“I want an advice column for the paper.”
Grantaire has a sudden horrible suspicion that Musichetta isn't petting his hair on the couch because she loves him but, in fact, because she wants something out of him. “Need some new graphics for that section on the paper's website or something?” he asks. That he can do.
She taps out a little beat on his skull. Grantaire listens for rescue, but it isn't coming. Joly and Bossuet have been playing an intense game of cribbage in the kitchen for the past hour, or perhaps several games. Grantaire is foggy on the rules of cribbage. “You're a punchy writer. Funny.”
He shrugs her hand off in order to struggle into something resembling an upright position. It's not the most graceful maneuver he's ever pulled off, but nobody cares. “Musichetta, I am pretty sure I am the person in this world least qualified to start an advice column. I give terrible advice. I told Jehan to wear that sweater that looks like a poorly decorated pizza on a date.”
“Jehan loves that sweater, and he got a second date.”
“Marius asked me what I thought of him proposing to Cosette and I made him cry.”
“Those were happy tears, he thought you were being romantic instead of making fun of him, and he decided not to do it in the end.”
“Because Courfeyrac told him not to! Why aren't you asking Courfeyrac to do an advice column for you?”
“R, you would be funny. You could pick and choose your questions, anything that looks too heavy could get passed on. I was thinking of calling it Grain of Salt, you can't say that you'll be leading people to think you're actually qualified to give advice with a title like that. You'd be anonymous, only who you choose to tell, and probably my boyfriends would know because we're both shitty at keeping secrets from them.” She snuggles up against him entreatingly, which is terrifying, because Musichetta only does that when she's going in for the kill. “If it flames out I'll pay your bar tab for a whole month.”
“You want me to drink less.”
“I'll buy you fancy coffees? Come on, you were the first person that I thought of when I thought about introducing an advice column.”
“You have to admit Bahorel would be pretty amazing.”
She hums, considering that. “Maybe, but he's already writing the fashion column. I want you to give life advice.”
Grantaire sighs. “I guess I know pretty much exactly what not to do in every situation, since I've already done the worst-case scenario.”
Musichetta kisses him messily on the cheek. “That's my boy. It's going to be amazing, you'll see.”
“I hope you realize that you just doomed it. That's how these things work,” says Grantaire, but he lets himself smile so Musichetta knows he's being press-ganged at least partly by his own choice, and she beams back, because like always, she knows.
(Grantaire treasures the picture from last year's paper, when Musichetta was just a star reporter, of Enjolras confronting the university president at a public meeting about a slashed budget that would mean more terrible treatment of faculty, Enjolras stern and gorgeous and the university president looking mildly terrified.)
The website started advertising for his column as soon as Musichetta convinced him, but it's a week before she hands him a scrap of paper with the login for the advice column's address. “Change the password so everything's nice and anonymous, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem, the instructions have a few ways to send anonymous e-mails. There are a few questions in there for you to answer. Have fun,” she adds when he scowls, and leaves him alone in his room, probably because when Grantaire passed by the living room her boyfriends were asleep on the couch and she's never one to miss a nap.
Grantaire avoids looking for two hours, to the point where he actually does some of his homework and edits a paper that isn't due until next week, but his curiosity overcomes him eventually and he logs into the e-mail.
There are only five messages in the inbox, but he'd expected that.
Dear Grain of Salt, says the first one. I'm dating two people (they are also dating each other) and I want to invite them home for a few weeks with me this summer. However, I'm pretty sure my family is going to be weird about it. This is long-term and I don't want to have to keep one or both of them secret from my parents. How should I bring this up with my family? Signed, An Example of How These Letters Should Look
He and Musichetta never know how to say anything real face-to-face. It's a good thing her boyfriends are so good at talking about shit. Tell your parents you're dating me, he says in an e-mail to her regular account. They've heard enough hair-raising stories that they'll be relieved when you're dating Joly and Bossuet instead.
The rest of the questions are boring relationship questions, so he closes the e-mail down so he can think about what else to say and goes back to procrastinating.
Musichetta hugs him when he comes out of his room for dinner. “See? I knew you'd give great advice.”
Grantaire has had three columns published now. People seem to think he's funny, at least, and Musichetta isn't afraid to tell him when he's being mean, so he's doing a lot of sarcastically trying to cajole people out of being sad after breakups and had to track down Emily Post online when discussing how to impress dates at fancy restaurants for another question. It's college. Most people are asking about relationships, a few people are asking about family shit or academic shit. This might be the first friendship question he's been asked, and he really isn't sure of the answer.
Dear Budding Bromance, he types, because that's some kind of start, anyway. How did you make friends in kindergarten? The same rules apply. Give him the extra cookie from your lunch and pick him when you play Duck Duck Goose and you'll be great in no time. I think I even mean that literally, college students and five-year-olds are pretty much the same.
More seriously, you and this dude have friends in common, right? So probably you have some interests in common. I wasn't very good at math, but I'm pretty sure that's the transitive property. Maybe you all play frisbee, maybe you all play Magic: the Gathering, maybe you all DJ on the weekends, I don't know. Talk to him about whatever you've got in common. If you or he are the weird one in the group that doesn't play Frisbee, figure out something else you've got in common. (Statistically, complaining about the food options in the dining hall on weekends is a good bet if you live on campus.)
If you continue to think he's a dick and decide he's irredeemable, just be nice to him all the time. You'll look like a good guy and either he'll be nice back or your friends will ditch him if he keeps acting like an asshole. But really? Sounds to me like you guys manage okay right now. If this all seems like too much effort, just keep quietly hating each other until you graduate. Passive aggression is always a good plan.
But as always, take that advice with a grain of salt.
They're the last ones there, mostly because Joly tried to make friends with a terrifying pigeon on the way (Joly generally mistrusts wild animals and their germs, but birds are apparently an exception to that rule because of something about dinosaurs), and Grantaire slips into a free space on the floor easily, even though he's only one person away from Enjolras and that may not end well.
Normally, there's an unspoken and delicate agreement between them on nights that are about socializing that they don't talk, but apparently Enjolras is in a mood to break rules, because Grantaire has been sitting for all of thirty seconds before Enjolras finishes the thought he's expressing to Feuilly and leans across him to say “Hello, Grantaire. How are you tonight?”
Grantaire looks first at Feuilly, who looks about as surprised as he feels, and then at Joly, who's actually up on the couch and is frowning thoughtfully at them, and then finally at Enjolras. “Fine,” he says, more of a question than an answer. “You?”
Enjolras winces. “I've been working on a paper for my history seminar and my professor tells me I need more cultural context. I did a little research on artistic movements, and I know you take a lot of art history. If you wanted to talk it through a little, I would appreciate that.”
That's perhaps even more baffling, because as far as Grantaire knows Enjolras thinks he just lounges around campus like some kind of collegiate goblin instead of actually going to classes, but maybe Combeferre recommended asking Grantaire, or Cosette, whose earnestness none can gainsay. “Sure.”
Feuilly, still sitting in between them, looks bemused, since he's just as knowledgeable about art history as Grantaire is, and Grantaire pulls him into the conversation too. It lasts about five minutes before Jehan comes into the room with a plate of snacks and everyone starts shuffling around, ready to play whatever games they're in for tonight.
It's a regular night, and Grantaire lets himself forget about the odd blip in the radar, especially since Enjolras seems to have decided to ignore his own odd behavior too. Grantaire, of course, is the one catching odd looks from their friends. Someday, he's going to learn to not be completely transparent.
“You haven't been around too much lately,” Bahorel says at some point in the evening. “Work or pleasure?”
Grantaire is actually devoting an embarrassing amount of time to giving the campus advice, but he's not going to say that. He's happy to remain anonymous in the column to everyone but Musichetta. “This and that. Mostly working on some projects, for once, too many deadlines looming to ignore them. Am I neglecting you?”
“I guess I can't complain about being ignored if you're working, since I'm definitely not. My adviser is pleading with me to actually graduate, but I'm still against the plan.”
That, anyway, is much easier conversational ground, and Grantaire lets himself fall into the easy push-and-pull of teasing Bahorel about the loopholes he finds to keep from ever actually completing a degree.
“Thanks for your help earlier,” Enjolras says stiffly when they're all putting their coats on to go home. “I hope you get less busy soon.”
“My life,” Grantaire tells his roommates on the way home, “frequently makes no sense.”
Musichetta ruffles his hair. “If it made sense, we wouldn't get half as many amazing stories out of you.”
“Great. Comforting,” says Grantaire, and tries to fix his hair.
Most times, Grantaire doesn't really know the answer, but he runs with that as much as he can, and people seem to think it's funny, or so Musichetta assures him. Sometimes, he just prints the contact information for the school's counseling center in answer to a question, because he's not a professional and he's been talked into a few sessions now and thinks they were probably worth the time and the embarrassment. People seem to appreciate that he doesn't pretend to know all the answers, at least not seriously.
And sometimes, he gets the honor of repeat customers.
Dear Grain of Salt,
When I tried to talk to the person I'm not friends with nicely, he was polite, but he didn't look very happy to be talking to me either. Is there anything I can do to put him at ease? I talked about some academics we have at least a little bit in common, and asked a few questions, but he was uncomfortable. Sincerely, Not Friends
This time, Grantaire answers him privately.
Dear Not-So-Budding Bromance,
Do you usually engage your friends in academic debate? Because it sounds more like you were talking to someone you're doing a group project with than someone you actually want to be friends with. You have to know more about this guy than some classes that you have “a little bit” in common. You have friends in common! That's more important than classes. Here's easy mode for you: “Hey, aren't our friends cool? I met this mutual friend of ours in my freshman algebra lecture, we made faces at each other for four minutes solid and completely missed the professor taking attendance. How did you two meet?” Or if you already know, ask something else about your friendships.
And again, dude, you've already got some kind of system going. If this guy is going to be weird about you trying to be friends, just let him be weird. You don't have an obligation to be anything but nice (and that's only an obligation because your friends probably don't want to listen to you being mean to their friend).
But as always, take that advice with a grain of salt.
Last year, Enjolras walked into a coffee shop Grantaire was working in and gave him a vaguely friendly nod before setting up three tables away with his back to Grantaire. It remains one of the more awkward moments of his life. “Not really. Mostly I'm just pretending to work, at this point. I can't wait to graduate and work for minimum wage forever, it seems a lot less stressful than all these self-motivated projects.”
Enjolras looks distressed, but he doesn't snap at the bait. That's even more worrying. Between this and the civil conversation about art history, Grantaire is starting to think that Enjolras is building up to asking him for a favor. “Do you need help brainstorming? I help Combeferre and Courfeyrac come up with paper topics and project ideas all the time. If that's where you're getting stuck, I'm happy to help you out.”
Definitely angling for a favor. Usually Feuilly gets asked for flyer art and web design, and the rest of Grantaire's patchwork of academic interests doesn't lend itself easily to do favors. Unless Enjolras wants him to help edit the paper he was talking about the other night. That would almost be logical. “No, I know exactly what I'm doing, I just haven't gained the motivation to do it. What about you? Need help with that project you were having trouble with?”
“What? Oh. No. I turned that in, I think the grade will be much better with your help. Thanks for that.”
A deeply awkward silence follows, and Grantaire fidgets his way through it. Enjolras, as always, sits still, doesn't fiddle with the straps on his bag or get out some kind of electronics, but he's avoiding Grantaire's eyes, so he's probably finding this whole thing as weird as Grantaire is. Which really begs the question of why he sat down in the first place. “If you wanted to study, go ahead, I'm not going to stop you,” Grantaire finally says, because that seems at least sort of logical. “Maybe you'll be a good influence on me.”
Enjolras, to Grantaire's continued shock, smiles at him. “I'm actually a terrible influence where schoolwork is concerned. Courfeyrac always has to tell me to work on mine instead of doing all the other work I want to do.”
“Combeferre spends half his life reading academic articles in obscure disciplines and I don't think I've ever seen him start a paper more than twenty-four hours before a deadline.”
Grantaire laughs. “Joly does that, but with Wikipedia and with making index cards to outline his papers the day they're assigned and then putting off actually writing them.”
“Combeferre likes flashcards,” Enjolras says, tilting his head in thought. “Maybe I could sell him on outlining on index cards. It might help.”
“We're old dogs, senior year is pretty late for new tricks.”
Enjolras frowns. “I hope not.”
Grantaire could probably feel a little stung by that, if he wanted to bother construing that Enjolras is implying that he needs to learn new tricks, but they've got some kind of truce going, so he chooses to ignore it. “Either way, I think Combeferre would just get distracted and make flashcards, if he loves them that much.”
“Sometimes he makes them just for fun. He has a deck for every class he's taken in college and sometimes when he's bored he'll make us quiz him.”
That explains so much about Combeferre, but more than that, it takes the conversation back into easier territory. Grantaire is always happy to talk about his friends, and that seems to be the one thing he and Enjolras have in common.
To his surprise, when he gets a text, interrupting a discussion of how inclined to overwork himself Feuilly is, it's Bahorel asking where he is, and an hour has passed without either he or Enjolras doing work or noticing the hour passing. “I'm late to meet Bahorel,” he says when he looks up to Enjolras's expectant look. “Sorry, I didn't realize it was so late, you probably wanted to do some work. I'll talk to you soon, see you at the meeting probably.”
Enjolras says something polite, frowning at him a little, and Grantaire stuffs everything into his bag and jogs off to meet Bahorel.
Musichetta and Joly show up together less than three minutes after he leaves. “That wasn't fun for anyone,” says Musichetta, throwing her arm around him and pulling him in until his hair is resting against her cheek.
“Thanks for waiting till the babies had left, we don't want to scare off the next generation,” says Joly.
“Talking to Éponine about something, I think. He said not to wait for him. That was the worst one for a while.”
Grantaire spreads his hands. “Sometimes I can't stop myself, you know? He's right. I probably shouldn't show up if I'm not going to help out and don't have anything constructive to say.”
“If he's right,” she says gently, “he's been right for four years. That hasn't stopped you yet.”
“Well, maybe I'm tired.”
“Of what?” Joly asks.
“I don't know. Being an asshole.”
Musichetta kisses the top of his head even though she has to pull him at an awkward angle to do it. “Then you should take your own advice and not do it.” He elbows her, since Joly is technically in a state of plausible deniability about the whole advice column thing, and that was edging way too close to mentioning it. “If it helps at all, he looked like he regretted being that harsh with you after you left. You usually don't leave.”
“He usually isn't nice to me outside of meetings, it got my expectations up.”
“Maybe it got his expectations up too,” Joly points out. The two of them in combination are way too good at conflict resolution. They could start some kind of two-person mediation service, with Bossuet around to help with puns and baking.
Grantaire makes an unhappy noise that has Musichetta elbowing him, this time. “I'll apologize to him before the next meeting, I guess. We both know each other's opinions on this kind of thing, I don't really need to register mine. It's pretty superfluous.”
“And he doesn't need to bait you,” Musichetta points out, always scrupulously fair. “Plus, you may be the Revolution Grinch, but you do at least half of the political actions the group recommends, I know you do.”
Grantaire shrugs, because that's not untrue, but he's not great at it, and mostly doesn't do the ones he says he will even if he does ones he says he won't. “I'm unreliable at best, you know me. This is why I told you to tell your parents you're dating me so anything else would seem like a vast improvement.”
“Nope, we are not doing a self-pity spiral. I was never actually going to do that anyway, I'm just working on my courage to tell them like you're working on getting along with Enjolras. No self-pity needed.” She looks across him to Joly. “Right? You're the one with spreadsheets.”
Grantaire would ask questions about that, but really, Joly having spreadsheets about his mental health might be one of the least surprising things he's ever heard. “We're not doing a self-pity spiral,” Joly confirms. “We're going home and drinking hot chocolate and you're going to text Enjolras and apologize, and if he doesn't text back at least a grudging apology you're going to righteously ignore him at the next meeting.”
“Doesn't righteously ignoring him mostly mean I shut up and we don't get any arguments?”
“See?” says Joly, all cheer, grabbing Grantaire's hand and towing him along for the walk back to their apartment. “It's a win-win for everyone.”
I shouldn't have put you on the spot, Enjolras replies after a little while.
It might be better than the grudging apology Joly told him to wait for, so he leaves the conversation there.
I won't next time,, adds a text he gets sometime in the night. That's the confusing one, and Grantaire isn't sure if he should be glad or hurt about it, but it's Enjolras. He decides, in the end, to just let himself be confused.
That hits a little too close to home, and Grantaire thinks about passing the letter on like he does with cases he can't handle, but he's invested now, and a little bit of him insists on believing that if he can fix these guys' lives, he can fix his own.
Dear Learning How to Make Friendship Bracelets,
It's not as pithy, but I'm willing to be adaptable. Compromise! The basis of all relationships.
Yeah, that was heavy-handed, I'm not afraid to admit it. So, you can make nice! That's great. I'm sure your friends are all relieved. But you guys are pretty different. That means you're probably going to disagree a lot. If you can't handle that, I'm going to advise you to go back to the polite-but-not-really-friends stage. But you seem determined, so: look, maybe you're objectively right on every single issue you disagree on. Maybe this dude insists that the sky is pink, and gets really mad when you suggest that he goes to the optometrist to make sure he's not colorblind. But are you really going to change his mind?
Grantaire makes a face just thinking about what Musichetta is going to have to say about this response. She's been publishing this whole saga all along, and as much as Grantaire has a following, she says people are keeping up with the topic, so he's got to keep going.
Have you tried asking why he disagrees and listening to his answers? Have you tried explaining why you think the way you do? How big are these disagreements, anyway? If it's about whether tea or coffee is better, both of you should suck it up and deal. If it's about, I don't know, STEM majors versus liberal arts majors, you guys are going to have to learn how to at least acknowledge each other's points of view. If he's acting like your racist uncle, you should drop him and so should the rest of your friends.
Look, at this point, I think I have to tell you to talk to this guy. Tell him you want to be friends and you're trying to figure out how to get past all the arguing. Find a way to avoid the bad subjects or find a way to reach an agreement on them.
That, he suspects, is as good as he's going to do. Grantaire sighs and puts down his usual sign-off.
Grantaire sighs. “I apologized. Is there really that much to talk about?”
“Yes.” Enjolras sits down with his serious expression on, the one he gets when he's making some kind of grand plan or speech. “It's our senior year. Everyone is sick of us doing this over and over, including the two of us, I think. I want to come to some kind of agreement.”
“A peace treaty?”
Enjolras's face twists, gets a little more wry and relaxed. “That makes things sound dire, but maybe they are.” He sighs. “I thought about doing an index card outline for this. Joly might have the right idea. I can't remember any of my arguments in favor of this.”
“You don't need arguments.” Grantaire shrugs. “Our friends are sick of us fighting, we should stop doing it. I kind of think I should stop coming to meetings. That's where the trouble happens.”
Enjolras frowns. “That's not what I want.”
“You want me to be political and loud about it on a regular basis, and the thought of it gives me hives, and me not wanting to gives you hives. We can handle things a lot better when we're just playing Parcheesi.”
“That's ...” More frowning, and Enjolras's hands twitch like he really is wishing for index cards. Or maybe to strangle Grantaire. “Ignoring and avoiding isn't going to help us. A huge amount of my identity is trying to make a political difference. You reject that, and it feels like you reject me, so it's hard to just play board games.”
Grantaire can detect Courfeyrac behind those words the same way he can acknowledge that his roommates are behind his. “I actually do respect your commitment, you know, I don't lie when I say that. All my friends are activists. If I didn't respect that, I would have joined one of the worse frats or something.”
“So you respect it but you don't want to participate?”
He grits his teeth on something defensive. Amazing how running an advice column is making him more mature and willing to talk about shit. Musichetta no doubt had ulterior motives talking him into doing it. “Politics are exhausting. In the end, I'd rather use my energy up on my friends and having some fun after a long day of stuffing my brain full of parent-approved education. So yeah, I'll call my congressman sometimes, and come to the meetings, but the meetings take up pretty much all the energy I've got.”
Enjolras spends a few moments considering that. “So where does that leave us?”
“I don't know. Same place it's left us for the last three years, I guess.”
“That's not good enough.” Enjolras breathes out, not quite a sigh. “Compromise. If you want to come to the meetings, come to the meetings. I won't push you to volunteer or sign up for things. You don't disparage our political actions unless you have a viable alternative to offer. Does that seem fair?”
Enjolras is acting like he's working from some kind of script, and Grantaire has a moment of horrible suspicion before he clamps it down. It's a big campus, and Enjolras is friends with Courfeyrac and Combeferre and the rest of their very smart friends. He doesn't need to write to an advice column to figure out how to be friends with Grantaire. It's just a weird coincidence. “I'm shitty at thinking before I speak, fair warning. I'm more a thinking-while-I-speak kind of guy. So I'll try, but probably sometimes I'm still going to stay stupid shit.”
That gets him a frown. That makes sense, anyway. When Enjolras is frowning at him, he knows what page he's on. “I suppose I can accept that, but I have enough faith in you to think you can restrain yourself long enough to know whether a comment is constructive or not.”
Grantaire isn't sure he has that faith in himself, but he can try. He owes it to their friends, and to Enjolras's awkward attempts to be friendly with him. “I'll do my best. I promise. I might not be able to promise a lot that you want to hear, but not talking shit is probably being a baseline decent person. I like to think I can pull that much off.”
“You are a decent person.”
It's embarrassing how much of a compliment Grantaire takes that as. “That's something to put on my resume, anyway. Is that a truce you can live with? I shut up and you don't put me on the spot?”
“Is that what it feels like?” Enjolras asks, frowning again, but whatever expression Grantaire makes must be bad because he shakes his head a moment later. “Never mind, don't answer that, it's just something to keep in mind.”
Grantaire has no idea why Enjolras plans to keep that in mind, but he's not going to ask. They're being civil. More questions is just going to lead to more arguments. “Okay. Great. We can live with that?”
“I can live with that. It's a good first step, anyway.” Before Grantaire can ask what the hell Enjolras thinks the next step is, he clears his throat. “Now, I wanted to talk to you about the plans for Jehan's birthday next week, while we were talking. Do you have a minute free?”
They've proved they can talk about their friends. The worst part of the conversation is over. Grantaire lets himself breathe. “To make Jehan's birthday the best it can be? I definitely have a minute free.”
Grantaire reads that over a few times and tells himself that it's not Enjolras and never has been, because he really needs to hear it. The thought of giving Enjolras advice on how to be friends with him makes him want to wince, but that's over now. Friendship Bracelets has worked shit out and Grantaire and Enjolras have worked shit out, and if the timing is coincidental, he's going to forget about that as soon as possible.
There are plenty of other e-mails in the inbox. Musichetta tells him people are tweeting at the paper asking if he'll do quick advice on the Twitter account sometimes, or theorizing about his identity. People are intrigued by anonymity, and the e-mails are pouring in one after the other.
One has even arrived while he's been reading over the last e-mail from Friendship Bracelets.
Dear Grain of Salt, I told my dad I have two boyfriends and he asked if they knew about each other and then told me I shouldn't string them along and should choose one sooner rather than later. How do I explain how polyamory works to him? Love, Three's Company
Grantaire shuts his laptop in a scramble and goes to knock on the door to the other bedroom. Joly and Bossuet are both in class, but he heard the door shut a little while ago, so he's not surprised when Musichetta responds to his knock with a “Come in.”
She's on her back on the bed, arm flung over her eyes, and Grantaire comes to sit down next to her. “You know, you can just knock on my door and tell me you need me to hug you. You don't have to go through the whole farce with the advice account.”
Musichetta rolls until she can curl up against him. “It's not a farce. What would you do?”
“I think it's been pretty well-documented that my relationship with my dad isn't great.” He runs his fingers through her hair a little. It always helps him. “You want him to be okay with it? You just have to explain it to him enough times. Maybe Skype with both of the guys. They're earnest and they love you and each other, he'll get the idea. From what I hear, he's pretty cool. It just takes a while to assimilate, because we default to monogamy.”
“I don't want to have to explain it, I just want people to get it.”
“I know. But you wouldn't have done this if you weren't willing to deal with all the consequences. You love them a lot. So you've got to deal with this one.”
She makes a face. “I know. I just want everyone to magically understand.”
“Don't we all.” He plays with her hair a little more. “If it helps at all, Enjolras and I had an excruciating conversation about getting along better and it's been two days and I'm still embarrassed. So at least we're all having conversations we don't want to be having.”
“Did your conversation have a good result, anyway?”
“I've promised to at least try to think before I say something shitty. He says he won't ask anything of me in meetings anymore. Which doesn't feel great, knowing he gave up on me, but I also know I do a lot better when I volunteer for things without feeling like I have to.”
She snuggles a little more comfortably into his side. “No shame in knowing yourself.”
“Still think you should have written the advice column. You've got the pithy phrases down pat.” He's silent for a minute, pondering, and she doesn't bother responding to him intimating that other people should be writing the advice column anymore. “I have a terrible feeling that my repeat writer asking about making friends with someone is actually Enjolras writing about me.”
“That would be awkward. Honestly, I wondered. But Enjolras would just ask Courfeyrac, right? Or even Bahorel, he thinks Bahorel gives good advice.”
“I'm pretty sure that on the split between Bahorel telling Joly to wear tight pants and me saying maybe you should just all three try going on a date, Bahorel was the one who had the greater impact.”
She snorts. “You may have a point there. But he's already writing fashion advice. You're doing the earnest stuff because you're secretly good at it behind all the bullshit.”
“So you think it's not him? I do think he would have asked Courfeyrac.”
“Maybe he was trying for independent corroboration?” She finally starts sitting up, draping herself over him. “Look, either way, it's all fixed now, or as fixed as it's getting for the time being, so he'll stop writing and you won't have to worry about it. Right?”
“Right,” says Grantaire, and doesn't say anything about famous last words. “Now, do you want to google and find family-friendly polyamory resources to send to your dad so he figures out what's going on? And then he can sell your mom on it, that's the point, I think. Divide and conquer, and all.”
She grins at him. “That's it exactly. Thanks for helping.”
“Literally my job.”
“I am about ninety-nine percent sure we're not paying you in anything but journalism experience for your resume, but fine, point taken.” She grabs his phone out of his hands to open up the browser and start looking. “Let's do this.”
It means he has a lot less of Enjolras's attention than usual, and Grantaire knows enough from psych gen eds and counseling sessions to know it's probably not healthy that he almost misses Enjolras snapping at him, since at least that meant Enjolras had to be paying attention to him.
None of their friends look actively relieved or mention it, probably because whole months can go by sometimes without Grantaire and Enjolras ending up in a real argument (or maybe because Grantaire told his roommates and Enjolras told his and their friends are all terrible gossips) so they've got plenty of time to test the truce out.
Enjolras looks pleased at the end of the meeting, to the point of smiling at Grantaire, and Grantaire smiles back and stares at his phone instead of engaging, because he's on a roll now, and the easiest way to keep their ceasefire going is to not interact at all when there's been political talk.
“How did that feel?” Joly asks on the way home, a little tentative.
“Weird. But not bad, I think. I got to be around for the meeting, he got to talk without dealing with me, seems like it worked out. We'll keep trying.” Musichetta and Bossuet are laughing about something, distracted and not listening, so he lowers his voice. “How's she doing? I don't think she heard back from her dad after she e-mailed him.”
“Nothing yet, but she thinks if he was mad and going to say something awful he would have done it already. So maybe he's actually trying to get it?”
“I hope so.”
Joly throws his arm over Grantaire's shoulder, making them both stumble. “You're pretty great, in case you didn't know. And ...” He stops, frowns, and keeps going. “And none of us would be friends with you if we didn't actually like you. Compromise is one thing, and changing yourself is another. Make sure you know which you're doing.”
“You are very wise, as always,” says Grantaire, and immediately decides he's never going to think about that again if he can help it.
He kind of likes it, even if he spends a lot of time thinking about how unqualified he is and how he's going to screw up all the poor little freshmen who seem to be the bulk of his readership. Musichetta tells him that ResLife approached her about getting him to write a little orientation to dorm life for next year's freshmen, and he has no idea how to do that but he thinks he might say yes anyway.
And maybe it gives him an excuse to be distracted and skip a meeting or two. Time with their friends is fine, he and Enjolras learned that balancing act a few years ago, but even if there aren't exactly awkward silences, Grantaire starts feeling like there are at the second meeting where he makes a point of shutting up, and after the third he skips the fourth and fifth.
The day after the fifth meeting, he's writing advice column responses in the library when Enjolras shows up at his table and sits down.
Grantaire slams his laptop shut in a way that he knows looks suspicious and starts talking to try to cover it. “To what do I owe the honor? Sorry I missed the meetings, I'm behind on work. Promise I'll see everyone for game night, though.”
“You're sure it's just work?”
“Of course I am. We're seniors, you know, it's not like there isn't plenty to do. Don't even get me started on the creeping terror of job applications.”
“Feuilly and Courfeyrac and I are having a job application afternoon soon, you're welcome to join us. Courfeyrac is making snacks.”
“Sounds awesome, Courfeyrac's snacks are the best.”
Enjolras fidgets, and Grantaire does too, because he stupidly shut his laptop and now he can't use it as a shield. “I think,” Enjolras finally says, “that our compromise might not have been much of a compromise. I believe that you have a lot of work, but you spent all of spring semester sophomore year buried in a project and you still made it to every single meeting. If I made you feel like you have to be completely silent, or made you feel like you're unwelcome ...”
Grantaire winces. “Seriously, no. I missed because of work. I'm not saying the meetings weren't a little weird, but it's a good compromise, you know? I don't disappoint you, you don't pressure me. Win-win.”
“That's not ...” Enjolras frowns, but he doesn't finish the sentence, and Grantaire has no idea how to fill the silence, which is a pity, because usually filling silences is his primary function. “I'm sorry if I was pressuring you before and that's why things were so messy between us. I still want to hear from you in meetings, whether you volunteer for tasks or not, and whether you agree with me or not.”
“I'm not sure I want to hear from me, but fine, if it helps, I promise I'll show up for the next meeting and say something, even if it's an asshole something. But you asked for it, so you don't get to make the disappointed face at me.”
“This is going to sound bad, but I honestly didn't realize that you respected me enough that my disappointment would matter to you.”
“Ouch.” Grantaire makes a face. “That says a lot about us, doesn't it? If I didn't respect you, I would have stopped showing up to meetings. Ask Joly sometime how fast I stopped showing up for Juggling Club, though the first thing he will say is that I shouldn't have showed up for it in the first place. I'm not just showing up to be an asshole, and I didn't just show up in the first place because I was in need of an opportunity to play devil's advocate.”
Enjolras blinks. “I hadn't thought about that. Which is my fault, not yours. Speak up if you want to speak up, Grantaire. If it means we argue, maybe I can try to remember that you respect me and you can try to remember that you aren't disappointing me.”
Grantaire can almost imagine this in letter form. If he were writing as Grain of Salt, he would point out how lukewarm Enjolras's side of that is, because he could definitely mean that he doesn't expect enough of Grantaire to be disappointed when he fails, and that he hasn't said anything about him respecting Grantaire either. As it is, it's maybe a better compromise than the first one.
He'll have to tell Musichetta that he's maturing. She'll be proud.
“Sounds like a plan. Now, are we done talking about our feelings? I can only handle so much of that.”
Enjolras doesn't look thrilled, but he nods anyway. “Do you mind if I stay? I have something to work on too. Though you may need to be alone to concentrate on yours.”
Suspicious laptop slamming noted and acknowledged, then. “No, company is fine. Maybe I'll actually get some shit done.”
Dear Grain of Salt, says the top e-mail in the inbox when he opens his laptop again, I'm pretty sure the guy I have a crush on is trying to kill me.
It takes everything he has not to respond with just Join the club.
“Fuck you,” Grantaire says, to his screen or Enjolras or Musichetta for dragging him into this or to all of the above. At this point, even he can't deny the weight of the coincidences, but that makes it harder to give advice, not easier.
Dear Friendship Bracelets, he types. You say this guy likes and respects you, first of all, so clearly either you weren't as much of an asshole as you think you were or he's okay with it. Some people express affection through being an asshole. In case you hadn't noticed, that's pretty much what this column is.
Second of all, you keep doing what you're doing. Hang out, get to know him. Try to get to a point where you can look him in the eye and say you like him and respect him. Realistically, you can't control what he thinks or feels about what you're doing. If he feels like a disappointment, he's going to feel like a disappointment, that's on him and probably not really about you.
Third and last, please don't befriend this guy because you're sorry for not liking him. People don't really like pity, especially from friends, just like the whole “disappointment” thing is better saved for parents and great-aunts and professors to visit on their inferiors. He will be able to tell, and he will feel shitty about it. The very fact that it's taking you this much effort to see him as a friend makes me feel sorry for the guy, honestly. I respect your effort, but ouch. He must be a mess.
But, you know. Grain of salt, and all that.
“I'm about ninety-five percent sure. Fuck.” She comes around behind him and starts rubbing his shoulders, and he relaxes into it. “Why couldn't he have asked Courfeyrac about all of this? I really don't want to know how hard he finds it to like me.”
“It's all pretty fucked up,” she agrees. “Though I do want to point out that the subtext on this most recent one was very much about him wanting you to feel secure in how much you deserve friendship and respect, so I can't be too mad at him, because we've been telling you that for years.”
“Yeah, but it's also all about him having no idea how to treat me like I deserve friendship and respect. This is why you should have asked literally anyone else to do this advice column, I attract this kind of fiasco the way Bossuet's shiny naked scalp attracts frisbees.”
Musichetta sighs at him and keeps rubbing his shoulders. This is why she's his favorite. “I'm pretty sure this is a unique fiasco. Are you going to tell him that you've been the one giving him advice before he writes something even more awkward? Totally up to you, but it might forestall him saying something else that makes you call yourself a mess.”
“I don't know. I'm thinking about it.” Her hands still. He probably surprised her. He's surprising himself a little. “He kind of deserves to know that he's been insulting me to my face, but he'll be mortified about it.”
“He deserves to be, if you ask me.”
“He didn't really do anything wrong.”
“Didn't he?” she asks, pressing a little too hard against his shoulders. “He's been upsetting you, that's enough to get me annoyed at him on a base level, but the fact that he's having so much trouble liking you baffles me.”
“I'm not the same person with him that I am with you guys.”
Musichetta bends to kiss his forehead. “You're always yourself. But maybe you could stand to make some puns with him and not second-guess everything he does. He's just another guy our age. It probably exhausts him just as much, trying to figure out what will and won't keep the peace. You know he's the one who's been writing those e-mails, which means he genuinely wants to be friends with you and is trying to get over his misconceptions. So maybe that makes the last few weeks a little less confusing than they were before?”
“A little.” Grantaire sighs. “I'll figure out how to talk to him about it. May not be tomorrow, may not be this week or next, but I'd rather not get another e-mail that makes me feel like it's impossible to like me.”
She moves until she can sit on the table facing him and grabs his chin until he's making eye contact, which is probably more necessary than he'd like to admit. “For the record, it's definitely not impossible to like you. When I told my dad I have two boyfriends, he assumed the second one chronologically was you, not Bossuet, and he was a little disappointed for a second when I told him it was the other way around, before he got around to being generally disappointed about the polyamory.”
“Any word from him, by the way?”
“He said he wants to call sometime over the next couple days, but Aunt Marie is staying with them this week and she's bad about the whole privacy thing, so it has to wait till she's out to coffee with Mom or something.” She frowns. “He wants me to tell Mom too, but I want to get him on my side first, she'll take it a lot better if it's fait accompli, I think.”
“You're amazing, and so are your boyfriends. He'll figure that out pretty quick, I think, and so will she. They've got to be smart to have raised you.”
She smiles at him and kicks her legs a little. “See? This is why you're a great friend. Enjolras doesn't know what he's missing out on.”
Dear Grain of Salt, As always, thank you for your advice. This time, though, I'm taking it with more of a grain of salt than usual. You say a lot of this is on him (and even call him a mess), but I don't think that's true. He wouldn't doubt his worth to me if I hadn't been cold over the years, and I begin to suspect that if I'd been nicer to start with, and tried to understand him instead of letting him antagonize me, none of this would have been a problem in the first place. That's my fault, not his—his self-esteem issues or lack thereof are his own, but I didn't help them. I can admit that. I just still don't know how I'm supposed to help. I want him to understand that I like him, and I want to be able to make him happy, not just confuse him. You were short on advice about that. Would you be willing to try again? Sincerely, Friendship Bracelets
Enjolras wants to make him happy. That's what friends do, but that's not how friends phrase what friends do. If Enjolras were anyone else, or if Grantaire didn't know that Enjolras was on the other end of these e-mails, he would be sending back a pithy I hope you're not one of those no-homo bros, because it sounds like you might be getting a crush on this guy and wooing him to date you, not just to be your new friend.
Grantaire's first instinct is to deny that he lives in a universe where Enjolras would get a crush on him of all people. His second is to call for one of his roommates to make sure that he's not jumping to erroneous conclusions.
His third is to get out his phone and open up his messaging conversation with Enjolras. The last text is two weeks old and innocuous, but he's about to change that. I think we need to talk, he types, and stares at it until the screen goes dark before he lights it up again and sends the message.
Then he brings up a reply for the e-mail. Here's some advice for you, quick and dirty: figure out what you want out of your relationship with this guy. Because it's starting to sound like friendship isn't quite it.
He sends it without checking with Musichetta and puts it in a private folder where he won't accidentally give her access to the thread. This is one issue he wants to take care of himself it at all possible.
She blinks, attention fully on him instead of split between her phone on the table and the cereal in her bowl. “And I thought I would have the biggest news of the day.”
“Something up with your dad?”
“He called, Mom and Aunt Marie went out to breakfast. He says he read all the articles and he can't imagine juggling two relationships at once but he trusts me to make my own choices.” She makes a face. “And he wants to Skype with them both separately and then together. Some kind of weird overprotective interview phase, I guess, but I'll take it.”
He goes over and hugs her around the shoulders, since that's definitely big news. “You definitely have the biggest news of the day, that's amazing. Hopefully he'll realize that those two are literally the most harmless human beings in this world and they'll charm him. At least he's trying.”
“I'm really happy about it.”
“And they're going to be happy about it too. Are they still sleeping?”
Musichetta shakes her head. “Joly has his eight AM class today, and Bossuet got up with him, something about the library, which can't be right, I think he's still banned for that coffee spill.”
“Maybe Enjolras wasn't joking when he threatened to sue the school to get that ban lifted.”
“Speaking of Enjolras, what's this about him confessing his feelings? Last time we talked you were talking about telling him about the advice column, not about wooing him.”
Grantaire steals a bite of her cereal. He deserves it. If he makes it to lunch without panicking it's going to be a miracle. “Long story short, he sent another e-mail that definitely sounded more like he was preparing to woo me than befriend me, and I asked about meeting him for lunch. So I'm going to tell him about the advice column and if he's not pissed off at me he's probably going to confess to some kind of feelings, even if those feelings are only 'confused and maybe a little intrigued.'”
“You sure don't do things by half,” she says, and offers him another spoonful of cereal. He takes it. “You think it's going to turn out okay?”
“Either he'll be pissed off or we'll be fine, and one's just status quo and the other will at least be the good kind of weird.”
Musichetta eyes him. “You're taking this very philosophically. I'm not sure I trust it.”
“I'm not sure I do either, but at this point I've done everything I can do and if it all blows up in my face I have wonderful roommates who will pity me and buy me wine if I look pathetic enough.”
Musichetta laughs, which means she's actually got some faith that Enjolras really is going to confess his feelings. If she were actually worried about it going wrong, she'd be frowning at that particular attempt at a joke. “Call me if you need me, okay? We'll skip all our classes and I'll call Enjolras an asshole all you want. Or it will be amazing and I'll say you officially haven't flamed out on the advice-giving front so you have to buy your own coffees.”
“Do you think there are actually feelings there?” he asks before he can think better of asking.
“I wouldn't have said so before you just did,” she says, tilting her head while she thinks, “but honestly it makes sense. I'm not sure if he would have realized it, and I don't think he's going to confess to fairy tale happily-ever-after love or anything, but he's been really insistent about befriending you in really weird ways. It's not a bad theory.”
“I'm pretty sure he wasn't pining after me before he started the weird friendship campaign, in all fairness.”
“No, probably not. I think he set out to be friends with you and was too dense to notice he wasn't making friends, he was getting a crush instead. He definitely didn't know that, though, I'm pretty sure he would have tracked you down the second he figured it out and made some kind of rainy declaration if he did.” She sighs and takes a bite of her cereal, making a face while she does. Probably it's getting soggy. “Promise you two will talk a little and not just start making out, please. At least let him confirm that he genuinely likes and respects you as a person. For my sake.”
Grantaire considers that. “I'll do my best, anyway. Self-restraint has never been my best feature.”
She laughs and shakes her head. “I guess I can live with that.” She nudges him. “Good luck. You two deserve to be happy, and I think this can work. Don't let yourself get scared.”
“You're the one who should have had the advice column,” he says, and goes to pour his own bowl of cereal.
“Sure—I'll pay for coffee when we walk back around, maybe?”
Enjolras nods and starts walking, so Grantaire falls into step with him. “You wanted to talk to me,” Enjolras starts before Grantaire can, “but you timed it well. I want to talk to you too. There are a few things we should discuss, and I hope you're willing to.”
“I'm willing to discuss things, but I need to tell you something first.” Enjolras opens his mouth, but Grantaire shakes his head. “If you still want to tell me what you were going to tell me when I'm done, tell me, but you really should know this first.”
“I'm listening,” says Enjolras, and Grantaire thinks he may actually be.
Of course, that means that he suddenly chokes on his own tongue and has to take a bite of his burrito to fill the awkward silence, leaking some of the filling out on his fingers. “I write the advice column,” he says once he's swallowed, like ripping off a bandaid. Enjolras doesn't stop walking, his mouth doesn't fall comically open, but he's watching the pavement in front of him and not Grantaire. That stings, but it makes it easier to continue, too. “I didn't figure it out till that first message yesterday, if that helps. That it was you writing me, I mean. But honestly, Musichetta is the editor, the column is literally called Grain of Salt, I'm surprised you didn't suspect.”
“I didn't even think of it,” Enjolras says, quiet. “I suppose I should have. But at first I didn't think of you as someone who could give advice that good, and then I was used to thinking of you as two different people.”
“Why did you even write in the first place?”
“Courfeyrac and Combeferre agreed that their advice was no longer helping, so I should go to someone else. You seemed like a neutral arbiter.” Enjolras snorts. “That turned out well.”
“I just wanted you to know. I don't know if it makes you like me less, or trust me less, or—”
“The opposite,” says Enjolras, and Grantaire takes another bite of his burrito, because he has no idea how to respond to that. “I was getting to like you, and I respected the person giving me advice, and it turns out that's you too. That's … it makes me even more sure of what I wanted to talk to you about. If a little embarrassed.”
“If you're embarrassed, I'm definitely embarrassed.” Grantaire walks a few more steps, putting them on a path to take a loop around about half the campus. “You don't have to say it. I kind of figured things out.”
It's Enjolras's turn to stall by taking a bite of his food, but Grantaire doesn't begrudge him that. This conversation is going much better with something to eat and their route to concentrate on than it would if they were just having it between the two of them with no kind of buffer. “I think I do have to say it,” he finally says. “We've been miscommunicating a lot, when it's just the two of us without the anonymity. I don't want you to be unsure at all.”
“Is it going to make it easier if I say that I definitely have feelings for you and the only reason I'm going slow about this is because I want to be sure you're sure?”
He glances sideways just in time to catch a twitch of a smile. Enjolras is still looking ahead of them, but he looks a little happier now. “Easier and harder, but I have a feeling it's going to be like that a lot with you. But worth it. Finding out you write the advice column only makes me more sure, but I was sure already, after you wrote me that second message yesterday.”
“I had a lot of trouble believing that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, but I figured at a certain point denial wasn't going to help either of us.”
“True.” Enjolras clears his throat. “I want to date you. And to prove that I respect you. Hopefully asking you on a date proves that I like you at least a little.”
“Yeah, I can believe that. And a date sounds good. Another, I mean. This is kind of a date.” Grantaire takes another bite of his burrito. He should never be allowed to have conversations with Enjolras in person. E-mail seems to work much better for them.
“Good,” says Enjolras, and then “That's good,” when the silence stretches on a little too long. Grantaire has no idea where to go from there, but it seems Enjolras does. “Hell with it, it's not even very good,” he says, and veers off sharply to dump his burrito in one of the public trash cans before grabbing Grantaire's shoulder and pulling him in for a kiss.
Grantaire is aware that this isn't exactly what Musichetta would call a complete mature discussion about all their issues, but it's hard to feel like that's urgent with Enjolras's lips against his. They can talk later, but for now he pushes until they stumble their way out of foot traffic, ignoring the muttered comments of someone on the way to class to kiss Enjolras back, keeping his hands to himself because at least one of them should keep their lunch safe.
Enjolras grins sudden and bright as soon as they pull apart, the same grin he gets whenever they win a victory or one of their friends is particularly clever. “You advised me to figure out how I really feel about you yesterday. Do you think I've figured it out?”
Grantaire laughs, because he may wake up tomorrow thinking this is a dream, but for today, it's hard not to believe Enjolras knows what he wants, with his hand already seeking out Grantaire's free one and his eyes bright when he leans in for another quick kiss. “I think maybe you have.”
They trade bites of the burrito back and forth until it's gone, and then they keep walking hand in hand, and they don't say much, but Grantaire feels steadier with every step.
“Lingerie is always a stellar choice, and also you are literally in the room with me,” says Grantaire, putting his laptop aside, which was definitely Enjolras's clever plan in the first place. “Also if you don't hand me a friendship bracelet by our first anniversary I'm going to break up with you.”
Enjolras goes pink in a way that definitely means he's been working on one at home, but he still takes advantage of Grantaire's free lap to straddle it. “You've been at it for hours and I finished my work.”
“I just finished up an answer to a letter and that's plenty for the next edition, so I'm all yours until Musichetta gets home. I'm on duty to keep Joly and Bossuet calm while her father takes turns talking to all of them, you're free to join in if you want but you can go home.”
“I'd rather stay,” says Enjolras, like it's easy, and that's the part of this that's going to take the longest to get used to, Grantaire suspects. Now that Enjolras has taken stock of the situation and has all the information, he's sure all the time. Grantaire is working on it. “Even if I'm not as good at giving advice as you are.”
“Dear Friendship Bracelets,” Grantaire dictates, just to see Enjolras grin and roll his eyes, “your boyfriend isn't ignoring you, he just needs to be given some alternatives. I have a few suggestions, if you like I can lay them out for you so can decide which you like best. Though of course, action is often better than words in this kind of—”
The rest of the answer gets swallowed up in a kiss, and Grantaire decides, for once, to take his own advice. For the moment, they've definitely talked enough.