Post by Emma “Emmz” Squalor on Feb 21, 2011 12:32:38 GMT -5
Ahem. It's been a while since I've posted anything creative in this section, I know.
I began this a few weeks prior to Christmas, as a gift to my dear friend, Tiago Squalor, but failed to have it completed in time. Now that I have, and he has had a chance to read it, I am posting it here for the rest of you to (hopefully) enjoy as well. This story is comprised of eight chapters, plus an epilogue, and so it will be the same deal as with A Halloween to Remember, in which there shall be a chapter a day. The title itself was inspired by the song All Tomorrow's Parties by Rasputina (or, in this case, the Velvet Underground, since the Rasputina version appears to be missing from Youtube. Both have the same lyrics, though, so that's the important part). Before you read the story, I suggest listening to the song, to get a feeling for the story itself. I didn't read through this as carefully as I did A Halloween to Remember, so please forgive any typos or grammar errors you come across, and feel free to point them out to me if you do.
~Banner by the Tremendously Talented Tiago Squalor~
Author’s Disclaimer: I do not own A Series of Unfortunate Events or any of its characters or places. They belong to Lemony Snicket a.k.a. Daniel Handler. The Salinger and Casanova famies all belong to Tiago Squalor. Maxwell and Cora Squalor belong to me. Rating: T (for references to alcohol and one foul word in a later chapter). Genre: Drama/Family Story-Type: Multiple Chapters Summary: All she wanted was for them to love her the way they loved her sister Beatrice…
Post by Emma “Emmz” Squalor on Feb 21, 2011 12:32:57 GMT -5
Esmé[/i] Gigi Genevieve Salinger watched through a veil of envy as her younger sister spun and twirled about before the floor-length mirror. Beatrice’s chestnut hair—which fell in ringlets down her back and over her shoulders—kept in perfect harmony with each of her movements. She was all togged up in the new dress Estelle had bought her for the event whose arrival was now just a few hours away. An ankle-length dress of light blue chiffon with long sleeves that puffed out at the top. Pinned at the waist was a white rose that matched Beatrice’s new pair of white flats—a gift from her father.
Doing her best to remain cheerful—for this was to be her sister’s very first grown-up party—Esmé looked down at her own two feet. Feet that donned a brand new pair of candy apple red pumps. Perhaps they were a bit too ostentatious for a girl of seven, as her stepmother had so candidly remarked. But what was the harm when those shoes made up for all Esmé would be missing out on?
Though he’d fussed along with his wife over Beatrice at the dressmaker’s, Holden Salinger had not forgotten his eldest daughter. While Estelle went with Beatrice to search for a pair of sensible yet fashionable shoes to match her new dress, Holden took notice of the way Esmé stood staring at a pair of candy apple red pumps in a shop window.
He stepped closer, drawing an arm around her. “Do you like them?”
“They’re the most beautiful pair of shoes I’ve ever seen in my life,” Esmé said, impassioned. “I feel that if I put them on, then everyone in this town will look at me the way they look at Beatrice.”
Holden turned to his small daughter, his eyes swimming with what looked to her like guilt. “What have I told you, sweetheart, about dwelling on the negative thoughts and opinions of others?”
“You said not to worry about it. You said that anyone who thinks bad things about Mommy or me is an ostrich.”
Holden saw no point in explaining to his seven-year-old daughter that by ‘ostrich’ she was actually saying ‘ostracizing’. (Ostracizing was how the people of Ophelia responded to those with mental illness and their loved ones.) Holden felt it his fatherly duty to shield both his daughters—especially Esmé, whose own mother suffered from mental illness—from the cruelty of a world that doesn’t always understand and therefore refuses to accept.
“Esmé,” Holden went on, and gestured to the items of his daughter’s fascination, “there is nothing in this world that would make me happier than to buy you these shoes. But first, I want you to make me a promise.”
Esmé turned her almond-colored eyes away from the window to gaze admiringly at her father. To her he seemed a king in his fancy business suits and carefully polished shoes. His strength was that of a bear’s—except for when he and Estelle argued. That was when his power weakened, and Esmé’s strapping, indomitable father became a cowering, sniveling little boy. “Anything, Daddy.”
“Promise me you won’t be disappointed. For it isn’t shoes or pretty clothes that make people like you, Esmé. It’s what’s in here”—using his large forefinger, he pointed to the area where his daughter’s heart was located—“that matters most.”
“Did I do something wrong, Daddy?” asked Esmé.
“No, darling, of course you didn’t. Why would you even ask—”
“Then why does everyone smile more at Beatrice than they do at me? Why do they talk to her when they see her, and then pretend like I’m not there when they see me?”
“The residents of Ophelia are a complicated lot,” Holden explained, as he took Esmé by the hand and began to lead her toward the shop’s entrance. “But it isn’t you, darling, never you. If only they would make the effort to get to know you, and your mother, too, then they would realize just how truly wonderful you are.”
“But when, Daddy? When will everyone see in me and Mommy what you do?”
“Soon.” Giving his daughter an encouraging smile, Holden pushed open the door of the shop. The little bell above the door chimed merrily, and Esmé felt her faith in humankind renew itself.
Turning her attention away from Beatrice, Esmé looked down at her new shoes. The saleswoman who’d sold them to her was one of those rare Ophelians who’d shown Esmé kindness, commenting on Esmé’s lovely brown eyes and congratulating Holden for being the father of such a pretty little girl. Not since Francesca, Esmé’s mother, had fallen ill and all but confined herself to her room on the second floor of the Salinger Mansion, had Esmé had such a fabulous day. When Esmé asked her father that same afternoon if she could go show her mother her new shoes, he’d seen nothing wrong with it. “Why, that sounds like a fine idea! Your mother still isn’t feeling well, I’m afraid. But there isn’t a thing I can think of that would bring her greater pleasure than to hear all about your day.”
Esmé was just about to go skipping up the stairs, swinging the shopping bag with its fancy writing in her hand, when Estelle called her back. “No, Esmé. Your mother isn’t well, and having to listen to your incessant chatter will only give her a headache. Wait until she’s ready to come down on her own before you speak to her.”
Her other small hand resting on the bottom of the balustrade, Esmé turned to face her stepmother. “But Estelle—”
“Don’t argue with me, Esmé. I may not be your mother, but I am still a figure of authority. Therefore, I’ve every right to see to it that you behave accordingly.”
With hope burning in her desperate eyes, Esmé consulted her father. “Daddy—”
“Do as Estelle says, darling.”
“But you just said—”
“Forget about what I said!” Holden Salinger rarely raised his voice. When he did, it was only because Estelle provoked him into doing so. Esmé jumped, but not before her eyes lowered and she saw that her father was tightly clenching his fist. “Listen to your stepmother,” he added, his tone a source of forced calmness, “and go play with your sister. You’ll find her out in the gardens. Don’t worry; I’ll come fetch you the minute your mother comes downstairs.”
Esmé realized there was no hope of winning this argument—not when Estelle had claimed her place as the household’s head authority figure. Nodding her head in defeat, Esmé left through the kitchen door. It was just after she’d reached the main foyer that she heard the angry voices of her father and stepmother rise steadily behind her.
Esmé thought of going back, but decided against it when she heard Estelle scream the name of Esmé’s mother. Not wanting to hate Estelle any more than she already did, Esmé hurried as fast as she could to the double French doors. It was only after she found herself all alone in the privacy of her father’s gardens that she stopped running and began crying.
Just to be sure that no one would see her, she ducked behind her favorite tree—a weeping willow from which she’d fallen when she was just five years old and broken her arm. But she didn’t attempt to climb its branches a second time. This time, she simply sat in the soft grass with her back against the tree’s trunk. Drawing her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs, she buried her face in her arms.
In the time she spent sitting beneath that tree, she cried for four people: her mother, for being sick and for being one of the people those horrid ostriches shunned; her father, for being too cowardly to stand up to her stepmother; for Beatrice, for having a mother like Estelle who was always yelling at Holden in front of his daughters; and for herself, for it wasn’t fair to have a mother who was sick and people on the outside who didn’t like those who’d done nothing wrong to begin with.
Esmé had just finished drying her eyes when she heard someone calling to her from a short distance away. As if nothing had occurred to upset her in the first place, Esmé snatched up the bag with her new shoes inside. In the process of running to greet the owner of the voice, she called back in a tone devoid of hopelessness and filled with only the greatest elation:
“Coming, Beatrice! I’m coming!”
“Are you coming, Esmé?”
Esmé glanced up from where she’d been sitting on Beatrice’s bed, watching her prepare for the party. Sadly, Esmé shook her head. “Daddy said I can’t come downstairs until seven, remember?”
Being only six, it wasn’t surprising that Beatrice had forgotten this one minor detail. Minor compared to the fact that she’d been invited, whereas Esmé had not.
“How long will it be until it’s seven?” Beatrice asked.
Esmé shrugged. “As soon as the grandfather clock chimes. Now hurry and go downstairs, before your mother comes up and yells at me for keeping you.”
The sisters embraced, and Esmé watched from the doorway of their bedroom as Beatrice started for the first of two winding staircases. Beatrice turned briefly and waved, prompting Esmé to wave back. It wasn’t until Esmé had watched her younger sister descend the stairway that she closed the door. She returned to her sister’s bed to wait for the grandfather clock to beckon her downstairs.
Estelle (for it was always Estelle who saw fit to treat her stepdaughter as second best) had gone out of her way to remind Esmé that she was to be out of sight the minute the guests began arriving. “People from your father’s office and country club,” Estelle had replied nonchalantly, when Esmé had first inquired who these ‘guests’ would be.
When Esmé had gone to Holden, demanding why she had not been invited to the party and Beatrice had been, he’d set his eldest on his knee to explain. “Most of the people in attendance will be my business associates. My relationships with these people are no more than that—business. They’re not the friendliest group, and I’m afraid many are no different than the townspeople. By having you and your mother stay upstairs during the party, your stepmother and I will be doing the noble thing by protecting you. Do you understand, sweetheart?”
Esmé, although greatly disappointed, nodded.
“Really,” Holden insisted, gently brushing back the hair from his daughter’s shoulder, “you won’t be missing much. This party is mostly an excuse for men to get drunk and for women to talk about the latest fashions. There won’t be many people your age attending. Beatrice will have only made it through the first hour before she falls asleep, I’m sure.”
“But isn’t there a way I can watch the party without actually going to it?” Esmé asked hopefully. “Just so I can see what it’s like? Please, Daddy? I promise to be quiet and that nobody will see me.”
Turning his daughter forward on his knee, Holden pointed across the dining hall to the stairway, at the large door located on the side. On the wall beside it hung an oil painting of his great-grandfather, a man from whom he’d evidently inherited many of his good looks. “Behind that portrait of my great-grandfather and inside the alcove is a small hole. Peer through it, and you will receive a spectacular view of the party. It is inside that very room from which I, when I was a child, observed my own parents’ social gatherings. ”
Esmé had been inside the alcove on many occasions herself, along with Beatrice, during games of hide-and-go-seek. But neither had ever thought twice about the small yet noticeable hole inside the wall. Nor had they suspected the portrait of a deceased relative that they passed a number of times each day was actually the key to a hidden secret. Esmé was eager to go investigate, but before she could she felt her father’s hands tighten around her shoulders.
“Just a moment,” Holden said, and smiled as Esmé met his eyes questionably. “Going inside now would only attract suspicion, especially that of your stepmother. The party is set to begin at half past seven. Wait until you’ve heard the grandfather clock upstairs strike the hour. Then you can sneak down here and hide yourself away inside the alcove without being seen.”
“Does anybody else know about your secret, Daddy?” Esmé asked.
“No, Esmé. It is only you who knows. And it would probably be best for everyone in this house if things stayed that way.”
“Can’t I tell Beatrice?” Esmé hated the idea of keeping such a vital secret from not only her sister, but her best friend. Silently she pleaded with her father to reconsider, her almond eyes widening while her lower lip pushed out ever so slightly.
Always had Holden Salinger found it impossible to resist a girl with brown eyes. Perhaps that was why he’d chosen Estelle for his wife instead of Francesca, no matter how pretty those sky-blue eyes of hers were. Quick as a flash, he shook the thought off. How he hated to be reminded of his role in the state of the woman upstairs! Esmé was still young enough that she hadn’t made the connection between her father’s marriage and her mother’s condition. But how many more years did Holden have left before Esmé caught on? She would blame him, he knew, perhaps even hate him. He couldn’t bear to watch as those soft, brown eyes so presently full of love and admiration transform into condemning spears. In taking Estelle as his wife, Holden had accepted the consequences—he just hadn’t counted on those consequences having such a life-altering affect on Francesca. Often Holden would wait until long after Estelle had fallen asleep, then sneak off down the foyer to Francesca’s bedroom. If he put his ear to the door, he could almost always hear her weeping. He never entered, though he’d wanted to desperately, if only just to check in on her. But never when she was like that. The mournful sound of her sobs filled him with such guilt, forcing him to sink to his knees on the floor just outside her door. It was then that Holden Salinger would bow his head into his hands and join Francesca in tears.
“Daddy?” asked Esmé, taking notice of the way her father’s eyes had drifted over her head and settled on the stairway. “Daddy, is something wrong?”
“What?” Holden shook his head, ridding it of the illusion of his beautiful mistress on the stairway. In his mind, she was no longer the faint shadow his actions had forced her to become. In his mind, she was still the same pretty nineteen-year-old he had first seen seven years ago, smiling shyly at him from beneath her pink parasol. “No, sweet, nothing is wrong. Your daddy is just a little tired today, that’s all.”
“Oh.” Relieved, Esmé smiled. “So, is it O.K. if I tell her, then?”
“Tell who what?”
“DAA-DEE! Stop playing games! You know what I’m talking about!”
Esmé’s enthusiasm managed, at least, to bring a smile back to Holden’s face, and he reached down to ruffle her dark hair. She had the same color hair and eyes as his, but the rest of her physical features were in favor of her mother. Even for seven Esmé was slight and delicate, just as Francesca had been at that age. One could tell just by looking at her now that Esmé was going to grow up to be a genuine beauty, and—her father predicted—a breaker of many hearts. He only hoped she would continue to foster the love and compassion that so many people would appreciate, if only they’d take the time to acknowledge her.
“That I do, my little Esmé,” Holden swore, as he lovingly caressed her rosy cheek with the back of his hand. “All right, then; I’ll grant you permission to share our secret with your sister.” Esmé’s eyes lit up, and her rosebud mouth expanded into an enormous smile. “As long as you promise you can convince her to keep that secret just between the three of us.”
“Oh, I can, Daddy! Beatrice will do anything I ask, just as long as I’m polite and don’t boss her!” With that, Esmé threw herself into her father’s strong arms and kissed him on the nose. Then she was off and running down the hallway toward the French doors to find her sister.
She never looked back. Perhaps if she had, she would have seen the tears of remorse present in her father’s dark eyes.
Prior[/i] to venturing downstairs, Esmé had gone to her closet and retrieved her prettiest party dress. Its color matched the pink roses in the garden that her mother had catered so lovingly to before getting sick. But what made the dress even more special was that it was the last garment Francesca Finch had made for her daughter. Esmé was therefore determined to wear the dress with pride—even if it could only be done so in secret. The bodice shimmered all over with tiny, silver sparkles. The skirt glittered magnificently with the same silver sparkles, and was constructed out of several layers of satin. The short sleeves and collar were pieced together with a shiny, transparent material. Not wanting to attract anyone’s attention—particularly that of her stepmother—Esmé decided it would be best to slip into her new footwear once she was safely inside her hiding place.
As she stole her way quietly down the winding staircase, the words of Estelle Salinger echoed unremittingly inside Esmé’s head: “Such an ostentatious outfit for a girl who will be spending all evening behind a closed door.” Silently Esmé mouthed the words “Shut up”, knowing she’d never have the nerve to do it for real. She may have disliked Estelle for taking her mother’s place, but Esmé respected her father’s wife enough to never speak openly ill of her. Esmé saved such thoughts for the pages of her diary; a collection of private speculations and personal secrets, which she kept stuffed between the mattress and springboard of her bed.
The main foyer doubled as a grand ballroom and was still empty when Esmé reached the final step. Earlier that morning, she and Beatrice had watched in awe as the hallway was completely transformed. A large, fold-out table had been set up near the back of the room close to the kitchen doors. Adorning the table was an arrangement of various foods and beverages (included were several bottles of wine that had been placed inside silver bowls filled with ice-cubes). In the center of the table stood a glass fountain made to resemble a swan whose beak spouted a cascade of punch into a large crystal bowl. Extra tables and chairs had been delivered and placed in the spare corners of the room. Draped over each table was a white cloth layered over another of aquamarine. In the center of every table in a glass vase was a beautiful arrangement of fresh sunflowers cut fresh from the garden. How sad, Esmé had thought when she first saw them, to know that the flowers were doomed to be discarded following the party. Her mother always made such an upheaval about anyone cutting flowers from their gardens, or any garden, for that matter. Esmé herself had been scolded harshly by both of her parents when she’d plucked a sunflower two summers ago. She’d never dared pick another flower after that, unless it was one of the pesky dandelions that her mother insisted ruined the gardens. Since she’d taken to spending most of her time in her chambers in the southern wing, Francesca no longer seemed to care about the state of the gardens. Esmé had done her best to fill her mother’s place in that respect, only to be dismayed when several tulips and a number of morning glories had wilted. Thankfully Sandford—the Salingers’ elderly but kindly groundskeeper—had shown her the proper way to care for flowers. “You’ve just given them a bit too much water,” he explained. “You see, a budding blossom is not much different from a growing girl. Both need only a certain amount of sustenance in order to flourish properly. Remember that, Miss Esmé, and someday you’ll be just as gifted a gardener as your mother.”
On her way past the table, Esmé snatched up a plate. She filled it with two chocolate rainbow cookies, as well as two crackers with a slice of cheese between each. Next, she picked up the silver ladle from the crystal bowl and filled a cup with punch. Being extremely careful not to spill anything, she made her way slowly across the room. Setting her plate and cup down on a nearby table near the stairs, she opened the door leading to the alcove. Picking the items up from the table, she ducked into the little room unseen. Alone in the darkness, she was forced to temporarily abandon her items on the floor. She flicked the switch on the wall, flooding the room with light, then quietly shut the door behind her.
The room beneath the stairs was the size of a small bedroom and essentially used for storage. Most of the items were typewriters that no longer worked, along with old cribs and highchairs that had once belonged to Esmé and Beatrice. There were several pieces of furniture that were both attractive and usable, but that Estelle had insisted be either replaced or removed. Of course, there was no question concerning the reason behind her decision. Every piece of furniture in that room were ones that Francesca herself favored. Esmé scowled as her eyes fell across an orchid armchair made of velvet. It was the chair her mother had often fallen asleep in during the months in which she’d been pregnant with Esmé. From what Holden had told his daughter, her mother had the habit of caressing her pregnant belly while singing lullabies to her unborn child. “If you’ve ever wondered where you inherited that spectacular singing voice of yours,” Holden had chuckled, “you need look no further.” He had then turned to smile at Francesca, who back then wasn’t sick and didn’t cry so much. It wasn’t until he’d gone and married Estelle that Esmé’s whole world had been turned upside-down.
Glancing around the small room—which looked even smaller because of all the clutter—Esmé promptly spotted the hole her father had spoken of. Hurrying over, she reached into the shopping bag and withdrew her new pair of pumps. She slipped her feet into one and then the other, which added a few inches to her four-foot frame. Pressing her tiny hands against the wall, she peered through the hole. Just as her father had sworn, the hole provided a diminutive but ample view of the foyer. It’s just like watching a movie, she thought. She smiled to herself, just as the sound of the kitchen doors opening wafted into the room, followed by the voice of Estelle. Forgetting that no one could see her, Esmé ducked halfway beneath the hole at the sight of her stepmother’s shadow falling across the wall.
Moments later, Estelle appeared. As much as she detested Estelle, Esmé could not bring herself to deny the beauty that her stepmother radiated. Estelle was dressed in a floor-length ball gown made of metallic emerald taffeta that emphasized her hourglass figure. The bodice was complete with silver ruching cut into an upside-down triangle down the center. The waist was trimmed diagonally along the right side, with a distended skirt that made her appear a blossoming flower. Her satin gloves—which were the same color as her gown—reached her forearms. Her long, light brown hair was styled in a way that complemented her high cheekbones. Her dark eyes blazed like two candles in the wind as she spoke:
“…All I’m saying, Holden, is that that other woman had better not spoil tonight’s festivities, or—”
Esmé had barely begun to bite down on her lower lip to keep from shouting when her father appeared, trailing pathetically behind Estelle. Even so, Holden Salinger looked so handsome in his black tuxedo with the red rose tucked into the lapel. His chestnut hair was slicked back in a way Esmé thought made him look more distinguishable than ever.
“Darling, please don’t fret so,” Holden begged, wringing his hands about as if he believed that might force his wife to see reason. “Franny wouldn’t dream of doing anything to ruin the evening for you. She isn’t like that, she’s—”
“She’s what, Holden?” Estelle halted, mid stride, the sound of her skirt rustling stridently across the floorboards as she confronted her husband. “Your mistress? Well, pardon me for going the whole day without mentioning it! It isn’t as if that child of hers isn’t a constant reminder!”
“I wish you wouldn’t drag Esmé into this, Estelle. It isn’t her fault you can’t accept—”
“No, Holden, your right. It isn’t Esmé’s fault. It’s your fault for letting her mother stay on here as if she were part of our family.” Estelle snorted. “And don’t think I don’t hear you getting up in the middle of the night to go to her, either. Even after you married me, I knew your feelings for Francesca Finch would never change.”
Esmé waited anxiously for her father to say something…to defend his honor as well as that of her mother. But he said nothing, and instead permitted the silence to grow until eventually Estelle stormed off.
As she stood there, shaking with anger and peering through the hole at her beloved father, Esmé thought of going to him. But she was too terrified by the prospect of being caught by Estelle to abandon her hiding place. Esmé assumed her stepmother had retreated to the kitchen, for she hadn’t heard the French doors slam or the vibrations of the steps above her.
Esmé kept a close eye on Holden, her longing to run through the door and hug him overwhelming. He looked ready to cry but, just as Esmé did, though she kept his tears locked behind his eyes. Occasionally she would awaken in the middle of the night to the sound of her father crying, but she never said anything. She didn’t expect he wanted her or Beatrice or even Estelle to know he had a weak spot, just as Esmé didn’t want anyone to know of hers. He had taught her how to be strong, and she was determined to show him what she’d learned.
Eventually Holden drifted off; probably to go in search of Estelle and restore things with her before the party began. Esmé lowered her eye away from the hole and wandered over to where she’d left her plate and cup. She picked them up and went to sit in her mother’s velvet armchair. She set the plate in her lap and balanced the cup between her waist and crevice of the chair. She nibbled daintily on her cheese and crackers, then took a very small sip of punch. Although she thought the cheese and crackers delicious, she couldn’t say she cared much for the punch. It had a funny, sort of acidy after taste, as if someone had added alcohol to it. Preferring her fruit punch to be the kind that came from a bottle at the grocery store, Esmé slid her cup underneath the chair.
Not wanting to be dying of thirst in the next few minutes, Esmé took only the tiniest bite of one chocolate rainbow cookie. Afterward, she threw her legs over one arm of the chair and rested her head on the other. It wasn’t long before boredom overcame her, and her eyelids began to droop, making her ability to stay awake a daunting task. All too quickly she found herself giving in, only to be jolted awake by an assortment of raucous voices and laughter.
Esmé tumbled to the floor in a heap, her plate of crackers, cheese, and cookies spilling across the dusty floor. She groaned irritably, gathering everything up and shoving it back onto the chair. Then she raced over to again peer through the hole.
Apparently a few of the guests had arrived early, and she recognized them all as her father’s business associates. Others she assumed must be either their wives or girlfriends. Everyone was dressed in their best, though none of the men could compare to the refined gentleman her father was. The women were all wearing dresses similar to Estelle’s. A few couples had brought along their children, most of who looked bored and out of place at a party with so many adults. Be that as it may, Esmé couldn’t help wishing she could join them.
But her time to dwell on such things was cut short, as she was abruptly startled out of her disenchantment by the sound of the door to the small room slamming shut loudly.
Dun dun dun! Nothing like a good cliffhanger. And this is eight chapters long with an epilogue, so presumably there'll be a few. This is a great chapter, Emma; I can't help but be reminded of how the Baudelaires were included in their own parents' dinner parties. I'm sure this story is an accurate rendition of any child left on the sidelines of their parents' gathering.
Post by Emma “Emmz” Squalor on Feb 23, 2011 9:29:54 GMT -5
@dante: Thank you! I'm pleased you enjoyed the cliffhanger; I love writing them, so it's nice to know that this one came across to your satisfaction. I'll probably post Chapter Eight and the Epilogue together, since it (the epilogue) is so short. And yes, I remember that detail concerning Beatrice and Bertrand's own dinner parties.
@sherry Ann: Thank you! I based Esme's situation largely off a scene in V.C. Andrew's Flowers in the Attic, so perhaps that's the work you're thinking of? I'm also glad you like the way I've written the Salinger family.
MrLachrymose: Thank you! And I think you'll be quite surprised when it is revealed who it is standing on the other side of the door.
Thinking[/i] it was Estelle after somehow discovering her stepdaughter’s hiding place, Esmé screamed. She was preparing to dart behind a piece of furniture before realizing that the intruder was not her stepmother, but a little boy. He was seemingly around her own age, but chubby, with a round face and a small mouth. Strands of dark brown hair shielded his bright green eyes, as if he’d recently been in a struggle or fled a stressful situation. Esmé was willing to bet it was the latter, for the boy appeared to be out of breath. He was dressed in a navy blue blazer over a white, button-down shirt and khaki trousers with brown loafers. The necktie he wore was a dark blue and decorated all over with a pattern of pancakes. Esmé could tell just by looking at the tie that it was not the standard clip-on that most seven-year-olds would wear, but a real, adult tie.
“Oh!” the little boy cried, as he turned to find Esmé staring at him. “I’m sorry! But I didn’t know anyone else was in here.”
“It’s O.K.” She imparted a warm smile, wanting to do what she could to help him relax. “Are you playing hide-and-go-seek with someone?”
“More like escaping someone. Do you mind if I hide out here for a while?”
Delighted by the idea of not having to spend the entire evening alone, Esmé’s shook her head vigorously. “Not at all! But who is it that you’re trying to get away from?”
“This horrible girl my parents forced me to dance with—now she thinks I’m her boyfriend.”
“What’s so horrible about her?”
“Well, for one thing, she keeps forcing me to tell her that she’s beautiful.”
“Is she beautiful?”
“No, but she’s bossy. So bossy that I know if I don’t tell her she’s beautiful, then she’ll try to argue her way into forcing me to say she is. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s arguing.”
“I don’t mind arguing so much,” Esmé confessed, “when I’m the one doing it. It’s when I hear others argue that I get upset.”
“Me, too—especially when it’s my mommy and daddy.”
“My parents argue a lot, too. Well, my stepmother does, at least.”
“Who does she argue with?”
“My father. But it’s always Estelle—that’s my stepmother—who starts with him. Sometimes their arguments are so loud they wake me and my sister up at night.”
“My parents’ arguments didn’t start until after I was born. That’s when my daddy says they started, anyway. My mommy says it isn’t true. But I can tell the way my daddy looks at me when he talks about it that he doesn’t agree with her.”
Esmé didn’t know what to say to that. Though her relationship with her stepmother was strained, never had there been a time in which Estelle had blamed her problems with Holden on Esmé’s existence. How awful it must be to live in a place where you were made to feel responsible for something over which you had no control.
“Oh, well. I guess I can’t feel too bad about it,” the boy went on, half smiling. “Last year, after my brother came along, their fights only got worse. Which I guess means that it was bound to happen, sooner or later.”
In spite of the boy’s optimism, Esmé couldn’t help pitying him. She extended her small hand, offering him a comforting smile. “I’m Esmé…Esmé Gigi Genevieve Salinger.”
Smiling back, the boy caught her hand in his, which was twice the size of hers. “I’m Jerome Squalor. David.”
Esmé giggled. “Your middle name is ‘Squalor’?”
“No.” Esmé watched in amusement as the face of the boy named Jerome took on a color akin to her shoes. “It’s David. Squalor is my last name.”
“I knew that. I was just teasing you.”
Jerome’s blush deepened, and Esmé looked down to see that he was still holding her hand. Although she was a few years away from the age where she would become interested in boys, she had to admit she rather liked Jerome. His awkwardness and timidity was the polar opposite to her confidence and sincerity. Often Esmé had heard adults say that opposites attracted. She presumed they had not merely been speaking of men and women, but rather their emotional differences. But it wasn’t until Esmé Gigi Genevieve Salinger had made the acquaintance of Jerome David Squalor that the truth of this awakened within her.
Esmé’s tender moment with Jerome was suddenly and viciously interrupted by a ghastly sound: A screech equivalent to the shrill cries of a banshee. Esmé hardly noticed Jerome’s eyes drift nervously to the door, before he yelped and hurried to hide himself behind a piece of furniture.
In the meantime, Esmé directed her attention to the person who had dared intrude upon her secret hiding place. Standing in the doorway of the small room was a girl around her own age, except this girl was humongous. Not humongous as in height, but in width. She was so large that she blocked nearly the entire doorway with her girth. Her red hair balanced out her size, for it was styled in a way that reminded Esmé of the powdered wigs men and women had worn during the Eighteenth Century. The girl’s gown was red, and had puffy sleeves that only added to her size. The gown was covered from head to toe in more sparkles than Esmé and Beatrice had combined in both their craft kits.
“How dare you steal away my boyfriend and then lure him in here so you can have your way with him!” the red-headed girl shouted at Esmé.
Esmé was shocked—never had she been accused of doing something she hadn’t. The fact that she now was, and that the one doing the accusing was such an unpleasant person, only served to infuriate her. Esmé clenched her fists together and stalked over to the other girl, whom she towered a good three to four inches over. Pointing a condemning finger between the girl’s eyes Esmé said, “Now, you listen to me, and you listen good, ‘cause I’m only gonna say this once: I didn’t steal Jerome away from you, and I didn’t lure him in here, either. He came on his own, and he did it because he was trying to get away from you. You’re bossy, and he doesn’t like being bossed around.”
“Or arguing!” Jerome called from the other side of the room.
Simultaneously, the heads of Esmé and the other girl snapped around. They saw Jerome peering out at them from over the back of Francesca’s armchair. Turning to face each other once more, the two girls continued their conversation; or rather, Esmé continued with what she’d been saying.
“Exactly… So you see,” Esmé concluded, “you can’t go around forcing everyone you meet to give you compliments and tell you that you’re beautiful. If you do that, then all you’ll get in return are a bunch of bad-tempered enemies.”
Fire as bright as the girl’s red hair lit up her eyes as she glared contemptuously up at Esmé. “For your information, my name is Carlotta Clarissa Casanova, daughter of Don Abramo Andino Casanova and Felicia Chiara Caroline Casanova. I am the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world, and so it’s only fair that I always get what I want, no matter what.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Carlotta,” said Esmé, who suddenly felt herself overcome with a fierce determination to protect the cowering Jerome. “But unless he wants to, Jerome isn’t leaving this room with you.”
“How dare you!” Carlotta shouted. “I’ll have you know that my parents are descendents of Italy’s richest royal families. If I asked him to, my father would throw you in jail just for stealing Jerome from me!”
“Oh, stop being so overdramatic, Carlotta. Can’t you see by now that Jerome doesn’t want anything to do with you? Besides, Papa isn’t going to throw a child in jail any more than he’s going to agree to Maxwell Squalor’s business deal.”
The unfamiliar voice drew Esmé’s attention away from the face of Carlotta Clarissa Casanova and onto that of another child. This other child was a boy of perhaps eleven or twelve, with sleek dark hair that was parted down the center and eyes the color of black marbles. He was dressed smartly in a flashy red suit, white shirt, and a white tie decorated all over with red hearts. In the corner of his mouth he displayed a large pretzel stick, balancing it between his lips as if it were a cigar and himself a full grown adult. He winked from over his shoulder at Esmé, who blushed and looked down before he could notice.
Pressing his index and middle fingers between the pretzel stick, the boy withdrew it from his mouth. Bringing his hand down on Carlotta’s shoulder, he said, “So you might as well put a stop to your childish behavior and go back to the party. Momma’s looking for you, anyway.”
Carlotta twisted her head of huge hair around to glare at the elder boy standing behind her. “You can’t tell me what to do, Carlo. Papa’s the only one who—”
“Did I mention that Mrs. Salinger just brought out a platter of homemade strawberry tarts?”
Again Carlo winked at Esmé before addressing Carlotta. “Sure did—I saw her coming out of the kitchen just before I came over here. You’d better hurry back if you want any. From what I’ve heard, Mrs. Salinger makes the best tarts in all of San Francisco, so they’re sure to go fast.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Seeming to forget all about her grudge against Esmé, Carlotta pushed by Carlo and disappeared into the crowd outside the door.
“Hah,” said Carlo, ostensibly pleased with himself as he returned the pretzel stick cigar to his mouth. “I knew that would get rid of her. The next time Carlotta bothers you and you want her to go away, just mention something about food being nearby and you can’t fail. Though I should warn you not to do it too often, or else she’ll get wise.”
“You lied,” Esmé said, though she couldn’t keep herself from smiling as she surveyed Carlo’s handsome face. “My stepmother isn’t known for any strawberry tart recipe.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s my own mother whose recipe for raspberry tarts is famous back in Italy. But I guess it didn’t occur to my sister to put two and two together.”
“You should have told her that my daddy had just made a batch of cherry pancakes. Then you would have been telling the truth. He’s famous for them…at least in our house.”
“Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep it in mind for the next time I need to save someone from Carlotta’s controlling clutches. I’m Carlo, by the way. Carlo Alfredo Casanova.” He held out his hand for Esmé to shake, which she did. “Perhaps you’ve heard of my family? They work for the Venice Fire Department of Venice, Italy.”
Esmé shook her head. “I’m sorry, but you’re the only Casanova I’ve ever heard of, besides your sister.”
“Trust me,” said Carlo, and once more removed the pretzel cigar from his mouth. At first Esmé thought it was in order to help himself speak more clearly. But then she saw that he was raising her hand to his lips. “We’re not all like Carlotta. The rest of us Casanovas are all quite charming…” Esmé then watched, half exhilarated and half embarrassed, as Carlo lowered his head slightly and kissed her hand. “I hope you don’t mind, but my lips and I can never resist the hand of a pretty girl in distress.”
Dazed and a little lightheaded from Carlo’s unexpected feat, it took Esmé a few moments to gather her words together. In the time it took her to do so, Jerome had found the opportunity to leave his hiding place. She was just about to assure Carlo that no, she didn’t mind her hand being kissed, when a low cough emanated from the orchid armchair. With their hands still clasped together, Esmé and Carlo turned to see Jerome, sitting in the chair. His hands were folded neatly in his lap, and his small lips pursed together as if he was seeing something he didn’t like.
“Is she gone?” he asked, his sullen tone indicating how little he cared for whether or not this was true.
“Yup,” Carlo replied. To Esmé’s dismay, he let go of her hand. Not knowing what else to do with it, she linked the fingers of both hands together. “I chased her off. Even so, we should probably get out of here while we still have the chance. Once Carlotta discovers there aren’t any tarts to be had, that’s when she’ll come looking for me. And when she finds me, I’ll bet you ten to one she’ll threaten to chop off my head.”
“Well, just as long as she doesn’t have an ax handy,” Esmé said with a grin, “then I think you’ll be safe.”
“Come on.” Linking his fingers through hers once more, Carlo began to lead Esmé toward the door, Jerome following close behind. “This is your house, right? Now’s your chance to show me all the other hiding places you’ve got stashed around this place.”
“I’m sorry.” Reluctantly, Esmé untwined her fingers from around Carlo’s. The expression he gave her epitomized that which Jerome had given both of them when he’d caught them holding hands. “But you and Jerome will have to go alone. I can’t—”
“Don’t you live here?”
“So doesn’t that give you the right to come and go as you please?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Esmé let her eyes fall to her feet, absorbing the shininess of her candy apple red shoes. How could she be expected to tell Carlo the reason behind why she had to remain behind the door under the stairs, when she herself only knew a handful of the explanation? Surely it would lead to her having to go into detail about so many of the Ophelians not liking her, and she would really prefer not to do that. Carlo’s family was from Italy, and so they probably didn’t know anything about it, anyway. Still, Esmé would prefer to keep such information confidential from someone she’d only just met.
“What’s wrong?” Carlo prodded, when Esmé still refused to look at him. “Don’t tell me your parents expect you to stay cooped up in here all night long like a caged bird, while everyone else enjoys the festivities.”
As much as it pained her to do so, Esmé saw no other choice but to respond to Carlo’s statement with something other than the truth. She hated lying, though she only did it when it was absolutely necessary. Such as when someone was wearing an ugly sweater and she wanted to avoid hurting their feelings. But Carlo Casanova was not wearing any predominantly hideous clothing. In fact, there wasn’t one thing about him that could be considered unappealing.
“I know it isn’t true,” he said, when he saw that Esmé had no intent on removing her eyes from the floor, “for I saw your sister just a short time ago. Are you shy? Is that the reason you’ve chosen to hide yourself away in this dusty old stairwell?”
If Esmé hadn’t been blushing before, then she certainly was now. Her mind, still too young to recognize the complexities and infatuations of true love, was swimming with all sorts of new feelings. Feelings for Carlo’s gallantry and Zorro-esque good looks…feelings for Jerome’s buoyancy and how he physically resembled her favorite teddy bear. So easy was it to fantasize about each boy simultaneously holding her by the hand and strolling with her through a field of wildflowers. While Carlo kissed her cheek, Jerome would give her a hug, and vice versa. Just thinking about the three of them together like this made Esmé’s heart flutter with happiness. Her father was married to Estelle, and yet had said several times that he loved Francesca. So there was no reason why Esmé couldn’t love two boys, too, right?
“I know a way to help you overcome your shyness,” said Carlo with a smile, as he once more began leading Esmé toward the door.
“Can I go, too?” Jerome asked hopefully.
“Sure,” Esmé said, just in case Carlo had any ideas about keeping her all for himself.
“Just make sure you keep up with us,” Carlo added. “This is a huge house from what I can tell, and quite easy to get lost in.”
“My house is just as big,” muttered Jerome, switching off the light on his way out of the little room. He shut the door behind himself, then went to catch up with Esmé and Carlo before they became lost in the crowd.
Oh wow, there are all sorts of characters coming and going now; I wonder if many more unexpected guests will appear, since we've had so many in just a few chapters. I didn't immediately make the connection between the girl who burst in and the fact that you'd mentioned the Casanovas in your introduction, and wondered if it was Carmelita Spats's mother.
Post by Hermes (or Herms) on Feb 23, 2011 12:35:00 GMT -5
Oh dear, Esme is going to be in trouble!
I thought it might be J as soon as he came in - though I had another thought about who it might be too. And I wondered at first if he had been made to dance with Beatrice.
I like your Carlotta. Dante's guess made me wonder if she is related to Carmelita at all, though.
Yes, I too am wondering if he will see any more unexpected arrivals. I'm guessing the Salingers would know a lot of the wealthier families of the neighbourhood, many of whom might have volunteer connections....
'The difference between the two sides of the schism is that one side puts out fires, and the other starts them' - Klaus Baudelaire.