Continuing Tales


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 42 of 64

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Nadir began gathering together the instruments, preparing to leave. He saw trouble in the form of a man with a professional-looking camera and a woman with a microphone and perfectly beauty-shopped hair heading their way. Erik and Christine had not yet broken for air.

"Paparazzi!" He whispered urgently, but the couple were gone to a place where they could not be reached.

"Sir? Sir? I'm Zoe Bertrand, with the Seattle Times; entertainment division." The woman approached Nadir with her microphone, while the man trained his camera on Erik and Christine and began snapping pictures. They broke apart, suddenly realizing the world hadn't actually fallen away from them. Erik's grip on Christine's hand tightened painfully.

"No pictures," he growled dangerously, but Christine squeezed his hand harder than he was squeezing hers and kicked his ankle.

"Just look mysterious, Erik. It's your cover, remember?" she whispered. If he began assaulting the press, their little dream could turn into a nightmare quickly. None of the tenseness left him, but he contorted his face into something that he hoped passed for enigmatic neutrality.

Meanwhile, Nadir was happily chatting with the journalist.

"No, no. It's just the two of them. You might call me a friend of the family."

"They are family? Brother and sister?" She'd been trying to pry useful information from the old man, but he'd been well-drilled on their desire to maintain anonymity.

"Not at all. Not at all."

Husband and wife? "Friends?" She saw that they'd broken the kiss and hurried over to them. "You are the talk of all Seattle. Would you care to grant your fans an interview?"

"No," grumbled Erik, earning another swift kick from Christine.

"What he means," she amended, "is that we will be happy to answer a few questions, as long as we are not explicitly identified. That includes photos that reveal my face." The photographer began nervously checking his cache of photographs.

"Well then..." the woman looked down to her steno pad. "How long have you been performing together?"

"Only a few weeks, really. It's a rather new experience for both of us."

"Ah. And are you being paid for these performances - by the Parks and Recreation division, perhaps?" It was a question many burned to know. No one worked for, who was paying these two?

"No one." Erik's tone was indignant. "We give you art, and all you ask about is the money?"

"You are performing for free, then?"

Christine beat Erik to the answer. She wanted to attract fans, not drive them away. "We love making music and want to share that love with everyone. Why should live music be reserved for those who can afford concert tickets?"

"Then what do you do in your daily lives? I'm sure our readers would be fascinated to know..."

"Ah-ah-ah," remonstrated Nadir, who had come to join in. "I believe the young woman just told you she didn't want to share identifying information."

A look of annoyance marred the reporter's pretty face. "Let her answer."

"No. He's right. If you have questions about the performance or the music we're happy to answer. Otherwise, we have a places to be."

"Well then." Ms. Bertrand shuffled through her notes. "Your performance this afternoon was entirely jazz and blues selections. I have a note here that at your last performance, you concentrated on classical. Is there a reason for the change."

"Ah, yes ma'am. That would be me. The youngsters allowed an old man the pleasure of choosing their material."

"And how long has each of you been playing?" She looked to Nadir first. He chuckled and tapped his temple.

"I'm an old, old man. Let's just say that I've been playing long enough."

She rolled her eyes and turned to Erik, who still had Christine's hand imprisoned in his. "And you, sir?"

"Thirty-two years." He smirked. "Give or take a decade or two, depending on the instrument."

In desperation, the reporter turned to Christine, who was regarding her sympathetically.

"I've been playing cello for nearly sixteen years. But I've only been singing for about six months."

Here was something report-worthy. "Really? That's very surprising. Who is your teacher?"

Christine nodded towards Erik, who was growing visibly agitated. "He is. And I've never had a kinder, more patient teacher."

Zoe Bertrand cast a doubtful eye over the grumbling, taciturn man. She decided to cut this interview short. She was unused to having to fight so hard for information; most up-and-coming musicians were anxious for the publicity.

"Do you intend to continue these Saturday concerts?" Her information came from Meg, who had gleefully handed over the complete schedule. The question was more for formality's sake.

"Absolutely." Christine nodded. "But we will split our time among four local parks, playing a different one each week. That way we will reach a broader audience."

"Where will you play next?" Again, she already knew, but form was form.

"Ah, that's what we won't tell you. We hope to see a different audience at each place."

"And does your group have a name? How may I refer to you?"

Erik, of all people, supplied this one. "Strange Noise," he said. "Now, if you'll excuse us..."

"Of course." The reporter and her photographer walked away feeling completely unsatisfied.

Nadir gathered up his belonging and gestured for his companions to do the same.

"If you thought that woman was a gadfly, wait until your adoring fans get here. Seeing the press held them off, but here they come."

He was right. Now that the interview was over, well-wishers and admirers were advancing, calling out to them. Erik groaned and began picking things up as quickly as possible. When he leaned down to pick up the cello, however, Christine got a glimpse of something different in his eyes. Triumph, and not a little pride. He was still acting the part of the ornery recluse, but she was no longer fooled.

They piled into Nadir's car, glad for the easy and direct transportation. Nadir and Christine raved all the way home about their overwhelming success. Nadir declared that he would have to join them for future performances. Christine agreed jubilantly. Erik said not a word. There was no thought in his mind of crowds, or music, or meddling reporters. He was replaying the moment when they'd kissed over and over in his mind.

Nadir left them at the door to the apartment building, saying he had some business he wanted to attend to in town. In truth, he'd seen the smoldering looks they'd been exchanging, and wanted to get out of the way before the fire broke out. Their lack of resistance to his departure reinforced his idea that he'd best drop in for a goodbye brunch tomorrow. After all, he hadn't created his setlist capriciously. Classical music was all very well, but in his opinion there was nothing quite so invigorating for a couple of repressed lovers as a good grinding dose of the blues

Once in the privacy of the apartment, Christine took the fedora and mask and tossed them aside unceremoniously. He lifted her easily in the air and twirled around before setting her down on the couch, where she promptly curled around him. The low fire that had been simmering between them all afternoon roared to life. Only when a need for oxygen compelled them did they separate, breathless and reeling.

"Erik?" Her voice held that purring, pleading tone that instantly broke through any defenses he might have had left.


"May I borrow a long T-shirt and a robe?" Christine fingered the hem of her full skirt.

"Why? Haven't you got your own at home?" He was utterly confused.

"After today...after that kiss...and what we've been doing..." Christine groped for the right way to explain and came up dry. "I mean, do you want me to go home?"

"No. I never want you to go home. Every time you walk out the door, it's a struggle not to chase you down and bring you back - caveman style." He walked back to his bedroom and returned with a huge T-shirt and a long terry-cloth robe. "If I'd known that all you needed was this..." He extended his offering to her, "I'd have started handing out casual wear long ago."

"I'll need more than this...I'll need blankets and a pillow."

"Oh. The sofa. Of course." Beating a hasty, if awkward, retreat he returned to his bedroom and came back with his blanket and pillow - he didn't have extras for guests.

Christine watched him with confusion for a moment, then smiled a slow, warm - and highly mischievous - smile. That she might intend to sleep on the sofa had not occurred to him, apparently. She took the T-shirt and robe to the bathroom and changed. Knowing Erik, he'd be sweating bullets over his little faux-pas. There was just enough of Meg in her to start pondering ways to play his self-consciousness to their mutual advantage.


A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Soignante

Part 42 of 64

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