Children Shouldn't Live Like This – Chapter 8
As a young alcoholic that had been introduced to spirits at too young an age, Grantaire had more than sufficient experience with knowing when to stop before he became too drunk to speak coherently or move without assistance. His tolerance for alcoholic beverages was high compared to his fellow students, though he would usually develop a faint haze in his vision after the fifth mug of beer. It wasn't a big problem for him.
Today's drinks sent him far beyond a faint haze.
The reason for Grantaire's drunkenness would remain unexplained. Perhaps the barmen had accidentally served him stronger liquor that Grantaire just shrugged off or didn't take notice of, or perhaps Grantaire simply forgot how many drinks he had before. The reason was moot in the face of the result.
Grantaire was hammered.
Frustrated at their friend's stupidity, Marius, Enjolras and Courfeyrac supported Grantaire as he trod slowly and heavily up the steps into the guesthouse above the café, the closest location they could find for depositing an inebriated companion. Laying him down unceremoniously in one of the living room chairs, Enjolras then knelt down and snapped his fingers loudly in Grantaire's face, causing him to wake from his daze.
"Oi, Grantaire." Enjolras then shook him by his collar. "There's a mass lecture for all the law students. We need you to stay with Gavroche for the time being. Joly will be here in about half an hour. Could you stay…alive long enough for that?"
"Right, whatever." Sighing heavily, Enjolras then signaled towards the door. "Let's go."
Just as the students were stepping out of the guesthouse, Courfeyrac turned his head and shouted at their muddled friend.
"Keep him safe, you hear?"
Smacking his lips together, Grantaire responded to Courfeyrac's question with a goofy grin directed in his direction. Shaking his head in exasperation, Courfeyrac stepped out and closed the door tightly behind him.
Not completely aware of his own surroundings, Grantaire then allowed his feet to fall from the table to the floor. Taking a minute to allow for his head to stop spinning, he then took slow, cautious steps, steps that were adequately cautious for a drunken man at least, towards the sole bedroom in the guesthouse.
He wasn't thinking clearly. The bedroom door, however, called out to him like a siren song.
He knew what the others had discussed with Eponine just earlier before, even if he hadn't been present. He had participated in the little discussion between the students earlier in the morning. The problem was clear, and if he guessed correctly, a solution hasn't yet been presented.
He could do it, though.
Yes he could.
It was time to snap little Gavroche out from his daddy phobia.
Biting down onto his lip as he mumbled syllables to himself contemplatively, Gavroche placed the pencil down onto the bed and took a second to recheck his writing and spelling. Despite his horrible penmanship Gavroche still felt a silver of pride at writing and properly spelling his first words. As it turned out, his sister's secret crush was a fantastic guy. Gavroche had silently given his approval to his sister pursuing Marius the moment the student had offered to teach him to write and read French.
Picking up the book that Marius had left behind with his uninjured arm, Gavroche flipped to a dog-eared page and checked his spelling.
"S'il vous plait…s'il vous plait! Oui!"
Cheering and grinning silently to himself, Gavroche turned to the next page to pick up a new word, when he was interrupted by loud knocking on his bedroom door. Aware that the three students that had kept him company had left for class, Gavroche tilted his head and stared quizzically at the door, wondering if he had imagined the knocking.
The person behind the door then knocked again. Feeling particularly cheery that day, Gavroche chirped out his next word as he looked back down at the book.
The door opened slowly. Gavroche looked up and beamed when he saw his visitor.
Immediately, he sensed that something was wrong when Grantaire didn't return the friendly greeting, but instead stayed at the doorway, one hand on the door supporting him, and staring not at Gavroche, but at the wall behind him, his eyes zooming in and out of focus. A slight tinge of worry arising in his chest, Gavroche drew in his uninjured leg closer to himself.
Seemingly shaken out of his stupor by the sound of his name being said twice, Grantaire shook his head violently to clear it, and turned to Gavroche, grinning widely.
"Bonjour, Gavroche! What're you doing?"
Taken aback by Grantaire's sudden change in temperament, Gavroche couldn't help but stammer out his next words.
"Er…doing some…doing some writing! Monsieur Marius taught me-"
"Ahh, yes, Marius did say he was going to do that."
Grantaire was already slurring his speech at this point, causing his words to come out his mouth as a garbled mess of syllables.
Gavroche then realized the situation that was in front of him. He had seen men in Grantaire's position before, stumbling around and fumbling with words, thanks to alcohol, that funny-tasting yellow liquid that he had tasted days ago. And based on what little he knew of his new friend, Grantaire loved alcohol.
Just like his father.
Grantaire's reaction to it was very different from his father's, though. Gavroche recalled with a regretfully sour tinge the feeling of slaps and punches on his body, and shuddered. Refocusing his attention on the intoxicated student and determining that he was non-violent, Gavroche stared inquisitively at the sight in front of him in silence. He then reached a conclusion.
Men were silly when they were drunk!
Giggling silently to himself, Gavroche watched as Grantaire hobbled over to the chair next to the bed and fell into it sideways, nearly tipping it over entirely. Dragging the chair closer to the bed, Grantaire lost his balance and toppled over, grabbing onto the bedside table with both his hands and pulling it downwards to the floor alongside him, sending its contents toppling over onto the ground.
"Monsieur Grantaire! Are you alright?"
"Wha…?" Grantaire shakily rose to his feet, rubbing the bruise that was rapidly forming on his forehead, and looked towards the now anxious boy sitting on the bed. "Oh…I'm fine. Sorry about that."
Now settling with a surface on which he could sit on without injuring both himself and the furniture, Grantaire sat on the bed, with Gavroche closing his book and sweeping papers to the side to make room. Recalling his reason for practically barging into the boy's room, Grantaire then strained himself as he tried to muster up the mental capability necessary for carrying out the conversation.
Gavroche stared at the expression on Grantaire's face and frowned.
"Do you have a headache, monsieur?"
"No, no…no I don't. Listen, Gavroche." Grantaire then turned his body and sat cross-legged, facing Gavroche, who looked both apprehensive and curious at what Grantaire wanted to say. "I need to speak to you about something that has worried the rest of us."
Gavroche quirked an eyebrow.
"What is it, monsieur?"
Under the influence, Grantaire rejected the potential repercussions of mentioning the content of the discussion he had with the other students to its subject.
"It's about your father."
Hearing his words, Gavroche visibly tensed up and clutched the blanket closer to himself. Swallowing, Grantaire ignored Gavroche's body language and proceeded with what he had intended to say.
"You've been having nightmares, and its worrying us."
"I din't mean to…"
"I know, I know, not your fault. What was I…? Oh yes, your father."
Grantaire continued to rub his forehead as he struggled to find the necessary words.
"I know you don't want to talk about what happened, and honestly I don't want to jump to conclusions either, so I'm gonna just teach you a…coping method, okay?"
When Gavroche merely stared blankly back at him, Grantaire continued speaking.
"When I was a kid, I had problems with my parents as well. I didn't have any siblings, so I was pretty lonely. And when I got lonely, and when my dad hit me, I did stuff behind his back…I started to sing."
Gavroche's eyes widened, but he continued staring silently.
"In fact, there was this little song that I made up when my father got a little too crazy with the stick, if you know what I mean HAHAHAHA!"
Jumping a little at Grantaire's sudden burst of drunken laughter, Gavroche awkwardly wiped off traces of saliva off his face and hugged his leg with his left arm, waiting for Grantaire to end his spontaneous guffawing. Chuckling and snickering at his own joke, Grantaire wiped his eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm himself down.
"What was I talking about? Oh, the song. Yeah, it goes something like this…"
In a loud, booming bass that was horribly off-key, thanks to Grantaire's impaired ability to perceive sound, the student sang, drawing out each syllable inharmoniously as he went.
"LITTLE PEOPLE KNOW,
WHEN LITTLE PEOPLE FIGHT,
WE MIGHT LOOK EASY-PICKINS
BUT WE'VE GOT SOME BITE!"
Abruptly ending the song mid-verse, Grantaire then licked his lips and turned to face Gavroche yet again. This time, however, the boy looked more mortified than before, still remaining silent as he watched Grantaire, flabbergasted.
"I can't remember the rest of it, it was a long time ago…do you like it?"
Still in shock, Gavroche merely nodded his head slowly, his jaw fallen open in stupefaction. Just as Grantaire was about to continue his drunken, woozy jabber, the door to the bedroom swung open again.
"What's going on here?"
Gavroche sat upright immediately, breathing an internal sigh of relief and staring pleadingly at his savior. As he took in Gavroche's beseeching expression and Grantaire's blank scrutiny of the woodcarvings on the table, Joly's expression darkened significantly. Practically seething, Joly trod heavily into the room, placed his arms under Grantaire's armpits, and heaved him to his feet.
"You're DRUNK, GRANTAIRE!"
"Oi, Joly! Hands off!"
Joly cringed at the smell of alcohol on Grantaire's breath. Gavroche, having never seen Joly so angry, recoiled a little. Spotting his young patient's fearful demeanor, Joly guiltily lowered his voice to a fierce whisper.
"You're drunk, Grantaire. How dare you bother Gavroche when you're in such a stupor!"
Still completely unaware of his exploits, Grantaire grinned goofily back at his friend.
"Relax, Joly! I was just talking and telling him stuff!"
"I could hear you screaming like a dying animal from the café! You know what? You're not allowed in here when you're this drunk."
"Wha-? I'll stay here if I want to!"
"Get out, and don't come back till you're sober!"
With herculean force, Joly hauled Grantaire out of the room, the latter dragging his feet as the task was completed. Depositing his inebriated friend at the foot of the door, Joly scathingly left his friend, who was by now pouting like a child, a final comment.
"And go clean your teeth, your breath smells to high heaven."
Shutting the door quietly but forcefully behind him, Joly's expression softened considerably as he spotted Gavroche, who had lain back down onto the bed and was now watching him gingerly. Approaching his patient, Joly spoke in a gentler tone.
"I'm sorry if I scared you, Gavroche."
"That's okay, monsieur Joly."
"Did Grantaire say anything…inappropriate to you?"
Recalling Grantaire's many conversations with him and their tender subject matter, Gavroche decided to protect the possibility of future such conversations, which he actually enjoyed, by telling a little lie.
"N…no, monsieur Joly."
"Thank goodness." Extracting some assorted medical equipment from his bag, Joly sat down onto the bed as he prepared to perform a checkup on Gavroche's condition. "I apologize on his behalf. He can get a little crazy when he's drunk. Trust me, you have not seen him at his worst."
"That's okay, monsieur Joly." Gavroche lifted up his own shirt carefully to assist Joly in speeding up his daily checkup. "My papa gets drunk too, but he only gets angry. At least…monsieur Grantaire's funny."
Smiling lightly at the small grin on Gavroche's face, Joly replied with a slightly humorous tone as he proceeded with examining Gavroche's torso.
"That he is, Gavroche. That he is."
It was almost bedtime for the tired young gamin, worn out by Marius' French lessons and the particularly memorable incident from the afternoon. Having been tucked into bed carefully by Joly, whom was the student staying with him that night, and having said good night, Gavroche laid in bed, staring up at the ceiling.
This was one time of the day that he didn't particularly like.
However, this night was different. Humming quietly under his breath, Gavroche then repeated lyrics that he had heard from a certain drunken friend of his that afternoon.
"Little people know
When little people fight…"
Drawing the blanket closer up over himself, Gavroche smacked his lips together and smiled to himself as he finished the verse.
"We might look easy-pickins
But we've got some bite!"
Chuckling merrily as he recalled monsieur Grantaire's fumbling and silly behavior, Gavroche turned on his side and waited for the sandman to claim him for his own.
Author's Note – Alright everyone, this chapter was a real challenge. There were so many elements to combine that I'm not sure if I did a good enough job out of it. If at some point the writing seems out-of-place, it's supposed to be that way, as I tried to reflect Grantaire's drunkenness in the prose somewhat. As I mentioned before, some will like this idea and some will not.
This is, of course, a major turning point in the story.