Continuing Tales

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 9 of 37

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Stay By My Side

Christine removed her tiara and costume jewellery, rolled her shoulders, leaned her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands.

"You promised you wouldn't hurt her," she said softly to the man she knew was behind the mirror. She had become so aware of him over the last few weeks, so very conscious of his presence. It was a prickling of her skin, a shiver down her spine, and something more, something indefinable.

He knew of it, of course, knew she could sense him this way, and she thought it amused him, a little.

"I have not done so," he replied at last, and Christine turned, looked at the mirror, saw it move aside to let her see him. He didn't step through, stood just on the other side and looked at her. "I believe I've shown remarkable restraint, in fact," he continued.

Christine sighed, rose and went to him, took his hand and drew him through into the dressing room. "Thank you," she said. "But please, I know you're planning something." His hand was cold in hers, and she held it between hers, hoped to share her warmth.

"She crossed a line today," Erik said, an ominous note in his voice, and Christine lowered her head, thought of Carlotta's harsh words. Thought of being called a – a –

She couldn't even think the word to herself. She had been a dancer for years, knew what people thought of dancers and actresses. But nobody had ever called her that, and Christine thought she could have coped better with being slapped.

Erik's fingers brushed across her cheek and she looked up at him, tried to smile.

"She'll stop once Hannibal is over," she said, and hoped it would be true. Once she was no longer a star, Carlotta would have no reason to be bitter, no reason to be jealous. Things wouldn't go back to the way they had been, but it would be easier, and Christine could wait, could take smaller parts and build a reputation, work to have title roles once again.

"She will," said Erik, and the threat was so clear that Christine dropped his hand, stepped away from him.

"I don't want anyone hurt," she said, tried to make him understand, tried to make him agree. "Please, Erik."

"You should be the prima donna," he said, refusing to answer her directly, and she shook her head, couldn't speak. "Your talent far exceeds whatever she might have had once, before she allowed bad habits and behaviour to strip her of it." He stepped close to her again, stared down at her, and her teacher fell away, all Christine could see was the Phantom. She was suddenly very aware of his mask, that blank white mask that hid his face and disguised his expression.

"You've worked so long," he murmured, and he was persuasive now, his voice almost hypnotic. "So hard, Christine, for what we've both wanted. You want to be on the stage, don't you? You know you should be there."

"Yes," Christine said, voice barely a whisper, and she swayed towards him, wanted to reach out and touch him but didn't quite dare. She did want that; she had been a star for nearly four weeks, had been on stage as more than just a barely-noticed member of a group, and she loved it. She loved the applause, the lights, the music she was singing, and she didn't want it to stop.

"I could make it happen again," he told her, and at once the spell was broken; Christine turned away, shook her head, wrapped her arms about her middle. "The managers must learn, Christine. This is my opera house and I will not be disobeyed."

"They won't listen," said Christine. "And why should they? I'm still an unknown, untried, and Carlotta has been the leading soprano here for so long."

"You're neither unknown nor untried now," Erik pointed out. "It is pointless trying to lie to me, Christine. You want to be on that stage as much as I want to see you there."

"I'm not trying to lie," she cried, turning back to him. "But I know you've hurt people before and I can't – I can't –" She cut herself off, bit back the words. She couldn't be falling in love with someone who hurt people, she wanted to say, but she couldn't, wouldn't say it. Because she had only really known him as a person for a few weeks and she still knew so little of him, still felt like she had to be so careful about him. Was still scared of him, in many ways.

No, she could not say it, could barely even admit it to herself most of the time.

"I said I wouldn't hurt her," said Erik, almost careless. "I've had plenty of opportunity, believe me." Christine nodded; she did believe him, and that was part of the problem. But she could say nothing more now, knew nothing she said could persuade him. All she could do was hope he would be restrained – for her sake, if for nothing else.

"Your last performance is on Saturday," he said then and Christine nodded again. The theatre would be dark until the following Wednesday, the performers and musicians given a short break before the premiere of Il Muto. "Have you any plans for the break?" he asked.

"I hadn't really thought about it," she said. She knew Raoul had been trying to see her again, had been putting him off both because of Erik's jealousy and her own mixed feelings regarding her childhood friend. Meg had suggested they take a train to the country, get away from Paris for a day or so, and Madame Giry had been cautiously supportive of the idea. Christine rather liked the idea of just picking out a town or village on a map, finding an inn to stay in overnight and enjoying the last good weather of the autumn. Just the three of them, a rare treat.

It would probably do her good to get away from the opera house, she could acknowledge. It had been a hard few weeks – her debut, the gossip, and of course Erik.

She looked up at him, wondered whether she could leave him for even that long. Knew that she should, if only to try to work out what exactly she felt for her angel. Her Ghost.

Because if the past few weeks had shown her nothing else, they had shown her that he was hers. He was devoted to her. When she was in his home, deep below the opera house, he was attentive and careful of her. He was still her strict tutor, of course, but she had grown accustomed to staying afterwards if she could, sharing tea with him, and he seemed so solicitous, so eager to please. After performances, when she was tired, she always came back to her dressing room to find a warm drink, and sometimes something to eat – her dresser assumed it was one of her friends in the corps de ballet, and Christine said nothing to disabuse her of the notion.

Erik wanted only her comfort, her happiness.

Her success.

A knock on the door startled her, startled them both.

"Just a moment," Christine called hastily. She wrapped her dressing gown more securely about her, watched as Erik went silently through the mirror and closed the entrance behind him. She was sure he wouldn't leave, but she didn't care. "Come in," she said, and the door opened, Raoul stepped inside. Christine bit back a startled exclamation.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," Raoul greeted her. "I'd hoped to catch you before you retired." He glanced around, as if looking for someone else – as if he expected to see someone else in the room, and Christine kept herself still, kept herself from glancing at the mirror. "I thought I heard someone," Raoul said then, looked at her inquiringly.

"I was going over my lines," Christine said, wondered when she had become so capable of lying. It was easier to think of it as playing a part, but she was still deceiving her old friend, and she didn't like it. "It helps to learn them before I go to bed," she added, when Raoul didn't seem to believe her. "I can't do it upstairs, with the others, it would disturb them."

"Lines – but – I thought your next part was…" Raoul trailed off, turned his hat in his hands. "Well, mute," he said at last, awkward.

"Yes, but I'm Carlotta's understudy," she told him. "Unofficially." She smiled at his expression, the way he rolled his eyes. Raoul had clearly formed his opinion of Carlotta, and Christine could see it was not a favourable one.

"Yes, I've been hearing the rumours," Raoul said. "Everyone here seems to expect this mysterious opera ghost to step in and do something to prevent her performing."

"Theatre people are very superstitious," said Christine lightly. Her heart was beating faster, her breath a little quicker, but she was sure he wouldn't be able to see the lie. "We have all sorts of ideas and customs that I'm sure would seem very silly to you."

"Perhaps," said Raoul with a nod, but he seemed unconvinced, glanced around once more as if – as if –

"I should be getting upstairs," she said then, turned away from him and went to tidy her dressing table. "Was there something you wanted, Raoul?"

"I've been trying to see you all week," Raoul told her, and she could hear his frustration, knew he must be aware she had been trying to avoid him. It wasn't that she no longer liked him, but their encounters since he had re-entered her life had been a little stilted, a little uncomfortable. Her life was so very different to his, and he seemed unable to grasp the realities of her daily life, her career.

He could never understand the thrill of performance, the drive to improve – more than that, Christine knew he would never be able to understand how their friendship might be seen.

Carlotta's accusation seemed to press down on her, a weight she could not ignore.

"I've been very busy," she said at last. "I'm sorry, Raoul. Things will be easier next week, after the new production starts. It runs until Christmas, you know, so I won't have rehearsals during the day."

"I know you have some time off," said Raoul, persistent. "Perhaps we could meet then?" Christine hesitated, and Raoul sighed, stepped back. "With Meg as well," he tried. "You said you'd introduce us, you know."

Christine nodded slowly, thoughtful. Yes, she had agreed to introduce Meg, and she knew that if the three of them went out together, people wouldn't talk as much.

"Alright," she said. "I'll talk to Meg. We may be leaving Paris for a day or so, but I'm sure we can arrange something." Raoul smiled at her and she returned the smile, relieved he seemed to accept her offer, wasn't pushing for more. "Will you be in for the last night on Saturday? I'll let you know then."

Raoul took the hint, went back to the door. "I'll see you then," he agreed. "I'll look forward to it." Christine nodded, waited for him to leave, made sure the door was shut firmly and then she sighed, leaned against the dressing table and looked to the mirror.

"He is determined," observed Erik, faceless behind the glass. Christine nodded, silent. "Will you see him?"

"I don't know, Erik," she said, sighing again. "I think Meg's right, it would be good to go away for a few days." She didn't need to see him to know how he would react to the suggestion, which was why she hadn't told him of it before. She turned away from the mirror, finished tidying her dressing table. "I need to get changed and go upstairs," she told him.

"I'll say goodnight, then." He was silent but didn't leave, and Christine straightened, turned back to the mirror and tried to tell herself she wasn't hoping he would – hoping he might –

"I'll see you tomorrow for our lesson as usual," he said at last. "Sleep well, Christine."

"Sleep well, Erik," she whispered, and didn't move until long after he left.

Stay by My Side

A Phantom of the Opera Story
by Sparks

Part 9 of 37

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