Although I had vowed to hate the woman that had destroyed my friend's life, now I saw her, I couldn't help but pity them both; he wasn't the monster the world had made him out to be, he was just a man. A lost and lonely man. But likewise, she wasn't the viper I had thought she would be – that I had wanted her to be. She was just a scared, naive young girl, too simple minded and good to ever understand the man behind the mask. I truly felt sorry for her, for she too had been caught up in something that went far above her head.
And in that moment, I realized that she would have never been able to make him happy. Even if she had tried, if she had loved him, I knew she would have never survived in the darkness, instead she would have withered away like a flower growing in the shadows.
As she stood there, surrounded by a dozen of young ballet rats crowding together to get a glimpse of the famous ex Prima Donna, I could easily see the fright in her eyes. Although she tried to seem at ease, her rigid posture and constant scanning of the room betrayed her. Her big, brown eyes, although beautiful, held nothing but kindness and an almost childlike sense of good and evil. Her features, delicate and serene, also betrayed a fragility that I knew would not have last a day with the Phantom.
She was gorgeous and sweet, but that was all there was. She'd fled when she saw the face of a tortured man and although I wanted to hate her for it, I knew she had made the right decision. Delicate flowers such as her were not meant to be grown in the shadows. And likewise, the Phantom was not meant to spend a life with someone with so little understanding of the world. I could see that now and therefore, in that breath, I forgave her.
It was at that same moment that she noticed our little group standing there and, probably recognizing the other girls, walked up to us. 'Oh how lovely it is to see you again, my dear friends!' She hugged the other girls, then at last stopped before me. 'How rude of me not to introduce myself sooner. My name is Christine de Chagny.'
'Yes... I know...'
The young woman looked surprised at first, then she smiled sadly 'Of course you have, gossip here at the Opera spreads like wildfire. Well, nervertheless am I glad to be back, even though it brings back memories of things that I would rather forget.' She shook her head, as if in an attempt to shake off the memories, and then we were off.
We made a short tour around the Opera House, pointing out both what was different as what had not changed at all. All the while, it was not difficult to see that the young woman was frightened to death; with every sound, her eyes frantically searched the hallways, with every room we entered, she checked the shadows before she would breathe again.
As it turned out, the strange sensation I had had for the entire week had been right. And although Meg had only yesterday told us that her former best friend was visiting, after half a week of strange dreams and a weird feeling in my gut I had already been fairly certain that something was going to happen. I could now only hope that any damage that would be done would not be disastrous.
Apparently, I was not the only one who wasn't happy with madame de Chagny's visit. When we'd passed the stage, we'd run straight into the terror of many young ballerinas' sleep: La Carlotta. Instead of her usual swearing and shouting, however, she'd turned a ghastly pale and had taken a few steps back, all the while never getting her eyes of her former rival. Describing her facial expression, I guess I could only say she looked like she'd seen a ghost – which I suppose the situation must have been similar to for her. Her eyes had then darted across the room, after which she'd left the stage in a hurry. For a moment or two, we'd all just stood there, flabbergasted by the Prima Donna's rather uncharacteristic behaviour, but no one said a word. I guess we all understood.
Later, when the tour had come to an end, we had sat down in Madame Giry's private chambers – which the ballet mistress had so generously given us permission to. Madame de Chagny had been like a daughter to her, so I suppose it made sense.
'It is so strange to be back,' the young brunette woman said, folding her hands in her lap. 'I had sworn to myself never to come back to this place, but now that I am here, I find myself filled with both fond memories as images that cause me dread.'
'You don't have to be afraid, it's safe now Christine,' Adrienne said, putting a hand over Christine's reassuringly. Her words made me shiver, but I didn't say anything about it.
'I know.. Thank you, my dear friend.' She smiled sadly, then seemed to get herself together. 'So, what exiting things have happened around here?'
This alone was all the encouragement the little redhead needed to start off a half-hour long rant about anything that had happened, big and small. Since I wasn't very interested in gossip or things that I had been part of myself, I decided to study the Viscountess from up close. Her chocolate curls were pinned up on the top of her head in a fashion that I had seen on more noble women lately. She wore a bit of pink eye shadow and some blush on her cheeks, but apart from that she seemed to be a natural beauty. Her pale lily skin was fair and I could imagine many men swoon over her doll like appearance. I understood how one could say we looked alike, for she too was tall and slender, missing the curves many women our age possessed, and we shared our brown curls. That, however, was where the similarities ended. Both physically and mentally – and in our social standing – we were two entirely different person, tied together only by a shared friend. And the Phantom…
It was at this moment that I was snapped out of my daydreaming by the mentioning of that very same man. 'Have there been… any accidents since…?'
We all shared a quick glance, as if trying to decide our next course of action, then Anne spoke 'There have not. I suppose he left along with you.'
Madame de Chagny visibly relaxed at those words. 'I hope he's in a happier place now. He was not just a madman, you know? He could be kind, caring, charming even if he wished to. His voice would fill me with all that is good and sweet in this world and sometimes at night I still hear him singing in my head. I could have seen past his face, if it had not been for what lay behind it. For at times loving and sweet, I feared his rage beyond all else.' By now her voice was only barely a whisper and she stared off into the distance, her face contorted by invisible strains. 'Those last few days, his eyes, once so warm and caring, revealed nothing but wickedness and it was then that I realized that his true deformity was not his face. It was his soul.'
A sob broke through the silence that had followed and all our heads turned to the wall in unison. A hidden passageway, I realized, he'd been listening all along.
Without thinking, I broke out in a coughing fit. 'Dear God, I am truly sorry, my throat is acting all funny.'
Anne leaned into me and patted my back, while whispering 'Go, I'll cover for you.'
Not certain if she'd said what I thought she had, I gave her a quizzical look, but she just nodded. Jumping up from my chair, I quickly excused myself and ran off. Racing through the Opera House, I tried to dodge everyone that could get in my way. If the Phantom truly had been listening all along, I could only guess at the mental state he would be in. All that I knew was that I'd have to reach him, fast, for God only knows what he'd do to himself.
Opening the entrance in the ballet studio, I slipped into the dark passages and made my way to the library as fast as I could without injuring myself. He had once told me that the other road from the library would lead to the Opera catacombs – after which he warned me never to go there. Somehow, as if my feet knew the urgency of the situation, I made my way down a large flight of stairs and to the shore of a large underground lake. On the other shore, I could see the light of what must have been a thousand candles, illuminating a stone house. The house from my dreams, I realized. Taking a step forward into the cold water, I soon came to the conclusion that it was too deep to walk, and since I could not swim I looked around me for another means of transport. It was then that I spotted a small gondola and I quickly untied it. Getting the pole, I unsteadily started pushing myself forward over the lake, all the while praying to God that I would not capsize and drown.
Fortunately for me, none of this happened and I made it safely into shallower water, only to notice that there was a large, heavy looking portcullis standing between me and my destination. Jumping of the gondola I waded through the cold water and stood against the metal. Movement on the shore bank caught my eye and I did the only reasonable thing I could think of; I started screaming.
'Phantom, open the gate!'
He didn't look up, just stumbled further, his sobs bouncing off the stone walls around me.
'Phantom, please, I am here to help!'
Still no response. This was when an idea came to mind.
'Erik! Erik, I know you can hear me. I beg of you Erik, open the gate.'
For the first time since my arrival, he seemed to acknowledge my presence and for a good minute, he just stared at me, as if wondering what kind of mad person was standing there, soaked and screaming. He slowly pulled a lever and, at last, the portcullis disappeared into the ceiling. Moving closer, I noticed he was still merely staring at me, his lips moving, but I could not hear his words. I tried to shake it off. Perhaps he was just surprised to see me. However, when I came closer, I could finally hear his words.
'Christine, my dearest, you came back. You came back for your Angel of Music. You came back for Erik. You came back.' He started sobbing again and threw himself at my feet, kissing them as if they were made of solid gold.
I crouched in front of him and pulled him into an embrace. 'My poor, poor friend. What have you done to yourself.' I stroked through his hair, neither of us saying anything, but I suppose it was enough for after some time his sobs seemed to lessen and his tight grip on my shoulders loosened.