Continuing Tales

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 58 of 64

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Binary

It was eleven-thirty. The apartment was so clean, it glistened. Erik still strode from room to room, wiping incidental dust from places no one would ever think to look and basting the baking rabbit to ensure perfect juiciness. He was wearing his black suit, and continually smoothed his shirt and adjusted his tie. He even looked at himself in the bathroom mirror several times, just to be sure everything was in place. The replacement mirror was larger than the original; it had attached bare lightbulbs that cast an unforgiving light over anyone who dared use them.

Christine was exhausted just watching him bustle about. He'd been at it since seven o'clock, and though he absolutely forbade her from lending a hand, (the doctor recommended minimal use for the first four weeks) he constantly returned to her for advice on her parents' preferences. Did they like white wine, or red? Did her mother like roses or wildflowers more? Did her father prefer to have a late lunch, or would he expect to eat the moment they arrived?

"Erik, love, please sit. You are making me dizzy."

"Everything needs to be perfect." He glared critically around the apartment.

"No, it really doesn't. I had the messiest room in the tri-state area for years. They'll just be glad I'm not up to my hips in crud."

At that moment, the doorbell rang. Erik turned as though he would answer it, but froze. "They're going to hate me."

Christine pried herself off the couch with a sigh and a shake of her head. She answered the door and was immediately engulfed in hugs. Erik watched from his station by the sofa. It was beautiful to him - there was a music in their loving familiarity.

He saw that Christine looked almost exactly like her mother, though her mother was considerably larger. She was short, rosy and plump, with curly short hair and a wrinkled, smiling face that spoke volumes about her pleasant nature. Christine's father was taller and less plump, though he was still a large man. He was balding and steel grey, but his devil-may-care grin told the world he didn't give a damn. Together, they seemed a jovial pair.

All too soon, the moment ended and Christine was leading her parents across to him. Erik drew himself up straight and tried his best not to appear nervous. As he had done with Christine, he used his voice to try to impress them enough to ignore his appearance.

"Mom, Dad, this is Erik."

Erik watched their faces, noting as they took in his mask and looked to one another with confusion. They looked to Christine for an explanation, but none was forthcoming.

He extended a hand to her mother first. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Daae."

She shook his hand and nodded. "It's wonderful to meet the man who has captured out daughter's heart. She tells us you are quite the musician..."

"She flatters me." He turned to her father. "And it's very nice to meet you, sir."

Christine's father waved a dismissive hand. "Call me Harry. It's name and description."

"Dad!" Christine plastered her hand over her face."

"I don't hold with all this 'sir' and 'ma'am' business. Never have." He sat down on the sofa and looked around. "Very nice. I would have assumed that Christine'd have it wrecked by now."

Christine stayed firmly ensconced behind her hand.

"That smells lovely, Erik. What is it?" Christine's mother was halfway to the kitchen.

"It's rabbit, Mrs. Daae." Feeling brave, he dared to extend the statement. "Christine warned me that you would try to get in the kitchen. But you are a guest. Please make yourself comfortable in the living room, and I will bring you a glass of wine."

"It's Brenda, Erik. And thank you." She allowed herself to be shooed back to the living room and settled in the La-Z Boy. Erik brought everyone a glass of wine, then disappeared into the kitchen with a sigh of relief. Nice, they were. Comfortable, he was not. From the kitchen, he could watch while they conversed without being drawn into the conversation.

Christine had dragged her cello and his violin out, and was in the process of setting up to play a bit of the Gigue for her parents. Before she could begin, her mother asked the burning question:

"Is there something we're missing? He seems a nice enough man, but I don't understand the mask. It it a creative thing? Or something for special occasions?"

Christine shook her head. "Neither of those. But I'll tell you - I already told him- that I'm not going to explain everything."

Erik groaned quietly. She really was going to make him choose between explaining himself or enduring her parents' curious stares all day long.

Her father put in his two cents. "Well, that seems fair. You've got enough explaining to do as it is, not calling your parents for almost two years, and when you finally call you've graduated college, gotten engaged, and moved in with a man. And you have a broken leg. I wasn't going to say anything, but there you sit with a cast..."

Without blinking an eye, Christine responded snappily, "What can I say... long distance charges are hell." In the kitchen, Erik chuckled softly.

Harry laughed appreciatively - his daughter had inherited his wit. "We have your number now, missie. You won't be able to dodge for another two years."

"I don't intend to. I'm sorry for not calling. Now listen. You haven't heard me play in quite sometime. I've improved." She played for them while Erik served the plates. Only when she had finished did he bring out the trays.

"I apologize for the lack of a table. We don't entertain often." The stiff, formal tone would not leave his voice. Christine's mother was in the overstuffed chair and Christine had appropriated the computer chair for her cello session. Harry was on the sofa, making room for his son-in-law to be.

"Come on. Sit down. Take a load off."

Erik complied, sitting stiffly at the opposite end of the sofa. Everyone began to eat, and the expected compliments on the quality of the food were handed out. Quite unexpectedly, Christine's mother decided to discuss the 'elephant in the living room'.

"Erik, wouldn't you be more comfortable eating without the mask?"

"No, Brenda. It's fine."

"It just seems like it would be more comfortable..." Her voice tapered off into an uncomfortable silence. In it, Christine made little 'go ahead' gestures at Erik, who pointedly looked elsewhere.

After awhile, it became too awkward to bear. Speaking to his plate, Erik muttered, "It's not for my comfort. It's for yours."

"How's that?" Harry fixed his eye on the taciturn man beside him. "I have to say, for my part, it's not terribly comfortable eating next to a guy who looks like he's trying out for a part as Zorro..."

"Dad!" Christine exclaimed, seeing Erik begin to fold in on himself.

"Really, Harold. That was uncalled for," her mother remonstrated.

"No. That's fine. He's right." Erik set his plate aside. These were Christine's parents, and soon they'd be his. His secret would not stay a secret forever; now was as good a time as any. "The mask is not...an accessory. It covers..." He stopped. "I'm sorry, Christine. I can't." Ashamed, he began to stand up, only to be stopped by a strong, hairy hand on his arm.

"Don't worry about it. Sit down and eat." Harry resumed gustation as though nothing had happened.

There was something in the off-hand way the subject was dismissed that set Erik at ease and gave him the courage to continue.

"It's disfigured. Not good to look at while you're eating." He picked up his plate and forced a few bites down. Christine was smiling at him with pride he hardly felt he deserved.

"It can't be that bad," Brenda was trying to be comforting, considering she's introduced the topic. "And we're about to be family. You really should just make yourself at home."

"No, Mom. Just leave it alone, ok?" Casting about for a suitably distracting topic, Christine remembered, "Did I mention that Meg will be over a little after four?"

"Really. That will be nice. How is Meg, anyway? Has she got that degree she wanted yet?"

Thus diverted, talk did not return to the thorny issue of the mask. It touched on every other topic, though. Brenda revealed that she'd written for her college newspaper, and engaged Erik in a long an convoluted discussion about editing and publishing that soon left Christine and her father far behind. Eventually, the topic veered towards Strange Noise and their unlooked-for success. Harry demanded a performance as soon as the dishes were carried away.

Now was Erik's chance to show his quality. In dinner-time chatting, he failed miserably; with his violin in hand, he suddenly became the most charming man on the western seaboard. Before they began playing, he pushed the wheeled computer chair with Christine in it out into the middle of the floor.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Center stage, my love, where you belong."

They played together for the next hour, charming their guests entirely. Unbeknownst to either musician, it was not the music which most beguiled their audience. Until the moment he touched her chair, Erik had seemed a surly, taciturn man, little suited to Christine. Both her parents were struggling to see what their daughter could possibly find to love in the man and coming up dry. When he touched her, though, it was plain. No strangers to love themselves (almost forty years of married bliss had taught them well) they recognized absolute devotion when they saw it. Every gesture, every word the masked man cast her way was sweetened with affection.

When the concert ended, Christine parents applauded vigorously; Brenda wiped tears from the corners of her eyes. She walked over and gave Erik a motherly hug, which he did his best to accept with good grace.

"That was lovely. Just lovely. What a sweet pair you make."

"Don't smother the man, Brenda. You and Christine should go catch up on old times or something." Harry grinned wickedly at Erik. "Zorro and I have the very serious issue of a chess match to resolve." He gestured towards the onyx chess set tucked neatly in its corner.

He's teasing me. That's a good thing. Just remember that's a good thing. Erik's mind bridled at the nickname, but he remembered Christine's warning that her father only teased those he liked. "Oh, do you play?"

"I dabble." The wicked grin had not faded.

"He played in high school and college. Don't let him fool you." Christine's mother dragged her out onto the porch.

Christine laughed. "Erik is going to wipe the floor with Dad."

"I don't think you give your father enough credit," Brenda's tone was scolding.

"I think you underestimate my fiancÚ," Christine sneered.

"Do I hear a bet?

"Yes, you do. If Dad beats Erik, I will allow you and Meg to pick my wedding dress. But if Erik beats Dad, you have to pay for the wedding. Deal?"

"Deal."

Binary

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 58 of 64

<< Previous     Home     Next >>