Chapter 5 – New Life
Three weeks later, Nadir, Erik, Darius and César left Paris for London. Erik was fully recovered by then, but Nadir had once again bandaged his head and asked him to wear his arm in a sling for the time of their travel. That way, he would avoid questions about his face, Nadir had advised. They would simply say he had been in an accident, which was kind of true, and was still recovering. Of course, the main reason why Nadir had suggested this disguise, was for Erik's safety. Although chances that anybody, on the train, the boat or at immigration would be looking out for him were rather slim, since the Opera Ghost was supposed to be dead and several weeks had passed since the events at the Opera, by covering up Erik's disfigurement Nadir felt even more confident that his friend would not be recognized as the notorious Phantom. Erik had been only too willing to comply, glad that he could hide his "monster's face" as he still referred to his visage. He was totally oblivious to the real reason for this subterfuge.
To Nadir's immense relief, their journey was uneventful. Nobody questioned them about Erik's bandages, since Erik's naturally pale complexion made it very plausible that he was still convalescent. After a short train ride to Calais they took the ferry over to Dover and continued to London by train. Once there, they went to a small hotel for the first few nights, until Nadir had found them a pretty cottage at the outskirts of the city, with a small garden and even a small stable for César.
While they were settling into their new house, Erik began working on designs for buildings. Since his broken arm had healed completely, he was finally able to use both his hands again, managing a ruler and a pencil at the same time. He was amazed how many ideas he had, once he sat down in front of a blank piece of paper. While he could not remember having ever designed a building, he knew that he had always been good at it.
Nadir was looking for a small office in the meantime. Soon he found something suitable right in the center of the town. He took Erik's finished designs there and put up a huge sign informing passers-by that the new architect's and designer's company "Lavoisier & Khan" was now taking on assignments.
Only a week after Nadir had opened up the office, an eccentric Lord, who had been to his bank a few blocks down the road, stopped in front of the sign and frowned. "A new architect's office here in the city?" he murmured. "I wonder if they are any good? The usual suspects are so unimaginative, they design one house like the other. I want my new town house to be special, money does not matter. I wonder if I should give these new gentlemen a try? After all, Lavoisier is a French name, and the French are known for their taste and their sense of chic."
After thinking it over for a few more minutes, he entered the office. After all, it could not hurt to check out this new company. To his surprise he was greeted by an elderly, olive-skinned man, who looked more oriental to him than French. "Am I speaking to Mr. Lavoisier?" he curtly addressed Nadir.
"Oh no, no, Mylord, of course not," Nadir replied. "I am Nadir Khan. I am in charge of the business aspect of the company. M. Lavoisier is the architect, the genius, who is designing magnificent buildings. If you would have a look at these sketches..." He offered the Lord a seat and produced a folder with some of Erik's most spectacular drawings.
The Lord sat down and gazed somewhat condescendingly at the folder Nadir had handed to him. Then he gasped. His eyes turned round and wide, as he inspected one of the sketches after the other. This Mr. Lavoisier was definitely different from the other architects he knew. These designs were inspired, each of them unique. It seemed as if he had finally found the right man to come up with a sketch for his new town house.
"Splendid," he stated. "French chic, that's exactly what I was looking for. Would your company be able to provide a design for a town house?"
Nadir almost sighed with relief. Their first customer! "Certainly," he assured the Lord. "M. Lavoisier would be happy to come up with something really special for you," then he asked about specifics, noting down everything so that he could give Erik all the necessary information. Twenty minutes later he had a long list of details that the Lord wanted to see implemented in his house, anything from number of rooms, bathrooms, size of the kitchen, to number of servants that would live there, ball room, parlor, etc.
"When will the designs be ready?" the Lord asked finally. "Can I have them in ten days?" Nadir nodded. He knew how long it took Erik to design one building and to do all the necessary calculations. One week would probably have been enough time to get everything ready for the Lord, but ten days would definitely allow Erik to solve every single problem that might arise while working on this particular house.
"In that case, I will be back on Wednesday next week," the Lord announced, "to check on your progress. If the design is as unusual and magnificent as the ones you have shown me, I will pay you ..." He paused, remembering the sum Bilby & Wilkerson usually asked for their boring, run-of-the-mill designs, then offered a twenty percent higher amount.
Nadir smiled. He had investigated the fees other architects were asking and he knew that this was a really good offer. If they managed to satisfy this first customer, they would be able to live quite comfortably with the income from this business. "I am sure, your Lordship will be pleased with M. Lavoisier's design," he assured the Lord.
"I hope so," the nobleman said brusquely. "Will I be meeting this Mr. Lavoisier when I come back next time?"
Nadir swallowed hard. "I am afraid not," he then said. "M. Lavoisier is a very private, reclusive person. He is a genius, no doubt about that, but he is also rather shy and does not normally leave the house. He prefers his drawing board to human company."
The Lord raised an eyebrow. "He is quite eccentric, isn't he?" he huffed. "Well, as long as he delivers the design according to the specifications I gave you, I do not care."
When Nadir came home that afternoon and told Erik about their first customer, Erik was just as excited as his friend. He immediately sat down in front of his desk and started working on their first assignment.
Nadir smiled contentedly. Moving to London had been the best idea he had had in ages. Here Erik was safe and he even could live kind of a normal life. He had a job that he was good at and which would provide them with a regular income, he lived in a house like everybody else, not in an underground cavern, and he even got a bit of sunshine every now and then, even though he took his rides on César in the very early morning hours when hardly anybody else was awake in the neighborhood, or late in the evening, around sundown. Erik preferred not to be seen, instinctively fearing that people might be wary of his face, although he had no recollection of the abuse he had suffered because of it in his life before the accident.
Nadir watched his friend, who was concentrating hard on his work. Erik was not wearing a mask now, for the simple reason that he had left his mask behind at the opera, when he had fled from the mob. Because of his amnesia he did not remember ever having worn one, and Nadir had decided that it would do Erik a lot of good and boost his self-confidence if he went without it at home. So he had not told Erik about the mask and once Erik had accepted that Nadir and Darius did not care what he looked like he had had no problems showing them his face. He was still reluctant having anybody else see him though. But since Nadir and Darius handled all their contact with the outside world, things like shopping and deliveries, there was no need for Erik to interact with anybody else, and on his rides Erik usually was wearing a wide-brimmed hat that shadowed his face and he stayed as far away as possible from roads and buildings, even though he normally was on the way at times when the rest of their little community was either still asleep or preparing for bed.
Nadir had explained to their neighbors that his friend was an artist, a genius, and needed solitude for inspiration. He also implied that the latter had been through a somewhat heart-breaking affair and as a consequence had become very reclusive. "It's hard for him to trust anybody again," he had informed them. "He has become even more reclusive."
The neighbors had nodded. They understood that artists were sometimes a bit eccentric, and if the young man had been through a lot emotionally, it was only natural that he would shut himself up in his home and concentrate on his work.
Ten days later the Lord returned to Nadir's little office in the city and the latter showed him the completed sketches for his new house. The Lord stared at the drawings in wonder. They exceeded all his expectations.
"C'est magnifique!" he said in French. "I have never seen anything like this. How come I have never heard of this Mr. Lavoisier before? He is a genius, he should be famous!"
Nadir sighed. He was not quite sure what to say, then he remembered that the romantic angle had worked well with the neighbors. "M. Lavoisier is French by birth," he began, "so naturally he has not worked here in England before. In fact he has not worked in quite a while," he continued. "A lady, you know…" his voice trailed. "Most unfortunate, broke his heart. And immediately afterwards he had an accident, broke his arm, could not work for several weeks."
The Lord seemed to understand. "Ah yeah," he grunted, "L'amour! Can't blame him if this threw him a bit off-course. Anyway, a sensible decision to come here. We Brits value privacy. Nobody will ask him awkward questions. He will be left alone here and be able to forget that… lady." Nadir had the distinct impression that the Lord had meant to say something else entirely, probably derogatory, but had stopped himself at the last moment. "Probably wasn't worth his time anyway," the Lord continued. "How stupid must she have been to turn down a genius like him?"
Nadir sighed. He had never met Christine Daaé, the woman who had broken Erik's heart and who Erik could now not remember anymore, but he had a feeling he knew why she had turned away from his friend. "I wonder what her reaction would be if she met him now," he thought. "Even though Erik still has got a temper, he lives a normal life now, and I do not think that he will ever resort to killing and other criminal activities again." And for the first time ever he considered the possibility that the young singer might have been able to love Erik despite his disfigurement, if only he had stayed away from violence. "It does not matter anymore, though," Nadir thought. "It is too late now. She is married to somebody else and Erik…. He might not even recognize her anymore if he met her in the streets."
The Lord was so happy with the drawings for his town house, that he recommended the new company Lavoisier & Khan to all his friends and acquaintances and soon many members of the British society sought out the little office, browsed through Erik's designs and Erik was flooded with assignments. He was glad about the heavy influx of work, since his work helped him forget about his biggest problem: that he still could not remember one thing from his life before the accident.
There were moments when he had a feeling as if he were really close, as if a memory was about to break through, but it never did. Sounds, smells, feelings assaulted him from time to time and deep-down he knew that they should mean something to him, but he could never ever remember why they had been important to him in his life before the accident. There were days when he was frustrated with his condition and depressed, but Nadir always was there for him to comfort him.
"I wish he could remember," Nadir often thought, "since it's bothering him so much that he cannot, but on the other hand, he finally has the life he deserves, that he has never had before and the memories of his past would be a burden to him."
Half a year had passed since the fire at the Opéra Populaire and preliminary work on the rebuilding of the magnificent theater had already started. Firmin and André had contacted all their former cast members and other personnel, asking them if they would be willing to return once the opera would be ready for reopening. All but one. To their great chagrin, their patron, the Vicomte de Chagny, had informed them, that the prima donna, who was now his wife, would "of course" not be available anymore. They would therefore have to find a new lead soprano.
Even though the two managers had not been entirely convinced that the Vicomte had conveyed his wife's opinion on that matter, they had known better than to anger the influential patron by directly approaching the Vicomtesse.
Christine de Chagny was depressed. She had heard through the grape-vine that all her former colleagues would be returning to the Opera soon and was only too aware of the fact that she alone had not been contacted by Firmin and André. She did understand why they had not dared ask her to be their prima donna again, and she knew that even if they had asked her, she would have had to decline, but it hurt nevertheless. She felt so left out. "As if I had not been appreciated," she sighed.
She wondered briefly if Raoul would take her to the reopening, then shook her head. He probably would not dare for fear of reminding his precious aristocratic friends and relatives of her "shameful" past. She sighed. It did not really matter. Things would not be the same anymore. He would not be there anymore.
Not for the first time she caught herself thinking of her angel again, wondering what it would have been like to be his wife. She remembered how he had been there for her after her father's death, when she had felt so alone. "Where was Raoul then?" she asked herself. "Why did he not stay in touch? Why did he never write?"
The truth hurt, but she understood now what the seven-year old orphan had not grasped: She had not been good enough for the Vicomte. The daughter of a well-known violinist had still been somewhat acceptable, but the destitute orphan was not.
"My angel did not care, who or what I was," she thought. "He loved me anyway. He cared for me, talked to me, comforted me, and later, when I was old enough, he gave me music and taught me how to sing."
She knew now that long before her debut in "Hannibal" she had deep-down suspected that he was a mere mortal and not an angel. No, she corrected herself. She had hoped that he might be a man. Because in his presence she had felt safe and loved. Even before he had revealed himself to her she had sensed the depth of affection he held for her.
"If only things could have stayed that way between us," she thought. "If only I had not angered him so by pulling off his mask. If only…" She shuddered at the memory of Buquet's corpse dropping onto the stage from the rafters, and once again she asked herself why on earth he had done that, and how she could have lost her trust in him so easily.
"I knew him," she thought, "I knew he was caring and understanding and gentle. I am sure now that there was an explanation, a reason why he did that. I just never bothered to ask him." She shuddered. Instead she had turned to Raoul that night. That decision had ultimately led to her failed marriage, to the destruction of the Opéra Populaire and the death of her angel.
"If I had trusted him," she whispered, "if only I had had the courage to confront him and ask about Buquet instead of judging him like that, things might have been quite different…"
She would probably still be at the Opéra Populaire then, singing lead roles. She would not have had to give up music and lead a meaningless life. And maybe, just maybe…. Christine blushed. In her daydream she had just imagined her and her angel getting even closer. Memories of his hands holding her and gently caressing her during that duet in "Don Juan Triumphant" coursed through her mind. She could not deny that she had enjoyed the sensation. And those kisses! Christine did not exactly remember why she had kissed her angel that night. He had tried to force her to stay with him, but had not actually asked her to give him proof of her affection. No, she shook her head. He would not have done that. He would have given her time and waited till she was ready.
Realization suddenly dawned on her. "It was me," she gasped. "I wanted to kiss him." The room seemed to spin around her, as memories of their kisses assaulted her and awoke feelings of longing and desire in her that her husband had never been able to instill in her.