The only light in the room came from the lamp on the dressing table; the candles were extinguished and the gas was turned down. There wasn't a soul in the little house except for Christine de Chagny—the maid had gone home for the night and Raoul was out walking. He didn't go out often, he'd mostly stayed inside since their return to Paris, but he always went out walking after they argued, like they had tonight.
They didn't often argue, Christine reflected sadly. As children in Perros they'd adored each other and would never have dreamed of fighting. Even in those dark days at the Opera House when there had been so much fear and uncertainty they hadn't really quarreled much. But it seemed that ever since they'd bought the little house in the Rue de Rivoli, it didn't take much to spark an argument between them. Mostly they argued about silly things married couples often argue about, but tonight it was more serious. As Renée, the maid, went to leave, there it was on the doorstep—a single red rose tied with a black silk ribbon.
It wasn't the first time such tokens had been found outside, and the Chagnys knew there was only one place it could have come from. It had been left by the one person they'd both tried to forget for the past three years.
After the disastrous premiere of Don Juan Triumphant and the scene at the house on the lake, Raoul and Christine had eloped to her native Sweden, hoping to leave the past behind them. They'd shed the name de Chagny, calling themselves M. and Mme. Lachenel. They'd
settled in Uppsala as a simple, newlywed couple seeking their fortune elsewhere, and for a while they succeeded.
Christine sat at the table and smiled to herself. It had been wonderful to return to the place she'd been born, where she and her father had traveled from fair to fair, he with his violin and she with her voice. For a while, she and Raoul had known happiness there.
But then, even in her homeland, Christine began to grow homesick. Just as Daddy Daaé had longed for Sweden while he was in France, so Christine now longed for France while she was in Sweden. Sweden belonged to the past. Sweden could never be home again.
Raoul, Heaven bless him, hadn't minded leaving. "We can go anywhere, Christine," he'd said. "Anywhere you like, so long as we're together."
So one year after arriving, they sold the house in Uppsala and went to the French coast in Brittany, near Perros.
Six wonderful months went by, during which they lived as though they were children again. They relived all their old memories: going for picnics, reading to each other, and listening to the villagers' stories. They'd been right to leave Sweden, they agreed. This was their home. They certainly felt more carefree and untroubled here, and everyone who saw them remarked what a charming, innocent couple they were.
But as it had in Sweden, the nostalgia began to wear on Christine. She and Raoul had been children here, and they couldn't be children again. France wasn't enough after all. She wanted Paris.
She sighed and reached for her hairbrush. She ran it slowly through her gleaming brown curls that still had streaks of summer gold running through them. Her sapphire eyes, usually sparkling, were slightly dimmed as she remembered those conversations.
Raoul didn't want to go back to Paris. "We're happy here," he'd said. "There are good memories here. There's nothing in Paris but darkness."
"Raoul, dear boy," she'd replied, "you don't know what other memories this place has for me. My father died here, and I feel like he's still here. After everything that's happened, I think I need to learn to let him go."
She hadn't needed to elaborate. They both knew what her clinging to her father's memory had done in the past. But still, Raoul stood his ground.
"Why Paris?" he'd asked. "We can go to Reims, or Nice, or to Brest. I have an aunt there; she practically raised me."
So they tried Brest, and Reims, and Nice, but after a year of moving from one city to the next, Raoul had given in, however reluctantly, and they'd bought the house in the business district in the Rue de Rivoli, where they'd been living for the past four months.
A noise outside the window made Christine start, the brush falling from her hand and landing on the floor with a soft thump against the rug. She bent to pick it up again, then sat motionless, listening intently. Around her, all was silence.
After several moments, she began to work at her hair again. It was probably just a cat. There were several strays running about; she often heard them fighting at night. Indeed, now she could hear a duet of mewling voices, sounding so much like strange, eerie singing.
The Rue de Rivoli was only a few streets away from the Avenue de l'Opéra. She'd been drawn towards it, even while Raoul had begged her that they find a house on the other side of the city. They'd avoided the Faubourg Saint-Germain, and stayed away from public places religiously, as they were both famous enough in Paris to be recognized instantly among the right crowds, but Christine couldn't stay away from the Opera House.
It was natural she'd be drawn to the place, she told herself. It had been her home since Daddy Daaé had died. Not three days after moving into their new house, she'd wrapped her face in a veil like Scheherazade and went back to the theater.
On the night of Don Juan Triumphant, she had seen only a brief glimpse of the crystal chandelier's descent from the ceiling, but Raoul had told her that its crash to the floor had started a fire. The damage had been repaired since then, and the Opera House looked as magnificent as ever.
She'd paused outside the building, looking up at Apollo and Pegasus perched on the roof. She'd fled there with Raoul the night Carlotta lost her voice and Joseph Buquet was hanged...
Heart pounding, she'd climbed the steps and went inside.
She replaced the hairbrush on the table and rose from her chair. How long had Raoul been out? It seemed like she'd been alone in the house for hours. Her eyes fell on the rose Renée had found outside.
She couldn't forget the look on the girl's face when she brought the rose to her. It was bewildered, startled, curious, and slightly fearful. Christine well remembered those feelings. They'd taken hold of her every time the Angel of Music left similar roses in her dressing room.
Her hand had trembled as she reached for the rose, but before she could take it Raoul had snatched it and thrown it aside.
"That will be all for the night, Renée," he said. "You may go now."
Renée nodded, murmured, "Bonsoir, monsieur, madame," and left the house.
Christine silently braced herself for what was coming. They’d been through it several times already, ever since her first visit to the Opera House. The morning after she'd gone, she'd found the first rose outside.
At first she could hardly believe her eyes. It must have had something to do with her trip back to his former empire. She'd somehow stepped back through time and was no longer in the Rue de Rivoli, but in her dressing room, after the gala performance, perhaps. She'd touched the ribbon hesitantly, then looked around her. It was early morning, and she was outside the front door of the house she shared with Raoul. Then she'd looked back at the rose. If she was in the Rue de Rivoli, then the rose couldn't be real. It just wasn't possible.
She'd gone to Raoul as if in a trance, holding the rose out before her. Her eyes were anxious as she presented it to him, half hoping he would tell her she was dreaming. But no; she knew as his own eyes grew wide with shock that she wasn't. The rose was real.
That first rose inspired disbelief. The second had filled them both with fear. But by the time they'd found the third, Raoul's fear had been replaced with anger. He'd known all along they shouldn't have come to Paris. How could they possibly leave the past behind them as long as they remained in this blasted city? And as rose followed rose, it only got worse. It was always arguments like those that made Christine thankful for her own separate bedroom and dressing room, where she could escape and think without Raoul’s diatribes about phantoms.
So she had stood there, preparing herself for the rant brought on by this latest flower—the rash words, the wild insinuations, and the furious assertions that they never should have returned to this godforsaken city.
But Raoul had surprised her this time. After casting the rose away, he'd only watched her for a minute or two, then he'd gotten his coat and hat and went out.
Christine slowly crossed the room and picked up the discarded rose, the sign that he was always there watching her, the proof that the past is never really gone, never forgotten, but always with us. Sometimes we carry our memories around like a stick to lean on or a spare glove in case we happen to lose one while we're out; sometimes our memories follow us silently, always stealing up behind us when we're not looking and reminding us that they are still there.
That's what he's doing, Christine told herself. He's making sure we never forget him, and if this keeps up we never will.
Maybe Raoul was right. Maybe it was a mistake to come back here.
She bit her lip in a moment of indecision, then threw the rose into the waste basket.
In the silence she heard the scrape of a key in a lock and the rattle of a doorknob. She inhaled sharply, startled out of her own unsettled thoughts. He's here, part of her whispered. He's come back for me.
There were footsteps in the foyer, rather quiet footsteps that in the stillness sounded like hammers driving nails into the paneled floors. She could picture him searching the house, his yellow eyes burning in the darkness as he hunted for her, his long cloak billowing behind him like a storm cloud, his deathly face hidden beneath his mask...
The footsteps came closer, approaching her dressing room. She could barely breathe as she backed away from the door, half thinking she should bolt through the adjoining door into her bedroom and lock it. The steps were right outside, there was no time left, the door was opening—
She gave a small scream and Raoul stepped back in shock. He recovered quickly, then went to her, concerned.
"What's wrong, Christine?" he asked. "Why did you scream?"
She sighed deeply and said, "I didn't mean to, you just scared me. I didn't know you were out there."
"I'm sorry," he said contritely. "I didn't mean to scare you. Were you in here daydreaming again?"
She shrugged a shoulder. "Something like it, I suppose. I've been uneasy since you left."
He saw the rose in the basket but didn't comment on it. He only kissed her on the forehead and said, "Well, I'm back now, and everything's all right. My poor Christine, you're still so pale! Let me get you a drink of water."
He left the room and she smiled after him. He still doted on her the way he had in Perros all those years ago.
There was a rustle outside, as if something were hiding in the bushes beneath her window. Those cats! Couldn't they ever be quiet?
She went to the window and threw it open to shoo them away, but it wasn't cats she saw. Instead, there was a great, dark shape, like the tall and lean figure of a man. She gave an audible gasp and the figure turned for an instant before darting away like a shadow.
She could have convinced herself it was a shadow, except she'd seen two eyes blazing like coals, burning into her before turning away.
The past is never gone, and never forgotten. The past was still with Christine de Chagny; it sent her roses and lurked outside her window. She stood there frozen, half leaning out of it, and whispered the name she hadn't uttered, even to herself, in three years: