11. Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Picture a beautiful May day in Paris, sunny and clear and mild. Under this sunny sky, an open park. In this park, a fountain. By this fountain, three girls -- pardon me, two girls and a delicate boy -- engulfed in a fit of the giggles.

Musichetta wipes at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Oh, that's simply too funny!" She is a slightly shorter than average girl with dark brown eyes, her hair slightly lighter. She has nearly perpetual smile lines on her eyes and cheeks, and a merry laugh. Her hands and wrists are delicate. A female observer might say that she's a bit unfairly endowed with bosom. She favors skirts that flare from the waist, so it is difficult to tell what the rest of her frame is like.

Manon leans on the back of a nearby bench, gasping. "The hell of it was, he... he didn't even ... he kept saying, 'What? What did I say?'"

Chantal shakes her head, sputtering with amusement.

Musichetta shakes her head, still laughing. "The silly boy." She probably uses that phrase quite frequently. "What goes through their minds?"

Gavroche has been sitting on the other side of the fountain for a few minutes, listening. He stands up, now, and puts in, "'What on earth am I doing with this woman?' most likely, mam'selle."

Manon chuckles; then her head snaps up. "Gavroche! You little wretch..."

Christian jumps, and goes crimson, straightening a bit.

Musichetta is laughing again, both at the lad and at her companions' reactions to him. "That sounds right to me."

Gavroche throws Manon a mock salute. "That would be me, Madame Manon." He looks inquiringly at Christian. "Is that the famous relation we've all been hearing of? Fresh come from Olympus to wander among the masses and cause disputes?"

Manon folds her arms. "It's none of your business if he is, brat. But if you're going to poke your nose in, you might as well come up and say hello instead of eavesdropping."

Christian tucks his hands in his pockets, still blushing. He eyes this child warily.

"Hello, then." Gavroche walks around the fountain, assuming what he thinks is a cultured air. "What a lovely day it is, Mesdemoiselles, Monsieur." He tips an imaginary hat to each of them in turn.

Musichetta dips a curtsey, playing along. "It is beautiful, m'sieur. I hope Monsieur is well?"

Manon rolls her eyes; in part, it must be admitted, to hide her amusement.

Christian squints. He just isn't used to Gavroche's brand of wit.

Gavroche answers gravely, "Indeed, I am." He walks over to Christian and says, "Might I have the pleasure of your acquaintance, m'sieur? I'm Gavroche."

"Christian Caron," says that young person gruffly, after a fleeting glance at Manon. He still looks wary.

Gavroche smiles, and loses what dignity he was pretending to have. "Caron? Nicetameecha." He, too, looks at Manon. "Who's your cousin?"

Manon arches a brow. "Pardon me, brat?"

Musichetta giggles. "She hasn't got a cousin, gamin, but Caron does. She's related to," and she assumes a very sober tone, for she doesn't like him any more than he likes her or her dear boys, "Monsieur Marcelin Enjolras."

Gavroche clucks his tongue, frowning at Christian. "That's just too bad. You seemed like a nice enough sort."

Caron looks dour, shooting a glance at Musichetta.

Manon shakes her head at the other woman, and admonishes Gavroche, "Behave yourself. Don't insult the fellow's relatives to his face."

Musichetta realizes belatedly what she said, and puts a hand over her mouth. "He, I mean. Of course." She drops her gaze. "I do beg your pardon, Christian."

Christian is scarlet. "'sallright," he mutters.

Gavroche gives Christian a measuring look. "Sure, mam'selle, I knew what you meant." He winks at Christian. "Awfully shy for a relation of Our Enjolras."

Christian returns the stare. "And you're awfully polite for a guttersnipe." Yep. They're related, all right.

"Caron," reproves Manon, without much force.

Gavroche takes the insult in stride. "I take it back, mademoiselle." He's addressing Christian, still. "You're not as sweet as I thought. Must be too much time around Manon."

Musichetta bites her lip. Now she's really done it. She tries, again, "Gamin, don't be rude to Caron. He's a good boy."

Christian hasn't lost the blush, or the glare. He might give it up and just slap this brat, but if Manon and Musichetta are going to keep up the appearances, he will, too. "Call me mademoiselle again and you'll think Manon's pretty sweet, all right, if only because she leaves you your teeth."

Gavroche takes a step back. "Oh, do forgive me, m'sieur Enjolras -- I mean, Caron." He tips his imaginary hat again. "I see the resemblance."

Christian scowls.

"Gavroche," Manon says rather tiredly, "you're not as witty as you think you are."

Gavroche returns, as he retreats, "And you're not as pretty as you think you are," then gets well out of the way.

Musichetta looks at Manon in alarm, anticipating some horrid response.

Manon only just manages to collar Christian, then, as he starts for Gavroche. "Leave off! Leave it! Enough!" She gets her hand thrown off indignantly for her pains, grabs a sleeve. "Stop it. My God, you two."

Gavroche asks mildly, "Does Monsieur know that his cousin should be wearing petticoats?" but he stays at a safe distance.

"I'm not going to listen to this--" protests Christian, white now with fury, and breaks off, speechless.

Musichetta says, in a delicate voice not suited to this sort of chiding, "He knows his cousin quite well. Gavroche, leave it alone."

"Gavroche," Manon says tightly, "do you in fact know how to shut up, or does 'Chetta have to hold you down while I teach you? Christian, don't be an idiot. He's younger than you." And he fights dirtier.

Christian subsides, scowling.

Gavroche makes a very elaborate bow. "I wouldn't tell anyone but the immediate family, and if he knows, that's his own business. I've enough of my own problems to occupy me." He seems to be on the verge of leaving. "Adieu, mam'selles."

There seems no point in denying it further. "You'd better," is all Manon says. "And stay out of trouble." Right.

Gavroche answers, "Watch your tongue," and he's off.

Musichetta mutters, "Rude boy. Perhaps he'll learn manners as he grows."

"I wouldn't count on it," Chantal almost growls.

Manon pats her charge's shoulder. "Never mind, chère. If he says he won't tell, he won't tell."

Musichetta muses, mostly to herself, "Do you think any of our friends were like that, at that age?"

Chantal doesn't look convinced, but she nods, dropping down to sit on the bench.

Manon says dryly, "Our friends had parents to knock courtesy into their heads."

"You don't think your René was a bit of a scamp, then?" Musichetta asks, teasingly. "He certainly is now."

Manon laughs at that. "Oh, I'm quite sure he was. He's grown up comparatively civilized, that's all."

Musichetta nods. "I should hope so." She looks at Chantal, a bit flustered. "I am sorry. I didn't mean to say it."

Chantal smiles wryly. "I can hardly blame you for doing what I keep almost doing."

"I'll try to be more careful," Musichetta continues. "I really will. It's just, I don't know, I'm not used to keeping secrets." She shakes her head. "It'll be so hard not to tell Alexandre and Bossuet."

"I'm sorry," Chantal says ruefully.

"It might almost be a mercy," puts in Manon dryly. "René says they keep poking fun at poor Etienne."

Musichetta is surprised by that. "It's not your fault, dear. I'll just have to tell Manon again whenever I have to get it off my chest." She smiles at Manon, cheerfully, then chuckles. "They don't really care about Etienne's preferences, though Alexandre does pout a bit that if he felt that way, he should have said something ages ago."

Manon groans comically, while Chantal just blushes and puts her face in her hands.

Musichetta continues, more mischieviously than cruelly, "He's just jealous, but I don't know how he could possibly manage that." She shakes her head a little bit. "I've learned to ignore him when he's that silly."

"That must be often," Manon teases.

Chantal straightens a bit, still pink.

Musichetta grins, her eyes twinkling. "Oh, you've met him, too, have you?" To Chantal, she says, "I envy you, too. It must be nice to have a sensible, reliable lover, always know where he is at night, all of that." It's not really wistful. 'Chetta herself is flighty enough to get along well with her flighty men.

Pink goes to red again. Chantal ducks her head and doesn't reply.

Manon chuckles. "Indeed." She stretches. "Well, this has been entertaining, but I should get home before my 'sensible, reliable lover' decides I've run off to make a foursome with you lot, and..." she glances at Chantal. "... I expect Combeferre will be getting in about now."

Watch Chantal's ears prick up. "Probably. It was nice to see you, 'Chetta," as she gets to her feet.

Musichetta is intrigued by Manon's first statement. "René could be fun," she says with a wink at Manon, "but truly, I have enough men in my life." With a little wave, she adds, "It was good to see you, too, Chantal. Send Etienne my greetings."

Chantal blushes again. "I will."

"You'd better, wench!" Manon makes a mock-ferocious face at Musichetta, and grins. "Take care." And with a wave, she sets off down the path.

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