Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 20 of 64

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Erik arrived at the park on the three-thirty bus. He wanted to prepare himself, if he could. Now he was standing at the bus stop, covered in a cold sweat. His hands were shaking, his stomach was knotted tightly, and his knees felt numb. The handle of his violin case was slicked with sweat, making it difficult to grip. He wondered if she was feeling anything akin to this. Probably not, he decided. She's had dates before. A date? Was this a date? Nervousness began to bloom into panic. He checked his hood, which was snugly cinched around his mask. Despite the warm weather and the beautiful sunshine, the hood would stay up and the mask would stay on. There would be no accidental de-maskings this time.

The four o'clock bus pulled up to the shelter. The doors opened and people began to stream out, most of them casting curious glances towards the tall, thin masked man who stood nervously to one side of the door. Where is she, he wondered, before realizing that with all the equipment she was carrying she'd probably be the last one off the bus. What exquisite torture! And there she was.

To an unbiased observer, Christine would have looked like an ordinary short, plump girl with dark, frizzed hair, red lips, freckles, and entirely too much stuff in her hands. To Erik, she looked like an angel. He reflected that her web camera was terrible; it did her no justice. She'd come, as she said she would. In a pleasant dream, he watched her clamber down the steps and nearly pitch forward onto the pavement. It never occurred to him that he might go to her and help her until she'd already gotten herself straightened out. By then she'd spotted him and was waving, a nervous smile twitching at the corners of her lips.

"Hi. Erik, could you, uh, help me out here?" Christine gestured with the hand that was not clutching her cello case to all the bags piled around her. She suppressed a laugh when he suddenly snapped to attention and walked quickly to her side.

"Of course." He began gathering things into his arms without taking his eyes off of her.

Christine stared back. At first, she took in his height. He must stand over six feet tell, dwarfing her five feet and two inches. But, she thought, we weigh about the same thing. He was terribly thin. His clothes were clean, but starkly simple. She'd noticed his eyes before - it was impossible not to - but the camera had disguised their luster. They were so black that the pupil was invisible. The mask covered everything else; it only had two small slits in the nose space for him to breathe through. She didn't need to see anything else. His eyes had captivated her entirely.

They were standing three feet apart, staring at each other, still as statues. People passing by wondered if they were one of the strange "living art" pieces that sometimes cropped up in odd places in Seattle. That illusion was broken five minutes later when the panicky paranoia tormenting Erik forced him to speak.

"Why are you staring at me like that?"

Christine tipped her head to the side. She wasn't the only one doing the staring.

"Why are you staring at me like that?" she retorted sharply.

He blinked in surprise when she suddenly started laughing. The nervous tension that had been with her since her confrontation with Meg at the bistro finally boiled over. She laughed until she couldn't breathe. Tears streamed out her eyes and dripped onto her cello case. When she saw the little pools of water on her cello case, she looked up to Erik who was still staring at her, mute with horror. His frozen posture and confused gaze redoubled her laughter until her stomach muscles were as weak and jiggly as Jell-O. When she had finally gotten herself under control except for the occasional spurt of giggles, she wiped her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. Erik still looked horrified, but he was also beginning to look hurt.

"Oh, Erik. I'm sorry. I am. I'm not laughing at you...I'm laughing at us." She waited for understanding to dawn. When it didn't, she tried again. "We've been talking for months and months, we never run out of things to say, and when we finally get together what do we do? We stand there and stare at each other like a couple of mannequins. Come on. Help me carry this stuff somewhere where we can sit down and be comfortable."

She began walking and he followed, still silent. This was not going as he imagined. With Christine, nothing ever went as he imagined it would. She had set down her cello case and was spreading the blanket on a swath of verdant grass. Swallowing his bruised pride, he helped her smooth the blanket and set out the sandwiches.

"Would you like chicken or tuna?" Christine asked.

"Chicken, please." Erik took the proffered sandwich and began to eat. He realized he was still staring at Christine. In a flash of insight, he got the joke. A slow, warm smile spread across his face. "It is funny, isn't it..." he remarked, between bites. She just grinned up at him.

It seemed to Erik that the same crowd of people from Carkeek Park had decided to come to Interlaken Park today. They milled about on their own business, not paying Christine and Erik the least bit of attention. He realized that he was not uncomfortable, and pondered over that for awhile. It was because he was not a thing apart from them; this time, he was among them.



"It's really beautiful out here." The last bite of his sandwich disappeared in one big swallow.

"We could make it even more beautiful...Want a brownie?"

Never one for sweets, Erik almost shook his head, but then he took it. She had made these brownies. He ate one slowly, gaining a new appreciation for chocolate deserts as he did. The lazy atmosphere of the brilliant Spring day infected both of them. They chewed slowly and watched people walk, bike, and skate by.

"How?" Erik asked.

"How what?"

"How could we make it more beautiful? Everything seems impossibly perfect already."

Christine finished her brownie, stood up and stretched languorously. She strolled over to her cello, opened the case and took it out with a satisfied smile. Turning the case on its side, she sat down on it and began rosining her bow. "I see you also brought your weapon of choice. Why don't you pull it out and let's see what kind of magic we can make?"

Erik flipped open the catches to his violin and tuned up to match Christine's tunings. He felt oddly excited. He could not wrap his mind around the idea that this day had come so quickly, that they were moments away from making music together. She caught his eye and winked.

"Remember when we talked about Schulhoff?" she asked.

"You said you 'didn't prefer' Schulhoff."

"Yes, but you said you loved Schulhoff." She looked down, suddenly shy. "So, I learned Schulhoff. The duo for violin and cello. I learned to like Schulhoff. There's more there than I originally thought."

"For me? You learned it for me?" Erik asked, in complete disbelief. "It's an immense piece!"

"Yes, Erik, I learned it for you. You claimed to already know it. Shall we?"

No more urging was necessary. Erik began to play, and Christine chimed in at her cue. Staring into one another's eyes, no laughter this time, the two musicians floated away on a musical cloud. A crowd began to gather, people sat on the grass and stood in clumps around the impromptu performance. The performers didn't notice in the least. By the time they'd played all four movements, the crowd had grown to nearly three hundred people who burst into spontaneous applause as the breeze carried away the last notes.

That got their attention. Christine had expected a small crowd. She had even expected a smattering of applause. The thundering ovation that crashed down on them was far beyond her expectations. She looked over to Erik. He was staring at the crowd, his eyes wide and bright. He looked very much like a frog paralyzed in the beam of a flashlight. He was moving slowly, like a man trying not to attract the attention of a wild and potentially vicious animal.

"I think we've been spotted,' she whispered.

"Christine, we're surrounded," he whispered back. "How are we going to get out of here?"

"Why, that's simple! We play an encore, pack up, and leave." She was smiling now. Before the Conservatory, Christine had liked nothing better than performing. The adrenaline rush, the energy, the pride...memories flooded back, making her eyes sparkle and her grin widen.

"Are you crazy?" he hissed. "They are all staring at me!"

"No. They aren't staring at you. They are staring at us. And they love us." Christine bowed slightly, bringing another round of applause. The crowd continued to swell, curious passers-by stopped to find out what all the fuss was. "Erik, you told me you were good, that you could play anything. I challenge you. Do you remember the piece I wrote for you?"

"I'll never forget it."

"If I played it now, do you think you could weave a counterpoint through it?"

"Indubitably." Now his eyes glittered at the challenge. Her excitement and the utter joy on her face lent him courage. She'd begun to play, softly and sweetly. I love you, he thought deliriously, and I will make you love me. I don't know how, but it will happen. Erik easily played counterpoint to her composition. Together, they cast a spell over the crowd. When it was done, they both stood and bowed to cheers and loud clapping. Christine reached over and took Erik's hand in hers. She bowed one last time, but he just stood there, feeling her warm hand encircling his.

"That's all for today. Thank you for listening! Have a wonderful evening!" Christine announced, and turned to pack up her things amidst sighs of disappointment. After a moment, Erik caught on and carefully stowed his violin.

"They liked it," he murmured, amazed.

"No. I already told you. They loved it." Christine was smiling broadly. "Walk me back to the bus?"


"Join me at my place for coffee?"

His stunned stare melted into a smile and gave her her answer.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 20 of 64

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