The story so far:
"Julian, are you okay?"
Fiona had been rambling on about something for the past few minutes. I think it had to
do with her sister's upcoming wedding, but I don't know for sure. All I know is that it was
comforting to hear a familiar and caring voice. It was the only thing that put me at ease
amid the clanking of silverware and the chatter of the other customers in the restaurant.
Sometimes even then I feared the murmurs would be fighting to be heard through all the
noise. If only more customers would come in--not that there weren't enough already. The
place was practically filled. But more customers meant more conversation, so that extra
noise would make it that much harder for the murmurs to get through. Then I could be at
peace and enjoy being with Fiona. On the other hand, the extra noise would make it harder
for us to hear each other talk.
"Hmm?" I patted my forehead with my cloth napkin. "Oh, yeah, hon. I'm fine. It's just so
warm in here."
"You're warm? I feel okay."
I turned abruptly in my chair, almost knocking over my water glass with my elbow.
"Where is our waiter? How long do we have to wait for our salads?"
"We haven't been waiting that long."
"He hasn't even brought our drinks yet." I slapped the napkin against the table in
frustration. "This is the last time I'm eating here, Fiona."
She smiled. "Oh, come on, this is one of our favorite places. Why are you so nervous?"
I expelled a deep breath as I loosened my tie. "I just have a lot of work to do back at the
Maybe the waiter sensed what was going on with me. Maybe he was standing around the
kitchen with the chef, busboys, and other waiters. He was telling them how strangely I was
acting, and they were all laughing at me. He did look at me sort of funny when I was
ordering. What else could it have been? Was there something peculiar about the color of my
eyes? They were blue, just like his. My hair? It was dark brown, like his. Perhaps he
observed the suspicious way I was looking around the restaurant when I walked in the door.
I was glancing at the customers seated at the tables and the bar, and I was wondering
whether they were ever assaulted by murmurs or by the fear that they existed. Was I the
only one? Could the waiter read my mind? He was probably thinking, "What's this beautiful,
classy woman doing with a freak like him?"
I sighed tiredly, then took a sip of water, still trying to cool off. That just wasn't
possible. I needed to talk to someone about this. Go see a shrink. But maybe he would
laugh at me, too. Sure, psychiatrists get paid to help their patients, but who knows how
they behave when those people who keep them employed aren't around? Maybe they sit
around with their psychiatrist comrades and make fun of the people they are supposedly
trying to help--over drinks and a lobster dinner that they would never be able to afford if
they weren't treating those pathetic basket cases who griped about their problems all day
"You're going back there tonight?" Fiona asked in surprise.
"To the office?"
"For a couple of hours," I said.
I couldn't figure out what good that would do. I would be the only person in the office at
this late hour. The murmurs would REALLY be tempted to pay me a visit. Maybe they were
waiting for me under my desk. Or in the men's rest room.
"Julian, by the time we finish eating, it will be almost nine o'clock."
"I know. I'm sorry, babe. I need to prepare for that big presentation I'm giving."
I was clasping my hands together on the table now, squeezing my fingers against my
knuckles in panic mode, and I'm sure she noticed and wondered about that. Fiona was a fine
woman, and I loved her dearly, but she would never understand. And even if she did, her
reaction would come across as pity more so than understanding.
"That's not till next Monday," she said. "Will you relax, please?"
She reached out her hand, her fingers seductively walking past the single red rose that
decorated the center of the table until they rested on my hand. I tried to smile as I focused
my attention on her new red dress, the one I gave her for her birthday last week, and on the
sexy way that her dark hair hung in loose curls over her shoulders.
"What is going on with you, Julian?"
"I've just been under a lot of stress, that's all."
I nodded. "That's part of it."
"Is it something I did?"
"Oh, no, dear." I relaxed my hands and took hers in mine to reassure her. "You've been
great, as usual."
"Do you want to tell me what it is?"
I lowered my eyes and looked blankly at the white tablecloth as I rubbed my chin
thoughtfully. My hand trembled. I'm sure she noticed that, too. My cheeks felt so inflamed
that I wanted to dig a tunnel deep down inside of my pitiful self, as far as I could go, and
shut the invisible door. What else could I do? Get up and leave the table? Leave the
restaurant? Leave Fiona?
If I did do that, I would be doing her a favor.
"Not tonight," I said softly.
I gathered enough courage to look up into her lovely brown eyes.
She gazed at me warmly. "It's going to be okay."
I twitched the corners of my mouth upward, which was another attempt at a smile, and
then I lowered my eyes again. I was hoping her words would fill me with the strength I so
desperately needed to get through my days--and especially my nights. But the murmurs,
wherever they were, were doing battle with those words. The prize was my sanity.
Sadly, it felt like the murmurs were winning.