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Jul. 20th, 2013

What Red May Mean (chapter 1 rewritten)

A/N: A short bit for Inge. Happy birthday!

In which a research assistant with a variety of secrets encounters a fellow caffeine addict

This is the first chapter/intro to What Red May Mean (revised). The premise is modern day LM/El Fili crossover in Metro Manila, circa 2010. I’ve taken plenty of liberties with locations and events.

Chapter 1: A Matter of Loose Change

If anyone ever asked me where it began, I would have to say it happened during the storm. Not before or after. I always blame it on the rain.
The text message finally got to my phone at around five in the afternoon, when it was really too late to be doing much of anything. ‘Flood isn’t going down; they’ve found a catfish already out of the gutters. It’s that bad. Where will you be staying tonight?’ Attached to my roommate’s message was a picture of a rather evil-looking fish swimming by a half-submerged park bench and two trashcans.

I replied back right away: ‘Guess I’m stuck at work, Juli. I left my boots in my room, you can borrow them till I get back tomorrow.’ I bit my lip as I looked up from the numbers I’d been trying to make sense of, to the still rather drenched window some feet away from the computer terminal. I should have gotten out maybe two hours ago, but it wasn’t as if I could do this stat work back at the boarding house. I wasn’t even sure if there was any electricity at that place.

The truth was that I wasn’t even sure I could get home at all. I’d definitely picked a good place to get stuck in for the night: the university’s psychology lab. When I agreed to work here thrice a week after school, I didn’t quite mean I’d end up sleeping here.

Before I could check the flood updates, I heard the laboratory’s door open. “Anyone here---ah, there you are, Eponine. What are you still doing here?”

“Research. Do you still have classes, Mr. Prouvaire?” I asked, turning my chair to look at the guy who’d just entered. It was a little early for the grad students to be around, but then again this was Jean Prouvaire. He was also something of an adviser to the school literary folio, so he was always on campus earlier than most of his other classmates would be.

“No announcement yet, from the university. You should go though, while you still can,” he said as he took off his purple coat and threw it on a chair. He sat down in another chair and let it spin a few times before he stopped it by grabbing onto a table. Then he fished his phone out of his pants pocket and checked it. “Grantaire is on his way here.”

I shook my head as I continued filling up the spreadsheet with numbers and data. I had to work faster; there would be no chance of doing anything productive if Grantaire was going to hang out here. He and Prouvaire apparently went back a long way; some story involving them being the only two kids in their college block who had very French names. My fingers were practically flying over the keyboard by this time and soon the only thing I could hear was the rapid tapping of the keys, almost like the rain drumming on the rooftop several floors above us. Earlier that day one of the girls in class had said I had lightning in my fingers. If only she knew how I’d gotten them to be that way.

 I was already at the last column of numbers when the lab door clattered open again. “Jehan! Eponine! We are now officially stranded!” Grantaire greeted as he threw down his wet backpack on top of one of the other chairs. He wrung his curly hair out before crossing the room towards us. His pants were soaked halfway up to his knees and his shoes were making a squelching sound as he walked.

 “You didn’t actually wade there?” I asked him, noticing the footprints he was leaving behind.

“No choice,” Grantaire replied as he began taking off his socks and shoes. He laughed when he saw Prouvaire grimace; only then did he put his wet things to one side, under an entire bookshelf of theses. “Eponine, could you remind me that I left them here?” he asked.

“I will unless Prouvaire and I want to see you go home barefoot,” I said. It wouldn’t have been the first time within this school year alone; today marked the third week in.

“You are a cruel little girl,” Grantaire said dramatically. He peered over at what I was working on and he whistled. “Almost done already?”

“Yeah. I do have another job, you know,” I said. Working in research kept me in the school’s good graces and gave me enough for some meals, but it wasn’t enough to keep a roof over my head. There was a reason I kept two planners in those days: one in red, one in black. I quickly saved my file and yawned; I always got sleepy at this time of the day. “Just yell if someone goes looking for me,” I said as I got out of my chair.

Prouvaire groaned as he tried to retie his ponytail. He was the only faculty member who could let his hair grow out that long...and get away with it. “Are you going to the vending machine again?”

“Why, you want something from there?” I asked.

“No, no. I’m not a med student like my roommate is, but don’t you worry about your heart or something, Eponine?” Prouvaire said."All that coffee cannot be good for you."

“I’m only twenty,” I said. “What about you Grantaire?”

“Only if it’s Irish coffee,” Grantaire said with a grin.

“Very funny,” I replied as I grabbed some coins. Of course there would never be Irish coffee in the third floor vending machine; one of the few things that this campus was a little more watchful about was inebriation on the premises. Then again they didn’t know of the thermos of vodka that had somehow made its way up into the chemistry lab last week.

Even if the lab I had just left was airconditioned, it was actually colder outside in the hallway. I had to stick my hands in my jacket pockets as I went to the vending machine that was located at the end of the hallway, near the old elevator that no longer worked. The floor was quite slippery because the windows had to be left partway open for the sake of getting some air. It was always a choice between wet or stifling, even in this grand university.

I might have been singing as I walked. I might have even kicked out my shoelaces just to listen to the aglets scrape across the tiles. I was not quiet, and the only other person who was in the hallway at that moment still tells me so. I did shut up when I got to the end of the hallway
It wasn’t every day that I saw a boy lying on the floor, trying to reach under the vending machine. I stared at him for a moment, wondering if his hair was really that golden color or if he was just one of those guys who had a love affair with yellow hair dye.

“Excuse me. Did you drop something?” I asked.

“A coin,” he muttered, shoving his arm further into that impossible gap.

I took a look at the display on the vending machine and saw some numbers there which meant that he’d already started putting in some change. I couldn’t tell him to leave while I saw to my own drink first, but how long was he going to be on the floor? Then there was that slight quivering starting in my fingers, something that only a hot drink could banish at this point.

“Can’t you just get another coin?” I asked as I fiddled with the zip of my jacket.

He muttered something before he slowly backed away from the gap. His right arm was covered in dust and grime all the way past his elbow. “Not exactly an option,” he said through gritted teeth, glaring at the machine as if he was willing it to melt or give up his drink for free.

“Don’t you have a twenty peso bill or something?” I asked impatiently.

“Would I have been on the floor if I had one?” he replied, his eyes narrowing at me. Now that I had a good look at him, I was sure I had never seen him before. It was odd since I’d been at the university for some years now, and while I didn’t know everyone’s name, I had some idea as to faces. His was of the more unforgettable sort: fair, a good pair of cheekbones, and eyes that were an unusual shade of blue. That was the face of someone who did not grow up in this side of the city.

I watched as he looked at the machine again.  He obviously didn’t see his arm was too big for the task. “You would have been better trying to sweep it out with a broom or something,” I said as I crouched down to take a look at the problem. I could see a large coin glinting in the darkness. I knew I should have gotten a broom but that would have involved breaking into the supply closet. So that was how I found myself on the floor too, but I managed to pinch the coin between two of my fingers and pull it out.

He blinked at me as I handed the coin over. “Thank you Miss,” he muttered before quickly putting the coin into the machine. I couldn’t help but frown when I saw that he had picked cappuccino; the stuff tasted even worse coming from there. Either his taste buds were dead or he had a stomach of steel.

It didn’t take all that long but eventually it was my turn to get a drink. On days like this, only a dark mocha would do the trick. However when I finally got the paper cup from the dispenser, I knew something was wrong. Instead of the usual heat that could almost sear my fingers, I felt nothing else but cool paper.

I swore as I slapped at the machine. Why did I even bother helping that boy anyway? As I went to bring back my lukewarm coffee to the psychology lab, I heard the door open. “You still have classes tonight, Enjolras?” Prouvaire asked as he stepped out.

“There hasn’t been an announcement yet,” the golden haired boy replied. “What is the latest update?” he asked Prouvaire.

“Nothing yet....” Prouvaire said. It was then that he saw me. His eyes widened when he saw that I was some paces behind his friend. “The universe has a sick sense of humor,” he said, shaking his head. He pointed to the vending machine. “Did you guys both just come from there?”

“Yes, and he got the last of the hot water,” I said, now getting to the psychology lab door. “You got lucky,” I said, looking at Enjolras.

“Why, what’s the matter with your coffee?” Enjolras asked me.

“Would I be complaining if it was actually warm?” I said. I saw his eyes narrow again; he knew I’d thrown back his question at him.

“Jehan, what is going on out there?” Grantaire asked from inside the psychology lab. As soon as he looked out into the hallway, he laughed so hard that he fell out of his chair. He got up almost immediately, rubbing his bottom the entire time. “This is awesome,” he managed to gasp out.

“Awesome? Grantaire---“ Prouvaire began before Grantaire pulled him aside to whisper something in his ear. Prouvaire shook his head and slapped at Grantaire’s arm, muttering something about impending disaster and caffeine addicts, but it was not enough to stop Grantaire from going to the door.

Enjolras glared at him, almost the same way he did at the vending machine. “Do I even want to know what you have to do with this?”

“I’m only broadening your social circle, Enjolras. Hers as well,” Grantaire said cheekily. “Antoine Enjolras, meet Eponine Thenardier, the best research assistant in the Psychology department. Eponine Thenardier, meet Antoine Enjolras. He’s taking political science.”

Enjolras wiped his dusty hand on his pants before setting down his coffee on a chair. “You’re an undergraduate?” he said even as he held his cleaner hand out to me.

“My senior year,” I said as I shook his hand. He raised one of his eyebrows. “Why, aren’t you an undergrad too?”

“I’m in the masteral program,” Enjolras replied, biting the inside of his cheek. I saw how his hands seemed to shake, until he picked up his coffee cup again.

"You don't look it," I said, earning myself another glare. It was at that moment the public address speaker on the wall crackled to life. ‘Attention all students: please report to the main building, second floor right. All rooms must be vacated within fifteen minutes.’

While Grantaire cheered loudly at this sign that classes were suspended, I went back into the psychology lab to retrieve my work, quickly saving it on a flashdrive that I crammed into my jacket pocket. Then I drank down what was left of my coffee in one go, trying not to frown too much at the taste. “You’re right. I should have left earlier,” I said to Prouvaire, who was also gathering up his things.

“And miss being stranded with us?” Prouvaire joked.

I sighed as I looked towards where Grantaire was playing games on his phone while nearby, Enjolras had forgotten his coffee and was trying to make a call. Only Grantaire seemed gleeful about this entire situation; it didn’t look as if he’d be complaining about not being able to have an alcoholic drink for the rest of the night, considering that we would probably be sleeping in a classroom or worse, the school chapel.

I checked my phone and saw it was not even seven in the evening. "Maybe the water will go down before it's too late tonight. Then I can make my way back home."

"Enjolras' place is near here," Grantaire chimed in. "We can all crash there once they let us out of the campus."

Enjolras gave up on making a call and he pocketed his phone. "Did I say you could?"

"Do you have a choice?"

Enjolras rolled his eyes before looking at me. "Where do you stay?"

"Sampaloc," I said. It was thirty minutes away from school on a good day, but maybe three hours on a night like this---assuming that there was still a road to pass. I could envision the entire trip whether by train or by jeep, zooming past the oldest part of this city, then across the murky river, then on to the market district that opened out to an old low-lying 'suburb'. It was not the best location, but it was the one place that could take me.

I did not know what Enjolras must have thought of this word, but judging by the slight scowl on his face he must have known the distance. "You should stay with friends; you might not be able to return there before morning."

"She can stay with us," Grantaire said. "We count as friends too!"

"I meant classmates, someone else---" Enjolras said, shooting him a withering glance before he looked at me again.

I swallowed hard, not sure how to explain the fact that many of my classmates, at least those who I got along with, didn't live in the neighborhood. The one or two who did were best not mentioned at that moment. "It won't be an issue. The water will go down." I insisted.

Enjolras looked at the rain still pouring outside. "We shall see."

I swallowed hard, more so when I saw Prouvaire's despairing look and Grantaire's triumphant grin as we began walking to the main building. What a way to impose on a complete stranger for the night.

Feb. 24th, 2013

Chapter 9: An Apparition in Binondo

Chapter 9: An Apparition in Binondo

I slept well. Back then, I still could afford to. It was a good thing I was able to wake up right when I wanted to, before six in the morning.  Oddly enough though, Juli’s cubicle was silent. Where had she been all evening?

The answer came when I got downstairs; Basilio and Juli were in the front room. To be more exact, Basilio was dozing on a bench, while Juli was stretched out on a chair. “Wake up!” I hissed, shaking Juli’s chair a little.

She groaned and opened her eyes. “What time is it?”

“Six? Where have you been?”

“Sapang.” She coughed as she sat up, which was enough to make Basilio open his eyes and get up as well. “I’d better get ready for work now.”

“You ought to rest,” Basilio said. He went over to her and put a hand on her forehead. “And you’ve got a fever.”

“I’ll be fine!”

“Um, no. I’m not even touching you, and you already feel hot,” I said. Besides, Juli was so pale and she looked as if she would fall over. “You get her upstairs, I’ll tell Mister Fauchelevent that Juli’s not coming in today.”

Basilio nodded and Juli mumbled something like a ‘thank you’ before I hurried out. The street was beginning to wake up but there were hardly any jeepneys coming down that way. When I arrived at the Musain, Mister Fauchelevent and Cosette were there, setting the places.

“You’re early, Miss Thenardier,” Mister Fauchelevent greeted me. Cosette waved. I hoped I remembered to smile.

“Juli isn’t coming in today. She’s sick,” I said.

Cosette put down the napkin she’d been folding. “She’s at your boarding house, right? Does she need anything?” she asked.
“Sleep. Anyway, Basilio is with her,” I said. Even so, Cosette disappeared into the back, asking Miss Fantine if they had any extra medicine lying around.

Mister Fauchelevent nodded to me. “How is her family?” he asked.

“I don’t know, she didn’t tell me,” I said.

“I must speak to her later,” Mister Fauchelevent said. “If you don’t mind waiting a little bit, I will have some rice, eggs, and sausages out. And there’s hot chocolate, or are you more into coffee?”

“I don’t mind at all,” I said, remembering that yes, Marius was supposed to meet me. “But I’m not really hungry, so maybe just some coffee please?”

“You need to eat more,” Mister Fauchelevent said before he left me alone. It was at that moment that Cosette returned, carrying her schoolbag and a small plastic bag with some pills. She conferred with Mister Fauchelevent for a few moments, and I saw him furrow his brow.

“It’s just to Juli’s, and I’ll go straight to school after, Papa,” Cosette said. “I’ll be fine.”

“It’s still early.”

“I’ll be careful.”

Mister Fauchelevent sighed. “Give me a few minutes,” he said before going into the kitchen. I thought he was going to brew coffee, but he came back moments later with an umbrella. “We’ll go now. Your mom will take care of Eponine.” He nodded to me. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Cosette looked as if she wanted to say something but she just smiled. “See you later, Eponine!” she said.

I waited to get my coffee before I found a corner near the window and just in sight of the clock. I got a message from Simoun: I was to work in the Binondo office that day, encoding all his files. That would be my problem later. For now, my biggest question was if Marius was the sort to get up at the crack of dawn I hoped that he remembered that I did have early classes, and that breakfast for me was not 8, 9, or 10am. I didn’t have to worry too long, since I eventually saw him walking up the street.

He practically threw the cafe door open. “Eponine! There you are!” he greeted.

“Good morning, Marius,” I said, hoping I sounded good and proper. “You look well.”

He laughed as he pulled up a seat across mine. “Thank you for giving the letter. I saw her today, just a few moments ago. She was with her father. And you know what, she smiled at me!”

Did he have to tell me this? “She’s always polite,” I said. “She’d do that to anyone.”

“Eponine, what did she say when you gave the letter?” he asked, reaching for my arm.

What to do? I bit my lip as I tried to imagine what Cosette would have actually done. “She was surprised. She couldn’t believe anyone still wrote love letters,” I said slowly.

“Exactly why it has to be special---I knew she’d notice,” Marius gushed. He sounded like a giggly teenager, like someone even younger than me. “Do you think she’ll write back?”

“I don’t know.” I still hadn’t had any of my coffee, but when I sipped it, I burned my tongue. “You’ve never even really talked to her, Marius. How do you know she’s anything special?”

“I just know!”

“She could be silly, she could be a bitch for all you know....”  I stopped when I realized that Marius was giving me a weird look. “I mean, there are other girls out there, some girls you could actually have a conversation with?”

Marius put his hands on my arm. “I’ll talk to her one day. I just have to figure out how to do it. Maybe when she writes back?”

“Maybe.” The problem was that Marius’ letter was not with Cosette, but it was up in my notebook, all the way back in the boarding house. I finally managed to take a sip of my coffee even as Marius went to order his. Thankfully it didn’t burn my tongue this time around, so I was actually able to talk with him, though we never really got past the topics of school and work.

He laughed and shrugged when I asked exactly how he began working for Ben Ybanez. “I had to go door to door to find him. I had to get noticed right away, and I couldn’t wait for him to reply to email,” he said as he finished his coffee.

“Why couldn’t you wait?”

“Necessity. I had to pay for my place---well, that room I have near here.”

“Don’t you have family helping you?” I asked.

Marius shook his head. “I grew up with my grandfather and my aunt. Lately we haven’t seen eye to eye on some things.”

“Don’t all parents and children some times?” I asked. I definitely didn’t get along with my own family on some days, and I had the bruises to prove it.

“It’s more complicated than that, Eponine.” He put down his cup. “It’s actually political. I took after my father’s views.”

Well that was an interesting story. “What was your father doing, fighting in the opposition before 86?” Everyone, even our friends, talked of 1986 and that revolution that had booted out a dictator. Prouvaire had even gone so far as to dub it as our equivalent of the French Revolution of 1789.

“He did that for a time,” Marius said. “My father was in the military, and he got involved in one of the coup attempts after 1986. That was some time after I was born. Since my mother died in an accident, and my father was on the run, I was sent to live with my grandfather.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. I felt horrible for him and I would have hugged him if he let me. As it was though I just had to stay in my chair.

“It’s not entirely a bad thing. I had to learn about what my father stood for.” He was smiling but in a sad way. “I wish I’d known it a little earlier.”

“Why?” But before Marius could say anything, he got a message on his phone. “Are you late already for class?” I asked.

“Not yet, but I might be if I’m not careful!” he said, shaking his head. “What about you?”

I looked at the clock and jumped up; I had only forty five minutes before my first class. “I will definitely be late!” I said as I gathered up my things.

“You don’t know that yet. Let’s take the train together again,” he said as he brought out his wallet to pay for our coffee.

Of course I didn’t say no. It was the best thing that had happened to me all day, as far as I was concerned. I was smiling all the time, everyone asked me why, but the problem was that I couldn’t really say who made me happy. If only I could have!

It was just as well that the morning had been exceptional, as the early afternoon was utterly dull: lectures, and then typing up pages and pages of records in the Binondo Office. I wasn’t sure whether to be thankful that I was dealing with numbers this time, and not profiles. It would have been much easier if Simoun had kept at least one game on the laptop he let me work on, but it was utterly bare except for the spreadsheet template. It didn’t even have a wireless internet adapter.  I suspected that he didn’t want me lazing on the job, or getting into other things.

It was sunset when I was saving my work for the last time when suddenly my phone began to ring. I worried for a moment that it might be Juli needing more help or Azelma with bad news from home. However the number on the screen was unknown to me. “Who are you?” I asked when I picked up.

“Hey Eponine! It’s Bahorel,” a gruff but cheery voice replied.

I nearly dropped the phone. “How the hell did you get my number?” I asked.

“From Prouvaire, who got it from Courfeyrac, who got it from Makaraig,” he said. “You doing anything?”

“In a while, I won’t be. Why did you call?”

“Anyway there’s an eat-all-you-can buffet down at this new place in Chinatown, and we get a discount if there’s twelve of us at the table. You want in?”

As if eating all the food at the Musain wasn’t bad enough. “Who’s ‘us’?” I asked.

“Me of course, Prouvaire, Grantaire, Courfeyrac, Bossuet, Joly, Musichetta, Feuilly, Tadeo, Sandoval, and your brother. Sandoval is paying,” Bahorel replied gleefully.

I cringed; why them and not Marius? Still, free food was free food, and besides I missed my brother. At least Musichetta would be coming along so it wouldn’t just be me and the boys. “I’m in. Actually I’m not far from Chinatown right now, so where will I meet you?” I said. I didn’t want to be too specific about where I was.

“You’ve been to Binondo Church, right?

“Of course.” Well, I didn’t really go inside, but I knew the place; it was two blocks away. “What time?”


I swore and Bahorel just laughed. “See you in a bit. Text if you get lost.”  He hung up before I could curse him out for his rotten timing, but I wasn’t about to complain. It didn’t take me long to shut down the computer and put the office in order before hurrying downstairs. In maybe five minutes I was already headed towards Plaza Lorenz Ruiz. The entire bunch was waiting outside the church there. For some reason that I probably was better off not asking about, Bossuet had blue candle wax on his head.

Musichetta hugged me when she saw me. “Thank you! I thought I was going to have to babysit all of them alone!” she said.

“I’m here for the food,” I said. “And to keep him out of trouble,” I added, pointing to my brother.

Gavroche stuck his tongue out at me. “I should be doing that for you, Ponine.”

Everyone laughed till Sandoval’s phone went off. “Pelaez wants in,” he announced.

“The buffet is only for twelve,” Feuilly said.

“He’s paying for himself,” Sandoval growled. “Anyway let’s get him in his dad’s shop. It’s just on the way to the restaurant anyway.”

I moved to grab my brother but he climbed up on Courfeyrac’s shoulders. “You’re much too big to be carried that way,” I said.

“I never had a little brother, so indulge me, Eponine,” he said.

I pinched Courfeyrac. “You shouldn’t have given out my number! What gives you the right to?” It was one thing to give my number to Makaraig since he was looking out for me, but to have it passed to so many people was another.

“Hey we’re all friends here,” he said as we began walking down the street after Sandoval and Tadeo, who were singing some old songs at the top their lungs. Joly was looking for hand sanitizer in Musichetta’s purse. Bossuet and Feuilly were all ribbing Prouvaire about a spoken word piece he’d written about Shelley and his presence in downtown Manila. Grantaire had an arm around Bahorel’s shoulders and was telling him something about Ancient Rome. Courfeyrac and Gavroche caught up quickly to Sandoval and Tadeo. They were all having a blast. I wished I could too.

Pelaez met us on Ongpin Street. He was hunched over as usual, and had a cigarette dangling between his lips. He hadn’t bothered to light it though. “Mes amis!” he greeted us in an overly loud voice.

“Oh, parlez vous Francais, Pelaez?” Tadeo shouted back. They both sounded so bad, and we all couldn’t help laughing—in varying degrees of being impolite.

Pelaez frowned and straightened up. “It means ‘my friends’. What’s so wrong with that?”

“Pronunciation,” Musichetta said dryly.

Pelaez looked at our entire group. “Is Paulita with you?”

“I think she’s still at school,” Sandoval said. “So come on, let’s go---“

“Juanito, where are you going?” someone called from inside the store. “You promised you’d help fix the ledgers before tonight!”

“I won’t be long, jus for a cigarette!” Pelaez said before grabbing Sandoval to drag him down the street. “Come on, let’s go!”

“Hey Pelaez, since when was a cigarette a unit of time?” Bossuet asked.

“Since ever.”

“Well it’s pretty flexible: you can smoke the thing straight or extinguish it and carry it with you for two hours,” Bahorel pointed out.

“That’s cheating,” I told him.

“People do it,” Sandoval called over his shoulder. He pointed to a sign that was just beginning to be lit up by garish neon lights. I could smell the oil and dimsum from the street, and it made my stomach turn a little bit but we went in anyway.

It really didn’t take us long to get through the entire buffet. Even Gavroche had quite the appetite; at the rate he was going, he was going to get even taller than our father. Pelaez decided it would be a brilliant idea to get beer for everyone, and the bucket was just going around when suddenly Prouvaire got a call.

“Hello Combeferre? Out of class already----you’re what? Okay. See you in a bit!” Prouvaire said cheerily. “Combeferre found a bargain at Ongpin!”

“We are on Ongpin already,” Feuilly pointed out.

“You know what I mean, Feuilly. And he’s there now, buying up the stuff,” Prouvaire hissed.

What did they mean? There were a lot of things one could get on Ongpin, such as toys, food, and school supplies. I could rule out one, and I knew that it was far too early in the year to be buying tikoy rice cakes or mooncake. “Are you guys hoarding pad paper for exams or something?” I asked.

“Not pad paper, Eponine, but paper for posters,” Prouvaire said.

“Toilet paper for the Palace,” Grantaire snickered before Bahorel cuffed him. “Anyway what does Combeferre want?”

“He needs help moving the entire stash,” Prouvaire said.

“What did he do, buy the entire store?” Sandoval asked.

“Wouldn’t put it past him after that. You know, he’s in med on scholarship and he doesn’t use much of his stipend,” Courfeyrac said.

Sandoval looked at Pelaez. “We need your car.”

Pelaez shrugged. “It’s coded.

“That’s what you said yesterday! Cars aren’t coded for two days in a row,” Bahorel said.

“Well it’s up for repairs,” Pelaez mumbled.

“Never mind, it’s not as if Ongpin Street is that long. We can walk there and find some cab to help us out,” Courfeyrac said. Well he always knew what to say. “You might want to double knot your shoelaces this time, Tadeo.”

Tadeo shook his head. “I have reliable old rubber slippers. Joly can pull the splinters out of my toes later.” Of course Joly turned a little green at this and said he had to go to the bathroom. Musichetta gave Tadeo a dirty look as Sandoval called for the bill. Pelaez threw some bills on the table and ran out. As soon as Bossuet was able to get Joly to face the world again, we were off to find Combeferre.

We found him on the curb, right outside the shop. It did look like Combeferre had bought the entire store, or at least a good portion of it. The stack of reams he had with him was nearly as tall as he was. He also had a large bag of what turned out to be scissors, blades, pens of all kinds of colors, and huge bottles of glue. He even still had another bag with him, but this one was full of medical books.

“What are you going to do, cover the city in fliers?” Musichetta asked him as she rapped the reams.

“No, but just something to do with the trains,” Combeferre replied.

“What? Whose idea was that?”

Combeferre, Prouvaire, Sandoval, and Feuilly all pointed at each other. “That doesn’t change the fact that no one planned a way out of here,” Bahorel said. “Well we could carry them to the corner and hail a cab like what Courfeyrac was saying, right?”

Courfeyrac wasn’t listening though, he was looking up the street. “Hey Makaraig! Enjolras!” he shouted.

“I don’t think they can hear you,” Grantaire said .Well they couldn’t hear us but we sure could see them. They were with a whole group of people outside a tea house. Makaraig had his car parked there. The people they were with appeared to be students too, if their uniforms meant anything. Well there were some working people too; at least one guy was in a union t-shirt. It was really odd to see them in the middle of everything, but that wasn’t surprising since Makaraig was doing a lot of the talking. He was fast, zipping from one person to another. Enjolras was quieter, talking to a few people at a time but he held their attention so completely. No one could miss him on that street.

It was at that moment that I caught the faintest scent of water in the air. When I looked up, the sky was all clouded, not a single star was out. “Might start drizzling in a while,” I said.

“And this will all be papier mache,” Gavroche said, pointing to the reams. Fortunately at that moment Courfeyrac had already run up to Makaraig to explain the situation. Somehow it was decided that Makaraig would bring the paper home in his car, and that the rest of us would split up the various stuff so we wouldn’t have people wondering why we were bringing home big bags. Well except maybe Combeferre; no one could split that book he had with him anyway.

We had finished loading up the car when suddenly Makaraig looked at me and Gavroche. “Do you two need a ride back?” he asked. I
Gavroche grinned and pointed at Feuilly. I looked down; I didn’t really want to receive any more favors. “I don’t want to go home just yet,” I said. It was what, not even seven in the evening. Maybe Juli needed help, but I thought she needed sleep more.

“Where will you go?” Enjolras asked.

“Around. With you guys maybe?” I said.

 “Well your place isn’t safe at night, so let’s get you back anyway .Come on,” Makaraig told me as he opened the car door. I could see everyone starting to snicker at us. Couldn’t a girl ever get into a car with a guy without anyone talking? What if this got back to Marius?

Marius. Yes, why didn’t anyone think of inviting him? Maybe if Sandoval was doing the inviting, Marius wouldn’t be high on the list. I was pretty sure I was only invited because of Bahorel, or Musichetta. And then it occurred to me: Enjolras had stayed behind, but I was with Makaraig. Enjolras would probably tell the others what he and Makaraig had been talking about at their meeting----and I wouldn’t be there. Sneaky bastards.

I did tell Makaraig so, when the rain was really pouring and he couldn’t send me out of the car. “It’s not that way, Eponine,” he said as he kept his hands on the steering wheel.

“Then what is it?” I asked. “You don’t be nice to a girl unless she can give you something.”

“Now what gave you that idea?”

“Well because you keep pulling me aside.” It was only a few times, no more than five, but that was still too many.

He adjusted the airconditioning so it wasn’t so cold. “You’re among the youngest of us---I mean, that bunch that goes to the Musain.”

“So what, I’m your pet?” I asked. Lightning flashed outside and the resulting thunder was nearly deafening. “Oh gosh, that was quite close!”

“We’re not moving in traffic either,” Makaraig muttered. He squinted as he tried to get a look through the windshield. “Maybe we’re flooded?”

I began looking out my window too, just to see what was going on. We were outside a sort of abandoned building that was fenced in by some rusty sheets. Something was moving on the roof. “Makaraig, what is that?” I asked, pointing to the building.

Makaraig leaned over. “I don’t see anything.”

“A dark shape---“ I said. Suddenly lightning struck again, and it seemed for a second as if the entire sky went white. In that moment I saw who it was. “A nun?!”

“A ghost,” Makaraig said. He pinched himself. “Ghosts don’t exist!”

“Then, what, or who was that?!” I asked.

Makaraig shook his head. “We’d better check the tabloids tomorrow,” he said with a laugh. Yet even someone who hadn’t been taking Psychology could see his white knuckles and wide eyes. Somehow he just wasn’t all that good at hiding fear.

Feb. 16th, 2013

Chapter 8: Stories and Loyalties

Chapter 8: Stories and Loyalties
Simoun didn’t have to make an excuse letter for me; I got a message there and then from my classmates that our afternoon classes had been called off. As soon as I could, I went to the Musain. Basilio was there, looking over a book. Juli wasn’t in sight, but I could hear her talking with Miss Fantine. I didn’t wait for him to greet me as I sat down. “You didn’t ever mention you knew Simoun!” I said.

He nearly dropped the page he’d been turning. “Ah Eponine....” he said distractedly as he rubbed his temples. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“Well not anymore,” I replied. “Free cut.”

“Good for you.”

“You never answered my question.”

He took a deep breath. “We met when I was just a boy. Far away. A long time ago.”

“Family friend?

“No, not really. Same town. That’s all.”

That wasn’t going to do. I had to try another tack. “And Juli? He knows Juli. And what is Sapang?”

“Sapang is just where Juli’s family is now. It’s a small municipality just north of here. It’s rather rough----“

“You may as well tell her,” Juli said from the doorway. She was holding her phone and she was very pale. “So first, we are about to lose our farm, and now my grandfather is in prison....he stood up to the guards who came to evict our neighbours.”

I thought I heard Basilio swear under his breath. “We have to find legal counsel---“

“No one will represent him,” Juli said. She ran her hands through her hair. “I’ve asked Mister Fauchelevent to advance my salary. I need to pay the bail, he can’t stay in jail.”

I looked at Basilio, and I wondered if he would tell her about speaking to Simoun earlier today. However his face was grim; perhaps the meeting hadn’t gone well? I had to do something. “Juli, I can talk to Simoun, he knows people---“

“No. My father won’t have it.” Her smile was wry, as if she was remembering something about her home, maybe.

“But if your grandfather is in prison---“

She put her hand on my shoulder. “Basilio and I will have it sorted. It’s going to be alright. God will---“

“What, come down and fix this?”  Maybe it was the wrong thing to say though since Juli just looked at me, shook her head and returned to the kitchen.

Basilio gritted his teeth. “Sometimes people don’t need to hear things, Eponine,” he said before going after her. I took the opportunity to leave; I would have to eat in the boarding house that night.

Juli didn’t tell anyone what I had said, but it seemed as if everyone knew I’d been away. All night I got messages on my phone from different people---even my brother, asking where I was. How could I go to them though, after what I said to Juli and after now what Simoun wanted me to do? I deleted every single message before going to school, and then to the Makati office.

Simoun was looking through some papers when I arrived.  “Five minutes late,” he growled.

I gestured to the window. “Traffic.”

“I want you to draft short write ups, for sidebar purposes,” Simoun said. He gestured to some papers piled up on the desk. “Some sources are here, and you can use the computer to look up more information. You can write, can you?”

I nodded. “Of course!” It was something I was proud of. “Exactly what is the sidebar for?”

“Financiers for an upcoming playfest.” He pointed to a banner by his desk, showing a collage of people in various costumes. “I will be at a meeting; you can use the intercom to call me if something important comes up---but you are not to knock on the other room. Don’t be surprised with what you find; you haven’t seen them in action yet,” he instructed before he left.

Well there was no arguing with him, especially if I wanted to finish up early in hopes of catching up to Miss Fantine’s birthday celebration. I pulled the first paper off the top of the pile, and nearly dropped it. It was a newspaper clipping on Father Salvi. There were more clippings too, on Father Irene, Father Camorra, and even Father Sibyla. What was Simoun up to, writing about the clergy?

As I sifted through the papers, another name leaped out: Telosoforo de Dios. No prizes as to guessing who this might be, at least in relation to Juli. The article this name was on was about the small ‘hamlet’ known as Sapang; it was probably only an hour away from here, at the outskirts of Manila. The photo of the place was lovely: fields of green with the foothills just in the background, and a clear spring running through it. Apparently some quarry firm had taken an interest in the place; there were rich rocks and clay to be had in the eastern outskirts of the city. Of course it would mean evicting a lot of people, and of course people like the de Dios family would have objections.

Basilio had said ‘where Juli’s family is now.’ So did this mean that Juli hadn’t been at Sapang very long? Was she a wanderer too, like I was? I would have to find a way to ask.

And maybe she wasn’t the only wanderer too. Everyone, even the priests, had histories of being elsewhere too. Once upon a time, Father Salvi and Father Sibyla had been in the same town. Father Irene had been to Paris. Father Camorra was still assigned at Sapang---what was it with Sapang, and what on earth was he doing in Manila? Well I did my best, trying to put only what was necessary: what they did, what their awards were, and what positions they were in now. They’d been far, far in deep in things and who knows how many people had to deal with their particular attitudes. I could imagine even SImoun being irritated with them.

Then there was an odd bit of information: the convent of Santa Clara. I didn’t know nuns could fund events. There was a picture---an actual old print, not a computer print out---of the nuns. I saw towards the back, a familiar face. The mad nun Marius and I had seen. What had happened to her?

It was already quite dark when I finally got to the bottom of the stack. I thought my blood had turned to ice when I saw the name encircled on the paper: Montparnasse. What did Simoun want with him? I only managed to get the briefest of things out on the screen before I had to shut it down entirely. Had Simoun been talking to him too? What did my old friend now know? What if there would some day be a write up on m own parents? Did that mean that somehow, he would also find out about the people of the Musain? Even Marius?

I shouldn’t have done it, but I opened SImoun’s browser to check things. No such luck. He’d somehow configured the thing so I couldn’t look at his browsing history. I think he knew I would resort to it. So I had no choice but to finish what I’d come here for. I printed out everything, stacked it on Simoun’s desk and ran right out the door and to the elevator. I did tell Simoun via text that I was done for the night, and that I really had to do homework. Never mind if he wouldn’t buy the line for one bit.

It took me more than an hour to get back to Tolentino Street. Much to my surprise, the cafe was still full. Pecson, Joly, Bahorel, Placido, Bossuet, and Tadeo were in the middle of the room, laughing loudly. Prouvaire, Feuilly, and my brother were entertaining some friends in a corner. They seemed serious, so I didn’t go anywhere near them. Grantaire was by himself, with a whole bottle beside him. He raised a glass to me as I entered but I shook my head.

“What on earth is so funny?” I asked as I approached the big group.

“Talking about why Paulita’s aunt is risking bigamy---and no, she’s not the target,” Tadeo said.

I raised an eyebrow. “So Donya Victorina’s husband is still alive?”

“Alive and would be kicking if not for his leg?” Pecson said.

Joly clucked his tongue. “Don Tiburcio de Espadana has an orthopaedic problem; clubfoot actually.”

“Anyway the point is that he’s been on the run, and recently he’s arrived at Atimonan. To be exact, where Isagani’s uncle lives,” Bahorel said gleefully.

“That’s out in Quezon, isn’t it?” Placido asked.

“Yes! And the best part is that Isagani has been sworn to secrecy about the whole thing! Not even Paulita knows!” Tadeo crowed.
“Has Paulita ever asked?” Bossuet inquired.

“I’m sure but Isagani knows how to evade it. I don’t know how he’d stand up to the older lady though,” Pecson replied before sipping his iced tea.

I shook my head. “This is really messed up.”

“She’s a gold digger. I can’t blame the man,” Bahorel muttered.

“Uh, not just that. Paulita thinks that her aunt has a thing for Pelaez---“ I had to paused since Joly blanched, Pecson choked on his tea and Placido looked as if he was going to be sick. “But Paulita, Marius and I saw her hitting on Enjolras.”

Placido and Pecson snickered but the rest were hopeless; they all burst out laughing and for a moment it looked as if Tadeo would wet his pants. Of course it was at that very moment, Isagani and Paulita entered the cafe. Even though they had been commuting; I knew Isagani didn’t drive, they still managed to look so elegant.

“What happened?” Isagani asked he pulled up a chair for Paulita.

“We were just talking—“ Tadeo said before pulling at his leg to mimic someone with a limp.

Isagani sighed. “Please, not here,” he whispered.

Paulita noticed though. “News of Don Tiburcio?” she asked innocently.

Everyone at the table fell silent. “Something like it,” Placido muttered.

Paulita smiled sweetly at him and put her hands on her lap. “I won’t tell my aunt, I swear. Isagani?” she asked, looking at her boyfriend.

Isagani’s face was grim even though he did try to smile. “Your uncle is at my uncle’s house.”

“Just that? And isn’t it a long way?”

“He’s had lots of time to travel.”

Paulita shrugged as she tossed her hair back. “It will take my aunt some time to figure it out.” I wasn’t sure if that meant she would tell on her uncle or anything. Thankfully at that point Miss Fantine showed up to ask if anyone wanted anything. I took the opportunity to slip off and see what everyone else was up to; the cafe was fuller now. Somehow I hadn’t noticed that Marius, Courfeyrac, and Sandoval had all arrived. The moment Marius saw me, he motioned for me to meet him at a corner.

“What is it?” I asked, even though I saw the paper he had in his hand.

“I wrote it. Please, could you give it to her?” he asked in a whisper. He was so excited, like a child, and at that moment he was so adorable. Too bad for me that I knew the reason for it.

“You owe me coffee,” I reminded him.

“Ah yes.” Had he forgotten? He glanced to the menu. “So what would you like?”

I swallowed hard. I couldn’t settle for that. “I sort of meant that we’d go for coffee, you and me?”

“Oh.” He looked at the letter before handing it to me. “Breakfast then?”

“Don’t we both have class?”

“You could meet me here early, like when Juli opens up the place.”

I wished he’d said ‘we’. Anyway, I nodded. “Tomorrow.” I stowed the letter in my pocket. Maybe Cosette wouldn’t come down tonight. I sure wasn’t going in the kitchen or anywhere to look for her! “Come on, let’s sit with them---“ I said, motioning for him to follow me to where Courfeyrac, Sandoval, and Grantaire were talking to Isagani and Paulita. Maybe Isagani had gotten sick of being tormented by the others. At any rate, Bahorel had gone to pester Prouvaire, and the two of them were staging some sort of improvisation gag.

Marius shook his head. “I have to finish work at home.”

“Just for a moment, please?”

“I’ve got to. Anyway there’s no meeting tonight---“


He shook his head. “See you at breakfast. You take care, Ponine.”

Oh he’d guessed my nickname. I knew I was smiling as I went to join my friends. Miss Fantine was already there, with a pitcher of iced tea.
She smiled when she saw me. “Have you had dinner already, Eponine?”

“No, I just got in. I’ll be fine though.” Just then, my stomach rumbled. I buried my face in my hands and I could see from a nearby table, Gavroche laughing at me.

Miss Fantine sighed. “I’ll get you some soup first,” she said.

I was about to protest when I felt Courfeyrac grab my arm. “It’s her birthday. Let her treat everyone out,” he told me.

“Well I’m just....not up to it,” I said, even as I glanced to the doorway.

Sandoval raised an eyebrow. “Pontmercy is missing out on this?”

“He says he’s busy. I’ll bring over something for him,” Courfeyrac said.

Grantaire hiccupped as he raised his head from the table. “Got some vodka?” he asked Miss Fantine.

“Not tonight. I worry for your liver, really,” Miss Fantine sighed. “You’ll have to make do with iced tea.”

“Bukowski survived worse.”

“You aren’t him, you’re Grantaire,” She patted his arm before going off to the kitchen.

Sandoval put down his mug. “You’re intoxicated most of the time. You don’t get anything we talk about. Why do you still come?” he asked Grantaire.

Grantaire didn’t say anything but he looked as if he was contemplating something at the bottom of his glass. Courferyac clapped Sandoval on the shoulder and mumbled something that made Sandoval nod. Isagani began playing with Paulita’s hair, while Paulita only sighed.

I inched closer to Paulita. “Do you know?” I asked.

Paulita made some signs with her hands. It took me a moment to realize she’d spelled out ACDC. “Really?” I asked.

“So they say. He talks about girls but it’s only because Enjolras doesn’t swing in any direction,” she whispered in my ear.

“What, that?”

“Yeah, how do you want me to say it? Rainbow power? Pinkle---“

I shook my head. “I get the point Paulita, but....that really is sad.” Poor Grantaire. It was a step worse than falling for someone who was very much taken. “Does Enjolras know?

Isagani shrugged. “If he knows, he’s not saying.”

Grantaire looked at us and sighed dramatically. “I don’t see Juli around tonight.”

“Personal problem,” I said. I wasn’t going to explain about Sapang here. Instead I settled for having the soup that Miss Fantine soon brought, and joining in all the talk. Eventually some of the others: Enjolras, Makaraig, Combeferre, and Musichetta soon made their appearance. It did seem like some sort of meeting was coming to order.

In the middle of it all, I noticed that Cosette sitting on the stairway. She was still in her school uniform.  “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I was just wondering who’d be here for Mama’s birthday,” she said. “Thanks for coming.”

“I’m here for the food,” I said, hoping it sounded funny. I could feel the letter in my pocket and I had to keep my hand far away from it. “You’d better go upstairs before your father starts worrying.”

Cosette nodded, though I could tell she was watching, that she wanted to ask about someone. Well she would have to be disappointed this time. “You’re taking up psych, right?” she asked me after a while.

“Why, want some help with your subjects or something?”I said.

“Maybe. So far it’s pretty basic but I need to be able to find books when I work on my papers.”

“Your school has a large library, isn’t that enough?”

“Usually, but I like reading other things,” she said. I wanted to laugh; Cosette had never struck me as the bookish sort. “But could you help me out? Please?”

At least she was being polite. “We’ll see,” I said. Cosette nodded and then turned to flee up the stairs; I realized that Miss Fantine had just returned to the front room. I took the letter from my pocket and went to trap it for now in my notebook; it would be safer there. By this time the boys were talking of something, and even Musichetta was debating with them. Only Paulita was silent. I didn’t see Basilio or Juli all night.

It was about ten thirty when finally Makaraig decided that it was about time we let everyone else in the Musain get some rest. We were all about to go to the door when Prouvaire, who was sitting nearest there, shook his head. “Careful,” he muttered.

“What?” Enjolras asked.

“Eyes on the walls.”

I rushed to the window and saw a man in a police uniform pacing the place. I’d never seen him before. “Oh come on, it’s just one,” I said.
“You never know about the plainclothes,” Combeferre said.

Feuilly signed to my brother and the rest. “Not altogether now.” He went to the window and nodded. “He’s gone. Who’s going first?”
Musichetta nodded to Joly and Bossuet, and linked arms with them. “We’ll head down towards Laong Laan first. The rest of you....”

“Different directions,” Makaraig said. He tapped my shoulder. “I’ll walk you back, Eponine.”

“No, I can take care of myself----“ I began till I remembered why he would want to speak with me. “Okay. But can we stop by the store for some coffee? I think I’ll pull an all-nighter.”

“Let’s go before Combeferre lectures you about your study habits,” Makaraig said. By this time even Paulita and Isagani had already left,a nd the rest were still dawdling about. I thanked Miss Fantine for the food before stepping out with Makaraig.

We ended up at a convenience store at the corner, sipping some slightly nutty coffee. “I’m sorry if the text scared you,” I said after a while.

Makaraig smiled. “We’ve known that he’s known about what we’ve been doing. For some time now, actually.”

“So it was no shock to you?”

“Definitely not.” He adjusted the top of his coffee cup. “He works with the admin of different universities, and runs several businesses. He is also into events, so of course he knows things.”

I could only stare at him. How could he be so nonchalant? “He doesn’t like what you do.”

“Of course he doesn’t! That doesn’t mean we ought to stop.” He took another sip of his coffee. “What I’m curious about is why you had to tell me.”

I shrugged. “Well I thought you didn’t know. I mean, it’s for your information at least.”

“You could have chosen not to. It’s safer that way.”

I bit my tongue, knowing now that I could never really explain myself. “I don’t think you’d like to be in jail. I mean, I’ve seen some rotten stuff and you boys don’t know half of it.”

“That’s not true for all of us.”

“Yeah, you rich post grads and undergrads.” Only Basilio and Feuilly seemed to really have it rough. I drank down more of my coffee. “You wouldn’t know who to help you if Simoun decided to turn you all in one day.”

“Won’t happen, not if we play our cards right, or know what he’s up to.” He finished his drink. “How much do you know of his plans, Eponine?”

So he wasn’t just curious. “I’m not spying on him for you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“It’s not spying, it’s just getting information in advance.”

“It’s too dangerous.” No way was I going to risk losing my job or getting in trouble. It wouldn’t take much for Simoun to tell Montparnasse or someone else to get rid of me. Also, if Simoun knew I was spying, he would not hesitate to kill anyone else I talked to. I shivered, thinking of my brother, of Marius, of all of our friends.

Makaraig’s phone suddenly rang. He lost no time in picking up. “Enjolras? Yes, still on Tolentino Street. The store. Okay, will see you in a few moments,” he said.

I crossed my arms as Makaraig hung up. “How do you know that I won’t turn you in?” I asked.

Makaraig shrugged. “It’s a risk we take for everyone who comes in.”

Did Enjolras, Marius, or Paulita tell him anything? I waited for Enjolras to arrive, and set about finishing my coffee while he and Makaraig talked. I waited for Makaraig to go off and get some sandwiches before confronting Enjolras.

“Of course I told him,” he replied simply. “And no one else.”

Well that was one thing to be thankful for. “So you knew I was working for Simoun, and yet you and Makaraig let me in the meetings anyway?” I shook my head. “You’re either more naive, or dumber than I thought.”

“You haven’t done anything yet to sell us out,” Enjolras said simply.

“I could.”

“You won’t.”

I sighed, knowing that there was no way I could argue; I’d been had, they’d played their cards right. “I’m not going to be your spy. You can’t make me do it.”

“It’s your choice, Eponine,” he replied. “Obviously it’s not in your best interests to do so.”

“Yes. And you know, I think you’re crazy for all of this.” I’d known as much, from the first meetings, from that night with Courfeyrac in the park, and even up to all that had happened earlier in the evening.

“I don’t know you well, but I’m sure of one thing: you don’t believe in everything we say,” Enjolras said. “You haven’t known most of us for very long, so it would be presumptuous to think you’d keep your silence for friendship’s sake.”

 “You’ve all been kind to me,” I said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

He looked at me keenly. “Perhaps then there is a person in particular you want to protect?”

I shrugged but I knew already that he could only be referring to Marius.

Feb. 10th, 2013

Chapter 7: The University Meeting

Chapter 7: The University Meeting

I didn’t know that Simoun’s powers could extend to even getting me out of class. It was a Tuesday. I was about to get to my anthropology class when I got called to the Dean’s Office. My classmates oohed and sniggered at this; I didn’t want to know why. They knew I had a job but I didn’t want to tell them anything much about it.

My stomach was in knots as I went to the desk. The lady there met me with a smile. “Miss Thenardier? Just a message for you. From Mister Simoun.”

“What does he have to say?” I asked, wondering what he wanted now.

“He says you have to be at Conference Room 2 of the main building of the University of --------- by eleven in the morning.” She checked her watch. “Oh dear. You only have an hour....”

I shouldered my bag. “Thank you Ma’am, but I guess I have to go.” I had never run so fast across the campus before, to get all the way to the train station just outside. Fortunately I still had a spare ticket, from the time I’d taken the train with Marius to get to school.

Oh Marius. Where was he today? I sighed on thinking of my destination; it was where Cosette studied. But perhaps there was a chance that I’d see the others too, those who were on campus at least. If there was no way I’d make it back to my afternoon classes, I’d go early to the Musain and ask Mister Fauchelevent if I could borrow the computer there.

I’d been on the campus of University of ----- before, when I was applying for a place there. It was far bigger than where I’d gone to school. I might have gotten lost if the main building had not been so obviously easy to find; it was the only one that looked out of place in all that modern concrete. When I stepped in the building, I shivered; the air felt old, far too old.  It was like something out of the frightening stories that Grantaire had mentioned once when he was sober; like too many eyes were watching. Of course many of the others had laughed at this story, and Joly had even said that it was nothing more than bad air, or residual energy. It should have been harmless, right?

There were eyes watching me though, from the top of the stairs on the third floor. Father Camorra was at the top of the stairway. He was looking at me, but I could tell he was pretending to listen to Father Sibyla and two other priests. One looked congenial with a rather handsome nose. The other was sallow, quiet and deep eyed.

“And there’s Simoun’s assistant. You’re late, Miss Eponine,” Father Camorra said to me.

I had no watch, so I had no way of knowing if he was right or not. “I came all the way from class,” I said.

“Class? Ah yes, you don’t study here,” Father Sibyla said, peering at me over his glasses.

The nicer looking priest eyed me. “Do you have friends who study here, Eponine?”

“A few. Mostly medical students, but there’s one from the Arts and Letters,” I said, not sure what to say since he was talking to me that way. “Not sure if you know them Father....”

“I’m Father Irene, and here is the Reverend Father Salvi. You might have read some of his homilies online,” the priest said, smiling at his colleague

I didn’t know anything of Father Salvi but I could tell he was important. His hand was cold when I shook it. “If Mr. Simoun is inside, I’d better go to him,” I said.

“That’s very American, talking about her boss that way,” I heard Father Irene say before I entered the conference room. The truth was, I didn’t know my employer’s last name. No one told me, and it was understood that no one ought to ask.

Besides, as soon as I got in, I had work to do: a projector to help set up, a presentation to edit, and print outs to give to every priest and administrator in the room. From what I could tell, it was going to be a discussion on some educational policy. I thought I was done with it after giving out the handouts, but suddenly Simoun pressed something in my hand. “Go into the next room and turn it on,” he said before half-shoving me to the door.

I wondered what it was and I unclenched my hand. It was a tiny recorder. Where was the microphone? Well I knew better than to ask in that company. The room next to this conference area was a tiny sort of office. I left the recorder on a ledge and went back towards the conference room....in time to see Basilio walking up the hall, holding a folder.

He stopped when he saw me. “Aren’t you---“

“Supposed to be in class?” I finished. “I could ask the same for you.”

“We got let out early, I have to help settle this for Isagani. And you?” he asked.

“Have an errand. For work actually.”

He paused. “Simoun?”

“How did you know---“ I asked, just as the door opened. Simoun stood there, his eyes narrowed at me before he looked at Basilio. “I didn’t know you two were friends,” he said.

“Sir I didn’t....” I said before realizing it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask how he knew Basilio. I stood up straight. “I did what you told me to do Sir.”

Basilio stepped forward. “Is Father Irene there?”

“He is in a meeting,” Simoun said gruffly. He looked at Basilio. “How is everything over in Sapang, with the Taleses?”

Tales. Juli’s surname. Did Simoun know what I didn’t know about my friend? I saw that Basilio had turned very pale. “It’s still rather complicated.”

“Come with me for a moment. Now,” Simoun said, grabbing Basilio by the arm to drag him to the men’s room. He looked at me and gestured to the door. “Get back inside the meeting, now. Take notes.”

The meeting must have been one in a series; there were a number of arguments there that I did not understand, but had been clearly taken up before. Apparently there was an issue of the tuition hike as well as the formation of a student charter. Not all the priests were for it, though Father Irene presented both sides of the arguments (or sounded like it). I did write down a little of what was going on, but I was wondering what Simoun wanted with Basilio. Some medical favour, maybe? It didn’t look it, judging by the way Simoun looked when he rejoined the meeting. He reminded me of my father after a good deal had been closed (nice way of putting it) at the old inn.

In the middle of everything, Father Camorra slammed his fist on the table. “Don’t these students think that they already have enough rights and freedom given to them? Why must they go through all the trouble of drafting an already redundant charter?” he bellowed, nearly making me drop my pen. “Already being enrolled in the university is a blessing in itself. If we grant them more liberties, they will soon be contradicting the very things we teach them in the classroom and going the way of other universities such as----.”

Another priest named Father Fernandez cleared his throat. “You do not have faith in our formation programs? Giving them more license in student activities will not necessarily undo all our teaching, academic and values alike. A charter may guide them in what they can do and cannot do in terms of student activities and organizations, and even with campus journalism---“

“Don’t they have a Student Council for that?”

Father Sibyla rubbed his temples. “The council still has yet to present a revised proposal for a charter. In the meantime, there is this petition signed by a certain group of students----“ He frowned as Father Irene snatched it out of his hand.

“Radicals. Allow that charter, we’ll be seeing those leftist groups here soon enough....” Father Salvi suddenly said.

“Some familiar names here. There’s Combeferre, a known agitator. His friend Joly, and another, Basilio. The latter being mostly harmless from what I hear. Tadeo and Pecson too. And of course we have Isagani. One of your pupils?” Father Irene said, eyeing Father Fernandez.

The other priest nodded slowly. “A brilliant boy. He means well, he’s passionate about things.”

“And there’s even talk of soliciting support from outside the university,” Father Sibyla muttered. I lowered my eyes; I knew who he was talking about. It was just as well, since at that point someone asked Simoun what he thought.

Simoun ran a long finger over the tops of his blue glasses. “If it’s student activities that they want to protect and excel in, then by all means yes. It’s what we look for nowadays in companies and corporations----leadership experience.”

Some of the priests nodded, while Father Camorra, Father SIbyla and Father Irene stared at Simoun as if he’d grown an extra head. “You will allow them to be rebellious?” Father Irene asked.

“No, no. Of course the charter does not necessarily mean they will be simply free to associate and print things as they wish.” His smile was like that of some snake in a graphic novel I’d seen. “They are of course still subject to a variety of rules, and I believe in need of faculty advisers?”

“The charter wants to do away with it,” Father Sibyla said.

“Keep it in. Give incentives for the faculty to moderate the organizations, and added privileges to groups that will accept moderators,” Simoun said. “You can even make it part of the yearly accreditation.”

“Yearly accreditation? They have to undergo that?” Father Salvi asked.

“Yes; but a select few groups have an accreditation period extending for up to two years,” Father Sibyla said. He put the idea down on his tablet. “Now on to other matters....”

I almost forgot to take down minutes for a while there. Even so all I managed were a few hurried notes; maybe Simoun would let me reconstruct it from the recording later? The meeting went on, including into the topic that Simoun was really more interested about, funding for new computers and books in the library; ironically I would never have been allowed in that same library without a letter. It was past one in the afternoon when the meeting finally ended, and they all went to lunch.

I had retrieved the recorder from the other room when Simoun motioned to me. “There is lunch downstairs. You should have some before going to your afternoon classes.”

“I’m afraid it’s a bit late for that,” I said. I would never make it back in time.

“I will make an excuse letter for you,” Simoun said as he signed for me to follow him to where there was a buffet table. His smile was kind, but I had no way of knowing if it reached his eyes. “So how are you acquainted with Basilio?”

I shrugged. Why did he want to know the whole story? “He’s going out with a friend of mine.”

“Ah, Miss de Dios. I hope she’s well,” Simoun said with a smile.

“You know Juli too?” I clapped my hand over my mouth, wondering what had made me blurt this out.

Simoun’s eyes narrowed as he picked up a plate. “I’ve met her father.”  His tone was enough to tell me not to ask any further. He loaded up some salad on his plate before clearing his throat. “I saw that you were also acquainted with the assistants of Mr. Ybanez and Mr. Pasta.”

Who was he talking about? “Who do you mean?”

Simoun laughed but there was nothing merry in it. “Marius Pontmercy and Antoine Enjolras. You arrived at the press conference with the latter.”  He eschewed the rice in favour of some bread and butter, as well as some fish. How on earth could he afford to skip all this good food? “Are the two acquainted with Makaraig?” he asked more seriously.  

“More of Enjolras than Marius. Marius isn’t around very much,” I said. Marius wasn’t around much anyway, and I really didn’t want Simoun knowing too much about him. What if it all got back to Mister Fauchelevent and Cosette?  

Simoun nodded as he surveyed the dessert plate and then stepped away from the buffet table. “Are they often involved with Makaraig’s projects?”

“I don’t know.”

“It would be good for you to find out,” Simoun said in an undertone. He used his free hand to adjust his glasses. “You ought to remind Basilio to pay more attention to his studies. I’d hate to see a good doctor in training go to waste. Can I count on you to do something?”

“I guess so.”

I knew Simoun was looking me in the eye, behind those eerie glasses. “You have to inform the authorities if Makaraig and his friends are up to something dangerous.”

“Dangerous?” Something rose in my throat as I remembered the night out with Courfeyrac and the rest in Makati. How did he know? I nearly dropped my plate but I caught it in time.  

Simoun cuffed my arm. “Are you that naive, Miss Thenardier? Or do you not notice what goes on in your own neighbourhood?”

“I mind my own business.”

“Then it’s time that you were educated about it,” he snarled. “Going to that fancy university of yours is blinding you to reality, like all the rest of them. I thought you were smarter than that.”

“You know where I came from, Sir. I don’t think that makes me blind to reality,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. Simoun had practically plucked me out of the street, at my father’s bidding. Of course I knew everything that was wrong with life outside school.

“You are blind to what has to be done about it,” Simoun retorted. He checked his phone for a few moments. “I will need you after your classes tomorrow. Makati office.”

It was enough to make slump. Juli had promised me another free meal tomorrow night as it was Miss Fantine’s birthday. “Maybe I could advance the work? I think I might be a little busy tomorrow night, please,” I asked.

“It cannot be done. Do not be late,” Simoun said sternly before going off to talk to Father Fernandez. No doubt they would be speaking about Isagani , and maybe about what else he knew.

I set my plate down on a table and ran into a nearby bathroom and nearly gagged at the stench of the urinal there. I was in the wrong room but I didn’t care. I got my phone out and began looking through the numbers there. Someone had to know.

Not Juli. Definitely not Basilio. I knew I had to protect Marius, so he was out of the question. Isagani and Enjolras might have believed me, but I had no way of contacting them, or many of the others. Paulita didn’t seem the sort to care.

The one who had the best right of it was Makaraig. I sent him a message, wondering what he would now do about it

Jan. 29th, 2013

Chapter 6: Payday

Chapter 6: Payday

Now I could go by the Musain every day. No, it wasn’t simply because of Marius; I had no way of knowing when he’d be there or not, but it was good to wait for him anyway. We’d talk a bit, but mostly listen to what was happening in the cafe. Everyone---all kinds of friends liked to meet there---and I was never bored, especially when Juli wasn’t doing anything, or when Musichetta and Paulita were around.

One night, I came to the Musain a little early; Juli was running late from an errand and she wasn’t at her post. All the same there were a lot of us: Enjolras, Combeferre, Basilio, Isagani, Courfeyrac, Pecson, Grantaire (who probably practically lived there anyway), Tadeo (who never went to school nowadays), and Sandoval were in the front room. Prouvaire and Bahorel were there; I’d met them some time after the dinner, and they found it so funny that I’d seen them about to get in trouble that day at Doroteo Jose. There was a new guy around too, a sad looking fellow who was discussing something with Pecson and Isagani

“Eponine, there you are! Meet the newest member of the college. Placido, meet Eponine. Eponine, Placido. You’re both freshmen, you should get on fine,” Courfeyrac called as I walked up to their table.

“Actually I’m a transferee,” Placido said. His hand was clammy when I shook it.

Combeferre raised an eyebrow at me. “Don’t you have homework to do, Eponine?”

“Later. I hate school,” I quipped. Lectures were starting to bore me; at least in a few weeks I could switch classes.

Tadeo laughed. “Join the club, Ponine! Placido hates school too.”

“I like school, not the university,” Placido said, glaring at him. “I never ever should have transferred.”

“Why don’t you---“ Courfeyrac began just as the door of the Musain opened. I nearly jumped up; it was Marius who stood there. He looked as if he’d tripped over himself, but something in his eyes was dreamy, as if he’d seen some heavenly vision.  

“Did you just sleepwalk here, Pontmercy?” Prouvaire asked as he put down his glass of juice.

“Maybe he fell out of a jeep?” Isagani asked.

Marius shook his head as he sat near me. “No, no, nothing like that. I’m not that clumsy!”

“Then what is it?” Pecson asked. “You could be taken to Mandaluyong with that look of yours.”

Marius ran his hands through his hair. I wished it had been my fingers on his head though. “Tonight, I was getting off the jeep---no I did not fall out, stop laughing at me you guys! I saw this beautiful girl waiting by the jeep stop over at Lacson. She saw me, she smiled at me. She studies near here, I could tell by her uniform...”

Enjolras rolled his eyes. “You only saw her for a few moments. It’s not much to get all giddy over.”

“Enjolras, you don’t get it! The way she looked at me....it was as if something went different. If you’d seen her, you’d know!” Marius insisted.

I wanted to say something but I jammed my fist in my mouth. Marius was struck, smitten with someone he did not even know. It had to be a passing crush, I hoped. He’d go to school for a few days, stay here in the cafe a few days and forget about her. No one really fell in love at first sight, not nowadays!

The other boys were laughing, except maybe for Isagani, who looked as if he actually understood what Marius was going on about. “Marius, get a hold on yourself. I mean, you don’t even know the girl,” Enjolras said again after a while.

“You’re one to talk, Enjolras, you’ve never had a girl before,” Sandoval pointed out.

“By choice.”

“What kind of a choice is that?” Grantaire spoke up. “Really now, it’s a waste---“

“Enough, Grantaire.” Thankfully that was enough to make Grantaire go back to his drink; any more and we would have all witnessed yet another tiff between him and Enjolras. I’d seen two of those already in the past week.

Basilio cleared his throat. “I think he has some very good reasons for that sort of decision. Focus.”

“Oh bloody hell, Basilio, you’re talking like a priest, turn off your conscience sometimes!” Bahorel said loudly. I heard Miss Fantine make a ‘sshhh’ sound from the kitchen, which was enough to make Bahorel shut up. Isagani motioned for us to move a little bit away from the kitchen door, so we transferred to another table.

“Is anyone going to get dinner? We’ve just been drinking coffee and eating peanuts the entire time,” Grantaire asked as we took our seats again.

“Broke,” I said, and I realized I wasn’t the only one who’d spoken up: Enjolras, Marius, and Basilio had also said the same thing too.

“At least payday is tomorrow,” Basilio finally piped up.  

“What do you do with your pay anyway? You live with your boss,” Courfeyrac asked.

“I save it. There are some things I have to help Juli with,” Basilio mumbled.

“I’d help Marius here if he asked,” Courfeyrac said, elbowing Marius. “We all would.”

“I can’t move into your place, the rent is high and you always have a girl over,” Marius muttered. “I’m doing just fine.”

“You have to stop sexiling your roommates,” Tadeo said. “I thought polygamy was out---“

Courfeyrac elbowed him. “I’m a serial monogamist. That’s more evolved.”  

“Hey Enjolras, you don’t have a girlfriend, what do you use your money for?” Tadeo asked.  

“A blog,” Enjolras said. “It has its own domain.”

“Citizens vigilance,” Courfeyrac explained. “We pitch in now and then. You should try too.”  

“It’s not much money. You should invest some in what Makaraig has been working on,” Isagani suggested rather gamely.

“Oh what, with that entrep thing he has?” Pecson scoffed.

“It could get off the ground. I’m looking for more investors,” Sandoval chimed in. “So don’t drown the chickens before they hatch.”

“Makaraig has been trying to finance some social entrep to help a community down in Samar,” Combeferre explained to me. “It’s to pull them out of poverty since things are always hard for them, thanks to the typhoons that always hit there.”

“Sounds tough,” I said.

“It’s a good idea. Personally I think education would be just as feasible, but Makaraig is into industry,” Combeferre replied. He tapped his ballpen on the edge of the table. “What would you be into?”

“Into?” I repeated.

“A cause or something? What about feminism?”

Oh that. I did read a little de Beauvoir and other things, but I wasn’t exactly a marcher for the women’s rights movement. I couldn’t picture myself doing anything of that sort at all. “Not much really. I don’t have time for these things,” I answered honestly. I had far too much work to deal with; in fact tomorrow would be busy for me.

“Maybe she’s sensible and so she believes in nothing,” Grantaire sniggered.

I wheeled on him. “That’s not true, you know.” I did have some beliefs, like how no one should go home hungry or see the things I did. I just didn’t make a show of it, that was all.

Combeferre or one of the other boys might have asked me more about this if the cafe door didn’t open there and then. Who else could have stepped in but none other than Cosette herself? She smiled at all of us, but I saw her pause for a moment as her cheeks reddened. Of course Marius was looking at her. I didn’t even want to see the expression on his face. She ducked her head before suddenly walking up to me. “Eponine, I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“I’m waiting for Juli,” I said, hoping that I did not show any emotion in my voice. This was so embarrassing. I could see Marius watching us. “What about you?”

“I have to do homework, sorry,” she said, looking flustered even as she ran to the kitchen, where Miss Fantine was calling her.

As soon as Cosette was gone, Marius grabbed my arm. “Eponine, you never said that you knew her!” he whispered.

“You never asked,” I said. “I mean her, seriously?”

“Yes her. And what a lovely name, Cosette.” Marius looked dreamy now even though Pecson was on the point of kicking him, and Placido had to hide his face in his sleeve since he was laughing too hard. Tadeo and Grantaire were hopeless; they were guffawing so hard despite Enjolras and Combeferre trying to silence them. “I don’t know how I can speak to her, can you help me?”

“Don’t do anything stupid, or Mr. Fauchelevent will throw us out,” Sandoval warned him. “That’s his daughter you’re talking about.”

“I want to do things right,” Marius said. He looked at me. “Eponine please. You’re her friend, you have got to help me.”

Friend? I wanted to laugh hard at this. “I hardly know her,” I said. But I wanted to see him so happy. Why couldn’t he be happy because of me?

“You’re a girl. I mean, you can talk to her and find out more....” Marius trailed off. “Oh God for shame, this is so awkward. Sandoval is right, if I mess up we’ll all be in trouble. I mean you can talk to Cosette and Mr. Fauchelevent won’t object.”

“Eponine, don’t do it.” I turned and realized that it was Basilio who had spoken up. His eyes narrowed at Marius. “Really, that’s not the way to go about it.”

“It’s just a small thing...” Marius trailed off.

“To you,” Basilio said coldly. Everyone was quiet; maybe no one had ever seen him so angry before.  “I’m sure there are better things you can do with your time,” he said to me before going to meet Juli at the door. The moment she saw him, she buried her face in his shoulder and began to cry. I knew better than to ask.

I looked to the other boys, who seemed a little awkward because of what Basilio said. “You heard him,” Enjolras said firmly to Marius before fishing a laptop out of his bag.”Really, getting other people involved in your love affair? Haven’t you got better things to do?”

I would have hit Enjolras if he hadn’t been so nice to me over the past few days. If I had any hope for anything, I’d want other people to care to. I turned and saw Marius looking at me, almost pleading. “Please” he mouthed. He looked so lost, and what was I to do about it? I couldn’t leave him this way.

I wished that someone other than Juli was around. Someone who could tell me what I had to do. But I had to help Marius; just maybe he’d think of me and that would be enough. “Maybe” I whispered back. Just not tonight; I wasn’t about to interrupt Cosette at her homework. Marius nodded to me before we sat back to listen to our friends.

The next day was payday. Juli and I went to the bank together to check our accounts at about five; Simoun hadn’t called me to Makati or Binondo that day. Much to my surprise she withdrew quite a sum right away. “For my father. He needs it,” she said as she put the cash in her purse.

“Are you crazy, out here?” I asked. There were so many thieves about and I didn’t know them all.

“I don’t have to go far, and anyway Basilio will help me,” Juli said. She looked better than she did the day before.  “What about you?”

“I’ll go home first,” I said. Well more likely I had to call my sister first and find out where ‘home’ was this month. That was just the way my family (except for Gavroche) was.

It took several rings before Azelma picked up. “What’s up, Ponine?” she asked me.

“Hey Azelma. I’m planning to visit this weekend. Where are you?” I asked.

She coughed. “Don’t come home.”

“Why not? I’ve got something that Papa would want.”

“Is it enough for rent? We’re picking up right now as it is.”

I panicked. We moved around a lot, from boarding house to boarding house, or sometimes from shanty to shanty. “Where are you now? Please, tell me!”

“Out on Quezon Boulevard. At least not under the bridge like last year,” my sister said. I could hear my parents yelling at each other in the background. “I’ll text you if something happens,” she said more furtively before she hung up.

“Zelma, wait!” I shouted but the line was dead. I tried calling again, but the line was busy. I would have cursed if Juli hadn’t been with me. Why did Azelma give me such a long stretch of the road to search?

Juli bit her lip. “Will you need help?”

“I’m fine, it’s not your concern,” I said. If she went with me, she would very likely end up in trouble. As I was going down Tolentino Street, I saw Cosette walking in my direction. Just my luck.

She waved to me first. “Are you going to the Musain?” she asked.

“Uh, no.” Not tonight, or at least not in time for dinner. I looked her over. “I didn’t know you were taking Nursing,” I said, pointing to her uniform.

“It’s my first year,” she said. “I heard you’re taking up Psych?”

“Who told you?” I asked. Was she a snoop too or something?

“Mama said the boys mentioned it,” Cosette said.

“You should try talking to them sometimes,” I suggested. Sure enough, I saw her go red. How on earth was Marius ever in love with someone like her? “I mean, it’s not as if you have a crush there or something, right?”

Of course Cosette went even redder. “They’re awfully nice. Just....oh Ponine don’t tell anyone, okay? But one of them, I saw him yesterday on the street. Looks like a law student; I don’t think he studies at the University of ------, I haven’t seen him about.”

“Well of course you don’t see him about, you’re an undergrad and you’re there by day and the law students go about at night,” I hissed. Like vampires, I would have said, but Marius was no vampire (he was so much better than that. Everyone was in love with vampires then, but it was a good thing that Cosette, Juli, Musichetta, and I preferred other things. If anyone asks, I preferred angels).

Cosette nodded. “They come early. He came early yesterday, earlier than most law classes, I should guess.” She pulled her hair behind her ear. “How do you know him, them, the boys? I never used to see you about there in the front room.”

“Juli,” I said. “Really Cosette, if you’re so damn interested, you ought to come down.” It would save me a world of trouble. Though of course, it meant that Marius would be talking directly to her. Who said she had to be there all the time though? I could have him to myself at some point, right?

Cosette looked down. “Papa won’t let me. He says that it’s too dangerous.”

I really tried not to laugh. “You’re missing half your life,” I said before I scampered off down the street. I nearly ran smack into a figure there. Marius.

He backpedalled and grabbed onto a streetlamp. “Eponine, where are you going?”

“To see my parents. Payday,” I said. I grabbed his arm. “I talked to her, to Cosette!”

Oh how his eyes lit up. “What did she say? Tell me!”

“She’s taking up Nursing. Freshman, like me. She thinks you’re a law student.”

“She’s perceptive!”

I giggled. No, no, I could not agree with him! “She knows you go to the Musain. But of course her father won’t let her stay with us at the meetings,” I said straight out.

Marius’ face fell. I would have hugged him if we’d been closer friends, but really I’d only known him and everyone else for a few days. Marius clasped my elbow. “Eponine, if I wrote her a letter, could you help me give it to her?”

A letter? Who still does that? “Why don’t you just text her like a normal person or add her up on Facebook or something?” I asked. Why be so indiscreet?

“Because I want to show her I’m different.”

“You sound like Isagani.”

Marius laughed and shook his head. “It’s not that. Writing a letter....it’s putting soul into it. Anyone can add someone on Facebook, but it doesn’t mean anything. Please, Eponine. I’ve heard girls like that.”

“And you want me to help. Why should I?” I asked. This was beginning to hurt, though I didn’t want to leave him looking so sad there. “I’m no friend of hers, really. But I’m a friend to you.” I bit my lip at the last part.

“And I know I can trust you. Please.”

Damn it all. I could hear Basilio and Enjolras warning me again, but yes, what did they know? Basilio had Juli, and Enjolras had no one. What did they know of trying to have someone look at them, even for just a single moment? “If I said yes, would you bring me out for coffee?” I asked.

“Yes, why not?” Marius replied. “So is it....”

“A yes. Make your letter first, I have to run.” I said. I ran off, down to Espana and the bridge there. It was only then that I could pause to wipe my eyes. It was just coffee, and more that I could ever hope for. I didn’t cry all the way in the jeep. I had to keep my eyes open for a sign: for a man pushing a cart, or perhaps a family clustered out on the walk, or even just my beautiful little sister in her red dress, jumping and waving for me.

It was endless; the street was longer than I’d ever remembered it to be. It reminded me of what the boys had said about Prouvaire’s poetry (what he was on, supposedly, I am forbidden to reveal). The city blurred, the lights blurred, people’s voices were sibilant, ringing, hissing, or even tuneless. The jeepney rumbled under my feet, the night wind was something like a moist and warm set of arms on my shoulders, but my eyes were on the sidewalk beyond the jeep. Perhaps I was a little intoxicated too that night, but on what, I never could be sure.

Just before the interchange, the one over near EDSA, I saw them. Papa never gave up his cigarettes, not even when there was no rice left. He was lighting up yet another as Mama yelled at him again. Mama had on her old housedress. As for my sister, she was sitting on a post, talking to another familiar face, our old friend Montparnasse. I waited for the jeep to hit a traffic light before jumping out and darting past the cars to get to them.

“Well, look what we have here,” Montparnasse said when he saw me. He would have been so handsome if he hadn’t been sneering so much. He was dressed in this crisp black polo shirt and pants that made him look so suave. He’d left off the hair gel today, thankfully. His red motorcycle was parked to one side.

“I came from school. How are you?” I greeted him.

“Huh. The same.” He jerked a thumb to where my parents were still arguing. “Your dad has lost the rent. Again. Not sure where to bring them this time.”

“You can all go back, you know, down to the U-belt,” I said. We used to have a place up on Maria Clara Street; we stayed there for all of six months when I was still in high school.

Azelma shook her head. “Don’t you remember, Ponine, why we left?”

“It was because of the old gang,” I hissed. I felt Montparnasse cuff me, but I didn’t care. He knew the truth as well as I did; we’d all fled the area for a while because of a raid. Whoever had the idea of making Ecstasy in the backyard was probably a little short on brains that week.

“You were part of it too, Ponine. Don’t you forget it,” Montparnasse growled at me. “So what brings you here? Shouldn’t you be off with your student friends?”

“I got paid, and I thought you’d be able to use some of it,” I snapped. I cupped my hands to my mouth. “Mama! Papa! I’m here!”

Mama turned to me. “Ah there you are, darling! How has school been?”

“Okay,” I said. I smiled at Papa. “Good evening to you too.”

Papa narrowed his eyes at me. “Where have you been?”

“Like I was telling Parnasse and Zelma, at school.” I put my hands in my pockets. “Mr. Simoun paid me. I’ve got some to help us out.”

“Some? Can it help with rent?” Papa asked.

“Well....” I trailed off. I’d divided my money for my own expenses and set a little aside for Gavroche. If rent was the problem with my family, I wasn’t sure how it would hold. “Depending where we go, maybe for a night or two. Depending where we eat too.”

“There, she’s being sensible, we ought to get dinner first,” Mama said. “Shall it be burgers tonight?”

Montparnasse dug in his pockets. “I’ll help with the burgers. There’s a place nearby.”

I shrugged. I wasn’t up for burgers tonight, and I wondered if we could get something else. I would have said something but Mama was too pissed off to take any suggestions. Azelma and I went off to get the burgers while Montparnasse helped my parents move some of their stuff.

“What happened this time?” I asked my sister once we were out of earshot.

“We just ran out of rent, nothing big like last time,” Azelma said exasperatedly. Every time we moved, it got harder for her to go to school. She sometimes didn’t go for a whole week on the end; she said last month she’d probably be repeating her junior year since she was away and failing a lot. That wasn’t the worst possibility.  

“I ought to send some more,” I said. Maybe someday Simoun would give me a raise.

Azelma shrugged. “Papa just drinks. You know him. How’s that job coming?”

“Good enough.” I hadn’t been asked to do anything hard yet. “You?”

“Oh come on Ponine, no one will take me as I am. You know how jobs are nowadays,” Azelma said as we entered the fastfood store. At least we were both dressed decently, and no one would shoo us out. “Mama says you ought to stay with Parnasse.”

“And why?”

“Would be easier on you.”

I frowned. Montparnasse was a dear friend, sure. We’d been through a lot. Yet his place was worse than mine, and he spent more on that motorcycle of his. It was a good ride, but it was a hungry ride some times. “Maybe, just maybe,” I said. If things didn’t work out with Simoun and that job, I would just have to consider that offer

Jan. 24th, 2013

Chapter 5: People that Bump in the Night

Chapter 5: People That Bump In the Night

The last supplier came at nearly six in the evening, which wasn’t very reassuring given that I still had to deal with the traffic while commuting to the Cultural Center. I didn’t want to spend either for a cab given that I was five days away from my next payday. Simoun hadn’t arranged for a driver; he had kept his own chauffeur quite busy. So that was why as soon as that supplier left, I freshened up, grabbed the notes I’d been working on and lost no time in leaving the office. I must have been a sight, carrying a purse and a box of notes, but that was work for me.

I had just walked out to the main road when I noticed a golden haired figure also standing at the curb. He was impossible to miss, he was lighting up the night just by being there. Just remembering what Grantaire had said about him earlier in the day made me laugh, and I had to cover my mouth.

He heard all the same and looked at me. “Hello Eponine,” he said politely.

“Same to you, Enjolras,” I replied. I realized that he was dressed a little more formally than when I’d last seen him; he had on a deep maroon polo shirt and dark slacks, and he was carrying a jacket. “Got a date tonight?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.

“No, work. I have to attend a press conference,” he said.

I had to say it. “It’s at the Cultural Center, isn’t it? I’m headed there too.”

He gave me a startled look for just a second; had we not been in the street I might have laughed again. “How did you know that?” he asked.

“Well there aren’t that many big, important events in the city tonight,” I said. I didn’t know what he would say if he knew I worked for Simoun.  

“You mean an event where the A-list attends?”

“Why, what else defines an important event anyway?”

He did not answer but he hailed a cab. He opened the passenger door and stepped aside. “Ladies first,” he said to me.

I was about to refuse till I remembered that we could very well split the fare. Besides, he didn’t seem to be the sort who’d cause me trouble; if I’d survived an evening with Makaraig and Courfeyrac, I could certainly deal with Enjolras in a traffic jam. I told myself this several times over but I could not bring myself to speak as soon as the cab doors were shut. Instead, I looked out the window and watched the lights. Manila could really be beautiful at night, since it was the only time when one didn’t see how ugly the buildings were getting and how dirty brown the river really was. The only things missing were the stars, which were always hidden lately behind the smog.

It was beautiful for as long as I looked up. I saw that Enjolras was looking out the window too, but his eyes were directed a little lower. I knew what he was seeing: the families huddled in plastic mats, the men pushing carts of goods and of course the barefoot children knocking on car windows and selling strings of sampaguita. I sat on my hands, feeling them begin to tingle like they used to on some nights like this. At least I could be thankful it wasn’t raining, or those children would have been so cold.

When the cab stopped at an intersection, not far from the Cultural Center, I saw Enjolras fish a coin out of his pocket and give it to a little girl who had only one garland left to sell. “Hopefully she can go home now,” he muttered as he handed the string to the cab driver, who then hung it on the rear view mirror.

I burst out laughing. “Enjolras, that’s an old trick. Sometimes the kids say there’s one last string left but they have the rest hanging just nearby.”

He raised an eyebrow. “She seemed on the level.” He took a deep breath and looked at me. “It’s one garland less at least.”

I shrugged; he could believe what he wanted. I knew that sometimes one garland or less didn’t matter; it meant going home late anyway and being ripped into by my own parents. “So you’re a law student, I heard. And you work?” I asked, hoping to change the topic.

“Yes. I have a part time job with a lawyer, Mr. Pasta,” Enjolras said. “It’s mostly desk work and research especially when he has a case coming up. He asked me to attend the press con to look up something.”

Now that made sense. “It’s funny that you’re studying law but you’re a radical.”

“I’m only studying law in order to figure out how to best make a change,” he replied calmly.  “A lot of people cannot afford proper representation, and they do not know how to defend themselves against abuses from officials or other powerful people. I started out wanting to do something about that.”

“Sounds like a man like you could be doing something else, and making more from it,” I told him. “Not that you have need of money to begin with.”

Enjolras shook his head. “It’s not about the money.”  He sat back in his seat before looking at me again. He fiddled with his collar before he spoke again. “You work too, so what is it you do?”

didn’t want to answer that---and thankfully we were almost at our destination. “Wait a moment, I’ll pay for half the fare,” I said as I began looking through my purse.  

“No, I’ll take care of it,” he replied, bringing out his own wallet.  I was about to insist that I could help out, but he forked over an entire hundred bill to the driver and told him to keep the change.

The cab had dropped us off right at the front courtyard of the Cultural Center. Like on all other nights, the fountain in the middle of the lawn was aglow with spotlights, and the building’s facade itself was bright. Someone had lit the chandeliers in the main lobby.  There were cars driving up to the building’s grand entrance, and all kinds of glamorously dressed people were filing out. “It’s more than a press conference, I think,” I said. I was starting to wish I’d put on a dress that fit me nicely; my blue shirt and my slacks couldn’t hide the fact that I just didn’t eat much.

“There are supposed to be cocktails and some sort of reception for the performers and patrons,” Enjolras explained as we walked up to the entrance. The security check here was a bit stricter; we really had to toss our bags through a metal detector. “Weren’t you supposed to meet someone?” Enjolras asked me as we retrieved our things.

I looked around, but realized that we’d been spotted first. My boss was standing near the staircase, talking to a rather thin priest, and yet another thin man who I recognized as being Reuben Ybanez, one of the city’s most respected reporters. Simoun nodded to me and gestured to the box of notes I carried.

Enjolras glanced from me to Simoun, and I saw his eyebrows arch. “You work for him?” he whispered.

“Yeah, and what’s so wrong with that?” I asked.

“Never mind. I’ll go find my colleagues now. Take care,” he said before going off to where some other people were gathering around a man being interviewed.

I gritted my teeth; had he not helped me out, I would have wanted to argue with him. I realized that I had yet to thank him for the free ride, but that would have to wait. So in the meantime I went to where Simoun was still waiting.  “I brought the notes,” I said, showing him the box.

He took the box from me and inspected the contents. “Very good, Eponine. Did all the suppliers arrive?”

“Yes.” I didn’t want to say who’d been behind schedule.

Suddenly Reuben Ybanez cocked his head and looked at me. “So you are Simoun’s new EA? Now I know who to look for when you are away.”

“She is in school much of the day,” Simoun said dismissively. “Unfortunately she’s not at your university, Father Sibyla.”

I froze. That was the rector of the school where Basilio, Combeferre, Isagani, and some of their friends went to. Juli had mentioned it once. “I go to D—U, actually. Taking up Psychology,” I stammered.

“Not a bad place to go. Though we do have an excellent Psychology program at the University,” Father Sibyla said, raising his eyeglasses. “And there are scholarship opportunities available too.”

I wanted to explain a little bit about how I’d gotten into my situation before Simoun handed some notes to me. “Give these out,” he said gruffly, motioning me away. Before I could clarify anything, the men had their backs turned. Even I knew what that meant.

It was not easy to tell anyone from anyone in that crowd. Everyone was dressed in much the same mode, except maybe for some bizarre haute-couture number here and there. The names on the notes were all familiar, but I was having a hard time of it. I looked about for someone who could help me---and it was then that I saw him.

Why did Marius forget to mention that he was working under Reuben Ybanez? I stood on tiptoe and waved to him. And I noticed that he was talking to Enjolras. Surely they would help me out!

We met halfway in that large hall. “You’re in the oddest places, Eponine,” Marius greeted me. He looked quite good tonight: his clothes were clean and his hair was brushed out just so. No, he didn’t look like a movie star, but he definitely would be the one I’d dream about later.

“It’s just work,” I said.

“She works for the Iron Businessman,” Enjolras muttered. I wanted to step on his foot for that, especially when Marius’ eyes widened.

“You mean him?” Marius asked, pointing to where Simoun was still talking.

“Yes, and he’s going to be furious if I don’t give out these notes!” I said, holding up the cards I had.

Marius took a look at the papers. His fingers touched my wrist, and it was as if something electric had gone under my skin. “I know some of them. I’ll help you,” he said.

I hoped I didn’t go red or do anything stupid as we went about the room, giving the notes to this and that person. It seemed as if Marius and Enjolras knew so many people, or at least all the important ones.  I let them do much of the talking; it was more fun to listen really. Well, at least till we were finishing up and I trod on the train of a lady’s dress.

ldquo;Get your filthy feet away from here!” she screeched at me. I might have been scared if the light did not fall on her face at that exact moment. She looked like something between a samurai crab and a Moriones mask: eyebrows that looked as if they’d been put on with crayon, burgundy eyeshadow, red lipstick, circles of rouge, and all of that on skin that could not have been that shade of tan. I had to clap a hand over my mouth before I could say anything.

“Well, what are you looking at?” she yelled at me.

“I-I’m sorry Ma’am. I didn’t mean to,” I said.

“It’s not Ma’am, it’s Donya Victorina. Who do you think you’re talking to?” she shouted at me. “What’s a girl like you doing in this party anyway?”

“Work,” I said, just before I noticed someone familiar walking up with a glass of wine. “Paulita!”

She nearly dropped her glass. “I’m so glad to see you, Eponine!” She kissed me lightly on my cheek. “And you too, Enjolras, Marius,” she said to the boys.

“It’s been some time, Paulita,” Enjolras said to her. I saw Marius going red; he looked so adorable though he was obviously in an awkward place.

The lady who’d screamed at me looked at Paulita. “They are friends of yours?”

Paulita nodded. “Yes, Auntie.” She looked from us and then to her aunt. “Meet Eponine Thenardier, Marius Pontmercy, and Antoine Enjolras. Friends, meet my Auntie Donya Victorina de de Espandana.”

Who on earth would use two ‘de’s’ in their name? I might have burst out giggling if Enjolras didn’t grab my elbow before I could shake Donya Victorina’s hand. “I’m still sorry about the dress,” I said.

She ignored me but she smiled at the young men. “It’s refreshing to see young faces at an event like this,” she said to them. Her accent was so affected, and I really might have laughed if Paulita hadn’t dragged me off to the buffet.

“She’s always like that, Eponine. It’s crazy!” she whispered to me.

“Even with the guys around?”

“Especially with the guys around. You should see her when Pelaez visits.”

That was a mental image I could have lived without. “Tell me you’re joking.”

“No. She keeps pushing me to him, but I know she wants him for herself,” Paulita muttered. “Speaking of which, where is he?”

I pointed towards the bar. “There. You can’t miss him,” I said. Pelaez was there, thumping someone’s back. I didn’t want to know what had happened; Courfeyrac had warned me about Pelaez’s habit of playing very bad jokes. When I looked back to where Paulita’s aunt was, I saw that Marius was trying to sidestep as quietly as he could, while Enjolras was looking bored as the lady talked on and on about something. She put a hand on his arm, he stepped back and said a word or two that had her jaw dropping before he walked off, dragging Marius with him.

Paulita stared at the boys as they walked towards us. “Enjolras, did you just turn down my aunt?” she asked in a whisper.

“She wanted me to get a drink with her. I have no taste for alcohol,” Enjolras replied with a shrug.

Marius shuddered. “And I thought my maiden aunt was frightening already.”

Well that was going to be a story worth hearing. “I didn’t know you have an aunt,” I said to Marius. I didn’t know much about him really, but I had to start from somewhere, right?

Marius laughed. “I don’t live with her, anymore. I mean....I’ve been living on my own for some time.” He scratched his head. “I’m going to the buffet. You guys---“

Paulita gestured to her aunt, while Enjolras glanced to where his workmates were. I nodded to Marius. “About time I got some food anyway,” I said. Sure, we were all on the job, but who said we couldn’t at least enjoy ourselves?

Jan. 14th, 2013

Chapter 4: Everyone Has Strange Friends

Chapter 4: Everyone Has Strange Friends

We never could win in that blasted boarding house. There was food the next morning, but the water supply was down to a trickle. “I’m not waiting for the plumber just so I can wash my clothes,” Juli said as she gathered up her laundry into a plastic bag.

“Where are you going?” I asked. I was nearly out of clean things to wear; apart from the shirt and slacks I had to wear to work that night, I was down to a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.

Juli threw a dress into the bag. “To Basilio’s. It’s not that far away, and besides we do this all the time. You ought to come along anyway, or you’ll never get your laundry done before lunch.”

“What do you mean you do this all the time?” I asked as I began gathering up my dirty clothes, but this time into my usual school backpack.

“Basilio is a medical student, so that doesn’t give him much time to take care of himself. He can’t afford to send his clothes out for washing like other students do,” Juli said, whispering as if this was some secret among schoolgirls. “Anyway it’s good that he lives in a place where there is a laundry room.”

My jaw must have dropped. “A laundry room?”

“His boss Captain Santiago, well more known as Captain Tiago, lives in a condo that has just that,” Juli said. “I’d better clear up the matter for you: Basilio lives with him, actually. He’s sort of caretaker, secretary and the one handling things in the house since the old captain has been ill.”

“And his boss will let us use his place?” I asked.

“If we’re nice, and if he’s in a good mood,” Juli said as we brought our things downstairs.

It turned out that ‘not that far away’ for Juli meant all the way out by San Lazaro, in one of those new condominiums there. It was a good jeepney ride away, not to mention a bit of a walk, and so I was a little cross by the time we met Basilio just outside the building’s back entrance. He was also wearing old clothes; maybe he had the same problem I did.

ldquo;Here let me take those,” he said when he saw us. He kissed Juli before getting our laundry bags and leading us to a large room in the basement where there was two large sinks running alongside the walls. There was a concrete space under a sun roof, presumably for hanging clothes.

“I hope we won’t be getting in the way,” Juli said as she straightened out his shirt collar. “What if someone needs to use the laundry room too?”

“At this hour? I highly doubt we’ll be disturbed, and anyway I can reason with them,” Basilio said.

I wanted to go somewhere else just seeing this. They had each other’s backs; why didn’t these things happen to me? I let them talk a little bit more as I threw some of my dirty clothes into a bucket and brought the entire thing to one of the sinks. There was a little detergent left on a counter, so I made use of that. The cold water and the soap made my hands hurt, but I just had to keep scrubbing away at all of the stains on my clothes. The water turned gray several times; I really hoped that Juli and Basilio didn’t notice how often I had to run the tap.

In the middle of everything, I heard a phone beeping. Basilio wiped his wet hands on his ratty pants before checking the message. “Why is Makaraig asking me if you got home safe last night?” he asked as he looked at me.

“Oh.” I paused, wondering how to explain the situation to Basilio. I’d ended up staying at the meeting anyway and hitching a ride with Makaraig and Tadeo. I’d insisted on being dropped off at the corner since it was just a bad idea to take Makaraig’s car up that street at such a late hour. I’d promised that I’d text once I got in, but I’d fallen straight into bed. “He gave me a lift last night, as far as the corner of Tolentino,” I simply said.

“How did you two meet?” Basilio asked.

“In Makati. I was there for work, and he had business of his own. A friend of his, Courfeyrac, asked me a favour, and that ended up with me having a sort of dinner with Makaraig, Isagani, Tadeo, and some other people.”

Basilio nodded. “I don’t know Courfeyrac, but if he’s a friend of Makaraig, he can’t be bad. So if Isagani was with you, I guess so was Paulita?”

“Yes, and this other guy Juanito Pelaez.”

Juli shook her head. “He may be rich but he’s not the easiest person to deal with.”

“What does being rich have to do with anything, Juli?” Basilio asked.

“Oh you know how they think they can get away with anything,” she said, sounding like she was scolding him a little. “I know you’re nice to everyone, Basilio, but he’s just not....gentlemanly.”

“If he gets his hands on you again, he’s going to hear from me,” Basilio muttered.  

That was an interesting bit of history, and also not something I was sure I wanted to know anything more about. After rinsing out the clothes I had in the bucket, I had to repeat the entire process two more times before all my laundry was finished. Juli and Basilio were pretty quick with their own washing, and so it wasn’t long before all three of us were trying to fit our clothes in the limited drying space there was.

Basilio was helping me tie some plastic string to a metal bar to serve as an extra line when suddenly the laundry room door opened. “Basilio, what are you doing up so early?” a cross voice called.

“Laundry. Here, let’s get your medicines,” Basilio said as he climbed down from the chair he was standing on. I saw that there was a thin, slightly sallow man in the doorway leading to the rest of the building. He was wearing rather wrinkled pajamas, and something about him smelled a little sour. His face was tight, as if he was in some sort of terrible pain.

The man squinted at us. “You brought Juli here? And who is this other girl?”

Basilio managed to smile. “Sir, this is my friend Eponine Thenardier. She lives with Juli. Eponine, meet Captain Santiago,” he said.

“Sorry, wet hands,” I said, showing my still wrinkled fingers.

Captain Tiago frowned at me. “Thenardier? I think I’ve met your father someplace.”

If I could have wished myself away, I would have done so in a heartbeat. Did my father con him once? Would I get thrown out because of this? I felt my knees shake and I had to grab onto the string for support.  “I hope it was long ago, Sir.”

The man muttered something under his breath even as Basilio went to help him out. Captain Santiago moaned and groaned as Basilio tried to keep him from falling. How had he made it down here alone? As soon as they were gone, I had to sit down. I must have cursed since Juli bit her lip and shook her head.

“Are you alright?” she asked me after a few moments.

I nodded even as I looked up at all our dripping laundry. “I’ve got to step out for a bit. Maybe get some fresh air.” I didn’t have much on me, but there had to be some 5-peso coffee around, no matter how gross it was likely to taste.

I didn’t have to go far, just round to the corner. Thankfully the coffee was something more than hot water with a brown tinge to it. I sat down on a step to enjoy my drink, and watch the street a bit. It was really nice on that Saturday morning, perhaps because there weren’t so many people about.

After a while I noticed two more people, a man and a boy, lining up for coffee. One of them I knew very well.”Gavroche!” I called to the boy. I would have known him anywhere.  He wasn’t taller than me yet, but he looked a lot healthier than the last time we talked.

My brother turned and pulled a face at me. “How goes it with you, Ponine?”

“Very well. Aren’t you a bit young for coffee?” I asked. He was never allowed to drink that when we were still living at home.

He thumbed his nose. “Says who?”

“Says me,” I said as I stood up. “Where have you been living now?” I asked. Ever since our parents kicked him out a year ago, he’d been bouncing from place to place.

Gavroche elbowed the man with him. “Feuilly, that’s my sister, the one I’ve been telling you about.”

The man turned and nodded to me. “So you’re Eponine. My name is Gilles Feuilly,” he said with something like a shy smile. He looked decent enough: no tattoos or the smell of booze. Some of his teeth were missing though and I saw his hands had large calluses.

“Nice to meet you. I’m sorry my brother is quite outspoken,” I replied.

“Feuilly teaches art but also has a job down at Pandacan,” Gavroche said. He looked at Feuilly. “Are we going to the Musain later?”

“Around lunchtime,” Feuilly said. “If you’re not busy, you should join us.”

“Maybe. I know the serving girl at the Musain, Juli,” I said. “We live in the same boarding house.”

“What a coincidence,” Feuilly said, his smile more amused now. “I haven’t seen you there though.”

“Juli only began getting me to go there about two or so days ago.”  

Feuilly laughed. “She’s a charming girl, and a good friend. You’ve met some of the other regulars then?”

I’d been introduced to so many people over the past few days, and so it was hard to remember all those names and faces. It was likely too that most if not all of them did hang out at the Musain occasionally. “I’d know them when I see them,” I said. “Anyway I have to get back to what I was doing.” Well, after fetching coffee too for Juli and Basilio; it was the least I could do for them.

It didn’t take me and Juli very long to finish what had to be done, and bring our slightly damp things back to the boarding house. At the rate things were going, I was probably going to have to head to Binondo right after going to the Musain, so I grabbed everything I needed for the evening and changed into my more formal clothes.

When we got to the cafe, Juli went to work straight away. “Feuilly and Gavroche should be here any minute, so just save a table,” she said before she disappeared into the kitchen. That was small comfort: I was in a room of people I didn’t know, all except for Fantine who was at the registrar. Not even Cosette was around.

After a few minutes, I noticed someone waving to me. It was for once, a woman with curly dark hair and rather elegant eyeshadow. “You’re Gavroche’s sister, aren’t you?” she asked.

“That’s my brother’s name. Who are you? I said.

“Musichetta Laurain,” she greeted me. “Your brother comes around here now and then, with the other boys in the area, and Feuilly.”

“I didn’t know Gavroche has a sister,” one of her companions said. This one was a medical student too, obviously in the same school with Combeferre and Basilio. He fiddled with a large book on the table. “I didn’t know he had siblings at all.”

“Those med books are making you forgetful, Joly,” another guy slurred. This one was obviously drunk, and his hair needed a comb. If I thought that Juanito was a sight, this one was a case for the books.

“I have to learn them some time, Capital R,” the medical student named Joly complained. “Trouble is I keep having L’aigle’s luck here in my exams.”

The guy next to him rolled his eyes. His hair was thinning and his tie looked out of place.  “I didn’t know that the evil genius was contagious, my friend. I am so sorry.”

Musichetta rapped the side of her water glass. “For heaven’s sake where are all our manners?” she chided. She put her arm around Joly’s shoulders before introducing them all in turn: Patrice Joly, then the drunken guy named Laurent Grantaire, and then the bald one named Crispin Lesgle but better known to everyone as Bossuet.

“You have such nice names. I’m stuck with Eponine,” I said when it was my turn to introduce myself. Were these among those who Feuilly meant by the regulars. “How many of you go here often? I’ve been coming here for two days and it’s a set of different faces each time!”

“That’s a good question. A whole bunch of law students like me, the med students from nearby, and friends of friends,” Bossuet said.

“The last part is true for me,” I said, gesturing to Juli, who was taking some orders. She waved to us and I could have sworn she was laughing; there was probably something about this particular group that she wanted me to learn for myself.

“Coming here for friends of friends? So she hasn’t met Apollo yet?” Grantaire sniggered.

Musichetta hit him upside the head. “Grantaire, you’re scaring her. She’s just a kid!”

“I’m already eighteen,” I said. “What kind of guy or girl gets nicknamed Apollo nowadays?”

“Grantaire simply uses it to refer to our friend Enjolras. He’s around here a lot, should be here any minute now that you mention it,” Joly explained.

Bossuet shook his head as he brought out his phone. “I just got a text from him. He said to just wait for the others and go on ahead as planned. He has something to do with work.”

“Enjolras has work?” I asked. He struck me as the sort of student who was rich enough not to need it.

“It has to do with his law classes, so it’s all the same for him,” Bossuet said. “You know him?”

“Spoke to him once, the first time I was here a few days ago.” I was starting to wonder just how long everyone had really known each other, and if I’d just somehow happened on this tight group. “So of course, you know Marius Pontmercy?”

“I know of him, have spoken to him, but not known him per se,” Bossuet quibbled. “He’s secretive. Doesn’t come here very often, but he really should since he’s quite lonely. The one who really knows him is our friend Courfeyrac.”

Such a small world. It did give me a lot to think about while I waited for my brother. Were all of these people, even Musichetta, mixed up in the same dangerous business that Makaraig, Courfeyrac, Isagani, and Tadeo were all about last night? It was a lot like my brother to get caught up in such risky things, even if he was only thirteen.

I was able to pull Gavroche aside after lunch before their so-called meeting could actually start. “Do you know what they talk about?” I asked.

He grinned at me. “Liberty and rights for the people. What’s so wrong with that, Ponine? You’ve lerned all about it at school too!”

“But do you know what they can do, what they want to do?” I said. “I know the streets are dangerous, Gavroche, but it’s even worse if you’re out marching---“

“We don’t always do that, a lot of what they do is on Facebook,” Gavroche replied. “By the way, you should add me up.”

I tugged at his ear. “Next thing you know, I’ll have to be the one to bail you out. Mom and Dad won’t.”

“I know. But it’s not as if we’re killing or getting killed---“

“What do you want to do, step outside right where the gangs can get you?” I realized that everyone in the Musain was now looking at us. I didn’t even notice that Mister Fauchelevent had walked in.

Gavroche stepped away from me. “I’m not a little boy anymore, Ponine,” he said before retreating to where Feuilly, Joly, Bossuet and Grantaire were. He was among his friends and there was nothing very much I could do about it.

I grabbed up my things and went out; Musichetta and Juli called after me before I slammed the door. It was rude of me, but I didn’t want to be there any longer at least till I could figure out what to do. Gavroche and I escaped home alright, but I didn’t want it to happen just so he’d get hurt or in jail or something much worse.

There was nothing left for me to do but to go early to the Binondo office. It was so much the better so I could take my time. I sang as I walked—nothing special, just old snatches really of songs from home. It would have been interesting to wander the streets with a camera like Courfeyrac’s, or to just stop and sample some of the dimsum. Just smelling it made me hungry once again. Maybe some day.

I wasn’t surprised to find nothing but a note on the door when I got to the office. All I had to do was see that some suppliers picked up items needed for the day’s event, and prepare some notes that Simoun wanted to hand out during the proceedings. Once this was done, I was to meet Simoun at the Cultural Center, at half past seven.

The notes were to various dignitaries: university rectors and deans, some top-notch journalists and businessmen, and some government officials. Did he sell jewels to all their wives and mistresses at some point? Some of the contacts were priests; maybe he’d given a choice piece or two for their lavish churches. I drew up the notes as fast I could, using Simoun’s electronic signature to sign them all off. Once that was done, all that was left to do was wait for the suppliers.

As I put away the notes, I noticed that Simoun kept a shelf of folders high on the wall, and the files were in serious danger of tumbling down. So I grabbed a chair and tried to remedy the situation. However my shoe slipped at the last moment, bringing me down with the chair and some of the papers. The crash was so loud, I was sure that someone was bound to come up. For a moment or two all I could do was lie there and try not to scream for the pain in my rear and my left elbow. I’d been through worse and there was no way I wanted to be caught freaking out over something like this.

As I tried to get up, my hand came up right against a paper, an old newspaper clipping. It was yellowed and worn, and in fact wrinkled in some places. Had it gotten wet somehow? The story itself wasn’t much, just about another death thirteen years ago. To be exact it was about a man who’d been killed in a ditch by the military after a long chase. Maybe it was someone he’d known.  I checked the name of the victim: Crisostomo Ibarra. I put the clipping back into its file right away, and managed to get the shelf back in order again. I’d have to come up with a good story about my bruised left elbow later.

As I pushed the last file back into place, I heard a car pull up outside the office. I peered out the window and saw a rather non-descript white van. Making his way out of the passenger door was a rather large friar. He was no Friar Tuck; this one reminded me of my mother in the sense that he was big, tall, and very red in the face. His hair was a little light, but not white at all.

I checked the list of suppliers that Simoun had left with me: there was no priest on this list. Just as I put the paper away, a thudding sound came from the door. It actually almost fell off its hinges. “Simoun, are you there, man?” that priest’s roaring voice called.

I dusted off my clothes and opened the door. “Good afternoon Sir....I mean, Father,” I said. “Mr. Simoun is not in now.”

The priest’s eyebrows rose up, almost to his hairline. “Not in?”

“Gone out on business Father.”

“And who are you? I did not know that he had such a young assistant.”

“Miss Eponine,” I said. I was not giving out my last name, especially after this morning’s trouble at Captain Santiago’s. “I can give a message to him.”

The priest smiled at me, as if he was trying to figure out the best way to make whatever he’d say next sound funny. “Miss Eponine, you can just tell him that Father Camorra wishes to speak to him at the dinner tonight. It’s quite an urgent matter.”

“Understood Father,” I said before he turned about and huffed down the stairs. I quickly slammed the door and leaned against it. Everyone was coming up except for those I really had business with.  

Jan. 13th, 2013

Chapter 3: The Mad Nun, The Glass Tower, and the Park

Chapter 3: The Mad Nun, the Glass Tower, and the Park

There were a number of churches in that area, but I never made it my business to stay long in any of them. One of the biggest was the one down at Quiapo, at Plaza Miranda; it was worth noting even then. Across one of the creeks was an old steel church, San Sebastian. Further down the neighbourhood was the street known as Bustillos, and two churches with a retreat house in the middle. One of the universities had a church too on its confines and a handful of other small places and worship venues.

If there was someone who wanted to go to church often, it was Juli. She told me she’d gotten into the habit as a little girl, before her mother and her older sister had died. “Why do you pray then, if they are dead?” I asked her when she was on her way out two days later, on Friday. There was still no food at the house, and so we had to leave early if we wanted to eat before starting the day.  

“For my father, my grandfather, and my brother,” she said as she pulled her jacket over her white blouse and pants. Apparently she didn’t have to wear uniforms all the time at the Musain. “Don’t you ever pray for anyone, Eponine?”

“Not the way you do,” I told her. Juli carried a rosary and crossed herself whenever she saw a religious statue. I was pretty sure she still knelt by her bedside to pray every night. As for me, well whoever was out there would be lucky to get two words out of me on most days. I was sure if I told Juli that, she’d give me a sermon or maybe even turn pale from shock.

When we got to the door of the Musain, we saw Cosette just leaving for school. She was with Mister Fauchelevent. “Good morning!” Cosette greeted, while Mister Fauchelevent simply nodded.  

Juli looked confused.  “You’re leaving early today?”

“Have an exam to study for. It starts at 7,” Cosette said.

Mister Fauchelevent sighed. “They shouldn’t make you come in so early for tests.” He looked at me and Juli. “We’ve just finished breakfast; Fantine still has some scrambled eggs and rice out. Have as much as you both want.”

fter we said thank you and Cosette had left with Mister Fauchelevent, Juli pulled me into the cafe. “He always brings her to school every day,” she told me. “Much of the time he fetches her too; I think he didn’t do it last night since he had an errand to deal with.”

“He doesn’t have to do it, they don’t live very far. And saying she’s a young girl doesn’t work either since you know, I’m just about her age too and you don’t catch me waiting to be escorted,” I said.

“This area isn’t the safest in Manila.”

“A few thieves don’t scare me.”

Juli shook her head. “Don’t get too cocky, Eponine. You’re lucky you haven’t seen or been in trouble yet; I got held up on my first month here and lost my pay.”

shrugged, since I didn’t want to comment on it anymore. It was the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.  I stayed long enough to get bread and some of the scrambled eggs, and then I had to be on my way. Unlike Juli and Cosette, I had much more travelling to do, even if it was just one ride.

Even though I was early, there was already quite a traffic jam at the corner of Tolentino and Espana streets, which was where I usually found a jeep or bus. At the rate it was going, I would have to get off at some point on the road, and switch to the LRT. Today, that point happened to be right outside Plaza Miranda. It was impossible to get past there and to the bridge, but if I walked down Carriedo Street, I could get to the train station.

As I got off the jeep, I saw a familiar face also leaving an FX. “Marius!” I shouted.

He looked about a few moments before he saw me. Even at this hour he was quite adorable looking, in his collared polo shirt, clean pants, and leather shoes. His hair was still a little wet too. “Your name again---?” he asked.

“Eponine. You do remember me, from the station?” I said. I couldn’t blame him for forgetting my name; it wasn’t one that caught so easily.

“Oh yes. I see we have the same problem,” he remarked. “Where did you come from?”

“Tolentino Street,” I said. “You came from there too, I think?”

His eyes went wide. “How did you know that?”

“Oh, someone told me,” I said. “That makes us neighbours, you know?”

“I guess.” He adjusted the strap of his bag. “Are you going to take the train?”

I nodded as we began walking. “Where are you going? To class, I bet?”

“To work first, then to class,” Marius said.

“Work? What do you do?” I asked.

He looked down and I saw he turned red for a bit. “Freelance. Right now I’m writing a bit. It’s not easy to do since I have law classes.”

“I’m sure you do very well,” I said. I wanted to ask him where he went to class, but suddenly someone started screaming from near the church. I stood on tiptoe and saw that at the doors was a nun, all in black. She was trying to get away from another nun and two men running after her.

Marius shook his head. “Poor lady,” he said.

“Who is she?” I asked. I knew that not all nuns stayed in convents, but it was strange to see one out here in Quiapo, and acting this way too. “And why is she running?”

“I don’t know her name, well at least what she’s properly known as,” Marius told me. “She goes to Mass here at least once a week, just not on Fridays when this place gets crowded.”

The nun was screaming more loudly now, and I could barely understand what she was saying. She had to be mad, I knew it. “Marius, she shouldn’t be here.”

“I don’t know but maybe she wants to be....” Marius said. He pulled my arm to get me out of the way as the nun ran in our direction. I nearly fell against him, and just managed to stop it by grabbing onto a tall pillar. The nun rushed past us, but I managed to see her face as her veil fell back. Her hair was short, just past her ears, but it was very black. Her face was thin, her eyes were wide, but she was beautiful just like the statues of the Blessed Virgin.

“Sister, don’t you dare!” one of the men shouted as he finally grabbed her. The nun howled and tried to get away, but he held her fast. “Sorry you have to see this,” he said to me and Marius before he dragged her off to where the other nun waited.

I didn’t want to look any more. “Marius, let’s go,” I said but he didn’t have to be told, we were already heading to the side walkway that led to Carriedo.

We walked together till we got to the stairway outside the station. There was already quite a line there, and it was some time till we could get in and buy tickets. “I think you should go up front to the ladies’ car. Don’t worry about me,” Marius said as we got past the turnstiles.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I mean, we could just wait for a less crowded train.”

“We’ll both be late. You take care of yourself, Eponine,” he said before he disappeared into the crowd. I tried to get a good look before the train whooshed into the station, and I had to make a run for the door. I didn’t see if Marius managed to get on the train too.

It was only then that I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket. I didn’t have any problem bringing it out in public; it was such an old and crummy thing that no thief would take an interest in anyway. There were two messages there: one from my classmates reminding me about a project we had to do, and another message from Simoun. I was to report to his Makati office as soon as classes were over for the day---which for me meant something like past four or so if the traffic was good to me.

It may have been far from school and my dorm, but Simoun’s office was in a tall building in a very nice part of the city. The streets were wide here, the underpasses were clean, and the buildings were not old and dirty. There was a nice park too, not far from his office. I planned to go and sit there if I had time to.

That day though, I had to worry about Simoun. Did Don Custodio tell him I was late with the package? I could feel my gut lurching as I walked up to the bright blue building that seemed to be made all of glass. There were several of these on Ayala Avenue, but this was one of the taller ones. In fact it was so tall that I felt my ears ache a bit as the elevator made its way up. My stomach still didn’t feel much better as the elevator opened on the 40th floor.  There were only three doors here, one on the left and two on the right. All rooms belonged to Simoun: one was his actual office, the other was his meeting room, and the third was simply the restroom. I put my thumb on a small pad near the door on the left, and then I heard a click before the door swung open.

The office was very nice: carpeted, with blinds and a good view.  There was a sofa too, and a refrigerator. There was almost no paper left in here: everything was in a single computer. The only old fashioned looking thing here was a single box right by the desk.  His hair may have been all white, but my boss knew how to keep up with the times alright.

“About time, Eponine,” Simoun greeted me from where he was finishing up his cup of coffee. “Don Custodio emailed me, and said that everything was in working order when you gave it.”

“Oh that’s good,” I said. I didn’t know what to say to him, really. Anyone could see that he was a man who was not easy to talk to. Aside from those dark glasses, he was always in these suits that made him seem like he was out to rule a boardroom as opposed to presiding over the mob. His nose was aristocratic, and the thin line of his lips was brutal. One could say the same for his goatee too. He wasn’t a very big man, but I could tell he knew something of fighting, by the way he stood.

Simoun peered out the window and shook his head. “It’s a good thing I’m not sending you on an errand today, girl. You’d never get out of the city before dark.” He went to his desk and held out a list of numbers. “I want you to email these places and inquire about their rates for a 600 person banquet. There are more details on the paper; type them all up as a proper letter.”

“What’s the event?” I asked before I could stop myself.

“A book launch, it’s all there,” Simoun replied, waving his hand. “I have a client to meet and you should be done by the time I get back. If you finish early, please work on the inventories I asked you to organize last week.”

I immediately got a chair---no, not Simoun’s big armchair, and pulled it up by the computer.  Before I could open the browser, Simoun opened the door again. “By the way, if I catch you using Facebook again on this machine, I’m taking part of the Internet fee out of your pay. Do you understand?”

“Yes Sir,” I said. I worked faster when he wasn’t breathing down my back, and so I was glad to hear his client shuffle into the hallway outside. Now I shouldn’t have done it, but I took my shoes off since my feet hurt so much and the carpeting felt good. It didn’t take me long to type up everything and key in all the email addresses. Now all that was left to do was to wait, and hope replies would be prompt. I had no choice then but to work on the inventories. They were really just codes, numbers for various stocks and items that he was trading and selling. He probably changed the ciphers ever so often before I or someone else could catch on.

In the middle of everything, I heard a knock on the door. I went right away, not really thinking I would have to let the person in or something. “Who  is it?” I asked.

“I was just looking for the bathroom,” a man’s voice replied.

I would have known that voice anywhere. “Mister Babet?” I greeted as I opened the door. He was a family friend, despite the fact that he moved around quite a lot. He looked much the same as ever, only that some of his hair was gone and he was a little thinner. The last part was hard to believe since he was already like a rake to begin with.

Well he was surprised to see me too. “Eponine? What are you doing here? Still shoeless too?” he asked.

“Work. Papa arranged it for me,” I said, wishing that he didn’t point out my being barefoot. “He did good, didn’t he?”

“Looks like the best plan yet. But of all people, Mister Simoun?” Babet asked.

“Yes, and what’s so wrong with it?”

“You never liked working for me or Panchaud, and now him?”

Something in the way he said it made me irritated. It had been years since I’d told him I didn’t want to help in what he was doing, which at that time was faking thousand-peso bills. He ought to have gotten over it, since he did find someone to help after all. “It’s respectable, you see. I’m in school and I can’t stay if I do well, those things,” I told him. “Oh come on, don’t look at me like that, Mister. You know my parents had a good business once and it’s not too late for someone to go back to it.”

Babet laughed. “You really are young, Eponine.” He peered into the office. “So what do you do here?”

I crossed my arms. “Are you looking for the bathroom or what? It’s the other door.”

“Alright then, I shan’t take up any more of your time. By the way, Montparnasse sends his regards,” Babet said before he went right into the restroom.

I quickly went back behind the desk and put on my shoes; if Simoun caught me lazing about, I would probably get at least a cut in my pay. My file was still open, but I didn’t work on it right away. Babet got around, yes, but even as far as Makati? He also mentioned Montparnasse....yes, Montparnasse. How was he doing nowadays? He said he would be working too, but he never called or texted to say where. Maybe I’d have to ask about him, or at least call after hours.

There wasn’t much left to do after a while except get back to work. I heard Babet leave the bathroom, but he didn’t stop by to knock or talk to me again. By the time I was done with the spreadsheet, it was almost seven o’clock. Thankfully it was only then that Simoun returned to the office.

“That will do,” he said when he saw my work. I heard more people in the hall, and I thought I saw the shadow of what looked like a man in a robe, but Simoun closed the door quickly with a remote.

“Are there any more inventories to finish?” I asked him.

Simoun checked his phone. “There is a new shipment coming in tomorrow. I will tell you then what you have to do,” he replied.

“A shipment of what?”

“It’s not for you to know,” he said, his voice suddenly low. He went to get himself another cup of coffee. “How are your parents, Eponine?”

“Fine, I guess. Haven’t heard anything bad if that’s what you mean,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

Simoun rubbed the bridge of his glasses. “I did not know you were acquainted with my client.”

“We used to live in the same neighbourhood,” I said. It wasn’t a lie either; wherever I lived sure was not where Babet and his friends were working now....unless something brought them to the U-belt. Again, that was another thing to ask about.

“He and your father worked together,” Simoun said more pointedly. “That’s a poor way to describe an old friendship.”

“Well that was them, Sir, and not me. I didn’t concern myself with them, not always.” If I ever concerned myself with home, it was with my siblings, and even then they hardly sent any messages to me. I glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s almost dinnertime, may I please go to dinner now?”

It was hard to tell with those glasses of his, but I was pretty sure Simoun’s eyebrows were raised. “Already? Well, I cannot ask anything more out of a hungry stomach. You will go to the Binondo office tomorrow afternoon. I will need you to help at an event.”


“The other office, Eponine.” He took a sip of his coffee and frowned. “Three o’clock sharp.”

“Okay then.” I was beginning to remember what event Simoun was talking about: there was a special press dinner being thrown by the Department of Tourism, to show off the most recent line-up of shows and exhibits at the Cultural Center. Ironically I would probably not be able to actually attend any of those events; school was probably going to keep me busy, not to mention work. Besides, where would I ever get the money?

Instead of going back home right away, I went straight to the park. It was mostly dark here, except for a strip of several cafes and coffee shops. I didn’t go there; I went to the furthest grassy spot there and lay down. I took off my shoes again and closed my eyes.

Suddenly I heard the grass shift, almost as if someone had the same idea I did. “Lovely evening we’re having, Miss?” a voice greeted. When I opened my eyes and looked to my right, I saw a guy lying on his stomach, holding one of those large DSLR cameras.

“You’d better not be trying to take a picture of me,” I said as I sat up.

“No, I’m trying a landscape,” the guy said, giving me a grin.  His brown hair was a little on the long side, making him seem sexy, or at least very smooth. Well it was either because of his hair or the waistcoat and shirt he had on. “Would you mind being in it?”

“Me, in a picture?”

“To give perspective. It’s for a photo contest,” the boy said. He sat up and dusted off his clothes. “I’m Maurice Courfeyrac, but please, just call me Courfeyrac.”

I sighed; there was no saying ‘no’ to this one. “Eponine Thenardier.”

“Is there a nickname with that?” Courfeyrac asked.

“Yes, but only for family,” I said. He wasn’t getting fresh with me, but I didn’t want him getting ideas anyway. I sat with my back to him and he moved, saying he wanted to get my profile in silhouette.

After he took the picture, he stood up and held out his hand. “Thank you, Eponine. Now since I’ve disturbed you, the least I can do is get you something to eat or some coffee.”

Well he was a smooth one. “I think if a date is what you want, you could have looked elsewhere,” I said as I grabbed my bag.

“If I wanted an actual model, I could have looked elsewhere too,” Courfeyrac replied. “Besides, it’s dinnertime and rush hour. You may as well get a bite to eat before going wherever. It’s Friday night, and don’t tell me you do have classes tomorrow.”

I looked at him and sighed; he was just the sort who was hard to resist at least chatting up. Since I had gotten two free meals over the past few days, I could afford to pay for at least a drink and a small viand. It took a while, but I finally agreed to go with Courfeyrac to the coffee shop.

In the middle of our conversation over two rather large sandwiches, he somehow mentioned that he was a law student too, and that in one of his classes was a boy named Marius. “Is his last name Pontmercy?” I asked.

“It is. You know him?” Courfeyrac asked.

“I’ve talked to him. We live on the same street,” I said. “What sort of person is he?”

“Terribly shy. Never seen him with a girl---no, no I don’t think he’s that sort guy, so don’t you worry,” Courfeyrac said lightly. “He’s a bit on the uptight side, that’s all.”

“And you are?”

“Looking on the bright side of life.”

I couldn’t help smiling, at least till I noticed someone walking up to our table. “Courfeyrac, is that a friend of yours?”

Courfeyrac stood up and waved at the man approaching us. “Makaraig!”

I had to keep a straight face. The famous Makaraig was quite different from what I expected. He was not very tall, and had decidedly smaller eyes and a lower brow. However he was enthusiastic and I could see how he and Courfeyrac could easily get along.

Makaraig took a seat. “Another conquest so soon, Courfeyrac?”

“No, nothing of that sort!” Courfeyrac said, slapping him on the back. “Eponine, meet Makaraig the philanthropist. Makaraig meet Eponine...wait what is it that you do?”

It took me a moment before I could answer. “A student of Psychology.”

Makaraig fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “What brings you to Makati, Courfeyrac?”

“Art. And you?” my companion replied as he got a cigarette.

“Meeting with Isagani and Tadeo,” Makaraig said. “I’m meeting with Bahorel tomorrow, he said he has a friend he wants me to make a recommendation for?”

“It’s Prouvaire, I bet,” Courfeyrac said.

“No, the art teacher.”

“Ah, you mean Feuilly.”

I finished the last bite of my sandwich. “If you guys are going to have a meeting, I think I’d better go.”

“Back to the U-belt?” Courfeyrac said. “At this hour?”

“If you’re going that way, Eponine, you can hitch a ride with me after the meeting. I’m going to have to swing by the house of a friend there,” Makaraig offered.

“Well I don’t have anything to do with your meeting and I don’t get into cars with---“ I said before the shop door opened. In walked Tadeo, who waved at me right away.

Makaraig smiled but his eyebrows shot up. “Nice to finally see you Tadeo, but where is Isagani?”

“Next door,” Tadeo said. “You need not ask with who.”

Makaraig rolled his eyes. “Can’t he just bring Paulita over?”

“Who’s Paulita?” I asked.

“The girl who Isagani has been mooning over,” Tadeo told me.

“You mean Paulita Gomez?” Courfeyrac said. “She’s in a class of her own.”

“I know, just look at her,” Tadeo chimed in.

“Yes, you can say that,” Courfeyrac remarked but his tone seemed less than complimentary. “Anyway I doubt she’d get along as well with you, Eponine.”

It was just as well, since at that moment Isagani entered, with a pretty girl on his arm. Behind her was another guy, who was walking about with a hunch in his step. I saw Makaraig shift in his seat, as if he knew this other guy that Isagani had brought in. The girl, who I guessed had to be Paulita, was very pretty and delicate.  I did rank Cosette as being pretty, and Juli too, but Paulita was different. One might say she was out of one of those classical paintings but softer, more down to earth. She had on a nice dress too, which definitely accounted for why everyone in the room was staring at her.

“Hello! Did any of you miss us?” Isagani’s other friend said even as he suddenly grabbed one of Makaraig’s cigarettes.

“Now and then Juanito,” Tadeo replied with a grin. “Here, stop being a third wheel and sit beside Eponine here.”

Oh dear. I could see Isagani giving me a pitying look even as I managed a feeble wave at him. “I see we keep bumping into each other everywhere?”

“Or we just know the same people,” Isagani said. He clasped Paulita’s hand. “Paulita, let me introduce Eponine. She’s a friend of our friends here. Eponine, my sweetheart Paulita.”

Paulita smiled at me. “I’m glad to finally see another girl around here,” she said as she shook my hand.

“Well I haven’t known them very long, and I haven’t much time for meetings,” I explained. “Courfeyrac and I met by chance and he asked me to join him for dinner.”

Paulita looked at Courfeyrac. “Are you up to your old tricks, Maurice de Courfeyrac?”

“No, and I have told you that I’m best addressed as simply Courfeyrac,” he said even as he made room for Isagani to pull up more chairs.

Juanito glanced at me and then at his friends. “I knew we should have invited more girls around. You never know where one might find a freethinker.”

“This isn’t just about freethinking, Pelaez, but we’re trying to do some actual reform,” Courfeyrac pointed out. “We have our respective projects, Eponine, but lately we’ve all thought that if we band together we can go a long way in lobbying some things.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Freedom of Information. The FOI,” Paulita answered, sounding as if she was so tired of it. “You’ll all be sitting in the galleries come Congress.”

“We do more than just that,” Makaraig added. “We do some political awareness. We write and campaign for proper treatment and allocations in our state universities.”

“An irony since only Courfeyrac here is actually enrolled in a state university?” Juanito quipped.

“We’re all brethren anyway since we’re students, what does it matter?” Courfeyrac said. He was probably being incredibly patient with Juanito by this point; Tadeo and Paulita were trying not to laugh, Isagani was biting his lip, and Makaraig was reaching for yet another cigarette.

Makaraig blew a puff of smoke in the air. “Have you ever done anything like this before, Eponine?”

I shook my head as I picked up a glass since my throat was getting dry. “Why, how bad can it get?”

Makaraig and Isagani looked serious as Courfeyrac leaned forward. “Ever been to a street protest?” he asked me.

I nearly choked on my water. What did I just literally walk into

Jan. 12th, 2013

Chapter 2: The Boarders of Tolentino Street

Chapter 2: The Boarders of Tolentino Street

If anyone asked me what the hardest part about working for Simoun was, it was the distance. Simoun had an office in Makati, and one in Manila. He was in the Makati office more often. That was quite far away from where I would usually be---or for that matter, where everyone would be. I studied at D—U, which was in a pretty decent part of Manila, but I lived across the river in a crazier part of town.

We all called it the U-Belt. Combeferre once mentioned that it had been quite the swell place before the area was given over to well....students and transients. People like me.  I did see some old pictures showing the area with well-kept houses and far less cluttered streets. It would have been grand to live in those days, I supposed. However all that was left to us were the tiny tenements, the gaudy new apartments and various complexes springing up in between and all around the school buildings.

My parents had arranged for me to have a bedspace, which was really just something like a little cubicle with a bed and a cabinet. There was a clean bathroom at the end of the hallway. It at least was clean on most mornings. There was no Internet to be had in that place, the electricity sometimes went out, old banners were still stuck on the walls, and the other boarders were quite nasty. The one thing I could be thankful for was that this dorm didn’t usually get flooded in, not like other parts of Tolentino Street.

It was raining again when I got to the dormitory, and my shoes were letting in the water. I could hear them squelching as I made my way to my so-called room. Getting into my slippers and a pair of dry clothes was a relief, but I sure was not looking forward to washing my clothes the next day. I was just about to flop down on my bed for some much-needed rest, and maybe grab a romance novel (taken from Mama’s collection), when I heard my cubicle door shake.

“Eponine, are you in there?” my neighbour Juli asked.

I sat up. “Yeah. What do you want?” Normally Juli didn’t bother with me, at least in the month or so I’d been staying in the cubicle next to hers. After all she was busy with her job; I gathered then that she was a waitress at a nearby cafe. She didn’t go to school, not like most of us in the boarding house.

“I just heard that there’s not going to be dinner here in the house tonight. Want to come down to the Musain to eat?” Juli offered. She was already wearing her work uniform, a simple looking thing really but it made her look nice. Well nicer than most people I’d met that day.

“I don’t know, Juli, I haven’t much money,” I said. Payday was a whole week away, and my allowance even further.  

“Dinner is on me,” Juli said.  “You look like you haven’t really eaten much all day.”

“I have,” I protested. Well Don Custodio had given me a sandwich and iced tea, but cheese pimento was never enough for a proper dinner. I wasn’t about to let Juli know that

Juli shook her head. “There’s nothing to eat in the pantry or the ref. Unless you’re planning on doing the groceries tonight?”

I sure was not, especially given this weather. I’d never get the things back here in any good condition. “Alright, just for dinner,” I said. “It’s not far, isn’t it?”

“Not at all, just three blocks,” Juli said. “I’d invite the other girls too, but it seems as if everyone’s left ahead of us.”

I shrugged; normally in this house nobody really noticed anyone. In fact, I didn’t know much about Juli at all, just that she was a little older than me, wasn’t in school, and had a boyfriend someplace. She was always texting someone whenever I’d pass her in the hall. She was nice though; nice meaning that she didn’t pick fights, steal food or cause much trouble.

Even if it was raining, there were still so many people about. Some were waiting for jeeps and buses at the end of the road, while  others were hurrying to dinner, or standing in doorways talking to friends. The place smelled like mud, food, smoke, and cat droppings, but thankfully the rain made the stench a bit less. It was a street of uniforms of all kinds, but in the dark it was really nothing much more than a blur. At least it wasn’t difficult to follow Juli to the cafe where she worked.

It was known as the Musain, but after a while everyone started calling it Chez Fauchelevent because of the nice old man who ran the place and lived in the downstairs backroom. The cafe had two storeys, well if one counted the rear mezzanine as the second storey. Hardly anyone went up to that backroom, or to the other parts of the old house where this cafe was located. Everyone just went to the front room, which anyone could see from the street. For one thing, Mister Fauchelevent put the Internet router here, as well as a working desktop computer that anyone could use for a few pesos. The second part was that all the food was nearby, not to mention a lot of alcohol.

hen Juli opened the door, there was already a group of guys at a table, and they greeted us rather loudly. “Miss De Dios, you’re late!” one of them shouted.

“Well look at the weather, Sandoval,” Juli said as she pulled the Spanish flag off the hat he was wearing. She frowned as she saw a bucket of beer bottles already on the table. “You’re starting early.”

“Ma’am Fantine said we could only have one each,” another one of the guys said. He was darker than Sandoval, and while he was in uniform like all the rest of them, he wore his yellow lanyard like a headband just over his ears. “It’s not as if we don’t drink responsibly.”

Juli rolled her eyes. “You’re not sleeping in the backroom again, Tadeo.”

Tadeo laughed before looking at me. “Whose girlfriend are you?” he asked.

“No one’s,” I replied. “I just live near Juli.”

Tadeo and Sandoval looked at each other and their friends. “Now you two had better not get any ideas---“ a squat guy said, shaking his finger.

“What were you thinking, Pecson? We’ve stopped trying to set Isagani up with girls a long time ago,” Sandoval said. “I mean, he has someone, right? Basilio would tell you anything,” he asked Juli.

“I wouldn’t know the girl, and Basilio hasn’t mentioned anything to me,” Juli said.

“You can keep any secret with Basilio, he’s safer than a high security bank,” Pecson snickered just as the door opened.

A lady swept in, carrying what looked like a huge accounting notebook. She was maybe as old as my mother, or maybe a little younger. She was thin, but her long golden hair made her rather pretty. “There you are, Juli. Could you babysit the boys for a minute, while I finish the papers?” she asked.

“I’m already doing it, Ma’am Fantine,” Juli said. She pulled me forward. “By the way, this is y housemate, Eponine. Eponine, meet Ma’am Fantine. She helps run this place.”

“Nice to meet you, Eponine,” Fantine said as she shook my hand. “Where do you go to school?”

“At D—U,” I said. It was one thing I didn’t mind people knowing, if it was the only thing respectable about me.

Fantine raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a bit far from here?”

“Half an hour on a good day,” I replied. I might have explained my commuting route to her if the door didn’t open again. This time, a girl who was my age stepped in. It wasn’t just any girl either, it was someone I knew. I don’t think I ever could forget anyone who was nicknamed Cosette.

The last time I’d seen her, we’d been six years old. She was the kid at the edge of the playground, the one no one talked to unless it was to say something mean. I didn’t know why I had to partner with her for school things. I didn’t like it. She was always dreaming, talking about her mother. She didn’t have a mother, her mother never came for her.

Or so I thought. Fantine smiled at Cosette as Cosette hugged her. Cosette had dark hair, but other than that she was Fantine all over again.

ldquo;How was your day, petite?” Fantine asked Cosette.

“Very well, Mama,” Cosette said. She smiled at my neighbour; I saw now that Cosette’s teeth had grown in straight. I told her once that they never would. “I’ll just change out of my uniform and I’ll help you in the kitchen, Juli,” she said as she dusted off her white dress.

“Take your time,” Juli said. I think she was about to introduce me to Cosette, but I stepped back. What on earth was I ever going to say to her?

Yet Cosette stepped forward and looked right at me. “You’re Eponine, right? Don’t you remember me, we went to school together?”

“Pre-school,” I corrected. I used to pull her hair and stick gum in it, steal the sandwiches that the school gave her and the other kids, and call her all kinds of things. Didn’t she remember all of that?”

Juli and Fantine glanced from me to her. “I didn’t know you two were friends,” Juli finally said.

Cosette smiled slightly. “I guess from childhood. It’s been years though.”

To be more exact, it was years since she suddenly left. I never found out why. Maybe it had something to do with what I did, maybe it didn’t. Either way, she was probably happy to get away. It did a lot of good for her, she was so pretty now, her skin was perfect, her lips weren’t chapped, and her cheeks were rosy. Years ago, though, I’d been the pretty one.

“Well, shall I leave the two of you to catch up?” Fantine offered.

“I don’t want to get in the way,” I said. I still could not bring myself to talk to Cosette, though I knew she would probably try to be nice.

Cosette looked sad. “Okay then. Maybe later. You should stay for some coffee,” she said before going to a backdoor.

Before anyone could say anything, I retreated to a table far away from Sandoval, Tadeo, and Pecson. I didn’t want them asking, I didn’t want anyone thinking that this would be a chummy situation. Cosette was someone I just saw, someone my parents had told me not to associate with. If she was really living in this neighbourhood, our paths would cross. I was not sure I could handle that.

I was in that corner for a long time. Mister Fauchelevent, the owner of the place, came in. He talked to Fantine, Juli, and later to Cosette. He even had a word with the boys, and everyone else who came into the cafe. I saw that he had a tray of food with him when he went up to my table.

“I hope you’ll like today’s special,” Mister Fauchelevent said as he put the tray down. It was quite a bit of food: chicken soup, macaroni and cheese, bread, and some meat in a tomato based sauce. His face was kind, but he also looked as if he was studying me. “Are you alright, Miss Eponine?”

I nodded. “I just had a long day,” I said. I could hear Juli and Cosette chatting in the kitchen, and the students laughing, but I wanted none of it. I would have left, but for the rain still pounding outside. Beside the food was pretty good, and I had to thank the old man for it.

“I’ll ask Juli to set out some tea for you,” Mister Fauchelevent said after a while just as the door of the cafe opened again. Obviously Juli was now at the counter since I heard her gasp before she ran forward to greet whoever had just come in.

I didn’t have to guess; it was Basilio. Sandoval and Pecson hadn’t been kidding; there was something between Juli and that medical student. Even if they hadn’t said a thing, it was obvious in the way that Basilio kissed her: politely since this was a cafe after all, but even a brick could see how he was holding her by her waist and how her hands were around his neck.

He wasn’t alone though. As soon as Juli let go of him, he took her hand and pulled her beside him. “Combeferre, meet Juli. Juli, my classmate Francois Combeferre,” he said to his companion. He was another medical student, but older and this one with glasses that somehow reminded me of an owl. He couldn’t have looked the part more even if he was actually wearing a scrub suit or a white coat.

“Basilio says you’re the top in your class,” Juli said, shaking his hand.

“Top? Basilio is the better clinician,” Combeferre quipped. “I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he can get a nearly dead man back on his feet in a matter of days.”

Sandoval raised a glass. “Basilio, why don’t you introduce your friend to us? We can always use another academic here!”

Combeferre paused and nodded. “Luis Sandoval,” he said.

“You know me. Through Makaraig?” Sandoval replied.

“Not through Makaraig directly. Enjolras.”

“Hah, the walking statue?” Pecson laughed.

“Oh shut up,” another student muttered. “Don’t say that where he can hear you!”

Pecson might have dared his friend there and then if Combeferre hadn’t taken a seat. “Does Marius Pontmercy come here often?” he asked.

Marius! Did he really mean the same boy who’d spoken to me at Doroteo Jose? The name was unusual enough, so there was little reason for me to think that he was talking about someone else. “Why, does he live nearby?” I asked as I pulled up my chair.

“Supposedly. Right here on Tolentino Street,” Combeferre said. “Maybe you’ve seen him: a bit older than you, not that tall, thin, black curly hair, a law student?”

I shook my head. “Haven’t noticed.” Well, now I had a reason to look around a little bit more. “Why do you ask?”

“He’s a friend of a friend,” Combeferre replied. He smiled at me, but in a friendly way, not teasing at all. “I don’t believe I know your name, Miss?”

“Eponine will do.” I was getting tired of these introductions. Really, the only proper introduction of the day had been to Marius, since I’d been the one who’d done it. I supposed I would have no trouble speaking with Marius if I saw him on this street. It would have been nice to try.

I was still imagining meeting Marius on the street when the cafe door opened yet again. This time it was Enjolras and surprisingly, Isagani. If I hadn’t seen the fight earlier in the afternoon, I might have thought that they had been friends for some time, judging by the way they talked. Naturally they were greeted quite warmly by the others. Mister Fauchelevent had to push over another table and more chairs for them at the rate they were going. Even Juli had abandoned work for a while; Basilio had drawn her aside and they were using the desktop computer. They were among the few people in the cafe who did not have some sort of laptop with them.

I went to the washroom and on my way back, I stopped by where Juli and Basilio were still talking. “Where’s Cosette?” I asked.

“Upstairs, doing homework,” Juli replied. “I shouldn’t keep you out so late, I’m sure you have some work of your own too, Eponine.”

I shook my head. “Just some reading.” I’d done a lot of it en route to Simoun’s office and the rest could be done before classes. On my way back to my seat, I had to pass by where the boys were sitting. I sighed when I saw Enjolras and Isagani. “Do I need to introduce myself again?” I asked.

“That’s up to you,” Enjolras replied, putting down his glass of water.  Thankfully at that point Combeferre saved us the trouble and did the introductions himself.

Isagani cleared his throat. “You were at the Recto station today,” he said.

“I was. I saw some of the fight,” I replied. “You boys blocked up the entire queue.

“I’m sorry about that,” Enjolras replied. He may have looked like a walking statue alright; in fact Juli and Basilio were debating something about Saint Michael the archangel, but I had to admit that Enjolras was quite charming at that moment. Perhaps that explained why some of the girls seated in a corner of the cafe were giggling and shooting looks in the table’s general direction. At least that was all they did; I don’t think anyone would have known what to do if they got any nearer.

In the middle of everything, Tadeo brought out a pamphlet and passed it to Enjolras. I saw Basilio raise his eyebrows and move away. Juli sighed and nodded to me. “We’d better go and leave the boys to their business.”

“It’s raining,” I protested.

“I’ve got an umbrella. I’ll walk you both back,” Basilio offered.

“Why so early?” I asked but neither of them would give me an answer. I didn’t want to walk back in the rain either, so I had no choice but to go. The last thing I saw in the Musain was the boys huddling together, as if discussing something. I would have given a lot to know what it was

Jan. 10th, 2013

Chapter 1: The Doroteo Jose-Recto Exchange

Chapter 1: The Doroteo Jose-Recto Exchange

Simoun sent me on an errand as soon as I got into his office one Wednesday after my classes. It was going to bring me out late, right into the rush hour, but I had learned not to say ‘no’.  “It’s of utmost importance, you understand me, girl?&rdquo he said to me rather sternly before giving me the address and then showing me to the door. Of course he did not trust me with his car, so I had to commute myself, all the way into Manila. It was a very, very long way: from his office in Makati City, to the train station at Gil Puyat, then on up north to Doroteo Jose. From there I would have to walk all the way to the Recto Station, and get on a train to Santa Mesa.

Did I know what was in the package? No. I never had the slightest suspicion, at least in those days. It was heavy though, and solid. It could have been jewels for all I cared.

I did my best to hurry up, but it was nearly five in the afternoon by the time I got to Doroteo Jose. It was beginning to rain and it was getting cold, so I buttoned up my trenchcoat. Most people didn’t wear trenchcoats in Manila, but I was just so cold so often, and I liked it anyway. It made my old t-shirt and jeans look better.

Well there I was, with a package in my backpack and trying not to get pushed around the walkway. It was incredible how so many people could fit on that bridgeway between the stations; I think if I didn’t take a step, I could have been carried most of the way. It was also weird to see how many people fi below he station: not a single patch of green at all, just shanties, the street, and motels for....well I need not explain. I’d seen enough of those places, both from my family’s perpetual moves and my own disgraceful past work experiences.

In the middle of that crowd, suddenly there were running footsteps. I couldn’t twist about before a hand shoved me to the side. “Sorry miss!” a frantic voice shouted as I fell right on my butt. I saw it came from a rather large guy who was wearing a suit that had been rolled up rather hastily at the sleeves. I would have yelled at him, but someone took care of the job for me right at the bend.

“What’s wrong with you? There’s line or the station, thank you very much!” another boy shouted. If I stood on tiptoe, I could see that this one was a medical student or a nurse, if his white uniform meant anything. He was a rather big guy, and he had a book with him—only it was too thin to be a med book. He was a bit handsome too. He wasn’t alone either; there was another med student with him, looking more serious with the very ig books he had with him. This second student was thinner, quieter, and with a long scar on his cheek.

“I have to move, it’s really rather urgent...” the guy in red said. He looked like some sort of boxer; a man’s face has a certain look when it’s been scarred and he had it.  

“Isagani, just let him go---Ouch! What’s going on here?” the second medical student shouted just as someone else barrelled into him. It wasn’t anyone’s fault this time, the crowd was just too much.

have o get to the next train right away, friends,” the man in red said to the students. “So please let me pass---“

“There’s a line,” the guy named Isagani said, and he squared up to the guy in red.

“Hello, Bahorel, is that you down there?” another voice said. This time I saw behind me this smaller guy in an outrageous purple jacket. His hair was long, like one of those hippies in the iconic 1960s photos, but his was kept much more neatly.

The guy named Bahorel waved to his friend. “We’re going to be late, Jehan!”

“Late! That’s no excuse!” Isagani argued.

Well it was starting to look as if I wasn’t going to get anywhere, so I tried to work my way to the exit. I’d just have to take a jeep and explain to Simoun later why I was late with getting his package to the address. Before I could take another step, I heard another angry shout---and then the crowd began to lurch towards the station entrance. There was shouting everywhere and by the sound of it all, someone had thrown a punch.

It was a wave of people, and I could do nothing to stop it. It was like drowning, like I almost did once back at home when I slipped and fell into the gutter. This time though I could scream and try to elbow my way out. I didn’t get very far before I tripped and fell against the railing.

A hand grabbed my elbow before I could hit the floor. “Miss, are you alright?” a kinder voice asked me.

“What---yes I am,” I said. It had been yet another guy who’d caught me, but there was nothing scary about him. He looked kind. He was thin, with dark curly hair, and deep eyes that made him look as if he hadn’t been sleeping very much. His clothes were a bit patched, like mine, but they looked so much better on him.

He helped me stand up straight. “Here you dropped your bag,” he said, handing my backpack to me. He dusted off his clothes and looked around. “Would you know where the exit is?”

I had to stand on tiptoe to point it out. “There, to the left.” Well there was another exit closer by, but that was where the fight was. “I think I’ll go that way too.”

“Thank you Miss,” this boy said. As he stepped away something fell out of his pocket. I grabbed it and saw it was an ID card, with his picture and the name “Marius Pontmercy.” I had to give it back.

“Mister Marius!” I shouted.

He turned and somehow he looked confused when he saw me.”What?”

I held up the card. “This fell from your pocket.”

“Oh!” He turned so red and I had to laugh. “Thank you, Miss---“

“Eponine,” I said as I gave the ID back to him. I realized that I hadn’t gotten a good look at the school he was from, but it had to be nearby.

Marius nodded to me. “Thank you Eponine,” he said before hurrying to the exit.

I thought of following him to the street, but the fight was clearing up now, and maybe I could continue on my way. There was a guard holding back the boy named Isagani, while his friend tried to explain the situation to another guard. As for the boys named Jehan and Bahorel, there was another friend of theirs talking to them. This other guy was tall too, and with golden hair, at least that much I could see since he was not facing me.

Just as I was walking by, I heard Jehan suddenly shout, “Wait, did you say your name was Basilio?” he asked Isagani’s friend.

“It is,” Basilio replied as he picked up his books. He must have thrown them aside.

“I think you’re a classmate of a friend of mine. His name is Combeferre,” Jehan said.

Basilio nodded. “We’re seatmates.” He smiled a little bit and for a moment he seemed nearly charming. “It’s a small world.”

“Yes we know that, Basilio, can we go now?” Isagani muttered. He had a black eye, and his clothes were dirty. “Makaraig is going to be annoyed if we’re late again.”

“Makaraig? You know him?” Bahorel sputtered. He also had a shiner on his face, but he probably had seen a lot worse.

“We go to the same school,” Isagani said. “Do you?”

“He’s known in some circles. I’m Bahorel by the way, in case you haven’t heard. Here with me is Prouvaire, better known as Jehan, and also here is Enjolras.”

Isagani nodded. “Pleased to meet you all. I’m Isagani Florentino, and my friend here is Basilio.”  

“This was a simple misunderstanding that got out of hand. All the same, let me extend our apologies. It was very unbecoming of us,” Jehan and Bahorel’s blond friend Enjolras said. He was so calm about it, but one could tell from a mile away that he wasn’t entirely happy. Maybe he’d had to do this sort of talking before for his friends.

“Mine too. I did swing first,” Isagani admitted.

I would have heard more but I felt the crowd behind me again. I set down my bag on the table to let the guard check it. I hoped that she wouldn’t notice the package Simoun told me to bring. She just poked in my bag with her stick—as if that would do anything---then waved me on.

I happened at that moment to look right at Enjolras.  How he might have helped break up the fight, I could not imagine. Something in his face reminded me of a sculpture I’d read about in a book. His eyes were blue, and I saw them take on a strange look, as if he was surprised. It took a moment for me to realize he was looking at me.

Had he never seen a messenger girl before? I didn’t want to ask, as I had to be on my way. I had to run to the ticket machine to beat the queue there, if I wanted to make it on the next train to Santa Mesa.

Thankfully the address that Simoun had given me was easy to find. It was that of a local project man, named Don Custodio. I’d heard about him before in the papers. Don Custodio was at least kind enough to give me something to eat and a drink before he sent me on my way. He wasn’t even angry I was a little bit late.

And there was another thing to be thankful for: the rain had stopped

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