Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 35 of 64

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The episode with 'Jonathan' had sensitized Christine to a world of stares and whispers. One they'd left the crowd where the whispers were all about who the mysterious musicians might be, the whispers changed. They were no longer murmurings of admiration. Mostly, they consisted of variations on, "Look, that guy's wearing a mask. Weird." The whisperers had no malicious intent; they were simply commenting on a strange phenomenon and bringing their companions' attention to it. Not without some shame, she realized that she would have done the same if she'd been with Meg and Erik had passed by. She knew Erik heard them, too. His ears were sharper than hers.

They climbed onto the bus, claiming the front seats this time. The first few miles passed in silence; Christine was pondering Erik, Erik was pondering:

"You know you light up when you play for a crowd?"

"That was an appreciative crowd," she demurred.

"It makes you very beautiful. Have I ever told you that? You are an absolutely stunning beauty when you play."

"Flattery will get you everywhere," she grinned. She wasn't taking a word he said seriously. She had mirrors at home - she knew what she looked like.

"She doesn't believe me," Erik complained, rolling his eyes heavenward. "Why do I have to get the one woman who won't take a compliment?"

"Give me a compliment I believe, and I'll take it."

"Ok, Ms. Self-esteem. You play like an angel, and while you are playing, you look like one."

"And when I'm not?" she quizzed.

"You're still cute."

"But not beautiful?"

"I know better than to answer such a question." Erik sat back, with a look that declared the conversation over.

"Wise man." She nodded approvingly. Scenery passed. "I can't wait to get home."

Erik looked over at her, hurt. "Tired of me already?"

"Huh?" Christine blinked. "No. I mean I can't wait to get back to your place."

"You said home."

"Did I," she said, and leaned against him. "Same difference."

---- --- -- --- ---

Once back in Erik's apartment, Christine put the instruments away while Erik cleaned up the remains of lunch and prepared to make dinner. As usual, they were both reflecting on how comfortable they were performing routine household chores together - but as usual, they reflected separately. While setting the cello back on its stand, Christine saw one of her old rosin boxes on the floor next to the dulcimer. She picked it up, walked into the kitchen and tapped Erik on the shoulder.

"It's begun," she intoned ominously.

He waited for her to go on.

"The Migration of Stuff. It's begun. My things are finding their way over to your place, and not finding their way home again. Now it's rosin boxes; soon, it will be a favorite book, my toothbrush, a change of clothes..."

"You already have a change of clothes here," he interrupted.

"Do you know what this means?

"That you're forgetful?"

"No. It means that we'll be living together soon." She took in his shocked expression and shrugged. "It happens." She stood on her tiptoes and turned her face up for a kiss. When he leaned down to grant it, she untied his mask and took it. "You know it's weird, but I'm starting to hate this thing."

She turned it over in her hands a few times, then tied it over her face. It had a strange smell, resulting from a mix of leather and ointments. It felt soft against her skin, but undeniably oppressive. The breathing slits allowed plenty of air, but there was still a sensation of being slowly smothered. She could see the eyeholes in the periphery of her vision. They added shadow to everything she saw.

Erik stood silently, warring with himself over her actions. A part of him watched with a guilty feeling of satisfaction. Finally, someone was seeing the world as he saw it, feeling as he felt. Another part of him felt as though some incredibly intimate line had been crossed. The largest part of him, though, only felt one way. He wanted to rip the mask from her face and throw it across the room. Before he could move to act on this feeling, she did it for him. It landed on the opposite side of the living room where it lay like a shadow with blank, staring eyes.

Christine shuddered, sickened. "You don't ever have to wear that...that thing around me again. In fact, please don't. Ever. I don't know how you can stand it."

"It's not so bad, once you get used to it," he stated with a calm he did not feel.

"Just don't, ok?"

"I have to if we're going out..."

"When we're alone together. Promise me."

He nodded. "That I can do." He strained his mind for some good change of subject. "Do you play chess?"

"No. I know what the pieces do, but I never played much." Christine was still staring the mask as though it were a particularly venomous spider.

"Funny. I'd have thought you'd be a past-master. Well, there's a lot more to it than just knowing 'what the pieces do'. Would you like to learn?"

"Sure, but you're going to beat me every time." She was willing let him change the subject.

Erik pulled out a beautiful onyx chess set. It had been a gift from Nadir during one of his many convalescences. They played for several hours; Christine never once came close to beating him. Finally, she laughed and tipped her king over before they ever began.

"I surrender. I bow to your chess mastery." She sighed with mock-sorrow.

"There's a book you can read. Get comfortable in the armchair while I find it for you."

Christine settled into the overstuffed E-Z Boy. Erik was back in a split second with "The Fundamentals of Chess" in his hand. "Look through this - it might give you some ideas. I have an article I need to finish up editing, then I'll be back to beat you a few more times."

She flipped through the book, wanting to be interested, but unable to absorb herself in the specifics of the "Ruy Lopez" opening. Erik sat at his computer, listening to something soft by Brahms. He was typing continuously and the soft tap-tapping was soporific. She was soundly asleep when he turned to ask her how the reading was coming along.

She looked so comfortable, he decided not to wake her. Instead, he took the blanket from his bed and covered her before taking his shower and retiring to bed himself. She slept the night through, waking only when a thin shaft of sunlight sneaked between the curtains. A quick glance at the clock told her she had just enough time to catch the bus home, change, and jog to work. She was in far too much of a hurry to eat breakfast while perusing the morning paper, as she usually did.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 35 of 64

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