The images were so vivid. He couldn't just see it; he could feel, smell, and even taste it... It played back so realistically, telling him of the previous night's events. The blood drained from his face.
"Shit, this is bad. Really bad..."
It would've been fine if he were single, but now he had Katherine. If his memories of the previous night - that was the only way to put it - were real, he would clearly have been cheating.
"Hmmm?" the woman beside him murmured sweetly, half-opening her eyes. "Bad? What is?"
"U-uh, I, uh..."
He obviously couldn't tell her that him cheating was what was wrong. He couldn't remember telling her that he had a girlfriend last night. If he had, this surely would never have happened. He desperately tried to think up a good excuse.
"For a guy and a girl who just met to, um..."
"Is there some kind of problem?"
Seeming to sit up swiftly, she flipped over and sat astride Vincent's stomach. He could clearly feel her thighs. He reflexively tried to squeeze his eyes shut, but couldn't. Light filtering through the blind illuminated her torso. She was in her underwear, but managed to look even sexier than if she were completely naked.
"Umm... It's embarrassing to be stared at like that, you know," she said teasingly, her cheeks reddening faintly.
"S-sorry." He hurriedly averted his gaze.
"For your information..." She stroked Vincent's chest gently. That alone caused goosebumps to spring up across his whole body. "I came here because I liked you, okay? It's not like I would do this with just anybody."
"Oh, no, that's not what I was..."
The whole thing was unbelievable: there was an incredibly hot woman, probably more than a decade younger than him, telling Vincent that she "liked" him. Her cool fingertips traced Vincent's neck, then touched his cheek. She gently yet forcibly turned his sideways-looking face back towards her.
"I can't... My head's spinning, I can't think."
"Hmm..." He head her chuckle from above. "Is this what they call love at first sight?"
His eyes flew open at the unexpected words. Then, suddenly, she stood.
"What's wrong? ...S-sorry!" he said in apology, without knowing what he was apologising for. She almost leapt from the bed, gathering up her clothes that lay scattered across the floor.
"You said you have work today, right?" she asked as she went.
"Work? Y-yeah, I guess so..."
It was a weekday, so naturally he had work - but what was it to her? In a moment she slipped on her coat, smoothing out her clothes.
"Sorry, gotta go! Have to go to the dentist!"
"The dentist'll be mad if I'm late, right? I did want to stay with you a bit longer, though." She laughed embarrassedly.
"Rude of me after intruding on you like that, I know. Bye now!"
"Wait a sec. I have a girl..."
He thought about being honest with her. He could see Katherine flying into a blind rage if she found out, and he wanted to tell Catherine straight away rather than continue lying and disappoint her later. Does this mean I want to see her again...? he wondered, hearing the door slam as he pondered.
When he had a good think about it, he realised that he hadn't even asked her name.
That night, Vincent visited the bar as usual. Toby hadn't come, his colleague Orlando showing up instead. He was a childhood friend of Vincent and Jonny's. They had all known each other for more than twenty years.
The bar was the same as it always was. It was warm, filled with a fair amount of chatter, and comfortable.
"Well, well." Orlando, sitting next to Vincent, took a large gulp from his beer and let out a burp. He was an easygoing and excitable man, contrasting with the perpetually calm Jonny. "So this is the last of the three times people say you get to be popular in your life, huh."
"Why the last time?"
"You think this is gonna happen again? 'Course not. You've had more than your fair share."
"Was I ever popular to begin with?"
"You were the most popular of all of us when we were kids," Jonny pointed out from opposite him.
"Don't recall that."
"The second time was at our class reunion five years back," Orlando said, wiping away the froth from around his mouth. "That was what led to you dating Katherine, remember?"
"Now you mention it..."
"You've been with Katherine a while now," Jonny said seriously.
"It'll all be over if she finds out about yesterday, though. Your relationship with Katherine, everything," Orlando said, then guffawed. It might have been a joke to them, but to Vincent it was a matter of life and death. He pictured the glint of the lenses of Katherine's glasses as she chased after him, yelling.
"She's scary as hell. If she finds out, she'll probably kill me."
"It's not like she has to find out, though, is it? Not if you act like it never happened," Orlando said lightheartedly, and Vincent shot him a glare.
"I can't be as carefree about this whole thing as you are."
"How about moving on instead, then? From Katherine to that girl from yesterday. You don't want to be nagged into getting married, right? Two people staying together forever is just an illusion. Marriage will dig your grave. I'm proof of that."
Orlando had been divorced in the past. It was apparently due to his wife having an affair, but he wouldn't talk too much about it, though they didn't appear to have had any children. He tried considering his options. The prospect of breaking up with his current girlfriend and getting with the blonde girl from the night before was tempting, there was no denying that. If he did, he wouldn't live each day of his life being scolded. He wouldn't have to feel like he was being told off all the time. But what about him as a person? If he had a relationship with another woman despite having a girlfriend and just stayed on the fence, he would be considered a cheat...
"It's a tough spot ethically, huh?"
He let out a sigh. His sighs had definitely increased in number over the past two days.
"Maybe the whole reason I'm thinking this way is because I'm tied down by Katherine..."
Perhaps if he had broken up with his girlfriend before meeting her, there wouldn't have been an issue - but he had already met her. He couldn't change the past. Now all he was left with was guilt towards Katherine.
"I guess if you're in this much of a state over it, you shouldn't be cheating to begin with."
"I know that!"
"What's the girl like?" Jonny asked, tipping back his sake bottle. Orlando also leaned forwards.
"Yeah, make sure you introduce me to her if you break it off with her. I bet she's super cute. Got a photo or something?"
"No, and she's not your type anyway."
"How d'you know?"
"Because she's my type!" he said in an unintentionally strong tone, and instantly regretted it. Orlando and Jonny exchanged glances and shrugged.
"You're totally screwed, aren't you?"
Erica, the waitress, came to a stop beside their table. She held an empty tray in one hand. It looked like she'd just taken someone their drink. She and Vincent were from the same area, and had known each other for more than twenty years. It was actually because she worked there that the bar had become their gathering place.
"No one... I think." He couldn't stop his voice from tapering out. Now that he thought about it, he realised that he hadn't seen Erica the night before. Maybe she hadn't been on shift. That means she didn't see me acting out, he thought, wanting to hold his head again.
"Anyway, have you heard?" Erica asked in an excited voice.
"About what?" Orlando replied suspiciously.
"The story about falling in your dreams. It says that if you fall to your death in a dream, you'll die in real life, too. It's apparently some woman's curse that decides whether guys who cheat and screw around are killed or not."
The words "if you die in your dream you die in real life" and "kills cheating men" sent a shiver down his spine.
"What are you talking about? A woman's curse?"
"What does it have to do with you? You've only been with one woman for ages," Erica replied boredly.
But beside and opposite Vincent, Orlando and Jonny were both suppressing a chuckle. Noticing this, Erica blinked repeatedly.
"Wait, what? Have you been cheating, Vincent?" She put both hands on the table, leaning towards him. "You're kidding, right? What about getting married!?"
"Be quiet!" he said in a panic, looking around the bar. "Don't shout about cheating, okay? We don't know who's listening!"
"You're terrible." She looked down at Vincent with a scornful gaze, then returned to the aisle. "The worst of the worst..."
"Don't say that! I get it, alright? Just leave it."
"She sounds like the cute girl of his dreams," Orlando added with a grin.
What he said was true, but he didn't know what would happen if Katherine heard that Vincent was saying that he'd met the girl of his dreams.
"Don't talk about this outside of here, guys, okay?"
"Why would we do that?" Jonny said as though in amazement.
Vincent sighed, sinking deeply into his seat. "Anyway... that's seriously freaky. The curse, the falling dream..."
"Why?" Orlando asked.
"I had one of those just last night. Maybe it was this morning? Either way, it was spooky as hell." He couldn't remember the exact details, but seemed to recall the sensation of falling - or perhaps it was the feeling of being afraid of falling. So, naturally, when he heard about dying from falling in your dreams he was concerned.
"You're overthinking things." Jonny grinned sarcastically. "Look at you, freaked out by a dream. How old are you, anyway?"
"It's because you're feeling guilty," Orlando said, a know-it-all look on his face. "You're so scared that she'll find out you've cheated on her that you're even having weird dreams now."
"Maybe... I guess."
"Oh yeah, speaking of cheating - did you know?" Erica said, jerking her chin in the direction of the counter. The elderly owner stood behind it, silently polishing glasses. "Long ago, the owner apparently screwed around too much and ended up incurring the wrath of loads of women. Look, you see those awful sunglasses he's wearing? They're apparently to hide his face."
"You're in a tough spot too, right? How about you try wearing some sunglasses?" Orlando laughed, poking Vincent in the side.
"I don't need any! It was an accident. It's over now."
"I hope so..." Jonny muttered to himself. For some reason, the words stayed in his head.