I was in that strange place between consciousness and unconsciousness- where you’re just starting to wake up.
However the feeling of a hand stroking my face sped up the process much quicker and I scrunched up my face at the unfamiliar feeling. The hand paused on my cheek.
“Are you awake?” his voice asked, however, even his voice made my head hurt, and all I could do was groan.
He laughed, then stopped himself a moment later, gently brushing his fingertips against my cheek.
This was weird. A little too weird.
I opened one eye.
He had darkened the room, which I was thankful for. I was lying on my side with my head on the armrest of his couch, my body facing his dressing room. He was sitting where my torso curved to the back of his couch, before my legs took up the rest of the space.
He seemed to notice how freaked out I was and apologized, “Sorry, there was nowhere else to sit” he said contritely.
My face broke out in flames as I blushed, fully grasping the situation.
I instantly used my hands to sit myself up, “Oh, no, don’t be sorry. I should be sorry for taking over your –“ I groaned again as I sat in a vertical position, my head was pounding.
Smiling with a knowing expression, he stood and the cushions gently relaxed as they were relieved of his weight.
As I pushed my hair out of my face and over my shoulders, I glimpsed myself in his dressing table mirror. I was a wreck.
My makeup was trailed down my face in dark lines from my break down before, my head of hair was frizzy and un-brushed, my lips were chapped, and my eyes were dry and crusty from tears and not blinking.
The contact lenses wiggling around every time I blinked, trying to align themselves with the right spot over my pupil.
I leaned forward and held my eyes open with my fingers – one holding an eyelid on each eye – and darted my eyes around in circles, as the contacts rearranged themselves. I fixed the other eye when Ben interrupted.
“Are you alright?” he seemed concerned.
I looked up, and he walked forward with two white pills and another glass of water.
“Mm, fine. Just contacts being stupid,” I said flippantly, trying to sound casual.
I took the two pills and swallowed the entire glass of water before I handed it back to him.
Groaning I leaned my head against the wall to my left, “Two hangovers in less than five days… has to be a new record” I mused.
I heard Ben laugh from somewhere. I closed my eyes, and felt him return to the couch a moment later, “I don’t drink that often, honestly, but Tessa seems to find it necessary to thrust wine in my hand whenever I’m stressed…” I said.
I bit my lip as I realized the little slip I’d made and blushed, if it was possible, even more.
“I see, and do I stress you out?” he asked, and I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yes, you do actually,” I admitted rather reluctantly.
I suddenly remembered that a very loud, obnoxious Spanish Girl was missing, “Where is Tessa, anyway?” I asked as I opened my eyes and sat up again, looking around the room for my friend who would probably be hiding behind the mirror, eaves dropping.
“Assuming you mean the friend who you were talking to earlier-” he began, I blushed even darker, “I don’t know. She said was going to go get your stuff, but that was… three hours ago and I haven’t seen a sign of her” he said.
I groaned again and leaned forward with my head in my hands, “Knowing her, she spotted someone hot and is now in some darkly lit restaurant with said hot person, doing her best – and failing – at securing herself a boyfriend” I said.
I heard Ben chuckle beside me, and turned to see him smiling.
I smiled too, despite myself, then frowned as the thought of being stuck here all night with him made me instantly want my friend back.
If she had my things, then I had no money, no phone, and walking back in the middle of the night with a terrible headache didn’t sound like the best course of action, “I should call her…” I mused aloud, wondering if I was so lucky that she had caught her target before reaching the Orchestra pit.
“Is your phone with you?” he asked.
I shook my head, “I don’t know – it’s with my stuff, but she probably took it with her. Not the best plan for a date,” I added as an afterthought.
Suddenly a phone was thrust in my hand, and I looked up, smiling. I thanked him before punching in Tessa’s number and waiting anxiously for her to pick up, “Pick up the phone, damn woman…” I muttered and Ben yet again chuckled.
I smiled as a cheerful voice answered, “Hello?” she dragged out the ‘o.’
“Tess! Where the hell are you?”
She giggled, “Oh my gosh – you’ll never believe it! I’m wi-“
“Tessa,” I groaned, “I really don’t care which hot guy you’re with now – where are my things!?” I demanded.
“What? You don’t appreciate some alone time with your Angel of Music?” she asked.
Based on the strange expression I saw on his face, I guessed Ben heard.
Oh she was a dead women when I saw her!
“Tess, shut up and tell me where my stuff is!” I practically screamed into the phone, then rubbed my temple as the sound of my own voice served to worsen my headache.
“Fine, but someday you’ll thank me” she chimed in a sing-song voice.
I rolled my eyes, even that hurt my head, “I highly doubt that”
“We’ll see – now, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be back in five minutes,” Tessa giggled and my head seemed to hurt in ways I never imagined possible, “And I didn’t want to interrupt, so, I put your things outside his door” she explained.
I sighed in relief. I wasn’t stranded after all! “Thank you, Tessa. That was kind of you,” I said sarcastically, even though, deep down, I really was grateful.
“I have my moments,” I heard a muffled voice in the background as I assumed she put her hand over the microphone.
But Tessa’s overly-cheerful voice was back a few moments later, “Sorry, Miss Daae, but you see, my own Phantom needs me – have a nice night!” she said happily.
I said goodbye before quickly ending the call and returning the phone to its owner.
I ignored the fact that he had most likely overheard every embarrassing word Tessa had squealed and spoke to his eyebrows, I couldn’t take in his whole face yet “My stuff is outside your door” I mumbled.
“So I heard” he said.
I blushed and vaguely wondered if my face would ever return to its normal complexion again. He opened the door, and before I could protest, re-emerged with my violin and tote bag in his hands.
He closed the door behind him with his foot, and placed my things close by.
“Thank you” I said sincerely, “I’m sorry I kept you so long”
I stood on wobbly feet, but forced myself to stay standing as I approached him.
However, as soon as I was about to lean down, Ben took a step to the side and blocked me from my valuables.
“Are you going to keep me prisoner?” I asked, slightly concerned as I placed a hand on his dressing table to keep myself from falling.
He smirked and crossed his arms over his chest as he stood in front of my things that I was eyeing with longing, “Only until you answer my question”
“What question?” I ignored the fact I had a pretty good idea what he meant.
“Why you’re hiding in an orchestra pit instead of standing on a stage with me?” he asked seriously.
All the blood that had rushed to my face instantly left it as I paled.
Oh, God! No – any question but this! He could have asked me my bra size and I would have happily answered truthfully compared to this conversation!
“Look… it doesn’t matter” I said hastily as I lowered my gaze to his kneecaps, “So can you please just forget it and you never have to see me again!” I darted for my possessions, but he snatched my wrist before I could grab them.
“I wish I could forget – you have no idea how hard I’ve tired!” he said, a hard note crept into his voice, “– but, as it is, I can’t” he said the last part through his teeth as his grip on my wrist tightened ever so slightly.
My knees shook as I looked down at the floor, utterly frozen where I stood.
“Sing for me, just once” he said, “and I’ll let you go” he made the last part sound like a promise.
I shook my head still looking at the floor. I couldn’t.
He sighed and I felt him press his forehead to mine, his hot breath tickled my face and I stopped breathing all together, “please” he whispered, “that’s all I ask of you” he sang so very softly at the end, sending shivers down my spine and making me smile slightly.
I pulled away to look up at him, finally, “You sure you’re not the Phantom?” I teased.
“Do I look like the Phantom to you?” he said, pointing to his face.
I smiled and shook my head, “Fine, I’ll sing” I said quietly.
Seeming satisfied he released my wrist and I walked back to the centre of the room, taking in a deep calming breath, “Wait – what if somebody hears?” I asked in alarm.
This was bad enough! Anyone else and it would be unbearable.
“Then they will think that the Regent has acquired its own ‘Angel of Music,’” he said simply, “and, besides, at-“ he glanced at his watch. “-one-thirty in the morning, I doubt anyone is here”
He gave me a reassuring smile, and I relaxed… slightly.
“Sorry I kept you so late,” I said lamely. I was so obviously putting this off.
“It’s fine,” he shook his head and waved his hand, before returning it to the fold on his chest.
“What do you want me to sing?” I stood in the centre of his room with my hands by my side.
God, it felt more like an interrogation than a make-shift performance!
“Sing Love Never Dies,” he commanded, “Like you did before…” he said, his voice grew tender.
Fabulous – now I was going to be compared to myself!
“Fine” I relented, I wasn’t going to get out of here any other way, “but take note that I’m suffering from one of the world’s worst hangovers!” I pointed to my throbbing skull, “And besides the other day, I haven’t sung in four years” I said, his eyes widened. Not the reaction I wanted…
“If I do permanent damage to your ears, please don’t sue me…” I said with a half-hearted smile, it was a lame joke, but anything to defuse the tension would work for me.
I closed my eyes, and took in one deep, long breath.
I opened them again, to see Ben looking at me as the Phantom would- excited to hearing Christine sing after ten years. Or, in this case, three days.
Nonetheless, the expression was the same.
It was like a blind man about to see the sun again.
“Who knows when love begins…” my voice was hoarse. I hadn’t realized how nervous I was!
“Who knows what makes it start?” I croaked on the last word, and my confidence – that hadn’t really been there to start with – died.
He obviously noticed, and approached me, smiling. He stood behind me and placed a hand on either shoulder, pulling my posture up and slightly stroking the skin revealed where the neckline of my shirt ended- it sent shivers down my spine.
“Relax” he breathed.
“One day it’s simply there, alive, inside your heart…”
My voice was wavering with intentional vibrato, and sounded a thousand times better.
I could sense him smiling behind me, and I let my voice ring throughout his dressing room and I heard it echo slightly beyond the door and into the deserted theatre.
He turned and picked up something from his dressing table, turning from me, and only when he spun back around did I see he had donned his Phantom mask- an obvious attempt to get me to loosen up.
I snorted with laughter, before I smiled as I was sort of playing the role that had inspired my voice.
He stood to my right, watching me sing with admiration as I performed to the audience I pictured instead of the corner of his dressing room, where a single lamp stood. It was the only light on and casted a romantic golden glow around the room.
I smiled as I stood forwards, holding my arms out, “Life may be fleeting – love lives on! Life may be fleeting…” I noticed that I wasn’t crying – in fact, I was happy!
My arms fell as the happiness faded and my parents came back to mind, “Love… lives… on!”
I held out the last note until I had no more air left to push out, and returned to reality where I assumed Ben would be leaning against his dressing table, allowing me to leave.
However I suddenly felt masculine arms wrap themselves around me from behind and I gasped.
“Ah, Christine – my Christine! What a triumph you gave me tonight!” he sung.
I sighed putting my hand to my hot forehead, I was blushing again, “this is stupid” I said.
“Indulge me” he said simply, I could hear the smile in his voice.
I sighed as I lost myself to the satisfaction of singing a duet with a partner and not myself.
“The song was beautiful…” I sung turning slightly to look up at his face, “It sounded beautiful”
He smiled and encouraged me to continue.
“Every note… every word…” I turned in his arms to face him, “And it felt beautiful…and I felt beautiful” I hadn’t felt like that in years…
We stood an arm’s length away from each other, hands held, as we pivoted on the point in a circle, we sang together, “Lost in the music once more! Feeling it rise up and soar, alive once again!”
I froze as I realized what came next, I opened my mouth to protest but he was faster.
In the swiftest of movements Ben pulled us together.
A hand came and cupped my cheek as the other flew behind my back, before his lips came crashing down on mine in my first kiss.
It wasn’t like you read in the romance novels, was my first impression. It was simply lips against lips.
It was… for lack of a better word: wet.
But it felt magical! For the fleeting moment I let it happen.
His lips moved slightly against mine, and his tongue traced my bottom lip, trying to gain entrance. I gasped in shock and in that moment his tongue entered my mouth in the most ardent way. I knew this was to accurately portray the passionate that the Phantom and Christine had during the scene.
But this wasn’t what I had planned! No!
Ever since I was little, I had imagined some romantic, sweet, childish first kiss.
But this was passionate! Too passionate.
And, worst of all, it was acting.
He was acting the part, something he had done countless times with a million other girls I was sure.
But no, I was still a virgin and my lips had never been touched by another’s.
After what felt like years, I pushed him away with all my might – which wasn’t very much considering I was still wrecked from the alcohol – and I realized that there were tears streaming down my cheeks.
Could this get any worse?
I dashed to my bags. Securing them quickly I rushed to the door and flung it open.
Feeling like I had been robbed of something valuable, I flew out into the darkened hallway.
I sprinted to my right and was quickly through some back stage door on the other side of the foyer, passing more dressing rooms.
I considered hiding behind one as I heard his footsteps chase after me, but as soon as I tried to turn the doorknob only to find it locked, I gave up and ran towards a door I could see at the end of the corridor.
With newfound speed – or fear – I crashed into the door, which somehow forced it open and stumbled down the street, sobbing, my heels clattering against the pavement as late-night party-goers gave me weird looks.
My whole body hurt from the hangover, and I could still fell the aftertaste of his kiss – my fist kiss – in my saliva.
By the time I got home and I fell onto my bed, dropping my things at my feet, I was still sobbing.
How many tears could you cry before the light faded from your eyes?
I tried not to think about it, and soon fell into a restless sleep.