Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 32 of 37

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Stay By My Side

The first performance of Faust went wonderfully, and Christine was flushed with pleasure when she returned to her dressing room, felt she could still hear the roars of the approving audience as she had taken her bow.

"Calm down, child," said her dresser, Danielle. "You've got the party to get through yet. Here, sit down and wash your face while I unbutton you." She was a sweet woman, but just as stern in her way as Madame Giry, so Christine obeyed, washed her face in the basin that Danielle brought to the dressing table.

"I'm not going for very long," she said, when her face was free of the thick stage make-up. "My husband doesn't like me attending these things, and I can't imagine having a good time there." Danielle finished unbuttoning her gown, and Christine rose to step out of it.

"Well, that's probably just as well," Danielle said, and she lifted the dress, went to put it on the dressmaker's model she'd put in a corner of the room. "You look far too excited, I'm sure you'll work yourself to exhaustion if you have half the chance."

Christine laughed, took her own dress from the back of the chair and pulled it on. "You're probably right," she admitted. "I'll try to calm down."

But she felt full of energy, the excitement and tension of the evening still thrumming through her veins, and she couldn't resist a quick glance at the mirror. She could not see Erik, of course. The mirror only showed her own reflection. He was there, though, she knew that – could feel his gaze on her, a heady weight as she pushed her arms through the sleeves of her dress, held it in place while Danielle fastened the buttons at the back and twitched the skirts into order.

"Brush your hair, child," Danielle advised then. "Those curls! How they tangle. Will you put your hair up for this evening?"

Christine knew she probably should – she was an adult now, a married woman, and married women wore their hair up. She hadn't bothered doing so for rehearsals, or even for the few outings she'd taken. It was so much bother, she reflected, staring at her reflection. Her hair was so difficult sometimes, so thick and unruly. It could be tamed, but it took time and effort that she usually didn't want to devote to something so trivial.

And besides, she thought with a blush, Erik liked her hair loose. He liked to stroke his hand through her curls, sometimes doing so almost absently, as if it had become habit.

"No," she decided at last, picked up her hairbrush and brushed her hair with firm strokes. "It's too difficult. And I'm not quite eighteen yet, nobody will care."

"Suit yourself," said Danielle easily. "Well, you won't need me, then, and your costumes are all tidied away. There's no mending tonight, thank goodness. And you're very neat on your feet – I won't catch you tearing your hems!"

Christine grinned, understood the dig at Carlotta. Danielle was the senior dresser in the opera house, would usually attend Carlotta – but Carlotta had no part in this opera, and so she attended Christine.

"Thank you, Danielle," she said. "I'll see you tomorrow evening, then." Danielle nodded, glanced around once more to see that everything was as it should be, and then left the room. Christine turned at once to the mirror, held out her hands for Erik. A moment later he stepped through the mirror, came to her, took her hands and lifted one to his mouth, kissed it.

"You did very well," he said, quiet praise but enough for Christine, enough to make her smile brilliantly once more.

"Thank you," she said, and she let him pull her close, lifted her face to his for the expected kiss. He did not disappoint, and he released her hands to wrap his arms about her waist, bringing her even closer to him. "I thought I was a bit shaky at the beginning," she admitted, when they parted.

"A little," he conceded. "But that was more your acting than your singing. You'll be fine after another performance, I think. You allowed yourself to remember the audience. Remember to focus on the character and your fellow actors. Forget the people watching."

"I will," she promised. She lifted her hand, caressed his cheek, loved the way he turned his face into her hand, as if seeking more. "I'm sorry I have to go," she said softly then, and he scowled, but his ire was not directed at her. He had grudgingly agreed that she must attend the celebrations, if only for a short time – had agreed that she must fulfil her obligations to the opera house as its newest star, which meant more than simply singing on the stage each night.

"Not more than two hours," he said, reminding her of their agreement, and she nodded. Two hours would be more than enough, she was sure. She would smile and shake hands with those patrons the managers introduced her to, would have a glass of champagne – for she knew she could not avoid it – and would retire with grace, claiming the demands of performing.

"I promise," she said. "And I'll leave and go round to the Rue Scribe door, afterwards." It was something they had decided upon, to create the impression that she lived outside the opera house; at the end of the day she left through the workers' door with everyone else, walked around the opera house and went back in through the Rue Scribe door, where Erik was always waiting to take her down to their home.

He had given her a key for the door, a sign of his trust in her that she cherished.

"I'll be waiting," he said, glanced her over again, and a smile softened his face. "You will enchant them all," he murmured. Then the smile faded and he leaned down to kiss her again, the cool mask pressing against her cheek as he seemed to take possession of her mouth. He left her breathless, and she raised her hands to her flushed cheeks as he stared at her. "I am jealous of those you will meet," he murmured. "I would keep you for myself if I could."

"I am yours," she said, a necessary reminder at times. "But if you kept me entirely for yourself, I should never sing on stage – and I doubt you'd agree to that!"

His jealousy faded, his possessiveness dying down in favour of amusement. "No," he agreed. "No more than you would, my dear. Go, then. But don't be long."

He retreated through the mirror, and Christine spared a moment to make sure her hair and dress were still neat, caught up her outdoors things, and left the dressing room through the door.

The party turned out to be almost exactly as Christine had expected. Messieurs André and Firmin escorted her about the foyer and introduced her to various important personages, and Christine wasn't allowed a moment to herself, or to spend with those of her friends who were here. Henri and Heléne were there, and Henri grinned at her from across the room several times. Meg was there as well, and she stuck close – Monsieur André rather liked her, confided to Christine that she reminded him of his niece, and so she at least wasn't ushered away in favour of richer and more prominent attendees.

Raoul was there, of course, and Christine dreaded their meeting. But he was polite, bowed and congratulated her on her performance.

"Thank you, Raoul," she said softly. "I'm glad you enjoyed it." He nodded, his smile tight, and he looked down at her hand, saw the wedding ring on her finger. Christine caught her breath, waited to see what he would say. She didn't think he would make a scene, not in public like this, but she couldn't be sure.

"Congratulations again," Raoul said at last, and he nodded at the managers, drifted away to speak to someone else. Christine exhaled slowly, caught André's puzzled glance.

"I rather thought you two were friends," he commented. "I hope you haven't had a falling out, Mademoiselle – oh, I'm sorry, I do keep forgetting. Madame." His remorse was genuine as he offered Christine his arm once more, and she smiled at him.

"I think Raoul thought I would always be the little girl he remembers," she said lightly. "And now I've grown up and am happily married, I don't think he can quite bring himself to try to understand." André nodded slowly, still watching her thoughtfully. "I'm sure he won't withdraw his support for the opera," Christine added to reassure him.

"Well, I suppose I'll have to trust you on that," he said after a long moment. He led her across the foyer then, introduced her to yet another patron, and Christine smiled prettily, accepted the lady's compliments and exchanged pleasantries.

Finally the clock struck the hour, and Christine heaved a sigh of relief, turned to André and Firmin and made her excuses.

"Surely you can stay another half an hour," said André, who had become a little jovial with the free-flowing wine.

"Oh, let the girl go, André," said Firmin, whose wife had already indicated to him that she wished to leave. "Most people will be going soon, and anyway, she's met all the important people."

"Thank you, Monsieur," Christine said. He was hardly saying so with any thought for her, she knew, but she would accept all favours if it meant she was free to go home to Erik, to celebrate her success with the only person who mattered. "Bonsoir, Messieurs, Madame Firmin."

She turned and made her way through the foyer, through the crowd that was indeed thinning a little. Her cloak and gloves were in the cloakroom, and she went to retrieve them, made sure she was well protected from the cold.


Christine sighed, pulled the hood of her cloak over her head. "I'm going home, Raoul," she said quietly. "I do not want to argue with you."

"I – I don't want to argue either," Raoul said, coming to a halt just before he became uncomfortably close to her. "I wanted to apologise, actually." Christine frowned at him, couldn't quite believe it. "I know you think I behave wrongly, the other week," Raoul continued. "But I need you to understand that all I want is for you to be safe."

"I am safe, Raoul," she said, and put her gloves on, fiddled with the buttons. "And you did behave wrongly. I must go, I'll be late." She tried to move past him but he stopped her, caught at her arm, and she sighed loudly. "Raoul, let me go."

"I do love you, Christine," he said earnestly. "And…and I know you're married now, but I need you to know I'm here if you ever have need of me. If he ever turns on you, I can protect you."

Christine stared at him for a long moment, long enough for hope to enter his expression, and then she shook her head. He would not even try to understand, she could see now. He had to believe she was under Erik's influence, under some spell, because he could never admit that she could truly love someone other than himself.

"He will never turn on me," she said, quite truthfully. "And I shall never need you, Raoul. I'm sorry, but you must not continue thinking this way." She pulled away from him, walked briskly down the corridor and then across the entrance hall of the opera.

The night was bitterly cold, and she was glad she only had a few minutes' walk down the Rue Scribe to the little door. She pulled the key from her pocket, put it in the lock and turned it, stepped into the dark passageway. It was cold in Erik's tunnels, and would be cold in their home, but at least inside there was no wind.

And it was not dark for more than a moment; Erik lit a lamp, reached past her to make sure the door was locked, and then offered her his arm to aid her in their descent.

"Did you enjoy yourself?" he asked, teasing her, and Christine laughed, shook her head.

"Monsieur André isn't so very bad," she had to admit. "And many of the people were very complimentary. But you know I would have much preferred a quiet evening with you." She leaned against him, rested her head for a moment on his shoulder. "Anyway," she said eventually, "I won't have to go to another one until at least the beginning of February!"

"A blessing, I'm sure," said Erik dryly. "And you're not too tired?" He surveyed her, and she wondered what he could see in the lamplight – whether he could see that she was fatigued now, felt a little worn out from the constant flow of conversation. "A hot drink and bed," he decided for her. "You can sleep in tomorrow."

"Thank goodness for that," said Christine, smiling as they began to move through the tunnels and passageways into the depths of the opera house. "I'm not sure I like being a prima donna if it involves all this…socialising."

His chuckle echoed across the stone, bounced back at them from the walls, and Christine thought any other person might be frightened by it.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 32 of 37

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