Please see end-notes for content warnings if you would like them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
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.
Content warnings: Major Character Death (of the "he was dead all along!" variety), discussion of suicide, homophobic slurs.)
The worst part about these political gatherings wasn't the ties, even though they always made him feel like he was choking. It wasn't the terrible music or the thinly disguised bigotry. Even the outright hypocrisy was, at least, familiar at this point.
The worst part was that every single time they came to one of these things, Montparnasse hit on him. Enjolras didn't even know why Monty kept getting invited to these things--or maybe he did. It was the same reason his mother brought him, even though his political opinions were diametrically opposed to everyone else in the room.
After all, it made you look less bigoted if you had at least a token Queer Youth hanging around at the party.
Monty was a staffer for--somebody in the House, Enjolras thought. He didn't care enough to look up the particular representative. He was a genuine Log Cabin Republican who sometimes showed up on Fox News to say terrible, inflammatory shit about 'illegal aliens.'
It didn't look like today was going to be any different. Monty had already seen him, out across the ballroom, and he flashed Enjolras what he probably considered a winning smile.
Enjolras immediately turned around and left the ballroom through the nearest door, but it didn't seem like there was anywhere to hide in the foyer, either. And the crowd was sparse here, so Monty would be able to find him right away.
Beneath the polished oak staircase was a little door that probably led to a closet or a half-bath. It would do. Enjolras yanked open the door and ducked inside, pulling the door closed behind him in the hope that Monty wouldn't notice where he'd gone.
The room was dark and close and smelled of mothballs: closet, then. That meant no one would be knocking on the door to take a turn, which was nice.
Enjolras sat down in the back corner and wished that his phone got reception in here.
"Excuse you, this closet is only big enough for one boy wizard, thanks."
Enjolras jumped and, it had to be said, screamed a little.
"Sorry," the voice said again. It sounded younger than most of the party's guests, maybe around Enjolras' age. "I didn't mean to scare you. I knew I was going to, but there wasn't really any alternative."
"Who are you?" Enjolras asked, when his heart had stopped pounding quite so fast.
"Who am I? Who are you?" the voice countered. "I was here first, but don't answer the question. Let's leave some mystery alive, huh? Like strangers on a train."
"Okay," Enjolras said. "I guess."
"So what brings you to my humble cupboard?"
"I'm hiding," Enjolras said flatly.
"Ooh, are we playing a game? Or is there drama going on?"
"Just...someone I'd rather avoid, that's all. I'll just stay in here until I'm sure he's stopped looking for me, and then I'll let you have the closet to yourself."
"Hey, mi armario es su armario," he said. "I think. I haven't taken Spanish in a while."
"Why are you here?" Enjolras asked. "Have you been in here the whole party?"
"Yeah--there's an entire event going on outside. You can hear it, can't you?" He laughed a little. "How long have you been in here?"
"How long have I--" The voice faltered, faded. "I...I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
"It's been a long time."
Enjolras rolled his eyes, knowing no one would see it. "If this is a lead-in to a joke about being 'in the closet,' you can skip it."
There was a faint, tired laugh from the other end of the closet. "I wish that's all it was."
"Well, I don't have any plans," Enjolras said, stretching his legs out in front of him. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I don't know, maybe. It's just--I had a fight with my father. It sounds dumb, saying it like that. We were always fighting, but this...this one was worse. He told me to get out of the house, that if I insisted on being a 'queer' then I was no son of his."
"Jeez," Enjolras said. "He sounds delightful."
"And what was I supposed to do then? I didn't have any family or anywhere to go. My father was going to throw me out on the street with nothing, disown me and drag my reputation through the mud. I couldn't face that...couldn't live with it."
Enjolras frowned. "Hey, it's all right. Or it can be, eventually. There are resources, people who can help. My friend Feuilly just got his master's in social work, he can help you in like four different languages. I can call him and--"
"It's a little late for that," he said quietly.
An uneasy feeling settled in Enjolras' stomach. "What do you mean? It's not too late, there's always something."
"Yeah, well, I never did have stellar impulse control, you know? I just wanted to hit back, to hurt him as much as he'd hurt me. I wasn't thinking about consequences or regrets or anything like that. So I waited until I was alone in the house. I got some rope from the stables out back. I remember holding it in my hands, just looking at it, wondering if I could go through with it. And then I hanged myself, right here in this closet."
"You--you what? Come on," Enjolras said. "This isn't funny."
"Of course it's not. If I had known that this was what awaited me--an eternity spent in the spot where I died--well. I would have chosen something more scenic, I guess."
"Knock it off."
There was the sound of a sigh, far off and too close and full of relief. "I'm glad you came," the voice said, and Enjolras was no longer certain that the person behind it was a person, in the strictest sense of the word.
"Really," the voice said. "I can't thank you enough. I've been in here for so long, and I'm lonely."
There was a shifting, rustling sound, like something coming closer, and Enjolras held his breath. It was between him and the closet door, he'd have to go past it, or through it, and he felt like his body was frozen in place.
The voice was nearly a whisper now, and it was very, very close. "Will you stay with me?"
An icy hand touched the back of his neck. Enjolras screamed and jumped up. He hit the door already running and fell into the hallway, startling half a dozen aides who were standing nearby. He didn't even offer an apology; he just scrambled to his feet and kept going, out of the foyer, through the ballroom, and past the door to the kitchens. He pressed himself up against the wall and took a shaking breath. Surrounded by the bustle and clamor of the catering staff, he felt safe from--whatever it was.
God, the feeling of its hand on his neck. He was never going to be able to sleep again.
He fumbled the phone out of his pocket to check the reception. One bar, thank god. He unlocked the screen and texted Combeferre.
emergency call me ASAP .
Combeferre sometimes didn't respond right away when he was studying, but an emergency text superseded zoology finals. Enjolras' phone rang less than two minutes later.
"What's wrong?" Combeferre asked. Calm, succinct, eminently comforting.
"You believe in ghosts, right?"
The subject change didn't faze him; almost nothing fazed Combeferre. "I've never been convinced that ghosts--or some unexplained phenomena commonly ascribed to ghosts--is categorically nonexistent."
"Yes, I believe in ghosts."
"Okay, great. But you haven't, uh--experienced one?"
"Not definitively, no. Why? Are you saying you have?"
"I--god, I think so? I'm at this terrible political thing with my parents, and I hid in a coat closet because Montparnasse saw me, and you know I can't talk to him and be civil. He still thinks I'm going to go out with him, even after he went on fucking Fox and Friends and said that Trump had been 'good' for LGBT Americans."
"He's very obviously mistaken."
"He is. So I hid in the closet, which I admit was not the most mature or well-considered course of action. I thought I was alone, but there was someone else in there and at first I thought it was just another guest, but then the conversation got really weird and I was afraid he was maybe depressed? But then he said that he'd hanged himself in the fucking coat closet and then he touched me and said--"
"He touched you? That kind of encounter is really rare! Tell me everything."
"His hand was so cold, Ferre, I can't...I can't even describe it. I've never felt anything like it, and he said he was lonely, and he was so glad I came to join him…"
"What did you do then?"
"What else could I do? I ran. I sort of fell out of the closet and then I ran to the busiest place I could find and I texted you."
"Smart. You definitely want corroborating witnesses if at all possible, in case the entity shows itself again. But it sounds like the phenomenon is localized to the closet. It didn't follow you out of there, did it?"
Enjolras scrubbed a hand through his hair, tugging on the strands. "Jesus, Combeferre, why would you ask something like that?"
"And how should I know? I don't even know if he's...visible, or corporeal or anything."
"Hm. I'll have Jehan bring over some sage, just in case the entity comes home with you. I'm not sure that saging really does anything, but at least it smells nice, and Jehan will want to hear all about your encounter, too."
Great. Now he had to worry about being personally haunted by the closet ghost. "Okay. I'll be back on Monday and we can talk about it then." If the ghost hadn't murdered him by then.
"Great! Write down the details if you get a chance. I don't want you to forget anything."
"No chance of that," Enjolras muttered. "I'll see you soon."
He hung up the phone and sighed. Half an hour ago, his biggest concern had been getting cornered by Monty and having to put him off politely. Now there were ghosts.
A hand gripped his shoulder and Enjolras jumped, nearly dropping the phone.
"Julien, there you are," his mother said from behind him. "Come and say hello to the Senator before we leave. It'll be a useful connection for you to have when you finish law school."
Enjolras would sooner join the disembodied voice in the closet for all eternity than work for an infamous Republican senator, but there was no point getting into that now. Besides, she'd said before we leave, which implied that they would be leaving sooner rather than later--though not soon enough, for Enjolras' taste.
His mother led him through the ballroom and out into the courtyard. A deep marble fountain the size of a two-car garage splashed merrily in the background, mingling with the string music from inside. It seemed like the least likely place in the world for a haunting.
Senator Grantaire was standing in front of the fountain, talking to someone Enjolras vaguely recognized from some news show. His hair was gray and cut almost military-short, but he made up for that with an impressively bristled moustache.
Standing next to the senator was a man around Enjolras' age. He had the same blue eyes, but his hair was darker than the senator's had been, even in his youth. He was--not handsome, you couldn't say that, but...compelling, maybe. And the look he was giving Enjolras might qualify as 'interested.'
It was almost enough to make him forget the extremely nerve-wracking and unexplainable evening he'd had so far.
When the newscaster moved on, Enjolras' mother led him forward. "Senator Grantaire, this is my son Julien. Julien, Senator Grantaire and his son Ryan."
Enjolras shook the senator's hand. "Pleased to meet you."
The senator's son held out his hand. "Hey. Call me Ry, okay?" he said in a very warm, very pleasant, very--
Enjolras' eyes widened. "You," he said.
Ry's mouth dropped open in delight. "It's you! Oh my god, I was hoping I would find you, I can't believe that actually worked--"
Enjolras shoved him into the fountain.
Content warnings: homophobic slurs, discussion of suicide, fake character death.
- Grantaire's dad is Really Mad and won't let him change into dry clothes until he finds Enjolras and apologizes. He explains that he's minoring in drama and he couldn't help himself, but that he's sorry and he'd like to make it up to Enjolras. Over dinner, maybe? Enjolras surprises himself by accepting.
- (His hand was cold because he'd stashed a mini-cooler full of beer in the closet. This was not Grantaire's first rodeo.)
- Jehan sages their apartment anyway, because he likes to be helpful.