Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 3 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine sat in her dressing room, back to the mirror, and bent her head over clasped hands. She wasn't praying, not exactly – she rather thought she was hoping and wishing, but in the silence of the dressing room her hope and wish almost seemed to develop into a prayer.

It had been three days since she had heard from her angel – from the Phantom. Three long, hard days, during which she had realised how important he was to her, how lonely her days were without his voice.

Three days, and she had performed on stage three times, had heard the applause, received flowers and compliments, had been asked to suppers, invited for walks, and all she could think about was her angel. Others spoke to her, but she barely heard them, straining for even a whisper of his familiar voice. Others complimented her, but it meant nothing compared to the slight praise he sometimes gave her when she had performed particularly well in a lesson.

Christine missed him, and she knew his absence was her fault, was because of her actions. For three days she had lived with that knowledge, and it only hurt more as each hour passed with no word from him.

There were things she should be doing now; the evening's performance would start in two hours, and she needed to eat something before then, before her dresser arrived to help her into the first costume. And she should be studying the part for Il Muto, Monsieur Reyer had told her to be ready to rehearse act one with him in one of the smaller practice rooms tomorrow.

But she sat, hands together, looked at herself in the small mirror of the dressing table, felt the full-length mirror behind her, wondered if he was watching. Wondered whether she was imagining the slight shiver down her spine, the barest awareness of him.

Whether he was there, separated from her only by the glass of the mirror, watching her even now, as she felt tears form in her eyes.

She rose suddenly, turned and faced the mirror – saw only her reflection, small and pale, but she stepped closer, raised a hand to touch the glass.

"I wish you'd talk to me," she whispered, her voice sounding forlorn even to her own ears. "I'm – I'm so sorry." She was crying properly now, tears running in hot streaks down her face, and she was almost ashamed of it, wanted to stop but the ache in her heart wouldn't let her. "I want to make it right," she went on, and she looked at the glass, tried to see beyond it even as she knew it was futile. "Please give me a chance to make it right," she begged.

She thought she heard something – an inhalation, some movement behind the mirror – and she pressed closer, lifted her other hand and spread her fingers against the glass.

"Please," she said again. "Please don't leave me. I couldn't bear it."

And she knew she couldn't – he was her best friend as well as her teacher, the one person she had always been able to trust. She'd trusted foolishly, perhaps, and hindsight made her feel naïve and childish, but she had trusted him nonetheless. Trusted him still, with her voice, with her career – with more than that, she trusted him with her happiness.

She'd spoken the truth when she'd said to Madame Giry that she knew he would never hurt her, not deliberately. And yet he was hurting her now, by this absence, an absence she could only think was being inflicted as a punishment for her stupid, thoughtless action that night.

But nothing happened, no further noise came from the passage behind the mirror, and Christine bowed her head, tried to calm her breathing, forced away the tears. He was not there – or worse, she thought, he was there, and simply would not answer her.

A knock at the dressing room door made her turn, fumbling in her pocket for a handkerchief, and she glanced at the clock, was reassured that she still had plenty of time before she needed to prepare for the night's performance.

"Come in," she called, and the door opened to admit Meg, dressed in her white practice clothes, her pointe shoes dangling over her shoulder.

"Christine," she said, smiling. "Maman sent me for you, she wants you to come and eat with us before the show." Her smile faded; she stepped closer, lifted a hand to touch Christine's cheek. "You've been crying," she murmured. "Oh, Christine, what is it?"

For a moment Christine thought of telling her, but only a moment. She'd spoken of her angel to Meg three nights ago, flushed with the pleasure of her first leading role and the praise that had echoed through the corridor as she returned to her dressing room. Spoken foolishly, and Meg hadn't understood, had been concerned for her.

"I'm alright," she said, just before the silence became too long. "Just – just a little overwhelmed, I think."

Meg smiled again, bright and cheerful, and she took Christine's handkerchief, dried her cheeks. "You're doing splendidly," she said, coaxing Christine back to equilibrium. "You know Maman never likes us to read reviews, but Sorelli had the papers, of course, and they all agree you're simply wonderful."

"Oh, Meg," sighed Christine. Her friend was trying to help, but news of good reviews only made her think of the review she hadn't had – the critical, mentoring review from her teacher. But she tried to seem happier, tried to smile even though she knew Meg would see through it. "Thank you, Meg," she said. "I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me."

"It's alright," said Meg, and she handed back the handkerchief, glanced around the dressing room. "Whatever are you doing up here by yourself? I feel like I've hardly seen you since the other night."

"I know," lamented Christine, letting Meg pull her away from the mirror and back to the dressing table. They still shared a room, of course, with Giselle and Jammes, but they no longer shared the same practice sessions, no longer ran on the same timetable. They came together for meals, in the large canteen that fed the workers of the opera house, but during the day Meg was with the dancers, practicing and taking instruction from Madame Giry, while Christine spent most of her time now with Monsieur Reyer and the cast, going over Hannibal and beginning preparations for Il Muto.

It was adding to her loneliness, she realised – this odd separation from her friends, and from Meg in particular. She was getting to know people she'd only known in passing before, the principals of the cast who had never done more than nod at her before her debut, but they were not her friends.

Her smile widened, became real. "Meg, let's do something together," she said. "There aren't any rehearsals tomorrow, let's go out."

Meg squealed, bounced on her toes. "Oh, yes," she agreed. "We should go shopping, to celebrate your success!" Her enthusiasm was catching, and Christine laughed, let Meg spin her around, let herself forget, for a few moments, anything but the delight of being with her friend.

"And to tea," she said. "As many cakes as we want!" She hugged Meg suddenly, held her close. "Thank you," she said, whispered into her friend's ear. "You always cheer me up."

"You're too melancholy," Meg told her gaily. "Now come on, Maman will be waiting, and this afternoon's lesson was awful, Giselle couldn't do anything right and she made me do an extra half an hour because she caught me pulling faces."

Christine laughed again, shook her head. "I almost envy you," she said. "Carlotta will be back on Monday for rehearsals and I'm dreading it."

Meg made a comical expression, stuck her nose in the air and imitated Carlotta's walk. "Oh, la di da," she said. "You're miles better than she ever was, Christine. And anyway, I know Maman thinks the new managers are stupid not to cast you as the countess." She glanced around theatrically, as if somebody might have entered the dressing room without them seeing. "You know the Opera Ghost wants you as the lead," Meg confided then, and Christine glanced at the mirror, nodded just once.

"I know," she murmured. "But…oh Meg, let's not talk about that now." She didn't want to think about the Opera Ghost, about her angel, about the threats she was sure he'd made about the casting, given the looks and whispers that had followed her about for the past few days.

Meg looked at her keenly, searchingly, and Christine dropped her gaze, couldn't explain why she didn't want to talk about it. She wondered what Meg knew of the Phantom – if Meg, like her mother, knew more about him than most in the opera house. Knew him to be no ghost but a man of flesh and blood.

"We must go," she said, when the silence was becoming unbearable, when Meg spoke no more. "You said Madame is waiting."

"Yes," said Meg, nodding. "Are you ready?"

"I'll just wash my face," said Christine, aware she must look a sight from her earlier tears. "I'll follow you in a minute." Meg nodded again, gave her one last curious look before leaving the dressing room, shutting the door behind her.

Christine stood still for a moment, let the silence settle again. She went slowly to the washstand in the corner, poured water into the basin and cupped it in her hands, brought it to her face. The water was cool, felt pleasant on her face, and she washed away all traces of her distress.

An afternoon out with Meg would do her good, she knew, and Madame Giry had taken her aside yesterday, informed her that her wage had significantly increased for the duration of Hannibal, and even afterwards she would be earning more than she had as a ballet dancer, earning the same as other principal members of the company. And although Christine wasn't stupid, knew she ought to save what she did not need to live on, she didn't feel that one shopping trip would be so very wasteful.

She dried her face, felt that prickle down the back of her neck again. Was it real, she wondered, was he really there? Was he watching her now, would he hear if she spoke?

"I meant it," she whispered. "I am so sorry. I was…I was curious, but…I'm not a child. I should have respected your privacy. And…and I know I deserve this." She had to stop, swallowed hard, refused to cry again. "I deserve it," she repeated at last. "But please. Please don't leave me forever."

There was no answer, but she didn't really expect one. If he chose to speak to her, she knew it would be on his terms, when he decided to reveal himself again, not because she begged him not to leave her.

She put the towel down, glanced around to make sure the dressing room was tidy, and then hurried to catch up with Meg.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 3 of 37

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