As I opened my eyes, the light blinded me and a terrible wave of nausea overwhelmed me. I mumbled a 'Dear God', which sounded far too loud to my own liking, and squinted my eyes. Another sensation was soon added to my already too large a pile of misery, for my head seemed to be about to explode and each beat of my heart was echoing painfully through my head. What had I done to deserve such hardships on an early morning? And that on the day after Christmas, too. I must have done something terrible to receive such punishment from the Lord, I thought as I held a hand against my stomach. The Lord must have been very cross with me indeed.
I slowly opened my eyes again, blinking furiously against the bright light. Why had I not closed the curtains before I went to sleep? When my eyes had finally adjusted to the light, I noticed the state my room was in. My clothes seemed to have been carelessly scattered throughout my room, my shoes – well, the one I could find at least – was lying in a distant corner and when I looked at myself, I found I was wearing nothing but my undergarments.
At that moment, the door to my private bathroom opened and a man walked in. I could not believe my eyes and for a moment forgot all about my nausea. However, that moment did not last long and before even ten seconds had passed, I was on my way to the bathroom myself, to empty my stomach into the toilet. I felt someone step up behind me and hold my hair back, but I knew it would be for the best that I finished emptying my stomach before I would do any of the confronting and shouting I planned to do. Not that I was really angry. No, I was merely very confused and embarrassed, but mostly I was afraid of the black hole in my memory.
After the last bit of my stomach contents had been disposed of, I let myself slump down on the bed and held my head in my hands tiredly. He sat himself on the sofa and for some minutes, we sat in silence.
When I had mustered enough courage, I looked up at him. 'Monsieur, I must ask, I.. Did we.. What..?' I didn't seem to be able to say anything coherent at all, let alone voice the concerns that clouded my mind this very morning.
He held up a hand, as to cease me from speaking any more. 'Nothing happened, Angélique, I promise.'
'Then why are you here, monsieur?'
'Do you not remember anything, then?' At my negative response, he looked out of the window and for a moment I thought he wouldn't answer anymore at all. Then, at last, he spoke. 'Yesterday evening, after we all got more than our share of wine, everyone retreated to their rooms. However, because you were in no condition to even make it to the stairs, let alone to go up them, I escorted you to your room. Then, when I was about to leave, you asked me to stay with you and so I waited until you fell asleep and then slept on the sofa myself. That's all that happened, I swear it to you.'
I nodded, partly ashamed, partly hoping desperately that he was speaking the truth, but not wanting to ask any further.
Monsieur Rousseau cleared his throat and looked at the ground beneath his feet awkwardly. 'There is.. something I must ask you too, though. I know it is none of my business, but still I fear I can't contain my curiosity – and concerns. In your sleep, you.. you spoke to someone. A man, I think. Do you.. often do this?'
pagebreak ~Several hours later, we were all packed and ready to go back to Paris. The other girls were reluctant to leave the beautiful countryside, I, however, felt like departure couldn't be soon enough. Not that I hadn't had a great time at monsieur Rousseau's estate, no, it was just that things had become very awkward in the last couple of hours. Fortunately, I hadn't had to explain to anyone why monsieur Rousseau had slept in my room – I would never have heard the end of it if Adrienne got air of it – for he had taken a hidden corridor that was hidden behind one of the tapestries.
It was actually quite a strange idea, to know he could enter the room whenever he pleased, but at that moment I had been more than happy that no one would have to find out. Even better, was that most of the others had been equally drunk last night and didn't remember the evening either, and therefore hadn't seen Adrienne's brother bringing me to my room.
And so, the only remaining problem was that he, monsieur Rousseau I mean, now knew of my sleeping problems. And not only had I had to tell him, but he had actually heard me talking. The embarrassment truly was immense. I hadn't told him everything (I had let out the entire part that involved the Opera Ghost of course), but still I was quite sure he'd avoid me from now on.
'Alright, I think it is time for us to go now, we've kept the driver waiting long enough and it wouldn't be wise to put him in all too foul a mood, since he still has to bring us back all the way to Paris. Besides, we'd better leave now, for the days are short and I wouldn't want to travel through night,' while saying the last, Anne looked at the sky pensively, as if the future would somehow reveal itself in the grey clouds.
'Indeed, we must go,' I insisted, wishing to leave the estate as soon as possible.
After a quick, uncomfortable parting we stepped in our carriage and set off. As soon as we rounded the corner and the mansion was out of view, I heaved a sigh of relief. It was as if a great weight was lifted off of my shoulders and I could finally breathe freely again. However, I was still feeling rather low and it must have been showing off on my face, for it didn't take long before Anne leaned into me.
'What has put you in such low spirits, dear?'
I shrugged – something very unladylike to do, I know – and turned my gaze to my weaved fingers. 'I don't know.. I suppose I just miss the Opera.'
Anne nodded understandingly. 'I guess we all do, to some extent.' She laughed 'I for one miss my own bed, with its bumpy matrass and its worn blankets, as crazy at it might sound.'
'Oh I know exactly what you mean,' Marie-Claire cried out and joined in her laughter. 'I even miss the musty smell!'
We all laughed now and I couldn't deny it was true. The Opera had really grown on me in the short time I had been living there, even things like this. No, perhaps especially things like this.
'And Pierre, oh how I miss his desserts! No offense to your brother's cook of course, Adrienne, but Pierre really must come and live with me for the rest of my life, so he can make me desserts every single day!'
'You have nothing to complain about Marie, for your monsieur Lemoine, will surely bake you everything you can wish for if you just know the right way to motivate him!' Adrienne wiggled with her eyebrows at this point and then laughed.
'I am sure he would,' Meg laughed, 'and otherwise he will learn soon enough not to disobey her demands.'
'Oh how cruel you all are to me! You should not tease me so much, you know, for I might just decide to rather walk the entire way back to Paris than to sit in this carriage with you four, awful ladies!' Marie, in an attempt to look serious, crossed her arms in front of her chest and made an angry face. This attempt, however, did not last long, and before long she was lying on Veronique's lap, tears running down her cheeks with joy. At last, when she finally calmed down enough to sit up straight again, she spoke. 'Oh, my dear friends, I am so glad I have you all!' And with that she pulled us all in a big, highly uncomfortable, group hug.