To Love Another Person
“We need to have a movie night,” Kemara said while she
and several other Dyelanders were taking a lunch break
from packing away ornaments after Epiphany.
“Sounds good,” JenniAnn nodded. “Got something in mind?”
Kemara hesitated. “I thought maybe ‘Les Mis.’”
Monica set down a fresh pot of tea. “Wasn’t it in the
theaters last year? I remember seeing the posters all
around New York”
“Yeah, it was.” JenniAnn flushed. “We talked about going
to see it, but….” She looked across the table at Andrew.
“You and Max had just gotten home, and it didn’t seem
He reached over and squeezed her hand. “It would’ve been
fine. I’d like to see it. I know the story, of course,
but I never had the chance to see the stage show.”
JenniAnn studied him for a long moment, and then turned
back to Kemara. “OK. You’ll let everyone know?”
“Sure!” Kemara took her phone from her purse and began
texting as the others cleared away the plates. “Uh-oh.”
“What?” Rose stopped in the doorway, startled.
Kemara looked up, and shook her head. “Violeta wants to
know ‘What’s it about?’”
Rose laughed. “Oh boy! That could take all day! Just
tell her it’s based on the novel by Victor Hugo. If she
wants to know more she can look it up.”
“So what do you guys want to eat?” JenniAnn asked.
“French fries?” Andrew suggested innocently.
JenniAnn rolled her eyes. “Try again, smart guy.”
“Wine with cheese and crackers would be easy.” Rose
mused. “And very French.’
That night, Kemara and Rose carried plates of assorted
cheeses, crackers, and a couple of bottles of wine down
to Andrew’s basement. They’d decided to watch the movie
there to take advantage of the large-screen TV. Plus, it
was more cozy than the theater at Willowveil; and Kemara
thought that might be better under the circumstances.
“Bonjour!” Violeta clattered down the stairs with a
French flag wrapped shawl-like around her shoulders.
Rose laughed. “Where did you get that?”
Violeta unwound the flag out and held it by both ends.
It wasn’t full size, but still about four feet long.
“From Henry or Henri, I guess I should say. I stopped by
his place on the way here. He said to tell everyone,
‘Merci’ for the invitation. And…” She trailed off,
“What?” Andrew and JenniAnn had come in with Monica and
Arthur while the others were admiring the flag.
“I didn’t understand it. He said, ‘It was bad enough the
first time. I don’t want to watch it again.’” Violeta
said. “I didn’t have time to do much research, but what
I did read said the stage show is very popular.”
Andrew and Monica exchanged glances. “Henry told me he
spent a century in France,” Monica said as she and
Arthur settled themselves on one of the couches. “Was he
there then, do you know?”
“In 1832?” Andrew shrugged. “I didn’t see him much in
those days. If he was, I can understand why he’d rather
skip tonight.” He turned to Violeta. “The story deals
partly with the failed student uprising in June,” he
explained. “Plus, cholera killed about 18,000 people in
Paris that spring. If Henry was in France then, he
probably doesn’t want to be reminded of it.”
The young angel nodded. “That makes sense.” She sat down
next to Kemara on the love seat, the flag bundled in her
“Wait!” Max had picked up the DVD case and was reading
the back. “Should Violeta even be here at all? It’s
rated PG-13 and she’s only 16.”
Everyone chuckled and Violeta smiled, taking the teasing
with good grace. “For your information, that’s three
years over the limit.”
“Well, just ask if you have any questions,” Andrew told
her. “We can always hit pause.”
As Kemara turned off most of the lights, JenniAnn
whispered, “Now you’ve done it. I have seen the stage
show and the trailer, and I really think we need someone
ready to cover her eyes.”
Andrew wrapped an arm around her. “I think she’ll be OK.
She did good work in the Philippines last month, and she
saw plenty of things there.”
“I dunno….” But the movie was starting.
The convict Jean Valjean works on a chain gang,
hauling a ship into port. The overseer, Javert, orders
him to carry the ship’s flag which is still attached
to the broken mast. With a Herculean effort, Javert
lifts the beam onto his shoulder and drags it several
“Not possible,” Rose said. “I don’t see how anyone could
be strong enough to move that, especially is his
Max shrugged. “If he was angry enough, maybe.”
Valjean is given his parole papers which say he
is dangerous although his only crime was stealing a
loaf of bread.
“He looks dangerous there, doesn’t he?” Kemara said.
The paroled Jean Valjean looks for work and shelter,
only to be turned away and beaten out of town. It
didn’t take long for Violeta to speak up.
“Wait,” she said. Kemara paused the playback. “Why are
they treating him that way? Even the police keep
punishing him. Why can’t they let him start over?”
Arthur sighed. “It’s not that easy. I see this a lot at
the shelter, and I’m sure Catherine does too. People
have a hard time believing that someone who’s broken the
law can ever really be reformed. Eventually, the men
themselves start to believe it. Even if the original
crime was something small -“ He nodded at the TV. “Like
stealing a loaf of bread or a having a tiny amount of
marijuana. Without help and support, they re-offend and
end up back in prison.”
Violeta frowned. “But that’s not fair!”
Kemara hugged her. “No it’s not, but it’s just how
people are, I’m afraid.” She grimaced. “I mean, I just
did the same thing when I said earlier that Valjean
looked dangerous. That was a snap judgement, and a lot
of people do that. They see a homeless person or some
kid with baggy pants and a hoodie and make assumptions.”
Violeta thought about that for a minute and then turned
back to the movie, still frowning a little.
As the story continues, Jean Valjean is taken in by
the Bishop and steals his silver. Instead of sending
him back to prison, the Bishop challenges Valjean to
turn his life around.
“But remember this, my brother. See in this some
higher plan. You must use the precious silver to
become an honest man.”
“And that’s what needs to happen, Violeta,” Arthur
commented. “But it rarely does. Now, he has a choice.”
Violeta smiled at him and turned back to the screen,
eager to see what Valjean would do.
Valjean accepts the Bishop’s challenge, and events
jump ahead eight years to show that he has become a
business owner and mayor. Factory worker Fantine’s
illegitimate child is discovered and she is thrown
into the street.
Watching Fantine stumble through the red light district,
JenniAnn fidgeted. Even in the theater these scenes had
distressed her. On the love seat to her right, Kemara
was pointedly not watching the screen, looking down and
weaving a corner of Violeta’s flag between her fingers.
As “Lovely Ladies” began, Max leaned forward and grabbed
the remote from the coffee table. He hit pause and then
turned on a lamp, the sudden light startling everyone.
JenniAnn looked around the room. Kemara and Rose were
both pink with embarrassment, and Monica wore a pained
expression. Even if they were unfamiliar with the story,
the content gave enough warning of what was coming.
“Do you girls want to skip this part?” Max asked. “I
haven’t seen the show, but I’ve heard the soundtrack. I
think everyone pretty much knows what’s going on here.”
“I don’t,” Violeta said, sounding a little hurt.
Kemara sighed. “Violeta, we’re not trying to exclude you
at all. It’s just….”
“Fantine becomes a prostitute,” Rose said. “And even on
stage it’s a painful thing to see.”
Monica nodded. “Yes, it is. These women feel they have
“And speaking as a woman,” JenniAnn said. “That’s a very
frightening thought. You can’t help but imagine if you
were in that situation.”
Violeta took a deep breath. “Well, I still want to watch
it. I mean, I know I’ll have an assignment dealing with
it eventually.” Andrew winced, but she didn’t notice.
“So maybe this would help?”
Max looked around at them all, “Do we go on?”
“Only if you’re sure, Violeta,” Andrew said.
She nodded, and Max clicked the remote.
By the time Fantine finished her anguished song about
lost dreams, they were all in tears.
“That was amazing,” Rose said, wiping her face with a
tissue. “Anne Hathaway really deserved to win an Oscar.”
Valjean takes the dying Fantine to a hospital and
vows to care for her child, Cosette. But before he can
find the girl, he receives word that a man thought to
be Jean Valjean has been arrested. Once again he
struggles to make the right decision.
“If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am
damned. Who am I?”
“The poor man to have to make such a choice,” Monica
said. “I can’t imagine.”
Fantine’s child, Cosette, is treated like a slave by
the innkeeper and his wife who are supposed to be
caring for her.
They heard footsteps upstairs. “Who’s that?”
“I’ll go see!” Violeta jumped up and took the stairs at
As soon as she was gone, JenniAnn snatched up the remote
and fast-forwarded an extremely bawdy version of “Master
of the House.”
“Sorry, but she’d really have some questions,” she said.
The others were laughing too hard to answer her.
“You’re awful,” Rose gasped clutching her side.
JenniAnn flushed. “Well, at least I didn’t have to think
up an excuse to get her out of the room!”
As they caught their breath, they heard feet on the
“Look who’s here!” Violeta cried as she led Henry into
“May I join you?”
JenniAnn shook herself out of her surprise. “Of course!
There’s a chair over here.”
As he came around behind them, Andrew reached out and
clasped his friend’s hand. ‘You OK, buddy?”
Henry smiled tightly. “Sure. It’s just a movie, right?
No reason I shouldn’t watch it.” But his eyes behind
their glasses were uncertain.
“So what did I miss?” Violeta said, resuming her seat.
“Nothing important,” Kemara assured her.
Valjean rescues Cosette and marvels at the new
emotions that parenthood has stirred in him.
“Suddenly I see. Suddenly it starts. Can two anxious
hearts beat as one?”
Andrew felt JenniAnn sigh and smiled to himself. If only
she knew what the upcoming months would bring….
Foiled again in his pursuit of Valjean, Javert
finds solace in the predictability of the stars and in
his own righteousness.
“I love this song,” Kemara said as the ending of
Javert’s prayer blended with the opening notes of “Look
Down”. “I dressed up as Eponine for a Halloween dance in
college.” She pouted. “But nobody knew who I was!”
JenniAnn laughed. “Well, what did you expect? The words
culture and college don’t really go together. Or they
didn’t at my school.”
“This is true,” Kemara mused.
They chuckled at Gavroche’s snarky comments, glad for
the brief moment of levity.
“Here is the thing about equality: everyone’s equal
when they’re dead.”
Andrew shook his head, “He’s a smart kid.”
“If that’s not love at first sight, I don’t know what
is,” Rose said as Marius and Cosette noticed one another
for the first time.
Max snorted “That would be when we met, of course.”
“Oh, of course.” Rose rolled her eyes in mock
exasperation. “How could I forget?”
Marius enlists Eponine’s help to find the mysterious
“What will you give me?” Eponine asks.
“Now that was a loaded comment!” Max laughed.
Rose gave him shove. “You hush!”
The students drink wine and talk about
“It is time for us all to decide who we are. Do
we fight for the right to a night at the opera now?”
“So should we be looking for you, Henry?” Kemara asked
He shook his head, “Nah, they couldn’t pay me enough. I
don’t sing as badly as Monica -“ he gave her an impudent
smile. “But I can sing.”
“Hey, I won’t stand for that kind of talk,” Arthur
retorted pulling Monica close protectively.
She looked up at him eyes wide. “Even if it’s true?”
“Did General Lamarque really exist?” JenniAnn wondered
as they watched the students take over the funeral
procession and scrap with the National Guard.
“Yes,” Henry said, “He was one of the leading voices
against the monarchy. And this is pretty much how it all
went down.” He shook his head. “I wasn’t expecting it,
but it looks like they’ve done a pretty good job with
the political aspects. It was a very tense time.”
That tension comes to a head as the students
begin to construct multiple barricades in the narrow
streets off of the Place de la Bastille. Chairs and
tables rain down from second-floor windows.
“I read that the director just told them, ‘Build a
barricade. Action!’ and filmed for ten minutes. So it
was all built then and there,” Kemara said. “The guy who
played Marius said it was total chaos and really scary.”
Javert agrees to spy for the students.
“If I put on a different hat, they’ll never recognize
me,” Arthur quipped.
The first attack begins and the National Guard storm
the barricade. Eponine notices a soldier about to
shoot Marius and throws herself in front of him.
“No!” Violeta cried as Eponine is shot in the chest.
Kemara wrapped an arm around her as they watched
Eponine’s last minutes and Valjean’s arrival.
Given the chance to kill Javert, Valjean once again
shows mercy. “You’ve done your duty….nothing more.”
“Ouch.” JenniAnn said. “That hurts.”
“Yeah, major insult there,” Max agreed.
Violeta reached for the remote. “I don’t get it. Why is
Javert doing his duty a bad thing? Didn’t Valjean break
the law again by tearing up his parole papers?”
Andrew sighed. “Because duty is all Javert did. He
believes everything is either black or white,” He
explained. “He understands justice, but not mercy.”
Violeta thought about this for a moment. “So, he’s kinda
like the Pharisees, then?”
“In a way….”Andrew nodded. “He feels that his
interpretation of the law is the only one that matters.”
“And as far as Valjean goes, you’re right that he did
break the law again.” Arthur said. “But you have to
consider the circumstances - just like when he stole the
bread. He stole because he was hungry. He broke parole
because it was the only way he could better himself. The
social and justice systems of the time gave him no
‘When I was hungry you fed me. When I was in prison, you
visited me,’ Monica quoted softly. “I’ve learned that
people rarely do things for no reason.”
JenniAnn leaned close to Andrew and said quietly, “I
never realized watching a movie could lead to an
in-depth analysis of the social and political mores of
18th century France as they can be applied to 21st
century America. But, seeing as it's Violeta, I
shouldn't be surprised.”
He smiled proudly. “Yes, she’s really picking up on all
the tough issues. It’s good for her to see them applied
in real life - or even in a movie - instead of just
reading something in a file.”
Gavroche’s death brought more tears.
“I can’t believe they would shoot a little kid like
that,” Kemara said.
“They thought of him as a rebel like the rest,” Henry
explained. “His age doesn’t matter.” He shook his head.
“They were all young.”
JenniAnn opened her mouth to ask the obvious question,
and shut it again.
Valjean prays for Marius’ safety and the final battle
JenniAnn found the fighting scenes much more intense
than in the stage version, hiding her face in Andrew’s
shoulder when Enjolras and Grantaire are shot. Beside
her, Henry watched grimly like one who has seen it all
“That’s disgusting!” Rose said as Valjean carries Marius
through the sewers.
“Yeah,” Max said. “They’ll be lucky if both of them
don’t die from infection.”
Javert tracks Valjean down, only to let him go
once more. Distraught, the policeman leaps to his
death in the river.
“And does he know by giving me my life today
this man has killed me even so?”
“He couldn’t accept mercy,” Violeta murmured sadly. “For
himself or anyone else.”
Filled with guilt that he survived while his
friends died, Marius returns to the wine shop.
“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a
pain goes on and on. Empty chairs at empty tables. Now
my friends are dead and gone.”
JenniAnn took Andrew’s hand and held it tight. The
angel’s eyes were on the screen, but she could tell he
was seeing something else. A tear ran down his cheek.
She brushed it away. “It’s alright, love.” He caught her
hand in his and kissed it, but said nothing.
She looked over to where Rose and Max sat on the other
love seat. Her arms were around him and his shoulders
shook with sobs he was trying to stifle.
JenniAnn reached for the remote, but Andrew stopped her.
“No, let it play. It’s good for him to let it out.”
Belatedly, she remembered Henry. The angel of death sat
with his face in his hands. She went and knelt in front
of him, clasping his hands in her own. He had taken off
his glasses and his eyes were full of tears.
“You were there?” she guessed.
He nodded. “We got the word early, so I got to know the
men I was with pretty well. The movie didn’t show it - I
guess they really couldn’t - but it was bigger than just
a small group of students and one barricade. It was so
hard to watch because, like he says -“ he gestured at
the TV “It didn’t change anything.”
“But if they gave people hope, then maybe it was worth
it.” Andrew said softly. “We don’t always know the why.
We just lead them to the One who does.”
Henry nodded, looking calmer. “That’s true.”
Unaware of Javert’s suicide, Valjean plans to move
away before his secret can be found out and Cosette
and Marius disgraced. He tells Marius about his past,
and they agree that it’s for the best that Cosette not
“For the sake of Cosette, this must be so.”
Violeta was outraged. “How dare he!” she cried. “Valjean
is one of those people he fought for, that his friends
died for, and he acts like that!”
Kemara shrugged. “Well, it was a shock, I guess. And
he’s not about to tell Marius, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m the
one who saved your life’.”
Violeta sighed. “I guess. But it’s so unfair!”
“What’s that you angels tell us all the time?” Kemara
asked squeezing her hand. “Something like, God never
said this life will be easy or fair, but it will be
The youngest angel sat back with a sigh of resignation.
“Well, I want to see Valjean get his worth it.”
Kemara smiled. “Oh, I think he will.”
At their wedding, Marius discovers that Valjean was
his savior. He and Cosette go to the convent where
they find Valjean very close to death. He gives
Cosette a letter.
“On this page I write my last confession. Read
it well when I at last am sleeping. It’s the story of
one who turned from hating - a man who only learned to
love once you were in his keeping.”
Fantine appears and embraces Valjean. “Come with me
where chains will never bind you. All your grief at
last, at last behind you. Lord in Heaven look down on
him in mercy.”
“She makes a wonderful angel of death,” JenniAnn
whispered through her tears.
Andrew pulled her closer. “Yes, she does.”
“And remember the truth that once was spoken: ‘To
love another person is to see the face of God’.”
The camera rises up to show a huge barricade filled
with the spirits of those who were killed.
“Do you hear the people sing lost in the valley
of the night? It is the music of a people who are
climbing to the light….Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?”
Kemara wiped her face and stood pulling Violeta along
with her. “Come on. I’ve always wanted to stand up for
The others stood too, glad to stretch after sitting so
long as the finale came to it’s thundering conclusion.
“Well, I’m wore out.” Kemara said as they sat again,
somewhat shakily. “What did you guys think?”
Violeta looked down at the flag she still held. “It was
like a roller coaster ride only without the getting sick
part.” They all laughed. “What I mean is….it was it sad
and depressing, but at the same time there was so much
hope for something better.”
“And so much faith,” JenniAnn agreed.
Arthur picked up the DVD case and looked at it. “I think
I’m going to get a copy for the shelter. I bet the men
could really appreciate what Valjean goes through.”
“It was really good,” Rose said thoughtfully.
Kemara grinned. “Better than ‘Harry Potter’?”
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far….”
Credits: Lyrics are, naturally, from Les
Misérables . Book and music by Claude-Michel
Schönberg, lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer.
to the Author's Cut