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Closet Cases

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If one more person at this party--one more--asked him "Harvard or Yale?" he was going to scream and then transfer to a different law school. Maybe Berkeley. That would be far enough away, and also decidedly more towards his end of the political spectrum.

He actually preferred the times when his conversation partner realized that the pin on Enjolras' lapel wasn't a US flag but a pride flag. You could sort of see their faces freeze up, and they usually fled the conversation quickly after that.

There were exceptions, though. Enjolras would have thought that, by this point, Log Cabin Republicans would have gone extinct, but apparently the human mind's capacity for cognitive dissonance was infinite.

Montparnasse was one of these. He was a congressional aide to someone in the House, Enjolras thought--fortunately not Enjolras' mother, or he would have punched Monty a long time ago. He'd actually heard him use the word "illegals" in the same sentence as "American values" on a Fox News morning show.

And now he was heading this way. Enjolras had been flatly informed before they even arrived  that if he got himself into a fight, his mother would cancel all future tuition payments. And if that smug self-righteous asshole said a single word to him--

He yanked open the nearest door and ducked into what he thought was the downstairs bathroom, slamming the door behind him. But after groping for a light-switch and coming up with heavy wool instead, he realized he was in a coat closet.

Ironic, that.

Still, it was better than talking to Montparnasse out in the hallway, or most of the other guests, for that matter. In fact, maybe he could just stay here until the party started winding down.

("Party" was a hell of a term for it. It wasn't officially a Republican fundraiser, since it wasn't officially a campaign year, but checks would be written and favors exchanged, just like always. Even being here made him feel dirty.)

He felt his way along the wall towards the back of the closet and sat down behind the rack of coats. Maybe no one would see him back here if they opened the door. Maybe he could just stay until the party ended and it was time to escape.

From the far side of the closet came a slight rustle. A mouse, maybe? Fantastic. Though it would still be better than dealing with everyone outside.

"You can't get to Narnia that way. I've tried."

Enjolras jumped. "What the hell--"

"Sorry. I was going to say, like, don't scream or something, but then I figured that you were probably going to scream no matter what I said, so I went with the Narnia thing instead."

"I didn't scream."

"...Yeah, we can agree to disagree there, I guess."

Enjolras sighed. He wasn't going to live that down easily. He just hoped that no one outside--particularly Montparnasse--had heard him.

"So what sent you diving into a closet like your life depended on it?"

Enjolras shrugged, and then immediately realized that the gesture was invisible in the darkness. "Oh--I saw a guy I hate. Works for some congressman in the House, is a complete smarmy asshole, and he thinks we're destined to be together."

"Sounds lovely."

"Oh yes, I'm planning the wedding already," Enjolras said drily. "Your turn: What's a person like you doing in a place like this?"

"Huh. I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Ry. Uh, Ryan Grantaire."

"Oh." Senator Grantaire's son, then--he had to be. His voice sounded younger, for one, and the senator wouldn't be likely to hide in a closet at his own party.

"Yeah. I'd shake your hand but I can't exactly see it. Or anything else, for that matter."

Enjolras wished he'd smuggled his phone into the party. He'd been expressly forbidden to bring it--something about 'recording apps' and 'sabotage' and 'two-party-consent state.' But it would have had a light, at least.

"So do you have a name, closet-crasher?" Ry asked.

"Oh, sorry. I'm Enjolras. Uh, Julien Enjolras, Representative Enjolras is my mom. I don't know if you know her…"

"Enjolras, huh? I'm afraid I haven't had the pleasure. My dad never exactly paraded me around in front of polite society, you know?"

"I see. So that's why you're hiding from the party?"

"The party, him, whatever. We've never really gotten along, it's a whole...thing."

"That bad, huh?" Enjolras had his disagreements with his parents--more than a few of them--but they could still manage to have dinner together and keep their conversations empty and civil.

"Uh-huh. He disowned me. I mean, he's disowned me like twelve times, but this last time I think he might have actually meant it. We both said some shit. The word 'faggot' was used. I think I was pretty justified in my anger, but I don't know. It sort of feels hollow now."

"He called you a--?"

"Not me. My, uh, boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Doesn't matter. Basically, I had a huge fight with my dad and I didn't want to deal with things anymore, so I came in here."

"To hide."

"Yeah."

"How long ago was that? Were you out in the party before?"

"How long ago did I start hiding in the closet? Would you like a literal or a metaphorical answer?"

Enjolras laughed.

"Either way, it's starting to feel like forever."

"I get that," Enjolras said. He hadn't known that Senator Grantaire was such an asshole, but it wasn't exactly surprising. Sometimes he thought that the only reason his mother had handled his coming out with any level of grace was because it would make her more appealing to the moderates.

Ry heaved a sigh. "It's just like--he's so stiff-necked, right? And we had screaming fights all the time. He built his career on 'family values,' and he knew all his supporters would desert him if they found out his son was a--you know--so whenever he pissed me off I would threaten to go public, to do some big interview with the Village Voice or something. I probably shouldn't have goaded him."

"You definitely should have," Enjolras countered. "He had no right to say anything like that about you. And anyway, it isn't like...I mean, you're not the only one."

"The only what?"

"The only gay person. In this specific closet, even."

"Yeah?" There was quiet for a moment. "It felt like it sometimes, though. Before, I mean, when I was younger. I didn't really know anyone else, and you hear all that terrible shit on the news--"

"Believe me, I know." Fox News was a constant companion at the Enjolras house. He was lucky,  if you could call it luck, that his parents mostly only listened to the news rather than the commentary programs.

"Anyway, I usually get really drunk at these functions. So I either black out and forget the whole thing, or I do something stupid and embarrass the shit out of my dad. Win-win, right?"

"Until the hangover the next morning, I guess."

"You've always got a price to pay. I'm willing to accept that part."

Always a price to pay. "Yeah, I guess so." He climbed to his feet, grabbing onto a pea-coat for support. "I have to get back out there. My parents are going to be looking for me, and I'd hate to miss the insincere good-bye tour."

He laughed. "Yeah, that would be a shame."

"You want to come out with me?" Enjolras ventured. "Not like--come out, come out. But...I don't know, maybe it would be easier to talk to your dad if you had someone on your side?"

"Wow." Ry hesitated. "Thanks, that's really nice of you to offer, but...you go on. I think, uh...I think I'm going to hang out here a little while longer."

"Okay." Enjolras pushed his way towards the front of the closet, past boiled wool and mothball smell.

"It was nice to meet you," he said, looking back. But he couldn't see anything in the darkness of the closet, and that was sort of fitting, anyway.

"You too. And uh, Julien? Thanks for the company."

Enjolras stepped out of the closet into the light of the hall, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. He was still blinking the purple spots out of his vision when his mother swooped in.

"Where have you been? Come say good-bye to the senator and thank him for his party."

Cue the insincere good-bye tour. He followed his mother out into the courtyard. It was cool, but the stone walk had been swept free of any trace of fallen leaves. Senator Grantaire was holding forth with an off-duty reporter. The senator had iron-gray hair and an imposing mustache. He was also standing in front of a tall, well-groomed rosebush, and Enjolras had a brief and uncharitable daydream about pushing him backwards into the thorns. For Ry's sake.

The reporter moved off, and Enjolras' mother swooped in. "Senator Grantaire, this is my son Julien. Julien, Senator Grantaire."

Enjolras dutifully shook his hand.

"Julien, a pleasure. Your mother was telling me you're at--is it Harvard or Yale now?"

He bit back half a dozen sarcastic answers, deciding not to squander his goodwill. "Harvard," he said. "I'm in my first year of law school."

"Excellent, excellent. Well, do call my office if there's anything I can do for you, son."

Son. He'd practically disowned his own kid, and yet he called a complete stranger son. He wanted to rage against the unfairness of it all, but all he could think about was the tired sadness in Ry's voice. If he could fix it, if he could make even the slightest step in that direction...

"Thank you, sir. And--Senator, maybe it's not my place, but...I think you should talk to your son. I think he'd like the chance to clear the air."

The senator's pale face went even whiter, and Enjolras felt every manicured fingernail of his mother's hand as she grabbed him by the shoulder and hauled him out of the courtyard.

Enjolras was too shocked to protest as she pulled him into the kitchen doorway. Then he came back to himself and yanked away, just in time for his mother to round on him, her face furious.

"What were you thinking? Is this some kind of--of liberal sabotage? Did Antifa put you up to this?"

"Mom, what are you talking about? I told you, Antifa isn't the weird conspiracy thing that Fox keeps telling you it is. I was just--"

"You were just what?"

"I thought I could help."

"You wanted to help? You're a bit late for that. Senator Grantaire's son died twenty years ago."

Enjolras' stomach dropped. "What? No, that's not--I was just--"

"I don't want to hear it. Everyone knows what happened, but you don't talk about the fact that your host's son killed himself."

"He what?"

She nodded, tight-lipped. "He hung himself. In the--"

"In the downstairs closet," Enjolras finished softly. "Oh, no."

"So you did know."

"I didn't," he said. "I swear."

She threw up her hands. "I'll have to figure out how to apologize to him. Honestly, Enjolras, it's one thing to have a difference of political opinion, but this kind of antagonism is really beyond the pale." She sighed and checked her phone. "They're bringing the car around now. It's time to go."

Enjolras took a step back. "Just a second. I have to--I'll catch up to you." Before she could stop him, Enjolras turned around and darted through the door into the ballroom.

He wove his way through the crowd there, back towards the front hall. It had to be a trick. Someone was screwing with him, spinning a sob story, and if that person was still in the closet then Enjolras was going to throttle him.

He skirted the wide, curving staircase to the closet door beneath the far side of the stairs. He reached for the doorknob and his hand closed on empty air.

The doorknob on that he'd grabbed an hour before was gone. Only a blank brass key plate remained, tarnished and neglected.

The door hadn't been opened in years.

Enjolras stared at the door, uncomprehending. He'd been in there half an hour ago. He'd sat on the floor and talked with someone--something. He hadn't been dreaming. Had he?

Enjolras pressed his hand against the door. "If you're in there...you really should talk to him, you know," he said in an undertone. "Either you'll be able to move on, or he'll die of fright. Win-win, right?"

And if he thought he heard a faint laugh coming from behind the door, well...it was probably just his imagination.