Here’s an Excerpt from ‘About-Face’, the second book in my ‘Disfigured’ Series
This excerpt is from near the beginning of the book, and it is a telling, from Erik the Phantom’s point of view, of meeting Sylvie Bessette for the first time. I have to be careful what I show my readers from the second book, because of spoilers! But since these interactions are already told in the first book, ‘Disfigured’, I’m not giving any secrets away. In the second book, the story is being told from both Sylvie and Erik’s points of view, not just hers as in the first book. In this way, I have a chance to revisit parts of the first book but from his point of view, so that the reader knows what he was thinking at the time.
In Book Two, they have to spend quite a lot of time apart, and writing the story as letters to each other was a technique I did not want to undertake! So I hope readers don’t mind my foray into Erik’s very complicated head.
The first time Erik ever set eyes on his future wife, he was lurking far above her on a catwalk while she stood on the stage of the opera house below. She had been brought there on a pretense by Madame Giry so that Erik might have a look at her before he agreed to an arrangement with her to prepare his meals. She had been unaware of his presence, giving him ample time to study her. Erik was good at reading people quickly, assessing them, understanding their weaknesses and strengths. He used the information he gleaned to ruthlessly further his own ends, and to determine where a threat to his safety and privacy might come from.
The young woman standing on the stage below him was clearly no threat. She was a comely-enough wench, he supposed, with dark gold hair knotted rather severely at her nape and a petite yet voluptuous figure. He did not, however, find her attractive. He had already formed a decided preference for another type of girl altogether: someone tall, slim and willowy, dark-haired and beautiful. Madame Bessette would do very well as his cook, however, providing she followed his rules. She appeared to be a docile, subservient little thing, so he had no worries on that account.
The second time he met with Sylvie Bessette, she was lurking in wait for him. Driven by her insatiable curiosity, she forced a meeting with him after he had explicitly forbade any face-to-face contact between them. It was the first of many times that she willfully violated his rules. She was, he soon discovered, anything but docile.
In those days Erik knew himself to be a seething mix of misdirected resentment, self-hatred and anger, and the only time he ever felt even remotely tranquil was when he was composing music. At those times, all else was forgotten. So upon finding his new cook waiting to ambush him when he came to pick up his dinner, he lashed out at her with all the fury at his disposal, and that was quite a lot. He would never forget how she looked then – irritated, angry, and intimidated by him but trying not to show it, lifting her rounded chin and glaring at up him while saucily telling him off.
“I wonder, Monsieur, at your finding anyone willing to work for you if you threaten to murder them whenever you chance to meet.” She had said, hands on hips, staring him down. Erik found himself staring blankly at her, bereft of speech. How dare she speak to him that way? How dare she challenge him so boldly? With shock he realized something very strange about her: she was not afraid of him.
Erik had been furious with his cook for her bold invasion of his privacy, and furious with himself for feeling a reluctant, fleeting enjoyment of their brief exchange. And even, were he to admit it, a little admiration for her audacity and fearlessness in the face of his obvious displeasure. He took his fury out later on Madame Giry, strongly impressing upon her that he never wished to see Madame Bessette again. He could not afford the weakness of even a reluctant enjoyment of her company – it was too risky, too dangerous, and no annoying female, no matter how well she cooked, was going to infiltrate his defenses. Sylvie had responded with a charming note of apology, and yet somehow Erik knew without a doubt that she meant not a word of it.
He saw no more of Madame Bessette for several weeks, and forgot all about her except those times when he was sitting alone in the cold by the underground lake, eating what she had made for him. He appreciated her then; she was a gifted cook, and every forkful of delicious food he ate seemed to warm his very soul. He came to realize that he would tolerate a great deal of annoyance from her rather than part with her cooking. In his lonely, miserable, love-starved existence, picking up the daily tray she left for him brought a moment of pleasant anticipation, a brief respite from everlasting darkness and cold. She was a pest, a harridan to be avoided at all costs, but worth every franc he paid her and then some.
Then came the night when everything changed. Erik arrived as usual to pick up his dinner only to discover a small form huddled on the floor in a mass of skirts; it was Madame Bessette, and she was hurt, dazed, and helpless. Somehow she had tripped and fallen, hitting her head and dropping his dinner on the floor in the process. He took in what had happened at a glance, but when he looked back to her face again her big blue eyes were staring into his, and they were unmistakably filled with fear. Her entire body was rigid with it. Now she was afraid of him.
All at once Erik felt like a cad for his previous enraged behavior. He wondered what Madame Giry had told her about him. Something terrifying, no doubt. She must think him a monster now. He wanted to help her, and he did not want her to fear him any longer. He knew how to pull a thin temporary veneer of civilization over his essentially feral nature, how to soften his hard edges in order to seem safe, not dangerous. He did this often when speaking to Christine, tutoring her and giving her voice lessons. Erik did so now, so that he might put Madame Bessette somewhat at ease while he tended to her.
Before they parted ways that night, Erik had made sure she did not have concussion, gathered up the spilled dishes for her, escorted her back to her waiting carriage, learned she was unmarried, and to his everlasting disbelief, found himself telling her his name. He was never quite sure how that happened. Erik, for once in his life, was in grave danger of making a friend.
Somehow or other, seeing Sylvie every evening, if only for a few moments, came to mean more to him than mere sustenance. Idiot that he was, he still did not find her attractive, but he came to need her company in ways he did not understand in the slightest. She was kind, inquisitive, relentless in her efforts to worm her way into his life, and god help him, he let her, in spite of himself. Her food may have warmed his soul, but her company seemed to warm his cold dark heart like a rock in the sun.