Coming Soon: Accompaniment (One Week Away!)

I’m counting down to the release of my next book, and Accompaniment (The Guardian of the Opera 2) will be out in one week!  The pandemic is still limiting the in-person celebrations I can do, but I’ll be posting fun quotes from the book throughout the next week, with special content on Launch Day, September 4th.

Since I can’t do an in-person launch party, I plan to create a video about the book, and do some Q&A.  So this is your chance to ask any questions about the Phantom, my sequel book, how it was written…whatever you’d like to know!  Add a question in a comment below, then come back next week for the video – and, of course, the new book.  And don’t forget, you can already pre-order Accompaniment on Kindle.

For today, here’s an excerpt from Accompaniment, Chapter Two.  Enjoy!

********

I was desperately nervous by the time the performance curtain closed Saturday evening.  I wished I could change out of my ballet outfit before going to Box Five, only I didn’t dare take the time.  I’d have to go to the ballet’s shared changing room, which would be a madhouse right after a performance, and I’d probably get caught by someone in conversation, and then I’d have to come all the way back to the auditorium, and by then he might have vanished.  Plus I only had forty-five minutes before Mother would contact the army and the navy and who knew what else.

So I just threw my blue cloak on over my white ballet skirt and tried to look at it logically.  If he had been paying any attention at all, he’d already seen me in this outfit countless times.  We girls ran around the Opera in our dance costumes all the time.

I separated from the other girls as we streamed out of the auditorium, and made my way to the hall outside the first-level boxes.  It was busy with guests, departing or making their way to the Foyers.  I glanced at one woman’s long silk dress with a twinge of envy.  Even if I’d had time to change into my nicest dress, it wasn’t that nice.

Never mind—he knew I was a dancer, so why shouldn’t I be dressed like one?

No one seemed to be watching me, but I still had to force myself not to be furtive as I opened the door to Box Five.  Guests would find no significance in Box Five, and all the Company knew my mother was boxkeeper here; as long as I didn’t act suspicious, no one else would be.  Inside, the box was dimly lit by one low gaslight, curtains drawn, and I leaned against the closed wooden door as my eyes adjusted.

I could see a silhouette in one of the front row seats, and my heart pounded harder.

“You actually came,” he remarked, nothing in his tone to indicate how he felt about it.

“So did you,” I observed, and relinquished my tight grip on the door handle.  I walked forward at a carefully even pace, as carefully as I might count steps on stage, trying to preserve an outward calm I didn’t feel.  He was actually here, this impossible man I’d hardly more than glimpsed in so many years.  He had actually waited in Box Five to see me.

“I would have been here anyway,” he said, and though his voice was as perfectly modulated as ever, the emotion was absolutely flat.

A sharp reminder not to build too much on this, not to hope too high.  I halted at the end of the front row.  “If you’d rather I left, I will.”

“I didn’t say that,” he said, and I took that as enough of an encouragement to sit down in the seat nearest to me.  That put us at opposite ends of the four-seat row.  “As long as you’re here you may as well stay,” he continued, and looked away towards what seemed to me to be distinctly uninteresting red velvet curtains.  He was wearing a full-face mask today, a cream-colored one hiding everything except his eyes, mouth and chin.  That made four I’d seen, plus the skull one he’d worn at Mardi Gras—and just before carrying Christine away.  A different mask every time, more masks than I had dresses.  “What did you want to talk about?”

Evidently he was still going to be the unfriendly man who spoke to me in the auditorium, not the charming one who had led me to ballet practice as a child.  I should have expected it, and I wasn’t going to let the fact of it now flatten me—at least not enough to show.  I lifted my chin and pretended to confidence I only half felt.  “Should I assume you won’t explain how you manage the glowing skeleton illusion?”

“Maybe it’s not an illusion.”

Despite the forbidding tone, I found the comment encouraging.  It reminded me of our first conversation so many years ago, when he had claimed to light a candle using magic.  “Very well.  Then we could talk about tonight’s performance.”

I had to start somewhere.  I couldn’t just leap in with asking why he haunted the Opera, and what had happened to Christine, and where had he learned to sing, and did he have any friends, and had he been an Angel of Music for anyone else, and…no, better to start somewhere safe.  “What did you think of the understudy lead ballerina?  She’s warmer in the role than Sorelli.”

Sorelli, our longstanding lead ballerina, had taken to her bed since the Comte de Chagny’s disappearance.  I tried to feel sorry for her, though I couldn’t imagine how anyone could be fond of the blustering, abrasive Comte de Chagny.  She had been his mistress for years, though; perhaps it wasn’t only a question of money for her after all.

“Mademoiselle Laurent cannot do as many fouettés in succession.”  A pause.  “But she did bring more warmth to the character.”

So we talked about the performance, and the ballet, and the Company.  He knew all about everyone I named, seemed to have a working knowledge of ballet at least equal to my own and definitely knew more about music and singing than I did.

It wasn’t a terrible conversation.  It was stilted and strained and a great deal of effort, enough that for a good while I was sure I was going to wind up going home and crying in sheer frustration and disappointment.  I played with my necklace and rethought my years of conviction that he would be fascinating if I could just talk to him.  That perhaps then I’d learn some clue to the mystery of the Phantom.

But eventually, somehow, we got off on the subject of music more generally, and the relative merits of Ravel, Mozart and Debussy, though he didn’t seem to want to talk about Bizet, and the conversation became easier—and more interesting, if still impersonal.

I watched him covertly as we talked, though I probably needn’t have tried to hide it.  He rarely looked at me, keeping his gaze on the curtains closing off the box, just as though they were open and a performance was going on.  When he did look at me, it was a quick glance that slid away again at once, almost before I could glimpse the green of his eyes.  What was he thinking, in those moments?

My own eyes had long since adjusted to the dim light, and I could see that his dark evening clothes were as immaculate as they had been the day I met him six years before.  Whatever grief he felt about Christine leaving, he wasn’t showing it in a disheveled appearance.  Why did a man no one ever saw care what his clothes looked like anyway?

His mask hid so much of his face that I quickly dismissed it as a place to learn anything about his thoughts or his mood.  I found myself watching his hands instead.

When I had first come in, his hands had been closed around the arms of his seat.  It took some time, in the shadows, for me to realize how tightly he was gripping them.

Not so calm after all.

As we talked about music, first one hand and then the other rose, sketching points in the air.  He had long fingers, the right hands for a man who played the pipe organ, as Christine had told me he did.  I could almost see the notes in the air as his hand flowed through a crescendo.  His voice had grown warmer too.  Not enthusiastic.  Barely even friendly.  But at least there was a hint of interest.

Eventually we slipped off to Italian opera, by way of Verdi, and he made a remark about Rome that didn’t sound like it came second-hand.

“Have you been to Rome?” I asked, without stopping to think first or I might not have chanced a personal question.  I knew intellectually that he couldn’t have sprung into existence the day the Opera Garnier opened, but I had never been able to picture him anywhere else.  It wasn’t the most intriguing question I could have asked, but it was the only one I’d had any opening for.

He took a long time to answer, long enough for me to regret trying even this question.

“Yes,” he said at last, hands stilled on the arms of his chair again, voice not hostile but not enthused either.  “Years ago.”

One tiny puzzle piece in the Phantom’s history.  Perhaps that made me reckless enough to say, “I’d love to go to Rome.  What did you see there?”  Surely that couldn’t be considered prying.  But so help me, if he just said ‘a lot of buildings,’ I was going to scream.

The Phantom of the Opera, however, was not the Vicomte de Chagny, who circumnavigated the globe and could only tell me that he saw a lot of water.  The Phantom told me about the Coliseum and the Piazza del Campidoglio, the Theatre of Marcellus and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the musical advancements of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.  His hands drew shapes in the air, pillars and arches and towers that I could nearly see, suspended between his fingertips.  Even if that did add up to mostly a lot of buildings, and even if I didn’t follow all of it, enough was interesting to leave me genuinely reluctant when I realized my allotted time was up.

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