For what seemed like an eternity, I just stood there. I had known that at a certain moment, the girls would want answers, real ones. But I hadn't expected them to ask me so straightforward. I took a deep breathe, safely aiming my gaze towards my feet, and cleared my throat. I couldn't lie to her anymore. Though at one hand, I knew the truth would do no good in this case, another part of me knew as well that I just couldn't lie to her anymore. I wouldn't. 'It's… a long story. Please, follow me and I will explain it to you in a minute.'
Anne threw me an uncomprehending glance, but apparently accepted my terms, as she simply nodded and followed me as I started walking. She remained quiet for the entire journey through the Opera House and didn't even question me when I inspected the dance room carefully before I shut the door behind us.
A few moments passed as we simply stood there and I took a deep breathe once more. 'You see, it's kind of difficult to explain and it will probably sound as utter nonsense to you. And yet, I ask you to simply listen to me and perhaps, if you could, try to find the faith to believe me.'
'Angèlique, you don't have to tell me things if they are too personal or painful to talk about. I just need to know where you were last night.'
I shook my head. 'That's the problem. Last night.. was part of a bigger story, one I've been keeping a secret for too long.'
'Alright well, whenever you're ready, then.'
'Let us sit down first. Like I said, it's a long story and I don't know how long it will take me to tell you everything.' I gestured to the floor and seated myself in the middle of the wooden floor. After I'd crossed my legs and saw the other girl had seated herself as well, I began with my tale. Surprisingly, it took me hardly any effort to recollect the events concerning the Opera Ghost. It was as if my brain had taken care to preserve these memories as best as possible, so that I could reconstruct it all perfectly. And I did. I told her about everything I could think of, concerning the Phantom. I told her about the conversation between madame Giry and the managers I'd overheard, about my first encounter with the Ghost in mademoiselle Dampierre's dressing room. I told her about the letter he wrote me and how I found out it was he who had scared the leading soprano that night. I told her about the night of the masquerade, and how it had almost ended in a disaster, if it were not for the Phantom, who had practically saved my life – even if it were by mistake. And lastly, I told her about my latest, and definitely most abasing encounter with him. When I'd finally muttered the last word, I broke apart and the first tears started flowing from my eyes. Though I'd tried so hard to ignore his painful words, his mortifying remarks, I could not. No longer I could pretend that his words did not affect me, because in all honesty, they did. I did care. I had been trying so hard to please everyone, to do my very best, only to be brought down by one of the greatest musical geniuses in the world. How could I possibly not care?
'I'm so so sorry, Angèlique.' Anne uttered eventually, after what had seemed like another century of silence. 'I knew something was going on, but I never..' She shook her head. 'Why didn't you tell us? Tell me?'
I gazed at my feet as I sniffed and tried to get myself together. Without any use, of course. 'I-I don't know,' I whispered, my voice sounding as broken as I felt. 'I was afraid, I think.'
'Of what, dear?'
'Of losing you, I think.'
'Oh silly girl, we wouldn't abandon you for telling us things like this, no matter how strange or unbelievable.'
I shook my head. 'No, I was afraid he'd hurt you. In the letter I got.. he advised me not to tell anyone and I just.. I was afraid he'd…' I tore down again and started sobbing uncontrollably. The idea of my friends being punished because of me, because of a mistake I made, it was unbearable.
'Hey, hey, dear, calm down. We are safe, alright? He will not harm you, or any of us, if we won't let him. And whatever he has said to you, it is not true. If he calls you a foolish young girl, then perhaps it is he who is being foolish, because in that case, he clearly misses what's really there. I do see it and so does madame Giry, and that's the most important thing.' She whipped the tears from my face and smiled, something I tried to return. 'There now, much better already. Now keep your head high and whatever it is that man does, remember to always believe in your own strength. Now, let us go down to the dining hall, as I'm sure the others will already be there.'
I nodded and smiled, my heart feeling lighter than it had been feeling for a long time. Telling Anne about my secrets had not made my problems disappear, but it sure felt good to know that from now on, I wouldn't have to face them on my own. And with that feeling, I got back on my feet and made my way downstairs.
pagebreak ~After dinner, I let myself be practically dragged to the library by Adrienne. According to her, it was scandalous that I'd never read Alice in wonderland ("Honestly Angèlique, you could have spent your time more wisely than running around in the backyard and climbing trees..") and she was determined to have me make up for that shortage.
In all honesty, I didn't really mind going to the library. Like I mentioned earlier, it was one of the most undervalued places in the entire Opera and therefore one of the quietest as well. I doubted any of the ballet rats had ever set foot into this dusty, dark wooden compartment of their beloved home – that is; apart from myself and now Adrienne, of course. 'Alright, now I'm going to ask the librarian where I can find the book and in the meanwhile, you'll stay right here and try not to break anything.' As she set off, I couldn't help but chuckle because of her words. Of all people in the Opera House, she was definitely one of the most hypocrite ones.
I let out a sigh and ran my finger along the countless books on the shelves. As I deciphered titles from the backs, I found I recognized only few, and had actually read even less. Perhaps Adrienne hadn't been so wrong about me having a lack of cultural development.. Suddenly my finger touched the back of a familiar name and I smiled as I took it from the shelve. 'Alice in Wonderland'. Judging from the outside of the book, I couldn't find anything special about it. Just another small, black, leather bound book, with the title in curly writing on the front. I flipped through the pages absent-mindedly, until a drawing caught my eye and I stopped. Though at first seeming quite average, I soon found that the drawing itself held more to it than it seemed to do on first glance and, intrigued, I flipped further.
'Ah, I see you found it yourself, already.' Adrienne's voice sounded all of the sudden and I started. 'So, how do you like it?'
'I.. I'm not sure,' I said, truthfully. 'It's different, but I'm not sure yet as to why.'
Adrienne nodded in understanding. 'Yes, it really is quite different. But it's definitely worth reading. And when you're finished, you should read the sequel as well.'
I laughed. 'All in good time. Let me first get through this one, before we even speak of matters such as sequels.'
'Very well, I suppose you're right anyway, as usual.. Now, let's return to the dormitories, so you'll still have time to read something before it's time to go to bed.'
As we passed by cases and cases crammed with books, something in the corner of my eye caught my attention and made me stop. While taking a step closer, I placed the book in my hands on a side table. Leaning in, I could now read a couple of words that were written just underneath the picture. "Cast of Hannibal, 1870". After scanning the picture for mere seconds, I'd already found a couple of familiar faces. Anne, Marie-Claire and a young Adrienne all smiled back at me from the photograph and I was about to call Adrienne to come when I noticed something else.
'What's wrong, Angèlique?' Adrienne inquired, as she noticed how my body had become frozen.
'Who is that?' I asked with a quivering voice, though I already knew the answer. There, right beside a innocent, careless-looking Meg stood a tall, slender girl. She had a lily-white skin, brown hair and the most childish eyes I'd ever seen in a girl her age. Meg and the girl had their arms tossed around each other and in the look they shared, it was obvious that the two of them were best friends.
Though I had already known, Adrienne's confirmation still hurt and it took me all my strength not to collapse on the floor. The realisation was painful. This was the girl from my dreams. It was her that was the main character in my dreams. She was the singer. And most importantly, it was her whose song I'd sung. 'Oh God,' I whispered, as it dawned on me just how much pain I must have caused Meg.
'Are you alright?' The little redhead asked, worried.
I nodded, though everything inside of me screamed the opposite. Things started to fall into place and, more than I liked to admit, I realised I had been wrong all along. I had never made a connection between Meg and the Opera Ghost, simply because I didn't see any reason to do so. But, thinking about it, I couldn't have been more wrong. He had taken away her best friend. 'Adrienne.. there is something I need to do before going to bed. You wouldn't by any chance know where Meg could be, would you?'
She thought for a moment, then shook her head. 'I'm afraid not. She has a way of disappearing into thin air sometimes.. Much like yourself.'
Ignoring her last comment, I simply answered with an " alright" and, after a quick apologize, took off. As I roamed the corridors, I thought over places she could be. Meg was never one to go to the dormitories before bedtime, so there was little chance I'd find her there now.
Without being actually aware of it, my feet had taken me to the door that would lead me to the roof. It was actually a good shot, as I had already found her there once before. 'Might as well check,' I murmured as I grabbed the heck. It was stuck. Thrusting my entire body against the door, I tried to turn the heck again, but again without any results. Suddenly, I heard a soft pound. I turned around, but found no one who could have caused it. Then, I noticed something small lying at my feet. I cocked an eyebrow; it was a key. I looked around, but again found no one. Sighing, I picked up the key and pushed it in the lock. Though rusty as it had looked, it flipped it easily and opened the door without any effort. I shook my head and tried not to think about the oddness of what had just happened.
It was there that I found Meg, on the same spot as the last time. Her feet were dangling over the ledge and she seemed to be lost in thought. She had her arms wrapped around her against the cold and I don't think she would have noticed me, even if I would have called her name out loud. Therefore, I swiftly made my way towards the ledge and stopped a few feet away from her. 'Meg.. I.. I'm sorry.'