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12 years later
"Dammit, Erik, she's twenty one! It's past time for Charlotte to be introduced to society!"
"She's not an aristocrat!" Erik snapped back.
Raoul narrowed his eyes at his former enemy. "You forget that Christine was a Vicomtess. The girl ought to be married by now," he insisted.
"To whom? One of society's fops?" Erik demanded, pacing the length of the library. Erik couldn't seem to make Raoul understand that his daughter was meant for greatness, not domesticity. It would not suit her. She was going to be a star, if only Erik could force himself to release her so that she could shine. At her age she should already have a slew of admirers begging for an audience with the esteemed diva. "No. I prefer my daughter to be married to a man of substance or not at all. She should be on stage doing what she loves - singing."
Raoul wondered if Erik realized he had just insulted him, but knew he probably didn't care. Such barbs weren't uncommon, and he'd often thought the same thing about many of his peers. But what Erik had said wasn't actually true. While Charlotte loved music, and her voice was every bit as good as Christine's, she was more interested in playing and composing than singing.
Raoul opened his mouth to argue once more, but the sound of a woman clearing her throat brought his head around to the very young woman that they had been arguing about.
"Actually, I have my own plans," Charlotte said quietly.
Both men regarded the girl with surprised expressions, having thought their heated discussion had been private.
"Lotte...," Erik began, only to have her throw her hands up to silence him.
"Papa," she returned, crossing the room so that she could give him a kiss. "I have been thinking..."
Raoul and Erik glanced at one another with equally wary faces.
"You have?" Erik asked, only a bit of mocking in his tone.
"I don't want to be a singer," she said, breaking it to him as gently yet firmly as possible.
"You don't?" Raoul asked, prepared to offer a victorious smile.
"And I don't want a stuffy old ball," she added, experiencing a start of guilt when his face fell. She hated pitting the two of them against one another, though they were always at odds over her fate anyway. But really, it was now time for her to take control of her own life and stop letting them make decisions for her. "I'm sorry, but I don't want either of those things."
Erik studied his beautiful daughter, so strong of will and certain of everything that was good in the world. He could only imagine what her young mind was capable of, and yet he feared what she wanted almost as much as he needed to make her happy.
"What do you want, Charlotte?"
"I want a loan," she answered, a determined gleam in her brown eyes. "From each of you, split right down the middle."
"A what?" Raoul uttered, his mouth falling open.
"A loan. Think of it as an investment."
Erik contemplated this new development for several moments, his best fatherly expression of stern contemplation on his face before he asked, "A loan for what purpose?"
"That I will not tell you," she said firmly.
"And what will you use to secure this loan?" Erik asked, beguiled as usual by her mysterious smile.
"Erik! You cannot be serious!" Raoul exclaimed.
"She is," Erik shrugged, then waited for his daughter's response.
"The house in Nice," she said calmly.
Both of them fell silent, and impulsively Charlotte kissed her father's cheek again, then went to Raoul and did the same.
"I love both of you. The house is mine to do with as I please. But it is in Nice, and right now it is useless to me... "
"Useless? Your mother loved that house!" Raoul said, though he had never really wanted anything to do with it since Christine's death. The memories did not haunt him so much now that he had Lacey, James, and Graham, but he had meant that house as a legacy to Charlotte, because Christine had left little else other than her infamy.
"I did not say that it held no sentiment for me," Charlotte replied patiently. "Merely that it is useless. I have no wish to leave Paris..."
Both of her fathers relaxed visibly at the announcement.
"...and I do not wish to lose it through another investor should my plans fail."
"Your plans, whatever they may be, could fail anyway," Erik reminded her. "What then?"
"They won't," Charlotte said confidently. "But if they do then I shall have to turn to my investment and hope to make enough profit from a sale to recover any losses. Provided you do not charge me a great deal of interest on the loan, that shouldn't be difficult."
"Where did you learn all of this?" Raoul asked, clearly astonished. "Investments and loans? Interest and profits, Lotte? I was always certain your mind was meant only for music and trouble making."
Erik smiled softly at his daughter, so determined and eager for whatever it was that she wanted.
"Will you at least tell us why you want this so badly?"
Lotte smiled, knowing her response would please at least one of them. "I have no intentions of getting married immediately, and absolutely no wish to be dependent on any man. This secures my future, since your wealth must be divided up through so many of my siblings," she said directly to Erik, then turned to Raoul, "and yours is meant for your true children, James and Graham."
"What about me?" Erik asked, his mind unable to move past her phrase about not needing any man. "Will you still need me?"
Charlotte hugged her father tightly, breathing in the comforting scent of his cologne and a lingering hint of Eva's perfume. "You know that I shall always need you, Papa," she whispered, then looked at Raoul. "I shall always need both of you."
"Did they take the bait?" Amber asked, pouncing on Charlotte immediately once she was out the front door.
"Yes!" Charlotte exclaimed, and jumped in the air with an unladylike whoop. "They're going to give me the money!"
"And the house?"
"Collateral," she crowed, unable to stop smiling. Her father had caved immediately, and not to be outdone, Raoul had soon followed with a promise that she would have her money whenever she needed it. "But I expect to earn a profit from this, so the house will be mine again one day. Besides," she shrugged, "when they die it reverts back to me anyway."
"Charlotte!" Amber burst out, though she honestly wasn't surprised by what her sister had said. "That isn't a very loving thing to say!"
"Oh, they know that I love them. They will just find out soon that I am a determined young woman."
Amber followed Charlotte out to the shade tree near the rose garden and sat down on the grass beside her. Years of unnatural patience and wisdom prompted Amber's concern when she asked, "Do you really think you can do it? Buy an opera house and manage it on your own?"
Charlotte scoffed. "Of course I can. My father ran one for years, and Papa Raoul was a patron. I shall be open to their suggestions of course, but I will remain in charge."
Charlotte closed her eyes, imagining the sounds and smells of the stage. "Papa and I will provide the original music for new productions, and of course any composers who are worthy to grace our stage, known or unknown. This theater will truly be ours to do with as we please. I know he's going to love it as much as I will."
Amber wasn't so sure. She knew Erik just as well as her sister did, and he was not a man open to having his life managed, unless it was by their mother.
"I wish you the best of luck then," she said softly, jostling her three month old daughter Katrina in her arms. "Perhaps by the time my husband and father have returned from England you will have it up and running. Papa thinks Gregory could be as great of a fighter as he was."
"So long as you do not miss opening night," Charlotte replied, only half joking. Out of all the siblings that she had, Amber had always been closest to her. She could not imagine Amber not being there to witness her triumph.
"If my husband can drag me to his boxing matches with my father and Rebbecca, then I think he can suffer though one night of opera," Amber said dryly. "As shall I."
"Suffer!" Charlotte laughed. "You wound me, oh toneless one! You wouldn't know good music if it bit your bottom!"
"True," Amber grinned. "Then you will have no complaints from me if everyone else says that your opera stinks."
Three weeks later Charlotte – or on the deed to the opera, Charles – ordered her two fathers and mothers into a carriage under instructions as mysterious as her behavior had been during the preceding weeks. She smiled secretively as they approached the theater, sharing those smiles with Eva and Lacey, who already knew what to expect. If she had not received their approval for her plan she still would have proceeded, but would not have asked her father and Raoul to become so heavily involved.
"I suppose this has something to do with your investment," Erik said cautiously.
"Of course," she replied, sweetly.
Erik felt his wife squeeze his hand, and gave her a slightly nervous smile. Only Charlotte, Amber and Stephen were old enough to terrify him this much. His other four children were still young enough that they listened to him (most of the time) and he had a few more years before he had to worry about them coming of age and causing more of his hair to turn gray. With seven Chartrains to clothe, feed, entertain, and love, he seldom had time for music anymore without one of them coming in to pester him with questions or tattling on the others.
Stephen had decided at age eleven that he was old enough to make his own decisions, and had asked his father for permission to join James de Chagny at the elite Academy of Fine Arts. James was studying music, oddly enough, and Stephan was enrolled in architectural studies at the school. Both of them remained friends, despite the slight difference in age and the bitter rivalry that had once been part of their fathers' lives.
Erik leaned forward slightly and lifted the shade to the carriage, catching the gleaming lines of a building in the early morning light before his daughter smacked his hand.
"Papa! No peeking!"
"What is this?" he asked, leaning forward again to lift the shade. "We're...going to an opera?"
Raoul studied Charlotte's flushed face, then he too peeked out. "Beside the fact that we are not dressed for an opera, Erik, it would be uncharacteristic for one to be shown at nine in the morning. It would seem that Lotte has-"
"No-" Erik breathed.
"Sur-prise!" she said, the word beginning as a shout, then trailing off lamely to a squeak. Before they could open their mouths, Charlotte began explaining. "I bought an opera house. I know what you're going to say-"
"How could you possibly know what I'm going to say?" Erik asked, pushing the door of the carriage open as it rolled to a halt. "An opera company, Lotte? Why?"
"I'm going to manage it," she said, forcing the happiness and pride back into her tone. "And I want you to help me."
Erik swung around on her as she climbed out of the carriage, then looked to the other three faces peering out at him. "Me? But..."
"You know that you were meant for this, Papa," she said softly, gesturing back to the building. "I know it isn't Opera Populaire, but it is still beautiful and will be full of life again. It needs some work, but I know that we can do it. All of us, together. And it will have music. Our music."
"Music," Erik whispered, feeling a shiver run across his heart. He was fifty two, and he had only witnessed one of his operas performed on stage. There were innumerable others out there that he had sold, but like little pieces of his soul he had given them away for next to nothing, merely curious to see if someone would purchase them. And they had: America, England, Russia. But none here. None except for Don Juan, and it had left such a black mark upon his soul that it had taken the diligent efforts of his wife to wipe it away.
"I will handle any and all problems that arise in management. And we will work together behind the scenes to make decisions," she promised, though there might have been just a little lie in that. This would be hers, and no doubt they would butt heads over some of the productions, but she knew the right way to twist her father's arm - with love.
"It sounds as if Lotte knows what she wants, Erik," Raoul said from within the carriage. Lacey was smiling brightly, hugged against his side as she whispered words of encouragement to her husband. "Is it something you might want as well?" Raoul questioned Erik.
Yes. The answer resounded in Erik's heart so fast that it stunned him. He had not even looked at the inside of this small yet elegant theater, but he knew true desire when he felt it. Erik felt Charlotte slip her arms around his waist and stare up at him with her soulful eyes. He looked down at her wide smile and pointed chin, and realized that she truly was not a girl anymore. She was a woman, and yet she was making a way for her old, graying father to stay in her life for years to come.
"I am proud of you, Charlotte," he whispered, blessing her with a kiss on her forehead. "As I know that your mother is." He turned to the smiling redhead in the carriage and extended his hand. "Eva, what do you think of this?"
Eva breathed a sigh of relief at the acquiescence in Erik's eyes and felt joy at the hope in Charlotte's. "I think that this shall be exactly what you need," she replied, already imagining this as a family theater. Stephen could help his father with reconstruction. James might wish to play his music here. Amber would not have interest in it, certainly, nor Zachary and Rebbecca, but there was always hope that Katrina might love music as much as her grandmother. As for the other four children at home, as well as Raoul and Lacey's five year old Graham – their musical talents and preferences had yet to be determined, but Erik had every hope of teaching them music.
Raoul and Lacey looked on as Erik, Eva and Charlotte embraced and turned towards the structure with the strength and surety of family.
"Do you think we should tell them?" Lacey whispered, feeling her husband slip an arm around her waist and caress her still small stomach.
"I think they can wait a few more days," he murmured, kissing her neck softly. "You're sure the doctor said that you aren't..."
"Too old?" she drawled. "Thirty seven is not too old for a woman to have a child. If you can sire one at your age-"
Raoul shushed her with one finger to her lips. "I was not referring to your health my dear, but to your stamina. We are both going to be chasing around another child for the next twenty or so years with as much madness as we have done with the others."
Lacey stared into his eyes, knowing pure joy at the man who loved her more and more every day. "I'm not going to be doing anything else...so..."
He chuckled and kissed her, finally lifting his head when he realized that their companions were opening the door to the theater and going inside, presumably to inspect it.
"What are you doing right now?" he asked, waggling his brows.
"Inspecting a theater," Lacey informed him archly.
"Not right now you aren't," Raoul replied, then stuck his head out the open door of the carriage and ordered the driver to take them to the Chagny residence. He turned back to his glowing wife, who had taken the hint and was moving stealthily across the seat to his. "Graham is at Erik's. James is at school. We'll have the house to ourselves."
"Who will take Erik home?" she murmured.
"Now that the old Phantom has a new theater," Raoul replied, "I doubt he'll be returning any time soon."
Rappleyea added the very last line to this story, which I found particularly fitting. I want to thank both of my betas (ForeverPhantoms & Rappleyea) for all of their help. Dare I say the story would have been finished sooner...but would not have been nearly as good! Please check out Mirela x Lily's story, which I will begin to update regularly. My profile gets frequent updates as well.