To Love Another Person
by Kim

“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 right, to….”

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, looking puzzled.

“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 lap.

“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 yards.

“Not possible,” Rose said. “I don’t see how anyone could be strong enough to move that, especially is his condition.”

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 no choice.”

“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?” JenniAnn  wondered.

“I’ll go see!” Violeta jumped up and took the stairs at a trot.

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 stairs.

“Look who’s here!” Violeta cried as she led Henry into the room.

“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 girl.

“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 revolution.

“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 gently teasing.

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 choice.”

‘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 begins.

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 before.

“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 be told.

“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 worth it.”

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 this one.”

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.

Back to the Author's Cut