Disclaimer: I do not own Erik, or Meg, or Madame Giry, or any other characters from the ingenious mind of Gaston Leroux! Anne, however, she's mine...well, she resides in my head until her story is done.
I didn't realize how sick Mama was until I was sent to go live with her sister in Paris. Mama and I had always been close, closer than most people would think proper for a young woman going on the age of twenty-five. I remembered those early days before we went to live with Grandmama, and Mama and I drew so close during our time of much sorrow. Father had died and we realized that it was because of his gambling debts that we would lose everything. Our servants, whom we had loved so dearly, took what they could and fled without so much as a goodbye. The collectors came and took everything else. Then, we sold the house. There was very little left, barely enough for Mama, me, and my little sister who was five years old at the time. I was eleven, and Mama had considered sending me to the workhouse, but she had wanted to keep her daughters close. During those desolate months, Mama worked found work as a housekeeper in a lady's house, and she found me work in the kitchen. Elizabeth, who even at five years was a beautiful child, was allowed to be a companion to the lady's daughter and took lessons with her. Mama and I worked for very little in order to cover the costs of Elizabeth's lessons, but we were given food, shelter, and Mama and I had each other.
Then, just after I had turned fifteen, Grandmama Hillcrest found us. She was a friend to the great lady we worked for, and we were then off to live with Grandmama. She couldn't bear the thought of her own grandchildren working when she had the means to support them. She rebuked Mama for not coming sooner, and Elizabeth and I were sent to school, where I was able to return to my studies that had lapsed since Father's death. I studied music, and art, and literature, and I always told Mama everything. We wrote letters back and forth, and holidays were the best because I got to see her, and it was during my last holiday, just before I turned eighteen that I saw she was sick. In the beginning she was just pale, and had a slight cough. The doctors later said that she had consumption.
Once I left school, to Grandmama's much dislike, I became Mama's nurse. I took care of her as much as I could, but I was committed to social obligations as well. I went to balls, and teas, in hopes to find a suitor, but I was never able to find one who met my standards and I meet his. It wasn't that I had high standards, but I wanted to marry love. Something that Grandmama could not quite understand, but Mama did. Mama had married for love.
"You see how well it turned out for her!" Grandmama would always say. I would always smile and think to myself, that she got me and Elizabeth, even if Father was not the best in the world.
I had been taking a brief nap in my room when I was suddenly woken by the sound of Grandmama talking to Mama in the next room over. Despite the grandeur of the estate, the walls were terribly thin.
"Maria," Grandmama was addressing Mother. "You must send her to visit your sister in Paris. She can't stay here forever as your nurse."
I was approaching twenty-five and Mama had been managed to hold on to life for so long, but I could tell that eventually she would no longer have the courage to keep fighting. A good diet and the will to see me happy had kept her alive, but even I knew she wouldn't live forever.
"But Antoinette is busy looking after her own child, and she works…"
"Yes, yes, I know. She works in that dreadful Opera House, though Heaven knows why she would want to go back there, after the fire. The point of the matter is that Anne has been through too many Seasons here and she is likely to be considered an old-maid very soon! Elizabeth is preparing to make her debut and she is going to be such a triumph. Perhaps sending Anne to France would provide her with the opportunity to marry for love, as you seem to think it's so necessary."
Mother, I knew, desperately wished for me to marry. Not just because it was something that everyone did, or because she wanted me to be away from her, but because she wanted me to be happy, and I think she believed deep down that always being here was not going to make me happy. Sending me to Paris, however, was not something either of us intended. I had not seen Aunt Antoinette since I was very young and it was just before she had had her baby. My curiosity had been peaked at the mention of an Opera House. Of course, I had read of the burning of the Opera Populaire. The details had been vague but there had been murders and a kidnapping just before the Opera House was set a flame. It had taken them till now, five years later, to rebuild it.
"You'd have my daughter be a working girl?" Maria asked.
"What your daughter does is up to you and your sister. I just thought introducing her into a society that she has some interest in might do her a world of good."
I doubted it. Though I would love to be around music all day long, I would hardly think…
"Let me know when she wakes up."
I sat up, realizing that I was to go to Paris. Mama couldn't possibly send me away. She needed me just as much as I needed her.
The door to my room opened and in walked Grandmama. "I suppose you heard our entire conversation, Anne."
"Yes, I did. I am to go then?"
"Go see to your mother, child. She will explain it all to you."
I got out of bed and darted to Mama's room. She was sitting in a rocking chair beside the window. In the pale light of the rainy afternoon, Mama looked almost transparent, as if she were an angel sitting there. "Mother?"
Mama turned and held out her arms to me. I gladly ran to them and knelt down beside her. "Must I go, Mama?"
"We will be a part for just a little while, dearest Anne."
"But what if something should happen to you?" I felt tears prick my eyes. "What shall I do without you?"
"Anne, even if I die while you are away, it is only temporary. Some day we will be together forever." Mama lifted my face and I looked into her beautiful blue eyes. "You knew I wouldn't live forever, child."
"I just thought that you would be around to see me marry and to see your grandchildren."
"I'll see all of that from, Heaven, child. You must be strong, Anne, and know that I will always be with you."
I realized then and there that I would probably never see my mother again if I went to Paris. "Mama…"
"Anastasia." Mother cut me off with a look I knew all too well. "You must not mourn when I am gone. I will go to a place where there is no more pain and no more sorrow."
I laid my head on her lap and I felt her reassuring hand stroke my hair.
It took them two weeks to get everything ready for my departure, and during that time I spent it all with Mama. Mama's health was not doing so well, and I hated to leave her. But maybe the knowledge of me going would make her happy and she could die knowing that I was pursuing my happiness. I would read to her, and sing to her, and when she felt well enough to come down to the music room, I would play for her. My social obligations were put on hold, but Grandmama had seen to making arrangements for me to have an appointment at a Parisian dress shop as soon as I arrived. I would have to be equipped with the latest styles and fashions.
Apparently, I would be staying at the Opera House which was exciting yet frightening. At the London Opera House there were always rumors of ghosts or spirits that would walk the halls late at night, and I couldn't help but wonder what was going to be awaiting me in Paris. Mama had said that they had found private quarters for me, which I found to be slightly ridiculous. I wasn't going to be anyone special so I could have just as well stayed with the ballerinas in the dormitories. However, it was apparently Grandmama's desire that I have my own place to sleep.
Elizabeth I would not see until summer when she would be making her debut into London society. It was just as well. My baby sister and I did not get along well, since I had seemed to excel at everything, and she nothing. The only thing she had ever managed to do well was to attract the attention of the aristocracy. When Elizabeth had turned sixteen, she had had ten marriage proposals before we had even sat down to breakfast. It came as no surprise considering how beautiful Elizabeth was. She had inherited Mama's golden hair, startling blue eyes, and lithe figure. I on the other hand, had blue-black hair that was nothing but curls, eyes that were so light blue they appeared to have no color at all, and a figure that had over-developed when I reached eighteen.
"What are you doing staring at yourself in the mirror, child?"
I turned in my seat to find my mother standing in the doorway of my room. "Mama, you should be resting." I stood up and rushed over to her. I guided her over to my bed and we sat down side by side.
"You look so beautiful, Anne."
I was wearing a traveling gown of dark green and a black jacket. "Thank you, Mama." I waited patiently as Mama had a coughing fit. She coughed into a handkerchief and as always she attempted to hide the blood.
"Now, Anne, I want you to promise me that you will be a good girl and will have a good time in Paris. Antoinette has a daughter about Elizabeth's age, and I would like the two of you to become friends. Her daughter, I fear, has not seen much society since she is always cooped up in the Opera House."
"Yes, Mama." At this point, if she had asked for the moon I would have given it to her.
"You'll be traveling with Jane?" Mama was referring to my maid who was to act as my chaperone and then my maid.
"Anne, you'll be leaving shortly, and there is something we need to discuss."
Mama had had time to tell me everything I would ever need to know, so I was curious to know what she had wanted to discuss now…just moments before I was to leave.
"What is it?" I took her hands in mine and turned to face her properly.
"Anne, I have no doubt that you're going to meet someone in Paris. While living in the Opera Populaire you will meet many people from all social statuses. You know what I've always wanted for you. I want you to marry for love and to be happy. Though your father left us in terrible circumstances, I loved him deeply. It is a love that I never found again, and I am glad. Now, I know I don't have to tell you to treat people well, because you do that already. However, the heart is very fickle, and you must guard it carefully, yet love with your heart and not with your mind."
"What do you mean?"
"The mind always lies to us. Our minds can be tricked, but the heart is connected to your soul, and if your soul does not burn with love, then you may not have found what you are looking for."
I turned this thought over in my head for a moment. "I think I understand."
"You will understand in time, Anne. Just be happy, and my soul can be at peace."
I leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I promise Mama. I will be happy."
"Anne?! Are you ready?"
The moment had come. I was to be taken from my mother, from heaven itself. Now that it was here, I didn't want to go. "Mama…"
"Goodbye, Anne. Don't look back." She pressed a wrapped parcel into my hands, and I felt as if she were saying goodbye for forever.
I stood up and looked at my mother. She had done all she could in making herself look beautiful for me. But I could tell that the dress hung too loosely and that skin was unusually pale. Could I really leave my mother like this? Could I abandon her after everything we had been through together? Could I let her go?
"Goodbye, Mama." I kissed her goodbye and then I fled from the room. I ran all the way down the stairs to where my Grandmama was waiting. I wanted out of the house as fast as I could. I wanted as far away as I could go before I looked back and regretted my decision. My chaperone and I would go by carriage and then board a ship that would take us to France and then take a carriage to Paris.
"Well, Anne, I trust you will make us proud in France. Try not to be too much of a burden to your Aunt. Make yourself useful." She bent down and pressed a kiss to my forehead.
"Yes, Grandmama." I curtsied dutifully and stepped into the carriage. I was not going to look back any more than mother was going to be standing at the window waiting for me to wave goodbye. As the carriage sped away, I felt a sense of great loss. I learned later that mother had cried all night long…just as I had.