The breakup had been tough, tougher than Christine had expected. Why could Raoul not understand that as an actress and singer her life would never be regular? At the moment all she got was understudy and ensemble parts and if she wanted to step up the ladder to leading lady status she had to put her hours in. But Raoul all wanted was for her to stay home and act as his trophy wife so he could show her off to his nouveau riche friends. After yet another heated nightly argument had made her miss an audition, as she'd been so exhausted she overslept, Christine had enough. She was moving out, and fast.
Sadly a combination of being stubborn where it came to taking money from Raoul and being chronically underpaid left her in a difficult position. Where would she go? She had never had a place of her own.
Thankfully one of the girls in the company told her that she knew a place: a lovely cottage was up for rent for next to nothing. No-one seemed interested so if she was fast it could be hers. There was only one slight problem: rumour had it that it was haunted!
Thinking the last part a joke, Christine enthusiastically went looking for the cottage mentioned. Sure enough she found it at an ideal location: just far enough from the town to be an oasis of rest after a day of hard rehearsals and just close enough to make travelling to work a breeze.
What confused her was the fact that for a long abandoned cottage it looked in great shape: freshly painted on the inside and out, a wonderful well kept garden and fully furnished and dusted. All she needed was to walk in, unpack her suitcases and move in. And after three days that was exactly what she did.
The first night was a delight: she finally had a home of her own: the sweetest cottage anyone could have ever seen!! It was so peaceful that Christine just couldn't believe that anyone could ever think it was haunted.
The first morning was a little less joyful: when she woke up she found everything she had unpacked wrapped up into her suitcases again with a note on top of it saying:
“PLEASE LEAVE NOW!!”
With a frown she wondered if someone had told Raoul about the ghost story and if he might have been playing a prank on her to get her back living in his house. That day she determinedly unpacked everything once more and started redecorating a little.
The next morning she found all her things packed again and all furniture back to where it was when she arrived. On her suitcase lay yet another message:
“THIS IS MY LAST WARNING!”
Feeling furious Christine immediately called Raoul wanting to give him a piece of her mind. But to her horror she was told that Raoul had been staying over with his brother Phillipe on the other side of the country since the morning she had left. This meant it could not have been him. A feeling of dread overtook her.
Could it be a ghost? Do ghosts pack suitcases? Why did it want her to leave so badly? Could she explain that if the ghost wanted her gone she had no other place to go to? Christine was worried: she had no time for ghosts to bully her, she had to rehearse for her biggest audition yet. There was a monologue, a scene and a song she had to prepare, so she had to get this over with.
“Ghost, Phantom or whatever you are. Please listen to me.” Christine cried out loudly. “I mean you no harm and you are welcome to stay if you could please let me live here in peace. I have no-where else to go to.”
A silence followed her words and Christine felt silly for even trying.
“I am sorry. I can't!”
A voice suddenly said as if out of thin air, it seemed to flow around her. Christine's heart jumped into her throat.
“Why … why not?” She panted in fear.
“Because this place is mine,” the voice grumbled harshly, “and you will only ruin it with your modern ideas.”
Wait … what? Christine thought. “Modern ideas?” she said, almost offended. “I won't change a thing … I love it here.”
A new silence and for a second Christine thought she was having a breakdown and had imagined it all. But no, there the voice came again, softer now, almost confused.
“You … you do? You love it the way it is?”
There was a kind shyness to the voice that comforted Christine: maybe she could reason with him after all.
“Yes, it's delightful. Please, ghost, listen to me: all I want is to stay in your wonderful home. I have just left a very controlling boyfriend and al I want is peace and the chance to prepare for the biggest audition of my life.”
A gasp from the ghost. Should a ghost even be gasping? Christine thought.
“An audition? What for?” the voice said eagerly.
Christine smiled, it seemed as if she was getting somewhere now.
“I work in theatre …” she beamed, “both acting and singing ...”
The voice's answer came fast: “So you are a musical theatre actress?”
How different he sounded now. It was almost as if she were having a chat on the phone with someone. Christine nodded in agreement.
“Only an understudy, though. But I am hoping this audition will change things.”
Another brief silence. What was the ghost thinking? Christine wondered.
“Could you sing for me?”
That wasn't what Christine had expected to be asked but if that was what it took ...
“If I do,” she tried, “will you let me stay?
The ghost chuckled at that. He actually chuckled.
“Oh, you are a clever one. Well ...” he said thoughtfully. “Perhaps, if you give me all that you have. Think of this as an audition. Show me how much you want this house to be yours.”
And so Christine sang to a ghost in the hope to keep her new home and strangely because … she felt as if she wanted to please him. Show him what she could do. There was something about his voice that felt familiar in a sense, something she really enjoyed.
After her song was over Christine looked around expectantly: was she good enough to make him appear to her? Sadly it was only his voice that came to her once more.
“You can stay, I enjoyed that tremendously.” The voice sounded shaky, almost emotional. “There is just one thing I would advise: change your breathing before that high C. You have such a gift, but it seems as if someone has given you some bad instructions along the way.”
That stung a little: as Christine knew full well what the matter was. It was the reason why she had remained nothing but a chorus girl till recently.
“I did not have many lessons, I am afraid. I could not afford them. I am self taught, mostly.”
Another gasp from the ghost, he sounded as if she were moving him in a way. Could the ghost be kinder than he first appeared?
“Oh, then I must praise you for your effort.” The voice said warmly, almost in awe. “But I promise you, sing again and just change a few things. I am certain you will hear the difference yourself."
Feeling she had nothing to lose by letting the ghost instruct her Christine listened to all the advise he had to give, even asking for more. When she was certain she understood what he wanted her to do Christine sang again and this time … it felt different almost effortless. It was as if her voice soared freely on it's own. Christine felt a release, a freedom that she had never known. When the song finished she burst into tears.
“Thank you …” she sobbed.
“Would … you like me to teach you some more?” The voice asked gently but eagerly.
“Yes … please yes!!” Christine accepted immediately, she wanted to sing like this forever.
And from that day on the strange voice became her best friend. Every day he was there for her: asking about her life, her day, teaching her, advising her. It was the first time in years that Christine had the feeling someone truly cared for her. It made her feel special to know that of all the tenants that had come she was the one he wanted to stay.
With his help she passed the audition, landing an actual speaking role and a song of her own. Not the lead, not yet: But the ghost told her that was only a matter of time.
Soon the time with her ghost became the highlight of Christine’s day: when not talking the ghost would sometimes sing to her and this was when she understood that whatever ghost was teaching her had to be a musical genius. It was the most amazing voice she had ever heard and soon she begun hearing it in her dreams.
When rehearsals started a new phase in her friendship with the ghost begun. Worried that she was not looking after herself properly while working round the clock the ghost started making her breakfasts. One morning she woke up and it would just be … there: a delicious luxurious breakfast. That evening she would find dinner ready too, all she needed to do was put it on a plate and eat it. From then on it would be that way every day.
“Just my luck ...” Christine thought. “At last I find the perfect boyfriend he’s a ghost ...”
Then she pondered on why she would think of her ghost as her boyfriend: well, it did feel as if they were in a relationship in a way. Things had gone way past teaching for the both of them, they talked as if they had known each other for years and Christine felt herself wishing that he would materialise just once so she could look at the kind man who was helping her so much.
Within a few months Christine felt better than she had done in years and her confidence soared. Her first actual role had led to offers for bigger ones and she was just discussing her options with the ghost when the bell rang. To her horror it was a drunk Raoul who stormed past her into the house and begun to rant.
“Christine, enough is enough: it is time to come home. You can't seriously still be chasing a career on the stage when you could be living in luxury with me. Stop being silly.”
Anger rising inside of her Christine ran after him into the living room. What was he doing here? It had been over for months. He knew she was not coming back!!
“I am not chasing a career, Raoul. I already have one. Get out please!”
But Raoul did not, in fact he grabbed her by the arm and started to force her to the door.
“Christine I said enough is enough. Come with me, now!!”
Christine tried to kick and bite, but it was no use, he kept his hold on her.
“I told you I don't want to, it's over Raoul!! Accept it!! LET ME GO!!” Then in her despair she screamed at the top of her voice: “GHOST!! HELP ME!!”
Before Raoul had the chance to react to this, things begun to change. As if in an answer to Christine's cries for help the lights begun to flicker all around them and then a booming, furious, voice came as if from no-where:
“The lady asked you nicely!!”
As the voice spoke the tiny baby chandelier above them begun to shake violently. For a moment Raoul froze and stared at Christine in horror.
“What the hell, Christine?” Raoul asked, but he did not let her go.
“So be it then!!” The voice screamed and the tiny chandelier crashed from the ceiling, hitting Raoul on the shoulder, thus forcing him to release Christine.
“Now get out!!” the voice screamed and so Raoul did, never to return again.
A shaky Christine returned to the living room and sank onto the couch wearily.
“Thank you ...” she sighed with relief, then she smiled brightly as the event replayed in her head. “That was brilliant!!”
To her surprise her ghostly friend didn’t sound very proud or happy when his reply came.
“Don't thank me Christine, I was mainly acting out of selfish reasons.” the voice said softly, seemingly sad and ashamed. Christine’s brow furrowed in surprise,
“What do you mean?” she asked, feeling confused about her ghostly friends sadness.
“I don't want you to leave …” Came the choked sound. “I have come to enjoy your company too much.”
That poor thing, Christine thought. He must have been so lonely for so long.
“Thank you …” She smiled to the thin air. “I enjoy yours too ...”
Then, to her horror, her ghost actually started crying.
“No … I mean I enjoy it too much.” The voice sobbed brokenly. “I am so sorry ... I … Christine … I love you ...”
With a start Christine jumped from the couch.
“What?” she cried out. Had she heard this correctly?
“I fell in love with you the first time you came to look at the house, That is why I wanted you to leave. But then … you sang and all I wanted was to help you succeed ...”
At those words Christine’s heart felt warm and she smiled to wherever direction she thought he was talking from.
“And you did … and I thank you for that.” she tried to comfort him.
Another strangled sob from her poor ghost.
“Oh … Christine … These last few months … they were the happiest I have been in years.” A long silence, but Christine kept her quiet, she had a feeling that he had not finished speaking.
“Christine … I have a confession to make … I … am not a ghost.”
And there it was. Christine closed her eyes.
“I knew it …” she muttered matter of factly.
The not ghost’s customary gasp floated through the air.
“You did?” he choked out.
Christine snorted quietly, then looked up daringly, a smirk playing round her mouth.
“Well … not at first … but I never knew a ghost could make breakfast … or dinner.” she winked. But the ghost didn’t seem to see the humour of the situation.
“But … were you not afraid?” He asked, his voice barely a whisper.
Christine wished that her broken sounding friend would just appear now so she could hug him, but if he needed reassurance to do so she would give it.
“No, not for a moment. Because I figured: If you wanted to kill me you would have done so already … The same for … well anything else. Then I thought that you may have a reason to hide and I did not want to force you into anything that might be out of your comfort zone as I did not want to lose your friendship … You have helped me so much and have been kinder to me than anyone I've met in months.”
A silence that stretched to eternity.
“Can … I see you now?” Christine asked hopefully after some time.
A sigh that seemed as if from the depths of the earth came before his answer.
“You do not want to see me Christine, I am not beautiful. My voice is all the beauty I have to give to you.”
That hurt Christine, because she knew he was wrong.
“You are wrong. There is so much more that you have given me: kindness, care, friendship, protection … love. What do I care for your outward beauty when I already know the kindness of your heart and soul? Trust me that I love your spirit and show me yourself without fear, strange friend.”
Another long silence before a panel in the wall opened and a tall, thin, man wearing a mask stepped out, looking rather shy.
“I am Erik ...” he said softly, his head held low.
Christine smiled brightly at the tense looking man.
“Hello Erik. Glad to see you at last.”