La danse masquée de renaissance JCayan

Acto IV La masque Rossa

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Acto VII

The next few days left me fraught with problems, and, much to my relief, I had no further encounters with the specter, DeNorte. After our last evening together, I had managed to compose myself and close the door on my emotions.

Although my days were filled with activities, my nights were filled with a restless longing. There was a part of me desiring to be near him, I missed his presence and the sound of his lyrical voice. In turn, I lost a significant amount of sleep, and with the endless tossing and turning, my demeanor in rehearsals became very poor.

Madame Dumas was the first to comment on my odd appearance. With her wise ways she pointed out, much to my dismay, the dramatic physical change I had undergone in the course of a few days. I had assumed a state of denial; denial that DeNorte filled a dark void in my life.

Diva Forte, thankfully, had become more consistent in her singing and spared me the task of having to remove her. It was nine days before the grand opening when another tragedy suddenly struck. The young tenor playing the role of the angel was killed when the wire holding him for his flights across the stage had snapped and he had fallen to his death.

The specter DeNorte was observed in the rafters above and, to our horror, we discovered the cable had been purposely cut. Even I could no longer deny what was as plain as the light of day. Too many witnesses, including myself, attested to seeing him make a hasty retreat after the tragedy. I had no other choice but to call upon the authorities. Unfortunately, John Paul was unable to keep word of the ghostly specter's misdeeds from spreading through the town like a plague.

I was in a state of despair, for my eyes could not deny that it was the form of Massimo DeNorte I had seen at the vicinity of the crime. I was devastated by his betrayal, and disappointed with my failure at returning him back to humanity. With a heavy heart, and against my better judgment, I was forced to give up all of my knowledge pertaining to his identity.

The house was filled with a battalion of policemen asking questions and exploring the dwellings in the cellars below. They interrupted rehearsals and, as far as I could tell, caused more harm then good. DeNorte had disappeared into the shadowy depths and had somehow managed to escape their grasp. I wondered if he had fled the house for good.

To add further problems, diva Forte in a hysterical outburst of fear left abruptly along with her understudy and we were left without a star singer for the role of Constantina. John Paul acted quickly, and secured the services of the very difficult, but highly available, mezzo-soprano Susanne Tommasino.

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Though she was older than what the role actually called for, at the age of thirty-four her voice was at its finest. To my surprise, diva Tommasino turned out to be a quick study with a fine memory. Within two days she delivered the arias in a strong voice using the exact range and precision demanded of the role. Her initial efforts were far better than anything diva Forte ever produced in the entire two months of rehearsals.

By the end of the sixth day, Diva Tommasino had memorized every movement and we proceeded with a full dress rehearsal. She sang perfectly from beginning to end, delivering an absolutely incredible performance. We showered her with congratulatory salutations and, for once, both John Paul and I felt gratefully relieved.

Since diva Tommasino's arrival, the sabotage had begun to grow in frequency, and seemed to be aimed specifically at her. The police, like us, were powerless to prevent it from occurring. Although most of the crimes were minor, with the exception of the death of the tenor, they grew in number and became extremely disruptive.

The Inspector in charge of the investigation, a Monsieur Chatigny, assured us they would soon apprehend DeNorte. Chatigny increased his efforts, and the police presence.

While, for the most, the Inspector's systematic and dogmatic approach yielded only negative results, occasionally they would throw up small clues to DeNorte's whereabouts. Just as I had, Chatigny soon discovered the catacombs were an endless array of hidden passageways and rooms.

The caves where a lasting testament to the original architect who designed the house more than fifty years earlier. These were the only things that had remained intact after the devastating fire of a decade ago. I often wondered what the man had in mind when he designed such a confusing and secretive maze.

Inspector Chatigny continued his investigation into the background of Massimo DeNorte and was awaiting word from the Italian authorities. He requested information that might assist him in understanding the nature of DeNorte, and why DeNorte had chosen to carry out a campaign of terror against the Opera de Paris.

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It was on the eve before the opening night and under a cloud of uniformed policemen we held our opening ball. In keeping with tradition, the theme was to follow the masque celebration as depicted in La Danse. This jovial distraction was the first opportunity that a frightened troupe and a tired and strained management had to look forward to in months.

I was in my hotel room preparing when I heard a soft knock on my door. I rose to answer it, and there stood a handsome boy of about fifteen years of age. In his hands he held a dozen red roses of the highest quality and most incredible beauty I had ever seen.

I gave him permission to enter and indicated where I wished the flowers to be placed. I tipped him generously and he bowed graciously and bid me a goodnight. Removing the card and a single rose from the crystal vase, I inhaled its delicate scent and proceeded to read the card. It was written in a hand unfamiliar to me and the prose was quite romantic, though bold in nature. I read it aloud and found I was unable to determine the identity of the gifted and poetic sender.

Kathryn,

The beauty of a rose is in its appearance and yet, once cut from its bush, it continues to astound us with its fragrance. Until, alas, it quietly wilts away into death and is forever pressed into our hearts. Until your heart presses against mine tonight, I shall die a thousand deaths with the memory of your sweet scent."

I found it amusing that a woman of my age should suddenly draw the attention of a secret admirer and I wondered who amongst the troupe could have sent it. After a while, it dawned on me, that the replacement tenor playing the role of the angel, Monsieur Lamont, appeared besotted with me since he had become prone to showering me with verses of poetry during rehearsals.

I was flattered by his attention and yet deeply embarrassed by his amorous display, for the young man was at least eighteen years my junior and not of my status. A romance between us was highly unlikely and certainly inappropriate. Feeling slightly giddy and light of heart, I completed dressing, choosing a long sapphire evening gown of pure silk and trimmed with gold. I selected a lightweight mask made of white downy feathers, also trimmed in gold and which complimented my gown handsomely.

I decided to wear my sapphire and diamond necklace that Richard presented me on our last anniversary. The pear shaped stone rested comfortably on my bosom that greatly enhanced my attire. I accompanied it with matching earrings, before I walked downstairs and to the coach waiting outside.

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I arrived at the ball fashionably late, and as always was left breathless by the majesty of the great hall. There was something about entering the house and witnessing the magnificent decorations that left me completely enthralled and enraptured by its sheer beauty.

I was immediately approached by the tenor, Lamont, whom I believed was responsible for sending me the flowers. Thinking this was a good opportunity to address this matter and put an immediate end to his infatuation, I acknowledged his presence.

"Lady Janaway, you are breathless."

I held out my hand to him, which he kissed lightly. Then he bowed in a most dignified, if not overly dramatic manner, and in so doing managed to draw far too much attention to us than I desired.

"Thank you, Monsieur Lamont, you are far too kind with your flattery."

"I assure you, Madame, I mean every word that I say. You are by far the most beautiful woman present."

"I was wondering if I might speak with you Monsieur Lamont. It is of a most delicate nature and I would appreciate your discretion."

His eyes conveyed a concerned look and I forced myself not to laugh. The situation was delicate and sensitive as it was, and it made little sense to embarrass the young man.

"Of course, Lady Janaway, you have my word as a gentleman."

He bowed to me, and I nodded my head in response, indicating towards a room to our left that appeared unoccupied. He offered me his hand, which I accepted graciously and walked with him into the salon.

It was a large room, which was decorated in festive colors and various paper machê animals of different breeds and sizes. I was very impressed by the décor and smiled outwardly at the attention paid to detail.

"So, Lady Janaway, how may I assist you?"

"I wish to thank you for your gift."

"My gift, Madame?"

"Yes, the flowers you sent to my suite this evening."

His eyes clouded with confusion and much to his credit he recovered quickly, smiling widely before responding.

"Although I wish I could take responsibility for such a romantic gesture, Madame, I am afraid that you have me at a disadvantage."

I felt my face flush, and knew that it was a bright crimson red. I swallowed deeply, my evident pride at risk and I sought of a clever ploy to save us both a measure of dignity.

"Really? I do apologize. The flowers arrived with a poetic note and knowing your mastery of prose and your romantic nature, I naturally assumed the sender to be you."

"You flatter me, Madame, and I thank you for the compliment. However, I envy the sender and I am appalled that I did not have the good sense to have thought of it myself. I hope you are not disappointed and would still honor me with a dance later?"

I was relieved that the young tenor's response guaranteed that we both kept our self-respect. I nodded elegantly to him, to which he responded with another dramatic bow.

"I will ensure to save you a dance, Monsieur, and thank you for asking. However, I must make it clear to you, Monsieur Lamont, though I am deeply flattered by your attention, you must understand friendship is the only possible relationship that can exist between us."

He smiled warmly, and taking my hand in his, brushed his lips over it. I detected a look of disappointment in his eyes, but he was honorable enough not to pursue the issue.

"But of course, Lady Janaway, I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Thank you for understanding, Monsieur Lamont, you are a true gentleman." I smiled warmly at him.

He nodded to me with a half smile and once more led me to the outer hall. I began the rest of my social rounds applying my best diplomatic deportment as I walked the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The remainder of the evening went well and I found myself dancing with one member of the troupe after another. It was a splendid evening enjoyed by all, and the food and conversation were exceptional.

I made my way to a secluded corner and accepted a glass of champagne. I allowed my thoughts to wander to DeNorte. As I enjoyed the taste of the sweet bubbly fluid, my thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Inspector Chatigny.

"Lady Janaway, is that you?"

"I am afraid I was not very creative in my choice of costume, Monsieur, it appears you are not the first to recognize my identity."

"Ah, Madame, but a beauty like yours can never be disguised."

I chuckled lightly and nodded my head in thanks.

"I gather, Inspector, you have sought me out for a reason?"

Though the inspector was a pleasant enough man, I found that I was growing weary of his endless questions. Each time he asked me the same thing, though cleverly rephrasing them differently each time. I assumed it was a deception on his part to see if I would alter my story. I made sure never to disappoint him by answering in the exact words I had used previously.

"You are a hard woman to deceive Lady Janaway." He responded dryly.

"Then perhaps, Monsieur, you should give up trying."

I realized I was being irritable and ungracious, but I was enjoying my evening and cared not for his attempts at trying to ruin it for me.

"Actually, I wish to give you some information."

I was able to detect a touch of malevolence in his voice and ceased consuming my champagne and giving him my undivided attention. It suddenly occurred to me that he had apprehended DeNorte, and I was unable to stop my heart from beating wildly with fear.

"Well, you have found me, Monsieur, what is it you wish to tell me?"

I placed an edge to my voice, letting him know I did not intend to shrink away like a violet. In the course of my lifetime, I had come across many men such as he and hated them for trying to use their strength and position as a weapon against me.

"I have received news from the Italian authorities. It appears Lady Janaway, you are mistaken."

"Really, and how is that Monsieur?"

"This specter that you have identified as DeNorte is not in fact DeNorte after all."

"Oh, and how have you arrived at that conclusion?"

I was shocked by his news and I maintained my composure as well as my dignity. I remained calm though my heart ceased to beat and my breath gave way with a sharp pain.

"It appears, Madame, that this DeNorte, as you call him, is living in Venice and has been for more than three years."

"Well then, I stand corrected, and I apologize if I have caused any hindrance to your investigation."

"I am curious, Lady Janaway, how it is that you reached this conclusion, that this specter as you call him, is DeNorte?

"I never called him a specter, Monsieur, that is a name he was given long before I arrived here. I assumed he was DeNorte, because he is a castrato and fits the physical description Maestro Duvall gave me."

"I see, so you have never personally met this DeNorte?"

"I met a man who claimed to be DeNorte, nothing more. I have no way of proving that he is whom he claims to be."

"Tell me, did he specifically tell you he was this castrato, DeNorte?'

"No, not in so many words. However, he never denied the allegation either."

"I See. If I may be so presumptuous Lady Janaway, and ask that you refrain from playing the role of detective in the future. It is a profession that a lady is not well suited for, and is best left to men. It is, how shall I say it, not for individuals of your station.

I ground my teeth tightly and stared at Inspector Chatigny as if he was the lowest creature that ever stepped forth from a bog. I was well aware of his attitudes and refrained from my desire to slap that condescending smile from his lips. Instead, I held his gaze steadily and lowered my voice, losing all of my feminine qualities.

"I'll certainly take that into consideration, Monsieur, and I hope you are successful in apprehending this specter. For it has already been nine days and still he is on the loose, and still creating havoc with my production. However, I'm sure that with the degree of expertise you and your men have shown, you should have him in your clutches by the evening's end."

I placed my glass on the table in front of me and nodded to him, grasping the front of my skirt to turn as I did so. He continued in an authoritative tone, to which I was about to respond in a most ungracious fashion, when blessedly, I was saved by the sound of a soft lyrical voice.

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"Ah Lady Janaway, I wondered where you had disappeared to? I believe you owe me this dance Madame."

I turned to face the voice and standing before me was a tall man dressed in the terrifying costume of Death, identical in every way to the one worn by Armando in La Danse. It was a long flowing gown of red and on his head was a round hat with long feathered plumes in the front. His mask, particularly horrifying, was that of a grimacing skull.

I was slightly taken aback by his appearance, until I glanced into the dark azure eyes looking back at me. I recognized them immediately, for they were the eyes belonging to none other than the man I had assumed was DeNorte.

"Of course, Monsieur, and I apologize."

He bowed elegantly to me and offered me his arm that I might join him. We walked into the main ballroom where a lovely waltz was playing. He placed his hand firmly around my waist and pulled me closer to him.

With his eyes locked on to mine, and with a swift and delicate movement, he expertly swept me across the room. I found I was unable to tear my eyes from his. Wearing a forced and rather crooked smile, I lowered my voice to a mere whisper.

"You are either a fool, Monsieur, or a very brave man, which is it?"

"Would it surprise you to know I am innocent of these charges, Madame?"

I found I was relieved by his admission and had nothing other than my own inner sense to base this on. Still seething with anger over my encounter with the pompous Chatigny, I was pleased with the sheer audacity of my companion in parading himself directly under the inspector's nose.

"You play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the police, Monsieur, and I think it is unwise for you to pursue it."

"Ah, then am I correct in assuming Lady Janaway that you are concerned for my well being?"

"You may not. Let us make one thing perfectly clear Monsieur, you are a fugitive from the law, and as such, I am obliged to inform the authorities of your presence."

"I see, and tell me, Madame, why is it that you have not? Is it because you are still angered by the inspector's lack of diplomacy, or have I come to mean something to you?"

His question hung in the air and I tried to quickly think of a witty response. Hoping to avoid having to admit my own feelings, I sought to answer his question with one of my own. "Have I to you?"

He stared at me intently, his eyes vibrant with emotion.

"I find you are the only individual from the outer world I have ever cared for." His response was simple and yet it had a tremendous affect on me.

There was something about his raw confession that left me speechless and in a state of confusion. My heart began to beat wildly, as if it would burst. We remained staring into each other's eyes and somehow he managed to touch my soul. Several seconds elapsed before I finally found the strength to answer.

"Are you innocent of these murders?" I held my breath awaiting his response.

"The answer is yes, though I assume you do not believe me."

"Now who is being presumptuous, Monsieur?"

He hesitated in mid-step for a second and stared into my eyes with an intensity that shook me to the very core of my being. I delicately encouraged him to resume the waltz, thinking it wise not to draw any undue attention to us.

"If you value your life, Monsieur, then may I suggest you do not attract any interest in us."

It was more of a command and one that he did not hesitate to follow. He forced himself to smile and continued the sweeping movement of the waltz.

"A wise suggestion, Madame, forgive me. Am I to conclude then, that you believe me?"

"I did not say that, Monsieur. My trust is something you have yet to earn."

"Then why did you agree to dance with me?"

"Because my previous situation was far more uncomfortable and distasteful than my current one."

I bestowed him with a wide sarcastic smile, which caused him to toss his head back, a soft angelic laughter rose from his full lips.

"Then tell me, dear lady, how may I earn your trust? Were the flowers and note that I sent you not a testament of my feelings towards you. Surely, you realize I wish you no harm?"

I was stunned that the specter was the person responsible for the beautiful flowers and accompanying prose. But at the same time I was angered by his sheer audacity in assuming I would respond in kind.

"Tell me, Monsieur, do I appear so superficial as to be purchased with a mere bouquet of flowers? You wish to earn my trust, then I want you to tell me the truth."

His eyes took on a stern and piercing glare that tore deeply into me. I could tell that I had wounded him deeply and I regretted my choice of words, though I desperately required an answer.

"I have never lied to you, not once in our association. I have told you before, Lady Janaway, falsehoods are something I am incapable of engaging in, especially when it comes to you."

"So you have said. Then why is it that you led me to believe you are Massimo DeNorte?"

"I tried to tell you I was not he, but it was you that insisted I was. It seemed important to you that I be this DeNorte, and so I allowed you to think it."

"Who are you?"

"Is that so important to you?"

"Yes."

"And why is that?"

"Because,...because I have come to care for you and I must know the truth."

The words, though painfully spoken, remained suspended in the air between us for an eternity. I was still stunned that I could voice them so freely and came to the stark realization that I was enraptured with this being. There was something about his eyes that haunted me and that I found familiar, yet I was still unable to find the answer and I searched my memory as we spoke.

"The truth is, Madame, that I am nothing more than a ghoul, an aberration despised by the world."

His words were spoken with a deep hurt, an edge of anger clipping each word. My heart went out to him in his despair. I held deep emotions for this being and an undeniable primal attraction as well.

"Is that how you see yourself, as a ghoul?" I spoke softly.

"It is what I am, Madame, and even you cannot change it."

"I have never seen you as a ghoul. I have come to have a deep respect and admiration for your intelligence and kind gentle way. What has been done to you to make you believe so little in yourself? Why are you unable to release the demons that plague you?"

"I am speaking the truth, Madame. You see a creature tortured and in pain. A soul lost among the living, your desire to return me to the living has been futile, for I died many years ago, right here in this very place. I am not a part of the humanity you so desperately wish to reacquaint me with. I am a ghoul, Madame, a creature of the night that lives within darkness. This is my true nature and you cannot change it."

His body stiffened and his arrogant chin jutted forward, his eyes gleamed with a defiant intensity, an indication that he would refute any counterclaim I may offer.

"As usual, you are making assumptions that are untrue. Yes, I admit I was trying to draw you out and in the process return you into the realm of the living. However...I"

"Yes?" His voice was hoarse and pleading, pleading that I complete my response.

We were interrupted when the music stopped abruptly, and it was announced by John Paul that diva Tommasino would sing the main aria from La Danse. Having turned to face John Paul and giving him my full attention, I was unaware that the specter had left my side and was moving through the crowd towards the stairs leading to my office.

I excused myself, and walking through the assembled throng, followed in the same direction. He climbed the stairs swiftly, the tip of his cape the only image left in view.

I called out to him, but he hastened his step and gained further advantage over me. The gown I wore made it difficult for me to climb the steps as easily as he, and by the time I reached the landing, I found the specter nowhere in sight. I began to look in each office in search of him. In the distance, the voice of Diva Tommasino filled the air.

I spent several minutes opening each door and closet and still there was no sign of where he had made his escape. Feeling slightly dejected, I returned to the main salon where Susanne Tommasino was nearing completion of her aria.

As Diva Tommasino stood in the center of the room, directly underneath a huge crystal chandelier singing the last few lines, a terrible noise was heard. The screeching sound of a cable tearing filled the room as the fixture shook with violence. The young tenor, Lamont, acted quickly and pushed her out of harm's way as the colossal glass structure landed in the exact position that Tommasino had just stood.

The thunderous crash sent pieces of crystal flying everywhere, and the air was filled with piercing screams. In the ensuing madness, people sought to quickly leave the salon. Lamont assisted Diva Tommasino to her feet, the behemoth chandelier, a mere four feet away.

Inspector Chatigny was quick to point out in a loud voice that the specter was four landings above. The specter was peering down, a maniacal laugh escaping his lips. I stared in horror at the spectacle and realized immediately what it was that I had forgotten about DeNorte's eyes. I walked quickly towards my office, but was detained by Chatigny, his men rushing upwards in pursuit of the murderous specter.

"I am sorry, Lady Janaway, we must clear the house immediately."

"I require something from my office." It was a blatant lie, but I needed to return to my office and locate the means by which the specter had entered it in the past.

"I am afraid I cannot allow that, it is most unsafe. Please, Madame, I insist."

He nodded to an officer who quickly appeared and offered to escort me to my carriage. The police managed to retain order and were quickly evacuating the premises. Diva Tommasino, visibly shaken and upset, though none the worse for her ordeal, happily departed the house, Lamont still at her side.

Much to my dismay, I was forced to leave the vicinity. After trying, unsuccessfully, to locate the whereabouts of Madame Dumas, I became resigned to the request of the police and returned to my suite. The image of the Opera de Paris began receding to the back of my mind, and my thoughts turned once more to what I believed was the truth.

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Acto VIII, La rinascita

It was the next morning and I eagerly returned to the opera house. The army of police from the evening before, though less in number, was still an intimidating presence. It seemed that despite Inspector Chatigny's expertise and army of professionals, the specter had managed to elude them yet again.

I walked the corridor to my office when I was interrupted midway by the voice of the great inspector himself.

"Lady Janaway, if I may have a moment of your time."

I stopped. Breathing in deeply, and with the strongest of efforts, I placed my best smile on my lips. I found that I was still unable to forgive the inspector for his ungracious comment the evening before.

"Inspector Chatigny, good morning. How may I assist you?"

A fixed smile was present on my face and I looked at him courteously, as if what occurred between us had affected me little.

"I was wondering, Madame, why you wished to return to your office last night?"

"It appears I misplaced one of my earrings and I wanted to see if I may have left it in my office."

"I see, and did you?"

"Did I what, Inspector Chatigny?"

"Lose it in your office?"

"I don't know, I haven't been there as of yet."

"I see, and may I ask what you were doing in your office in the first place?"

"Is there some relevance to your question, Inspector Chatigny? He graced me with a defiant smirk".

"Very well, if you insist. I found it a bit stifling downstairs and wished for a moment to collect myself." I stared at him directly, the heat of my annoyance rising swiftly to my cheeks.

"Tell me, Madame, who was the man you danced with last night?"

"I danced with many men, Inspector Chatigny, can you be more specific?"

I knew exactly who Chatigny was asking me of, but I decided to make him pay dearly for his indiscretion of the previous evening. For some reason, he suspected the masked stranger was the murderous specter in disguise. I made certain not to reveal anything in my facial gestures. I was able to detect from the look of disgust in his eyes, that he was displeased with my clever response. I must admit, it pleased me to humble that pompous man.

"The one that was dressed in red, I believe it was 'Death' was it not?"

"Oh yes, I recall now of whom you speak. However, I am afraid I cannot tell you who he was, he was in costume, Monsieur, and I never asked him his identity."

"Am I to believe you cannot venture a guess as to his identity?"

"As you pointed out last night inspector, I am not very successful in detective work or guessing peoples' identities. I decided to take your advice and leave that matter to you, after all, you are the expert."

I nodded my head and bid him a good day, leaving him standing in the corridor. As I closed the door to my office, I congratulated myself for putting the arrogant Inspector Chatigny in his proper place.

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I spent the better of an hour searching for a secret door or panel that would lead to the cellars. I determined from the previous appearances by DeNorte, or whoever he was, in my office, there must be a way of secretly entering or leaving this room.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I was unable to locate one. I was interrupted by a soft knock on the door and stopped my search to respond to it.

"Enter."

Madame Dumas entered bearing a gift from the gods, a cup of her delicious elixir, which she handed to me with a smile. I joined her on my settee as she settled her matronly form.

"I thought you would be in need of some strong coffee this morning. I suspect you are in for a long and strenuous day."

"Is there something I am not aware of?" I asked, recognizing the look in her eyes.

"Well, I believe you will have your hands full with Diva Tommasino shortly."

"Oh, how so?

"One could say, she is exercising her command. Already six times this morning she has demanded impossible changes to her costumes. The kind that would require an incredible feat to accomplish before tonight's opening."

"I see. I suppose it was too much to hope for, I have heard she can be difficult."

"Difficult is far too polite a word for her. I never did like the woman, not since that night."

"What night?"

Madame Dumas closed her eyes and I could see she had not meant to divulge the information. However, the damage was already done, and I seized on the moment with a fury, giving my sternest look possible when she failed to respond.

"Madame Dumas, you and I are old friends, surely you know that whatever you tell me remains between us?" I decided to play upon our friendship, as well as giving her a good dose of guilt.

"I am aware of that, Kathryn, please I beg of you, do not repeat what I am about to tell you."

"You have my word."

"I have never liked Susanne Tommasino, particularly since the night of the fire. I saw her standing outside Simone's dressing room when she fought with Antonio. Tommasino thought I didn't see her hidden in the shadows, but I did, and it was she, I swear on my life. I have despised her ever since and I haven't forgiven myself for not telling the authorities."

"Why didn't you tell the authorities?"

"Because Maestro Santerre made me promise not to reveal what I knew. He said the damage was already done and Simone could never be repaired. However, we should do everything in our power to ensure the reputation of the opera house in no way suffered."

I was simply astounded and mortified at the same time that Maestro Santerre had such a nature. It dawned on me that I had never known the man at all, nor that his obsession with the house could far outweigh the safety and mental well being of his only daughter.

I felt my heart break in two and I wept silently for Simone Armande Santerre, for I finally understood the horror that she was subjected to. The years of forced lessons until she achieved perfection, the devastating damage she sustained in the fire and the psychological torment she endured from her parents. At that very moment, I was ashamed of being a part of the human race, that one human could bestow such pain to another rocked me to my very core, let alone their own child.

"Madame Dumas, whatever became of Simone? Do you know for sure?"

"No Kathryn, I do not for sure, but Giselle was correct, it is said she ended her own life about five years ago. I only know that the maestro would not let us visit her after the accident and that he kept her locked in her room."

"Like a prisoner?"

"Yes, like a prisoner. I am so sorry, Kathryn, I should have come forward sooner, I could have done something and perhaps.......perhaps, Simone would be alive today."

"Simone is alive."

The statement filled the air like a thick London fog. Madame Dumas looked at me incredulously, and I gave her a crooked grin, my eyes changing to a deep dark blue.

"What is that you say? Simone is alive, how can you be certain?"

"Because the specter that haunts the Opera de Paris is Simone Armande Santerre."

We were interrupted by a knock on the door and I granted the person entrance. John Paul entered and he was in a state of agitation, his face flushed.

"John Paul, is anything the matter?"

"Anything? Everything is the matter! The grand diva Tommasino has demanded three times her salary. According to her, she will not place her life in jeopardy at the hands of a mad man for the mere pittance we are paying her. Mere pittance?! How dare she insult me in such a fashion. Why that second-rate diva is being paid more than anyone has ever offered her in her entire career, in fact no one else will even touch her!"

Madame Dumas and I looked at one another in complete amusement. It was evident in the rushed speech given by John Paul that Susanne Tommasino was keeping true to her reputation of being very difficult. I thought it wise to speak to our demanding diva and see if I could convince her to lower her demands and focus more on the opening.

"Would you like me to reason with her, John Paul?"

"Reason with her? No one can reason with her, she's well, she's the devil himself in the guise of a woman I tell you."

I was unable to resist from laughing aloud, at both John Paul's theatrical performance and the accurate description of diva Tommasino. Although I never had the pleasure of working with her before, her reputation preceded her, and employment became harder for her to obtain. A key factor I would exploit to the best of my advantage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I entered Tommasino's dressing room and found her sitting comfortably in a chair. Her assistant massaging her shoulders, catering to her as if she was Queen Victoria herself. She smiled at me condescendingly, as if I was a mere speck of dust that had blown into her realm.

Her eyes had an arrogant brilliance to them, the kind that spoke of a perceived intelligence and superiority over all that existed. It was easy to determine that she wished to rule supreme, that all humans were born with the sole purpose of serving her.

I felt my own arrogance rising and thought it wise to let it overflow, for surely we were about to have a battle of wills, and I had no intention of losing. I straightened my back and strode further into her room as if I owned it. I tilted my head in an enquiring and challenging manner, looking directly into her eyes. My stare bore deeply into hers, she never flinched and neither did I.

"Diva Tommasino."

"Ah, Lady Kathryn, how good of you to join us."

She offered me little hospitality, as if my presence was merely an annoyance she could easily dispense with. I crossed the room and sat directly opposite from her, my eyes never leaving her. I smiled the same condescending smile and placed an edge to my voice. I turned to her assistant and addressed her authoritatively.

"Mademoiselle, if you would be so kind as to leave us."

Tommasino took immediate offense to my giving her underling an order. She grasped the hand of the retreating assistant and held her firmly in her place.

"You are not in authority here, Lady Kathryn, Gianna answers only to me."

It was to be the start of our battle, one I was looking forward to, and one in which I held the upper hand.

"Very well, as you wish, but do you think it wise that your dresser know the true nature of your past?"

I managed to strike the first blow, and the diva stared at me with intense displeasure. However, she was wise enough to know when she was at a disadvantage.

"You may leave Gianna." She released the girl's hand, and Gianna left us without any reaction at being treated so rudely by Tommasino. I watched her retreating form and wondered what possessed the child to serve such an ungracious mistress.

"I hear that you are displeased with your remuneration and with the costuming as well."

"It is obvious you are in greater need of my services, than I of yours. I will not place my life in danger for the pittance you offer. As for the costumes, they are inadequate, in poor taste and do not measure up to my standards.

"I see. What exactly are your standards, Madame?" My voice lost any inflection of diplomacy and forced kindness.

"I am surprised Lady Kathryn, that you should ask me such a question, one of your station that is. Oh, but how foolish of me to forget, you married into your class didn't you, it was your husband who was the Lord was he not?"

At the mention of Richard's name I lost all semblance of my ladylike manner, and resorted to my instinctual tactic of attack, wishing to give her a taste of her own medicine.

"Yes, Madame Tommasino, it is as you state. However, I have come to learn over the years that class is not necessarily associated with one's station in life. One is simply cultured or not, those that are not tend to be bullies. Inflicting their misconception of culture and dignity on others with a false smile and condescending manner. In the end, Madame, the result is the same, a very small being with a twisted view of what is right and wrong."

"Yes, I would expect such a response from you. The fact is, Lady Janaway, if you wish me to perform, then you shall have to meet my demands."

"The fact is, diva Tommasino, I do not take kindly to idle threats, nor does the management of this house. Your reputation, such as it is, precedes you, so I was well prepared for your behavior. You have erred in underestimating me, Madame. The degree of influence you can exert on this production is limited. I wonder, why is it that you were not already under contract? Let me answer that, because, my dear lady, you are a tyrannical, demanding individual, with a mediocre mezzo-soprano voice. You hold on to your arrogance with great pride and relish, yet it is your greatest flaw. Your voice though good, is not perfection, nor worth the effort and distress you cause. I also wonder, Madame, what the authorities would make of you?"

"The authorities?"

"Oh, yes, my apologies, Madame, I failed to make you aware of some information that was brought to my attention this morning. It appears ten years ago, there was an eyewitness to a fire that was started in this very room and that you were seen directly outside the door in the tiny alcove across the hall. Are you aware, Madame, the authorities have yet to close the case on that fire? I believe two lives were lost and a young lady was badly disfigured."

For the first time, her eyes flinched slightly and I was able to determine that I had won the exchange between us. However, either her arrogance or ignorance continued to sustain her false sense of superiority.

"I see that you are not beneath getting soiled by the filth of the gutter, Lady Janaway. Regardless of your station, you will remain what you truly are, small and insignificant."

"That maybe so, but I can well live with myself under those conditions. The point is, Madame, I have the upper hand and do not think that I would not use it against you. As for your future employment, I recommend that you retire after this performance. I will not have a murderer in one of my productions. You will soon find just how much influence the name Janaway has in Europe and how quickly you will be known as a pariah, a disease to be avoided."

I rose and left her room without giving her the opportunity to respond. There was little doubt in my mind that diva Tommasino would no longer be 'demanding' for the remainder of the day. I felt sickened by being in her presence, her aura suffocating mine like a poisonous cloud.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was three hours before the opening and I was still trying to find an excuse to return to my office and continue my quest for the secret panel. I found I was weary after spending the better part of the morning and afternoon resolving one issue after another.

As I suspected, Tommasino managed to behave appropriately, if not in a cold and indifferent manner. I made sure to let John Paul know that this was to be her only performance and he was to secure a new singer as quickly as possible. I secretly harbored the desire that the singer be Simone, if I could only reach her and drive away the demons that possessed her tortured mind.

I entered my office for a well needed moment of rest and, much to my surprise, there she stood, dressed in the evening attire of men, her eyes locking onto mine and taking complete possession of me.

"Lady Kathryn."

"Mademoiselle Santerre."

I thought it best to dispense with our usual play on words and address her as the person I knew her to be. Her eyes widened for a moment and she stared at me intently, bowing her arrogant head slightly to me.

"I see you have discovered my true identity. May I ask how you came by this knowledge?"

Her voice was low and filled with a hidden passion and I found I was unable to tear my eyes away from hers. Consumed as I was with the desire to be held in her arms, to feel the warmth of her kiss. My face remained rigid, barely giving notice to the emotions flowing within me.

"It was your eyes Mademoiselle, they haven't changed since you were a child. It took me a while to remember. There was always a brilliance and uniqueness in your gaze. I am pleased to learn you are not dead, Mademoiselle Santerre, as it had been rumored. Just as I am pleased that you are not the one responsible for the murders of the Opera de Paris."

"And how have you come to that conclusion, if I may ask?'

"Because when the chandelier's cable was cut, the Phantom in the rafters above was not you."

"Please enlighten me."

"You were dressed as Red Death, the role of Armando in Danse. The specter responsible was dressed in dark evening clothes and wearing a different mask. You would not have had enough time to change your attire and cut the cable."

"How do you know I didn't cut the cable beforehand, and then just change my clothes in a matter of moments?"

"Because you still would not have had time to climb into the rafters. Besides, I know you and the person staring from the landings above was not you. I am not easily fooled, not when it comes to you."

She crossed the room and stood close to me, her elegant face covered in a mask of gold. She stood but a breath away from mine. I felt my pulse quicken and the heat of desire rise to my face. I could not resist being affected by her proximity to me and my breathing grew strained.

"Do you really know me, Kathryn?" Her voice was a pleading whisper filled with pain.

"Yes, yes I do." Although there was no need for us to be whispering we assumed the soft voices of lovers.

"You are a fool then." Her statement was hollow and lacked conviction, the arrogance noticeably absent.

"Am I, or are you, just frightened that someone has come to know you? Frightened that I can see into your thoughts and know what you fear."

"What do I fear, Kathryn?" I reached out my hand and clasped her arm gently.

"You fear that you would be judged, hurt and rejected. Therefore, you have created this solitary existence for yourself, and it is here where you find comfort. However, it isn't real, Simone, and you belong out there with the rest of the world. Please give me a chance to show you how beautiful it can truly be."

"No."

Simone turned from me abruptly, her voice like the sound of an animal in pain. Her body began to tremble and she dropped to the floor and cowered like a child while assuming the position of a fetus in its mother's womb. I crossed quickly to her and bent down to enfold her in my arms. She continued to tremble violently and small tortured mews escaped her lips. Softly, as tears began to roll down her cheeks, she murmured the names of her parents.

Finally, she wailed a mournful cry, and reaching to her face, she tore the mask from her. She tried to pull away from me and I held on to her for dear life as she tried to kick out at the imaginary fire. I looked upon her face and was stunned by what I saw.

Simone clutched at her scarred brow protectively and I pulled her hand away, cradling her chin in my hand. Although her eyes stared at me intently, I could determine her mind was elsewhere. In a dark place filled with painful memories and fiery fears, a place of lost and broken souls. For in her eyes, I saw myself twenty years earlier, when I lost my precious Brigitte and fell into despair.

I could not prevent the flow of tears that fell from my eyes and I cradled her head gently to my bosom, placing soft feathery kisses on her forehead. She wept and cried in agony, soft pleas to her parents begging for their forgiveness. I found I could not stop from hating the Santerres and the damage they had visited upon their child.

Her body shook again with violence and she howled, a long piercing wail that sent shivers into the deepest recesses of my soul. I tightened my hold on her and refused to release her. She pulled at her gloved hand with an animalistic fear, finally succeeding in tossing the glove from her. She remained staring at it in terror, a terror that haunted her frail mind.

I held her and rocked her gently until, at last, the tremors ceased and she remained still and limp in my arms. I rocked her in a soothing motion and whispered soft words of love and comfort. Several minutes passed before her eyes began to clear to their steel cold azure and she grasped the reality of the present. Her face was stained with tears and she abruptly turned her face from mine, her hand covering the scarred flesh in shame.

With a force I did not know I possessed, I removed her hand and I gently turned her face toward mine. Our eyes met and I found my soul embracing hers in a lover's dance. My heart leapt wildly in my chest and before I could gather my senses, I kissed her. Her kiss was warm and sweet, and I reveled in the taste of her. I deepened it with a burning desire, the feverish intensity overwhelming us both.

I felt our souls touch, the healing from past pains uniting us into one entity. Simone murmured softly under her breath, and I held her tighter in my embrace. After a long moment, I released her mouth from mine and remained staring into those dark azure eyes that possessed my heart completely.

I brushed the hair away from her face and gazed upon her properly without the mask for the first time. I was astounded by what I saw. The scarred flesh was just above her left brow and measured three inches and was barely a half-inch in width. It was plain to me that the scar was not as horrid as she perceived. In fact, the greatest injury was to her mind. The fire possessed her every thought and had a devastating affect on her.

I took her left hand in mine and noted the flesh on the top of her hand: the tips of her fingers were also scarred. Her hand had suffered more damage than her face and it was something that could be easily disguised underneath a glove. I raised her hand to my lips and kissed it warmly. She tried to pull her hand from me, but I held it fiercely in my grasp. Her body tensed as I continued to place soft kisses on the damaged skin. I felt as she collapsed her weight against mine and heard her breathe deeply.

"I am damaged, Kathryn." Her voice was a soft harsh whisper borne in agony and pain.

"Hush my darling, it is not what you believe."

I brushed the strands of hair from her beautiful face and kissed her gently just above her left brow. She wept silently beneath me, and I whispered tenderly in her ear soft words of love and comfort. I captured her warm lips once more and took possession of her soul, binding it to mine for an eternity.

At the end of an hour, I rose from the floor and she stood along with me, and we made our way to a large mirror in my office. We stood next to one another and gazed at our images in the glass. She quickly turned her vision away and I gently guided her back to look upon the glass once more. She attempted to resist me, but I refused to relinquish her to the demons that plagued her tortured soul. My voice began to tremble as I spoke to her softly, the emotions I had tried to suppress taking hold of me.

"What do you see?" I asked her softly.

"I see a beast, a monster." She whispered back the tears returning once more.

"I see a beautiful woman, frightened by demons that do not exist. Your scars are from within, Simone, here in your heart and mind. " I touched the places of which I spoke, my eyes caressing her face like a warm soft breeze.

"I am damaged, I do not belong among the living."

"No, you are wrong. You do belong here and it is your birthright to be amongst us. You are beautiful, Simone Armande Santerre, and you are part of this world, a part of my world. Let me show you my world."

"I am afraid." She cried mournfully, and I felt my heart break in two, as I pulled her into my embrace.

"Then let me be strong for both of us, believe in me, as I believe in you." She shivered slightly in my arms and drew a long deep breath.

"I have always loved you, Kathryn Janaway, since I was a child of eight. You were always so kind to me then, just as you are now. I do not know if I can exist in your world."

"You must try, Simone. You must try for me, as well as yourself. It was wrong what was done to you and the road back to humanity will not be an easy one, but I will always be here with you, every step of the way. Will you try, Simone, try for me, for us?"

"I am afraid." It was a thought whispered in pain.

"It is natural to be afraid, there is nothing for you to be ashamed of. However, before we begin our new life together, we must rectify this matter regarding the phantom and these murders. Do you have any idea who it may be, Simone?"

"No, like you I saw the specter in the rafters, but lost him in my pursuit through the cellars. Whoever he is, he is as familiar with this house as I."

"I have a feeling he will be making a grand appearance this evening, during tonight's performance. I noted a pattern with him. It appears he seeks to terrorize the divas in particular. I have no doubt in my mind that he will strike this evening and attack diva Tommasino."

"If he does, I shall be waiting for him."

"Simone, I don't want you getting involved in this. The police suspect it is you, and Inspector Chatigny has given the order to use deadly force. I do not want you to be harmed in any way. I ask that you wait for me here, until this is over and let me deal with the specter."

She stared at me in astonishment and I was able to detect she disagreed with my decision entirely. There was the look of defiance in her eyes and I sensed my request would be ignored.

"You must promise me, Simone." I used my commanding voice in the hope of obtaining her word. She remained silent for several minutes, and at first, I thought she would deny my request. Instead, she swallowed deeply and nodded her head silently.

"Thank you, Simone. Now you must remain here until I send word for you, is that understood."

"Yes, Kathryn."

I pulled her into my arms one last time and held her tightly to me, brushing my lips along the side of her face.

"I must leave you now, the performance is about to begin. I will send word to you with Madame Dumas."

I turned and left her company silently hoping that she would keep her word and remain within the confines and safety of my office. I sought out John Paul and apprised him of my findings. Although he appeared astonished by the news of Simone he agreed to follow my instructions regarding how we would handle any encounters with the murderous specter. I located Madame Dumas and spoke with her as well, ensuring her assistance in the entire matter. I told her where she would locate Simone Armande and what she should do if I needed to send word to Simone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Acto IX, Il Finale

The musicians began the opening movement of La Danse and a polite applause was heard as the first of the singers took their position on the stage. The tenor Franchesi, playing the role of Armando opened the first act, later to be joined by diva Tommasino. They completed the first act with little incident.

The second and third act proceeded flawlessly as well and John Paul, Madame Dumas and I, discussed the possibility that perhaps the specter would not make an appearance after all. Inspector Chatigny increased his surveillance, creating minor disturbances with his insistence of searching every dressing room after each performance before allowing any of the singers to enter. A guard was posted at the entrance of each room, which served as a constant reminder of the danger we were all in.

It was in the beginning of the fourth and final act, the scene in which Constantina and Armando first declare their love for one another that set the stage for the events to follow. Diva Tomassino took center stage and reached the pivotal point in which she is begging Armando to remove his mask and reveal his face. A flurry of activity took place when a counterweight came crashing down a foot from her. She let out a horrific scream that filled the air as a second weight quickly followed suit. Franchesi quickly responded by removing diva Tommasino from the stage, the curtain descended on my orders when the third counterweight struck. I could tell by the cries in the audience, they were confused and undecided as to what to do.

High above, on the upper most deck of the rafters, stood the specter, his demonic leering face looking down on us. Inspector Chatigny and his men quickly took pursuit climbing the unsteady ladders woven of rope into the rafters above. As the drama unfolded, the specter attempted his escape.

Madame Dumas quickly stood along side me and much to our horror, we stared in disbelief as a second, and now familiar spectral form of Simone Armande joined the specter in the rafters. The two engaged in an acrobatic display of force, as Simone attempted to engage him in a battle. I was livid that she should break her word to me and become embroiled in the melee.

The police in their excitement, ignorance and confusion chose the very same moment to fire upon the two forms. I let out a short yelp as I witnessed Simone grasp her arm where a bullet had grazed her. It was the opportunity the specter required, for he released himself from her grasp and proceeded to climb even higher into the rafters. As he reached the first landing, Inspector Chatigny in an angered voice ordered his men to cease their fire.

As we watched helplessly, Simone proceeded to pursue the specter and suddenly lost her footing, if not for her dexterity in grabbing the rope to a counterweight hanging nearby she would have fallen to her death. The scene left us all with an increased level of fear, anticipation and excitement.

Simone managed to swing to the safety of a secondary ladder and continued her fervent pursuit of the specter. The 'great' Inspector Chatigny continued his attempts to reach them. I was appalled that despite all of his arrogant behavior he lacked the ability to gain control of the situation.

The specter was attempting to flee via a third ladder when Simone reached him and grasped him by his boot. She pulled with all of her strength and caused the specter to loose his footing, he fell several feet before grasping hold of a rung.

It was obvious to us looking on from below, though we were unable to hear them, that they were engaged in conversation. I heard Simone release a loud mournful scream that shook the very fiber of my soul. She reached out to grasp the hand of the specter, the specter shook his head in a gesture indicating, no, before purposely releasing his grasp on the rung and falling to his death. An involuntary scream escaped my lips, and many others, and we all averted our vision from the mangled form, a crumpled heap lying on the stage. I then began to walk across the stage, Madame Dumas behind me.

The delicate mask of porcelain lay broken on the floor, a foot from the specter, his cape still shielding his face. I walked with a slight trepidation towards him, and kneeling before the limp form I slowly lifted the cape from his countenance. I was stunned beyond words, as I gazed upon a face familiar to me, a part of my distant and forgotten past.

I sensed rather than felt Simone as she reached my side and gazed upon the face of her mother along with me. I turned to her, giving unto her all the love and compassion I had to give. She remained still as if in a dream and stared at the appearance of death present on her mother's face.

I held on to her hand and squeezed it gently. I felt her tense, slightly at first, and then she returned the simple gesture. I looked at her face, her eyes a warm and sad azure, Relief swept through my body, for I knew that this was a great hurt that could be healed.

Losing control, I pulled her into a tight embrace and whispered gently into her ear.

"I love you, Simone."

She drew a deep and labored breath before responding.

"She said that you did. She said that you would give me the love that she could not. She was my mother, how could she not love me?" It was spoken in a soft whisper for my ears only.

"It's possible you misunderstood her. Perhaps what she meant was that she failed in giving you that love when you most needed it, not that she didn't love you. Simone, despite her failings, she loved you in certain measure and wanted to protect you. However, she let her own misgivings cloud her judgment about what was right and what was wrong, it shouldn't prevent you from believing in others, believing in me. Return to me, let me show you what life and love should truly be, not all of us are the same and you must judge each person on their own merits and failings for that matter."

"She killed my father you know? She told me as much before she..she..she died."

I could see the internal battle mounting within her, trying to comprehend the enormity of what her parents did to her, and how it turned her into the being she was. I knew that if I did not act quickly I would lose her to the dark world of shadows forever. I turned her to face me, conveying in my features every feeling of love I held for her.

"What of me? Are you to condemn me as well, what I feel for you?"

She stared into my eyes her lips trembled with the force of emotion she tried valiantly to contain. I held onto her gaze refusing to let her retreat into her hidden world. I could see the mist that formed in her eyes and I felt my heart call out to her, to hold her in its embrace and protect her.

"She said that she hated him, she hated what he did to me, that she was weak and unable to protect me. It was her duty, yet she failed me."

"Simone, she was human, frail and weak of mind. That this has occurred pains me deeply, I am hurt beyond words. I cannot change what has happened in the past. I can only offer you what the future can bring, our future."

"Do you think she loved me, Kathryn? Do you think my father did?"

"Yes, yes, I believe that they did in their own way. That does not mean they did not care. You must learn to banish these demons from your thoughts and learn to embrace life for what it is. We are all flawed, we all have our faults, but there is also goodness and kindness. Although it is something you have not experienced, it does not mean it doesn't exist. I know that I have come to love and respect you and that you are a very special and unique individual. I don't believe I can face my life without you."

She swallowed deeply and there was a single tear that rolled down her cheek. I was helpless, caught in the turmoil and passion of her vulnerability. She moved closer to me, her azure eyes taking possession of me, as they had at our first encounter.

"Will you show me, Kathryn?"

"If that is what you want." I waited for her response, my heart no longer beating, lying still in my chest.

She reached out to me and I took her in my embrace, a small mournful cry escaped her lips and she trembled slightly in my arms.

"Show me how." Her voice was frightened and small. I held her tightly to me and whispered gently in her ear.

"I will my darling, I promise you."

She pulled away from me when Inspector Chatigny interrupted us by clearing his throat. The police had cleared the body of Madame Santerre from the stage, while John Paul and Madame Dumas were frantically trying to restore order. I was able to detect Inspector Chatigny had heard what had transpired between us, and I was rather embarrassed by what he had witnessed. However, I realized that my position and title would ensure his discretion. Placing authority behind my voice, I answered his interruption.

"Inspector Chatigny, you have your specter. Now, if you don't mind, I would like to continue the performance of my opera. If you would be so kind as to remove the presence of your men from the stage we can go on with our production".

"I am afraid that Mademoiselle Santerre will have to accompany us."

"For what reason?"

"There are questions that only she can answer."

"Then your questions will have to wait. Mademoiselle Santerre will not be available. I will ensure that she is in your office in the morning, you have my word sir."

It was obvious the good Inspector Chatigny did not appreciate my command to him. Yet, perhaps it was something in my demeanor that alarmed him, for his disposition changed into one of humility.

"Very well, Lady Janaway, I will entrust her into your care until the morning."

"Thank you inspector, now if you will excuse us sir, we have a performance to complete."

So that Inspector Chatigny would not change his mind, I quickly dismissed him by turning my back to him, a most inappropriate action. Yet, I chose to gain the advantage before he could alter his decision. I turned my attention to the performers, bringing further order and calming everyone down with the sound of my voice.

"If I may have your attention please. I require everyone in their positions for act four you have five minutes. John Paul, if you could be so kind as to inform the audience we will be picking up where we left off."

John Paul's smiled and quickly went to his task. I turned to Simone who remained standing a step behind me, my eyes finding hers. I held both of her hands in my own.

"Will you sing the role of Constantina for me tonight?" I felt her tighten slightly, and I gently squeezed her hands until I felt the stiffness recede.

"What of diva Tommasino?"

"I am afraid she has suddenly come down with an ailment and will be unable to perform. You know every aria and movement of La Danse, your voice is magnificent and only you can breathe life into the role, it was made for you, Simone."

"It is ironic that your opera should mirror my life. Perhaps it is more fitting that I play the role of Armando instead of Constantina, after all, it is I who is scarred."

I pulled her closer to me and gazed into her beautiful face, for surely the scar could not belie the inner beauty within her.

"Perhaps you should remember the ending, in that the love Constantina has for Armando heals his appearance." She snorted loudly in disagreement and stared at me intently.

"There is no angel, Kathryn, that will make this go away and restore me to my natural state before the fire." She gently rubbed the scar on her brow, her voice low and raw with emotion.

"Perhaps what needs to heal is here in, in your mind and heart. Love is a powerful emotion that can heal many wounds, including those that leave scars in their wake. You are beautiful, Simone, and will never be anything less to me."

"Why do you believe in me so strongly?"

"Because I know that I am correct, and most importantly, you have come to mean a great deal to me. In helping you to find your humanity, you have shown me my own. All of these years I thought I was alive, but I wasn't, like you I was merely existing. Though I loved Richard, there was something missing inside, something that I forgot long ago. You have taken me back there, Simone, and have shown me how beautiful life can be."

"You are speaking of Brigitte and not of me."

"Brigitte, just like Richard, will always be a part of my life, a wonderful part of my past that I loved and will always respect. You, however, are a part of my future, I will not revert to the existence I had before. Living life, though not truly experiencing it, but embracing it for what it can offer."

"You can love me despite my flaws?" She clung to her scarred brow possessively and I gently removed her hand from it with my own.

"That is the magic and power of love, Simone, it hides our flaws. Do not think for a moment that I do not come without my own."

"Yes, you are a very difficult woman, Kathryn."

I laughed openly and was amazed to see her smile broadly in response. In the past months of our acquaintance her smile had been forced and unnatural. Yet, now her face radiated, and I knew the image would be imprinted in my mind forever.

She nodded her head to me and agreed to play the role. I removed a wisp of hair that clung possessively to her cheek. My heart took on a new life and I smiled lovingly at her.

"Madame Dumas, you have one minute to have our prima diva dressed and on stage."

"Yes, My Lady."

Came the warm response of Madame Dumas who moved towards Simone and pulled her into a motherly embrace. I watched them as Simone responded in kind, the healing beginning to take hold of her. I knew that the journey in front of us would be a good one and that my life would be tied to hers for an eternity.

Il Fini

Grazie ognuno, per prendere questo viaggio con me.

Thank you everyone, for taking this journey with me.

Julia Cayan

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