Éponine is sorting her laundry into "dirty" and "unforgivably dirty" while Marius sits gingerly on her bedspread and grieves for his star-crossed romance. He looks a little taken aback by her sniffing her bras in front of him, but neither is he leaving. She guesses that no one else is willing to listen to him talk about this girl.
Éponine watches him from under her fall of black hair. Every moment his pale eyes flick over to her underwear makes her feel more terribly alive.
She hasn’t been paying a lot of attention to like, his actual words, but when he starts poring over a sad crumpled paper, she plucks it easily from his hand.
So she’s curious, so what.
The paper is heavy and hasn’t bent easily. It’s made up of weird disjointed catchphrases addressed to COSETTE in a dark blue ink, things like “The earthy forms which experience Love are not Mass themselves; rather they are the embodiment of that Love—a vessel just for its solemn contemplation, which is the cherished burden of Devotion!”
It’s all very expensive and strange. Éponine loves it.
Across the bottom is written, in a much neater hand, “No, thank you!” with a smiley face. Éponine passes it back to Marius, who has been clutching her bedspread and his thigh with his empty hands.
“What— what do you think?” he says, peering up at her, so proud and desperate.
She is happy to tell him.
“Marius, this is profoundly weird.” He blanches. “I mean, it’s sweet, and even kind of dirty, jeez. It’s just a little much, probably, for a nice girl.”
“She is a nice girl,” Marius sighs. “We have never spoken, and yet, our souls know each other, you know? Her gaze has definitely lingered on me several times as we’ve passed.”
“You should talk to her, Marius” says Éponine. “In person, with your strikingly handsome face. You should just like, say hi.”
“I can’t!” He collapses his long body upon her bed—her bed, in his nice internship suit, god—“she lives in Lux, the women’s dorm, and I’ve never seen her in the student center or anything. I don’t even know her email—I only know what I heard her called in passing. I had to leave the letter with her dorm director, who gave it back to me today.”
Marius is such a delicious loser.
“I could find out for you.” Éponine volunteers before she altogether consents to herself to volunteer, and his gaze fixes bright on her. She lets herself tremble a little.
“You would?” He sits up to look more closely at her; he is unrelenting.
“Yeah, Marius,” she says. “I’ll—I’ll talk to her for you.”
He takes her hand in both of his. She looks at the charcoal under her nails, her dry awful knuckles between his lovely fingers.
She looks very closely, so she will not forget what it looks like.
“Éponine,” he says, and she does not sway to hear it. “Thank you.”
She pulls free of him. “It’s whatever. Get out of here, Marius, you’re gonna be late for class.”
Éponine knows a guy, alright? She knows a couple guys. She also knows how to read the student directory, not that there was a “Cosette” anywhere in that thing. But like, still. She texts Montparnasse, who thinks he’s slick—
u hear the goss
u know that girl cosette
nvm i shouldn’t say
what cmon babe
you wanna wiggle her waggle
is that it
Éponine realizes abruptly that she should have come up with fake gossip before she started texting. She turns off her phone. He’ll get over it, or he’ll try to do her a favor to get it out of her.
Montparnasse is easy as shit.
There isn’t a Cosette Fauchelevent in the directory but there is a Euphrasie Fauchelevent, a heart-shaped face with bright eyes and a dimple peeking out, like she’s kind—like she knows things.
Éponine has her class schedule and email in minutes. Éponine knows things, too.
Cosette has an hour and a half on Mondays between “Romantic Poetry” and “Contexts of Modern Dance.” The latter is in the art studio behind the student center, so Éponine gambles on Cosette eating lunch there at around one.
She gambles right.
Éponine hovers just behind the juice machine by the entrance, pretending to flick through her phone for only five minutes before she spots Cosette.
She is smaller than Éponine anticipated, a round lark in a lacy dress. The dress is as lopsided as her hair, and she moves light on her feet. Éponine guesses that her dance class is participatory.
Cosette takes a tray and begins the buffet line. Éponine darts out to slip in after her, not looking back at the dudebro who whines at being cut.
“Hey,” Éponine says.
Cosette turns. Her eyes dart curious over Éponine for just a moment and then—“Hi,” Cosette says, dimpling like in her photo. She is very lovely, and Éponine is full up of brambles.
Éponine says, “I’m Éponine,” and Cosette says, “Yes, I know.”
Éponine stares at her. Éponine has a terrible stare.
Cosette looks charmed and chagrined—like Éponine is teasing her, and she’s delighted about it. “I’m friends with Grantaire,” Cosette says. “And I saw him with you one day, and I asked. That’s all.”
“You asked?” Éponine says. Her skin feels too warm.
Cosette shrugs. “I wanted to know who you were. You looked interesting.”
Éponine has no idea what to say to this. She rallies with “Are you sitting with anyone?” just as Cosette bursts out, “Oh god, sorry, my name is Cosette, wait, yes! I mean no, do you want to sit with me? I’m Cosette.”
Éponine stares at the food line to avoid looking at Cosette’s thoroughly improbable face. She takes a huge scoop of mashed potatoes. “Yeah,” she says. “I mean, also I know.”
Cosette beams at her.
They get a little side table and Éponine watches Cosette do a lot of questionable things to her coffee. Cosette’s fingers are very precise. The charms on her bracelet glint silver against her brown wrist as it moves.
Cosette glances up to catch Éponine staring, and Éponine refuses to be embarrassed. “Grantaire said you met in the art studio,” Cosette says, which is maybe a question.
Éponine holds up her dirty hands in demonstration.
“Are you doing a senior project?” Cosette says. “I’ve only heard about his—”
“Grantaire,” says Éponine, who loves him, “is a pretentious douchebag. Like, make some references, build on what’s come before you, fine, that’s great, but you cannot drown your own wretchedness in the warm cat vomit of neoclassicism and call it new.”
Cosette looks intrigued. “Did you say this to him?”
“Of course I did.”
“What did he say?”
“I can’t be bothered to remember.”
Éponine shrugs at her, feeling wicked, and pathetic for feeling wicked.
“Oh my god. Tell me.”
“He said that it is only through holding them against the hall of mirrors history provides that the agonies of the individual can be understood.”
“That’s total crap.”
Cosette props her head against her fist. “So what’s your project?”
“My project is extremely cool,” Éponine says. “I do cityscapes in charcoal, and then I—I sort of smear them, so the night bleeds down over the street and the stars go out. It’s hard to get it right, because you can’t really tell how something will smear while you’re drawing it.”
Éponine reconsiders. “Or at least, I couldn’t in the beginning. I fucked up a lot of really good work that I’d done outside at like, three in the morning. It’s an awful process. My advisor said that it was a rudimentary idea, but now he likes it. He keeps trying to get me to name it something lofty, like Hunger or The Morningstar Looks Back, but mostly I call it Smudges.”
Cosette has been slowly leaning over towards Éponine as she speaks; there is a bow on the front of her dress that is now about to drift into her coffee.
Éponine kind of likes that.
“What’s it about for you?” Cosette says. “I know that’s like, the worst art question, but I want to know.”
Éponine bites her lip. “I don’t want to be too grandiose about it, it’s just—you know that feeling, where you’re alone at night and cold, like maybe you don’t have shoes on or you’ve been in a horrible fight, and everything just—smudges.”
“Yeah,” says Cosette. “Yeah, I do.” Éponine rarely believes people when they say they understand anything she says, but Cosette’s eyes are sharp upon her, and—
Éponine tries to smirk. “You get in fights? You look too pretty to get in fights.”
“I get in fights,” Cosette says. “You think I’m pretty?” Éponine feels like she’s being teased, but Cosette’s eyes are so soft, it’s hard to tell.
She shrugs, rubbing her arm. “Not like, object pretty. Just, I don’t know. Like in the early morning, when the sky is pale, and you see a bird fly. And you think it’s pretty.”
“Are birds not objects?” says Cosette.
Éponine frowns. “Not when they’re flying. Sorry, it’s not a big deal.”
“No.” But Cosette doesn’t look like she thinks it’s not a big deal. She looks a little overexcited.
Éponine eats her mashed potatoes.
“You’re pretty too,” says Cosette suddenly.
Éponine laughs with her mouth full. She’s never had skin to be pretty in it.
“No, I mean it,” says Cosette. “You’re very striking, I think you’re—quite wonderful.”
Éponine swallows. She tries to lean casually against her palm to make sure that her face is not actually on fire. Still casual, she says, “What do you do?”
“I’m a dancer,” Cosette says, glancing down. “Or you know, I’m a dance major.” She sees the danger her bow is in; she tucks it down smooth against her chest and sits further back from the table.
Éponine mourns the loss, but it seems dangerous to try to encourage Cosette back. “Are you doing a senior project?”
Éponine hesitates. “Are you going to tell me about it?”
Cosette leans back further. “No.”
“Alright.” Éponine eats more mashed potato and resists looking back up.
Five seconds later, Cosette says, “God, fine, it’s kind of a ballet solo that is secretly a duet? It’s hard to describe.”
“That sounds pretty tragic,” says Éponine, who is mean.
“It is extremely tragic. I am the loneliest bird in the pale morning sky,” says Cosette, who may be even meaner.
Éponine says, mostly to keep from dying, “Do you know Marius Pontmercy?”
Cosette’s brow furrows. “No.”
“He’s a history student I’m friends with. I actually, I came here to talk to you about him. He wrote you this weird letter.”
“Ah,” Cosette says, her smile fading.
Éponine powers through. “Yeah, anyway, I know that was like, such a creepy thing to do, but he’s actually an alright guy. And I don’t know, I wanted to—apologize for that, and say like, do you maybe want to meet him sometime?”
Cosette is quiet for a moment, looking down at her coffee. “No.”
“Oh. Okay.” Éponine’s chest feels tight. Marius is going to be upset, and a terrible part of her is glad for it.
Cosette glances up again. “But, if he wants, we could try writing letters—if you’ll deliver them.”
“What.” Éponine says. “You know about like, email, right.”
Cosette is suddenly and unrepentantly cheerful. “I don’t want him to have my email. But I like you. I would like the excuse to see you. And maybe we could be friends, or something.”
Éponine thinks this is the absolute worst idea she has ever heard. “Okay,” she says.
“Éponine,” says Marius, half jogging to keep up with her, “you are incredible.” He’s huffing a little, his slick hair falling over his cheek unattractively. She likes him like this; she walks faster.
“Yes, but I’m late for work, so you know, let me know when you have a letter, or whatever,” Éponine says. There’s a stain on the front of her work shirt, but they’re doing glitter glue art today, so. It’ll be fine.
Marius grabs her wrist and swings her to a halt in front of him. She twists her arm quickneat out of his grasp and raises her eyebrows at him. “Wait, I just wanted to ask a really quick favor—when you have the time?”
“Sweet Marius, with his sharp little elbows, when do I ever not have the time for him?” She’s not sure if she sounds cruel, or if she wants to.
He flushes. “It’s just. She liked you, right? She liked you better than she liked me, so far, it sounds. Listen—” he is running one thumb over the edge of his blazer over and over again as he speaks. She watches it and wishes she didn’t know what was coming, and wishes she didn’t already know she would do it.
“—you know I hate to ask, and I wouldn’t if I didn’t like her so much—”
Éponine almost touches his mouth to stop him and remembers herself, jerks back, scrubs across her neck instead. “Why do you like her so much?”
Marius’ eyes boggle in his narrow skull. “Why do I—well, you met her! She’s just, I mean she’s beautiful, obviously, but it’s more than that—you’ve felt it, right?”
Éponine bites the inside of her mouth. She thinks of Cosette leaning across the table at her, eyes glittering warm and keen. She shrugs.
“She’s just. You can tell, just from the air around her, from the way the it ripples when she crosses your path. She’s unlike anyone else. She’s,” Marius’ eyes are cast to the skies. “Virtuous,” he says finally. “She is not like anyone else; she is a heavensent creature.”
Éponine doesn’t get it.
But then, Éponine is not a heavensent creature.
“Yeah,” she says, finally. “Yes, I will write a letter to your lady.”
Éponine spent most of her shift washing kids’ hands and trying to think of suitably serious and charming things Marius might conceivably say to Cosette. She doesn’t get to see her siblings after; Azelma waves into the preschool room on her way to Mathletes, and who knows where Gavroche ran off to (but she trusts him, she trusts him).
Éponine generally tries to corral the kids for some kind of group meal maybe three times a week. They are in an alright group home right now and say they like the space of the house better than adjusting to another foster family. But she still wants them to feel solid.
Éponine honestly doesn’t feel so solid without seeing them, either.
She used to smuggle them into her dining hall, but Azelma, a high school sophomore, was anxious around all the college kids, and Gavroche got caught stuffing apples into his cargo pants, so now they usually get takeout in her dorm room or walk across town for fast food together.
About once a month she comes by their home early in the morning and drags them out for brunch at IHOP before the rest of the weekend crowd can get there. Azelma always gets something with strawberries and then spends half an hour trying to drip syrup on Gavroche’s hands without him noticing while he sucks down at least eighteen pancakes. Sometimes they all get in straw wrapper fights. Sometimes they also get kicked out.
Éponine loves IHOP.
Anyway, she’s trying to do better at letting the kids make their own decisions, so she leaves the school, texting them to pick a time in the next couple days to have dinner. She comes back early to her dorm because shit knows she won’t be able to draw until she gets this letter out of her mind.
You’re probably wondering why I would write you such a concerning letter rather than speak to you like an ordinary human. I guess I am lonely. How easy it is to channel one’s insufferable existential anguish towards a stranger! But it was unfair and creepy, and I apologize.
Are you often lonely?
You seem well cared for, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but you seem very homey, like you come from a home, which is nice. You seem like you are accustomed to talking to people when you want to talk.
My name is Marius. You may have seen me around. I am quite tall. I also come from a rich repressed family and I am still adjusting to being in a society. I would just like to talk to you. I would like to hear all the things that you think.
You said, I mean to Éponine, my good friend who approached you about me, that you get in fights. Is that really true? What kind of fights do you get in? That is mostly what I want to know, and also whether you will go out with me.
Yours very truly and your devoted etc etc MARIUS
Éponine ends up just finding Cosette the same place she did a couple days before. Cosette is already sitting down, eating an enormous amount of cheesy broccoli. Her eyes light up and she waves Éponine over as though Éponine is not already walking toward her.
Cosette kicks out the chair opposite her from under the table and gestures to it with her mouth full, smiling like an undignified hamster.
“Ah, no, can’t, I’m late for work. Just wanted to drop off a letter.”
Cosette swallows with some difficulty and says “Oh gosh, I’m sorry!”
“I don’t want to inconvenience you—where could I meet you to give you my reply?”
Éponine shrugs. “I move around a lot. I’m probably easiest to find at night—this week I’m down at the corner by St. Bridget’s every Monday and Thursday.” She’s curious, as to whether Cosette would come out at night, would sit on the dirty pavement with her.
Cosette brightens. “Oh, I can see you work? That would be amazing.”
“I mean, as long as you don’t distract me, or touch anything, yeah, sure.”
Cosette laughs, and of course her laugh is perfectly charming. “You should have my number,” she says. “In case I get lost and die in the gutter.”
“Well, I guess,” Éponine says, passing her broken phone over.
Cosette puts in her number, pauses. “Should I text myself? No, I won’t, you can just like, text me, if you want.”
Éponine has been clutching her letter; she exchanges it now for her phone.
As soon as the letter leaves her hand, Éponine remembers the good paper and ink Marius had used. She looks at her own, ballpoint pen on cheap printer paper, in Cosette’s hand.
Cosette flips it over curiously.
“Well, bye,” Éponine says, and runs.
Éponine spends her next two drawing nights feeling anxious and empty as she works, glancing around early in the evening for Cosette, feeling her hackles about to rise. Except Éponine, obviously, doesn’t have hackles. Just skin.
Eventually both nights she shakes it off and falls into her work. She is early enough in this piece to still be experimenting with her composition. The narrow old church is only used for services these days, administrative and social activity both moved to the meeting hall behind it, so Éponine has free range to wander around the church and not bother anyone.
She had originally wanted to draw from within the chapel itself, but the door was locked. Instead, she’s experimenting with all the ways the church tower can fall over the surrounding buildings, and from how low down she wants to gaze.
It’s easy to fall into cliché and saying things you don’t mean with religious junk like this, but Éponine wants to try anyway. The world is cool and silent around her where she crouches small on her dirty blanket with dirtier hands, and yet she feels full of grace in the night. The stars wink down upon her. She breathes, and shivers, and draws.
Cosette, like a prince in a fairytale, comes the third night.
It is just late enough that Éponine forgets she might arrive and has lost herself to the arch of the chapel like a great spine unbending from the earth when she is distracted by movement. She turns to see Cosette emerging from the darkness like a dream.
“Hey,” Cosette whispers, hovering next to Éponine’s blanket. Her shoulders glow against her yellow dress, which is embroidered with pale gold squiggles and loops.
Éponine blinks at her. “Hey,” she says, before remembering herself enough to scoot down and clear all her nonsense— shoes, wrappers, art supplies, phone— out of the way. She brushes the blanket off carefully before gesturing Cosette down.
Cosette smiles. “Thanks,” she whispers, settling down easily, closer than anticipated to Éponine. The hem of her skirt just brushes Éponine’s.
“You don’t have to whisper,” Éponine says, being very polite and not laughing at Cosette, who is looking rapidly all around herself like an overwhelmed owl.
“Oh, sorry,” Cosette whispers. She pauses, ducking her head to glance shyly up at Éponine.
It’s an appalling display; Éponine looks sternly back.
Cosette grins and tosses her hair back. “Can I see what you’re doing?”
Éponine has realized she doesn’t see a letter. “Did you bring—?”
“Oh, right, sorry,” Cosette says, reaching two fingers under the bodice of her dress to pull out a small, neatly folded card. She lays it into Éponine’s hand.
The card is warm. Éponine puts it in her bag hastily. She does not meet Cosette’s eyes. “Really?”
“Really what?” The pleasure in her voice is audible
“You just seem like such a nice girl,” Éponine says, thinking of Marius.
Cosette must smile more than anyone else on this earth. “I am nice.”
Something kindles warm and fond in Éponine’s stomach. She tries not to grin down at her charcoals and fails. “You’re a terror.”
“Yes,” Cosette says, looking thrilled with herself.
Éponine gives up. “You wanted to see what I do?”
“Yes,” says Cosette again, inching closer for some unfathomable reason.
“So right now I’m just trying to figure out the right perspective, and then I test how to build layers so that later I can ruin it properly.”
“Ruin it properly?” Cosette says. Éponine glances over at her, unsure whether she’s just being polite. Cosette is peering between her sketch and the landscape before them, so Éponine shrugs and flips back to a scrap page.
“Look,” she says, slashing a couple thick lines across the top. “It’s pretty simple—the way you lay the charcoal down affects how it’s going to smear later. So—” Éponine uses the side of her hand to demonstrate, rippling charcoal down the page.
It’s always quite satisfying.
“Can I try?” Cosette says, which at this point Éponine anticipated. She starts to pass the sketchbook over and then, inexplicably, doesn’t.
“Go ahead,” she says, tilting the sketchbook towards Cosette.
Cosette picks up a charcoal stick and scoots closer, her thigh pressed against Éponine’s, her hair brushing Éponine’s arm as Cosette leans across her. Cosette makes a heavy mark and then puts the stick back down precisely where she found it.
“Do you mind?” Cosette says, gesturing vaguely, and Éponine shakes her head without having any idea what Cosette means. She rarely minds anything.
Cosette lays her hand gently on the bare skin just above Éponine’s ankle, pressing down as she shifts her weight to lean over the sketchpad.
Éponine’s heartbeat races like fire under her skin and in her ears. It isn’t anything to do with Cosette, it’s just—Éponine likes this, to be touched, and that someone should—not even think about it, about the prickling hair that Éponine can never be bothered enough to shave, about leaning firmly on Éponine and letting her body keep them steady.
Éponine holds herself still.
The cobblestones under her thin blanket are hard against her anklebone now, but she likes that, too.
Cosette angles her hand and smudges with the backs of her knuckles. The charcoal swirls down like smoke from a candle just as it goes out.
Cosette lets go and leans back. Cold blooms across Éponine’s skin where Cosette’s fingers have left it.
“I liked that,” Cosette says, turning to smile at Éponine.
“Yeah,” Éponine says helplessly.
Cosette stretches her feet out in front of them and leans back on her elbows. “It’s really nice out here.” She is brushing easily against several of Éponine’s assorted wrappers and half crumpled papers. Her forefinger lies just along the throat of Éponine’s water bottle.
“I like it,” Éponine finally says. “It’s nice, being alone in this sort of way—you feel whole, like part of a whole, even by yourself.”
“Oh, I understand; I’m sorry,” Cosette sits up and twists her hands over her head to stretch back. Éponine’s eyes catch on the arching lines of Cosette’s arms, like the church steeple against the night. “I’ll go,” Cosette says, getting up. “I have work to do, and I don’t want to intrude on yours.”
Éponine watches her start to walk away and then calls out, “Wait, that is—I don’t mind. If you wanted to bring work with you, next time.”
Cosette turns, a gleaming shadow before the streetlight. “Are you asking me to come back?”
Éponine’s breath catches. “I’m begging you, probably.”
Cosette laughs. “Well then, I guess I must.”
Of course, Éponine tears open Cosette’s letter as soon as Cosette is out of sight.
I am actually rather accustomed to loneliness. I mostly grew up, and I swear this is the truth, in a convent. My father is the convent gardener, and we lived in a little house adjacent to the nuns, where I also went to school. So you are right, that I grew up being taken care of. It is nice to think of myself as seeming homey.
But I did also grow up always a little alone, and probably a little strange from all the fantasies that particular brand of nunnery loneliness can give you.
And also from being spoiled.
So I understand about adjusting to be a normal person in society, though I generally just try to charm people I like, which maybe makes me awful.
To answer both of your final questions together, the biggest fights I’ve gotten in lately are because I’m a lesbian. So no, I won’t go out with you. But we could be friends, which I do mean genuinely, if you would like to be friends.
Éponine stares at the card; she feels numb. She puts it aside carefully and tries to work on her drawing again, but she suddenly can’t make sense of her own lines. Her eyes are fuzzy.
She lets herself lie back, holding her knees against her chest. Éponine tries to clutch at all the feelings rustling through her with the wind, wants to lay them out and name them, but they escape her.
She watches the trees rustling over the buildings, feeling her heart beat inside her like a frantic bird.
The next morning, Éponine sleeps until it’s irresponsible and steals down to the cafeteria for breakfast after everyone else has left for class. She gets a bowl of oatmeal with too much brown sugar, a bowl of yogurt with too much honey, and black tea. She sits in the corner, using the same spoon for everything and watching the courtyard.
It’s like. She isn't upset on behalf of Marius, who is useless and shouldn’t have gotten any letters at all. But she feels—unsettled, perhaps, on her own accord. Éponine knew that she was flirting, recognized the ways she was pushing at Cosette, but now she doesn’t know whether Cosette was flirting back, and being unsure makes Éponine embarrassed.
And when she had led Cosette to lean over her like that—it feels suddenly like it meant something, or like Cosette knew it meant something. Or, Éponine suddenly realizes, if she hadn’t, then Éponine had been taking advantage, and that meant something, too.
Éponine stabs at her oatmeal. She hadn’t noticed—
She hadn’t thought it was real.
She spends the day drifting distracted between classes. Éponine’s a senior with a thesis project, so she really only has like, two classes she actually goes to, and a leftover phys ed requirement that is fully pointless. She skips that.
She would blame it on the day but she actually usually skips that.
Éponine finds herself at Marius’ off-campus apartment that evening, carefully adjusting her low hem over her boots before ringing. Someone calls out, “OPEN,” and Éponine pokes her head in to see Courfeyrac nestled in their armchair. His fingers are tangled up with knitting and his tongue pokes out of his mouth.
He looks up and waggles his eyebrows at her. “Well, look who’s here early for the birthday decorating committee!”
“Courfeyrac,” Éponine says.
“Éponine,” he says.
“We are not a committee. I’m bringing ten rolls of streamers and chucking them at your windows.”
“That sounds about right,” he says. “Meeting over.”
Courfeyrac jerks his head to the back of the apartment. “In his room, no doubt being very calm and orderly.”
Éponine lightly touches his curls as she goes past him.
Courfeyrac is alright.
There’s a funny thud from Marius’ room right before she knocks, and at his “yeeees,” she opens the door. Marius is staring at his ceiling, his legal textbook open on the floor behind him.
“Hey Marius,” she says.
He turns slowly to regard her in his doorway. “Hey.”
“Alright?” she says.
“Yes. Just, I get so mad about the system,” he says, blinking at her. “It’s so wrong.”
“Yeah,” says Éponine, who knows.
“Anyway—wait, that’s not important, did you get a letter back? Is that why you’re here?”
Éponine comes fully into the room and pulls the card out of her bag, where she’s been trying not to look at it all day. Marius goes to grab it from her hand and she twitches it back. “Marius, you should know it’s, it’s not exactly good news for you.”
“Okay,” Marius says, looking unconcerned, and takes it.
His fingers do not touch hers.
Éponine watches him flip the card open and read. She breathes in and out.
Marius’ eyes skim to the end and stop. He lifts his pale face to her. “Really?”
Éponine shrugs. “I don’t see why she would lie.”
“Is she sure?” says Marius.
Éponine’s chest feels tight. She just stares at him.
“Yeah, I know, sorry,” says Marius “I just like, got this feeling, you know? I don’t understand. Like, there was something happening there. You read my letter, you know.”
“I think that whatever was happening there, maybe was just happening with you.” Éponine tries to say it gently, but gentleness come hard to her.
Marius sighs and drops the card on the floor by his book. He blinks rapidly and Éponine prays with a sudden and profound devotion that he is not about to cry.
“Okay,” he says. “I get it. Thanks for writing to her. You’re an amazing friend. Could you just tell her I say like, thanks, and I’m sorry?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it.” Éponine puts a smile on. She is trying to think of something else reassuring to say, some sort of positive reinforcement for not being as much a jerk as he could have been, when Marius recollects his book and goes back to reading.
Éponine closes his door behind her.
As she heads back to the front door, Courfeyrac looks at her and tilts his head towards the couch next to him. Marius doesn’t seem in danger of coming out of his room, so Éponine sits.
“Seemed like that wasn’t super fun,” Courfeyrac says, for all the world merely concerned with picking apart the yarn consuming his hands.
Éponine makes a grumpy noise.
Courfeyrac doesn’t push. He’s trying to pull out the end thread with his mouth.
“There was this girl,” Éponine says finally, at which Courfeyrac rolls his eyes. “I know. And I was sort of writing to her on Marius’ behalf, because he got, you know, Marius about it, and then it turns out she’s gay.”
Courfeyrac looks up, yarn caught between his teeth.
He returns to his hands.
“Um,” Éponine says. She lightly traces one thumbnail with her other thumb. “That’s pretty much it. I just like, I don’t know.”
Courfeyrac traps his mouth yarn between two fingers, freeing himself to say, “You like her?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” Éponine lies.
“But you’re thinking about it now.”
Éponine shrugs. “I think about a lot of things.”
Courfeyrac does something very neat with his hands then, flipping the tangle over backwards while holding the loose end taught, and suddenly it looks like something. Éponine still has no idea what it’s supposed to be, but it has edges now.
“You know,” Courfeyrac says slowly, “At the risk of sounding absolutely horrible, you don’t have to know,”
“I know I don’t have to know,” Éponine is trying not to hear herself.
“I know! You know.” Courfeyrac is not laughing at her; he’s not even trying not to laugh at her. He’s just—Courfeyrac. “But it’s still nice to be reminded. That you can just maybe hang out with people and not know. Like, you’re okay.”
Éponine swallows. “Yeah.”
“Anyway, you’re a much better catch than Marius.”
Éponine smiles at her hands.
MARIUS’ SECOND LETTER
I would like to keep talking, if that’s okay.
I like that you grew up with all the nuns and flowers, and I guess your dad also. Do you know a lot about gardening? I got very into flower languages a few years ago, though I didn’t actually memorize all of the meanings. A lot of them seemed wrong, you know? But I liked the idea of it so much that whenever I saw flowers, I would decide my own.
I mean, we didn’t actually see a lot of flowers, but I used to draw them for my little brother and sister. Little secret flowers inside their backpacks and on the bottoms of their shoes. But I think it would have been better with someone who could make up more meanings and speak it with me.
I think it’s alright to charm people, as long as you’re not treating them bad, or anything. It’s nice to feel charmed. I am always kind of jealous of people who can be charming.
I would still like to see you get in a fight.
Éponine knows she is awful, she knows, alright.
A few days later, Éponine is still deliberating whether to give Cosette her letter, her morally abhorrent letter, when Cosette finds her again by the church.
It’s a pretty overcast night, so Éponine has been focusing more on getting the architectural details right than on shading anything. She’s settled on a perspective looking almost directly up the side of the church tower, the stars hanging above.
She’s lying on her back, bracing her sketchpad across her knees and fucking up the same stained glass window over and over again, and doesn’t notice someone else is there until Cosette says, “Can I join you? I brought food.”
Éponine startles and twists. Cosette is standing at the very edge of Éponine’s blanket. She has a book under her arm and drops one sleeve of her enormous orange sweater to pull out a fistful of granola bars, which she waves enticingly.
Éponine actually has a granola bar in one of her jacket’s eight hundred pockets. She is also wearing a fairly short dress.
Éponine usually wears dresses. They’re easier. She likes the freedom of movement they give her; she likes how they swirl when she walks.
Now, though, her dress catches over her knees and falls open by her feet. And usually she doesn’t care, she genuinely doesn’t care, if someone sees something.
But now her mouth feels dry. She’s not sure if Cosette is looking, or if she wants Cosette to look.
Cosette’s a nice girl. She’s gazing expectantly at Éponine’s face.
She definitely didn’t look.
Éponine doesn’t move. She realizes that she’s been unnervingly silent this whole time when she sees Cosette’s feet shift very slightly. “Yeah, of course! Sorry, I was just—you know, it takes a moment to come back.”
From the bullshit artistic headspace.
“Right,” Cosette says, and she sits. She can’t see up Éponine’s dress from this angle.
Not that Éponine cares.
Éponine puts her sketchbook down. “What are you reading?”
She can see up Cosette’s nose.
Cosette holds her book over Éponine’s face. It’s called THE ROGUE IS A LADY. Curling script elaborates that “the only thing she never planned to steal… was his heart.”
“Ah,” says Éponine. “Aren’t you gay?” she says, and immediately regrets saying.
Cosette gasps. “Éponine, it is because I am gay that I have such excellent care for the troubles of the human heart.”
“Oh, okay,” says Éponine.
Cosette refuses to shut up. “Is not the trembling fury that rushes through your bestirred heart the same starsong pouring from mine?”
“No, it’s not, my trembling fury is not of this earth,” says Éponine, somehow resisting the urge to lay her arms over her face.
Cosette leans over Éponine. “My gayness bears joyous witness to your fury. My gayness is transcendent.”
“My fury will swallow your gayness whole.” Éponine has no idea if this is a legitimately sexy thing to say.
“Your fury is adorable.”
“Tell me about your book and it will be sated.”
Éponine’s hair is scattered around her; Cosette brushes it back before setting down a hand to lean against as she opens her book. “Marius might have told you I kind of grew up in a convent?”
Éponine hums noncommittally.
“One of the nuns, Sister James R., she had a stash of old romance novels that I used to steal. Well, I think she knew I was stealing them.”
“I’m sure you were a perfectly adequate smut thief.”
Cosette doesn’t acknowledge her. “Anyway, they’re comforting. Like, they get weird as heck, but then you always know how they’re going to wind up, you know?”
Éponine murmurs, “Maybe your divine gayness knows how they’re going to wind up; we mortals just trip about blundering into endings.”
“Éponine,” Cosette says kindly, “Do not blame yourself for your wretched straightness. You are no more or less human than I am.”
Éponine’s heart pounds in her ears. “I’m not straight,” she says.
“Oh,” Cosette says, her voice faint. “Sorry.”
Éponine glances up at her, and Cosette looks away as soon as their eyes meet. “So much for your supernatural gayness,” Éponine says.
Cosette sniffs dramatically. Éponine cackles, and Cosette looks back at her, eyes crinkling.
“So how human are bisexuals?” says Éponine, who earned this.
“I am not sure,” Cosette says. “Do you have any powers?”
“I don’t know about my People,” says Éponine, “But I’m very good at spelling and embarrassing nice lesbians.”
“I am so nice and so embarrassed,” Cosette squawks, flopping over.
And then, marvelously, it’s alright.
Cosette stretches out besides Éponine and reads her book. Éponine messes with her drawing. The world beyond their blanket turns and falls asleep.
After a little while, she asks Cosette’s preference on a few variations of brickwork. Cosette enthuses easily about all of them: “—and who doesn’t love curlicues? But then the one on the left looks a little bit like elegant dachshunds, unless you weren’t going for dachshunds, in which case they don’t at all.”
Éponine frowns at the bricks. “I think it looks more like foxes. You might not understand, not being a fine artist yourself, but foxes are more thematically appropriate.”
“You are both fine and correct,” Cosette says. “Obviously it is foxes.”
Éponine continues to ask her opinion throughout the night—who is Éponine to deny anyone an opportunity to admire her? It’s a quality she likes to encourage.
In turn, Cosette occasionally interrupts her serious artistic process to read aloud romantic dialogue that Cosette seems to particularly enjoy. Éponine isn’t sure she always gets the joke, but Cosette does voices, so she can hardly complain.
Éponine doesn’t think it’s a big deal or anything. It’s just nice, sitting there together as the night holds them.
Grantaire texts her a couple days later while she’s lying around her dorm room with the kids, eating ramen and being shown every youtube video that Azelma has ever found amusing. She slides open her phone just under the blanket on her lap.
you going to courfeyrac’s thing
i’m not going if you’re not going
of course you’re going
ok i won’t have any fun if you’re not going
u never have any fun
eponine plz say you’re going
of course i’m going
Grantaire sends back six sheep and a heart.
i hear there’s going to be a karaoke machine
i mean you should bring cosette
she’s a terrible singer
Éponine nearly inhales ramen up her nose. Grantaire may be the actually worst person Éponine knows, and she knows a lot of terrible people. She doesn’t text back “did she ask you to ask me,” because Éponine is a goddamn champion.
if i do it’s because i want to
not because u said to
for the record
do you ever do anything because anyone says to
Éponine sends back three flexing arms. She goes back to her contacts page, flicking down to Cosette’s name. She can’t quite bring herself to message her.
“Éponine’s not paying attention,” Gavroche says suddenly.
“Éponine!” gasps Azelma, one hand to her chest.
“Oh my god,” Éponine says. “I am, I am, just literally one second, this is important.”
“More important than us?” says Gavroche, the little shit.
Éponine reaches over to pinch his nose between two fingers and shake his head. “I will be done in two seconds.”
“Really,” says Azelma. “Because five seconds ago you were gonna be done in one second.”
“One minute, you nerd, I swear,” says Éponine. Azelma starts counting out loud. Éponine stretches and points her feet under the blanket and hits new message.
hey it’s eponine
are u going to courfeyrac’s birthday party?
Oh hey Éponine!
Lord, Cosette went and found the ´. Éponine doesn’t even do that, and it’s her own name.
I don’t think I know Courfeyrac so probably not haha
u should come. grantaire’s also going, u could come with
courfeyrac likes a crowd
it’ll be chill
I’m great at chill.
cool, it’s next saturday
Are you gonna pick me up?
:( :( :(
Éponine’s siblings have started groaning and pretending to die in increasingly grotesque ways. “I swear, I am almost done!” she says.
i have to do everything for u
Éponine chooses not to examine that at all.
What time should I be ready?
if ur with me, 7. i’m helping to set up.
I’ll just meet you there!
Éponine sends the address and drops her face into her bed. Gavroche pats her head soothingly. She is positive that she will later find noodles in her hair.
“Who was that?” Azelma says. “Was that a boy.”
“That was a girl,” Éponine says into her pillow.
“Oooooooh,” they croon together.
“Your harmony is terrible,” she says. “Roll the clip.”
A couple nights later, Cosette brings her own work and ice cream, half melted in dining hall bowls.
Éponine raises her eyebrows and says “Ah, what luck I have, to be taken in by such a generous patroness, who will keep me in milky soup until my end days.”
Cosette gasps. “I labored”—
“—indulged your concerning fetish for petty theft,” Éponine says, and in furious answer, Cosette tilts one bowl to drip melted ice cream on Éponine’s hand.
Éponine licks it off in one messy sweep, grinning.
Cosette goes still, her eyes fixed on Éponine’s dirty mouth. She seems unaware of the ice cream dripping down her own arm.
The air between them is suddenly heavy; Éponine feels wild and helpless with it. She can’t quite make out Cosette’s expression in the dark.
Éponine looks away and wipes her mouth with the back of her sticky hand.
“You know I can just leave you, o poor scrabbling artist,” Cosette finally says.
“Please don’t,” Éponine tells her. “I love milky soup.”
Cosette passes her a bowl and a spoon (also stolen) and sits neatly beside her. She raises her arm, considering the ice cream streaking down it, then turns and smears it down Éponine’s cheek.
Éponine has no idea what is wrong with her that she finds this comforting. She spills water on a corner of her blanket to blot at both of them while Cosette preens.
“What are you working on?” Éponine says, nodding at Cosette’s papers.
Cosette pulls a face. “Theory.”
“Theory like… dance theory?”
“I do take other classes, but yes.”
“How long have you danced?” Éponine says, horribly curious and horribly aware of herself as the world’s most boring conversationalist.
Cosette shrugs. “I used to dance for my mom; I didn’t start formal training until my father wanted to like, support my passions.”
“That’s really nice,” says Éponine.
“Yeah, it was.”
“What’s your paper about?”
“It’s arguing for the ways that traditional ballet forms can still challenge like… tradition, I guess.” Cosette says.
“Explain it to me.”
“So um, people generally, if they want to be a little provocative, do it through the influence or inclusion of modern dance styles, you know?”
“Sexually provocative?” Éponine says, mostly for the rush of saying “sexual” to Cosette.
Cosette makes a face at her. “I mean, socially provocative, like challenging The Gaze, but probably a little sexually. It is, after all, the ballet.”
“Is the ballet especially sexual?”
“You’ve clearly never seen me do it.”
Éponine just looks at her.
Cosette laughs. “Yeah, sometimes. Do you dance?”
Now Éponine makes a face. “Not well. I dance with my little brother sometimes.”
“Ooh, you have a brother?”
“I have a brother and a sister—they’re 15 and 11. Azelma Doesn’t Dance.”
“I don’t have any siblings,” Cosette mourns.
“They’re terrible,” Éponine says. “Absolute monsters. You’re very lucky.”
“I bet,” Cosette says. “Do you know you’re smiling?”
Éponine bites her lips inside her mouth. “I am not.”
“It’s disgusting. You’re so happy just thinking about them. You love them so much.”
Éponine glowers contentedly.
“Anyway, you should come by the dance studio sometime! I’m there almost every early evening at this point in the semester.”
Éponine huffs. “After you’ve been so cruel to my tender emotions?”
“Yes. You’re curious.”
“So come. I want a turn to show off.”
Éponine pretends to think about it. “If it will make you happy.”
Cosette bares her teeth like a toddler learning to smile.
Here is the problem: Éponine has never once in her life learned how to be coy.
The moon is visible again that night, stark against the black night, and Éponine is determined to capture it, both in the sky and blurring against the stained glass of the chapel.
But her arm, of course, has totally had it. She’s only even been doing this Michelangelo shit for what, two nights now?
The third time Cosette notices her putting the sketchbook down to stretch, she dog-ears her book and shuffles on her knees across the blanket. Easy as anything, she leans against Éponine’s legs and lays one arm across her knees to hold the sketchbook above her.
“You don’t need to,” says Éponine, flustered.
“I need to,” Cosette insists. “It is a primal need. You cannot keep me from it.”
“I only worry about your fine dancer’s body and sweet delicate hands.”
Cosette gasps like a pageant winner. “I didn’t think you noticed.”
Éponine notices. “It’s only that I feel responsible for you, you see.”
“How dashing. Don’t worry. You are.”
“Well then, I will have to ask you to stay there forever, fluttering your eyelashes at me, until time crumbles you to dust.”
“I will stay here forever, fluttering my eyelashes at you, until I get tired and drop this on your face,” Cosette vows.
“Romance is a lie,” Éponine says sadly.
Éponine presses her thighs together under her dress. She closes her eyes for just a second. She breathes out.
Bored and lacking her book, Cosette tells Éponine stories she’s probably plagiarized about moon people who fall in love with asteroids. She describes myths she is almost certain are true for all the constellations she can name, which is maybe four of them.
She is an abominable storyteller.
Éponine reaches the edge of her paper and dares to continue the skyline up the soft line of Cosette’s forearm, holding her elbow carefully still with one hand. There is no excuse for it, but Cosette doesn’t seem to mind.
It is very hard to focus on the moon with Cosette shining down at her. She has absolutely the brightest eyes Éponine has ever seen.
Éponine doesn’t see Cosette for a few days after that. She considers texting her but can’t think of anything clever or urgent enough to merit it.
She has a meeting with her thesis advisor, Dr. Mabeuf, and shows him a couple composition drafts of the church piece. Dr. Mabeuf tilts his head and smiles at her, which means he is impressed.
It’s whatever. Éponine is impressive.
She likes meeting with Dr. Mabeuf. His office is too small, made smaller by the lush greenery sprawling out of the windows and hanging in pots from the ceiling. He asks her about every particular stylistic choice that she didn’t expect anyone would pay attention to, and she gets to explain and refine her approach while he nods.
At the end of their discussion, Dr. Mabeuf shifts a couple sketches and says, “These must be hell on your neck.”
“You’re still only drawing from life a couple nights a week, right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Just make sure you take care.”
“I will,” she says, flushing.
Dr. Mabeuf pats her hand; his skin is worn and thin. “Good,” he says. “Good.”
Soft-hearted old man. Éponine is going to have to buy him another plant when she graduates.
Monday night she draws alone. She doesn’t precisely miss Cosette; it’s hard to really miss anyone when she’s working in her lone little nest. But she still feels a strange rush of warmth low in her chest that Thursday when Cosette comes back.
“Sorry, I just hit a project deadline,” Cosette says.
Éponine flattens out her expression, in case she had looked bothered.
Later, Éponine unthinkingly asks Cosette to grab her ruler from her bag. Cosette drops it on Éponine’s stomach and then holds up a letter labeled COSETTE that Éponine has been carrying around for days.
“Is this for me, Cosette?”
“Oh, yeah,” Éponine says, stomach lurching. “Sorry, I totally forgot about that.”
“No worries,” Cosette says, folding the letter and sliding it into her bra. Éponine watches it disappear under Cosette’s blouse and tries to focus on her drawing.
“Oh, I also forgot—I brought peanuts,” Cosette says, pulling a plastic package out of the other side of her top.
“I’m sorry,” Cosette says, raising one eyebrow. “Do you not want my boob nuts?”
Éponine takes them. “I was just dazzled by the—generosity, of your boob nuts.”
“People often are,” Cosette says gravely.
Éponine laughs at her, and Cosette inclines her head like an elderly queen. Her dimples are back. Éponine may have missed them—her—a little.
Cosette is wonderful to laugh at; she always seems to like it.
Éponine studies her. She has on a sort of shimmery silver flapper dress with a huge cardigan tied up around her waist. “Do you never have pockets?”
Cosette shrugs. “None of the clothing I like ever seems to have any, but I make do.”
“Anything to look like a shapely bag of fairy dust.”
“That’s my aesthetic,” Cosette says agreeably. “Shapely, eventually faceless, screaming bag of fairy dust.” Cosette glances down Éponine’s body.
Éponine squirms a little at the attention. She’s just wearing her jacket and like, another dress. She pretty much buys every sturdy secondhand dress she can find with pockets. Most of them are a little paint-smeared by now, but. Éponine likes that.
Éponine says, “I admire your aesthetic. It’s terrifying, but in a nice way, obviously.”
Cosette grins like a shark. “I never used to pay attention to anything I wore. Like, I think I wore the same weird oversized black top every day for the entirety of eighth grade. I just wanted to look sort of nondescriptly acceptable.”
“I don’t think I would ever call you nondescript,” Éponine says dryly.
“Well, then I dragged my father on this big Life Changing Adolescent shopping trip, and now I’m self-descript.”
“That’s very cool,” Éponine says. “You’re not cool, but that story is.”
Cosette makes an incredulous honking noise. Éponine has never heard an incredulous honking noise before.
Cosette goes on, “I sort of realized—like, my dad’s white, and most of the nuns and our town are all white, and you know, thin straight sort of people, and I was never gonna be nondescript there.”
“I like self-descript better.”
“You know when you first notice how people are looking at you?”
Éponine gives a hollow laugh. “Yeah.”
Éponine pulls her dress over her narrow ankles. “I don’t know if I dress with that in mind, but it definitely affects the extent to which I’m an asshole.”
Cosette says, “Well, you are my favorite asshole,” and Éponine makes a face.
Cosette shrugs. “My bad.”
Éponine wants to share but she doesn’t want to go through the process of sharing. “Like, when you grow up poor as shit, people really don’t like to look at you, and I always liked—making them, I guess. Maybe I still do, I don’t know.”
“It’s different when it’s on your terms.”
“Yeah.” Éponine feels something green unfurling in her chest, looking at Cosette, who is looking back at her.
She turns hastily back to her drawing.
Éponine shows up at Marius’ apartment a few minutes after seven with one huge bag of cheap Party City streamers and another of balloons that she is already looking forward to making someone else blow up.
For all her talk about not attending to fashion, she spent more time than she cares to admit staring blankly at her closet waiting for something to seem more impressive than everything else there. But Éponine is, at the end of the day, always just Éponine.
She doesn’t like anything except what she usually wears, anyway.
Courfeyrac opens the door, already bouncing a little on his toes.
“Éponine! You’re here! Wonderful!”
He hugs her; she presses her face into the curve of his neck and then shakes free. “I got the shit,” she says, waving all her bags in his face.
“Marvelous! I spent Marius out to get snacks and things because otherwise he will try to direct our efforts, and he is terrible.”
Éponine sees right through this, but doesn’t mind. Courfeyrac waves her into the house. There’s an extraordinarily pretty blonde sitting sideways on his sofa, leafing through one of Marius’ law textbooks.
Éponine has heard enough about Enjolras to recognize them, but she’s not sure she’s meant to give away that she knows who they are.
“I have your assistant here, ready to go,” Courfeyrac says. “Éponine, Enjolras. Enjolras, Éponine—you will do everything she tells you. She is an artist!”
Enjolras’s mouth quirks just a little. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Any party should be an egalitarian movement, should it not?”
“No,” Éponine says. “As you are the law student and I am the champion of expression, any attempt to regulate me is an act of state censorship.” She tosses them a streamer roll.
Enjolras catches it. “That sounds reasonable.”
Éponine scans the room. “Great. All you have to do is twist and tape on my orders.”
Courfeyrac, who is lying on the floor messing with a pile of wires and speakers, says, “Ah, luckily Enjolras can twist with the best of them.”
Enjolras rolls their eyes.
Half an hour later, the streamers are lopsided but up, and they’re all cheerfully murdering themselves blowing up balloons.
Enjolras collapses. “Why didn’t you have more people come early. We know. So many. Windbags.”
“New rule,” Courfeyrac pants. “No criticizing me. On my birthday.”
Éponine, who is after all the artist, cut out of inflating balloons five minutes in to tie them to streamers and braid them around the room. “I could have spelled out your name if it weren’t so damn long.”
“What did I. Just say.”
Eventually, at least half of the balloons are more or less inflated. All things considered, it doesn’t look too bad.
Marius, blessed child, doesn’t get back with the snacks until the party’s in full swing. “I couldn’t figure out how spicy everyone would want the guacamole,” he hollers over the music.
“This took you two hours?” Courfeyrac shouts back.
Marius looks embarrassed.
Éponine watches this exchange happily from across the room. She’s has been doing a great job of socializing and not noticing Cosette’s absence, for all that she can never remember the names of half Courfeyrac’s friends.
It helps that Grantaire slouched in quite early for him. They’re both enthusiastically bad dancers who enjoy taking up more than their share of space and ripping apart each other’s technique; they’ve been pretending not to cling to each other.
“Go on,” he yells in her ear. “Say hi.”
Éponine doesn’t actually know if she wants to, but she should. “I’ll be right back,” she screams.
Éponine waits until after Enjolras, delighted at something useful to do, relieves Marius of his bags and starts laying out the chip bowls. She comes up beside Marius and doesn’t tug his sleeve. “Marius!”
He turns and smiles, which is lovely. “Éponine!”
He hesitates and then follows her back out to the floor.
Marius is no good. He does a little side step next to her, careful not to push too far into her space and apologizing whenever anyone touches him. His hands flop at his sides like murdered ducks.
Éponine takes pity on him. “Here,” she shouts, holding her hands up. Marius takes them. His hands are big and a little cool. He holds hers tight. Éponine pulls him into jumping with her, forcibly swinging his body alongside hers until he finds the beat.
She twirls him. He lets her.
Marius laughs. She is deeply fond of him, her loser friend that cannot dance literally at all.
So Éponine is having fun, and if she’s happened to position herself where she can watch the door, that’s just being—usefully alert to intruders. Safety first. She dances with Marius, light and empty as one of the earlier balloons that Enjolras cared enough to inflate fully.
Then the door opens, and Cosette walks in.
She’s wearing a violently purple dress shaped like a bell with puffed sleeves, holding a gift bag spilling over with tissue paper. As she looks around, Éponine’s heart flips over several times.
“I gotta go,” she shouts at Marius. “My friend’s here.” He nods like a bobblehead doll. “Here, dance with Joly and Grantaire!” She shoves him at them. Joly gamely takes his hands. Grantaire glares at her, but she’s already gone.
Éponine surfaces from the crowd into the cool air, and Cosette’s whole beautiful absurd face lights up at the sight of her. “Hey!”
“You came!” Éponine wants to walk right into Cosette’s space, to kiss her just behind the cheek or take her hands. She doesn’t.
“I came!” She holds out her gift bag, dancing it a little. “This is for your friend—I wasn’t sure where to put it down?”
Éponine stashes it on the counter next to the fridge, far away from the punch bowl. “What is it?”
“If it were for you, I’m sure I’d tell you!”
Éponine surveys the dancing mass from a distance. “There’s supposed to be a karaoke machine, but I have no idea what happened to it, or where Courfeyrac is”
“Do you wanna just dance?” Cosette holds up her hands to Éponine. Éponine lays her palms against Cosette’s and pushes a little. Cosette pushes back and then their fingers are laced together and they’re giggling and spinning each other back into the crowd.
Cosette shouts, “Ballet dancers are notoriously terrible at real dancing, so you have to promise not to laugh at me!”
Éponine laughs. “I would never promise that!”
They twirl under their joined hands until Cosette is dizzy and needs to clutch at Éponine’s shoulders to stay upright.
It turns out that Cosette is a marvelous dancer. Or at least, she is utterly shameless, which is all Éponine really asks of a partner. There isn’t anything Éponine can do that Cosette isn’t eager to try to play along with.
They take turns leading one another, leaping and promenading through increasingly elaborate footwork. Cosette teaches Éponine a couple little square dance steps that they immediately ruin with overambitious variations.
Cosette has an excellent serious dance face, and every time she breaks it Éponine feels a rush of accomplishment.
Éponine keeps trying to dip her and almost dropping them both. Cosette keeps letting her try. At one point she yelps, “Let’s do a lift!”
Combeferre, dancing very reasonably behind her, shouts, “Absolutely not!”
The music sometimes demands they perform stately tangoes through the crowd, and sometimes the hand jive.
Cosette is awful at the hand jive. She’s much better at interpretive dancing to dubstep.
Éponine realizes much later, as her stomach aches from laughing and she’s ducking out of the crowd for a water break, how much more fun it is dancing with Cosette than with Marius—than with anyone else.
Marius is standing near the snacks, evaluating the success of his guacamole. Enjolras at some point, thank goodness, abandoned their post to lead Bahorel, almost twice their size, in swing dancing.
Éponine is on her second cup of water when Marius says, “You guys are really cute together. Like, dangerous to be around. But cute.”
Éponine tries to sink through the floor. “Thanks. I like her a lot.”
She manages to meet his eyes. “I’m glad we’re friends, Marius.”
His face is red. “Me too.”
She finishes her water and goes back to the floor, where she meets Cosette on her way out. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the time! I gotta go, I have an early morning practice!”
Éponine puts on a smile. “Okay! I’m glad you could come by!”
“You should come dance with me at the studio later, like I said!” Cosette yells.
“I will eventually.”
Éponine makes a face. “Ugh. Fine!”
Cosette laughs and squeezes her hands. “Good night! Tell your friend I said happy birthday.”
Courfeyrac materializes not five seconds after Cosette leaves. “It looks like maybe you’re figuring some things out, eh?” His hair’s a wreck and he’s lost his tie somewhere.
“God, shut up.” Éponine wipes her sweaty hands on his shoulders.
Éponine has never been inside the dance wing of the arts studio. The rooms aren’t much bigger than those Éponine is used to, but they ring out empty and unnerve her. The back wall of each is a giant mirror, and she can’t stop watching herself slip like a ghost past the open doorways.
Towards the end on the left, a door is closed. Through the glass, she can see Cosette dipping in a blue leotard with a very jovial tutu.
Éponine takes a deep breath and slips into the room.
Cosette turns at the sound of the door, her hands like startled birds fluttering behind her. “Hey!”
Éponine’s gut lurches happily. “I came.”
“You came,” Cosette agrees. She sort of—dance-runs over to Éponine, her tutu bouncing.
“I’m really into your tutu,” Éponine says.
Cosette does a demure little curtsy, making the tutu wiggle. “Me too.”
“Does your tutu challenge the Gaze?”
Cosette frowns at her. “My tutu is deeply subversive.”
“I believe it,” Éponine says, grinning. Cosette is standing close enough that she can reach out easily to play with the tulle hem. It’s rougher than she expected.
“Sproing,” she says, dropping her hands against it.
Cosette catches them. “Are you going to dance with me?”
Cosette’s fingers are warm and firm. She shakes out Éponine’s arms and swings them in little circles.
“Am I?” Éponine says helplessly.
“Yes,” Cosette says, walking backwards to pull Éponine towards the center of the room. “I will probably fail my thesis if you don’t.”
Éponine follows. “That sounds probable.”
Cosette lets go of Éponine’s hands, and Éponine stands there shifting her weight from side to side. She ends up holding her own hands behind her back, like she is in an expensive store filled with fragile things and cannot touch them.
“So the part I need your help with is—you remember when I described my project, how it’s sort of a not-duet? So I’m riffing on the pas de deux, which is a partnered dance form. The—traditionally female dancer—does a bunch of slow, gravitationally difficult movements while the traditionally male dancer supports her.” Cosette dances her hands together as she talks.
“Only you’re doing them by yourself,” says Éponine.
“Not precisely? I’m sort of trying to evoke them while supporting my own weight and I guess intimating at a partner.”
“So I could use someone else to, not physically support me at all, obviously, but move as my partner would so that I can figure out how to suggest them when they’re not there.”
“Lucky for you I am great at touching,” says Éponine, who isn’t.
Cosette tilts her head and smiles at Éponine like she knows. “Okay,” she says, putting her hair up in an enormous scrunchie. “But you can still like, say no, at any point, if you’re uncomfortable or anything, okay?”
“I always do.”
“Good. Then do what I do.” She falls forward from the waist, her body one easy line. The backs of her fingers brush the ground lightly.
Éponine pretends to try to touch her toes.
“And straddle,” Cosette says, sliding one arm down her leg and pulling the other over her head. Éponine imitates her.
She is almost positive Cosette is laughing at her.
“Other side,” Cosette murmurs, walking her hands across the floor to her other ankle. Éponine swings her body across to her other leg.
They pull their hands over their heads, stretch their arms behind their backs and across their chests. Cosette quietly directs Éponine through every exercise. Éponine feels increasingly flushed. The room is large and cool—but that’s part of it, part of her chest tingling as she takes off her jacket.
Cosette finally sits down. “Put the soles of your feet together,” she says, demonstrating. Her tutu splays out behind her like rays behind the sun.
Éponine sits beside her. “Should I take off my shoes?”
“Oh, sorry, yes! Ugh, I should have had you do that before. Sorry.”
Éponine pulls off her boots and tosses them across the floor. They thud loudly near the door, the noise echoing through the open halls.
She winces—this wing is like, incredibly fancy— and glances over at Cosette.
Cosette says, “Judges give it an eight out of ten.” Éponine adores her.
She puts the soles of her feet together, wrapping her palms around her toes like Cosette is doing.
“Now flap your wings,” Cosette says, bouncing her knees.
Éponine flaps her wings.
“Where are we going?” Cosette asks, cheerful as anything.
“I am going to lick the moon,” says Éponine.
“Alright. I will follow you and not lick anything.”
“Shame,” Éponine says, daringly.
Cosette leans down on one knee. “Uh oh, a comet! Steer left!”
Éponine does not steer left. “I’m going to fight the comet.”
Cosette gives her a dirty look.
Éponine steers left.
“Oh no!” Cosette yelps. “You’re being followed! Steer right!”
Éponine steers right, swinging her body around so Cosette is behind her. “Oh god, they’re horrifying! They’re catching up!” she says.
Cosette roars pathetically. Éponine laughs and roars much louder.
“I am no longer sure as to why I am chasing you,” says Cosette.
Éponine twists to look behind her. “Because you’re trying to be your best self.”
Cosette scrunches her nose at Éponine and roars again.
It is embarrassing for her.
“Welp,” says Éponine. “I’m not wasting fuel running from that.” She stretches her legs out in front of her.
Cosette walks her fingers up Éponine’s spine and pinches the back of her neck. “Got you,” she whispers.
Cosette stands up and holds out her hands to pull Éponine to her feet.
“So I’m going to go through my routine, and I’ll tell you where I need you. I’ll need you to touch me a little, but very lightly, okay? You can’t try to balance my weight or lift me.”
“I will be a non-load bearing wall,” Éponine says, clenching and stretching her fingers.
Cosette turns, raising one hand and sliding her feet together. “Put your hands on my waist?”
Éponine settles her hands gently just above Cosette’s tutu; She feels Cosette inhaling against her fingers. Cosette meets her eyes in the mirror. “Now just follow me, nice and easy.”
“Okay,” Éponine says again. Cosette goes on pointe, bobbing up above Éponine. She shuffles across the floor in tiny little steps, Éponine walking after her, holding her gingerly. “Alright, right beside me like we’re waltzing—and now come around to the right, okay?”
Éponine shifts around Cosette’s arm to press in until her chest doesn’t quite touch Cosette’s shoulder. “I’m going to dip, I just need you to put one hand—lightly, just grazing me—just along the inside of my leg, above my knee.”
Éponine rests her hand around Cosette’s thigh, her thumb along a tendon that contracts under it. “Perfect, thank you”—as Cosette bends to lift and curls her leg around like a bird’s wing; Éponine lifts her own hand with it, light as a ghost or a dream.
Cosette comes back up and reaches to her left. “And we’re spinning, just take my hand, two steps further back, perfect.”
Éponine spins slowly with her, just barely touching her hand and one waist. Her palms tingle.
“Okay—thank you—now just both hands and if you could shift to crouch right there.” Éponine kneels before Cosette and touches their fingertips together, watches Cosette’s leg come up over her head.
“You’re remarkable,” Éponine says.
Cosette breathes deep. “Well, yes.”
Éponine, because she is also remarkable, gets the hang of it quickly. Cosette moves slow, one of her hands usually extended to indicate where she needs Éponine to be. Cosette watches the mirror, entirely focused, but Éponine finds she can’t watch them without getting a little overwhelmed.
Cosette isn’t using music, and the room echoes with their breathing and the quiet sounds of their feet—Cosette’s pointe shoes scuffling and Éponine’s softer socks—across the polished wood floor.
Éponine usually just brushes Cosette’s fingertips with her own before they’re moving again. By their third run through, they are moving quietly together. Cosette only needs to say quietly:
“On my left.”
“Just above my ankle—”
Éponine shadows her carefully, feeling useful and strangely full. Cosette will occasionally murmur, “good,” or “thank you,” and Éponine’s heart beats hot and steady in response.
Eventually, Cosette says, “last one—my foot again.” She arches forward to lift one leg behind her, and Éponine just brushes the heel of her raised foot with her raised hand. She doesn’t rub her fingers against the rough silk. She is very good.
Cosette finally drops the position, turning to face Éponine. Her breath is a little shaky. “Thank you.”
“Sure,” Éponine says. Her voice seems to be coming from outside herself.
“I have to run through it again by myself, and um—“” Cosette twists her hands together—“adjust everything. You can stay, if you’d like?”
“Uh, no, I should probably go, I have class,” Éponine lies.
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Oh,” Éponine says, smiling weakly at her. “No, I have to finish a paper. Thursday?”
“Yes,” Cosette says.
Éponine somehow pulls on her boots, grabs her bag, and slips back out the door.
Éponine walks back to her dorm room, moving through crowds of people that press around her and whom she doesn’t feel at all. She finally gets to her room, locking her door. She hooks her thumbs in her underwear as she collapses backwards onto her mattress.
Éponine ends up staying awake until about four finishing her paper. The next morning before class, she is lying with her head on the table staring sideways at a croissant when footsteps suddenly stop next to her and Cosette’s voice says, “Hey, you.”
Éponine looks blearily up at Cosette. “You don’t even live here,” she says.
“I don’t!” Cosette sits down next to Éponine. “I’m meeting someone. You’re very lucky.”
“So lucky,” Éponine says.
“There there,” Cosette says, patting down Éponine’s morning hair. “Do you want anything? Some coffee? A hot roll? A soothing yet perky morning-time song?”
Éponine groans and falls over sideways onto Cosette’s shoulder, which is ridged with little fabric roses that press into Éponine’s cheek. Cosette’s hand follows her, holds her steady.
Cosette laughs softly, and the vibrations of it echo through Éponine’s chest. Her fingers rake steadily through Éponine’s hair over and over again back from her temple.
Éponine didn’t really have friends growing up, but she used to see other girls playing with each other’s hair. So she is pretty sure this is a friendship thing. It’s—very nice.
“Poor slug baby,” Cosette says, which is less nice.
Éponine makes a little noise of righteous protest that humiliatingly turns into a sigh halfway through. Cosette’s hand stills and then resumes carding through her hair.
Éponine wants to squash her face directly into Cosette’s shoulder and transpose through Cosette’s torso and live right there and be carried around and not have to go to class or open her eyes ever again.
She realizes, in some distant part of her brain, that the little noises Cosette has been making are a song, the lyrics of which seem to be “Éponine, human bean, Éponine, I’m sorry you’re so terrible in the morning.”
“I hate you,” Éponine says into the roses.
Cosette pats her ear. “I understand.”
There’s someone clearing their throat just beside their table; Éponine sits up fast, shaking her hair back in a casual and hopefully disdainful way.
It’s a boy with purple hair like an unkempt cockatoo rioting around his head. He waves.
Cosette says, “Hi Jehan!”
“Hello,” he says, grinning at them. “Sorry, we haven’t met—”
“Éponine,” Éponine says.
“Jehan,” he says. “Cosette, I’m gonna grab a plate, do you wanna—”
“Yeah, I’ll be ready when you get back,” Cosette says.
“Great!” Jehan swings back to Éponine. “I’ll see you later, maybe?”
Éponine nods, and Jehan walks away.
“How did he know I’m not here for the meeting? I could be in a meeting,” Éponine sulks.
Cosette adjusts Éponine’s collar. “It’s a planning session for the South Asian Students Association yearly fundraiser.”
“Well, I could be in. Another meeting.”
“I know you could, baby,” Cosette says, eating a croissant.
Éponine looks at it. “That was mine.” Cosette is putting Éponine’s bite marks inside her mouth, which is totally fine and normal.
“Oh, sorry, would you like a bite?” Cosette offers her back the last third of her own croissant.
Éponine pushes Cosette’s hair sideways over her entire face and drags herself to class.
Cosette’s laughter rings out behind her.
Wednesday after school, she and the kids wander to McDonalds. Gavroche keeps skipping around ahead and rushing back to show her cool shit he’s found in the road, clowning around for her cheerful as a kindergartener. He keeps threatening to show her his one-handed cartwheel. She keeps threatening to leave him on the side of the road after he smashes his head in. Azelma, top of her class in everything but English, swings Éponine’s hand in hers.
Nothing else has ever really been good, but they always have been. The sky is overcast and miserable, but Éponine still feels warm. The wide world spreads out before them.
It doesn’t occur to Éponine until the next night, when Cosette shows up at midnight with a paper to revise and a jar of peanut butter filled pretzels. “You’ve brought me food every night.”
Cosette looks up from her highlighting. “Yeah?” she says.
“I mean, you don’t need to. I’m on the meal plan, I have my own snacks.”
Cosette shrugs. “I, like.” She looks down, draws a neat highlighter circle. “I didn’t really get enough to eat when I was little. So now I don’t like being caught out hungry. And it just makes sense, if you’re going to be here. I might as well bring enough for you.”
“I hear nuns can be very stingy,” says Éponine lightly. She isn’t sure whether Cosette wants to talk about it. Éponine never wants to talk about it, unless she is rubbing it in someone’s face.
Cosette smiles. It’s the most cautious smile Éponine has seen on her yet. “No, before the nuns. My dad didn’t adopt me until when I was around six. Before then, I couldn’t live with my mother, and most of the homes I was in weren’t really—homes.” Cosette pushes her hand through her hair. “I don’t remember most of it, I just—don’t like being caught out hungry.”
Éponine says to her ruler, “I understand. I was hungry a lot, too.”
Cosette makes a little inquiring noise.
Éponine makes herself meet Cosette’s gaze, because Éponine is twenty one years old and has done much harder things than being honest with a pretty girl. “My parents weren’t the best. And that’s over now, but like. I get how it stays with you.”
“But you’re, I mean, you’re alright now?” Cosette says. She looks, in that moment, like she’s actually gonna go fight someone in her ugly sweater and sequined flats, if Éponine’s not alright.
Éponine considers her. “Yeah. I’m in school, and my kids are in school, and we’re all alright.” Éponine feels strangely light, saying this to Cosette.
“Good.” Cosette says. “Did you know, I am so good with kids.”
Éponine scoffs. “Everyone says that.”
“No, but I really am!”
Éponine says, “Nobody’s better than I am.”
“I think so too,” says Cosette, which is appalling of her. “I mean—I meant it, you know. All that time ago, when I said you were wonderful.”
Under her gaze, Éponine feels like a rose bloomed too far open. “I meant it, too. When I said you didn’t look like you got in fights.”
Cosette’s jaw drops. “I just opened my HEART to you,” she says.
“Your kind, soft heart,” Éponine agrees, which is when Cosette tackles her.
They both go down. Éponine instinctively rolls Cosette under her; she tries to pin her to the ground but has no idea what to do next. She can’t effectively straddle Cosette when she’s wearing a dress, when they’re both wearing dresses.
And she can’t catch her breath when Cosette’s hips are almost snug against hers, when Cosette is spread out beneath her, hair messy around her face and collarbones exposed like baby wings.
Cosette, having caught her breath, is glaring and kicking at Éponine’s ankles. Éponine can’t seem to stop laughing.
She manages to get it together enough to press her palms against the very edges of Cosette’s shoulders. Cosette holds her wrists there. She traces her thumbs against the tender inside of Éponine’s forearms.
Éponine’s eyes dart fast over to Cosette’s face. Cosette is smiling up at her, which seems dangerous.
Suddenly, Cosette bucks—up—from her hips, kneeing Éponine hard in the shin, and flips them, uses her grasp on Éponine’s wrists to hold her hands down and out beside her head.
Cosette has no qualms about straddling Éponine.
Her knees press firmly on either side of Éponine’s waist, her pale skirt draped over both of them, and her body underneath does not quite touch, but— Éponine’s breath catches. Cosette is warm and close.
Cosette has left Éponine’s legs entirely free. She could use that.
But lifting her legs at all will mean bringing her hips up against Cosette, and—
There is a hot sea roiling inside Éponine, something deep within her clutching and yearning. She looks back up, blinking.
She doesn’t want to escape, is the thing. Cosette leans down over her, her fingers firm around Éponine’s wrists. One of Cosette’s fingertips has drifted up to rest in the hollow of Éponine’s palm, where the skin tingles.
It’s driving Éponine out of her goddamn mind.
And Cosette is smiling, easy as anything, her eyes dancing, and she says, “Do you surrender?” She says it unbearably sweetly, holding Éponine so tight, so secure against the ground.
“No,” says Éponine.
She does surrender. She does. She has no idea why she would say otherwise, except that Éponine is made up of thorns and longing. She does not know how to be soft, how to take.
“No?” Cosette says. She looks over Éponine, who burns under her gaze. “Reeeaaally,” Cosette says.
Éponine wants and wants, and she feels like it will consume her.
“No,” Éponine says again, her voice hoarse. And then, because Éponine is the bravest girl in the entire world, she stretches up and bites Cosette’s chin.
Just once, just a little sharp.
Cosette looks stunned. She blinks down at Éponine, her hands flexing. Her body settles a little lower against Éponine, which is dangerous.
“You are,” Cosette says slowly, “unbelievable.”
Éponine knows this. She holds her gaze steady.
Cosette is searching Éponine’s face carefully. Still slowly, slowly, she bends down and licks right up the arch of Éponine’s nose.
Éponine’s nose up to her eyebrows is wet and cold; she scrunches up her face. It’s disgusting, truly disgusting, and the empty clenching in Éponine’s chest sparks into a squirming flame.
She can’t grin. She is too happy to grin.
Éponine raises her face again yearning after Cosette’s, utterly purposeless, and Cosette catches Éponine’s mouth with her own.
It is exactly like being caught, kissing Cosette—like dropping out of the sky and suddenly being home safe, except for the roaring in Éponine’s ears.
After a moment, Cosette pulls back, only to kiss her again at a closer angle so their mouths fit neat together, coaxing Éponine into kissing back.
It makes sense, that Cosette should kiss just as disarmingly as she talks.
Éponine hasn’t done a great deal of kissing in her life. She’s kissed Montparnasse and some others from his set, generally when she was feeling restless or looking for trouble, looking to get away.
Kissing, for Éponine, is always a little bit like a fight. Like trying to push someone into listening to her, trying to keep them from changing the rules. Kissing someone is a rush the way a difficult exam is.
So she hasn’t done it a lot.
But kissing Cosette is so unexpectedly easy. Éponine doesn’t feel like she needs anything at all, except more. Her entire body is sparking, thrilling down to her toes and the ends of her hair.
Cosette’s hands slide up Éponine’s wrists to tangle their fingers together over her head, and she doesn’t let Éponine go. Her hair falling around them tickles the sides of Éponine’s face.
Éponine isn’t nice; she doesn’t know how to kiss nicely. She bites Cosette’s open mouth. Cosette makes a little noise, and bites back.
Their mouths slide fierce together, and Cosette isn’t kissing nicely anymore.
And that’s—that’s somehow still nice.
Éponine curls her tongue along Cosette’s, and Cosette whimpers into her mouth and rocks against her. She moves her hands so she’s holding both of Éponine’s wrists loosely in one hand, her other feathering light down the inside of Éponine’s arm, leaving wildfire in its wake.
“Okay?” Cosette whispers. Her fingers sink up into Éponine’s hair at the base of her neck, pulling Éponine closer and holding her there, arched off the ground for Cosette to kiss.
Éponine kisses her hard once, kisses a trail up along Cosette’s jaw to her ear, secret as a shell under the dark waves. Cosette’s hand falls to her shoulder and clutches there. Éponine licks her ear, which makes her whimper and her fingers tighten. She tugs at Cosette’s little earlobe with her teeth.
“Okay,” she says hoarsely, hidden against the side of Cosette’s face. “Okay, anything, okay.”
Cosette licks Éponine’s temple, and it’s not sexy at all, it’s not. Éponine choke laughs into Cosette’s soft hair—“what is wrong with you,” and kisses the corner of her jaw.
And then Cosette is kissing her again, except they can barely kiss because they are both laughing. It is profoundly embarrassing, and still not sexy, except for how Éponine is involuntarily clenching beneath their skirts, locking her ankles around each other in a desperate attempt at producing friction.
Éponine curiously tugs against Cosette’s hand holding hers against the blanket. Cosette presses down more firmly, tapping a couple fingers warningly against Éponine’s curled palms. Éponine shudders happily. She closes her fists to keep them there, kissing Cosette deeper.
Cosette runs her free palm hard down the outside curve of Éponine’s chest, and Éponine gasps, and that is when Éponine shifts her hips up to meet Cosette’s.
Neither of them are wearing tights, is the problem.
Another problem is that Éponine did not anticipate how much her dress would have twisted up during all of this wrestling. Éponine’s hips brush the insides of Cosette’s bare thighs, and—
Underwear, it turns out, is extraordinarily thin.
Cosette squeaks, like an actual mouse she squeaks, which is delicious, except Éponine has frozen against her.
They pull apart and breathe shakily; Cosette lets go of Éponine’s hands.
Cosette starts to sit back away from Éponine’s face, but doing so only settles her more firmly in Éponine’s lap. She lurches away to fall sideways off Éponine. Éponine hastily pulls her dress down and sits up.
“Sorry,” Cosette says, breathless. Her mouth is swollen, her eyes dark; her sweater is falling down her shoulder.
“Sorry,” Éponine echoes.
“No, I’m sorry,” Cosette says again.
“You don’t have to be sorry, I’m—”
“No, I was the one who went all, hungry like the wolf.”
“I was plenty hungry,” Éponine says, and watches Cosette breathe.
Cosette says, “You did slip me The Tongue.”
“Do you deny it?”
“Of course not! That slippage was possibly the noblest moment of my life.”
“It was very slippery.”
“Like a ferocious eel.” Éponine says. She’s gathered enough of herself back to posture a little.
“All the best kisses,” Cosette says thoughtfully, “are said to involve a ferocious eel.”
“Well, I’ve been around.”
There’s a little lull where Éponine zips up her jacket and then Cosette says, “We should probably. Talk?”
“Um,” says Éponine, who hates. Talking.
Cosette pushes her hair back from her face and fingercombs it over one shoulder. “So um. What are you looking for?”
“Looking for?” says Éponine.
“Like. Do you want to date someone—I mean, a me sort of someone, do you want to be in a relationship at all, do you just want to kiss more, like.” Cosette is smiling a little, but she’s not meeting Éponine’s eyes or trying to charm her, which is upsetting. Cosette shrugs. “What do you want?”
“I don’t know,” Éponine says.
Cosette says, “Okay.”
“Um, what do you want?”
Cosette laughs. “I, uh. I actually don’t really know either. I like you—jeez, I like you so much—but I don’t want like, anything that you don’t want, you know?”
“No, but what would you want, if you could decide,” says Éponine, insistently terrible.
Cosette finally looks at her. “I—I guess I’d need to think about it.”
“Okay,” says Éponine. “Me too, then.”
Éponine definitely needs to think about it. She also needs not to cry right now.
Cosette takes in and lets out a deep breath. “I’m gonna go, I think,” she says. “But—when you’re ready, to talk, I mean, you should find me. Write to me. Whatever you want. ”
“Okay, I will,” Éponine says, her chest hollow and aching.
“Okay,” Cosette repeats. She leans in fast and kisses Éponine’s cheek, there and gone again before Éponine can catch her breath. “I meant it,” she says. “When you’re ready,” and stands up, taking her papers and leaving the pretzels.
She walks back towards campus, and Éponine carefully doesn’t watch her leave.
Éponine finds another letter a couple nights later, tucked under a loose cobblestone where she’s almost finished with her piece. She has no idea how long it’s been there—how has no one else picked it up? Did Cosette just leave it? Is Cosette still nearby?
COSETTE’S SECOND LETTER
I think made up flower languages sound wonderful. I would probably be really good at it, as I am both hilarious and discreet. I’m just assuming discretion is part of this, on account of how it is a code.
That is honestly mostly what I’m looking for, in a relationship, I mean. Not “hilarious and discreet,” but something like made up flower languages. I don’t need a big official thing I can parade around or someone who will do all the proper things at the proper times.
I don’t really know how to explain this. I had dinner at the convent once, years ago, and it was someone’s birthday or something, so it was everyone all at one long table, all these nuns and my dad, who is big and solid, and me, at the head of the table, which was my place. (Don’t laugh.)
Everyone was talking over each other, you know, loud church gossip, and this one nun, Sister Bernard, said something—like, some little joke, I don’t even remember, but kind of quietly. And no one really heard it, I thought, but then I saw Sister Margarita smiling at her from down the table. And that was it, basically, just—that she heard her, when no one else did, and the way they looked at each other across all the babbling noise. I don’t know, it was so small, but it was the nicest thing.
Anyway, that’s all I really want.
Éponine puts the letter down with hands that do not tremble. She tilts her head back to the night and breathes.
She feels okay.
Éponine draws throughout the night. She only has the lowlights to fill in at this point—this is the easiest part, when all the important details are laid down and she gets to just trace her fingers through the world, making the shadows a little deeper. The dawn is just about trickling over the edges of the chapel tower when Éponine is ready to smear it.
This is her favorite part; it’s the most dangerous. Éponine has at least four totally ruined drawings stashed in the back of her closet in her dorm room. It’s not the end of the world if she kills it.
She likes this one though.
Cosette held the paper steady over her head while Éponine sketched out the alcoves and balustrades of the steeple. She filled in the window lines on a nearby apartment while Cosette huffed and complained over her term paper. Éponine’s fingerprints are soft all over this piece, and so are Cosette’s.
Éponine starts with the heel of her hand opposite the chapel in the sky and tugs a dark trail across the sky and over the rooftops. She slides down the side of her hand towards her fingers, lets a few tendrils whisper over the church tower, licking the stained glass window. She lifts her hand.
She looks at it, frowning happily, and picks up her most narrow charcoal stick again.
She adds a bird.
Éponine eases her hand underneath the piece and slips it into a clean plastic pocket. She’s not sure if she’s done. She can never tell, this close to finishing, but she feels good about it.
She tears a strip off the bottom of her sketchbook.
This is not the letter. Come by the church tonight?
She drops her not-letter into Cosette’s student mailbox the next morning. She blows off her phys ed requirement class again and runs across campus to Dr. Mabeuf’s office. She has no idea if he even has office hours on Fridays, but the light is on in his office when she knocks.
“Come in—ah, Éponine.”
“Hey, Dr. Mabeuf. Can I ask you something?”
His eyes crinkle indulgently at her. “I think you’ll find you can.”
She steels herself. “Where do you get your flowers?”
Later that evening, Grantaire picks her up downtown and helps her carry everything to the church. They set everything down against the steps, and Grantaire shakes his head. “I can’t believe I’m helping you do this.”
“I can. You’re a hopeless romantic who hates the law.”
He rolls his eyes. “You’ve got this from here?”
“Yeah,” she says, looking up at the church walls, brilliance welling up inside of her. “Yeah, I’m good.”
Grantaire catches her palm and kisses it. “Ugh, Grantaire, you sap,” she says.
He waves and drives away, and then it’s just Éponine working quietly through the evening, just as it always had been. The autumn air dances over her bare skin, and the streetlight smiles down at her work. She finishes a couple hours later and settles to wait.
Of course, she didn’t think to bring a book—or even her blanket. She’s lucky she even has her phone. She stretches out against the church steps and watches the clouds move across the stars.
She hears light footsteps on the cobblestones and turns just in time to see Cosette step under the streetlight and look up.
Yellow daffodils and a rainbow of snapdragons weave up the corner of the church, bursting out into deep gold chrysanthemums, larkspurs, and wild roses that curl and dance across the brick as high as Éponine could reach.
She used a lot of wire and painters’ tape, but she thinks it looks alright.
Éponine has a sunflower, but only one, because it was super fucking expensive in this season. She holds onto it with both hands.
Cosette looks like she’s about to burst into tears. She turns to Éponine, her hands spread open before her. “Éponine,” she says, her voice trembling.
Éponine hastily puts the sunflower into Cosette’s hands, closes her fingers around it and holds her there. “It’s my letter,” she says. She’s not sure if Cosette understands. She doesn’t want her to cry.
“I know it’s your fucking letter,” Cosette gasps.
“Okay, good,” Éponine says, still holding on.
Cosette’s eyes shine wetly at her. “Are you going to tell me what it says?”
“Oh my god,” Éponine says. “It’s a letter. You have to read it.”
“Really. I have to read it. Right now.”
Éponine shrugs. “I don’t make the rules.”
“Alright,” Cosette says. “Alright.” She takes a deep breath and turns to study the church. “Um, the daffodils probably represent the warmth I exude from the core of my being.”
“Shh, I’m reading. The—what are those other flowers?”
“The snapdragons are you then, being grumpy and yet enraptured. So you have us twining together—Éponine, this is a very dirty letter.” Cosette’s eyes are still wet, but she’s smiling now.
“You are demeaning my art,” Éponine tells her seriously.
“Yes,” she says, not looking at the church anymore.
“Cosette, you’re not finished.”
Cosette is looking at her mouth. “Yes, I am.”
There’s a happy spark kindling in Éponine’s chest. “There are so many flowers left.”
“They mean love,” Cosette says absently. “They mean you love me.”
“I’ve known you for like a month,” Éponine starts, but then Cosette is kissing her and Éponine feels her entire body rioting into blossom.
They keep having to stop kissing to grin against each others’ mouths, but Éponine can’t seem to complain. Her hands are in Cosette’s hair; Cosette has dropped the sunflower and is backing her into an alcove of the church by the hips.
Cosette kisses her way down Éponine’s throat; she keeps pausing to whisper “you are so great, god you’re wonderful,” against Éponine’s skin, which shouldn’t be hot but it is, it is.
“We need to go somewhere,” Éponine gasps. “Do you want to go somewhere?”
Cosette pulls back, her eyes dark and heavy. Éponine strokes her hair down carefully. “Yeah, I do—do you?”
“Obviously,” Éponine says, kissing her again.
“Where do you live, how far is your room?”
“I’m in Jondrette.”
“Fuck, that’s like, a twenty minute walk.” Cosette glances up at the church. “We could—”
Éponine laughs. “We can’t. It’s locked.”
Cosette tugs her towards the side door. “Oh, Éponine, you weren’t raised by my father.”
Cosette pulls a bobby pin out of somewhere and wiggles it inside the lock while Éponine tries not to find breaking and entering arousing. “Ha,” Cosette whispers as the pin catches.
“Your father is a gardener,” Éponine says blankly.
“My father is many things.” Cosette pushes the door open.
Éponine lets Cosette pull her into the dark. “What—”
“I’d really rather not talk about my dad right now.” Cosette peers around the corners like she thinks she’s James Bond.
“We should find the tower,” Éponine says, inspired. She drags Cosette towards the back of the church. “The entrance should be about—here.”
It’s an old stone door, behind it a spiral staircase. Cosette closes the door behind them and immediately starts kissing her again.
“Oh my god,” Éponine slaps Cosette’s fingers away from her buttons, holds their hands out to their sides. “No nonsense on the ancient stone steps, we will fall and die.”
“You’re so boring,” Cosette groans, letting Éponine walk her backwards up the stairs. Moonlight glints through the windows to scatter across Cosette’s face, smiling intimate and happy down at her. Éponine walks faster.
They emerge from the stairs into a bright moonlit tower room. Somewhere at the back of Éponine’s mind she wants to look out the windows, to see if she can do her next piece from up here, but most of her is taken up with Cosette’s hands in hers and the way Cosette’s eyes sparkle as she spins Éponine back against the tower wall.
Cosette doesn’t seem to care about the view at all.
She kisses Éponine slowly, leisurely, undoing the buttons of her dress like they’re a mildly interesting puzzle. Éponine presses her hands to the wall behind her, cold and rough. Colder still is the air against Éponine’s bare skin as Cosette peels back her dress, and yet Éponine burns.
Because Éponine is both ambitious and hopeful, she’s not wearing tights again or a bra. Cosette groans and follows her fingers with her mouth, tilting Éponine’s throat back to lay a sucking trail down Éponine’s breastbone and across to her left nipple.
A tight thrill shoots down to Éponine’s center; she gasps into Cosette’s hair as Cosette sucks harder, scraping up with her teeth just enough to make Éponine fall against her. Cosette slides her leg between Éponine’s thighs to hold her up, and Éponine grinds shamelessly against the pressure.
Cosette plucks and teases at her right nipple with her lovely dancer’s fingers and kisses her mouth. Éponine presses her palms harder into the stone behind her.
In a dizzy haze of inspiration, Éponine takes one hand off the wall and takes Cosette’s hand off the side of her neck, slides it down between her breasts and down one thigh. She tugs Cosette’s hand back up under her hem.
“Yeah?” Cosette says, pressing her forehead against Éponine’s.
“Yes, fucking yes,” Éponine pants.
Cosette dances her fingers in loops up the inside of Éponine’s thigh until Éponine is shivering, all her skin terribly alive, and says “Ugh, fuck you, please, fucking please.”
Cosette strokes soft against the outside of Éponine’s underwear. “Jesus,” Cosette says. “I can feel how wet you are. God, you are so nice, Jesus.”
Éponine’s whole body shakes against Cosette. She wants to say, “What would the nuns say,” but all she says is “please” again.
Cosette kisses her temple and pulls her underwear down, lets it fall to the tower floor. Éponine spreads her legs under Cosette’s hand. Cosette pulls her fingers gently through Éponine’s folds, like she’s playing the piano.
She circles just around Éponine’s clit, slowly, so fucking slowly, and Éponine feels herself arching and trembling, tight and on edge. Cosette finally brushes her clit and Éponine quakes, dropping her head onto Cosette’s shoulder.
Cosette kisses her hair, and Éponine raises her head to kiss her back. Cosette bites Éponine’s lip just as she slides two fingers deep inside her, which is cheating, god, Éponine wants to tell her it’s cheating but she doesn’t want her to stop.
“Yes,” she gasps, and Cosette is filling her up so well, she is fucking Éponine so-- deliciously hard and insistent, her other hand come down now to keep gently stroking her clit as she pumps her fingers in and out, striking something explosive.
Éponine twines her fists in the material of Cosette’s skirt, clings and shudders against her. She presses her open mouth frantically against the side of Cosette’s face in what can hardly be called kisses. She bucks helplessly against Cosette’s fingers, it’s so much, it’s-- not quite enough-- “please,” she says again, “please,” and Cosette doesn’t stop.
“I’ve got you,” Cosette murmurs, rubbing her harder. “I’ve got you, go on, you’re doing so good, you’re doing so so perfect,” Éponine comes and keeps coming, shakes apart searing bright against Cosette’s precise fingers.
Cosette slides her hands away, wiping them off neatly on her dress-- Cosette’s dress, not Éponine’s, Éponine’s-- Éponine is all over Cosette’s dress, god fuck, and then Cosette is holding her face again and peppering kisses over her eyes and her temples.
Éponine breathes and keeps breathing.
“How are you doing?” Cosette says. “I’m sorry I’m so good at that.”
Éponine laughs at her, but her laugh is still shuddering. “Kiss me,” she says, and Cosette does.
Cosette wraps all around her and holds her firm and steady and kisses her like that’s all she ever wants to do. Éponine wraps her arms low across Cosette’s back and they cling like that in the moonlight.
“You’re lovely,” Cosette says, and Éponine says, “Yes.”
Éponine drifts her hands light over Cosette, daringly down towards the small of her back and the side of her ribcage. “What do you want?” Éponine says. She rubs her thumb rough over Cosette’s clothed nipple and is gratified to see Cosette’s eyes slide out of focus as she blinks and her mouth drops open.
“Anything,” Cosette says. “I’m happy with anything.”
“I want to go down on you,” Éponine says, for the pleasure of hearing Cosette’s shaking breath. Cosette rubs her nose against Éponine’s, which seems like a disproportionate response for an offer of oral sex. “I would probably really like that,” she says.
Cosette shrugs. “You never know.”
Éponine scrapes her thumbnail just at the edge of Cosette’s nipple to make her tremble in revenge, but then she needs to slide to her knees before she loses her nerve. “Your skirt is everywhere,” she says.
Cosette ties it up out of the way, like it’s 1996 and she’s going to a strangely naked concert. Her underwear is light purple and very pretty. Éponine traces the edge of it.
She doesn’t want Cosette to be cold, but Cosette doesn’t seem to mind. Éponine strokes down the front of Cosette’s underwear, where it’s just a little bumpy from her hair underneath.
At the press of Éponine’s fingers, Cosette’s underwear tells the shape of her sex, which is very close to Éponine’s face and which soon Éponine will put her mouth on and maybe it will be dreadful and then Cosette will not be in love with her anymore.
Éponine glances up at Cosette’s face. “Will you tell me what to do?”
“Yes,” she says. She touches Éponine’s face softly, at the corner of her eye. “Pull down my underwear.”
Éponine does, very carefully. It still seems rude to look.
Cosette’s voice is a little uneven. “Hold my hand.”
“And with your other hand-- you can part the lips, to make room for your mouth.”
Cosette’s skin is very soft, and beneath her folds she is shining wet.
“Um, just slow, easy licks-- don’t try to do anything fancy, just. Say hi.”
“Hi,” Éponine murmurs, and licks. Cosette tastes a little sharp, which she likes. It’s a surprisingly small area, so she has no idea how she’s going to get fancy. She just licks deep, and Cosette sighs against her. Her knees tremble a little.
“That’s good.” Cosette’s free hand comes down on Éponine’s head. “That’s very good,” she says, “Very, very good, that’s good.”
Éponine tightens her grip on Cosette’s fingers. She explores Cosette with her mouth, avoiding her clit, which peeks out dark and lovely at her like Cosette’s dimples. Cosette slides her hand deeper into Éponine’s hair, tugging a little, which Éponine enjoys. She kisses just above Cosette’s soft opening, licks up to just beneath her clit. Does it again, and again, outlining it on either side, closer and closer.
Not too close.
“Seriously,” Cosette says, buckling against Éponine’s mouth, “I mean, are you being serious right now, you are such an asshole,” and Éponine enjoys that too. She steadily works Cosette over, going back to the spots that make her shudder against Éponine’s mouth, never quite touching anything else.
Cosette’s voice shakes. “You asked me to tell you what to do, and I want you to--” Éponine brings her mouth up and latches gentle around Cosette’s clit, sucks hard. Cosette cries out, wrenching on Éponine’s hair.
Éponine keeps sucking, and does not know what else to do, or what else on earth could matter but this-- but Cosette’s thighs shaking tight around her, and the sweet ache of Éponine’s mouth. She goes until Cosette tells her not to stop, not to stop, and then she goes faster.
And then Cosette is cursing and coming above her, her thighs trembling and body clenching all around Éponine, who is very good and does not stop until Cosette comes back down.
Her jaw is a little sore, her mouth all lit up with Cosette, and Éponine tugs her down to nestle against her on the floor. She touches Cosette’s face soft again, stroking her sweaty hair back from her face.
“You still have to clean up the flowers, you know,” Éponine says, and Cosette kisses her soundly.
Éponine is pleased to discover that being Cosette’s girlfriend means that she can say any absurdity she thinks and Cosette will be delighted, while everyone else will look even more embarrassed than usual.
That’s all Éponine needs, really.
At breakfast one morning, Cosette is trying to spoon feed her eggs from across the table, and Éponine is scrunching up her face.
“I am only trying to look out for you, cuddlebutt,” Cosette says.
“You are the true holy picture of chivalry,” Éponine says, “And I hate that about you.”
Cosette smiles and catches Éponine’s ankle between her own under the table. “My poor spiteful darling.”
Éponine steals Cosette’s honeydew melon. “Have I told you that you look like a wombat in the morning?”
Cosette flutters her eyelids. “Really?”
“Yes,” Éponine says honestly. “A little wombat king cloaked in the glory of the sunrise.”
Cosette stabs after the melon with her own fork. “You are such a generous lover,” she says.
At the next table over, Grantaire groans, “We can hear you,” and drops his head onto the table. Courfeyrac pats his face and gives them a thumbs up.
Cosette and Éponine swing their feet together and wage war over the honeydew melon under the florescent lights of the dining hall until they are late for class.
Éponine is very happy.