Happy holidays! I hope you’re all enjoying a nice day of fun and festivities. Just in case you’d like to spend a quiet evening reading, don’t forget that my writing partners and I released a Christmas short story on Monday! An epilogue to The Servants and the Beast, I of course recommend both as fun, heartwarming, fairy tale-inspired stories.
I’m still working on my non-fiction revision tips book, so for the holidays I thought I’d offer a throw-back excerpt. Enjoy this snippet from Book Two of my Guardian of the Opera trilogy, as the prospect of Christmas sends the Phantom into something of a panic…
Near the beginning of December, Erik found himself with a problem that he couldn’t bring to Meg. The weight of it got heavier and heavier until finally it drove him to seek the Daroga out—not as a good source of aid, but as the only one available. And after all, things had been…relatively pleasant, the last time they spoke.
He arrived at the Daroga’s small apartment in the early twilight, just as the sun was setting. He only ever went out in the dusky hours, when the shadows were deep, even if he knew they still failed to hide his mask, failed to conceal him in his dark cloak. It still felt a little less alarming that way.
The Daroga invited him in courteously and with less surprise evident than was probably present. Erik had never been here before, though he had known for years where the Daroga lived. It was the kind of information he had felt he should have in reserve.
They passed a few moments in small talk, sitting in the 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.” 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 your Christian revelries, 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.” He had remarked on it in an off-hand way when the Daroga had visited, and the idea had burrowed into his mind, with accompanying doubts.
“Ah.” The Daroga drummed his fingers against his leg in a faint rhythm of tapping and considered a moment. “So things are still 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 harm her. He didn’t need people to tell him that; he wasn’t going to anyway.
For the moment, the Daroga merely said, “In that case, can you not 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. People 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 a gift.”
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. 276 days, 19 hours ago. Though really, he had already known it; things had just…spiraled.
“—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.”
“Buy her a box of chocolates,” the Daroga said with an easy lack of concern in his voice. “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 show some thought, not be completely impersonal.”
“So write her a 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 were dropped. He was determined to be more cautious than that. And he wasn’t writing music anymore.
“I am sure you will think of something,” the Daroga said, with the confidence of a man who didn’t have to do the difficult task. “And otherwise how is life treating you?”
“More courteously than usual,” Erik said, and tried to force his mind off of Christmas presents and on to the alternative difficult task of maneuvering a polite social call. Since apparently that’s what this was.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t altogether terrible.
His worries about Christmas gifts returned very swiftly as he left the Daroga’s apartment though. Caution, possibly bordering on paranoia, might yet have pushed him off the idea 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 warmth 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 next year.