|Choose Life - Choices, Book One - Chapter Eight
||[Sep. 16th, 2008|09:42 pm]
Defenders of The Vicomte De Chagney
Story Summary: Anders de Chagny, youngest child of Raoul and Christine and Orla Herrin, youngest child of Erik and Tallis, are two lost souls who find each other. What they do not know is that they are being manipulated by a nightmare from the past - a nightmare that has touched the lives of both families. The choices their parents made in the past come back to haunt the present. Just as the choices the children make in the present will haunt the future. Do the families have the courage to get beyond a shared past, their shared nightmare, their shared mistakes to save the future? Do they have the strength to save the souls of their children even as they find forgiveness and redemption for their own?|
Chapter Summary: Two mothers meet to decide the fate of their children. Parting with the knowledge they would have been friends in another lifetime, they inform the children of their decision.
The past stood in the open doorway, fingers nervously clenching and unclenching, feeling the weight of dark shadows closing in. The present stood in the room, hands holding tightly to the back of a chair, knuckles white, trying to hold the coming storm at bay. And all the while the future looked on from a great distance, hope flickering like a candle in the darkest night.
“Comtess,” Tallis addressed the woman in the doorway, her head nodding slightly.
Christine swallowed back her fear. “Madame.”
“Would you like to come in?”
“Yes, please.” Christine entered the room, reaching behind to close the door.
It took all the strength she possessed for Tallis to remove a single hand from where it gripped the chair to wave at the tray on the small dining table. “I took the liberty of asking Madame Jacanais to make us tea. I hope you do not mind.”
“No, that is very nice. Thank you.”
The awkward silence that had been descending upon the room fully blanketed it in old hurts, deep fears and painful regrets. Christine looked at her toes, unable to look at the woman before her, the woman who had had the courage to face what she could not – Erik’s passion. Tallis, also, turned her eyes away, unable to bear the sight of the woman who had always shared her marriage – even from a great distance. They stood in the softly lit dining room at Madame Jacanais’ boarding house, neither able to express the anxiety living in their hearts. It was Tallis – gathering what little self-confidence she had about herself – who broke the silence.
“Would you like to have a seat?” she wondered.
Christine nodded, still unable to trust her voice and took a seat at the table. She was slipping off her gloves as Tallis took the seat beside her. She finally raised her head as Tallis cleared her throat.
“Your family is well?”
“Yes. My oldest son and his new bride are in the country. My daughters are in Paris with their children and my husband.”
“Grandchildren,” Tallis breathed. “How fortunate you are.”
Thoughts of smiling little faces lightened Christine’s heart. “Three of them – two boys and a girl. They are a great joy to Raoul and me.”
Tallis shook her head. “We are not that fortunate. My sons are still studying.” She could not yet bring herself to speak of Orla.
The weight of long years spent in silent repentance for her sins forced the next words from Christine’s lips. “How is he?”
Tallis did not need to ask about whom Christine inquired. She knew. She knew all too well. “Erik is well and happy. He finds peace in our home, walking the dogs along the moor, listening to the music of the ocean. He delights in watching our children grow and learn.” Pride straightened her posture. “He has a home and a family and everything a normal man could desire for the first time in his life.”
Christine heaved a sigh of relief; perhaps her sins had been forgiven, after all. “I am so glad to hear it. I have worried about him, you know.” It was long past time to speak the truth. “You did something I could never do – you loved him. You gave him everything I could not.”
“Do not make me a martyr,” Tallis interrupted her. “Yes, I love him but he is not an easy man to love. There have been many times when I questioned my choice – my heart - but they were only moments. I love him and no doubts or fears or anger could ever change that.” She shook her head. “When he finds out what Orla has done, it will kill him.” Tallis had finally broken the chains that bound the two women to their pasts.
“I fear the same thing for my husband.” The fears Christine kept locked in her heart came pouring out. “Anders is our youngest child and I have spent his lifetime keeping the peace between him and Raoul. There was another son, a little boy we named Hakkon who died when he was but three months old.”
That was something Tallis had not known and her hand reached out to cover one of Christine’s. “I am so sorry.”
A nod of thanks gave Christine a moment to swallow down the lump in her throat. “It was – it still is – very hard. And after all Raoul had been through, the loss of our son was a pain he could almost not bear.” A heart unburdened itself to the one woman who could possibly understand. “This will sound strange but in some ways, Raoul became like Erik. He grew moody, quiet, prone to outbursts of anger; the man I married was gone but – like you – I love him. I think in some ways Raoul’s mood changes gave me a chance to understand the Erik I knew.” She let out a long breath before continuing. “When Anders was born, Raoul was so afraid of losing him, as well, it became hard for him to admit he loved our son. I know he loves him and I know Anders loves his father but they have such a hard time admitting it to each other. I fear when he finds out what has happened it will forever drive them apart. That is a thing I could not bear.”
Tallis was not prepared for the words rushing out of Christine’s mouth. She had always pictured the woman who still held a place in her husband’s heart as having a privileged life, a perfect life. She had spent the early years of her marriage comparing herself to Erik’s “angel” and more often than not found herself lacking. She knew she was not beautiful or talented. She knew her education was lacking in certain aspects. Yet as her children had been born, Tallis realized she had something her rival could never have – she had Erik’s honest love and his complete trust. Now she was facing the greatest betrayal of that trust. It was a betrayal that could destroy the love she had come to need as much as her next breath.
“I am so very sorry you lost your son. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain you must still feel. I have seen a similar fear in Erik’s eyes,” she began and had Christine’s complete attention. “The birth of our first child was not easy for me and our second child was even more difficult. When I discovered I was expecting Orla, I was told neither of us might survive the birth. I believe you can understand what such news would do to Erik.” Tallis watched Christine’s eyes close in pain before they opened and she saw her answer there. “Erik always pictured you as having the perfect life with perfect children and that was the one thing he wanted for me – a perfect child. Both of our sons have some of his deformity and he always blamed himself for such. So he bargained with God to give me a perfect child and his perfect child nearly did cost me my life. Orla was six months old before I was completely healed. So you see, Erik looks upon his only daughter as proof he is normal man. She is the perfection he wanted to create all his life.”
Christine saw heat begin to color Tallis’ cheeks and knew there was more. The same heat colored her cheeks, the cheeks of her children, when they were willingly avoiding the truth.
“There is more,” Tallis continued. “I have been coming to France for years. Sometimes to see my family, sometimes to see Madame Giry and other times to deliver the music Erik writes for that is how he provides for our family. This time Orla wished to come and he was anxious because he knew you owned a house here. I promised him – I promised! – his precious daughter would not be touched by his past. Now she has and the worst thing is he knew I was lying. He had a look in his eyes and I think he knew something would happen.” Tallis looked like she wanted to cry. “All his life, he has done nothing but protect Orla, shield her from what he knew the world was capable of doing. This is going to kill him!”
Once again silence descended upon the room as mothers contemplated the actions of their children and wives worried over the reactions of their husbands. Each woman sat there, staring at the table, the walls, their fingernails, anywhere but at each other and the fear they knew would see in the other’s eyes – their own fear. This time it was Christine who drew the tattered shreds of self-confidence about her and broke the silence.
“Now what do we do?” she wondered as her eyes caught Tallis’.
“I wish I knew,” Tallis sighed. “I wish I knew a way to keep that bright smile on my daughter’s face and keep her father as happy.” Her next words were a painful admission. “Our children know nothing about Erik’s past. It was something we hoped they need never know. We told them he led an interesting life in France and wished to put it behind him. I know the man I married. I know he is,” she shook her head, “was a scoundrel and a murderer. He is a different man now! He has struggled so hard to put his past behind him! Our children do not need to know these things!”
A bitter laugh slipped Christine’s lips causing a strange look to pass over Tallis’ face. “Do not take offense,” Christine begged her. “Your words hold truth for my children, as well. They know Raoul was abducted shortly before Isabelle was born but they do not know everything that happened. Those actions still haunt Raoul and me and need not haunt our children. Nor do they know all the things that happened in the opera house. They know Raoul and I were there the night it burned but beyond that they know nothing. I will tell you I am surprised they never heard the stories from anyone else.” Christine placed her elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands. “Why can the past not remain in the past? Why can our ghosts not rest in peace?”
Tallis wished she had an answer for the woman whose pained expression mirrored her own. “I do not know of ghosts and the past but I do know of Phantoms.” She tilted her head at the look on Christine’s face. “I live with Erik and The Phantom. When he is troubled or angry, Erik once again becomes The Phantom. He retreats to the northern most room of our cottage where it is dark and chill and there he remains in the silence. Long ago I learned that when he is like that, I cannot reach him. I must wait until he becomes Erik again and then I have my happy home and family again.”
“Now it is my turn to say ‘I am sorry’. I would not wish The Phantom on anyone – much less the woman he loves.” Christine nodded and smiled slightly. “Yes. I do know he loves you. I knew such a thing years ago when I first moved here and he would come seeking forgiveness. We both agreed we were loved by those far better than we and we found our forgiveness.” She shook her head. “On this very beach! Tallis – may I call you Tallis?” She waited until Tallis nodded. “And you must call me Christine – we share so much! I do not want to create any more ghosts.”
“Nor do I… Christine.” Tallis heaved a sigh. “You are correct, we share much – most of it pain. I do not want my daughter to know that pain and I know you do not want your son to hurt in that manner.”
“No, I do not.”
“They are both very young.”
“It is a first infatuation.”
“They will forget in time.”
Both women shook their heads.
Christine rose from her seat and began to pace the room. “I do not want to do this but I see no other way.” She reached up and rubbed her forehead. “I wish there was another way!”
Tallis placed her hands on the table, steadying herself and her nerves. “As do I but I do not think we have any choice.” She slowly rose to her feet. “We both know our husbands. We know what happened between them still remains.”
“They would never permit this.”
“No, they would not.”
Silence once again descended up on the room. This time a silence full of fading hope as past and present met and the future was lost.
“It is agreed, then?” Tallis wondered.
“Yes,” Christine agreed. “We cannot let this continue. We must separate Anders and Orla forever. We must forbid them from ever seeing each other again but how? How can we convince them – make them understand – that this is the best thing – the right thing – for them to do?” She wiped away the tears that were beginning. “I remember how it felt that night … in the opera cellars…” She shook away the memory as Tallis turned her face away. “And I can still feel the ache I felt when I thought Raoul was dead.”
“I know,” Tallis whispered almost to herself. “I know.” She turned back to Christine. “I sent Erik away once and it nearly killed me. I was empty … hollow. I have never felt so alone in my life.” Tears slipped from her eyes, too. “I would not wish this on my daughter or your son but you are right – it is a first lo…” Tallis stopped and corrected herself. “It is a first infatuation and given time…”
“And distance they will forget.” Christine finished and tilted her head toward her shoulder. “What will you tell her?”
“The truth without the details.”
Christine nodded. “I think that is best.” She walked back to the table and reached for her gloves, stopping to turn to Tallis. “I wish…” She paused, clearing her throat before continuing. “I wish things could have been different. I saw the light in my son’s eyes when he spoke of Orla – your daughter. She must be a wonderful young woman.”
“The same light was in Orla’s eyes when she spoke of Anders and I know my child – he must be an incredible young man.” Tallis looked down at the floor, feeling the weight of what she was about to do pressing down upon her. She raised her head again as hands touched her arms and looked up into brown eyes that were filled with the pain she was feeling and a compassion that spoke of understanding.
“I think…” Christine bit back a cry. “I think in another life, under different circumstances, you and I would have been friends.”
Tallis nodded. “Yes, I think so, too.” She drew Christine into a hug. “Good luck and Godspeed.”
Christine held tightly for moment to the only other person in the world who could understand and who she would never see again. “The same to you,” she whispered. “And may God bless you and your family and grant all of us peace.” She drew back, taking Tallis’ hand in her own. “Good bye.” And then she turned on her heel and was gone.
“Good bye,” Tallis said to an empty room, a bittersweet feeling filling her heart as she knew she had found and lost a best friend – the one person who could truly understand her life with her husband – in the space of an hour. But there was still work to be done and Tallis set aside her own feelings, steeling herself for the night to come.
As evening fell that night night, in two separate houses, two women sat down with their respective children and told them a tale from the past.
One woman spoke of a naïve child who believed in the promise of her dying father.
One woman spoke of a man who had never known a family and saw in a grieving child a chance for a family.
One spoke of being young, admiring the ability of an older man.
One spoke of a teacher finding a willing pupil.
The pupil took advantage of what the teacher was willing to offer.
The teacher saw in his pupil more than just admiration.
Her childhood playmate returned to her – the playmate who had been her closest friend.
He grew jealous of her playmate.
She fell in love with the playmate and they became engaged.
He could not let her go.
There was a fire and the girl and her lover escaped.
He, too, had survived the fire and only later did he learn that the girl and her lover knew he yet lived.
“Anders,” Christine pleaded with her son, “please try to understand! There is such an enmity between your father and Orla’s father!”
Tallis stared at her daughter, the shocked look on Orla’s face. “It would kill your father to know you were in love – you thought you were in love – with the Comtess’ son!”
“But why should what happened all those years ago prevent us – Orla and me – from being friends? Maybe even something more?” The confusion and disappointment was evident in every inch of Anders’ body.
“I am in love!” Orla insisted, anger beginning to color her pale face. “And I do not see why ancient history between Papa and Anders’ mother should matter! You would think it would make him happy!”
Christine took one of her son’s hands and with her other hand reached up to hold his chin. “I am sorry. I am truly sorry but you cannot see Mademoiselle Herrin ever again. Her mother is taking her back to England on the day after tomorrow and that must be an end to it.”
“Forever, Orla,” Tallis insisted. “This must end forever. You can never see him again or speak his name once we board the boat back to England. You must let him go.”
An angry glint flashed for a moment in Anders’ dark eyes. “May I at least say goodbye to her?”
“So I can have tomorrow on the beach with Anders and that must be an end to it?” Orla asked.
“You can have tomorrow to say goodbye,” Christine agreed.
Tallis nodded. “Yes, you may have tomorrow.”
And somewhere in the distance the future whispered…