If anyone asked, Grantaire would say his favorite subject is detention. That person would probably assume Grantaire was just being a little shit, because, well, Grantaire. But the thing is, it's also not far from the truth.
Anyone can get written up—hell, the briefest glance at his high school transcript will tell you that—but when you get held after often enough, you start to get the hang of it.
"Sup, Miz P," Grantaire says as he slips in and takes his usual spot in the back. "How's business?"
Mrs. Peterson doesn't look up. Fair enough.
Grantaire rubs his eyes, yawning until his jaw cracks. He rests his head on the desk and pulls the knit cap over the top of his face. He’s spent the last couple of years honing the ability to sleep anywhere. If you play your cards right, detention is just a somewhat uncomfortable nap.
Apparently, fate has other plans. Or, more likely, fate doesn’t give a shit.
"Hey," says someone. A guy’s voice, not familiar. "Hey,” it repeats.
It takes another few seconds to realize that the voice is addressing him, that the reason it sounds so loud is because the speaker is standing right next to Grantaire’s desk. He pulls himself upright, peeling up his cap to crack one eye open against the florescent light.
Almost from his peripheral vision, he registers blond curls, a noble profile, fierce eyes that are just—wow. Grantaire swallows and glances down at his hands, the motion almost involuntary, like looking away from the sun. There’s a smudge of green on his thumb. Weird, he can’t remember the last time he drew anything green.
"…hey," Grantaire mumbles. "What?"
"How does this work?" says the new guy.
"It's a desk," says Grantaire slowly. "It—keeps things from being on the ground."
"No, this. Detention."
Sun-staring be damned, Grantaire turns to face him. New Guy seems to be a junior or a senior. Normally, when people are first-timers at this point, they're nervous about being in trouble. New Guy doesn't seem worried at all, just focused. Extremely focused.
"Uh, we sit here quietly for an hour."
"Then what?" says New Guy. The focus is not diminishing. It’s like being in a very small lightning storm. There’s that same charge, that sense of something interesting about to happen.
"Um. When the hour is up, we go home."
New Guy frowns. "That's it? An hour of sitting?”
“They take our phones, too?” Grantaire offers. New Guy looks confused until Grantaire thinks to add, lamely, “I mean, we get them back when the hour’s up, but um.”
“What,” says New Guy, “is the point of this?"
"Uh, are you familiar with how high school works?" Grantaire says, half to himself. New Guy doesn’t seem to hear. He takes the desk in front of Grantaire and pulls out a notebook and a pencil, no doubt preparing to write his congressperson about the injustice. Apparently, their conversation is over.
Grantaire raises his eyebrows, although there’s nobody to see it.
“Dude,” he says, “What did you do?”
“What?” says New Guy, hand stilling over the page.
“To get in trouble. Detention. What did you do?”
New Guy turns around, but instead of answering the question, says, "Does this school really not have a single gender-neutral bathroom?"
Grantaire tries not to goggle at him. He fails pretty hard. “What?”
New Guy leans forward slightly. The lightning storm feeling returns. "Over two thousand kids go here every year,” he says. “Statistically, the odds that there isn’t a single one who identifies as transgender—it's not even worth considering."
Grantaire takes that all in, mulling it over for a moment. "So, that’s why you’re here? You used the girls' bathroom?" New Guy glares, and Grantaire raises his hands in a placating gesture. “Hey, whatever, do what you need to do, no judgment.”
“You don’t need to be transgender to see what an unsafe environment that’s gonna make for anyone who falls outside the, the traditional gender binary,” says New Kid. “And it should be the school’s number one duty to ensure the safety of its students, especially the ones already at the margins of society.” There’s an edge of irritation to his voice, like it’s something he’s said several times today.
Mentally, Grantaire translates this to, ‘I didn’t use the girl’s bathroom, I just kept harping about it until my teacher got super uncomfortable.’
Columbus High is not a mecca of love and tolerance. Last week, Grantaire's Government class debated gay marriage, and literally the one person arguing in favor was Cosette Fauchelevant, who only got away with it by virtue of being a pretty girl. Otherwise, middle ground was somewhere around "Sure, gays are an abomination, but maybe it doesn't make sense to compare them to axe murderers." There were also plenty of kids well beyond the middle ground.
Grantaire had spent the period drawing on his hands with a felt tip pen. When he ran out of room on his hands, he continued down his wrists. By the time the teacher noticed, his arms were covered to the elbow in elaborate, feathery swirls.
She'd sent him to wash it off, but he couldn't get it all and for the rest of the day, whenever people noticed, they gave him an amused smile, like, 'How high were you?' and he smiled back, brittle.
New Guy is still talking. “—and a U.S. History teacher, of all people, should realize how the legacy of—”
U.S. History, that narrows things down a bit.
“Was it Walker?” says Grantaire.
Other kids are starting to filter in. A football player named either Matt or Mark sees Grantaire and grins companionably, miming a joint with his eyebrows raised. Translation: ‘Are you here for smoking up?’ Grantaire shrugs back broadly: ‘Who can even say at this point?’ Matt-or-Mark laughs.
“That’s rough, man. Walker’s a dick,” Grantaire tells New Guy. Up at her desk, Mrs. Peterson is shuffling her papers in a way that implies detention is about to start. “Listen, word to the wise,” he adds in an undertone. “It’s what, your first week here?”
“First day,” says New Guy tightly.
“Wow. Okay, so you’re still making impressions and stuff. Uh, yeah. Maybe you don’t want to be known, right out of the gate, as like, bathroom kid, y’know?”
The resulting glare is terrifying, both in its intensity and in how it actually doesn’t make Grantaire want to stop talking. All that attention is—it’s like being zapped with electricity, or drinking a Red Bull way too fast.
Grantaire tugs at the hem of his knit cap. “No, sorry, free country and all that,” he says.
New Guy turns around, pointedly.
Grantaire can’t seem to shut himself up. “Yeah, what am I saying, you’re gonna do just fine. Stay gold, Ponyboy, or whatever. Honestly you should be giving me advice. With a face like that you’re gonna get any girl you want—”
At the word ‘get’, New Guy’s shoulders tense. He whirls around. “Women aren’t—fucking—Pokémon,” he hisses, just as the rest of the noise in the room dies down.
“Enjolras!” says Mrs. Peterson. “We absolutely do not allow that kind of language in here.”
That is how Grantaire learns New Guy’s name, and how Enjolras gets the second detention of his academic career.
“Damn fucking straight, Miz P,” says Grantaire, and that’s how Grantaire winds up joining him.
Enjolras believes that the separation of church and state is vital to a truly free society. He maintains that both the two-party system and the campaign finance system need aggressive overhaul, and that America's shrinking middle class is creating "a kind of neo-Feudalism". (That’s a direct quote.) He is horrified that Columbus High has no recycling program, thinks too many school funds go into football, and he still has a lot of feelings about the bathroom thing.
All of this Grantaire learns as they wait for the start of their second detention together. And all of it springs organically from the one question Grantaire had asked, upon slipping into Mrs. Peterson's room six minutes early and finding Enjolras already sitting there, which, for the record, was "…'Sup?"
(Grantaire ran most of the way to detention. Like, actually ran, from one side of the school to the other, weaving in and out of the crowd. He may have jumped over a freshman at one point, details are hazy. He'd been banking on the theory that Enjolras would be one of those early-to-everything types. This proved true, which is good; Grantaire hasn't even power-walked since finishing his gym requirement last year, and there's a stitch in his side that's making his usual slouch kind of painful.)
(For the record: totally worth it.)
Enjolras is half a sentence into the military industrial complex before he seems to realize Grantaire has stopped responding at all, and is just watching him talk, with a helpless grin that grows wider and wider at each catalogued injustice.
Enjolras sighs. "You don't believe in a single thing I'm saying, do you?"
"Not a goddamn one of ‘em," says Grantaire, cheerfully.
It could be his imagination, but Enjolras's shoulders seem to slump.
"No, no, keep going, you were on a roll," Grantaire tells him. Enjolras looks skeptical. "Hey man, my big plans were to zone out or graffiti my desk, this is ten times more interesting. You're like a space alien. What's your post high school plan? Is it super hero?"
For once, Enjolras doesn't take the bait, only smiles and says, "Poli sci." The smile is not directed at Grantaire; it's one of those inward expressions, like someone remembering a private joke or a good dream or a secret love.
Grantaire's not jealous of an entire field of study, don't be ridiculous.
He lasts about five minutes into their second detention together before he starts kicking the back of Enjolras's chair. He isn't even doing it on purpose. Or well, he is now, because every kick makes Enjolras turn around and look at him again, and every time that look gets even more intense, like he’s about to set something on fire with his mind.
This wasn't the initial plan, though. Grantaire’s just keyed up. And there's no outlet, because he didn't bring anything to occupy himself. His homework and sketchpads are all chilling in his locker. He never needs them in detention. By this point, he's always asleep.
Somehow, though, it's harder to drift off with those distractingly soft-looking curls in the middle of his sightline, less than three feet away. Why did Enjolras choose the same desk as before, the one right in front of Grantaire's usual spot? It's a rookie mistake.
Enjolras is doing homework, or at least trying to. He's got two open textbooks on his desk. History or world politics, most likely; there's a lot of maps involved. It could be biology, too: disease epidemics or migration routes. Grantaire's money is on politics, though.
He gives the chair another kick. Enjolras doesn’t turn this time, but his shoulder blades visibly tense under his hoodie. Grantaire tries very hard to track only the motion, and not the shoulder blades themselves, nor the shoulders, which are—well. Anyway.
'This is so stupid,' Grantaire thinks, because it is. But the thought is so familiar that it recedes into the background noise of his mind, so it doesn't have much bearing on his actions.
His actions are to kick the chair again.
Enjolras twists around to deliver another glare.
'Bored,' Grantaire mouths with a shrug. Enjolras glances towards Mrs. Peterson's desk. He opens his mouth, probably to say something like, 'We're not supposed to talk in here,' realizes the inherent paradox, and turns forward again.
Grantaire kicks the chair. No response.
Grantaire grabs a scrap of paper, scrawls "entertain me," and scoots it onto Enjolras's desk. He taps his fingers. His hands are twitchy, like he's just run across the school again, or lit a stick of dynamite.
No wonder. Enjolras whirls around, eyes wide. Along with the satisfying flare of outrage, there's a questioning, incredulous look to his expression. Grantaire thinks it's meant to convey something like, 'How could you possibly have the nerve to—' but he chooses to interpret it as, 'How?'
In response, Grantaire shimmies his shoulders. It's hard to mime dance moves from behind a desk, but he does a pretty good job.
Enjolras just snorts and turns around again. Disappointing. Grantaire is still pondering his next move when a book is thrust into his face. He looks up. Enjolras is—somewhat forcefully—handing him a faded school-issued paperback. His expression is triumphant, a man calling a bluff. Grantaire squints down at the cover.
Grapes of Wrath.
He has no idea what it's about, vaguely recognizes the title as one of those things people reference when they want to be fancy. (Grantaire takes a dim view to the classics. He still has Great Expectations trauma from his time as a freshman. He may be a junior now, but some wounds don’t heal.)
But lacking anything better to do, he flips to the first page:
"To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth."
He's almost to the end of chapter four when detention lets out. Three more lines, to be exact.
"Hey," says Enjolras. "I need that back."
Two and a half more lines. He shakes his head without looking up. "Let me finish this paragraph, dude, hang on."
"You're actually reading it?" says Enjolras. The surprise in his voice is palpable. Grantaire snaps the book shut.
"What part of this shocks you," he drawls as he surrenders the paperback, "that I took you up on your offer, or that I can read?"
"I didn't mean it like that." For the first time, Enjolras looks uncomfortable.
"Did you like it?" Enjolras asks after an awkward pause. It’s polite, stilted. A gesture of apology, maybe, or pity.
The guy clearly thinks Grantaire is an idiot. Grantaire can’t think of anything worse than getting trapped in some pretentious literary discussion where, he knows, he will flop around trying to sound smart, fail to sound smart, and accidentally justify every one of Enjolras' suspicions.
"I dunno, man," says Grantaire. He buries his hands in his pockets. He's carrying two quarters, a crayon, three cigarettes, and a permanent marker. "It's rough going. Doesn't even have any pictures. Or, well," he pulls the marker from his pocket and twirls it meaningfully between his fingers, "it didn't."
The expression on Enjolras's face is something to behold. He sucks in a sharp breath and flips frantically through the pages, searching for damages.
Grantaire cracks up. "No, man, I'm just messing with you. Your book's fine," he says.
Enjolras storms out of the room.
"Bye, Enjolras," says Mrs. Peterson mildly. "See you tomorrow."
Grantaire swivels around. "He has detention again?" he says, disbelieving.
"He has detention for the rest of the week," says Mrs. Peterson.
'Jesus,' thinks Grantaire, 'what did this guy do?' And then another thought, right on its heels: 'What can I do to get three more detentions?'
In the end, all it takes is sneaking into the first floor men's faculty bathroom before school and filling it floor-to-ceiling with packing peanuts.
If anyone asks, it's a political statement.
Eponine's lunch is two packets of string cheese and half a jar of maraschino cherries. Grantaire can't decide whether or not to offer part of his sandwich. Precedent suggests there's a 50% chance she'll be grateful and a 50% chance she'll be offended. He takes a long, thoughtful sip of root beer.
"Hey, can you give me a ride home?" she says. She looks tired, but it could just be all the eye makeup.
"Sure.” He runs his finger along rim of the root beer can, gives the pull tab a twang with his thumb. “So, like, I assume you mean my home?"
"Um, yeah," says Eponine flatly. She has a point, he thinks, given that she lives about a block from school.
Eponine spends a lot of time at Grantaire's house, even when they're not actively hanging out. Often, with no warning, she'll show up at 10 on a school night. Sometimes she brings her little brother.
Grantaire has no idea what that’s about. He’s tried to make her talk about it, but he never got far. This was early in their friendship, before he realized that the secret to getting along with Eponine was that you never asked. She is aggressively nonchalant about the whole thing, and it's not like Grantaire minds the company. His parents go to bed early and she knows where the spare key is.
"You'll have to wait around for an hour, though."
Eponine shrugs and spears a cherry with her spork. "That's fine. Detention again?"
Eponine is clearly confused about why he's so chill with the sudden rash of detentions, which is getting excessive even for him. But he doesn't feel like talking about it, and she doesn't press him.
That's one of the nice things about being friends with Eponine: the not-asking goes both ways.
Grantaire shows up early to all three remaining detentions. And each time, Enjolras is already there, at the same desk, almost like he's waiting for him. Wishful thinking, of course. Wishful thinking edging into downright wishful hallucinating.
Their conversations are lively as ever. It's the only part of the school day where Grantaire feels completely awake.
And it isn't even because the guy is almost implausibly handsome. (Grantaire pictures a Renaissance painter, easel at the ready, frowning at Enjolras. "Look,” the painter mutters, “You’re supposed to be a glorious sun-drenched avenging angel, I get it, but Jesus, can you tone it down? The hair, the mouth, c'mon. Less is more, y’know?")
That part is—distracting, sometimes. But whatever this is, the thing that makes Grantaire keep pushing, keep needling; it would be there no matter the color of Enjolras's hair.
Watching him talk feels like being in a movie.
Enjolras leans forward a little when he gets going, lowers his voice, makes sustained eye contact. It creates the sense of being on the inside of something clandestine and thrilling and important. Enjolras could be the noble general inspiring his troops to one last stand, the rebel leader assembling his ragtag crew, the last honest politician in Washington holding the floor.
In the film version, Grantaire would probably, like, grab his sword and run out into the front lines, but then again, half the reason people watch movies is because it's the one situation where the scrappy, idealistic underdogs actually stand a chance.
So it's no wonder that Grantaire keeps baiting him. It never takes much.
(On Wednesday: “Aren’t all senators basically the same, though?”)
(Thursday: "But do we, like, need civil liberties?")
(Friday: "Hey, Enjolras. Enjolras! What are your feelings...on justice?")
The real mystery here is why Enjolras keeps responding. He must know by now that Grantaire is only in it for the amusement factor. The downward curl of his mouth at each new question says as much.
But either Enjolras is the easiest person to provoke in the universe (possible) or Grantaire has some special skill at getting under his skin (wishful thinking), or.
Or. The other option is that Enjolras needs to talk about these things, and Grantaire is the one person in school willing to listen. It’s within the realm of possibility. The only other kids at Columbus with strong opinions about this stuff have surely branded Enjolras a crazy gay terrorist-loving commie by now.
It must be lonely, to carry around that much conviction and have nobody to share it with. If that's the case, Grantaire almost wishes he could buy into the whole grand utopia. But it's not like joining in on the self-delusion would do either of them much good in the end.
Grantaire tries not to get wistful on the day of their final detention together. It’s probably the last time the two of them will ever occupy the same classroom. Enjolras has “honors student” written all over him; barring another set of parallel detentions, Grantaire doesn’t see their schedules overlapping again.
(They do have the same lunch period. Sometimes when he’s talking with Eponine, Grantaire will catch a flash of blond out of the corner of his eye. Enjolras eats alone. There aren’t enough tables for him to have one to himself, but nobody ever takes the seats around him. It’s a tiny no man’s land.
Grantaire knows he shouldn’t care. He’s reading into things, creating a drama that isn’t there. Enjolras is the last person you’d ever call a victim. It’s like having sympathy for a volcano or a forest fire. Anyone who tried to sit by him probably got glared into oblivion.
But it’s hard to watch: Enjolras with his head down, doggedly chewing, surrounded by empty chairs.
Grantaire has seriously considered extending an invitation. Well, half-seriously. The thought has occurred to him. He doesn’t even want to think about how Enjolras would react, the way his shoulder muscles would bunch up and his mouth would tighten. Grantaire isn’t sure he’d be able to laugh it off. Rejection in the open air is not the same. Outside of detention, the rules are different.
Mostly, Grantaire tries not to look.)
Grantaire wants to say something to mark the occasion, he’s just not sure what. He spends the last half hour watching the clock on the wall tick down, trying to compose a decent goodbye—something that will come off as clever and funny and memorable, but also cool and effortless and, you know, natural. It’s tricky.
When the clock hits 3:45, Grantaire’s still got nothing. It doesn’t matter; before he can even open his mouth, Enjolras is out of his chair and halfway to the door.
Grantaire watches him go.
Eponine spends most of the weekend with him, which helps. On Friday, she sneaks over at eleven with a bottle of vodka and they do their time-honored tradition of drunken video games and trash-talking. Grantaire's trash-talking gets zestier the more he drinks, but his gaming skills get much worse.
"Yeah, how do you like that?" he crows, as a marine takes a machine gun round to the back. "How does it motherfucking feel?"
"Grantaire, that's your guy," says Eponine. "I'm shooting you."
"Dude, why do you assume I’m rooting for myself?" he says. Grantaire can't help it. He wants to be on the winning team.
Eponine just frowns. "You want to pause the game for a while?"
"Because you've been running face-first into that wall for like five minutes."
He squints at the screen. Come to think of it, this particular patch of wall looks familiar. So does his army dude’s little jog-in-place dance. A whole world of energy, going nowhere. Grantaire tries very, very hard not to read this as a metaphor for anything in his life. His face crumples. Stupid vodka.
"I'm pausing," she says.
So instead they listen to music—on Grantaire’s ancient boom box because his laptop speakers are beyond any repair—and draw. Well, Grantaire draws, Eponine colors. He’s working on a series of ponies decorated like monsters.
“Got anything to smoke?” Eponine asks after a few minutes.
Grantaire shrugs. “Cigarettes. Nothing else. You?” She shakes her head. “Tell your dealer to get his ass out of prison, this sucks.”
Eponine picks out the pony covered in Frankenstein scars. "Quit calling him that, he’s my friend. I’ve known him since I was four.”
It’s hard to imagine Montparnasse as a child, mostly because Grantaire can’t picture him not selling drugs. Whenever he tries, he just gets the mental image of a guy passing out candy behind the school, secretly cutting the Pixy Stix with, like, sand.
“When’s he getting out?” says Grantaire instead.
“Five months.” Eponine delicately shades the pony with a blue crayon. She has a good sense of color. He’d tell her that, but she’s weird about compliments sometimes.
“Ugh,” says Grantaire. “God, we might as well just get a hobby or something.”
Eponine snorts. "You could always join that new club they’re doing," she says.
"It's like a charity, activism-y…" she waves a hand. "You haven't seen the posters? They're everywhere."
"You know I never read signs."
"The first meeting is next week. The guy who started it is, like, terrifyingly determined to recruit people."
At the words 'terrifyingly determined', Grantaire's heart does a funny clench. "Blond kid with a weird name?" he asks, so casually. "Wears a lot of red?"
"Yeah," she says.
"Think you'll go?" He’s studying the zipper on his hoodie.
Eponine shakes her head. "Sounds pretty boring. I only know about it because—some people are, uh, thinking about going." 'Some people' has to mean Marius. Eponine's been hopelessly in love with him for years. She’s secretive about it, but she always seems to know his schedule. It’s one of those things they don’t talk about. She puts the crayon down and looks into Grantaire’s face. "What about you, think you'll go?"
"Why would I?" he says. His voice sounds fucked up, muddied. He swallows. Maybe he's coming down with a cold.
Grantaire isn't hurt that Enjolras never asked him to join his stupid save-the-whales club or whatever, never even mentioned it during the hours they were pretty much locked together in the same room. Enjolras might have been desperate to bring in new members; he was not desperate enough to go to Grantaire.
And seriously, why would he? It makes sense. It doesn't bother Grantaire. Certainly it's no surprise.
Enjolras lent him that book, but that wasn't a friendly gesture so much as it was a "for god's sake, quit bothering me" gesture, which, fair.
Sure, they talked, but Grantaire's pretty sure that, in a pinch, Enjolras would happily deliver the same rants to inanimate objects or animals or babies too young to crawl away.
The point is, they're not friends. Enjolras probably won’t even acknowledge him in the hallways. They're not anything. And Grantaire doesn't care, and he doesn't want to spend his afternoons sitting around crying about seagulls covered in oil spills.
But. He’s pretty sure he's the first kid at the school Enjolras really talked to. And it's stupid, but it feels like that should count for something.
Eponine gives him a look.
"Is there more vodka?" he asks.
"Not for you," she says. "Here." She scoots a fistful of crayons his way. "Take a pony."
Eponine isn't always much of a talker, but she sees a lot more than she lets on. That's why he can't tell whether or not it's a coincidence when she leaves the gold crayon and the red crayon far out of his reach.
Grantaire’s last class of the day is World Mythology, and the final ten minutes are the worst. They're supposed to be getting a head start on their homework, but Mr. Clark has zero control over the class, so instead everyone talks. It's too loud to sleep by a factor of about ten. Grantaire’s options are: have the same conversation he has every Monday with Eddie Greer (“How was your weekend, man?” “Haha, got completely trashed. You?” and so on) or listen to music.
He puts in his earbuds and turns up the volume.
The thing is, Grantaire had actually wanted to take World Myth. He went through a big mythology phase as a kid, couldn’t get enough stories about heroes and monster-men. If nothing else, he figured it would be an easy blow-off class. Looking around the room, he gets the sense that 24 other people had the same thought. It's basically wall-to-wall jocks and burnouts.
Well, jocks, burnouts, and Jehan Prouvaire.
Jehan's a year younger, but Grantaire remembers him from middle school. They were in mural club together. Jehan was so clumsy, he was banned from even touching the paints. It never seemed to bother him. He would sit on the ground, cleaning everyone's brushes and reading aloud from whatever book happened to be in his backpack at the time.
It was a weird mix: Shel Silverstein and Rumi, Edgar Allen Poe and Gwendolyn Brooks. Some Shakespeare, some Elizabeth Barrett Browning, seemingly whatever he could get his hands on. Jean stammers when he's called on in class, or when he's addressed directly, most of the time, but he’s never had any problem reading. Even facing the wall, paintbrush in hand, you could hear the reverence in his voice:
"Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
And that cannot stop their tears.
Grantaire tended to be the last to leave, and often at the end, it would just be him and Jehan, talking about whatever. Grantaire would ask him to re-read a poem, or they'd trade thoughts about Lord of the Rings. Jehan is surprisingly funny if you get him going on something. He'd had a lot of feelings about hobbits that year.
Grantaire wonders if Jehan remembers any of this. He certainly doesn't seem to have changed much since middle school. If anything, he's only become more like himself.
Because Jehan lives by his own rules. He dresses like the back room of a thrift store: awful sweaters, pants either way too long or half an inch too short. Sometimes his jeans have rhinestones on the back pockets. He wears the same glittery salmon-colored loafers every day. He's halfway into his sophomore year, and his look remains unchanged. For that reason alone, he may be the bravest kid in Columbus High.
And people give him shit for it, of course. A lot of people do. As far as Grantaire is concerned, this alone is proof that Enjolras is wrong. Humanity is capable of being mean to Jehan, therefore a brighter tomorrow is never coming.
It’s a hollow way to win an argument, but that’s kind of a moot point these days. It’s been two months since his last detention with Enjolras, and their only interaction has consisted of Grantaire trying not to watch him across the cafeteria like a creeper. (Enjolras no longer eats lunch alone; he’s fallen in with Combeferre and his merry band of overachievers. Grantaire can’t compete with that shit, so the window has closed anyway.)
He shakes his head. Whatever, it’s not like Grantaire is sitting around writing sad poetry in his journal. Enjolras is busy with save-the-world club; Grantaire is busy living his life.
From the other side of the room, he watches a senior named Clyde approach Jean's desk. Clyde’s saying something. Jehan doesn't look up from his book. Clyde keeps talking. He's trying to mimic Jehan; it's evident from the way he tosses his hair and flips his wrist—two things Grantaire’s never seen Jehan do, for the record. Jehan's lips press together. Clyde says something else.
These aren’t Grantaire's stupid fucking bids for attention. It's designed to be hurtful. You can read it in Clyde's posture: tense, aggressive, leaning too far into Jehan’s space.
There are supposed to be rules against this kind of thing. Grantaire has read the student handbook three times: once in the fitful, optimistic summer before he started high school, and then twice in the years after that, looking for rules to break. In theory, CHS has a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. In practice, it’s as mythical as a hydra.
Jehan doesn't give a reaction, although he also hasn't turned a page for the last five minutes. Eventually, Clyde gets bored and wanders back to his buddies. Jehan keeps staring down at the book, hands very still.
Grantaire isn't sure what possesses him to do it. But suddenly he’s yanking the headphones out of his ears and crossing the room. Mr. Clark doesn’t notice, busy playing computer Solitaire. Someone needs to fire him. When Grantaire reaches Jehan's desk, he crouches so they're eye level.
"Hey," says Grantaire. And Jehan must remember at least a little of mural club, because he looks up at that, and says, very, very guardedly,
Grantaire casts around for something to say. 'It's going to be okay' is worse than meaningless. 'Stay strong' would be condescending, not to mention hypocritical. The pause stretches out between them. Grantaire doesn't know how he thought he was going to be able to help in the first place.
So instead he just blurts out the first thing that comes into his head. "Okay: screw, marry, kill—Norse mythology, Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology?"
"Uh, what?" says Jehan, brow furrowed.
"It's a simple question," says Grantaire.
They regard each other for a moment, then Jehan breaks into a slow smile.
"Okay, see this—this is actually—yeah, okay, I have it,” Jehan says, like he’s solving a riddle. “So it goes marry Norse mythology. The wedding feast alone would be worth it. Kill Egyptian mythology. Not as any kind of a—the stakes are just different, y’know? It’ll rise again; I mean, resurrection’s in the lifeblood. And, uh, screw Greek mythology, but use every kind of protection so you don't get, y’know, swan herpes."
"Or bull herpes," Grantaire adds helpfully.
"Or flying-showers-of-gold-coins herpes," and okay, Jehan wins this round.
"That is the worst herpes of all," says Grantaire solemnly. "Sorry, I gave you the easiest Screw Marry Kill in history."
"Yeah, pretty much," says Jehan. He’s bouncing in his seat. "My turn. Screw, marry, kill: the color yellow, the sound of cymbals, trepidation."
They play Screw Marry Kill until class gets out, and they keep playing out the door and down the hallway. In the middle of making Grantaire decide between sleep, laughter, and pizza, Jehan says,
"Actually, I'm headed to a—want to come with me?" He smiles. "I'm going to a meeting." Something about the way he says the word, with weight and fervor, makes it clear that this isn’t yearbook club. Grantaire looks back at Jehan’s bright, hopeful eyes and knows immediately where he’s heading.
He swallows. “Uh yeah, okay.”
The group meets in Ms. Hucheloup’s classroom, but Jehan wants to make a stop in the sophomore hall so he can grab his backpack and, apparently, dig through the assorted textbooks, notebooks, paperbacks, and wads of colored tissue paper heaped at bottom of his locker.
Grantaire waits. It's stupid, but his heart is beating faster at the thought of showing up at save-the-world club. That's why he doesn't immediately notice that Jehan has has a big photo of Walt Whitman stuck up on the inside of his locker door, like a movie star.
He's trying to decide whether or not to say anything about it when a dark-haired figure leaps toward them, shouting something and wrapping an arm around Jehan. Grantaire's adrenaline has a full three seconds to kick into high gear before he realizes it's just Courfeyrac.
Courfeyrac is loud but harmless. They had Health together last year, and prior to that, Grantaire remembers him vaguely from the middle school play. God knows what he’s doing in the sophomore hallway.
"Jehan, oh Jehan, I've missed you!" Courfeyrac is saying, jokingly nuzzling into Jehan’s shoulder.
Jehan looks at the floor. One corner of his mouth quirks up. "Hey Courf," he says. “How’s it going?” His total lack of surprise is itself surprising. This must be their normal routine, Grantaire decides, part of Courfeyrac being Courfeyrac. He can get away with this stuff by virtue of being a theater kid; people expect it of him.
"Horrible,” says Courfeyrac, “I've been suffering from the worst case of Jehan withdrawal you can imagine. It was tragic. I was five minutes from putting a wig on Bossuet and making him say stuff about Dante, just to fill the void." Grantaire snorts, and Courfeyrac looks up at him. "Oh, hey Grantaire.”
"Sup," says Grantaire.
Jehan had twisted away to root through his locker some more, but he straightens up, smoothing out two pieces of crumpled notebook paper.
"Grantaire has a band name for you," Jehan says.
“You’re starting a band?” asks Grantaire.
“Yeah,” says Courfeyrac.
“Well,” says Jehan, “he doesn’t have a guitar yet, so mostly he’s just been naming a band. Over and over.”
“Hey!” Courfeyrac protests. “The name is an important step.”
“So is learning instruments, I’ve heard.” Jehan nudges Courfeyrac’s arm, but he’s smiling.
Courfeyrac makes a mock-offended face. “So Grantaire,” he says, “this name—”
Grantaire shrugs. “Dude, I don’t know. I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about.”
“None of us ever do,” says Courfeyrac. “He’s a madman, pay him no mind.” Jehan coughs. “A mad genius!” he amends. Jehan coughs again. “A mad, brilliant genius who is going to share with me Grantaire’s wonderful band name out of the kindness of his own—”
"The Worst Herpes," says Jehan proudly.
The scary part is that Courfeyrac seems to mull it over. "It's got a ring, I will grant you that," he says, "but I don't know how much merch that's gonna sell."
"Dude," says Grantaire. "You don't have a guitar and you're already thinking about merch?"
Courfeyrac is untroubled. "And groupies," he says. He hooks his elbow through Jehan's free arm. "Jehan said he'd be my groupie, didn't you?"
"Learn your chords and I’ll think about it,” says Jehan. “As long as it doesn't interfere with my career," he adds, closing his locker and scooping up his backpack.
"Why, what are you shooting for?" Grantaire asks. He’s expecting 'professor' or 'poet laureate of the United States', which is why he cracks up when Jehan says, deadpan,
“That’s great,” says Grantaire. “I mean, hopefully nobody notices the string of robberies that keeps matching up with your tour schedule, but.”
“Nah, it’s cool, we’ve got alibis all worked out,” Courfeyrac tells him. “So, what’s up, man?”
“Not much. Me and Jehan are going to a thing.”
Courfeyrac grins. “Oh, you’re going to the ABC too?”
“That's what this is called?” asks Grantaire, stopping in his tracks. Jehan had been vague about the name, earlier. Grantaire is starting to see why. “Are we fighting for the rights of oppressed letters? Like, the ones way far down in the alphabet? Or the ones that just kind of suck, like Q?”
“It’s an acronym,” says Courfeyrac. “Or an initialism, if you wanna get technical.”
There is a pause.
“...which stands for...?” Grantaire prompts.
Jehan and Courfeyrac exchange a look.
“There’s been, uh. Some controversy on the matter," says Jehan at last.
"We've been going to every meeting since it started," says Courfeyrac. "It's awesome, you'll love it. But we can't remember what it’s supposed to spell. And by now, it’s been long enough that we're afraid to ask."
"The A is Activists or Americans," says Jehan. "We think. But it might also—there's 'accelerate' or 'activate' to think about, couple of other things. The C we're pretty sure is 'change'."
"Or coalition," Courfeyrac adds.
"And the B?"
Jehan looks grave. "That," he says, "is anyone's guess."
All of Enjolras' recruiting must have paid off. It's not a bad turnout.
Surprisingly, Grantaire knows or at least recognizes most of them. It’s a lot of the kids Enjolras has been eating lunch with. Combeferre’s there, of course, and Musichetta, who played saxophone in middle school band back in the day.
Courfeyrac greets her with a kiss on her hand and a line of Shakespeare. She wins Grantaire’s approval forever by being completely unimpressed. "Fair maiden?" she says with a snort. "Seriously?" (She's Haitian. Between her, the two dudes she’s brought along, Combeferre, and Bahorel from Grantaire’s Consumer Ec class, half the ethnic diversity in Columbus High is in the room. It’s like a 90’s cartoon. Very Captain Planet.)
It’s a little surprising to see Bahorel. Grantaire doesn’t know much about him, just that he does wrestling, and it’s easy enough to paint a picture from there. Granted, the only other information Grantaire has is that sometimes Bahorel comes to school in bright lavender jeans, which is not a standard wrestling team move. Either the guy’s got hidden depths, or he’s stupid and colorblind. Grantaire has long assumed option two, but his presence now is testing that.
Less surprising is Feuilly, who last year spent all of Current Events trying to get people worked up about the war. (Grantaire mostly brought in articles about old women getting arrested for keeping eighty dogs in their apartments, or drunk men crashing their riding mowers into their local police stations. Human interest pieces.) In the back corner, he can spot Cosette, and, making moon-eyes at her from a distance—Grantaire's heart breaks on Eponine’s behalf—is Marius Pontmercy.
Counting Jehan, Courfeyrac and Enjolras, that makes brings the ABC up to eleven members. It’s impressive. In a school where even most of the pot heads are conservatives, Enjolras has managed to find ten allies, all of them united for a common cause, and the desire to effect real change in the world. Well, except for Marius, who clearly just wants to make out with Cosette. And Bahorel, who could be there by accident.
When Enjolras looks up and sees Grantaire, a muscle in his jaw twitches gratifyingly. At the very least, it answers the question of whether or not Enjolras remembers him.
"Hey," says Grantaire. He tries not to bounce on the balls of his feet.
"Why are you here," says Enjolras flatly.
"Gosh, I don't know," says Grantaire. He scuffs the toe of one shoe against the smudgy linoleum, holding onto a straight face through sheer force of will. "I guess I felt like making a difference by getting involved in my local community," he manages.
Enjolras breathes in and out. His jaw muscle is starting to get worrying.
"Is everything al—" Combeferre starts hesitantly, and Enjolras seems to shake himself, remembering that the room is still full of people, specifically teenagers, and that any impending drama will be sensed on an almost preternatural level.
Enjolras takes a deep breath. He lets it out. "Grantaire," he says, and his voice is level but tight with tension, "can I talk to you outside for a second?"
"Sure thing, chief," says Grantaire.
Enjolras doesn't waste any time. The second the door shuts behind them, he leans forward, eyes blazing, and hisses, "So help me, if you are here as a—joke, or a prank, if anyone comes to me saying you've done anything—anything—to make them feel uncomfortable or, or bullied—”
And, okay. Logically, empirically, Grantaire understands that laughing has got to be counterproductive, but God, he cannot help it. The sound comes out more bitter than he was expecting, but what can you do?
"Luckily, it's almost three,” Grantaire says, “so I can’t steal anyone’s lunch money.”
Enjolras rolls his eyes. “I get that your whole sarcasm and apathy thing looks cool or whatever to the rest of the world,” he says, “but we’re trying to accomplish something here, so—”
“I know, I know,” Grantaire breaks in. “Repress all my bullying urges. Don’t worry, I’ve got this. Wedgies will go unwedged, Indian burns unburned, nurples unpurpled. I solemnly pledge to keep my grubby mitts off your justice club.”
Enjolras grits his teeth. His face is getting sort of red.
And contrary to popular belief, Grantaire does have a self-preservation instinct somewhere. It’s buried under several thick layers of bullshit, but it still glimmers through from time to time. It’s the reason he bites back his next comment, finds himself saying,
“Look, you asked why I’m—Jehan invited me, okay? No worries.”
Enjolras blinks at that, looking surprised in a way that’s about equal parts enjoyable and insulting.
And then, because Grantaire’s self-preservation instinct only goes so far, he adds, “besides, you never know. Maybe I’ll see the light and decide I’m just nuts about change. Or coalition. Or communism. Or—uh. Carburetors? Cat Stevens? Help me out here.”
“It’s ‘cooperation’,” Enjolras snaps.
Cooperation! Grantaire makes a mental note for Jehan and Courfeyrac. “Yeah,” he says breezily. “Sure, yeah, that too.”
Enjolras looks at him for a long moment. “Jehan invited you,” he repeats slowly.
Much as Grantaire normally loves driving Enjolras up the wall, this level of scrutiny is starting to make his hands itch. He nods, grateful for a chance to talk about something else.
“Yeah, we have World Myth together,” he says. “You’re lucky to have him on your side. He’s a cool little dude."
Enjolras looks at him again. Grantaire has lost all concept of what he’s even doing wrong at this point. Is he supposed to be saying something? Is this a test? It’s like they’re in a play, and nobody ever thought to give Grantaire his half of the script. The silence stretches out between them.
He leans against a locker. “This is a nice hallway,” he says a few seconds later, when it becomes clear that Enjolras is not about to explain what’s going on. It earns a confused furrow of the eyebrows. “But you’re probably gonna have better luck leading your revolution from inside the room.”
“I—yeah, okay,” says Enjolras, turning back to the door, mind clearly already somewhere else. Grantaire follows at his heels.
As the meeting begins, Courfeyrac gives him a quick lowdown on how the ABC works. “You caught us on the first meeting of the month,” he whispers. “That’s probably the most interesting one. Everybody gets three minutes to make the case for their favorite cause, and then we vote on what we work on for the next month.” In theory, no one person is in charge—everything is strenuously democratic—but Grantaire is willing to bet that, in practice, everyone lets Enjolras speak a few minutes longer.
Then they draw up what Courfeyrac refers to as “a plan of action”, which sounds cool except all the steps are actually really boring. Apparently it’s a lot passing around petitions, planning fundraisers, and writing letters to senators or whatever.
But it’s kind of interesting to hear everybody’s pet cause. It’s almost like show and tell, which was always his favorite part of Kindergarten. Musichetta wants gun control. Jehan has a lot of feelings about school funding, and also single moms for some reason. Courfeyrac can wax poetic about minimum wage. Bossuet is big into animal rights. Cosette is passionate about the environment, and Marius is passionate about whatever Cosette is passionate about.
Enjolras is passionate about everything.
Seriously, everything. At first, Grantaire thought the whole social justice sampler plate thing was just a love of committee rule run amuck, but after seeing Enjolras get equally fired up about inflation, carbon credits, and corn syrup, it dawns on him. The group operates this way because it needs to. Enjolras never could have picked one cause to champion. He wants, fiercely, to change the world in every direction at once.
Enjolras was compelling enough in detention. Watching him around people who actually care is spellbinding. He talks a lot less than Grantaire would’ve expected, listens more, nods and takes notes. Sometimes he smiles. Halfway through the meeting, Grantaire already knows there’s no way he’s going to be able to stay away from the ABC.
“Why are you here?” Enjolras snaps, as Grantaire files in behind Bahorel at the start of the second meeting. From his expression, he was hoping that last time might have been a fluke.
Grantaire widens his eyes. “Shit,” he says, “you mean this isn’t cheerleading try-outs? I must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.”
On the third meeting, Enjolras asks again, “Why are you here?” and Grantaire gazes thoughtfully at the ceiling.
“Like, on the planet? I don’t know, I think I’d rather leave that one to the philosophers. Oh hey, Combeferre! Just in time. Help a bro out, we’re getting existential over here.”
It becomes almost routine. Meetings are Mondays and Fridays, and Grantaire comes to every one of them, and every time, Enjolras asks why. If this was anyone else, it would count as banter. But Enjolras seems, at best, resigned to Grantaire’s presence. He keeps asking, though. Grantaire keeps coming up with new reasons, and Enjolras keeps asking. Maybe they’re making progress. Maybe part of Enjolras looks forward to the latest smartass answer, maybe Enjolras would even be disappointed if Grantaire stopped showing up.
Grantaire tells himself this, and is struck by a sudden memory of being eleven years old, pointing a homemade wand at an automatic door and trying to convince himself he had moved it by magic. ‘Okay, brain,’ he thinks. ‘Thanks.’
Grantaire's trying to retrieve his Algebra textbook from where it's slid into the back of his locker without tipping over anything else. It's a real-life Jenga situation.
"Hey," says Eddie Greer.
Eddie always winds up with the neighboring locker, or desk when they’re in the same class. They're friends through sheer proximity, because school officials can't kick that fetish for alphabetization. It’s not so bad. Last year, they sat side-by-side in Spanish, and Eddie laughed himself red-faced at how Grantaire hassled the teacher.
("Hola, cómo te llamas?"
"What…is my name? Señora, I'm hurt, I thought you knew me."
"Grantaire, por favor. Cómo te llamas?"
"So you do know my name. Señora Johnson, why must we go through this act?"
"Señor, por favor. Cómo te llamas?"
"Uh, my name is Grantaire."
"Grantaire. Chico. Dios mío, por favor, en Español."
"My name is…el Grantaire?")
"Hey, so you and Prouvaire've been cozy lately," says Eddie now. "He giving you make-up tips or something?"
"Gotta master that smoky eye look," Grantaire deadpans.
"Careful, man," Eddie tells him, "if you keep talking to him, he's gonna think you're his boyfriend."
Grantaire closes his locker. "Jehan's not gay, he's just weird," he says. "It's fine, he's cool."
"Please," says Eddie, dismissive. "The kid's flaming. Watch your ass with that one." He laughs. "Literally."
Eddie’s just trying to be funny; Eddie doesn’t mean anything by it. Grantaire makes himself laugh. It doesn't sound right, but Eddie doesn't notice. He thumps Grantaire on shoulder and walks off.
Enjolras and his friends have a plan. Enjolras and his friends have a series of plans, outlined and detailed on white boards and notebooks and probably Courfeyrac’s blog somewhere.
What they don’t seem to understand is that you can’t change the world without changing human nature. And the simple fact is, people don’t suddenly get better. Even if you wanted to, you can’t just wake up someday smarter, more compassionate, braver. It doesn’t work that way.
As he stuffs the book into his backpack, he thinks that he really needs to stop going to meetings.
“Why are you here?”
“No worries,” he says. He considers patting Enjolras on the shoulder and then thinks better of it, lets his hand drift back down. “I’m only in it for the snacks.”
Enjolras presses his lips together. “There are no snacks,” he says.
“I know,” says Grantaire. “And I think I deserve a lot of credit for how well I’m handling my disappointment.”
For the first time in years, he finds himself sketching real people again. Suddenly his algebra notebook is half filled with scribbled portraits: Musichetta arguing with Bahorel, mid-hand gesture. Jehan’s look of concentration as he drafts a petition. Courfeyrac stretched out with one arm around Jehan’s shoulders and his feet in Marius’s lap. Enjolras and Combeferre, heads bowed together, conspiring. Cosette lugging a giant stack of books about alternative energy. Enjolras scowling at the mention of corporate personhood. Joly’s patented “everyone get ready, I’m about to make an awful joke” smile. Enjolras brandishing a pencil as he talks about voter registration.
He tries not to draw Enjolras more than the others, but there’s a pattern to which sketches he puts the most time into, and that’s as telling as anything.
At first, part of the routine is walking to Ms. Hucheloup’s with Jehan and Courfeyrac. They’re both so nice, it takes weeks to realize that Courfeyrac doesn’t actually want Grantaire to join them. He covers it well most of the time, but there’s a slight twist of disappointment to his smile whenever he looks behind Jehan to see Grantaire standing there.
Which would hurt, except it’s also about the time Grantaire figures out what’s going on: Courfeyrac is desperately crushing on Jehan.
Grantaire had assumed that all the dramatics was just Courfeyrac functioning on default settings. And in a way, he was right. Courfeyrac is affectionate and tactile with everybody, will greet any member of the ABC by jumping into their arms and shouting “darling!”. (Feuilly looked confused. Enjolras was surprisingly tolerant. Cosette almost dropped him, which was just about the funniest thing Grantaire had ever seen.)
But it’s different with Jehan, more careful. Courfeyrac will mess up Jehan’s hair, or squeeze his elbow, or lift him by the waist and spin him around, but he always, always glances back at Jehan’s face afterwards, as if checking in: ‘Is this okay? Are you having fun? Am I going too far?’
Jehan is harder to read. For a while, Grantaire has no idea if the feelings were returned. None of the usual signs are helpful; Jehan stammers and blushes no matter who he’s talking to. He actually does it less with Courfeyrac. And in the end, that’s what tips his hand: around Courfeyrac, Jehan is comfortable enough to be bold. He actually calls Courfeyrac on his bullshit more often than even Musichetta, it’s just harder to notice because Jehan does it so fondly.
Watching them dance around each other is equal parts adorable and nauseating. Still, bros before—other bros. Or something. Grantaire has zero interest in playing third wheel. Seriously, fuck tricycles. So the next Friday, when Jehan hops over to Grantaire’s desk, saying, “Come on, time to head over,” Grantaire waves him off.
“I think I left my phone in my car,” he says. “You guys go ahead, I’ll see you there.”
When he rejoins them in Ms. Hucheloup’s room, Courfeyrac mouths “thank you” over Jehan’s head, and Grantaire knows he got it right. Courfeyrac looks so pleased, Grantaire considers seeing if the gratitude extends to a pack of M&Ms or something. Cupiding is hungry work, and, well, there are no snacks in justice club.
“Why are you here?”
“Because eighteen years ago, one of my dad’s sperm was way luckier than its brothers.”
It’s hard not to like the members of the ABC, even to root for them in some detached way. These kids seem convinced that somebody’s actually going to read their letters and petitions, that it’s not all destined for the trash can of some bored intern. Giving them shit would be like kicking a basket of unusually political puppies. Besides, Grantaire spends two hours with them every single week. He could never get away with being perpetually obnoxious.
So when he does act out, he tries to make it count.
Things that Grantaire is Officially Not Allowed to Do at Meetings, a By No Means Comprehensive List Assembled Over the Course of Several Months
1. Refer to the collective members of the ABC as Enjolras and the Enjolrettes
2. Attempt to chime in to discussions by quoting the battle speech from Braveheart.
3. …Or any other, completely unrelated scenes from Braveheart.
4. Underscore anyone’s speeches by shouting “Amen!”, “Can I get a witness?”, or “Cowabunga!”
5. Underscore anyone’s speeches by waving one of those giant foam fingers from sporting events.
6. Underscore anyone’s speeches by playing dramatic music in the background.
7. Okay, who the hell gave Grantaire a kazoo?
8. Giggle every time someone uses the word "duty.” Seriously, are you five?
9. Make a series of straight-faced, somber-sounding comments designed to include the word "duty" as many times as possible.
9a. [Amended, after the giggling proves contagious.] Okay, now nobody is allowed to say "duty", are you happy?
9b. I wasn't laughing, I was coughing, and anyway that's not—look, can we move on?
10. Anything involving sock puppets, for any reason.
11. For the purposes of 10, "sock puppets" also includes puppets not made of socks.
12. Okay, who the hell gave Grantaire his kazoo back?