It’s been a long time, but I’ve posted excerpt before from my reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera…which I finished the first draft of for 2016’s NaNoWriMo. It also turned out to be a trilogy (!) but that’s a long story. Today I thought I’d excerpt a seasonally appropriate scene from the middle of the second book. We’re well after Leroux’s (and Webber’s) story, and the Phantom (otherwise known as Erik) and Meg Giry, ballet dancer, have cautiously formed a friendship.
Not without occasional confusing moments…
It had been a long time since Erik had spoken with the Daroga. A kind of coolness had grown up between them in recent months. The obvious, blatant betrayal of bringing Raoul below the Opera at just the wrong moment had been something they could get past. The Daroga’s ongoing caution that maybe it wasn’t the wisest idea in the world to carry on a friendship with Meg Giry had created a more serious awkwardness. Not an actual hostility. Half the time Erik agreed with him—more at the beginning, less recently, but still, he could see his point. And that might have made it worse, because it wasn’t a point he wanted reminding of.
So they had spoken only occasionally recently, both keeping rather more to themselves, though Erik still saw the Daroga about the Opera now and again, usually the single dark face somewhere in the back of the crowd. Finally, near the beginning of December, he had a problem of sufficient gravity that it drove him to seek the Daroga out—not as a good source of aid, but as the only one available.
He arrived at the Daroga’s small apartment in the early twilight, was invited in courteously and with less surprise evident than was probably present. They passed a few moments in small talk, sitting in the Daroga’s parlor, before the inevitable question arose. “So tell me, to what do I owe the honor of this most unusual visit?”
Erik hesitated, tapping his fingers against his knee. “I need your advice about something.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do about Christmas.”
“I believe midnight mass and a tree are customary,” the Daroga said dryly. “Based purely on observation, of course.”
“No, I don’t mean that,” Erik said with a wave of one hand. “I mean…about Meg. I don’t know if I should get her a gift or not.”
“Ah.” The Daroga steepled his hands beneath his chin, considered a moment. “So things are…going well with Mademoiselle Giry?”
“Yes,” Erik said guardedly. He did not need another lecture about being cautious, coupled with the slightly contradictory admonishment not to do anything to harm her. He didn’t need people to tell him that; he wasn’t going to anyway.
For the moment, the Daroga merely nodded and said, “In that case, can’t you ask her?”
“No, then I’d have to admit that I don’t know!” he protested. “And I can’t do that, because probably she knows what’s appropriate because…women just know these things, and I’m probably supposed to know too but I—don’t.”
“Then buy her something,” the Daroga suggested. “You are not likely to go wrong by giving a woman something.”
That sounded so reasonable, and yet… “Unless it’s too forward and makes her uncomfortable.”
“It seems to me, abducting women makes them uncomfortable—”
“Yes, I learned that,” Erik growled. For that matter, he had already known it, things had just…spiraled, rather.
“—but a Christmas gift is likely safe. You are friends, yes? She will not find this to be an insane idea, whether she expects anything or not.”
That felt a little more reassuring. “All right, that seems to make sense.” He tapped his fingers again. “Which just leaves the possibly larger problem of what to give her.”
The Daroga shrugged. “Buy her a box of chocolates. Simple.”
“No, that’s too impersonal.”
“A minute ago you were worried that any gift was too forward—”
“Yes, but if I’m going to give her something it ought to be something that shows some thought. It can’t be something completely without meaning.”
“So write her song.”
Erik’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s too personal! I can’t just—write her a song, I don’t just randomly write songs for people, that’s like some kind of declaration, I can’t—”
“All right, don’t write her a song!” the Daroga interrupted. “It was merely a suggestion.”
“Yes, well, that would be too forward,” Erik muttered. The whole point was to make sure he didn’t alarm her, to not look like he was heading directions that would lead to altogether too intense an interest or attachment. The sort of thing that would make her back slowly away before any chandeliers wound up dropped. He was determined to be more cautious than that.
Caution, possibly bordering on paranoia, might yet have pushed him off Christmas gifts entirely, even with the Daroga’s tacit approval. But three days later, apropos of absolutely nothing, halfway through a concerto he was playing on his piano, Meg stirred in his armchair and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, do you suppose we ought to exchange Christmas gifts?”
Erik’s shoulders tightened and only long practice kept his fingers moving on the keys without a missed note. Why was she asking him? He didn’t know the rules! What was the right answer, what was he supposed to say? “I suppose…we could,” he said carefully, trying to keep his gaze on his hands. But he couldn’t help it, he peeked—and felt a rush of relief that she was smiling.
“Good,” she said, clasping her hands around one drawn-up knee. “I already had a present for you.”
He blinked, said, “Oh,” and played a few more bars. “What were you going to do with it if I said no to gifts?” Perhaps it was just a box of chocolates, easy to pass on to someone else.
One corner of her smile quirked higher. “Save it until next year.”
“Oh,” he said again, and put his attention firmly on his hands moving over the ivory keys. An unfamiliar warm glow was spreading in his chest. Maybe because she wanted to exchange gifts. Maybe because she was so easily confident that they’d still be friends by next year.
More to come next week! Happy Holidays!