Christine paced the stone floor with bare feet, exhausted and exasperated. Andre would not be quiet. She had bathed him, fed him, and changed him and could think of no other reason for him to be so fussy. Erik seemed almost amused rather than annoyed by Andre's behavior and Christine's frustration. He was seated at his writing desk and while his head was down Christine knew when his eyes were on her. She felt it. And despite that feeling she still jumped when she heard his voice.
"Would you like me to take him for a while, Christine," he asked softly, politely.
Christine cringed slightly at his tone. He was trying so hard to be kind that it made her feel badly for bothering him. She knew Andre's late night antics were probably preventing him from getting his work done. She couldn't help it, though. "I'm sorry," she whispered clutching Andre to her, her hand against his head trying to soothe him that way.
Erik stood after covering the jar of ink and setting his pen down. "You have nothing to apologize for. Look at you, Christine. You haven't slept at all tonight and you aren't even wearing slippers."
"I know, I forgot to put them on."
"Let me take him, Christine."
"But you're working."
"Not on anything that can't wait. It's not like the public is awaiting my next work."
"Only because you don't chance making your work known, Erik. I wish you would let me try and sell one, to see what would happen."
Erik walked to her, taking Andre from her arms. He was still not overly confident in holding the baby, but he was careful to support the newborn's head. He sang softly to quiet the baby before responding to Christine. "Absolutely not. I write for fun, for the enjoyment, because the music is in my head and I have to write it down to banish it so that I can start on the next one. I do not do it for profit. I will not be subjected to their standards. And I will not have what I deem perfection altered."
Christine sighed, both grateful and jealous that Andre had quieted. He always quieted easily to Erik and his singing. She knew how her son must feel, Christine had always loved his voice. She still did. Secretly, she wanted to take one of his pieces without him knowing and see if someone would buy it. She knew he would grow furious with her if she did which is what stopped her. She did not want to be on the receiving end of his wrath. Love her or not, mother to his child or not he would still get angry. "I understand," she whispered looking away. Her hair hung loose around her face, a curtain of chocolate covered curls hiding her expression.
"I've upset you."
"No, you haven't upset me. I just want everyone to know what an able artist you are, Erik. That's all." She stepped up to him, her hand moving to cup her son's head. "I wish you wouldn't sing to him."
Erik looked at her sharply. "Why?"
"I'm afraid he'll grow used to it and one day you will not be here when he's fussing so and he'll be expecting you."
"I have no plans on that happening."
"But you can't be here every minute of every day."
"No, of course not, but I've been better about being here for months now, Christine."
"I know that," she demanded. She was well aware that he had gone to great lengths to be present as much as he could. They both needed their time away from one another, of course. Erik seemed to sense the necessity of that just as she did.
"I won't do it if it displeases you so, Christine. I was just trying to help. I know how tired you must still be. You shouldn't even be up and walking around yet."
"I can't sit in bed forever. I'm not an invalid and it's been four weeks, Erik. You don't come in to see me like you did before Andre was born and I admit I like watching you work."
"Yes, of course. I've watched you at times I think you don't even know I'm there. I try overly hard those times not to disturb you, but it's just so fascinating to watch you. I think now that I know you better, as a man, that I'm even more fascinated and amazed."
"You prefer knowing me as a man?"
She paused, her head lowered grazing the cold floor with the toes of one foot. That was a double-edged sword for Christine. She was glad to be here with her Angel, that he truly existed, but she knew that the way that they were living was sinful. She no longer dared go to Confession. She'd be saying ‘Hail Marys' for the rest of her life she feared. That fear kept her away, though she still wanted to go.
But on the other hand, this man was a genius unlike any man she'd ever read or dreamt about. Everything he touched was a success, including her. It was far less flattering to her that he had chosen her when she thought of him as an Angel. Knowing he probably could have taken Carlotta herself and turned her into a songbird made her question once more why he'd chosen her of all people was the biggest compliment she'd ever received.
She raised her head slightly and looked at Erik holding their son. He was obviously uncomfortable holding him, she knew it every time he took Andre. Yet he went out of his way to aid her as best as he could. There were things he could not assist her with, but she knew it troubled him that he could not. He was a good man, she had come to learn that during their last few months together.
Yet another reason she did not dare set foot in a Confessional booth. She was living with a murderer, but she suspected somehow that he had had reasons to murder. Not that committing such an act was justifiable under any reason, but she knew how powerless he felt at times. He had lots of anger, some of it was repressed, and Christine was able to understand that anger to a point. She doubted she'd ever truly comprehend what his life had been like.
But despite it all, his faults and his strengths all added up to make him who he was. And Christine realized for the first time that she loved who he was.
"Yes," she finally said, raising her eyes to meet his though her head was still lowered slightly. She was afraid that he'd know what she had been thinking, where her thoughts had taken her. She wasn't prepared to admit she loved him. She was barely able to admit it to herself let alone to him. She should tell him, she knew. She should let him know how deeply he'd touched her life, but she couldn't go that far.
"Thank you," he said softly.
She smiled at that. "You're welcome." She hoped he hadn't been touching her thoughts just then, but he didn't react like she'd imagined he would if he learned she loved him. So she took that to mean he had not been.
"Would you like to place him in his crib?"
"Yes, of course," she rushed to him, her feet making a slight pattering noise against the stone floor beneath them as she walked. She took Andre from him. "I'm sorry."
He stopped her from walking away by placing a hand on her shoulder. "For what, Christine?"
"For interrupting your work and for not taking him as soon as he had quieted so that you could get back to work." She tried not to let him see how his touch affected her. He hadn't touched her often since Andre was born. She suspected perhaps it had been too much for him. She wondered if he would no longer come to her now, but she didn't dare ask for fear he'd interpret her curiosity for something else. Why she was curious she didn't know exactly. Did she miss his making love to her? No, she demanded. But tugging at the back of her head was a resounding yes. Not so much the act as the closeness they shared, he wasn't larger than life in those moments. She felt for a short while like she was helping to ease his pain, to help him feel normal, and she wanted to keep doing that for as long as she could.
"Please don't apologize, Christine. I don't mind. If I minded, I'd take my work into a room with a door that closed and ask that you not disturb me. I do that when working on my inventions, but not necessarily to keep you out as to keep the noise down and to keep the clutter from overflowing out of that room."
"I know," she admitted somewhat meekly. She hurried away from him, placing Andre in his crib. It was a crib that Erik had made by hand. It was simplistic yet ornate at the same time. The carvings were exquisite. She had no idea how long he had worked on it, she had only seen the finished product and hadn't realized he was making a crib. She ran her hand along the railing after raising it once Andre had been laid to rest in it. The wood was so smooth, such care had gone into making it. She hoped one day Andre would appreciate the effort that Erik had gone through to make it.
She returned to the main room, surprised to see he had taken to the sofa instead of back to his writing desk. "Are you done for the night," she asked. She was looking forward to getting some sleep but she missed sitting with him as well. As if the decision had already been made for her, she joined him on the sofa.
"No, I just thought I'd sit with you until you drifted off too. Then I can take you to bed and tuck you in for the night. He should sleep for the rest of the night, yes?"
She should have been bothered that he wasn't fully aware of their son's sleeping patterns yet, but with the schedule he kept she doubted sometimes he knew whether it was night or day. "Yes, he's only waking up this one time now. About this time every night. I think shortly he'll be sleeping through the night," she said, not bothering to hide the relief from her voice. Her head rested against his shoulder, finding comfort in being near him.
He kissed the top of her head. "I'm sure that will be welcome when it happens."
"Yes, unbelievably so," she said softly with a yawn. "That sounds horribly selfish, doesn't it?"
"Not at all, Christine, I'm sure you're not the only new mother who has felt that way."
"I hope not. I cherish him, I really do. I never thought I could feel about a person as I do about him."
"I'm glad," he said softly. "You deserve it, Christine. You could have very easily seen him as a burden and treated him indifferently given how he came to be."
"Never," she said adamantly. She curled her feet underneath her to keep them warm, nestling against him more. "I can't think of anyone else's child I'd rather he be, Erik."
There was a long moment of silence. "Can't you," he asked finally.
"No," she was too tired to argue or to inquire as to who else he believed she wanted to bear children to.
"Nor can I, so I'm glad you feel the same way."
"Did you want children before now?"
He laughed loudly. "No. The thought never entered my mind, Christine. I think had I had the opportunity to try before you I would have gone out of my way not to."
"You mean," she paused unsure how to ask her question. It was incredibly bold and improper of her to ask it. "I'm the only woman you've been with?"
"I thought you had figured that out by now," he said clearly surprised.
"I, well, now that I know that, yes it does seem obvious by some of the things you've said over the past few months. But I had never given it any thought. I just assumed you had been."
"Well, you're quite a bit older then me and experienced in a vast array of things. I just assumed that was one of them."
"Does it bother you," he asked.
"No. Truthfully, it's one of the things I love about you, Erik. I don't feel like I'm one of many, I feel like I'm one of one."
"You are, Christine, the only one." He paused. "Did you mean what you just said?"
"Yes, I feel special, Erik. I admit at first I didn't, I was upset, but that's not true anymore."
"No, I meant about loving me. You've never said it before."
"I've been afraid to. But, yes, I do. I don't know that I really realized it until tonight."
"When you asked me if I liked knowing you as a man better than my Angel and I realized that I did. That's another way you make me feel special. I can't tell you how flattered I am that you've chosen me to teach, to share all of this with."
"Soon you should be able to return to singing."
"Do you think so? I still feel so incredibly tired. And physically, I don't know that I look right."
"While I haven't seen you out of your shift since the day Andre was born, I assure you you look fine to me."
"I'm willing to try whenever you think I'm ready to, Erik."
"A few more weeks yet, I think," he said softly rubbing his good cheek over the top of her head. "And Christine," he said softly. "I love you as well. I'd do anything for you."
"I know that," she murmured softly. Sleep was shrouding her in its embrace, and she welcomed it just now. She was exhausted and cold.
"Good night, Christine."
"Night," she murmured again.
She felt Erik take her into his arms and carry her to bed. Felt the blankets as he brought them around her and sighed softly. She was at that point where she was still conscious, but unable to talk or do anything other than just enjoy being taken care of. Soon, though, she was unaware of anything around her at all as sleep overtook her completely.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com