Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 24 of 37

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Stay By My Side

"Ooh, it's so cold," Meg complained as they carefully navigated the street, avoiding visible patches of ice. "And it's only the middle of November!"

"Complaining about it won't make it any warmer," said Madame Giry, directing her two charges towards a café. They had spent the afternoon going from one shop to another, and Christine had been fitted for two new dresses. Now they planned to have tea before returning to the opera house.

"No," Meg had to agree, rolling her eyes at Christine behind Madame Giry's back, "but it makes me feel better."

"Sometimes, Marguerite, you are as childish as the younger girls," said Madame Giry witheringly. "Christine, keep up, child. We're nearly there. You'll warm up with a cup of tea, both of you."

"Yes, Madame," said Christine, quickening her pace, struggling under a load of parcels. Meg was similarly laden – Madame Giry had declared that even if Christine's future husband were not all that she might want, she would at least make sure Christine was decently outfitted for the marriage. Christine had been unable to protest.

"Christine – Christine!"

Shocked, Christine paused and turned to see who dared to call for her like that in a public street, to cause people to look at her askance.

"Monsieur le Vicomte!" exclaimed Madame Giry as the young man hurried towards them. "What do you mean by calling out for young ladies in the street?"

"I – I do apologise, Madame Giry," said Raoul, coming to a halt beside them. Christine exchanged a wary glance with Meg, wished with all her heart that this coincidental meeting had not happened. "I saw you from across the street," Raoul went on, smiling at them. "I didn't want to miss you."

Christine saw Meg's scowl, was tempted to mirror her expression but schooled herself to politeness.

"Regardless, you might show some courtesy," Madame Giry said severely. "Have a care, Monsieur." Raoul nodded, but didn't seem to agree, and Meg's scowl grew more ferocious at the perceived slight to her mother.

"I see you're going to the café there," Raoul said, directing his words at Christine. "May I join you?" Dismayed, Christine glanced at Madame Giry for direction, hoped her foster-mother would reply in the negative.

Madame Giry caught her glance, pursed her lips slightly and offered her a slight shrug. They could not refuse without being rude, and Christine knew it.

"Please," Raoul said, turning a bright smile on Madame Giry. "To make up for my rudeness. Let it be my treat."

There was no way of refusing now, and Madame Giry nodded, allowed Raoul to escort them into the café. He took the parcels from Christine and Meg, piled them up in a chair and ordered tea and cakes for them all.

"How are you, Christine?" he asked then. "I was told you weren't well, a few weeks ago."

"Injured," Christine corrected mildly. "I'm fine, thank you, Raoul." She didn't look at him, kept her gaze directed down to the tablecloth, and under the table Meg squeezed her hand.

"How are you enjoying being patron to the opera?" Madame Giry asked, directing his attention away from Christine.

"Very much," said Raoul, and the conversation was easy for a while as he enthused about the performances, complimenting the ballet particularly. Christine said little, sipped her tea and let it warm her.

"Do you miss performing, Christine?" Raoul asked her at length, forcing her to rejoin the conversation, and she nodded, glanced up at him.

"Yes, more than I had expected," she said. "The time away from the stage has given my teacher a chance to help me improve my voice even further, but there is very little that I enjoy more than singing." He stared intently at her, and she wished she hadn't mentioned her teacher, hadn't reminded him of her Angel. She knew what Raoul suspected, after all – didn't want to give him any grounds to realise that his suspicious were true. But he couldn't say anything with Meg and Madame Giry here – she hoped.

"And you've been so busy getting ready for the wedding," Meg added, and Christine smiled gratefully at her. It was a necessary reminder for Raoul, she knew, that she would be married soon. "She's spending all her time with her fiancé," Meg went on. "They're so happy together."

Christine squeezed Meg's hand under the table, nodded at Raoul. "So you see, I miss it but do not," she said lightly. "But casting will begin for the next production soon, I'll audition for a part then."

"A leading role, surely," said Raoul with a flattering smile, and Christine shrugged, finished her tea as she wondered how to respond.

"We hope so, Monsieur," said Madame Giry, saving Christine from the necessity. "She has certainly proved herself able." Christine smiled at the unexpected praise, so rarely bestowed. "Girls, finish your cakes," the elder woman directed then. "I don't want to be late back."

"May I escort you back?" Raoul asked then, signalling for the waiter as Meg finished her cake and Christine toyed with the remains of hers. "I'd feel much better if you let me," he added. "It's dark already."

"I don't think so, Monsieur," said Madame Giry with a decisive shake of her head. "We can manage quite well. Meg, are you quite done?"

"Yes, Maman," said Meg. "Christine, help me with the parcels?" Christine nodded, rose and helped Meg to gather their parcels together. Madame Giry waited until they were ready before getting up, and then she nodded politely to Raoul.

"Thank you for the tea, Monsieur," she said. "I'm sure we will see you at the opera house." Raoul nodded, turned to Christine to speak, but Christine avoided meeting his eyes.

"Yes," he said. "I'm sure I'll be there soon. Are you sure I cannot persuade you to allow me –"

"Quite sure," said Madame Giry firmly. "Come along, girls."

"Bonsoir, Monsieur," murmured Meg, dipping a brief curtsey, and she glanced from Christine to Raoul, her mouth twisting in a frown when Raoul stepped towards Christine, tried to speak again. "Christine?"

"Yes, Meg, I'm coming," said Christine, and she stepped around Raoul, offered him the slightest of smiles. "Goodbye, Raoul. It was nice to see you."

"I wish I could believe you meant that," he muttered, and Christine blinked in surprise, shook her head. She couldn't respond – not here, in a public place – and anyway, Madame Giry was right, they needed to get back. Erik would be expecting her, and he hated it when she was late.

"Another time, perhaps," she said gently. "Goodbye, Raoul." She turned and rejoined Meg and Madame Giry at the door, made sure her scarf covered her throat before they braved the cold journey back to the opera house.

"Why can't he just leave you alone?" Meg muttered to her as they hurried through the dark streets. "He seems to think you're – his property, or something!"

"He is a friend," said Christine, but doubtfully. He had been a friend once, and she would have liked to continue to count him among her friends, but she had to admit that the more she saw him now, the more she resented his intrusion into her life. He acted as more than a friend – as a suitor, perhaps, but more he seemed to want to be a protector for her.

She did not need protecting, and she resented the way Raoul clearly saw her: as a child who needed guidance, needed a fatherly presence to ensure she was safe and cared for.

Erik did not see her as a child – oh, she knew he could not always have loved her as he did now, because she had been only ten when she had first heard his voice, a few months after her arrival at the opera house. But he recognised that she was that child no longer.

It was more than Raoul seemed able to do.

They met Henri and Heléne as they arrived at the opera house, and Henri smiled broadly at Christine when he saw her.

"Hello!" he greeted. "I haven't seen you in weeks. What have you been doing with yourself?"

"Oh, I told you about Christine's engagement," said Heléne with a laugh. "It's all horribly romantic, but none of us know who he is." But her laughter wasn't cruel, and her eyes danced with merriment.

"They've announced the next opera," Henri said then. "It's Faust – to run from before Christmas to the end of January."

"Ooh, Christine!" squealed Meg. "A soprano role – and Carlotta's far too old for Marguerite now, you know!" Christine nodded, her thoughts racing almost too fast to catch at them. Yes, Carlotta was too old for a believable Marguerite – but they had shown Faust three or four times since Christine had been at the opera house, and Carlotta had starred in each and every production. She would not step aside without a fight.

"I'm going for Valentin," Henri said. Heléne tugged at his arm, clearly impatient to be gone, and he nodded at her. "I'm sure Reyer wants you for Marguerite," he said to Christine. "You will audition, won't you?"

"Yes – yes, of course I will," said Christine. She knew she could sing the role – she'd prepared most of the music with Erik over the years, at his insistence since the opera was so commonly produced. She knew she could sing it.

"Come along, girls," said Madame Giry, but her tone was amused rather than reprimanding. "Auditions won't start tonight, but Meg, you are due on stage in a few hours."

"Yes, Maman," said Meg, discreetly rolling her eyes; Henri and Heléne smothered laughs and stepped aside to let them pass, and the three of them went up through the opera house to the dormitories.

"Put your things away before you go down, Christine," Madame Giry ordered before going into her rooms.

"Yes, Madame," said Christine, hurried along the passage to their bedroom. Meg followed, deposited her armful onto her bed and huffed a sigh.

"I don't think I've ever seen Maman buy so many things at once," she said. "Are you going to open everything now, Christine?"

"I suppose so," Christine said with a shrug, surveying the mass of packages, all neatly wrapped in brown paper. "It seems silly; I might as well take some of it down to Erik's home now. The wedding is only a few weeks away now."

"You'd only have to take them down later," Meg agreed. "But do you know which is which?"

"…no," sighed Christine. "Bother. I suppose there's no help for it, then. I hope I'm not late to meet him." She grasped the nearest parcel, pulled it open enough to see what it was. "Bother Raoul, anyway," she muttered.

"We were going to the café anyway," Meg pointed out fairly, and Christine nodded, knew it was true but couldn't help blaming Raoul anyway. Still, Meg was right, and being cross about it wouldn't help her to unpack any faster, so she pushed it from her mind and settled to her work.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 24 of 37

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