The entire idea of being there makes her feel a little sick, a little bit wrong or a little pathetic.
Eponine doesn’t know why. She’s done worse, far, far worse. She remembers waiting for Montparnasse for hours in the rain, her black umbrella breaking in the wind and her clothes soaking through and clinging to her skin and the glue that she used to fix the peeling sole of her shoe dissolving and filling her up with water from her roots like a plant, and crying after they broke up so hard that it felt like she was still sodden with all of that water, and it was leaking out through her eyes. Surely even this is less pathetic than that. And she’s tired of rebound sex, meeting guys from Tinder or just hanging out for hours at the bar by her own. There’s something deliciously degrading about being the only girl in a bar full of slightly sleazy men but it’s never enough and the one night stands get boring after a while because for some reason, they never satisfy her.
The place is really not what she was expecting.
For a BDSM club, the Dirty Virgin (ostensibly named after a cocktail) seems familiar to her. Eponine grew up in a pub. She knows the feeling, the noise and the ambiance, like the back of her hand. This place is oddly similar. The air tastes of sweat and alcohol and it thrums with the baseline of a song that she can only just make the words out of over the hum of the people talking around her. The floor is slightly sticky, her heels making a sucking sound when she shifts uncomfortably. The only major difference, she supposes, is the costumes. That and the debauchery.
Beside her, three girls dressed as fairies are making out, wings sticking out awkwardly as they perch on barstools. Directly in front, on the dance floor, a man in heels is grinding on a grinning girl wearing a collar, and on closer inspection Eponine realizes that he is holding her on a leash. A slightly older couple in matching pink latex are pushing through the crowds to the bar, and beyond that an exceedingly slim girl is dancing enthusiastically to the beat. She is wearing a yellow tutu, and intricate pink shibari rope, nothing else. Eponine feels distinctly under dressed in her black jeans and t shirt, although her eyes are wandering across the obscene displays with far more than just polite interest.
She tries to swallow that idea; the idea that she is more than just a tourist here. She can’t quite get it out of her mind, the thought that feeling like she wants more makes her some kind of dirty pervert. And yet, here are a huge amount of people who seem happy to disagree.
Her head is swimming. She sighs; she needs a drink.
The bar is less crowded than the entrance hall or the floor- people seem to be drawn out onto the dance floor like moths towards the light, like lemmings towards the edge of a cliff. Something seems to be happening in one of the dark rooms that lead off from the main dance floor, the “playrooms”. She thinks she heard someone else call them that. It makes her feel even more like an outsider.
She sits at the bar on one of the freshly vacated stools and tries to get the bartender’s attention. “Vodka and coke, please,” she says and closes her eyes briefly, trying to dull the pain that is growing behind her eyes. Why did she think this was a good idea?
From her vantage point at the bar, she can see across the room, all of the different faces lit up in the electric glow of the strobe lights. Her gaze catches a man in a cape with a girl strapped in leather, but slips from them and back to the fairies that she had seen earlier. They have stopped with the make-out session, but two of the girls are holding hands and giggling together while the third reapplies her lipstick and tries not to laugh at whatever the others are saying. Eponine can’t quite tear her gaze away. The girl who is applying her lipstick stands out to her; she is stunning, Ep thinks. Petite, with delicate hands. When she finishes with the lipstick she starts to talk and they move fast and expressive as she gestures, telling a story. Her face is round and open, her body also rounded and deliciously soft-looking. Her wings are powder blue and she looks like she took a bath in glitter before coming out. Eponine swallows hard. She’s used to this feeling of dread whenever she sees a pretty girl. She isn’t religious and neither were her parents- they seemed to have little to no sense of morality let alone a fear of retribution from a higher power for their sins- yet it’s one of the few things they knocked into her over and over.
It’s not like she’s not attracted to men. She loved Marius for years, the oblivious wet blanket that he is, and she was definitely sexually compatible with Montparnasse even if he has the personality of a rotten squirrel corpse. But still, when she thinks about the girl she used to work with back when she bartended, or her lab partner back in high school or that one girl with the long red hair who used to get on her bus, she feels faintly sick and exceedingly bisexual, with a heavy helping of guilt. She hates that her parents still have this hold over her even though they’re long gone by now, dead or in hiding from one of the many drug dealers they pissed off, or maybe they’re just bored of having children. She doesn’t see them, barely thinks of them, but when it comes to this, she just can’t-
When her mind sees fit to amble back to the present day, the fairy girl has gone.
Eponine looks away, back towards the crowd and the gaggle of people. Some dude with thick glasses and a neckbeard seems to have formed some kind of harem, their arms looped round his neck happily, leading him into one of the playrooms. There is a considerable amount of nudity, but less than she was expecting.
There is a cough behind her, and a soft voice. “Hello.”
Eponine spins on her stool. The fairy girl is beside her, dark skin shining even more iridescent in the harsher lighting of the bar. The lights in the fridges cast a blue-white sheen over her face, playing over the streaks of highlight that she has dusted onto her cheeks. Eponine gulps and hopes that it wasn’t audible over the music. “Hello,” she says and is proud when her voice comes out steady.
“Is this seat taken?”
“No?” Eponine stutters a little and sneaks a glance at the girl from the corner of her eye, trying to suss out a motive.
The girl grins and sits down. She almost seems to ooze confidence, and when she moves, the scent of her perfume wafts towards Eponine- she would have guessed floral, but this scent is heavy and musky, sultry and incredibly alluring. She finds herself almost leaning into it. “So, first time?” The girl asks conversationally, and Eponine almost chokes. She may be pretty vanilla, but that doesn’t make her a virgin! “In the club, I mean,” the girl clarifies.
“Oh! Yes, it is.” Eponine wants to hide.
“Enjoying it?” Ep wrinkles her nose. “Yeah, I know what you mean. It can be a little overwhelming.” She catches the eye of the bar tender. “Hi, R! Virgin strawberry daiquiri please,” she says and gets something that is so pastel and cute looking that Eponine almost rolls her eyes. “So what are you looking for, exactly?” There’s an edge to her tone, a heat that makes Eponine’s toes curl, like talking to a teacher when you haven’t done your homework. She desperately doesn’t want to disappoint.
“I don’t know,” she says after a pause. “I wanted to work out what I want, I guess.”
“And have you worked that out? What do you want?”
You, Eponine’s brain helpfully supplies. Preferably naked and ordering me around, it adds with a wink and Eponine attempts to down her entire drink in one. “Another drink,” she says instead with a smile that she hopes doesn’t look too rabbit-in-the-headlights.
The girl smiles back. The heat is still there, behind her eyes, predatory and at odds with her exterior. “R,” she says without looking away from Eponine, and the bartender whirls round to them.
“Yo,” he says with a flash of surprisingly white teeth. He looks like he hasn’t shaved in weeks, and his hair is messy like he spends a lot of time running his fingers through hit. Or, considering their surroundings, he spends a lot of time with someone else running their fingers through it, come to think of it. “What can I get you, my most beautiful customer?”
“Shut up, Grantaire,” the girl says with an eyeroll. “Can I have a one of… whatever she’s having, please? Put it on my tab.”
“Oh, you don’t have to-“
The girl doesn’t so much smile as bare her teeth. “I’m paying.”
Eponine gulps. “Thank you,” she says after a pause.
Their staring match is broken by Grantaire planting a glass between them. “Vodka and coke for the lady,” he says, and then winks. “I assume. Never can tell around here. Sorry to interrupt your sexually charged staring. I sure know how to ruin a mood, don’t I?” The girl swats at him with her purse- a blue shiny clutch bag- and he backs off, laughing.
“Sorry about him.”
Eponine laughs. “Thank you again for the drink.” There is another pause; the girl seems to be searching her face for something, a reaction. “I’m Eponine Thenardier,” she says after a moment. She wants to hit herself the moment she’s said it. Why did she give her real name? This girl could be some kind of psycho. And even if she’s not, she probably thinks that she’s some kind of idiot for giving some stranger in a fetish club her full name.
“I’m Cosette,” she says instead. “Cosette Valjean.”
“So, what are you looking for?” Eponine has been itching to ask for the past few minutes. The question sounds far more suggestive than she intended it to but the girl just smiles in that half-way that she keeps on doing. It’s mona-lisa-esque, enigmatic.
“Oh, I came with a group of friends,” the girl- Cosette- says. “We were going to do a scene in the playroom but I got… distracted.” Her eyebrows raise suggestively and it’s so cliché that Eponine feels ashamed for feeling turned on. “Now I’m just looking for someone, a girl, say. Tall and slim, hair like a rat’s nest, looks like she’d be great in bed…”
“My hair does not look like a rat’s nest!”
Cosette’s teeth sparkle. “Who says I was talking about you?” The light flashing and Cosette’s perfume are making Eponine’s head spin. She’s intoxicated by the scent but more than that, she is starting to feel the effect of the drinks a little more than she expected. She’d already had a few at home to prepare herself, to work up the courage. Cosette leans towards her and she’s moving slow but she’s blurry around the edges and her waist is warm when Eponine’s hands find her skin, and her lips are surprisingly cool and incredibly soft as they drag across her jawbone and drop kisses on the corner of her mouth and bite at her lower lip sharply. The sharpness makes her squeal, sends a rush of pleasure straight through her like being stabbed very pleasantly, and Cosette zones in on that, does it again. Her hand is on Eponine’s shoulder, moving to her hair and pulling her downwards slightly so that even though Cosette is shorter, Eponine has to tilt her head up to meet her lips. She is needy, gasping each time Cosette draws a searing pain through her. Then she licks at the seam of her lips, tongue soothing the pain before she does it again, working her way into Eponine’s mouth and deepening the kiss so that she can turn it messily into a clash of teeth and lips and spit. When she pulls away, Eponine whines and tries to follow but Cosette holds her back, small hands on her shoulders. “You taste like booze,” she says.
“And?” Eponine bites her lip on its sore spot, trying to find the same feeling again.
“And I don’t screw drunk people.” Cosette shrugs. “Personal preference. I prefer my partners to be fully able to consent to anything that they let me do. And by preference I mean it’s mandatory.”
“You’re drinking too,” Eponine says.
“Virgin. No alcohol.” She pauses. “Shit, I bought you a drink. I didn’t realise how much you’ve had.”
Bollocks. Eponine’s brain is lust-addled, a little bit fuzzy and her eyes are heavy-lidded. She takes a deep breath but all that does is fill her lungs with more of Cosette’s perfume. “I’m straight,” she says after a pause. It sounds like a lie even to her own ears.
Cosette shrugs. “Looks like you’ve got to work out a few things by yourself. Hang on,” she takes out a pen from her purse and takes Eponine’s arm. Her fingers send little shocks through Eponine’s skin, a jolt of need, and even though she doesn’t grip tightly or pull demandingly, Eponine goes limp in her grasp. Cosette presses the pen to her skin, writes something on the back of her hand. “My number. Call me when you’re sober if you still want to try this.”
Eponine watches her walk back out into the crowd of people, rejoining her little group of fairies. Part of her wonders if that’s what she gets off on, teasing, getting her all hot and bothered and then leaving her still aching and alone. The rest of her aches to go find a private place and work out all her unresolved tension. She looks at the number scrawled on her hand. She bites her lip again in the sore spot that Cosette left. Then she smiles.
The numbers are small and black and delicate, but commanding.
To Eponine, they look like a promise.
Chapter 2: The Call
Eponine wakes the next morning with a sinking sense of shame, or guilt, or something. It feels heavy, and it’s completely unnecessary and it dissipates the moment that she glances down at her arm and sees the neat little black phone number scrawled on her wrist.
Her bed is too narrow, and the light through the window is a watery green. It throws the shadows of the half-dead tree outside across her ceiling and she lies there and watches the dancing leaves for a while. When she looks at the number she feels overwhelmingly happy, curling her toes and grinning hard enough to carve out dimples on her hollowed cheeks.
Eponine gets up in a dizzy haze of happiness. She sits at the table with a cup of black, sweet coffee and her phone laid out neatly in front of her. Then she wills herself silently to gather up the courage to make the call.
It doesn’t happen that day. She is too nervous, too twittery and she worries that Cosette would find her annoying, her breathy voice and nervousness.
It doesn’t happen the next day, either; she runs out of credit and it’s the day before pay day and she can’t afford the ten pounds to top it up.
On Tuesday she finally gets up the courage to dial the number. She’s transferred it onto a little yellow post-it stuck up on the mirror in her open plan excuse for a living room, and she stands in front of it and dials, bouncing a little with anxiety.
It makes her jump when the call connects. “Hello?”
Eponine had almost forgotten quite the effect that Cosette’s voice had on her before. It’s smooth, that’s the only way she can think to describe it. Warm and soft and pretty. “Um, hi,” she manages after a second. “It’s me. I mean, it’s Eponine. From the club on Saturday?”
Cosette makes a sound like a squeal of delight. “Eponine! I’m surprised. I thought I’d scared you off.”
“Yeah, no.” Eponine says. Her throat is incredibly dry and she swears she’s usually more eloquent.
Cosette laughs; her laugh is delightful. Eponine wants her to make that sound over and over again. “So,” she says. “You’ve been thinking, I suppose?”
“Yeah,” Eponine says again. “I mean, I… I’m interested. In continuing what we started.” She takes a shaky breath and laughs a little to cover her awkwardness. “Sorry, I’m incredibly nervous.”
“That’s good,” Cosette says. “It means you’re a rational human being.”
She doesn’t say anything else, seemingly enjoying listening to Eponine tying herself up in knots with her tongue, so Eponine clears her throat. “Would you- I mean, are you interested in that?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have given you my number if I weren’t.”
“Good.” She pauses. “I’m not straight. I worked it out.”
Cosette laughs again. “I assumed not. What do you like?”
“What, like in bed?”
“Or on the sofa, on the floor, at the club, in the kitchen, in the bath… I like my locations non-traditional.”
Eponine stops, a laugh startled out of her. “I don’t know,” she says. “Everything up to this point has been a pretty dismal experience, if I’m honest.”
Cosette doesn’t answer, waiting for her to keep on talking.
“Um. I like… being told what to do. Being talked down to.” She pauses, feeling a flaming blush cover her whole face. “I like being embarrassed, called names and stuff.” She can practically hear Cosette smile, like a cat that’s got the cream. She pauses, lets her words sit heavily in the silence. “I think I might like pain.”
Over the phone, she can hear Cosette swallow, and when she speaks her voice sounds heavier, almost sultry. “Good,” she says. “We can work with that.”
They both speak at once, Eponine stumbling over her words. “Do you want to-”
“Sorry, you first.”
“We should meet somewhere neutral first. Talk about the… terms of all of this.” There is the sound of someone talking in the background, calling Cosette’s name, and she leans away from the phone to shout back. “One minute! This is important.”
Important. That makes Eponine smile. “Sorry, did I call at a difficult time?”
“I’m at work right now,” Cosette says slowly. “But it’s fine. I’m in my office.”
Eponine is struck by the image of Cosette sat behind a glossy wooden desk, panoramic windows and surrounded by neat stacks of paperwork, neat pinstripe skirt-suit and thick rimmed glasses and ridiculously sharp heels. It’s an incredibly hot image. “Oh,” she says, not knowing what else to say.
“There’s a café down the road from my office. I’ll text you the address. We could meet there on Thursday?”
“I would like that.”
“So would I. Very much.”
There is a brief pause. “I should go,” Eponine says. “I start my shift soon.”
“Ok,” Cosette says. “I look forward to our… date. Goodbye!” The recciever clicks before Eponine can reply, and she’s left with the sound of the dial tone.
She’s shaking a little.
She can’t wait.