Continuing Tales

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 53 of 64

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Binary

"They want me backstage at six-thirty. You will have to be there with me." Christine spoke from inside the bathroom, where she balanced on one foot and tried to wrap her hair around her large-barreled hair curler.

"Why? I thought I could watch from the back of the auditorium..."

"They have no assistants for me - they weren't expecting me to be one-legged. They asked if I had anyone to assist me with my cello; I said yes."

"What will I have to do?" Erik fiddled with his own hair, arranging it under the fedora and wishing he had cut it so that it would be less trouble. Christine, however, would not hear of him cutting his hair any shorter. She liked running her fingers through it.

"Just carry the thing there for me, and in between numbers, help me and it out onto the stage. And then off again." Finally, the last strands fell into place. Not half bad, she thought and made kissy-faces at herself in the mirror. A new aquamarine dress in empire style emphasized her soft curves, the long skirtbrushed the floor to hide her cast, her makeup was carefully applied, her mouse-colored hair arranged in smooth curls. She had no suitable jewelry, but that could not be helped. She felt prettier than she ever had in her entire life.

When she emerged from the restroom, Erik could only smile. She looked pretty now; he could only imagine how she would shine when she began to play.

"My lovely Christine. He took h"er hands, not wanting to muss a single detail with a hug. "You are very beautiful - but the look just isn't complete." He reached into the pockets of his formal suit to find two satiny boxes: one larger and one smaller. He set the boxes on the hotel room dresser.

"Come, my dear. Let me shower you in jewels." His smile was mischievous and huge. She approached shyly, unsure of how to behave in this very unusual situation.

The larger box held a necklace of natural pearls, with a matching bracelet. He fastened these on her neck and wrist, then stood back to survey the results.

"Like an angel. I knew pearls would be just the thing for that delicate complexion. But it still is not finished." He opened the smaller box ceremoniously. Its contents sparkled brilliantly. Christine's covered her open mouth with her hand - which Erik promptly took in his. "It was the most beautiful stone I could find. I hoped to match your sparkle. But I failed; you outshine it by far." He slid the ring on her finger, then kissed her hand.

"It...it's gorgeous! Everything is so beautiful! Erik! When - how! - did you do all this!" She stood on her tip-toes to kiss him lightly. (She couldn't muss her make-up; there was no time for reapplication) "Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. Oh wow, oh my goodness..." she was breathless. "And...how did you know my ring size? I never told you..."

Erik had not released her hand. He put his other hand next to hers. "I know your hands as I know my own. Your ring finger is exactly the size of my little finger."

Had the pearls been plastic and the ring been tin, that would have raised them above the Hope diamond in her heart. Christine melted like butter in a hot oven. "When did I fall into a fairy-tale?" she mused aloud. "I love you."

"If this is a fairy-tale, my love, then the Princess is about to be late to her ball. Let's go, sweetheart." He handed her crutches across and helped her out the door.

The auditorium was a grand place, Erik got chills just from his initial inspection of the acoustics. There was a reception in the lobby for guests; students buzzed around backstage tuning their instruments, rifling through sheet music, and conversing nervously among themselves. Dr. Corringer stood at the doorway watching his flock.He brightened visibly when Christine walked in.

"Ah! Christine, I am glad you could make it. We were all very sorry to hear about your injury." He paused, looking at Erik curiously.

"Thank you. Dr. Corringer, this is Erik Valliere, my fiancÚ. He is also my assistant tonight."

The distinguished man extended his hand. Erik shook it quickly and firmly, doing his best to show no unease.

"It is nice to meet you, sir." It came out somewhat mechanically, but it was a long time since Erik had last been asked to follow social etiquette.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, indeed. The board and I were much impressed by your skill on the violin. Perhaps, later, you will be kind enough to give us a private concert?" Erik gave a quick nod.

Christine took a few steps away and gestured to her old Dean.

"Excuse us Erik, I need to talk to Dr. Corringer privately for a moment.

When Erik w"as finally shooed far enough away to give them real privacy, Christine opened her cello case and pulled her hotel key from the rosin-box pouch. She gave it to the Dean with a smile and few whispers. After a moment he nodded and left the room.

"What was that all about, Christine?"

"I was just settling some old issues. It was nothing you should worry about." Her tone was artificially light. Erik pursed his lips.

"I'm worried."

She only laughed.

"Everyone!" A woman in a black formal gown with silver beading stood on the stage steps. She was obviously a singer; her voice carried clearly, though she certainly was not shouting. "The audience is being seated. Jazz Ensemble is first. Please be ready."

The nervous chatter and tuning noise died away entirely. Those students in the Jazz Ensemble took their places near the stage door. Christine had to smile - they looked so young, though the oldest was only three years her junior.

Erik found Christine a chair, then stood beside her. To Christine, it felt very much as though she were being guarded, and that was actually the case. Erik knew the terrible events of years before would not be repeated, but he could not help feeling that this place was a threat to Christine.

"Excuse me?" They looked over to see a very pretty eighteen-year-old clutching her cello case. She giggled nervously, then looked over her shoulder at a small group of students standing a few feet away. "I'm Sam. My friends and I took a road trip to Seattle about a month ago during Spring Break. While we were there, we happened to see a performance in the park. It was a group called Strange Noise. You two look exactly like them. Are you them?"

Christine smiled and nodded. "Wow. We never expected anyone this far away to recognize us."

"Well, I have some friends who live in Seattle. They call me and we play your performances over the computer through their cell phones. The quality isn't great, but it's pretty exciting. Nobody listens to classical and jazz anymore - but you guys are making it happen. Because of you guys, when we leave here we might actually have an audience to play to."

"Are there recordings?" Erik's curiosity finally overwhelmed his taciturnity.

Sam looked back to her friends again. Her expression confused Erik, but Christine recognized it and felt the little green demon start dancing in her head. This girl and her friends all had groupie-crushes on Erik. Tall, slender, imposing, mysterious...and they don't get the Seattle Times. Watch out, Christine! She listened with amused concern to the alarm bells in her head.

Giggling more, now that he had addressed her directly, Sam nodded. "They're really hard to hear, though..."

"Well, they are the only ones in existence. We have never made one of our own."

"Cool! You guys want to come over to the dorms after the show and listen? Maybe we could jam a little?" The hopeful look on the girl's face charmed Erik completely; when had a complete stranger ever invited him to do anything?

"We'll see," Christine responded coolly, "We've had a long drive, and I do have a broken leg..."

"Oh." Sam's face fell, then brightened. "Maybe another time?"

"Absolutely." Erik interjected, before Christine could refuse again. "If not tonight."

Sam ran over to her group and communicated the news. There was a round of subdued squealing and clapping. Erik looked down at Christine, his lips twisted in an amused grin.

"Groupies..." she whispered to him. "Get used to it."

"Groupies." He laughed. "Amazing. Speaking of amazing, my dear, you are on next."

Christine stood and hobbled over to the steps. Erik held her crutches out, but she shook her head. "I would never use those things on stage. That is what you are for."

While Erik was working out the logistics of chair, cello, and woman, a young man in an usher uniform sneaked in the exit, carrying a very familiar black violin case.

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 53 of 64

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