The next day was spent in an awkward sort of silence. Although Anne and I still tried to get any kind of talking going, an atmosphere of uneasiness suffocated every bit of conversation and made our group spent most of the day in utter silence. Even Adrienne – who most of the time seemed to be oblivious to things as conflicts – was not her usual, cheerful self.
The center of all this unease was Meg, who made it a point to avoid talking to either Anne or me and even went as far as to avoid our presence in general. Every time we would try to address her, she would give us a strange look and turn away or just stand up and leave. When I had tried to talk to her about the problem – the Phantom, namely – she had flat out refused to listen. "If you choose to throw your life away, that's your choice. But don't try to drag me down with you." At this point, I was at a loss of what to do. Meg wouldn't listen to any reason and without getting to explain things she would not be able to come to any other conclusion than that she had come now. I was insane. That or I had a death wish. And as if that kind of self-diagnosis wasn't enough, I also lost a friend in the progress.
'I am going to bed,' Meg announced, then pushed back her chair and walked out of the room.
Staring at her retreating back, Adrienne shook her head. 'What's up with her today?'
'I don't know.. It will probably be better in the morning.'
The redhead looked at Anne, then at me and quirked an eyebrow. 'You two wouldn't know any more about it, would you?'
She looked at us skeptically, then huffed. 'Fine, if you don't want to let me in on your little secret, that's… fine! I didn't want to know anyway.' She viciously stabbed down on one of her peas, causing it to fly off her plate, across the table and into Anne's neckline.
A smile tugged at the redhead's lips, but she tried forcing it away. 'That wasn't even funny.'
Later that evening, when I arrived at the private library, I dropped myself in own of the armchairs rather unceremoniously. I had had my share of cold stares and accusing looks for the day and I could take no more of it; if Meg hadn't been enough, Adrienne had also decided to hold on to her feelings of resentment.
At the sound of footsteps, I looked up from my thoughts just in time to see Erik close the panel in the wall. Unclasping his cloak, he threw the piece of fabric over the back of the other armchair, then sat down himself.
'Good evening,' I greeted him and turned back to the fire. I knew by now he preferred it when I didn't stare at him.
He mumbled back a response, but apart from that stayed silent. Minutes ticked by and with every passing second, I began to feel more agitated.
'What is it? Are you upset with me as well?'
'Why ever would I be?'
'I don't know, Meg and..-'
'Because you lied to me? Because you forgot to tell me you were going out to meet Christine? No, I am not upset, I am livid.'
'I didn't tell you because you would only get angry if I did.'
He scoffed. 'Well, that plan worked out very well for you then.'
'I can't help it that you keep spying on me every chance you get.'
'I was looking for you! I had not seen you for days and I was worried. You know, as befits a good friend.'
'As opposed to me, then. If you had been listening at all during your eavesdropping, you would have heard me saying that I care for you.'
Erik let out a humorless chuckle 'Oh of course, more lies. Do you really think I would fall for such false, shallow flatteries?'
I crossed my arms before my chest and frowned. 'Would it really be that impossible to believe that I actually see you as a friend? Have I not proven enough to you that I care for you?' I sighed, in an attempt to calm myself. 'Erik, I meant every word I said. If you believe it or not is your choice, but I refuse to be seen as someone who maltreated their friend.'
'Well, if you meant everything you are even more foolish than I had originally thought.'
'Do you not remember? "What could a simple girl like me have to offer to such a man?" If that wasn't a lie than you truly are the stupidest girl I have ever met.'
'You are not as bad as you like to think you are.'
'Well, neither are you.'
'Thank you.. I guess..' I bit my lip, then sighed. 'But it really is true, you know. You are a musical genius, a talented artist, an intelligent man, and what am I? I can't sing, I can't draw, I am not beautiful nor special. I really am just a silly girl who learned the hard way she isn't the center of the world.'
A hand on my arm shook me out of my dark thoughts. 'I think you are pretty special, Angèlique. I might not be the person you want to hear these words from, nor be the best at expressing them, but if I had to choose one woman on this entire planet to spend the remainder of my life with, it would have been you. You were right; you're no Christine Daaé. You are real, you are strong, but most importantly; you saw past the Phantom when no one else ever did. You could see me for the man I could be, for the man I deep down so desperately longed to be.'
My breathing had ceased and at this point I was only staring at him in disbelief. I couldn't move, could hardly think, but I wanted to say something. Slowly, and with incredible effort, I lifted my left arm and placed my hand on his. My throat felt dry and I suddenly longed for a big glass of water.
'Oh forget it. I didn't mean to frighten you, I just tried to..-'
'Don't.' I swallowed. 'Don't take it back. I am just not very good at these things.. as you've probably noticed in the past,' I chuckled nervously, thinking back on the time I discussed my problems concerning Christophe with him. 'But well, I want you to know that if I had to choose one man, it would be you, too. I never realized it before, but it's so clear now. You are the only one I feel completely at ease with, the only one who never makes me feel strange or different for feeling the things I do. When I am with you, I forget about the world, I forget about my problems. It's just you and me.'
He smiled. 'Just you and me.' Silence ensued once again, but this time it was a comfortable silence. Lots of things had been said, lots of feelings been spoken, but it was alright. Yet, I had to break the quietude once more.
He made a sound in response.
'Could you talk to Meg? I mean, I know it's a lot to ask, but she won't listen to me or Anne.'
'I just don't want to lose..-'
'I will, Angèlique, don't worry. It will be okay.' With his hand, he rubbed soothing circles on the back of my hand and I knew he was right. It would be okay.