The next day was possibly even worse. Though I didn't run into the Phantom, get letters from him or was indirectly threatened by him if I would betray him, I found myself once again in a difficult situation. And this was even before I had finished my breakfast.
When I got down for breakfast, a part of me somehow was still secretly hoping that all of yesterday had been a bad dream. In fear of having to face the truth, I didn't open the drawer in my nightstand at all and immediately dressed instead. But now, as I saw Adrienne coming up to me, I realized the time of playing pretend was over.
'There you are! Meg told me you were feeling ill yesterday.'
'Yes, I wasn't feeling quite like myself, but I'm all better now.'
She nodded, then took another step towards me and continued in a low voice 'So, what was it that you needed to tell me?'
I had to lie. Again. 'Oh I was just taken back about the amount of trinkets she's gotten from admirers. She had an entire drawer for it.' Another wave of guilt surged through me. What a horrible person I was, lying to Meg, lying to Adrienne.
At that moment, Meg walked up to us, an envelope in her hand. For a second I feared for another note from the Opera Ghost, but then I saw the inscriptions on the front. Black ink, my name and address in a beautiful, elegant hand writing. A smile spread across my face.
'Maman asked me to give this to you. I don't know who… never mind that, judging from the look on your face I think you were already expecting it.' She quickly handed it over and I held it against my chest as I tried to calm my racing heart.
Though I was eager to open it, I decided to wait until after practice, as I wouldn't have much time now. Yes, I would wait and then before the Opera tonight, I would read it, if only to ease my nerves a little.
How strange it was, that because of the tumult I had been in since yesterday, I'd completely forgotten about the Opera tonight, Romeo and Juliet. It was indeed rather peculiar, I thought while taking a bite of my bread roll, especially considering the fact that I was always quite nervous due to the performance.
That evening, I couldn't bring myself to eat anything at all, again. I had made it into quite a habit to eat little to nothing before performances, simply because I knew that if I would, I wouldn't be able to keep it down for long. By now, the other girls didn't even bother anymore to tell me I should at least try. They knew I was not going to and so they let it rest.
When we were all seated at a table and the others started eating, I pulled out my parents' letter from the pocket of my dress. Without a moment of hesitation, I opened the envelope. 'Dearest Angèlique,' it read.
'How wonderful to finally hear from you again. We've waited in great anticipation for your first letter to arrive and we are delighted to hear you are doing well and the Opera is to your liking. Your dad, sister and I do miss your presence in the house, though. It is so quiet and we miss the sight of you dancing across the room. We hope to be able to visit sometime soon, perhaps even come to one of the Operas if your father's work allows us to. Madeleine has made a drawing for you, which she asked me to send along, so I've sealed it in the envelope. Lots of love,
Your loving mother and father'I couldn't help the smile that had spread from ear to ear as I read the letter over again. The text was so alike her, that I could almost hear my mother actually say the things out loud. Her sweet, soothing voice, always telling me that things were going to be alright and that I should not give up on my dreams. How I missed her. And dad too, of course. When I look back at it, I had had a fairly perfect family, with loving parents and a bond that many people would be jealous of.
'Angélique, are you almost finished?'
Disturbed, I looked up and nodded towards Anne. 'Yes, yes, almost done. Give me a second.' I quickly shoved the letter back in the envelope and pulled out another piece of paper – one I hadn't noticed when I first opened the envelope. Now, when I unfolded the second paper, I could easily imagine Madeleine trying her best to fold it neatly, the tip of her tongue resting on her bottom lip, eyes fixated and using all the concentration a nine year old could muster.
The smile on my lips widened even further, as far as that was even possible, when I saw the drawing she'd made for me. It was quite a simple one, as she possessed as much talent for drawing as I did, but it still made my eyes water. The figures on the paper represented three beautiful white swans, with their wings spread and their heads held high. In the middle of the three, a slender girl was dancing en pointé, her arms above her head, just like the wings of the swans around her. She, too, held her head high and her eyes were closed peacefully. Underneath the images, a single word was scrabbled in my darling little sister's handwriting. 'Angèlique', it said right at the bottom of the dancing girl. I now felt a tear make its way down my left cheek. I had told her about how much I'd dreamt of one day dancing the Swan Lake and it made me warm inside to know that she had actually remembered it.
Suddenly, I remembered where I was, with who and most importantly, what I was about to do. I quickly shoved the drawing back into the envelope and dropped it into one of the pockets of my dress. Quickly I rose from the bench and, surprising the other girls, I almost started running towards the backstage area of the auditorium. Where this sudden burst of energy had come from, I did not know exactly, but it was surely somehow linked to the news I got from my family.
'Angèlique, hold on! Wait, we're not that late.' I heard Marie-Claire shout, but I hardly took the effort of slowing down even a single bit. In fact, it actually only made me want to run even harder, like in the games I used to play when I was a little girl. Émile would chase me around in the woods and I would run from him, giggling, screaming and laughing the way only a little child could do.
When we arrived backstage, everyone was already rushing around in turmoil from pillar to post. Ballerinas went through their steps one more time, stagehands discussed who would take which shift and position and tailors made final adjustments to whatever dress they could lay their hands on. It was quite hectic, but in the short time that I had been here, it had gotten quite familiar. Therefore, I didn't even bother asking if I could help anyone – I had learned it only made people more stressed if I did so at times like these – and walked towards the dressing rooms where the girls and I swiftly changed into our ballet uniforms. As usual, I felt the strange, wriggling feeling inside my stomach and I was glad I had not eaten that evening, for it would have surely come right out again. I took a deep breath, knowing it was almost time.
pagebreak ~When the last note died out, I finally broke out of trance and took notice of the mass of faces in front of me. I didn't distinguish any, didn't even try, but just smiled a satisfied, but tired smile. As usual I hadn't felt the exhaustion up till the moment the Opera ended and everyone started clapping. Along with the others, I patiently waited until the lights would go out and the curtains close, as I kept my smile in place and my body motionless.
Finally, after what seemed ages, the lights dimmed and the curtains started moving. I relaxed my body and cracked my neck. As I rested my head in my neck for a moment, I noticed a white flash in the corner of my eye. An image flashed through my mind; the Phantom. However, when I looked again, the box was empty of all movement. Nobody. Must have been my imagination. I shook my head and tried to forget it, but the thoughts wouldn't be shaken off that easily.
'Oh Angélique, I was so horrible. In the third act, I completely lost it and it was so bad and I'm sure everyone has seen!' The little redhead dropped her gaze, ashamed.
I took her in my arms and squeezed a little. 'Dear, I am quite sure you were perfect. And even if you did make a mistake, probably no one even noticed.'
'Do you really think so?' She asked me, looking up with her big, brown eyes.
'I know so. Come on, let's go change.' I released her from my hug and started walking towards the dressing rooms.
As we approached, I could hear the excited voices of the ballet rats from three corridors away. Though it was very common for them to giggle, joke and talk in an extremely loud tone of voice – something that was frowned upon by basically all the other inhabitants of the Opera Populaire – I couldn't recall a time they'd ever been this loud. I made a mental note to ask what was going on immediately.
However, when we entered the dressing rooms, Marie-Claire ran up to us, a big smile plastered on her lips. Before I could even open my mouth, she practically screamed.. 'You two are going, aren't you?'
'The party… tonight. Haven't you heard?'
'I'm afraid I haven't, no.' I scratched the back of my neck, trying to recall anything related to a party. I could not.
'Well, there will be a party later tonight. Nothing official, really, just something the stagehands have arranged. Anyway, you are going, right?'
'Ah… I don't..-' I started, but Adrienne interrupted me in mid-sentence.
'Of course we are!' She cried out in delight, in her childish happiness completely forgetting about the worries she'd had only mere seconds ago.
'Apparently we are,' I said, more to myself than to Marie-Claire, as I tried not to think of the fact that I'd never actually been to a party, formal or informal.