Hey guys. Sorry I haven't updated in close to forever. Things have been very hectic, but I do hope you enjoy this latest installment. It will give you more background to the story. R & R please!
Chapter Ten: You Always Knew
Madame de Loncrae wore a mask over most of her face. When she saw Elissa, though, she slipped it off and smiled at her. Most of her face had burn scars on it. The area over her right eye was warped partly over that eye. The skin looked shiny in some parts and she was missing a small patch of hair…but she didn't seem at all self conscious without the mask. Erik marveled at this silently.
"Elissa, what a wonderful surprise! What are you doing home so soon, though?" Madame exclaimed.
Elissa's smile was somewhat forced as she thought of what they had to talk about. "I took a weekend off to come see you. I needed…I need to talk with you about some matters." She saw Margaret glancing over at Erik curiously as added, "Margaret, this is…my good friend Erik."
Erik looked her in the eye, refusing to pay her burnt skin any special attention. He knew too much of people fixing in on what they saw rather than the person inside. "Bonjour, Madame," he said in his richly melodious voice.
Madame smiled at him warmly and shook his hand, "Bonjour, Erik. And, please, call me Margaret. Now, come in, come in!" She stood to the side to allow them to come in and then walked in front to lead them. Erik set the bags down in the hallway and followed behind Elissa, taking in the surroundings. The house was not lavish, but it was very warm and comfortable looking. Elegant wood paneling in the hallway, thick carpet in the rooms with decorated wallpaper, sturdy and shined furniture and the faint smell of vanilla potpourri.
Margaret sat in the armchair and Elissa and Erik sat down on the couch opposite her. Elissa reached for his hand and gripped it tightly, anxious about what she was about to tell Margaret. Erik squeezed it slightly to reassure her, and she sent him a trusting smile. Margaret watched this little exchange with a slight grin on her face.
"So, my child, what did you want to discuss? Oh, you can take that off if you'd like," turning her attention from Elissa to Erik and gesturing to his mask. His immediate reaction was to stiffen up but then he thought, 'Wouldn't she accept me? She has no problem loving Margaret and her face is badly scarred. Maybe she wouldn't care…yeah, because everyone ELSE hasn't.' He shook his head, "No, thank you. I'll keep it on."
"Very well. Now, Elissa…" she trailed off, waiting for her to speak.
Elissa took a deep breath. "Do you remember Claude Rouland? From the apartment building?"
Margaret looked surprised, "You remember about the apartment building? After all these years?"
"Yes, I finally remembered. But, Margaret, Claude Rouland, do you remember him?"
"Why, yes. That little boy that got in trouble for setting that fire. Oh, Elissa, it was so horrible. The thought that that little eight year old boy would set his uncle's bedroom on fire…" Margaret looked very sad from what she'd said.
"With his uncle in it!" Elissa was shocked.
Margaret took a deep breath before leaning back in her chair, regarding first Elissa and then Erik. "His uncle was in there sleeping when Claude set the fire. But he did not die in the fire. He got out."
Elissa gasped. "What do you mean- Claude thinks that he killed his uncle. And he's happy about it! Why did no one tell him his uncle hadn't died?"
"Let me start from the beginning. Claude's father died when Claude was only five years old. He was sent to live with his uncle, Simon Rouland. Simon was an alcoholic and drank a horrible amount of alcohol. When he drank, he would beat Claude. His only escape from his uncle was when he would come and play with you, Elissa. He grew so attached to you; you were his hideaway from his uncle."
Elissa was shocked. "But…his uncle had seemed so nice to me. Claude never said anything about it, about his uncle doing that."
"His uncle was able to scare him into not saying a word. And then one day, his uncle beat him so badly…that was the day of your birthday. Your father went to see if Claude was coming and found him as he was, bruised and beaten. Your father was a good man but he did nothing at that moment about it as he was so shocked. He left and went back to your apartment. You went to the park to play and Claude found a can of gasoline, poured over his uncle's apartment, and lit the place on fire. Claude ran out thinking his uncle would die, but Simon woke up and went out the fire escape. The police took Claude away and Simon hid, knowing his nephew had meant to kill him for what he'd done."
"Where did Claude go? Where did Simon go? And why did you never tell me before?" It shook her to find out all this new information. Erik squeezed her hand lightly but said nothing, listening.
"They sent Claude to a regular orphanage because they couldn't convict a child of arson or murder. I don't know what happened at the orphanage, but I do know that in his teens he was sent to a mental hospital for several years. I'm not sure what he did to have them do that. Simon took the fire as a wake up call and went to the church for help. They sheltered him, prayed for him and rehabilitated him and now he lives in a monastery. I'm sorry, Elissa, that I did not tell you. It's just, you were so little and you had your whole life ahead of you. You didn't remember any of that horrible day and I thought that maybe that was best."
Elissa was silent for a minute, letting all this new information sink in. She looked back up at Margaret, "When I first remembered what he'd done, I wanted him dead for what he'd done because I was so angry. But that was just anger talking. Now that I hear about what a dreadful life he's had, I almost want to help him. Almost." She was quiet for a moment before she said, "Margaret, Claude is in Paris. He is in Paris and came up with some fake name and found me."
Margaret looked horrified. "What?"
Elissa took a deep breath and told her everything that had been going on since the night that Claude showed up at her dressing room, pretending to be Pierre. Erik filled in where he could and then told of what had happened the night they were leaving for Ostrada when he had found the note and seen Claude in the hallway and then followed him to his hideout. Elissa looked at him, "What note?"
Erik looked at her and shook his head, "It's not of importance. What is important is that we find a way to rid ourselves of him. I don't want him around you."
"Nor I," Margaret jumped in. "He must have come looking for you the minute he got out of that mental hospital. As a child he was disturbed enough to burn down a building; who knows what he is capable of now after being locked away in that horrid place for years." A pause. "Does he know where you are now?"
Erik spoke, "I left a note with the managers but all it said was that she would be out of town, not where exactly she was going."
Margaret nodded, "That is good."
Elissa let out a small yawn, covering her mouth. "Excuse me, but I am very tired from the train. Margaret, is it alright if I take a nap in my old room?"
"It will never be your old room, Elissa, but always your room. Of course it is alright if you take a nap. It will give me a chance to get to know your friend Erik."
Erik's eyes darted from Elissa, to Margaret and then back to Elissa. He felt trapped but braced himself. He needed to talk to Margaret to discus what needed to be done about Claude. He knew what he would want to do, but did not think that Elissa would appreciate him killing her childhood friend. He should ask her; maybe he still could.
Elissa smiled at him as she left the room and he watched as she went down the hallway, grabbed a bag, and then turned and climbed the staircase. Erik turned to see Margaret watching him with a tiny smile on her face.
"Chess?" she offered. Erik nodded and the two went into the other room to discuss Claude and what to do over chess.