Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 28 of 64

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Erik pulled back from the kiss feeling giddy and guilty. He searched her countenance for an indication of her feelings. Her eyes were still closed. He didn't blame her - if he had to look at himself, he'd be reluctant to open his eyes as well. Her color had returned; she was flushed to the point of looking feverish. Her brow was wrinkled in thought. While her eyes were closed, he wiped the tears from his face and quickly tied the mask back on. "Christine, it's safe to look. The mask is on."

She opened her eyes, but the thoughtful look remained. "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry for?" Erik felt her fingers tighten on his.

"I didn't do that well. I should have been able to look. I should have been able to stay..." Distress made her voice tight and rough.

Erik slid out of the chair and sat on the floor beside her. He put his arm around her shoulders and gently pulled her to lean against him. Having another person so close was a delicious feeling; it occurred to him that he could easily spend the rest of his life this way.

"Don't say that. Don't demean this."

"But Erik..."

"You don't even know what you've done, do you..." He picked up her hand, hesitating only a moment before kissing her fingertips. "How many people - men and women combined - do you think there are who have seen me without the mask on and come back to me with kindness?"

"I don't..."

"Not including you, there are two. My father and Nadir Khan, my music teacher. Just two, and they both have known me from infancy. And neither of them has ever touched me as you just did. Certainly neither of them kissed me. That was my first kiss, Christine. And this is my first date, with my first dance."

"But I had to leave the room. I couldn't stay." She pressed against him and pulled his arm tighter around her. He was forgiving her for her moment of weakness, and in so doing he was stealing what remained of her heart.

"Is there a mess in my bathroom?"

"Huh?" A moment later she realized what he meant. "No."

"I didn't think so. The first time I saw myself after the last surgery, I vomited. If you did not, you took it better than I did. You did very well. You were brave. Even the nurses used to look away when they changed the bandages." It was true. Some of the nurses had drawn lots to see who had to care for him.

"You wouldn't say it, but I know I hurt you - your feelings. I want to do better next time."

"You want there to be a next time? Why?"

"It's you," she said, as though that explained everything.

"I don't know. I don't like scaring you, Christine." Candlelight flickered against the side of her face, illuminating her profile. Erik couldn't resist touching her cheek, then he realized he no longer had to resist touching her. She tilted her head towards his caress.

"I won't be frightened next time. That part is over." She put her hand on top of his in a vague reminder of his actions on the bus. "The worst is over. My secret is out, your secret is out... I think that now it's just a matter of coming to be used to it."

The worst is over... Erik smiled. He had to smile; that simple statement was true for him in ways she couldn't begin to imagine. The worst was over. It had taken many desperate years, but the worst finally was over. "That won't be as easy as you make it sound."

"No. I didn't think it would be. I won't lie to you. It will probably be a long time before I can look and be entirely comfortable with...with what I see."

"That's good."

"How can that possibly be good?" Christine was beginning to wonder if Erik wasn't slightly unhinged.

He gently disentangled himself from her, moving around until he sat facing her. "Christine, you see yourself all wrong. It's a good thing I'm here to know what you really mean," he teased.

She sighed in exasperation. "And what do I really mean?"

He held up two fingers, folding them down as he spoke. "First, your reaction to seeing me: you think it means that you failed me somehow. But what it really means is that you are willing to try to be matter how much it frightens you. Second, you say that it will be a long time before you are comfortable with what you see. Again, you think that means you're failing me, but it really means you intend to be around for a long time. You're not going to disappear. And that's better than good."

"But I can't get used to it if you wear that thing," Christine flicked her fingers at the mask, "all the time."

"True. But I think we've both had enough for tonight."

She was in the middle of nodding her agreement when her eyes popped wide. "Did you say 'tonight'?" she asked.


A glance around revealed that the candles, which had been new and freshly lit upon her arrival, were burnt down to little more than flaming stubs in pools of hot paraffin. Some had gone out entirely. She looked at her watch. It was nearly seven-thirty. "Crud! I still have to get down to the laundromat and wash my work clothes for tomorrow, go grocery shopping, clean my place, get in some time on my cello, and somewhere in there I need to have dinner and sleep. Crapola!" As she spoke she stood up and grabbed her flute to disassemble it.

Erik almost groaned aloud in disappointment, but made his way to the kitchen. "I'll make a sandwich for you while you get your things together. Have dinner at the same time you ride the bus home; it will save you time."

"Thank you!" The flute was neatly stowed in its case. She hunted around for her CD case and purse. The time had passed so quickly!

Soon Erik stood at the door, a sandwich wrapped neatly in a paper towel in his hand. Christine took the sandwich from him and was about to dash out the door, but stopped herself. This was no way to end such an amazing date.

"Thank you so much for today. This was the most wonderful date I've ever had in my entire life." She pulled him into a hug, then stood on her tiptoes to give him a little kiss. "But Erik...never apologize to me for the way you look again. If you do, I will bring Meg over here with a music rack and take no responsibility for her ensuing actions." With that threat lingering in the air, she turned and jogged down the hall. The bus she needed to catch would be there in a few minutes - she would have to run all the way to the bus stop to catch it.

From the doorway, Erik watched her run down the hall, one hand resting on his tingling lips. When she was halfway to the stairwell door he said, "Goodnight Christine. I love you," in a quiet voice, not knowing whether or not he hoped she could hear him. She didn't slow or look back, so he assumed she had not heard.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 28 of 64

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