Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 22 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine sighed a little, leaned back in her armchair and let her book fall into her lap. The fire needed tending, but she knew if she tried to get up she would only fall down again, her ankle too painful to bear her weight.

And even if the pain weren't enough to deter her, she knew Erik would discover at once that she had stood, and she didn't think she could bear the burden of his disapproval. So Christine made sure the ends of her blanket were tucked in, protection against stray drafts, and lifted her book once more.

Erik had been gone for nearly an hour, and she missed him, missed his presence here in his home. He'd never left her alone here before, and she took it as a sign that he trusted her, tried to see it in such a positive light and not let her loneliness override all.

He'd left her books, a glass of water, plenty of blankets, all within easy reach and he'd instructed her not to attempt to fetch anything for herself. He'd made sure she would be comfortable and entertained – and yet he was not here, and she missed him.

Christine laughed to herself, shook her head at how ridiculous she was. Certainly she could bear to be without him for an hour or so. She could occupy herself for that long – or at least she could normally.

She heard the boat then, heard Erik's boots on the rock as he moored it, and the creak of the portcullis as it lowered into the water. She turned expectantly to the door, only to stare in shock as Erik ushered Meg inside.

"Meg!" she said, and she smiled, glanced at Erik as he shut the door and went at once to the kitchen. Meg watched too, hovered by the door until Erik was safely in the kitchen and the door closed behind him. She was scared of him, and Christine wondered how Erik had convinced her to come – if convinced was the word to use.

Then Meg came to her, hurried to her side and bent to kiss her cheek. "Are you alright?" she demanded. "He – he said you'd sprained your ankle and couldn't come back yet. Maman is furious with you, Christine!"

"I'm fine," said Christine, taking Meg's hand, smiling at her friend. "Or at least I will be in a few days. It was my own fault, Meg." Meg knelt before her, legs tucked neatly beneath her. She had a bag over her shoulder, put it down and looked up at Christine with wide eyes. "I – I'm surprised to see you," Christine admitted. "I know you're not…comfortable with Erik."

"Maman said you'd need some things,," said Meg with a shrug. "And…oh, alright, I admit it, I was curious. He…" She glanced at the kitchen door again, leaned closer to Christine. "He was very polite," she said. "He said he would bring your things himself, but if I wanted to come, he would bring me. And Maman excused me from rehearsal."

"And you weren't too scared?" teased Christine, and Meg flushed, stuck her tongue out childishly.

"Of course I was," she said. "I still am, a bit. It's so dark, coming down here! And he didn't speak, apart from to tell me to be careful." She looked around, saw the fireplace, the organ, the sofa and the two comfortable chairs, all the things Christine had become so familiar with over the past weeks. "But I was more curious than afraid," she finished. "And I wanted to make sure you were alright, of course."

"Of course," Christine said, mock-serious. "I'm glad you've come, Meg." She meant it – she wanted her friend to know the things that occupied her life now. She knew, too, what it meant coming from Erik, his suggestion that she could come here. He had left the room at once, true, but it was another person in his home. She knew how strange it had been for him at first to have her here. For him to invite Meg was momentous.

"Poor Christine!" said Meg. "It's just as well you're not a dancer anymore, I suppose."

"Yes," Christine agreed. "I do miss it, though. I can almost feel myself getting stiffer every day." She gave Meg a rueful smile. "But I was never meant to be a dancer, not really."

"No," Meg conceded. "That's true. Oh, Christine – you'll never guess! Maman says I'm to be a leader of a row, next production, and she says I might have another solo part soon!"

"That's wonderful," said Christine, pleased for her friend. Meg might sometimes act like she didn't care about her dancing, might be flippant, but Christine knew better. Meg worked harder than most of the other girls, put in longer practices and it was showing in her dancing.

"It's well-deserved," observed Erik, who had returned without either of them noticing. Meg jumped visibly, her eyes going wide again, and she stared at Erik as he crossed the room, put a tray on the table by Christine's chair and then went to stoke the fire.

"Th-thank you, Monsieur," she stammered, and Christine hid a smile, knew Erik was probably enjoying scaring Meg.

"Have some tea, Meg," she said, reaching for the tray. Erik might have invited Meg here, but it was up to Christine to be the hostess. She poured tea for both of them, added sugar to Meg's – her friend's sweet tooth was well-known in the dormitory – and handed it to her. "Is Madame truly angry?"

"Very," said Meg, and she was still watching Erik but took her teacup. Christine raised hers to her mouth, savoured the warmth of it. "But I'm not sure what she was most angry with – you being silly enough to sprain an ankle, or…well…" She looked awkward, shrugged her shoulders. "Well, staying here overnight."

Erik made a noise at the fireplace, disguised it by rattling the poker in the grate.

"I'll be in the kitchen," he said, and Christine caught his eye as he practically fled, saw his amusement and his discomfort both, smiled at him in acknowledgement. He nodded at her as he went, shut the kitchen door firmly behind him.

Meg drank her tea, looked up at Christine over the rim of the cup. "I can't help it," she said candidly. "He does scare me. But I suppose he's less terrifying in his own home. You can't quite imagine the Phantom of the Opera having armchairs and a fireplace and a tea set."

Christine laughed. "I suppose not," she said. "He – he really is just Erik to me, though." She paused, shook her head. "That's not quite true," she corrected herself. "But he's so much more than just the Opera Ghost."

"Well, he's been your Angel of Music for so long," said Meg. "That makes a difference." She looked thoughtful, glanced at the kitchen door and then looked back at Christine. "Can he hear us?" she asked, still nervous, and Christine shook her head.

"The walls are solid rock," she explained. "And the door is thick too. That's why he went out, so we can talk." She put her cup down, looked expectantly at Meg. "What is it?"

"Nothing," Meg claimed. "Was he happy that Maman agreed?"

"Yes," said Christine, smiling again. "We'd have married anyway, of course…but I'm glad I have Madame's permission, if not her blessing exactly."

Meg made a face. "Well, you couldn't have expected that," she said practically. "What would you have done, Christine? Waited until your birthday?"

"Probably," said Christine, and thought of Erik's impatience, thought of the way he looked at her and touched her. Thought of his jealousy over Raoul, and thought that perhaps they wouldn't have waited. It would have been a simple thing, after all, for him to lie to a priest. Christine could never approve of it, of course, and yet…

And yet February would seem so very far away, had Madame Giry not agreed to allow her to marry before her eighteenth birthday.

Meg's expression was knowing as she put her cup down on the tray, pulled her shawl closer around her.

"It's cold down here," she complained. "So when will you marry? Maman said before Christmas. Will you let me be a bridesmaid?" She giggled, clapped her hands. "Bridesmaid for the marriage of the Opera Ghost," she said. "What a thought!"

But Christine didn't smile; she wondered what Erik was hoping for in the wedding – what he was expecting, if anything. He had a dress for her, a beautiful dress, but what else would he want? She would like to be married in the church she had been attending since she came to Paris, but he…

"I'm sorry," said Meg. "I've said something wrong."

"No," said Christine, but she spoke slowly, tried to order her thoughts. "No, you haven't. I just…I haven't really thought about the wedding at all." Meg raised an eyebrow in disbelief, and Christine managed a slight smile. "Oh, you know what I mean," she said. "The actual wedding. I've been so happy, I haven't really thought about the future."

There was more than the wedding to think of, she realised suddenly. More than simply her future as Erik's wife. There was her career as well – for she knew Erik would not be content to allow her to sing only for him, would demand she return to the stage as the prima donna he had always wanted her to be.

He had promised to restrain himself for this production, but not for the next. And she did not want to always be restraining him, to always be asking him to resist his inclination to interfere with the running of the opera house.

She knew Monsieur Reyer, at least, was in fact rather grateful for Erik's interference – knew the director had on occasion argued that the Opera Ghost's observations were accurate and helpful to him.

No, she could not ask him to desist, and she longed to be on the stage again as well, felt odd as the weeks passed without any chance of performing. So something must change, but she dreaded the reaction of the new managers, knew they would use any excuse to resist Erik's demands.

"Christine?" said Meg, resting a hand on her knee, and Christine shook herself free of her thoughts.

"Of course I want you to be my bridesmaid," she said. "Who else would I have? Anyway, it will only be small. Just you and Madame Giry – if she'll come."

"She'll come," asserted Meg. "You know she thinks of you quite like a daughter. Of course she wouldn't miss it – even if you are to become Madame le Fantôme!"

Christine couldn't help laughing, even as she wondered what Erik's last name was – if he had a last name, a ridiculous notion for she was sure he must have one.

"Perhaps I should begin sending notes and making my own demands!" she said, still laughing, and she leaned back in her chair, pictured Carlotta's face if another ghost were to appear.

"Oh," said Meg, and her mirth faded. "I meant to tell you. The Vicomte was asking for you this morning." Christine made a face, felt a moment's gladness that Erik was in the other room and couldn't hear this. "Maman told him you'd sprained your ankle, and that you'd be in bed for days," Meg continued. "He wanted to go up to the dormitory and see you!"

Men were forbidden in the girls' dormitories, and similarly women were banned from the male dancers' rooms. Christine could well imagine Madame Giry's reaction to that particular demand from Raoul, and she shook her head, rolled her eyes.

"Of course he did," she said. "He cannot seem to take the hint, Meg. You will help me dissuade him, won't you?"

"Happily," said Meg at once. "I don't like the way he thinks he's got the right to look into every last thing around here," she added at Christine's enquiring look. "And Maman dislikes him, too."

"And thus his worth is decided," said Christine dryly.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 22 of 37

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