Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 25 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine sighed, shared a glance with Henri beside her. They were sitting in the stalls, watching the final few auditions for the ballet and waiting for Monsieur Reyer to make the cast announcements.

Carlotta, seated in the front row, was already loudly proclaiming that she didn't know why Reyer had bothered to audition anyone else – and by that, she meant Christine.

"You're sure to get it," Henri murmured to her. "I heard Reyer tell the managers that he refuses to…what was it? To compromise his artistic integrity in every opera."

Christine giggled, and Carlotta flung a glare at her over her shoulder. Perhaps she too had heard Monsieur Reyer saying that, and knew what it meant.

"We'll see," she said. "I've hardly any experience, after all."

Henri shrugged. "We'll see," was all he said. But the last of the dancers scurried off into the wings as Reyer appeared on the stage. The director looked as determined as Christine had ever seen him, and everyone waiting sat up a little straighter, quietened as he came to the front of the stage.

"Signor Piangi is to play Faust," he announced, without any preamble. It wasn't unexpected – and Piangi, unlike his co-lead Carlotta, was still a reasonably decent lead. At least, Christine thought with a smile, Erik never complained as much about Piangi as he did about Carlotta. "Monsieur Duval, you are Méphistophélès. Monsieur Lambert – Valentin."

"Well done," Christine murmured to him, and Henri grinned, nodded at her.

"Mademoiselle Daaé is to play Marguerite," said Monsieur Reyer then, and he looked straight at her, ignored the murmur that rippled through the cast.

He could not, however, ignore Carlotta's outraged shriek, or the way she rose so abruptly she almost fell over her own feet. Christine winced, wished for a moment that she could disappear.

Strong, she told herself.

"That – that little thing, to play my role!" Carlotta seethed. "Outrageous! Impossible! Everyone knows I have always played Marguerite!"

"Not this time, Signora," said Reyer, scowling down at her. "This time, Mademoiselle Daaé will play the role."

"I told you," said Henri to Christine in an undertone, as Carlotta continued to proclaim her outrage. "Reyer's no fool."

"Oh?" she returned softly, glancing at him. "How do you mean?"

"You're very good," he said. "And…well, we all know now that the Ghost favours you."

Christine grimaced, said nothing. She could not deny it – the contents of a very few notes were widely known now, those notes that Erik had sent the morning after her debut as Elissa insisting that she replace Carlotta permanently. Besides that, Henri was a friend now and she hated lying to her friends.

"I'd hope I've shown I'm capable," she murmured back to him. "Not just…favoured."

"Of course," said Henri, with a smile, as if approving of her hope. "You were stunning in Hannibal, and just as good as Il Muto before Carlotta turned you out." He glanced sideways at her, raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Heléne says none of the dancers knew you could sing like that," he said then.

"Meg knew," Christine said with a shrug. "It…my father always wanted me to sing, but after he died it became…" She lifted a hand, gestured at the stage. "I couldn't have sung on stage then," she said. "Not for a long time. I missed him so."

"I'm sorry," said Henri at once. "I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."

Christine smiled at him, wondered at the difference between he and Raoul. Henri apologised for any unintended hurt; but Raoul used her continued deep grief over her father's death to try to persuade her to reveal secrets to him.

"It's alright," she said. "I'm happy now." So very happy – another leading role, and as well she would be married in just a few weeks. By the end of the second week of December, so close she could almost count the hours now, she would be Erik's wife.

And nothing could tear them apart then, she knew. She would finally prove to him that it was not disgust she felt when he touched her, that she could bear to look upon his face and that she would not leave him.

She would never leave him, would never allow them to be parted once they were joined together.

Erik would know already of her casting – of course he would know, he seemed to know everything that went on in the opera house, and Carlotta's screeching, Christine thought, must be loud enough to penetrate even the lowest basements. But she found herself eager to run to find him, to share her joy with him.

"I shall leave!" Carlotta declared loudly then. "If I am not wanted here, I shall go elsewhere!"

"That is your choice, Signora," said Monsieur Reyer. "Cast, your librettos are here. Rehearsals begin tomorrow – promptly at nine!" With a decisive nod he turned and left the stage, and moments later Carlotta stormed out of the stalls – no doubt to find Monsieur Reyer backstage and harangue him some more, Christine thought cynically.

"Well, that's that," said Henri, and he rose, looked down at her with a smile. "And now I suppose you're going to run off and tell your fiancé your good news," he guessed, and Christine laughed, stood up and followed him through the stalls to the discreet door that led backstage.

"Probably," she said. "But you mustn't blame me for that."

"No blame attached," he said, motioning for her to precede him through the door and up the stairs to the wings. "I'm sure I'd do the same. In fact, I may go and find Heléne right now."

"Heléne will be at practice," Christine returned easily. "While my fiancé will be waiting for me."

"Ah, you win," said Henri. They emerged onto the stage, went to the stack of librettos that were waiting on a table, each with the name of the singer on the front. Christine found hers easily, delighted at seeing her name underneath the character of Marguerite.

"Go on, then," said Henri, nudging her aside. "I'll see you tomorrow morning."

"Yes – tomorrow," said Christine, clutching her libretto close. "Have a good day, Henri." She hurried offstage and through the wings, smiling at the few cast members who offered her congratulations, and then made her way up to her dressing room.

Erik was not there when she arrived, and she frowned for a moment before telling herself not to be so self-centred. He had other things to do, and neither of them had known when the casting announcement would finally be made.

Christine settled herself down at the dressing table, opened her libretto and began to remind herself of the opera score. Soon she was so deeply involved in it that when a hand landed on her shoulder, she shrieked, jumped, looked up to see Erik smirking down at her.

"Don't do that!" she scolded, and pressed a hand to her heart, had to catch her breath. "You startled me."

"So I see," he said, amusement in his eyes and his mouth. "I expected to find you waiting for me. What is so fascinating?" He knew, of course, and Christine knew he was humouring her, but she rose to the bait, smiled brilliantly up at him.

"They've given me Marguerite!" she said. "Oh, Erik – a leading part! Henri said Monsieur Reyer insisted." She rose, went gladly into his arms, tilted her face up expectantly for a kiss. He gave it to her, his mouth on hers and his hands spanning her waist, and her eyes closed as he kissed her.

"It is well deserved," he said warmly then. "And on your own merit. Yes," he said, when she opened her mouth to speak. "Entirely your own. I had nothing to do with it, my darling Christine." She flushed at the praise and at the endearment. Both were rare from him, and she wasn't sure which was more cherished.

"Of course, had they not cast you, I would have written several strongly-worded notes," he added then, rather spoiling the effect, and Christine gave a laugh that sounded nervous even to her own ears.

"But they did," she said. "And Carlotta has no part, so I won't have to brave her at rehearsals." He nodded, seemed to realise he was still holding her and retreated. She felt cold where his hands had been, pushed her hair behind her ears and turned to the dressing table, closed her libretto.

"I know most of the songs, I think," she said. "But I haven't sung any for a while. You'll help me, won't you?"

"Of course," he said. "Did you doubt it?"

"No," she said, glancing back at him, smiling. "But I thought I'd better ask." He was so handsome when he smiled, she reflected – of course, the bare side of his face could be called handsome anyway, but a smile quite transformed the whole, warmed his expression so much. She had to kiss him again, she decided, and turned back to him, raised herself onto tiptoe and brought her mouth to his.

"You should always have a leading role," he murmured when at last they parted, and if she was breathing a little too quickly, she was not the only one. "If only so you kissed me like that more often."

"I kiss you every day," Christine said, and they were still so close that she could feel his breath on her face.

"A fact I marvel at every hour," he said, barely a whisper, and she smiled, closed the last inch of space and kissed him again, lifted her hands to cup his cheeks – one warm flesh and the other cool leather.

At length they parted once more, and Christine's cheeks were flushed, she glimpsed herself in the mirror and found herself thoroughly wanton. She turned to retrieve her libretto, clutched it to her chest as if she could use it as a barrier – between herself and her desire, more than between the two of them.

"We – we should go down," she said, almost stammering. "The opera – I'd like to be prepared, for the first rehearsal."

Erik shook his head. "You know the music well," he told her. "I have something else I'd like you to sing today." She tilted her head inquiringly, looked up at him, but Erik looked almost hesitant, almost cautious. It was strange in him, and she waited. "My opera is nearly finished," he said at last. "I intend it to be performed here, in the new year."

Christine held back all questions about how he would see it done, about what he would do to ensure the managers' compliance; now was not the right time for them. Instead she focused on his hesitance, on his desire for her to sing his music, and she smiled at him, held out her hand for his.

"Are you sure I'll do it justice?" she asked lightly, teasingly. He took her hand, gave her an intense look.

"It is not like anything you have attempted before," he acknowledged. "It will take time for you to learn it. But that is why we must start now." His eyes were fierce as he looked at her, his fingers tightly clasped around hers. "You will do it justice, Christine. It was, after all, written for you."

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 25 of 37

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