Disclaimer: I don't own The Phantom of the Opera or The Sound of Music. But it would be cool if I did.


Chapter Ten

-The Hayfield Times- Volume 21, November 2, 2005

Hayfield Accuses!

by Christine Daae

A number of students involved in Hayfield's winter musical have accused their substitute drama teacher of accepting money from a student in exchange for casting her as the leading role.

Mr. Dan Opperly, Hayfield's drama teacher, was excited about his choice of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music for the theatre department's annual winter production. "There are a lot of different roles, so we'll be able to take on a big cast. I'm excited to start auditions," he said at the interest meeting earlier this year.

Unfortunately, Opperly broke his arm in a mysterious accident involving stage scenery and decided not to return to school until next semester. He approved the administration's selection of Mrs. Deborah Vander as long-term substitute for all drama classes. Vander also took over as head of the winter production.

Students working within the production who wished to remain anonymous have said that Vander is "not doing a very good job," and that she "destroyed" the whole production. Most alarming is their allegation that Vander took a bribe from Carlotta Giudicelli, senior, and awarded her the role of Maria unjustly.

Although Giudicelli has played the leading role in a number of other non-musical productions, she scored very low at the auditions in September. Records of the scores and comments from the casting committee show that she was unqualified to play any role in the musical and that nearly 85% of auditioning girls scored better than she did. To the committee's surprise, Vander still chose Giudicelli to play the lead.

Brandon McKillian, senior and assistant house manager, believes that Giudicelli's father offered Vander a great deal of money to give his daughter the lead. "…her dad called Mrs. Vander... and Mrs. Vander has a really nice sports car now," he told the Times.

Despite many students' apparent disgust, Giudicelli will play the part of Maria on the show's opening night this week. By singing in a way that some of her fellow cast members call obnoxious and overconfidently ordering the stage crew around, Giudicelli has earned herself a bad reputation with her peers, many of whom agree that her role was earned unfairly.

Until this time, the school administration has been unaware of any scandal within the theatre department. It may be assumed, however, that they will want to investigate this serious accusation.

Lounging in her cubicle, Christine admired the giant headline on the latest copy of The Hayfield Times. "It looks dramatic, doesn't it?" Her voice sounded loud in the giant journalism classroom, which was devoid of students thirty minutes before school started that morning.

"One of the advantages of bold print."

"Yeah, I guess so." Christine glanced up toward the ceiling, from where she assumed the familiar disembodied voice was coming. "So… I'm really, really, super sorry I didn't get you to look at the story before I turned it in. It took me a while to go through those audition records, and then I had to dig up the rest of that research, and it was the last minute, and the editors were screaming at me, telling me I had two minutes or they wouldn't take it, and-"

"Christine, I'm not angry," the voice interrupted.

"You're not?" Christine stared up at the ceiling in surprise.

"No. I understand you were pressed for time. Why do you think I would be angry?"

Christine rolled up the newspaper slowly. "Well, you always proofread my articles and help me revise them. And usually you find a whole lot to fix. I thought you'd be mad that I turned in such a rough product."

The invisible angel was silent for a moment. "Quite honestly, Christine, it wasn't that bad. A bit biased, I think, but perhaps that's not such a bad thing, given the subject. As for your comma splices, well… that's what those fools in the editor's office are for."

"Ah. That's true." Christine let the newspaper unroll before rolling it up again. "So it really wasn't that bad?"

"No. Your writing has improved a great deal since I began working with you."

Christine grinned. "Yay. Erik, why can't you be my English teacher?"

"And put dear Mrs. Flipski out of a job? I wouldn't dream of it." The disembodied voice was laced with a rare hint of humor. Did this mean Erik wasn't angry at her for the fiasco with the mask anymore?

"Oh, right," Christine giggled. "But haven't you ever considered a teaching career? I mean, come on, Erik. You're good at everything. You could raise any school's test scores."

"Well, I would greatly enjoy being a certain sophomore's voice teacher, if only she were not so reluctant to sing."

Christine twisted the newspaper in her hands, casting about for a new conversation topic. "Hey. Did you know about the audition bribe before I wrote about it?"

"In fact, I did."

"Were you going to do anything about it?" Christine inquired, frowning.

The disembodied voice heaved an exasperated sigh. "I was, but then that horrible excuse for a teacher went and ruined the production to the point where I just couldn't find a way to fix it without getting the police involved. I even knocked a set piece onto her, gave her a serious injury, but she won't take a hint. Now I regret taking that old fool Opperly out of the picture."

"Am I hearing this right?" Christine asked in mock disbelief. "The Opera Ghost regrets breaking somebody's arm?"

"Don't tease, Christine. Opperly's budget was going to make the musical look like a joke. I did what I had to in order to preserve what quality exists in this school's theatre department. Of course, now it's going to be worse than I could have ever imagined… I should have researched the candidates for substitute more thoroughly."

Christine shook her head, spinning around to her computer and opening up a paper she'd been working on for English. "Maybe it's a good thing you're not a teacher. All the kids would annoy you and end up with fractured spines. It's okay to just let someone do their job, you know? Even if it's not done as well as you could do it. Because, let's face it- you do everything perfectly. Nobody could ever live up to your standards. At some point, you just have to step back and let everyone-"

"Who are you talking to?"

Christine screamed and wheeled around. Under a mass of bushy, frizzy, greasy hair, a pair of brown eyes was looking at her over the top of her cubicle. "Joe!" Christine belted out, clutching at her heart. "Don't be such a freaking creeper! You scared me to death!"

"Sorry." The eyes disappeared behind the wall, then reappeared with the rest of grungy Joe Buquet when he shuffled into the cubicle's doorway. He stood there for a moment, swinging his arms back and forth. "So… Who were you talking to?"

"Uh…" Christine glanced at her computer. "I was reading out loud. Looking for typos." She thought she'd read something about journalists doing that once.

"Oh." Joe leaned against the wall, folding his arms across his chest and looking at her with interest. "Why are you here so early?"

"Why are you?" Christine challenged. She hoped this wouldn't turn into a conversation. Not with Joe Buquet. Not during a chat with the Angel of Music.

Joe grinned at her; his teeth were yellow. "Just got here early, looking for something to do. You interested?"

Christine began gathering up her stuff. "Come back when you can rephrase that sentence," she said angrily as she shouldered her purse.

"Whaaaat? C'mon, Christine, you know I didn't mean it like that." Joe continued to grin, running a hand through his slimy hair. "I just meant-"

"If I were you, I would stop talking." Christine stormed past him on her way out of the cubicle.

"Okay, well… See ya later!"

"Yeah. Whatever." Christine hurried out of the classroom. No sooner had the door shut behind her than her cell phone buzzed in her pocket. She pulled it out and looked at it. The caller ID read "Unavailable."

The text message read:

Don't let him bother you. We'll talk later. My standards are not that high.

-AoM

Christine texted back "Yes, they are!" and turned off her phone, smirking with satisfaction at having the last word. As she walked down the hallway, she noticed that an unusual number of school newspapers were floating around. The Times was a popular icon of student life, but it was never this popular. Whoever was downstairs at the sales table must have been having a field day…

"Christine!" A girl from her bus jogged over to her. "Is it true? That whole thing about the drama teacher taking bribes? Did it really happen?"

And then there was a guy on her other side, asking, "Is that why my girlfriend didn't get a part in the musical?"

And another person, and another, and even more- "What's the admin going to do about it?" "How could that happen?" "They should fire that sub. Immediately." "Is the play still opening on schedule?" "Are teachers allowed to take bribes like that?"

"Whoa, hey!" Christine forced her way out of the mob, turning back only when she was sure she had air to breathe. "All I know is in that article. If you have questions… feel free to ask Mrs. Vander." She continued down the hallway, unable to suppress a huge smile.

"Good morning, Meg!" she trilled when she saw her blonde friend waiting, arms crossed and foot tapping, by a vending machine.

"For you, maybe," Meg grumbled. "You pulled off the world's most popular story and I got stuck with freshman band geeks."

"Aw, come on. You're not jealous, are you?" Christine wheedled, heading towards her locker.

"No," Meg replied vehemently. "In fact, I am very happy not to be in your shoes right now."

"Why's that?" Having reached her locker, Christine twisted the combination lock and opened it.

Meg picked at her fingernails. "Because… when Carlotta Giudicelli finds you, she's going to be pissed."

"You mean if she finds me," Christine corrected her. "It's a big school. There are over two thousand students here. It wouldn't be easy for her to track me down."

"No, Christine… I mean when." Meg took a step backward.

Christine glared at her. "Can't you just be supportive?"

WHAM.

"Aaah!" Christine jumped back as someone slammed her locker door shut. The culprit, one Carlotta Giudicelli, towered over her, absolutely seething.

"Who do you think you are?" Carlotta screamed. "Shoving your nose into people's private business and then spreading it around the school! Don't you know how damaging this is to my reputation? Everybody's going to hate me now, and it's all your fault!"

Christine backed up a few steps. "Whoa, Carlotta, chill! It's just a school newspaper."

"No, it's just you spreading vicious lies about me!" Carlotta snapped, taking a step forward for every step Christine took back.

"So you deny it?" Christine raised an eyebrow. "Even though the evidence is stacked against you?"

"Deny it? It's a rumor that people made up because they're jealous of my talent," Carlotta sniffed, flipping her vibrant red hair over her shoulder. "Now, you listen, and listen good."

"Well!" Meg piped up.

"Shut up!" Carlotta snarled.

"Ooookay. You're on your own, Christine." Meg patted her friend on the shoulder and walked quickly away.

Carlotta turned back to Christine. "You think you're all that. Well, I have a newsflash for you, little miss reporter- you're just an ugly, unpopular toad who's getting a big head because she wrote some brave words in a dinky newspaper. When your fifteen minutes of fame are over, everyone's going to forget about you! You're just going to sink back into obscurity and drown in the pit of miserable unpopularity, and I! will! laugh!"

Christine felt rather windswept, but nevertheless replied, "At least I'm not the one who had to bribe my drama teacher because my singing sounds like a dying cat and nobody would let me anywhere near the musical."

Carlotta's eyes flew open wide, and she stood silently for a moment, gaping at Christine's audacity.

"Well, then." Christine adjusted her purse on her shoulder. "I'll just be-"

Smack! In a flurry of pink fingernail polish, Carlotta's palm cracked across Christine's cheek. Christine staggered back, gasping and clutching her face.

"Nobody talks to me like that!" Carlotta screeched.

"Carlotta… You can't…" Christine couldn't find any words to pacify the furious diva. "You'll get in so much…"

Afterwards, Christine realized that she should have fled the scene as soon as she saw the purse soaring through the air. But in that moment, she could only stare in disbelief as Carlotta swung her gigantic bag and it crashed into her forehead.

"Aaagh!" It was like a brick flying into her skull. What on earth did Carlotta have in her bag that was so heavy? Why was she going so insane? These thoughts flashed through Christine's mind as she fell backward and hit the ground. Dizzily, she climbed up onto her hands and knees, only to get knocked down again as Carlotta tackled her.

"I'll teach you to write stupid crap about me!" Carlotta screamed, seizing a handful of Christine's hair and yanking hard.

"Carlotta- Ow! Stop it!" Feeling as though her scalp was going to separate from her pounding skull, Christine looked desperately around for help. Surely someone would intervene? Meg? Another student? A teacher?

A group of students had formed around the dramatic catfight, but nobody seemed intent on stopping it. Many were shouting, cheering, egging the two girls on. Most were videoing the whole thing with their phones.

"Carlotta! Get off me!" Christine hollered, trying to dislodge the shrieking diva, but Carlotta started beating her already-aching forehead into the linoleum. Well, enough was enough.

"Hurrgh!" Christine heaved, rolling onto her back and crushing Carlotta beneath her. Carlotta screamed yet again and locked her arms around Christine's neck in a strangling hold, but Christine jammed her elbow into the senior's ribs and put an end to that nonsense immediately.

Christine scrambled up and away, clutching at the lockers as her head spun mercilessly. "Leave me alone!" she spat. "For crying out loud, someone get a teacher!"

But Carlotta wasn't done. She jumped to her feet, and in a moment she had one of her expensive pumps in her hand, the three-inch heel aimed toward Christine.

"Mon Dieu," Christine hissed under her breath, genuinely terrified of the mad gleam in her attacker's eyes. She turned tail and ran.

"Get back here!" Carlotta screamed, pursuing her through the hallway.

Even though she was still dizzy, Christine managed to keep far ahead of Carlotta. She turned a corner, stumbled down a staircase, dodged other students until she reached the end of the building that was under construction and blocked off. The diva's shrieks had faded away long ago, but still Christine ducked under the caution tape, seeing in her mind those three-inch heels aiming for her heart.

A streak of black flashed before her eyes, and then there was a hand in a leather glove over her mouth, jerking her backwards. Christine screamed, though it was muffled by the hand, as she was dragged into a closet and the door shut, leaving her in pitch black darkness with whoever had apprehended her.

"Be quiet," a familiar voice hissed in her ear, so close that she could feel the puff of hot breath. Christine's eyes flared open wide as the hand left her mouth.

Click. A dangling lightbulb sprang to life overhead, illuminating the dingy and dirty closet. Blinking in the sudden light, Christine turned around and looked up into the two most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen, one of which was framed by white porcelain. "Erik…"

"Are you all right?" the Phantom of the Opera breathed, staring intently at her.

"I'm fine." Christine shook her head a few times. "Just… freaked out. And dizzy."

She froze, heart pounding, as Erik brushed her bangs aside, frowning in concern. "You're bleeding."

"Really?" Christine winced as he pressed against a tender spot on her forehead. "That crazy freak… She hit me with her purse. It felt like it weighed a ton! I don't know, maybe the zipper sliced my forehead open. She was so ridiculous. I still can't believe it."

"Watch my finger. Don't move your head," Erik ordered, holding up his index finger and moving it back and forth in front of Christine's face. Obediently, Christine followed his finger with her eyes while he stared into them.

"Am I dying?" she asked after a moment.

"No," Erik responded, turning his attention back to Christine's forehead. "Do you still feel dizzy?"

"Not as much," Christine told him. "It's going away. My head really hurts, though."

"Understandably," Erik muttered. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his patient's cut. "As far as I can tell, you don't have a concussion or any other serious head wounds. You do have some rather purple bruises on your face…"

"Great." Christine scowled.

Erik looked her in the eye. "It could be worse."

Guiltily, Christine looked away. "Oh. Yeah."

"Did you have to insult her?" Erik reprimanded, dabbing at the cut again. "You couldn't have just walked away?"

"Well, what would you have done?" Christine returned, glaring at him.

"I would have strangled her with a Punjab lasso," he replied casually.

Christine couldn't tell if he was being serious or not.

"You should go to the nurse and get some ice," Erik said softly, tucking the handkerchief back into his pocket. He stroked Christine's curly hair and cupped her cheek in his hand. "Try not to anger any more divas."

Hypnotized by his gentle touch and warm, soft voice, Christine could only stutter, "Okay."

"You should go." The Phantom sounded regretful as he took his hand away. "Before you're missed."

"Do I have to?" Christine found herself completely unwilling to step away from her dark guardian angel.

"Yes." Erik reached up and pulled the string to switch the light off. As Christine turned, feeling in the darkness for the doorknob, he spoke again. "Rest assured, Christine, that Miss Giudicelli will regret ever laying a hand on you."


A/N: Well, at this rate, I might finish this story by the time I'm fifty. Maybe. Thanks for reading! You're really cool. Please leave a comment before you, let me know how I did and all that. Just a hint: the speed at which I update is directly related to the number of comments I get. Just sayin'. Wink wink.

A note: The website has very graciously deleted some of the formatting of the previous chapters. If you had read this story early and found that my story lacked some necessary transitions, that's why. I went through and fixed it, though, so we should be all good. Also did some minor revisions. Nothing too huge, just the odd spelling error, random capitalized letter, little things that made me say, "What was I thinking three years ago?" All that good stuff. I may or may not do some major content revision. If you have an opinion, feel free to let me know! Once again, thanks for reading!