"Past the point of no return. No going back now. Our fashion play has now at last begun-," Carlotta said before she was interrupted by Reyer.
"No! No! No! It's 'passion', not 'fashion'! Get your head away from the clouds and pay attention," he yelled.
"I'm sorry, but I'm under a lot of pressure! You've seen what she did to my costumes after last week's rehearsal, correct? She's just jealous because she doesn't possess the talent to make good music," Carlotta barked.
"Signora, you wouldn't say that if the composer was here, would you," Madame Giry asked.
"She isn't here!"
"How do you know that?" With nervousness, Carlotta looked around the stage and seats for any sign of the Phantom, but didn't see anything. Regardless, she didn't speak ill of her for the rest of the rehearsal. Weeks have passed since the masquerade ball and everyone has worked hard to try to appease the Phantom of the Opera. Ever since her appearance, people could finally see that she was a real person; no longer just a ghost or a myth. Everyone saw her in the flesh and they were terrified. Anything they did could upset the Phantom. Whether it was a wrong step, terrible costume design, or bad pitch, she would do something devious to that person, whether it was ruined costumes, poisoned serums, broken instruments or even physically hurting them. The most recent malicious act she did was cause a dancer to break her leg when she continuously messed up her routine. She wanted the show to be perfect, even suggesting to the managers who should be hired and who should leave. Despite protests, they would follow some of her orders.
One day, Christopher was too sick to sing and they had rehearsals scheduled for principle roles. "We can't cancel this rehearsal," Firmin said to the cast, "We need this rehearsal if we want to be on top of things. Christopher, you can sit this one out, but Piangi will sing your part for now."
"I rather not," Piangi yelled in fear for his life.
“Please, for the sake of art.”
“Ha, you call this shhh-gibberish art?”
"Just for now! It's not like you are going to take his part. We can't cancel this rehearsal and we need a Don Juan," Andre persuaded.
After some time, Piangi reluctantly agreed. He kept his chorus costume on while he played the part and helped Carlotta with her part. Everything was going well with no interruptions, that was, until he sang the wrong line. Once he realized his mistake, a sand bag, aiming for his head, fell with little warning. He quickly moved out of the way and cast members screamed their lungs out. "All right; that's the last straw! I quit," Piangi yelled as he left the stage.
"You can't quit! You have a contract with us for another three seasons," Firmin said, trying desperately to stop him.
"I can't work under these conditions! She has it in for me! I bet that Daaé boy is behind all of this!”
“How dare you accuse me,” Christopher yelled in a raspy voice. “Why would I plan such a horrific scheme to be the star? If I had it my way, I wouldn’t even be part of this show!”
“Whether you’re behind this or not, she is wishing for my death, so I'll give her the alternative. I will return when this Phantom girl is gone! Until then, I shall be in Italy!" Piangi left the Palais Garnier, even keeping his costume on. The cast members mumbled amongst each other while the managers were dumbfounded by what just happened.
"Bloody hell! This Phantom is going to run us out of business! I just hope Rachel knows what she is doing with this show," Andre said to Firmin.
"It still makes sense. We obey her demands for the most part and she has to come to see her own show. Once she is alone and defenseless, we catch her and get rid of her. We just have to deal with this nonsense until then."
Christopher was upset by everything that has happened recently. Not only did he have to participate in this show, but he was also bait for Erika to come to the show. At first, he refused to be part of the plan when Rachel told him, but after a while of self-debating, he finally agreed, but only to secretly warn Erika. The only problem was that she still didn't want to see him, even after everything down in her lair. All he can do now is hope she doesn't show up, but he knows that won't happen for two reasons. First, she created this opera; how could she miss it? Second, he was supposed to be the main character. Even with bitter feelings, she wouldn't miss him sing.
As the debut day got closer and closer, the plot of the opera was revealed. It was about a man named Don Juan, a notorious lady's man who could get any woman he wanted. However, he is forced into an arranged marriage since his mother wants him to settle down and have kids, but weeks before the wedding, he decides to have one last fling. He asks his friends who he should seduce and they say a girl named Aminta, who won't sleep with any man until marriage. He accepts and begins to court her, but she starts to truly fall in love with him. She finally agrees to sleep with him the night before his wedding, but the next day, he marries his fiancé and tells his friends about his last sexual conquest. She is heartbroken when she finds out and that's where it ends. The plot troubled Christopher greatly because he could feel Erika's heartbreak within it. It was clear; she was Aminta and he was Don Juan. The last scene was exactly how she felt when she witnessed him and Rachel kissing on the balcony. This play was written about them, but with different circumstances.
One day, after rehearsals were over, Christopher went into his dressing room, but saw Madame Giry sitting by the vanity with her face in her hands. "Madame Giry?"
The older woman looked at him with surprise, but quickly wiped her face. "Sorry to intrude, but she's not there. I just checked."
"So, she's still in the theater?"
"Maybe. I'm just glad that she finally active, but I didn't expect her to do something like this. This is not like her at all."
"I agree and it's my fault. I made her like this all because I didn't tell her how I felt."
Madame Giry gave him a somber look, "Both of you didn't take my advice. None of this would have happened if you just confessed your feelings. I knew why she had hesitations, but why didn't you say anything?"
"Wait, you knew her feelings too and you didn't tell me?"
"I wanted her to say them to you herself, but what stopped you?"
"I . . . I'm not comfortable with . . . you know . . . what if she got the wrong idea about me and Rachel?"
"Well, it doesn't matter now since the two of you are engaged and look what has happened."
"I know and I'm sorry," Christopher said with tears in his eyes. Madame Giry put her arms around him to give him a comforting hug. "I never thought she could kill anyone and the way she told me made it seemed like it was cold-blooded murder."
"You mean Buquet? It was an accident. She told me herself."
"She didn't say that to me. She only told me she killed him and she would do it again . . . to get rid of her suffering."
"I doubt it. She's endured so much suffering in her life without killing-," she said, but she paused herself. If she continued, she knew she would be telling a lie, even though she knew Erika never wanted to murder.
"How much more suffering could she have possibly endured? I mean, she told me about her abusive mother and being sold into a circus, but there was more?"
She sighed, but said, "After she was sold to the circus, the ringleader used her deformity as an attraction and no one cared how she was treated. Even the audience said she didn't deserve anything good in life. She was abused every day, whether it was physical or neglect. They even called her hurtful names that scarred her to this day."
"Devil's child," he mumbled, but she still heard it.
"How do you know the name? You didn't go to that circus, did you?"
"No, I remember her calling herself that after I took off her mask. Who could ever call someone with that much suffering a Devil's child?"
"Greedy people would. They saddest thing was that they even turned her into a weapon that could kill on command. Despite her protests, they forced her to do it and if she failed, they would kill her. I bet she even purposely failed after a while just to die, but they wouldn't even keep their word. Instead, they would beat her and starve her until she eventually agreed to be their assassin again."
"That's awful! How did she ever escape such trauma?"
"About ten years ago, I took my girls to the circus since they did such a good job on their performance. They were in joy and the people there were oddities, ranging from unusual talents to grotesque appearances. However, when we visited the Devil's Child attraction, I was in horror to find such a cruel treatment of a human being. They treated her more like an animal than a person and she was covered in dirt and we could clearly see that she was in tears. What made my heart sink was that she looked like she gave up on life. Her handler could do whatever he wanted to her and she wouldn't put up a fight. She wore a sack over her head, but he would forcefully pull it off just to humiliate her. I was in horror, but the people around me were laughing, including my girls. We left the circus immediately after that, but I came back when it was closing time just to see if I could help her. I hid in the shadows as I saw the poor girl tap the bars of her cage with a stick just to hear some type of music. Sure enough, her handler came and started beating her with his whip for making too much noise. While he was counting the coins left around the cage, Erika must have snapped because she took his whip and used it as a noose to kill him. She escaped the cage and saw me in the shadows. She might have killed me too if I didn't tell her I could help her escape. I took her to the cellars of the Palais Garnier and the rest is history."
Christopher only looked with horror as he heard the story. He could have never imagined what it was like to live the way she did. No one should have endured such a tragedy, especially a kind-hearted girl who just needed some compassion. "After all that, she grew into a kind-hearted soul that was even willing to help someone like me."
"It wasn't easy though. She had a tough time adjusting to her new free life. She stayed in darkness and wouldn't talk to anyone, including me. Her mind was in such a dark place that I was surprised she finally got out. The first time she spoke to me will always be a milestone in our relationship and all she said was 'thank you'."
"Thank you, Madame Giry, for telling me this. Now I understand how she feels, but I must speak with her," Christopher said as he tried to go through the mirror, but she stopped him.
"I already told you she isn't there. Why would I lie to you?"
"If she's not there, then where can I talk to her?"
"What makes you think she is willing to listen to what you have to say? Unless you admit your feelings, I doubt she would want to speak to you."
"I know, but I think I have an idea. If she is watching everyone in the shadows, then she has to see my every move."
Christopher exited out of his carriage and into the cemetery. Before he opened the gate, he looked at his coachman and said, "I'll be back in a while, okay?" The coachman nodded. He was wearing leather pants and boots and a white shirt, but since it was so cold outside, he was covered by a hood. Christopher turned to open the gate that led into the cemetery. It was covered with yesterday's snowfall and it gave the place a beautiful look. He was tired of seeing the same dark scenery, but the snow brought light to this dark place. It was a little hard to walk, but he finally made it to his father's tomb. He checked to see if Erika was at her father's grave, but had no luck. He opened the gate to his tomb and entered. He put a hand on the coffin and said, "Father, what am I to do? On one hand, I'm engaged to Rachel, my childhood sweetheart, but on the other hand . . . I'm in love with Erika. I have been for a while now, but I was stupid for not telling her. Instead, I've hurt her a lot and now, I can't even speak to her. I need your help to find my Angel of Music so I can tell her how I feel. Please, father."
He didn't hear a violin playing like he did before or a voice indicating she was nearby. He felt depressed and went back outside, but he saw his coachman sneakily walking around the tomb, trying to avoid any attention. "Hey, monsieur, what are you doing?" The coachman didn't respond or even look at him. He kept walking through the maze of headstones with a faster pace. "Monsieur, it's me, Christopher Daaé! What are you doing here?" The coachman faced him, but his face was covered by a hood and he couldn't see it. Christopher then noticed that he was carrying something in his hands. It was a single red rose, but with a black ribbon around it, just like the one he saw Erika leave in his father's tomb. Once the coachman finally realized what he was looking at, he took off running. "Wait!" Christopher ran off into the maze of headstones to chase him. It was hard to chase him with the snow at his feet, but he finally was able to catch up to the man. He grabbed the cloak and pulled it toward him, causing the coachman to fall and accidentally hit his head on a headstone.
"Ow. That hurt," a soft feminine voice said. Christopher quickly ran to the injured person and pulled off the hood, but was surprised to see a woman's face, but not just any woman. It was Erika. She was clearly in pain and when she put her gloved hand on her head, she could feel an open wound. She looked at her hand and sure enough, there was blood.
"Don't worry, I'll get you some help," he said as he carried her in his arms. She was pretty light, probably because she wasn't wearing a heavy dress for once. She was barely conscious as he rushed her back to the carriage, but when he laid her down on the seat, he could see she was now unconscious. He quickly grabbed the reins since his supposed coachman was now in the carriage. He whipped them and the horses pulled them forward, but he had to make sure they didn't pull them too much to the point it would harm her.
He carefully drove to his home where he carried her to his guest room upstairs. The room was a bit dusty since no one really stayed overnight, not even Rachel. She believed that they shouldn't live together until they were married, but she visited him often. After all, they were fiancées, but things were getting more complicated every day. He carefully placed her on the bed and made sure she would be comfortable. He found an old cloth in the room and used it to compress the wound on her head while cleaning up the blood around her face. He even removed her mask to make sure there was none there. It still shocked him a little to see her face, but he was no longer afraid of it. After all, he loved her no matter how she looked and even with that deformity; she was still the most beautiful woman he ever saw. Once he finished cleaning the blood, he cleaned the mask and put it back on her face. He really didn't want to leave her, but he knew that he needed to get her help if he wanted her to be all right. He left her a quick kiss on her forehead and he headed out to Palais Garnier.
Erika slowly woke up to find Madame Giry and Meg surrounding the bed, watching her slow recovery. She tried to get up, but they stopped her. "Mon chéri, you need to rest. You have a slight concussion from hitting your head," Madame Giry said.
"I've rested long enough," she said weakly, but she looked around and saw she wasn't in her lair or any room in the Palais Garnier. "Where am I?"
"You're in Christopher's house," Meg said.
Her eyes widened. "What?! Why am I here? Does he know?"
"Of course he knows. He was the one that brought you here. We came as soon as we heard you were injured," Madame Giry said with motherly concern.
"Oh, well, where is he?"
"He's in his bedroom. He didn't want to scare you when you woke up."
"What were you doing with him anyway," Meg asked with curiosity. If there was any gossip to be told, she wanted to be the first one to hear it, even if it was minor like this.
"I wanted to make sure he was okay. He is the lead in my show-,"
"He’s more than that and we all know it," Meg said with a smile. Erika looked at her slight confusion, but she soon realized that Madame Giry must have told her.
"Sure, but I still want to make sure he was safe. I dressed as a coachman so I could be close to him, but I figured I might as well see my father while I was there. While I quietly walked around the tomb, he saw me and since I didn't want to get caught, I ran, but he chased me. He pulled my cloak to stop me, but I accidentally fell and hit my head. I don't remember anything after that."
"Well, I'm glad you didn't hit your hard too hard. You could have been seriously injured," Madame Giry said as she took off the old cloth and started cleaning the wound with a wet rag. Erika saw all the blood on the cloth and was a bit frightened. It was only a slight wound, but her blood still soaked the cloth. "It's okay, Erika. You're not bleeding anymore. I'm sure you'll be fine in no time, but I still advise you to rest."
She sighed, but said, "All right, but tomorrow morning, I'll heading straight to the Palais Garnier."
"Should we get Christopher," Meg asked rhetorically. Erika tried to answer, but Meg left the room before she could talk. A few minutes past before he came into the room and they could all see he was worried sick about her. "I told you she was awake. She'll be fine."
"I’m glad. I thought I might have killed you," he said with a worried tone as he got closer to her bedside. Erika tried to move away, but the Girys advised her to stay.
Erika looked at him and gave him a small smile. "I'm fine; don't worry. I've survived far worse than this." He smiled and crouched toward her so he could be closer to her.
"I think we should leave the two of them alone, don't you agree," Madame Giry asked as she guided her daughter out of the room.
When they knew they were alone, or at least, not aware that they were outside the door, eavesdropping on their conversation, they looked into each other’s eyes. "Well, this wasn't how I imagined I would spend my day," Erika said with a chuckle.
"I would have never imagined this in my life, but what were you doing stalking me," he asked teasingly.
"I wasn't stalking you; I was watching you. I don't want the lead of my show to leave the Palais Garnier all by himself."
"I'm not a child. I can handle myself, but why did you have to put on that disguise just to see your father?"
"How did you know I was visiting my father?"
"The rose was a giveaway. Speaking of which, I managed to pick it up," he said as he gave her the slightly crushed rose with the black ribbon tied on it to her. She took it from his warm hand and smelled it. She always loved the smell of roses. If only he was offering it to her like a man would for the woman he loved.
"Thank you," she said. He slightly blushed as she looked at him almost lovingly. He hoped that she didn't figure out that he offered to her like he would for Rachel.
"I'm sorry for hurting you . . . again," he said as he turned away from her, afraid to look into her eyes. She pushed herself up on the bed so she would be sitting up. Even though Christopher advised her to lie down, she wouldn't have it.
"I'm tired of resting and I'm pretty sure you're tired of crouching," she said as he patted the bed, signaling him to sit down. He did as she asked and sat on the bed next to her. "Did you have to remove my mask to clean up the blood?"
"Why do you ask?"
"It's slightly crooked and Madame Giry knows how to put it on properly," she said with a smile, but it quickly disappeared. "So that means you did see it. I bet you were so scared that you hastily put it back on."
"No. I took off your mask and cleaned the blood around it. I wasn't scared of your face at all. You're still a beautiful woman even with your deformity, my strange angel," he said trying to hold her hand, but she pulled it away from him.
"You try to flatter me, but it won't work. I know what I am, but I'm glad that it doesn't repulse you like it would with other people."
After clearing his throat, Christopher nervously said, "Erika, I need to tell you something." She looked at him with open ears, but now he was getting even more nervous. "I . . . Erika . . . this is difficult for me to say, but . . . the debut show is a trap." He scolded himself in his mind for not saying what he really wanted to say.
She smiled. "I know. Madame Giry already told me and I've heard the full plan from the managers. They are foolish enough to talk about it when they think I'm not around."
"So, are you going see the show even though you know it's a trap?"
"Of course, especially since I wrote it," she said before pausing herself and looking away from him. "And you'll be playing Don Juan. I have to hear you sing."
"Even after everything that's happened?"
She looked down at the ground at the sound of his question. After a while, she finally muttered, "Yes."
"I'm sorry for hurting you. I only wanted to stop you," he said as he put his arm around her. She tried to pull away, but eventually accepted the gesture. "I didn't mean to make you hit your head."
"It's not your fault; I made you chase me. I just thought I would be a lot faster."
"But why did you dress as a coachman?"
"I . . . I wanted to make sure you were okay. The last thing I would want is for you to get hurt, especially since the debut is only a few weeks away."
"Oh, then you forgive me?"
She looked at him and said, "I could never stay mad at you."
"Because you love me, right?" She looked away from him to hide her blushing cheeks, but he guided her face with his fingers back into his sight. "Right?"
After a while, she finally nodded. "There's nothing that you could do that would make me stop loving you, no matter how much it hurts."
"That's good because I . . . -," he tried to say, but his nervousness prevented him from saying anything.
"What," she asked, now curious what he was trying to say. He was obviously nervous about something. Sweat was pouring from his forehead and his hands were shaky. "You can tell me anything."
"Erika, I . . . I love you," he finally muttered. Her eyes lit up with shock. "I finally said it. I love you, Erika."
"You . . . but . . . for how long?"
"The first time I heard you sing. Your voice was so enchanting that I couldn't resist your spell," he said as he grabbed her hand. It was slightly cold, but his hand warmed hers up fast. He then stroked her cheek lovingly with his other hand as he saw her still surprised face.
"But . . . but you're engaged! You're in love with Rachel!"
"Only because you pushed me away. You hurt me deeply and Rachel was the person who comforted me." He could see tears forming in her eyes and then eventually, they slid down her cheeks.
"I'm so sorry, but if you were in love with me, why did you kiss Rachel?"
"She kissed me after I said I loved her, but she didn't let me finish. I was going to say that I loved her like a brother, not a lover."
"Christopher, you don't know how long I've waited for this, but . . . -," she said as she looked away from him. "But we can't be together."
"Why not? I can call off my engagement with Rachel and we-,"
"No! I don't want her to feel the same pain I endured. It wouldn't be fair for her."
"Then, what can we do?"
She sighed. "I don't know." After a moment of silence, she faced him and looked straight into his emerald eyes. They shined with wonder and adoration, but also with sadness. He finally confessed his feelings for her and even though the feelings were mutual, he was devastated to learn they couldn't be tougher.
"Can I at least give you a kiss to show I love you?" Her eyes widened, but she smiled and nodded. Finally, this was the moment both of them have been waiting for. They both puckered their lips and leaned in closer, awaiting the other's to touch, but suddenly, the door opened and in came Madame Giry. They quickly leaned back, as to hide the fact they were about to kiss. So close, but still so far.
"Oh, I hope I'm not interrupting anything, but Rachel is here to see Christopher."