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Background
Christine and Erik have successfully packed what they need to travel. They’ve told his home and all his possessions goodbye, loaded everything they have on two horses from the opera houses’ stable, and headed for Oded’s. Now the only question in Erik’s mind is if his friend will help him to leave Paris peacefully or not.
 
Chapter Nine

Au revoir, Mon Ami
____________________
 
I was ready to push Christine back around the corner in the alleyway when I recognized the footfalls—Oded’s.
   I looked quickly at Christine and whispered, “Stay put and quiet. I don’t know what Oded’s reaction is going to be. Until I do, I don’t want him to know you’re with me.”
   She nodded quickly and push back against the wall, while I waited. When he was in the dim light reflecting down from the top of the stairs, I stepped away from the wall and in front of Christine, completely concealing her from his view.
   “Oded,” was all I said.
   He stopped with a gasp, and his hand went to his chest. “Erik?—It can’t be!—Erik!—Oh, Erik!”
   His words were accompanied by moist eyes. He then stepped closer to me, embracing me. Pulling back, and, with my shoulders in his hands, he shook his head and stammered over and around his words.
   I smiled at him. “I realize the hour is late, or early, depending on how you want to view it, and most sane people are sleeping. Is my daroga’s normally quick tongue also sleeping?”
   His head shook a bit harder. “Now I know it’s really you, Erik. No one else would consider using satire at a time such as this.”
   That statement came with a frown and the resurrection of his daroga’s mind. I watched the transformation right before my eyes, and I knew the words that would pass his lips next would match it.
   “Erik, what have you done?
   “Why do you always assume I’ve done something wrong?
   “Because you usually have, but let’s not talk of past events. I’m more concerned with the present. What are you doing, and how is it you’re here?
   “I might ask you the same question. What are you doing walking this time of the morning? You know it’s not safe out here at this hour.”
   His eyes dropped to his feet, and he wrapped his fingers behind his neck. Then as his eyes made their way back to mine, they narrowed.
   “I was looking for the courage to travel to a lonely place and pay my last respects to a lost friend. But it appears my friend has just saved me from that torturous trip.” At first I was relieved, but then his words sliced through me. “Erik, what have you done? Please don’t tell me this was just part of a master scheme, another prank, another disappearing act, or another fabricated death? How could you do this to me? Do you have any idea the torment I’ve been going through this last week? I thought you considered me your confidant. How could you do this?”
   By the time he’d finished, he had himself convinced that my unexpected resurrection was all a trick of some sort, and he was hurt and angry. I recognized his tone all too well; the tone of not only a daroga but also an angry father. So before he woke the neighbors with his incensed accusations, I had to take control of the conversation.
   “Oded, this is no trick. I need to talk with you in private.”
   He turned from me and started for the stairs. “And what makes you think I want to talk with you after what you’ve done? This truly hurts, Erik.”
   “I’m sorry, my friend, for your hurt, but what’s happened wasn’t intentional—it’s not a prank. Everything I’ve done and said was all the truth. When I sent you that box, I believed I was going to die, but things sometimes have a way of changing, and we can never be certain when and where that will happen. Well, this is one of those times when things changed without my foreknowledge. Please hear me out, and I’ll explain.”
   He squinted and searched my eyes in the darkness, and I removed my hat, looking right at him as a gesture that I had nothing to hide. After a moment of searching for the truth, he nodded.
   “Then explain yourself, Erik.”
   “I will, but first I must ask you not to breathe a word of what I’m going to tell you to anyone. It’s very important that you say nothing. As far as you’re concerned, that box I gave you was the last communication you had from me. Can you promise me that?”
   As the suspicion in his eyes increased, he looked sternly at me. “This sounds too clandestine to me—just like something you might conjure up. First, you must tell me what’s going on before I can promise anything. What have you done? What are you about to do?”
   I sighed, lowered my head, shook it, and stroked my chin in thought. I should have known it wasn’t going to be easy, but I was hoping it would be. I was very tired, and I knew Christine was even more so. I also knew how Oded had a way of taking forever to delve into every detail of a matter before he’d turn loose of it. I was beginning to second-guess my decision to lighten my friend’s painful load when Christine took my hand and stepped out from behind me.
   She lowered her hood, took off the mask, and said pointedly, “Erik has done nothing wrong, and he has nothing to hide. He’s here right now at great risk to his safety and freedom only because of his love for you. You once told me, good monsieur, that you considered him your dear friend, well, if that’s the truth, then stay true to your word and grant him this request. If not, I don’t feel he has any obligation to say another word to you, and we’ll be on our way.”
   Oded was obviously shocked, and so was I; not only by her sudden appearance but also by her eloquent words and defiant defense of me. We both looked at her, me with a mixture of pride coupled with insurmountable love, and I’m not sure about Oded. He just stood there with his mouth open, while I held my tongue back from releasing several gibe remarks in his direction. The only other time I ever saw him taken off guard that badly was by me and never by such a sweet-looking, young woman. It made me smile.
   He eventually nodded to her, then, after sharing glances between her and me for a few seconds, he gestured toward the stairs, suggesting we talk inside. As a measure of precaution, I had him extinguish the light at the top of the stairs before we went up. Once inside, he lit a lamp and then tried to start his interrogation, but he was stopped once he looked at Christine in my clothing. Confusion was the first expression on his face and accusation was the second.
   “What is this all about, Erik? What are you up to now?”
   “First of all,” I started, “everything I told you the last time I was here was the truth, and I waited the four days just as you requested. At the twelfth hour, something happened that brought me here; something that’s going to take me far away from here, and something that’s changed my life as never before. This is something I hope you can understand and support. I waited your four days for the precious jewel just as you wanted, Oded, but, as it turned out, it was I who found a precious jewel.”
   I looked down at Christine, who was at my side with her arm entwined in mine.
   “Erik,” he said as he focused intently on my eyes, “it would make me a very happy man if I could believe she was with you of her own volition, but, somehow, I doubt she’s here without your…”
   He stopped mid-sentence and glanced back and forth between Christine and me, so I encouraged his thoughts with a tone of irritation.
   “Without my what? Trickery? Strange powers? Hypnotism? Lies?”
   Then trying not to get too angry with him, during what could be our last conversation, I took a deep breath, raised my hands in the air, as if he had a pistol aimed at my heart, and took a step back.
   “Listen, Oded. Listen to her. I have no hold on her. She’s a free woman who can speak for herself.” I took another step back, with my hands still in the air, and repeated, “Just listen to her. Question her if you must, but listen to her.”
   After studying me for a moment, he took her by the shoulders, turned her toward the light, and looked down into her eyes for a long time. I knew exactly what to expect from him, and, after her encounter with him on the stairs at the opera house, so did she. He was going to start asking her questions from all directions and in different ways, trying to search her mind and heart thoroughly. So I knew we wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon, and that bothered me.
   I glanced at his clock on the mantel and knew we were running out of time. Instantly, my thoughts went to Vashti and my attempt to leave Persia with her, fearing if I stayed there any longer that something horrible could happen. We didn’t leave right away, and something horrible did happen, and that memory sent a sharp pain through my heart and anxiety through my gut.
   I had to get Christine out of Paris as soon as possible. There had already been one death that evening because of my desire to take her away. I couldn’t let there be another one. With that thought, I focused on Oded’s questions and how I could hurry along his interrogation.
   “Is what he said the truth, my dear?” he asked in a fatherly fashion.
   “Yes, he’s not lying. It’s true. I love this man, and I want to be with him. I have for some time, but I couldn’t admit it to myself and what it would mean to those around me. But Erik is more important to me than anyone else in this world. I want to be with him.”
   “Are you sure you’re not under his spell? You know he has a way of doing that to people.”
   “I’m sure,” she said as she glanced at me. “I might have been under that spell you talk about at first. He can be very convincing and powerful when he wants to be. But these last five days away from him have given me time to think—to think about him and about Raoul.
   “When I did, I knew I’d give up a comfortable life with Raoul just to have whatever time Erik had left, since I thought he was dying at the time. And now that I know he isn’t dying, I’m filled with inexplicable joy. It fills my heart with hope for a future that I never thought I could have; that I never knew existed. He hasn’t persuaded me into anything. I had to actually talk him into believing in us.”
   Oded studied her eyes once more. “You must make sure this is what you want because you’ll never be able to leave him. You saw what he did when he thought you were going to leave with Raoul. If you give him this hope and then tear it away from him, can you imagine what he might do?”
   “I no longer fear Erik. My time away from him helped me to understand everything that happened at the opera house. I drove him crazy. Yes, I won’t deny he has a temper, but I also know he’s trying with everything he has to right his wrongs and to govern his sometimes ungovernable personality. Erik is an amazing man, as I’m sure you know or you wouldn’t have stayed his friend all this time. I know he has great potential, and I want to be a part of his future to experience it with him.”
   Oded lowered his head and nodded. “I understand. I remember telling him almost that exact same thing many years ago.” He looked at me and nodded again. After searching her eyes for a while longer, he said, “Yes, I believe you believe that to be the truth. I’ve seen that look before.” He looked over at me and then back at her. “Whatever spell he’s cast on you, I know has come from a genuine heart.”
   He smiled warmly, and then, gesturing toward his sitting room, he asked us to sit. As we entered, the first thing I saw was Sari’s gold filigree box along with a newspaper beside it on his small table. I didn’t have to read the print to know it was probably the issue with my death announcement in it.
   He offered us some tea, but, after telling him we didn’t have time for his kind hospitality, I tried to condense the last week’s events. I told him about my journey through my memories, and how his words of encouragement and other important words from my past had helped me see my life in a different light; the light he wanted in my life; the light that would help me create all that my mind could imagine. There were tears in his eyes, and Christine’s, as I thanked him for saving my life yet another time. Christine added her own words of thankfulness as she ran her fingers over the gold band on my finger. I felt her gesture, but Oded saw it, and then I saw the return of the father’s suspicions.
   “You’re no longer wearing his ring, my dear. I suspect this means a change in your relationship.” Before she could answer, he cocked his head, narrowed his eyes, and glared at me. “Don’t hurt her, Erik—or have you already.”
   I almost blasted him with words that shouldn’t be used in front of a lady, but Christine squeezed my fingers, diverting an argument.
   “Erik has been nothing but a gentleman—even when I wasn’t a lady. I’m telling you this because I know how you feel about the powers he can use if he wants to. He’s never taken advantage of me, even when I’ve been in a vulnerable state and even when I’ve wanted him to.
   “Yes, our relationship has changed. I no longer wear his ring because Erik is who he is, and that’s one reason why I love him so much. You once told me that he never does anything like a normal man, so it shouldn’t surprise you that he’s in possession of his ring. When he asked me to marry him, he took the ring away from me with a promise that he’d give it back soon. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you or raise any suspicions in your mind.”
   He looked at us and our intertwined fingers thoughtfully, and nodded. “How soon is soon, Erik? It’s dark, she’s a beautiful woman, and I know how much you love her. How soon before you return that ring?”
   I knew exactly what he was asking. I’d heard it all before, and I had to restrain myself to keep from getting angry with him.
   “Soon enough, my friend. I won’t do anything to hurt my Christine. I’m no longer a young and easily influenced boy. I won’t lay my head anywhere close to hers until this ring,” I said as I held up our joined fists toward him, “is placed on her finger in front of a man of God. My name isn’t Foust and her name will never be Marguerite. You can trust me on this.”
   “I do trust you, Erik, but, as I once told you, I don’t trust the two of you together or your love. You’ve loved her a long time, and you’ve been deprived of love even longer. Just be careful. I don’t want to see either of you hurt.”
   “Neither do I, my friend, and I’m always careful. We’ll be husband and wife before the sun rises.”
   He looked into my eyes intently, and I let him. I had nothing to hide, and I wanted him to know that. As he looked at me, a smile appeared on his tired face, and then it got broader until it was the broadest I’d ever seen on him. His eyes moistened and he grabbed my hand.
   “Erik, I couldn’t be happier for you both. You’ve told me several times over the years that you never know what tomorrow will bring. Well, in my case, an hour ago I didn’t see what was coming. I was expecting this to be one of the worst days in my life, and now you’ve made it one of the best. I couldn’t be happier. Now, tell me, where are you going?”
   “I can’t divulge that information just yet. I’m still somewhat on the paranoid side, but I’ll let you know our destination when we get there. However, before we leave Paris, we’re going to see Madame Valerius so Christine can explain what she’s doing. I’d also like to make arrangements for Madame Valerius to live with us as soon as we’re settled. And I can’t leave until I tell Lapierre and Dominick goodbye. I believe they’ll keep our secret, and, again, I ask you, please, don’t tell anyone about this conversation or that I’m still alive. I apologized for not letting go of this one aspect of my personality, but I feel it’s necessary, especially considering events of late.”
   I knew just as soon as the words were out of my mouth that I shouldn’t have said them, and he started with his questions again.
   “What is it, Erik? What’s happened?”
   I looked at Christine and our hands, and then I tried to explain as simply as I could. “In Christine’s effort to explain to Raoul how she feels about me, I’m afraid there was an argument.” Then, looking back up at him, I added, “A rather heated argument.”
   From his expression, he was expecting the worst. “What did you do, Erik?”
   I lowered my head, shook it, and closed my eyes. “There you go again, my friend, thinking the worst of me.” I looked back at him while holding back my temper. “I didn’t do anything with any lasting consequences—it was Raoul. In his attempt to shoot me in the back, yet another time, he hit Claude, his driver.
   “Thankfully, for me, Raoul’s not the best marksman, but, unfortunately, for Claude, that bullet with my name on it hit him dead center. I believe Raoul will try to pin the blame for his death on me or just disappear, and that’s one reason why I don’t want anyone to know we were here or that we’re leaving the city together. If the three of us simply vanish, no one will be the wiser. Since my death was already advertised in the paper and Raoul has been making plans for him and Christine to marry, I’m hoping anyone questioning what has happened will think they left to get married in private.”
   He was trying to assimilate all I’d said with scrutiny, too much scrutiny, and I knew what he was thinking. So I started to reinforce my words, but Christine took over in my defense instead.
   “Erik is not to blame. He could have killed Raoul several times during the last few hours, but he didn’t. Erik is innocent of any wrong in connection with this night, and if you’re truly his friend you’ll believe him.”
   One more time he placed an olive finger under her creamy white chin, lifting it so he could get another good look into her eyes. He studied them carefully, looked at me, and then back at her, and I tried again to help his thought process.
   “I can promise you that I don’t have her under some spell and that she’s here willingly. Everything she says comes from her heart. We could try to explain how we both know this to be fact, but it’s much too long of a story to go into right now. I really feel it’s best if we’re out of the city before sunrise. So I ask you to trust me on this, and please promise me you’ll keep this secret for us.”
   He looked at me for another moment, and then turned his attention back to her. “Are you certain he doesn’t have you under some spell? As I’ve told you before, he’s a master at controlling people.”
   She looked at me, and said softy, “Only love’s spell.”
   Being the daroga he was, he asked the same question from a different direction. “Are you here out of his need for you or his want of you?”
   “Neither,” she replied softly. “It’s out of my want for him.” She looked at me again, and continued, “It’s out of my need for him.” I took a deep breath, and she looked back at him. “I love him very much, Oded, and I have for a long time.
   “You’ve known Erik for many years, and you consider him your friend. You know what he’s capable of, both good and bad, and so do I. But there’s something so innately wonderful about this man that we both love, and I can’t bear the thought of ever being without him. I want to spend the rest of my life by his side.” She paused a moment and looked up at me. “I want to be his wife.”
   At those words, my heart swelled like a dried up sponge in a flash flood, and they gave me strength beyond all comprehension. He studied her face and eyes for a few more moments in silence. This was one time when I was truly grateful for his art at reading people; one time when his daroga’s training would pay off for me.
   The silence was softly replaced with his next words. “I can’t help but see your sincerity, my child. You really do love him.”
   She nodded, and his expression changed from the wise daroga to the compassionate father I knew back in Persia. He placed one hand on her shoulder and then looked at me.
   “You have my promise and my blessing.”
   I felt like a young child who’d just received his father’s approval for a new pony. Even at that stage in our friendship, and after all we’d gone through together, I still didn’t understand that strange relationship we had.
   With a sigh of relief, I thanked him. “I was prepared to leave Paris with or without your blessing, but I think you understand how important your feelings are to me. I couldn’t leave this city with complete peace in my heart without your approval and relieving you of your unnecessary sorrow. I also hated to leave with you thinking I’d killed someone, so thank you for believing me.”
   He swallowed hard as his sight traveled to Sari’s box and then back to me. “I hope you can find true peace in Christine’s arms.”
   I knew what he was referring to, so I tried to comfort him. “Don’t worry about us, my friend, we’ll be fine once we’re out of France and away from the Chagny family. I’m ready to let go, Oded—really let go of the past and start over. And with Christine by my side, I know I can do it.”
   I squeezed Christine’s hand and nodded in a silent gesture that we must go. She turned toward Oded, took his hand, and kissed him on the cheek.
   “Thank you for believing us and for being Erik’s friend. I hope we meet again someday.”
   He kissed the back of her hand, looked at me with a smile, and then looked back at Christine. “Take good care of him, my dear. He’s really nothing more than a child at heart, and his heart is precious to me.”
   She nodded. “And to me.”
   With her hand still in mine, I lead her to the door, and then I turned back and placed one hand on Oded’s shoulder.
   “Precious gems come in all shapes and sizes, and, thanks to you, these last four days have proven that to me. Now I have a handful of precious gems, you being one of them. Thank you for being my friend, Oded,” I said softly as I squeezed his shoulder. “I’ll be in touch when I feel it’s safe to let you know how close I am to my goals.”
   “I’ll be waiting,” was his soft reply.
   I started to turn, but then I had another thought. “In my ignorance, I’ve hounded you over the years to take another wife and stop living a lonely bachelor’s life, but I now understand completely why you haven’t.” I looked at Christine, waiting on the landing for me, and shook my head. “Since I’ve received her love, her kiss, her embrace…if she’d made the decision to marry Raoul and…I…” I looked back at him. “Another woman could never take her place. To even contemplate that thought is…I understand now how you’ve felt all these years.”
   Again there was moisture in his eyes, but that time there was also a smile of contentment on his olive face, which I’d all but forgotten he knew how to give. One more time he kissed both my cheeks, but that time, so unlike our last parting, our last expressions were ones of hope.
   After concealing Christine’s face and hair behind her hood and my mask, we started to leave, but I again had a thought. “I’m truly sorry for putting you in such danger.”
   While barely acknowledging me, he looked down the stairs and then back at me. “Our friendship has survived many ups and downs over the years, and, if I’m fortunate enough, it will survive many more. Be careful, and I pray Allah will always be by your side—wherever you’re going.”
   That time when I took Christine’s arm, we descended the stairs. I paused at the bottom and looked back up toward Oded in the faint light coming from his open door. He raised his hand toward me, and, with a lump in my throat but a smile on my lips, I touched the brim of my hat and spoke my last words to him.
   “Au revoir, Mon Ami.”