Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 4 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Stay By My Side

"That's pretty," said Meg, peering over Christine's shoulder at the music box Christine had found, tucked away at the back of a display of many a music shop. They'd come in to look for a book of folk songs that had recently been published – not Christine's usual fare, but she knew it included songs she'd sang as a child with her father. The book was in stock, but she'd been distracted by the display, had drifted over to look at the boxes.

"Yes, it is," Christine said, holding up the small wooden box. It was carved into a sort of maze, polished to a shine, and it played a lullaby when she opened it, an old refrain that she half-remembered from childhood.

"Are you going to buy it?" Meg asked then, leaning against Christine's shoulder. "Ooh, I'd buy this one, if I could." She picked up an oval-shaped box, metal and enamel with a tiny picture of a dancer on the top. "But Maman would scold so," she went on. "If you listen to her, we should save all our money, mend all our clothes until they're in pieces, and only buy things when they're absolutely necessary." She put the box down again, huffed a sigh. "Well, are you?" she asked again.

"I'm not sure," Christine said slowly. She'd come on this trip with some idea of finding a present for her angel, something to show she truly was sorry about her actions, and after nearly two hours of browsing had almost given up hope of finding something suitable. What, after all, did one get for the Opera Ghost?

But this might do, she thought, and she checked the price, winced slightly. More than she should spend, she knew, but then…if it showed him she was sincere…

"I will," she decided, took the box with her to the counter. Meg followed, brought the book of folk songs for her to purchase and waited while Christine counted out coins from her purse.

"But it's not for you, is it?" she said, and Christine shrugged a little, shook her head. "Who, then?" Meg pressed. "Your teacher?" Christine sighed, took the package from the cashier and turned to leave the shop.

"Yes," she said, but she knew Meg wouldn't be satisfied, would want to know more. "We…had a disagreement," she said, "and he's done so much for me, I…I need to make it up to him."

Meg didn't say anything as they left, the bell jangling as the door swung shut behind them, as they stepped onto the street. It was late in the afternoon, nearly four o'clock, but it was market day and Paris seemed to heave with people. Christine juggled her packages, tucked them under her arm, hoped none of them would fall.

"We should start back," she suggested, and Meg nodded; they both needed to warm up before the evening's performance, and it would take them twenty minutes to reach the opera house.

"But Christine – your teacher," Meg said then, taking one or two of Christine's parcels. "The other night…" She sighed, began to speak very quickly, as if she couldn't hold her words back any longer. "Maman says I shouldn't talk to you about it, but you said he was an angel, Christine. But a voice in the walls – it sounds like – well, it sounds like the Opera Ghost."

Christine's reply was delayed as they dodged around a strolling couple, and she was grateful for the reprieve, grateful for the chance to think, to try to decide what to say to Meg.

She wished she'd spoken to Madame Giry more about the whole affair, but Madame Giry had almost been avoiding her for several days, and anyway Christine wasn't sure she wanted to ask questions, wasn't sure she wanted to know unless he were the one to answer them.

"Christine," said Meg insistently then. "Please, I know something's going on."

"Oh Meg, even I don't know what's going on," said Christine with a sigh. "He…he is a person, of course he is. But I've done him a terrible wrong, and I haven't heard from him since opening night." She risked a glance at Meg, found her looking oddly pensive.

"I know Maman knows the Opera Ghost," Meg reminded her. "He's dangerous, Christine."

"He would never, ever hurt me," said Christine with certainty. She knew he was dangerous, but he was no danger to her. "Please believe me, Meg. Whatever else he might do, he would never hurt me." Even in his fiercest, terrifying rage, he had kept himself from striking her.

Meg sighed. "I – I'll try, Christine. But you will be careful, won't you?"

Christine nodded at once. "Of course, Meg, I'll be as careful as I can." And Meg would have to accept it, because she could do no more than that – would not promise, as she suspected Meg hoped, to have nothing more to do with him. He was her friend, her teacher, he was such a vital part of her life and if he returned to her, she would do her best to be his friend in return, to make amends for her mistake.

They reached the opera house in good time, hurried up the passages and staircases to their bedroom, and were practically pounced on by their friends as they reached the dormitory corridor.

"Christine, Christine, come and look!" cried Giselle, and she ran up, took Christine's packages; little Jammes took Christine's hand and tugged her towards her bedroom.

"What on earth?" laughed Christine, but she let herself be pulled along the corridor, through the doorway.

"It's a present!" said Jammes, and brought Christine to a stop at the foot of her bed. "Look," Jammes ordered her, and Christine looked, bemused, saw a large cardboard box on her neatly-made bed. Giselle tumbled the packages down by the pillow, turned to Christine and spun around in a circle.

"Who's it from, Christine?" she demanded eagerly. "You don't have a beau you haven't told us about, do you?"

"Christine, with a beau?" laughed Meg, settling down on her own bed. "However did you dream up such nonsense?" But she had gone a little pale, she looked at Christine, and Christine looked back, bit her lip and wondered why her thoughts went so swiftly to her angel.

She remembered the mannequin, the wedding dress, the way he had touched her, the way he had spoken.

"Well, aren't you going to open it?" asked Jammes, jumping onto the bed and making the bedsprings squeak loudly. "It's been here for ever so long, we've been waiting and waiting for you to come back."

"We've only been gone a few hours," said Meg, saving Christine from speaking. "You're so impatient, Jammes." Jammes stuck her tongue out, and Meg responded in kind; Christine smiled as she sat down on her bed, slowly undid the strings holding the box shut, pulled the top half away.

"Oh," she breathed, and lifted from the box a beautiful gown, cornflower blue with flowers picked out in gold thread. A sleeve fell from the folds, elbow-length with a splash of white lace, and there was lace at the neckline as well.

The cloth was finer than anything she owned, and she was sure it would be perfectly tailored to fit her.

"It's beautiful," breathed Jammes, who was always impressed by pretty dresses, and Christine dropped the garment back into the box, looked across the room at Meg, who was watching her once again. "Oh, Christine, it's so beautiful! Who is it from?" Jammes asked then. "Is there a note?"

"I don't think so," said Christine, and she searched in the box, amongst the folds of fabric, scraped her nails against the bottom of the box and shook her head. "No," she said, "no note." She frowned thoughtfully – the existence of the Ghost's notes was well-known, and the way the paper was always bordered in black, but his handwriting would not be known, and he would surely have other paper.

But then, she knew it was from him. She needed no note to tell her.

"I know!" said Giselle, with an air of triumph. "The new patron – the Vicomte! He's been at every performance, Christine, and he's been sending you flowers."

"Has he?" said Christine vaguely. She'd had flowers, certainly, more than one bouquet, but she hadn't been paying attention to who had sent them. She didn't want a suitor, had admired the flowers but hadn't really cared for the sentiments behind them. She had lived in the opera house long enough to know what happened to young girls who became embroiled with the kind of men who sought their attentions.

"Anyway, he would have left a note," she added then.

"A secret admirer," Giselle giggled. "Are you going to try it on, Christine?"

"No, she is not," came a decided voice from the doorway, and all of them rose immediately, conditioned through many years of training, turned to face Madame Giry. The ballet mistress was frowning, and she glanced from Christine to the box, to the dress still spilling over the sides. "Jammes," she said, "you should be at your lessons. Giselle, Meg, why are you not warming up?"

"Yes, Madame," they murmured, and slipped from the room; Meg paused at the door to give Christine one last look of concern, but fled before Madame Giry could chastise her further.

Madame Giry stepped into the room, approached Christine's bed and looked down at the dress in its plain cardboard box. She pursed her lips, turned to Christine.

"Be careful, child," she warned. "If you accept his gifts, you must accept the man himself."

"Yes, Madame," said Christine, but she wasn't sure what Madame Giry was implying – she was trying to accept him, trying to reconcile her angel with the Opera Ghost. She wanted to know him.

But Madame Giry shook her head, sighed. "Well, you'll do as you want," she said, and there was something of regret in her tone now. "You're practically a grown woman, and I can't stand in his way. Now, hurry along," she instructed. "Don't think about it now. You need to warm up as well."

"Yes, Madame," said Christine again, and she picked up the package containing the music box, held it close to her and scurried from the room under Madame Giry's watchful gaze.

She couldn't think what Madame Giry had meant, why she was warning her now when she had been silent for days, silent since their conversation after the events of that night. That she was afraid of the Phantom was clear, but then most people were afraid of him, at least a little.

But there had been something else to it, Christine was sure, something more, and she couldn't quite work it out, felt it was just beyond her grasp, dancing at the edge of her mind.

It was the same thing, she thought, hurrying through the corridors towards her dressing room, that made her think her angel had been jealous of Raoul, that created butterflies in her stomach when she thought of how he had touched her.

She thought once more of the wedding dress, and then of the blue gown he had just gifted her with. Thought of the bouquets and supper requests she had received, and her disinterest in it all.

Wondered if she even knew what she was feeling, whether she missed her teacher and friend or whether…whether…

But she reached her dressing room, found her dresser waiting for her, and put the thoughts aside to concentrate on preparing for the performance.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 4 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>