There were only a couple of days left before their wedding. It was a full day of preparations for it, which was to be a big and fabulous event… worthy of a Vicomte, she supposed. None of that gaudiness appealed to Christine, however. The thing she'd been anticipating the most had already been chosen: A fabulous white dress with white flowers of several kinds embroidered harmoniously all around it. Along with it came an equally fabulous veil: a flowered tiara linked with the finest cloth she'd ever graced the touch of her hands with. She would see it every night in her dreams and that time it was no different.
It always started with her walking out of a house into a windswept field of green and flowers as far as the eye could see. As her wedding dress slowly materialized around her body, and she felt it dance according to that mesmerizing symphony orchestrated by the wind, she couldn't help but to dance along with it, presenting herself to the captive audience of only her beloved soon-to-be husband clad in a black suit, accompanied by a black mask, a top hat and a black cape which seemed to flow tall as a wind sail. At the end of each dance, his clapping always felt like roaring applause from a full opera house, and before she knew it, there they were in a loving embrace during which his cape escaped him, flowing freely through the breeze. When he let go of her, as if by magic the veil would materialize in his hands as he delicately placed it upon her head. Feeling like a princess she would look up at her lover and would remove his mask, only to reveal his disfigured face and his tender eyes. In each dream he donned a different mask, in each one she tried to find different ways to conceal his identity, as she could only hope it was Raoul hidden under there. But it never was. She usually woke up in shock upon this revelation, but not today. She stood there, facing all of those scars, which seemed to disappear the longer she looked at those eyes and saw the truth of his heart in them. Unable to hold herself any longer, she kissed him as tears streamed down her cheeks. They then started to sing, just like the old days. No crowds, just Christine and her angel of music in a passionate duet as she felt she would drown in her own tears of joy. But just as their song ended, so did the dream. This time when she woke up, instead of being in fear and shock, she could only wish that every part of that dream had been as real as the tears that were still sliding down her face.
Suddenly it was the day before the wedding and it had come way too soon. She didn't have to worry about her husband noticing her tears, seen as he wasn't there beside her when she woke up, as per usual. Raoul had always been a busy man, especially now with the preparations for their wedding being a constant for the last couple of weeks. After wiping away her tears, she went to the living room and was surprised to see that Raoul hadn't left yet.
-Good morning, my dear- said Raoul.
-Good morning, darling. Good to see you here by morning for once.
-I'm unfortunately leaving already, but you'll see plenty of me in the coming days, my dear. The great day is almost here, can you believe it? - He said while adjusting his clothes in front of a mirror.
-It truly is amazing how time flies…
-Well, I shall take my leave now. But before, I ought to inform you that tonight we'll be hosting a supper for both my brother and a very important guest of our wedding.
-A supper? – Exclaimed Christine in disbelief. – Why is it that I'm always the last one to be informed of all of our dates or sudden important appointments?
-Tomorrow we'll be wed, Christine. It's only natural for the Vicomte's wife to be present by his side at public meetings or appointments, you should know that at this point.
-I know Raoul… It's just… You should tell me these things beforehand… I'm feeling indisposed today.
-As you always seem to be. - The coldness in those words struck Christine like nothing he'd said before ever did.
-Raoul… all I wanted for a long time was to spend more time with you, not in public meetings, but at home! Or just the two of us at the park, at the fair… anywhere! By God, when was the last time we had supper just between us?
-Listen Christine… this meeting is crucial and these guests are really important patrons of the government, the likes of which we are in dire need right now. I'm a busy man and you know I've been working a lot to make this wedding the absolute best it could possibly be. So please my dear, cooperate.
"The absolute best it could be for whom? It seems like you're more interested in hosting a fancy party for your patrons than providing a loving ceremony for your own fiancé." Is what Christine wished she had the courage to say. Instead all that came out of her lips was a faint:
-But Raoul… Please…
He sighed. -We're holding this meeting and I'll hear no more of it. Be ready at five. - He said right before leaving and somewhat harshly shutting the door. And so, she once again felt the warmth of her tears flowing through her face, almost as if to counteract all the coldness she felt at that moment.
"Did I make the wrong choice in that fateful day at the opera's dungeons?" That question had passed through her head more and more frequently as the days went by. That day however, it turned into a statement. Impulsively, she changed clothes and rushed out of the door and into her carriage, finally heading for the opera house after avoiding the sight of it for so long. "I made the wrong choice" She whispered on her way there.
She knew the police hadn't found the phantom's body, as did the whole country at this point. Reward posters and news articles about his mysterious disappearance flooded the town and the price on his head was high. Christine clung to the hope that he was still hiding somewhere deep within that city, and if someone could give her a lead on his whereabouts it was Madame Giry. Although uncertain of what exactly her relation with the phantom was, she knew it existed. Raoul had told her how Giry knew the ways of the catacombs beneath the opera, and how she told him she had met him long ago in a freak show. Whichever mysteries she had to hide regarding the phantom, Christine was dead set on uncovering.
Arriving at the opera she could feel all of the judging eyes and the whispers of her old colleagues as they passed her by and not one soul was brave enough to even approach her. Some of them no doubt still believed she had been abducted by an actual opera ghost which cursed her for eternity. At that moment she couldn't help but believe that herself, feeling like she would be forever haunted by the choices she made then, and the one she would be making now. She left her house felling positively sure of what she should do, but it was as if the opera suddenly stripped away that rush she felt. Too nervous to ask anyone for the whereabouts of Giry, Christine wandered around the theater, indulging on her nostalgia for that place in an attempt to calm herself down. It was not too long before she was approached by a woman, however. She touched her shoulder and said:
-Christine? - It was her friend Meg. She couldn't have come at a better time. -The girls told me you were here and I had to see you to believe. I've missed you! How are you doing? What brings you back here? - She said in a comforting smile.
-Oh meg, it's good to see you! – "This is madness, what are you doing, Christine?" she thought before finally gathering the courage to ask: - I was actually looking for your mother, is she in here right now? I... really need to ask her something… To both of you in fact.
-Oh… yes she is, I'll lead you to her… what is it you want to ask us?
-I'd prefer to do so in a more private setting
-I see… well, she's probably still in her room right now, come with me. – Meg's concern about her was apparent, but Christine couldn't risk having anyone else overhearing anything about her search for the phantom. Letting the Girys know was already risky enough.
And so, they went to Madame Giry's quarters, reminiscing of the opera days on their way there. When they arrived, she was found sat down in her table, working on something.
-Christine! Wasn't expecting to see you before the wedding day. What brings you here? Take a seat. – Christine complied with that request.
-You'll have to excuse me Madame but, is this room sufficiently private? I can't have anyone know what I'm about to ask you…
-Well, it is as far as my knowledge goes dear. And no one knows better than me about the hidden passages and dungeons that lie within the walls of this building.
-I believe you knew someone else who might… And he's the reason I came looking for you. – Silence struck the room for a while.
-Raoul told me you knew him, that it was possible that you were the one who brought the phantom here in the first place… - Resumed Christine.
-And what if I did? Why is that of your concern? - Interrupted Madame Giry, noticeably bothered.
-I… He was the one who trained me, for years he molded my voice into what it is today… He was the first person to see true potential in me, to believe in me… I need to know where he is, I need to know If he is well…. – That seemed to surprise Giry.
-After all he's done to you and to the workers and the reputation of this opera, you still worry about his wellbeing? – Said the Madame.
-I know what he did, it's unforgivable… But… - Said Christine in a strikingly woeful voice.
-But deep down you know there's more to him than meets the eye. I know this compassion you feel. – Giry said before pausing for a moment -It is true what your future husband has told you. Many years ago, I felt similar compassion towards that man, treated as a monster for all his life, exposed like some kind of animal in that filthy cage... And felt it once more once I found him crying, after all the atrocities he had committed… all for you. And yet he let you go, of his own volition. Set you free to choose between him and Raoul, if I'm to believe his words. – Hearing that made Christine's heart race.
-His words are true… Could it be that yours are too? Where is he? How can I reach him?
-My dear, I'm afraid that is no longer possible. As truly appalled as I was by his crimes… He did truly seem to repent from them, and part of the proof of it was his choice of giving you the choice of leaving him. While looking at those eyes, I could only feel sincerity carried by the words he was saying, so I did him a favor and arranged his departure from this country entirely, hoping that his heart and my instincts were true, but that was as far as I dared go. I never reached out to you inquiring about such proof in fear of what your answer might imply… But now I rest easier knowing that his heart was in the right place… in that moment at least. - And as quickly as Christine's hopes had risen, they fell to the ground. She did expect him to have gone into hiding somewhere, and it was natural that he'd want to leave the country, but confirming these expectations hurt more than she'd ever thought it would, leaving her speechless for a while.
-But… how did you know where to find him? - She resumed, -He left no traces to be found in the theater…
-That… is incorrect. Listen Christine, it became abundantly clear after all these years that you were of extreme importance to him, and as it seems, at least part of that feeling was reciprocated. That is the whole reason why I'm telling you this. I feel you deserve to know, but you have to promise me to never speak of this with anyone outside this room.
-I thought I'd be the one most concerned with the secrecy of our meeting.
-Very well. – Giry gave one look and a nod to her daughter which was all she needed to communicate what she meant. Meg proceeded to search through one of her mother's closets, and from beneath a fake door in its floor, she took a wooden box and placed it on the table. – My daughter was the first to arrive at the scene of his disappearance. And In his chair, she found this. – Meg proceeded to open the box, which revealed a broken but unmistakable object: The bottom half of his mask. – It was right on top of the passage I used to bring him here all those years ago… Back when he still went by the name of Erik. - The sight of that mask sent tears to Christine's eyes.
-Erik… So that is his name?
-I believe he went by many names throughout the years, but Erik was how he referred to himself before he became "the phantom of the opera".
-What happened to his mask? Where is the other half?
-That only happened shortly before he departed, when I offered him a cloak and his old mask so he could conceal his face. He looked at it for a while, seemingly distressed upon the sight of it, but then a sudden smile blossomed in his face. "I thank you for your consideration, but for now, the cloak will suffice. I'll fashion a new mask once or if I arrive at my destination." He said before cracking the mask in two pieces. "This is silly of me… but please keep this half of the mask. If Christine ever comes in search of me… it will be hers for the taking, if she so choses. I shall keep my half as a memento and a symbol, for my heart can never be whole without her. Farewell, Madame. I shall not forget about you either." I couldn't even muster any response, after that he rushed out of the opera to reach his boat in time. - Christine's heart skipped a beat and she blushed upon hearing that, but she could only think about figuring out where he went:
-And where is this destination of his?
-He departed to the United States of America. Across the ocean it's unlikely that anyone would have known of the infamy which surrounds him here.
-America… Which part of it? – Said Christine, visibly flustered.
-Christine, all you need to know is that-
-I need to know where he is! When did he leave? Please you must tell me.
-It would make no difference whether or not you knew to where he depart-
-But must know! If he's out there you have to tell me-
-That's enough Christine! – Said Madame Giry as she slammed her staff to the floor – All I had to do was to give you the choice to take or leave this mask, as a last favor for Erik. Besides, he made his choice and you made yours. That has been set in stone and nothing can change it at this point: the phantom is dead and not a soul in this world could ever find him now. In truth, I don't even know if Erik made it through the trip. I've left him at his own mercy with the money he'd earned at the opera and a cargo ship. So I suggest you forget this ever happened, as I've been trying to.
Upon hearing that, Christine burst into tears. In her mind, millions of thoughts were racing at once, each one pushing more and more tears out of her eyes. It was in the midst of those thoughts that she felt the warm embrace of her friend Meg, to which she clung until she felt calmer.
Before leaving the room, she glanced once again at the broken half of her former mentor's mask. In the end, she decided not to take it. There was no way for her to find him now, and she was due to be wed tomorrow; holding onto that mask would only be a painful reminder of what could have been, so she felt like it was necessary to move on, if she meant to keep her sanity intact.