The mirrored doors opened and fog rolled in and I dramatically turned, the fabric of my white dress swirling around my feet, to meet… ah! There he is! Ben came in a second late, panting as he strode in with his dramatic entrance.
I stared at him in confusion, as I was supposed to, but this time it was genuine. His face was flushed and his eyes were wide as he looked at me. He nodded slightly and I realized I had missed my cue to faint.
Tonight would be a performance for the production’s history books, I thought as I collapsed in a heap. First a violinist fails, then Ben comes in late and then I forget my cue!
I wondered if someone had said Macbeth…
I felt Ben pick me up and I wrapped my arms around his neck, I felt his pulse beating rapidly and wondered what had made him late, when I felt him pinch my knee, the idea we had come up with to signal he was about to stroke my cheek and I was supposed to “wake up”
I sat bolt upright and gasped as Ben took a few steps backwards, holding up his hands defensively as the scene called for.
“So it was all an empty lie?” I sang, “One final lie to fool us all? To make your death our story’s end, to put your life beyond recall…”
As we began to perform, I noticed Ben was different. He sang with a new passion that I could tell wasn’t totally acting.
As I sang with him of things that you really wouldn’t expect to find in an operatic song, I tried to communicate with him as we usually did while performing. It was like a game, almost.
An odd look, a different gesture or touch, widened eyes or a hidden smile.
All ways of trying to hold a conversation.
Choosing the best moment, I raised my eyebrows at him, and he discreetly nodded.
Alright, that’s a start. He’s obviously acknowledging that something was wrong, or had happened, I thought to myself as I absently sung the words, sitting on the sofa on the stage.
“And blind in the dark, as soul gazed into soul… I looked into your heart, and saw you pure and whole” I accented the final words, trying to communicate that I wanted to understand what the hell was going on!
As he sat beside me with his masked face buried in my left shoulder, one hand wrapped around my waist, the other holding my forearm, I tried to decipher any discrepancies in the way he said the lyrics.
“Cloaked under the night, with nothing to suppress… A woman and a man, no more and yet no less…”
Ah, now I understood.
This had something to do with a woman, and knowing his mind the last few days, it was probably his Mystery Girl.
As he pulled me to a standing position and thrust me in front of him in an embrace, I let go of Christine’s facial expressions and replaced them with my own, thanking my face wasn’t viewable from any seat of the audience.
Looking totally confused, staring into his eyes as he gripped my sides and brushed his fingers over my body his face full of passion.
A lot of people wondered if there was something between Ben and I. At the start of rehearsals I myself had wondered if there was something more between us.
But more of the time I spent with him, the more brother and sister like our relationship became.
We were friends. We trusted one another.
And because of that we were able to portray such passion and feeling without hesitation because we trusted one another.
“And nothing mattered then, except for you and I, again and then, again, beneath a moonless sky…”
I noted how Ben accented those words as we sang in unison, his eyes widening slightly at each special word.
Letting go of my arms, he walked sadly to the piano as I stayed facing away from the audience, keeping my face looking slightly confused, should anyone see me, because that was what I felt. But coincidentally, so did Christine.
I was pretty sure that I was correct in my first assumption: he had met up with his girl again.
In the middle of a performance I found that rather surprising, but he had unconsciously displayed how downright desperate he was, so I wasn’t totally shocked.
“I stood while you slept, and whispered a goodbye, then slipped into the dark, beneath a moonless sky…”
And that was why he was late! He had lost track of time with her, and had had to leave her quickly. Maybe he was worried she thought he had left her…?
I didn’t have time to wonder more as I whirled around and sang passionately of how much I wished he hadn’t left in the morning. One would think that because we were best friends, and just friends, this would be awkward, but it wasn’t.
We truly became who we were acting, which is why it was so easy for me to relax as he pressed his mask cheek to my front and gripped my hips.
“And I loved you!” He loved her… well, as much as you could love someone after only hearing them sing…
“How I loved you!” I sung.
“And I left you!” He had to leave her to come onto the stage…
“And I loved you!” I sung, he so wasn’t singing to me right now.
Don’t smile. Don’t smile!
“And I had to, both of us knew why…” He was hoping she would understand…
“We both knew why!” She will! She will, don’t worry…
“And yet, I won’t regret, from now until I die, the night I can’t forget, beneath a moonless sky…”
God I hoped that things worked out with him and this mystery girl.
I would hate for art to start imitating life and for his love life to be as tragic as the Phantom.
“You have some explaining to do, young lady” growled a very, very angry Tessa.
She had stomped out of the orchestra pit in record time and was now standing before me next to the bar in the foyer as the first people in the audience began to trickle out in search of the toilets, “Why the hell did you leave after fifty-seven seconds?”
She let out a frustrated sound sigh, “You know what I mean! Why’d you leave?” she dragged me out of the way as the line for the bar began to grow and we were the victims of strange glances.
Grabbing my hand she took me through some door as we ended up backstage in a mostly empty hallway with red carpet. Why was everything in this theatre either red or gold?
I shook my head, “I couldn’t take it” I confessed.
“Take what?” she softened her tone as she saw how confused I was. I didn’t even know why I was acting like this!
“This…” I gestured vaguely to our surroundings, “The music…” I dropped my hands back to my side, “Him…” I said even softer.
Everything was just so overwhelming! It was like my mind and body weren’t connected anymore!
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I think he has forgotten because he hasn’t been looking into the pit during the shows anymore, thank God” she said sighing dramatically.
I gave her a puzzled look.
Tessa rolled her eyes, “You know Sophie, the flutist?”
I nodded. Sophie was a blonde, Barbie-doll musician that used too much eyeliner and not even common sense.
“Well, you know she has this huge crush on him, right?” she asked.
It was an unacknowledged agreement we had not to say his name.
“With him staring us down the whole time, her playing was worse than usual, believe it or not” she said, pulling a face, I giggled, “Believe me, it’s so much easier now that we’re all actually playing the same song” she smiled.
I smiled, then frowned, shaking my head, “No, Tess, you’re wrong! He hasn’t forgotten, he –“ suddenly I realized who was walking down the hallway.
A man in a white shirt was visible, grinning like a guilty child who got caught listening to a private conversation.
The breath caught in my throat, and I tightened my already tight grip on Tessa’s wrist – who was standing next to me –as Ben, dressed in his costume for Devil Take The Hindmost stood before us.
“She’s right” he said eying Tessa for a moment before he turned to me, “–I haven’t forgotten you” and with a charming smile, aimed directly at me he was off down the hallway, and around a corner.
I felt my knees weaken, but before I could collapse to the floor in a heap Tessa grabbed my wrist and pulled me back into the foyer where the audience members were now filing back into the auditorium.
My mouth was gaping open and I felt like screaming.
Tessa placed me against a wall, out of the way, “breath! Stay calm!” she commanded, staring at me intently, her hands on my shoulders, “I know what you need” she said soothingly.
“What?” I demanded, partly hysterical.
She didn’t answer she simply smiled, turning on her heel she approached the bar.
“One glass of red wine, please” she asked the bartender. He nodded, and a moment later handed a small, stemmed glass to Tessa.
“Free of charge, to the pretty young lady with the very pretty eyes,” he said with a wink.
Tessa rolled her eyes and returned to me.
That was the thing about Tessa, when she flirted with a guy, it never went well.
But when they flirted with her, it was amazing how confident and collected she was.
“Here you go” she handed the half-filled glass to me and I took a gulp.
“I don’t know why you keep giving me wine,” I muttered as I took another gulp, “I don’t even like it” I took another sip, “And you know how easily drunk I get,” with that I drained the whole glass and handed it back to her.
“Do I?” she asked absently as she placed it back on the bar as the man filled it up again, refraining from using some cliché pickup line as it was obvious Tessa was otherwise occupied, “Stopped you thinking about him now hasn’t it?” she said pointedly.
I opened my mouth to disagree but stopped. She had a point. I had stopped thinking about him.
She smiled smugly, “Well if he keeps running into you, you better get better at holding your liquor” she said handing me the refill, “Twice, in three days – that’s pretty good,”
I shook my head, swallowing, “Three times,” I was on the verge of tears.
I was so confused and flustered I didn’t know how I was going to last without at least four more glasses.
“Wait – three times? What haven’t you told me!?” she lowered her voice as the few heads left turned to us.
“After I left, I went to the toilets to calm myself down” I paused to take another gulp, but Tessa inferred the rest.
“He found you in the ladies’ toilets?” she hissed, a smile lighting up her face, “No freaking way!” she giggled, “where’s a camera when you need it?” she mused.
I ignored the last bit, “I was just standing at the sink,” I clarified after how wrong she made it sound.
“What did he say? Or do? Or something?” she demanded.
“He said he saw me leave and wanted to know if I was alright –“
“Wait, leave as in now or leave as in…?”
“I don’t know – he didn’t exactly clarify!” I fretted, I finished the second glass.
Tessa took it from me and returned to the bartender who was already waiting with the bottle. He gave her a knowing look as he poured it to the brim. She thanked him then came back to me, “Thank you,” I said as I took the glass from her and swallowed a gulp.
“No problem; what happened next?” she asked eagerly.
“He told me to wait for him because he wanted to talk to me. Then he had to go” I said, she nodded.
We were all alone now, the foyer was empty except for the bartender who was now watching us with slight amusement, and the people at the souvenir stands who were arranging the over-priced knick-knacks few people bought, or fiddling on their cell phones.
I sighed and leaned back against the wall, staring up at the ceiling as I swirled the wine around in my left hand. I took a sip, but nearly spit it out and then choked as I heard the entrance music begin.
“Oh, shit – Tessa, you need to go!” I said as I nearly shoved her back to the door, but she resisted and shook her head.
“Relax, girl! It’s too late for me to sneak in. And, besides, if I leave you here you’ll be drunk in no time, and believe me, no guy likes a drunk date” she giggled rolling her eyes.
I nearly choked for a second time, “It’s not a date, Tess! And, besides, I don’t think I’ll even wait for him” I finished my glass in one go, ignoring the scorching bitterness it left on my tongue.
Tessa crossed her arms for a moment, then burst into giggles.
“What?” I begged. She only continued.
“Tessa,” no response.
“Tessa! Tell me what the hell is funny!”
She finally calmed herself and looked at me, “Listen”
I forced myself to ignore my frustration and closed my eyes, leaning back against the wall once again, and strained to make out the words I could hear from the stage.
I felt the glass grow heavy as I heard Tessa pouring the remainder of the wine into my glass, shaking the bottle upside down as she tried to get out every last drop.
“Here, Tessa, I really don’t want to know what will happen if I drink all this,” I handed her my glass. Smiling in thanks she took it and had a taste. She had a few more sips before handing it back to me. Sighing I listened, “It’s Why Does She Love Me?” I told her.
“Exactly! I think it should be switched to Why Does He Love Me. Because that’s exactly what you should be singing now.” She gestured to me.
She had a point. I was drinking, and crying over a guy that kept popping up at the worst moments possible, “Tess…”
“I know – I know! ‘He doesn’t love me!’ But still, you can’t ignore the parallels,” she said flippantly.
I couldn’t help but to agree.
I grabbed the wine off her and finished it before I leaned back against the wall as Tessa took my glass. I felt a pat on my shoulder, and jumped, opening my eyes – when had I closed them? – only to be met by an amused Tessa.
“What?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes, “Come on, Miss Daae, let’s get outta here before your Phantom comes and steals you away from me with his angelic voice” she said.
I blushed as I noticed it was nearing the end of Devil Take The Hindmost, and I had indeed spaced out for a considerable length of time, thanks to Ben’s voice.
“But-” I protested.
“Come on, we’ll go for a little walk then come back for our stuff before Sophie destroys your violin to make sure you never return” she said.
I paled slightly as I allowed her to drag me away.
As soon as we emerged onto the busy street that was alight with night time I snapped out of my voice-induced coma and returned to the panicked state I had been in before.
“He’s going to kill me,” I groaned as I followed Tessa up the road to wherever we were going.
“Why?” she failed at hiding the amusement from her voice.
“Because he’s the Phantom of the Opera and he’s scary, and he’s going to kill me because I can’t sing like Christine” I panicked, letting the words fall out of my mouth in a rush.
Tessa dragged me across the road to the Town hall and planted me on a bench there, “No, my dear” she said, “he’s going to fall in love with you because you have the voice that is deserving of the Phantom’s affections” she said putting on a grandmotherly voice and gave me an understanding look that was purely for her enjoyment in my drunken state.
I frowned like a little child, not believing her. She wrapped an arm around me in a reassuring hug as we sat there for an hour, watching a busker in a bunny suit rock out on an electric guitar across the road.
I felt disorientated, and just spent the time imagining why the Easter Bunny would possibly need to make extra money, when I realized he didn’t get paid for delivering eggs every year.
In an hour the only thing I had decided was this; Poor Easter Bunny.
When the time came, Tessa tugged me back to the Regent as I stopped and giggled at every random thing that was suddenly wickedly amusing to me in my drunken state.
We finally got back in the foyer as I heard the audience applauding and the orchestra we both should be in, played a recap of all the music as the actors took their bows.
As Love Never Dies began to play while Anna and Ben would be taking the stage, I began to waltz and twirl around the foyer by myself, earning weird looks from passer’s by.
Tessa just crossed her arms and watched me, smiling, before grabbing my hand and dragging me through the door we had used before.
We soon found ourselves outside Ben’s dressing room door as the music finished and the audience’s applause began to die down and was replaced with grumbling and feet moving out of the theatre.
I saw a stream of people wearing bizarre costumes wandering into different rooms up and down the hall, I giggled hysterically before Ben emerged dressed in his suit and mask looking happy while talking to Anna, who gave him a pat on the back before going into her own dressing room a few doors up from his.
It was then that the situation dawned on me and fear gripped my stomach. I tried to run away which was partly impossible because my legs had turned to jelly and Tessa had a firm grip on my arm, pilling me backwards, where I was standing before a very confused looking Phantom.
I panicked, but since I was drunk I didn’t totally know why. My head began snapping from side to side, trying to find an escape, and to look anywhere but his masked face.
“Is she alright?” I heard his baritone voice ask. He had a very pretty voice. A very, very, very pretty voice… I spaced out and stared at my shoes.
“She’s drunk,” I heard Tessa reply. She sounded amused, I think. Her voice sounded like it was coming from above water, while I was underneath.
There was a somewhat awkward silence. Except it wasn’t silent because there were other actors chatting in the hallway, looking funny in their costumes while talking about everyday things.
Tessa rolled her eyes while tightening her grip on my elbow, “Um, sorry to ask, but, can you watch her for a minute while I go get our stuff? I won’t be long, and, quite honestly, she needs a babysitter when she’s like this” she said pointedly.
I heard Ben nod. Was that even possible? I could hear his head move… I must have a special talent, I decided.
“Um, alright” he said.
I was suddenly thrust forward and I felt him grab my forearm as Tessa let go of my other elbow.
It felt nice when he touched me.
“We’ll be in my dressing room,” he called.
That sounded wrong, I decided. Very, very, very wrong, but I couldn’t figure out why…
But his voice was pretty.
I giggled to myself.
“Got it” called Tessa as she began to walk but suddenly stopped and turned to us once more, “Just, don’t listen to anything she says or does” she said.
I heard Ben nod again as I looked at the hand that was holding my arm. He opened the door and directed me into his dressing room.
I was gently lead inside and sat down on a couch.
“Are you alright?” he asked, concern laced his voice.
“Yep” I giggled, hiccupping I smiled, “just do what you need to do” I smiled.
He smiled at me from behind his mask and sat down at his dressing room table and began to remove his microphone, mask, and jacket.
I stared at him in the mirror dumbly as I sat there. I think he was still smiling, but it was hard to tell in my drunken state.
He stood up. He looked silly in his fancy Phantom suit without his mask. I giggled to myself, then hiccupped, and giggled again, hiding my mouth behind my hand.
A glass of water was suddenly in front of my face, and I gasped, jumping backwards into the couch. When I realized it was Ben, I took the water from him, gulping it down in one swallow. I handed it back to him and smiled, “Thank you” I said with a hiccup.
He continued smiling, “No problem – I’m going to change,” he pointed to a dressing screen in the corner and I nodded as he went behind it.
I heard cloth rubbing against cloth as he undressed, and forced myself to make my mind go blank to avoid mental images.
Ben Lewis was not standing behind a screen…getting undress…which wouldn’t mean he was naked…
God I wondered what his body looked like? Wait… No I didn’t!
I heard more clothes dropping to the floor and I shut my eyes trying to focus on not focusing on him. I placed my cheek against the arm rest of the couch, intent on shutting my eyes for a moment.
But before I knew it, I was asleep.