I couldn't remember ever having been so glad to go home. Or well glad.. relieved was a better way to describe it, I suppose. I hadn't felt glad in a long time. The last few months had been Hell to me. Although I had managed to become a permanent prima ballerina, had gotten back into the good graces of madame Giry and there had been no more bad feelings among our little group of friends anymore, I had felt empty. Numb.
I would often sit in the private library for the entire night, waiting for Erik to seat himself beside me. But he would never come. On the days that I did actually go to bed, I would have nightmares, some of which even continued throughout the day. The others noticed of course, but after some time knew it was best not to say anything about it.
Two days after I had seen Erik for the last time I received a letter from Christophe. It had been a brief letter, only stating that they had made it safely out of Paris and that I shouldn't worry. I had immediately written an answer, but had never gotten something back.
The last months to summer had ticked by at an excruciatingly slow rate, but now that it was finally here, I wasn't quite so sure anymore if I wanted to go home after all.'It will be alright, Angèlique, I am sure the fresh air and change of scenery will do you some good.' Anne said, squeezing my hand. Of all of them, she was the only one still trying to cheer me up.
I forced my lips into a smile 'I know.' Looking out of the window again, I already started recognizing my surroundings. We were almost home. I sighed. In a way I was glad that Anne had come with me – even though she was not really there to help me, but more so to be officially introduced to my family as my brother's fiancé – if only because then I wouldn't have to face the questions alone. God knew my mother would never let go of the topic of my love life.
Suddenly, the carriage came to a halt and I knew it was time. Straightening out my dress, I waited for the driver to open the door and then slowly walked up to the house. I could hear Anne's soft footfalls behind me, assuring me that I was not alone. Taking a breath, I knocked on the door.
Not even a second went by before the door burst open and Madeleine – my dear, sweet Madeleine – threw herself in my arms. Hugging her tightly, I noticed by touch alone how much she had grown.
Then, as fast as she had jumped me, she let go and looked shyly at the brunette girl behind me. She didn't get to say anything, though, for at that moment an older woman appeared behind her, shaking her head.
'Madeleine, won't you let them come in, dear? I am sure they've had a long journey and are tired.' Stepping aside, my mother gestured us in.
Taking the baggage from the driver, I thanked and paid him and then followed Anne over the doorstep. When I passed my mother, she looked me up and down with a smile.'You have become such a beautiful young woman, I almost can't believe that you are the same girl that left here a year ago.'
Smiling at her kind words, I let myself be enveloped by my mother's embrace and sighed contently. For a moment, everything seemed the way it should be. Then, as we broke away, reality forced its way back into my mind and the smile disappeared from my face.
Following the others to our small, but nonetheless homely living room, I noticed my father sitting in his favorite armchair. Beside him, on the couch, sat Émile, whose face lit up as he saw his future bride.
After having hugged my father as well I sat down in another armchair, staring into the cup of tea maman had just poured me. I bit my lip as the topic of Émile and Anne's upcoming wedding came up. Not that I didn't wish them happiness, but it just made the realization even more painful that I would never have any of that. The only man I had ever wanted to be with was Erik and I had realized that too late. Now all I could derive happiness from was the idea that he, at least, was safe. Far away from the Opera Populaire, he might even finally find peace. Yes, that was all I could hope for as far as my own happiness was concerned.
'Angèlique? Angèlique? Are you even listening?'
Looking up from my tea – and more precisely; my burdening thoughts – I was met with a room full of people staring at me expectantly.
'I am sorry.. what were we talking about, maman?'
'The wedding, dear..'
'Your brother and his fiancée's of course! Good Heavens, when did you become so easily distracted?'
'I am sure she is just tired from her journey, mother,' Émile cut in. I had no doubt Anne had filled him in on my mental state the last few months.
'Well that surely is a shame, then, for I recall that we will have another guest over for dinner. In fact, if I am not mistaken I can see the carriage stopping just now.' My father chuckled, good-heartedly.
A knock on the door followed mere seconds later and my brother got up to open the door. Voices sounded from the hallway, but I couldn't make out who the other person was. Perhaps a friend of my brother's..
However, as Émile stepped back in the living room, he was followed by no one else but Christophe Rousseau. Taking of his high hat, he bowed and offered a friendly smile to the attendees, then walked up to Anne. 'I believe a congratulations is in order?'
The brunette smiled 'It is indeed, thank you.'
'I am sure you won't need any of my best wishes, but I wanted to give them to you anyway.' Then, he turned to me. 'Angèlique, how good it is to see you again. I trust you are in good health?'
Nodding, I couldn't help but be delighted by the surprise of seeing my friend again. 'Very good, thank you. And you yourself?'
'I am glad to hear so. I am as well, apart from some stress, but nothing too serious. Besides, that is why I am here anyway, in the hopes that you might be able to relieve me of some of it.'
At first, I did not notice that the rest of the room had fallen silent, and that they were all staring at something behind monsieur Rousseau. In fact, I was honestly concerned about what could have caused my worry-free friend to be in such stress. That is, however, until I followed the gazes of the others to the doorway, where my eyes connected with a familiar sight. My mouth fell open and for what felt like an eternity, I could only stare.
'He really was a pain in the ass at times, but that is your problem now, I suppose,' Christophe grinned.
That is when the full force of reality finally hit me and, flying past him, I ran for the masked man standing in the doorway. Throwing myself around his neck, I could not care even a little about what the others thought. Heavens, I could not even care about what my parents thought. Tears welled up in my eyes and I tightened my grip on the fabric of his dress coat, determined to never let him go anymore.
'Angèlique, it would be great to get some air,' his wonderful, perfect voice whispered in my ear and with great reluctance, I pulled back.
'You're horrible,' I commented smilingly, the tears now freely flowing down my cheeks.
Wiping away the tear stains on my cheeks, I took hold of his arm and turned to my parents. 'Papa, maman, this is Erik.'
Realization sparked in my mother's eyes and she smiled knowingly. 'It is good to meet you, Erik. We've heard so much about you.'
To say that Erik was surprised about this was an understatement and it was easy to hear that it had thrown him off. 'I.. eh.. thank you, madame Fournier.'
'It is nice to meet you, monsieur. My son told me you are an artist, is that true?'
'I don't know if my daughter has ever told you about this, but I am a tailor myself, so it's wonderful to have a fellow artist in the family.'
'Papa!' I cried out, but with no result. My family was determined to make a fool out of themselves.
'Tailoring is indeed a form of fine art, monsieur. I must confess that I myself have not mastered the art completely, since there are only so many hours in a day and so many other things that I wished to learn, but I would be very happy to improve myself on this point.'
My father smiled at him, then looked at me approvingly.
It was at this moment that Christophe decided to speak again. 'Very well, I believe it's time for me to take my leave.'
'Won't you stay for dinner?' I asked him, ashamed of myself that I had completely forgotten about his presence for a moment.
He shook his head, smiling sadly 'I am afraid I have obligations to be elsewhere. Monsieur and madame Fournier, thank you for having me, I will let myself out.' With that – and a wave of his hat – he left.
'Angèlique, why don't you show the neighborhood to monsieur…'
'It's just Erik,' he politely said, charming my mother even more than he already had.
'Very well, Erik.'
I nodded, gesturing Erik to follow me. As we left the house, neither of us said a word. As charming as he could be when he wanted – as charming as he had just been to my parents – as silent was he now to me. I took this opportunity to study him.
On first sight, he looked pretty much the same as he had when I'd last seen him. His dark hair was slicked back, he was dressed in a black dress pants, coat and a white shirt and of course the white mask that covered half of his face. It struck me as surprising that no one had brought it up yet, though I was sure they would do so before the day was over. I was just glad that they hadn't just yet. Anyways, on closer study, I noticed he looked younger, healthier even. He looked as if a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders, as if he had indeed – as I'd hoped – found peace outside of Paris.
'Why have you come?' I asked him, finally breaking the silence.
'I missed you,' he answered simply, as if it were such a logical thing.
'Then why didn't you write me? Why didn't you ask Christophe to at least tell me how you were doing? I was worried, you know!'
He sighed, looking down. 'Because at first I thought you deserved better.'
My face softened at hearing the confession. 'What made you change your mind?'
'Your friend, for one thing.' He laughed. 'He wouldn't stop urging me to go to you. I don't know if that was because he wanted to help or if he was just desperate to get rid of me, though.'
'What's the other thing?'
'That I didn't. I just realized that I couldn't live without seeing you and that I was too selfish to do what was right.'
Taking hold of his hand, I squeezed it softly. 'You did do what was right.'
Silence ensued once more and I absent-mindedly looked at the houses we passed. Erik, too, was engaged in thought and I couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking about. Could it be the same thing that was currently occupying my thoughts? 'So what does this mean?'
'That you came.'
He sighed, running his free hand through is hair. 'I don't know really. All I know is that I had to see you, or I would go mad. And now I am here, I never want to leave anymore.'
He smiled sadly. 'I am selfish, Angèlique, but not so much that I would force myself into your life as I did to Christine.'
I sighed 'Erik, I know I am nothing special, but I want you to know that I still stand by my feelings. I still love you. And although you might not feel the same way, might only see me as a friend, I still wanted you to know..' Staring down at my hands, I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, dreading the rejection that would soon follow. 'Just forget wha..-'
'I love you, too.'
Looking up, I stared at him in utter shock. For a moment, I doubted my own mind, suspecting it to have made up things so I would not be disappointed. But then I saw the look in his eyes, the smile that graced his beautifully sculpted lips and couldn't help but offer him a smile of my own.
Without thinking about it, I went to stand on my toes, bringing me to eye-level with him, and pressed my lips against his, savoring the soft, warm feel of them. They were the lips of an angel, nay a phantom, and I knew at that moment that I would never want to kiss any other lips than those.
Pulling back, I laid my head against his chest, listening to the beating of his heart. 'I really do love you, monsieur.'
I heard him laugh 'And I love you, mademoiselle. But are you sure you want to be in love with the Phantom of the Opera.'
'No,' I said, shaking my head 'I want to be in love with Erik.'
And so it was settled. A new beginning to an exciting life. And I was glad I would get to spend it with Erik. For despite his flaws, he was the only one who knew me through and through. He knew how to make me cry, how to make me smile, how to make me happy. But most of all: he knew how to make me feel alive. He still sang to me in my sleep, he still came to me in my dreams, but now he was also there when I would wake up in the morning. He would not just make me feel at ease in the night, but would also stand by my side at day. He was not just a ghost in the shadows anymore, but the man that I would have by my side for every day for the rest of my life.
I know they say that happy endings only happen in stories for children, but I knew at that moment that my tale, too, had gotten one. Only was this not the ending. It was the beginning..