Welcome to the sequel to Beyond the Green Baize Door!
This story picks up almost immediately where the first left off, and will be told in a similar style with a series of interconnected vignettes which will hopefully build into a coherent plot once I get things sorted.
I don't usually like titles taken from the libretto, but The Garish Light of Day suited my intentions perfectly.
ANGEL OF THE MORNING
The light was blinding.
It may only have been from the weak winter sun, but the brilliance after so long spent in the darkness of the cellars, illuminated by nothing more than candles and the orange flame of a gas lamp was enough to force Erik to halt on the threshold, a hand flung over his eyes. A loud thumping resounded in his ears, a noise he dimly realised was his own heartbeat. Trying desperately to calm himself he leant against the rusting gate behind him; after a moment or two his hectic breathing calmed and he made himself lower his arm to properly take a look at his surroundings.
He blinked several times, adjusting his vision to the unaccustomed brightness. When was the last time he ventured out of doors during the hours of daylight? He found he couldn't remember. On the odd occasion he spent all night up on the roof of the Opera House watching the stars he had stayed just long enough to watch the dawn wash its shades of red and gold across the deep blue sky before he retreated below, fleeing from the march of day and the waking city as though the touch of the sun's rays might burn him. He was a creature of the night, the darkness a cocoon, a safety net. He belonged here, in the shadows; in their comforting embrace he could disappear completely. In the dark, appearances did not matter, differences went unremarked. In the dark, he could pretend to himself that he was a normal man, that those distortions of body and soul which had condemned him to live his life apart from the rest of the human race simply did not exist. Those fantasies did not last for long, it was true, but in the small hours of the morning they had afforded him some comfort.
With trembling fingers he reached up to tug the brim of his hat further across the right side of his face. He knew that he had to move, to make that first step into the outside world, but he could not. The Rue Scribe, the street onto which the gate led, might as well have been as wide as the Champs Elysées; he became entranced by the way the sunlight fell upon the pavement and cobbles, filtering through the gaps between buildings and glancing from the window panes, dappling even the straw and refuse which lay in the gutters. Somehow he had forgotten the effects the sun could have, the subtle play of light and shade. Now that he had allowed himself to look, to let his gaze to travel over what was probably the most mundane of sights, an empty side street first thing in the morning, he found that he could not turn away. For so many years he shunned the light, the world above his head... could he actually have missed it?
No. Erik squeezed his eyes shut. While the daytime might have its superficial attractions, he could not be blind to its dangers, its inherent ugliness. Light was unmerciful; it had never been kind to him. It aided and abetted those who saw him only to jeer and mock, who regarded him as a lesser form of life than themselves. He shuddered at the memory of lanterns and torches thrust close to the bars so that the beast, the freak might be seen more clearly. On one occasion a determined onlooker had snatched a blazing club from the fire-eater, shoving it so far into the cage the Erik had almost been set alight; he could still smell the burning pitch even now. Light, unless it was under his control, was no friend of his.
"Erik?" The sound of a sweet voice speaking his name made him jump. When he opened his eyes Christine stood before him, a soft smile on her face and her gloved hand outstretched, and he realised that he had unconsciously drawn back into the shadows of the passageway. "It's all right; there's no one here."
Tentatively he reached out to take her hand; she closed her slender fingers around his, attempting to draw him from his sanctuary, but he held firm. Cowardice it may have been, but he could not bring himself to emerge fully into the brightness outside. He wanted to hang his head in shame; what must she think of him, the mighty Opera Ghost, reduced to a terrified child!
"Erik, it's all right," she said again when he did not answer. "I know this must be difficult for you; the first step is always the worst."
A step; yes, that's all it was, but it felt as though that one step was over the edge of a precipice. Once he walked away from the Rue Scribe gate there would be nowhere to hide. He would be subject to stares and scrutiny; people they passed would no doubt wonder who he was, what lay behind the mask and how the man wearing it had come to have such a beautiful young woman on his arm. Becoming the Phantom had allowed him to build a wall around his heart, to assert his dominance and crush the fear and doubt beneath his heel... how disturbingly easy it was for the whole facade to come crashing down.
Almost as though she had read his mind, Christine squeezed his hand and said, "No one will be watching. I'll look after you, I promise."
He laughed, a sharp, humourless sound. "Oh, Christine. It is I who should be saying that to you." Glancing up at her from beneath the wide brim of his hat, he met her eyes and felt his throat thicken at the sight of the sympathy in their brown depths. "Do you think me the most pathetic creature alive?"
Christine stood on tiptoe to kiss him on his exposed cheek. "No," she told him as she drew back, resting her left hand on top of the right which encircled his own. The grained leather of her gloves felt strange against his skin. "You are merely showing that you are human, and there is nothing wrong in that."
Erik regarded her with something akin to awe. Over the past two weeks, as he lay recuperating five floors below the Opera, he had felt like pinching himself more than once, scarcely able to believe that this amazing woman, who could have had anything in the world should she but ask for it, had chosen to give it all up for him. Whenever he was with her he could hardly relax, convinced that at any moment God might decide to smite him down for presuming so much, for finally experiencing happiness at such a late hour in his miserable life. It was a ridiculous thought, but one he could not dislodge, however hard he tried. Christine frowned slightly, her head on one side, as he gazed at her. "I'm sorry," he said, mentally shaking himself. "Have I ever told you how wonderful you are?"
She looked confused for a moment before a smile, a wide, warm, affectionate smile, spread across her face. Bending down, she picked up the carpet bag from where it lay by his feet; he had dropped it heedlessly when he emerged from the tunnel and now she hefted it in one of her hands, using the other to gently coax him out of the shadows. "Come on," she said, "Madame Giry will be waiting for us."
As she moved the sun glanced from the curls which escaped the chignon into which they had been twisted, picking out brilliant auburn amidst the mahogany brown. Loose strands touched her forehead and clustered around her ears, brushing the soft curve of her jaw. Away from the shifting shadows cast by lanterns or guttering candles, her skin almost seemed to glow; her cheeks were pink, stung with colour by the chilly breeze that he had not really felt until that moment. The blue of her cloak and the crimson scarf around her neck threw her into sharp relief against the grey and white of the buildings surrounding them; she could almost have been painted fresh, in broad sweeps of an artist's brush, so brightly did she gleam. She looked different, so different that it took him some time to work out why and by that time they were walking down the street, her hand tucked through his good arm as though they were any normal couple.
He had never seen her in the daylight before.
Christine had always been beautiful to him, whether he caught a glimpse of her under the gas lamps of the house by the lake or in the limelight on stage, but out here, away from the perpetual night of his world, that beauty was positively luminous. Some might believe that angels were perfect, golden beings burnished by God's hand, flawless and unblemished, but Erik disagreed. His angel had no need of any celestial polish; she might have a nose that was a fraction too long and a scar on her chin that could only been seen when the sun kissed her face, but he felt her warm, graceful figure at his side, watched the bounce of her lustrous curls and the sparkle in those coffee-coloured eyes and knew that no entity sent from Heaven could match her.
Best of all, she was willing to take the hand of a creature born into darkness and lead him towards the light. He only hoped he would prove worthy.