"Aren't you a little… young?"
He glowered down at Azelma with his tortoiseshell glasses and his thin lips but she didn't waver. She'd faced far scarier men than this skinny little scholar. She raised her chin slightly and smiled.
"I wasn't aware there was an age requirement. It's not like you guys are actually, like, fighting," Azelma said slowly. That gets a laugh from a few but only a frown from glasses-boy and the blonde guy. It's him she needs to charm. He's the leader. 'Ponine warned her he wouldn't be tricked by cleavage or eyelash extensions. She needed to win him through the strength of her convictions, her possible contributions.
"We're a revolutionary society. Furthermore, we're adult men who… do adult-men-things. I don't want to worry that you'll tell your parents at us," one boy said. He was unfairly handsome with curling chestnut hair that gleamed under the florescent lights and dressed impeccably in a soft pink polo shirt and khaki pants.
"My mother died two months ago. My father's in prison," Azelma said clearly, careful to annunciate every syllable. The mood in the room changed instantly. The boy who keeps playing with his cuticles extended his lower lip in a dramatic pout and even glasses-boy softened his expression.
"Where do you live?" rang out from the group. Azelma didn't recognize the voice. She doesn't falter.
"I live with my sister."
"I can verify that!" Grantaire called from the back row where he was apparently enthralled by an old comic book. Azelma felt her courage grow. There was a familiar face. 'Ponine had said not to place her hopes in R as her crusader, but still, it was better than no support.
"Éponine is on our side. She's a good friend," Marius said. Another familiar face. That made two votes in her favor?
"You're fifteen!" a boy with shocking red hair cried. "Is it even legal for you to try and overthrow the ruling class?"
"I don't think it's legal for anyone to try and overthrow the ruling class, dipshit," Grantaire called.
"Besides, this club is only for students!" Glasses-boy cried indignantly.
"I am a student," Azelma responded calmly.
"In high school. Big difference!"
"I'm not a student!" A soft-spoken boy with wide eyes called.
"Feuilly, you don't count. We know you," the chestnut-haired boy said.
"I know Azelma." Marius said.
"You mean you know her sister. That's entirely different," exclaimed redhead.
"I think that as long as she's willing to help her country we should encourage her," another boy said.
"Doesn't she have some Little House on the Prairie to read?" asked a balding boy.
"She's fifteen, not five," muttered Grantaire.
Fifteen minutes of near hysterical debating which included a truly dramatic speech by the redhead in which is claimed that the next step on this slippery slope was a Les Amis daycare, it was put up for a vote. Azelma remained calm throughout, pursing her lips when she had to and explaining her connections to the city's underground crime syndicate when that was a better tactic. Sometimes they listened and sometimes they screeched that this was the end of Strip-Poker Saturdays. There Azelma edged in her only sarcastic comment: "Like I'd want to see you all in your underwear." Chestnut-hair smiled and from then on, he was on her side.
In the end, it was six to four and Azelma, amid some sneers and some cheering, became an official member of Les Amis de l'ABC. Her new duties included bringing snacks once a week and contributing to all secret missions being concocted. No one quite said what those missions contained but all assured her that they were in fact plotting missions.
"We needed another girl," a cheerful, freckled woman with red cheeks said.
The introductions took the next hour and afterwards Azelma still wasn't sure she had all the names right. The only other girl was Musichetta, a twenty-four year old pastry chef who didn't particularly care for liberating the starving masses but was dating one member and fucking another. She had made fantastic cupcakes and, as the eldest, acted as an unofficial babysitter. "The vomit I've cleaned up," Musichetta whispered conspiratorially to Azelma afterwards.
The leader who Azelma had correctly identified as the blonde was Enjolras. The men almost all went by their surnames because some of them had silly first names and some thought it lended their society an air of mystique if they all called each other by their surnames. Enjolras had a thick bottom lip, high cheekbones and deep blue eyes. He was so beautiful that Azelma found she wasn't particularly attracted to him. He was untouchably lovely. His expression, which could be jovial and welcoming and also sullen and almost scary didn't help. He seemed entirely too serious to be quite human.
Glasses-boy was called Combeferre and as he was a third year biology student, continually complained that if he was going to get into Harvard Medical School, he'd have to spend less time digging "that lot" out of ditches and more time studying. He was distrustful of Azelma but she wasn't scared of him. She knew his kind and she knew that he would move onto another subject to worry about in two weeks.
Chestnut-hair was Courfeyrac, the social leader. He organized Strip-Poker Saturdays and movie nights and bar crawls and was everyone's best friend. He had apparently decided he liked Azelma, complimented her on her violet highlights and made plans for them to get dinner. Azelma wasn't sure if she found his endless enthusiasm comforting or not.
Grantaire and Marius behaved exactly as they did in her apartment. Grantaire always carried a water bottle that reeked of liquor and was quiet except for the occasional sarcastic comment. Sometimes, if they were in a good mood, the group laughed. Sometimes they didn't. Marius was just as awkward and bumbling and good-humored as ever.
The redhead was Bahorel. His muscles bulged from his flannel shirt and he seemed to have joined for the pleasure, not of helping anyone, but of destroying. He had a stern jaw and rubbed his hands together when he was nervous. Azelma considered him and enemy, though a relatively harmless one. Trigger-happy college students were easy to humiliate.
Feuilly was the only non-student, a wide-eyed twenty-one year old who worked a variety of odd jobs in town. He explained that currently he was arranging window displays in a boutique. He spoke softly and clearly and seemed to run his words over in his head before saying them. Joly had an apparently obsession with his cuticles and kept fiddling with a packet of Vitamin C pills in his pocket. He was coming down with a cold, he said advised Azelma to take a regular multi-vitamin. He was the friendliest to her, besides Courfeyrac who didn't seem to know how to not be friendly.
The balding man left soon after the vote before Azelma could catch his name. She wasn't sure if that annoyed her or not. She wanted to ingratiate herself, to belong to this tenuous band of renegades and she would have preferred if he opposed her openly instead of disappearing before he'd be forced to acknowledge her.
Last was Prouvaire, who went by Jehan. He engrossed in a novel he recommended to anyone who would listen and was easily recognizable by his obscenely mismatching outfit. Blue jeans with one red and one checkered sock. A lime green sweatshirt layered over a band tee and an opened flowered button-down. He was distracted and red-faced and wholly absorbed in his book.
The meeting ended officially but no one seemed to be going. Joly, Musichetta's boyfriend was holding her hands in his and whispering to her. She laughed airily. Azelma wondered if Joly knew that she was also… She decided not to wonder. Musichetta had told her in confidence and if it was a well known, it was bizarre but their business. Enjolras and Grantaire were arguing and Marius was glued to his iPhone. Bahorel was devouring the cupcakes and smearing bits of frosting on his chin. Courfeyrac had managed to pull Azelma into a corner where he explained to her everything she could have ever wanted to know about revolutionary societies in college.
It was a rag-tag bunch of losers and Azelma began to wonder why she'd wanted so badly to join. She had nothing in common with them. They were so much older and better educated. They had gone to private high schools and made references to historical events Azelma had never heard of. They had their own inside jokes. Many of them were in the same classes.
For a moment, Azelma felt lost. Courfeyrac was talking about some party and Feuilly had joined in and Grantaire and Enjolras were getting more and more heated.
She sighed. It was a group on the verge of making small-town history, barely held together by strong feelings and text alerts. She supposed she was tied with them now. If they saved the world, she'd stick it to her guidance counselor and if they fucked up trying… She had never planned to amount out to much, anyway.