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After the Mask
After the incident at the Paris Opera House, I fled.
I cursed myself multiple times for being a coward, but that place had too many bad memories. I chided with myself, saying it would be better for me if I could just get the h*ll out of there. And also, everyone at the Opera knew who I was now. I wondered what would become of Raoul and Christine, André and Firmin, Katherine and Meg. Would they someday forget me? Well, I knew that I would never forget them.
I wandered the streets of Paris. Work was a lot harder to get than when I still had my mask.
My mask, oh, my mask! I had left it on the organ when I left, hoping it would be a cruel reminder of Christine’s betrayal. But I don’t think that she had found it. Rumors had spread around that she and the Vicomte de Chagny had run to the countryside. Even though I resented them with all my being, I wished that they would someday be happy together.
With rumors spreading about the identity of the Phantom of the Opera, I had to be especially careful. One wrong move and they’d point the finger. I read the papers that others threw out, listened to hushed conversations. I didn’t like slinking around like a cat, but when times get desperate, you have to do desperate things.
The weeks turned to months. I lived on the streets, unable to get work. At thirty-seven, I wasn’t the healthiest horse in the pasture, but I still had some fire in me. At times, I wished that I was back in the circus, beaten and bloodied but still gripping life as hard as I could. As time wore on, my grip loosened, and at times, it seemed like death was my only way out.
That is, until I met Meg.
It was a disgusting Saturday night, with freezing temperatures and pelting rain. I wandered the streets, reminded of the first time I had walked these streets. At that time, my life was full of possibilities. Now, it was bleak and hopeless. I wasn’t watching where I was going, and I bumped into someone.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No, no, it’s fine.” I glanced up and saw a girl about nineteen. Her dark, ebony hair was plastered to her head by the rain, and her bright hazel eyes glittered like diamonds. She reminded me of someone . . . but I couldn’t remember who. Memory loss was part of getting older, and I was already starting to feel the effects.
“Do I know you?” the girl asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied. I was just about to pass her when she stopped me.
“Your voice . . . it’s familiar.” Her eyes were trying to put the pieces together.
“Maybe you have me mistaken for someone else.” I was starting to get uncomfortable. If she knew who I was . . . oh, God, I was in trouble.
“No, I don’t think so.” The girl’s eyes narrowed. And then, it clicked. “You’re Erik! My mother used to tell me stories about you all the time!”
“Shhhh,” I hissed. “Be quiet!”
“But you’re the Pha—” I clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent her from saying more. If someone heard us, the news would travel very quickly, and I didn’t want that.
“Do not say that name,” I growled in her ear. “If you do, I’ll kill you with my Punjab lasso, like I did with Buquet and Piangi. Do you understand?” The threat to her life was empty, but the threat to my secrecy was real.
The girl nodded. I released her, and she stepped back, gasping for breath. When she finally regained her breath, she stared at me with wide eyes. “So if you’re the . . .” She didn’t say the name, remembering my threat. “So, if you’re O.G., then why did you leave?” O.G. was my pen name, used when writing to the managers of the Opera House. With a pang of regret, I realized that those days of taunting were over.
“There are too many memories,” I replied. I then added, “And I’m wanted for a murder, remember?”
The girl nodded. “Oh, that’s right. Well, I have to go. It was nice meeting you.”
“My pleasure, mademoiselle.” I was always polite when I could.
The girl started to walk away, and then stopped suddenly. “Oh, my name is Meg. Meg Giry.”
I nodded. “It was nice meeting you, Meg. And tell your mother I wish her well.” Katherine Giry was one of the only people that had shown me kindness. I had once been shown kindness by Christine, but in the end, she had chosen the little brat that they called the Vicomte de Chagny over me.
“I will,” she replied. I watched as her figured slowly faded into the distance. And when she was finally gone, I felt as if something of me had left with her. I couldn’t explain it, but in the weeks to come, I understood.
A month passed. I was slowly killing myself. I was thinner than ever, and I developed a hacking cough that wouldn’t go away. No one would employ me. Even though most people declined me, even some of my former employers, I still tried. I knew that if I didn’t try, that was then I would give up and leave this world.
The odd feeling when Meg had left didn’t go away. I longed for her presence. I wanted her to be next to me, dancing and singing. I knew from experience that her voice wasn’t the best, but with a little practice, even the most tone deaf person could sound like an angel from Heaven.
I was begging for money in the alleyway when I saw her again. Yes, I was desperate. No one had tried to help me. I was lucky if I got a centime or two. The people of Paris didn’t take the time to stop and give their hard-earned money to a lowly beggar who was on Death’s doorstep.
A few centimes jangled to the ground in front of me, making me snap out of my daydream. I picked them up quickly and looked up to whoever had given them to me.
“Thank you,” I said.
The woman nodded. “You’re welcome.” She started to walk away when I stopped her.
“Meg?” I asked. “Is it you?” The dark hair and the hazel eyes had given it away.
Meg smiled. “Yes, it is me.” She then glanced around at the dirty alleyway. “But what are you doing here, Erik?”
I shrugged. “Can’t find work.” My throat was suddenly irritated, and I couldn’t stop the hacking cough. I doubled over, my chest heaving. Meg looked concerned.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’ll be fine,” I rasped. But I wasn’t so sure. If I was here when winter came, I’d surely be dead.
“No, you’re not.” She helped me up. “Come, I’ll take you to my house.”
“You have a house?” Peopled passed us, and gave us odd glances. What was the best dancer at the Paris Opera House doing with this old, half-dead tramp?
Meg nodded. “Yes. Mother gave it to me. She said she wanted to . . .” Meg struggled for the next few words. “To be alone after the incident with you, Raoul, and Christine.”
I nodded. “Oh, I see.” Meg led me through the streets of Paris, stopping at a house at the edge of the city. It was a small house, and almost perfect for an unmarried girl like Meg.
“Well, it isn’t much, but its home,” she said, unlocking the door. She led me into the parlor, where she told me to sit. I gladly sank down in the plush couch, thinking it was much better than the rough, brick walls of Paris. Meg disappeared into the kitchen, saying she would be right back. She reappeared a few moments later with two cups of tea.
“Thank you,” I said as she handed me a cup.
Meg nodded. “Of course.” She took a tentative sip, and then asked, “Do you ever regret leaving the Opera House?”
I shrugged. “Sometimes. But if I stayed, I knew that the others would find me and turn me in for the murder of Piangi . . . and Buquet.”
“You . . . forgot your mask in the tunnels,” she said, holding it out.
I quickly snatched it from her grip, making her jump back. It was my mask, the mask that had been my calling card for so many years. Even though it was dirty and singed in a few places, it was still the mask I had made for myself all those years ago. “Thank you,” I said, really meaning it.
“So . . . have you heard anything about Christine and Raoul?” I looked up from my tea and saw concern in her eyes. I suddenly remembered that before I started to teach Christine, the two girls had been the best of friends.
I shook my head. “No, I haven’t. Just as much as you, most likely.”
Meg glanced out at the window and sighed. “Well, Christine has been writing me letters, saying she’s having a wonderful time in the countryside with Raoul. They had a secret marriage a few months ago, and are trying to have children. Christine seems happy . . . almost too happy.”
“Maybe it’s because she’s finally away from me,” I muttered. My heart twisted in pain, and I thought of a very different future—a future in which Christine was mine, where she sang for me, and me only. In that future, I was happy, but Christine was not.
Meg and I talked like this for the rest of the night. As the sunlight slowly faded, our light became the warming fire in the fireplace. It felt good to sit around the crackling fire and talk to old friends. It was the first time I was ever doing this, and it was exhilarating. How many other things have I not done? For some reason, those other things excited me.
When the moon was at the highest point in the sky, we decided to call it a night. I was just about to head out the door when Meg said that I could stay the night in the guest room. I gladly agreed.
I hadn’t slept in a real bed since . . . since Christine left me for that fool Raoul. It felt good, and I slept peacefully for once. My dreams, which were usually plagued by images of Christine leaving and Buquet’s and Piangi’s last screams, were oddly peaceful. They were filled with dancing, swirling colors and a woman’s joyful laugh. It was a masquerade ball at the Paris Opera House, and I was in my usual half-mask. I remember dancing with a girl, her bright hazel eyes hidden by a blue and green mask. It wasn’t until morning when I remembered the name of the girl I danced with. It was . . . Meg.
I stayed at Meg’s small house for a long time, helping her with chores. She said she didn’t mind me there and sometimes paid me for my services. She said that she’d love to hear me sing, and from the moment I opened my mouth, I knew she was amazed at my skill. And surprisingly, we got closer and found out that we had much in common.
“So, does your mother still own Box Five?” I asked. It was the dead of winter, and a snowstorm had blown in, preventing us from leaving the house. So instead, we sat next to the fire, talking.
Meg nodded. “She does. If you ever want to see anything at the Opera House, just tell me, and I’ll tell her to reserve it for you.”
I chuckled. “I don’t think I’ll be returning. The stage has lost its glamour for me.” Theatre no longer held an important part in my heart. Something else, something else I couldn’t define, had taken its place.
Meg glanced at the window, sighing. “Theatre isn’t the same anymore for me as well.”
I cocked my head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” she said, not taking her eyes off the increasing snow, “it just lost its . . . fantasy. You go to a performance to see an extravagant view of reality, right? But now . . . after the incident with you and Christine . . .” Meg then looked at me. “It lost its glamour.”
“I’m sorry if I made you feel that way,” I said, apologizing.
Meg shook her head. “No, Erik, it’s not your fault. I’ve been in the ballet corps since I could barely walk, and I’ve grown sick of the stage.” Her eyes suddenly gleamed with a mischievous light. “And besides, our ballet corps is dreadful. My mother has tried her best, but they’re still as horrible as ever. But I guess the singers make up for it.”
I nodded. “They do. But they’ve been horrible even before you and your mother came to the Opera House.”
We lapsed into silence. Only the crackling of the fire and the howl of the wind were able to be heard. I was content with the silence, wallowing in my own thoughts.
Meg finally broke that silence. “So, tell me . . . what’s the secret behind the torture chamber that you designed?”
I smiled. “Well, when prisoners are first put in, all they see is a dark room with three or four metal trees and mirrors on all sides. When the lights turn on, the mirrors reflect the trees, creating a forest of never-ending trees. As the prisoner wanders on, certain people behind the mirrors pull back on them so that the prisoner trapped inside doesn’t hit the edge. And to make it more interesting, the same people who control the mirrors will create animal noises to trick the prisoner to believe that he or she isn’t alone. The prisoner usually dies a few days later from a combination of starvation, dehydration, and exhaustion.”
Meg blinked. “That’s . . .” She struggled for words. A flare of worry flashed through me. Was she scared of me now? “That’s amazing! It’s ingenious!” I breathed a sigh of relief. No, no she wasn’t. Meg had more of a spine than Christine, and I liked that about her.
“Did you know that I installed a smaller torture chamber under the stage?” I asked.
Meg raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”
I nodded. “I did. In fact, while I was working on it, I accidentally turned on the lights and almost got stuck in it.”
Meg gasped. “How’d you get out?”
I chuckled. “I hadn’t installed the springs that controlled the mirrors yet, so they didn’t move when I got close to them. I walked around for a little bit, and then WHAM! I ran into one of the mirrors, and it just so happened that the mirror was the door. I escaped with my life, thank God. But when I banged into the mirror, I . . . I, ah, caused a backdrop to fall during a rehearsal of “Hannibal.””
Meg laughed. “So it was you! I knew it!”
“It was, I’m afraid to say,” I replied. This felt good—laughing with someone for the pure fun of it. For once, I felt like a human and not an animal. I felt normal.
“I have one more question,” Meg said, drawing her long legs close to her. “Why did you wear that mask?” The mask in question was sitting on the coffee table and not in its usual place on my face. Meg didn’t care what I looked like, so I didn’t wear it often. It was a relief because I got sick of wearing after a while.
“Well . . . I curse my face almost on a daily basis. I can’t escape it because I’ll have it forever. You only have one face for your whole life, right? Well, mine has caused me so much pain and suffering.” I cringed at the painful memories, the memories of being in the freak show. Meg put a comforting hand on my shoulder, and I didn’t move away. Unlike Christine, Meg wasn’t afraid to touch me.
“I’m so sorry,” she murmured quietly. She felt sorry for me? How could a beautiful young woman like Meg feel pity for a disgusting monster like me? The answer eluded me.
I took a deep breath. “No, it’s fine. Those days are over.” I opened my eyes, and Meg’s face was the only thing I saw. I stared into her beautiful hazel eyes, and she stared into mine. It was then that I realized that the comfort I had been searching for all these years was . . . love. And with Meg, that longing disappeared. I wondered if she felt the same way. If she did, what would become of us? And what if she didn’t feel the same way? My head swam with questions.
“Um . . . Erik?” Meg sounded dazed, and I wondered why.
“Yes?” I asked.
“I just wanted to say . . .” Meg was a tight-lipped person, and it showed in this moment. “I just wanted to say . . .”
“Well? Go on.” I smiled encouragingly.
Meg sighed. “I just wanted to say that I think you’re the most handsome man I’ve ever met.”
I blinked in surprise. I was not expecting that. “What?” I choked.
Meg smiled and ran a hand over the damaged side of my face. “You may be scarred on the outside, but your spirit is a beautiful thing, Erik. I don’t judge on outward appearances. Oh, if you only knew that.”
“I . . .” I tried desperately to stop the tears welling in my eyes. But in the end, they won. “Thank you, Meg.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied. We came closer to each other, and we were soon so close that I could feel the heat coming off of her. I took her face in my hands, fingering her lips. She leaned in closer, and our lips met with hard recognition. Christine had once kissed me like this, but that was full of empty promises. But this, this was full of real passion and longing.
When we finally separated, something in my heart uncurled from its compressing ball. It was then that I vowed to have Meg for myself, no matter what it cost me.
It took two months for my wish to be granted. According to tradition, we had to have permission from our parents, court, get engaged, and then wait at least three months to actually perform the ceremony. I had suggested skipping all those steps and just get married. But Meg said no, she wanted to have a traditional wedding, and I agreed. In short, it was an unbearably long wait.
“So, do you think my mother will approve of this?” Meg asked. We were walking hand in hand, and a lot of people were staring. Our destination was Katherine’s house.
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. I’ll think she’ll approve because she wants you to be happy. You’re happy with me, right?”
Meg laughed. It was a joyous sound, like the laugh in my dreams. “Of course I am, Erik.”
“That’s good.” We continued through the crowded streets of Paris to Katherine’s house, which was near the Paris Opera House. We didn’t have to actually pass the theatre, and I was glad. Too many bad memories for my taste.
When we got to Katherine’s house, I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. When it opened, Meg’s mother stood in the doorway. Even though the last time I had seen her was only a year ago, she looked ten years older. Her eyes, which hadn’t dulled with age, widened in surprise.
“Oh, Meg! It’s been too long.” She embraced her only daughter in a hug. She then blinked at me. It took her a few moments to recognize me.
“Erik!” Katherine’s face brightened. “I haven’t seen you in ages! Come in, come in!” She beckoned us in and we gladly complied. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, with a howling wind and an angry gray sky that promised rain.
Five minutes later, the three of us were relaxing in the parlor, the fragrant peppermint tea filling the air. When we were done chatting about the usual things, Meg and I asked Katherine. When she looked away, I grabbed Meg’s delicate hand.
“Mother . . .” Meg started. “You know I’ve been living on my own for a while now, and I . . . I, ah . . .”
“Well? Go on.” Katherine smiled at Meg. She knew her daughter’s tight-lipped personality all too well.
Meg took a deep breath. “I met a man, and I want to marry him.”
Katherine’s jaw dropped. “But . . .” She was at a loss for words. “This is quite unexpected. So, tell me, who is this man?”
I had been silent up until now. “Me.”
Katherine opened her mouth to say something, but then decided not to say it. “Well . . . whatever makes you happy, I guess.” She then glanced out the window with a wistful look. “Oh, who knew that my little Meg would someday be married to the Phantom of the Opera?”
I chuckled. “Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction.”
“So . . . you’re okay with this?” Meg asked, her eyes bright. I squeezed her hand and she met my force with her own.
Katherine sighed. “Fine. You two can get married.” My heart leaped inside my chest. Could it be possible? Could I finally be content with my life? The unanswered questions thrilled me.
Meg beamed. “Thank you so much, Mother!” She enveloped her mother in a large hug.
“My pleasure,” Katherine replied. She then glanced at me. “You’d better treat my daughter like royalty, you hear?” Her gaze was scathing, but I knew she was joking.
I nodded. “I will, Madam Giry.” All three of us laughed. We decided to call it a night when the lightning lit up the darkened sky in angry bursts. It seemed like a lot of big things happened to me when it rained.
“So, are you excited?” I asked Meg after we had returned to our home. We were lying in the bed in the master bedroom. And no, we were not doing it, so don’t get your hopes up for a sultry love scene.
Meg shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be? Every girl fantasizes about her wedding. And now it’s my turn.”
I smiled. “It is your turn. And I want you to shine.” Selflessness was a natural thing for me, mainly because I had to give up many things in my life. And Meg wasn’t one of those things.
“So . . . are you excited, Erik?” Meg asked, turning towards me.
The question took me off guard. To tell the truth, I was excited, but under that excitement was distrust. My heart had been played with too many times, and I’ve grown weary of trusting people. “Well . . . of course I am.”
Meg glanced at me. She could read me as easily as a book. “You’re thinking about Christine, aren’t you?”
I opened my mouth to protest, but closed it after a moment. “You got me there.” I sighed and fell back against the pillows. “I wanted to be human, to be loved. I thought Christine loved me like I loved her. I was desperate, and I wasn’t thinking.” I then glanced at Meg. “But I know that you wouldn’t do that to me.”
Meg sighed and came closer to me. “I would never do that to you.” Her head rested on my chest, and I occasionally brushed back her tangled black hair.
I smiled and kissed her forehead. “Thank you.”
Meg didn’t reply. Her breathing slowly became more even and relaxed. A few moments passed, and I slowly let sleep take its grasp over me. As I fell into its warm embrace, I felt utterly calm and peaceful.
“Today’s the day!”
Meg’s cheerful voice woke me up. I got out of bed, stretching, and wondered where my fiancé was. I could hear her voice coming from the smaller bedroom across the hall. I walked across the hall and quietly opened the door. Meg hadn’t noticed me yet, and I slowly creeped towards her. When she glanced up in the mirror, she saw my face and cried in fear.
“Erik!” she cried. “Don’t do that!”
I smiled. “What? Old habits die hard.”
Meg tried to push me out the room with little success. “Go. You’re not supposed to see me in my wedding dress, so shoo!”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “You don’t want me here? Fine, I’ll go.” I was halfway out the door when she stopped me.
“Fine, fine, stay if you like.” Meg sat down at the vanity in the corner. I watched as she put something powdery on her face. I waited until she was done with whatever she was doing. She got up, and I stopped her by wrapping my hands around her waist. She liked it because I could tell that she was breathing in quick, rapid breaths.
“Are you excited?” I whispered in her ear.
Meg nodded, a little dip of her head. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
I chuckled. “I’m just making sure you don’t have any pre-wedding jitters.” Secretly, I knew she didn’t have any, but I did. The last time I was close to getting married, my bride-to-be ran off with another man.
Meg smiled and practically melted in my embrace. “Well . . . if you’re having cold feet, then we can call the wedding off.”
That took me off guard. Was I apprehensive? I shook my head, dispelling all those doubting thoughts. “No. The wedding is still on.”
She sighed. “Good.” We stood there for a few minutes. A tune popped up in my head, and I started to sing to her.
“Night-time sharpens, heightens each sensation . . .” I cooed in her ear. “Darkness stirs and wakes imagination . . .” I had once sung this to Christine, when I first took her down to my lair. I thought there was attraction between Christine and me, but those were empty promises. The attraction between Meg and I was real. It excited me in more ways than one.
“You alone can make my song take flight—help me make the music of the night . . .”
Meg sighed again. “That’s . . . beautiful.”
I smiled warmly. “Thank you. I call it “The Music of the Night.””
“I like it,” Meg said, breaking away from me. “Well . . . I still have to get ready, and so do you.”
“Fine, I’ll go,” I said, giving in. I was halfway out the door when I called over my shoulder, “I’ll see you at the altar.”
“I’ll be the one in white.” I laughed at Meg’s humor. An hour later, we were at the church. Meg, the priest, and I were the only ones around. The ceremony itself was very quick, and soon enough, we were married.
The priest smiled warmly. “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Meg and I leaned in for a kiss. But before, Meg ripped my mask off, making it bounce down the steps. I smiled at her, and she smiled at me. I took in everything about her—the beautiful sable hair, the bright hazel eyes that always seemed to glow, the heart-shaped face, and the amazing dress. I had made sure that it didn’t look like the one that Christine had worn. The first dress had ruffles and embroidering, while the second was plain and simple. Meg and Christine were two very different women, and I wanted only one of them.
Finally, my life had meaning. Gone were the days of moaning about my fate. No longer did I mourn for Christine. Meg filled that gap now, and I couldn’t be happier.
Five months passed. Meg and I only knew the bliss of married life.
“Good morning,” I said cheerfully one morning. “How’d you sleep?”
Meg shrugged. “Pretty good.” She then glanced down at the letter she had been reading. “I got a letter from Christine and Raoul.”
“And?” I asked.
“And,” Meg repeated, “they’re coming over to visit.”
My good mood plummeted like the temperature in the winter. “When?”
Meg sighed. “Today.” Today? Today?! But . . . why hadn’t Meg told me? She noticed my pained expression and added, “You know, I could tell them that I’m not feeling good and cancel it.”
I shook my head. “No. You haven’t seen your friend in over three years, and you deserve to spend some time with her.”
“Thank you, Erik.” Meg gave me a fleeting kiss on the lips. “But what I am going to do with you?”
“You mean you haven’t told Christine about us?” As I said it, the answer made sense. Meg hadn’t told Christine that the man who had lied to her, kidnapped her, and forced her to marry her was now her best friend’s husband.
“No, I didn’t. But they’ll know today.” Meg glanced wistfully out the window. “How will they react, I wonder?”
I shrugged. “You won’t know until they me.” Raoul and Christine were scheduled to come at noon, so we had a few hours to ourselves. I wore my best clothes, and so did Meg. After a lengthy conversation, I decided to wear my mask even though I was just as comfortable not wearing it.
When they finally came, Meg opened the door while I sat in the parlor. It was better if the infamous Phantom of the Opera didn’t open the door and make both of them faint, Meg had said jokingly. While Meg greeted our guests, I slumped on the couch, wallowing in my thoughts. What would happen? How would they react?
“Oh, Christine, it’s so good to see you!” Meg cried as she opened the door. She enveloped her best friend in a hug. Christine’s face was bright with color and her eyes glittered with life. She was no longer the little girl who I tricked into believing that I was her “Angel of Music.”
“It’s been too long,” Christine replied. Meg ushered them inside, and my heart raced inside my chest. Would Christine recognize me? I doubt that she wouldn’t, but you never know.
“This is a nice place,” Raoul said as he sat down.
Meg nodded. “It’s the perfect size for me.” She handed out cups of tea. Raoul and Christine gladly sipped theirs while I left mine untouched.
“Oh, who are you?” Christine asked. I met her eyes, and she recognized me immediately. Oh, God, I was in trouble now. I was leaning on my left, making sure that they didn’t see my mask until the time came.
“My name is Erik,” I replied gruffly.
The Vicomte de Chagny nodded. “It’s nice to meet you, Erik. So, tell me, why are you here?” Under his curiosity lied a layer of distrust. Raoul wasn’t as stupid as I thought.
Before I could reply, Meg said, “That’s what I wanted to talk about.” She took a deep breath. “I got married about five months ago.”
Christine smiled widely. “That’s great! So who is the lucky man?”
Now was my time to pounce. I turned towards Raoul and Christine. A devious smile touched my lips. “It’s me.” The half-mask glittered in the sunlight.
Christine gasped and grabbed Raoul’s arm for support. “It . . . it’s you! The Phantom!”
My smile got wider. “It’s me; O.G., the Phantom of the Opera, the Angel of Music, the man in the mask, whatever you want to call me.”
Raoul bristled at my nonchalant attitude. “You stay away from Christine!” The possessiveness in his eyes burned as bright as the sun.
I chuckled. “Oh, I will. I have a new Angel of Music now.” I grasped Meg’s hand, and both Christine and Raoul’s eyes widened.
After that immediate confrontation, we lapsed into regular conversation. All of us were as tense as coiled springs. We refused to relax, and it made it uncomfortable.
“So . . .” Christine said. “I have some exciting news.”
“What’s the good news?” Meg asked.
Christine smiled widely in a way I’d never seen before. “I’m pregnant.”
Meg gasped. “That’s great! How long have you known?” I glanced at Raoul. He shrugged. Female things like that confused men, and both Raoul and I were both victims of it.
“Oh, about three months,” Christine replied.
“Congratulations,” I said. I genuinely meant it, and it took them off guard. Kill them with kindness, someone had once said.
“Why . . . thank you,” Christine said.
I nodded. “You’re welcome.” Raoul and Christine stayed for another four hours. When they finally said goodbye and walked out the door, I could breathe normally again. There was no fighting or bloodshed, and I was surprised that Raoul and I hadn’t dueled like we did in the cemetery all those years ago.
“That went well,” I said to Meg after they were out of earshot. “Better than I’d expect actually.”
Meg smiled. “It did go well. I think that the quarrel between you, Christine, and Raoul is finally over.”
I smiled as well and brought Meg close to me. “Yes. Yes, I think it’s finally over.”
After the encounter between us and Christine and Raoul, we kept in contact often. They visited us and we visited them. Christine had her first child—Eugene—and three more followed. Eugene, Julia, Henry, and little Carlotta always loved to go to Auntie Meg and Uncle Erik’s house. Christine and Raoul also enjoyed coming over. The misunderstanding between the three of us was resolved. We became very good friends, actually. After it was resolved, I felt as if a guilty weight was taken off my chest.
Meg and I also had children. Their names were André, Katherine, and Madeline. Sadly, both Katherine and Madeline died young. But André lived and kept the family name, Roux, alive. He had my musical talent and Meg’s graceful ways. I knew that someday a person that descended from André’s family would create the most spectacular show ever to be on stage.
After André left to study in America, my health took a turn for the worse. The cough had returned, and it spread. My lungs filled with fluid, and it slowed me down. I became weak and was forced to stay in bed. Meg stayed by my side. She was my constant companion.
“My time is almost up,” I said to her one day.
“No, Erik, don’t say that.” Meg’s concerned gaze brought a small smile to my lips.
“You know it too, Meg.” She did, but didn’t want to accept the fact—I was dying.
Meg sighed and gripped my hand. I squeezed it, although it wasn’t with much force. “You won’t have to be alone for too long.”
As the days wore on, I knew that the time would be soon. I had my will made; distributing my things between the ones I loved. I also asked for one odd thing—that a death mask be made of my face. I wished that someday someone would look at it and say, “This is the true face of the Phantom of the Opera.”
Finally, the dreaded day arrived. Death whispered in my ear, calling my name, and beckoned me towards it. I followed, and I could feel myself leaving my earthly body. I looked up at Meg’s tearful face, and it brought a weak smile to my face.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you, too, Erik,” Meg replied, her voice heavy with emotion. I was slowly fading, and my mind became sluggish and transparent. I looked up at Meg’s face one more time, and I promised myself that I’d wait for her. Even if I have to wait millennia for her, I’d patiently wait. She was the love of my life, and nothing would keep us apart, even death.
Death carried me on soft wings, and I closed my eyes, floating with the current. My life was ending, and I realized that I had lived a full, varied life. A very rough life, yes, but a life nonetheless. I felt calm and peaceful as I sipped my last breath and moved no more.
Outside, a light rain began to fall.