Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 21 of 64

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Erik helped Christine maneuver her cello down the narrow walkway on the bus without bumping too many people. It was early in the evening; most people had already left the park, so the bus was running at about half capacity. Erik folded his length into the window seat, the bags under his knees, and his violin in his lap. Christine sat in the aisle seat, holding onto her cello. She noticed that Erik had lapsed into a morose silence. The ride to her stop would take more than thirty minutes; a long time, if he sat silent as a rock the whole way.

"Erik? Are you ok?"

He smiled at her, trying not to feel trapped. He'd always hated the buses, but he didn't go out enough to warrant the expense of maintaining a vehicle. "Yes, Little Latte, I'm ok." She was with him. He wasn't alone. Erik forced the trapped feeling to give way to the warmth he'd felt as they played together. She was amazing. Hetried to make conversation.

"You know why I don't perform. But you... I don't understand why I don't own one of your CDs, or why I haven't purchased a recording of some Philharmonic, featuring you. Why don't you perform? You love it! I saw it in your eyes when you challenged me."

Christine closed her eyes. She'd hoped he would forget to ask, even though she knew he wouldn't. "It's very embarrassing. I don't like talking about it. But," and here she sighed, opened her eyes and looked at him, "you've gone past your comfort zone, so I don't have much of an argument, do I?"

Erik felt empathy for her, but he smirked and shook his head slowly, emphatically, from side to side. "I'm afraid not. Go ahead."

She turned her face away a little and spoke in a low tone. When I was younger, I was heavier than I am now. A lot heavier. I got that way because I didn't care what I looked like. It didn't matter, because I was playing my cello and my flute. I did perform then. My parents didn't want me in the limelight so much - they thought it would be unhealthy for me. It made my teachers very angry. They called me a prodigy, and told my parents they were wasting my talent. I didn't care. Performing at local theaters was fun, I loved it, but I didn't care whether I ever was on a major stage - just as long as I could play. When I graduated high school, my parents told me that now was my chance to bloom. They drove me to several different conservatories where I auditioned. I was accepted to every single one. I chose Lawrence, because it had beautiful grounds and was very old." She paused, remembering.

"Lawrence Conservatory. Impressive." Erik spoke more to keep her talking than to respond to anything she'd said.

"I suppose so. All I knew was that I was playing, people were impressed with me, and it looked like I was going to get to make a career out of doing the thing I loved most. You've seen me play; I'm not being conceited when I say that I'm very good. I suppose I was too good. I wasn't very popular. Many of the other students were angry at the attention I received from the professors. They teased me mercilessly because of my weight. The professors even noticed and would sometimes take the guilty ones to task, but it didn't matter to me. I just holed up in my room and played the days away. When I got lonely I called Meg - I know you don't like meeting people, but you really should meet Meg - and she made me feel better."

Erik interrupted her, and there was anger in his voice. "They didn't tease you because of your weight. They teased you because you were better than they were, and they knew it," he growled.

"Whatever the reason, I ignored it. And then there was the senior symphony performance. We...I don't want to make this a long story...the top six students in the senior class each had a solo. I was first in my class, so I had the final solo. During my solo, a couple of the kids who'd hated me the most...well, they got into the AV room. I was playing so well." The bitter old memories were bringing tears; Christine desperately did not want to cry.

Erik looked over at her, alarmed by the tremor in her voice. He saw that her eyes were wet, though no tear had escaped to her cheek. He lifted a hand to take hers, but his own fears overcame him. His hand wilted back to his lap. She was entrenched in memory and never noticed the gesture.

"They had a recording of cows mooing. And they played it over my performance. It was the first time their teasing made it past my music. They ruined my performance. I jumped up and ran. I was on a grey-hound bus for home the very next day. I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a bite here and there for months - that's how I lost most of the weight, so maybe it was a good thing."

Erik did take her hand then. The first time he'd dared to show his face in public, people had screamed and yelled things at him - he'd had a similar reaction, but there'd been no excess weight for him to lose. He only began eating again when the doctors threatened to feed him through a tube. She squeezed his hand, grateful for the support, but didn't look up.

"The professors called me and told me that the perpetrators had been expelled. The dean of students has been calling me every week for more than a year, begging me to come back and finish the few credits I abandoned. But I can't ever go back. Today, with you, was the first time I've performed since then. It felt good, but only because I was with you." She did look up then, and the look in his eyes brought Meg's warnings up in her mind. He looked furious, dangerous.

"Expelled. I wish I'd been there. I would have..." he was snarling the words and there was no doubt that he meant every one.

"No. You wouldn't, Erik. Because that would be wrong." His anger on her behalf both touched and alarmed her. This was the sort of man who would fight, or even kill, for the woman he loved. "It's in the past. I need to let it go...I just can't seem to yet." Christine fought for control. Tears wanted to fall, but now she was afraid that if Erik saw her crying he would do something drastic - like hunt down each of her tormentors.

"Hmmph," was his expansive response. He let go of her hand and turned to stare out the window. It was a nasty world that would bring down an angel like Christine. He hated it, hated that he could do nothing about it.

While he was in this blue study, Christine took the opportunity to study his face - or his mask. It covered his face from his upper lip to his hairline. It looked like leather; very soft, flexible black leather. She wondered what it felt like to wear a mask over one's entire face. I bet it's hot. I bet it gets really uncomfortable when the weather warms up.

Ever observant, Erik noticed her interest. It was normal for her to be curious about his mask; masks were not common pieces of apparel. Everyone was curious. He pretended to keep staring out the window, waiting to see what she would do.

Christine's curiosity began to get the better of her. She wanted to find out if her guess was correct; that the mask was soft leather. She raised her hand, meaning to touch just the edge, to see what it felt like. Her hand was within an inch of the black material when Eric turned, fast as a snake, and caught her wrist. His grip was not painfully tight, but Christine could feel the strength behind it. Her wrist may as well have been in a steel manacle.

"What, exactly, do you think you're doing?" His eyes had narrowed, his breath was rapid and shallow. His voice was quiet, but there was a threat in it that promised pain, and lots of it.

Christine had said she was not afraid of him. At the time, she hadn't been. She tried very hard to keep her calm. He was, after all, being gentle. He had not punched her in the face, as he had done to the other guy. He thinks I was trying to take it off. I don't want to take it off. "I wanted to feel your mask. I wanted to know what it's made of. Please let go of my arm, Erik."

Erik did not let go of her arm. He was too deep in believing that she had tried to betray him, to take off his mask on a city bus, where others would see and there would be no place to run. "Oh. Is that all," he hissed. "You weren't trying to unmask me? You weren't trying to humiliate me in front of all these people?" The questions were rhetorical.

"No. Erik. Let go of my arm. I don't want to take your mask off. I really was just curious about the material. That's it, that's all." She was trying to sound calm and unafraid, but the tone of his voice and the threat in his eyes was slowly undoing her. "You've trusted me this far and everything's been ok, hasn't it? Please, don't stop now."

She couldn't see it, but he'd quirked an eyebrow. "Trust you?" He sat back, still holding her wrist, still glaring ice at her. "And if I trust you, what will you do?"

"I'll put my hand in my lap and we can pretend this didn't happen."

He tightened his grip on her wrist, until the pressure became slightly uncomfortable. "You don't still want to touch it? See what it's made of? Satisfy that damned curiosity of yours?"

Christine wanted to cry now. She could taste it in the back of her throat. Butcrying would be a mistake. He would take it as an admission of guilt, and that would make her a liar in his eyes. He has to trust me. He's like this for a reason. There was a choice to be made here. She could tell him that she was no longer curious, and swear never to touch the stupid mask again, or she could be honest and tell him that she was still curious and deal with his reaction as it came. He was watching her with those furious black eyes. The choice had to be made soon.

"I do. I'm still curious, but I will put my hand in my lap. Erik, you are frightening me right now, and you are almost hurting me." Her voice was unsteady. She forced herself to keep eye-contact with him, hoping he would come to his senses soon.

The grip on her wrist instantly relaxed, but he did not let go. Instead, he gently, but inexorably, pulled her hand to his face, placing her palm on the cheek of his mask. She felt the perfectly soft leather under her trembling hand. Under the leather, she felt unnatural hardness and a sharp angle. It was easier to imagine a block of wood beneath the leather than a human face. Again, the uncomfortable thought resurfaced, drowning her fear. It is bad. Really bad. Can I handle that? Can I cope with his temper? Am I strong enough for this?

When she didn't flinch, and her expression held only an apologetic sadness, the rage flowed out of Erik as though someone had pulled a plug. The only thing she could see in his eyes now was pain, both physical and emotional. It hurt to have the full weight of both their hands on his face; the remaining skin was not enough to protect the damaged bone structure adequately. He slid her hand over his cheek and then returned it to her lap before letting go. He turned away from her, embarrassed and uncomfortable. There were only about ten minutes to go before her stop.

He heard her voice, subdued and soft. "I'm sorry."

They rode the rest of the way in silence.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 21 of 64

<< Previous     Home     Next >>