Erik lurked in Box Five. Like a fragile leaf clinging to a branch, knowing if it fell it would have no set path, anticipation trembled within him. He stared down at the horseshoe auditorium, locking his sights on Christine. His mind hadn't quieted since the moment he'd seen her. He disregarded the madness he knew was on the rise. The bliss of years ago called to him like opium to an addict and he chose to ride on a wave of false euphoria.
How should he make his presence known? He didn't want to frighten her. It must have been shocking enough for Christine to discover her Angel of Music was nothing more than mere man. He could only imagine what it would be like for her to discover he wasn't dead.
His thumb stroked the fingertips on one hand. How he longed to hold her again. He could almost feel her.
"Mademoiselle, wait," Christine called. "Where did you hear such a story?"
Anna's shoulders lifted. "It is just a part of the mystique that lurks around this theater. Why? Is the story true?"
The delicate feeling on Erik's fingertips evaporated. He balled his hand into a fist. The distance between him and Christine was closing in, and now Anna had entered into his act uninvited.
I told you to leave my theater and yet you do no obey. Why, when I need you to leave my mind, do you continue to cling?
Anna purposely goaded a response. His glare could have melted iron.
"Yes, it is true," Christine replied. "The Angel of Music was a great teacher and he did love me. He inspired my voice. He all but gave me this opera house."
Erik's blood coursed so hard the pulse pounded in his throat. He caught himself before he leaned too far out of his shadow. Caressing the velvet of the armchair, he imagined stroking her sensuous form, whispering his adoration into her ear, and proclaiming his love for her in ways he only dreamed.
Yes, I gave you it all, Christine. I would have lassoed the moon for you.
"And you gave nothing in return?" Anna said incredulously. "He loved you."
The memory of how he'd shunned Anna wrapped around his heart like a rope of thorns. The raw passion he felt for her tightened those binds until he swore his heart would puncture. He forced such passion away. He didn't want it. Not now. He clamped his teeth in an attempt to govern the thoughts tumbling drunkenly in his mind. The velvet shredded beneath his fingers.
Damn it, you little minx. Stay out of my mind.
Christine wandered the empty stage staring out across the seats. "There was nothing I could give. Least of all love."
Ridges plowed into Anna's brow. "Why?"
"He was horrifically deformed. He frightened me. I was put through so much horror."
"Then why did you continue with the lessons?" Anna demanded sharply. "If you knew he loved you and you couldn't give that in return, why torment him?"
"I wanted to know the music for I had never experienced anything like it. I deeply respected the Angel of Music and cared for him, but I could never truly love him. Not in the way he wanted. His affections were so powerful--they frightened me." Christine shook her head. "A woman such as you could never comprehend the situation. He was a distorted soul, a madman. I couldn't be expected to look on that with love. No one could."
No one could? That? Respected? Rejected!
Erik tensed as he shook from head to toe. His hands crushed to his mask. He cursed his ugliness. Looking at the two women, he recognized the confusion Anna had mentioned. With all his being, he tried to control his demons. His inability to do so was not his fault. Man made him this way.
He turned his attention to the woman beside her. Erik leaned forward avoiding the urge to fold himself over the velvet railing and scream to the women below.
Anna, make her understand me.