A/N: Well, it is my final chapter for this story. I'm not really happy with it, it's so boring compared to the handful that came before Chapter 29. But I hope you can read, slump in your chair knowing that it's all over, and maybe critique. All of my readers have been very helpful to me so far, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I think I've lost a few readers on the way but I've alse gained many to make up for it, and I wouldn't change this for anything. Thank you ALL very much for everything you have done!
Disclaimer: I do not own The Phantom of the Opera.
She Who Wakes Up
The corridors were filled with staff rushing from one spot in the office to another, never having more than a few moments of business to attend to in one place. Children's artworks were being stripped from the walls, the thumbtacks feverishly collected as they fell. Snatches of conversation flew past her ears as she weaved her way through the throng of teachers.
"We don't need these files anymore, do we?"
"The old behaviour books go out, Maria."
In reply the student teacher moaned, "But doesn't anyone keep them for playful blackmail when the students graduate?"
"The dep stopped doing that, oh, ages ago. He doesn't really connect with the children that much anymore."
"I heard that this year-"
The words grew faint behind her.
The door at the end of the hallway was open and she made her way resolutely towards it. Stopping just before she reached the painted door, the woman took a moment to smooth down her skirt and remove her sunglasses. She refreshed her memory of how a clipped voice sounded, and clutched her handbag tighter.
She nudged the door with her foot and stepped inside as it swung into the wall with a muted thump. The office only had one occupant.
"The lady behind the counter said I could come in." she burbled.
The man at the pipe organ sighed gently, taking his hands from the keys. "They always get over-excited on the last day." he said, rolling his eyes behind his mask. "Well, Madame de Chagny, how may I be of service?"
The woman raised a finger, about to launch into a firm, slightly angry speech involving polite demands. (She wasn't sure exactly how to make demands sound polite, but she decided that she would make it up as she went along if the situation required.) All this grinded to a halt when a tiny corner of her brain registered that he had actually offered –in a vague, aloof manner that suggested he was only saying it out of obligation- to help her.
"He's actually being kind of nice." mumbled Christine aloud, her index finger gradually lowering.
Oops, she thought worriedly. I'm not supposed to say that out loud.
"Yes, I am, aren't I?" the 'he' in question said mockingly. "It's the last day I'm at work for the year, so why not? I say again, how may I be of service?" The final word hissed out between his teeth, an expression of undoubted amusement adorning the visible part of his face.
"Monsieur Gerik," Christine began; she was not entirely abandoning her tirade, "I must speak with you about the standard of my son's school report." Her shoes clicked against the floor (how they managed to click and clack on the blue carpet no one is sure of) as she strode determinedly to the teacher.
Mr Gerik recovered quickly. "And which one is he? You're going to have to see his class teacher for that. I teach one year seven class and there are no boys under the name 'de Chagny,' I assure you-"
"He was tremendously embarrassed by the surname," she interjected, "and his father changed it for him. Spoils the child far too much, he does, and gives in too easily; changing all the government records caused a great deal of fuss. And we thought it would be somewhat...safer. For him. You understand..."
From this new string of gabbled information, Mr Gerik took a while longer to regain his composure. He blinked at least seven times before he said, "And...what is his given name...?"
Christine de Chagny threw the report folder down onto the organ's keys. There a gentle vibration from within the instrument and a high-pitched chord squeaked out of it. The teacher the read the name in the top right corner of the folder, scrawled hastily in a spidery font. 'Erik'.
An incredulous, "Hmm." was all Mr Gerik said.
The woman leaned down and leafed through the pages of the student report. "What I am concerned about is this." She had found the page and stabbed down at it with a sharp fingernail.
Mr Gerik peered at it. "This is the page of his test scores."
"Quite right, and look here. At the beginning of the year he did reasonably well in his class tests. Rather high percentages. But in the end of year exam he was dismal. Below average marks in every section! How do you explain that, monsieur?"
Barely pursing his lips, Mr Gerik replied, "A studying problem."
"You're on the mark with that." Madame de Chagny admitted. "I heard him playing on his keyboard all week. Composing." She saw the teacher's eyes fill with quiet approval when she said this. "A love song, I think it was." she added quickly. She watched carefully as the light in his eyes dimmed, replaced by a flicker of nervousness.
"What I'm getting at is this: Do you know of any reason why he would be neglecting his studies? You're the teacher; you must observe some things! I had to pick him up at one-thirty on the night of the Bal Masque! I see a definite lack of discipline."
The Phantom felt a miniscule tremble of indecision run through his arms. "For once, I believe this is something you should discuss with your son yourself." he said at last. "It's a fairly important matter, and one I'm not at liberty to reveal any details about. Who knows? I could humiliate him."
How considerate of you, she mocked silently. Christine put her hands on her hips, tapping her foot. "You won't tell me why my son was in the sick bay at one in the morning?" she demanded.
"He'll tell you." Mr Gerik said confidently, flicking through the student report folder to the last page. "There are some positive things about your son's work, however." He handed the folder to the irritated mother.
"Diligent." she read. "Extremely determined in the tasks he undertakes. Displays a sharp cleverness that he should learn to put to more good use. Knows when he has made a mistake." Christine lowered the folder. "Well, that still doesn't explain his shockingly low exam marks. He told me it was incredibly easy, and yet when the marks came back..." She shook her head. "Something else I'm here for... Just give me a moment to remember-"
"Perhaps he should get some tutoring over the summer holidays." Mr Gerik said thoughtfully.
Christine de Chagny snapped her fingers. "You read my mind!"
It's so easy to, he thought to himself.
The prepared indignation ebbed steadily from her. "I see no reason why we can't come up with an amicable agreement. It is for my son, after all."
Mr Gerik nodded, a smile on his lips and his fingers drumming lightly against the organ keys. "Certainly."
The monkey smiled at me.
The Music of the Night provides beautiful lullabies. There's a new one every night, and it even knows which evenings I'm too tired to listen to music. So it doesn't make me a song on nights like that.
Don't ask me how it works. Maybe it's my own mind that's making the music, composing. But whenever I consciously try to make up a tune on the spot, it doesn't work. I don't hear anything during the day. I know hardly anything about composing anyway, so I prefer to think of the music as another entity. I can always hear it at night. It's an ability I've gained. The Music doesn't do much, except create the lullabies before I fall asleep. They help a lot. I've fallen victim to a bit of insomnia lately.
A lullaby can keep the nightmares at bay.
I mean, I've always had dreams. Everyone does, don't they? I dreamt once of Persian rugs, of long black capes, and of a sweet music that permeates the air. I have a good giggle over that one every now and then.
But nightmares are different.
I'm not scared of what the nightmares contain. It's just that they bring back memories. Good and bad. One minute, I am dancing at the Bal Masque with Edwin, Mr Gerik, and that toy soldier. It's a lovely memory. The curse on nice memories is that when the bad ones come along, its effects are terrible because you can still feel the sweetness of the good memories. The change from joy to terror is stunning.
Some nights, I scream aloud because it feels like the quilt is wrapped around my neck.
But the Night Music dampens the nightmares. When I'm ripping at the lasso in my dreams, I hear music drift across the water and I'm suddenly –without explanation- safe. That's the way dreams work. They play havoc with your emotions. The Music is like an addictive chocolate truffle, or I daresay, a drug. It helps me, it's that simple. Hearing a single note just before the rope pulls a final time has saved me on countless occasions. I'm hanging above the pool, trying to escape the noose, I'm about to give up...and then I hear music.
From the night of the Bal Masque, memories of the lasso and the torture chamber are very vivid. And, as you would expect, I can recall nothing from after the moment I lost consciousness. Estelle told me that our teacher had come in at the very last minute, cutting the ropes (she said it involved a big bird thing). Maybe Mr Gerik is my Music of the Night. I mentioned once to Edwin that he was right, it was an unlucky day and we probably jinxed ourselves on that Friday thirteenth.
And he answered, "No, I was wrong. It wasn't unlucky at all. No matter how many horrible, life-threatening things happened to us, it will always be the luckiest day of my life." He wouldn't say any more, only give my hand a gentle squeeze.
What can I possibly say? I like sentimental guys.
Thank Almighty Leroux that my fixation with Mr Gerik's cape has loosened its grip. But it was a gorgeous dream, wasn't it?
I could see the monkey music box. I could hear the Music of the Night. In the darkness of my dreams, the Persian monkey stops clapping its cymbals...
And winks just once.
I get the feeling that all the clocks in the house are out to spite me. There is a thought that flashes across my not-yet-awake mind, but it is gone in a second. A notion, there was an overpowering notion of...lateness...
I'm late for something.
Rolling over a few times, I wait for my body to spring into action. After five minutes, it doesn't.
You're going to have to use your brain for this job, Dana, an inner voice pointed out. I groaned in response, eventually mustering the effort to sit up.
My back ached, but I felt properly rested. That was probably because I slept in. I slapped a hand to my face, pinching and stretching the flesh. My body was still reluctant to move. After thirteen years of life, one year of which was high school, I thought I had mastered the art of getting out of bed in a hurry.
I hadn't yet realised how severely school holidays can dull your skills.
I swung my legs towards where I remembered the edge of the bed usually was, and my knees got a jarring as I fell onto the floor.
Ow, the inner voice commented.
When I made it to the kitchen, I saw that Mum and Charles had already eaten breakfast. Dishes covered in bread crumbs competed for room in the sink; we would contest each other on who would wash them later.
My brain told me to rush, because there was still a nagging thought of tardiness curled up in a corner of my head. It hadn't woken up and made itself clear yet. I would remember what I was late for after breakfast. The smell of an omelette usually cleared my mind.
Those blasted school holidays work on everything!
I abruptly realised that it was a capful of cherry wine I had just poured over my omelette, and not balsamic vinegar. Eyes widening and resentment growing towards for the person who had given the bottle of wine as a wedding present (it still wasn't finished after a month, but the hangovers Charles and Mum had were beyond price), I headed instead to the toaster.
There couldn't possibly be a way for me to screw up toast.
The strap of the helmet tasted salty. I was gripping a bike helmet with my teeth, wheeling a bicycle out of the garage and up the driveway with my right hand and holding a plate with the other.
"Here's an omelette with cherry wine, if either of you are still hungry." I said as soon as I dropped the helmet, setting the plate onto the wooden deck. Mum and Charles were on the porch, sitting on the swing. Mum was on her side, curled up against Charles' lap. He was having a hard time holding the guitar above her head while he played, but he didn't look at all as if he minded. His shoulders would hurt after a while...
Mum smiled slyly at me. "You're up late, Dana."
"Sheesh, you take your time, missy!" a voice called out.
I turned my head towards the front gate. Edwin was leaning on the fence, two more people having a quiet argument with a pair of bicycles behind him.
"I swear, Erik, it's no problem!" said Estelle.
"But you have been pedalling all the way here; please just let me take a turn. You offered me the lift on your bike, and I'll gladly pedal the rest of the way-"
Estelle raised an eyebrow. "I've had enough of awkward travelling positions, thank you very much. If you don't mind sitting on the crossbar for a few more minutes, I'll do the pedalling." This kept him quiet for a moment. Estelle turned to me at the clanging of the gate.
"I'll walk and give Erik my bike, if he wants." I offered cheerfully.
"It's not a problem, Dana." assured Erik, looking down at the path. He was rather shy of me, since the whole fiasco...almost killing me...and all that jazz.
"Dana," Estelle huffed, "we would have stopped for ice cream if we knew you would take so long!" She leaned closer to me and whispered, "Please help me; he's being so...romantic! I'm not sure how much more I can take." Her eyes pleaded with me.
I laughed, as if Estelle had just told me a joke. "Oh Estelle, you make the funniest analogies." I added, to keep up the show. Inwardly I was genuinely laughing. My friend was the polar opposite to Erik. I could see that she needed great deal of self-restraint to put up with his gestures. She was so...practical.
But they do say that opposites attract...
At any rate, I was glad that Erik's infatuation for me had disappeared. Misguided fascination, I believe it was. We would see how Estelle would take to being the centre of his attention. It was like how Mum and Charles were in love; Erik was now smitten in this odd, childish way.
Edwin mounted his bicycle. "Late or not, let's go!"
"There was a great sunrise this morning." Estelle commented as the bikes picked up speed down the street. A few other people were sitting on their lawns, enjoying the sunshine. The summer season was gathering momentum, but the clouds hadn't disappeared completely yet and provided a slight barrier against the sun.
"You were up at dawn?" I asked, amazed.
She sounded affronted. "Always. You can be very punctual if you wake up at sunrise, you know."
"It truly was beautiful this morning." said Erik quietly.
I groaned. "I can't be blamed if I'm not a morning person!"
Edwin laughed, saying to me as he overtook Estelle and me with his bike, "Don't worry, I woke up at eight."
"Glad to know. But the morning is just as good as the dawn, I bet. Let's make use of this day." The trees on the side of the road sped past, a blur of sun-dappled green. The wind was running its fingers through my hair; the sky was a staggering shade of blue... It was a good morning.
Erik moaned a little, and our eyes drifted to his pained face. "Next week, I get summer tutoring." he complained. "My mother organised for it. She says my exam scores were pitiful."
"Aww, poor Erik." I bit my lip. "Well, we'll spend the day well. Everyone agree?"
There was a cry in unison. "Yes!"
I pedalled a little harder, a whirl of happy feelings dragging my mouth into a grin. Edwin shouted, "Hey!" as I overtook him and rode proudly at the front of the group. A girl pedalling leisurely on a silver bicycle, with a boy riding head down behind, and a second girl on her midnight blue bike and a thin boy sitting on the crossbar at the back. We would've given the neighbours a laugh.
I closed my eyes, holding tight to the handlebars and savouring the sensation of moving air against my face. I opened them again, and the colours were sharp in my vision.
Dreams are nice. They are so wonderful that you never want to leave the realm of fantasy.
"Oh, come on!" I yelled over my shoulder, sparing a glance behind. "You're all so slow!" A peal of laughter and shrieks rang out behind me.
But it's even better when you wake up.
That's the end! No more. I'm rather sad at that, but satisfied. It took me almost a year to write it, starting out from a friend's dream and leading to a joint fanfiction which I somehow ended up doing on my own. I've finished it!
Just a note if you care to read it: The stereotypes usually present in this fandom have been undermined somewhat. Which is Raoul? Which is Christine? Which is the Phantom? (insert Muahahahahaaa)
What I'll do next, I do not know. I quail at the thought of a sequel (sorry!); it took me a year on this thing and I simply can't think of another idea. In comparison to multi-chapter stories, I excel at one-shots. Maybe you can drop by every now and then and take a look. All I need is an idea. I've been thinking about a story about Madame Giry's experience in housing a young Erik, and I've also been considering a humourous story, inspired by a Terry Pratchett novel. It's always good to have a change of genre every now and then. Or I could just move on to another fandom. Or I could celebrate the fanniversary of this joint account. Who knows?
Until then, my dear readers,
the remainder of APennyForYourThought
And a final Please Review!
And a Merry Boxing Day to you all with my fondest wishes.