Enjolras's phone chimed for the third time.
"Who's texting you?" Courfeyrac asked, kicking his feet in the air. "We're all here."
Enjolras sighed, sliding his phone back into his pocket. "It's my mother," he said. "Wondering where I am. I'll have to answer her soon or she'll start breathing fire to level the horizon and make me easier to find."
"When are they going to let you move back?" Courfeyrac asked. "I'm tired of having visiting hours restricted. It's like you're in prison."
"Maybe never," Enjolras said glumly. "They're keeping a pretty tight hold on my schedule. They won't say, but I think they're punishing me."
Combeferre laid a hand on his good shoulder. "They're worried about you," he said. "They're upset. They'll come around."
"They're worried about them," Enjolras said.
"Your parents love you," Combeferre said, with the conviction of someone who had never had to doubt that his parents loved him. "In their own, flawed, way, they want what's best for you."
"I don't know if sharks can feel love," Enjolras muttered. "They aren't letting me do anything. It's straight to classes and straight home—she waits at the gate for me. I'm only allowed a half hour after classes let out today because I told them I had my meeting with Valjean this afternoon."
"When is that, really?" Courfeyrac asked.
"Tomorrow morning," Enjolras said. "They're letting me out of second period."
Combeferre frowned. "You have to go back to Lamarque's class sometime."
"That's the problem, isn't it?" Enjolras stretched his legs long. "It isn't his class anymore."
In the gloomy silence that fell after that pronouncement, Enjolras's phone alerted him to a fourth text from his mother. Even the phone was starting to sound annoyed.
"Damn," he said. "I really have to go." He levered himself off Courfeyrac's bed.
"You can Skype us if it gets unbearable," Courfeyrac offered.
"And we'll see you tomorrow," Combeferre said. "It's just temporary, you know?"
"Yeah," Enjolras said, adjusting his sling like it was battle armor. "See you in the morning."
"I feel like I'm sending him off to be executed," Courfeyrac said as the door shut behind him. He flipped over onto his back. "He's so hopeless."
"You know how his parents are," Combeferre said bitterly. "I bet they like him that way. Easier to control."
Courfeyrac wrinkled his nose. "Ugh."
"Ugh indeed," Combeferre said, flopping onto his back next to Courfeyrac. "Ugh indeed."
The guidance office could not have been quieter if there had been no one in it.
Valjean cleared his throat. "We don't have to talk about anything you don't want to," he said, in the tone of someone who had said this thing many times before. "We can talk about the baseball team if that's what you want. But this hour will pass a lot more pleasantly if we exchange words."
Enjolras looked out the window. "Do you have something against silence, Dr. Valjean?"
Valjean smiled at him. "Touché." He leaned back in his chair. "I wanted to continue our sessions last year, but once the term was completed you were no longer under any obligation. Of course, no one can force you." He spread his hands flat on the desk. "I'm on your side, Enjolras. I'm not going to tell your parents or the Headmaster or anyone else what you say to me. It's private."
"I know." Enjolras bowed his head. "I remember."
"So do you want to talk about what's bothering you?"
Enjolras nibbled his thumbnail. It was a habit he'd had as a child, but he'd abandoned it in recent years. This week it had made a resurgence, and the skin of his thumb was red and swollen.
"Who says anything's bothering me?" He said at last.
"I'm not going to fight with you," Valjean said. "If you say nothing's bothering you, I'll take you at your word."
Enjolras thought for a long moment. The clock on the wall ticked loudly.
"Lamarque," he said finally.
Valjean nodded. "I know you were close to Professor Lamarque."
"It's not that," Enjolras sighed. "It's the injustice of it all. He tried to help us out and he was crucified for it. We ended up with nothing, all the same."
"By 'we,' you mean you and Grantaire?"
Enjolras made no answer.
"You blame yourself."
Enjolras looked out the window again. He realized his thumb had found its way between his teeth again, and he forced it back down to his lap. "Yes."
"It isn't your fault what happened to him," Valjean said. "Either of them. They made their choices, and they knew the consequences. You can only take responsibility for your life. No one else's."
"I know, but—" Enjolras huffed frustratedly. "It is my fault."
"Why would you say that?"
Enjolras looked down. His fingers stuck out of the cast, awkward and ugly. Valjean was a good guy, basically. But he still worked for the school. "It was my idea," he said. "The whole project. He didn't even want to do it. I'm the one who messed up the data transfer. We wouldn't have been out there if it hadn't been for me. And my parents pushed to get him expelled."
Valjean jotted something in his notes. "Does Grantaire blame you?"
"No." Enjolras snorted. "He doesn't."
"Do you think it would help you to talk to him about this?" Valjean folded his hands.
Enjolras shrugged. "My parents don't want me talking to him."
"We're not here for your parents," Valjean reminded. "We're here for you. Would it help you to write him a letter explaining how you feel?"
"Doesn't matter," Enjolras said. "I don't know where to find him."
"Sometimes," Valjean said, "it helps just to write it down. You don't have to send it."
Enjolras grimaced. "That seems like a waste of time," he admitted. "What's productive about telling myself things I know already?"
"Does something have to be obviously productive to be worth doing?" Valjean asked.
"Of course it does," Enjolras said.
"But can't something that initially seems pointless sometimes prove helpful?" Valjean asked. "Can't things you don't understand offer you clarity or comfort?"
Enjolras chewed his thumbnail. "Maybe," he offered.
"A lot of people find this a valuable exercise," Valjean said. "Think on it, please. That's all I ask."
Enjolras nodded. "Okay. I'll think about it."
"Thank you," Valjean said. "About next week—an afternoon appointment would work better for me. Do you have any objection?"
He did, but it felt silly to say that he didn't want to see another teacher in Lamarque's classroom. "That's fine," he said instead. "Four o'clock?"
Valjean paged through his datebook. "Wednesday is clear at four. Thanks for understanding." He smiled warmly. "I'll see you then."
Enjolras stood. "Thanks." He left the guidance office feeling no more guided than before.
"Is your arm okay?"
"It's fine," Enjolras said shortly; Joly was the ninth person to ask that day.
"Only you keep moving around like it hurts you, and—"
"Of course it hurts, Joly, that's why it's in a cast and sling," Enjolras said. "But it's as fine as it's going to get, so I wish people would stop bugging me about it." He started stacking his books in preparation for scooping them up with his good arm.
"I can carry those for you," Joly offered. "If you want."
"I'm not a porcelain doll," Enjolras snapped. "I can carry my own things."
Joly blinked. "Of course you can. But I have two hands, see? And my backpack is basically empty because carrying too much weight is bad for my scoliosis—"
"You don't have scoliosis, Joly."
"—so there's plenty of room for your stuff. We're going to the same place." Joly offered him a smile; he took it with a sigh.
"Okay," he said. "Thank you."
Joly flanked his injured side in the hallway. "Have you heard from Grantaire?"
"No," Enjolras said. "Why?"
"Just thought you might have," Joly said. "You guys seemed pretty close."
"We weren't," Enjolras stuck his right hand in his pocket to keep from chewing on his thumb again.
"We all liked him," Joly said. "I didn't know him very well, but everyone thought he was nice."
"He wasn't," Enjolras said, shaking his head. "He was talented, and funny, and smart as hell, but he wasn't nice."
Joly set Enjolras's books on his desk when they got to the physics room, and Enjolras took a moment to send a furtive text.
about you. They seem
to think I know how to
get in touch. Do I?
He never received a response.
"I have a lot of homework," Enjolras told his mother as they pulled into the garage. "Is it okay if Matelote sends a tray to my room?"
She frowned. "Should you be working so hard? I'm sure the doctor could give you a note to take to school."
"It's fine, Mother," he said. "I just need time to work, that's all."
"Then of course you can eat in your room," his mother answered, though her tone remained cold. "As long as you don't forget your pills."
Ah, the pills. His parents had called in every favor they were owed until he had a top-of-the-line painkiller that left him dizzy and fatigued, and—the other pills.
He wanted to hate them as much as he hated everything that came from his parents—without merit, without cause—but in the last two weeks, he'd come to appreciate the Ativan. It didn't iron out the wrinkles in his life, but it helped shut down his mind when the time came for sleep.
Sleep didn't come very easily on its own these days.
Enjolras set his school books down with a thud and got out the pad and pen he used to take reading notes.
He didn't get out his assigned text. Instead, he wrote two letters.
"You going to stop to eat?" Matelote asked, grinning in the doorway.
Enjolras put his pen down and flexed his hand. "I'm finished, actually."
"Please tell me you're going to eat dinner tonight. I made your favorite." She set the tray on his desk, sweeping aside his work. "White lasagna and honey-roasted carrots. I brought you two slices of rhubarb pie. Everything's cut up already, so all you have to do is eat it."
He smiled at her. "You're too good to me," he said. "I'm sorry I haven't been—just not very hungry, lately. It's the medicine, I think. But I'll try."
Matelote bent to kiss the top of his head; she smelled like butter and salt. "I know you will. You always try. Such a good boy."
"I don't feel like a good boy," he said. "I always let people down."
"Everybody lets people down," Matelote said, stroking his hair. "You always fix it, though, and that makes you special." Her eyes glittered. "You're fixing it now, aren't you?"
He laughed. "You're wiser than you let on, Matelote."
"Course I am," she said, puffing up to her full height of five foot one. "And you'd do well to remember it."
He managed to eat half of what she brought him before he could no longer delay booting up his computer.
ProPatriaMori: I need your help with something.
ProPatriaMori: It's about the newspaper.
ajoyforever: i can't stop running fricassee's column
ajoyforever: it's against everything i stand for as a journalist but
ajoyforever: the readers love it
ajoyforever: and i'm anti-censorship
ProPatriaMori: This isn't about Fricassee's stupid gossip column. It's about getting Lamarque his job back.
ajoyforever: i'm listening
ProPatriaMori: I'm emailing you an op-ed for next week's issue. I need you to print it.
ajoyforever: i've got a full layout for next week
ProPatriaMori: Bump someone. It's important.
ajoyforever: i'll see what i can do
ProPatriaMori: It has to be anonymous. You can't say it came from me.
ajoyforever: enjolras, are you ok?
ProPatriaMori: I'll have to get back to you on that.
2sexy4myshirt: Jehan said ur being weird. Did u take too many of ur parents fun pills?
ProPatriaMori: I don't have time for this, Courfeyrac.
2sexy4myshirt: Ur home alone w/ ur parents. Uve got nothing but time.
ProPatriaMori: It's really hard to type with one hand.
2sexy4myshirt: Ur really serious about this, aren't u?
2sexy4myshirt: I mean, ur always serious, I know that, but ur really REALLY serious about this.
2sexy4myshirt: How can I help?
ProPatriaMori: I don't think you can. Unless you know Grantaire's parents' address?
2sexy4myshirt: I dont, sry.
ProPatriaMori: It was a longshot anyway.
2sexy4myshirt: He didnt go back there anyway, if that's what u were thinking.
ProPatriaMori: Wait, do you know where he is?
ProPatriaMori: He told you not to tell me, didn't he?
ProPatriaMori: It's important.
ProPatriaMori: I'm your best friend!
2sexy4myshirt: Im going 2 get n so much trouble for telling u this.
ajoyforever: i'm sacrificing my poetry spot for this
ajoyforever: you'd better be grateful
ProPatriaMori: You're a true friend, Jehan.
ajoyforever: don't i know it
ProPatriaMori: Courfeyrac? I need one more favor.
2sexy4myshirt: oh boy
2sexy4myshirt: Name it.
ProPatriaMori: I need you to take me somewhere.
Enjolras used to sneak out by climbing down the wrought iron trellis under his bedroom window, but with only one functional arm he had to get creative.
"Mother," he said, as casually as he could manage.
She startled. "Do you need something, darling? Is your arm hurting again?"
He smiled and shook his head. "No," he said. "I'm feeling a lot better, actually."
A frown creased her forehead. "We've discussed this. Your father and I don't feel comfortable letting you live back at school just yet—"
"No," Enjolras said. "It isn't about that. I… agree." The words tasted acid on his tongue, but it was all for a greater purpose.
She looked as surprised as if he'd said he was contemplating a career as a circus clown. "You do?"
"Yes. It's only…" He shifted uncomfortably. "I forgot I promised to help Courfeyrac with his lines for the play, and now he's calling and I can't figure out how to get out of it."
Her disagreement was reflexive. "You shouldn't be trying to get out of helping your friends."
"I know," Enjolras said, trying to look ashamed. "But he wants me to go to his room for a couple of hours, and I don't know if I should."
"Nonsense," his mother said, unruffled. "You made a promise. Call Courfeyrac and tell him I'll bring you by in a few minutes."
"I think he's on his way to get me himself," Enjolras said, trying not to look too cheerful about it.
"Okay, then," his mother said. "Go help Courfeyrac with his lines, and try not to be so careless with your promises next time."
Enjolras flopped into Courfeyrac's car a few minutes later and broke out into a grin. "You know your lines for the play, right?"
"I don't have any lines," Courfeyrac said. "I'm a statue. I just stand there in a toga looking fabulous."
"Perfect," Enjolras said. "Because I'm supposed to be helping you memorize them, and I'd hate to let down a friend."
The building looked dangerous in every way imaginable. It was easy to imagine shootings, stabbings, and other acts of violence taking place there; it was equally easy to imagine the entire thing collapsing in on itself. It was the kind of place that screamed for a condemnation notice and a wrecking ball; if Enjolras had known about it earlier in the semester, he might have wanted to film here.
"Are you sure about this?" Courfeyrac asked him. "I'm sure he didn't want you to know for a reason."
Enjolras looked grimly up at the building. "I've got to," he said.
"Want me to come with you?" Courfeyrac's eyes darted between the frightening building and Enjolras's cast before settling on his face.
Enjolras shook his head. "I have to do this myself," he said. "You just— keep the doors locked, okay?"
Courfeyrac looked startled. "Um. Duh. Have you seen this place?" He tugged on his hair. "Be careful, okay?"
"When am I not careful?"
"Always." Courfeyrac looked at him. "Good luck. And if you need anything—"
"You're here. I know." Enjolras smiled.
"I was going to say you're on your own, because I'm not going in there by myself." Courfeyrac saluted.
Enjolras rolled his eyes. "I'll be back soon." He pulled himself out of the car and pushed the door shut.
An old man sitting on the stoop blew his cigarette smoke in Enjolras's face as he entered the building.
The inside of the building wasn't much better than the outside. The staircase was rickety and smelled of urine and rats. A crying woman brushed past Enjolras on her way down the stairs. The lights flickered ominously overhead, as if any minute they might go out permanently.
He stood outside 5A, listening to a television blaring on the other side of the door and a child screaming inside one of the other apartments. He'd skipped his medication—he wanted to be sharp for this—but the way his heart was pounding and his arm ached, he wondered if it might have been better to take the edge off.
Enjolras took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
The television noise stopped, leaving a heavy pause on the other side of the door. Then the heavy clunk of feet in combat boots, and the door swung open.
"What do you want?" asked a dark-skinned guy—a couple of years older than Enjolras—with gold eyeliner and gel in his hair.
"I—" Enjolras swallowed. "I might have the wrong apartment. Sorry, I was looking for—"
"You don't have the wrong apartment," Grantaire said, coming up behind the other boy. "It's okay, I got this."
The stranger raised his eyebrows. "Take care of it," he said. "I don't like being disturbed." He stalked off, then, into some dark recess of the apartment. Enjolras heard a door slam.
"Who's that?" he asked.
Grantaire ran a hand through his curls. "Eponine's boyfriend Montparnasse. He's letting me crash here until I figure something out." The television was still on in the background, only muted; the flickering light reflected off Grantaire's face. "Why are you here?"
"You have to come back." Enjolras's eyes landed on the bottle dangling from Grantaire's fingers.
Grantaire, perhaps sensing his disappointment, jerked it out of sight. "I don't have to do anything," he sneered. "In case you've forgotten, I was chucked. I'll be arrested if I set foot on school grounds."
"What are you doing here?" Enjolras breathed, and it meant something entirely different from when Grantaire had asked him.
"Same as you," Grantaire said. "Surviving." He licked his lips. "I can't go back where I came from. My dad made it pretty clear what I could expect if I fucked up at another school. It was this or my car, and in case you didn't find this out in your research, it's illegal to live in a car."
"You can't stay here," Enjolras insisted. "This place is—it's horrible." He peered into the apartment; he thought he saw a used syringe on the floor behind Grantaire, but Grantaire had put his body between Enjolras and the inside.
"Thanks for your concern," Grantaire said. He didn't sound thankful. "But it's what I deserve."
Enjolras took a slow breath. "Can I come inside and talk about this?"
Grantaire laughed, harsh and hollow. "You think this place is too good for me, but I'm going to let you inside? No. The sooner you get out of here and back to your palace, the better."
Enjolras bit his lip to cover the deeper sting of those words. "I've got a plan," he said. "To get Lamarque reinstated and your name cleared. But I need you to help me."
"I've done enough helping you," Grantaire said, and his eyes were more sad than angry as he reached out one dirty hand to caress Enjolras's hair. "There's nothing more I can do. I've already given you everything I have. Go home now. Forget about me. Become the great man you're supposed to or—or all of this is a waste."
"It's a waste anyway," Enjolras said. "You're wasted on me, and I don't want that."
"What you want doesn't have anything to do with it," Grantaire said. "I chose this. Me. It's not up to you how I live." He turned toward the interior of the apartment at some indeterminate sound. Enjolras saw that he was trembling.
"I want to fix this," Enjolras pleaded.
Grantaire faced him again. "You can't. Goodbye, Enjolras," he said, and shut the door.
Enjolras stood there for a few shaky breaths, debating whether he should pound on the door and scream for Grantaire to come back. Part of him suspected it would be satisfying, but another part knew it would do no good.
He pulled an envelope from his sling, where he'd stuck it for safekeeping, and slipped it under the door before walking away.
"According to Professor Lamarque's syllabus, this day is for work on your projects," Professor Blondel smiled weakly at the class. The art teacher was a pretty blond woman with perfect teeth, and she seemed nice enough for all that she could not take Lamarque's place.
Enjolras sighed and got out his computer to start writing his paper.
"What will you do for your presentation?" Courfeyrac whispered, while Feuilly drew up a visual representation of their data.
Enjolras frowned. "Do I still have to do one? Lamarque isn't here to grade them."
"Blondel is sticking to the syllabus," Courfeyrac said. "Everyone pulled lots for presentation order last week. You're going last, because you're a lucky bastard."
Enjolras pursed his lips. "Not that lucky," he said. "I guess I'll give a speech about what I learned. It won't be anything near as good as I'd planned."
Courfeyrac winced sympathetically. "It'll be fine," he said loyally, even though they all remembered last semester's Comp Lit fiasco.
"It has to be," Enjolras said, and turned back to his keyboard to pick out his next sentence.
"Did you think about what we discussed?" Valjean asked, as soon as he had settled in the chair.
"I wrote it," Enjolras said.
Valjean raised his eyebrows. "Did it help you?"
"I don't know yet," Enjolras said.
Valjean nodded as though this were not completely mysterious. "You know I have to ask about the newspaper."
It had come out that morning, and the anonymous piece, slipped quietly between an article on school dress codes and one about an ongoing campus beautification project, had begun to create a stir. Students who hadn't known the story behind Lamarque's departure had been whispering it to each other all day, and Enjolras had heard rumors that a few of them were planning to organize a meeting after school tomorrow to get a petition signed to bring him back.
It was widely suspected that Enjolras was the author, but no one could prove anything. The author had been vague enough with the details that it could have been anyone. Even after two hours with Bamatabois, Jehan refused to roll over on his source.
Society could say anything it wanted about a skinny boy with long hair wearing a skirt, but he could be fierce when he felt he was doing the right thing.
"Did you write it?" Valjean asked. "I remind you that this is confidential. You won't be in any trouble."
Enjolras shrugged his good shoulder. "I don't know who wrote it," he said blandly. "But I think its author was really brave to strike such a blow against an unjust institution."
"I hope he knows what he's doing."
Valjean rubbed his eyes. "Enjolras. I'm glad to see you more like yourself, but this—I am not sure this was wise."
"Wise men don't need advice," Enjolras said, "and fools won't take it."
They passed the rest of the session in silence. Periodically Dr. Valjean would open his mouth to say something, but he always stopped himself at the look in Enjolras's eyes.
The petition was signed by every member of the Problems on Social Discourse class, and a good number of students from the Upper School showed up to pledge their support and pin I STAND WITH THE GENERAL buttons to their uniforms. A smattering of younger students came, maybe just to find out what the fuss was about; Lamarque had rarely taught anyone under grade ten. Professor Javert broke up the rally when the shouting started—uncivil disobedience was not to be tolerated, he said, as though there was really any other kind—but by then the contagion had spread.
The buttons became something of a fashion statement, and even popular kids who had never before seemed justice-minded wanted one. Every time Enjolras walked past one of the students who had never spoken to him and caught sight of a vivid red button, the weight in his heart lightened somewhat.
Feuilly was kept even busier than usual making them, staying up late into the night after he finished his work study in the offices. Every few days he printed up a new slogan, and kids fell over each other to update their collections. How the buttons disseminated in the student body, no one seemed to know. Feuilly smiled mysteriously whenever he was asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he would say. "Those kids don't even like me. Besides, why would I be making trouble this close to graduation? This school has given me everything." But his eyes glinted hard, like steel, and Enjolras was overcome with gladness to know him.
No comment was issued by the administration regarding Lamarque's dismissal, but the buttons were deemed a dress code violation and display of them became subtle and subversive. They disappeared from blazer lapels and ties, but every so often the eye could catch a flash of red on the bottom of a shoe or underneath long hair; they were pinned, now, to the insides of book bags or clipped to key chains.
Enjolras kept his pinned to the inside of the sling on his arm, where it was not easily visible but could be periodically spotted by like-minded individuals who would nod their heads in solidarity and unbutton their blazers to reveal one of their own stuck to the inner pocket like a stolen watch for sale. This display of contraband, even more than outrage over the controversy, brought the student body closer than ever; they'd grown up together, but with this cause they were for the first time united. They were a family.
Naturally, it couldn't last.
"They threatened to take away my diploma," Feuilly said. "I can't have done all of this for nothing, I'm sorry."
"It's not for nothing," Enjolras assured him. "You helped as much as you can. You've got more at stake than everyone else, and you've risked a lot already. I really appreciate it."
"Good luck," Feuilly said. "I didn't tell them anything. I still support you. I've just got to be quieter about it."
Through all of this, he didn't hear a word from Grantaire.
Without Feuilly's buttons, attention waned pretty quickly. By the time presentations began, hardly anyone was still wearing one, and only a few students still seemed upset.
Enjolras spent the whole slideshow of pictures of smiling people accepting free hugs from Cosette and Marius (who had done what they called a "complimentary protest," patrolling the streets shouting nice things at passers-by) with his head in his hands. He couldn't imagine anything less worthy of his time than being babysat by an art teacher while these two idiots billed and cooed.
Courfeyrac nudged him. "Pretend to be happy," he hissed. "They worked really hard, and it's ten kinds of adorable."
At times like these, Enjolras really missed Grantaire.
The day of Enjolras's presentation dawned. With the removal of the sling, he'd been allowed to move back into the dorm, so he pulled his blazer over his cast with only Combeferre for company. He picked up the bottle of Ativan and stared at it.
"It's going to be fine," Combeferre said, reading his mind. "You're an excellent speaker."
"They don't like me," Enjolras complained. "They're not going to listen."
"They listened about Lamarque," Combeferre pointed out.
Enjolras frowned. "And that did so much good."
Combeferre sighed. "Listen to me. This is just high school. We're going to get out of here and go to college and change the world. This is one day, okay? The last day. Get through it and then it's over."
Enjolras nodded. "You're right. You're always right. I'm just…"
"You were hopeful. It's a good thing." Combeferre smiled. "It's why you're going to try again, and next time you'll succeed."
Enjolras caught his thumb halfway to his mouth and curled it inside his fist. "To the Calculus final?" he asked.
Halfway through Calculus, the class phone rang.
"Enjolras," Professor Madeleine said, setting the phone back in the cradle. "When you've finished your exam, would you please report to the office? They're holding something for you."
Courfeyrac shot him a quizzical look, but Enjolras just shrugged.
Enjolras didn't have the head for numbers that Combeferre did, but he finished his exam in record time. He never could stand a puzzle unsolved, and he didn't have the patience to wonder another minute.
He took the hall pass and ran toward the office.
"No running," Professor Javert called from his classroom.
Enjolras slowed to a brisk walk.
"I heard you have something for me?" He asked, trying to hide how out of breath he was.
"Of course," Madame Houchelop, the office secretary, said with a smile. "It was dropped off for you about an hour ago. I guess you left it at home?" She pulled a flash drive out from under the counter and handed it to him.
"I guess," Enjolras said, puzzled. "Who left it, do you know?"
"Oh, dear, I'm afraid I don't." She smiled apologetically. "It was left with one of the office aides while I was out of the room. I just found it with a note to get it to you."
"Thank you," he said, looking at the flash drive.
He had half an hour before his presentation was to begin, so he ducked into a computer lab and stuck the flash drive into it. The file took a long time to load, but finally it did, and—
His breath caught in his throat.
Thirty-five full-color pages of illustrations, hand-drawn and scanned into a computer. Everyone they'd talked to—Mabeuf, Eponine, little Gavroche, and others—rendered in painstaking detail, their stories inked lovingly onto the page. It had a narrative arc, the stories intertwining in ways Enjolras had never imagined. It was the graphic novel of the film he'd hoped to make, but it was better than anything he'd have been able to produce.
He ejected the flash drive and tried to breathe very deeply. "You bastard," he whispered. "Doing this for me. I could kill you."
He clenched the flash drive tight in his working hand and took it to Lamarque's classroom.
The presentation was a stunning success. The class was riveted by the images on the screen, and a few of them seemed emotionally moved by the end.
"I'd like to have a copy printed and bound for the school library," said Professor Blondel. "If you'll allow it, I can print a few extras for you to send out. One for the mayor, one for you to keep, and one for your partner?"
Enjolras looked up in alarm.
"Enjolras, please. I've taught art at this school for seven years. If you could draw a line, I would know about it by now." She smiled gently. "I'd recognize his artistry anywhere."
"You won't—you won't tell?" he asked. "I know it's plagiarism, and I shouldn't have accepted it, but—"
"Between you and me," Blondel promised. "Just—tell him not to waste that potential, please, when you talk to him? I don't think he'll listen to me."
"I don't think he listens to me, either," Enjolras muttered.
Blondel smiled. "You'd be surprised."
Oh. Enjolras felt his face heat up. "I—thank you, Professor Blondel, but I—"
"Go," she said.
He didn't trust himself to drive, so he let Courfeyrac take him back out to the ratty apartment building.
"This is so exciting," Courfeyrac babbled. "I've never been part of such a romantic story before."
"You got Marius and Cosette together over a school project and a game of strip Twister," Enjolras reminded him, jiggling his knee. "I'd say you're a bigger part of that story than they are."
"There were a lot fewer dramatic displays of love in that one," Courfeyrac said. "A lot more blushing and standing around."
"It's not a display of—" But Enjolras can't even say the word. "Can you drive any faster?"
"I'm not running red lights for you," Courfeyrac snorted. "You're meeting the boy you have a crush on, not fleeing the law."
"I don't have a—how long have you been sitting on this?"
Courfeyrac grinned. "Since you stopped complaining about him all the time. I know the signs of love, and more importantly I know you. You were acting so weird. Something had to be up." He shrugged. "And you've been moping like a sick puppy since he's been gone. It didn't take a genius to figure out—although I am one."
"I wasn't moping," Enjolras complained.
"You were." Courfeyrac slowed the car for yet another stoplight.
"Oh, god, let me out. I can walk there faster than this."
Courfeyrac laughed. "Are you kidding? In this part of town, with a face like yours and your arm already broken? I've met your mother, you know. I'd prefer to keep all my limbs. Seems like they might be useful in college."
They finally pulled up in front of the building, and Enjolras had his seatbelt off before the car had come to a complete stop. "Stay here," he said. "If you follow me and any part of this ends up on the internet, I swear I will—"
"End me, have my guts for garters, put hair dye in my shampoo, I know," Courfeyrac said, waving a hand. "Go get him, tiger."
Enjolras climbed the stairs quickly enough that he could almost fool himself into believing that, rather than the thought of what he was about to do, was the cause of his rapid heartbeat. He knocked on the door to 5A and stood, bouncing from foot to foot, until Montparnasse came to the door.
"Relax," Montparnasse drawled, a lazy smile growing on his face. "Your boyfriend isn't here."
Enjolras bit back the argument before it came out of his mouth. "Can I wait here until he comes back? It's important."
"Doesn't matter how long you wait," Montparnasse said. "He isn't coming back. Moved out this morning."
Enjolras swallowed. "Do you know where he went?"
Montparnasse laughed. "You're too cute, you know that, kid? I didn't ask where he was going. It wasn't my business, right? And if he didn't tell you, it isn't yours, either." He fumbled in the pocket of his patterned silk robe and pulled out a business card. "This is my band. Website's on the back. If you ever want a good time, that'll tell you how to find it. But other than that, I can't help you."
Courfeyrac was vibrating with excitement when Enjolras slumped back out onto the sidewalk. "How'd it go? Where is he? What happened?" His face fell as he took in Enjolras's posture. "Oh, no. What happened?"
"He's gone," Enjolras said, tongue thick in his mouth. "He, um, he left."
"Do you know where—" Courfeyrac cut himself off. "You can't let him get away like that. Not now."
"I don't have a choice," Enjolras said. "It's over."
It was all over.
"This is it," Courfeyrac chirped, adjusting his mortarboard so it sat way back on his head. "This is the last day we are children. After this, we are men."
"Except Enjolras," Jehan said, grinning wickedly. "He isn't eighteen until July."
Enjolras grimaced at him. "Is that really necessary?"
"Oui, mon petit chou," Jehan cooed, flipping his hair over his shoulder. "Look how pretty you are when you blush."
"I think we need a picture," Courfeyrac announced.
"And does that picture need a photographer?" A voice came from the doorway.
Every atom of Enjolras's body leapt toward Grantaire, who was leaning in the doorway. He forced his feet to hold fast to the ground. (His face, he feared, he had lost all control over.) "You're here."
"I couldn't miss my best friends' graduation," Grantaire said, and he smiled.
That was when Enjolras lost the battle to stay in place. He threw his arms around Grantaire's neck and pressed his face to those ridiculous messy curls.
"Ow," Grantaire said. "You brained me with that cast, there." But he laughed as he said it, and he hugged Enjolras back.
"I'm just so glad you're here," he sighed. "To—to take the picture, I mean," he finished, straightening.
Grantaire smirked. "I'm happy to assist," he said smoothly. "Now, whose camera am I using? Or does everyone here just use their phone as a camera like the cretins you are?" He sighed. "It's worse than I feared. No matter. I brought one." He held up a camera, which Enjolras had somehow managed not to notice before now.
"I didn't know you took pictures," Enjolras said.
"I dabble," Grantaire said. "Now, get together. On the count of three—"
He took a series of shots, which all turned out beautiful.
"You should be in some," Jehan suggested.
"Nuh uh," Grantaire said. "I'm not graduating."
Enjolras looked at his feet. "You should be," he said.
Grantaire stepped closer. "Is that bothering you?" He laid a hand on Enjolras's elbow and drew him slightly away from the crowd. "I probably wouldn't have graduated anyway. I moved schools so much, I—God, Enjolras, it isn't your fault. I've told you that."
"But what will you do?"
Grantaire startled. "What will I do? Do you know how long it takes to get a GED?"
Enjolras shook his head, eyes still downcast.
"About seven hours." Grantaire cupped his cheek and tilted his face up. "Cheer up. I already did it. You didn't think I was going to drink beer on Montparnasse's couch for the rest of my life, did you?"
Enjolras bit his lip to avoid having to admit that, yes, that was exactly what he'd thought. "You left, and I didn't know if I'd ever see you again."
"How could I stay away?" Grantaire's eyes twinkled.
This time it was Enjolras who closed the distance between them, pressing his mouth to Grantaire's and gripping the collar of Grantaire's shirt with his fingers.
They were interrupted by a flash.
"What?" Courfeyrac asked, trying to look innocent with Grantaire's camera in his hands. "It deserved documentation."
Enjolras made a move to grab it from him, but Grantaire grinned and pulled him back in for another kiss.
"I never got to thank you," Enjolras panted against Grantaire's lips between kisses. "For—ah—everything, really. The project was—it was phenomenal."
"Don't thank me for that," Grantaire said. "I was your partner. It was about time I pulled my weight. And I think it'll make a killer piece in my portfolio when I apply for art school next year, don't you?"
Enjolras was so happy to hear that, he had to kiss Grantaire again.
"You don't have to thank me for loving you," Grantaire whispered. "Jesus."
"You read my letter."
Grantaire squeezed his hand. "Of course I did. The part about obverses and conjunctions was particularly strong."
"Break it up, lovebirds," Combeferre said dryly. "I don't know if you've noticed, but we have a graduation to get to." He reached out and adjusted Enjolras's tie. "And you look like a disgrace."
The ceremony was a blur of flashing cameras and smiling faces. Afterward, Enjolras posed for a few stiff photographs with his parents before Courfeyrac dragged him off.
"It'll just be a second," he promised Enjolras's parents (who had always liked him, and so they let him go). "There's someone who wants to see you," he murmured into Enjolras's ear.
"I already arranged to meet up with Grantaire as soon as I can blow my parents off," Enjolras said. "Can't he wait another twenty minutes?"
"No," an amused voice came from behind him. "He can't."
Enjolras turned to find Lamarque standing there. His face broke into a grin and he ran over. "Professor Lamarque!"
"Hello, my boy," Lamarque said, and pulled Enjolras in for a hug. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," Enjolras said, and he was ashamed to find that there were tears in his eyes. "I'm glad you came."
"I always come to graduation," Lamarque said. "I find it helps me cope with the loss of the few students to whom I have become attached. I almost skipped it this year, the circumstances being—well, as they are—but then I heard there was a student-run rebel movement to have me reinstated."
Enjolras flushed. "It didn't work," he said.
"Of course it didn't work," Lamarque said, remarkably unruffled. "Bamatabois would never back the students over the trustees, no matter how afraid of you he is. But I'm impressed with the attempt."
"Still," Enjolras said. "I wish it had. I'm sad for all the younger students who won't ever get to learn from you."
"Ah," Lamarque said. "Don't be. They deserve someone younger than me anyhow. We've all got to go sometime. Besides," he said, eyes sparkling merrily, "I've always wanted time to write a book."
"You'll have to send me a copy," Enjolras said, smiling at him.
"Signed first edition hardcover," Lamarque promised, "as long as you never implicate me in your more criminal pursuits."
"Uh, Enjolras?" Combeferre said. "I hate to interrupt, but I think your parents are looking for you."
Lamarque nodded. "Go. No sense in angering them this close to your escape. A little bird told me you're headed to St. Paul?"
"Best of luck. I'll be thinking of you, you know."
"That means a lot." Enjolras ducked his head. "Thank you, for—so much, really," he said.
"My pleasure," Lamarque said, shaking his hand. "Now go back to your families. All of you. Leave an old man some peace."
"I can't believe it's over," Enjolras sighed, looping his fingers with Grantaire's.
"Me neither," Grantaire said. "I'm not as attached to this place as you are, but I think I'm going to miss it when we're sneaking in and out of your parents' house all summer."
Enjolras smiled. "As soon as the cast's off, it'll get a lot easier. There's a trellis under my window—"
"That's admirably Romeo and Juliet of you, but I'd rather your skull not be the next bone of yours I get broken."
"You didn't—oh, you're teasing me. That's not fair." Enjolras jabbed Grantaire in the ribs with his elbow. "You know that's not fair."
"Someone as close to Courfeyrac as you are should be a little more attuned to gentle ribbing," Grantaire said. "I'm helping you."
"Yeah, yeah," Enjolras grumbled, smile shaping his face. "Sure, a Michael's sales associate can help me."
Grantaire huffed. "That's just until I get into art school," he said. "Has anyone ever told you that you're an asshole?"
"Pretty much every day since I turned nine," Enjolras nodded. "Before that, the insults were a little more colorful."
"Come here, you," Grantaire laughed, grabbing Enjolras by the belt loops and tugging him in for a kiss.
Author's Note: That's it! That's the end! Thanks to everyone who saw me through this and got invested in it—I am grateful for every one of you. (But especially you—you know who you are.)
My headcanon for the future is that, after a few months of work, Grantaire gets into MCAD, putting him in Minneapolis- fifteen minutes away from Enjolras in light traffic (you're welcome.)
I am on tumblr! You may come say hi (or "how dare you" if you're still upset about chapter 4) over at notanearlyadopter.