Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 7 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Stay By My Side

"Did you have an enjoyable lunch?"

Christine didn't jump – she'd expected him to be waiting for her in the dressing room – but she inhaled sharply, looked at him and wondered why she was surprised that he knew where she had been. He was the Opera Ghost, and he knew all.

"Not really," she said, and her voice was steady despite her nervousness. He was standing by the mirror, the hidden door swung wide open, and he was once again in evening dress – did he ever wear anything else, she wondered, and dismissed it as inconsequential, particularly given the way he was looking, the expression on his face so clear even with the mask.

"We were friends when I was a child," she said, knew she wasn't telling him anything he didn't know. "But…he doesn't understand my life now."

And Erik softened, just a little. "No," he murmured. "Of course he does not."

"I spent most of the time trying not to say anything he'd find shocking," Christine confessed. "And…and thinking of you." And her confession was rewarded with a slight smile, enough to warm her and let her know she was forgiven for whatever sin she had committed in going for lunch with an old friend.

"Are you ready for your lesson?" he asked, and held a hand out to her expectantly. Christine nodded at once, went to collect her copy of the score from the dressing table, took his hand. "Don't try to come this way alone," he warned her then. "There are traps in places, in the walls and floors. It would be too dangerous."

"Yes, Erik," she said obediently. She didn't think she would be able to remember the way anyway, at least not until he had brought her to his home many more times. The route twisted and turned so many times, sometimes in hidden corridors, sometimes in little-used stairways, and Christine seemed to lose all sense of direction almost as soon as he led her into the tunnel behind the mirror.

At last they reached the lake; the boat was waiting there, tethered to the shore with a rope, and Erik helped her in, loosed the rope and pushed away from the shore. It was dark here, deep underneath the opera house, although there was a lantern in the prow of the little boat. At times the roof was so low Erik had to bend over, and Christine wondered why she didn't remember this from last time.

But then she had been so ecstatic, so mesmerised, that the journey remained in her memory as little more than a blur.

They reached the far shore – Erik's home. He leaped out, tied the boat and then held his hand out for her once more, brought her from the boat. He led her across the shore, touched a switch almost hidden in the rock, and she glanced back to see the portcullis lower, sink down from the high roof into the depths of the lake. Protection, she knew, from any who found their way down here.

"Come," he commanded, drew her through an opening in the rock and into his home. Christine glanced around eagerly; she remembered a little, from before, remembered the many candles and candelabra, the organ there in pride of place, remembered the low sofa she'd slept on. But there were things she had not remembered, or had not seen at all. Two doors set into the rock, a fireplace laid ready for a fire – where, she wondered, did the smoke go? There was a violin resting haphazardly on a table, papers scattered beneath it, and she knew it to be the violin that had accompanied her during her lessons.

"Come," Erik said again, and she hurried to join him at the organ, put down her score and stood, waited for him to sound a note to begin warming up. But he paused, looked at her for a moment, and Christine twisted her hands together, waited for his cue. He shook his head at last, settled his hands on the organ.

"Begin," he said at last, and Christine started her scales, pushed away all other thoughts but music.

They rehearsed for over two hours, pausing only to allow Christine a glass of water halfway through, but Erik seemed pleased with her progress, with how well she already knew the part, and when at last they finished she almost wanted to protest, to keep going. She didn't; too well-trained, she reflected, to question her teacher's orders, at least out loud.

"Very good," said Erik. "Practice the act two aria before our next lesson, remember what I said about the emotion of the piece." She nodded, gathered her score together neatly. "We won't be able to have a lesson for several days," he muttered, more to himself than to her, it seemed. "Rehearsals…" He shook his head. "It is no matter. Reyer is rehearsing Carlotta on Tuesday afternoon, we can meet then."

"I – I'm dreading the first full-cast rehearsal," Christine admitted, and he glanced at her, startled for a moment, and then he smiled slightly. "Carlotta isn't going to be pleased with me," Christine went on. She'd shared such confidences with him often, before he had revealed himself – had treated him as her friend as well as her teacher, and she thought he wanted that still. "Monsieur Reyer is, I think, on my side, but even he can't control her. She's going to do her best to make me regret being put in her place."

"Not in her place," Erik corrected. "Your own. You are far superior to her, Christine." Christine blushed, dropped her gaze at the praise, and he reached out, touched her chin with a finger and raised her head so she was looking at him again. There was something there in his expression, in his eyes – something she could almost grasp, almost understand, but not quite.

"That – that won't stop her," she said, breathless suddenly, although she didn't know whether it was because of his touch or the way he was looking at her. "You know it won't." He dropped his hand then, turned away from her so she could only see the white mask. A thought terrified her, and she reached out, grasped his arm.

"You won't – you won't do anything to her, will you?" she asked. "You won't hurt Carlotta?"

He sighed then, covered her hand with his but didn't look at her. "If you wish it," he said, and Christine stared at him, shivered. He could hurt Carlotta, she knew. Could hurt anybody, anyone who stood between her and success. Would do it if not for her, and that terrified her most of all, more than his temper, more than the half-remembered glimpse of his face.

She had power over him, and it terrified her.

"But," he said, ignorant of her inner turmoil, and he glanced at her, his mouth curving in a smirk, "I cannot promise not to make her life as unpleasant as she will no doubt endeavour to make yours."

Christine felt herself relax, felt a tension in her spine easing, hadn't even realised how tense she had become. "As long as you don't hurt her," she said, tried to make her tone light – wasn't quite sure she managed it, wasn't sure she concealed her fear well enough. But Erik didn't comment; he slid his hand from hers and pulled away from her, went to replace a candle that had melted into a puddle of wax.

"I should take you back up," he said, and Christine stifled an instinctive cry. She didn't want to go back up, at least not yet. She wouldn't be missed for hours yet, and she wanted…

She wanted to know more of him, she realised, and chastised herself. Her curiosity had led to his anger, to the rift that had separated them for days. And yet now she was filled with questions once more, questions that she was certain he would not want to answer.

So she nodded, turned to collect her score. "Yes, Erik," she said, dully, obediently. She would obey him, she resolved. She would not ask questions.

He appeared beside her without sound, looked at her wonderingly. "I could almost believe you want to stay here," he murmured, and Christine said nothing, looked at him with wide eyes, bit her tongue to keep from speaking, from saying something foolish. Erik shook his head, stared at her in obvious bewilderment. "Let it be your choice, then," he said at last. "Stay or go."

Christine hesitated then, just for a moment, and Erik's lip curled into a faint sneer.

"No," he said, not angry but with a bitter note to his voice. "Why should you want to stay here, in the cold and the dark…with me."

"But I do," Christine said softly, shrinking away from him. "I do want to stay, Erik. But I don't…" She wrapped her arms about herself, kept her gaze on the floor. "I don't want to intrude," she murmured, almost inaudible.

"Intrude," he echoed. "Intrude! Christine, you –" He broke off, stretched his hand out to her, waited for her to place her own hand in his. "You do not intrude," he said. "You could never intrude."

Christine wanted to protest, to remind him that she had intruded, in such a manner that she hadn't been sure they could recover from it. But she could recognise an olive branch, could see he truly wanted her to stay, and so she nodded, smiled.

"I should very much like to stay, then," she said. "If you're sure it's alright."

"Very well," said Erik, and he released her hand, gestured for her to sit in one of the chairs by the fireplace. "I'm unaccustomed to guests," he said. "I'll light the fire. I have tea, if you'd care for some."

"Please," Christine said, sat down and tried not to watch as he knelt gracefully, put a match to the kindling in the grate. He rose, glanced at her and then went to one of the doors.

"I'll be just a moment," he assured her, and left her alone. Christine leaned back in the chair, rested her elbow on the arm and settled her chin in her hand as she watched the fire catch at the kindling, flicker into life.

She almost relished the moment alone, the chance to take a breath, to relax, for she couldn't help feeling she had to be so careful with Erik. So very careful, because although he hid it well, she could see his fear, underlying his interactions with her. His belief that she couldn't want to be with him, to spend time with him not merely as his pupil.

Christine had to wonder who had treated him so badly that his immediate instinct was to flinch away from a touch, to lash out with disbelief at any expression of friendship.

But she pushed the question from her mind, reminded herself that she would not, could not, ask questions of him. Perhaps at some point in the future, when he trusted her again – because she knew he still lacked trust in her, still expected her to reject him.

The fire sputtered, the kindling no longer enough to sustain it, and Christine went to kneel in front of it, added a few more sticks and then put a log on the fire. She stayed there, gazed at the growing flames, remembered how her father had made stories out of the pictures the flames created, entertaining her in long winter evenings when he hadn't been engaged to play his violin.

"What are you doing?"

She glanced up, startled; once again Erik had crept up on her, and she bit back a smile as she realised how his silent movements must aid his disguise as a ghost. He was frowning down at her, reached to help her up.

"The fire needed tending," she said, took his hand and rose. She was close to him then, so close, and it flustered her; she stepped back, returned to her seat. "It must get very cold here in winter," she said, and it sounded inane even to her own ears.

"I suppose," he said diffidently, and brought a tray with teacups, a small milk jug. The pieces were mismatched, she saw, but she didn't comment. "I don't notice the cold particularly. And I can always go upstairs."

"Good," she said, accepted her cup. "I'd hate to think of you freezing down here." She glanced at him over the cup, waited to see how he would respond. She would learn him, piece by piece, feel him out, slowly make him understand that he could trust her.

He didn't say anything, but she could see a faint uptilt to his mouth, almost a smile. She counted it as a success.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 7 of 37

<< Previous     Home     Next >>