Who was the man behind the mask? As my soon as my hands were cupping his face his shoulders relaxed and he sighed, his fingers lightened on the keys of his piano. He exuded magnificence, majesty radiated from his very being and as I stood beside him I could feel this powerful energy pass through me.
Was he an angel?
Now being as close to him as I was, I quickly became aware of several details that I failed to gather the night before. His skin was surprisingly warm considering the chill of the cavern, and from where I was standing I could easily detect the clean aroma of
lavender and sage. Slowly the palm of my hand sought out the cold porcelain mask that hid the side of his face.
Or was he a Phantom?
It was perfectly sculpted and smooth, symmetrical to the rest of him, only the brow seemed to be molded in delicate sadness…the same sort of emptiness and longing that I'd seen briefly in his eye's as he sang to me.
I wanted to rip it away from him, to expose what I didn't know, to discard the depressing thing. As my hands found a better grip on his face he leaned in to me, another sigh of contentment passed his lips, and the song that he was playing swelled with feeling – pure happiness. Although I had yet to act on my thoughts and steal the mask away, guilt flooded my heart and I shrunk back a step. Surely if he was wearing one he had something to hide, something that he didn't wish to share with me. It was then that I decided that perhaps part of him was just as fragile as the porcelain he wore, and regardless of my completely justified curiosity, this was not the time to unmask him - not the night after he came in to existence, and not while he was so trusting and calm. He had the right to remove it of his own volition.
"I remember there was mist... swirling mist upon a vast glassy lake. There were candles all around, and on the lake there was a boat, and in the boat there was a man who sang wonderful things to me, about life and music, and dreams." I said quietly. "If this is not a dream, where are we and who are you?"
He continued to play lightly on his piano, pausing only for a moment as he considered my question. I dropped my hands to my sides and waited anxiously for his answer. This whole situation was so surreal and yet I was sure that the events had not reached their climax, surely last night was only the beginning.
"Every thing that I sang to you last night was true." He said. He brought his hands towards the higher end of the piano rest them there, keeping his eyes away from me.
I had believed a false reality for such a long time…but did that change anything? Was I to hate him now, knowing what I knew now?
His words from last night were ringing in my ears 'Let your mind start a journey to a strange new world, Leave all thoughts of the life you knew before, Let your soul take you where you long to be, Only then can you belong to me' The love, passion, and truth of his song for me was ethereal and the blazing fire it had filled me up with was still burning in my soul… and then I remembered the way that he held me against him, his hands coasting over my hips and caressing my cheeks so carefully, as if even the softest of pressure could have shattered me in to pieces. I'd known him for so long that in the moment his touch felt dangerously natural to me, but what now? It seemed that he was waiting the reckoning, after all my only real reaction so far to his advances as a teacher and a man was fainting.
"Hearing you sing... with you here – at last to know the truth…" I struggled to find the words to say, some way to accurately describe how I was feeling.
He turned to me, his brilliant eye's flashed anxiously as he waited for me to finish.
I gestured to the cavern around us with both of my hands and smiled. "Reality doesn't seem to apply to you or this place, or anything that I thought I knew before…I am very surprised. Never did I suspect that you were so close to me, or that you were a man."
"Not quite the angel you imagined and hardly a man." He practically whispered. "Do not let your eyes deceive you child." There was a fire behind his eyes now, barely evident but I could see it, and for the first time since he'd brought me down to his home I was uncomfortable. There was a darker side to him that I had almost forgotten. He was the one who haunted this place, the one who controlled the theater, who sent the mysterious notes, the one who killed those who came too close, the phantom of the opera… but when had I ever been subjected to the phantom? All he had ever been for me was a guiding voice, a teacher, my angel of music. If he meant to cause me harm I was sure that he would have found a way by now, and he would have never brought me here, never attempted to let me know him this way.
"It makes me happy to have properly met you." I said, letting my eyes fall to the floor. "Now that I know you are living, breathing… not just the voice in my head."
The Phantom placed a finger under my chin, lifting my gaze back to his, studying me closely. I couldn't breathe.
"When you call to me, I will bring you here. If I call to you, you will come. Remember that you are my pupil, that your voice belongs to me, and death will come swiftly to anyone that would hope to remove you from my guidance or this opera house." His expression was cool, the way he held my face gentle but possessive.
I drew my brows together, determined not to look away again. My heart was pounding in my chest. How ever softly he was speaking to me, the meaning behind his words echoed loudly in my mind. My voice came out as barely a whisper. "I could never dream of leaving this place, or to end our lessons. I have nothing else in this world."
He turned back to the piano. His shoulders were tense and rigid. "I understand." He said. Then, as if our conversation had smoothly ended, he returned to his music, leaving me standing behind him like an awkward fool.
There was so much more that I wanted to say and so many questions that needed answers. I wanted to know the truth or at least more of it but couldn't find the courage to interrupt him.
I watched him start to sway with the progression of his song. He seemed to gracefully dive in to its world, become one with the key's, and soon I too was drawn in to the shadowy depths of its beauty.
First there was terror and pain, followed by bounding leaps of freedom… which spiraled in to never ending darkness. Before I could stop myself I was lowering to sit beside him on the bench, facing the great green lake that surrounded us. He watched me with stiff apprehension as I made myself comfortable but flashed a gentle smile when I closed my eye's, silently urging him to continue.
"Christine." He sighed my name with affection and his song changed its path. These new joyful and carefree melodies swept me away to large open fields, carried me through them until I could practically smell the grass and clover and feel the sun warming my face. Soon I was no longer at The Angel of Music's throne, but somewhere far away in paradise, the opera house long forgotten. Fleeting memories of my childhood flashed through my mind and magic blissfully coursed through my veins, cleansing away every impurity. It had been too long since I'd felt this sort of happiness, perhaps since before my father had passed on.
"Christine?" his concerned voice startled me from my fantasy and I popped open my eye's. How much time had passed? The music had stopped and his masked face was close to mine. Tears had fallen freely from my eyes and he was holding my cheeks in his gloved hands, carefully smoothing them away with his thumbs. I blushed at this sudden contact, shocked that I hadn't noticed him stop playing to come to me. He was so close that I could feel his short, struggling bursts of breath… close enough that I could count his eye lashes, could read the anguish clearly in his eyes.
His hands were trembling. It was hard to form words with him staring at me so intensely. He was wiping away my tears individually, as if each one blighted my complexion. "Forgive me Angel, it was not my intention to make you weep." He promised sincerely.
"These are tears of joy!" I assured him breathlessly. "Thank you!"
His hands fell and he whipped around to face the piano again, as if he couldn't stand the sight of me for a second longer. "I should have never brought you here."
"You do not belong here in this wretched place."
"Please!" I begged unable to control myself any longer. "Why must you live in hiding? I long to understand your suffering." I reached up to grip his mask and he flinched away in horror and jumped to his feet, nearly tipping over the bench as he made his great escape.
In the blink of an eye he had swiftly put at least twenty feet between us before coming to a halt and whipping around to glare at me. All tenderness was gone from his expression and was replaced with a booming rage so strong that I could feel its static buzzing through the air. He rose a finger, pointing at me.
"Never seek what lies behind this mask!" he growled. "Do you understand me?"
Hot tears were forming in my eyes again. I brushed them away with the back of my hand. He wasn't making any sense. "Angel
"No! I am a monster Christine, there is no place for me on the surface, no room for me in your world. Soon if already by now you will grow to despise me. I should have never brought you here! In the flesh I can only bring you despair."
What could possibly make him think this way? I shakily made my way off of the bench, my knees buckled as soon as my feet hit the ground but I took several steps forward, anxious to close some of the distance that he put between us. At no point did he come across to me as a monster. Contrarily he was always brilliant, beautiful in every way – physically comparable to Adonis, intellectually he was supreme, a creative genius. For as long as I'd been a student at the opera house he was there to guide and comfort me, to show me the light where I could only find darkness. "Stop this now!" I cried. "How could you think so lowly of yourself? Your so wonderful, so talented…" my thoughts trailed to only minutes earlier when we were sitting side by side as he captivated me with his happy music, and then to when he was drying my tears with such care. "No… not a monster, to me you are still an angel."
He grinned mockingly and tapped his stony covered cheek. "That is because you cannot – will not see." His eye's narrowed in despair. "Hardly an angel... Stranger than you dreamt it, can you even dare to look or bear to think of me, this loathsome gargoyle who burns in hell, but secretly yearns for heaven secretly, secretly...Oh Christine." My heart broke as he began to sing, not with his magnificent clarity or radiance, but paralyzing torture.
"Fear can turn to love, you'll learn to see, to find the man behind the monster, this repulsive carcass who seems a beast but secretly dreams of beauty, secretly, secretly...Oh, Christine..."