There were two hundred and seventy-three tiles on Mrs Bhatti's classroom ceiling. Enjolras knew this well, because he'd counted them many times in the past year and a half. He'd even taken to sitting in the one chair at the back of the room with the best view of almost every tile each time he had detention. Craning his neck to count from two hundred and twenty had started making his neck ache. Still, it was more engaging than copying out textbook information on the five Ks of Sikhism over and over again.
Mrs Bhatti was sitting at her desk, glasses perched precariously close to the tip of her nose, reading over students' homework and humming to herself. She never paid much attention to her detainees, and as such Enjolras usually got away with disregarding any menial task she had set him.
He shouldn't have even been there in the first place. In Enjolras's eyes, he was perfectly within his rights to advocate for beekeeping. It wasn't his fault that Mrs Bhatti was uninformed about how the honey industry benefits the lives of bees, and he planned to write a strongly-worded letter to the headteacher about how she had used her power to silence his voice regarding environmental issues. If we stop keeping bees for their honey they will go extinct, he thought, and then the world will end and it will all be Mrs Bhatti's fault.
Mrs Bhatti taught religious studies, and as such had never really liked Enjolras. The entire subejct was based around opinions, and he had all too many of those that never seemed to align with her own beliefs. While she believed in essential oils, veganism and natural remedies, Enjolras spearheaded vaccinations, animal welfare and the progression of modern medicine.
It had started in boredom. His parents were devout Christians, and spent every Sunday morning at church. When ten-year-old Enjolras had started to ask questions about the validity of their beliefs, he was left at the public library each week instead of being brought along. They would rather have left him behind than deal with reflecting on their own beliefs, it seemed. And so for an hour and a half every Sunday morning, a pile of blonde curls took over the back left corner of the kids section in the library, pouring over whatever he could reach.
He'd started with the same catalogue of books everyone his age was reading- Inkheart, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl. But he grew bored of them, and started looking elsewhere. It was like striking gold when he found the section housing several philosophical pieces, politically-charged works of both fiction and non-fiction. He begged his parents for a library card and was soon reading under his duvet throughout the night. It was no surprise that by age twelve he could go toe-to-toe with his teachers in any debate. The addition of the internet into his life a year prior only accelerated the development of his opinions.
Enjolras liked facts from well-reputed books and studies. Mrs Bhatti did not.
He was about to restart his examination of the classroom's ceiling when the door shot open with a loud clanging sound. The handle hit a nearby filing cabinet, which fell forward and hit the floor with a thud.
"Ah, sorry," laughed the newcomer, "I didn't mean to open it that hard."
Enjolras took this opportunity to look away from the filing cabinet and see who exactly had caused the mess.
It felt like a punch in the stomach.
The boy was tall, although he could tell they were the same age. He had curls, like Enjolras, although his were as dark as soot. He had freckles, which were something Enjolras had never seen so prominently on anyone but Cosette. The clusters of dark flecks decorated his nose and cheeks so perfectly that he couldn't help but wonder if they'd been placed there on purpose. Enjolras had never believed in intelligent design, but what other explanation was there for the constellations strewn so perfectly across this boy's face?
In his short few years of life, Enjolras had never encountered someone who took the air from his lungs. He'd looked for it in girls, longed for the feeling he'd often heard his best friend describe. Waited for the day he'd know how it felt when she said she looked at the right boy and could feel her insides melt.
This must be it, he thought. He'd never even considered that it might be a boy who would affect him this way. He barely understood what was happening.
"You're late," came the barking voice of Mrs Bhatti, drawing Enjolras away from admiring the boy.
"I am, aren't I? It's just so confusing here, so many corridors-"
"Just sit down." He did so, directly in front of Enjolras. It had to have been an intentional move- he climbed over the fallen filing cabinet to do so. Anyone looking for an easy seat could have sat at the other side of the room.
"I'm going to get the head, to ask what I should do about this," she said, lifting up the filing cabinet, "and whether or not it's worth another after-school detention." And with that, she left the room- leaving Enjolras and the boy, along with the newly dented filing cabinet, alone in the classroom.
He turned around immediately. Enjolras wasn't expecting it, and tried not to look too startled.
"So," the boy said, extending a hand, "I'm Grantaire. What's your name?"
"Enjolras," he choked out, meeting Grantaire's hand to shake it. "I'm here because I like bees."
"Bees? That's a little harsh. I called her Mrs Batty- she didn't like that."
"I mean," he laughed, trying not to be too loud, "you're not wrong. She thinks dietery changes can cure cancer." Enjolras was trying to keep his cool, in an attempt to not make a complete fool of himself.
Grantaire's eyes widened at the revelation. "That's just pure batty."
The laughter subsided into silence after a few seconds, but Grantaire didn't seem happy with that. He leaned back in his chair, head almost resting on Enjolras's table, trying to balance a pencil on the end of his nose. The angle gave Enjolras a great excuse to study the shades of green in his eyes.
"I was kicked out," he said abruptly, after dropping the pencil for what must have been the fourth time.
"What?" Enjolras asked, looking confused.
"Of my last school, I mean. They kicked me out for setting the food tech rooms on fire." The pencil dropped a fifth time. "Flour is surprisingly flammable."
Twelve-year-old Enjolras laughed, completely unknowing that this detention would set the path for the next five years of his life. That even at eighteen, he wouldn't be able to shake the feeling of being punched in the stomach every time the green-eyed boy with soot-coloured curls looked his way.
This was only the beginning.