Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 27 of 64

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"You said you might have something to tell me tonight. Do you remember what it was?"

She nodded against his chest, reluctant to speak. This moment was perfect; she had little inclination to ruin it. Erik waited several seconds before he realized that she was not going to answer further.

"What was it?"

"I wanted to see how tonight felt, first. And I suppose it's more of a question than something I want to tell you..." Christine stopped their slow side-to-side motion and met his eyes. Their usual hard gleam was gone, in its place was same soft expression he wore when he played his violin.

"Ask me."

"If I were to try to kiss you, would you let me?"

If the ceiling had suddenly fallen in on his head, Erik could not have been more stunned. His mouth began making words without help from his brain. "You...a" he stammered. She was nodding, beginning to look abashed. He wrenched back control of his mouth and said, "You don't want to kiss me, Christine. Do you?" Nadir's words came back to him, too late. "It's dangerous to tell a woman how she feels..."

"Actually, yes, I do."

" don't know what you'd be kissing. So, no, I wouldn't let you."

"Only because of that?" Christine gestured at his mask. "Not because you...don't want to?"

"Christine, I'd love to kiss you, but it wouldn't be fair to you."

"What feels unfair is that you won't. Your stupid mask is the only thing between us and..." Christine literally bit her tongue. She knew she'd gone too far, but that seemed to be status quo for her in this relationship.

Instead of becoming angry, as she expected, Erik took her hands gently in his. Apprehension and hope mixed in his eyes. "Between us and what, Christine?"

"Tonight? Between us and a kiss. Between you and me. What happened to your face, Erik? Were you born that way? Were you burned?" As she asked, she pulled his hands back around her waist and slipped her arms around his.

This was the moment Nadir had been talking about. Christine was asking him for the truth. It was the perfect opportunity, if only he could make himself answer her. He drew her closer and began swaying to the music again, trying to find that comfortable, hypnotic place. She didn't pull away or resist, and after a while, he found the courage to speak. "When I was a baby they performed a minor operation to correct a little problem with my sinuses. There was an infection that damaged the skin. When they tried to correct that damage, my body rejected the skin graft. I guess that was where everything started."


"Yes. They tried over and over again to fix the damage, but every time they tried, they just made it worse. By the time they gave up..."

"How many times did they...try?" That was a gentler version of what Christine truly wanted to ask, which was, "How many times did they cut you, Erik?"

"I don't even remember anymore. More than twenty-five, less than a hundred? I was sixteen when they stopped. By the time they gave up, there was hardly anything left." This was going so much more smoothly than he'd imagined. She was still near, still holding him. She didn't look repulsed - not yet, at least. Nadir told him to tell her the truth. "They damaged the nerves and the bone, so anything more than a light touch hurts. But a very light touch doesn't hurt at all."

" hurt at other times?"

"Sometimes. It comes and goes. It's nothing I can't handle."

The music stopped, silence descended, but they continued in their slow dance.

"I can't imagine always having to wear a mask. It must be..." she trailed off, not knowing how to finish.

"Like you said earlier, it's always between me and, well, everything...everyone. I get a lot of stared and whispers when I go out. So I just don't go out."

"It sounds lonely."

"It was lonely."

Christine did not miss the importance of the word "was". Her arms tightened around him protectively. She felt him take a deep breath and become tense.

"Do you want to see? I'll warn you ahead of time that I am not being melodramatic when I say that it's monstrous. I can't stand to look at myself. It really is horrible. But if you want to see, I'll let you."

This was the moment they'd both dreaded. For Erik, it was the moment of love or loss. For Christine, it was the test of the love she thought she felt for this man.

"Why would you let me see?" Her voice was as tense as his body. She could not speak louder than a whisper. "Not just to appease my curiosity, I hope..."

"No. You told me to trust you, do you remember that? I think I do, now. I think I can."

"Will it frighten me?" The question felt cruel to ask, but she had to know what he thought. "What do you think will happen if I see?"

"I think it will frighten you. If you'd asked me this morning, before you arrived, I would have said that you'd scream, run from me, and never look back." Tell her the truth...tell her the truth... "But now...I think you may be frightened, but you might not run."

"If I am frightened by your face it will hurt your feelings," she stated flatly.

"Of course." He sighed. "But if you just didn't run...that alone would be a sort of magic."

"I'm already frightened," she admitted. "but I'm still here. What does it look like?"

Erik tried to think how best to describe the mess under the mask to her. "It's...ok...the skin is really all that's left in some places, stretched tight over the bone. In other places you can...this is really hard for me." His voice was caught in his throat; adrenaline coursed through his veins, making him shake. He forced himself to continue against the choking anxiety. "In some places, you can see the muscles, the veins. I don't...there isn't really a nose. It's bad, Christine, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

She just nodded. "Do you want me to see you?"

"No. Yes. Both." He stopped, regrouped and tried to explain. "No, I don't want to lose the only...friend...I have. Yes, I want you to know. I'm dumb enough to hope that you might..." care for me anyway "...not run."

"I can't run if I'm sitting down." Christine pulled out of his grasp and took a seat on the edge of his computer chair.

"Are you sure about this?"

"No, but I'm as sure as I think I can be. What was your line? 'Before I lose my courage.'"

Erik came and knelt in front of her. He reached back to undo the ties, but her hands stopped his.

"Let me, please. I'll be very gentle." She hoped that having some control over the situation might ease her reaction.


"Together." she murmured. "Don't let me hurt you."

"You will, but it's ok."

Christine untied the strings of his mask, then took the edges lightly in her fingers and slowly lowered it. He'd told her the truth - every detail. Her numb fingers dropped the light leather, but his were there to catch it. He forced himself to wait through her shock without covering himself.

Her hand rose to her mouth, muffling her voice. "Oh my god." Christine shut her eyes, squeezed them closed, then opened them again, bit by bit. Her stomach lurched, making her gag. His face was like a Hollywood styling of a mangled corpse.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry. So sorry." He couldn't stop apologizing for the face that wasn't his fault.

She stood slowly and deliberately, and stepped away from him on legs that did not really want to support her weight. "I'm...going to the bathroom. When I come back..."

"I'll have the mask on. I promise."

"No. No. Don't. Have your violin out. ready." As quickly as was possible on her treacherous legs, Christine hurried to the restroom leaving a very confused man kneeling in the agony of suspense on the floor behind her.

Once in the safety of the bathroom, Christine bent her head over the toilet, waiting for the nausea to pass. She willed herself not to throw up; the battle lasted several minutes. Once she was convinced that she'd won, Christine moved to the sink and splashed cold water on her face, not caring that it ruined her makeup. She had to go back in there and face him, and she must not run. Frantic thoughts crowded her mind. Think of his music. Think of his cooking. Think of his dancing. That's still Erik in there. It's still him. I can handle this. I have to handle this. She held these thoughts as she walked back into the living room. She saw that he was sitting in the computer chair, facing the wall, holding his violin. She opened her flute case and assembled the myriad little pieces.

Erik heard her come back to the room. He listened as she put her flute together. Moments later, her soft hand touched his hair, smoothing it. Tears flooded his eyes and threatened to escape. She hadn't run. She was touching him.

"Play something for me," she said, and though her voice trembled, she sounded sure. "Turn around, please. I need to see you play. I'll accompany you. It will help me remember"

He turned, his violin already under his chin, the bow already on the strings. Erik closed his eyes to avoid seeing her expression and felt the tears roll down his face. Letting her see him cry seemed a mere trifle now. He was playing the piece she'd written for him; she played his counterpoint. As it always did, the music changed him. Christine could make herself look at him again; it was still painful to see his face, but at least there was no more nausea. When the music ended, she set her flute on the computer table and waited for whatever came next. Setting his violin aside, Erik reached out for her blindly, not knowing what he expected her to do. His hand met hers. She took it and came to him, kneeling as he had knelt.

"You can open your eyes now."

He opened his eyes and made himself look into hers. She looked frightened. Her face was dead-white. Dark circles had appeared under her eyes. She was still here, though. Her hand was in his.

Wryly, he asked, "Do you still want that kiss?"

To his -and her - unending surprise, Christine closed her eyes and said, "Yes."

The kiss was a tiny thing, only a dry peck on the lips, but it thundered through both of them, shaking them to the core.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 27 of 64

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