Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 6 of 37

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Stay By My Side

The restaurant Raoul had taken her to wasn't one Christine had ever been to before; it catered for the upper classes, and she could feel eyes on her as the waiter pulled her chair out, handed her a menu.

Raoul seemed ignorant of her discomfort, or ignored it, sat down opposite her and smiled boyishly.

"I've been looking forward to this all week," he told her, and Christine smiled back, put aside her self-consciousness. She was dressed well enough to be here, she knew that – she was wearing Erik's gift, the beautiful blue dress he'd sent her, and Meg had helped her pin up her hair elegantly. It made her look older, she'd felt when she'd looked in the mirror this morning, or older than her seventeen years, at least.

"So have I," she said. "How are you, Raoul? And Philippe?"

"Philippe is just the same as ever," said Raoul, with an expressive roll of his eyes. He'd never got on well with his elder brother, Christine remembered, probably due to the vast age difference between them. "And I am well, as you see. I needn't ask how you are – you've been dazzling on the stage all week."

Christine felt herself flush. "Thank you," she murmured. "It's been quite a strange experience." Raoul tilted his head, waited for her to continue, and she wondered how to explain it to him, whether she could possibly find the right words. "It isn't quite the way it's done," she said at last. "A nobody coming from nowhere to take a leading role."

"But you're not a nobody," Raoul said, and Christine shook her head, felt a smile tug at her mouth.

"I have spent the last eight years as a ballet dancer, Raoul, not a singer," she reminded him, and caught the way he glanced around, as if embarrassed, as if to make sure nobody overheard her. It made her uncomfortable, and she clasped her hands together in her lap, fell silent.

"Anyway, you're a star now," he said, and she nodded. She couldn't think of herself that way. She had a starring role, had received favourable reviews, and she had certainly worked for it – worked for years, in silence – but what she'd said was true. She was in effect a nobody; a member of the corps de ballet, not even a chorus member. Cast members had congratulated her, but she'd seen the speculation in their eyes, had heard the gossip they'd whispered behind her back.

Raoul could understand none of this, she knew – it was so outside his experience. For him, the theatre was something one went to see, and enjoyed or not, and he would think little of the lives or careers of those onstage.

Perhaps, she thought idly, as the waiter returned to take their order, she could speak to Erik about it. He would understand.

"It's a shame this mysterious ghost has frightened the managers into giving Carlotta the lead in the next production," Raoul said then, oblivious to her inner musings. "I've seen her several times. She's…" He paused, clearly trying to find the right words, and Christine grinned, waited to see what he would say. "Unique," Raoul said at last, and she laughed, nodded.

"That's one way of putting it," she said. "My teacher says she should have retired long ago. Her voice was good, once, but she's fallen into bad habits."

"I know nothing about singing or acting, but I can believe it," said Raoul, and he gave her an oddly thoughtful look. "You seem so happy," he said after a moment. "I've thought of you so often, since we last saw each other."

"I've thought of you, too," said Christine, paused to let the waiter pour the wine, waited until he had faded away before continuing. "And of those days we spent together, before Father…" Her voice dried up; even now, she couldn't think of him, of those last months they'd had together, without feeling overwhelmed with grief.

It had been eight years since he had died, and yet it was so close still. He had been her only companion, a friend as well as a father, and at first when he'd brought them to Paris she hadn't understood, hadn't seen it as anything but a new experience. But he'd grown weaker and weaker, and at last had taken to his bed and never risen.

She'd thought, at first, that she would never be happy again. But Madame Giry had taken her to the opera house, looked after her as a guardian, and she had made friends, grown used to the loss.

She had met her angel, her Erik, and she couldn't help smiling at the thought.

"I am happy," she said, and Raoul didn't lose his thoughtful expression. Christine couldn't quite meet his eyes for some reason, reached for her wine and sipped it.

"I'm glad," he said eventually. "Truly." He smiled then, banished the odd look and became cheerful once more. "You must tell me all about your life. I want to hear everything."

Christine doubted it, somehow, but she nodded, put her wine glass down. "What would you like to know?" she asked, and tilted her head, smiled. "Are you still trying to find out where I live?"

To his credit, Raoul flushed, ducked his head, glanced up at her with a sheepish expression. "I was worried," he claimed. "Nobody knew where you were."

"Madame Giry knew," Christine pointed out, and she wasn't lying – Madame Giry had known where she was, even if she hadn't been able to say. "Perhaps," she added, "you weren't talking to the right people."

Raoul frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked, and Christine almost sighed.

"The managers are new," she said gently, "and I was new to them. I live in the opera house, Raoul, in the ballet dormitories. I share a room with Meg Giry, Giselle Landry and Jammes Dupont. They're dancers in the corps de ballet." She could tell by his face that she had shocked him, but neither of them could speak for a few minutes as waiters descended upon them with their starters.

At last they left, and Raoul leaned forwards a little, intent. "But surely," he said, "there are apartments near to the theatre."

Christine shrugged a little, lifted her spoon and began drinking her soup. "I suppose there are," she said, "but quite beyond my reach. Oh Raoul," she said then with a sigh, "you must try to remember that I'm not La Daaé, lead soprano at the Opera Populaire. Or at least I have become so only this last week."

"I – I know that," he muttered, but his frown didn't fade, he stared down at the table as if deep in concentration. Christine didn't speak; she enjoyed her soup in silence and occupied herself with glancing discreetly around at the other patrons in the restaurant, marvelling at the finery.

"I imagine it's a little like boarding school," Raoul said at last, and he seemed to be trying to understand, trying to meet her halfway.

"I suppose," she agreed. "Yes, and Madame Giry is our school mistress, intent on maintaining discipline." She smiled at him, hoped he would try to overcome his surprise – his shock. "We're all perfectly behaved, of course."

"Oh, of course," Raoul agreed gravely, but there was a twinkle in his eye, the corner of his mouth lifted in a shared expression of mirth. He was trying, Christine could see, and it pleased her. "I'm sure you all behave perfectly." Christine laughed, and he joined in, grinning across the table at her. "Perhaps you could introduce me," he said then, and Christine hesitated just for a moment. "Only if you want," he added, seeing her unease.

"You would like Meg, I think," said Christine slowly. "She is like a sister to me." She fell silent then, thought of Meg's concern for her, thought of the way she'd been so pleased that Christine was going to lunch with Raoul. Then she shook herself, smiled at Raoul, a fake little smile that she was sure he wouldn't see through. "Yes, perhaps I could introduce you," she said. "We both have rehearsals during the week, but perhaps next Saturday."

"That's almost a week," said Raoul, and Christine wasn't sure what he was objecting to. "Are you sure I can't persuade you to come to supper with me?" he asked then.

"Absolutely sure," she said, and his mouth twisted into a scowl. "Raoul," she chided softly, "I am glad I can still count you as a friend. And as my friend, I am sure you will respect my vocation."

"Mademoiselle? Forgive the intrusion."

Christine looked up, startled, at the gentleman who had stopped beside their table on his way out of the restaurant. He was elderly, stooped over a cane, but his eyes were bright and his smile friendly.

"You are Mademoiselle Daaé, yes?" he said, and she nodded. "I thought so. You will forgive my intrusion, I hope? But I saw you here and I had to come over. I saw your performance last night at the opera."

"Of course I forgive you," said Christine, and she smiled up at him. "I hope you enjoyed it?"

"I can't think when I last had such a pleasurable evening," he said. "I hope we shall see much more of you in the future." He bowed, retreated before she could speak, and Christine felt herself flushing – from happiness this time, from the knowledge that she had pleased her audience.

"La Daaé indeed," said Raoul eventually, and Christine could tell he was surprised. "You're going to become quite in demand, I can see."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," she said gaily, and she smiled at him, waited for him to smile back at her. "I'm still the same Christine," she said. "I'm only doing what I always wanted to do." He nodded; even as children together, she had always wanted to sing.

"And besides," she went on, "I can hardly be in demand, as you say, for much longer. Carlotta takes the lead in Il Muto, remember?"

"Oh yes," he sighed. "My poor ears." She laughed again, amused, thought of similar comments Erik had made on occasion. But he was thoughtful, regarded her once more with that strange, inquiring look. "But I'm not sure you are the same," he said slowly. "You're…there's something…"

Christine lowered her gaze, sipped her wine again. People changed, but at heart she was the same, she knew – the same girl who sang with her father's violin, who felt the music as if it were a living thing within her. She was older, of course, although hardly more wise. More worldly, perhaps, after living for eight years in an opera house, among dancers and chorus members and stage hands.

She thought of Erik, or rather the thoughts of him became prominent, for she hadn't been able to banish them, returned again and again to their meeting last night, their conversation.

The way he had touched her, as if he could never tire of touching her.

"You are different," Raoul pronounced, and she felt as though he saw her as some mystery to be unravelled. "You're not that little girl any longer." It was almost an accusation, but Christine smiled, shrugged a little.

"Nobody can stay a child forever," she said. And then the waiters came with their main course, and although Christine managed to distract him, to talk of their shared memories of Perros-Guirec, she was aware of his considering gaze on her throughout the rest of the meal.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 6 of 37

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