"Why are you calling me?" Éponine demands as soon as she answers Grantaire's call, her voice short and clipped. There's genuine concern lurking beneath the tone, though. "What happened? Your plane didn't explode, did it?"
"Unfortunately not." He's standing in the aisle, crushed between the over-cologned businessman in front of him and the man with shoulders like a linebacker behind as they all file forward, making glacial progress toward the front of the plane and freedom. "At this rate, I should be at baggage claim in twenty. Where's the nearest liquor store?"
She gives a laugh that's short and sharp and means she's more irritated than amused. "How the hell should I know? I'm your agent not your personal assistant, and I've never been to Boston before. Isn't that what your fancy smartphone's for?"
"My fancy smartphone is for being able to answer your emails while I'm in the air, or at line for Starbucks, or whizzing through the city in the back of a cab. Also for Candy Crush. I'm too desperate to try to wrestle with it to find someplace that sells decent alcohol. We sat on the runway for three hours, Ep."
She clucks her tongue and makes soothing, poor-baby noises. "I know. I'm sorry. But you have to be at The Next Page in forty-five, and you can't start your book tour off by showing up at your first gig with wine on your breath."
Grantaire shuts his eyes and leans his forehead against the businessman's shoulder and ignores his dirty look. "I hate you."
"I'm half the reason you get to spend the majority of your life working in ratty pajamas and fuzzy slippers. You love me."
"Half?" His eyebrows climb. "Somebody's full of herself."
"You write the books, I sell them."
"I'm pretty sure our contract says that you're fifteen percent of the reason. You're one hundred percent of the reason why I have to pretty myself up and go to things like this, though, so that gets you nothing."
"Don't be a cliche, R. If you make it through the talk and the signing without embarrassing yourself, I'll send you the address for a good liquor store on the way to your hotel."
Grantaire gasps, feigning shock. "You've been holding out on me."
"No. But I'm willing to do a little googling, given sufficient motivation. Behave, okay? It's only a couple hours."
He makes a face at the phone, even though there's no way Éponine can see it. It makes him feel better, in any case. "Fine. But you'd better call the store and let them know I may be running a little late. Somebody's struggling to get her bag out of the bin up ahead and we're all logjammed behind her."
"You're not going to be late, R," she says with a brightness that means it's a dire threat.
"I still have to get down to baggage claim."
"Then you're going to have to hire the fastest cabbie in town, aren't you? Give him a good tip and tell him to step on it, I'll make sure you're comped. You're not going to start your book tour by showing up late."
"I'll start my book tour off however I please," he tells her, because somebody has to keep her bossiness in check, and then disconnects because the line is finally moving.
The lady who caused the hold-up doesn't even have the grace to look bashful as they all spill out behind her. Most of the passengers who were stuck with Grantaire behind her give her dirty looks or mutter obscenities beneath their breath, but Grantaire doesn't have time for that. He's got a bag to retrieve and a cabbie to bribe and it's going to be a stretch getting to the bookshop in time as it is.
He's the sort of man who can move mountains when determined, though. And he really, really wants that liquor store recommendation from Éponine.
This event is just him, though, and he was expecting maybe a steady trickle at best. Maybe the store's having some kind of sale, he thinks, bewildered and already more than a little overwhelmed, and ducks his head down as he shoulders through and tries to find an employee to help him.
He grabs onto the first girl he finds with a store ID badge on her shoulder. She gives him a bright smile, but he can see the relief in her eyes when she recognizes him. "Oh good, we were just starting to wonder if we should be worried." She takes him by the arm to lead him back to the employees-only area.
Back there, at least, it's just the two of them and he can breathe. "You've got three minutes until go-time." She offers him a smile that's more genuine than the one she'd given him out in the store. "I hope you're ready."
"Where did they all come from?"
"Well, we've been promoing the event for the last week in-store..." She looks doubtful even as she says it, though, a little frown wrinkling her brows. Then it clears away beneath another smile. "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, and all that, right?"
"Sure," he says dully, but this does not feel like a gift, this feels like a burden. His skin itches at the thought of going out there into that throng. There's a reason he ended up in a profession where he gets to spend his days alone, all communication done over email or text, and no matter what Éponine thinks, it's not because of the dress code.
He's already got a talk prepared, thank fuck, and he even managed to practice it a few times so he won't be completely awkward. "Ready?" the girl asks him, and he squares his shoulders and reminds himself that as far as mandatory human interaction goes, he's still getting off easy. There aren't a lot of other jobs that would only make him talk to people for one week out of the year.
She turns that over-bright smile on and holds the door open, and Grantaire steps out to smile and shake hands with all the people who have turned up to see him.
The store planned for a sizable event, but there are still many more people than there are chairs. They stand along the sides, leaning against bookshelves, or sit in front with their legs crossed and their gazes attentive and oh god, Grantaire can't do this.
The girl calls his name and everyone erupts into applause. Grantaire's feet carry him forward automatically because they're traitors. He takes his place behind the podium they've set up for him, grabs onto the edges so hard his knuckles go pale and bloodless, and clears his throat. "Thank you," he says, because this may be his idea of torture, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't know the debt of gratitude he owes to his readers and fans. They're the reason he gets to stay home in his pajamas all day and make a living by it, and he's lucky, because if he'd had to take an office job to make ends meet it probably would have killed him.
He gives a little spiel about the book. It's mostly just the back cover blurb, livened up in places with the things he thinks are important or even just interesting about the story, and when he's done with that, he reads a passage from it.
He selected this passage weeks ago and has spent the time since practicing and preparing for it, thank god. He thinks if he had to choose a selection now, with all these people staring at him waiting for it, he'd choke and probably choose something that made no sense outside of context, or spoiled the whole thing for everyone, or was just plain boring. But the one he's already got bookmarked in his copy of the novel is one he thinks is interesting. It stands alone, and it teases hints of the story's magic system, which is one of the things he's most pleased with and most proud of in the book, and it gives a nice introduction to his main character to boot.
Hopefully they'll like it, he thinks, and then puts those thoughts from his head because it's not as though he has options.
It's not that he's terrible at this. He knows how to read in such a way that it'll bring the characters to life out loud the way they are in his head, and send everyone off entertained at the end of the night. Each book tour he's done has been steadily better-attended than the last, and he thinks (he hopes) it's because he's given people a good time, and a good story. It's not that he isn't good at it, it's just that he hates it. This part in particular, standing up in front of everyone, trying to sell them his book. Trying to sell himself. It makes something sick and twisted rise up like gorge in his throat, because all he's ever wanted to do was write. If he'd had a burning desire to be a salesman, he'd have gone off and gotten one of those awful desk jobs, and he'd wear suits and ties to work every day and probably be paid a lot better than he is now.
Once the reading's done he can finally breathe, because it's time for signing and that's the part that he's good at, that he's comfortable with. He likes talking with readers, likes seeing the spark of interest light in their eyes as he coaxes out of them the things they're passionate about. There's a big difference between talking with people and talking to them, and this is the part that's his comfort zone. He could talk with fellow book-lovers all night long and never break a sweat.
The store sets up a table and several impressive stacks of his book for those who didn't bring their own copies, and everyone shuffles into a line that weaves around the bookcases. Grantaire uncaps his pen, smiles at the girl who managed to snag the first place in line, and waves her forward when she seems a little overwhelmed and reluctant to come up to him. "Hi! Thanks for coming, I hope you had a good time. Do you have something you'd like me to sign?"
She comes forward and gives him a battered, dog-eared copy of one of his first books and apologizes, shamefaced, for not being able to purchase a copy of his new one tonight. "I'm first on the waiting list at the library for when they get it in, though," she adds.
"Hey, no. This is fine. This?" He holds up the much-loved book she handed him. "This is awesome. May I?"
She nods, pressing her knuckles against her mouth like the thought of him touching the same pages that she has might make her head explode with delight. Grantaire opens the book, careful of the broken spine, and flips through it. He grins at her when he notices that many of the sections she dog-eared are some of his very favorites, and they talk for a minute before a discreet cough beside him reminds him that there are others waiting for their turns, too.
He signs her book, For a true fan, and then on impulse adds his email address underneath. Drop me a line and I'll figure out a way to get you a copy, he writes. Éponine's going to tear her hair out and give him looks like he's the worst thing that's ever happened to her when she finds out, but fuck it. He'll buy the girl a copy himself, if she's that worried about her commission or his sales numbers. But there's something to be said for goodwill, and for rewarding fans for their loyalty, and also there's something to be said for just plain being nice, which is not something Éponine would know anything about. He loves her to pieces, but nice is not a word anyone would ever use to describe her, even on a good day.
He's made it through thirty people in the line and is starting to wonder if he's going to have to get the store to order in dinner for all of them so he can finish up without keeling over from starvation when there's a presence at his elbow and a pointed cough.
"Just a moment," he says, his head bowed over the book he's in the middle of signing. "I know the line's long, but please wait your turn. I promise I won't leave while there are still people waiting."
The little cough comes again, and then there's a hand on his elbow that makes Grantaire's pen falter across the page and his head lift, even before a familiar voice says, "R."
He turns, disbelieving, to the sight of Enjolras standing there frowning at him like he's just been conjured up right out of Grantaire's head.
"What are you doing here?" It comes out a belligerent demand, because this is unprecedented and because Enjolras is supposed to be in New York and if Éponine knew he was planning on showing up for the first night of his book tour Grantaire is going to kill her.
"I was in the area," he says with a tight smile and a glance to the next person in line, who's shifting uncertainly and frowning like he can't decide whether he should protest being line-jumped or not.
"My editor," Grantaire says to the crowd with a smile and a flourish, so they don't decide to mutiny. "He pretties up all my words so they're actually worth reading." And then he turns his attention back to Enjolras and what he said, and he shakes his head because that's a lie, it has to be. No one just happens to be in the area two states away.
That's not really the vital part, though. How he got here isn't half so important as why he's there in the first place. Even if it's not a lie that he just so happened to be in the area, why would he show up here, to the signing of a book that he put through so many rounds of editing that he practically knows the words by heart now, and is surely sick of them? It can’t be to hear Grantaire read, and it's not as though he has to stand in line if he really wants a signed copy.
"I've got some numbers I wanted to pass on to you." Enjolras gives the line a glance and hesitates. He fades back a step. "Go ahead and finish your event. I can wait."
"Sure, because that's not ominous or anything." But there are people waiting, and so he has little choice but to turn his back to Enjolras and smile and greet the next person in line.
Enjolras hovers over his shoulder through the rest of the signing, and Grantaire's skin prickles with awareness of his proximity until Grantaire wants to scream and shove him back, or drag him off and force him to admit what it is he's really there for, because it's not as though numbers can't be easily conveyed in an email.
The store and its employees are absolutely lovely about staying open much later than they'd anticipated so that Grantaire can sign books for everyone who showed up, and when the last person has left with a copy clutched to his chest and a broad grin across his face, Grantaire slumps forward across his table and groans into the laminate surface.
He can sense Enjolras still hovering nearby, and he can practically feel the impatience radiating off of him. But it's not Enjolras's butt that's sore from sitting in that chair all evening, and it's not his wrist that feels broken from signing his name a hundred thousand times, so Grantaire figures he can just go ahead and stew for a few minutes more while Grantaire stretches out his poor, aching back.
It's one of the bookstore employees who rouses him, with an apologetic, "I'm sorry, sir, but we really have to close up."
Grantaire waves off the apology and drags himself up to his feet. "Thank you for staying," he tells each of them, and pulls out his phone to make a note to have Éponine send a gift basket to the store tomorrow, to show his appreciation for going above and beyond the call of duty.
Enjolras follows him out of the bookstore with that same air of poorly-restrained patience and when Grantaire's standing on the sidewalk out front, squinting at the empty parking lot and trying to remember if anyone had arranged for a car to take him to his hotel, Enjolras touches his shoulder.
It's light contact, as such things go, but it makes Grantaire's skin spark and his nerves jump. "My rental's over there." Enjolras tips his head toward a lone sedan waiting at the back end of the parking lot.
"Bully for you," Grantaire says, because Enjolras has a habit of only saying half of what he means and expecting you to infer the rest, and Grantaire doesn't believe in being an enabler.
Enjolras gives a sharp sigh. "R. Just come with me. We'll go find a diner that's still open, and we can talk over food."
Grantaire's not sure he relishes the idea of talking, not when whatever it is was dire enough that it sent Enjolras all the way out here to break the news to him. But food sounds amazing, and maybe if he plays his cards right he can get Enjolras to agree to a place with a liquor license. He shrugs one shoulder, says, "Lead on, then," and keeps half a step behind as they walk to the car, despite the frowns Enjolras keeps throwing over his shoulder and the way he adjusts his gait, trying to slow down so that Grantaire will fall into step beside him.
Enjolras climbs behind the wheel and waits, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel, until Grantaire circles around and takes shotgun. Even when Grantaire's in the car, he doesn't turn it on, just looks at him significantly, like Grantaire's supposed to know what the problem is.
When Enjolras drops his gaze down to the seatbelt, Grantaire blows out a breath and rolls his eyes. "Jesus, I was getting there. It's not like we're going to get into a high-speed crash in the middle of the parking lot." He yanks the belt over his shoulder and fastens it, and Enjolras starts the car up and puts it into gear easily. "I want something greasy and terrible for me."
"Your self-preservation instincts are a marvel, truly."
"Remind me never to introduce you to my mother. The two of you would probably gang up to lecture me about my life choices, and then there'll be no living with either of you."
Enjolras doesn't grace him with a reply, which is about as much as Grantaire expected. He just pulls the car out onto the street and navigates through the city in silence.
Grantaire tips his head back against the rest and shuts his eyes. He's too wired for sleep, but maybe if he feigns it, it'll keep Enjolras from talking at him before Grantaire has some food in his stomach to fortify him for the confrontation.
When Enjolras turns the car off, it comes as a surprise. "I believe this should suffice." He sounds droll, almost amused, and that gets Grantaire's eyes open.
They're parked in front of a diner, complete with buzzing electric neon OPEN light and a sign promising the best burgers in the state. It looks like the greasiest of greasy spoons, and it makes Grantaire grin, already reaching for the door's latch. "This will do very nicely."
He makes his way inside, leaving Enjolras to climb out and deal with locking the car. The waitress behind the counter gives him a tired smile when he steps inside. The tag on her shoulder proclaims her name to be Marge. Grantaire sidles up to the counter, with its glass display of cakes and pies. "Marge, my darling, make my night and tell me that you serve alcohol here."
Marge gives him a furrowed look in the middle of filling ketchup bottles. "We've got Bud?"
"I'm desperate, so I'm going to say that counts." The door squeaks behind him. "Ah, that must be the rest of my party now. Do we seat ourselves?"
"Help yourself," she says, dry. "I'll have that drink right up."
Grantaire thanks her and drops into a booth with a window view out over the empty parking lot, leaving Enjolras to come over and join him. "They have beer," he says happily.
Marge brings his bottle over just as she says it. Enjolras gives it a droll look. "I don't think that actually counts as beer. I could have taken you somewhere else if you wanted to drink, but I thought you wanted to eat something bad for you."
Grantaire narrows his eyes. "You are being frighteningly obliging."
Enjolras sighs and leans his head in his hand. "You're overthinking it, R."
"If you were my doctor, I'd think you were about to tell me I was dying."
"Just lay it on me. Whatever it is, it can't be as frightening as you being nice to me." Despite the bravery of his words, though, Grantaire takes a long drink from the beer bottle to steel himself for whatever's to come.
Enjolras's mouth tightens, lines forming at the corners. He looks grim and unhappy and Grantaire has a moment to think, Oh God, maybe I am dying, before Enjolras hefts his briefcase up, pulls something out of it, and slaps a newspaper down onto the table between them.
Grantaire eyes it mistrustfully.
"Open it. The entertainment section."
"Is this your way of breaking a bad review to me?" Grantaire reaches for the paper even as he asks, weighed down by a sense of foreboding and inevitability. "I liked it better when you just emailed me a link so I could blacklist the domain."
He's not a precious flower who thinks the world should dote on every word he publishes simply because he wrote it. But he learned the hard way with his first book that criticism sends him into a whirlwind of doubt and second-guessing and makes it damned near impossible to get any new words on the page for a week, at least, because he's too busy trying to make sure that he's not repeating past mistakes to actually come up with any of them.
Enjolras just sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose like Grantaire is a trial he doesn't know if he can endure. "Just open it, R."
Grantaire does, flipping through until he finds the entertainment section and leaving the rest spread haphazard across their table. The headline is something about some blockbuster movie breaking records, or bombing, or something. It's not about him or his book so he skims past it, on the hunt for whatever news that was so dire that Enjolras decided he needed to break it to Grantaire in person.
He turns to the reviews section, because that seems the most likely culprit, but there isn't anything of his in there, either. Finally, Enjolras either takes pity on him or loses patience (and judging by the way he growls, "For Christ's sake," before he snatches the paper out of Grantaire's hands, Grantaire's betting on the latter) and slaps the paper down, his finger pointing at a box whose header reads, New York Times Bestsellers for the Week Of.
The first title listed underneath it, the very first, is Grantaire's. He stares at it for a solid minute, his thoughts buzzing, his brain gone to a scream of white noise static. "What," he manages, and when he looks up, Enjolras is grinning at him.
"Is this a joke? Is it some kind of prank?" He flips the paper over, searching for some indication that it's one of those novelty newspapers you can buy and put your own content into. "What is this?"
"It's good news, R." Enjolras puts his hand over the paper, pinning it to the table and halting Grantaire's frantic search. "It's not a prank. I can pull up the Times's website and show you, if you'd like."
"I think maybe you'd better." His voice doesn't work. All that comes out is a faint, reedy sound. His chest is too tight and his head is spinning a little and he's going to pass out, or throw up.
Enjolras just looks tolerantly exasperated as he pulls his phone out and taps at the screen for a moment. When he holds it out, Grantaire can see that he's brought up the Times's website (and if he spends a moment scrutinizing the URL to make sure that it isn't a spoof site, well, he doesn't think he's entirely unjustified), and the bestseller list, and his name and title are still right there, sitting impossibly at number one.
He's a fucking New York Times bestselling author.
"I think I need another drink."