Jehan reaches for the faded purple spine of the book – he can just brush it with his finger-tips. Almost got it…He stretches up onto the toes of his leather boots, feels the edges of their tongues press against his shins and dig in, and still he reaches.
He doesn't get the book.
He, in fact, drops the book. Drops it with a thunk that seems to shake the floorboards of the very quiet corner of the campus library. It creates quite the echo for such a small, old book.
Jehan manages to catch his breath. Unfortunately, as he tries to right himself back squarely onto the step ladder, he flails and falls forward instead. There comes a strangled squwak sound beneath him, and then all he feels are pointy elbows and knobby knees and lots of buttons poking at him. The bookshelves above are eclipsed by a large amount of dark fabric – whoever Jehan landed on is trying to right themselves but is really only tangling the two of them up further. There's a metaphor in that statement somewhere, he thinks. Then he finally gets his feet beneath him, frees his head from the fabric surrounding it, and stands.
The person who provided Jehan's soft landing is on their side and rolls over with lots of groans and choice swears. They sit up, dragging a corduroy knapsack with them and oh Gods. They are dressed like the coolest person Jehan has ever seen, a person way too cool to be loitering in this section of the library. The knapsack is covered in buttons, absolutely covered, and they're more colourful than Jehan would expect given the all-around blackness of their clothes (ok the collared shirt underneath the jacket is navy blue but really.) The black jacket is very big on them, but their black jeans are very tight and very ripped. They look like they're male-presenting, but Jehan would hate to assume anything like that just from looks.
It is as the person looks up at Jehan that he remembers his manners and offers his hand to help them up. They give him a lopsided grin and take his hand with an 'oof' to stand.
"Very sorry about that. I was so sure I could reach that book!"
They wave the apology away with a flick of their wrist. Their fingers are dotted all over with paint smears. "Happens to all of us at one point or another." Yes, but Jehan is fairly certain most people who drop a book don't also drop themselves right after.
"I'm Jehan," he says with a chirpy smile. "My pronouns are he/him!"
"I'm Grantaire," the cool stranger with the buttons says. "Same on the pronoun front."
He barely batted an eyelash about the pronouns. What a cool dude! Jehan wants to ask him all sorts of questions about his opinions and maybe launch into a rant about gender-normative stereotypes; he recalls having just landed squarely on top of Grantaire and opts to shuffle his feet instead.
Grantaire slugs his knapsack over his shoulder and plunks the beanie in his hand back over his dark curls. They look like they could use a wash and a good strengthening hair mask, but even Jehan knows enough about other humans to curb his impulse to share his hair-care tips with this almost-stranger. Grantaire flashes a peace sign and turns to go.
"Oh wait!" he bends to snatch up the little lavender book. "Here's your book."
"Thank you!" Jehan's embarrassment is fading by the second with this conversation. He takes the proffered book and gets another roguish smile for his trouble. Then, just as Grantaire is moving again (and because he doesn't want their conversation to end) he blurts out, "You can borrow it after I'm done!"
And there comes the embarrassment again. He really doesn't know why he says these things -why on earth would Grantaire be interested in Jehan's library picks? - but Grantaire is in the same section (although he really doesn't look like he belongs there) so maybe… Grantaire raises a brow and Jehan, for lack of any chill whatsoever apparently, holds the book out flat towards him with pin-straight arms.
"Classic Flora and Fauna of the British Tidelands," the other man reads. He shrugs at Jehan. "Why not?" he says. "Let me know when you return it, dude."
He leaves with another smile and Jehan hugs the book to his chest as if he can contain the warmth that whole interaction conjured within his chest cavity through will and book-bindings alone.
It isn't until he gets back to his flat that he realizes he has absolutely no way of getting in touch with Grantaire.
It turns out not to be a problem, because at Jehan's next Intro to Ancient Humour class, Grantaire slides into the empty seat beside him.
"Grantaire!" Jehan is too excited to see the other student to try and curb his enthusiasm. "What are you doing here?!"
"I ask myself that a lot, but, considering I am actually in this class, I thought I'd better show up today."
"You're in this class?" Jehan didn't think he'd ever seen Grantaire before he ran into (dropped onto) him in the library and this was a smaller-sized class…
"Yeah, 'technically'," one could feel the scorn dripping out of Grantaire's words, "but I'm not the most 'regular' of attendees."
"Oh," Jehan says. "Not like you've been missing much."
Grantaire just grunts. He looks tired – big purple circles under his eyes and his hair is an even greater mess than in the library – like his edges have been gradually fading away since Jehan saw him last. Jehan thinks for a moment. He doesn't want to annoy Grantaire further (would someone who thought he was annoying sit beside him? He doesn't know, people tend to give him a wide berth. Maybe people are allergic to the flowers he adds to his braid on the regular?) but he also doesn't want to sit elbow to elbow silently all class (and no he doesn't actually believe that about the flowers.)
As surreptitiously as he can manage, Jehan rummages around in his messenger bag with his left hand while keeping his eyes trained on the front. Their decrepit professor has just arrived and is tremulously preparing his lecture notes. He is a very feeble, very stern old man, but Jehan is sure the professor could still beat him up if he wished. Grantaire doesn't look over, though he must hear the sounds of foraging. He only looks down when Jehan plunks a medium-sized white drink carton on his desk.
"It's for you!"
Grantaire eyes him carefully. "No offense, but I usually like my coffee with a whole lot more Bailey's and whole lot less," he glances at the label, "coconut milk?"
Jehan rolls his eyes right back. "Just try it ok? I have another carton in my bag." Grantaire's eyes narrow further and he just stares at Jehan. "You look like you could use the pick-me-up more than I could," Jehan presses. Grantaire looks skyward (well, roofward, actually) like he cannot believe this is how his day is going, but he takes a reluctant swig.
Jehan goes back to listening to the prof drone on about Sophocles, enjoying the feeling of looking studious because he remembered his multi-coloured note-taking pens today. As he is so intent on Not Checking For Grantaire's Reaction, he actually looses himself in the lecture. Though the professor is droning on in decidedly humourless tones, Jehan spices his notes up as best he can.
Archilochus and Hipponax wrote dick-joke poems, he writes, tongue sticking out the side of his mouth in concentration. Aristotle sang phallic songs to worship Dionysus = MOOD. He doesn't actually remember someone is sitting beside him today until a note slides onto his desk.
WTF is this stuff and where has it been all my life?!
Jehan bites back a smile and scrawls back: Told you! Rebel Kitchen is the bomb.
Grantaire writes fast with a black-tipped pen. Where do you find this shit? I need me a box of cartons now!
He giggles to himself, finishing highlighting this section of notes before responding. It's not surprising Grantaire's never seen it before; funnily enough, Grantaire doesn't look like he frequents the Organic sections of grocery stores.
My grandma orders them online and shares 'em with a bunch of her friends. I can hook you up if you say the magic words.
All Grantaire writes back is 'the magic words' in all caps. It's a very lame joke, but it makes Jehan very happy.
Your wish is my, and therefore my grand mother's, command.
They spend the rest of the class trying to take notes (at least Jehan is trying, all Grantaire has are few lined pieces of paper and a chewed-on pencil) but end up mostly just passing notes back and forth about the dismal-ness that is their professor.
He opens his mouth and all I hear is gibberish like the grown-ups from Charlie Brown, Grantaire writes…which forces Jehan to admit that he doesn't really like and can't really watch Charlie Brown (they're so mean to Charlie and it makes him more upset than he would like to admit. At least Jehan is noticeably weird, Charlie Brown does nothing and still gets picked on!) This in turn prompts a wickedly long rant from Grantaire about the merits of Charlie Brown comics and their artist. Apparently he's something of a hero to Grantaire. He uses up the rest of his supposed note-taking paper to give a detailed history on Charles M. Schulz that is much more interesting than the class they're both supposed to be paying attention to. Though, admittedly, it doesn't take much to be more interesting than their professor! It is clear Grantaire really is passionate about this stuff, and it makes Jehan exceedingly happy that he is comfortable enough to share it with him.
Class begins to wind down and soon enough they are gathering their things. After all the ease they've cultivated through their notes, Grantaire seems a little awkward speaking aloud again. Jehan knows the feel.
"Hey uh, thanks for…this." Grantaire gestures vaguely to their desks that had gradually moved closer to maximize their note-passing. "And uh, sorry for talking your ear off about Charles Schulz for like the last hour," he passes a hand over the hair at the back of neck sheepishly, "he's a bit of an obsession for me."
"You mean you 'wrote' my ear off about him, and anyway, I liked hearing about it." Then a crooked grin crosses Jehan's face. "Might as well learn about something if I'm not learning about Ancient Humour!" He wants to elbow Grantaire like they are 'buddies' but he's not sure they're quite there yet. Maybe they won't ever be, despite how badly Jehan wants. Maybe today was a fluke.
Grantaire laughs, and it sounds genuine to Jehan's carefully-listening ears. His fears are slightly soothed by the sound.
"Anyway, I was glad to see you in this class. You turned what was shaping up to be a bitchass day into a better one." That warms Jehan from his head to his toes, but Grantaire freezes. His eyes are wide and he actually starts shaking his head minimally from side to side, like he wants to erase his words floating through the air.
He stumbles: "I uh, I…"
"I was glad you were here too!" Jehan cuts off, "I was worried I'd never see you again after the library!" Grantaire gives him an odd look, like he's questioning what he just heard, and Jehan rushes to explain himself. "I wanted to exchange contact info so I can let you know when I'm done with my book!" Grantaire's face doesn't change, not a muscle moving since Jehan had last spoke, which Jehan thinks is much worse than sneering or something. He realizes how much more awkward that sounded. "I mean," he flounders, "only if you want to I completely understand if you were joking, actually, that would make more sense…"
"Jehan." There's a dry smirk across Grantaire's face. Jehan stops. He feels a little breathless and a lot flushed. This is why he sucks at making friends, he always freaks them out…
"Give me your phone." Jehan obeys and Grantaire types what can only be assumed as his number in. He hands the phone back while playing with his chewed-on pencil in his other hand. "Text me when you're done your flora book, man. I actually do want to check it out." Jehan feels all the breath go out of him in a rush. "And," Grantaire shrugs, "you could even text me before that if you want. We could meet up for lunch one day if you'd like maybe." His face is carefully and neutrally casual, but he's still tapping his desk with his pencil – in fact, the tapping has gotten faster. Jehan feels a smile break out and he nods what is maybe several times too many. He doesn't care anymore about how he looks to Grantaire, and he's starting to think Grantaire doesn't care either.
He takes a deep breath to replenish his cells, then: "Actually, I'm heading for lunch now, if you would like to come. And if you don't have class or a club or something…?"
"Do I really strike you as the 'join a club' type, Jehan?"
Jehan giggles. "No."
"Good." Grantaire heaves a fake sigh of relief. He shrugs his shoulder so his knapsack bumps Jehan's messenger bag on its way up Grantaire's arm. "Let's go nab some lunch then."
A very late Barricade Day to you all! I didn't post anything on the 5th because I was committed to only reposting or amplifying Black content from the 2nd to the 7th in solidarity of Black Out Tuesday. I urge everybody to take a look at the world and yourself and see how you can help. I have a lot still to learn, but it wouldn't be very in the spirit of Barricade Day if I didn't at least try and make an effort to learn and do better every day of the year.
Thanks for reading! I'm excited to share this with you guys.