A/N: I know my timing sucks. And that I haven't updated in like 3000000000 years. I've been having some weird IRL problems that I needed to sort out before I came back to writing. Now I'm back. Hopefully people are still reading this, because I do intend to finish it.
Flowers. Flowers! He opens up what he knowsis an old insecurity for me and he tries to apologize with flowers!
Juliet had yet to actually speak a word after she slammed the door—aloud, that is. The level of noise in her head was deafening. She paced across the foyer, hands fluttering in restless disquiet at her sides. She hadn't decided yet whether she would cry, scream in anger and frustration, or collapse. Perhaps all three in some combination.
Finally, she had enough sense to enter the sitting room and settle herself down on the sofa. There, she took several deep breaths and smoothed two fingers beneath her eyes. There. She would be fine. Not right away, of course, she would give herself some time, but she would be all right. There was the Opera, certainly, and the master classes Monsieur Blanc wished her to teach. Gabriella, the prima donna, was too busy to teach them and as the understudy the task fell to her.
She didn't mind, now doubly so. It was one more way to keep her mind occupied and another, albeit small, way for her to earn money. Living with her father, while comfortable, was not good for her or him, for that matter. They needed space and he needed a chance to see and believe she wasn't a young girl anymore, but a woman.
Would she see Erik again? She imagined so; he worked at the same Opera House as in which she spent a great deal of her time. Some might criticize her. What he had said was hurtful, but surely could be worked past. She agreed, but also remembered it was not the first time he had brought it up. The last time had happened before they were officially together, but she could not be certain it would not happen again. That, and Erik had the potential to be a wildly jealous man.
It wasn't that it was the first time she'd noticed how jealous Erik could get. Nadir had told her of the deep brood he had sunk into when Gaston—his very name sent an involuntary shiver rushing down her spine—had first pursued her. In fact, a man who was not Erik within five feet of her had the potential to make him go into a deep brood. Even Nadir could cause a downturn in his mood, as had become evident recently. He had never physically lashed out at her in jealousy, but too many of her friends had landed in abusive marriages because they were determined to work past it for the sake of avoiding what they thought would be unbearable heartbreak or shame. Being with a man who would only allow her to be with him and would hurt her if she weren't sounded far sadder than a mere broken heart to her.
No, she would have to be done with Erik. It pained her now and she knew it would pain her even more later when left with the company of her own thoughts and a darkened bedroom. After all she had gone through, from her young life living with a mildly self-obsessed father to being terrorized by Gaston, she deserved to create the happiest future she could muster. Erik could make her happy. She knew that. He could fill her with the purest, sweetest joy she had ever experienced. But also the most agonizing hurt. Best not to take her chances in that game of emotional roulette.
A quiet thrill of independence electrified her in offsetting contrast to the turmoil it sparked through. Juliet had the chance to discover herself again, to start anew. No strings attached. There had always been at least one string of varying degrees of obviousness following her each time she made the determination to start over. Not this time. Not this time. . .
Rehearsal the next day might be uncomfortable, as she thought she remembered Erik was filling in for their pianist who had caught the flu. She could do it. She wouldn't have to have any direct contact with him. It would be fine. She would be fine.
When her father got home, he announced his presence with a cough. He had been feeling poorly for the past several days. Juliet was beginning to feel worry gnawing at her stomach. It wasn't uncommon for him to feel ill quite a lot in the winter, but through spring, summer, and the majority of autumn he hardly ever fell pray to illness for more than twenty-four hours at a time.
"Papa?" she called, getting to her feet to meet him halfway down the hallway. He mustered a smile for her as he put his hat on the rack and toed his shoes off.
"Mon angel," he said, hiding a second rattling cough in his sleeve. "You look to be feeling better. I'm glad to see it."
"I wish I could say the same for you," she replied worriedly, reaching out to lay a concerned hand on his shoulder. "You sound worse, papa. You ought to be resting."
"I'm fine, Juliet," he reassured her, resting one of his own hands over hers with a gentle touch for a moment. "It takes more than a little cough to render me bedridden." She opened her mouth to protest it was a bit more than 'a little cough', but he waved her down. "You have enough of your own troubles, cheri. Don't you go taking mine on as well. Opening night for The Magic Flute is soon, yes? You must make sure you're well-rested."
"In two weeks, papa, as you well know," she teased him. He had been counting down on a calendar for weeks. It would be the proudest moment of his life to finally see her on the stage, he told her. His voice had gone gruff toward the end of the sentence and he had pulled her into a long hug which made the back of Juliet's throat sting when the conversation had taken place.
"You will be magnificent. I know it." His conviction showed in his face.
"As magnificent as the character with only the title "First Lady" can be, I suppose," she replied.
"There are no small parts, Juliet," he reminded her with a gentle smile. "I'm going to make some tea, would you like some?"
She looked at the clock and realized how late it had gotten without her knowledge. "Papa, perhaps we should make dinner," she offered, "and have tea after. It's getting a bit late."
"I'll just take some tea, I'm not very hungry." Upon a look from Juliet which radiated concern, he continued, "I had a late lunch today. If I feel hungry later, I'll fix myself something. No need to worry for me."
She didn't believe him, not in the slightest. He was the sort to vehemently deny any and all illnesses until they had him knocked down flat. Even the smallest ailments had the potential to become an illness worthy of bed rest. He claimed he was 'too busy' to be sick and simply willed away any potential sickness. What went on in reality was that he was too stubborn to admit he needed assistance in any form. Everyone he knew was aware of his mulish tendencies and would gladly assist Juliet, especially when he had worked himself into the ground yet again when she had been younger.
However, she said nothing and merely offered a faint smile. No point in arguing when he was clearly well enough to resist her. She contemplated scheduling him a visit with the doctor without his knowledge. The idea was quickly vetoes when she remembered the doctor only did house calls in cases of emergencies. While frustrating and worrisome, it was not an emergency.
Not yet, anyway, she thought with a somewhat dour inflection in her thoughts.
For the next few days, her father's condition stayed stable. He didn't seem to be getting any better, but he wasn't getting any worse, either. That much was comforting as she flew in and out of the house between rehearsals and other engagements. She got creative about disguising why she stopped by. Forgetting things, dropping things off. . . If not for her guilty conscience, she might be proud of her creativity.
In the meantime, it appeared she had acquired a secret admirer. Roses, never more than one at a time, tended to appear in her purse or in her dressing room which doubled as her office at times because space was at a premium at the opera house. Somehow, she never noticed their appearance. She never even saw a hint of someone leaving after giving her a rose and sometimes they appeared within seconds of her turning her back.
Juliet thought she knew at least one person they could be from, but it just didn't make sense. There was a regular patron of the opera house with a young daughter who had just begun taking voice lessons. The scuttlebutt amongst several of her friends was that he had taken a shine to her. Monsieur Fabron was the very epitome of a gentleman, which made her immediately more nervous from the outset. The last times she had met someone so naturally charming, it caused problems stopping short of total disaster.
He had given her no cause to worry thus far about anything other than the fact that he spoiled his daughter rotten. Ordinarily, it wouldn't be any of her business, but as the girl's vocal instructor she couldn't help but take notice. Her tendency to stop just on the edge of a total meltdown if she didn't get what she wanted was not only a hindrance to their lessons; it was also incredibly frustrating.
"Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle Leroux," Adele—his daughter—beamed up at her after perhaps their most trying lesson yet.
Juliet barely mustered a smile. "You are very welcome, Adele." I am never having children. Ever. Not if they're all like this. ". . . Would it be all right if I spoke with your father alone for a moment?" she asked as they approached the smiling man. He raised his hand in fond greeting.
"Yes, mademoiselle," she nodded, scampering off in the direction of her little friends who had just finished a ballet class. Juliet restrained a sudden, mighty urge to roll her eyes in exhaustion. Not in front of a well-paying patron, she reminded herself.
"Good afternoon, mademoiselle Leroux," Monsieur Fabron said, offering a wide smile to her. "I trust the lesson went well?"
Juliet bit her lip, shifting from foot to foot in uncertainty. How to word what she wanted to say? She didn't wish to appear rude, especially to someone who was at least partially responsible for her salary. "Good afternoon, Monsieur. Yes. . . The lesson went quite well. Adele is making good progress."
His face took on a look of understanding. "Mademoiselle, I sense you're leaving something out of your small report." When she hesitated, he added, "You needn't worry about offending me. I believe I'm aware of what you're going to say. My daughter is not always the most well-behaved child.
"Monsieur, please forgive me for being so forward, but if you are aware of your daughter's behavior, why do you not advise her against acting out like this?"
He sighed, scuffing a toe against the ground. "The charismatic facade fell away a little, revealing an interior which was much more shy. "I know I indulge Adele's whims far too often," he admitted, raising his shoulders in a rueful shrug. "I do try to keep her in check, but I often find I'm not able to bring myself to do so."
"Why is that? If you don't mind my asking," she hastily added.
"She's not my daughter, not by blood at least." At Juliet's questioning glance, he continued, "She was left in a basket on the steps of my parents' home six years ago. By that point I was nearly moved out and my parents were not as able to care for her as I was, so I took her on. I don't know why she was left there; all I know is that she was not wanted in her initial home." He looked at her, imploring her to understand. "I find I never want her to feel unwanted again and that is why saying no to her is so difficult."
Juliet had a few opinions of her own about why children were given up, but she chose not to voice them. By all accounts, he wasn't wrong. Many children were, sadly, unwanted in their homes. Such was the case with Corbett and, she imagined, many others.
"I do understand why you feel the way you do," she nodded, feeling she had to add, "but please understand me when I say it becomes very difficult to teach your daughter anything of significance when she finds favorite exercises and refuses to do any of the others I try to introduce to her." She helt her hands out in an expression of her lack of knowing what to do.
"I'm very sorry about that, mademoiselle, I'm sure that must be a great inconvenience to you," he apologized, appearing a bit shamefaced on behalf of his daughter. He glanced over in the direction she had gone with a slight shake of his head. "I will be talking to her about this."
"It's more of an inconvenience to her than it is to me," Juliet replied with a quiet smile. It gave her many headaches and a desire to quit on the worse days, but she was still concerned with the quality of education her pupil was receiving. Even if she lowered it by her own hand.
"You're gracious to say so." He made to bid her goodbye, but at the last moment seemed to make his mind up about something and turned back. "You know, I feel as though I should be doing something to make it up to you," he said with a smile. "I imagine Adele has been no small handful to deal with."
"Really, no, it's all right," Juliet tried to politely decline his offer.
Seeing patrons outside of the opera house in non-business settings was generally frowned upon. If something went sour, no one wanted to be the one responsible for the potential loss of a patron. Professionally, it wasn't illegal or even looked badly upon. Any bad reputation seeing patrons had came mostly from the ballerina corp. As nice as they could all be, there was a defined divide between the singers and the dancers. As Juliet was no longer dancing except on on her own time if she had extra energy or pent-up frustration to work off, she felt the divide keenly.
"Monsieur Fabron had a look on which plainly stated no was not an answer he was to willing to take. "Mademoiselle, please, it's not as though I'll be buying you the moon," he laughed. "I was thinking something more along the lines of dinner."
His comment made her laugh before she was quite aware she was doing it. "Thank you, but it's not necessary," she repeated. As much as she felt strange about the new attention, part of her rose up and preened about it. Before she got herself into more trouble she couldn't wriggle out of, she turned to go. A warm, gentle hand closed around her wrist, causing her to stiffen and stifle a gasp of surprise.
"I'm sorry to frighten you," he apologized, sincerity plain in his eyes. "That wasn't the reaction I meant to get. But mademoiselle Leroux, you're making it very difficult for this reserved man to ask you to dinner." A slightly bashful smile turned the corners of his mouth up. "I've been meaning to ask for ages, but I haven't had the opportunity to talk with you for any great length of time."
"I. . ." She blushed, dropping her gaze to the ground. The flowers in her dressing room, amongst other places, were beginning to make sense.
Part of Juliet cried out to say yes to his offer. Denying herself the chance to see other men was ridiculous and unnecessary. There wasn't any reason, really. . . Except for how soon it was since she ended her relationship with Erik. Only three weeks had passed. She didn't worry about how it would appear to her friends, family, and colleagues. It was how it felt in her own opinion that preoccupied her. Was she simply jumping from one man to the next? Maybe she ought to take an extended break from romantic relationships. Having friendships was all well and good and in fact a necessary part of life.
She mustered up a wide smile, shifting his light hold on her wrist so she could shake hands with him. "I accept your dinner offer, Monsieur Fabron, but I have conditions."
He grinned brightly, light brown eyes twinkling in amusement. "Do you, now?" The grip of his hand was warm and familiar.
"I do," she nodded, her tone light. "I will accompany you to dinner, but in a platonic manner only. Is that acceptable?"
His smile didn't dim for even an instant. "Mademoiselle, I find those conditions highly satisfactory," he chuckled. "May I pick you up after your performance tomorrow night?"
"You may." She dropped an ironic curtsey, making him laugh more. "I hope I'm not offending you, given all the roses you left—"
He interrupted her, eyebrow raised quizzically. "Roses? I've never sent you roses. I'm allergic, I'm afraid. To most flowers, in fact," he lamented with a small smile. "It would seem you have another admirer, mademoiselle. I can't say I'm surprised. Until tomorrow night." With a smile offered in farewell, he turned in the direction of Adele had gone, calling for her.
Juliet hardly noticed the reunion. Confusion clouded her thoughts, an underlying suspicion making her heart twinge and then clench. No. They couldn't possibly be from—the very notion was ludicrous. Certainly not. Even so. . .
She hurried in the direction of Monsieur Blanc's office, questions brimming within her. Upon arrival at the doorway, she tapped at the doorframe. "Monsieur Blanc?" she inquired.
He looked up, a smile creasing his wrinkled face. "Juliet. What can I do for you?"
"This might seem. . . Odd," she hedged, not fully stepping into the office, "but have you seen anyone, you know, lingering in or around my office?"
"You're right, that is a strange question," he nodded slowly. "No, not that I can remember. No one has reported anything out of the ordinary and I haven't seen anything. Why do you ask?"
"No reason. . ." she trailed off, tracing aimless lines to nowhere with her toe against the floor. "Just curious. I've had some mysterious roses appearing in there. I wondered if they were from someone anyone had seen hanging about. Sorry to have bothered you, Monsieur."
"You haven't bothered me, Juliet," he assured her, a frown line appearing on his forehead. "I'm sorry I couldn't have been more help. It's not making you nervous, is it?"
"Only confusing me."
"I'm glad to hear it isn't frightening you; I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable here, yes? I'll see you tomorrow before curtain goes up. If it does start to cause you to feel nervous, please do come to me and I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you. Have a pleasant evening, Monsieur Blanc."
She left his office more uncertain about the identity of her mysterious flower-giver than ever. There was only one person she could think of who would be able to do such a thing without being detected, but she shut herself down before she could even think his name. Moving on was key. Thinking about him would only hold her back.
The spring weather, which inched steadily ever toward summer, wrapped her in a comforting embrace. A light breeze played with tendrils of her hair, lifting them and dropping them moments later. The sky, for the moment, was clear. Given how much rain they were experiencing recently, that was subject to change. Mot people traveled with an umbrella almost all the time in late spring in Normandy. In all of France, she imagined. Getting caught in a torrential cloudburst had a tendency to happen when she was on the way to somewhere important.
"Papa," she called in the door, toeing off her muddy shoes at the door. "I'm home. Shall I get your medicine for you?"
Finally, at Juliet's unrelenting insistence, he had gone to a doctor. Grumbling all the way, lest it not be noted. They weren't familiar with the particular one he saw, as their regular one was making a very serious house call at the time of his appointment. He, displaying what Juliet felt to be suspicious levels of uncertainty for a man of his stature, decided it was an illness which would have to get worse before it got better and prescribed some medicine to help manage the cough. Further, he prescribed bed-rest and instructed Juliet to ensure it was enforced.
Footsteps, unsteady and halting, echoed in the far end of the house. With a deep frown, Juliet hurried in the direction of the footsteps. Every day, they went through the struggle of defining what bed rest did and did not entail. Her arms crossed against her chest in mild irritation. If there could be an award for the worst patient in history, it would have to go to her father.
With a sigh, she poked her head into the washroom she knew he'd gone into. "Papa, how long have you been up? The doctor said—"
He stood before the wash basin and mirror. What little she could see of his face was an ashen grey color. There was something in his hand. His eyes held a pure, raw emotion: fear.
"Papa. . . ?"
Slowly, his clenched fist unfolded. A crumpled handkerchief fell, bounced off the basin, and tumbled to the floor in sickening slow motion. The usually pristine white fabric was stained in ugly splotches.
Not unlike those on his lips, she realized.
A run for the doctor—she would soon be known by everyone who worked there soon enough—revealed a quick and damning diagnosis from the doctor she knew actually understood his trade.
Well, not entirely damning. He had a one-in-three chance of survival, according to the doctor.
Then again, Juliet had never known anyone diagnosed with consumption to survive.
A/N: For reference in case anyone isn't aware: Consumption=tuberculosis, otherwise known as one of the the deadliest diseases of the time period. Not good.
I swear to you I will update sooner. Like, end of this week sooner.