Christine Daae absently pulled at the fraying ends of the pink ribbon of her pointe shoes.
"Meg", she whispered, turning to her friend beside her. "I suppose I will never be a prima if I cannot manage even this simple routine."
Her friend whispered back, "I will show you later. But I'm afraid I must watch and learn first myself!" Meg's eyes were on her mother, Madame Giry, the ballet mistress, who was breaking down the dance section in Act Two of Alceste into eight-counts.
"The first four, please!" Madame Giry called, stamping her cane on the stage for effect. She liked to appear more stern than she really was in an effort to keep all the girls in line. Disrespect, not practicing, and talking during class were not to be tolerated in any manner. Giry waved a hand towards the girls, indicating they should step forward to their first mark. Amelie, Pascale, Sophie and Vanessa stood gracefully and walked forward, their feet coming to rest at their marks, their toes properly turned out.
"Five, six, seven, eight…" she counted, clapping her hands in time as the rehearsal accompanist began to play his reduction of the full score.
The four girls seemed to float on the surface of the stage, skimming it beautifully. They moved through the combination. Tombe….pas de bourre….glisse…..assemble….
Christine watched Sophie in particular, her fouettes and pirouettes coming effortlessly out of the girl's body.
"Next line, please."
It was Meg's turn now, and she turned to Christine, squeezing her hand quickly in reassurance as she moved to her spot on stage. As the combination began again, Christine noted that Meg was probably the best dancer in the corps, even better than Sophie, who was older. Meg's body was always perfectly balanced, her poses and movements executed with the utmost grace. Christine watched her friend, envious. 'If only there could be something I am good at,' she thought to herself, sadly.
Christine's head shot up as she gingerly took her position between Adrienne and Claire, with Emmanuelle at the far stage left end.
"Five, six, seven, eight…"
Christine moved through the first section of the combination, but she felt the effort behind each movement. She was struggling. By the time she got to the first series of fouettes, she had already lost her concentration, for she was one count behind the music. As she rose en pointe, pirouetting, she forgot her "spotting", and grew dizzy, falling ungracefully off pointe and onto the stage floor. The pain that was slowly burning her left ankle was not helped by Mme. Giry's harsh tone as she clapped her hands, signaling for everyone to stop dancing.
"Miss Daae! Perhaps you would be better off taking another five years of classes before thinking of setting foot on an opera house stage!" As she looked at the girl, still on the floor, one leg twisted behind her, she softened her tone.
"Are you alright?"
Christine nodded slowly, embarrassed. Everyone was looking at her. A couple of the girls were whispering, snickering at her expense.
"Meg, come here please," she commanded, as Meg approached, concern in her eyes. "Please get some ice for her ankle. It is undoubtedly sprained, and it would be wise to stop the swelling before it starts." Meg nodded and ran off in search of ice, as Giry turned her gaze back to Christine. "You will watch the rest of the rehearsal, yes?"
Christine nodded again, still too ashamed to speak.
His heart went out to the girl. This was the first opera she would be performing in, and, thus far, she was not doing well. True, she did not have much natural talent for dancing (as he had observed), but she seemed to have such a great deal of heart, that he wanted her to succeed.
He had been intrigued by her since she first came to the ballet dormitories, years before. She was an orphan. Her father had been a violinist. He felt a protective pull towards her when she arrived for two reasons, the first being she had music running through her veins, and the second, because she, like himself, was also alone in the world. He had formed an unlikely friendship with the young girl almost immediately.
She had been crying for her father alone in the cold chapel. Giry, who was quite stern would not comfort the girl, believing that doing so would ultimately result in Christine growing to be a weak woman. Something about the girl crying had touched his heart, and he spoke to her then.
Apparently, her father had told her upon his death he would send her the Angel of Music. She had told him this over and over for the better part of an hour, when he stopped her, telling her, "I am your Angel of Music." From then on she drew comfort in their friendship. He had not meant to deceive her, but to offer her some solace in this cold world she was going to have to face. He would be her friend, her guide and mentor.
He never appeared to her. He would only speak to her in the chapel, in her dressing room, or in the dormitories if there was no one else around. He was careful not to make his visits too frequent as he knew she did have to learn to fend for herself. He swore her to secrecy about his existence, and kept and eye on her always.
This particular afternoon as he watched her from Box Five, he felt a more acute degree of sympathy towards her. She had been telling him not but a week earlier how she was "improving massively" in classes and hoped one day to take over for La Sorrelli. Now she sat, one leg dangling dejectedly over the edge of the stage, and she looked so deflated that he had to turn his eyes away for a moment. He decided he would speak with her later to console her. He looked down and saw her friend, running towards her with the proferred ice pack. He watched the tiny dancer apply it tenderly to her ankle, and with a last look, he was gone.