''How old are you ?''
''Seventeen…sixteen, sir.'' A moment of crude, silent interrogation. "Sixteen."
''Daaé. It's Daaé, right ? Christine Daaé.''
''Yes, sir, Christine Daaé.''
''That's a very pretty name. Are you European ? French perhaps ?''
''My father is from Sweden.''
"Is that a light accent that I discern?"
''And what of your mother ?''
''My mother died. Six years ago. Car accident. She was American. Or not. We don't talk about her.''
''My condolences, Christine. My most sincere apologies, I shouldn't have asked.''
''You would have discovered one day. People who know me love to talk about it.''
''Yes, but I do not know any of your friends nor do I plan to question them about your life.''
''Oh. Isn't it what you do, though ? Inquire ? But, thank you I guess.''
''Everything that will be said here will remain strictly confidential, Christine. I am not allowed to divulge any information. Don't be scared.''
''I'm not scared. I don't care.''
''Christine, smile. You have such pretty lips, such pretty teeth.''
''You're the first to tell me such a thing.''
''It's true. Has no one complimented you thus before ?''
'Not really. Not like that.'' Hesitation. "Dad." A whispered confession. "But he does not count. Surely, you understand."
''I'll try. I didn't have a father myself.''
''Oh. How come ? Did he die ?''
''I don't know. Perhaps. But, Christine Daae, my matters aren't to be discussed. Tell me what's wrong ? Why creating this shell around you ?''
''Answer my question first.''
''And what sort of question will it be, dear girl ?''
''Why do you wear a mask?''
He told not to touch so she did not. The forbidden fruit. It intrigued her so, made her hand ache with the need to pull the deliciously taunting thing away. For some reasons his visage was to remain a blank slate as poor in truths as everything else about him. He still didn't have a name; he wanted for her to call him monsieur. Monsieur. An appellation of the strangest nature. They weren't even in France. New York City as a matter of clarity. Yet, it did not all that matter to her. She condescended to all sorts of requests to learn a little more, hear his voice break, see his countenance destroyed. But he, he was French. Monsieur suited him; Christine didn't even imagine calling him otherwise, and of course there was- everything always ended up coming back to the mask. Her curiosity increased every day as she gazed at that white face for yes, his mask was a full-face one, made out of something white. It seemed soft. Perhaps it was porcelain. She never dared to touch it; she never dared to even ask. Again. He had made it very clear; she was not to approach him, never. She had to stay at least a meter away and – oh God forbid her – never initiate contact. Not that she wanted.
Never was a word he liked. He always used it. He seemed to convince himself of something each time he spoke it, and the fashion in which he worshipped it was close to loving.
However she was not allowed to. A why she had not been granted an answer to. It bothered Christine, it bothered her almost to no edn. Monsieur ordered – yes, he actually ordered – for her to focus on the positive, on the good sides of life. For you see, he disliked greatly to see that pretty face of hers lit with something other than a smile. And so she did – with the mere exception of doing so whenever he wasn't around. Really, it only seemed natural because if she attempted to lie when with him, it was soon discerned and she lessoned. It killed her spirits to be an open book and so she was indeed trying to be happy, but it worked only away from him. Did it even made any sense? She supposed it did. Monsieur was a queer personage. Whenever she asked her father why he was that way, why he, her dad, made her go to him, he would only shake his shoulders and smile absentmindedly. It's for your best, that was always what he said. Always. The word he liked her to say. It was odd.
They were two extremes and yet distantly adored each other. She never grasped the notion of how her father came to like the masked man.
Everything in her very life had a link with Monsieur. Christine wasn't even sure she pronounced the word right, but he seemed to enjoy hearing her stumble on the syllables, for he always smiled – well perhaps not smile because his lips could not be seen, but give a sign of contentment when she addressed to him. Some may have called the situation strange; Christine was just used to it.
Monsieur loved to talk with her, and only with her it seemed. He never tired of saying so, and sometimes a little fright crept out of that shell of hers. His tone was eagerly possessive, words sharp and to be obeyed. One might have addressed to a lap dog in such way. Was it what she was? A lap dog for his amusement? It was partially true, she guessed. He did control her and she did not always protest. And the matter wasn't about her fetching a glass of water whenever asked to do so, no, it went further. Christine denied requests of friends to go out when he insisted on seeing her for an additional appointment. She never refused; she feared it would cause his anger to flare. The temper he possessed wasn't a pretty one. Deep inside she just wished he would go away, disappear one bright day, and leave her be. But no. Every day he was there; in his office, his back to her, looking outside. Waiting. Waiting, waiting, waiting. For her. Always for her. Not once, not even twice, did she wonder why he just didn't let her go. But everything one day comes crashing, and so her silence did reach its limits as well. So, like the foolish, young girl she was, one day Christine Daaé gathered enough gall to ask.
''Let me go,'' she pleaded in a quite tone, not daring to raise her head in risk of meeting a gaze she knew to be burning, ''I want to go out tonight.
And he was silent. ''Why ?''
The simplest of creatures could have answered. Because she had personal desires and wants, because she tired of being on a leash, because the rope had started to burn her neck. Yet she could dot and so stayed there, in her chair, gapping like a fish out of water. Her lungs screamed for oxygen, her mind for much-needed understanding which never came.
''Because I'm sixteen. I have a life, I want to go out with friends. What's wrong with that ? You keep me shut here all day long…I just have time to eat when I come back from school and then I have to rush here.''
''Sixteen, yes. Almost an adult, are we ? Pray tell then why your childish actions so often betray you. Now, now, dear, calm down, we don't want to see your depression come back.'' She couldn't recall ever having one. ''Good girl.'' Neither was she a puppy. "Now stop looking so upset. I'm doing this for your own good, Christine. Do you not know that by now I should have put you on pills? I keep postponing and postponing it; please do not make me act, at last. ''
She shook her head. No. ''I don't want to end up in an asylum.''
''Of course not. But you have to listen to my words, follow them to the letter, my darling, or else if not me, then someone else will make you visit this prison of white walls. And ironically enough, my Christine, I am the only one capable of saving your from it shall you indeed, as you put it, end up there. Now tell me how your day was. Who did you talk to? Who talked to you?''
That's how the talk about freedom, if only limited, left her with a bitter taste in the mouth. Not even her father reacted on parentally impulses when she told him – oh so many times – that the man was strange. He would smile, with a look so detached it pained her, pat her head in a fancy she remembered from childhood, and tell her it was for her that all this was done. Monsieur had said it too, more times than she cared to recall. Everything she loathed seemed to be for her own good. Her life was a bad satire.
He always called her my Christine. And now she didn't even protest the tender pet name; she was his indeed. He had claimed her, he had gained her. It was as simple as it was futile to search for a deeper meaning behind his eloquent phrases. It was frustrating. Christine just wished she never had had those mood swings a year ago so her father never would have booked a session with a psychologist. Psychiatrist – Monsieur corrected her later on.
Once, she did attempt to bring the subject of Monsieur into daylight.
''Dad, he wears a mask.''
He just had stared. ''Stop telling stories, Christine. He is a very kind man and he is very good to help you out with your problems.''
''I don't have any problems, dad. He wears a mask, did you hear me ? A full-faced mask. Only criminals do that. He's strange dad, I don't want to see him anymore. Please don't make me go there again.''
Christine could clearly remember him sighing greatly and rolling his eyes. It had angered her; it still did now. ''Oh Christine, you are speaking nonsense. A mask ? You must be joking. And you will continue seeing him; he is helping you a lot.''
''Don't tell me you've never seen him.''
''Of course I did. He doesn't wear a mask if that's what you asking.'' She gulped. Was she blind or indeed crazy? Would he put her on pills?
Christine had then played her finale ace. ''You don't even know his name. I still don't know it.''
''Of course I do,'' he had answered.
''What is it then ? I'm tired of calling him Monsieur.''
''I forgot. Go play Christine.''
And so he always sent her away every time she tried to talk with him about her peculiar doctor.
Of course Monsieur knew about the discussion she had with her father the next day. She hesitated between amazement and fright. Perhaps he was a magician; perhaps he not only knew how to make the picked card disappear, but also heard through walls. Like any other day she looked into his face; at his mask, blinking occasionally because her eyes hurt when dry and she so often forgot to even breathe when he was upset.
''You are tired of me already, my Christine?'' And back they were with the possessive tone. She wasn't a toy, however did not speak her thoughts out loud.
She shook her head; yes. There was no point in lying; Monsieur knew whenever she attempted to tell anything else but the truth.
''I think I am. I want to have a life. You don't let me have one.''
''I'm your doctor,'' pause, ''I keep your sanity intact,'' or was he destroying it, ''and if it happens to you to lose it along the way, you will never have a proper living. Didn't I tell you that I would always be there?''
''I'm not sure if I should take it as a menace or an odd definition of comfort,'' Christine spoke. ''I'm tired of all of this.''
''You'll never get rid of me, Christine, my Christine." The last word, a pleasant lilt.
She titled her head, a look of curiosity on her pale, tired face. ''Sounds like a threat, sir.''
''Merely a promise.'' But his tone was cold. A promise was a reassurance of the happening of a desired event; this did not resemble one.
''I'm not sure if I like this,'' she whispered. ''May I go to a party Saturday?'' This was risky ground. Saturday was the day that she usually spent with him alone. A fact which ceaselessly astonished her was that there was nothing psychological during those appointments. A sole Rorschach test would have put her mind at ease, but nothingness alone always met her. He would make her sit beside him on the couch, and then deft fingers would wander through her pale hair, caressing the tresses, making new ones. Sometimes, wordlessly, he would insist for her to lean against him, but she fought. Silently, Christine would refuse what he offered; his thin frame as a cushion, a bony bed. Oh, Monsieur was an awfully thin man. He would then sigh but his hands never retreated, and sometimes – and oh, how she loathed those moments – they would descend to her neck and palp the flesh there. Since she discovered how much he liked to touch her – though lines were never crossed - Christine began to wear high-collar shirts every accursed Saturday.
''Is there someone you are going with?'' he asked, weary. Nevertheless, the cold demeanor was a good sign for he hadn't bluntly refused as per habit.
''Meg, Meg Giry,'' quickly, she replied. ''She's my best friend, remember? We'll go to Ashley's place.''
Pause. She thought she heard a timeless clock mock her in the distance. Mayhap, it was his breathing.
''And what of paramours, Christine?''
And so the aforementioned Christine lied, ''None will be there. It's a girl's night. You know, popcorn, soda, romantic comedies.''
''Romantic comedies.'' The word he seemed to weight in the palm of one hand, and then carelessly discard after a fitting fate had been assigned. ''It's a tragedy, Christine. But wouldn't a good ending please your better?''
Sometimes he was more of a sphinx than of a devil.
''Christine, Christine, assure me that you are not lying, shamelessly lying while looking into my eyes.''
''I am not. You know when I do. Why would I?''
Just like a cruel father with a passion for forbidding, he leaned forward and a hand hovered into the air, promised to seize her chin, but did decide to remain a threat yet not in reach.
He spoke so softly, "Of course."
''What ?'' Again, her mouth was impotent for coherence.
And his smile was a tender one while he was eyeing her with that adoration she came to loathe. A step forward; one back; at last the thumb grazed the petal cheek. Christine jerked back, and turned her face away from him.
''You will not go to class on Monday.''
Disbelief – as for indignation she did not have the courage – darkened her feature. What did he say again? ''Excuse-me?'' Christine hissed. ''I beg your pardon? I have an English exam and I won't miss it.''
''I am afraid that you will. But you shan't be punished, my dear, for it happens that all I need to do to silence your teacher's remarks is to write a note.''
Ah, but at home she was free from containing emotions. They burst out of her, wild and violent.
''Dad!'' Her shrill cry was heard throughout the household. ''Dad ! What's Monsieur's hair colour?''
''What a bizarre question. Blond, if my memory is correct. Why ?''
Monsieur had black hair.
''I hope your day was most enjoyable, my dear.''
''It was, thank you Monsieur.''
''You're easily amused; it's a good thing. But do tell me of the details.''
''Meg got kicked out of class. We kept texting each other during Math class, and she got caught.''
''And you were not ?''
''I'm quicker. I hid my cell phone in my pocket before Mr. Jenkins could see it. I told you, I'm fast.''
''Clever thing, you are. Give me your cell phone.''
''I beg your pardon?''
''Your cell phone, Christine. This very instant, if you please.''
''Don't break it. Here. Hey! Don't look! It's private.''
''Oh look, you have a new voice mail. Shall we listen to it ?''
''Yes, yes, of course we shall. How very interesting. It was from Gregory. Do you perchance know a boy named Gregory, my Christine ?''
''Yes, he's my science partner.''
''And what did I tell about male acquaintances?''
''I didn't have a choice. Mrs. Jones was the one to make the teams. If I could I would have been with Meg. She's stuck with Marianne. She's a nice, but somewhat weird girl.''
''I want you to keep your cell phone with you – always with you, wherever you go – during that party on Saturday. Am I clear?''
''What the hell has the party to do with you ?''
''Your language, my darling. I told you to do it, and therefore you will. Or do you want to miss a week of school? Bad character needs constant correction.''
''I'm pretty sure this isn't even legal anymore.''
''Christine, Christine, I make the rules.''
A little less than twenty-four hours were left. Christine saw awakening a new, strange fright caused by the unknown. She had seen Monsieur's anger in each of its stage, and the perspective of perhaps discovering a new one wasn't at all appealing. There were going to be boys, there were going to be brewages. Getting drunk was part of the plan. As a teenager, it was her duty to experience everything there was to experience, she had decided earlier. Monsieur would not be the one to stop her – not even dad held this power. His control and commands were tiring; rebellion could almost been seen crossing the border. He would call and ask questions, he would call and question her until she questioned herself. Before doubt came creeping, she unplugged her cell phone and threw it on her bed.
''…There will be James and Jordan too…Oh and yeah, the twins – they are hot – though I don't remember their names. I think it's Christopher and Andrew?''
''Christian,'' she corrected, ''Christian and Alexander. You were almost there, Meg.''
Her friend rolled her eyes. ''Whatever. Oh my God, and there will be this new hot boy too. I don't know his name.'' More rambling ensued, more useless rambling which actually helped her to calm down. ''Do you prefer Jack Daniels or Tequila?''
She did however wonder whether she was fooling herself or not before forgetting about her worries.