It’s Fine

He took her to their favorite restaurant for dinner Friday night. At least, Sienna thought it was their favorite, but all she knew for certain was that she loved it.

Like so many things about Anthony, his culinary preferences were hard to pin down. It’s not that her boyfriend kept any secrets from her. She knew where he grew up, the names of his friends from childhood, and the life stories of every pet he ever had. She knew where he went to school and what he had studied in college. She had visited his childhood home and met his parents and sisters. Anthony’s life was an open book.

What she didn’t know, was what Anthony thought about any of those things. Any time Sienna tried to dig deeper, to find out who his “best” friends were, for instance, he claimed not to have a preference. When asked why he chose his career, he just said it made sense. When they ate out, saw a movie, or chose an event, he was content to let Sienna choose. After every activity they shared, when she asked him if he had enjoyed the experience, he always said the same thing – it was fine.

They had been dating for over a year and the one question Sienna was most afraid to ask was, “how do you feel about me?” She suspected that his answer would be the same lackluster response. That would break her, because she was deeply in love with this taciturn man. She was sure that he loved her just as deeply, but didn’t have the words to tell her. She felt that he showed his love in his generosity and support, but still, she worried and often lay awake, fretting. Women need words, she wanted to shout at him, but didn’t quite dare.

That night, the maitre d’ showed them to their favorite table, and Anthony held her chair. It didn’t take them long to make their choices. Sienna asked for the chef’s special without even asking what it was and Anthony chose his usual, chicken Parmesan.

After the waiter had left with their order, Anthony passed a small box to Sienna and, she took it, eyes widening. Was he going to propose? Here? Without ever telling her that he loved her?

Heart fluttering, she lifted the lid and had to fight to hide her disappointment when she saw that the box contained a necklace, not a ring.

“It’s lovely, Anthony, thank you! What is this?” Sienna asked, fingering the unusual pendant. It was made from a twisted, white metal, and she couldn’t put a name to the shape.

“I’m not sure,” Anthony said, taking a sip of water. “I found it in an antique shop and thought of you.

Sienna lifted the necklace from the box and examined it closely then smiled at him. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. The workmanship is exquisite and this symbol is so intricate.” She traced it with her fingertip. She handed the chain to him and turned so that he could fasten it around her neck.

“Thank you for this. It’s so pretty and it’s not even a special event.” She turned back and kissed him lightly on the lips.

He nodded and turned the conversation to other topics. They talked about their work and Sienna told him about an argument she had gotten into with her boss earlier in the day. She got quite worked up but Anthony merely nodded at the appropriate points and asked for clarification. The calmer he acted, the more upset she got, remembering the disagreement and her boss’ unreasonable demands. She clenched her fingers around her new pendant as it swayed between her collarbones. Why couldn’t Anthony get mad for her? Why couldn’t he, just once, show some emotion?

Breaking off her litany of complaints, she stopped and stared at the strong, silent man across from her and it was suddenly just too much.

She gripped the pendant in white-knuckled fury and burst out, “I wish I knew how you felt about what I’m telling you. No, more than that, I wish I knew how you felt, period!”

He leaned back, startled, and she immediately apologized.

“I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. It’s just that you never tell me how you feel and it drives me crazy. I am not a mind reader, you know.”

Anthony studied her for a long moment, his face expressionless. When he spoke, his voice was as calm as always.

“I didn’t know you felt that way and I’m sorry that I’ve upset you, I certainly didn’t mean to,” Anthony said, leaning forward to take her hand.

Sienna suddenly knew that he was telling the truth. She could feel his sorrow for hurting her washing through her at his touch. The sensation was like hearing the loudest whisper or eating a pepper with heat but no flavor. The intensity was enhanced by its subtlety and it felt unlike anything she had ever experienced. His emotion washed through her, leaving her shaken. She pulled her hand away, shocked and slightly sickened.

“What was that?” she asked, voice shaking.

“I apologized,” Anthony answered. “You must know that I would never intentionally hurt you.”

Sienna shook her head, scrubbing her sweaty palms on her napkin. “I don’t know how, but I felt your feelings. I don’t know how else to describe it. When you touched me just now, I felt your emotion move into me.”

Anthony looked concerned, eyebrows pinching together. “Honey, that sounds crazy. What are you saying, that you had a psychic episode?”

“I don’t believe in psychics!” Sienna said, a little too loudly, then lowered her voice, glancing around. “You know that.”

“I thought not. So, what are you saying, then?” Anthony sounded so reasonable, that Sienna found herself getting angry all over again.

“I don’t know, Anthony,” Sienna’s voice was hard and biting now. “I don’t know what happened. You touched me, and I felt your sorrow.”

“What sorrow?” Anthony sounded more confused than ever.

“Your sorrow for upsetting me,” Sienna snapped.

“I didn’t feel sorrow. It just seemed like I had upset you and that’s what you do when you upset someone, you apologize.” Anthony shrugged.

“What are you, a robot?” Sienna asked, stung. “You upset me and didn’t feel bad? Okay, let me ask you this, tough guy, what are you feeling right now?”

“I’m fine,” Anthony said, stiffly.

“We’ll see about that,” Sienna said and reached for his hand. She had no idea what had happened, but if there was any chance of it happening again, she wanted to test it. As she touched Anthony, she was overwhelmed with a wave of frustration. This time, as it flowed into her, she saw Anthony’s posture soften and his face relaxing.

“I told you, I’m fine,” Anthony smiled at her.

“You weren’t fine a second ago,” Sienna said, stung. “You were frustrated, I felt it!”

“Sienna, I don’t know why you’re playing this game, but it’s not fun for me and it doesn’t seem to be making you happy, either. Can we talk about something else?”

“I’m not playing a game,” Sienna insisted. “Look, let’s try one more time. You think of something you like, I don’t know, maybe chicken Parmesan, and we’ll hold hands. I want to see if this happens again.”

Anthony studied her then sighed and nodded. “If you promise to let this go afterward.”

“I promise.”

Anthony closed his eyes and thought for a moment, then reached out his hand. “I’m ready.”

Sienna paused but then took his hand and, for the third time, Anthony’s emotions made the leap from him to her. She felt her mouth begin to water as she felt Anthony’s anticipation for his favorite meal. She could almost taste the blend of flavors and textures. Wrapped up with the emotion were childhood memories of eating the dish at his grandmother’s dinner table on special occasions. She released his hand and sat back.

“It happened again. I felt how much you love chicken Parmesan, it made me almost want to steal your dinner when it arrives. I knew you always ordered it, but I thought it was just habit, I didn’t know how much it meant to you.” This was exactly the kind of thing she had wanted him to share with her, not just what he liked and how he felt, but the reasons he liked what he did. Whatever miracle had happened to open her up to his emotions like this, she was beginning to get excited. She would finally know her boyfriend, the man she loved, in a way she never could before.

“Actually,” Anthony said, signalling to the waiter, “I was just thinking about changing my order. I’m tired of chicken Parmesan. I think I’ll try some steak tonight.”

Sienna stared at him. “You’re not going to have chicken Parmesan? But, you always order the same thing, and don’t tell me you don’t love it, I felt your love for it just now with this thing that’s happening to me. I know I did.”

“I don’t know what you think is happening, but I do know that I’ve gone off chicken Parmesan. It actually sounds rather revolting. Maybe I’ll just get a salad.” Anthony signaled again and Sienna sat back, stunned. Her boyfriend was finally talking about his feelings, but they weren’t making any sense. It’s almost as if she were taking those feelings away. She chewed her lip and thought about it. What if that’s exactly what was happening? If her new ability was not just her imagination then maybe she wasn’t just sensing his emotions, maybe she was stealing them.

The waiter approached and Sienna turned toward him, a plan forming in an instant.

“Excuse me,” she said to the waiter, “but I asked for lemon in my water and you’ve forgotten it. What a dummy.”

The waiter flushed and apologized. She could see his irritation despite his best attempts to maintain his calm. She had never asked for lemon in her water, not once in their many visits to this restaurant. Even if she had, she would never speak to a server in so insulting a fashion, but she wanted to test her ability on someone other than Anthony.

She held the water glass up and the waiter’s hand brushed hers. As soon as their fingers touched, she felt an in rushing wave of anger through the contact. At the same time, the man’s face cleared of the red flush that had risen at her rudeness and a smile returned to his face. She apologized immediately and told him to leave the water, she didn’t want lemon after all. The man offered a refill but she merely apologized again and sat quietly while Anthony switched his order to a club sandwich.

Once the waiter was gone, Sienna sat in silence, watching other diners, her mind churning. Anthony left her to her thoughts, seemingly content to wait for her to speak.

If she understood what was happening, she could sense another person’s most prominent emotion through physical contact. Whatever was uppermost in their mind came through to her when she touched them. As strange as that was, the weirdest part was that she seemed not only to sense the emotion, but she also seemed to take it away. She didn’t know if the loss was permanent or not. It’s not like this new “gift” came with a user’s manual. As she was thinking, she found her fingers straying to her new pendant. Was there some connection between this odd night and the necklace Anthony had given her? Maybe she should remove it and try again.

Slipping the necklace from around her neck and returning it to the box on the table, she turned to Anthony and spoke for the first time in more than ten minutes.

“I’m sorry, Anthony. You’ve been so patient with me tonight. Could you humor me one more time?” She pushed the box away and clenched her hands into fists.

“Of course, Sienna. What can I do? You have me a little confused.” Anthony set down the spoon he had been fiddling with and waited patiently.

“I want you to think about the movie we went to see last week. I want you to picture it and think about how much you liked it or hated it. Did it bore you or make you want to see it again?”

“It was fine,” Anthony started but Sienna cut him off.

“It doesn’t matter how you felt about it and I don’t want you to tell me, just think about it. When you have the memory of that movie and how you felt about it, take my hand.” Sienna waited as Anthony closed his eyes for a moment and his brow furrowed. He opened his eyes and reached for her hand. She felt Anthony’s delight and laughter bubble through her as he wrapped his fingers with hers. His emotions warred with her own dread and dismay. Even without the pendant, she could still feel Anthony’s feelings at his touch.

“You liked the movie, didn’t you?” Sienna asked and wasn’t surprised to see Anthony shake his head instantly.

“Not at all, if I’m honest. It was rather dull, actually. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but it wasn’t a very good choice.”

“It’s fine,” Sienna waved away his apology, “thank you for the honesty.”

They ate their meal in near silence and, when they left the restaurant, Sienna refused Anthony’s hand on the sidewalk outside. At her place, he came around to open her door and she ducked away from a good night’s kiss by hurrying into her apartment building.

She spent all weekend researching psychic phenomenon on the internet. She found most of the information too bizarre for her tastes, but then her own experience seemed as impossible as most of the stories she was reading online. The closest match she could find to her new ability was psychic empathy, but there was no mention of someone stealing another’s emotions. She also read about something called a psychic vampire, but she didn’t seem to take any energy from the other person, just the emotion.

She called in sick for the next three days, the maximum she could without a doctor’s note. The two days afterward, she locked herself in her office and found it surprisingly easy not to make physical contact with her coworkers. There was one slip when she bent to pick up papers she had dropped just as her boss reached for them, too. The only emotion she had leeched from him was irritation with her and she had to admit that life had been easier around him ever since.

The next Saturday she agreed to meet Anthony for dinner at their usual restaurant. She had been avoiding him during the week, using her “illness” as an excuse not to meet earlier. She held back from a greeting kiss with the same excuse and found herself waiting impatiently for the waiter to take their order.

“I’ll have the shrimp scampi,” Anthony said, handing back the menu.

“No chicken parmesan, sir?” their usual waiter asked, eyebrows lifting.

“No, I don’t care if I ever have chicken parmesan again,” Anthony said. “I don’t know how I ate it as long as I did. Just the shrimp scampi, thank you.”

Sienna placed her own order, pointing randomly to something on the menu and waiting for the waiter to leave before speaking.

“You used to love chicken Parmesan, didn’t you?” she asked carefully.

“What makes you say that? I don’t think I ever did, actually. It must have been a habit, I can’t think of any other reason I had it so often. My grandmother used to make it and I don’t rememer ever enjoying it.” Anthony reached for her hand, but she held back, afraid to touch him – afraid of what she might do to him. She knew he had loved chicken Parmesan. She had hoped that the change she had caused in him would have faded, but it hadn’t. If anything, his change in attitude had hardened until he couldn’t even imagine loving the dish.

She came out of her reverie and realized he had been speaking.

“I’m sorry, Anthony, I was thinking about something. What did you say?”

He gave her one of his rare smiles. “I asked how your week was. Are you feeling better? Did you work out the issue with your boss? Would you like to talk about it?”

She shook her head, distracted. “I’m better, just a bad cold, thanks for asking. My boss and I are getting along a lot better these days. He’s a lot less irritable now.” She didn’t mention that she thought that lack of irritation had anything to do with her new psychic powers.

“What about you,” she asked. “Did you have a good week?”

“It was fine,” he said, reaching for her hand. Before she could snatch it away, he caught and held it between his. “I’ve been worried about you. I do care, you know.”

She felt it then, the overwhelming rush of love and desire, flowing from him into her. His love and concern for her was so deep and intense that she felt tears spring to her eyes. She had never known anyone could love someone as much as he loved her. As she took in the strength of his love, she saw it. The light that she had never recognized, faded from his eyes. She felt the love drain from him and watched as his face hardened. She sobbed as she stole away all of the love she had ever hoped for and knew, too late, just how much she had lost.

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