A/N: For once, I didn't have a ton of things keeping me up. Maybe it was the late hour that made me write this, maybe it was the sleepiness, maybe it's the hopeless romantic in me. I kind of got tired of Eric always ending up the victim. Let's turn this around: what if, instead, Erik was the powerful, rich, and mysterious prince and Christine was the lowly maid (with the good voice) that found love? With her friends Squishie, Chase, and Meg, she embarks on a journey that most girls have dreamed of...
The morning sun was just rising. It was a hot crimson red, staining the sky in rich hues of pink, gold, red, and purple. Far above the sunrise, the sky was a deep aqua blue shade. Far up in the attic of a formidably sized mansion was a tiny run-down bed with a tattered, threadbare quilt. Within the bed, a figure stirred. The body moved only slightly; the mind was still entranced in the depths of a dream. The soft orange-red light shone upon the chocolate-colored curls that spilled over the pillow.
A small wheat-colored dog with fluffy long hair and big, dark eyes placed her front paws on the edge of the bed. A black cat appeared in the windowsill, his sleek body curving around the corners.
"Dreaming again," he sighed, "she's been doing it quite a bit lately."
The little dog moved towards the window towards the cat.
"Well, you can't blame her, Chase, she is turning three in dog years."
"Twenty-one...hmmm," the cat, Chase, pondered. He leapt from the windowsill to the headboard and looked down at the sleeping face.
"Well, Squishie, she has to get up or she'll get in trouble again. We don't want to risk her being flogged again."
Squishie tilted her head, raising one ear. She hated to wake her master, but she didn't want the stepmother hurting her again. She squirmed beneath the covers, tail wagging. She gave her master a cold wet doggy kiss on the cheek.
"Christine! It's morning, Christine! Wake up!"
Christine mumbled and rolled over, but Squishie didn't give up. Eventually, the one she called Christine opened her dark-chocolate eyes and stretched. The sun made her porcelain-smooth skin appear radiant despite the ratty old nightgown she wore.
"Oh, good! You're awake! Look! It's a wonderful morning!" Squishie said, looking out the window.
"Yes. It is. But it was a beautiful dream, too."
Christine was smiling, but she had a tint of sadness.
"Oh? What kind of a dream?" Chase lazily descended onto the bed. She scratched behind his ears and he purred pleasantly.
"A dream of love," Christine said, "I dreamed that an angel descended from Heaven and married me."
"Why does that sound so familiar?" Chase wondered, more to himself. Christine shook the covers out, startling him into moving to the rug.
"My father said he would send the angel of music down from Heaven when he passed away," Christine sighed, "and I hear his voice in my dreams."
"Father once spoke of an angel...
I used to dream he'd appear...
now as I sing, I can sense him...
and I know he's here...
here in this room, he calls me softly,
somewhere inside, hiding...
somehow I know he's always with me...
him, the unseen genius..."
"How long ago was it?" Squishie asked. She hadn't been around when this had happened. Neither had Chase; she had acquired them both as pets when she'd rescued them from the streets.
"A very long time ago when I was still a child," Christine explained, "I never knew my mother. My father raised me until I was around nine. We were both doing quite well here, just the two of us, but he loved me so much that he wanted me to have a mother as well. He chose Carlotta because she came from a good family and had two daughters; my stepsisters. Then, when father passed away, well...things went downhill, but I really can't complain. As long as I have God and the two of you, I have a good life. I do wish my angel would visit me more, though."
Leaving that thought in the air, Christine stepped behind the changing screen and tossed her nightgown aside. She pulled her dress over her head. It had once been a very nice dress, but the years of wear and tear had caused many worn spots and patches. She tied her hair back with a red ribbon and combed the curls out as best she could.
"Come with me," Christine told them. They followed her down the stairs. As they descended, the house appeared in much better shape.
"We have to get Cocoa first," Christine told them.
"Aww, not Cocoa. She's no fun! She won't let me play with her or anything. All she does is sit around and whine!"
"I know," Christine laughed, "she does get on my nerves as well, but we're going to have to try and get along."
Cocoa slept on her own fancy little dog bed beside Carlotta's. The fluffy little white poodle was definitely a kill-joy at best. She snored even louder than Carlotta at times.
"Cocoa," Christine called.
The little dog reluctantly came. She held her nose high as if the world wasn't good enough for her.
People I understand, but being a slave for a dumb little dog like this?
Christine led them all down to the kitchen. She felt bad because she couldn't afford to feed Squishie and Chase anything more than table scraps when Cocoa always got two grilled pork chops for breakfast in a fancy crystal dish. Squishie and Chase shared their table scraps without complaint because they had always shared. While the three pets ate, Christine went outside and fed the farm animals. By the time she got back in, the call bells were ringing. She hurried up the stairs, the breakfast trays carefully balanced so that they weren't going to spill or get dropped.
Regina was the first room she came to. Regina was a spoiled brat and behaved like a child despite her age. She had light blonde hair and bright blue eyes and an impish little nose. She could charm anybody with those little-girl features with little to no effort. She wore only colors that flattered her appearance and could spend hours at a make-up table. Christine placed her tray across her lap and had everything just so-so to avoid the high-pitched shriek that meant all was not perfect. Luckily, Regina didn't shriek like a banshee this time. She merely squinted at Christine, the little freckles across the bridge of her nose blending together.
"You smell absolutely terrible! Been sleeping with the pigs again? And look at all those ashes on your dress! We ought to call you Cinderella."
Christine bit back a harsh reply and merely started out the door.
"Not so fast, Cindersoot! The Baron is going to take me riding today. I want my best baby-blue dress perfectly pressed and mended in the next hour."
Christine retrieved the dress and lay it over her shoulder. Regina watched her go with the sour expression of someone who had something nasty under her nose and it really wasn't becoming to her.
"Now I know why some animals eat their young," Chase commented, causing Squishie to chuckle.
Amanda's room was next. If Regina depended on her childish good-looks and her bubble-gum flavored voice to attract people, Amanda was more dependent on her other assets. The dresses that she wore all strained around the chest area and exposed plenty of skin. Where Regina preferred pastels and light, breezy fabrics, Amanda preferred darker, louder colors that drew attention and fabrics that clung to her voluptuous figure. They shared the same blonde hair, but Amanda's eyes were emerald green. They were the chilliest eyes that Christine had ever seen. Amanda's voice was dark like stained glass in a sharp contrast to Regina's and she was the most dangerous when she was quiet. Amanda used to scare Christine when they were growing up by threatening to stab her in her sleep.
"It's about time you got here," Amanda snapped. She had slept nude, bruises staining her neck from her latest make-out session. There wasn't a doubt in Christine's mind that Carlotta had no earthly idea how many bedtime visitors that she had. Without a word, Christine gave her the breakfast tray and waited for the inevitable demands that would follow.
"I want my red gown mended." Amanda began to eat as though she were starving. Christine picked up the red dress and notice that the seams were torn in several places. Most likely, Amanda would insist that those were "accidents". She shuffled it around so that the rips wouldn't show. Then, she took the last tray in to Carlotta.
Carlotta immediately began to shout in the bogus Italian accent that she insisted on using. Her limp strands of blonde hair fell around her shoulders. The rich red wig she would don later was sitting on the dresser.
"It's about time you came in! I just cannot get good help these days! What were you doing? Sleeping in again! And is it so much to ask that you keep your filthy ashes away from the rest of the house!? I just cannot find good help these days! You get your act together or I will toss you out into the streets and see how good you do then!"
Once the tirade was over, Carlotta sipped calmly at her tea.
"See that you get all the laundry, the dusting, the window-washing, and the regular chores done. And polish my jewelry now--I have a very important night tonight."
Carlotta, although a baroness, had a job. It wasn't as though she liked working for a living--she griped about it on a regular basis. No, Carlotta was a show-off and had a job where she could be seen the most: the Royal Opera House. It was rumored that the royal family loved music and operas (as well as parties), so the king's great grandfather had ordered an opera house be built. There was also rumor that the royal line had the greatest musical blood out of anyone else in the kingdom. It was a great honor for a family to work for the king's opera house. Carlotta was the lead vocalist, known in those times as a diva. Her daughters Amanda and Regina were both singers as well as dancers. They were only chorus girls, but they always got the second and third biggest parts. Christine had never actually seen an opera and had only gone to the opera house as a lowly maid attendant. She'd never been inside the Grand Theater, only in the dressing rooms, the corridor, and the outside servant's entrance in the filthy alley.
Once Regina's dress was all ironed out, Amanda's dress completely repaired with reinforced seams, and Carlotta's jewels polished to a glaring shine, Christine carried all the items with her to the opera house. In her other hand, she carried a picnic lunch that she intended to share with Squishie and Chase. The upcoming opera was Hannibal and opening night was tonight. It meant that she would be here almost all day and wouldn't come home until the others did. Squishie and Chase trotted along on either side of her. From a distance, they could hear Carlotta's intense caterwauling from the stage. Chase's nose went up in the air despite his status as an alley cat.
"And they throw shoes at us saying we can't sing!" he commented.
"I can howl better than your stepmother! Who on earth's idea was it to hire her?" Squishie asked, shaking her head.
"They hired her because she has money," Christine sighed, "apparently, gold coins say a lot about a person."
"Well, they don't say enough!" Chase huffed.
The three of them approached the alley. Christine was careful to avoid the rotting trash and the stagnant puddles. They went into the corridor. Squishie and Chase tried to hide beneath a bench when one of the security guards walked by, but he grabbed them both by the scruffs of their necks.
"A mutt and a fleabag," he commented lazily as he opened the door, "out you go!"
Chase landed on his paws, but Squishie landed awkwardly on her side. She got up, whimpering slightly.
"And you...what are you doing here?" he asked disdainfully.
"I'm Carlotta's maid," Christine said, the title giving her a bitter taste in her mouth, "I've brought her things."
The guard watched her go into the dressing rooms one at a time and put the items in question down. Convinced, he left her alone. She ran back out to the alley to rejoin Chase and Squishie. Luckily, Squishie hadn't really been hurt although she'd landed in the mud. Christine cleaned her up as best she could with her apron.
"Oh, I hate that man! He's so mean to everyone," Christine muttered. The three of them cringed when they heard Carlotta hit a soured note.
"As much as she's practiced that song, you'd think she'd have it by now," Christine commented.
The sun was high in the sky now. As the three of them sat on the steps, Squishie pressed her nose against Christine's leg to get her attention.
"Why don't you sing it? No one's around but me and Chase."
Christine began to sing a few bars of the song. Unlike Carlotta's old, rusty, screeching voice, her pure, clear soprano rang out into the alley.
"Think of me,
think of me fondly
when we've said goodbye....
remember me...once in a while...
please promise me you'll try...
when you find...that once again you long...
to take your heart back
and be free...
if you ever find a moment...
spare a thought for me....
On this bright, cheerful day, Christine had forgotten her troubles in her musical moment. She forgot the whipping scars on her back. She forgot the pain of her father's death and the cruelty of her stepfamily. She knew only that music and songs gave her hope.
She was completely unaware of the hazel-golden eyes that watched her from above.