Oh look, the authoress is alive!

This has taken me an absurdly long time to update, simply because I've gotten lazy. My chapters will be shorter from now on, but believe me, I'll try to make the action flow at a steady pace.

Enjoy Chapter 3, and thank you to all my reviewers. You know who you are.

Disclaimer: The usual.

Chapter 3

Erik chewed thoughtfully on his sandwich as he sat on the peeling, wrought-iron bench in the middle of Central Park, thinking of his newest employee, Christine Daae. For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what it was that made him hire her. Was it the fire that he saw in her eyes- the look that said that she had seen more than she should in her lifetime, and she was prepared for anything- or was it something else? She didn't seem like secretary material. She talked before she thought about what she was saying, she was unhappy, she was tired, and she was a nervous wreck. Erik was already wondering how many customers he would lose with his new addition.

He could always call her and tell her he had changed his mind, but he knew that would break her heart. She needed this job, he could tell. .just by the clothes she wore and her appearance. Not that she wasn't beautiful- oh, she was definitely that. He could still see her blue eyes light up in triumph and rapture when he had told her she got the job, and he could see her shiny, mahogany hair that glimmered in the flourescent light of his office. .

He shook his head, clearing the image from his mind. He figured he could give her a chance. What would it hurt? He sighed.

A couple walked by just then: a short, slender blonde with a crinkly-eyed, gangly youth. They were chatting animatedly, hands held together at their sides. Smiles lit up both their faces, and if they weren't blushing and looking toward the ground, they were looking towards each other, a glow in their eyes like Erik had seen so many times before, but never directed towards himself. But still, just as Erik had predicted, their eyes flitted curiously to his mask as they sauntered by, and for one instant- one fleeting moment- their eyes turned cold and hostile, as if he were an enemy, a person to be hated.

He glanced down at the golden watch upon his wrist, looking for something to distract him from the couples' glares. 12:30. He could go back to work early, to save himself from any more surprised glances or glares. Sighing, he wrapped up the remains of his sandwich in the paper wrapper, and threw it in the waste basket beside the bench. Brushing off bits of bread from his pants, he stood, grabbed his briefcase, then started towards the office.

She never even seemed to wonder about the ring. . ., he mused to himself as he went, smiling humorlessly as he stared down at the gold band around his finger.

Xx

"So. . ."

"So, what?"

"The interview, how was it?"

Christine sipped slowly at her black coffee, and stared at the blonde girl seated across from her in the small booth in the middle of the Hadler coffee shop at 35th. Her eyes were wide with anticipation, her mouth a grim line. Christine feigned sadness, and looked down into the Styrofoam cup in front of her. She let her hair fall around her. She heard the intake of breath from Meg, and the sad, but almost prepared sound of sadness that emitted from her mouth. Christine waited patiently for the sympathy speech that was destined to follow. . .

"Christine, I'm so sorry! But really, you'll find another one, you always do! You're better than a stupid image place anyway. What would you do there? And there's probably no hot guys there, to keep you occupied, so what's the fun in that? Gosh, Chrissy, it's okay! Why wouldn't they hire you? What morons! If I ever-. . ."

Meg paused as Christine snorted suddenly, then smiled and pushed back her hair, looking up at her friend with glowing eyes. It was silent between them for a moment, except for the crash of the workers in the kitchen and the chattering and laughter of the customers around them. Realization dawned on Meg's face, and she frowned in aggravation.

"Christine, you little liar!" she squealed, earning her a surprised glance from a few of the customers. Christine blushed.

"I start tomorrow," she stated meekly, staring down at the pale hands wrapped around her coffee cup. Meg was silent across from her.

"I hope you keep this one, Chrissy," she finally whispered, and Christine could hear the feeling in her words. She looked up. Meg was staring at her sadly, her eyes wide and pleading. Christine nodded softly.

"So," Meg chirped, a smile lighting her face, and all the seriousness from the moment vanished with the arrival of that smile. "Tell me about him. The boss, I mean."

Smiling, Christine told Meg about her employer, Erik De Mare, while Meg listened and nodded to every word.

Xx

"No. Next drawer over."

Christine paused, her nervous and clammy hand poised over the top drawer in the filing cabinet. Glancing tensely at her aggravated boss, leaning casually against the wall next to the cabinet, she closed the drawer. Wrapping her fingers around the cold steel of the handle of the next drawer, she opened it, and inserted the file folder of receipts. The folder was full, and it had been empty three days before. It was the receipts of those who ordered reprints of one specific picture he had taken; this folder happened to be one of the ones she had seen in his office: the photo of Frankfurt, Germany.

Each photo category had a specific drawer in the row of file cabinets that filled the room behind her desk, and she had to learn every one, and what criteria each pertained to. Along with that, the phones had been ringing off the hook all day, and she was surprised that by lunch Erik's desk wasn't buried under all the messages she had laid there on their little pink slips. She hadn't had time to break for lunch, having been too busy filling out order forms and checking credit card numbers of those who ordered by phone. She had kept checking the clock every five minutes, watching it creep slowly towards 5 o'clock, the minute hand seeming to mock her as the seconds dragged slowly by.

Erik hadn't been a very helpful boss, so far. He seemed to be testing her limits, each minute giving her a new task to do, always questioning if she were up to it. Each time the task got more and more ridiculous, and she wondered if he was trying to bring her to the breaking point before she even got going. The other workers spoke to her a little, and she had learned all their names, she was just having trouble remembering them. None of them seemed to think negatively of her; if anything, they seemed sympathetic of her position. The last thing she needed was sympathy, but she didn't have the energy to spare to tell them to forget it. So they watched her with curious eyes as she scampered around, not knowing what in the world she was doing. By the end of the day, she was sweaty and exhausted, and Erik was as prim and flawless as ever, not even a crease in his tie or his white, crisp dress shirt, but a small, mocking smile on his pale face.

Finally, it was 5, and she found herself packing her small bag and placing her unfinished forms in the metal drawer under her desk. Sighing, she pushed the hair away from her sweaty forehead, turned off the monitor to her computer, then turned away from the desk. Erik was standing in front of her, watching her with curious and calculating eyes. Christine fought not to twitch under his gaze. A small smirk was on the unmasked portion of his face.

"You did well for your first day," he said calmly, an amused tone to his voice. Christine scoffed.

"Yeah, right. Thanks for the support, Mr. De Mare, but I don't need the sympathy. I know I did terrible. I can't handle all this on the first day, and I can't possibly-. ."

"I'm aware of that." He cut her off, coldness in his voice. He cleared his throat, trying to soften his tone. "But I do not plan to start you off easy, for that always forms lazy habits in the future. This way, there won't be any unexpected curves in your new job, and eventually you'll fall into a steady pattern. It's the same way with. . . your voice."

He gestured towards her as he said this, then turned and began locking the doors to each private office. Christine raised an eyebrow.

"You sing?" she questioned softly, watching him as he went around checking doors and windows.

"Yes," he answered stiffly, walking gracefully to his briefcase and picking it up from the floor. She watched him inquisitively as he turned off the lights to the offices, the kitchen, the break room. . .then finally he came back to where she stood, waiting.

"But I, unlike you, did not give up my talents as if they were nothing," he spat icily, glaring at her with cold eyes. Christine flinched, eyes widening in surprise.

"You don't know anything!" she hissed, narrowing her eyes at the dark and imposing man before her.

"I know this," he said calmly, pulling at the cuffs of his Armani dress shirt. "I can tell by your speaking voice, by your laugh, that your singing voice would be beautiful, if you applied yourself. How a person can give up such a thing, for any reason, is beyond me. But so be it. It's not my place. Good night, Ms. Daae, and I expect you back here tomorrow at 8."

And with that, he was gone, leaving Christine stunned and hurt behind him.

XXXX

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Next chapter will probably be all Raoul, so be prepared. :)