36. Congratulations

"Bonjour, m'sieur Enjolras!" The man hailed in this manner pauses on the edge of the street, and turns hesitantly. Having a young, rather buxom girl run into his arms and kiss him on the cheek does not reassure him significantly. He finds himself momentarily speechless, which is convenient for her, because she exclaims, "I'm so happy for you! It was really too bad of Bossuet to be so rude to you. I told him so."

Enjolras closes his eyes for a moment and shudders at the memory. "Merci." In an ironic tone he asks, "Are you always so forward, mademoiselle?"

She takes no offense, either at the question or its rude implication, and laughs instead. "Of course! No one ever gets anywhere by being too quiet." That is emphasized with an overly familiar prod on the shoulder. She either misses or ignores his look of distaste. "You learned that right enough, didn't you?"

Enjolras looks away, turning rather red. He cannot immediately find words. "I suppose you of all people would know that, Musichetta."

His stern embarrassment only amuses her more. "Oh, heavens yes," she answers, giggling, and winks at him, sharing the worst-kept secret in Paris. He does not respond, and after a few moments she composes herself. "When are you going to tell Renée?"

That catches him entirely off guard. "Tell Renée? Why on earth should I tell her anything?"

Musichetta frowns up at him. "You don't know?" She is unwontedly somber.

"Know what?" He finds this even more exasperating than her intimacies.

"She loves you, m'sieur."

"She does not! I hardly know the girl." He backs away a few steps.

"Nor does she know you, but she thinks the world of you." Musichetta shrugs slightly. "I don't suppose you will have to tell her at all. Someone must have, by now, and, really, you shouldn't have the responsibility." She smiles a little sadly. "The poor girl. Goodness knows what she'll do next." She shakes her head, then looks up at him. "Don't worry about it, m'sieur. She's sure to know by now." He can only stare back, speechless again. Musichetta gives him another kiss on the cheek, says, "Adieu," and walks away. He stands there for a minute after she departs, then pulls himself together and leaves.

37. Clytie Enlightened

Renée is at home eating lunch when there is a knock on her door. "Come in," she calls, and Musichetta does. "Oh, how lovely to see you."

"Not really." The response is very subdued, especially when one considers the source. "I've got news."

Renée frowns. "What's happened?" She knows perfectly well that things happen all the time, but hardly anyone bothers to tell her them.

"It's Enjolras." Musichetta shakes her head as Renée begins to look stricken. "No, no, he's fine. Happy, even, maybe. But he's in love."

Jealousy flickers in Renée's eyes, chased immediately by despair. She looks down at her food and does not move for a moment. Then, in a strained voice, "I knew it was stupid. Manon always told me that. But -- oh, it hurts." Musichetta moves to her side and pats her shoulder. "Who is she?"

"It's not a she." The news is delivered softly, gently, and received like a brick to the stomach. Renée crosses her arms over her chest protectively.

"Mon Dieu." She cannot think of anything else to say for several minutes, then looks up at Musichetta and tries to imitate her normally light, teasing tones. "At least I know why he never looked at me." The attempt fails, and she bites her lip as tears roll down her cheeks.

"It's something, at least. Now, you can get on, find someone."

"But... oh God. I suppose. Maybe." Renée sounds unsure, and shakes her head. "I don't know. No one else is him."

"I know. Thank goodness." It's mild. Doesn't do to insult a girl's object of affection too much, not in front of her, at least.

Renée sniffs and wipes at her eyes. "I know, they all say that. I just...I don't know."

Musichetta pats her shoulder. "It's all right, chérie."

"It's not, but I don't have a choice in the matter."

38. What You Don't Know

Combeferre and Chantal sit on a park bench, enjoying a short respite from Régine's indomitable presence. Etienne looks rather tired, and a bit nervous.

Chantal twines her fingers gently with his. "Are you all right?"

Etienne is quick to reassure her, and willing, even if it involves a slight untruth. "Yes, I'm fine. Don't worry."

Chantal frowns a bit. "Are you sure?"

"More or less." He runs his free hand through his hair. "It's nothing. Well, nothing I can fix." For her benefit, he smiles.

"Can I?" Ever practical. Or impractical, depending on how you look at it.

His eyes widen slightly. What a frightening concept. "No, I don't think so."

Chantal rests her head on his shoulder. "Etienne," coaxingly. "Talk to me."

Etienne squeezes her hand slightly. "It's not important. You are, and you're going home." He strokes her hair. "I shall miss you terribly."

Chantal allows herself to be distracted by this. "I'll miss you too."

Etienne asks, "When are you leaving?"

Chantal blows out her breath in what's close to a sigh. "Saturday."

Etienne frowns. "So soon." He looks away from her, still distracted. "What shall I do?" he asks, mostly of himself.

She sneaks an arm around him, pretending to consider this carefully. "Write me lots of letters... and... read a lot... and... talk to Marcelin and René and everyone... and get your coat mended..." this with a flick at his worn elbow.

"Yes, of course I'll talk to René," That's confident enough, but he hesitates a moment before adding, "and Marcelin. And my coat doesn't need mending," he pulls his elbow away. "It's just become comfortable."

Chantal glances up at him quizzically. "It's to do with Marcelin, isn't it?" She sits up a little. "You two didn't fight, did you?"

Etienne blushes at that, and doesn't look at her. "We didn't fight. But it is about him."

Chantal frowns slightly, watching him.

"He's changed." It is a useful word, and covers a lot of ground while remaining vague.

Chantal sighs, and leans her head on his shoulder again, because that much she does know. "Yes."

Etienne does not particularly want to explain the whole situation. It would, no doubt, frighten her. Instead, he puts an arm around her waist. "I don't know quite what to say to him anymore."

Chantal nods soberly, and gives him a gentle hug. "I know."

"It was wonderful to see you. I can talk to you," though not about this particular matter. For that, it would be better if he had a chat with Bossuet (Joly is entirely too silly to take Combeferre's worries seriously). "I only hope that he regains some kind of equilibrium, soon."

Chantal nods again. "I do too." She pats his shoulder, and tries to sound confident. "It'll be all right."

Etienne takes no comfort from this, but appreciates the thought. "God, I hope so."

Musichetta is approaching from the path, and hails them, "Bonjour, mes amis!"

Chantal looks up, and smiles in spite of herself. Musichetta does that to you. "Bonjour."

Etienne raises an hand and waves to her. "Hello, Musichetta."

Musichetta pauses and regards them. "Oh, you're so cute!" She winks broadly at Combeferre. "Like some other people I could mention."

Chantal, predictably, blushes.

Etienne gives Musichetta what is, for him, a very stern look. "Thank you. I think." His gentle tone is at odds with his expression.

Musichetta blinks at him. "I hope you make each other happy. It'd be wonderful if you both found love, all in the same summer!" This earns her a rather more panicked look from Etienne.

Chantal blinks a bit, but takes this merely for one of 'chetta's less brilliant observations. "Thank you."

Etienne seems to be three seconds away from bounding to his feet and clapping a hand to Musichetta's mouth, but he has hesitated too long. She goes on, "After all, this is the first time I've ever seen your brother with anyone at all!"

Chantal stares. And sits up a bit in bewilderment, looking to Combeferre.

Etienne sighs, and looks away from Chantal. "'chetta, how do you survive in the real world?" He sounds absolutely exhausted.

Musichetta puts a hand to her mouth, realizing quite belatedly that she actually brought news. "Oh, my. You didn't know?" She looks sorrowfully at Chantal. "I'd have thought he'd have told you by now, but, no, not him, of course not." The last is a bit scornful. She is remembering how rude Enjolras has always been to her. But Chantal was always kind, and so she is a bit sorry to have burst the girl's bubble.

Chantal says, carefully, as though to be absolutely sure, "My brother?"

Etienne answers, "Yes." Musichetta opens her mouth to explain further, but stops when he gives her an almost fierce look.

Chantal looks between them, still seeming rather stunned, as well she might. "He never said anything," she murmurs at last, faintly.

"I expect he did not want your mother to know." Etienne is tired of edging around this issue, and tired of the issue itself. "I hardly think she would approve of his, ah, paramour."

"Just because she's never met him doesn't mean she'd disapprove," Musichetta points out in what she believes is a reasonable tone.

"I suppose not," Chantal says, dazedly, before this registers. Then her eyes widen, which you'd have thought they couldn't continue to do.

Etienne covers his face with one hand. "She would not approve in the slightest."

Musichetta looks at the discomfited Combeferre and decides that she is not going to provide a name until she is asked to do so, and, after all, he obviously knows. "I suppose you're right, Etienne."

Chantal is crimson by now, staring at her skirt. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Etienne tries to work out the gentlest way to say this, but there really isn't one. "After all, Grantaire is hardly the most upright person we know."

There is a faint squeak from Chantal, and she darts an appalled look up at Musichetta.

Musichetta nods slightly.

Etienne looks steadfastly away from both of them. "Do you see why I was worried, now?" he asks rhetorically.

"Oh," Chantal says, utterly inadequately, and, "oh, Etienne. Oh my."

Musichetta tries to be reassuring. "Really, it's not bad. I should know."

Etienne looks at her, lost. "You don't know either of them at all. They don't know how to live like that. They're not your silly boys. They're terribly confused, especially Marcelin. He doesn't know what he's doing at all."

"But..." protests Chantal weakly.

Musichetta frowns. "I think you should talk to them, Etienne. They know what's happening better than you do."

Etienne looks at his very troubled fiancee and sighs. "If I thought I would find anyone I recognized, I would look for them."

Chantal clings to his hand, unable for the moment to do anything but blink.

Musichetta goes over to pat Chantal on the shoulder. "He's still human, and maybe more sane than he ever was. You know my lads; they're not insane. Just silly. Rather like me, for that matter." She smiles brightly.

This does not comfort Chantal at all. It gives her the same terrifying image that came to her brother, and she looks up at Musichetta aghast.

Musichetta blinks at the horror in the girl's eyes, then laughs. "Oh, don't worry. Your brother would never be like my Alexandre, nor even Bossuet. He's far too prim."

Etienne shudders at the very idea. "No, not Marcelin."

Chantal twitches slightly, and leans against Combeferre. "I... suppose... not."

Musichetta makes a little moue. "Come now, dears, it's not so bad. They'll work it out."

Chantal remarks faintly but with conviction, "Maman would die."

"Twice over," Etienne agrees. "At the very least."

Musichetta giggles at that. "Only if you tell her. I'm sure she'd never talk to the likes of me." That holds no rancor; she does not want to talk to anyone who could be worse than the old Enjolras.

Chantal scrubs her free hand over her face, trying to pull herself together. "I... goodness."

Etienne gives her a little squeeze. "Forgive me," by which he really means 'forgive Musichetta,' "but you would have learned, sooner or later."

"Yes. I suppose so." She still sounds faint, as though out of breath, but her color is returning to something like normal.

Musichetta clucks her tongue. "I still don't know why he didn't tell you himself."

"Because he didn't want her to know, perhaps," Etienne ventures in a mild voice. "Besides, we haven't seen him at what one would call an opportune moment in several days." That is a gentle hint to Chantal, but he would be just as happy if she missed it.

Chantal pinkens slightly. "No."

Musichetta shrugs. It's none of her affair, and she's beginning to recognize that. "Please do talk to them," she advises Etienne. "You'll feel much better."

Etienne nods to Musichetta. "I will. We will," to include Chantal, but that's more of a question.

Talk? To him? Now? Chantal quivers slightly, but she nods.

Musichetta touches Chantal lightly on the shoulder. "He's your brother, he's a strange boy, but he still loves you, same as ever." She gives Etienne a little, apologetic smile. "Take care of her. I should be off."

Chantal reaches up to pat her hand, drawing a deep breath. "I know. ...Take care, 'chetta."

Etienne nods slightly to the departing girl. "We'll look after each other."

Musichetta squeezes Chantal's shoulder slightly before letting go and backing away. "You'd better. Someone has to." She winks at them, and leaves.

... Previous ... Book Two ... Table of Contents ... Next ...