"Must we stay here?" Azelma asked, pulling at her sister's skirt. Eponine waved her away like a fly.
"You asked to come. You wanted to come. I told you this wouldn't be a quick jaunt in the park. I have no patience for your whining, Azelma. Now either sit down and be quiet or go home." Eponine leaned back against the tree and continued watching the park.
"But we've been here for an hour!" Azelma whined. The ground was cold, the tree was lumpy and they had only been out of prison for a few days.
"If you don't want to wait with me, you don't have to stay." Eponine said, with a shrug.
" I want to but…" Azelma cut herself off. She did not want to spend one more of her first afternoons of freedom waiting with Eponine in the Luxembourg for she didn't know what. "How do you know he's even going to be here?"
"Everyone winds up here sooner or later." Eponine said.
"But you don't know for sure?"
"Then why are we…"
"Look," Eponine said, rounding on her sister with a fury she reserved for when Azelma was being especially annoying. " No one has forced you to come with me. I told you I was going to the Luxembourg; fine, you said, I'll come with you. All right, I said, but I'm going there to look for someone. That's fine, you said. Now if you don't want to wait for him to show up, you don't have to. You know how to get home, Azelma."
"Wait for who to show up?" a voice said. Azelma looked up. Standing over her was the unmistakable figure of Montparnasse, a man she at once adored and feared.
"Clear out, 'Parnasse." Eponine only said, not even bothering to turn around.
"What are you two doing here? Weren't you in prison?" The dandy asked, stooping as if to sit on the grass next to Eponine, but though better of it and settled for leaning against the tree.
"Been out for a week." Eponine said.
"Have you!" Montparnasse said, playing with a strand of Eponine's hair. " And you didn't come to find me?" Eponine swatted his hand away with annoyance. Snubbed by the older sister, he turned to the younger.
"You're looking well today, Azelma." He said, touching his hat and bowing slightly. Azelma dropped her eyes. Montparnasse's manners were impeccable, but he only used them when he wanted something. And now he was smiling at her, a smile usually reserved for Eponine. Montparnasse didn't bother smiling at her. If he knew that she would do nearly anything for that smile, he would smile at her more often. But as she rarely got up the courage to speak to him, he did not know that, and thus, did not smile at her.
"So are you, Parnasse." Azelma said, though it was a gross understatement. He was looking perfect, as always, and she was looking horrid. Why should he notice her? Eponine had been pretty once, but she had never been, and her emaciated state and the rags she wore didn't help things. At least they had been fed every day in prison, and her face had fleshed out a bit. Montparnasse beamed at the compliment. Complimenting him was the easiest way to his heart. Why didn't Eponine do it more?
"Did your sister drag you out here? It's too cold for you two charming roses to be sitting around out here. She orders you around, Azelma." Montparnasse said. Azelma would have answered him, but Eponine cut her off. She could get jealous easily as well.
"We aren't 'charming roses' any more than you are, 'Parnasse, and you know it." Eponine said, " Don't you have anything better to do? We're busy." Montparnasse pressed his lips together and nodded.
"Oh, I see. Some business for your father?"
"Yes." Eponine lied. " And we don't want to be seen with a known member of Patron-Minette." Parnasse smiled wickedly.
"All right, then. That's understandable." He said, "Speaking of your father, that reminds me, I have something I ought to see to. See you 'round." He began walking off, slowly, slowly.
"Hey, wait!" Eponine called, and went after him. Azelma knew that was exactly what Parnasse had wanted her to do. He stopped with his back towards her.
"What do you mean, 'speaking of my father?'" Eponine asked, " What's he got to with anything?"
"Nothing. You just reminded me I've been meaning to see Gavroche about something." He started walking again. Eponine followed. Eponine had always been the smart one, Azelma thought, but she fell for Montparnasse's tricks like a dog for a bone.
"My brother?" Eponine said, sounding angry, " What do you mean to do with him?"
"Nothing that concerns you. Babet's been asking me—"
"Oh, no." Eponine said, quickening her stride as Montparnasse quickened his. " You're not making a criminal out of my brother."
"What do you care?" the thief replied, " You barely speak to him."
"That doesn't mean I'll let Patron-Minette get him." She grabbed Montparnasse's sleeve. He stopped at glared at her in annoyance.
"You'll wrinkle it." He said by way of warning.
"You're not making a thief of my brother." Eponine said again. Then she lowered her voice in earnest. " You've got me, all right, and you've got my sister, and my father found his own way. You don't need my brother, too. You leave him be. He's nothing but a kid."
"I was younger than him when Gueulemer found me."
"That's what I'm worried about."
"But Eponine," Montparnasse said, smiling meaningfully, " I really must. There's a limit to the amount of small, eager boys who can climb and steal well. And I've nothing better to do this afternoon. Unless—" He took Eponine's hand and kissed it, never taking his eyes off of her, " You'll give me the honor of your company."
"What about the business for my father?" Eponine said. Azelma had to give her credit: Eponine never fell for Parnasse's treat-the-guttersnipe-like-a-lady ploys. If Montparnasse kissed her hand she'd do anything he said. She often felt herself weakening when he so much as looked at her. Not that he even did that much. And not that she ever disobeyed anyone.
"Come on, Ponine, you and I both know you aren't on any business for your father. Your father's in prison, and you haven't been to speak with him."
"Then what do you suppose I'm doing?" Eponine asked, a cynical smirk on her face.
"I don't know. I don't care. But I'd rather you spend the afternoon with me."
"And my sister?" Eponine said.
"She can do as she pleases." Montparnasse said with a shrug. Azelma felt a pang in her chest. She would spend the afternoon with him if he asked her to, and wouldn't put up a fight about it either. Didn't Eponine know how lucky she was that someone as beautiful and well-dressed as Montparnasse was interested in her? Azelma watched as he offered Eponine his arm. " Come on, then. Unless you'd rather I call upon you tomorrow and your brother today."
"Or me today and my brother tomorrow, isn't that right?" Montparnasse shrugged.
"I'll be rather busy for the rest of the week." The offer was clear and so was the threat. Azelma watched as Eponine narrowed her eyes in resentment and slipped her arm through Montparnasse's.
"Sometimes I hate you, you know." She said, as they began to walk off together.
"Sometimes." Montparnasse agreed, " And sometimes you love me. Today, I think you'll love me. You can go back to hating me tomorrow. " Azelma could see a smile playing around her sister's lips. Sometimes Eponine did love him. But Azelma always did.