Afterwards I wasn't exactly sure how I found my way back to the dormitory. All I knew was that I turned out to be just on time. When I opened the door, the room silenced all at once and I saw a dozen of eyes look at me. It made me feel uneasy since I knew I had been the topic just a few seconds ago.
'Angèlique, there you are,' Meg exclaimed and came up to me. 'I've been looking all over for you.'
'I'm sorry, I was lost,' I confessed as I felt my cheeks redden.
She smiled 'It's alright, really. Now, before we go to dinner, let me introduce you to some of the other dancers.' She pulled me to the other girls.
I couldn't help but look at the ground as we stood before them. Socializing had never been my greatest talent and now I was in a room with some girls I didn't know, in a place far away from home.
'These are Anne Martin, Véronique Dubois, Adrienne Rousseau and Marie-Claire Gaudet.'
I dared to glance up at the group of girls through my eyelashes. They were all tall and slender and – I had to admit – really pretty. This definitely didn't improve the little confidence I had in myself.
'You were merveilleuse!' One of the girls cried out. 'People will not grant us a second glance if you are on the stage dancing like that.' She was a little smaller than the other girls, had freckles and red curls that bounced when she spoke.
'Adrienne,' sighed a brunette disapprovingly, then turned to me. 'She doesn't mean it that way, it's just.. you were really good.'
'I well.. I.. thank you, I guess.' I blushed and looked down to watch my feet again.
'Can we go to dinner now, I'm starving.' I secretly looked up once more, just to see it was the little redhead again, Adrienne I believed the brunette had called her. 'Meg?' She shouted out in support.
'Alright, alright, come on Angèlique, let's show you the dining room.' The group of dancers made their way through the door, into the corridor. I soon realized that they had no trouble at all finding the road through the labyrinth and a hope sparked that maybe one day I could too.
'So, you must tell us where you learned to dance like that,' Adrienne said as she came walking next to me. 'You must have been taught by angels, looking at the way you moved on the stage this afternoon.'
'Why else do you think her name is Angèlique?'
'Oh be silent, Marie,' the redhead snapped at her, then went on as if she had never been interrupted. 'Well, tell us. Did you have some sort of private lessons with the gods of music themselves?'
I couldn't help but laugh. It was all so ridiculous and surreal. 'I'm sorry, it's just… you are all so beautiful and talented and you are complimenting me about my dancing. It feels so strange, like the world upside down.'
'Well, maybe that means you are at least quite as good as any of us,' the blonde girl suggested and this time she wasn't snapped at by Adrienne. It actually even seemed like there was a silent agreement between the girls around me. Was it possible? Was I really as good as any of them? I couldn't imagine and so I decided to put the thoughts aside.
'So, how long have you guys been here?'
'Most of us were already here before the fire, the only new girls are you and Véronique.' Meg nodded toward a dark blonde who had been fairly silent the whole time. I could easily imagine she'd been just as scared and shy on her first day as I was.
'Oh, here we are. Listen,' the brunette began and looked me in the eyes 'When we enter the dining hall there are going to be a lot of people staring at you. Don't take it personal, it's just the way things go here. There don't happen many things around here, so a new dancer is mayor news.'
I tried to comprehend, but all I could think of were the people behind the door that were probably all talking about me. I didn't like all this attention, it made me even more anxious about making a misstep. 'Okay, let's just get it over with,' I sighed.
As we entered the room everyone seemed to stop what they were doing. They all turned to us – or should I say; to me – and gawked. It was rather awkward, to be honest. I scratched my neck 'Ehm, shall we get something to eat?'
We walked in silence to the small buffet at the far end of the room and got ourselves a plate. That was when the first people started talking again. Soft whispers came from behind our backs and I hated the fact that I was most likely the topic of each and every conversation. Couldn't they just leave me alone and get to know me instead of the rumors? I let out a deep sigh and looked at Meg 'I'm not really hungry, I'm sorry.'
She glanced at my plate, which held only half a potato and a carrot. 'You do have to eat, Angèlique, you'll need all your energy tomorrow.'
'I know, I'm just too nervous and uncomfortable to keep down a lot. Don't worry, I'll just have a big breakfast tomorrow and all be well.'
'Okay, just make sure you eat enough. My mother doesn't like girls collapsing on the dance floor.'
'I will.' I smiled at her and followed the others to one of the few empty tables. As we sat down I tried not to look like the staring and whispering actually bothered me, though I knew the other girls probably had already noticed.
When the others began to eat, I started thinking it all over. I was in the Opera Populaire and I had made it into the ballet group. Tomorrow would be the first practice and I would have to prove what I was worth once again. But I wasn't alone anymore, I didn't have to do it on my own. I had Meg to help me train and I had no doubt the other girls would help me as well if I would ask them to. I absent-mindedly prodded the potato with my fork, turning it slowly into a yellow mush. 'What opera are you... I mean we working on?'
'Romeo and Juliet,' Adrienne answered, after swallowing a piece of broccoli. 'It's rather romantic.'
I nodded in agreement, then asked: 'Could someone perhaps teach me the steps tonight, I don't want to come off like a complete fool tomorrow.'
'You will not, my dear. You dance like an angel, no one will think you are a fool, believe me.' The brunette said softly and laid her hand reassuringly on mine.
'Anne's right, don't worry about it. Besides, we just started practicing, so none of us knows the steps exactly. So if we'll look like fools, we will all look like it.'
I looked gratefully at both Anne and Meg, they had been really kind to me. 'Thank you.. for everything.''It's nothing,' both of the girls said in unison and then, looking at each other, burst out laughing. I couldn't help but smile because of my new-made friends and something inside told me I was going to need them.
'So, where were you this afternoon? We searched everywhere.'
'I don't really know. A ballet room, with lots of mirrors and a barre. I don't exactly know how I got there, nor how I got back, but it was very pretty, though.. well, it's nothing.'
'What is it, Angèlique?'
All the girls at the table now looked at me in expectation and I fumbled with my hands as I tried to find the right words to say. I didn't want them to think I was some sort of psychopath, certainly not on my very first day. 'I-I felt something.. a presence, as if someone was watching me.' I shook my head. 'Forget I mentioned it, it were probably just the nerves. Just forget about it, okay?' Embarrassed about my hallucinations I started prodding my potato once more, but when the five other girls remained silent I looked up again. 'What's wrong?'
Adrienne gave the others a deeply annoyed glance. 'I don't see why you are still so afraid of talking about it.' Then she putdown her fork and brushed her red hair behind her shoulders. 'Did you know the Opera was haunted?'
'It was not haunted, Adrienne.' Marie-Claire said, fairly irritated. I didn't really understand what the fuss was all about, but I guessed they had been having this argument for a long time already.
'Very well, you tell the story then, if you know it so much better,' the redhead snapped and crossed her arms in front of her chest, clearly upset.
Marie-Claire ignored the obvious malice of her friend and turned to me. 'Before the fire the Palais Garnier had been in the hands of two messieurs; André and Firmin. But in reality, someone entirely different was in control. A man; feared and hated by the world, who had been living in the Opera house for God-knows how long. Everything happened according to his wishes and if not, he would sabotage the opera practices, the sets, on occasions even the cast itself. He sometimes sent mysterious letters to express his desires, signed only with two characters. OG. Opera Ghost. No one knew who he was, no one had even really seen him, apart from a glimpse or a shadow. But then, one day he fell in love with one of the girls here. Maybe you've heard of her. Christine Daaé, she became prima donna after being taught by the infamous Phantom himself for a long time. She, though, was in love with the Vicomte de Chagny, Raoul, whom she knew from her childhood. Their love brought the Phantom to madness and this all led to a final showdown at the first performance of Don Juan Triumphant. Without anyone knowing, he took the place of the male lead singer and sang with Christine one of the songs. But then suddenly she took of his mask and exposed his maimed and monstrous face, provoking great fear among everyone in the hall. He then made the chandelier come down and, in the commotion that followed, disappeared with his love, no one knows where to. All we know is that afterwards, Christine and Raoul got married and seemed happy. But they never talked about what happened, as if to erase it from their minds.'
I sat in silence, unable to speak or move. Was this true? Could it be? My own mind was confused and I didn't know if I had to take the story with a grain of salt. Perhaps it were all rumors. Like Anne had said, there didn't happen much at the Opera. 'What happened to him, the Phantom I mean.'
'No one knows.. Some say he left after the big fire, others say he died of a broken heart. My guess is he just moved to another place and finally got himself a life. The facts are that there haven't been any incidents after the fire, nor mysterious letters.'
'There have been whispers about him being back though,' Adrienne said in a low voice, as if she was telling a ghost story, which – in fact – she sort of was.
'There is no proof of that,' Meg said. 'Besides; if he'd be back, maman would know.'
Marie-Claire nodded in agreement. 'Shouldn't we have noticed if he was still here?'
'Well…' Anne said thoughtful, staring at the table 'I did see something in the theatre one day. I'm not saying it was him, but it was someone.'
'Come on guys, you are scaring the living daylight out of Angèlique with your ghost stories. Keep it up and I'm sure her first night here will be a sleepless one.'
I tried to smile at her, but it was as if I no longer had control over my body. Despite the fact that he should have been gone for a few years, I couldn't shake off the feeling the story had given me. I was sure I'd felt something today, I knew I had. But could it have been the Opera Ghost? Was such a thing even possible? And if so; what did that mean for the rest of my stay at the Palais Garnier?