Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 15 of 37

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Stay By My Side

"Christine! Where in the world have you been?" Meg almost pounced on her, grasped her arm and looked up at her with wide eyes and a pale face. "You didn't come back last night. The Vicomte's been looking for you, and the managers – they want you in their office, the police are here, they're asking everyone questions."

"I – I fell asleep in my dressing room," Christine said hesitantly. Meg didn't believe her, of course, stared at her in disbelief.

"Why are you lying to me?" she demanded. "Did he ask you to?"

Christine glanced around, drew Meg into a side corridor. It wasn't busy – past breakfast, too early for lunch and no rehearsals today – but she didn't want to take the chance of being overheard.

"He didn't ask me to lie," she said, voice low. "But I won't broadcast the truth."

Meg shook her head, bewildered. "Christine – your clothes. I've never seen them before. Did - are you – did he give them to you? Did you stay with him last night?" Christine nodded once, and Meg lifted a hand to her forehead, closed her eyes. "Christine," she whispered. "Are you – have you –"

"Nothing happened," Christine hurried to reassure her. "He – there's a bedroom for me, in his home. I slept there, and he…I don't think he slept."

Meg opened her eyes again, looked at her solemnly. "But after last night?" she asked. "You stayed with him after what he did?" Christine glanced away, unable to justify herself. "Christine, Maman is right – he's dangerous!" She clutched at Christine's hand, waited for Christine to look at her again. "He killed Buquet," she whispered.

"You don't have any proof of that," said Christine, and they stared at each other for a long moment. Meg looked close to tears, but Christine found she couldn't speak, couldn't defend Erik any further than that. She couldn't deny what Erik had done, but neither could she admit his guilt, condemn him before others.

"You're right," Meg said at last. "There's no proof. And Maman – Maman told them he's often drunk, and of course none of us…who would believe us if we talked of the Ghost?"

"Nobody would," Christine whispered, and she was grateful for it, grateful that theatre people were known for being superstitious.

"Christine, please," Meg said, reached out for her again, touched her arm. "Please, this is serious. I'm not asking you to admit it, but we both know the truth. Won't you see that he's dangerous?"

Someone passed by, gave them a curious look, and they had to press themselves against the wall to allow the stagehand through.

"I know he's dangerous," Christine said when they were alone once more. "But I can't turn against him, Meg. I won't." She didn't give Meg time to argue with her, offered a tight smile. "I should go to the managers' office," she said. "You said they were looking for me."

Meg nodded, dropped her hand from Christine's arm. "Yes," she said. "I – I'll tell Maman you're back. I should go to practice." She looked at Christine for a moment more, and Christine couldn't meet her eyes. "I'll see you at lunch," Meg added then, and hurried away.

Christine leaned against the wall for a moment, twisting the ring on her finger, fortifying herself against the meeting. Then she too hurried, through the opera house to the richly-decorated corridors and landings of the front of house, to the managers' office and whatever awaited her there. She had never been there before, had never needed to, and when she reached the door she hesitated for a moment before knocking.

The door swung open to reveal Raoul, and he stared at her, stared as if she were wholly unexpected.

"I was told I was wanted," Christine said, looking up at him. "Meg said – she said the police wanted to speak to me?"

"My God, Christine," he exclaimed. "Where have you been? I went to your dressing room last night, I heard – I don't know what I heard."

Christine tried to smile, but her stomach was twisting in knots and her mouth was dry. "I fell asleep," she said. "What happened – it was so shocking, I put my head down for just a few minutes and didn't wake."

"Let the girl in, for heaven's sake," said someone from inside, and Raoul stared at her for a moment more before standing aside to admit her into the room. She glanced around covertly, saw framed posters from previous productions, heavy drapes at the windows, a desk covered with newspapers.

The two managers were standing by desk, both staring at her, and another man sat by the window. It was he who had spoken – he was, she realised, a policeman of some kind.

Christine clasped her hands together, stood straight as Madame Giry had taught her, looked him in the eye. She could lie, she told herself. She was an actress, and she was a good one, and she would not reveal any of Erik's secrets.

"Good morning, Messieurs," she said politely. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes," said the stranger. "My name is Fournier, I'm a police officer. I'm investigating what happened last night." He rose, offered her a hand to shake, but his eyes didn't leave her face; she felt as though he were trying to see right through her. "Monsieur le Vicomte was particularly upset that you weren't to be found last night," he went on. "I think he half-thought you might have been abducted!" It was a joke, clearly meant to put her at ease, but Christine couldn't smile.

"As you see, I'm quite well and safe," she said. Fournier nodded slowly, still watching her. "How can I help, Monsieur?" she asked then.

Fournier smiled disarmingly, gestured for her to sit. "It's just routine," he assured her. "I have statements from others, but I understand you were in the wings at the time?"

"Yes," she nodded, took a seat and glanced at Raoul, at the managers. "I – I was waiting to perform. It was all so hurried, Signora Giudicelli…well, she felt unable to continue." It was a delicate way of phrasing it, and Firmin snorted, folded his arms and turned away from proceedings. "The dancers were onstage," Christine went on. "And then Buquet – he must have slipped, and caught himself on a rope. It was horrible, Monsieur."

"Yes, yes, I'm sure," Fournier nodded. He was looking at her less keenly now, as if she had merely confirmed what others had said, and she almost held her breath, almost hoped that she could go.

"But didn't you see the shadow on the stage?" Raoul asked then, and Christine turned to him, eyes wide.

"Shadow?" she repeated. "What shadow?" Raoul frowned, shook his head impatiently.

"There was a man," he said, "wearing a cloak. He must have been somewhere up in the – what do you call it?"

"The flies," she supplied. "Or perhaps the catwalks? But no, I saw nothing like that. There would have been several men up there, they needed to change the scenery."

Raoul shook his head again. "I know what I saw," he said, insistent, and Christine rather suspected he'd said the same thing several times already this morning.

"Well, what could it have been?" Firmin demanded, lifting his hands and shrugging. "The girl is quite right, there would have been many people around at the time. Any one of them could have cast a shadow. And everyone's quite clear on the point, Buquet was almost certainly drunk. I can't imagine how he kept his job so long."

"Yes, it all seems quite clear," said Fournier, and he turned away from Christine, turned to Raoul. "You seem to have become infected with some theatrical superstition," he said, chuckling. "Certainly Mademoiselle Daaé hasn't been whisked away by any spectre."

"No," Raoul had to admit, and he looked at Christine once more, came to kneel beside her, took her hand. "But Christine, I heard voices in your dressing room," he said, gentle. "And surely you would have woken? I called and called, and I must have knocked hard enough on the door to bring half the theatre running!"

Christine almost flinched away from him, from the earnestness in his expression. She didn't want to lie to him, almost hated herself for it – he was still her friend, after all – but neither could she begin to conceive of telling him the truth.

"Sound travels in strange ways up there," she said, and comforted herself that she wasn't quite lying. There were some places in the opera house where sound travelled from one room to another, carried by some draft, and equally there were others where it was hard to hear someone standing at the other side of the same room. "I wanted to be alone, so I locked the door, and I really did fall asleep there," she told him.

"Really, Monsieur," interjected André. "This is beside the point. Buquet's death was…an accident. That's all, an accident." He rounded the desk, shuffled papers, and Christine caught a glimpse of several pieces of black-lined paper. "Whether this Ghost exists or not, he had nothing to do with it. Carlotta, on the other hand…"

"Well, that's outside my remit," said Fournier. "It may be a case of blackmail, these strange letters you get, or it may not. Until you've more evidence, we can do nothing." He shrugged, and Christine bit her tongue, hoped Erik was listening, hoped he would realise the dangerous line he was walking.

"Whoever he is, he's a madman," Firmin muttered. "And whatever he did last night to Carlotta – well, it could have ruined us! Thankfully Mademoiselle Daaé could sing the part."

"Monsieur, may I ask," Christine interjected then, and he turned to her, as though surprised that she was still present. "Am I to continue in the part? Or will Signora Giudicelli be returning?"

André shrugged eloquently. "Well, for the time being the role is yours," he told her. "It seems the Ghost will have his way." Christine said nothing to that, lowered her gaze. "I'm sure Carlotta will be back, but yes, for the moment you're to continue."

"Thank you, Monsieur," she said. "Is there anything else I can help with?"

"Not if Monsieur Fournier is finished," Firmin said, and she looked at the policeman, who waved a hand in dismissal.

"Yes, yes," he said. "Quite finished. Thank you for your help, Mademoiselle."

Christine didn't wait a moment longer than she had to; she rose, nodded to the men, and left the office, shutting the door firmly behind her. She walked down the hall, her footsteps muffled by the thick carpet, and turned back only when the door opened once more, when Raoul called her name and hurried to catch up with her.

"Christine, may I speak with you?" he asked, and Christine stifled a sigh, looked up at him.

"I should really be going," she said. "I must speak to Monsieur Reyer, and Madame Giry, and I have a singing lesson after lunch."

"A lesson," he repeated, frowning at her once more. "Who is your teacher, Christine? Was that who I heard last night in your dressing room?"

"I told you," said Christine, shaking her head, lying to him almost too easily. "There was nobody there but me. Please, Raoul, why can't you believe me?"

"I'm worried about you," he said, and he took her hands, squeezed them gently. "Why did you run from me last night?" And then he caught sight of the ring on her finger. His eyes widened, he looked at her in shock and Christine stared back, feeling suddenly caught. "Why – why, Christine, are you engaged?"

"Yes," she managed, and pulled her hands from his. "Yes, I am." She glanced around, shook her head. "Raoul, I must go," she claimed, but he caught her hand again, grasped her elbow to keep her with him.

"Who are you engaged to?" he asked, and Christine shook her head again. She couldn't say, couldn't even begin to work out how to answer him. "Are you – do you love him?"

Now Christine found strength; she straightened, pulled herself from his grip. "You're my friend, Raoul," she said, with quiet dignity. "But you don't know me, and you mustn't think I owe you an explanation. I am engaged. That should be enough."

And then she turned, she walked away, and she knew the opera house well enough to slip into a back passage before he had the wit to follow her.

She would take the ring off, she resolved, hide it on a chain around her neck. Erik would not like it, but it would be better than trying to find explanations for her friends.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 15 of 37

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