Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 28 of 37

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Stay By My Side

"Oh, your hair," said Meg crossly, flinging the hairbrush down onto the bed. "It's never going to stay up."

"Then I'll just leave it down," said Christine, reaching for the hairpins that had sprung from her curls. "I have the veil, anyway." She put the pins down on Madame Giry's dressing table. They were dressing here, in the privacy of Madame Giry's rooms, away from the curious eyes of the other girls.

"Yes, that's true," Meg acknowledged. "Shall I just pin it back, then?" She took the pins, pulled Christine's hair back and pinned it the way she normally kept her hair. "Oh, Christine," she said then. "You do look beautiful."

Christine smiled absently at the compliment, made sure the row of buttons on the front of her bodice were fastened properly, glanced at herself in Madame Giry's small mirror. The gown was beautiful, this wedding gown that Erik had given to her, and she supposed she looked beautiful in it.

Meg finished with her hair, lifted the veil and placed it carefully on her head. "There," she said. "A perfect bride."

"Am I?" Christine stared at the mirror, found a stranger looking back. She reached out for Meg, fumbled for her hand. Meg clasped her hand, joined her in front of the mirror.

"What is it?" she asked gently. "Christine, your hand is so cold." She frowned at Christine in the mirror, turned to her and reached up to touch her face. "You're so pale. What is it? You're not frightened?"

"No," said Christine, the words coming slowly. "No, not…not frightened, exactly." She was nervous, a little, now the wedding was finally here, now her new life was about to begin. But more than that, she had a great sense of foreboding. She felt as though something was just about to happen, something to curtail her happiness.

She could not forget the way Raoul had looked at her last night in the graveyard, and the words he had spoken.

"Christine, you love him," said Meg, oblivious to her thoughts. "I know you do. You're not – not changing your mind, or anything, are you?"

"No," said Christine at once. "No, of course not." The thought hadn't even occurred to her, in truth – she wanted to marry Erik, wanted to be his wife, to belong to him and have him belong to her in turn. "I just – I feel as if something terrible is going to happen," she said then, and went to sit on the bed, pressed her hand to her mouth. She was almost afraid she was going to be sick.

"Christine," murmured Meg. "I'll fetch you a glass of water," she decided. "I'll be back in a moment." She went through to the outer sitting room and through the outer door into the corridor. Madame Giry came through to her then, stood in the doorway and surveyed her critically.

"You look very nice," she said at last. "How are you feeling?"

"I – I'm not sure," Christine said, and she clasped her hands together so tightly her knuckles were white. "I'm not changing my mind," she said, in case Madame Giry thought as Meg had. "I'm just…nervous."

To her surprise, Madame Giry smiled tightly, gave her a nod. "I suspect many brides are, my dear. There's no shame in it." She hesitated for a moment, her smile fading. "But you are sure you will be happy with him?"

Christine nodded. "I couldn't be happy without him, Madame," she said sincerely. "I know it won't always be easy. I'm not…not going into it blindly." No, she knew it would not be easy – knew his temper, knew how scared of him she sometimes was. And she could never forget that he was capable of murder, that he had murdered a man, and many others besides in the years past.

No, she could never forget that; and yet he looked at her with such love, such devotion, that she could push it aside. She had his promise, after all.

Meg returned with a glass of water, and Christine drank it gratefully, managed a smile.

"I'm alright now," she reassured Meg. "Thank you." She put the glass down on Madame Giry's dressing table, glanced herself over in the mirror one last time. Yes, she decided, she did look beautiful, and something in her stomach fluttered at the thought of how Erik would look at her.

"Get your cloaks, then," Madame Giry said. "It's cold outside, I don't want either of you getting ill. Meg, where are your gloves?"

"Here, Maman," said Meg, brandishing them in one hand as she reached for her cloak with the other. "Christine, here are yours, and your scarf." They wrapped themselves up well, presented themselves for Madame Giry's inspection before she ushered them out of her rooms and locked the door as she followed them out.

"Let us see," begged Jammes, from the top of the stairs that led to the dormitory corridor. "Please, Madame!"

"You should be in bed," Madame Giry scolded, but she gave a nod and Christine ran up the stairs, pushed her cloak back and spun around for the girls gathered there.

"Oh, you're beautiful!" Jammes said warmly. "Just beautiful, Christine! Like a fairy tale princess." The others murmured agreement, and then Madame Giry rapped her cane once on the wooden floor and they all scurried to their bedrooms. Christine went down the stairs again, pulled her cloak close.

"Come," Madame Giry said, "we'll be late if we don't hurry." She led the way down through the opera house, and in a few minutes they had reached the back entrance, the stage door that was reserved for the performers and workers of the opera house.

Raoul was waiting for them, and Christine's sense of foreboding crystallised. This was what she had been afraid of, she realised – that Raoul would find her, try to stop her marrying Erik.

"Monsieur," said Madame Giry severely, "it is late. May I ask what you are doing here? The performance is long over."

"I was waiting for Christine," said Raoul, staring at Christine. "To stop you," he clarified, and Christine shook her head, fought back angry tears. "Madame Giry, surely you can't condone what Christine is doing?" he asked then, appealing to her guardian.

"I do not think it is any of your business," said Madame Giry, and Christine was grateful for her support. "Christine has made it clear she does not wish to see you, I think. You should respect her wishes."

"We're going to be late," Meg chimed in, scowling at him.

"Mademoiselle," Raoul said, turning to her, "are you too in agreement? Has he threatened you too?"

"Raoul, stop this," Christine snapped, pushing past the Girys to confront him herself. "Didn't you hear me last night? I'm happy with Erik and I'm going to marry him." She stared at him, lifted her chin defiantly. "Raoul, you must leave me alone," she told him then, trying to persuade him. "You were warned last night. I think if you seek me out again he will not restrain himself."

Raoul frowned, shook his head. "I can't believe you're doing this willingly, Christine," he said, but he was quiet now, as if something had got through to him. "He must be forcing you. What is it, Christine? And what is under his mask?"

"Monsieur, really," said Madame Giry, but Christine shook her head, stepped a little closer to Raoul.

"Why do you think I'm being forced?" she asked, her voice soft. "Why are you so certain, Raoul? When I've made myself quite clear." Time was passing, and Erik would be waiting at the church – the last thing she wanted was to be late, for him to think she wasn't going to come – but she had to settle this.

"Because I know you, Christine," said Raoul, and he reached out, caught her hands in his. "And I – I love you."

Christine pulled her hand from his, felt nothing but pity as she looked at him. "Raoul, you don't know me," she rebuked. "You were right, that day you took me to lunch. I'm not the same girl I was when we were young. And…if you love me, I am sorry for you. Because you love a dream." She stepped back, made sure the hood of her cloak still covered her delicate veil. "And now I am going to my wedding, Raoul, and if you stop me, I have misjudged you."

Raoul did not stop them, and they left the opera house, walked briskly out into the harsh wind. Snowflakes danced through the air, landing on their cold faces as they huddled together and made their way to the church. It wasn't a long walk, but by the time they reached the church Christine felt it was quite long enough.

They entered the church vestibule, shut the heavy door behind them. It was scarcely warmer inside, and when Christine removed her cloak she couldn't help a shiver.

"I'd say to keep it on," said Meg, fussing at her veil, "but you look so lovely. Anyway, I'm keeping mine on."

"Just make sure you put it back on quickly," said Madame Giry, and she reached out for Christine, held her by the shoulders and looked her over. Never emotional, she now gave Christine a look that was almost tender. "Good luck, my dear."

Christine nodded, swallowed against a dry throat, and turned to enter the nave. Meg and Madame Giry followed a few paces behind, but Christine had eyes only for Erik.

He was waiting for her near the altar, looking up at the cross on the wall, but he turned when she entered, and his expression was everything she had hoped for.

It was love, and desire, and possession, and Christine hurried up the aisle to him, took his outstretched hand.

She'd seen him only a few hours before, when she had given him a bag of her belongings to take down, and he had seemed so eager, so nervous, his hands skimming across her as if he was scared to touch.

Now there was no hesitation in his expression, only anticipation, and he raised her hand to his mouth, kissed her knuckles.

"You look perfect," he murmured. "Just as I imagined." Christine flushed at the compliment, lifted a hand self-consciously to her hair. "Perfect," he assured her. He bowed slightly as Meg and Madame Giry reached the front pews, but his attention was on Christine, and it was a heady thing.

The priest arrived then, coming from the sacristy, and he came towards then, nodded at Christine. She knew him well, had been coming to this church ever since she had arrived at the opera house, and she suspected it was only her regular attendance that had convinced him to agree to such an unusual ceremony. Certainly he sent Erik an odd glance – but, Christine saw with gratitude, he did not spare the mask more than a passing look.

"Mademoiselle," he greeted. "Are you both ready?"

"Yes," said Christine softly, looking up at Erik once more. "We're ready."

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 28 of 37

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