Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 36 of 37

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Stay By My Side

"Ah, Mademoiselle Daaé, do come in."

"Thank you, Monsieur André," said Christine demurely, allowing him to usher her into the office. He closed the door as she regarded the occupants: the managers, of course, and Carlotta and Piangi. Raoul was there too, and Madame Giry. That would make things simpler, she told herself – it was possible, after all, that Raoul had already told them all about her marriage.

"Have a seat, Mademoiselle," said Firmin, gesturing carelessly at a chair.

"It's Madame," Christine corrected, shared a glance with Madame Giry before taking the proffered seat. She did not miss the way Raoul looked at her – hurt, but mostly suspicious. Christine clutched the papers in her hand a little harder, then smoothed out the creases. "You wanted to see me, messieurs?"

"You're behind all this!" Carlotta said, before either of the managers could speak. "You – somehow, I know it's you! You don't even have the voice to sing this – this – it isn't even music!" She flung down her copy of the score, and Christine glanced down, confirmed that it was indeed Erik's opera, and then looked back at Carlotta, silent. Madame Giry came to stand beside her, put a hand on her shoulder, and Christine glanced up at her, offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

"You've secured the largest part," Firmin told her, a sour note in his voice. "Monsieur le Vicomte, really, I don't see that we have any choice but to comply."

"It's madness," Raoul said, his eyes fixed on Christine. "But you may be right. This man – he will stop at nothing, it seems." He seemed to be waiting for her to react, for the anger she had displayed last night, but Christine looked back at him, said nothing. She had the advantage here, although he didn't know it, wouldn't know it until she revealed what she held in her hand.

"What can he do?" Carlotta demanded rudely. "Nothing!"

"He can do many things," Madame Giry snapped. "As you well know, Signora." Her fingers were tight on Christine's shoulder, but Christine didn't pull away; she looked down at the papers in her lap, then looked up at Raoul, at Carlotta and at the managers.

"Excuse me," she said softly, "but I think you should read these." She lifted the papers, stretched her hand out to André, and he frowned at her, took the papers and glanced them over. She could see the moment he realised what the papers contained – his expression froze, his eyes wide and mouth open, and then he turned to Firmin, stuttered something and thrust the papers at him.

"What is it, André?" Firmin demanded, took the papers and perused them. He paled, glanced up at Christine, shook his head. "This is preposterous," he said. "What sort of a joke is this?"

"It's not a joke, Monsieur," said Christine, watched as Raoul went to look over Firmin's shoulder.

"What is it?" he asked. "'Ownership of the Opera Populaire is…'" He trailed off, looked up at Christine in shock. "He owns it?" he demanded of her. "This – this can't be real!"

"Who?" Carlotta crowded Raoul out of the way, tried to snatch the papers from Firmin's hand. "What is it? Let me see!"

"It's a copy of the deed of ownership for the opera house," said Christine. Madame Giry's fingers were painfully tight now, and Christine looked up at her, saw that Madame Giry had never even suspected something like this. "He's owned it for quite a few years," she went on.

"But – but – he is a man, then," stammered Carlotta, and she went to a chair, sank down into it. Piangi went to her, took her hand, and Carlotta was so taken aback that she allowed it. "Not a ghost?"

"Of course he isn't a ghost," said Raoul snappishly, and turned back to Christine, stepped towards her until he was just close enough to scowl down at her. "What is this, Christine?"

"What you see," said Christine, trying not to feel intimidated by having to look up at him, craning her neck. She wanted to stand, to create distance between them, but refused to show her discomfort. "He owns the opera house." She looked beyond him, to André and Firmin. "I'm sorry," she said, gentle, "but I'm afraid you have no choice."

"But – but who is he?" André demanded, quite bewildered. "Why on earth pose as a ghost, for heaven's sake?"

"Ask her," said Raoul, his words clipped, and he gestured at Christine. "She knows. She – she's married to him."

"What?" Firmin rounded on her, scowled fiercely. "Is this true?"

Christine lowered her eyes, thought about her words carefully before speaking. "My husband owns the opera house," she said at last. "He…amuses himself by playing up to the superstitions that always float around places like these." She looked up, firm and defiant. "People chose to believe him a ghost, Monsieur," she said, and nobody spoke. "It is eccentric, I know," she said eventually, when the silence was becoming unbearable. "But he is a genius. And he does own the opera house – you cannot refute that."

"But – but we signed –" André stuttered, and Christine shook her head.

"A contract only, Monsieur," she said. "To manage the opera. Not to own it." She reached up to cover Madame Giry's hand with her own, displaying her wedding ring prominently. "Even his salary is written into that contract," she said. "I'm sorry, but you have no choice."

"Christine, why are you helping him?" Raoul asked, and he sounded so helpless, looked at her with an almost pathetic look on his face. "He's fed you lies, can you not see that?"

"It's not lies," Christine said at once, and she rose, frowned at him. "I have told you nothing but the truth." She turned to Firmin, stretched out a hand to him in entreaty. "Monsieur, I am not lying," she said. "And neither is he. He wishes us to perform his opera – will you refuse?"

"I – I don't see how we can, Firmin," murmured André. "If what she says is true…"

"It's a conspiracy," said Carlotta, stood up, came towards Christine and shook a finger in her face. "I knew something was going on here! Your husband, he has a vendetta against me! He is the reason for all this!"

"Si, it is him," agreed Piangi, staunchly backing up his lover. "He has discredited Carlotta, made her to croak like a – a toad." Carlotta turned to direct a scowl at him, and he raised his hands defensively, backed away a step.

Christine said nothing – she could not deny it, could not protest because Erik did have a vendetta against Carlotta. He loathed her, loathed the ruin she had created for her voice, and he had certainly done everything within his power to make sure Christine replaced her as leading soprano. There was no conspiracy, of course, but things were complicated enough without Christine trying to refute only part of what Carlotta had said.

"He certainly is the reason for it all," said Raoul, but he was shaking his head. "I – are you sure these documents are real, Firmin?"

"As sure as I can be," Firmin said, and he went to the desk, put the papers down, turned to look once more at Christine. "But Mademoiselle – Madame – you must explain more to us. Your husband, he must be quite mad. Why should he play at being a ghost? And the notes – those notes!"

"As I said, Monsieur," said Christine quietly, "he is a genius. Who can say why a genius does the things he does? But he has never harmed anyone, not really. And he has been helping to make the opera house great for years. Ask Monsieur Reyer – he will tell you that."

"There is no need, I can tell you the same," said Madame Giry, stepping beside Christine, supporting her once more. "He has been perfecting this theatre for many years. His notes have always been to the point and well-informed in musical matters."

"He has taken against me!" Carlotta snapped. "How is that well-informed?"

Neither Christine nor Madame Giry chose to reply, and Raoul saved them from doing so, shook his head and ran a hand across his face.

"This is madness," he muttered. "Madness! Messieurs, I have seen this man – he threatened me!"

"Madame, is this true?" André asked, and Christine shook her head.

"No, Monsieur," she said. "My husband warned Monsieur le Vicomte that he was acting inappropriately towards me, but that is all." She looked at Raoul, met his gaze. It was his word against hers, she knew, and wondered which of them the managers would believe. André heaved a sigh, collapsed in a chair by the desk.

"It's all beyond me," he said. "I thought it would be simple, coming here. Firmin, what do you think?"

"Hm?" Firmin had been bent over the desk, examining the papers once more, and he glanced up at André and then at Christine. "Oh, well, she's said the man's eccentric, and we can see that for ourselves from all these blasted notes." He straightened, rubbed his back briefly. "Madame, I think we must believe you," he said to Christine. "But can I ask – will he continue with this ghost charade? Surely now we know the truth…"

"I couldn't possibly say," said Christine, thought it highly unlikely that Erik would cease his antics, given how much joy he took in teasing the superstitious workers of the opera house. "May I tell him that we will begin rehearsals?" she asked then.

"Yes, I suppose so," said André, and Firmin nodded. "It appears we have no choice."

"I can't believe you're simply accepting all this," marvelled Raoul. "Monsieur Firmin, surely you can see how preposterous this whole situation is?"

"What I see," interceded Madame Giry coolly, "is a man who cannot accept that his childhood friend loves another man." Raoul started, stared at her, but Madame Giry was firm, and nobody else spoke, nobody else had anything to say. Christine looked around, saw Carlotta's contemptuous look directed at Raoul rather than herself, saw André nodding as if in agreement with Madame Giry.

"Monsieur le Vicomte, if he owns the opera house, he has the right to dictate productions," said Firmin, and it was clear the idea was distasteful to him. "We'll have to examine these documents properly, of course, and find the papers we signed when we took over from Monsieur Lefevre – but on the face of it…"

"So I shall tell him," said Christine, and she nodded at Firmin. "Those copies are for you, Monsieur," she said. "Do you have any message for my husband?"

"No," said Firmin sourly. "No. But can we meet him, Madame?"

"I'm not sure," said Christine with a shrug. "I don't think so, Monsieur. He prefers to communicate by letter." She looked at Madame Giry, at Carlotta's pale face, and at last at Raoul. She felt sorry for him, she realised then. He had no conception of the love she had for Erik, no idea of how deeply they understood one another.

And he would never have it, she knew suddenly. As long as he clung to dreams of an idealised past, he would never be able to love someone as dearly and completely as she loved Erik. Yes, she felt very sorry for him indeed.

But not sorry enough to stay longer, to listen to his petty words and try to make him see the folly of thinking himself in love with her. Not when she knew Erik was lurking behind these walls somewhere, listening to the conversation and no doubt joyous that his plan had worked and his opera would be performed.

"Thank you for your time, Messieurs," she said, dipped a curtsey. "If there's nothing else…" They waved her away, and Christine left the office, shut the door behind her and then hurried to share in Erik's joy.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 36 of 37

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