After the Phantom had told me the time, I'd jumped up and practically flown through the Opera House. I knew it was very improper and I prayed God to not have me encounter anyone, but I also knew I was on a tight schedule. The Opera would begin at eight and in the time in between I still needed to eat, dress, stretch and warm up.
My stomach rumbled and I realized it had been since breakfast that I had eaten something. After practice I'd gone to the dormitories immediately and I noticed I was kind of hungry. However, eating something might not be such a good idea, as the nerves of performing still made me feel nauseous before every show and I didn't want to end up throwing up on mademoiselle Dampierre's shoes. Therefore, I changed courses and ran towards the dormitories to get my pointe ballet shoes and, when I'd done just that, made my way towards the backstage area.
When I arrived, I was panting heavily and it took me a while to get my breathing under control. Pesky stamina. I quickly went to madame Broussard, the costume maker, to get my outfit and then joined the other ballerinas in the dressing room. As usual, the girls were chatting and gossiping gleesome and, naturally, much too loud. Because of that, it took me a while to realize someone was calling my name. In fact, I must admit, I did not notice until I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around.
'Are you alright?'
I furrowed my eyebrows a little in confusion. 'Yes, I am, thank you. Why wouldn't I be?'
Meg let out a sigh of relief. 'I don't know.. You just disappeared after practice and when you didn't show up at dinner, we were just worried, I guess.' She shrugged her shoulders. 'I was worried. You know, with all these strange things going on lately.'
'I'm sorry, Meg. I was just a little tired and needed some rest, so I took my book and well.. I guess I completely lost track of the time.' That was not a lie. I mean, I obviously let out the part where the Phantom of the Opera came in and had a nice conversation with me, but not a single word of what I'd said was a lie.
She nodded. 'Alright, I'm just glad you're okay.. You are really okay, right?'
I smiled. 'Yes, don't worry. I'm not even tired anymore.' That, too, wasn't a lie. For some reason, all exhaustion had disappeared and I was filled with a strange burst of energy. I suspected it had something to do with my encounter with the Phantom, as it felt a lot like the adrenalin rushes I used to get as a child, whenever I did something dangerous or adventurous. Like when I'd climb in a tree, wearing my good dress just before we'd go to church. Or when I was chased around the house by my brother, knowing that if he'd get me I'd be tickled to death.
'Alright, well let me help lacing you up, these outfits are truly impossible.'
pagebreak ~As the last note died out, I fought from collapsing on the floor. Instead, I stayed on the tips of my toes, perfectly motionless and with a big smile on my lips as the audience tried to overrule the deafening beating of my heart. True to the promise I'd made to madame Giry, I'd given my all once again and, despite the extreme exhaustion, I was more than satisfied with the results.
When the curtains started closing, I couldn't keep my eyes from fluttering up towards box five, which was still empty. It didn't matter though, I told myself, madame Giry's contentment was all I needed. I widened my smile, probably more to myself than to the audience that had now almost disappeared behind the large curtains, and pushed away the small voice in my head that told me otherwise.
Almost as soon as the curtains had fully closed, I was tapped on my shoulder. As I turned around, I looked straight in the face of a very merry looking dance instructress, who was – in fact – smiling widely to me. She gestured me to follow her as she left the stage.
With great effort, I willed my legs into motion once again and followed the proud woman as she took me far behind the stage, between the sets. I understood why she'd taken me far away from the curtains, as it was undesirable for the audience to be able to hear anything that happened on stage. Yet, the way she had led me away from the others made me feel uneasy, even when she'd been smiling at me all the time.
'Angèlique that was.. I honestly don't know what to say about it.'
I stared at my feet, too afraid to look her in the eyes, out of fear of seeing anger or disdain in them, or even worse; disappointment. Because of all things, I hated letting people down the most. I could handle fury, but not disappointment. 'Was it that bad?' I dared to ask, my voice sounding more like the squeaking of a mouse than an actual human voice.
'Bad, bad? My dear girl, you were absolutely marvellous. In all honesty, I think people were more focused on your dancing than on the voice of that Dampierre woman.' I did not miss the way she spit out the singer's name, even in my current state of astonishment.
Madame nodded, then looked me over and I saw her eyebrows come down in a frown. 'Are you alright, Angèlique?'
It was only now that I noticed how my legs were shaking underneath me and I could only imagine my face looking like something closer to the countenance of a ghost than that of a healthy, young girl. 'Yes, I'm just a bit tired,' I said, adding a smile to keep her from worrying.
The frown on her face did not leave though, and for a moment I saw a flash of the sweet, caring mother she must be to Meg. 'That's not the first time I've heard that. How come you don't get enough rest? Is it because of the younger girls, because I can always ask the managers to…-'
'No, no, madame,' I interrupted her quickly, not wanting to put any blame on the younger ballerinas. 'It's just that I was really tensed for this show, I was really nervous, you see. This would be the first time I'd dance the lead in front of an entire audience and I wanted to do it right, so much, that I just couldn't fall asleep, I guess.' I rambled, hoping she would drop the subject, as it would be impossible to tell her about my nightmares, or about the dreams of the Phantom.
She pursed her lips and simply nodded again, though I was not sure if she believed me or not. 'Very well, you'd better go change then and go to bed as soon as possible. And please, if you're there, tell those girls to be quiet for once. I could hear them talking and laughing even in my quarters.'
'Yes, madame,' I said and curtsied shortly, after which I turned on my heal and made my way towards the dressing rooms, completely worn down and ready to collapse any second. Fortunately, half way there I ran into Marie-Claire, who did not only accompany me during my walk, but also helped me get out of that tedious costume – Meg had been right, it really was impossible.
At last, after what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at the dormitories. After a quick goodnight, Marie-Claire walked off towards her own bed and left me to my last few feet towards my bed. I literally dragged myself forward, only the promise of a soft mattress and a comfortable pillow keeping me from crashing on the floor then and there.When I'd reached my bed, I collapsed on the mattress and let down a satisfied sigh. I'd made it. I was lucky everybody else was already in bed and the lights were already out, otherwise I'd have had to go to the bathroom to change. Instead, I writhed myself out of my dress and pulled on my night gown.
As my head hit the pillow again, I suddenly noticed something lying on the top of my nightstand. Tilting my head a little, I could read the curly letters on the front. Alice in Wonderland. On top of it lay a rose. I knitted my brows, but couldn't bring myself to wonder about it, as exhaustion took over my body and soon I was lost in dreams once more.