This is a short story that I wrote primarily to explore writing about Courfeyrac. It is told from entirely from his perspective (though in third person). Please do review and let me know if you like the characterization. I would like to get his voice "right", since I will also be writing about him in my other multi-chapter story. Thank you and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays! :)
Lovers on a Winter Night
Courfeyrac, on the way back from an ABC meeting one evening in late December, again saw the dark-haired girl lingering by his lodgings on Rue de la Verrerie. She appeared not to notice anything or anyone else on the street, wandering listlessly to and fro, occasionally glancing up at one of the lighted windows, a somewhat wistful expression on her face. He had seen her a few times before, a couple times speaking to Marius, who lived in an adjoining room at Number 16.
Tonight, she seemed more forlorn and lost than usual, and the time was late and the dark came on fast on these winter nights. There had been some street riots near here lately. She shouldn't be out this late. Courfeyrac, who had an innate gallantry for the fairer sex, even the poorest ones, couldn't walk by without seeing if the girl needed help.
"Mademoiselle," he called out politely, "are you in need of assistance?"
The girl turned startled dark brown eyes up at him, then shook her head and resumed pacing.
He tried again.
"Forgive my interference, but you are a friend of Marius Pontmercy, are you not?"
The girl's voice was low and a bit scratchy. As she glanced back up at him, he noticed that, though thin and badly dressed – she wore only a ragged dress and shawl – she was not entirely unattractive. She had large dark, almost black eyes, a small nose, and a rather wide mouth, but there was something searing and passionate in her eyes and the evidence of a strong, though impetuous character in her sharp features. She was thin, like most of the poor, but not without form or figure, despite her shabby outward appearance.
"What is your name?" he asked, curious.
"Eponine," she answered, not giving a surname. He did not press for one.
"I'm Courfeyrac. Marius boards with me."
"Yes, I know," Eponine replied, unsurprised.
"Do you wish to see him? Is that why you are here?"
"No, it's not that," she replied with a wry smile.
"Well, it is getting late and the streets aren't safe at night. You should probably head home."
She snorted. "I have no home."
"But surely you must have somewhere you stay," Courfeyrac said incredulously. She couldn't be that poor, surely. She was very young, maybe fifteen or sixteen. She must have someone who looked after her.
"Don't you have any family?"
"Booted me out for the night. My father, that is," she said coolly, shrugging.
What kind of father boots his own daughter out onto the streets with nowhere to go for the night, Courfeyrac wondered, somewhat aghast. She seemed surprisingly unperturbed by her unfortunate circumstances, however. Probably it was not the first time this had happened.
"Are you going to stay up all night and wander the streets, then?" Courfeyrac asked, half bemused, half appalled by her careless attitude.
"Perhaps," she said, smiling that wry, worldly smile again.
"Unless…" she suddenly eyed him speculatively.
"I'll sleep with you tonight for a bed and roof over my head," she said bluntly.
Courfeyrac realized with a start that he'd just been propositioned. Even he wasn't used to such bluntness in proposals of the kind, experienced as he was. He wasn't sure what to say. He wanted to help her, but, well…he generally stayed away from brothels and street prostitutes. Even apart from issues of hygiene and disease, he didn't like the nature of prostitution. He didn't like the idea of girls having to bed multiple strangers every night out of necessity – girls who couldn't say no. And he would rather be bedded for himself and his - in his opinion, considerable – charms than because of his money alone. Not to say that his grisette mistresses didn't make ample use of his money either (after all, a mistress was far more expensive than a prostitute), but at least they had a choice of lovers and, at least theoretically, an independent means of support should they wish to abstain altogether.
Eponine was still gazing at him intently, waiting for his answer. Finally she seemed to interpret his silence as rejection, and disappointment flashed briefly through her eyes, before it was replaced by pride and indifference.
"I suppose you think I'm not good enough for you, monsieur le bourgeois," she said mockingly. "Very well, I shall try my charms out elsewhere, among the less fastidious." She turned to leave.
"Wait!" He stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, and she stiffened. "Come with me," he said gently. She raised her eyebrows, but followed him as he unlocked his door at Number 16 and led her into his room. He hoped Marius wouldn't knock. He didn't want him to find he was sleeping with his friend, even if the girl's relationship with him was completely platonic.
Coufeyrac pulled off a mattress from his bed and began arranging some blankets over it. When he turned around, he noticed that she was pulling off her dress. She had only a thin shift underneath.
"Stop," he said gently, laying his hand on her shoulder again. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to." She looked up at him, confused.
He motioned to the bed and the mattress on the floor. "You can take the bed. As you can see I've made a separate place for myself to sleep on the floor."
Eponine looked at him incredulously. Then, apparently deciding to take him at his word, however crazy she thought he was, she drew the dress back over her head and settled into the bed under the covers.
Courfeyrac lay down on the mattress, bemused again, this time with himself. It was rare indeed that he turned down such an offer from a woman – usually he was the one doing the propositioning and persuading. And as he had noticed before, she was not unattractive. Just thin and worn-looking. Not surprising, considering what her life was probably like. Still, she had a passionate, proud light in her eyes and stubbornness in her features that showed her spirit was far from broken.
About half an hour or so later, after he had dozed a little, but not fallen completely asleep, he heard a creak and shuffling noise from the bed. He opened his eyes and saw that Eponine had risen and was sitting on the edge of the bed, gazing at him in the moonlit darkness. He couldn't read her expression. He lifted himself slightly off the floor and onto his elbow.
"What is it?" he asked.
When she didn't reply, he sighed, got up, and lit a lamp. Her eyes were glistening, and when he moved closer, she gazed at him with a hungry, yearning expression. The earlier mask of worldliness and indifference was gone. She looked…vulnerable…and lonely.
"What if I said I want you?" she whispered hoarsely.
Surprised, he asked, "Do you?"
"I-I don't know…I think so." She looked uncertainly at him. Courfeyrac smiled back.
"I am quite an exceptional lover, you know. Or so I've always been told," he said, grinning.
Eponine's mouth twitched, and then she broke into a genuine smile, warmth lighting up her features.
"Awfully modest, aren't you?"
"I try to be," Courfeyrac said sincerely, still smiling.
He held out his arms, and Eponine hesitantly stepped into them, twining her arms around his neck. He leaned down and kissed her, first slowly and gently, then more passionately as he found her responding to him.
They made love deeply and thoroughly, both of them finding pleasure and satisfaction in each other's arms. As he had suspected, Eponine had a passionate nature, and once she let go of her walls and defenses, she responded with fiery eagerness and fervor. He didn't know what he had done to gain her trust, but he was glad he had at least to this extent and was gratified by her warm and passionate responses.
When they were done, they lay on the bed together, and Courfeyrac stroked her hair, feeling an unexpected wave of tenderness for this slight, lonely girl, near-stranger though she was. After a few minutes, she rose up on her elbows and gazed down at him.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Courfeyrac wasn't sure what she meant by that, but he answered anyway.
"Eponine, you're welcome. Always." Though he wasn't sure what he meant by that either. It was also the first time he had said her name.
She smiled at him, something warm but unreadable in her eyes, and leaned down and kissed him on the lips again. They made love two more times that night, at times gentle and languorous, sometimes more passionate.
In the morning, Courfeyrac arose first, though it was nearly midday. He smiled at the sleeping girl beside him and rose to dress and prepare breakfast. She awoke some minutes later and slipped on her shift and dress and joined him at the table.
He greeted her with a smile and a good morning and pushed an egg, some bread and jam, and tea toward her. She ate quickly and hungrily, finishing before him and then watching him with curiosity.
"I need to leave for classes in an hour, but you may stay here if you like," he said.
"No," she said, shaking her head, "I should get going."
"Won't you stay with me for a while?" Courfeyrac asked.
"No, I can't." She looked sorry as she said it, and her eyes were sad and wistful, but she turned resolutely to go.
"Wait," Courfeyrac called again. "Where do you live?"
"The Gorbeau tenement."
"Will you take any money?"
"Will you take a gift?"
"Not even a Christmas gift?" Courfeyrac asked, smiling. When she looked at him in surprise, he strode over to his closet and drew out a dark green embroidered woolen dress. It had been a dress he had previously bought for a mistress, an actress, but she had scoffed at him and refused it, calling it too plain for her tastes. He was glad she had refused now. Eponine needed it far more and it would mean more to her. He could tell by the way her eyes brightened with longing when he held it before her. It would also suit her dark hair and coloring. She took it tentatively.
"Thank you," she said again, "but I have nothing to give you in return."
"You've given me some trust, and that is enough," he said sincerely.
"Merry Christmas, Eponine. If you ever need anything, come to me," he continued earnestly.
She nodded her thanks and smiled, touched. "Merry Christmas, Courfeyrac," she said, her voice quavering slightly on his name. She turned and left.
He watched her slip into the busy mid-morning street, the new dress tucked under her arm. It was snowing slightly, but she seemed not to notice. He wondered if she really would have a merry Christmas – if she would have enough to eat and kind friends to put a smile on her face. She really did look lovely when she smiled. He hoped that she would smile when she remembered him and that he would see her again someday.