Chapter One: Gilded Cage
The noise was deafening.
It was like hearing someone howl right in her ear, butchering the sweet, gentle music Christine loved. She found it very difficult to stop herself from frowning or covering her ears, her gloved hands tight on the book she couldn't possibly read with that racket in the background.
Raoul's sister Camille continued to play, her voice like poison in Christine's ears. She could almost hear her old mentor laughing.
How dreadful, she imagined him chuckling.
"How delightful!" Raoul applauded along with everyone else in the room, beaming.
He had a very beautiful smile, and it did bring some comfort to Christine. At least she was safe, even if her new family had no idea what music was.
"I've been practising," Camille said, a light blush brightening her face. She practically seemed to glow at the affection. "You should sing for us next, Christine."
Christine's heart wrenched in her chest. It was as though someone had taken it and twisted, squeezing the life out of her.
She couldn't sing. Not anymore. She didn't know when it had happened, but sometime between leaving Paris and marrying Raoul, she had lost her voice. It was as though all her lessons with the Ang-the Phantom had completely vanished from her mind. Her throat no longer remembered the noises to make, and her soul no longer felt music pulse through her. She couldn't sing.
She hated it. It kept her awake at night, lying beside her sleeping husband and staring blankly at the ceiling with tears rolling down her cheeks. She would never admit this to Raoul. Never. The longer she was married to him, the more she realised how little about her he really understood. All mention of the events of the opera house was banned in the house, and even his brother held his tongue. He did not understand how Christine could even want to discuss it, but she did. Whenever she left the house to visit Meg, it was all she ever spoke about. Her teacher. The music. The trauma. Meg partly understood, which was more than could be said of Raoul.
I know it must be hard, she'd said last time. But aren't you happy, Christine?
She should be. That was the hard part. Christine had everything. She had a family, even if that family was tone-deaf and disapproved of Christine entirely. She had money and could buy any clothes she wanted, any sweets or pastries to satisfy her inner child. She had a kind, loving husband who treated her as gently as a child would treat a brand new doll. She loved Raoul. She truly did. He was her sweetheart, caring for her, trying for her. He never pressured her into anything. He listened, even if he did not always understand what she was talking about.
But aren't you happy, Christine?
She should be happy.
"Christine?" Camille said.
Christine blinked. She'd been sitting there, dazed, whilst Raoul's family stared at her.
"Oh, please excuse me," she said. "I'm quite tired. Perhaps I could sing tomorrow?"
She had to be so careful about what she said. There was so much etiquette to learn, and Christine still didn't know what was and wasn't acceptable to say in respectable company.
Thankfully, Camille smiled at her warmly. "Of course, my dear! You must forgive me; I meant no offence."
Christine smiled back. "None taken," she assured her.
"Play another, Camille, darling," Raoul's other sister, Carmen, requested.
Camille was already playing the next song. Christine's ears couldn't take another. She made her excuses, apologised to Raoul with a smile, and retired to her bedroom.
As soon as the door shut behind her, she let out a breath she didn't realise she'd been holding. Raoul's family were good to her and tried their very best to be accepting and kind. But it just wasn't enough. Polite society made Christine want to tear her hair out and scream. She wasn't meant for it, and she never had been. She had grown up poor with her father, and when he died, she had been even poorer with only an opera house and a deranged murderer to act as her parents. It explained why she was the way she was now, she supposed.
But aren't you happy, Christine?
She had always wanted a life like this. She'd even daydreamed about it with Raoul when they were children. How they'd grow up and marry and live in a beautiful, large house together, feeding each other little chocolates and listening to her father's violin.
She missed those days. Simpler days, when she could just be a child and nothing more. She wanted her childhood back. Bit by bit, life ate away at it, destroying the innocent little girl inside her. She wanted to howl and laugh and scream and run down the beaches. She wanted to be happy.
But aren't you happy, Christine?
What I like best, Little Lotte said, is when I'm asleep in my bed, and the Angel of Music sings songs in my head.
Christine lay on her bed, ignoring the way the pins in her hair dug into her scalp. She stared up at the ceiling, her mind wandering.
Where was he? Where had he gone? Was he even alive?
She had to stop thinking like this. It was going to drive her completely mad, and it was already embarrassing enough for the de Chagnys for their Vicomte to marry a ballerina. The last thing they needed was the added embarrassment of the Vicomtesse being locked away in an asylum.
That's where he should be. An asylum. Locked away forever.
She didn't wish that on him. She didn't wish him any ill. She missed his voice, missed the way he would sing her to sleep, missed the way his words could somehow caress her like lovers' hands, promising to keep her safe.
She was safe now. She was safe, married, rich, titled. She had everything she'd ever wanted.
She missed her father, too. She wondered what advice he'd give if he were still here, watching her marrying into a family she'd never belong in.
You must follow your heart, min älskling. Our hearts will always lead us where we are meant to be.
But pappa, Christine thought in her head, what if my heart wants something bad?
Then it isn't bad, the ghost in her head answered. Your heart knows where it belongs. You know, too. Why are you pretending?
Christine closed her eyes, picturing her father's kind smile and laughing eyes. She could almost feel his arms around her, holding her close.
Jag älskar dig, min älskling.
Jag saknar dig, pappa.
The sound of the door opening made Christine's eyes flash open. She sat up like a guilty thing, gazing up into the blue eyes of her adoring husband.
"What is it?" Raoul asked. "Are you unwell?"
"No," she said quickly. "Sorry."
He crouched down before her, smiling up at her. He took one of her hands, holding it warmly between both of his.
"You should have sung. We'd all love to hear you," he told her.
Part of her considered telling him. I can't sing. But how would he react? He'd ask her why. And what would she say?
Because I need my mentor. I need my muse.
The warmth in his gaze would disappear. He wouldn't hold her hand as gently as he did now. He would turn cold and cruel, and she'd be even more alone than before.
So she held her tongue. Swear to me never to tell.
"Perhaps tomorrow," she said instead.
He smiled. "Camille has asked if you would like to go walking with her tomorrow," he informed her, standing up so he could remove his jacket and waistcoat. "You should go. It might make you feel a little more at home here. I know you've been struggling. But Camille -"
"Can we go to Paris?" she interrupted.
He stopped midway through unbuttoning his waistcoat. "What? Why?"
"I miss it," she confessed.
He frowned. She could practically see him connecting the dots in his head. He was linking her desire to go to Paris to him again.
And he wouldn't entirely be wrong, but she really did miss Paris. The busy streets. The smell of fresh bread. The people. She missed Meg so much, it had been so long since she'd last seen her.
"I want to see my friends," she said quickly. "Meg. Madame Giry."
"Well, why not write to them?" he asked.
"I have been," she said.
"Then what's the fuss? You're still in contact."
"I want to see them, Raoul," she protested. "I want to see Paris. I want to…" What would make him comply? "I want to see my pappa's grave."
He looked at her for what felt like years, his eyes searching hers for signs of lies or her true motive. Apparently, whatever he saw there did not satisfy him enough, however, because he continued to remove his waistcoat with a dismissive shake of his head.
"I shall send for them," he told her. "They can visit you here."
"Raoul -" she started.
"Christine," he said. There was a warning in his voice. "This is already a lot to ask. My family wants to spend time with us before we go home. You cannot expect me to let you run off to Paris. You have to socialise."
"But it's hard," she said, and recognised the whining tone in her own voice. She sounded like a bratty child.
She thought back to a different time, when she had been a few years younger.
But it's hard, she had whined into her mirror.
Insolent girl! Did you think it would be easy? The Angel of Music answered, his voice cold and disapproving. Are you so imprudent that you would deny your Angel of Music? Perhaps I should return to Heaven after all!
No, no! She remembered feeling so distraught, so panicked. Please. I'll try again. I didn't mean to upset you, Angel, please don't leave me. I don't want to be alone.
His voice had grown gentler, as it always did.
Do not fret so, dear heart. You are not alone.
"Why is it hard? They're harmless!" Raoul said now, laughing as if this was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard.
"I'm not made for this life, Raoul," she said, rubbing at her eyes like a tired little girl. "I don't belong."
"Of course you belong! You're my wife, Christine. I love you."
Christine, I love you.
He gave up undressing, sitting beside her on the bed instead. He raised her chin with his thumb, looking deep into her face.
"Enough of this, Christine," he said sternly. "You are safe here. You belong. I shan't hear anything more on the subject."
She wanted to protest again, but how could she? It was clear the subject was closed. She felt so weak. She wanted to fight him, but there was nothing to fight. She wanted to flee this terrible life, but this life was perfect. Why couldn't she just be content? Why couldn't she just accept how wonderful things were?
"I promise you, I will write to Madame Giry tomorrow," Raoul said softly. "Will that make you happier?"
It was all she would get from him. She nodded.
"Good. Then smile, Little Lotte." He nudged at her chin. She forced a smile on her face. She was pretty good at it, but was that such a surprise? Her life had been the stage for so long. She knew how to smile for an audience.
An audience. When had Raoul become her audience? He was her husband. She should love and provide for him. Help him. Be a good wife.
But she couldn't. Why couldn't she? What was missing from her?
"I love you," Raoul said. He didn't wait for her to answer. He leaned in and kissed her, and his mouth was too hot on hers, his hands too familiar. Her stomach churned. She shouldn't be reacting this way. She should welcome his kisses, his touch. Instead, it made her want to cry.
Raoul realised something was wrong. He withdrew, frowning at her.
"I'm sorry, Raoul," she said, and she really was. "I'm just tired."
He nodded at once. He was so sweet, her Raoul. He wasn't like any other man. He wasn't demanding or cruel; he knew where the boundaries were and when he was crossing them.
He still looked disappointed, though. His disappointment hung in the air like thick smoke.
"Perhaps tomorrow, then," he said softly.
She leaned forward to kiss him, but it was a chaste kiss.
"Tomorrow," she agreed, reaching up to stroke his hair. Once. Twice. Then she brought her hand back and stood up, away from him. "I should get ready for bed," she said pointedly.
"Of course," he said, already reaching for the book on his bedside table. "I'll ring for your maid, shall I?"
"No need," Christine said. "I'll do it."
His answering nod was disapproving. He wanted her to be a proper lady, to understand etiquette and wear fashionable gowns and sit fanning herself in polite company and go and become part of the audience instead of the performance.
But aren't you happy, Christine?
She should be.