Jacqueline and Gerard were having a pleasant conversation when their talk was interrupted by the sound of someone singing.
Gerard paused in his writing to listen, his head cocked at an angle.
“Do you hear that?” he asked of her. She scowled at the back of his head, reclining back on the chaise.
“Of course I hear it. I’m surprised the whole of London doesn’t hear it.” Jacqueline scowled, wishing she had earplugs at that moment. “Screeching cats if I ever heard such a racket.” she snorted.
The Mask did not care for the cutting remarks about the golden voice which was now filling the very Opera house. Enchanted, the Mask rose from his chair, staring up at the roof to his lair, and then he stretched out his right hand, as though to pluck a note from the air itself.
“Such innocence and beauty, can you not feel it in her voice?” The Mask said, his eyes closing as he let himself become immersed in her song. He had not heard a woman sing with such a voice in so long, that the sweet refrains nearly moved him to tears. As she paused in her song, he swept up his cape, and vanished up into one of the passages, that led to the Opera house itself. The Phantom of the Opera wanted to see this woman with his own eyes.
Up above, Johan moved across the stage, and then lo and behold, he caught sight of his Josephine. His brow creased to see her standing near the songstress, and he wondered what on earth she was doing there. Jumping down off the stage, he made his way up the aisle, till he came in range of her and asked.
“What are you doing here? I thought you wished to be with your Father.” His eyes still showed the hurt that lingered as he felt she had abandoned him at the Bianchi house.
Malise finished singing and stared out towards the empty seats with a soft smile on her face. Her voice had filled and resounded through the whole opera house. The sound brought a sort of joy to her that she hadn’t felt in the longest of times. However, soon Josephine ruined it by stepping in and snapping “Stop that! This isn’t just an open place to the public! People practice here, and surely they must be getting ready for a show. Come down from there at once before you draw attention to yourself.” Shocked by just how worried the angel was, the siren turned to look at her incredulously.
Her voice was haunting and soft as she responded “You worry about the most trivial of things. Do you see anyone else on this stage? Do you see anyone forcing us out? My dear, this is a palace for the arts, where your wildest dreams and desires may be fulfilled. Do not take this small joy from me because you worry for things that do not even hold an ounce of importance.”
Josephine just shook her head once more before a familiar voice caught her attention. Spinning around, her eyes fell on Johan and she felt rooted to the spot. He was here. Seeing that look on her face only broke her heart more and she wanted nothing else but to make things right with him. Stepping forward, she smiled weakly and looked into his eyes “You left…”
Hearing his words, her forehead creased with confusion as she shook her head “My father? Well, yes, I wanted to spend time with him, to speak with him after everything that has happened…but above all, I wanted to speak to him about you. To gently introduce you into our lives. You must understand, it has been me and Papa for so long and he just lost me to…darkness. But now I have returned, and I am a new woman with you. I am complete, just as my father completed my mother. Don’t you understand? I need you. I would have died without you.” Stepping forward, the angelic beauty held out her hand as if begging for Johan to accept her. Should he deny her…she would crumble.
The siren watched on curiously, unaware of the others backstage. The couple was quite touching, and she couldn’t help the small smile that lingered on her lips as she watched the lovers. So desperate for each other, they seemed.
Franz Munchhausen was now applauding wildly when the siren had finished her song. This girl had a rare talent who had captivated the entire cast and crew of the Opera house, and the director knew when he was on to something big. Passing through the crowd of extras, some dressed in the finery of their costumes, he beamed as he approached Malise and waved away Josephine, for her carry on only annoyed him.
“A songbird are you, my dear. Please, let me introduce myself. I am Franz Munchhausen, director of the Operas held in this historic building. Do you have an agent, or someone I need to speak to to sign you up. I need your voice in my Opera.” Franz Munchhausen could be pushy at the best of times, but when he had his eye on a prize, he rarely let it slip through his fingers.
“My office is just this way, Miss. Won’t you follow me? My search for a new star is over!” He said with a flurry of hand movements, which brought light applause from the cast and crew.
Johan stood quietly through all this, his eyes locked on Josephine, who implored that she had wanted to speak to her Father about him, and had missed him after all that had happened. But that was not how Johan had recalled it. He never heard his name mentioned, and put two and two together, thinking he had meant nothing at all to her.
You must understand, it has been me and Papa for so long and he just lost me to…darkness. But now I have returned, and I am a new woman with you. I am complete, just as my father completed my mother. Don’t you understand? I need you. I would have died without you.”
The dancer watched Josephine extend her hand towards him, gesturing her aching need to be touched by him again. He seemed to hold off for a moment, then noticed that they were being watched by many, like some ill fated lovers in a play. Tentatively, Johan crossed the floor towards her, and stared down at her with those blue eyes of his. He took her outstretched hand, toying with her fingers, like that of a nervous creature…fearful of rejection. His face was downcast, and he then slowly raised the back of her hand to his lips, brushing it softly, while closing his eyes tight.
“Forgive me?” he uttered breathlessly.
Josephine smiled hopefully at Johan but was soon brushed aside by Franz. Frowning, she fixed her dress before focusing on her lover once more. Malise, however, winced at the clapping and took a defensive step back as the man came rushing forward. Staring at him with eyes wide like a doe, she stood rooted to the spot as the man began to fret over her. Looking to the floor, she listened to him simper over her talent and tried not to wince again. It wasn’t often she sung for an audience and she was well aware of the effect her voice had. When Franz suggested she follow him, she flicked her eyes back up to look at Josephine desperately. Josephine, however, was absorbed in Johan.
Taking a deep breath, Malise stepped forward but didn’t offer a smile. The man called her a star and seemed quite assured he would have her. Franz was indeed very pushy and Malise just frowned “I do not sing for audiences.” Shaking her head, she continued “Therefore I have no need for an agent. I am just a classically trained dancer at the Bizarre Circus Troupe.” His voice was already giving her a headache and she began to regret speaking to him. Taking a step forward, she tried to offer a small smile but it looked quite forced “Thank you for the offer, but as I have stated, I do not sing for audiences. I am flattered you believe me to be a song bird, but I assure you I am much more dangerous than that.”
Josephine seemed to be over Franz’s rude behavior as her eyes fixed on Johan. Her heart was speeding up as he just stood there and she tried to prepare herself for a rejection. He made no movement to come to her, holding off as they faced each other. She took in a shaky breath and went to speak again but soon he crossed the floor to her. Looking up into his eyes, she smiled gratefully as his fingers touched hers. Looking down as Johan played with her fingers, Josephine brought them up to her mouth to kiss them. Closing her eyes, she closed the distance between them before looking back up at him. He raised her own hand to his lips and her heart began to flutter all over again. Smiling brightly, she leaned in to nuzzle into his neck “Don’t be so absurd…of course I forgive you. Forgive me for frightening you off.”
The angel pulled her hand back to shamelessly wrap them around Johan’s neck. Pulling him close, she buried her face into his neck as if trying to drink in his presence as much as possible. After a moment or so had passed, she pulled back just enough to look up at him “What is this place?” Her eyes then looked past him to see the cast and crew. Feeling foolish for putting on such a spectacle, she reluctantly pulled away from Johan but grasped his hand firmly “Is this…your new home?”
Seeing as there were many pairs of eyes trained on the couple, Johan withdrew from the scene, but took Josephine with him, to a dark corner, near props and crates, out of sight. He looked at her, and then tried to gesture with his hands, to explain why and how he ended up here of all places.
“I tried to return to the Circus, but they knew…they knew I was no longer one of them. When that angel intervened, he destroyed the demon that I was and left me…well, human. I think. The Mask, he brought me here. Said this would suit me better, and I was hired straight away.”
Johan moved closer to her, almost like he wanted to whisper to her so he couldn’t be heard. “I don’t have a home.” It was not something he was proud to admit, and it was part of the reason he fled, when he heard she would live with her Father. He thought there was no place for him in the world, and tried to return to the Circus, which was a bad idea.
“This place is for dancers and singers, artists and creators of magic. I think I can make this work, then make enough money for a place for us. But I know your Father has his wishes for you, and you have your own career as a dancer. I guess, I am saying…is this the right time for us? All I have to give you is my heart..my body…is that enough?”
Just below the stage.
The Mask was listening intently as the Siren rejected the directors offers flat, saying that she did not sing for audiences, and she was a traditionally trained dancer with the Bizarre circus troupe. The girl had a fire, a spirit as well as the voice of an angel. Did she not see her worth? The Mask thought to himself, rubbing the smooth side of his face that was free for all to see.
The director implored her.
“Please, at least consider my offer. You could become very rich…a name in lights. Live the dream that many singers only ever hope to achieve in this life.”
Through the twisted iron grates, the Mask watched and waited…Would she vanish back to that dancer’s hell hole, and leave the stage and the Opera behind?
Like a ghoul, he vanished from where he had listened to her song, and through the many catacomb like corridors and tunnels, the Mask moved with the lightest of foot steps, so he went unheard from above. Entranced by her voice, he now wished to know more about her, and he would find a way to meet her, before she left the Opera house.
“Anywhere you go, let me go too.”
Josephine allowed Johan to lead her away silently, her eyes fixed on him as though afraid he would disappear in a puff of smoke. When they were among the various crates, she couldn’t help but smile “There certainly are many facets to the theater world.”Glancing back up at Johan, she saw that he was troubled and all joking was set aside. Stepping closer, she looked at him with concern “My love, what is is? We are together again.”
Seeing him look at her so was wrenching at her heart, but she seemed so confused. Why couldn’t they just be happy and together? Listening to him explain how the circus cast him aside, she frowned more and shook her head “You don’t belong in that world of darkness anymore.” As Johan stepped closer to her, she instinctively reached out to caress his face with her fingertips “Oh Johan…your home is with me.” Wrapping her arms around his back, she drew him in for a hug. Resting her forehead against his chest, she listened to his heart beat “You are still the man I love.” While resting against him, she heard his question. Pulling back to look up at him, sadness clouded her eyes “What are you saying, Johan? Of course this is the right time for us….we’re in love? Isn’t that enough? All I want is you. I don’t care about being a dancer anymore if it means I can’t have you as well. My father wants me happy. Surely he would understand you make me happy.” Her eyes searched his face desperately as if begging him to say she was enough.
Malise was trying very hard not to lose her temper with the director. She thought she was being crystal clear when she said she didn’t want fame and refused to sing for an audience. But still, the director implored. He seemed so desperate to have her and she immediately regretted coming with the pretty blonde girl. Taking in a deep breath, she decided he wouldn’t stop until she agreed to at least think about it. Forcing another smile, she murmured in her haunting voice “Let us see if you can make it worth my while then, shall we?”
Truth be told, she missed the lavished lifestyle she had lived long ago. Not for the fame, or the upper class status or company…but more so what the fortune had brought her. A clean warm bed. Delicious food. Dazzling jewels. Being a dancer at the circus wasn’t a comfortable life. She had to share her quarters with the other dancers, they were constantly moving, and the move was nothing to speak of.
Looking around the stage, she realized she was given the chance to change her life. To actually make something of herself. But her voice…it always brought more harm than anything else. As she stared off towards the empty seats, she seemed to really consider staying. After a moment or so, she turned towards the director “Where do I sign?” She was ready to leave the circus behind…
Whilst Josephine questioned Johan about his concerns on whether or not now was the right time for them to be together, a well dressed woman had been eavesdropping the entire time. A woman of note, but also very mysterious herself. She was dressed solely in black, with a small hat and black veil that covered much of her face. She approached the couple, and stopped just shy of them, raising her lace covered hand to her mouth and coughing lightly.
Johan turned to look at the woman, who spoke ever softly.
“Forgive me, but…I overheard your plight, and I think that I can help…well both of you.” The woman spoke with an aristocratic air, and she held herself regally. Who was she? “Oh…allow me to introduce myself. I am Countess Sassoon, a patron to this very Opera house. I have helped many an aspiring artist in reaching their goals, and I can see that the two of you need some help, yes?”
She waited politely for them to answer, and while Josephine might have been taking this all in, Johan inquired. “But I have only just been hired, and cannot afford my keep anywhere till my first pay.” The Countess chuckled softly beneath her veil and replied. “Money is not the problem, all you need to do is accept my offer. My reward comes from seeing young ones like yourselves prosper and go on to great things. When the Count, bless him, passed away, he left me with a size able fortune, and no one to share it with. I am barren you see, and so with no children and no love in my life, I see this as a good way of helping, and gaining company at the same time. So…do you both accept?”
The director was overjoyed in the young girl’s change of heart, asking where she had to sign to become a part of the Opera house. He quickly snapped his fingers, as a runner brought him a contract that was close at hand. The director was used to getting his way. He handed her a quill and the contract, before doing a little jig with excitement. With a girl such as this, that had the potential for packing houses each night, the money would be pouring in.
In one of the tunnels deep below the Opera house floor, the Mask was now smiling behind his mask. The song bird had agreed to stay. What chances would he now have to spend the nights listening to her song? And what if….she sang the songs he had written? A private audience perhaps? The thought of this cured his melancholy…for now.