While I am normally against modern retellings, I got a fresh idea for a phanphic and it involved things I could put only in a modern setting. This is a rather original tale and while I admit that it might be influenced by the wonderful story the Girl Next Door by Kat097, which I wholeheartedly recommend, things will certainly be different and the main storyline will be slightly closer to that of the book than that of a modern retelling. I like to mix stuff, this will be partially book-like, partially musical-like. Hopefully, this will be a story that will satisfy me as the author and you sa the readers.I think I might need a beta reader or two for this, though, so if anyone would care to volunteer, I would be grateful. This is a relatively long chapter, establishing the "scene". And yes, Christine is passive when it comes to her personal life in this phic, but quite dedicated to her job. You'll see. (hint hint: read and review!)
X X X
X X X X
"Ten twenty-nine. Close one this time, Chris." Jammes Thurman said with a wink and a mischievous smile as she took the paper the rather panting woman handed her. "Lay off the stress, you haven't missed a deadline since… ever!" she said, shaking her head.
Christine laughed. She had been working for the magazine Deacon for nearly four years now, and ever since she had started, she had been a first-class employee, as her boss, Mr. Lefévre, would constantly remind the rest of the journalists sitting in close cubicles. The boss was French, everyone knew, from somewhere near Paris, but he left the country some time ago for the English speaking world. Thus he was hard to please.
"Thanks, Jammes." she said, smiling faintly.
"Just relax, honey." The secretary noted, curling a finger in her hair as she folded the paper and glanced at her computer to check something.
Nodding, Christine waved goodbye and set out for a cup of coffee. She had worked on that article the entire night, but the day was still ahead of her. Hopefully, Lefévre would be happy with it. She had done her best and that had sufficed until now. As Jammes said so often, however, the English really didn't care about what was written in the papers as long as they could unfold them with the classical style.
Christine Daaé herself was Swedish, but she hadn't seen her homeland ever since she was very little, so she barely remembered it. At the age of twenty-six, she had all that a modern woman may desire: she had finished college with flying colors, had a job that many would envy and a promotion not too far away, as everyone said, and a wonderful apartment with a view of the more cultural part of London. She herself didn't consider herself that lucky, however.
Her father had died before she had finished high school. They had known of the cancer long before it happened, but Christine was still devastated when she had been called to the hospital and a grim-faced doctor told her the truth. She hadn't cried, but proceeded to lock herself in her room and not surface until at least a week later. She had scarcely eaten, much to the concern of Mrs. Valerius, the closest person to a mother she had ever known, who had come over to see if she was alright and chose to stay with her.
Eventually, Christine gathered strength enough to face the consequences of his death and returned to society, indifferent to the sympathy and pity she had been offered. As her father had wished, she was placed into the care of Mrs. Valerius. The old woman had been their friend ever since the Daaé family came to England and sort of adopted both of them before they had gathered enough money to find a home of their own. Money was scarce, though, especially because Gustave Daaé was a musician – a violinist. The Valerius household was a pleasing place to grow up at, however, and Christine never regretted having to buy her clothes at second hand shops or that she couldn't go to the amusement park as often as other kids.
Christine had been a cheerful, almost bubbly child before, and her father had often called her his little angel. After his death, she had lost her passion and her happiness. She eventually managed to find comfort in art. Even as a child, she had been very artistic. Accompanied by her father's violin, she had sung songs with the pure sweetness only an innocent child could create. His death silenced the music – Christine didn't sing anymore. She found a different outlet of emotions when she needed it. She started writing a diary. Eventually, all of her free time was occupied by writing. She wrote the legends of the North, the stories of children, tales of her own.
She had decided to become a writer. She had talent, she knew of that – her teachers at school always praised her essays and her works – but Mrs. Valerius chose her eighteenth birthday as the proper moment to remind Christine that writers, unless they write a bestseller, are usually poor. That if she wanted to write, there were other ways to do it. And she had left Christine with several newspapers and magazines, each very different, so that she could decide what appealed to her the most. In the end, Christine remembered just how poor they were simply because her father followed the artistic path and forgot that music didn't feed the hungry.
Talent, she had. Need, she also had. And now she had something to drive her – Mrs. Valerius was getting old and needed care. She wanted to repay her guardian for taking care of her. Once she had finished college, she had raided the newspapers for job offers. She had chosen Deacon purely because the name appealed to her somehow. She sat down and wrote an article about the recent decisions of the USA in Iraq, adding some explanations and opinions here and there. The hand-written article she had copied and then sent to Deacon along with a job application. The next day, the article was in the paper, with her name as the author and she found a letter inviting her for a consultation with her would-be-boss. She got the job almost at once.
She devoted herself to her work and almost caused a revolution in the magazine. Soon she was allowed to comment on everything she wanted, as long as Lefévre approved. Some commented that he favored her because she wasn't English, like him. But the amount of other job offers from rival papers she was receiving spoke against that. Yet Christine was satisfied. Eventually, she had managed to save enough money to buy a flat of her own, since Mrs. Valerius refused to leave her old house. Nevertheless, Christine would visit at least for ten minutes almost every day and if she couldn't visit, she called.
She became a workaholic. Her work became her life, but she always wrote down thoughts of her own in a "diary" of sorts. She hadn't quite given up that one ambition, one dream that she might yet create a story that would capture the hearts of people and allow her to be what she had wanted to be ever since she ended up alone. Thus her social life was almost dead.
Besides Mrs. Valerius, she had only one closer friend – Meg Giry, who she had met during an amateur photo exhibition ages ago, when she was a teenager. Meg was her age and also had her dream – she wanted to be a professional photographer. Unlike Christine, however, she decided to pursue her dream. Meg occasionally sold photos now to magazines and Christine managed to get her an appointment with Lefévre months after they had met and made him hire her as an external worker. Meg was different from Christine, never having experienced a loss – she was always an optimist and tried to get Christine to leave her flat occasionally. Her mother, Mrs. Antoinette Giry, was a single mother, but not one of those you have to pity. She had a strong personality and an even stronger will. Meg inherited some of that… and thus her arguments with her mother regarding her choice of career were pretty fierce.
Christine sighed as she poured the coffee into her favorite mug. At least she had the most important of her day behind her, now she could relax and surf the web for a while, searching for other news. She remembered Meg wanted to drag her to the movies on Friday and sighed. It was probably a cover-up for a blind date and dear sweet Miss Giry would vanish suddenly, remembering something she had to do right about at the exact moment. As wonderful a person to hang around with as Meg might be, it was irritating that she constantly pestered her about her love life. Last time, she had noted that she had met a really nice guy at an exhibition, rather artsy, shy, and she, as the perfect friend, had decided that it might be wonderful to meet him. In the end, Christine had submitted and decided to attempt to be polite and refuse equally politely after the date. They had gone to a restaurant, but Tom, the guy in question, ditched her before the bill had been paid. Christine never found out whether he had been so shy or such a bastard, but assumed the latter.
Meg would always shrug and say: "Don't worry, Chrissy." But Christine worried. She and Meg had different tastes in many things, men being one of them. And Christine always reminded her friend that she didn't need a man in her life to be happy. "Don't live a routine, don't be a slave." Was Meg´s quote when it came to that subject. "Life is change – and it's short."
Sipping her coffee, Christine sat down and frowned with distaste. Too much sugar. She had gotten distracted, apparently. It might help raise her mood, though, she figured, so she decided to sip it slowly. She turned on her computer and connected to the internet, browsing her favorite websites. Naturally, all of them involved work, work, work. She preferred to get the job done and stay in touch with the world at least this way. Only then could she move to art websites, out of sheer interest. Though she herself wasn't an artist anymore, Christine had a great passion for art still.
A couple of minutes later, the polyphonic symphonic version of Exsultate, Jubilate rang out of her purse. Christine dug through her papers after tearing her eyes from the screen and quickly searched for her cellphone. She found it and smiled when she saw who was calling. Typical Meg, call when you least expect it and when you have tons of other things to do. At least she was used to this by now. Hopefully, she was wrong about the whole blind date idea, though.
"Hey Megster." Christine said with a faint smile as she answered the call. "I thought you might call before coming, I heard the photos for the new movie reviews are to be turned in today."
"Hey yourself, Chris." A mock-annoyed but clearly cheerful young female voice answered. "I'm downtown right now, I've got a few hours to go before I have to get to work. I'm double-checking out what they've got on Friday. We should go see Ice Age 2 – I know it's really a cartoon, but that saber-tongued squirrel is in it, and I could use a few laughs." Meg was also a freak when it came to all things digital, from photos to animation.
Christine laughed quietly. "Whatever you want. As long as the number of the movie equals the number of people who will be coming, and by that I mean you and I." There was a brief silence on the other end. "No guys, Meg. Not after all the attempts."
On the other end of the line, Meg pouted. Her grand master plan to hook Christine up with some nice guy was failing once again. Despite her workaholic nature, Christine wasn't invisible to guys – she was pale-skinned, almost wraith-like, her blue eyes seemed to change shades depending on the day and she had long blonde hair that curled in ways that made Meg very envious. Her features were soft, her figure was slender. She wasn't classically beautiful, but she had the kind of innocent look and girlishness to her that gave her the look of a lost princess and took away a few years. But she genuinely smiled scarcely and most of the time seemed lost in her own mind and appeared a bit sad.
"Oh, fine, be that way, Chris. I'll have the last laugh yet when you go gaga because of some guy." Meg said gleefully.
"That ain´t happening, sister." Christine noted, "Anyway, I'll be waiting for you. And try not to be late this time, hmm?"
"Yadda, yadda, yadda, I'll be there before you realize it, girl. See you then!" Meg hung up. Christine shook her head and returned the phone into her bag. During this small conversation, she had probably secured her safety for the night, because while Meg was a sneaky prankster, she was also always true to her word. She closed a pop-up with the slightest annoyed frown.
How many millionth visitors can one site have?
"Christine," Christine looked up to see the editor, Elliot Rémy, handing several papers to her over the wall of her cubicle. "Go through this, please, just in case. The info has been updated, so it might need a few more lines, unfortunately, nothing all that major."
With a sigh and a nod, Christine thanked him and took the papers. They were her article about the latest statistics about avian influenza, meant for today's edition, but apparently, some statistics had been changed and in order to be precise, she had to change some dates and facts. It shouldn't take her long, but it was still work. Tiresome work.
"Another thing –" Again, Christine looked up, "Jammes says you are to check your mailbox."
"Thanks, Elliot." He was out of earshot almost as soon as she finished the thank you. Christine minimized her browser window and opened her Outlook Express. Every employee had a top-notch computer with the newest Windows and once the latest systems would be tested, they would be getting them.
One of the things Christine liked was that the journalists all had their unique nicknames for the email system they had, though their names were in brackets on a list each of them had saved, just in case anyone forgot. The company had been saving money and had had Yahoo! or Hotmail email accounts before they got a website of their own but then wasted no time "awarding" everyone with their own address. Christine had been fortunate to choose her own username before any of the sneaky programmers had a chance to choose one for her. Not all ended up that well and it was a slight joke to give funny usernames to new people.
Now, however, Christine turned out the mail program as she had been instructed to and found a new message there. Her eyes went wide for a moment.
From: DLefévre (at) deacon. org
To: LittleLotte (at) deacon. org
Subject: Don't panic, Miss Daaé, nothing is wrong
Christine exhaled deeply. Lefévre sure knew how employees usually reacted to seeing a message from him. Just the sight of it showed that something was seriously wrong, they had messed up or worse, they were getting fired. She saw that he had actually gotten her name right – most people had no idea how to spell her surname and she often wasted precious minutes spelling it for them. And even if they knew how to spell it, it was always with an e instead of an é. It seemed the English thing to do, apparently, so it soon ceased bothering her.
Despite the warning, she was still slightly jumpy. Hopefully, nothing was wrong with her article. Lefévre was nothing if not precise and informed about all things. But she hadn't missed the deadline, so… Christine shook her head. He said nothing was wrong, so it had to be something else. Closing her eyes for a moment, she opened the message with an audible "click" from the mouse, since she pressed the button a bit harder than was needed.
I hope you got the corrections from Mr. Rémy – bird flu might be a common topic these days, but you know the drill. Who writes most and best is the best. As for the deadline today, splendid job, as usual, though I have a few corrections. Politics move so swiftly, you know the deal. My secretary, Miss Thurman, will deal with that.
I'm emailing you because our main culture journalist, Nick Rivers, is doing a hands-on review of the Queen's birthday celebration tomorrow, so he will be unable to do the job I had scheduled for him. Apparently, the Royal Opera House has changed their date for the premiere of "La Grue" and it starts this Saturday, 8:00 pm. The first premiere is for sponsors and the press and we already have a ticket booked. Since Rivers is unable to go there, having booked that particular job for himself ages ago, we need someone there.
You're more than smart enough to put two and two together. Come pick up the ticket before lunch, Miss Thurman is dealing with the change with the ticket office as we "speak".
Christine blinked. She reread the message and shook her head. She was to attend the premiere of a new opera and write an article about it? No way. That was out of her league. She stood up as she closed her mailbox and turned off her screen. No way, she repeated in her mind as she headed towards the boss's office again. No way.
Jammes was examining her nail polish as Christine arrived and looked up with a smile. "The boss said you'd come ASAP. I dealt with the tickets already, no worries."
"Jammes, I didn't even accept the job yet!" Christine said, frustrated.
"The boss is the boss, he said you'd do it." Jammes said chirpily. "If you care to wait a mo till I call him, you can go in and rage and storm." The receiver already in her hand, Jammes dialed the needed number for the office right next to her table. "Mr. Lefévre? Christine Daaé is here about the assignment. Yes. Yes, I know. Alright, sending her in." She motioned to Christine to come in before even lowering the receiver.
Christine mouthed a "thanks" and opened the door, entering a modestly but elegantly furnished office on the fourth floor of the building. Daniel Lefévre, a man of 54 years, was a plainly dressed, bespectacled man who could always find a mistake in everything English. He was strict and, like Christine, a workaholic, preferred the peace and quiet of the office rather than work in terrain. He and Christine got on rather well. This time, however, Lefévre frowned and raised a hand to silence Christine before she even managed to open her mouth to start objecting.
"Miss Daaé, judging by the unpleasant look on your face, I can easily deduce why you're here. Now before you object, remember that I have faith in your work. You have what it takes – no excuse is getting you out of this one."
"But Mr. Lefévre, this is completely out of my league!" Christine quickly said, "I do politics, world events, not art! If Nick is out of the question, try someone else from that department – Deborah, Miranda, Fred. All of them do art-related stuff and the last article about the church vs. Dan Brown was really good!"
Lefévre shook his head. "Miss Ember and Miss Redwood are better with non-classical art and Mr. Tane is indisposed. Besides, none of the art department have much knowledge about operatic music and you seem to listen to only classical, from what I hear." Christine had to admit that the boss really saw and knew everything when it came to his territory.
"That doesn't mean I understand opera." Christine objected, folding her arms and throwing her last card. Lefévre obviously didn't buy it – she was a really bad liar.
He leaned forward in his chair and put both of his hands on the table, almost like a bank employee would at their desk. "Miss Daaé, I'll be honest with you. I'm certain the rumors have reached you that I intend to promote you. The truth is, I do – but I want to be certain you can handle it. You have talent, no doubt, but you need to see the job from all the angles. That involves commenting art. I considered sending you to a sports match, but I imagine young women rarely enjoy such things. It was a choice between culture and sports and I think you'll agree that I did you a slight favor by choosing culture."
Christine had to agree that her knowledge of sports besides ice-skating was very limited. And she hadn't skated for ages, so she imagined she had lost that skill. After all, she had been a kid when she had learned it. Opera, she understood. But she preferred classics – this one was apparently a new composition, since she didn't recognize the title at all. She wasn't certain she should really trust the opera house's choice.
Still, Lefévre confirmed that he would promote her! That was great news! It would certainly mean a pay rise and she could probably choose her own topics to write about from that moment on. She didn't know the size of the promotion, but it would certainly be a leap in her career.
Sighing, Christine nodded, admitting defeat. She had to do it, so she would do it. "You win." She said, lowering her head briefly. "I'll do it, if you really can't send anyone else."
With a satisfied smirk though without rudeness, Lefévre told her the precise time and address where she should be. "Miss Thurman will write it down for you, along with the names of the managers – it's highly probable that you'll be meeting them and speaking with them during the breaks and at the "party" afterwards. The crème de la crème will be there, so I expect that you will be properly dressed for the occasion."
Christine paled. She didn't really have a proper formal dress and she couldn't go there even in her best clothes. This would mean a lot of gleeful squealing from Meg and visiting a lot of shops. She understood herself dismissed, so she left the office. Jammes was talking on the phone as she came to her table and merely scribbled a note quickly and handed it to her before returning to her conversation.
Christine returned to her desk and glanced at the work she had to finish yet. Plus there were several important messages in her mailbox when she checked again. She sighed and dug out her cellphone again. Better to get the "Meg squealing fit" over with through the phone than wasting precious minutes and having to endure it once Meg would actually arrive. Well, the least it would do would be minimize the squealing fit.
Fashion emergency, Meg, L. wants me to go to an opera premiere this weekend and write a review for it. I have no dress for a snob party and you know every shop in town. Thankies –Chris
With the feeling of foreboding, as if a volcano was about to explode, Christine sent the message. She barely had time to sit down and toss the phone into her bag before the tones signaling a reply beeped.
Squeal-o-rama! Chris, I know just where to look! I'm on my way, be with you in 10 minutes tops, I'll drop off those pics and we'll grab some lunch and get outta there for some action. You'll be the belle of the ball, Christirella! Your fairy godmother Meganette will have you ready to roll in no time!
Christine decided to turn off the cell just in case. Either she had done something very good or very bad. Hopefully it would get Meg´s mind off playing matchmaker for a while. Safely tucking the note from Jammes into the pocket of her jacket, she returned to the computer and opened another window of Mozilla Firefox. She had to Google this opera before anything else would happen. She liked to be prepared for work in terrain.
Ten minutes, many pop-ups and one virus threat alert later, she frowned deeply. Her search had been as fruitful as if she would have been searching for the top secret plans of the world terrorist organizations. No information leaks, no overviews. Someone sure knew how to keep their secrets, she thought.
At last, she found a link that sounded hopeful. She clicked with slight anticipation and then sighed, supporting her head with her arm and digging her fingers in her hair. The website she had found read:
La Grue – opera in three acts, coming soon