Meg looked up from where she was stretching her leg on the barre to see another girl race into the room and let out a sigh of relief when she realised that she wasn't late and Madame Giry hadn't arrived to start the class yet. Some girls were stretching like Meg, either using the barre for support or spread out on the floor, whilst other girls were standing in small groups scattered around the room, talking and giggling with their friends.
A few weeks had passed since the managers had announced that the next production was to be Mireille and rehearsals were now well underway. All the roles had been cast, and Meg had been thrilled to receive a dancing solo in act two. They had already been taught the basics of the choreography and were now adding the finer details whilst still practising in the rehearsal rooms. It would likely be another few weeks before rehearsals and blocking were moved to the stage, as the stage hands were continuing to dismantle the sets from Don Juan Triumphant and create new ones for Mireille. The managers had insisted that all the sets and costumes for the production were to be entirely new, which was unusual for normally they would try to re-use items where they could. Instead all the production staff at the Opera Populaire were working harder than they ever had before.
The tap of Madame Giry's cane on the wooden floor signalled her arrival and the girls immediately stopped what they were doing and hurried to find a position along the barre. "I assume that you have all stretched and are ready for class," she said as the pianist sat down at the piano and opened his sheet music. She didn't look around the room to check that the dancers were ready, but immediately launched into her instructions. "Demi-plié, grand plié, port de bras forward, degagé to second. Demi-plié, grand plié..."
Meg paid little attention to her mother as her body automatically went through the standard exercise. She wondered how many pliés she had done in her life and remembered a time when she was younger and she had tried to count how many she did in a week and how she had lost count by the second day.
"Degagé to fifth." Madame Giry continued as the pianist played a slow piece, forcing the dancers to push their pliés as slow and as deep as possible. The crack of her cane against the barre made the dancers start, although the more dedicated ones continued with the exercise. "Celeste and Marie!" she barked, "If you believe that you do not need to pay attention to my instructions perhaps you wish to demonstrate the exercise for the class?"
Blushing hotly, both girls shook their heads and Celeste took a step away from Marie to show that she would stop whispering to her. Forcing herself not to smile, Meg remembered rehearsals where she had incurred her mother's wrath, usually for gossiping with Christine. Although Christine would immediately do as she was told, Meg often couldn't resist the urge to continue the conversation and had occasionally upset her mother so much that Madame Giry had forced Meg into the centre of the room to demonstrate the exercise as she had threatened.
She remembered the last time that had occurred, during one of the early rehearsals for Hannibal. It almost seemed as if it was another life, when Christine was another ballet rat, the Phantom of the Opera was a fun story and the Vicomte de Chagny hadn't entered their lives. Before Christine had disappeared and they had discovered just how real the Phantom was. Although to an outsider her life still looked very much the same, Meg felt that it had changed dramatically and that she had changed as well, no longer the completely carefree dancer she had been, she felt older.
"Battement glissé en croix. Three in each position." Madame Giry directed.
Meg thought about what had occurred to bring them to this place. She wondered whether if one element had been taken away, would she still be here. If Raoul had never come to the theatre as a patron would Christine still be here? Would the Phantom still be here? She wondered whether she was the only one to think about this? She couldn't imagine her mother dwelling on events and thinking about 'what ifs'. Instead she would focus on what can be changed in the present. Raoul however, Meg had no trouble believing that the Vicomte would still be thinking about how things could have turned out differently. During the searches of the theatre Meg had patiently listened to him as he analysed every move that he had made since the day he had first come to the theatre.
Her thoughts started to drift to the Vicomte and she wondered what he was doing at the moment. She hadn't seen him since the day the managers had made the announcement about Mireille and she had told him that he needed to stop searching for Christine in the theatre and start living his life again. She knew that he hadn't returned to the theatre but she hoped that he had paid attention to what she had said that day, and wasn't wandering the streets looking for any clue as to where Christine had gone. Meg was not so naive as to believe that he had entirely given up on his search and to be fair she did not want him to stop his search because she knew that with the resources he had at his disposal and his dedication he still had the best chance of finding her, more so than the Sûreté.
Still, she hoped that at this moment the Vicomte was having tea with his family or other nobles or that that he was discussing business with his partners. She hoped that he was doing something that he would have done before Christine had gone missing and that he wasn't sitting alone obsessing over what he could have done differently or where he was going to continue his search.
"Rond de jambe à terre. Three en dedans and three en dehors." Her mother ordered, stopping to correct an older girl's arms.
Meg frowned slightly as she realised that had Christine not disappeared that night then she and Raoul would likely never have become friends. It was perhaps the one good thing to come out of the terrible events. She knew that their relationship had started out purely as a matter of convenience, he needed someone to help look for Christine and she was the only one willing and able to assist, but she believed that she could now call him her friend. After his request that she call him Raoul, rather than Vicomte, she felt that he considered her the same.
Would they have become friends had Christine not disappeared? She would have liked to believe that her friendship with Christine would have continued had Christine married Raoul and subsequently she and Raoul would have become friends, but she knew that after events with the Phantom Raoul had wanted to take Christine as far away from the opera house as possible. Not to mention the scandal that a Vicomte and his wife being friends with a dancer would have caused, if even the Vicomtess had been a former dancer herself. In truth Meg knew that she and Christine would have drifted apart and that she never would have really gotten to know Raoul. It was rather peculiar that the Phantom's actions would have driven Raoul from the theatre with Christine, yet now it was his actions, or at least so Raoul believed, that were causing Raoul to stay.
"Into the centre girls." Madame Giry told the dancers, as they shook out their legs from the last exercise.
"That's the last of them," Raoul said with a sigh of relief, allowing the pen to drop from his fingers and roll across the table. "Can you please ensure that these are sent today?" he requested of his valet Georges, who nodded and gather up the numerous envelopes.
After his conversation with Meg on the day that Mireille was announced as the Opera Populaire's next production, Raoul had written to Philippe in Switzerland and advised him of the new turn of events. After much soul searching Raoul had apologised for any harm that he caused the de Chagny name in his actions, although he refused to apologise for looking for Christine. Philippe had been quite reasonable in his response, accepting Raoul's apology saying that he understood his actions, although he could not publically support them, and that it was time for Raoul to start acting as a de Chagny again.
Raoul had accepted his brother's instructions, although he had reiterated that he had not entirely stopped searching for Christine and that if there was news of her he would follow it. As a consequence he was now sitting at his desk accepting every invitation that was addressed to him. With Philippe out of the country Raoul was now the representative of one of the oldest noble families in Paris and despite the gossip that his actions had caused in the past few months, people still wanted him at their events.
So for the past few weeks he had tried to resume living his old life. He had attended parties and dances, spoken graciously with his hosts and charmed everyone that he met. When he was alone he found that he started thinking about Christine, where she was, whether she was safe, and what he could be doing to find her. At these times he tried to remember what Meg had told him that afternoon, that he needed to start living his life and that obsessing over what he could have done was not going to help anyone.
It was hard, knowing that Christine was still missing and not actively doing something to find her. He had felt horrible the first few times he had attended a party or dance, thinking how wrong it was that he should be attending an event that most people would consider enjoyable, although he was finding no joy in it, when Christine could be suffering. Gradually the feeling of intense guilt started to fade, although there was always a twinge of guilt when he happened to think of her at one of these events.
Raoul started to imagine what his life would have been like with Christine by his side. Up until now all his thoughts had been focused on finding Christine and rescuing her from that fiend, or what would have happened had he managed to get her to the estate that night. But he had never really thought about Christine in his everyday life. He had no doubt that they would be married, although the idea didn't give his heart the same thrill that it had when he had first proposed, and he knew that their marriage would have been happy and comfortable. Would she have been attending these parties and dances with him, being introduced as the new Vicomtess de Chagny or would they have been travelling throughout Europe on an extended bridal tour. He imagined holding her in his arms as they danced, and her leaning sleepily against his shoulder on the carriage ride home.
Although he knew what people had been saying about him and his search for Christine, it disheartened Raoul to see the views of his friends and acquaintances in person. Like the managers at the theatre, many seem to prefer to pretend that the entire incident had never occurred, whilst those who did mention it believed it to be a sad state of affairs, not because a young woman had gone missing but because of the impact it had on Raoul's life and reputation. After all, why throw away the life of a Vicomte for a pretty face, as one baron had described the situation. Although he did not wanted to make a scene, Raoul couldn't allow anyone to speak of Christine in that way and it had very quickly become known by all acquaintances of the de Chagny family that it was best not to mention those events at all in the presence of Raoul de Chagny.
Raoul began to realise that the only person who was genuinely supporting his search for Christine was Meg, and to a lesser extent her mother. Although he knew that Philippe did support him privately, at the end of the day he would put the de Chagny name above the search for Christine, regardless of the circumstances they found her in. Meg however, recognise how important it was to Raoul that he find Christine and supported him, only telling him to stop searching because she was concerned about the impact that it was having on him or because it was becoming pointless. As he thought back, he started to recognise just how much time Meg had dedicated to helping him search for Christine. Between helping him, attending classes and looking after the youngest ballet rats it was astounding that she hadn't collapsed from exhaustion. He wished he had recognised this earlier but could understand that Meg had been right and he needed to stop searching for Christine so he could start to see what was happening around him. Raoul thought about writing to Meg and telling her this but then decided that he wanted to tell her in person, although that would mean going to the Opera Populaire.
Having discussed it with Philippe, Raoul had decided it would be best if he no longer visited the Opera Populaire, unless he had a socially acceptable reason for doing so, lest anyone see him. It had been hard for the first few days, as his instincts kept telling him to return but he fought them, knowing logically that it would serve no purpose. As much as he wanted to see Meg and tell her everything that he had realised, he knew that he had to hold himself back. He was to attend the opening night of Mireille but until then he would stay away.