Continuing Tales

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 15 of 64

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Binary

Christine logged off, knowing that she had touched him without any word from him. Tomorrow, they could discuss it. Tonight she wanted to go to sleep - and sleep was very near her, now - knowing that sheíd moved him with her own music. Her narrow bed felt soft and inviting. Upon lying down, she felt the toll that standing all day took on her body. In a few breaths, she was deeply asleep.

Christine was a different woman at work the next day. The tip jar in front of the cash register quickly filled as she charmed almost every customer with an unusually sunny disposition. Meg constantly shot knowing looks her way. During a brief break, Christine hummed a bit of her composition for her friend. She said nothing of Erikís explosion.

"Thatís really pretty, Christine. Seriously. Have you actually written it down?"

"I know I should, but it seems wrong, somehow. Itíll look so flattened out on paper." Christine leaned over the sink to examine her reflection in the paper towel dispenser. Sheíd put on some lip gloss that morning on a whim. The little gesture had left her feeling markedly more attractive all day.

"I hope you have it well-memorized, then. It would be a real pity if you Ďlostí it." Meg was actively refraining from mentioning the shine on her friendís lips and eyes. She truly had the look of a woman in love. It was a strange look for Christine. Meg realized that, though her friend had dated several guys, sheíd never actually been in love. Good for you, Christine. I hope it is love, and not just infatuation.

Christine stepped close to Meg and spoke in a whisper, as though relating some great secret. "I canít forget it, Meg. All I have to do it speak with him, and it comes flooding in my mind. Even though I composed it, itís a melody all his own."

Meg just shook her flaming red hair and smiled. She didnít understand how such a connection could be formed over an electronic medium, but it warmed her to see Christine floating lightly through the day, instead of suffering every moment. She noted the sudden appearance of lip gloss with little surprise. Her friend had it bad, and she hadnít even met the guy yet.

--- --- --- --- --- --- ---

Erik sat quietly in front of his monitor, looking at the log-off message. Just as heíd disappeared the night before, sheíd chosen to disappear tonight. Fairís fair, he decided. He checked the clock. It was only ten p.m., there was plenty of night left ahead of him. Curiously enough, he discovered that he felt sleepy. There was work to be done with a deadline of noon the next day. Normally, he would have done that work over night, sent it in and slept until noon. Tonight, he set his alarm for seven the next morning, and settled in for one of the best nightís sleep heíd had in years.

The next morning, he woke to see the sun and -for once- didnít curse its light. The editing job was quickly done. There were four hours to blow between now and Christineís much anticipated appearance. Erik was a little worried about tonight. The question was a difficult one, to say the least. How could he explain why he was not a performer without giving everything away? Much like Christine and her lip gloss, Erik decided purely on a whim to do something very unusual. He decided to take a walk through Carkeek park while he mulled his problem. It was a beautiful place and had a wildness left in it that called to him.

It was a chilly, wet Spring day. Erik donned hiking boots, a pair of well-worn jeans, and a thick black hooded sweatshirt. Finally, he tied his mask on and pulled the hood up over his head to obscure the mask. Going out during the day meant stares and whispers; he was determined not to mind. If Christine was going to see him, he had to be able to deal with a little staring.

He walked from the bus stop to the gates of the park, savoring the cool breeze and the rare breakthrough of sunshine that warmed the top of his head and his shoulders. He stood for a moment and watched the people. Grandparents and grandchildren, husbands and wives, lone hikers, lovers, and roaming crowds of teenagers wandered here and there, enjoying the natural beauty surrounding them. Erik marveled at their freedom, their ease with one another. He found his way to the shore, where the crowds were a bit sparser. There were still plenty of people around to watch, but it no longer seemed as overwhelming.

The sun stayed out, instead of pulling back behind the clouds as was its wont in this corner of the world. A young couple passed only a few feet away from him. They were both beautiful in a messily groomed, bohemian way, and they were clearly deeply smitten with each other. He found that he couldnít tear his eyes away from the way the boy rested his arm lightly on her shoulders while hers twined around the boyís waist possessively. Two people, one soul. I wonder if they know how beautiful they are? he thought with a only trace of his customary bitterness. Longing was replacing the bitterness in his heart. If he and Christine were to walk this beach together, they wouldnít make nearly as pretty a picture, but the feeling...

A breeze blew his hood back. Erik felt the sun on his hair, felt it warming his black leather mask even as the steady breeze cooled it. He walked down the beach a way, and stopped to watch a mothersí group. Six young women stood on the beach watching a huddled group of kids sitting and digging in the wet sand. The scene was idyllic.

But fate could not allow Erik to enjoy such peace for long. The ties on his mask had become loose. Just as two of the young mothers took notice of the strange masked man staring at them and their children, a particularly strong gust of wind blew the mask off his face. Quick as lightning, Erikís hand flashed out and caught the treasonous thing, but it was too late. The screams of women and children assailed him. The last thing he saw as he turned and fled, pulling his hood over his head as he ran, was the panicked faces of young mothers gathering their screaming children to them.

--- - - - ---

Christine logged on at four oíclock sharp to find Erik waiting for her. Before she could type out her greeting, a message popped up on the screen.

AngelofMusic: Turn on voice.

minorchord: Ok. Whatís up?

AngelofMusic: Just do it.

Feeling a bit miffed, Christine briefly considered refusing until he explained himself to her, but she was still floating on the golden cloud sheíd been on all day and was feeling forgiving. She opened Voicechat and turned on her camera.

"Whatís up, Erik?"

Her voice. Her sweet voice.

"The answer to the next question is Valliere. My last name is Valliere." Erikís voice was shaking and his words were strained.

"Whatís wrong?" Christine had never heard so much emotion in his voice before. Worry creased her brow and threatened to steal her breath. "What happened? Are you ok?"

Her concern was like a knife; it cut him to the quick, but he savored the pain. She actually cared. It had been many, many years since someone other than Nadir had cared how he felt.

"No. Iím not ok. Christine, play something for me. Anything beautiful. Just play. Make me forget..." his voice broke off. All she could hear was his ragged breathing.

"Itís ok, Erik. Whatever it is, itíll be ok." There was no response. "This is Suo-Gan. Itís a Welsh lullaby my mother used to sing to me. I think they used it in Empire of the Sun." She liftedher flute to her lips and played as gently and soothingly as she knew how. When she was done, she set the flute aside and sat back, trying to think how she could be of comfort.

"Will you tell me what happened now?"

Erik could not remember the last time he had turned to another person for comfort. He had to admit that the sweet lullaby had done its work. The image of screaming women and children had faded a bit, but could he tell her what had happened?

"No, Christine. Iím sorry. I canít tell you. But...youíll know soon enough." He paused and sighed. Despite the long sleep heíd gotten the night before, he felt immeasurably tired. "How about you, Christine? Whatís your last name?"

"Daae." She spelled it out for him. "Itís an unusual last name. No one ever spells it correctly. But, Erik, if something happened..."

"Itís beautiful," he interrupted her gently. Would you care to sing a bit? Iíd like to see how you are doing with technique."

Christine considered his strange mood. He was being kind, his voice gentle. Whatever had happened, it had shaken him badly. She acquiesced to his suggestion that she sing. Erik demanded perfection, and after an hour she was exhausted. They passed the rest of the evening in quiet conversation about politics and new music. Only once did Christine attempt to ask what had happened. Erik immediately steered the conversation in a different direction.

When it came time to log off, Christine looked at the camera shyly and said, "Iím sorry something upset you today. If I were there, Iíd hug you and make you for get all about it." It didnít seem such a strange thing to say. She and Meg gave each other "phone hugs" all the time.

"Thank you, Christine. Sleep well," is what Erik said aloud. After she logged out, he muttered, "No you wouldnít," and picked up his violin.

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 15 of 64

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