SAFE IN HIS ARMS

His flat was enrobed in an ethereal blue from the moonlight with the snaking shadows of shivering tree branches as he carried me in. Sleep threatened to take over me as I draped my arms around his slender neck… it had been a long night. It was a night that I had always dreamed about but feared above all, and now we were past it. The ghost of a man who had long haunted my singing career had captured me and in a terrifying heartbeat I was his prisoner, losing all hope of ever feeling the warmth of the sun or of unspoiled affection. I had known he had a fierce obsession with me, but if I had not, it would still have been ever so clear when my fiancé appeared at the gate of the phantom's cold, dripping lair. Viciously that dark and cruel man attacked my fiancé, uncaringly tying him to the rusted, mossy gate. I watched in shrill pain as he tightened the noose. He threatened that, if I did not choose to love him, the murderous ghost, then my fiancé would die. I knew that even if I chose him, he would not simply release the trigger rope and release my hero… but it was worth trying, if anything to elongate the life of my love. I was bitterly willing to spend every unending day with that beast if it meant that my love could spend every one of his days in peace. As my lips made contact with his, my face almost contorted with disgust. As I pulled away, he looked no more convinced, but in a last stand to save my fiancé, I kissed him again. Good lord, his broken lips almost tore mine, but thankfully he pulled away. He pulled away… and released us. I had not expected that, but took the opportunity as it was given to me.

And now, my fears and nightmares of almost a year were behind me. I almost didn't know what to do with myself, I had been so focused on hiding from him after I discovered who he was. Here I was, in the arms of my love, quickly falling asleep. I watched the shadows on the walls dance from behind his warm shoulder. Gently and ever so carefully, he laid me down on a red velvet chaise across from an enormous window. My eyes had grown so heavy that they were now falling slowly downwards and as my lips parted, my breath grew slow in a tired peace. Raoul, the one I loved as purely as rain before it strikes the earth, knelt down before me and clasped my hand, while caressing my relaxed fist with his thumb. The corners of both our mouths curled upwards as he pulled himself towards me and placed a sweet, comforting kiss on my forehead.

"I'll be right back."

He almost whispered it as he got up, went over to the door of the flat and proceeded to remove his boots. His jacket followed, thrown effortlessly onto the rack that stood near the door. Raoul then strode over to a corner of the room where a gracefully designed wooden chair stood, and he grabbed it and pulled it right next to the chaise where I now lay. "Just in case," he assured me. He positioned himself on the seat and leaned forward, gently fingering a lock of my hair. I smiled warmly at him as I finally succumbed to the powers of peaceful slumber.

The sun stung my eyes as they slowly peeled open. I shielded them with my hand, and shifted my weight so that I could sit. Raoul had fallen asleep, clearly, and asleep he remained. His head hung lazily so that his fine locks of hair covered his face, and his hands lay relaxed on his lap. It can't have been too comfortable, sleeping in that stiff wooden chair. I reached behind me, stretching to pull the curtain closed by the rope that hung from the curtain bar. The rope… my hands shied away from the rope, as I relived the memory of having to untie my now resting fiancé from that bitter gate. After a moment taken to compose myself, I reached once again for the drawing rope to close the forest green curtains and block out the sun's beating rays.

"Christine," cooed a voice from behind me. Raoul had awoken, and as I turned away from the curtains to face him, his face contained a sleepy grin. "Raoul, it's an amazing day," I replied. He rose and sat on the edge of the chaise next to me, then proceeding to caress my face in his loving hand. "It always is after a storm," he replied wittingly. It was a good sign that he still had his sense of humor after last night. There had been no storm, no rain last night, but I understood with perfect clarity what he was meaning. We had been living in a storm for a year, and now the sun had finally won through the clouds. I didn't need to worry about the phantom haunting my steps any longer. "What do you say we go outside and catch breakfast at the café of your choosing?" Raoul proposed. "In the same clothes as I am wearing this moment?" my alienated expression sparked more wit to emanate from him. "Well you could go naked…" he retorted, a big, joking grin on his face. My mouth grew wide in playful disgust at his comment, but he quickly recovered. "Well, I'm afraid you'll have to start out in these clothes, but we could drop by the opera dormitories to pick up your old ones." The opera house… it was sure to be well charred and broken after the fire. And even though I knew that the phantom had run off, I was still scared to return there. In a more melancholy tone, I replied "I don't think we'll find them there, Raoul." Suddenly he understood, as though he had forgotten about the fire. "Well, we'll just have to go shopping for some new ones, then!" I smiled. I didn't want to take advantage of Raoul's fortune like this but I truly didn't think that my clothes from the opera house would be in any condition other than severely burnt.

The gentleman that he was raised to be, Raoul gave me one of his cloaks to wear over my crisp, dirty dress. The phantom's wedding dress… I had no choice but to hide it. It was a beautiful dress, to be sure, with the most intricate beading and embroidery I'd ever seen. But the memory remained, and so long as I had to hide the memory, I had to hide the dress. Raoul's arm held me close to him, rubbing my shoulder as if to keep me warm. It felt so strange to be walking down these narrow streets without any intention related to the opera house; I hadn't done so since before I was seven and my father's death led me to be raised there. I didn't realize I had slowed down until Raoul brought me out of my daydream to point to a store that I seemed to like. Perhaps I could have liked the store, I hadn't been in it before, but on display was a dress very similar to the one I wore in my first operatic performance. Together, with Raoul still holding me near to him, we entered the shop and looked around at dresses that I could possibly buy. I must have been frustrating my fiancé, because I never gave a definite answer as to what dresses I wanted. I always kept that beautiful white dress in the corner of my eye, and I was so distracted by the memory of it that I couldn't think of anything else. But who could blame me, it brought back painful memories of my naïve belief that the phantom was actually the angel that my father had promised me. I was so naïve… so over trusting… so confused.

We ended up exiting the store with one dress. Raoul had caught my attraction to it, and I couldn't find any willingness in myself to say no, so he bought it for me. He bought me the memory of the years before all of this terror… and I couldn't blame him. In his mind he was just buying me a dress that I appeared to like, the right thing to do.

The wind had disappeared with the silent stillness of the late afternoon. We had nearly filled the carriage that so devoutly followed Raoul and I as we comfortably shopped for dresses that were to my liking. I couldn't say that I had really paid much attention, the dresses Raoul had bought for me were lovely, but my mind was too far lost in the world of my naiveté that was born with the sight of that white dress. The solid cobblestone under my feet was beginning to take its toll as I now willingly rested my head on Raoul's shoulder. Indicating that we were near to his flat, he pulled out my hand and kissed it.

However, one sight woke me from my tired dream. A slender figure of a blonde ballerina was running desperately up the road. Tears stained her porcelain cheeks; and her furrowed brow and distorted expression clearly indicated that something was wrong. The white skirt that she wore flew up as her normally graceful feet gave out under her. Her long, golden hair was now in tangles, but still bore its signature bow.

"Meg!" I called out as my head perked up from Raoul's shoulder and I ran to her side. She seemed stunned at first, eyes wide, but almost immediately she threw herself at me into a desperate embrace. "Christine, oh, Christine!" were the words that slipped through her broken sobs. Raoul was now standing just behind me, pure concern painted on his face. "What's happened, Meg?" he begged to know. Meg pulled away from the embrace, and roughly wiped her hand under her nose. She was silent. "Meg…? What's wrong?" I echoed. Her gaze fell to the ground as she began to speak. "I don't know where she is, Christine… I don't know where my mother is!" It was my turn to be silent. My eyes widened as my mind strove to understand this news. Raoul crouched beside me and rested his hand on my back. "Madame Giry? She's disappeared?" he clarified, in his usual calm yet heroic tone. With one final sniff, she nodded. I offered her my hand to help her up as I myself rose back to my feet. "She's not at the opera house?" I asked, with slight hope that Meg had not checked there, even though I knew she would have scoured it. "I don't know, I had thought that I had searched the whole building… oh, Christine, what if she was kidnapped?" Kidnapped… for whatever reason you may like, the first face to return to my mind with that word was the Phantom. I took her into my arms and held her tight in hope that it might comfort her, even in the slightest. "If you would like, you may stay at my flat with Christine and I until we find her again," Raoul offered. She retreated from my arms and nodded. "If you're sure…" she confirmed. I smiled a weak smile at her, and Raoul put his arm around my shoulders and, in a comforting gesture, rubbed it gently. He planted a kiss on the side of my head as we led Meg to his flat. The drama had not ended quite yet, as previously thought… and I knew now that it would not end for a very long time.

"You probably want some blankets, right?" I asked a now dry-faced Meg. We both stood near the chaise where I had slept the night before. "Sure," she replied. "Alright, just stay here, I'll go ask Raoul where they are."

I lifted my dress to run up the red oak stairs towards Raoul's bedroom. As I stepped over the top stair, I found him. He looked exhausted, dropping his head and resting his hands on the windowsill at the other end of the room. Gracefully I strode over to him, a compassionate smile on my face. "Raoul, we'll find her," I encouraged, but his face still didn't exude confidence. "Christine, you know where we have to search," he said, with an almost bitter tone in his voice. "We're not going back there." Yes, I knew that the caves that had developed into the home of a monster were the most likely place that Madame Giry would be found. "Raoul…" my voice began to break as my throat tightened in anguish. "I don't want to go back there either, but it wouldn't be fair to send Meg off by herself. God knows what might happen to her, and at least with us there she might have some hope." Raoul's head dropped a little further, and his eyes were glossed over with newborn tears that I knew he would not let fall. He suddenly lifted himself from the windowsill and walked over to a corner of the room near the window, hand grasping his hair in frustration. In a weak attempt to comfort him, I began to speak. "We've been through the caves before, Raoul. I've been there twice; we would guide Meg. And the creatures in the lake aren't all that frightening…" But Raoul cut me off. "I don't care about the creatures of the lake, Christine!" he spouted as he sharply turned around. "I care about the creature who murders all that's good! I don't want to have to face him again, Christine, I don't want to…" his voice trailed off. "I don't want to die."

My heart couldn't take his broken words, so I strode quickly over to him and held him in my arms, as closely as I could. I could hear his sobs now, and feel the wet of his tears falling on my shoulder. I didn't want him to die either; I loved him far too much. But still I knew that Madame Giry deserved protection as well. "What's done is done. I do not think he will try to kill you again." I whispered these words to give him hope. For once, I was his protector and he, the child who needed someone to take him in under their wing.

We broke apart, and, after a moment of silence, he spoke. "I'm sorry, what did you need?" I brushed away the last tears on my cheek. "Meg needs blankets for the night; I was wondering where they were." He took me under his arm and guided me to a closet at the other side of the bedroom, just next to the stairs. Raoul opened the wooden door, and pulled out a couple blankets from one of the higher shelves. "There you go," he said. "Thank you," I said as he handed them to me. He turned to face me, and as lightly as a feather, he caressed my face. "I love you." A weak smile crept its way onto my face as he pulled me in for a short, sweet kiss. I continued to smile, and took one last look at him as I carefully stepped down the stairs.

The surreal lighting from the candle next to the chaise interrupted the now familiar shadows that dance across the wall of Raoul's living room. Meg and I had spent the last couple hours sharing our tales of what had occurred the night before. There were a couple things that we could laugh at now, because it was over; like how soaked Meg's trousers were after trudging through the murky water. But there were also moments of deafening silence, when reminders came of events that preferably would be forgotten. There was no doubt in my mind now that we would never forget that night. But I had hoped that we would forget that that night had not ended yet. I would not mention Mme. Giry's disappearance, and neither would Meg. That is, until after I rose to go to Raoul's bedroom. Meg pulled the thick down blanket closer to her chin as her tiny voice rang out.

"You don't have to come with me," she peeped. Immediately, I sat right back down on the edge of the chaise. "What do you mean? Of course I do," I squeaked in a shameful attempt to hide how I truly felt. "Christine, I… I heard you and Raoul this afternoon," she said, a deep rose color flooding her cheeks. "I don't want to make you come with me if it's him that we might face," explained Meg as she propped herself up to sit. Her compassion was overbearing, too much to take. "Meg, I wouldn't be able to live if I knew that I had sent you down there all alone and then something happened." Yes, I knew that not even Raoul would be able to console me if Meg had died, and it was my fault. She was my best friend; she has been so since Mme. Giry introduced us when I moved into the dormitories. "I'll be careful, I won't let anything happen to me, Christine," she coaxed, but I had to stand firm. "That is not in your control when you're down there, Meg. Believe me, you are better to have Raoul and I to guide you." She finally gave in, and laid herself back down onto the chaise.

Suddenly Raoul appeared, wearing a thin, ivory linen shirt, and brown trousers. He was barefoot, so his feet made no sound as he walked over to me. He hugged my shoulders and breathed the words: "it's time to get some rest." I smiled, and mouthed a "good night" to Meg, who smiled and closed her eyes.

I followed Raoul up to his bedroom, with him carrying a small lantern. The dim glow that had been coming from Meg's candle disappeared, leaving that lantern to be the only source of light besides the moon. He walked carefully over towards his bed and placed the lantern on the beautifully carved night table that stood by it. Raoul rolled back the thin sheets as I almost glided over to the other side of the bed. Using my arms to support my weight, I sat down on the puffy down mattress. Following Raoul's lead, I turned in and slipped my feet under the covers, and proceeded to pull the sheets over my chest. The mattress bounced a little as Raoul shifted his weight so that he could turn to face me. I also turned to face him, and he began to stroke my cheek. "Well, our second long day is over," he said with a small grin on his face. To see his wit once more was enormously encouraging. "We have yet to wait out the third," I replied, my gaze falling. Raoul pulled my head into his chest and hugged it close to him. I raised my hand to rest it on his surrounding arm as he rested his head on mine. Slowly, I pulled away a slight distance and looked into his eyes. They read both fear and love, and such combination added a glossy cover to his unending blue eyes. I smiled warmly, and he pulled me in to meet his lips to mine. My heart began to race and soar and streams of tears escaped my eyes, as we both seemed to realize that tomorrow could be our last hours of living. He knew, and I knew, that we would have to make this night count.