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Phantom: Reprise

YOU’D LOVE HER

Sol

Heat radiates from the stone, making me sweat underneath my mask. I keep gently brushing the soft bristles over the etching in front of me, thoroughly clearing the crevices to make sure no more buildup from the elements occurs before its next true cleaning is due. When I’ve finished, I drop the brush into the bucket before standing and dusting off my knees.

I place my hand on top of a stone curtain and stare hard at my father’s etched name.

“Oh, Solomon, it is gleaming,” my mother calls from her seat on the bench several feet behind me. “Thank you. Your father would be so proud.”

Her words of encouragement make me smile, and my chest expands when her brittle soprano begins to sing “La Vie en rose,” the song she and my father danced to at their wedding, the same one she sang to us every night. It still brings her back to the present more than any other grounding tool we’ve used.

A soft hand I already know better than my own folds into mine. “I didn’t know him, but I know you. And I’m proud of you. But I think he would be too,” Scarlett reassures me and I nod.

“He would be.”

She kisses my left cheek and, for the first time in my life, I wish it had been the right one. Her lips on my sensitive skin is pure heaven. She squeezes my hand again and bends to take the bucket, leaving me with my father.

Now that I’ve cleaned the obelisk, the polished stone is nearly too bright for my eyes, but the comedy and tragedy skulls at the top of the drawn-back curtain look as if they’d been carved today. I trace my fingers over the macabre grave, following the threads of the curtain until I get to my father’s name and epitaph.

“It’s over, Dad. I’m sorry it took so long, but it’s over. The men who tried to take everything from us are gone.” I glance back at Scarlett and revel in the adoration welling in her eyes before I return to the grave. “And I found my muse. She is my moonlight when my world gets too dark. You’d love her,” I say with full confidence. “She’s the one for all of my lifetimes. She’s mine.”

I trace the word “father” one last time and step back toward my family. Maggie takes my mother by the hand and holds Marie as they sit on the bench Ben and I had installed. Ben stands closer to me to whisper in hushed tones so that none of them hear.

“I’ve made all the necessary arrangements. As far as the world knows, Rand Chatelain ran off to the Alps to pout after not securing a business deal in New Orleans. He’ll inevitably be declared missing, and no one will bother looking in his family’s tomb in Lafayette Cemetery. He’s the last of his line. No Chatelain will hurt us again.”

“And the shadow’s family?”

A flicker of emotion passes over Ben’s face. It’s the same one I’ve had gnawing at my stomach ever since Rand admitted he’d murdered one of my men. Guilt.

“They’re set for life.” His voice cracks and he clears his throat. “They’ll never want for anything after his sacrifice.”

“Good,” I reply as Scarlett latches on to my arm and squeezes tightly. I kiss the side of her head before speaking to my brother again. “Scarlett said he bragged about dealings in New York?”

Ben scowls. “I’m looking into it. No doubt traffickers like the Chatelains, but we’ll keep our shadows on the lookout and our own wits about us.”

“Yes, we will.” My eyes flicker to Scarlett, then to the bench where our mother and Ben’s whole world sits. “We have to. For their sakes.”

Ben gives me a nod before clearing his throat and facing Scarlett directly. “I owe you an apology. I’m protective of my brother, as you can understand. But I should’ve known from the way you two lit up the stage last week that you were for him. I’m sorry for doubting your intentions.”

An understanding smile lifts Scarlett’s lips. “You’re forgiven.”

“Thank you. And be good to him. I think you’re the only one who can bring the Phantom out into the light.” He returns her grin before joining the others.

I follow him and kiss my mother goodbye. When I’m finished, I meet Scarlett’s moonlight eyes and see the wheels in her head still turning from Ben’s comment.

“Ready to go?”

She nods before stating her off-topic reply as if she’s asking a question. “We should go on a vacation after I graduate.”

I jolt back with a chuckle as I lead her toward the gate. “Yeah? What sparked that idea?”

She shrugs. “Your brother says I need to bring the Phantom out into the light. What better way than to travel the world and capture your own pictures to hang in your apartment?”

My lips quirk up. “I like the sound of that.”

Prosthetics these days can be impressively discreet. I only refused to get them because of my stubborn vendetta. But now that the Chatelains are gone, so is the source of all my shame. I’ve avenged my family and my injuries. New Orleans is ours, and the world is at our feet, why not enjoy it for once?

When we’re about to leave the cemetery through the hidden gate, she suddenly stops and stands in front of me. Sincerity sparkles in her eyes as she reaches up to cup the bare side of my face.

“You’re a good man, Sol.”

Pride puffs my chest but I try to play it off with a smirk before a faux-serious scowl takes over that side.

“But I’m your démon de la musique. The feared Phantom of the French Quarter. You should be afraid of me, ma jolie petite muse.

A brilliant smile flashes across her face. “And you’re my Sol. I could never be afraid of the darkness that loves my own.”

Her declaration lodges emotion in my throat, and I have to swallow past it before I kiss her on the forehead. My promise comes out in a rough whisper.

“I am yours, ma belle muse.”

“And I’m yours, my Sol.”


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