|emmasqualor||03:05 pm - The Ominous Obsession|
Title: The Ominous Obsession
Ships: Esmé and Jerome Squalor
Author’s Disclaimer: I do not own any of the A Series of Unfortunate Events characters or places mentioned herein. They belong to Lemony Snicket a.k.a. Daniel Handler.
Summery: Following the fire that consumed the Hotel Denouement, Jerome deals with his own bout of mental illness.
Author’s Note: Hopefully those of you suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) will appreciate this story. For those of you who don’t, I hope I’ve done a halfway decent job of describing what those of us with the illness go through and that I don’t ramble. Another thing I should mention is that I write Esmé out of character pretty much all the time. I am very much aware of this, so please don’t hate me for it.
Dedicated to my best friend:
For staying up with me late at night and listening to me vent and cry.
It was nearly one o’ clock in the morning, and here he was, rearranging his ties on the rotating tie rack for the umpteenth time. Color coordination was the most important thing for Jerome Squalor to remember if he expected to get any sleep at all tonight.
Three hours had passed since he had stepped inside the closet and returned the red tie he had worn that day to its rack. Afterward, he had changed into his pajamas and then crawled into bed beside his lovely wife.
While Jerome’s body was exhausted, his mind was restless, insisting that he head straight back to the closet and fix his mistake. In this case, it was in the form of a red tie being between one with a purple pinstripe pattern and another with a yellow polka-dot pattern, which caused a clash of mismatched patterns and colors.
Following an hour of tossing and turning (it had been a miracle that he didn’t wake Esmé, who should win a prize for being the world’s lightest sleeper), Jerome relented and made his way back to the closet. Although both his vision and his mind were fuzzy from lack of sleep, he knelt down on the floor and began to re-coordinate all five-hundred and fifty of his ties.
While he worked, he wondered what in God’s name he was doing, or what sort of purpose it was serving. It was only when he heard the soft murmurs from the bed a short distance behind him that he realized something. Ever since their escape from the Hotel Denouement, Jerome’s mind had been positively overwrought with the fear of losing Esmé. It seemed that every unpleasant thought, every careless action would somehow cause her untimely death. He knew it was absurd, and that people’s thoughts didn’t cause terrible things to happen. It was their actions that caused things to happen. Yet somehow, he was caught between what was real and what wasn’t, and he had no idea how to break out of it.
Completely frustrated by the situation in which he now found himself, Jerome picked up the tie rack and hurled it across the room where it hit the wall with a loud clatter. In the dark it was hard to tell if the force had been enough to shatter the rack, but at this point he really didn’t care. The noise it made, however, was enough to wake Esmé. Even in the pitch blackness of night, he could just make out her shadow as it flooded across a pool of moonlight that had seeped in through the window and onto the wall.
“Jerome, what is the meaning of this?” Esmé demanded. “What reason could you possibly have for waking me up in the middle of the night?”
“I’m sorry, darling,” he said, scrambling to his feet and shutting the closet doors behind him. “I was coming back from the bathroom and tripped over one of Emma’s toys. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Well, we’ll scold her in the morning. For now, come back to bed.”
Jerome said nothing as he made his way back across the room and crawled into bed beside his wife. The horrible thoughts continued to run rampant inside his head as he took her into his arms and snuggled down into the blankets.
He dared not close his eyes, for every time he did all he could see was her lovely form being consumed by flames. Sometimes, in the dead of night and only when it was exceptionally quiet, he could hear her screaming.
Tightening his arms around Esmé, Jerome buried his face in her shoulder as he felt hot tears burn the backs of his eyes. A moment later he felt two tears trickle down each of his cheeks, and he wished there was a switch he could flick to turn off his brain and set his mind at ease.
“What’s wrong, Jerome?” Esmé asked.
His response was a loud, harsh sob, and he tugged her closer. How could he even begin to tell her of his tremendous fear of losing her, or of how it was linked to his obsession with having everything perfect— all the time? She would only laugh at him the way she used to, and probably say how absurd it was to be this obsessed with one’s ties. The very thought only made him sob harder.
“Jerome, please!” Esmé’s words weren’t cruel, but rather desperate. She wanted Jerome to explain why on Earth he was crying all over her, and it was difficult when he had his face hidden in her shoulder. “Stop crying for a moment and tell me what the matter is.”
“I can’t,” Jerome replied in a choked voice. “You’ll only get angry.”
“Oh?”Esmé said. “Since when have I ever gotten angry?” She paused then, reconsidering her previous words. “Within the last two years?”
When Jerome didn’t answer and instead gave in to more sobbing, Esmé sighed. Drawing one long-nailed hand protectively around her husband’s shoulder, she lifted her other hand and began to gently stroke his hair. She was still learning what it meant to be sweet and affectionate, but had made much improvement during the two years upon her return to 667 Dark Avenue.
Jerome of all people knew this better than anyone, and soon enough his sobs began to slow and his arms loosened a little from around her. Esmé made an effort not to say anything about how his tears had completely soaked through the sleeve of her nightgown. She would bring it up the next morning when and if he was feeling better.
“Now,” Esmé said as Jerome lifted his head and met her eyes for the first time since his hysterical crying episode. “Are you ready to tell me what this is all about?” She could see the hesitation in his eyes and face, and quickly added, “I promise I won’t argue with you, whatever it may be.”
Jerome nodded, and wiped his nose with his hand. He knew it was unsanitary, but what else could he do? They had run out of tissues the week before when Carmelita and Emma had both come down with colds. Besides, Jerome wasn’t up to walking all the way to the bathroom for a handful of toilet paper. These days, his horrible thoughts made it literally impossible to get from one place to the other without backtracking, a word which here means “thoughts which are so unpleasant and cause you to feel so unbelievably guilty that you are compelled to repeat your actions again and again while desperately trying to replace a thought that is unpleasant with one that is pleasant”.
“Sweetheart, please,” Esmé said, taking her husband’s face in her hands and squeezing his cheeks slightly. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
“I… I want to tell you,” Jerome replied. “It’s just that… well… I’m not so sure how you’ll take it.”
“After all I’ve been through— that is, after all we’ve been through, the four of us, together —do you honestly think there is anything I can’t handle?”
Smiling a little, Jerome shook his head. “No.”
Esmé chuckled softly, lifting one finger and running it gently down the bridge of Jerome’s nose. “I really do love you,” she said. “I’m not sure I ever told you that.”
“You have,” he admitted. “At least once a day since you’ve been back.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve been keeping track?”
Blushing, Jerome nodded. “In my date book, there’s a calendar. I’ve marked every day with a heart and the number of times you’ve told me you love me so that I’ll never forget.” His face was absolutely bright red as he finished speaking, and he threw his hands over it.
“Is that so?” Esmé asked, smiling. “And how many times have I told you that I love you?”
“Exactly ten-thousand and forty-two times,” Jerome replied.
“Well, I meant every word, just so you know.” There was a brief pause, and soon enough Jerome could feel Esmé slowly and gently drawing his hands away from his face. “Now, how about telling me the reason why you were crying before, hmm?”
“You really aren’t going to let me alone until I’ve told you. Are you?”
“Nope,” Esmé replied, putting an emphasis on the “p”.
“I was crying because… because I… I’m afraid,” said Jerome.
“Afraid of what, honey?”
Jerome smiled shyly, and looked away from Esmé for a moment. It was still so difficult for him to believe that the Esmé who had run off with a notorious villain was the same Esmé who was sitting up in bed with him in the middle of the night. She was the same Esmé who was letting him soak her nightgown with his tears and saying kind, sweet things to him to try and make him feel better.
All this filled him with the assurance he needed to say what he knew he must, or else neither he nor Esmé were ever going to get any sleep tonight.
“I’m afraid that I’ll lose you,” Jerome said finally. “I’m afraid that you’ll die.”
“You aren’t going to lose me, Jerome,” Esmé said, stroking her fingers gently across his cheek. “Didn’t I already swear to you that I’ll never leave you again, and that I’ll always be by your side?”
“So what brought all this on?”
Jerome shook his head, feeling fresh tears invade his eyes once more. “I don’t know,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as he lowered his head shamefully. “I’m convinced that if I don’t do something as pointless as organize my ties in the correct way, or if I think something unpleasant while I’m in the process of performing a task of some kind, then something terrible will happen to you. And I don’t want anything to ever happen to you, and so I do these things to keep them from happening. But I’m tired, Esmé. I don’t want to do these things anymore. Just please, darling. Don’t take it to mean it’s because I don’t care about you.”
“Oh, Jerome,” she said. “Of course I don’t think that. I already know how much you care about me. You can’t help thinking the things you do, but that isn’t your fault. It isn’t necessary for you to perform pointless tasks just to keep something bad from happening to me. Even if something did happen to me, I sincerely doubt you’d be the one responsible.”
Jerome felt his entire body fill with warmth, as if Esmé had found a way for her words to resonate themselves around him and protect him. This seemed to be exactly what he had needed all along, for at last his mind was finally able to relax for the first time in hours.
“You aren’t a wicked person, Jerome,” Esmé said softly as she pulled the blankets up around them and wrapped her arms around her husband. “You rescued Carmelita and me from the Hotel Denouement when it was on fire, and then invited us to live with you in your penthouse apartment without asking for anything in return. A wicked person would never have done those things.” Jerome was still trembling slightly, and she inched closer to him. “Don’t be scared, darling. I’m here, and I promise I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
“What about you?” Jerome asked. His voice was like a child’s, and it broke Esmé’s heart to see him this frightened and vulnerable. He had always been uncertain of himself, but this was different. The way he clung to her as if he thought she would vanish was proof enough of that, and she leaned forward to kiss him on the mouth.
“I’ll protect both of us,” Esmé said. “If I couldn’t, then do you think I would have survived this long?”
Jerome kissed her back, but didn’t say anything. He really didn’t care to hear anything about his wife’s former life as a villainess, or of the man who had evidently introduced her to it. The very thought made Jerome start to tremble all over again, and he felt Esmé’s arms tighten around him. Soon enough, he felt her long fingers wrap around his hand and then guide it slowly up her body.
A small smile crept around the corner of his mouth and he sighed happily as he felt her press his hand down onto the sweet softness of her post-baby belly. She really knew exactly what to do in order to cheer him up when he was down, and this was as down as he had ever been in a long, long time. He responded by lightly trailing his fingertips over her stomach.
“You can touch it all night long if you want,” Esmé said.
Jerome looked at her, amazed. “You wouldn’t mind?” he asked.
“Not at all— especially if it’ll distract you.”
Jerome smiled gratefully before leaning down to kiss Esmé just below the belly button. As he planted another kiss on her ribcage and he heard her sigh happily, he knew he was far from wicked.