1
The Student's Debut

A hundred faces bent upwards towards me from the stalls; a hundred more leaned down from the boxes and the circles.

Countless white faces, like the buds of pale exotic blossoms, each transfixed in a blissful state of sensation, as though I were the sun glistening down upon them, their life source. Their petal lips curled into smiles, their leaves seemed to lift with sheer ecstasy, they bloomed with inspired beauty.

All at the sound of my voice. My voice.

"Recall those days, look back on all those times…"

My every nerve stood crystallised in this pure moment. I could have stretched my shoulders and burst musical white wings from my back, right then, and soared away on the sheer gorgeous notes and the surging of my lungs. I had never felt so heightened or utterly liberated, so recognised and yet solitary in my own joy.

"Think of those things we'll never do."

One thought, only one thought caused all of this, caused my throat to open smoothly and my muscles to push out every last breath of song within me. A thought that made my heart dance against my breast and stretched my moving lips into an incandescent smile. A thought that lifted me to the painted cherubs and luminous clouds above, above everything.

He will be so pleased!

I could barely restrain the wriggling glee that every transcendent instant brought. Somewhere here, perhaps even beside me now, invisible, the Angel of Music was delighting in my success. He was waiting to lavish praise upon me, waiting to raise his voice for pleasure and pride in my name.

"There will never be a day, when I won't think of you!"

Perhaps, perhaps this time – as reward, as a special treat – he would appear to me at last. Would he look just like Father?

Would he have a kindly face with dark curls and warm dark eyes? Would he carry with him the violin that Father loved?
Would he have a halo and wings, would he wear robes of white as all the pictures did?

"Flowers fade, the fruits of summer fade, they have their seasons, so do we."

My carefree, floating gaze brushed over Raoul in his box for just a moment. His eyes greeted mine and he smiled, a conspirator's smile that only childhood friends are allowed to share. But I was above him, in this moment. I was above all things, in the midst of Heaven itself.

The crescendo was so simple and so easy, I barely thought of it. My well-trained muscles did the work for me, breathing and controlling the air with all the sweet abandon of childish triumph. I knew I had done superbly. I knew that I had captivated hundreds of people, that they quite suddenly loved me for my talents. But his love was worth ten audiences and more, and our next encounter was mere hours away, and I was impatient.

Flowers of all assortments and colours and beauties soared through the air towards me – a hundred manifested compliments. It was over. I had done it. I had made him the proudest Angel in all of Paradise. How we would laugh and weep for joy together tonight! How glorious and worthy I would feel, bathed and basking in his ethereal love, the only love that mattered in the wide wide world.

And he would pass the news of my triumph on to dear Father, who would be beside himself in delight and pride, in his comfortable candlelit rooms in Heaven. How beautiful, how wonderful the image was. He would play his violin for weeks to come in celebration, merry tunes that he used to pluck and stroke away for our amusement, in those long attic nights at home.

The curtain was falling, and instantly I found myself flocked by chirruping ballet dancers and well-wishing singers. All wanted to praise me.

Grinning and bowing with as much grace as I could muster, I edged and edged until a gap opened, and fled so nimbly my absconding was scarcely noticed at first. Avoiding the sound of my name echoing after me, I rushed down, down to the cool refuge of the chapel, where the candles were few and flickering, and the images of seraphs hovered everywhere - in the delicious glass stained window, in the alcove where the lights glowed brightest. I knelt.

"Angel! Angel, I am here." I called enthusiastically, though softly – lest anyone else should find and interrupt me, "I am waiting here!"

He would arrive soon enough, I knew. He came when he wished, and I came when I was told.
I never minded. I loved to be called, loved to be instructed and coddled and adored with a fatherly patience. It had always been this way with us.

In some strange way that often made me shiver nowadays, I loved not only to obey, but to subjugate myself wholly unto that resounding masculine will, to give myself up in everything to him. Because he was not only an Angel, but a man. A man devoted to me. Before I slept in the dead of night, tired from our training, I would wonder gently, secretly to myself about the nature of angels. Did they age, or were they forever young and beautiful? Surely the latter. Did they love only in the celestial sense? Was it against God's law to love a mortal girl so closely? Was my Angel breaking any of the rules of Heaven to be with me always, or was he my Guardian, sworn solely to protect me?

What would happen if I ever found a handsome boy?
Would my Angel be jealous or cautious or gracious?

I lit a candle beside my Father's old portrait, enjoying the feel of the billowing white folds of my stage gown around me.

Was my Angel handsome, if he didn't look like Father after all?

"Bravo, bravo, bravissimi…"

At last, his elegant tones echoed around the tiny stone room, and drew my soul out of its hiding place. I felt him infusing every fibre of his pride and doting love into my body, my breast rose for awed breathlessness. At last, at last!

But then - suddenly - clumsy wide footfalls drummed upon the stairs.

"Christine. Christine?"

Meg! Couldn't she leave me be for a moment?

The Angel was already slipping away; I could feel his presence fading, fading back into the ethereal. Don't go, I begged with my soul, but he was gone.

"Where in the world have you been hiding?"
I forced a clumsy smile, giving off the impression of pleasant surprise as I roiled within.

Later, I would hear him.
Later.