Jehan Prouvaire, like most writers of prose and poetry do, found inspiration everywhere.
As a child, often left alone as his father attended to business and his mother attended to social upkeep and his sister attended to her many suitors, Jehan found his inspiration in storybooks, in daydreams and night dreams, the stuffed animals he sneaked away from his sister's room, and in the friends he crafted as he played with wooden swords and toy soldiers.
When his father took away the stuffed animals and the swords and soldiers and the storybooks and replaced them with textbooks on medicine, law, and business, Jehan sought inspiration elsewhere. He took long walks alongside the creek and in the depths of the woods. He wrote verses on the birds' songs, the chatter of the squirrels, the trickling of the water, and the soft breeze through the leaves. Moved by the hymns at church, he flew to his room to write epic poems on the heavens.
His tutor, so impressed with what little works Jehan dared showed him, gifted Jehan with an anthology of poems and many plays by Shakespeare. From there, Jehan learned what strokes of inspiration were appropriate for free verse and what demanded structure and rhyme. He even learned the beauty of the structure of poems from the Orient.
Then his father sent him to study in Paris, hoping that he would choose to study something practical. Jehan knew what he wanted to do right away, and it was only by the words of his tutor and the marriage of his sister to a wealthy businessman did his father acquiesce to his desires.
Jehan quickly learned the art of people-watching while in Paris. Men and women and children were plentiful and diverse in their interactions with one another and yet, many similarities called out to Jehan. He wrote about them all, but it was only after he diverted his attention away from the bourgeois and upon the poor did he tear apart everything he wrote and started anew.
His tutor was impressed with his works but warned him not to show the poems too carelessly.
"You write of dangerous things, my dear Jehan," his tutor wrote. "They are beautiful idealisms, but these are the words that could see you behind bars if the wrong man saw them."
Jehan did not understand but did as his tutor asked. He instead submitted his old poetry on rivers and oceans, forests and fields, children and animals to his professors. A few of them made their way into anthologies, for which Jehan was of course pleased but not proud. His greatest works, he felt, were the ones he wrote on the destitute of Paris.
He did not stop people-watching in the parks, however. Jehan still found beauty in those better off, and many of them were truly good people. Every Wednesday around lunchtime he came to this particular park and watched the many students scatter to and fro, chattering with their friends or running to their next class.
Jehan loved to watch one group of students in particular. There was a beautiful blonde man with soft, wavy hair and skin as flawless as marble who often walked side-by-side with two others: a scholarly looking man with chestnut hair and glasses, solemn yet alert; and a cheerful dandy, always elegantly dressed with the brightest and most gorgeous smile Jehan had ever seen on anybody. Sometimes others accompanied them, and Jehan memorized their faces: a tall, balding man who always dropped books or ran into others when he dashed across the park; a smaller man with a red nose and a handkerchief always on his person; and very rarely, a big man who ambled about as though he had other places to be.
They all knew each other, that much was certain, for they were always seen with the original trio. Jehan imagined what their childhoods were like; perhaps they were friends from the womb? He assigned them names, he wrote poems on their lives as he saw them.
While his passion continued to be writing about those in the slums, his guilty pleasure was the epic poem about these six friends. Soon, the two projects meshed together in a manner that Jehan knew he could never bring himself to show his tutor.
Then, one Wednesday afternoon near the end of autumn, Jehan did not see any of these students in sight. He sighed and packed his journal into his bag.
"They all have exams today."
Jehan screeched and jumped. He was met with a hearty laugh.
"I didn't mean to frighten you! I just noticed that you looked rather down and I thought it was time I introduced myself already. My name is Courfeyrac."
Jehan stared. This was the cheerful dandy of the trio! His face grew red and hot; he knew that Jehan had been watching them for weeks now.
"I-I must apologize, I did not mean to be rude, it is just that you and your friends are so radiant to me that I cannot help but to watch and I promise I am not stalking you! These notes are just, well, notes for class and—!"
The dandy—Courfeyrac—laughed again. "There is no need to apologize! I am flattered that you find us so interesting. You're that poet, aren't you? The one everyone talks about?"
Jehan frowned. "I… I am a poet, but nobody talks about me."
"Sure they do! You're Jean Prouvaire, correct?"
He was certain that his face was bordering the shade of purple of his vest. "I… how did you know… who talks about me?"
"Do not worry, it's everything good! Well, mostly good. Especially about your poems! I read some of them myself. Inspiring! Do you write poems about my friends?"
"How wonderful! I cannot wait to read it!"
Jehan knew this man to be sincere, but he kept his gaze on his shoes and fidgeted with his green overcoat. He did not know what to say. People talked about his poetry with acclaim? This man had always known that he was watching them and did not mind that Jehan wrote about him and his friends? What if he had been wrong about them? What if every last word he ever gathered about them was false? What if the beautiful blonde took offense to being compared to an angel? What if the man in glasses cared little for the academics?
"I, you see… well, that is…" Jehan gulped. "I never… they are not supposed to be seen by… others."
Courfeyrac's tone held a note of amusement. "Are they poems of the flesh?"
Jehan wanted to die. "N-no! They just, well, it is a subject my tutor warns me that… well… he tells me it's a contrary political… and, well… what if you were not… that is…"
"What if we were not, what? Monarchists? Bonapartists? Republicans?"
"What if you cared little for the poor? What if you were not saviors to them? What if, well…"
"What if we were selfish, self-centered bourgeois or noblemen?"
Again, Courfeyrac laughed. "My dear Jean Prouvaire, we are Les Amis de l'ABC! And it is high time that you met us all formally once and for all, don't you agree?"
Les Amis de l'ABC was beauty and perfection on God's good earth.
Enjolras was a true angel, stoic yet warm and generous. Combeferre had the Ancient Library of Alexandria in his head and what he did not have he was on a continuous quest to find. Bossuet, or Laigle, was a man cursed with ill fortune, perhaps from an ancestor crossing a witch or defiling a holy relic. Joly also seemed to suffer from this curse, always sneezing or coughing, every day either red-faced or pale-faced. Bahorel's impressive build gave him the title of the guardian, and he served his duties well. And Courfeyrac, well, Courfeyrac breathed life into the group.
There were two others Jehan had never seen before, but he felt as though he knew their stories as soon as he laid eyes on them. Feuilly was not a student but a fan-maker, and he was the link between Les Amis and the poor men. Grantaire cradled a bottle to his person, marking the signs of a man with a difficult and heartbreaking past.
And yet, as Jehan learned over the next few weeks, there were so many things about them that he had gotten wrong. Enjolras did not rise from the ashes of his own poverty; he was the son of a rich family of republicans. Combeferre desire for knowledge ended at logic and never drifted into the realms of the spiritual: he was no man of God. Bossuet held no hidden bitterness at his misfortune, and Joly was not a brother or a cousin but a constant, intimate companion. Bahorel loved to start fights as much as he loved to end them. Grantaire had little interest in the politics of the group and only seemed to be around for one other purpose. And Feuilly was more than a fan-maker: he was a jack-of-all-trades.
Jehan thought his misconceptions had done them a poor injustice: these men were far more beautiful as they truly were.
He went with Courfeyrac to the Café Musain every day to visit these men, taking delight in their conversation and their company but always too bashful to join in himself. He instead stayed glued to Courfeyrac's side, smiling and laughing along with his cues and yet his head turning whenever Bossuet stumbled upon a new misfortune or Grantaire began rambling or Bahorel boasted in that deep voice of his. Often, Jehan's head turned whenever Enjolras stood or moved across the room, and everybody hushed whenever Enjolras spoke. It was impossible not to.
After the meetings, Jehan followed Courfeyrac to wherever he ventured to next. Sometimes, Courfeyrac invited Jehan and others out for dinner, or he and Jehan enjoyed a conversation as Courfeyrac saw Jehan back to his apartment. Often, however, Courfeyrac and many of the others found themselves at a party or at another café.
Every night this occurred Jehan's heart sank when Courfeyrac disappeared with a lady or two in his arms. Another for the collection, Jehan knew, and he welcomed Grantaire's offer for drink.
Soon this feeling became despair. This despair affected his mood at any outings that they went on in which they were not alone. Grantaire might have noticed first; he waved a bottle of wine, sometimes absinthe, in front of Jehan's face more and more often. But it was Joly who asked him about it: Joly, who had seemed too shy to say more than a few words to him before.
"Jehan, you look ill. Are you allergic to something in the air? Perhaps it was something you ate! I knew that fish smelled suspect. You shouldn't drink that you know. Grantaire, don't give him anymore. Wine can't help."
"Wine is often the only thing that helps," Grantaire argued.
"Not for food poisoning!"
"I am fine, Joly, Grantaire, thank you," said Jehan with a small smile. "I am just tired. I should go home. I will see you tomorrow."
Joly called after him, "Drink lots of tea before you go to bed! Tea and water!"
At home, Jehan sat on his bed and stared out the window, a cup of tea in his hand by Joly's advice. He thought about Courfeyrac and his dazzling smiles, his intoxicating laughter, and his warm company. His face grew hot at the thought of what Courfeyrac was doing presently with the grisette he had left the party with. And, with nary a thought, he walked to his desk, opened his journal, and began writing the most passion-filled poem he had ever dared to put on paper.
It was dawn when he finished, the journal nearly full, and Jehan knew what his despair was about.
He was in love.
It was a concept he had only read about and had only witnessed between the men and women he watched in the parks. He remembered the tales of once upon a time and happily ever after, of princesses and knights, of maidens and princes. Jehan always dreamed of experiencing it for himself, and now that he finally had these feelings for another, why, he felt as though he could dance.
And so he did. He danced and laughed and daydreamed about Courfeyrac being there with him. Jehan felt as though he could fly, and as he left for the Musain, he was not unconvinced that that was exactly how he went.
Jehan waltzed into the backroom, blushing when Courfeyrac greeted him with a radiant smile. Jehan took his seat next to him, his heart aflutter, and he found it difficult to pay attention to anything that happened around him.
Thankfully, at the meeting's end, Courfeyrac, Combeferre, and Enjolras decided to go get dinner while they continued their side discussion from the meeting. Jehan was delighted when he was invited to accompany them.
At dinner, Jehan focused on the conversation at hand and tried to contribute where he could. Sometime during the main course, he launched into an oratory about his observations on the destitute, which inevitably led to him reciting a poem that he had only shown his tutor, the one that he had warned Jehan not to show anyone else. When he finished, Enjolras and Combeferre and, oh, especially Courfeyrac beamed.
"That sounds like one of your poems," said Combeferre. "It has the same style, and yet…"
"It has more passion," Enjolras agreed.
"I bet you have many more works like that," said Courfeyrac with a wink. "I would love to read them sometime! You should have them published!"
Jehan blushed furiously, thanked them for their words, and hurriedly finished his meal.
Courfeyrac walked Jehan home. At the door of Jehan's apartment building, Courfeyrac repeated his desire to read more of his poems. Jehan instantly and happily agreed, though it was not until they were inside his apartment that Jehan remembered the journal filled with lovesick verses on Courfeyrac. He did his best to hide the journal without Courfeyrac noticing, making careful sure to show him the books filled with poems on the poor instead.
"I also have some on nature, but the best ones were all published," said Jehan, convinced he was still blushing.
Courfeyrac flipped through the book. "I'm also interested in what you wrote about us."
"Oh! Yes. Well. It was before I knew any of you properly. I should just trash them, to be honest."
"Nonsense! You have such great talent, Jehan. You shouldn't hide it away like you do."
Jehan had his eyes glued to the wooden floorboards. "Th-thank you, Courfeyrac, that is extremely kind of you to say."
"It is the truth."
Then Courfeyrac left, the poems in hand. Jehan, his heart still pounding, grabbed the journal and filled out the remaining pages with sonnets and free verse. When he reached the back cover, he stuffed the journal under his pillow and sat on his bed, falling asleep to his daydreams.
But the joy of being in love cannot last forever when the other knows nothing of one's feelings, Jehan quickly learned. Just two nights later, they were once again at a party, and Courfeyrac left with a giggling redhead wrapped around his arm. Jehan let Grantaire drown him in absinthe.
He awoke the next morning in Joly's bed.
"Bossuet brought you here last night," said Joly. "Is it true you tried to win a drinking contest against Grantaire? You know the only person who stands a chance is Bahorel! Perhaps Feuilly might, as well. Bossuet tried once but was forced to quit halfway. Thank the heavens for that. Here, drink this. It will help with your hangover."
"Thank you," Jehan moaned as he accepted the distasteful, fizzing water. He held his head. "What happened last night?"
Joly shrugged as he sat on the edge of the bed. "Well, I wasn't there, but Bossuet told me that you and Grantaire drank the night away. You apparently danced on tables at one point. Then you rambled about Romeo and Juliet and some other Shakespearean characters Bossuet couldn't remember. Grantaire was the first to know you had too much to drink and he was the one who tried to stop the drinking contest but you just wanted to keep going."
Joly chuckled. "It's okay. It's happened to all of us at some point. Well, except for Enjolras and Combeferre."
Thank goodness Courfeyrac had not been around to see any of that!
Jehan had breakfast at Joly's and then returned to his apartment, determined not to leave for the rest of the day. His head hurt, he felt nauseous, and his heart still ached.
Oh, but only if Courfeyrac could return his feelings!
But Courfeyrac loved women. Men loved women. Jehan knew that extremely well. Men were meant to love women. And yet, here he was, a man, in love with another man. Was it not wrong? Should he not let go of these feelings and try to find a pretty girl at the next party to go home with? He could ask Bahorel for help.
And yet, Jehan did not want to stop loving Courfeyrac. He loved loving him. Despite last night's heartache, Jehan still smiled at the thought of the dandy. One memory of his laughter or his smile was enough to lift him out of the depths of his own despair. It was enough.
It should have been enough.
The more times Jehan saw Courfeyrac with a woman in the coming weeks, however, the more he hurt, the more he longed for Courfeyrac's touch. Being near Courfeyrac soon became agonizing, and Jehan started to drift towards Joly and Bossuet at meetings, admiring Courfeyrac only from a distance.
Sometimes Grantaire looked at him as though he knew. An offer of drink followed. If Joly or Bossuet had any suspicion, they only showed it by attempting to distract Jehan. Nobody else gave any indication except for, eventually, Courfeyrac, who showed up at his doorstep one evening unannounced.
"May I come in? I feel like we need to talk," said Courfeyrac uncharacteristically solemnly.
"Y-yes, of course," said Jehan as he welcomed Courfeyrac inside. "Would you like something to drink?"
"No, this will only be a short visit." After Jehan closed the door, Courfeyrac continued. "Jehan, I am concerned. At first I thought you were simply becoming better friends with Joly and Bossuet—and that you absolutely must!—but now I am beginning to fear that your drifting away from me has something to do with me."
"I-I don't meant to drift!" cried Jehan. "It is the last thing I want to do!"
"But it is not simply that you are making better friends with the others."
Jehan bit his lip. "No."
"May I ask what it is?"
He hesitated, and he trembled. "I… I can't tell you."
And with that, Jehan found within him a terrifying courage. He pressed his lips against Courfeyrac's, pulling away the instant he knew that Courfeyrac would not kiss him back.
Astonished, Courfeyrac stared at Jehan. Agonized, Jehan stared back, holding his nerve together with all the strength he had.
"Jehan," Courfeyrac finally breathed, "Jehan, I'm so sorry, I—"
"I know," said Jehan. "I just had to… just the once. I won't do it again."
"I really am sorry."
"Don't be. Men are meant to love women. I suppose I am repulsive to you now."
"What? Never! Love is meant to be shared and spread! What does it matter if you love men or if you love women! And Jehan, you would not be the first man I ever met to love men. Why, within our circle I can name at least three others who love men. You are not alone. And Jehan," Courfeyrac placed a hand upon his shoulder, "with us, with Les Amis de l'ABC, you will never be alone."
And, reassured, Jehan smiled. "I know."