"So, what are we doing today?"
"We're going to review your part for Hannibal."
"Again? We do that every time I come here. What about after that?"
"I don't know. Maybe you can sing something from Romeo and Juliet or Faust. You can decide when we get there, but I want you to be perfect at every show, so forgive me if my lessons are a bit repetitive."
"All right, Angel."
This was the beginning of almost every lesson Christopher had with Erika. For the past two weeks after rehearsals and shows were over, their lessons were in her home within the catacombs rather than his dressing room to avoid any disturbances. It was his idea to move them there because he wanted to see her more instead of her hiding behind the mirror in case of unwanted guests. Now, he got to see his Angel of Music in person and it always surprised him to know that he discovered her before she revealed herself. It was the works of destiny that they met each other. Her home could have been mistaken for a house if the only entryway to her home wasn’t a lake and an iron gate. Her furniture looked extravagant, almost as if she bought from a store, but she said she made most of it herself and only bought a few things. She had so many more talents that he would have knew about if he didn't meet her in person.
"You were a little flat on that last note," a sitting Erika said as she put the violin down on her lap.
"It wasn't conspicuous. No one will notice," Christopher said. This was probably the twentieth time today she corrected him.
"But I will notice. A perfect singer doesn't settle for any imperfections! He makes sure that he practices until there are no mistakes."
"It's not easy, you know. I can't sing perfectly every time I open my mouth."
"I know and that's why I'm here. I'll make sure your voice is as perfect as it can back. Now, start your verse over again while I get ready."
"Can we take a quick break? I've been singing for the last hour."
Erika checked a nearby clock and he was right. "I guess we can take a quick break." She put her violin down on a table and walked to her kitchen while he sat on her sofa. "Would you like anything to eat or drink?"
"What do you have?"
"I've got cheese and crackers with some white wine. Is that fine?"
"Sounds good to me," Christopher said. She walked to him with a tray of food and two glasses of white wine in her hands and set it down on the table. She quickly grabbed her food and glass and sat at the opposite side of the sofa, away from Christopher. Despite all the time they have spent together, she still wasn't comfortable with the fact that someone else was in her home. She was very reserved and quiet around him. Christopher tried to start conversations with her multiple times, but most of the time, she would say something to end it. Today was different. "So, how did you get to be so good at the violin?"
"I taught myself as a child whenever my mother wasn't around," she said, but with a somber tone.
"You must be very talented to teach yourself!"
"I guess I am," she said with a small smile, but quickly turned to a frown with the thought of her mother. He noticed her sullen look and scooted closer to her. She tried to move away from him, but she reached the end of the sofa and was trapped. "What are you doing?"
"I just want to get to know you better. Is that a crime?"
"I-I . . . You don't know anything about me."
"I know that you're a trapped soul stuck in the shadows and deserve to go out and enjoy life."
"Anyone could have figured that out,"
"But I'm the only one who has. You showed yourself to me and only me. Why?"
She quietly took a sip of her wine and after a while, she said, "You . . . You are the only person who saw me as a person and not a monster or a vengeful spirit. You're the only one that has even truly seen me, not just glimpses in the shadows." He smiled and she finally relaxed. He took a cracker with some cheese and ate it while she took another sip of her wine. She felt that the conversation was over, but it turned a sudden direction.
"If you don't mind me asking, why don't you talk more about your past?" Christopher asked. She nervously took a cracker from the tray and ate it to avoid the question. "I just want to know you better. You know everything about me, but I know very little about you."
She sighed. "I just don't like talking about it."
"My past is full of painful memories that I don't want to remember. I wasn't born here; I arrived here after traumatic events."
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to . . . I'm sorry," he said as he scooted over to the other side of sofa. For some reason, she felt guilty. He just wanted to be friends with her, not just this teacher-student relationship that they were used to. "Could you at least tell me why you wear the mask?"
"I . . . I wear the mask to hide my . . . disfigurement. My face could repulse even the toughest man. I've seen children run in terror, calling me a monster and their mothers told my mother to keep me in a cage. I'm surprised she didn't."
"Can I see your face?"
"No! I don't want you to fear me after seeing my face. I respect you too much to do that to you," Erika said as she protectively held her mask to prevent him from taking it off if he tried.
"I understand." Christopher said as he slumped against the couch.
"Well, I guess that's a long enough break. Let's head back to our lesson," she said as she quickly got up from the couch and toward the table that held her violin.
"Fine," he said with a sigh as he got up and walked toward the music stand holding his music.
After another successful performance, Christopher went back to his dressing room. He put the key in the lock and opened the door, but was surprised to see a girl was already in the room, but it wasn't Erika. "Christopher! I'm glad you're here!" Rachel said excitingly.
"Rachel?! What are you doing here? You need a key to get in here," he said in utter shock.
"I asked Madame Giry for a key. She was more than willing to give one to me when I told her we were childhood friends. Remember when I retrieved your red scarf when it flew to the ocean?"
"Oh yeah, we were both drenched with sea water, but you managed to save it before it floated away. I still have it somewhere in my house."
"Oh, that's sweet, especially all the work I had to go through to get it," she said with a giggle. "I still owe you celebratory drinks for your debut performance."
"Um, it's been two weeks, Rachel. How come you're telling me now?"
"You've been extremely busy lately. I never get to see you after rehearsals because you're always with your 'maestro'. I try to surprise you multiple times, but it seems you disappear before I can talk to you. I thought tonight I'll catch you by being in your dressing room before you could leave. It worked."
"Sorry about that. We have a tight schedule and I have to see her every day. Her orders."
"Well, hopefully I can steal you tonight because I'm determined to celebrate. This time, you better not disappear on me. I'll be back in a few minutes to get the carriage. I'll be right back," she said as she quickly left the room, leaving Christopher confused about what just happened.
"You should go with her," Erika's voice said through the mirror.
"Were you there this whole time?" Christopher asked while looking at the mirror. All he could see was his own reflection, but he knew she was behind it.
"Yes. She was here for a lot longer than you think. She really wanted to see you, ergo I think you should celebrate with her, even if it is two weeks too late."
"You wouldn't mind?" Christopher asked innocently.
"Not at all. It's about time you took a little break from me. Besides, I'm trying to figure out which opera those two managers are planning to show. Once I figure it out, I'll practice it and make sure I'm prepared when you come to your next lesson."
"All right then," he said with a bit of disappointment in his voice.
After a while, Rachel ran into the room, out of breath. "Oh good, you're still here. Shall we go?" Christopher nodded and held out his arm for her to grab, like a gentleman would. Through the mirror, Erika felt a new feeling: envy. She didn't know why she was feeling this, but she didn't like it. She concluded that she didn't like that Christopher was going to celebrate with Rachel, but not in a lover's rivalry. It was more about him having freedom to go out and enjoy the company of someone who wants to be around him. She was jealous of Christopher, she thought.
In the carriage, Christopher was very quiet as he listened to Rachel talk about her life. He felt awkward since it had been such a long time since they bonded. They were childhood friends, sure, but they later became sweethearts. The last time they saw each other, he gave her a farewell kiss. He wondered if she still had feelings for him, especially since he grew out of those feelings. Regardless, he wanted to enjoy his night with her. "Christopher, are you listening to me?" Rachel asked.
He snapped out of his train of thought and looked at her with confused eyes. "Y-Yes," he lied.
"Then what did I just say?"
"Um, something about your outfit?"
"No, I was talking about my father. Remember him? You used to call him Monsieur de Chagny. It was so cute. Eventually, you started calling him 'father' when our relationship was getting serious," she said with a laugh. "He's doing well with the railroads in Switzerland. I would be there right now if I didn't convince him that I am a strong, independent woman."
"Well, I'm glad you were always great at that," he said with a smile.
She smiled as well. "Do you remember our little dates when we were kids? Like one time, we had a picnic in the attic and we had grape juice, but we pretended it was wine."
"Yeah, you even pretend you were drunk for the full effect. It was the first time you kissed me."
"I'm pretty sure it was you that kissed me, but regardless, it was cute."
"It sure was."
They finally arrived to a little bar on the outskirts of town. Despite the dangerous neighborhood, she said she really liked this bar, but he didn't know why. They walked in and the bartender greeted Rachel. "Hello Mademoiselle Rachel de Chagny! Long time, no see." The burly man saw her companion and asked, "Who's the lad with you?"
"Gary, this is Monsieur Christopher Daaé, the newest opera singer of the Palais Garnier!" Rachel said with enthusiasm.
"This is Christopher Daaé? Well monsieur, I must say that you performed very well last week. I saw the show from the back, but I could hear you crystal clear. You were magnificent!" Gary said.
"Thank you," he said, flattered.
"What would you two like to drink? Whiskey? Gin? Vodka?"
"We'll just have some red wine, thank you," Rachel said.
"Are you sure? Your usual is some a shot of all three plus some-," Gary said before he was interrupted.
"Just wine, thanks," Rachel said, clearly trying to hide something. They sat at the bar and Gary took out two glasses and poured some red wine in them. He gave the wine to them and left to serve some more customers. They both took a sip and she said, "This place always has the best red wine. Don't you agree?"
"Yeah, it's pretty good," he said hesitantly. "So, you're a regular here?"
"I guess so. Once in a while I'll come here for a drink or two when times are bad."
"I just find it odd that you know the bartender's name. Usually, people who come to bars everyday know their names and them knowing the names of the customers."
"I remember people's names the first time they tell me and I don't forget. I am a Viscountess, after all. My name is popular, or at least, my last name, especially with the rich," she said as she paused. After a moment, she continued, "It's hard to find people who aren't using you for your money. I go through friends like new trends in fashion. Even worse is when gentleman try to woo you, but you find out they are trying to woo your money."
"I'm so sorry, but I assure you, I'm not after your money."
She smiled. "I know and I'm grateful for that. You're one of the few that actually care about me as a person. Thank you," she said as she took another sip. "Gary, I'll have a shot of whiskey."
Gary walked over to them and said, "Are you sure? You haven't even finished your wine."
"I want it for later. Christopher, do you want some too?"
"I'd rather not," he said.
"Why not? You don't like whiskey?"
"I don't like strong liquor in general. I'll just stick with wine," he said with a raised glass.
"All right. Your loss," she said as she saw Gary place the shot of whiskey next to the glass of wine. She took the shot and ordered another and another. In between shots, she'll take a sip of her wine until it was gone, but then she ordered another glass. Christopher only had the one glass of wine to make sure he was sober enough to care for her when she was done.
After a while, Christopher was helping Rachel out of the bar. She was clearly drunk. She was slurring her words and could barely walk without falling. She was giggling a lot, but he didn't have time to laugh while he protected her. When the carriage arrived, he quickly pushed her in and got inside. The whole ride to her home, she was invading his personal space by leaning against him and putting her hands on him. She kept talking to him like they were still in the bar, oblivious that they were on their way home. Eventually, they arrived to her mansion nearby the Palais Garnier. The coachman opened the door to let them in. "Mademoiselle Chagny, we've arrived home," the man said.
"Wait, h-h-how did we . . . get here?" Rachel said with slurred word.
"We arrived in your carriage, mademoiselle, and I think it would be best if you went straight to bed."
"Oh, I wanted to stay a . . . little longer,"
"I'm afraid you can't. Now, say goodbye to your male companion."
She looked at him and like an angry little kid; she hated the fact that she has to leave, she said, "Goodbye, Christopher. I'll see you soon." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, but gave him a mischievous smile as she gave him a quick kiss on the lips. He was surprised. It was a blink of an eye, but it was still pushing boundaries. Actually, it was past the boundaries. She left the carriage and straight into the coachman's arms as he directed her inside, but not without her protesting all the way to the door. Christopher thought that they might take a while since Rachel was always a rebellious spirit and decided to get out of the carriage and walk home, which was a few blocks away, but he saw the Palais Garnier in the moonlight and thought he might as well go there.
After a couple blocks of walking, he finally arrived to the Palais Garnier. It was late, so he thought the managers locked the front doors, but he knew the one door they always forgot to lock: the back door close to the male dressing rooms. Throughout the years, he has forgotten stuff and was lucky to find this door always unlocked for his convenience.
"Ugh! Why can't I figure out how to play this song?!" Erika said with annoyance. She has been practicing Il Muto ever since she figured out it was their next show, but a certain song has given her so much trouble. To make it worse, it was Christopher's solo song, so she couldn't skip it. It had very complicated rhythms that she couldn't figure out, which made her nervous since Christopher had to sing this song, that is, if he got the part, but she had confidence that he would get the part no problem. She had mastered the other songs, but this one was frustrating her. "Maybe some wine will help calm my nerves." She went to her kitchen to and grabbed the white wine and drank straight from the bottle. She walked to the music and examined it while taking sips of wine. "Why is it so hard? Is it the transition from the E string to the G string? It is difficult with so little time. Maybe it's all these sixteenth notes? I don't know what it is, but it's frustrating me. I know how the song goes, but playing it is a different story." She picked up the sheet of music and started humming the tune, hoping that she would find the mistake.
Suddenly, she heard splashing water in the distance. She checked her clock and it was half past midnight. After a bit of thinking, she assumed it was Madame Giry riding on her second boat she had for her, wanting to talk to her about something. Sometimes after work, she would come down to either scold her or tell her something important, but she was not in the mood to talk right now. She sat on the couch facing away from the watery entryway to her home and waited anxiously as the splashing of the water grew louder. She kept humming the song, but the water kept distracting her and she had to hum the tune over and over again. Eventually, she heard someone park the boat next to the other and footsteps getting closer to her. "I'm not in the mood to talk right now, Madame Giry," she said as she continued to hum the piece.
"I'm not Madame Giry," a male voice said. She quickly put down the music and turned around.
"Christopher?! What are you doing here so late? Shouldn't you be with Rachel?"
"The celebration ended when she got too dunk on whisky and wine. I helped her arrive to her home safely," Christopher said before continuing, "So, does Madame Giry know that you live here?"
"It's late! Why are you even here? You should be at home resting for your rehearsals tomorrow."
"I . . . I didn't get to see you tonight. I had to see you at least once today."
"It's past midnight; you shouldn't be here. Go home now please. We can practice tomorrow." Erika said as she got up from her couch and tried desperately to get him to go home. "I'll even walk you home, that is, if you really need me to."
"Really? I mean, I wouldn't say no to you. I would love your company." Christopher said with a smile. Erika sighed, disappointed that he accepted. She didn't like going outside the Palais Garnier, even when she had to, but she did give him the offer. She directed him back on the boat and tied a rope from their boat to the second one for later use. She grabbed the long paddle and started rowing the boat through the murky, but glossy lake. She brought a candelabra and a matchbox with her since she knew how dark the Palais Garnier could be when the lights were out. The catacombs, on the other hand, were surprising lit with all the torches Erika placed over the years. They were silent throughout the trip back to the mirror, except when Erika occasionally hummed the tune she had been practicing.
When they arrived to the dressing room, Erika struck a match and lit the candelabra. She carefully opened the door and checked to see if anyone was around, but Christopher said abruptly, "Why are you still sneaking around? Everyone should be home by now."
His voice startled her, but she inhaled and said, "You never know if someone stayed late. Maybe it's a dancer or a servant or even no one at all. Let's just hope you're the last one." With his hand in hers, she directed him out the door that he entered earlier. Once they were outside, she blew out the fires and placed the candelabra close to the entrance for her return. They then walked around the streets of Paris, careful of anybody who wanted trouble. After walking a few blocks, they finally arrived to his house and he opened the door with his key. It was small, double-story, white house with green trim around the door and windows. Through the door, she didn't see much, but he had a small living room with a red sofa and a brown coffee table. The walls inside were a shade of light blue, but the ceiling was white.
"Would you like to come in?" Christopher asked Erika with a smile. She was staring at the inside of his house for a while and figured he might as well ask.
She quickly shook her head. "I shouldn't. I need to go home and practice for your next lesson."
"Oh, well, what show is it going to be?"
"Il Muto. I've put in a good word for you with the managers, so they should give you the lead role."
"Oh, thank you," he said as he saw her turn around to head back to the Palais Garnier, but before she could leave, he said, "You have a beautiful humming voice."
She turned around and said, "T-Thank you."
"Do you remember what you told me? A good humming voice means a good singing voice. I would like to hear you someday."
"I'm afraid you won't be able to hear it for a while. Maybe if you're good, I'll let you hear it," she said teasingly as she turned around and left.
When she finally arrived home, Erika immediately slumped on the couch and took a deep breath. She felt her heart and it was still beating fast. It was like this ever since he accepted her offer to walk him home and hasn't stopped. Actually, it started beating faster when he complimented her humming voice. She couldn't figure out why it was like this. Recently, her heart was beating fast whenever Christopher came to his lessons and at first, she thought she was ill, but it always went away when he left. Today, she thought she could experiment if he was cause for this and she was surprised by her findings. He was, but he didn't have to be there in order for her heart to beat fast. When he left to go have drinks with that Viscountess girl, she felt her heart . . . for a lack of a better term, break. She didn't know why she felt this way, but when he was gone, she felt incredibly lonely. She knew it was jealousy, but she debated what made her jealous. She could have said it was his freedom, but she later discovered that it wasn't that. She was jealous at the fact that he took another girl out for drinks, but not her, which was strange for her since she had drinks with him on his debut performance. She . . . missed him when he was gone, but it was more than just a teacher feeling lonely in a classroom with no students. "What is this feeling?"