Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 41 of 64

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Dinner and a Show

The three sat down to dinner, Nadir taking the computer chair because it was the most comfortable, and began to eat in silence. Erik's culinary talent was to blame for the quiet - it's difficult to have conversation with a full mouth. It was simple baked chicken with snapped beans and scalloped potatoes, but each item was positively savory.

Once he'd swallowed a few mouthfuls, Erik sat back and surveyed his guests. Neither was meeting his gaze; their attention was firmly fastened to their plates. Normally, this would be complimentary to a cook, but he was suspicious of what had passed between them.

"All this chewing is riveting, really," he said sarcastically, "but could one of you swallow and pause long enough to explain your simultaneous disappearance?"

Christine held a finger in the air as the chewed the last delicious essence from a bite of chicken. "I was being given the third degree by Mr. Khan."

"Really." Erik turned his dark gaze to his old friend, who pointed to his bulging cheeks and made no reply.

"Yes," was all Christine would offer before taking her next bite.

"And what did you ask her, Khan?" Erik's eyes shone with a dangerous light.

"Let him eat, Erik. He was just looking after your interests." Christine reached across the table and squeezed Erik's hand. "It's what best friends do. Remember Meg?"

Erik rolled his eyes and picked up his fork. "Remember? I wish I could forget..." but the look he shot Nadir was distrustful. "I'd still like to know what..."

"On to more pertinent things. How long is Mr. Khan going to be in town?" Christine gave a watery, apologetic smile as she interrupted.

"I shall be here through next Sunday, I believe."

"Then you will have to join us in the park." Christine grinned. "You taught Erik, you must be an amazing musician."

Erik looked up sharply. "Christine. No. I don't think Nadir..."

"I'd be honored."

Christine shook her head. "We'd be honored. In fact, I think you should pick the music. I can play flute or cello -and the newspaper apparently believes I can sing. Erik...he can play anything under the sun. So, if you pick it, we will play it."

"Christine! No!" His voice was entirely horrified. "You don't know what kind of music he likes!"

Nadir wiped his mouth with his napkin and smoothed his goatee. "Hmm...what should I choose. With only two days to practice, I have to make sure it's something you kids can handle."

Erik harumphed and folded his arms across his chest.

"Erik? What kind of music does he like? It can't possibly be too bad."

"Jazz. The blues. And when he plays them, he requires..."

"Erik to sing." Nadir's predatory grin startled Christine before she began to laugh.

"Oh, don't laugh, Christine. I told him about you, Miss Any-Register."

Christine's smile melted away. "Oh no. Nono. I can't sing jazz."

"Too late," Nadir proclaimed. "I have already decided on our playlist."

Dinner ended uneasily. Nadir borrowed paper and pen and wrote his list down, along with which instruments each person should be prepared to play. He set the list on the table with the air of a king making a decree.

"You might want to start working tonight, kids. I shall return tomorrow for a bit of rehearsal with you." He lifted his walking stick from its place behind the door. "Miss Daae, it truly was a pleasure. I'm sure you'll make Lady Day proud." He bowed, and was gone.

Christine and Erik barely replied; they were poring over the list. "Well," he proclaimed. "It looks as though you will be spending quite a bit of time in your lower range. We've been working on a bright tone - that will be completely inappropriate here. I'm going to have to show you how to put some smoke and grit in your voice."

"We have a duet," she pointed to the last song. "The Moment I Saw You? Erik, Nadir certainly has an interesting sense of ..."

"Of irony. I could have warned you of that. But before we get into his germane choices...tell me all about your little chat with my good old friend." Erik made himself comfortable on the sofa with his arms still crossed over his chest.

"Would you do me a favor?" She gestured at her face. He nodded and slipped the mask off. "That's better." She settled down beside him in the half-lotus position, facing him. "First of all, why do you think I should tell you what we talked about, if we went out of our way to talk about it without you there?"

The bluntness and rationality of her question caught him off-guard.

"We've never kept secrets from each other..." he began, but the shake of her head stopped him.

"Maybe not, but there's plenty you've carefully skimmed over. I don't blame you. No point in digging up ancient history." She leaned over and pried one of his hands away from his chest. "But all he wanted was to make sure I knew what I was getting into."

"Getting into?" Erik snorted. "What am I, the Le Brea tarpits?"

"No." This was quickly becoming uncomfortable. "But you certainly have your sticky points. He wanted to make sure I knew those points. He doesn't want you getting hurt."

"And what are my sticky points?" Erik tried to invest this question with a wry and sarcastic humor.

"Your temper, for one thing." She turned his hand over in hers and rubbed her thumbs over his knuckles. "Apparently you risked your ability to play your violin quite a few times."

"That's in the past..."

"But it's not. You still have that temper. You just locked yourself away. Nine years, Erik? You've been in this apartment for nine years?"

There was a long silence. Erik studied the movement of her hands on his. "It's better than what I was up against out there."

"He also wanted to know if I'd seen your face. He was surprised when I said I had." She was cautiously working her way around to what she really wanted to know. "He wanted to know my feelings about it. I told him that I've asked you not to wear it around me."

"I'm sure that shorted a couple of his circuits." Again, Erik tried for sarcasm, but achieved only bitterness.

"No. What 'shorted his circuits' was when I asked him why you still wear it in his presence." Christine waited. It had proved to be a sore point with Nadir; how would Erik respond?

Erik's expression softened. "Poor Nadir. He has asked me not to in the past, but when I take it off his eyes suddenly find urgent business in any area of the room that doesn't include me. You can't hold it against him, Christine."

"I don't. But I think you do." He shook his head in denial, but she pressed on. "Have you noticed how differently you behave with him? You are much colder and harder with him. He's known you your entire life, but you treat him like a business associate instead of a friend."

Erik shrugged. "I told you that you were different from anyone I've ever known. Speaking of different - you look amazing tonight. Your hair did you get it to do that? And I've never seen your eyes look your lips..."

Christine smiled. He was changing the subject with his usual heavy-handedness, but the compliments were doing her a world of good. "A good stylist and a talented aesthetician are a modern woman's mask, I suppose. I'm glad you like it. I intend to wear this on Saturdays." She stood up and spun in a circle to show off her newly-smooth curls. "I had to make some effort at matching you. Can we practice that duet now?"

They spent two blissful hours practicing the setlist, until Christine's voice showed signs of fatigue. It amazed her that Erik's never seemed to tire or weaken. It was a perfect instrument, producing flawless sound hour after hour. She retired to the sofa to rest while he continued making notations and changes to the music to better adapt it to the performers and their instruments.

This was how Christine found herself in front of a crowd of hundreds testing out the silky, sultry tones of greats like Etta James and Lady Day. Nadir had coerced each of them into singing three separate songs and one duet- of his choosing. Each piece had to be re-arranged for their instruments, which turned out to be the only difficult part of their preparation. By the time they were tuning up on the park green, even Erik had to admit that they were a mean blues-jazz trio.

Christine sang "Slow Like Honey", What a Little Moonlight Can Do", and (with a biting pain that twisted the song's meaning and chilled the crowd) "It's Alright with Me." After each song, the crowd cheered a bit louder. When she bowed backwards to take up her cello, the flash of a camera dazzled her eyes even as the thunder of applause crashed over her. A storm. We've literally played up a storm. A smile played on her lips. Wait 'til they hear him

Erik stepped forward, his fedora tipped over his eyes so that he would not see the crowd. He opened with "The Sky is Crying" and when he finished, he realized the audience had doubled - maybe trebled - in size. He glanced back over his shoulder to see Nadir nodding slowly. Christine was looking at him with an expression that kindled a fire between them. Bolstered by his back-up, he turned back to the crowd. Slowly, he began to smile. "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" rolled through the crowd, making them smile, sway and lean against one another. He closed with Buddy Guy's "Sweet Little Angel." The crowd was deliriously clapping, hooting, screaming.

When Christine returned to Erik's side, they hushed expectantly. In rehearsal, the focus had been getting the harmonies perfected, along with tone and delivery. All that was done and past. Now, Erik and Christine joined hands and found their place on that silver cloud. "The Moment I Saw You" was a love song often sung by performers with no more than a nodding acquaintance with one another.

Performed by these two, it became something more than a feel-good wartime love song. Their peculiar circumstances invested every word with a deeper meaning. Their voices, perfectly complimentary, carried their love into the music. When the song ended, there was silence. No one in the audience dared breathe or move. The spell was cast; every spectator was held in its grasp, enthralled. Only Erik and Christine moved and they moved as in a dream. Later, some in the crowd would conjecture that the kiss was staged, only to be shouted down by their contemporaries. "No way," these wise observers said, "You can't stage love like that."


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 41 of 64

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