Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 18 of 37

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Stay By My Side


Christine thought several unladylike curses, and offered Raoul a smile. "Good morning, Raoul," she greeted. He was waiting outside her dressing room, and she wondered who had told him she came here every morning, if any of her friends had told him. There was no reason they shouldn't have done so, not really. But she'd been avoiding Raoul, and she'd wanted to keep avoiding him if possible.

"What brings you here so early in the day?" she asked. "Surely you can't have come to watch rehearsal."

"No," he said, and he looked hesitant, as if he expected her to disappear at any moment. "I've been exploring the opera house over the past few days, but I was wondering if you'd care to join me. I'm sure you know more places than I could discover."

Christine hesitated, bit her lip. The request seemed innocent enough, but she was on her way to meet Erik – he would be waiting, in fact, barely a few yards away behind the mirror in the dressing room.

"Please, Christine," Raoul said, stepping towards her, his hand outstretched. "I've barely seen you, and I had hoped to spend more time with you, while you're not performing."

"I've been busy," Christine said, and caught Raoul's disbelieving look. It rankled, turned her defensive. "I have lessons even when I'm not in rehearsals," she said, almost snapping.

Raoul nodded, smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry," he said. "Of course. And…and your engagement must be occupying you." He glanced at her hand, but she wasn't wearing her ring, and she couldn't ignore the hopeful expression that briefly crossed his face.

"It is," she said simply. "I'm sorry, Raoul, but I'm meant to be meeting someone."

"Your…your fiancé?" he asked, and Christine nodded. "Please, Christine. Just half an hour?"

She looked at him, saw his determination. He would not be put off, now he had at last found her, and she couldn't go into her dressing room, couldn't meet Erik there knowing Raoul might be listening outside. It would be too dangerous, because she was sure Raoul would listen, would stay to see who came to meet her.

He would be suspicious – more than he was already – when nobody came.

"Half an hour," she said at last. "Alright. I must leave a note, though. One minute?" She moved past him, opened the dressing room door and closed it behind her again, before Raoul could join her in the room. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I couldn't say no – he won't leave me alone if I don't go with him now."

On the other side of the mirror, Erik snarled. "The insolent boy should take a hint," he snapped. "You're mine, Christine."

"Of course I am," she said quickly, trying to sooth him. She stepped to the mirror, pressed her hand to the glass that separated them, and now she was close to him she could practically feel his intense jealousy. "Erik, I didn't want this," she said, tried to reassure him. "He's my friend but that's all he is."

He raised his hand, as if he could touch her through the mirror, and his eyes flashed. "Half an hour," he said, and his voice was cold, sent a shiver down her spine. "Take him to the roof. Nobody but I will be able to overhear your conversation there."

Christine nodded, knew better than to argue with him, not when he was so cold, so commanding. He was the Opera Ghost, and even she dared not disobey him. She went back to the door, opened it and smiled at Raoul.

"Let's go up to the roof," she said, feigning gaiety. "Have you been up there yet?"

"The roof," said Raoul, startled. "No – I didn't think anyone could."

"There are ways up," she said, and she took his offered arm, led him away from the dressing rooms. "Occasionally repairs have to be done, I think. We're not encouraged to go there, but the views are incredible." She and Meg had gone there quite often when they were younger, before Madame Giry had discovered and forbidden it.

She wondered where Erik would hide himself, how he would hear them if he couldn't get close enough. Wondered what he intended to do if he perceived that Raoul was being – what had he said? Insolent.

They reached the roof, and Christine led Raoul along a narrow ledge, across a roof and onto the large, flat area that had formed a perfect playground when she was younger. It was cold up here, windy, but Christine had been prepared for a day in Erik's home, pulled her shawl closer about her.

"I see what you mean about the view," Raoul commented, and he went to an edge, peered over and then turned to her with a bright smile. "You can see most of Paris from here." She nodded, watched him, wrapped her arms about herself. "Christine," he said with a sigh, and he returned to her. "You've been avoiding me," he accused. "I thought we were friends."

"We are friends," she said, and she couldn't quite meet his eyes. "I'm sorry, Raoul. As I said, I've been quite busy."

"And I was rude to you," he said after a moment, and Christine shook her head but he overrode her. "I was," he said. "I should have been pleased for you, and instead I asked questions I had no right to."

"You were concerned for me, I suppose," Christine said, and he nodded. "But you're right. You shouldn't have asked me that. Of course I love my fiancé. I'm very happy with him, and I'm going to marry him."

"You know, I don't know his name," Raoul said, and it would have seemed innocent but for the look on his face, the sharpness to his gaze. The cold Christine felt had nothing to do with the wind, and she stared at him, wondered what he knew – what he suspected, she corrected herself, for he could know nothing for certain.

But Raoul didn't seem to need an answer, didn't expect one.

"I've been learning all about this mysterious Opera Ghost," he said then, and the two things seemed connected in his mind, and Christine knew at once that at the very least he suspected she knew the Ghost. "It seems the people here talk about little else."

"Didn't I tell you theatre people are superstitious?" she said, laughing a little, forcing lightness. "Everything that goes wrong gets blamed on the Phantom. Jammes lost her ballet shoes a few months ago and she swore the Ghost had taken them. Of course they turned up, she's so careless with her things sometimes." Raoul smiled absently, but it seemed as though he was barely paying attention to her words – or perhaps she wasn't saying what he wanted to hear.

"But the notes aren't superstition," he said. "I've seen them – I received one myself."

Christine nodded slowly; she couldn't deny the notes, couldn't explain them away as superstition. She tried to think how she could explain them, but nothing came to mind – at least not quickly enough to give him an answer.

"There is a Ghost," said Raoul, watching her carefully. "Isn't there, Christine?" She said nothing, bit her tongue. "You told me about the Angel of Music," he said. "That night in September, when I saw you onstage for the first time."

She lowered her eyes. "I wasn't being literal, Raoul," she said; a lie, of course, because when Raoul had come to her dressing room she'd still been lying to herself, still refusing to admit that her Angel of Music must be more than just a voice. "I spoke of my teacher, of course," she added.

"Your teacher," he repeated, and he stepped close to her, took her hand. "Christine, who is your teacher?"

She pulled her hand from his, almost felt like scrubbing away his touch – the touch Erik would have seen, and she dreaded his jealous anger. He would be raging, she knew, and could only hope she would be able to soothe the rage.

"You wouldn't know him," she said. "He's very solitary, he doesn't go among people much." She absently raised a hand to the chain about her neck, to make sure it was still there, to remind herself of its presence.

"Is he your fiancé?" Raoul asked, and Christine bit back a startled exclamation, turned away from him and shook her head.

"You're doing it again, Raoul," she told him. "Is it truly any business of yours? Is it not enough to know I love him very much? I'm going to be happy with him. And no matter what you insinuate, you can't change that."

"I'm not trying to change anything," Raoul protested, reaching for her again. "But after what happened the other week to that stage hand – I just want to make sure you're safe, Christine. Surely you can understand that?" He was trying to persuade her, and she could grant him noble intentions, if what he was saying was the truth. Meg's motives were much the same, after all; it was the action of a friend.

But Christine didn't need protection, from Raoul or from anyone – or if she did, she only wanted it from Erik, and only he had the right to offer it. She took Raoul's hands, looked up at him earnestly.

"Thank you," she said. "But Raoul, I'm a grown woman. I can make my own choices. I don't need you to look after me."

"I know you're hiding something, Christine," he accused her, clutching her hands tight. "I don't believe this Ghost is anything more than a man, but his demands, the notes – he must be a madman!"

"I don't know anything about a Ghost," Christine cried, and she tore herself away from him, retreated a few steps. She was shaking, she was terrified that Raoul wouldn't listen to her, wouldn't leave it alone, because she knew what would happen if he kept digging, kept prying into things that didn't involve him. She knew a little of what Erik might do. "Just leave me be, Raoul!"

"Christine, is he hurting you? Is he making you say these things?"

She stilled, looked at him in disbelief. "You think so little of me," she whispered, and the wind almost carried her words away. "How can you, Raoul? Do you honestly believe I could be with someone who manipulated me in that way?" She shook her head, hoped Erik was listening, hoped he could hear the conviction in her words.

"I'm – I'm sorry," said Raoul, and he sighed, raised his hands. "I'm trying to look after you," he said. "I know it's what your father would have wanted."

It was cruel, to bring her father into this, and it hurt Christine like a blow. She choked, bent over and wished for Erik's arms around her, wished for his comfort and support.

But he was with her even now; she knew he was somewhere here on the roof, listening to every word. She would be strong for him, would prove herself strong enough to stand against Raoul.

"My father would have wanted me to be happy," she said, straightening. "However it happens, in whatever manner, he would have wanted me to be happy and loved. I am both." Raoul stared at her, stepped closer to her once more, but Christine shook her head, stepped back. "No, Raoul," she said firmly. "You asked for half an hour and I have given it to you. Please, no more."

She turned, made her way back across the roof, across the ledge, back into the opera house. Raoul could find his own way down, she thought to herself, and brushed away a stray tear. All she wanted to do now was to find Erik, or be found by him, to go with him down to his home and forget about Raoul.

To immerse herself in Erik's love and forget all else.

He caught her, hands at her waist, pulled her into the shadows under a staircase and gestured for silence. They waited, pressed close together, as Raoul came down the stairs and went along a corridor away from them.

"Come," Erik said then, his voice so cold Christine almost shrank away from him. "I've already lost half an hour of your time. You promised me your days, Christine, and I shall have them."

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 18 of 37

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