Looking through the Mirror

Love Never Dies

The next morning, Erika headed to the harbor to start her journey to Coney Island. She has been anxious about this trip for a long time, but she knew that if she wanted both her and Christopher to move on, she had to leave. At least she visited her father's grave one last time before she left today and even left a letter at Christopher’s father's grave so he would know how she felt. She felt the smooth piece of paper that was her ticket in her hand and was hesitant to go. She looked back one more time at the place that was once her home and remembered all the memories that surrounded this place: her mother, the circus, the years in the Palais Garnier, meeting Christopher for the first time, her growing feelings for him, the heartbreak, Don Juan Triumphant, and finally, their kiss and wedding. She didn't have a perfect life, but it was at least happy enough that she was going to miss Paris. Despite that, she still turned around and headed to the ship. She carried her one suitcase all the way through checkpoints to the ship. It was majestic ship with elaborate decor and expensive looking dining room, that is, for the upper class. Fearing that the wealthy might recognize her from Don Juan Triumphant, she chose to live among the lower class for the time being. The ship held many diverse passengers, ranging from Parisian citizens to wealthy merchants from all over the world, but despite the diversity, she felt like she would stick out with the mask on her face.

Erika finally arrived to her stateroom and was surprised to see how small it was. It only had enough room for her, a bed, and her suitcase. Regardless of the size, she had to deal with it for the next three weeks. Once the ship was in motion, there was no going back. This was the point of no return. After she finished unpacking, she went to the cafeteria of the ship since she was incredibly hungry. She didn't eat breakfast this morning and it was already five in the evening. She sat at an abandoned table by the window and examined her food. It didn't look appetizing, but she was too hungry to care. She ate a bit of the mysterious food, but fought every urge in her body to spit it out. It was disgusting! Who in their right mind would feed this crap to people? Well, she knew one thing: the upper class would have the best food and the leftovers would be given to the lower class. She looked around and saw all the rambunctious families and people around her. They were all so busy with their own matters that they didn't even bother to notice that one of their shipmates was wearing a more expensive looking dress and a mask to hide her face, which relieved her.

She heard a loud horn and could feel the ship moving. She heard the people cheering outside and she looked out the window to see her last sight of France. It looked quite lovely with the sun setting in the background, which caused a tear to fall on her cheek. "Excuse me, miss, but would you like some company," a man asked. She tuned to find a young man in Persian clothing looking straight at her. Just like her, he dressed in more elegant clothing, suggesting he was from some wealth. When she turned, he finally noticed her mask and his eyes widened with surprise, but for a different reason than she thought.

"I guess you can sit here, monsieur," she said softly. He took a seat in front of her and couldn't stop looking at her with a curious look. "What's the matter?"

"Your mask reminds me of a friend I know, mademoiselle," he said as he noticed the ring on her finger. "Or should I say madame."

She looked at him with confusion until she remembered the ring. "Oh, I almost forgot about it. It's still hard to believe that we are married, or at least, in our hearts."

"So where is monsieur, um-," he trailed off as he awaited her to finish his question.

"He should be getting married some days from now," she said, not realizing that her statement did not make any sense to him.

"I thought you said you two were married," he asked with one of his eyebrows up.

"We were never officially married. We were never in front of a priest or anything like that. We just said the vows and exchanged the rings. Besides, he is marrying the woman he deserves," she said with a hint of sadness.

"Oh, well, mademoiselle, why are you here and not still with him?"

"I don't want him to leave his fiancé to come after me. The last thing I want is for him to break her heart just like he did to me some time ago."

"Would you like to tell me more? I mean, your story is quite interesting. All I am doing is looking for a friend who ran away from Persia. You see, he has a very unfortunate deformity and he was already used by gypsies and even my former boss, the Shah. I'm trying to find him before he gets himself in any more trouble."

Her eyes lowered at the sound of "the Shah". The memories of the circus played in her head, but she tried desperately to hide her tears. "Oh, poor man. What's his name?"

"His name is Erik Chenet."

She smiled. "That's funny because my name is Erika Destler. Does he hide his deformity behind a mask too?"

He nodded. "Wait, ‘too’? You mean, underneath that mask lies a deformity?"

She looked away from him a bit and then nodded. "I guess he and I have a lot in common. I just hope that we don't share the same fate."

"I just hope I can find him before he can," he said before stretching out his hand. "My name is Nadir Khan, but most people just call me the Persian."

"Well, Nadir, it's nice to meet you," she said as she shook his hand, but he grabbed it and kissed it, like a gentleman should, making her blush a little. "So, are you secretly rich," she teased.

He smiled. "I'm a merchant. I've been selling spices from every corner of the world to millions of people. Despite the success, I hate to travel with the wealthy since they are so smug and have no respect for the people who aren't like them. What about you?"

"I've caused a huge fiasco back home and I'm afraid they might notice me," she said, but suddenly, her face turned green as she hurriedly ran out of the cafeteria. He followed quickly behind her and saw her bent over on the side of the ship, vomiting. He helped her out by pulling her hair out of the way and saying comforting things to her. Once she was finished, she was embarrassed, but all right. "I'm sorry. The food here must have not agreed with my stomach."

"I guess not, but I saw that you ate so little. I must have been awful."

"It was, but I have to eat it if I want to survive the trip."

"Not exactly," he said with a mischievous smile. "With enough money, they might be able to provide us with decent food, that is, if you will accept my offer."

"You would do that for me? Thank you," she said with a smile.

"But we must eat in secret. I don't want anyone to know our little secret. Will eating in my stateroom be sufficient for you?"

"Well, Nadir, I've spent all my life hiding in the shadows, so that shouldn't be any problem for me."

For the duration of the voyage, Erika and Nadir would eat high quality food in his stateroom far away from the upper class and lower class. His room was a mix between the rich and the poor and they spent most of their time there comfortably. During breakfast, she would actually eat with the others since it was at least consumable and he would join her. Once in a while, they would join other shipmates for activities and they would have a fun time onboard. They would share stories of their past, and surprisingly, Erika told him everything that happened to her before she arrived to the Palais Garnier and before she left France. He seemed to be very interested in her stories since they told of a woman who has survived the worst torment, but still found kindness and compassion to the point that she even found her true love and although he did break her heart, he loved her too. Despite this, she still let him go to make him happy and to protect him from any difficulties they would have had if they were together. What an amazing woman he found! "So, you had to deal with a person called the Shah too?"

"Yes. When I was just a young teenager, he made me kill anyone that he deemed worthy of death, but I turned into the assassin of the circus that anyone could hire. I've killed so many people that I don't even remember how many. Even worse is that if I didn't do the job or correctly or refused to do it, they would torture me and abuse me. Even if I wanted death, they wouldn't give it to me despite them threatening my life if I failed to kill someone. It wasn't until I met the amazing Madame Giry that I could escape that hell."

"That's awful, but I'm sad to say that Erik suffered a similar past. He was used by the ruler of Persia, the Shah, and I was one of his councilmen. When they found him, he wanted him to become his personal assassin and allowed him to create a torture chamber under the palace. He said his deformed face could bring fear into the hearts of his victims and unfortunately, he was right. He too killed so many people to the point he forgot how many and if it weren't for me, he would have never escaped."

"So, are you still working with that bastard?"

"How could I after what he did to my poor friend? I told him I wanted no part in his council, but he exiled me from Persia and demanded for me not to return unless I wanted to be killed. Ever since then, I've made a business selling spices and I've never been happier."

"Well, that's good," she said with a smile. "I can't believe that tomorrow is the day that we arrive to America! I've never traveled this far away from home."

"I've never been to America, so this is exciting for me too," he said as he put an arm around her. She looked at his with curiosity since she was still not used to being touched, even after sleeping with Christopher. "You know, I thought I was going to be alone on this trip. My traveling companion isn't with me since he is working hard selling spices in France. When he's done, he'll join me, but I never thought I would meet a woman like you on this trip. You have made this trip that I dreaded to an unforgettable one."

"I feel the same. Thank you for making this trip a less stressful one. I thought I had to retreat to my room most of the trip and avoid human contact," she said, but her face once again turned green and she rushed out the room to vomit. This was the fourth time on this trip she has done this around him and she told him she has vomited more than that. As he did the first time, he made sure her hair was out the way and said comforting words to her. When she was done, she had an embarrassed look and said, "I must be very seasick if I keep vomiting like this."

"Are you sure that you don't want to go to infirmary to see what's the matter with you," Nadir asked with concern.

"Yes, I'm sure. The last thing I would want is for them to see my face and then send me back to France because they fear I have a contagious disease."

"Well, they are going to examine you when we get to Ellis Island."

Her eyes widened with fear. "What?"

"Didn't you know? They examine immigrants before they let them in and if they are too sick, they will send them back."

She was visibly shaking by what he just told him. "I think I should go back to my stateroom. It's getting late," she said in defeat.

"I'm sure you will be able to pass the examination-,"

"You don't understand. My deformity could mean anything in the medicine world. My mother tried to figure out what was wrong with me as a child and each doctor we saw said different things. It will hinder my chances of a new life here. What am I going to do?"

"I'm sure it's not that bad," he said as he tried to remove that mask, but she swatted his hand away. "Please let me see it. I can't make a judgment unless I've seen it."

"But I don't want to frighten you. My face has repulsed so many people throughout the years.

"Please, Erika," he begged. She looked into his puppy dogs eyes that she remembered Christopher having when he begged her to marry him and she couldn't refuse.

"All right, but not out here," she said as she looked around for any unwanted attention. He guided her back to his stateroom and he sat her down on the sofa. When they were comfortable, she reluctantly removed her mask, revealing her deformity. To her surprise, he didn't scream in horror or even flinch. Instead, he smiled.

"I've dealt with Erik's deformity for years. I've grown desensitized of deformities, even yours." Touched by his words, she gave him a hug. “I’m sure you’ll pass.” After a while, she left his room to go back to hers and pack for tomorrow's anxious ordeal.

The next day finally arrived and Erika has been nervous all morning. Once she left the ship, she knew she had to go through a full examination that could determine how she would live the rest of her life. On one hand, if she passed, she could live a new life where no one knew her, but at the same time, she would be all alone. The Girys wouldn't visit until they knew she was all right and even then, it would take some time before they could even come to America. The only thing that is giving her comfort at a time like this was Nadir, but he is a traveling merchant and he could leave at any moment to find the rarest spices or search his deformed friend, Erik. On the other hand, she could fail the examination and return back to France. True, that would mean another three weeks on that ship and without Nadir's help, but the thought of going back, in a way, humiliated her. This whole trip would have been a waste. Not only that, but where would she go? If this plan failed, she wouldn't have a plan B to retort to. She could ask to stay with the Girys for the time being, but if she did, she would eventually get caught in Christopher's life again. He might ask them if they received a letter from her and might even snoop around the house to find her.

Nadir was kind enough to escort her to the check-in building, but they had to be separated in gender-specific rooms for the examination. When she was called into a private room by a friendly nurse, she was more nervous than ever, maybe even more so than when Christopher was around. The nurse noticed her nervousness and said in a Boston accent, "Don't worry, miss. I assure you that the Doc won't hurt you. It'll just be a quick check and then you'll be on your way." Eventually, they arrived to the room where a female nurse and a midwife were waiting for her.

"Come sit here," the nurse said as she patted the examination table. Erika did as she was told and sat on it. They asked her many questions regarding if she was sick and she answered truthfully.

"Although, I had been vomiting a lot during the voyage, but I believe that was from seasickness," Erika said. As they heard this, their eyes lit up, especially the midwife's.

"What time of day would it usually occur," the midwife asked.

"It happened any time of the day, but mostly during the morning. Why?" They didn't answer her and they began their examination. The first thing they did was remove her mask and despite her protesting, they managed to get it off her. As they saw her deformity, instead of cowering in fear, they actually smiled.

"Oh, she must be a Coney Island performer. She'll fit right in with those freak and human oddities," the nurse said and the midwife nodded in agreement. Erika was confused, but was relieved that her face didn't seem to repulse them. In fact, it seems they might have seen a lot worse in their years. "Now, miss, we'll need the midwife to examine you, so you'll need to lie down." Erika did as she was told since the worse of her worries was now over. The midwife examined her private area and even though it was uncomfortable for her, Erika knew it had to be done.

After she was done, the midwife whispered something to the nurse and then asked her, "You said you were feeling nausea in the morning, correct?"

"Yes," she answered with curiosity. What were they not telling her?

"Have you been experiencing any other symptoms, like tender breasts or unusual cravings?"

Erika thought about it. She thought that her breasts were more sensitive than usual since now; she couldn't lie on her stomach without her breasts feeling pain or discomfort. Also, she noticed that she wanted more salty things lately, to the point where she would pour a large amount salt on her food. Nadir questioned this one time, but she only said she was craving it. "Now that you mention it, I have."

"When was the last time you had your period?" Erika thought about it and was surprised by her findings. She didn't have her period this month. The last time she was on her period was some time before Don Juan Triumphant and when Christopher . . .

"Why are you asking me these questions? What is wrong with me," she asked with fear in her voice.

The two women looked at each other and the midwife finally told her, "Madame, you're pregnant."

Erika's eyes widened with shock. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Were they lying to her? No, why would they do that? She was really pregnant. "I am? For how long?"

"Almost a month, madame." Erika put a hand on her belly and was still in shock with the news they told her. "And your baby is going to be a healthy one as far as I could examine. Congratulations."

"Well, I think that completes our examination. You are free to go," the nurse said as she opened the door for her.

Erika left the room and out to the harbor where she was still in shock. "Erika," a male voice yelled. She turned around and saw Nadir running to her with his and her luggage. "I'm glad you passed, but you almost forgot your suitcase. It would be a shame if you lost it." He handed her the suitcase, but he could see that she was troubled. "What's wrong?"

"Do you remember what I told you after Don Juan Triumphant?"

"You said you tried to kill his fiancé, but he kissed you and you let them go. Why," he asked in a worried tone.

"Well, he came back and we got for a lack of a better term, married, but we also . . . , well," she said, blushing by what she was going to tell him. "Well, I'm pregnant."

His eyes widened with shock, just as much as hers did when she heard the news. "Well, I figured that with your constant vomiting, but I guess congratulations are in order," he said as he hugged her. "But what will you do? I mean, are you going to tell Christopher about this?"

At the sound of his name, she pushed him away and said sharply, "No, he can never find out about this! The last thing I would want is for him to come all this way to find me and our child. Besides, he'll have kids of his own before he knows it."

"Then what are you going to do? I'm pretty sure that a baby wasn't part of your plan."

"No, but that doesn't mean that I won't love him or her when he or she is born," she said as she put her hand on her belly. "I've spent my whole life being called different for my deformity and only a select few people ever cared about me and I won't do that to my child because he or she is half of Christopher."

"Well, I can't allow you to be alone while you are pregnant. You will stay with me until the Girys arrive, no question about it," he said as he put an arm around her.

"Wouldn't that be inappropriate for you? I mean, it wouldn't be proper for a man and woman to live together when they are not a couple."

He lifted her chin with his fingers and said, "It won't matter because you need a home for the time being. Where were you planning on staying if I weren't around?"

"I was just going to try my best to find accommodations at least for the night."

"Well, now you have found accommodations and you can stay with me for as long as you want."

"Thank you, Nadir," she said as she gave him a hug. "I never thought I would meet someone as kind as you." After a while, they grabbed their luggage and headed to his home, which wasn't far from Penny Street. They past by many colorful characters, including some of the freaks from a circus, immigrants from all over the whole that dream of a better future for themselves, and even a kindhearted older man with a wood shop up the street. They finally arrived to an apartment building and checked in at the front desk. They went upstairs and entered the room at the far end of the hallway. When they entered, they noticed it was pretty small, even for one person, but the guest room served to be a sufficient room for Erika.

"Now, if you need anything, you can just tell me," he said with a smile.

"I will. Thank you."

Nine months have passed and the fateful day arrived: Erika was in labor. Luckily, the Girys arrived a few months ago when they heard the news that she was pregnant and knew she needed womanly help during this emotional chapter in her life. Nadir waited patiently outside the room of his now new house. Ever since his spice business was going so well here in America, he has made enough money to buy a house that could accommodate him, Erika, and the child, but ever since the Girys arrived, his plan soon changed. They found a place for all three of them to live in and she soon moved out once he bought the house. He knew that it would be more ladylike if she lived among women rather than a man, but he just wished she would stay with him longer or maybe even forever. Over the past months, he started growing feelings for her and has even confessed his feelings to her, but she said her heart belonged to only one man: Christopher. Regardless, he has tried his absolute hardest to win her heart, especially through this ordeal.

In the room, Madame Giry tried to calm down Erika, who was moaning in agony. The pain was almost unbearable for her and she thought that she might die. She read in books that some mothers don't even survive childbirth and it terrified her greatly. She wanted to see her child and didn't want death to claim her until then. The only thing giving her faith was that Madame Giry was by her side, saying comforting words to her while Meg held her hand. "Where is the midwife," Madame Giry asked her daughter.

"She should be arriving soon. She said she had to get all her things when I went to get her," Meg answered.

Suddenly, they heard a knock on the bedroom door and Meg quickly opened it. To their relief, it was the midwife. She was an elderly woman, maybe even older than Madame Giry, but age meant experience in their eyes. The midwife walked to the bed where Erika was in agony and said, "It's all right, Mrs. Destler. Just take deep breaths and when a contraction occurs, I want you to push." Sure enough, when she said that, Erika felt a wave of a painful contraction, but did her best to push. "That's it! I can see the head."

"Meg, can you please wait outside. This isn't for you to see," Madame Giry said. Meg nodded and quickly left the room. Nadir saw her leave and she could see that he was worried sick about her.

"Is she all right," he asked, but he was quickly answered by a bloodcurdling scream from the other room.

"Don't worry, Nadir. She'll be all right. This is her first childbirth, so it's probably going to be painful for her. Just pray that she makes it through," she said, trying to be calm, but she was just as worried for her as he was.

After a few more agonizing contractions, the baby was now part of their world. "It's a girl, Mrs. Destler." Erika was weak from all the pain, but she knew the worse was over and it was all worth it. The midwife took the baby away and started cleaning her with a wet rag. After a while, she spanked the baby and she started to cry, like a normal baby should. Once she was wrapped in a pink blanket, the midwife handed the baby to her. Once she was in her arms, Erika started to cry. Her daughter's face was so beautiful, even though there was a birthmark throughout her face, but it was barely noticeable. The midwife smiled as she left the room to tell Meg and Nadir about the successful childbirth. Nadir paid the midwife and then quickly entered the room. Madame Giry cleaned up the room before he could enter and he was thankful. He was worried he might see something that could truly repulse him. When he saw the baby, he smiled and ran to her side. She had sweat all over her face and she was breathing hard, but she had a big smile on her face.

"Are you all right, my love," he said lovingly as he put a hand on her cheek.

"Yes, I'm all right. I never thought that giving birth would be so painful," she said weakly.

"What are you going to name her," Meg asked with excitement. She always viewed Erika as her sister, so she felt like she just became an aunt to a beautiful baby girl.

"Well, if she were a boy, I would have named her after my father, Giovanni, but since she's a girl, I'll name her . . . Diana," she said as she looked at her beautiful baby girl.

"But will she be a Daaé or a Destler," Madame Giry asked. Her smile vanished at the sound of her question.

"I . . . I never thought about that. My only fear is that if Christopher finds her, I don't want him to figure out he's the father."

"Well, Daaé would suggest she is part of his family and Destler would suggest she is part of yours. Maybe you can use Khan," Nadir said.

She laughed as she said, “I can’t use Khan. True, it would throw anyone off, but that would suggest we were married.” At those words, he looked away. After a moment of thinking, Erika finally said, "It's going to be Destler. Daaé would be too suspicious."

"So her name will be Diana Destler," Meg said with joy.

"Could you excuse us for a moment," Nadir asked the Girys. They reluctantly nodded and left the room, leaving Erika confused by his sudden request. "You know that I would do anything for you, right?"

"Of course, but what's the matter."

"It's just that . . . I have been with you for your entire pregnancy, but your heart still belongs to a man who doesn't even know he has a child. I've tried to court you, but you won't love me because you're . . . married," he said with sadness.

"Nadir, don't think that because I don't love you that I don't care about you at all. You've been a great friend and arguably, lover, but my heart still belongs to Christopher. I made a promise to him and I won't break it, but I do appreciate that you told me."

He sighed. "Well, congratulations for your baby girl," he said as he left her side and left the room.

When she knew she was alone, she looked at her baby Diana and said, "My dear Diana, I will love you with all my heart and soul and no matter what anybody says, you are not a freak. You are a special child and if your father ever finds you . . . I just hope that . . . ," She shook her head at the thought. "No matter what happens, I'll be there to support you." She kissed her child's forehead and Diana smiled. She was way too young to do smile; a newborn shouldn't even be this alert, but Erika smiled too. It’s funny how things work out in the end.

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