Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 17 of 64

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Christine practiced cello first. She strongly believed in moving from strength to weakness. Playing her cello helped her work out some of the jitters that had been plaguing her all morning. She did not want to have this conversation with Erik. She wanted to pretend that she had never seen his criminal history, but that would truly be foolish. She couldn't imagine how he'd react. After whatever happened to him yesterday, this could be the last straw. But, as she told Meg, she had to know.

Around two, he appeared. She waited for him to send her a message first.

AngelofMusic: Christine? Are you there?

minorchord: I am here. We need to talk.

Erik's heart careened painfully against his ribcage. He'd never been in a relationship before, but he knew those words usually were a death-knell.

AngelofMusic: Voicechat?

minorchord: No. Your voice would influence me, I think.

AngelofMusic: You are worrying me, Christine.

minorchord: You gave me your last name. I searched for you on Google. I found out about you.

His heart stopped racing and stood still. She'd found out?

AngelofMusic: What did you find, Little Latte?

minorchord. Don't call me that. Not until you've explained about the assault.

AngelofMusic: Oh. That. It was a fight.

minorchord: Why? Who? Erik, I thought you were a better man than that.

He was glad they were not in Voicechat. The disappointment in her voice and face would have killed him on the spot.

AngelofMusic: I was younger. Young and stupid is the phrase, I think.

minorchord: And that's the truth? The entire truth? You were young and stupid, you got in a fight,

and that's the whole of the story.

AngelofMusic: Essentially, yes. A man was ridiculing me. I was young and stupid. I punched

him. I hurt him quite badly.

minorchord: A guy made fun of you, and you attacked him?

AngelofMusic: It sounds bad, but it's more complex than that.

minorchord: If you can justify it, Erik, I suggest you go ahead.

AngelofMusic: Why do I have to justify anything to you? What good will it do either of us?

minorchord: It depends. Oh, go ahead and turn on voice. I can't do this in instant messages.

AngelofMusic: Done.

"Ok. You can hear me, and you can see me - right?"

"Yes." He sounded wary.

"I can only hear you, but it will have to be enough. It's not fair, though, and you know it isn't." Christine had not openly complained about that before, but she was laying everything on the line now.

"Less fair than you know."

"Stop that! Stop being cryptic! Erik, I am going to tell you why you need to justify this thing to me. I am not going to be cryptic. I like you. And I think I could come you...a great deal more. But I can't do that if you are the sort of person who is going to lose his temper and be violent. So justify it to me, Erik. Please." She was facing the camera, flushed with frustration. Her hair had escaped its bonds and was falling over her face.

"You like me?" He sounded like a child, then. The power was gone and his voice was small and vulnerable.

"Yes. I like you. What I know of you. But you constantly remind me that I don't know much about you, because you are afraid to tell me. I'm a grown woman, Erik. I really don't have the time or energy for high school games anymore."

She likes me? he thought. "Christine, there are three questions left. Why don't I perform, what conclusions do I expect you to draw, and do I have a girlfriend. If you can give me a couple of hours to go take care of some business, I will answer all those questions and justify my past actions to you. If there's a chance that you could truly grow like me, I'll do that. Can you give me two hours?"

Christine's curt, impatient, "Yes," was like a blessing.

"Two hours. Maybe less."

AngelofMusic has logged off.

Christine wanted to call Meg, but she refrained. For one and a haf hours she sat in front of the computer absently playing little tunes on her cello. It kept trying to flow into his song, but she would not let it. The mystery would end tonight, one way or another.

When he reappeared, she hurriedly set her cello aside.

AngelofMusic: Ok. Christine, click on the webcam session. I'm there. Try to keep an open mind.

That's all I ask.

minorchord: Are you serious?

AngelofMusic: Before I lose my courage. Go ahead.

When she moved the mouse to open the webcam session, she found that her fingers were trembling. The window opened, and there he was. Erik's camera had far better resolution than hers. She saw a tall, lanky man with untrimmed shaggy black hair falling over his masked (masked!) face, sitting in a brown leather computer chair staring at his computer screen with the most intense black eyes she'd ever seen.

"Erik? Why are you wearing a mask?" Christine asked.

"That's the sixty-five thousand dollar question, isn't it, Little Latte? And it's the answer to all your questions. Why did I have a fight? The guy tried to take my mask off. I broke his face for that. Why don't I perform? Because no orchestra would have me - not unless I took the mask off, and then they really wouldn't have me. What conclusions did I expect you to draw from the fact that I wouldn't use a webcam? I expected you to conclude that I must be terribly ugly. And I am. Do I have a girlfriend? No. I don't. Nor do I ever expect to have one." Erik paused to breathe. Christine was sitting very still, very solemn. "Do you remember, Christine, that you almost didn't meet with me because you were afraid I wouldn't like how you look? I laughed when you said that. I laughed because of the irony. So, have I justified myself enough for you? I hope so, because I won't show you what's under this thing. I won't show you because...I like you, too. We will talk tonight. I'll show you my one-of-a-kind Leonhardt violin. But when we log off...will you come back tomorrow? Now that you've seen me, will I ever see you again?" "

Christine continued her solemn, quiet examination of him. "It's still not right to beat someone up. It's just barbaric. A wise man I knew once said that music is the closest a human being can get to peace. And you are closer to music than anyone else I know. What happened yesterday?"

"The truth?"

"From now on, tell me nothing but the truth, please." She could feel his tension, his vulnerability. Christine was very careful to keep her voice gentle and kind, but firm.

"You made me happy with that beautiful cello piece you wrote for me. I felt normal - I felt human - for the first time in many years. I went for a walk in Carkeek Park. My mask blew off. Women screamed, children cried. I needed you to make me feel human again. You are the only person who could have done it. Thank you, Christine. Thank you for giving me back my humanity."


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 17 of 64

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