The Opera is over
My heart finally calms down as I make it to the doorway of my home. I can feel the ash of the fire in my hair and my hands are shaking slightly, the almost encounter with death still very present in my mind.
How could he do this? What lunacy overcame him?
I entered my home and I saw my Mother stand up quickly from the blue,upholstered chair in a fright. She rushed toward me and embraced me tightly, almost leaving me breathless. I was surprised to see my Mother react this way, she wasn't one to show affection this easily.
"Are you all right, Meg?" she pushed me back slightly and moved my blonde hair away from my face to check if I was hurt.
"I am all right, Mother. But what happened? Where's Erik? Is he all right?" Before I left the disaster scene of where the Opera Populaire burned down I was able to see Christine and Raoul. They were exiting from the underground dungeons where I know Erik took Christine but Raoul didn't let her even say a word to me. They just kept running, leaving the burning building behind in one of Raul's carriages.
"Yes, he is here. He arrived about an hour ago but he is hurt."
"What! Why!? What is wrong?"
"Be calm, Meg. He has a few minor burns. I tried to tend to him but he would not let me. There's something wrong with him, he is… quiet. I thought he would be mad with rage."
"I will go talk to him."
"Meg, no!" My mother took my arm and pulled me back slightly.
"He is not himself. I do not know what he might do."
"I am not afraid of him, Mother." I pulled my hand away and went into the kitchen to find some balm and medicine for his burns.
"Meg, be careful." My Mother warned me before I entered the bedroom and I just nodded. We have always had a spare room for him, in case something like this ever happened. For as long as I can remember my Mother always had a spare room no matter where we moved. It was only when I was thirteen that I finally understood why. I will never forget that night, the night I first met him, the ghost that haunted my Mother's steps and the man who changed my life forever.
I entered Erik's room and it was completely darkened, not even a candle was lit to be able to see where I was going. I let the light from outside flood in through the darkness and as soon as I was able to see the bedside table I put down the medicine and lit the candle. The light let me finally see Erik's figure on his bed; he was asleep with his white shirt half-opened and his black trousers a little broken and torn. His mask was missing and his long, black cape was nowhere to be seen. In this light, he almost seemed peaceful and I didn't dare wake him. I sometimes thought the poor man only found peace when he was asleep or when he was composing his music.
I decided to let him sleep and take advantage of his peaceful state and try to heal his wounds. I sat down beside the bed and started to slowly put balm on the burns in his arms. I have lost count the amount of times I have done this; I have seriously been considering becoming a nurse as my profession. Taking care of the "Phantom of the Opera" gave me enough experience to learn how to do many things. I opened up his shirt a little more to be able to put balm on the burns in his chest and I swallowed hard. I tried not to linger too much on his pale yet toned chest but I couldn't help myself. Erik rarely let anyone touch him, let alone be near him. Even though I longed with every fiber of my being to be able to do so… if only he'd let me.
"Aah!" Erik's arm snapped mine up suddenly, hard and firm, scaring the wits out of me.
"Erik, be calm, it's me… Meg." His eyes, full of rage, changed suddenly as his mind drifted away from sleep and came back to reality. It isn't the first time he's had nightmares or the last time I dare think.
"Meg? What are you doing?" he straightened himself from the bed and the candlelight lit the part of his face that was not deformed. You could almost imagine how he would look like if he wasn't malformed.
"I am trying to heal your burns."
"Leave me alone! I can heal myself!" He exclaimed suddenly but it didn't frighten me. I took a little bit more balm in my hand and tried to get his arm but he pulled it back roughly. He was getting one of his famous temper tantrums so I let him be. He took the medicine from my hands and started to apply it on himself. I decided to try and get some answers, since I was almost killed because of his actions, I think I deserved them.
"What happened, Erik?" I asked as calmly as I could.
"I said leave me alone!" He turned his head at me, showing his deformed side, and put his face inches from mine, glaring at me. He was trying to scare me away, if only he knew that his deformity has never scared me, not even when I was younger.
"No! I will not leave you alone, not until you explain to me why you have destroyed the one thing that helped me and Mama have a roof over our heads and yours! I think we deserve that!" He just stared at me and I saw his glare turn soft. He inched away from me and turned his eyes to the floor. Sadness overtook them, a sadness I had never seen on him before, and now I was really worried. What happened down there?
"Erik, tell me." I whispered softly hoping not to make his temper rise again.
"Christine… she chose Raul."
I sighed softly and looked away. I was surprisingly sad at my friend's decision, more for Erik than her. I knew how much he had grown to love my best friend even if I could see how that love grew into an unhealthy obsession. But he put so much hope in Christine, in the way she would be able to sing for him and I know, deep inside, he wanted her to accept him as he was; in the end that's what Erik truly craved… love.
If only he knew he didn't have to look so far to get it.
"But… she gave me something before she left. Something I think I will never forget for as long as I live."
What could she have possibly given him? What did she do that it affected him so much?
"A kiss."I tried to hold in the sudden flow of tears that made their way to the back of my eyes. She kissed him? I have never felt jealousy as strong as I do now. It is an awful feeling which I hope to never encounter again.
"She kissed me. It was the first act of love that I was ever given, Meg… But I let her go."
I tried to swallow whatever it was that got caught in my throat and didn't let me speak. All I could think of was the many times I wanted and even yearned to show him how much I loved him and because of my own fear I did not do it. I feared not him or his deformity, simply his rejection which I knew would come swiftly after. I took a deep breath and tried to ask my next question.
"But…If she kissed you, why would you let her go?"
"Because she wanted him, not me!" He spat at me, his temper rising again.
"What did you expect, Erik?! I warned you not to deceive her."
"She would not have sung for me if I had shown her who and what I really was! I had to pretend to be something I was not."
No, you did not.
I thought the words but I did not say them. Erik's insecurity of his physicality has always maddened me to no end. I've known him since I was thirteen years old and I have never thought of him any less because of the way that he looked, but he always has. Unfortunately, he has met people who have treated him indifferent and like a monster making him believe that no one could ever care for him. But that is not true… Oh, Erik that is so not true at all.
"But you did not even give her the choice!"
"Yes I did!"
"When?! When you abducted her and took her down to the dungeons forcing her to be with you?! That is not love, Erik!"
I finally said what I've been holding in since I started to see Erik's thoughts be consumed for Christine. He thought his obsession was love but it was not… it was madness. And that madness was what brought him to burn down the Opera House. But I think it was more than that. It was his last cry for help… his last cry for love.
"I know I was wrong now but… I still love her." Erik whispered. As I looked at him now I did not see the "mad" Erik I had seen for the last few years, letting himself be swallowed by his fixation for Christine. No, I saw a man, a heartbroken man who was lifted from some kind of spell and was now realizing his mistake.
A little too late I'm afraid.
I thought about what to say to him. What could I possibly say to a grief-stricken man who had put all his hopes for love on a young, naïve girl? I sighed.
I'll simply just say the truth.
"She made her choice Erik. Now, you must make yours. You cannot live in darkness anymore… The Opera is over." I said in a final way and left the room to let him get some sleep and think about what I said. But not before leaving a certain white mask that I found in the dungeons of a burned down Opera House beside him on his bed.
The next morning I arrived to my home after going out to the market to buy the food we needed for what was left of the week. My mother was very nervous, although you'd have to know her for as long as I have to realize it. She must be worried like I was for Erik's fate. Now that he wasn't under the Opera House, safe and sound, with his façade of the "Phantom of the Opera", what can we do now to help him? Will they be searching for him? Or believe he is dead?
Erik had not left his room since last night and when I left to the market his door was still locked. So I was extremely surprised when I entered our small home and found him sitting down in the upholstery in our living room. He was wearing the same clothes as last night and his white mask that covered the left side of his face. I saw that his burn marks were almost fully healed; he must have kept on putting the medicine I had given him.
"Meg, you return so soon? Did you find everything that I asked you for?" My mother asked me as she inspected what I bought. I have always resented how she has always thought I cannot do things right on my own.
"Yes. You can guess what everyone was talking about at the market." She looked over at me with a known glance.
"They speculated about a certain Opera House burning down and the mysterious causes for it." I started helping my Mother with the food basket and glanced over at Erik who did not react at all. I thought of a way of lightening the very heavy mood.
"They had some amusing stories. My favorite one was Carlotta's jealous rage because Christine Daaé was the protagonist in the Opera. She was so filled with envy that she burned down the whole building." My Mother looked at me disapprovingly but I glanced over at Erik and I saw the almost unnoticeable grin he formed with the right side of his mouth which came and gone with a blink of my eye.
"Did you see anything suspicious? Were the authorities around?" My mother asked.
"No, although there were still policier around the burned down location, they are apparently still investigating."
"Then they will start interviewing soon enough. We must find you a way out of the country Erik and soon." That got my attention.
"What do you mean out of the country?" I asked.
"He cannot stay here, Meg. Who knows how long it will take before they find him? The Vicomte would have surely said something to the authorities by now."
"But I thought you said they promised secrecy?" I asked Erik who had not moved from his place in the living room.
"I never said they promised anything. I simply let them go." Erik's deep voice answered me without even looking at me.
"Then, surely Christine would not say anything. I know she will protect Erik." An image of Christine kissing Erik came into my mind… I know Christine, she may be naïve but she is compassionate, I know she would not utter a word.
"We cannot take the chance of either of them saying a word. They know too much." My Mother started pacing in front of Erik, she was starting to make me uneasy.
"And whose fault is that?" Erik mumbled. My mother stopped in front of him and gave him a surprised stare.
"And what is that supposed to mean? Are you accusing me of something?" I heard the shock in her voice.
"As you may recall Madame, it was you who told Raoul of my past!" The surprise on my Mother's face was genuine. She thought Erik hadn't known about that.
"I only did it because you had lost control! You murdered a man, Erik!"
"You had no right to say anything to him!" He stood up from his seat towering over my Mother.
"And you had no right to take a man's life!" The discussion was getting out of hand so I threw myself in between them separating them both from each other.
"Enough! This helps no one." I turned around towards Erik and I found myself shielding my Mother as we both looked up to the masked man in front of us. I know Erik would never hurt my Mother but this was the first time I had ever seen them argue in this way. It was usually me going head to head with Erik and my Mother the peacemaker between us.
"Forgive me." I saw as his temper lowered and his brown eyes soften. He looked right at my eyes and I saw the guilt that was eating him alive.
He walked by us towards the window that faced the street outside and he stared for only a second then closed the blinds.
"Maybe I should just turn myself in... pay for my actions."
"No!" I exclaimed.
"Erik, do not be foolish." My mother answered from behind me.
"Why not? I took two men's lives. I burned down a building and could have killed hundreds more. Why should I not be tried?!"
"Because you will not be tried justly! Erik, if they find you they would not imprison you. They would take you to a madhouse or worse, they would have you hanged!" I replied with more passion than I anticipated but I had to make him understand. They would take one look at Erik's deformity and treat him as anything less than a human. They would not even have a trial and just hang him.
I could not even let myself imagine that scene.
"Meg is right. You will not even have a chance, you'll be dead by morning, you can be sure of that." Erik took in our words and took a deep breath and for a second I thought I saw him deflate.
"So many years living beneath the world, I had almost forgotten its cruelty; its darkness has always been so kind to me." He walked back to his seat in the living room, his mood much more somber than before.
"Then I will make plans to leave France, I can contact someone who can help me."
"May I ask who?" My Mother interrupted me.
"An old friend."
"But you cannot leave." I said in a whisper that none of them heard.
"Can he be trusted?" My Mother asked as she sat beside him.
"Yes, I trust him with my life."
"Why have we never heard of him?"
"There are a lot of things you still don't know about me, Helene."
"But you cannot leave." I said a little more forceful making them both look at me.
"Meg, don't be foolish. We cannot protect him here anymore."
"But how can we be sure that if he leaves the country he would be safer?"
"Anywhere, where he is far away from France will be safer for him! Meg, stop being so daft."
"Helene, do not speak to her that way." Erik responded. "Meg, I cannot be a burden to you or Helene anymore. I am a fugitive now!"
"When have we ever told you that you are a burden to us! I cannot believe that after everything we've gone through you are just going to leave!" I find myself screaming at him. But he cannot leave. If he leaves... I do not know if my heart will take it.
"Meg, be calm!" My Mother stood up from her seat and came towards me.
"No! I will not! He cannot do this to us mama!"
"Meg, that is it! Leave! Take a walk and calm yourself down."
I gave a final glance towards Erik who was not even looking at me and then walked out and slammed the door behind me.
The sound of carriages echoed around me as I walked down the streets of Paris. My white dress dragged behind me and I wrapped my hands around my body, feeling a certain chill even with the sunlight scorching my back. With every step I took my anger became less and sadness overtook me as Erik's words kept replaying themselves in my head.
He is leaving… forever.
I still couldn't believe it. I'd be a fool to say I had never thought of the possibility of him leaving us but I had always hoped he would not. My life has been intertwined with his for as long as I can remember and now I don't know if I am ready to face my life without him. After so many years of your heart longing for someone else, what does it do after there's no one to long for?
I found myself walking by a familiar place; I must have been walking towards it unconsciously. The Opera House was destroyed and blackened, a shadow of its former self. There were policier around and some firefighters but I don't know what they were trying to do… there was nothing left to save.
"Meg?" I heard a familiar voice call me from behind and I quickly turned around and saw Christine.
"Christine!" I ran towards her and embraced her. I had not realized how worried I was until I had her in my arms.
"How are you? Have you been all right?" I looked at her face and saw that her eyes were red, she had been crying immensely.
"I have been better, Meg. But I am all right and you? I was so afraid you got caught in the fire."
"I am quite well. But what are you doing here?"
"I came with Raoul. He wanted to see if the authorities had found anything in the fire. I told him they would not find anything." Christine's eyes lowered to the ground and would not look at me. Whatever it was that happened down in the dungeons was still hanging quite heavily on Christine's heart. She walked by me and stared at what used to be the Majestic Opera House and it dawned on me.
"You were looking for him, weren't you?" I dared to ask. I know she knew who I meant.
Christine remained silent for a time with her back to me. She stared on to the dark abyss in front of her and I heard her take a deep breath as if she was about to cry.
"Yes.", she whispered her confession to me, "I was hoping I would." I tried to act surprised at this. I have to remember that Christine does not know my past with Erik.
"But I do not understand. Did he not try to kill you?"
"No… well, yes, he tried to kill Raul but he did not. He let us go."
"Why?" I, again, tried to act surprised.
"Because I dared to show him that he was not alone… that someone could lo- care for him."
"How?" I tried not to let what she just said bother me or else it would show in my face. But I couldn't help but think of all the moments I wanted to show him how much I loved him and never dared. Maybe if I had… none of this would have happened.
"I kissed him." She turned around and tears were running down her face.
"You did?!" I tried not to sound so heartbroken.
"Yes! And once I did I…" Christine ran towards me and held my hands tightly as if trying to convey to me her feelings through touch so I could understand. And that's when I saw the light in her eyes and her slight smile.
She is in love.
"You realized that you might love him." She looked up at me as if surprised by my answer. Then she grinned; she knew she couldn't hide anything from me. We were practically raised together.
"I honestly do not know, Meg. I do not know if what I feel is love or pity. I just know that I feel it wholeheartedly and I long to see him again."
"But… what about Raoul?"
"That is what I just don't know, Meg! Maybe if I see him again I would know but I must see him! At least know if he's alive."
I felt her voice tug at my heartstrings. I could not stand to see her like this; so scared and torn. And I know I would not be able to bear knowing that I could have helped her and did nothing. I sighed deeply; hopefully, my Mother will not scold me so hard once she realizes how happy it would make Erik. Although it would break me to shreds… but I guess that does not matter as long as the two people I love the most are happy, is it?
"Christine… I know-"
"Christine!" Raoul ran towards us from afar, he was looking worried; apparently searching for Christine.
"Raoul!" Christine wiped away her tears subtly and embraced her fiancé.
"I have been looking all over for you, I was worried sick."
"Forgive me, my love, I entertained myself speaking to Meg."
"Do not scare me like that. You gave me a fright." He warned. Raoul seemed shaken and scared. He must have thought Erik had taken her or worse that Christine ran away with him. Raoul is not a fool, he saw their exchange in the dungeons, and he knew she loved him enough to stay with him down there. I wonder now if the Vicomte will now be haunted forever with the gnawing doubt of her love for him. That every day, he will question whether or not Christine is thinking about him or if he will wake up one day and realize she is gone from his bed, to escape with Erik. I realized then that Erik would not be the only man haunted forever by the decision made by Christine in the dungeons that night.
"Meg! How are you and your Mother?"
"We are quite well, monsieur. Thankfully, we were able to get out of the fire on time.
"I am sure you were." Raul said that in a strange, almost condescending tone, as if he knew something I did not. But I wasn't going to comment on it and it seemed Christine didn't notice; her gaze lost in the darkened Opera House behind me.
"Come, my love, the carriage is waiting for us."
"All right, Goodbye Meg. I will write to you!"
"We will be sending you our wedding invitation soon." Raoul commented while he was walking back to the carriage. But what he didn't see was Christine's backward glance at me with her eyes glassy of unspilled tears and full of uncertainty.
I entered my home with a heavier heart than when I left, Christine's words weighing on me.
"Meg, thank heavens you are back, I was starting to worry. Are you feeling better?" My Mother's words snapped me back to reality and I felt her hand on my shoulder.
"Not really." I answered honestly. My mother looked at me with a little compassion but as soon as I saw it, it was replaced with that familiar cold stare.
"Well, chin up, Meg. You are stronger than this." She lifted my chin and wiped away a few tears that escaped from my eyes. She turned around and walked toward a bag filled with clothing… Erik's clothing, I noticed.
"Mother, what are you doing?"
"Help me pack Erik's things, Meg. He is leaving tonight." I do not answer or try to fight as I did last time. I simply started to help my Mother gather up his things.
"Where is he going?" I whispered.
"He is leaving to Persia. He, apparently, has a friend there who owes him a debt. He is desperate to leave Paris."
I breathed in deeply, drying my tears. I got a pair of Erik's trousers, folded them and put them inside his bag. A much bigger burden was weighing heavy in my heart. Should I tell Erik that I saw Christine tonight? And that she wants to see him?
That she just might love him?