charleygirl: (Phantom|Christine|TOM)
[personal profile] charleygirl
Title: The Garish Light of Day 57/?
Author: charleygirl
Word Count: 4412
Rating: G
Genre: General, Drama
Characters Involved: Erik the Phantom, Christine Daae, Madame Giry, Meg Giry
Disclaimer: The Phantom of the Opera is the creation of Gaston Leroux but probably these days copyright to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Summary: Burying the hatchet... of a sort.



THE FOOLISH BALLERINA



Erik pinched the bridge of his nose beneath the mask and sighed impatiently. “Monsieur DuPre, even though this gala is designed as a showcase for our talent here at the Populaire, please do not lose sight of the fact that you are also playing a character. It is Romeo singing this aria of love, not Marius; Marius must be left behind as you step onto the stage in just the same way as he would be were you performing this piece as part of Gounod’s opera.”

“But I wish the patrons to know exactly who it is singing before them,” Marius protested. “How will they remember me otherwise?”

“They will have a programme which will tell them your name. It is your voice that must win them over, not your posturing. Give in to your passion; you are speaking your love for the most beautiful woman in the world!” In his enthusiasm, Erik had crossed the stage to stand beside the baffled tenor and gestured now towards Box Five, which made a convenient substitute for Juliet’s balcony. “Imagine your own sweetheart is before you, standing up there, and sing to her, not the audience; pour your soul into the piece, Monsieur, the music demands nothing less.”

There was a ripple of laughter from the chorus, and Alphonse called, “And which little dancer from Le Chat Noir will it be that takes your fancy this time, Marius: lovely Chantal with the golden tresses, or the dusky maiden from foreign lands?”

DuPre glared at his colleague. As there was no Primo Uomo at present and the managers were not keen to find a replacement having been less than impressed with the behaviour of Antonio Rossi, it had been decided that Marius and Alphonse would share the position between them on a temporary basis. Unfortunately, this inevitably led to their rivalry breaking out once more; though thankfully it was less belligerent on the part of Marius this time, their friendship did not stop them jockeying for prominence at every given opportunity. “Perhaps you will show me, Monsieur,” Marius said to Erik, scratching his head and pulling a rueful face. “I cannot quite grasp your intentions.”

“If you wish.” Erik nodded to Monsieur Reyer, who tapped his baton on the music stand and the orchestra struck up the Act II aria of Charles Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. In his role of instructor, surrounded by the cast and crew, Erik had no difficulty in harnessing his own talents and applying them practically to the task before him; there was no sign of anxiety or stage-fright here. One hand extended towards the darkened box above, the other hovered over his heart as he lifted his voice effortlessly, soaring over the notes even as it quivered with barely suppressed emotion:

“Ah, arise! Ah, arise! Appear! Appear,
thou pure and enchanting star!
She is dreaming, she loosens
a lock of hair
which falls to caress her cheek.
Love! Love, carry my vows to her!
She speaks! How beautiful she is! ”


There was a smattering of enthusiastic applause, and Christine glanced round to find that the source was Meg and Marie Durant. Erik, looking rather uncomfortable, gave his little group of admirers a slight bow and turned back to Marius, stepping away with a wave of his hand.

“Try it again, Monsieur, if you please,” he said and retired to the piano.

“Why do you not sing it yourself?” asked a voice from the wings before Marius could even open his mouth. “You might as well; you’re taking over practically everything else anyway.”

It was sharp, the spiteful intent quite clear, and Christine knew without looking to whom it belonged. Meg’s face creased an angry scowl, and Madame Giry’s cane hit the floor with even more force than usual.

“Hortense Lavigne, you will come to my office immediately after rehearsal and we will discuss your attitude,” the ballet mistress ordered in a tone that brooked no dissent. “For now, you will apologise to Monsieur Claudin immediately.”

Hortense mumbled something that might have been an apology, her black eyes shooting metaphorical daggers in the direction of both Erik and Christine. As soon as she was able she absented herself and Christine shook her head sadly. “Why does she hate us so much?” she wondered aloud. “What did we ever do to her?”

“She’s jealous,” Meg replied bluntly.

Christine blinked at her in surprise. “Jealous? But why?”

“Because of your success, because you have Erik and she sees you as a kind of ‘teacher’s pet’ I suppose. Giselle told me, brainless thing that she is, that Hortense wanted to be a singer; she was convinced she could make it in the chorus if someone gave her a chance but no one would. Monsieur Lefevre never believed a ballet rat could sing and Maman wouldn’t tolerate another one of her dancers with aspirations; having you wandering about and daydreaming was frustrating enough.” Meg smiled and Christine blushed, remembering her inattention. “I get the impression she was gathering the courage to speak to someone about her ambitions when Andre and Firmin arrived and Erik decided he’d had enough of Carlotta. Hortense hates the fact that you have what she wanted.”

“My goodness. I had no idea. Poor Hortense,” Christine said, her eyes suddenly drawn to the spot in which the dark-haired ballerina had been standing a few minutes before.

“Don’t feel sorry for her; she’s behaved horribly towards you for months.” Meg’s little fists clenched at her sides. “You don’t want to hear some of the things she’s been saying about Erik. I’ve a mind to tell her that it was her fault he was attacked and see how she feels about that!”

“She wasn’t to blame, Meg, she was used by that awful man; she couldn’t have known what would happen.”

“Yes, well,” Meg muttered, obviously reluctant to agree. “She should know when to keep her mouth shut.”

“We all do things we regret,” Christine pointed out and her friend sighed fondly.

“You are just too nice, Christine; how can you always manage to see the best in everyone?”

Christine laughed. “Because that is the way I am! I don’t think it is possible to be too nice; we should try to treat others as we would expect them to treat us. But you are right; Hortense has been vile and her words have been dreadfully hurtful. I am just glad that Erik isn’t aware of most of the things she has said; his confidence is low enough at the moment without her making it worse.”

Meg was watching the Phantom as he spoke to Marius across the stage, making graceful, swooping motions with his hands as he made some point or other, the visible side of his face set in an expression that held both seriousness and enthusiasm. To see him now, discussing diction, projection and character much as he had always done during their lessons together, his mastery of his subject clear for all to see, no one would ever imagine the bundle of nerves he became the moment he stood alone on the stage, isolated in a spotlight as the house lights went down. During rehearsals, though his performance was technically brilliant, it was obvious that he had to force himself to stand there, to be the focus of everyone’s attention, and he knew as well as they did that there was something lacking. Christine could tell him what it was: his playing was missing its heart, the very passion that he was exhorting Marius to find. She hoped fervently that he would discover it for himself before the gala.

“Have you told him about the music box yet?” Meg asked, jolting her out of her reverie.

Christine looked down at her feet. In truth she had been trying to forget about the strange little trinket. “No,” she admitted. “I haven’t found the right moment.”

“Christine, you must tell him!” Thankfully Meg kept her voice down, but her tone drew the glances of Alphonse and Marie, who were standing a few feet away. Christine took her friend’s arm and drew her towards the wings.

“There is too much going on at the moment,” she said quietly. “I can’t tell him now, not with this gala causing him so much stress; it would crush him, you know that. And we don’t even know if it has anything to do with his mother; it could just be some prank, someone wanting to hurt him.”

Meg looked unconvinced. “You weren’t so sure of that when I found it. And you pretty much said yourself that the only ones who know about the original musical box are you and Erik.”

“I know, I know...” Christine sighed sharply, twisting her hands together. “I don’t want to believe my own suspicions, but... if it is her, Meg, why would she do it? Why would she want to come back into his life after all this time and hurt him again?”

“I don’t know.” Meg shrugged. “You said he ran away from home when he was very young, and then he practically disappeared until a couple of months ago... if Erik’s mother is trying to make contact with him, it must have been a considerable shock to her to suddenly find he is still alive.”

“It seems to be a remarkably strange way to initiate contact.”

“If she was as horrible to him as you’ve suggested, I’m not surprised she’s wary of the reaction she might get. And Erik himself has hardly done things in the most straightforward manner at times, has he?” Meg enquired, raising an eyebrow.

“That is different and you know it,” Christine told her. She glanced back towards her husband, to find that he had stood aside and was watching intently as Marius began the aria once more, this time attempting to ignore the auditorium and direct his performance at Box Five. Despite herself she could not suppress a giggle when one of the cleaners appeared between the red velvet curtains, duster in hand, and even Erik’s mouth twitched in an involuntary smile. “I will tell him, Meg,” she promised, “When the gala is over.”

“Please make sure that you do.” Meg gave her a quick hug. “You of all people should know how poisonous secrets can be.”

________________________________________

Realising that while Erik was busy with Marius none of them would be needed the members of the cast involved with the gala began to drift away from the stage.

Christine, needing air, made her way to the Rue Scribe entrance of the building, intending to sit on the steps for a while and enjoy the remains of the summer sun. Once there, however, she found that her plans were scuppered: Hortense had arrived before her and sat hunched over, her white tutu picking up dirt from the unwashed stone, a lit cigarette in one hand which she raised shakily to her lips. Drawing in a deep breath she exhaled slowly, a stream of blue smoke emerging from her mouth and nose and surrounding her head in a hazy fog. Despite her dislike of the sharp-tongued ballerina, Christine could not help but feel sorry for the sad little figure before her; Hortense looked as though she would like to disappear, her limbs curled inward as she hugged herself tightly, knees pulled up to her chest.

“I know you’re there,” she said after a few minutes during which Christine dithered over whether to stay or not. “I suppose you’ve come to tell me off for being rude to your husband. You may as well know that I don’t take back the words even if Madame Giry did make me apologise.”

“I’ve not come to say anything,” Christine replied, nettled by the other girl’s confrontational attitude. “I merely stepped out for some air.”

Hortense blew out another cloud of smoke. “In that case you’d better hurry away before I damage your precious voice. Can’t have the rising star of the opera’s divine instrument ruined, can we? The great Monsieur Claudin would have a fit.”

“So will Madame Giry when she catches you smoking those things.”

“I don’t giving a flying fig what that interfering old bag says. She can’t tell me what to do,” Hortense declared rebelliously, flicking her hair back over one shoulder. As her bare skin was revealed, Christine noticed with surprise and shock that there was a fading bruise across the olive skin of the ballerina’s shoulder, extending down beneath the bodice of her dance dress. Quickly Hortense pulled the fraying shawl she was wearing up to cover the injury, her cheeks flushing in anger and embarrassment. “I fell,” she said, her jaw audibly snapping shut after the second word.

“It looks painful,” Christine said, taking a few steps down the staircase. “Have you seen a doctor?”

“I’m fine.” Hortense took another drag on her cigarette and muttered, “What do you care anyway? Just leave me alone.”

“I dislike seeing my fellow creatures in pain.” Wondering why she was bothering when her presence was clearly not wanted, Christine still could not help but ask, “Hortense, did someone hit you? A man, perhaps - ”

“I fell.” The black eyes were fierce as they turned on her, and Christine found herself taking a step backwards as Hortense rose from the step and moved quickly towards her. She could smell the smoke on the other girl’s breath. “You won’t tell anyone about this, Christine,” Hortense hissed, her features twisted in fury. “I don’t want anyone to know, and if you tell Madame Giry or your precious husband I swear I’ll kill you!”

Startled by her old colleague’s sudden vehemence, Christine had no choice but to nod. Gradually Hortense relaxed, sinking back down against the balustrade and curling into herself once more. The anger almost seemed to drain away and her face was a picture of misery; Christine watched, torn between leaving as requested and wanting to offer assistance if she could. As a single tear trickled from beneath the thick black lashes and down Hortense’s hollow cheek, the latter impulse won out and she awkwardly sat down beside the ballerina, careful of her bulky skirts.

“Who was he?” she asked quietly.

Sniffing, Hortense regarded her warily. “Why do you want to know?” Her voice was small, devoid of all its familiar bravado. “I’ve been so awful to you... don’t you hate me?”

“I can’t stand to see anyone suffer. Please let me help.”

Hortense lifted her almost burnt-out cigarette back to her lips with fingers that trembled so badly it almost fell into her lap and singed her tutu. Christine tried not to breathe in the smoke, smothering the cough that tickled her lungs. With a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a sob Hortense whispered, “No one can help me.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Christine said, but the other woman shook her head. “Perhaps if I were to speak to Madame Giry, tell her how you are feeling - ”

“There’s no point. When they find out I’ll be thrown into the street.” Hortense swallowed hard and said, so softly that Christine had to strain to hear, “I’m pregnant.”

Christine felt her mouth fall open and quickly covered it with her hand. She had not been expecting such a revelation, but quite suddenly it made sense; Hortense had been sluggish and awkward during rehearsals, her temper even worse than usual and her stomach swelling gently where it had formerly been flat. “Oh, Hortense... was it... the bruise... did he do that to you, the baby’s father?”

“The day I told him. That was two weeks ago and I haven’t seen him since.” Hortense rested her head against the stonework beside her and tossed the end of the cigarette down into the street. “I must be three months gone by now, maybe a little more. It happened back in the summer, I know that.”

“He will not support you, then?”

Hortense laughed harshly. “He told me to get rid of it. I was just a bit of sport to him; he had no intention of anything more.” Her lip trembled and tears started in her eyes again. “I was such a fool... I should have listened to Meg; the prissy little know-it-all was right this time.”

“Meg... then the man responsible was the gypsy, the man at the fair?” Christine asked, trying to hide her mounting horror as she recalled Erik’s tales of Grigore’s father and his lascivious behaviour. “Did he... did he... force you?”

“No! I...” The ballerina looked at the floor, unable to meet Christine’s gaze. “I should have known that he would want something in return for treating me so well. He whispered such flattery into my ear and plied me with drink; I couldn’t refuse him. I thought he cared for me. How could I have been so stupid?”

“I...” Christine’s mouth worked silently for a few moments as she tried to find the right words. “Did he not leave you standing at the gate one night, waiting for him? I thought that you only saw him once.”

Hortense shook her head miserably. “I went back, I couldn’t help it. There was something so dangerous and alluring about him. He apologised for standing me up, said he had had some unavoidable business to attend to.”

Yes, and I know exactly what that business was, Christine thought. He was watching his henchmen beat my Angel of Music into a pulp. Her hands clenched in her lap, nails digging into her palms, and she took a deep breath, struggling to remain calm. Hortense did not need to know the forces she had unwittingly helped to unleash upon Erik that night; she had quite enough to worry about.

“It wasn’t romantic at all,” the ballerina said in a detached voice, her gaze directed at the little shop with the striped awning across the street. “We went behind one of the tents and he was looking over his shoulder the whole time. Afterwards I knew immediately what an idiot I’d been; he fastened his trousers and told me to get up, that he would find someone to take me home. I had no idea I was with child until I missed my monthly flux for the second time; after that I tried to seek him out, I found that the fair was camped near Fontainebleau and I took the train down there to speak to him. He was so angry; he struck me and for a moment I honestly thought he would kill me, but he just told me to get rid of the baby and recommended a woman who would help for a fee. I went to see her, but, oh, Christine, what she wanted to do..! I couldn’t go through with it. I came home and hoped that the baby wouldn’t show, that I would be able to carry on dancing until the very last minute and find someone to take the child in, but it’s not going to happen, is it?” Her hand cradled the soft mound of her growing stomach and she finally looked at Christine, eyes full of despair. “I’m going to be ruined; we’ll end up begging in the gutter!”

“You won’t, I promise you won’t,” Christine said quickly, shuffling over to put her arm around the other girl’s shoulders, desperate to offer some comfort. Hortense fought her at first but her resistance did not last long and her head sank against Christine’s as she finally began to weep, her makeup mingling with the tears in thick dark lines down her face. “Have you not told any of the others what has happened? Giselle, and Dorothée - ”

“Giselle hasn’t the wit to understand, and Dorothée likes to gossip and think herself knowledgeable but she would judge and shun me,” Hortense mumbled with a hiccup. She tried to wipe at her face but only succeeded in smearing rouge and mascara over the back of her hand. Christine offered her a handkerchief and she accepted it with a rather watery smile. “I’m sorry for being so horrible,” she said unsteadily, dabbing at her eyes. “I just... you suddenly had everything I wanted and I was so angry, so jealous...”

“Believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted everything I had,” Christine told her truthfully. “But if you wished to sing, why did you not say so? An audition could have been arranged - ”

“How did you – oh, of course, Giselle,” Hortense said, pulling a face. “She can’t keep her mouth shut about anything.”

“It was Meg who told me, actually, but the information came from Giselle. Don’t be too hard on her; she may not be too bright but she is your friend and I’m sure she only has your best interests at heart.”

The ballerina sighed. “Yes, you’re probably right. In truth, I was about to speak to Monsieur Reyer about an audition when the Hannibal dress rehearsal was done. I’d practised for days, but after all the drama with Carlotta and Meg pushing you forward as her replacement there didn’t seem to be much point; the new managers weren’t keen on the idea of promoting one chorus girl, let alone two. Now I’ll have to give up any dreams I have of singing forever.” Her voice rose in a despairing wail. “I’ve been so stupid!”

“We are still missing a soprano to replace Augustine,” Christine reminded her as tears threatened again. “I will speak to Erik and see what can be done about giving you an audition; if you have genuine talent he will be interested. As for the rest... you must allow me to go to Madame Giry on your behalf and tell her – in confidence, of course! – what has happened. I am sure she will be sympathetic.”

“She will not; she will judge me like everyone else,” Hortense protested. “Please don’t tell her, Christine! She will be furious - !”

“I think you will find her more understanding than you imagine,” Christine assured her, remembering how the ballet mistress had initially met Doctor Lambert, when he had been employed to assist with the difficult birth of a baby to one of the ballerinas who had been taken advantage of by one of the more heartless patrons. “Let me speak with her; she will want to help, I am sure.”

Hortense looked unconvinced but she nodded, getting slowly to her feet and trying to smooth down her rumpled muslin skirts. Uncomfortably she twisted the handkerchief between her hands, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. “Thank you,” she said awkwardly. “You are a good person, Christine, much better than I could ever be.”

Christine blushed. “I just do my best,” she replied. “That is all any of us can hope for.”

“Mademoiselle Da – Madame Claudin!” Both women looked round as a new voice interrupted them; standing at the top of the steps was Jean Paul, the little red-headed runner. “Sorry, but Monsieur Claudin’s looking for you,” he said breathlessly. “He wants to rehearse your aria.”

“I will be there in a few moments,” Christine told him, and the lad hurried off. She glanced at Hortense, who seemed to have recovered a little of her composure. “Do you need anything?”

The ballerina shook her head, and with a small smile she turned and made her way back into the building, a forlorn figure in white, the bow in her curls stirred gently by the afternoon breeze. She looked so young, and Christine realised her dislike was beginning to evaporate; she could only hope that Madame Giry would indeed do her best to help one of her own. Lifting her skirts she began to climb the steps, hearing a nearby clock strike the hour; it was getting late and they still had so much to run through and perfect before the gala in a week’s time.

“Madame Claudin.”

This time it was not Jean Paul who spoke her name. This voice was unfamiliar, female and lowered by age though it retained a smooth, unsettling quality. Christine turned almost automatically, her body reacting instinctively, to see a woman standing at the foot of the steps dressed from head to toe in shiny, faded black silk, her face hidden behind the thick net veil which swathed a wide-brimmed hat that had once been trimmed with extravagantly-dyed ostrich feathers but had been worn rather threadbare by years of wear. To begin with Christine thought she had never seen the vision in front of her before but then memories of her wedding day began to surface and she could quite suddenly see again the stranger sitting in the very last pew as she and Erik left the church after their blessing, could remember the confused glance they exchanged before the happiness of the event and the congratulations of their friends pushed the woman’s existence from their minds. Christine had not spared the uninvited guest a thought since then, but now here she was, standing no more than six feet away. Slowly, almost without realising she was moving, she descended the steps until they were face to face.

A hand encased in a kid glove that had seen better days held out an envelope; Christine hesitated, reaching out to take the offering before pulling herself back, naturally distrustful. Through the veil she could make out something of the woman’s features, could see the heavy lines and sunken cheeks of one to whom the years had not been kind. “Take it, please,” the stranger said. “Say nothing now, just read what it contains. If you agree, you will know where to find me.”

“Who are you?” Christine asked, her fingers moving almost of their own volition to accept the missive. In reply, the woman turned and walked away, but not before Christine had caught a glimpse of her eyes, her eerily pale blue eyes. With a jolt she realised she recognised those eyes; though their colour was mismatched, mixed somehow by the accident of nature that had distorted the face that surrounded them, they gazed adoringly at her every day. She had seen them dance with mischief, flash with rage, cry tears of joy and hate; she knew their every little blink and flicker, could trace the path of their lids and lashes without the aid of her own sight for they belonged to the person she loved more than anything else in the world.

Those eyes were Erik’s.
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