I haven’t done a Fiction Friday in a while, and I thought it might be fun to share a scene from the Phantom of the Opera retelling I’m in the process of revising. I brought this scene into my writing group recently, so why not here too? This is well after the Phantom plotline that everyone knows; my heroine, Meg Giry, has become friends with the Phantom, and this scene follows directly after her first trip below the Opera to see where he lives…and now she has to explain that to her mother!
I stayed longer than I meant to. How could I possibly not stay longer than I meant to in the Phantom’s apartments? When I finally mentioned leaving, he was perfectly courteous about guiding me back up into the daylight—though if it hadn’t been August, with its long days, there would have been scant daylight left.
I was late getting home. Mother was in the kitchen, preparing supper, which was at least better than if she had met me at the door. But she did say almost immediately, “I expected you sooner than this. Something come up at the Opera?”
“No, not really,” I said, and tried to brush past her to my own room.
But maybe I spoke too fast, or my eyes were too bright or my cheeks too pink. Something made her turn away from the stove, and study me with eyes narrowed and expression thoughtful. “Are you sure nothing happened?”
How did she always know? “Of course,” I said, trying to seem cheerful but not too cheerful. “I mean, first day back, it’s exciting. And the girls were so nice about it. Even Madame Thibault smiled, just a little.”
“Mm-hmm,” Mother said, with no change in her expression. “Is there some new word from Léon?”
This came at me completely unexpectedly, with no counterfeiting of surprise required. “What? No, nothing about…Léon.” Too late it occurred to me that could have been a perfectly good excuse for being just a little too happy today.
“Mm-hmm,” she said again, and turned back to her cooking. I managed three steps towards my room before she said, “And how is the Phantom?”
I gave up. I’d have to tell her eventually, and maybe this way I’d at least get points for honesty. “Erik is fine. I think he was glad to see me. And he let me see his home.”
At twelve, I would have shared this news with some naïve expectation that she’d think it was exciting too. I was older now. Though my tone tried to make it sound as good as I thought it was, I was not surprised when she turned around much faster and stared at me with an expression rapidly approaching horror.
“He did what?”
I refused to quail as though something dreadful had happened. Friends invited each other for social calls. That was all this had been. There had even been coffee, all quite proper. “He invited me to see his home. Under the Opera, you know.” That didn’t sound quite as proper as it might have. “It was really very charming,” I forged ahead, “he has the loveliest Degas painting, and Persian rugs. Oh, and a phonograph, that’s a—”
“He invited you to his home, and you went?”
I still wasn’t shrinking, but it was getting harder. “It would have been rude to refuse.”
“Oh honestly, Mother! If he was going to kill me, he would have done it by now.” I didn’t even hope for a retreat anymore, just dropped onto the nearby kitchen chair, crossed my arms, and stared back as hard as she was staring at me.
“You went alone to God knows where underground—”
“Just the other side of the underground lake.”
“—with the Phantom of the Opera—”
“He has a name.”
“—who might have done God knows what to you—”
“Just because the ballet girls tell stories, that doesn’t mean they’re true.”
“—and I wouldn’t even know where to look for you if you were lying dead somewhere—”
“I trust him!”
And Mother fell almost alarmingly silent. She was still staring at me, but it was a more measuring stare, an assessing stare. Somehow it was harder to hold that gaze than her angry one.
“Well, I do,” I said. “I trust him.” I waved one hand, as if I could wave off some of the sudden weight of those words. “Anyway, if he wanted to kill me he could have done it in Box Five. What difference does it make if I’m alone with him there, or under the Opera?”
She sighed. “When you first started meeting him in Box Five, I believe you argued that it was perfectly safe because it was just a few feet from a door with people all around.”
“Did I?” I said vaguely. I’d been hoping she forgot that. “But really, Mother, it’s fine. It’s not like people talk about, about some lurid, misty lair full of skeletons. It’s really very nice.”
“Yes, it was the room I was worrying about,” Mother said, with a level of sarcasm that was unusual for her. But then she sighed again, pressed the back of one hand against her forehead and said, “You will tell me before you go down there? Whenever you have plans?”
“Yes, of course, Mother,” I said, jumping up to my feet and heading for my room. If I gave her the chance to keep talking, she might change her mind about letting this go. Because that’s what that question meant, of course. It meant she didn’t like this, but it would be all right.
She turned to her cooking again, shaking her head. “May you someday have a daughter who dreams of adventures.”
I couldn’t stop myself from leaning back into the room to say, “If life is supposed to be boring, we never should have come to the Opera!”