The very first one was Russian.
Fantine looked on as Cosette dragged the blonde boy, whose brooding facial features seemed out of place on a five year old, toward where she sat on a park bench, supervising.
“Mama, this is Iwan. He’s my boyfriend and I love him.” Cosette had certainly mastered the skill of an introduction, even at the humble age of five.
“Ivan,” the boy corrected.
“Right, Iwan.” Cosette beamed and Fantine felt her heart swell at the gaped-tooth smile. She matched her daughters grin.
“She’s still working on her W’s.”
A week later, Fantine sat in the same spot, watching on as Cosette seemed to be having a very frank discussion with Ivan.
“I thought you would be better at playing on the swings than you are. I don’t love you anymore.”
Ivan stood blinking for a moment. He then burst into tears, running to find his parents.
“That’s my girl,” Fantine said under her breath.
By the second Russian Fantine almost regretted sending Cosette to an International school. But then she would come home for the holidays and natter away in Japanese weaved with French, repeating stories from the children of diplomat this or the journalist of that and she wouldn’t mind the distance (and boyfriends) so much.
Viktor had dark hair, eyes like indigo roses and was only 6 months older than Cosette. Cosette was utterly infatuated. At 13 she’d been through crushes and primary school politics of who-liked-who, but had never been remotely serious about it.
“We’re dating. Even though Emilie says she called him first, he picked me and that’s what counts.”
“Yes, yes of course. So you’re happy with Viktor, darling?”
“Yes, oh yes!” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper on the other end of the telephone. “He even kissed my hand!”
Fantine gasped. “Oh my! How scandalous! The presses shall be informed, fair Cosette Fauchelevent is in love.”
“Exactly!” Cosette laughed, before saying her farewells and hanging up the phone.
“I realised Viktor wasn’t what I want in a man.”
“And what do you want in a man?”
Cosette pondered this for a long moment. “Someone who talks more. Or has red-hair. Either is good.”
Fantine held one hand whilst Benoit held the other. Cosette had decided to get her ears and nose pierced all in one hit. Fantine loved her daughter dearly, dearly enough to allow her to do it. Fantine did not love discovering exactly how low her daughter's pain tolerance was.
Benoit gazed at her longingly, Cosette trying to smile back.
“Hey babe, could you like, ease up on my hand a bit,” he said. Cosette let go of his in an instant, clasping both around Fantine’s.
“Not a worry babe. I could definitely feel the extra rock-climbing you’ve been doing. It’s all about finger strength and man, have you got it.”
The fun was over soon, Fantine driving the lovebirds home while Benoit went through the aftercare instructions. There was more hand-holding.
Fantine didn’t necessarily approve of Benoit. There was a quality about him that reminded her of Tholomyes, which was never pleasant in a man. Despite the light that came to Cosette’s face when he spoke, when he brought her gifts and tokens and they dared kissed chastely in front of a parent, she couldn’t help the slight frostiness.
Cosette scolded her, as 15 year-olds are wont to do. She insisted he was perfectly respectable young-man. That they went on perfectly respectable dates, and he was very respectable not pressuring her into anything she didn’t want. He sent her dumb photos of cats and made her laugh and happy and Fantine supposed she couldn’t fault him for that at the least.
Benoit left with a lingering kiss, shuffling out after Fantine ahem’d from the entrance-way.
“Emilie was sucking the bastards cock behind the bike-shed.”
“Sorry, Mama. Emilie was performing visceral oral sex on the scum of the earths tiny penis for more than half the time we were dating. Someone told me.”
“Better.” Then, “I’m so sorry darling.” Fantine drew Cosette close, rubbing up and down her shoulder. Cosette swallowed a sniffle, leaning into her mother.
“I’m not. Much, anyway.”
“What do you say we put him in the burn book.”
“She-She-..I think, th-then she, oh god.”
Cosette was 17 and confused. Fantine heard her voice shaking over the phone, ached desperately to be beside her, to comfort her. It was her worst nightmare, that her daughter may be suffering and she was stuck at the end of a telephone line, unable to help as much as she could.
But she could help some.
“Baby, calm down and breath for me. That’s right, in and out, in and out,” a practised ritual left over from Fantine’s own childhood. Soon, the line went quiet except for the crackled sounds of Cosette’s deep breaths in and shallower breaths out.
After what may have been a minute or an hour - Fantine couldn’t tell and frankly didn’t care - Cosette began to quietly speak again.
“There’s this girl I’m friends with...her name is Primrose, but we call her Prim. She and I, we...I kissed her. I kissed her and I’m so confused because it was incredible and better than anything I’ve done before and I want to do it again. I like girls but I also like boys and I can’t stop liking either, I can’t. Prim, she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met. You would love her, Mama. She’s smart and funny and she reads so many books. She said she’d translate Harry Potter from English for me, the proper way, because it’s so much better in English than in French but she can tell me all the funny bits.”
The uncertainty was gone from her voice and all Fantine could hear was the overwhelming sense of love she’d come to recognize over the years; the same voice she read revered passages of poetry with, that she described her friends and ex-boyfriends, that she would use as a child as Fantine tucked her into bed.
“I’m already convinced, darling. When will I meet her?”
Cosette began to cry on the other end of the line, only to be joined by another voice. Fantine couldn’t make out anything clearly until the phone crackled with being moved from one hand to another.
“Hello there, Cosette’s mum. She’s trying to get me to tell you that she’s okay, just incredibly happy at the moment. I think you may have broken her a little bit, but in all honesty the impression I had of you from what she’s mentioned I think she’s over-reacting a little.”
The phone jostled again. Fantine heard fuck off, asshole, accompanied with a watery laugh before Cosette took over.
“Language,” Fantine warned.
“Sorry, sorry. Um, well I suppose you just kind of met Prim. She’s right though, I think things did get a little, well. Out of proportion in my head.”
“I love you, Cosette. Remember that always.”
“I love you too, Mama. Thank you.”
“Prim? Oh, yeah, we decided we’d rather be friends again. No hard feelings all that.”
Fantine leaned back in her seat. “Huh. You’re both okay with that?”
This made her pause, thinking. “At first it was weird. It didn’t work very well. It’s been a while now, though. We’re okay now.” Cosette hummed and shot Fantine a happy look, before turning back to the stove.
“Pass the sliced carrots, if please.
Henri was charming and dangerous and rode a motorbike.
Fantine loved him.
For herself, more so than Cosette. Despite being 21, whenever Cosette rolled up, Henri and motorcycle in tow, she was overcome with the urge that had presented itself through many girlfriends and boyfriends past to simply lock Cosette away and protect her from every posssible danger relationships posed.
However despite being completely impractical (Cosette’s room was now more of an art studio-slash-makeshift filming location) Fantine couldn’t help but consider the positives that had come from people she no longer cared for and a time she was no longer a part of. Namely, Cosette.
Henri and Cosette were around for dinner,the pair debating the merits of one such thing against another, occasionally calling in for Fantine’s opinion. It was a spirited evening.
Nostalgia pulled at the space in Fantine’s chest, which always remained hollow when her daughter was away, as they rode off. She had, in the years since Cosette had left home and gone onto further education in the hub of chaos that was Paris, learned to fill the hollow space. Friends, hobbies, a life she never dreamed of living when she was younger.
Yet Cosette was still the fullest thing in her heart.
The monotone Cosette used told Fantine everything she needed to know. She asked anyway. “What did you say?”
“I said no, Mama. I said I wasn’t ready yet, that I didn’t even know if I loved him.”
“Not anymore.” Fantine heard a barely concealed sniffle and her heart twanged in sympathy. The instinct to protect was as strong as it has always been, but every year Cosette had been becoming more and more of an independent, strong young lady, Fantine had quieted it further and further.
“I’m giving up on love, Mama. On boys and dating and girls. Girls too! Just for a little while. Just until I’m well and truly over Henri, and he’s over me, and I’m myself again. I want to finish college and go on and do things Mama. I couldn’t do that so inextricably bound to someone.” The like Henri went unsaid.
They were out, a semi-regular catch-up for lunch followed by too much shopping for Fantine’s poor old feet to handle. The streets of Paris were busy with Parisians and tourists alike, a cacophony of noise and colour enough for anyone to completely immerse themselves in. Fantine and Cosette remained on the fringes, chatting about everything as it crossed their path. Literally at times, the occasionally outfit or hairstyle enough to make Cosette gasp in jealousy, despite her own gloriously maintained alternative locks.
They were just wandering from the fourth stop of the day when Cosette stopped dead beside her, eyes set on a freckle-faced redhead in a much similar state of freeze a few feet away. He looked upon her with wonder. She looked upon him, enraptured.
Fantine looked on and only just caught herself thinking - here we go again.
Loving, patient mother entirely forgotten for the moment, Cosette took a step toward the boy, smile turning uncharacteristically shy. She played with the hem of her shirt as they worked through introductions. His hand seemed glued to the back of his neck, a nervous habit which got more exaggerated as he went deeper and deeper red.
Cosette returned, points of colour high on her cheeks.
“His name is Marius. I’ve convinced him to meet me for dinner early next week.”
Fantine drew her close. “Look at you, on the prowl again. The drought is over, is love in the world once again?”
A grin. “Maybe. Not yet. But maybe.”
Fantine looked at her first grandchild in awe. The boy, not even a day old and still nameless (Marius’s indecisiveness against Cosette’s strong-head seemed a match made in heaven, but had often been worse than any decision-making combination Fantine had ever witnessed, including the one time she’d attempted to attend a Parent-Teacher-Association meeting), brought her to tears.
“Oh heavens, she’s crying. Marius could you grab a tissue I’m a little bit--,” Cosette gestured to where she was still swathed in blankets, bed-ridden.
Fantine waved the obliging husband off. “No, no dear it’s fine. These are happy tears. Happy tears are okay.”
Cosette relaxed, still eyeing her mother suspiciously. “If you say so.”
“I do, I do.”
Later, when Marius had gone to get food and coffee and blankets from the car, Fantine sat beside Cosette, watching silently.
“Tell me, darling, is this the love you dreamed of?”
In the quiet of the room, Cosette replied with a single word.