A crowd of well-heeled men and women in evening wear – a veritable masquerade – swept Christine Daaé through the soaring entrance of the Opera Populaire. No one stopped her or called her name. In this swirling horde of prosperous Parisians she was only another young beauty with eyes alight, excited by a night out and the grandeur of the opera house. Meanwhile, Christine began to wonder what in heavens she had been thinking.

It had begun that morning when she awoke to the beginnings of the first sunny day in weeks streaming through her window – and a sore throat that reduced her voice to a toad's croak. The bed beside her was empty, as Raoul had left their house already – her new husband had an endless need to be doing something – so she summoned the housekeeper and a manservant was sent to inform Messieurs André and Firmin that she was ill in bed and a replacement would have to be found for the night's performance of Bizet's Carmen.

Her understudy had been called away on a family matter, and so when the servant returned he informed her that things were in an uproar and her role would have to be sung by none other than Carlotta Giudicelli, who had been on hiatus for some months due to nervous exhaustion but had prior experience with the role.

At first Christine had been content to stay in bed, daydream, and walk the balcony outside at intervals. When Raoul returned he had made such a fuss over her – arranging and rearranging her quilts while telling a stream of the most ridiculous jokes in an attempt to keep her mind off things – that the housekeeper, a dour old woman with a multitude of opinions about proper decorum, shooed him from the room. Christine was informed that she was to rest and sleep if possible.

Now alone again, two things occurred to Christine. First, that while she yet to feel better she also did not feel worse, and second, that it had been a long time since she had been able to enjoy an opera without the stress of performing (in fact, had she ever?). So why not slip out of the house and attend the night's performance on her own? No one was likely to disturb her for the next couple of hours, so if she left during the intermission she would not be missed. An oncoming cold was hardly the end of the world. She knew the myriad passages of the theater well enough to avoid the men who checked for tickets, and had overheard a rather heated discussion between the two owners of the Opera Populaire regarding the unfortunate fact that the scheduled performance was rather underbooked (as was their custom, M. Firmin saw no issue, while M. André was thoroughly distressed).

Thus there really was no reason why Christine could not enjoy her night off in more interesting ways than simply sitting at home. It had been too long since she had embarked on an adventure of her own choosing. And so an escape plan was born, the result of which was that she slipped out of the house when the housekeeper was busy berating the cook because of some burned macarons. She walked to the Opera Populaire, worried that every passing carriage would bring someone asking why she was not performing, but such fears had not come to pass and she was now filing into a seat at the back of the theater.

The orchestra finished warming up, and the first performers appeared on stage as the music swelled. The silver melancholy tones of the orchestra swept Christine into memory. The sting of bloodied toes in the early hours of a midwinter morning, huddling with Meg by an inadequate coal stove after one of Madame Giry's interminable rehearsals. Le Petit Journal's opera critic had taken issue with the discipline of the corps de ballet and had said as much and more in a review. Still Christine recalled that she had been giggling madly along with the other ballet girls because of some favorite inside joke – but what was it? The memory faded. Her prior amusements were vanished, along with her everything else of her life before that fateful night when she replaced Carlotta in Hannibal.

The orchestra faded as Carlotta's voice soared to the climax of an aria. She truly possessed an astonishing voice. Different from Christine's, certainly – often bold where Christine was sweet – but not any less accomplished. Christine could see now why Carlotta's temper had soured over so many seasons. Carlotta may have had a far greater appreciation of adoration and applause than she did, but the stress of it was still bound to be thoroughly exhausting in time.

She had inadvertently caused quite the interruption in Carlotta's stellar career. But that had all happened because of Erik, which in turn was the result of the cruelties of a traveling fair. And thus the trail of misfortune seemed to always continue. How sad, then, that as human beings we seem destined to pass our miseries on to others.

Christine sighed. The music became light, joyful, tripping along like a clear little brook she had played near as a child. At this she couldn't help but chuckle. Here she was, finally having the chance to enjoy some of the most beautiful music since Erik – she quickly closed that train of thought – she had ever heard, and yet she still managed to be contemplating the seemingly inherent ills of the human race.

Perhaps she wasn't as well as she thought. She felt a sniffle approaching and reached distractedly for her handbag on the chair beside her. While trying to unclasp it her fingers slipped and the purse, which was weighed down by a couple of amusing little romance novels she had been reading in her free moments, dropped onto the polished leather boots of a gentleman seated in the next chair over. As she retrieved the bag the man scowled at her and harrumphed in obvious disapproval. Since it was of course an accident and hardly an inconvenience to him, Christine grew somewhat annoyed and stared pointedly back. Seemingly shocked by her boldness the man busied himself by flipping through the night's program far faster than he could possibly have been reading it.

Christine herself was somewhat shocked – for once she hadn't merely submitted to a man's judgment. It was merely a wordless dispute with a man she'd never seen before, and yet she had in her own way fought back. She had met his eye. The ability to stand up for herself was a skill Christine had sorely needed during the preceding months but had sorely lacked. Perhaps, perhaps, she could still learn.

All too soon the orchestra began playing an interlude for the intermission. Christine knew that soon Raoul would be knocking at her door, asking if she felt better and bringing a treat from his cook and a kiss.

Some days Christine missed Erik – the way only he could make her soul sing, his mystery and charisma and darkness. But Raoul was by her side, and that was for the best. For all her romanticism and naiveté, Christine understood that to follow Erik would have been to lose her old life entirely.

While so many things were different now, she had, she now saw, not lost her previous world entirely – she just had a vastly different place in it. She also knew that romantic relationships were far from her only meaningful connections – her friendship with Meg, for instance, had sustained her through so many difficult years. She had made the best choice – not perfect, but what ever could be? Raoul loved her, and she loved him. He was a man, not an angel, and that was how things should be.

With a backward glance she slipped from the theater. She would come again, she decided. She had missed this – independence, alone except her thoughts, and anonymous in a crowd.