Erika was still emotionally exhausted from her journey to the cemetery. Every year, it wore her out, but the longer she did it, the more she appreciated her father for being the only person in her life who cared about her. Consequently, she always felt more tears fall down her cheek every year, but this year was different. Out of all the people that came to the cemetery, why did Christopher have to be the shoulder she could cry on? It was hard enough to suppress her emotions when they had their lessons together, but it was even worse when her emotions were an utter wreck. The only thing standing between them was her father's headstone. Sure, she needed the comfort, but she wished he didn't show up at such a vulnerable time. Despite that, in the back of her mind, she knew that her father would approve a man like Christopher to court her. He might have even allowed him to take her hand in . . . marriage. The thought of them getting married always made her smile, but she knew it would never happen because of her deformity. Who could ever love a woman who wasn't beautiful?
"Angel!" Christopher said in the distance. Erika snapped back into reality as she watched him row into her lair. He eventually parked the boat and came up to her to give her a sudden hug. "Hello, Erika," he whispered in her ear. His hot breath on her ear made her shiver.
"W-Why are you hugging me, I mean, not to be rude or anything, but I'm still not used to being touched," she said as calmly as she could without stammering.
"Well, after yesterday, I thought you might need a hug. You went through a lot."
"That's nice, but could you stop hugging me. We've been hugging for almost a couple of minutes," she said as kindly as she could. He then released her and she gave him an uncomfortable smile. "Well, now that's done, what song would you like to warm up with?"
"How about My Love from Act II?"
"But that's a duet song. We should work on one of the solo songs-,"
"No, I want to start with that one. You promised me."
She looked at him with confusion. "Promise?"
"Don't you remember? You promised me that we would sing together in our next lesson," Christopher reminded. She totally forgot about their promise, especially when she only said that so he would stop pressuring her to sing at the cemetery.
"Oh, right. Sorry, I was distracted all day, but if you want to sing that song, we can," she said as she hurriedly looked through a stack of papers for the sheet music. Eventually, she found it and she was shaky the whole time. Other than yesterday, she never allowed anyone to hear her sing other than her father, and even then, it was an accident that he heard her. "I'm a little nervous."
"Why, my Angel," he asked as he put a hand on hers.
She nervously cleared her throat and said, "I . . . I haven't sang for anyone before, that is, on purpose, for a long time. I never thought anyone would be able to hear my voice again."
"It's not like you're singing on stage. You're just singing to me," he said with a smile. To her, that was just as bad, if not worse.
"All right then," she said as she picked up her violin. She tuned the instrument, which took longer than usual with her shaky hands. Eventually, it was tuned and she started playing the introduction of the song.
My love, my love
Not only are you my darling wife
You are also my breath of life
I cannot love anyone but you
I cannot live without you
I want to have a place in your heart
And our love will never break apart
Please my love, say you love me
For my heart will break without thee
Erika was still playing the violin, but she slowed down as her part approaching and she eventually stopped. "I . . . I can't do it. I'm sorry," she said, trying to back away from the piece as if it was going to attack her.
"Erika, there's nothing to be afraid of. You're just singing to me, remember," he said comfortingly, but she shook her head. "All right, if you don't sing the part, I'm afraid I'll have to . . . kiss you," he said teasingly.
Her eyes widened. "W-What?!"
"If you don't sing the part, I'll have to kiss you," he said with a smirk as he advanced toward her. She shrieked and slowly backed away, but he kept chasing her.
"Christopher, don't be childish," she said with a nervous laugh, but he didn't back away.
"Are you going to sing the part or not?"
"All right! All right! I'll do it, but don't pull something like that ever again," she said, now trapped by a wall.
"That's all I wanted," he said as he put his arms by her sides, trapping her. His face was so close to her face that she could practically kiss him and she fought hard not to, but she didn't mind if he kissed her. "Can I ask you a question," he asked in a serious tone.
"What is it?"
"If you're scared to sing in front of me, or anyone for that matter, why did you sing for your father?"
She blushed and looked at the ground for a bit, but said, "He told me I sang like an angel. He said if he only had one thing in the world, he would have my voice in his ears every day."
He smiled. "I told you that you sing like an angel. Why won't you let anyone hear it?"
"I lost my inspiration after he died. I could tell since then that my voice has lost its emotion, but there is nothing I could do to bring it back."
"Well, I hope you get it back," he said as he pulled his arms away. "Now, let's sing our duet." She walked back to the piece and picked up the violin. She started playing the piece over again and he repeated his verse. Then, her part approached and she took a deep breath.
My love, my love
Your heart is strong with passion
Your looks fill me with attraction
Your love fills me with satisfaction
It is not me that needs to say
That I love you and will never go away
Please, my love, say that you love me
For my heart will break without thee
Christopher stared as she sang her verse. She was transfixed on the sheet of music and didn't notice him staring. Her voice was far more than angelic. It was indescribable. He has never met a woman with such a great voice like her. Not only was she beautiful, deformity and all, but she was talented in more ways than one. Her dedication to music showed that the world was missing so much by shunning her for her face. Her mother didn't know what she was doing when she abused her dear child. Only her father knew how great she was and now, Christopher knew as well. He thought, just maybe, he might be in . . .
"Christopher, you missed your line!" Erika yelled. He snapped back into reality and he saw an angry woman starring at him. "Were you even paying attention this whole time?"
"Sorry, my love, I was just thinking," he said before catching himself. "Sorry, I meant, my Angel. The lyrics are still stuck in my head."
She blushed. Did he just say "my love"? The song did repeat those words often, but he wasn't even paying attention. He was starring at her this whole time. She didn't have to see it to know it. Did he . . .?
"Well, next time, pay attention. I'm singing for you, despite my nerves. If this happens again, I'll stop singing during your lessons."
"It won't happen again, I promise and I'm sorry."
"All right, let's start at the chorus," she said as she picked up the violin and started playing a few measures before it.
My love, my love
How can I live without you
How can my heart ever love anyone but you
You are all I ever wanted
You are all I ever desired
Please, my love, say that you love me
For my heart will break without thee
Erika was trying desperately not to cry in front of Christopher. This song matched her feeling for him perfectly, but she didn't want him to know that. After countless years of emotionless singing, she finally heard passion in her voice. It was Christopher that brought it back and she fought hard not to cry about it. All she did was smile and take a deep breath. "Wow! That was amazing. You sounded wonderful!"
"What do you mean? You were the one that sounded amazing! I've never heard a woman sing with so much passion! You lied to me when you said there was no emotion in your voice," he said with amazement.
"Well, the emotion came back and it's all thanks to you," she said before turning her face away suddenly, cursing under her breath for saying something like that out loud.
"Me? What did I do?"
"You pushed me to sing again. I haven't done that without having to go to the cemetery. Thank you," she said as she hugged him. He embraced her and could hear her cry on his shoulder. She couldn't hold back the tears any longer. He pushed her back, but he still had her in his arms. He brushed away her tears and smiled. She smiled too, but she pushed away when she realized what they were doing. She cleared her throat and asked, "What else would you like to sing?"
The day of the performance finally arrived and everyone was nervous, especially Madame Giry. She tried to convince the managers multiple times to recast Christopher and Piangi, but they wouldn't listen. Instead, they did everything in her power to make the Phantom upset, even if it meant a less than perfect show. Regardless, she made sure at least her girls danced perfectly, hoping that it will be the only thing in this show she'll like if the show was terrible.
As seats filled in the theater, the managers made sure that they were in Box 5 along with the Viscountess de Chagny, who paid extra to get the best view in the house. They made sure that they arrived early so that the Phantom would not lock the door on them, but that wasn't the end of her haunting. Before the show began, they could hear a voice say, "Excuse me, messieurs and mademoiselle, but I'm afraid you're in my box."
"Don't you dare get up from your seats," Rachel said to the managers, who were still looking for the source of the voice. "The moment you leave this box, she will come in and lock the door. I should know." Even when the door opened mysteriously, she told them to stay in their seats.
"If that's how it's going to be, then I'm afraid your little show won't go without a hitch like we promised. Let this be a lesson for you."
"We aren't afraid of your antics, Phantom! There is nothing you can do to stop the show, even if you brought down the chandelier!" Firmin said to the mysterious voice, but received no reply.
The curtain parted and the principle characters entered the stage in their luxurious costumes and over-the-top makeup. Erika watched the show in the shadows above the stage, even with the stage crew working the entire time. She kept an extra watchful eye on Buquet, who was drinking out of a whisky bottle. Then, Christopher came on stage and the audience was surprised by the casting choice, but they laughed at him, regardless. This angered Erika deeply; he wasn't supposed to be the laughingstock of the show; he was supposed to be the star!
When Piangi came on stage to sing his solo song, Erika said with a loud voice, "Did I not instruct that Christopher Daaé was going to sing your part. If you dare to sing a single note, I will see to it that you'll never sing again!" The whole cast looked around the stage for the source of the voice. Some even screamed at the sound of the voice. Only Christopher knew who the voice belonged to. Despite the warning, Piangi still sang a line from the song, which made Erika scream in agony. "I warned you, Piangi!"
"Ladies and gentleman, we apologize for this rude intrusion. Let us start the scene over again and hope for no further intrusion," Andre said to the audience. The show went on and in between scenes, Piangi would use voice serum to enhance his voice, but what he didn't know was that Erika switched the bottle with a poison that swelled the throat of anyone who drank it. When Piangi started to sing, he sounded normal, but it later kicked in and he started to cough uncontrollably. The audience started to laugh, thinking it was part of the show, but Piangi was yelling bloody murder in between coughs. Cast members pulled him off stage and the managers freaked out.
"Ladies and gentleman, we apologize! We will continue the show momentarily when the role of the Count will be played by Christopher Daaé. In the meantime, we will show you the ballet from Act III. Please stay in your seats and remain patient," Firmin said frantically.
"What is a maiden like you doing up here," a cockney voice said. Erika slowly turned around and saw Joseph Buquet staring at her. "My, my, you look lovely. Mind if I show you the secrets of the Palais Garnier. I'm promise you'll be safe in my care," he said as advanced toward her, but she ran away. Luckily, she knew her way around the catwalk above the stage, but so did he. "Wait, why are you running? I see, you want to play cat and mouse. All right, but you'll get caught," he said with a drunken, but perverted tone. She ran, but no matter where she went, he found her. Eventually, he caught her and held her waist. "I caught you!" She was scared for her life, especially since he was so close and she knew exactly what he wanted to do to her. She found a loose noose around them and grabbed it to put around his neck, hoping he would try to take it off and set her free, but it didn't seem to bother him. "Oh, you want to get kinky, don't you?"
"Get away from me!" Erika screamed as she pushed him off her, but she pushed him too much. With the noose still around his neck, he lost his balance and fell off the platform to the stage below. She watched in horror as she saw him fall and struggle to free himself the noose, but it was too late and died of suffocation.
The audience and cast members below screamed as they saw Buquet's lifeless body hung above them. People started flooding the aisles to exit the Palais Garnier, trying desperately to get away from the horror. The managers begged them all to return, but even they eventually left their box to call for help.
Rachel raced backstage and saw Christopher head upstairs to the balcony. "Wait! Christopher!"
He turned around and she could see he was frantic. "Rachel! If you want to talk to me, please come upstairs with me. I need fresh air."
"Sure," she said as she accompanied him upstairs. They finally reached the balcony and could see the lovely sights of the city, but it didn't matter after what just happened. "Christopher, what happened back there? I mean, I know you didn't do it, but someone did it in your name!"
"She couldn't have done it. She couldn't have done it," he said to himself, but she still heard him.
"She? Who is this she?" Rachel asked with jealousy.
"My . . . My Angel of Music."
"Is she a real person? I was certain she was a figment of your imagination."
"You thought I would make up someone like her? I see her every day after rehearsals and have lessons together. Why would I make that up?"
"I don't know, to be honest with you, but this angel is the Phantom of the Opera! She's not to be trusted."
"I know her personally and she wouldn't do this! She's too kindhearted to do something diabolical like killing someone," Christopher defended.
"Wake up, Christopher," Rachel said with fear, "This angel of yours is the Angel of Death, not Music. For a kindhearted woman, she sure has a funny way of showing it."
"No, this isn't her. It must have been someone else. Maybe it was an accident."
"You heard her threaten Piangi and look what happened to him! He's at the infirmary right now to cure his poisoned throat. You still don't think it was her?"
He didn't reply. He knew she had a point, but he also knew Erika. She was shunned by the world and no one showed her kindness, but she still showed compassion to those she cared about and she never killed anyone before. "She . . .,"
"She wants you to be the star and she'll do anything, even kill, to get you there. She is obsessed with you! There's nothing natural about an obsession. With a mind twisted as hers, she loves you, but too much. The Phantom killed someone and will kill again. Can't you see that? You're the only one who's benefiting from her demands. Does anyone else have to die before you realize that?"
"She . . . she wouldn't . . .," Christopher was at a loss for words. Could she really have done this just because he didn't get the part? True, she was upset when she heard the news, but he never thought she would kill.
"She's insane. Living in the shadows of the Palais Garnier and pretending to be a ghost must have put a toll on her sanity to the point where she truly believes she is the Phantom of the Opera."
"No, she's perfectly sane. She only lives in the shadows because of her face."
"It is deformed. I've seen it and I shrieked, but-,"
"Oh my god! How did you survive? I heard if anyone saw her face, they would die!" Rachel said with concern.
"Please tell me you don't believe in those stories."
"Well, I hear the stories, but judging by her insanity, I wouldn't be surprised if they were true," she said before pausing. "I know this is a bad time, but how do you feel about me, Christopher?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I know we were childhood sweethearts, but I've realized when you were gone that you were the only friend who ever cared about me. When we last saw each other, you told me that you loved me and all I said was ‘see you soon’, but I should have said ‘I love you too’," she said as she grabbed his hand. "Christopher, I will protect from everything this maniac will try to do to you. I won't let anything bad happen to you because I . . . I still love you and not just a friendship; it's the real thing. Do you still feel the same for me?"
Christopher looked at her in surprise. She . . . she still loved him, even after all these years. He thought she might have, but she never thought she would confess to him, especially now. Rachel looked at him with puppy dog eyes, waiting for his answer. Finally, he said, "Yes, I love you too-,"
"Oh thank god!" Rachel said as she kissed him. The kiss was passionate, or at least in her mind. She wanted their lips to never separate, but after a while, he pushed away. In his mind, he felt as if he was betraying someone.
“Christopher,” a weak feminine voice said, or at least, he heard one. He pulled away to see where the voice came from, but didn’t see anyone. It couldn’t have been Rachel since there was no way anyone could talk and kiss at the same time.
"What's wrong," she asked.
“Did you hear someone call my name?”
“No, I didn’t,” she said with a confused tone.
"Rachel, I'm sorry, but I have to go," he said as he tried to leave her side, but she grabbed his hand.
"I'm sorry. I picked a bad time to confess my love. I should have waited . . . ," she said as tears began to form in her eyes.
"It’s all right, Rachel. Tomorrow, we can go on a lunch date and talk things out. Is that okay with you?"
"I . . . I would like that," she said, wiping away the tears. She let go of his hand and he headed straight for his dressing room, hoping that Erika could tell him what was going on.
He arrived to the lake, but saw that the boat that would normally take him to her home was not there. Why wasn't there a boat here? She always had a boat here. "Erika!" he yelled, but got no reply. He expected that due to the distance, but thought that maybe she could hear him. He thought about swimming all the way to her, but he thought she maybe she needed some space. Even if she didn't kill Buquet, she might have been traumatized by the experience. After a while, he gave up his mission to find her and headed back to his dressing room.
"It's all right, Erika," Madame Giry said as she placed a loving hand on a crying Erika. She was crying in a pillow on her bed and Madame Giry rushed all the way down to ask her what happened. "Please tell me what happened up there?"
"Madame Giry . . . I . . . ," she tried to say in between sobs, but she couldn't speak. Too many things were in her mind: Buquet's death, the screaming people down below, people blaming her for what happened, and . . . Christopher and Rachel's kiss. She wouldn’t have been such a mess if she didn’t witness that kiss. She tried to find him to explain to him what happened, but instead had to witness her influence him into thinking she was a villain and then they kissed. She was so heartbroken that she immediately left after their lips touched. She fought hard to suppress tears, but when she went through the mirror, she couldn’t help but cry her eyes out.
"Did you have anything to do with what happened?"
"Y-Yes, but it was an accident," she said as she looked up at Madame Giry. "Buquet found me above the stage and chased me. He finally caught me and I put a noose around his neck so he would let me go, but he didn't. I pushed him off me, but he lost his balance and fell."
"It wasn't your fault, Erika," Madame Giry comforted.
"But I still put that noose around his neck," she said as she turned her head away from Madame Giry. "You don't understand. I killed someone . . . again. I made a vow to never kill again after everything that happened in that circus and I've broken it."
"This time, it wasn't your fault. Besides, you killed your handler out of self-defense. You're not a cold-blooded killer."
"Madame Giry, that wasn't my first murder," she said, now facing her. Madame Giry's eyes widened with surprise.
"What do you mean," she asked with fear in her voice.
"I never told you this, but when I was in that circus, not only did they abuse me, but they turned me into a weapon. The ringleader, who called himself Shah, trained me in the art of murder and my first mission was to kill the only person who knew of my existence: my own mother. He said if I didn't do it, he would kill me and leave my carcass out to be eaten by birds. I was scared and I became a murderer at the age of ten."
Madame Giry looked at her with tears forming in her eyes. "How could they do that to you?"
"They didn't care. They said my deformed face brought fear into the victims I was assigned to kill. The Shah told me to kill people during the night, whether they were rowdy guests or pesky performers. I've lost count how many people I killed and it didn't stop until you came to help me escape." Madame Giry gave her a hug and tears rolled down both of their cheeks.
"I . . . I didn't know."
"Now everyone is calling me, or at least the Phantom of the Opera, a murderer."
"Not true. I bet Christopher doesn't think that." At the sound of his name, she put her face in the pillow and started crying again. "What's wrong?"
"I saw him with Rachel. She was telling him lies, making him believe I was a maniac. She said I was obsessed and would kill in order to make him the star and the worst part is that he started to believe her lies. She then had the nerve to confess her love for him and then they . . .," she said as she continued to sob in her pillow.
"Oh, I see, but you should have told him you loved him when I told you. He would have known how you felt."
"Oh yeah, because he could love someone like me," she said with sarcastic anger. "Who would? I'm hideous and have done terrible things in my past. If I told him half the things I've done, he would run away screaming. My face . . .," she said as she paused herself. "He has seen my face."
"How did he react," Madame Giry said with surprise.
"Well, he pulled off the mask suddenly, so I yelled at him and he cowered, but he didn't seem . . . too frightened. He actually told me that my beauty was on the inside and despite my face, he still found me beautiful. He even got to hear me sing."
"You sang to him?" Madame Giry said in surprise. It took her years for Erika to sing in front of her.
"Yeah and he told me that I sang like an angel. Oh, Madame Giry, I finally found emotion in my voice and it's all thanks to him," she said with glee, but then her smile disappeared. "I thought he might have loved me because he said such nice things to me that made my heart flutter, but it doesn't matter now. He loves that Viscountess de Chagny, not me. How could I fool myself into thinking a man as handsome, talented, and kind-hearted as him would ever have any feelings for me?"
"Don't say that! You know he cares about you deeply. You just need to talk to him and explain how you feel."
"Why? He won't feel the same about me. I don't want to hurt myself any more by telling him how I feel when I know he loves someone else."
"Well, it's better than allowing him to hurt you by making him unaware of your love. Just confess and you'll feel better," Madame Giry advised, but she only cried into her pillow. "I'll leave you alone for a bit. Just call me if you need anything," she said as she left her side to the sofa nearby.
Madame Giry never saw her like this. True, she was a depressed teenager when she first brought her to the Palais Garnier, but this was different. As a teenager, she was reclusive because of the scars of the circus and didn't talk to her. She remained in the darkness until she eventually warmed up to Madame Giry. Now, she was heartbroken. It was clear that Erika truly loved Christopher with all her heart and it was sad to see him love someone else who probably didn't love him as much as she did. Madame Giry found it odd that he chose to love Rachel since whenever he and Madame Giry talked, he didn't seem to have a strong fascination towards her. Sure, there was something between them, but she didn't think it was love. She assumed it was just a strong friendship. Whenever they talked about his Angel of Music, he said such wonderful things about her with a slight hint that he might have loved her. That's what gave Madame Giry hope that they would be together, but Erika never told her feelings for him and now it was too late.
An hour past when Madame Giry got up from the sofa to make something for Erika to eat. She walked to the kitchen and saw that only a bowl of fruit and a bottle of sherry were left. She thought she needed to buy some food for her, especially since she was this heartbroken. She got a red apple, sliced it with a silver knife into four pieces, and put it on a plate. She carried it into her bedroom, but saw that Erika was asleep. The poor girl finally cried herself to sleep. Madame was about to set the plate on the nightstand, but noticed that she placed her mask on it. Erika said she never liked wearing her mask when she slept since it was uncomfortable, but she was surprised that she had the energy to take it off. She sat on the bed next to her, making sure she didn't disturb her. Her deformed face was covered by the pillow, but Madame Giry slowly moved her body so she could see her face. Finally, she managed to do it and saw the deformity that put fear and disappointment in people's hearts, except for hers. Madame Giry was no longer frightened by her face, but instead, it was a reminder that Erika deserved much more than she got in life. She looked so peaceful when she slept, but Madame Giry could also see the streaks of tears on her cheeks.
How could Christopher not love her? Christopher saw her face and said she was beautiful, despite Erika's low self-esteem. A normal man would have run away when they realized the woman they thought was beautiful had a major deformity, but not him. If anything, it intrigued him. He wanted to know more about his deformed, but beautiful angel. Still, he chose to be with Rachel. True, she was beautiful, young, and rich, but she believed she wasn't the right woman for him. To her, Erika was his perfect match, but she didn't want to say anything to him.
Madame Giry finally arrived to the hallway leading to the dressing room in the middle of the night. She had to make sure that she was still asleep before she left because she feared that she might hurt herself out of depression. She did in the past. By the time she arrived to the dressing room, she noticed that the place was dark. She found a candelabrum on the vanity and lit it with some nearby matches. When light entered the room, she noticed a piece of paper on the vanity. She put the candelabra closer to the paper and read what it said.
Erika, I really need to see you as soon as possible. I need to know the truth and I have to tell you something very important. I'll come to the lake every night and hopefully you'll have a boat waiting for me. Please let me see you!
She thought about taking the note and handing it to Erika back in her lair, but she assumed that Erika would come up when she felt better and read the note herself. Maybe Christopher will see her when he goes to the lake. Either way, she decided to leave the note there and left the room to go home. Unfortunately for her, Erika wouldn't come up to the Palais Garnier for the next three months. No one, not Christopher nor Madame Giry, would be able to see her during this time.