That evening, when I looked in the mirror, I could barely recognize myself – even less than I had been able to that afternoon. After we'd left the clothing store, we had walked into several boutiques and lastly, when it was almost time to go back to the opera house, we saw it. It was in one of those cute, tiny shops, with pastel wallpaper and a small chandelier with diamonds. In the glass cases, that were stuffed with hundreds of all kinds of masks, one in particular caught our eye. Actually, it looked quite simple. Where others had been adorned with large feathers, pearls, diamonds and bright colours, this one almost looked boring. However, I think it was this simplicity that made me like it so much. Just like the dress, the mask was made of a white fabric, and was at some places covered with pieces of lace. Underneath the left eye were three, small gleaming stones, that caught the light of chandelier and sparkled. Apparently, I was not the only one who had immediately fallen in love with it, as Adrienne squeaked out in delight and asked the shop keeper right away to get the mask for her. The man had simply nodded and heaved it out of the show case as if it were made of porcelain. Adrienne, much to my dislike, paid for the mask, got it wrapped and soon we had been on our way back to the Opera Garnier.
And now, here I was, looking at a woman that I could barely recognize anymore. Dressed in a beautiful evening gown, with my hair pinned up high on my head and garnished with several small gems and a delicate mask placed over the upper side of my face, I looked not a bit like my normal self. Adrienne had even managed to get some of the stage make up, with which she had powdered my face lightly and had accentuated my dark grey eyes.
'I am so excited!' The young redhead cried out, who made quite the picture herself as well. Dressed in a tight-fitting, dark green dress, that emphasized her small waist and slim figure as well as the fairness of her lily skin, she was quite a looker. As were Anne and Meg, though the latter still was absent minded and sequestered. 'Shall we go?'
We made our way through the corridors as quick as we could. The others looked graceful and ladylike on their heels, I however, did not so much. As a daughter of a simple tailor, I had never gone to any parties or gatherings before I'd come to the Opera. And in my daily life heels weren't exactly practical, so the only experience I'd had with them was when I saw them on my father's customers' feet. Therefore, I wasn't at all used to the discomfort my feet were now in.
When we at last arrived in the lobby, it was already littered with people and I hadn't sprained my ankle, yet. Everywhere around me were beautiful looking people, with dresses and suits in all colours, shapes and models. Close to us, I spotted a group of ballerinas – who I identified by their horrific laughter – dressed up in white dresses and masks with white feathers, obviously posing as a group of swans.
'Well, some of us sure took the 'fancy dress party' serious,' Anne whispered in my ear and I chuckled softly, which I tried to smother very ladylike by holding a gloved hand against my lips.
'Ah there you are!' Adrienne exclaimed and rushed through the crowd of people. We quickly tread on her heels, as it was quite easy to lose one another in a room like this.
She ran up to someone and threw her arms around him, in a way that only Adrienne could do; without a care in the world about what others would think. When she finally let go of her victim, she turned around and gestured for us to come a bit closer.
'Angèlique, I'd like to introduce you to my dear brother, Christophe Rousseau. Brother, this is Angèlique Fournier.'
I made a curtsy and smiled politely. 'It is a pleasure meeting you, monsieur.'
'Oh, please, call me Christophe. Monsieur makes me feel so old. Besides, Adrienne has written so much about you that I feel like I've known you for ages. Of course all good things,' he added with a wink. Then he laughed joyfully and in that moment the similarities between brother and sister were unmistakeable. Though his hair was darker, more brownish with a soft red glow over it, his face had the same round, childish form and eradiated a similar unconditional kindness and fairness as that of his sister. And his laughter was so contagious that it made you want to laugh along, even if you didn't know what the joke was. Yes, Christophe Rousseau was a very likeable man, though not per se in looks, but more in a certain appeal he possessed.
'How is the Manor of Roses fairing? All is still well, I trust?' Anne inquired.
'Oh yes, yes all is well. However, I am afraid Isabelle is a bit lonely since you left. You should all come visit the estate again soon. I am sure that would cheer her up.'
'Isabelle is his dog,' Adrienne whispered in my ear, at seeing my confused look. 'Last Christmas we were invited at his estate to spend our holiday.'
'And hereby you are all invited to join me this year as well,' he smiled, clearly having overheard his sister's whispering. Yes, Christophe Rousseau sure was a likeable man.
As the evening dragged on, I found it becoming more and more like my first party at the Opera house. I was never really alone, but I was never part of group conversations either and though this was partly my own choice, I couldn't help but wish the masquerade would come to an end soon. Christophe Rousseau, with whom I was talking at the moment, was not an unpleasant conversation partner and I could quite easily talk to him about almost everything, but I found myself unable to be at ease in a room so crowded and noisy.
'I am going to take a walk for a bit,' I told him 'This room is a bit too crammed for my taste.'
He nodded 'Let me walk with you, I'm in need of some exercise myself as well.'
We strolled through the corridors in a comfortable silence, neither feeling the need to break it. I looked down at my feet, thinking about how miraculous it was that they weren't aching yet from the shoes.
'Ah there we are,' he said and sighed in delight.
Looking up, I found out in surprise that we were in the auditorium, in one of the boxes in fact. A strange fear crept into the back of my mind, but before I'd act upon it, I noticed that it was not box five. I sighed in relief. 'Do you come here often? Seeing you found your way through the corridors so easily.'
'Not anymore, no. My parents used to take Adrienne and me here every month or so, but I'm too busy with work and traveling these days to keep up that tradition.'
I nodded understandingly and gazed over the railing of the box. How spectacular an Opera must look if you were to see it from one of the boxes.
'I pity it though, as I would very much wish to be able to see Adrienne dance at least once. That's the least I could do, right?'
I glanced to the left, to see him stare off in the distance, completely succumbed by thoughts. 'I don't think she blames you, monsieur. She seems very fond of you.'
'As am I of her,' he replied softly. 'Anyway, why were you not dancing, mademoiselle Angèlique?'
'Oh.. I.. well..' I gazed down again, feeling my head grow red. I knew this moment would come. I fumbled with my fingers and finally sighed. 'I don't know how.' Embarrassed I looked up through my eye lashes.
He seemed a bit taken back by my answer, but then looked at me with a smile. 'Well, why haven't you said so? I could teach you if you like.'
'Of course! Since you are a dancer, and an exceptionally good one if I am to believe my little sister, I'm sure you'll get the hang of it in no time. Come, there is no place better to learn to dance than on the stage.' The smile on his face widened and I recognized the same mischievous twinkle in his eyes as the one I often saw in Adrienne's.
Once on the stage, he took my hand gently and smiled once more. 'Now, let us start with a Waltz. It's not that difficult, just follow my lead.'
For the next minutes – or hours, I must admit that I lost all track of time – we stepped, turned and spun across the stage in silence. Monsieur Rousseau proved himself a skilful and elegant dancer, but never acted like the smug, disdaining prick he had all right to be.
'I think it's about time to call our lesson to a quit, now. My little sister will undoubtedly be looking for both you and me, and I don't want to give her the wrong ideas.'
I nodded, disappearing with a man was not good for one's reputation and knowing Adrienne even a little, I knew I'd never hear the end of it if this would=d reach her ears. No doubt she would try to pair us off. 'Yes, I think you're right. Thank you for the lessons, monsieur, I must admit that I had a wonderful time.'
'As did I, mademoiselle.' He winked and offered me his arm, which I dismissed with a gesture of my hand.
'You go ahead, monsieur, I'll be there in a few. Let me just catch my breath and regain my posture. Like you said, I don't want to give anyone the wrong ideas.'
'Are you sure?'
'Why, yes, monsieur. I know my way around this place blind-folded, so do not worry about me.' I gave him an assuring smile and curtsied.
'Very well then,' he indulged and turned on his heel. 'Until later, then, mademoiselle Angèlique.'
I watched him disappear into the dark of the backstage area and then lowered myself on the edge of the stage, looking down in the orchestra pit. Monsieur Rousseau was a fine man, indeed. Amusing, kind and with an open mind for all things around him. Adrienne was lucky to have a brother like him.
Sudden noises pulled me out of my thoughts and I looked up. No, not noises, I thought, voices.
'…and they think he died along, but let me tell ya one thing, that lad ain't dead, that's for sure.' One of them spoke thickly and laughed.
I cringed, hoping they would walk on without noticing me. It was vain hope of course, because soon the man continued in his alcohol tainted voice.
'Well look what we have here, what a pretty young thing you are.'
'The party's in the lobby, love.'
'Oh but we can make a party here as well, can't we,' the first answered and tried to lay his hand on my shoulder.
I pulled away before his skin could touch mine and turned to face them with all the courage I could manage – which, I must confess, was not very much. Judging from the look on their faces, they were all dead drunk and had trouble with even standing on their feet. Though I didn't recognize any of them, I thought them to be workers at the Opera, as their clothes were too filthy and old to be worn to a party.
'Well well, now things are truly starting to get interesting. How scandalous of me not to have recognized you immediately, madame.' He turned to the others. 'Our beloved Christine Daaé has returned. And I'm sure we're not the only ones who are glad with your return. But then again, I think she knows that already, why else would she be sitting here, all alone, than to wait for her secret lover, the Opera Ghost?'
'I must go,' I said, sounding more frightened than I had hoped. I quickly scrambled to my feet and gathered my dresses, but a hand on my arm stopped me.
'Why such a hurry, love, I'm sure your lover will show up. Perhaps singing him a little song will help.'
My body had grown cold and seemed to have turned into stone. I tried to move, but it seemed as if all control I'd had over my body was gone. Even my voice seemed to have gone missing and all I could do was stand and listen. One thought kept repeating itself in my head. Why didn't I just went along with monsieur Rousseau?
'Gentlemen,' a loud voice suddenly boomed through the large hall of the auditorium. 'If your life is dear to you, I suggest you will all retreat to your homes now and will tomorrow immediately resign from your jobs.'
'And what if we don't?' One of the men dared to ask, in an attempt to sound brave.
'Then I will end both for you, myself.'
The men, though a little taken back by the threats, didn't do anything, much less go away.
'I ain't afraid of a ghost,' another scoffed.
'Then you'll die by the hand of one,' the voice answered low and before I could even question the meaning behind his words, a noose tightened on the man's neck and he was hoisted in the air by an unseen force. There he hung, between the lights and sceneries, struggling and gasping for air until, at last, his body grew limp and all was quiet for a moment.
I collapsed on the floor, feeling myself float on the very border of consciousness. My vision blurred and the last thing I saw was the face of a man. A man in a mask.