|Beyond the Mask
Author: flanny-chan PM
Most call the work that is "The Phantom of the Opera" fiction, but what happens when a young man born with the same condition as "Erik" leaves his home for the first time after being hidden from the world by his mother his entire life? Read to find out!Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 15 - Words: 59,706 - Reviews: 32 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 11 - Updated: 08-31-12 - Published: 01-27-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7780319
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Erin awoke the next morning, her vision blurred and the room dim from the frost on the window. She sat up and stretched her arms high above her head, groaning with the effort. She immediately fell backwards onto her pillow, her limbs now like jelly. She looked groggily at the alarm clock next to her bed, which read eight twenty-five. She sat up as straight as a pin. Jason would normally be here by now.
After a moment, she relaxed and rubbed her eyes. She did not want herself to get her hopes up, even if Jason did promise he would be back that day. She did trust him, more than anything, but she did not trust Melinda.
Erin went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, wrinkling her nose when she saw her thick, tangled mess of hair. She undressed and took a quick shower, then put on her robe and went back to her room to dress. She slipped on a pair of jeans and her pinkish purple top, the one she wore the day she met Jason. Erin combed her hair and left it down so it could dry, for she long ago gave up trying to put it up in her signature bun while it was wet. She hastened down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Rory was already up and about, making waffles in the toaster.
"Morning, Sleeping Beauty," he said, taking a waffle from the toaster with his finger tips. "You slept later than normal."
"Yesterday was pretty eventful, you know," she said, taking a seat at the table and pulling on her purple and white striped socks. "I didn't even realize how exhausted I was until after Jason left."
"Speaking of Jason…" Rory said. "He is coming over today, right? I mean, did he give you a time or anything?" Rory leaned against the counter and took a huge bite from the plain waffle in his hands.
Erin wrinkled her nose. "I don't see how you can eat those things plain! And as for Jason, he promised he would be over, but he didn't give a time." She propped her head up with her hand, her elbow resting on the table.
Rory swallowed. "I'm sure he'll be here eventually…do you think he'll still come in through the backyard?"
Erin creased her brow. "I don't know, actually. There is no reason for him to do that now, but he may do it anyway just from habit." Erin sat up and leaned against the back of her chair. "I just want him to show up in general, however he does it. That's all that matters to me."
Jason walked up to the kitchen, where his Melinda was sipping tea at the table, his mask in his hand. She looked up and smiled. "Well, someone is dressed nice and early. Considering the excitement yesterday, I thought you'd sleep much later than this. You were pretty worn out."
Jason shrugged. "I guess I'm just anxious to go. Erin seemed to have some doubt as to whether or not I would be back today…"
Melinda sighed. "She doesn't trust me, does she? I guess it's understandable. She gave me this look last night when her father and brother carried you back to the house. It was definitely one of distrust."
"Well, maybe you should come over with me today!" Jason suggested.
Melinda stopped mid sip and set her cup on the table. "Me? Visit? Oh, Jason, I don't know. This is really your first real day of being able to visit without sneaking around, and I'm afraid I'll ruin it…besides, I have to work!"
"Nonsense," Jason said as he took her hand. "You don't have to go in until ten o'clock, and I'll be right there with you. If I'm there to vouch for you, you will gain Erin's trust easily! What do you say?"
Melinda pondered for a moment, but still looked dubious when she spoke. "I really don't know...Maybe some other time?"
Jason sighed. "Well, if you change your mind, you know where I am. See you later." Jason leaned down and kissed Melinda on the cheek, then headed for the front door, pressing his mask to his face in the process.
Erin sat at her computer, lazily clicking through her emails once again. It had been quite some time since she had last checked her mail. She just did not feel the zest of discovery like she did when Jason was there with her. She would rather he be there for any exciting news that may happen to come from Cedrick. She moved junk mail after junk mail into her trash folder, wishing more than ever that she had a spam filter.
The doorbell rang. Erin hopped out of her chair and to the door to the computer room, leaning against the doorway and listening as Rory answered the front door. Could it be Jason? Erin could hear whoever it was talking, but Erin had to strain her ears to even recognize that it was even a person that was speaking. Either it was Jason telling Rory something secret, or whoever was down there was a very quiet talker.
"Sorry, but we're not interested," Rory could be heard saying, making Erin's hopes drop. "Thank you anyways."
The front door shut, and Rory was heard walking back towards the kitchen. Erin went back to the computer and flopped back into the chair. Clicking through more of her emails, she came across one from Cedrick, titled 'IMPORTANT.' A chill went up her spine as she hovered over the message with her cursor, but she let go of the mouse and leaned back, exhaling. She had to wait for Jason before she read whatever this was. Running her hands through her hair, she decided it was probably dry enough to put up. Before she could even stand to go to her room, Rory called up the stairs for her.
"Hey, Erin!" Rory called.
"Yeah?" Erin yelled back.
"I need your opinion on something!"
"Well…it has to do with what kind of earrings I should get Mom for her birthday!"
"Mom's birthday is over three months away! Why do you need to know now?"
"Just come down!"
Erin groaned and stood up from the chair. She jogged down the stairs and into the living room, where Rory was standing with his arms crossed, a grin plastered on his face. Erin placed her hand on her hips and raised her eyebrows. "Okay…First of all, what kind of earrings do YOU think she would like?"
"Why don't you go into the kitchen and see the catalogs I picked out?"
Erin rolled her eyes and ruffled Rory's hair as she walked past him to the kitchen. When she stepped through the doorway, she saw not catalogs in the kitchen, but a person, dressed in a large brown jacket and grinning from ear to ear.
Jason laughed aloud as Erin practically jumped into his arms, latching her arms around his neck and lifting her legs off of the linoleum floor.
"I told you I would come back," Jason said as Rory walked into the room, leaning against the doorway.
Erin giggled as she stepped back from the hug. "I'm sorry I ever doubted you."
"Well, now that this is all taken care of," Rory said, "I'm just gonna leave you two alone for awhile. I've got...a friend I'm going out for breakfast with today."
Erin smiled slyly at Rory. "You mean that cheerleader you were making goo-goo eyes at your last home game?"
Rory held up his hands in defense. "You caught me. Just don't cause any mischief while I'm gone, okay?"
Erin laughed and put her arm around Jason. "We won't…I promise."
Rory grabbed his coat and walked out of the kitchen and to the front door. He waved as he opened it and walked out, shutting it tightly behind him. Jason looked over at Erin and pinched a lock of her hair between his fingers. "I see you wore your hair down today. I've never seen it like that before."
Erin ran her fingers through her hair. "Yeah, I was going to put it up while I was on the computer upstairs, but Rory called me down before I could." Erin muffled a laugh. "Jewelry catalogs? Is that the best he could come up with?"
Jason shrugged. "You have to admit it was a good attempt on his part."
"True." Erin grabbed Jason's hands. "I'm just so glad you're back! You have no idea how much I missed you…"
Jason leaned in and pressed his forehead to hers. "Probably not as much as I missed you."
Erin's heart was sent aflutter at his comment, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a silly grin. Never in a million years had she thought she would fall in love with Jason. She took a liking to him when she first met him, but she did not think for a second that their friendship would become something more. Right now, she did not remember it being possible that she had thought that way. Erin felt both their faces inching closer, the space between growing less, until the doorbell rang.
They froze, and then they pulled apart. Erin turned and quickly walked out of the kitchen and across the living room and to the front door, placing her hand on the brass knob. Before turning it, she glanced back at Jason in the kitchen, who had a somewhat disappointed look on his face. Erin smiled and tried to keep a giggle from escaping her throat, then she turned back towards the door. Should she tell him to hide? No, there was really no need for that now. Whoever saw him, saw him. His identity was free to be known now, and someone had to see him at some point – why not now? Erin took a deep breath and opened the door, almost forgetting to exhale when she saw the person standing on the porch.
"Hello, Erin," Melinda said with a nervous smile. "Is Jason around?"
Erin went rigid, her hand still gripping the doorknob. "Um…"
"Mother!" Jason came striding up to the door, a huge smile on his face. Erin started a bit at Jason's unexpectedly happy reaction to his mother, but she stood aside and let Jason greet her. "You came!"
"I did some thinking," Melinda said, walking inside, "and I figured it would be a good idea if I came…just for a short visit. And also…" She turned to Erin and smiled weakly. "I know we've already met, but I just wanted to make sure we really were on good terms after…well, what happened."
Erin looked at Jason, who nodded and smiled. Jason certainly trusted Melinda now, and they seemed to be on good terms. Erin still did not fully trust her of course, but for Jason's sake she figured she might as well try. Erin put her arm on Melinda's shoulder and smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Marcel. I believe we're on good terms."
Melinda clapped her hands together. "Oh, thank goodness! And please, call me Melinda."
Erin chuckled. "Alright, Melinda."
Jason wrapped his arm around both women. "Well, now that we're settled with that, how about we all sit down and visit for awhile?"
"Sounds good to me!" Erin said, taking Jason's arm and walking with him to the couch. A faint bell-like sound reached her ears just as they had a seat on the couch. It sounded like a sound her computer would make. It was coming from upstairs, so that must have been it.
Speaking of computer…
Erin had completely forgotten about her message from Cedrick when she had come downstairs earlier. Now she jumped up from the couch, whipping around to face two confused people.
"Jason!" Erin cried. "I received an email from Cedrick this morning! I haven't read it yet because I wanted you to read it with me, but I completely forgot when you came!"
Jason stood abruptly, his eyes flashed distinctly with excitement. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
Melinda stood and tried to keep up with the two younger people as they jogged up the stairs. When they all entered the computer room, Melinda placed her hand on her chest and breathed heavily. She was older than and not as used to physical activity as Jason and Erin, so climbing the stairs so quickly left her breathless. "Do either of you mind explaining what is going on?"
Erin's head made a quarter turn. "My uncle is a genealogist, and we have asked him to research Jason's family tree to try and see if the Phantom of the Opera exists in it. We have gotten some interesting results from him so far, but nothing had been proved…yet." Erin clicked on her email inbox and scanned for the message. Melinda raised her thin, dark brows.
"You don't say…"
"Here it is!" Erin said as she clicked on the email. A short message popped up in the screen, followed by several documents.
Jason held his breath as Erin enlarged the letter:
I have found more information regarding this 'Erik.' Even I, a skeptic in the beginning about this research project, was baffled by what I found. I continued research on the family history and life of the Madeline I found, and she proved to be the only possible link we had. Encouraged, I dug deeper, and found extremely intriguing evidence of your 'Phantom's' existence. Click the documents below to see for yourself.'
Jason and Erin were wide eyed and eager to see what exactly Cedrick had found, while Melinda just leaned forward curiously. Erin double-clicked on the first document, which popped up as an intricately detailed family tree. The names 'Madeline' and 'Nadia' were spotted immediately by Erin, along with a tree extending from Nadia all the way down to Jason's name at the bottom of the page. Jason was the first to notice that there was, in fact, a person said to be Madeline's child, but the only thing printed was the birth date and the word 'Child.'
"Well, it's not much," Erin said when she saw the document, "but it does bring us one step closer! I bet the other document have more."
Erin selected the second document, which was not a family tree, but a census record, written in fine, cursive French. The trio squinted at the screen to try to make out the names, and Erin was the first to point out, "There! I see Madeline!"
Her name was now clear as day when pointed out by a keen eye. Above it was the name 'Charles,' along with a French word, but neither Jason nor Erin knew what it meant.
"What does 'mari' mean?" Erin puzzled. "Is that supposed to mean he's married?"
"It means 'husband,'" Jason said.
Erin looked quizzically at Jason. "How do you know French?"
"I found a book of basic French in my attic," Jason explained, "plus some French/English dictionaries. They were my father's books, and I used to study them sometimes."
"Oh, that's cool!" Erin said.
The three looked down, and immediately they all saw the name written neatly and legibly underneath Madeline's name: 'Erik.' Jason felt his stomach to a summersault.
"That must be him!" Jason cried, pointing at the screen. "It has to be! What does that word next to it mean?"
Jason looked at the screen. "The word 'fils' means 'son!'
Erin squealed and flung her arms around Jason. "We've found him! I'm certain of it now!"
Melinda just looked at the screen. "So…this is supposed to be the Erik from the novel? This is really him?"
"I wouldn't see why it wouldn't be!" Erin said as she clicked on the third and final document with a shaky hand. "Let's see what this last one has to say. Oh, I'm so excited!"
An old newspaper clipping loaded onto the screen. It was clearly wrinkled, and the surrounding stories were virtually unreadable, but the one in the center was clear enough to read. The title read, 'LE FILS DÉFORMÉE DE LA VEUVE LOCALE TERRORISE VOISINS.' The rest of the story was completely in French.
"Jason," Erin said. "Can you decipher this?"
Jason rubbed his chin. "I can read part of it, but a lot of the words are unfamiliar to me."
"That's okay," Erin said, scrolling down the page. "My uncle actually put a translation at the bottom. Check this out."
In English, the article read:
'THE DEFORMED SON OF THE LOCAL WIDOW TERRORIZES NEIGHBORS
The son of Madeline Delacroix, a resident of Rouen and widow of the late Charles Delacroix, was seen in the yard of M. Guillory, a long-time resident of the town and local silversmith. Guillory was outdoors, tending his lawn, when the child walked up to him and demanded scrap metal of sorts. Frightened of the masked boy, he retreated indoors, only to have the child walk in through the back door, which had been securely locked beforehand. The house was ransacked, and the child parted with some of Guillory's silverware and a tin cup. The boy overturned tables and chairs in the process, and he also smashed a vase that had belonged to Mme Guillory. The poor man was found in tears and could scarcely speak until sometime later. Mme Delacroix is yet to be questioned of her son's behavior, but will likely be forced to take further cautions to ensure he does not escape the manor again.'
"Wow," Erin and Jason muttered in unison. This newspaper article amply verified Erik's existence. Erin exited the screen to go back to the email, where Cedrick had added one final note before closing his letter:
'I have taken the liberty of reading both Gaston Leroux's novel and Susan Kay's rendition, and the similarities between the two stories and the records I found are staggering. Who knows what other supposedly fictional novel characters exist somewhere in history? I wondered, after reading the article and records, why a child such as Erik would remain so anonymous and unacknowledged, but I have to assume that is another mystery altogether that will have to be researched at another time and in another place. Tell your friend Jason it was a joy to research this family tree of his, and that he is very blessed to have such a historic and interesting figure in his ancestry.
One last thing before I close this message: Whatever inspired Jason to go looking through his family tree for a story antagonist? Is there a specific reason that he did so? Please forgive me if that is a personal question; my curiosity, as you know, can get the best of me sometimes.
With love from your favorite uncle,
Erin turned to Jason, who was in a light daze. She smiled and grasped his hands in hers. "What do you know? You ARE related to the Phantom of the Opera! Isn't this amazing? This could change everything everyone ever knew about Erik!"
"It's just…so surreal," Jason said, running a hand through his hair. "I mean…wow!"
Erin laughed and pulled him into a hug.
Jason smiled and encircled his arms around Erin. He immediately flushed and stepped back when he saw Melinda beaming at the two of them. Erin looked at Jason queerly, then looked at Melinda and immediately looked at the ground bashfully.
"Is there something I should know?" Melinda asked, an amused twinkle in her eye.
"Maybe…" Jason said, glancing at Erin, who looked up and pierced her lips to prevent a smile from escaping.
Melinda chuckled and shook her head. "I'd say you two have become closer than I originally thought, but no matter. I see you're happy that way." She gave them a wink.
Erin let her grin break loose and peered at Jason from the corner of her eyes. "I guess you could say that."
"I think we should change the subject since Jason is obviously embarrassed," Melinda laughed.
"Please?" Jason murmured. Laughing, the trio made their way downstairs.
Melinda chuckled and put her arm around her son. "So, I guess you were not the first of your kind, after all."
"And it will make things easier to explain once people start asking about why you wear the mask," Erin said. "Although, some probably won't believe us at first…but hey, at least we will know what we're talking about."
"Well, I believe I should be going," Melinda said. "I still have work, you know."
"You will come back over for dinner later, though," Erin said. "I insist."
Melinda smiled. "Of course."
And she kept her promise. At about six-thirty sharp, Melinda arrived at the front step of Erin's house once again. Mr. and Mrs. Carmody were both home by then and welcomed her in. Rory had invited his new girlfriend, Teresa, as well, so people were packed practically shoulder to shoulder at the dining room table. Patrick and Evelyn sat at each end of the table, while Jason sat in between Erin and Melinda on one side. Rory and Teresa were seated on the other. It was a meal full of introductions, stories, and laughs. The family immediately took a liking to Teresa, a junior cheerleader in college who planned on becoming an elementary school teacher. Teresa, surprisingly, did not seem intimidated or uncomfortable around Jason at all. She, like Erin, was mostly curious about Jason when she first laid eyes on him. Erin and Rory went ahead and explained to her his condition and how he received it, and her jaw dropped in amazement.
"I love the Phantom of the Opera!" she exclaimed, her blue eyes bright with interest. "I've only ever seen the musical, but I've heard so much about the book! Do you mean to say that the Phantom actually existed?"
"Yup," Erin said proudly.
"And Jason is his descendant?"
"Indirectly, but yes."
Teresa was brimming with questions now, asking how they found things out and digging deeper for details on the actual Erik. Mr. and Mrs. Carmody even chimed in, asking occasional questions. Jason and Melinda just sat back and watched, eyeing eachother with grins as the whole table bustled with talk concerning him. This discovery was pretty major, so they were going to have to get used to dumbstruck faces and incredulous questions. Teresa, trying to keep a certain question contained for fear it was too forward, could no longer keep it locked within her head. Clearing her throat, she asked, "So…what exactly do you look like, Jason?"
The table became awkwardly silent, and everyone turned to Jason. He swallowed nervously. Erin piped in, giving Teresa a polite smile.
"I'm sorry, Teresa, but I don't think Jason really feels comfortable taking off his mask in front of…"
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be so forward!" Teresa looked apologetically at Jason, who smiled back reassuringly.
"That's perfectly fine," Jason said. "I'm just really not sure how all of you would react to seeing me without my mask, especially at the dinner table…"
"Oh, nonsense!" Evelyn said. "We accept you for who you are; what's on the outside doesn't count!"
Everyone at the table nodded their agreement, and Jason felt Erin's hand close around his under the table. He felt somewhat better, but still a little self conscious as the curiosity of his face seemed to linger around everyone besides Melinda and Erin like fog, especially Teresa, who kept glancing up in between bites of steak.
After dinner, everyone took a seat in the living, the older adults sitting together and sipping coffee while the young adults mingled with eachother by the stairs. They had somehow gotten on to the subject of Ryan Lancaster and his trying to harm Erin.
"He always was such a jerk," Teresa said, tucking a strand of short, blond hair behind her double-pierced ear. She spoke to Erin. "You sure are lucky to have Jason around!"
Erin smiled and wrapped her arm around Jason's midsection. "I sure am." Erin looked up and noticed that Jason's mind seemed to be somewhere else. "Is something on your mind, Jason?"
Teresa gasped dramatically. "It wasn't what I said, was it? Oh gosh, Jason, I'm really sorry! It's just…my curiosity gets the best of me! I can't help myself sometimes!"
Jason laughed lightly and shook his head. "Really, Teresa, it's all right, I'm just…what you said kind of got me thinking…" He glanced at Erin. "It really doesn't make sense to hide from you guys. I mean, we're all friends now, right?"
"Exactly," Erin agreed. "And if it were up to me, you would never have to wear that mask, but I only want you to take it off if you feel comfortable." She paused and held up her finger. "Also, you will still need it when you go out in public."
"She's right," Rory said. "Not all people out there will be as accepting as we are, Jason, so you will certainly need your mask whenever you travel around. But here, you don't need to think twice about what people think."
Jason nodded and smiled. It was nice to have so much support, and to have the feeling of true acceptance for once in his life. He took a deep breath and reached up to his mask. He gripped the very edge of the mask, up by the forehead, with his fingertips. Slowly and carefully, he peeled away the mask, revealing his true image.
Teresa was silent for a moment, then nodded. "See, you don't even need the mask. I don't think it's bad at all."
"You think so?" Jason said, fingering his mask.
"Of course!" Teresa walked over and put an arm around him. "My feelings towards you haven't budged an inch!"
Just then, footsteps were heard coming from the other room, and Evelyn's voice called, "Kids, I think it's time for us to…" Evelyn, Patrick, and Melinda walked in and stopped abruptly when they saw Jason. The look on all their faces was one of surprise - and for Erin's parents, shock - and it was clear to see that Evelyn's face went a shade paler than it was before. Erin looked at her mother and sighed. She had forgotten that Evelyn could be quite squeamish at times, and she refused to watch horror movies because of how dark they were. Walking over, Erin put her arm around her mother and smiled. "Jason decided that he doesn't need his mask on around us anymore, mom. Isn't that great?"
Evelyn snapped out of it and put her hand to her chest. "Oh, yes…Of course…That's wonderful!" She still seemed a bit shaken by Jason's appearance. Jason turned his face away in embarrassment. Evelyn saw what an impact her reaction had on Jason and hurried her plump form over to him, placing her hand on his arm. "Oh dear, I'm sorry Jason. You must forgive me for my actions. I'll admit I was a bit startled, but believe me, that doesn't change my fondness of you one bit! Please, dear, turn around again."
Jason turned his head slightly first, gazing out of the corner of his eyes. He then turned his body and tried to stand straight and not appear shy. Patrick walked over and put his arm around Evelyn, and the couple smiled at Jason with warm acceptance. Melinda, from her spot in the doorway, was also beaming. Jason felt the corners of his mouth twitch a little as he stood and looked around at the people he knew cared about him. He looked at Erin, who gave him a thumbs-up. After a few seconds, Rory cleared his throat and put his arm around Teresa' waist.
"Well, I think I'd better take Teresa home now," he said. "Her parents said she had to be home by seven-thirty. See ya, Jason! Goodbye, Mrs. Marcel!"
Teresa waggled her fingers sweetly. "Bye, everyone! Nice to meet you all!"
Rory and Teresa walked to the front door, where Rory helped her into her coat. The others filtered in to say their goodbyes. Just as Jason walked through the doorway, Erin pulled him back into the kitchen.
"Hey," she said, rubbing the back of her neck. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry that turned out so awkward back there…Trust me, things will get better."
Jason grinned. "I know things will get better. In fact, they already have."
Erin grinned and cuddled up against him. "That's good."
"Jason!" Melinda called from the other room, causing the two to split apart. "We had better be leaving! Are you going to say your goodbyes?"
"I'll be right there!" Jason called over his shoulder. He turned back to Erin and, before she could say anything, wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her towards him, pressing his lips to hers. Erin was dumbfounded, but she did not resist and let her eyes flutter closed. The kiss only lasted a few seconds, and Jason quickly parted with Erin, still an inch from her face.
"Bye, Erin," he murmured.
Jason left the room briskly, slipping on his mask to hide the pink tint in his cheeks. Erin walked unstably to the doorway and watched him thank her parents for the wonderful meal. Her fingertips brushed against her lips, and a smile crept upon them as Jason glanced her way and smiled one last time before walking out the door with Melinda.
Erin ran up to her room as her parents sat down on the couch to watch television and await Rory's return. She closed the door and leaned her back against it. She slid slowly down the smooth wood until her rear end hit the floor. Pressing a hand to her heart, she leaned her head against the door and sighed.
"Finally," she thought with a smile.
Jason went straight to his room when he arrived home. Shutting his door, and immediately fell onto his bed and flung his mask to the side. He sighed contently, a love-struck grin on his face. Never had anything felt so wonderful in all his life. He had heard of a first kiss being magical, but this far exceeded his expectations, especially since he had never before believed that he would fall in love with anybody.
If perfect existed, this moment of his would be its definition.
Jason sat up and grabbed his copy of "The Phantom of the Opera," which was on his nightstand. He held it gingerly in his hands and smiled down at the title.
"Thanks, Erik," he whispered.