After a moment of complete motionlessness, I came back to my senses and remembered where I was and more important; what I was doing there. However, before I could even get back to what I was doing, a sound from the bathroom made me startle for the second time. It was time for me to leave, I quickly decided and made my way through the door before Clémence could return to her bedroom.
As I slipped back through the crack, I clumsily bumped into Adrienne, who was right outside the Prima Donna's room. She'd clearly taken her job as guard very serious, as she was completely startled from the attack on her back.
'Sssh, it's just me,' I whispered in her ear, hoping that that would keep her from making a lot of tumult. When I was sure she would not fly at me or start screaming, I slowly released her from my grip and pulled her along the hallway, far away from miss Dampierre's room.
When we'd traversed several corridors I finally stopped and Adrienne was no longer able to restrain her excitement.
'Did you find it? What did it say?'
I cautiously looked around me, to make sure no one was eavesdropping on our conversation. 'I did not find it.' She opened her mouth to protest, but I was not finished yet. 'However.. I came across something else that was at least as interesting.'
The young girl's eyes widened at this new, surprising twist of what had started as an ordinary day. 'What ha..-'
But before she could get another word out, a stern voice cut her off in midsentence. 'Angèlique, there you are. Didn't mademoiselle Rousseau tell you I wish to speak to you?'
'She did, madame, I was actually just on my way to your room.'
Madame Giry simply nodded, then gestured me to follow her. 'Come, if you want to be back in time for dinner, it's best we set off our conversation soon. Alone,' she added, casting a glance towards Adrienne.
'I'll see you at dinner then.'
'Tell me everything,' she said and I did not miss the double meaning of her words.
pagebreak~When I left madame Giry's room, at last, it was well over nine o'clock. I could barely keep myself together and it took me all my strength to place one foot in front of the other. What exactly had exhausted me so much I did not know, as my physical activity had not been much more exhaustive than on any other day. Perhaps it was just stress. In any case, all I really wanted right now was just go to bed.
Adrienne had been right about the ballet instructress's motive. Madame Giry had started by telling me about the new opera we would start practicing for in about a week, Hannibal. She had briefly informed me about the storyline and then went on about the ballet routines in different acts of the piece. To be quite honest, I had barely heard one word she'd said. Though normally I loved everything that involved dancing and music, this time my mind was too occupied to even really hear what the woman was telling me. When she finally broached the subject of my participation in all of this, my mind had completely wandered off and it took me all my strength to take note of what she was saying. From what I could recall afterwards, she had told me about the construction of the ballet choreography and how there were supposed to be two prima ballerina's in the part. As I had expected, the first one was going to be Meg, as she was the most experienced and, in my opinion, the most gracious and talented dancer in the company. And, although I was the newest of the dancers, madame had decided to give the second lead to me. She believed I could become one of the greatest ballerinas the Opéra Populaire had ever seen, she confided in me. I had tried to smile and look grateful, but I simply couldn't manage to make it believable. Even madame Giry noticed I wasn't quite myself, as she worriedly leaned into me and asked me if I was feeling ill. As I did not feel like explaining what was really going on – there was no way I could ever explain to her what I was doing in Clémence Dampierre's room in the first place without losing my good name – I simply nodded. After giving me another worried look, she had dismissed me, advising that I would go straight to bed and saying that she would send someone with some tea to the dormitory, as it would cause me to sleep better. Again, I just let it be and, after a brief good night, left for the dormitory.
When I look back on it, I can't even remember how I got back to the dormitories, as my mind was so clouded and occupied that I could hardly remind myself to breathe once in a while. Therefore, I thought it afterwards to be quite a miracle that I didn't bump into walls or end up getting lost in the labyrinth of corridors.
I was fairly surprised – and relieved – to find the dormitory to still be completely empty when I arrived, but I couldn't bring myself to think of a reason why. All I really wanted was to go to bed and just forget about all the unusual things that had happened today. My bed finally came into view, just a few more steps, I told myself.
I let out a sigh and, just when I was about to let myself drop on the mattress, my eye fell on something in the middle of the bed. I froze in mid-step.
There, on the very centre of my bed, in sharp contrast to the dark cloth of my blanket, was a letter. However, this was no ordinary letter. On the front were only two words written 'Mademoiselle Fournier'. No address, just my name, written in red ink. Carefully, as if I was afraid it would bite me, I reached for the paper and brought it to my face. My hands quivered and I forgot to breathe once again. Though I really didn't want to know, I slowly turned the envelope. My heart stopped, again. No fearful message or threatening words, no. A large red seal adorned the backside of the envelope. A red skull. The same one that I'd seen on the letter on stage, the same one that was on the one the Phantom had held, back in the room of mademoiselle Dampierre. I felt my legs buckle beneath me and I let myself drop on the bed. What was I supposed to do? Whatever was in that letter, it couldn't possibly be something positive. Did I really want to know what the Phantom had to say to me? Rather, what would happen if I did not read it?
I sighed, as I realized I had not much of an option. If I would choose to ignore the letter, something bad was sure to happen, as I knew there was no way the Phantom would fail to notice. So, with shaking hands and a rapidly beating heart, my hands started fiddling at the seal. When it finally broke, I took a deep breath and pulled out the piece of white paper. When I'd opened it, my eyes were met with the same neat handwriting and the words were printed in the same blood red colour. I tried not to think of the possibility of it being actual blood, and started reading. 'Dear mademoiselle,
As you may or may not have already concluded, it was I, the Opera Ghost, you've met earlier today in the dressing room of our lead Soprano, mademoiselle Dampierre. It was not my intention to frighten you and I appologize if this is exactly what I did. It is best our little rendez-vous stays between the two of us and because of that I suggest that you will not tell a single soul.
Was this some sort of joke from the girls? I wished it was, I truly did, but something inside me told me that this was real. What I'd seen, what I'd read, no matter how unlikely, was just as real as the existence of humans and the necessity of oxygen for us in order to live. And therefore, I knew there was no point in denying the truth.
'Ah, there you are. Maman told me you had gone straight to bed and asked me to bring you a nice cup of herb tea, hopefully it will make you feel a little better.' She gave me one of her sweet smiles and placed the cup on my nightstand. Caught up as I'd been in my own thoughts, I hadn't noticed at all that someone had entered the room.
'Thank you, Meg, I really appreciate it.'
'What's that? Did your parents finally write back. Tell me, what did it say?'
'No, it's nothing.' I said as I quickly put the paper back in the envelope and, making sure that she'd not see the characteristic skull seal on the back, put it in the drawer of my nightstand. 'Just a letter I got from my brother. A long time ago. I really miss him, you see?' My voice was shaking and the words came out rather strange. However, Meg seemed to take it as a token of how much I really missed my family, as she comfortingly laid an arm on my shoulder.
'I know it's difficult. Many of the girls have a hard time adjusting and being away from their family, but it gets better. You can write them and in the Christmas holiday you can go to visit them if you like?'
I tried to smile, but didn't manage very well, as I really did feel awful. Not because I missed my family so much – which I did, of course – but because of lying to Meg. Sweet, darling Meg who had been so nice to help me from the very first moment and who had immediately accepted me as a part of the group, even though I was not rich or some sort of noble. And here I was, betraying her trust. It made me feel so horrible and yet, I didn't feel like I had another option. 'Thanks again for the tea, Meg. I'll just wait until it has cooled down a bit, drink it and then go to sleep. I really had a long day and I'm quite exhausted.'
She nodded. 'That's alright, I will be going back downstairs then. If you need something, don't be afraid to ask, that's what friends are for.'
'Thank you.' I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. Why did she had to say that? Why did she had to say the word 'friends'? Was it possible to make me feel even guiltier, even more in the wrong? I watched as she left the room and, for the first time in my time at the Opera, I wished everything to be a nightmare, from which I would hopefully soon wake up.