the streets, mostly in small groups, and Christine watched them, wondering what they could be talking about, what they could be doing out so late.
"Are we still good for Friday?" Raoul then asked, breaking the silence.
"Oh." A lump of ice slid into her belly. She had been avoiding that topic. "I dunno, Raoul…"
"C'mon," he said, rubbing her knuckles with his thumb. "It won't be so bad. I promise. And if you really hate it after an hour or so, we can leave."
Still, she was hesitant. "I just—I don't really have anything to wear. I've never been to anything fancy like this before. Do you…really have to go?"
"Yeah," he said, frowning a little. There was disappointment in his voice. "It's important that I go. And I really wanted to take you as my date—show you off a little." He nudged her playfully. "But…if you really don't want to go…then I guess…" He trailed off.
At the first sign of unhappiness in his tone, Christine surrendered. She never wanted him unhappy with her. If he was, he would surely wake up out of whatever dream he was in and realize that there were thousands—millions—of other women more beautiful, elegant, and intelligent than she was.
"All right," she said. "I'll go."
"You will?" The happiness was back. "Just like that?"
"Yep," she said. "It means a lot to you, so I'll go. But…I'll look stupid, Raoul. The nicest dress I have is an old blue one that I save for special occasions."
"I'm sure it's fine," he said. He cast her a sideways glance. "Or I could take you out tomorrow after I get off work. I could buy you a really nice dress…if you wanted."
"No," she said. "No, that's really sweet of you, but I'm…fine."
He had pulled up alongside her dilapidated apartment building, and he got out and walked her to the front doors, just like the true gentleman he was.
"Thanks again for the ride," she said. "See you on Friday, I guess."
"Yeah," he agreed, and he leaned in and kissed her sweetly before she could step through the doors. Blushing just a little, she smiled in response and then hurriedly opened the door and darted through it, barely hearing his call of 'Say hi to your dad for me!'
Christine slowly walked up several flights of stairs to the fifth story, trying not to succumb to yawns once again. The apartment building was old, chipped, and constantly smelled like mold. The carpets were stiff and forever engrained with who-knew-what, and she never had the courage to walk around without some shoes on.
When she unlocked the door, she heard soft music playing, and she couldn't help but smile a little as she entered. Her father, Gustave, was asleep on the small, tattered sofa, listening to classical music on the radio. She went over and shook his shoulder softly.
"Pappa," she said quietly.
He inhaled swiftly as he woke, his head snapping up, and then he blinked a few times and looked at her. His thin mouth turned upward into a tired smile at the sight of her.
"Hej, ängel," he said, taking the hand that was on her shoulder.
"It is late," she said in slow English. "You should go to bed."
"Yes," he replied, and he stood, putting a hand on his back as he did so. "You…made…fun this tonight?" he then said, his English broken and heavily-accented. He flipped off the radio.
"I had fun," she said. "But we will talk tomorrow, Dad. Okay?"
"Okay," he repeated, and she wasn't sure that he understood. However, she gave him a kiss on the cheek, and he ambled off to his bedroom, rubbing the back of his neck. Christine ensured that the apartment was locked up, and then she, too, retreated to her small bed, grateful to be able to sleep uninterrupted.
The screaming of some birds right outside her small window woke her up, and she groaned and pressed her pillow over her face.
"Go away," she muttered sourly, listening to them screech. It wasn't a cheerful, lively whistle—it was the cawing and croaking of hideous city birds, engorged on garbage and the food of those who fed them in the parks.
After a few minutes, it was clear that they were not planning to leave, and so she rolled over and climbed out of the bed, still yawning. She was perpetually tired, it seemed. Worry and stress had created shadows under her eyes that hadn't been there before. She showered in lukewarm water, dressed in nearly threadbare clothing, and made her way to the kitchen. Gustave was trying to get the antique coffee maker to run, and Christine couldn't help but laugh a little at the sight of his frowning, irritated face.
"God morgon," she said, and Gustave turned around.
"This thing is broken again, Christine," he said in upset Swedish, pointing to it. She took pity on him and went over, still smiling a little.
"It just doesn't like you," she said. "You have to have the magic touch." After being shaken, hit, and clicked all over by Christine, the coffee maker beeped loudly and started.
Gustave sat down at the table with the paper (he didn't understand most of it, but Christine sensed that it gave him comfort to do something so banal and normal), and he looked at her as she opened the small, ancient refrigerator.
"Knäckebröd with kalles caviar please," Gustave said pleasantly.
Christine smiled indulgently. "Of course, Pappa." She pulled out the usual bread, jam, and yogurt and quietly fixed his breakfast while he looked at the paper.
"Do you know what I was thinking, ängel?" Gustave said at length.
"What?" She looked at him, licking the jam off of her fingers.
"I was thinking we could sing this afternoon. After I run some errands, I could meet you before I go to play tonight. It would be fun, don't you think so?"
Christine nodded at once, her curls bobbing wildly as she did so. "Oh—yes, Pappa! We haven't sung in weeks! That would be so fun. Can we go to the downtown park? The one with the ducks?"
He smiled at her. "Do we ever go anywhere else?"
She set his breakfast of toast and yogurt in front of him, poured him a large cup of coffee (like any other Swede, he drank far too much coffee, in Christine's opinion), and then set out preparing the exact same thing for herself.
As they ate, she looked at him, smiling as he brushed his equally-curly hair out of his eyes. He needed a haircut soon.
"Raoul wants me to go to some party with him on Friday night," she then said, poking at her toast, somewhat miserably.
"That should be fun," Gustave said. "He's a nice boy."
"It's some company party," Christine said unhappily. "It's going to be full of fancy, rich people in expensive couture clothes drinking fancy wines and eating hor d'oeuvres."
"Well, why are you upset?" he asked, putting his paper down and frowning. He drank some coffee. "It sounds like something fun for you to do."
"I'm going to be so out of place," she argued stubbornly, wanting to continue disagreeing with him. "People are going to laugh at me."
"Of course they won't." He picked up his paper. "You'll go and have a good time, and no one will care."
"Yes they will," she insisted, switching over to English. It made her feel, in an awful way, like she had won the argument if he couldn't make a coherent response.
"No," he said back haltingly. "You are an young and pretty and…" He thought for a moment. "Word—word. Christine. Begåvad."
"Talented," she supplied. "And thanks, Dad." She sighed, munching on some dry toast. "I guess we'll see."
After arranging a meeting time and place, Gustave left, and Christine cleaned up the mess from breakfast. She sighed a little. She would have loved to be going to work, but the bookstore at which she had worked had closed down almost two months ago, and she had been out of luck ever since. The interviews that she did have were few and far between. During the last one, she had become embarrassingly desperate.
"I'm sorry, Miss Dah-ee," the reedy-looking woman had said, pushing back her woefully-short resume. "It just won't work out right now."
"But—but did you see that I speak three languages?" Christine said hurriedly, pointing at the piece of paper. "English, Swedish, and French. Doesn't that count for anything?"
The woman frowned. "Maybe that would help if you were still in Europe, Miss Dah-ee. But those languages don't help here. Maybe if you spoke Spanish—or Chinese. But thanks for expressing interest."
She had been noticing that the absence of her income was damaging her small family. Her father seemed more stressed, exhausted like she was, and constantly worried. There were more struggles to meet the bills and pay for groceries. Sometimes Christine couldn't even take the bus because she was short. Of course she never told Raoul that. Though she knew he wouldn't have minded driving her home or to the store, she couldn't let him know of just how poor she really was. She had learned in school that rich people usually tended to date and marry other rich people—it was just simple nature. So if Raoul found out just how bad things were, he might think that she was lazy…or that her father was…
As she rode the bus to the park, she allowed the foul-smelling heaters to warm her. It was uncomfortably-hot, and she reveled in it. The fall was giving way to a cold, dry winter. Their heating in their apartment was kept at a bare minimum to keep their bills low. Absentmindedly, she played with her necklace. It had been her mother's—the only thing Christine had that had belonged to her ever-mysterious mother. Christine was oftentimes saddened that she never really knew the woman her father had been—and still was—so overwhelmingly entranced by.
She picked at her worn jeans, noticing that a hole was beginning to form in the knee. If she was careful, perhaps it wouldn't spread…though she knew it was unlikely. Her right shoe also had a small hole in the bottom, meaning if the sidewalks were wet, water immediately went right to her sock and soaked it. Her blouse was old very nearly faded, and her coat was second-hand.
However, if only her father would be happy…none of it would matter. She would be content to stay like this for the rest of her life if only he would be content. He tried to hide his worried looks, but he was not able to often enough. She knew, and she was terrified.
The sky was clouded-over, and she walked to the park quickly. There was a small crowd of people enjoying the barren park. A woman was jogging with her dog, a man was huddled on the bench trying to eat a sandwich, and two girls were riding their bikes. They were all she could see.
Bending over a wrought-iron fence with her forearms pressed against it and her hands clasped together, she stared out over the murky pond. There was no sign of the waddling ducks she liked to watch. It was too late in the year, and she resisted frowning a little. Once last year she had seen a swan. It had been beautiful. The edges were lined with that green stuff—she didn't remember the name. Algae or something? It looked like the pond was rotting from the outside.
Christine shivered a little against the cold gust and pulled her thin coat around her frame tighter, and then her hand moved up to clutch the golden cross necklace that was around her neck. It was now instinct to touch it—habit shaped by years of idly clutching the pendant.
She didn't have to wait long, because soon she heard footsteps, and she greeted her father with a warm hug. For a little while, they observed the pond together, speaking quietly for a few minutes. At first she tried slow English, but soon Gustave grew tired of it and began speaking in Swedish. She finally complied, always sensing the relief that he felt to be able to speak confidently in his mother language. She knew he missed Sweden more than she ever could have.
At last, he gestured to the beautiful violin he had brought with him, and she nodded. They made their way over to the grimy-looking statue in the center of the square, and Gustave set up quietly. Christine hummed a few scales to somewhat warm her voice, looking around the park. There were not many people out today, no doubt driven indoors by the gloomy overcast skies.
Gustave played three or four short pieces to warm his fingers up, and Christine arranged his open violin case in front of them, running her fingers along the smooth interior and lightly touching his extra bow. She loved the case. It smelled like rosin—like her Pappa.
She sang several songs, trying to keep herself cheerful in the dismal weather. Sadness would show in her singing voice—and for the songs she was singing, she didn't need that. Gustave was deliberately playing happy tunes, trying to entice people to throw some money into the case. A few people did, earning smiles and sometimes a 'thank you' from Christine.
He began the introduction to a Swedish folk song, and the words came to her lips easily. She had known this song since childhood—had probably sung it hundreds, if not thousands, of times. She glanced at him and saw that his eyes were closed. He did not need to look at the neck or the strings of his violin. He knew each movement, each sound of the song. The neck of the violin was probably indented slightly with the notes used in the piece because he played it so often.
When the wind began to pick up and her teeth began to chatter slightly between songs, Gustave at last took out the violin from under his chin and smiled at her a little. Christine gathered up the coins and bills from the case, and Gustave put it carefully into his wallet. There was no comment from either of them. They had not done well today.
After packing up the violin, Gustave picked up the case and extended his hand. Christine took it, feeling a little comforted by his warm, strong fingers wrapped around hers. Even though she was twenty years old, she enjoyed Gustave treating her like she was still a little girl. He liked holding her hand and reading stories to her and playfully tugging on her braids whenever she styled her hair like that. He enjoyed calling her pet names like angel or princess and telling her that boys were silly and, sometimes, he entered her room at night while she was getting ready for bed. He would look in her closet and peer under her bed and announce that no trolls were lurking there to entice her away into their mountain homes. It still made her giggle a bit.
As they walked, his eyes suddenly brightened, and he said in English, "For you I have a present."
"Really?" She grinned at him, and he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a small plastic bag. She took it.
"Salmiakki!" he proudly said. Christine laughed a little. In reality, they were bite-sized black licorice and not the Swedish candy that he proclaimed it to be, but the thought was there.
"Thank you, Pappa. I love it." She put the package into the pocket of her coat, and he took her hand again and kept walking.
They waited several long minutes at a bus station, and Christine huddled a little closer to him for warmth. When the creaking bus pulled up, Christine took some money and paid with some of what they had earned today. Carefully holding his violin case close to his chest, Gustave followed her onto the bus, and they found empty seats. It was a while until their stop, so Christine pulled out the candies he had given to her and opened them. They weren't that good—she wasn't overly-fond of licorice, but she wanted her father to know that she really did appreciate the gesture.
"Want some?" she offered in Swedish, holding out the package. He took a few, ate one, and then nearly gagged.
"These are terrible," he said with disgust, handing them all back to her. "So much sugar! It is no wonder everyone in this country is so fat. Everything I eat here is either loaded in sugar or drenched in grease. What I wouldn't give for some isterband or korv stroganoff." He sighed a little, as if imagining the Swedish dishes in front of him.
"Tomorrow night I'll try to make you something," she promised, leaning her head on his shoulder. "I'll need to go to the store, but I'm sure I could make you what you want."
He waved his hand. "Don't listen to me, ängel. I just like to complain. We are fine."
A teenage girl who had been sitting near them finally turned around and looked.
"Are you guys Russian?" she asked, her blue eyes wide. "Because I know some Russian. My boyfriend taught some to me." She had a piercing in her nose and one in her eyebrow, and her hair was dyed bright pink.
"No," Christine replied, feeling a little miffed. "We're Swedish."
"Oh." The girl smacked on some gum for a moment. "You guys don't look it. Aren't you supposed to have blonde hair and blue eyes or something?"
"No," Christine said, perhaps a little rudely.
"Whatever," the girl muttered, rolling her eyes and pulling her oversized headphones over her ears.
Gustave frowned a little. "What was that? She looks upset."
"She just asked if we were Russian," Christine said quietly, leaning her head back onto his shoulder.
"That is not offensive here, is it?" he asked, looking a little concerned.
"No, Pappa. We're fine. Do you want more salmiakki?" She teasingly held up the bag of licorice.
He laughed and kissed her forehead, and she leaned into him, feeling, for at least a moment, complete peace.