“Anyone can paint,” Grantaire said to his canvas. “There’s just something deeply human about it. The freedom of the canvas, the unlimited range of expression… Something instinctual in us calls us to create, calls to us to paint.”
With a graceful turn of his wrist, the canvas thickened with another layer of paint, and what originally had been a chunky streak of brown erupted with a startling texture of a snow peaked mountain. Another flick here and a river zigzagged out of the misty valley below.
“Your canvas is your liberation,” he explained, mixing colours on his pallet. “Fill it with all the wondrous things in this world that make you happy.”
Grantaire was boxed into his canvas and his pallet by a myriad of cameras hanging off booms, each focussing on a different aspect of his work. He swelled with confidence as a hundred eyes watched him bring to life the miracle of the natural world. The studio was well lit and smelled richly of turpentine and acetone. It was warm, and Grantaire smiled, entirely in his element.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed painting with us this week. Remember, we can’t all be Michelangelo, but we can all paint. Have a good one and don’t forget to clean your brushes!”
“AND CUT!” came the director’s voice over the intercom.
Grantaire sighed and turned back to the magnificent landscape before him. Picking up his brushes, he methodically began to rinse them in paint thinner and bang them clean against his easel.
“And then, and then, get this,” Courfeyrac was complaining from the other side of the table. “She leans in uncomfortably close to me, like I can smell the pungent aroma of this foul woman, and she tells me that red stickers are not an effective way of communicating a sale. For Christ’s sake, it’s not like this is something foreign in EVERY OTHER STORE ON THE PLANET.”
“That’s nothing compared to one of my patients from last week,” Combeferre noted.
Bossuet snorted. “Was it actually a patient, or was it Joly?”
“Hey!” Joly bit back from where he was perched in Musichetta’s lap. But Combeferre laughed lightly.
“This was actually a patient.”
“If you all find your jobs so unpleasant,” Enjolras interjected. “Why do you still do them?”
Grantaire’s chair squeaked against the hardwood floor as he shifted, and the room fell quiet. They knew what was about to go down.
“Perhaps, fair Apollo,” Grantaire began. “It’s not so easy for some of us to simply get another job. Not all of us have such glowing resumes that God himself would hire us without reference.”
“What are you trying to suggest? That I didn’t earn my position?”
An eruption of “Ooos” came from the surrounding tables. Jehan made a shot at de-escalation.
“You know, I don’t actually know what you do, R?” Jehan asked calmly. He was stretched out and sprawled in his chair like a cat in the sun.
“I’ve told you, Jehan, I paint. I’m a painter.”
“Well we all knew that,” Eponine pushed. “But what are the specifics? Do you freelance? Or do you have a client? How does that work?”
Grantaire was silent for a moment, giving Eponine a begrudging look. He knew she had suspected something was fishy about his cover story for a while, but he didn’t think she would push it.
But half-truths were the secret to whole lies, so he said, “I work for PBS.”
“Oh, so like you paint sets and stuff,” Bahorel offered.
“You could say that.”
It wasn’t a lie. Paint With Me had such a minimalist set that his paintings were essentially the set. And he had painted his easel his favourite colour of green. There was also that time he offered to paint a hallway in the studio because it had cracked so badly it was flaking.
“That’s vague.” Eponine called him out.
“Look, I dabble, I paint what needs to be painted and PBS pays me.”
“You can’t possibly enjoy that,” Courfeyrac said. “You like painting, like, real art.”
Grantaire grinned. If only they knew.
“On the contrary,” he said through his smirk. “I’m happiest when I’m doing my job.”
“You? Happy?” Enjolras snorted. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Hello, and thank you for joining us. If this is your first time watching, I invite you to bust out your oil paints and paint along with us. I’ll be running a list of the colours we’ll be using this week along the bottom of the screen.”
Grantaire turned to his blank canvas, his fingers twitching to pick up the brushes. But first he turned back to the camera.
“You know, a friend of mine was telling me that I like to paint what he calls ‘real art,’” he began. “And I wonder what he meant by that. Everything we create, everything we express in the world as a physical manifestation in some way is art. Even if what you paint doesn’t look a certain way or match some preconceived notion of what art should be, it’s still art. It’s part of what I mean when I say anyone can paint. So I’d like to do something a little different with you today.”
With a deep breath and gently holding his brush between his thick, calloused fingers, he created a breathtaking abstract painting entirely in green that Picasso would have been proud of.
“What the hell was that about?” his director asked, coming down out of his booth while Grantaire tidied his station.
“Making a point,” was all Grantaire offered by way of answer. The captivating green composition caught the director’s attention while he sighed.
“Whatever,” he said. “Could you sign this?”
Drying his hands of paint thinner on his jeans, he picked up one of his brushes. Dipping it in leftover paint, he signed the proffered clipboard with an elegant and flourished capital R.
Jehan Prouvaire lounged with a book in the grass while Grantaire sketched the sun setting behind the crest of a hill. The weary arms of a great willow hung protectively over the two friends sharing the company of the pleasant evening. Grantaire listened as Jehan read aloud to him from his book.
“Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy,” Jehan began, as Grantaire etched the dark silhouette shapes of pine trees in the distance. “And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree… very much. And the tree was happy.”
“Happy little trees,” Grantaire muttered to himself as he sketched another, and another, and another…
The scene from his evening with Prouvaire unfolded on the canvas before him in brilliant colour. The branches of the willow already tumbled in from the periphery.
“And now we’ll take some of this Van Dyke brown and add just a touch of the sap green… yeah, doesn’t that look awesome?”
Grantaire’s knife scraped roughly against his pallet as he loosely mixed the two colours.
“There, and now we’ll load that fan brush just full of colour,” he explained. “Remember, the only limit is your imagination. Your canvas is your world. Painting can fill in you that void, that productive need to create, to produce. So paint what makes you happiest. I’m quite fond of trees so maybe over here there are some trees. You just gently tap that fan brush back and forth just like this, back and forth. That’s nice. Just painting some happy little trees. Trees are so happy. Trees don’t have problems.
“And maybe this tree needs a happy little friend. Even trees need friends, you know, that’s why we shouldn’t cut them all down. Humans are a tree’s only problem. We’ll just load a little more colour… ah, and there. A happy little tree friend. And don’t worry if you’re trees aren’t straight, no tree grows straight, it grows wherever it makes it happy. You know, if a lot more people thought like trees, the world could be a much happier place I think.”
Enjolras sat on the apartment fire escape as the early morning sunrise crept thick and golden through the peaks of skyscrapers. Grantaire joined him and he handed Enjolras his infamous red jacket.
“Thought you might be cold,” the artist mumbled, shrugging on his own sweater.
Enjolras sighed, but took his jacket and snuggled underneath it like it was a blanket. Inside, their friends still slept through the previous night’s shenanigans. Grantaire knew he should still be sleeping as well, but the soft glow of the morning wasn’t yet enough to set off a splitting headache. He watched the sunlight set the dissipating fog alight with the same softness it disposed to Enjolras’ magnificent curls.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Grantaire whispered, watching Enjolras’ breath condense in the cool morning air. He wasn’t sure if he was talking about the morning or the man next to him. He was never sure anymore. It was like his love of the sublime spilled over from the majesty of nature and onto Enjolras himself.
Grantaire wasn’t sure Enjolras was going to answer until he said softly, “Marred slightly by the horrendous view across the street.”
Down below the fire escape, the charred remains of what used to be an apartment building sat thick and black, bound by the solid yellow bands of caution tape.
“How’s the class action coming?” Grantaire asked instead, knowing he was setting himself up for a lecture, and bracing himself for the ensuing argument.
But Enjolras sank lower beneath his jacket and sighed.
“Hopeless,” he mumbled into the collar.
“What?” Grantaire asked, taken aback.
“The judge is unfavourable, which already acts against us,” Enjolras explained, starring down at the desecrated lot below. “And while the Fire Marshall has evidence towards landlord malpractice, none of the tenants seem willing to step forward and refute the bylaw protecting the scumbag.”
“So that’s it then?” Grantaire asked. “Just like that, your little cause is over.”
“Of course not,” Enjolras bit back with just the smallest hint of fury. “We will just have to campaign harder. Perhaps plan a protest on their behalf. That will at least shake things up a little.”
“Naturally,” Grantaire replied, watching the sunrise.
“Why do you care, anyways?” Enjolras asked. “You don’t really believe in this cause.”
“You’re right, I don’t,” Grantaire conceded. “Class-actions have an extremely low success rate, and the victims of this fire could really use other kinds of help besides this.”
Enjolras sat up and opened his mouth, and, ah, there was the Enjolras that Grantaire knew and loved. Righteous fury blazed in his eyes, set off by the flaming glory of the sunrise behind him.
“I don’t how you can’t see that this is the higher cause!” Enjolras complained, leaning towards Grantaire. “If this succeeds, they will get the money they need to get their lives back in order.”
“If,” Grantaire countered, edging closer as well. “A more long term and practically achievable plan would be to work towards more affordable low-income housing so that they wouldn’t need to live in shitty apartment buildings run by the worst landlords in town.”
“But they should seize the opportunity this presents them for real change,” Enjolras tried.
But Grantaire just shook his head. “They need to think about their long term survival plan. Their families and friends. They need enough money for food, a roof over their heads… they’ve just lost that. Bylaws are the last thing on their minds.”
The sunrise broke into the harsh light of day and Grantaire winced as Enjolras sat back wordlessly, broken as the dawn.
“You never cease to surprise me Grantaire.” Enjolras shook his head. “You must be learning a lot at your job at PBS. Do you work on one of those educational shows?”
And just like that, Enjolras broke their argument into some kind of civil conversation. That never ceased to surprise Grantaire.
“You could say that,” he replied.
Enjolras groaned, tipping his head back against the wall, and the sun shone golden against the line of his throat. Grantaire swallowed thickly.
“Are you ever going to tell us what you do? Or what show you work on?”
“It’s really not important,” Grantaire admitted. “Hardly anyone watches it.”
“Isn’t that kind of a misuse of public funds then?” Enjolras jabbed back, smirking at Grantaire.
“Oh don’t start,” Grantaire groaned.
“I’ve been getting a lot of fanmail,” Grantaire explained absently, blending thick and rich reds and yellows into a riotous sunrise with the corner of a one inch brush. “And a lot of you have been wondering where I get my inspiration from.”
The burning yellow sun at the core of the sunrise shone fiercely like Enjolras’ eyes, and it made Grantaire’s heart warm.
“As I tell you every week here on the show, the canvas is your own universe. You can fill it with a world of your own imagining. Painting things that make you happy is an easy way to warm your heart. Coming up with what to paint starts here,” Grantaire says, tapping his chest with the handle end of the brush. “Before it can go here.”
He taps the side of his head with the paintbrush. Returning it to the canvas, he sighs.
“Sunrises always remind me of this… this friend, I guess you could say, of mine. He burns with the same kind of intensity, and the gold of the morning is just the same as his riotous blonde curls. The deep reds match the red of this jacket he always wears.
“But as angry as a sunrise can be, it’s light also has this kind of delicate softness to it,” Grantaire explained while brushing a mist over the valley in the foreground and highlighting it’s glow the way it had that morning on the fire escape. “My, ah, friend has that kind of softness too. Sometimes. When he thinks no one is looking. The way the barest hint of a blush graces those cheekbones when I catch him off guard… it’s like the gentlest caress of the canvas.”
Dipping the brush in paint thinner and beating it against his easel, he changed to the sharp clean edge of his knife.
“Not that he knows it, but I love him for it,” Grantaire admitted, slicing with his knife into the Van Dyke brown. “And because I love him, I love this painting, and it makes me happy.”
Carefully, over the brilliant highlights of a sunrise, Grantaire began to block in the dark, crisp lines of mountains.
“But sometimes I feel like a mountain to his sunrise,” he explained. “I want his golden light to stretch all across the world, but my thick, black heaviness is stopping his glow. Many days it feels like I represent all the obstacles to his cleansing light.”
He huffed. “But you can’t know the brilliance of the golden light of morning without also knowing the rich darkness of the mountains. You can’t appreciate one without the other. And maybe one day he’ll come to realise that too.”
Grantaire was in a studio with different cameras, posing for some new promotional shots of the show. They promised, nothing flashy, but they needed them as cover stills? Or something? Some new format they were airing the show in.
His director came down the stairs. He had missed last week’s show due to a family emergency, but he looked none too pleased with Grantaire. The artist winced and braced himself.
“Care to explain why I have more than 500 emails from fans that more or less say, ‘So when is Grantaire going to ask out his boyfriend?’” the director said bluntly.
“’Ferre, for the millionth time, we are not watching that documentary about moths,” Courfeyrac complained, flopping down on the couch.
“I, for one, think it would be very educational,” Enjolras punctuated, popping his head out the kitchen.
“Sure, but do I really need that kind of education?” Courfeyrac asked. “The kind of education we need here is a lesson for you two in pop culture. And no, Enjolras, watching a presidential debate doesn’t count.”
With a pout, Enjolras slipped a spoon back in his mouth and returned to the kitchen.
“Look, why don’t I just bring up Netflix, and we can decide from there,” suggested Combeferre, ever the compromiser.
The Netflix loading screen whirled as Combeferre navigated the account menu.
“I mean, we can try,” Courfeyrac whined. “But there are literally a million things on there! How are we gonna…”
Courfeyrac trailed off into uncharacteristic silence as the smiling, smiling, face of Grantaire filled the screen, posed with his brush and pallet. A beautiful oil painting filled the background.
NEW! Watch Paint With Me, a PBS Original. 2 seasons available, the Netflix menu announced.
“What is it?” Enjolras asked, coming out from the kitchen when the silence became suspicious, and froze in the doorway at the sight.
“You guys are also thinking what I’m thinking, right?” Courfeyrac asked suddenly.
“He did say he worked at PBS…” Combeferre replied.
Enjolras walked over, took the remote from Combeferre, and selected the show.
Anyone can paint, says host Grantaire, as he teaches viewers each week how to paint stunning oil landscapes, and inspires us to create and explore ourselves, the Netflix synopsis reads.
As the three sit in shock, Netflix begins auto-playing the first episode.
Hello, and welcome to Paint With Me. I’m Grantaire, and this week I’ll be teaching you to paint a very basic landscape with mountains. If you want to paint along with us at home, we’ll be scrolling the colours we’re using along the bottom of the screen. Now I just have a regular old canvas here, and we’re going to start with a one inch brush…
“I don’t think that counts as set painting,” Courfeyrac comments as the show begins.
Later that week, Grantaire receives a mysterious invite to Courfeyrac’s apartment for a party.
Bring your painting stuff please! Courfeyrac had added after a link to the event.
So this is why, on a Saturday, he had packaged up his art supplies and his easel.
What he wasn’t expecting, was to step into the apartment and to see everyone with complete Paint With Me art kits set up in front of them.
“Oh good! You made it!” Cosette said happily. “I was worried you weren’t going to come.”
Grantaire just stood agape as he took in the surroundings. One of the latest Paint With Me episodes was paused and waiting on the television, his own face haunting him from the screen. Hung on the wall of the apartment was a new piece of art, an abstract painting entirely in green with a flourishing Courfeyrac in the corner.
“You’re just in time too!” Courfeyrac said enthusiastically. “Come on and set up your stuff and paint with us!”
As Courfeyrac tugged on his arm, it broke Grantaire of his reverie.
“How on earth did you guys find out about this?!” Grantaire exclaimed. “More importantly, why are you watching it!? It’s awful.”
“It really isn’t Grantaire,” Combeferre said. “Also, it went up on Netflix a week ago. You have a five star rating.”
“I’ve been hiding this for two years…” Grantaire trailed off. “Those backstabbing PBS bastards.”
Then he remembered the contract that he signed with an elegant capital R.
“Fine,” Grantaire said, resigned, as he set up his easel. “What episode are we on, and I’ll tell you guys the list of paints.”
“We’ve been getting them from a list on Wikipedia,” Enjolras explained, scrolling through his phone.
Someone started the episode anyway, and the completed painting of the week came up on the screen with the theme music. It was a beautiful raging sunrise blocked by the stark silhouettes of mountains.
“Pause, pause,” Grantaire said desperately when mortification dropped in his stomach. “It’s great that you guys are doing this and all, but can we watch any episode other than this? Just not this one, please.”
“Why? This painting is stunning,” Enjolras asked, and Grantaire was certain he was blushing deeper than Alizarin crimson.
“Because of, umm…” Grantaire raked his brain for any reason besides the obvious one.
“This is the episode where the Paint With Me fandom really took off,” Gavroche whined from the corner. “Dude, I’ve been watching you on YouTube for years.”
“What’s so special about it?” Marius asked.
Grantaire gave him a look that frantically pleaded with him not to say it.
“You know how Grantaire sometimes goes on and on about his life in this thing?”
Panicking, Grantaire started re-packing his things for a hasty exit while the rest of the Amis nodded.
“This is the episode where Grantaire goes on for like a solid fifteen minutes about Enjolras,” Gavroche admitted. “And not like some fight they had or something. The fandom ships you guys so hard.”
As silence settled over the room, Grantaire winced. He was going to quit. He was going to quit and he was going to move as far away as humanly possible… or maybe just find the closest bar and drink himself to death.
“Grantaire,” said Enjolras’ level voice.
Grantaire bolts, leaving all his painting supplies behind.
“Spoilers much,” Eponine said, elbowing her brother in the ribs.
The episode plays to the Amis’ rapt attention, painting supplies abandoned.
I’ve been getting a lot of fanmail…
“Yeah you do,” Gavroche interjected, and Eponine shushed him.
Sunrises always remind me of this… this friend, I guess you could say, of mine…
And Enjolras listened with composure, certain his friends were watching him, rather than the elegant movements of Grantaire’s hands on the canvas. What they didn’t know was how much Enjolras had been thinking about those hands. And Grantaire’s calming voice. And how Grantaire was always so full of surprises.
He listened to Grantaire pour his heart out to the canvas, and painted the soft morning they shared on the fire escape. He remembered it more vividly than he cared to admit. He recognized it instantly, the moment the picture hit the screen. Hard as he tried, the softest of blushes marred his marble cheekbones.
Not that he knows it, but I love him for it, and because I love him, I love this painting, and it makes me happy.
Somewhere behind him, Cosette gasped. Enjolras had once told Grantaire that he would believe the artist could be happy when he saw it. Well, he was watching it right now. And it slowly dawned on the blonde that he had seen it a hundred times before that as well. He just hadn’t known what he was looking for.
“Enj,” Combeferre spoke gently, a hand on his shoulder. But Enjolras wasn’t listening because Grantaire was continuing.
But sometimes I feel like a mountain to his sunrise…
He was right, in a way, Enjolras supposed. But not in the way Grantaire was thinking. The artist was strong, certainly. But he had a strength that grounded Enjolras, the blonde thought. Centered his thinking when he was lost in clouds.
But you can’t know the brilliance of the golden light of morning without also knowing the rich darkness of the mountains. You can’t appreciate one without the other. And maybe one day he’ll come to realize that too.
Someone paused the episode and all eyes were on their fearless leader.
“Oh Enjolras,” Jehan sighed. “That was beautiful.”
“I mean, I know we weren’t supposed to talk about this,” Courfeyrac said. “But I can’t believe it took Grantaire spilling his feelings on national television for you to figure out how he felt about you.”
“I didn’t…” Enjolras tried. “It wasn’t supposed to… I was going to…”
“It is what it is, Enjolras,” Combeferre pushed gently. “What will you do now?”
“Go after him,” Enjolras said, his voice obviously controlled. He grabbed his coat. “If you will excuse me everyone.”
“Wait,” Bossuet said. “Does this mean we all lost the bet? I mean no one called Grantaire being famous…”
He could be anywhere.
This thought didn’t dawn on Enjolras until he had already left the apartment. But somewhere between the urgency pressing at the edges of his mind was a gut instinct and restlessness in his feet that carried him to the Musain.
He found the artist two glasses into his bottle of wine at the usual table. Slipping payment to the barkeep, Enjolras strolled straight to the table and dragged Grantaire out by his arm.
To his surprise, Grantaire put up a fight.
“Enjolras, please,” Grantaire begged, pulling at Enjolras’ grip on his jacket. “I get that you’re upset, but I think it’s best if you just let me go. I won’t bother you ever again, I swear.”
“I don’t really give a shit what you think, Grantaire,” Enjolras said bitterly. “Like hell I’m going to let you drink your way into oblivion.”
“Fine, I won’t drink,” Grantaire conceded. “I’m sorry, alright? I’m sorry I said anything. I should have kept my mouth shut. I just never thought in a million years that you ever would have seen that episode. I never thought any of you would see the show at all!”
Enjolras stopped in the sidewalk and gripped Grantaire by the shoulders as people bustled around them. He looked the terrified artist in the eyes.
“Look, I’m not upset,” Enjolras tried to say as convincingly as he could. “Okay, that’s a lie, I’m kind of upset, but with myself, not with you. Understand?”
“What?” Grantaire asked, bewildered.
“Okay, just.” Enjolras pinched the bridge of his nose. “Will you come with me somewhere? Please?”
With that, Enjolras turned and strolled away. After scarcely a moment’s hesitation, Grantaire followed.
“Do you have any idea how big your viewership is?” Enjolras asked as he kept up a steady pace.
“I never asked.”
“It’s in the millions,” Enjolras explained. “I was reading the Wikipedia page. One episode even pegged in at 5.6 million.”
“Holy shit,” Grantaire remarked. “I had no idea.”
“Hardly anyone watches it, my ass,” Enjolras bit back as he took a sudden right onto a trail off the main road.
“I’m asking for a raise…” Grantaire mumbled to himself. “Is there a reason we’re in the park?”
“Because I had a plan.”
“A plan for what?” Grantaire inquired. “I mean, this is kind of a public place for a murder…”
“Can you just,” Enjolras seethed. “There was a plan, and you kind of ruined that plan. But I need to stick to the plan or I won’t be able to do this, and that plan kind of had a place, so can we just get to that place please?”
“Alright, alright,” Grantaire conceded and followed silently.
Enjolras stopped at the edge of a cliff overlooking the river, bridges zigzagging the great expanse and boats floating aimlessly with the current. The sun beaming from the clear blue sky made the water sparkle brilliantly.
“So,” Enjolras said, turning abruptly towards Grantaire. “I’m going to say something that I should have said ages ago, and God knows why I didn’t, it seems kind of redundant now, anyways…”
“You’re normally more to the point than this.”
“I love you.”
Grantaire stilled. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I,” Enjolras’ voice caught in his throat. “I love you. And you’ve given me pretty blatant reason to believe you feel likewise towards me.”
“So just that we’re abundantly clear,” Grantaire said carefully. “You brought me to a park to tell me that you loved me?”
“Why the park?”
“I don’t know,” Enjolras flailed. “I thought it was nice? It seems important that where I told you was nice.”
“You realize that you could have told me this back in the bar and my reaction would have been the same.”
“And your reaction is…” Enjolras trailed off, his voice going up slightly in pitch. His hand gripped tightly to the iron railing along the edge of the cliff.
“What the fuck,” Grantaire deadpanned.
Enjolras grimaced and turned away from Grantaire.
“Nothing with you is easy,” Enjolras complained.
“Nor will it ever be,” Grantaire said, walking up next to Enjolras and leaning on the railing. “But if you think you can put up with it…”
“Oh?” Enjolras asked, and there it was, the slightest of pink softening the sharp lines of his cheekbones.
“I still don’t believe you,” Grantaire admitted. “I just weigh you down, so you liking me is beyond the scope of my comprehension.”
“It’s like you said in the episode,” Enjolras replied. “There’s beauty in opposites. On our own we’re not nearly as much of a force to be reckoned with as when we’re together. We could move mountains or stop sunsets… Change the world. Shit like that.”
“Or you can change the world, that’s not really my thing.”
Enjolras raised an eyebrow. “You realize you’re, in a sort of way, changing the world with your show, right? You affect people’s lives.”
“Yeah right, that’s nothing like you’re big grand crusades.”
“Oh shut up!”
Enjolras grabbed Grantaire by his jacket and kissed him.
With the smallest movement of his fingers, tiny boats sprung to life on the sparkling surface of the water.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed painting with us here this week. Remember, we can’t all be Michelangelo, but in your own small way, change the world.”