Vincent went to the sushi bar that night with his colleague Orlando.
"Are you sure this isn't some badger game? First the woman seduces you, then a guy turns up going, 'What have you been doing with my woman? Gimme your money!'"
"It does seem like that, huh."
He had told him all about the events of that afternoon. Various kinds of sushi circled past. Vincent took a plate of fatty salmon, setting it down in front of him.
"It's kind of weird, though, isn't it? Normally, well... wouldn't the guy have shown up sooner? This is different. Even if I do say so myself, we've already spent two nights together. And yet the dude's not actually shown up in person, just called."
He remembered the details of the phone call. As Vincent sat in the cubicle in turmoil, the man had had a long, one-sided conversation.
"You know Catherine, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know her, but who are you?"
"My name's Steve. I'm the guy who's dating Catherine."
He couldn't believe his ears. He saw Catherine in his head. He was her boyfriend...? She was unbelievably alluring. It would be more likely for her to have a boyfriend or two rather than none at all. But hadn't she "taken a liking to" Vincent? That wasn't all. She had also told him she didn't just get with anyone she met. And yet she had another boyfriend...
"A-are you kidding me!?"
Before he could say anything else, Vincent ended the call. The hand clutching the phone trembled. Why did the man know his number? She must have told him. That meant that she was nothing more than bait that had been stringing Vincent along from the start.
But was that really the case? The look on her face in his room that morning. Her behaviour. None of it seemed like she was acting. Her innocence and sweetness - though this might be an excessive sense of self-awareness and a convenient explanation for Catherine - were full of love for Vincent.
Not just that, but the voice of the man on the phone clearly conveyed anger and hatred. He seemed more like a man in a frenzy at having his girlfriend stolen from him than a guy who would use his girlfriend to extort money from men. So did that mean that she was simply two-timing him? That, despite being with Steve, Vincent had caught her eye and they had gotten together a couple of times...?
The phone vibrated again. Vincent was hesitant, but gave in to his curiosity and slid his thumb to the call button.
"The hell'd you hang up on me for?"
Guessing from the tone and sound of the man's voice, he was quite a bit older even than Vincent.
"My bad. I got a shock, and just..."
"Don't think you can play me like that. You're the one in trouble here."
He felt pitiful, but the man's voice had a forceful intensity to it.
"Are you after her for her body?"
"What are you...!"
"So you're serious about her?"
"Well no, I..."
He was stuck for a reply. He certainly had fallen for her, hard. But it might only be fleeting. He couldn't even imagine a future with her. The easier future to imagine was the one with Katherine, which would be stable, but made his breath catch just to think about it. That breath-stealing future was edging ever closer.
"So you were just fuckin' around with her!?" the man swore on the other side of the phone.
He gave up on trying to say that he hadn't done anything of the sort. It would just make things more complicated. Vincent took a breath and closed his eyes.
"I'll break up with her right away."
It hurt too much to bear. His girlfriend had only just told him that she was pregnant. Whatever awaited, he had no choice but to accept it. It suits me, Vincent thought.
"Really?" the man - Steve - said, like a spoilt child, through the phone.
"Really. I never meant for things to end up like this, uh..."
He had never deserved her to begin with. Not a young, seductive, sweet, lively girl like her.
He heard a tut followed by a sigh.
"If you try to see her again, I'll kill you for real."
"Got it. So..."
Before Vincent could continue, the call was cut off from the other end.
Orlando took a gulp from his bottle of beer, nodding with an approving look on his face.
"Isn't this great for you? Now you can break it off for good. Say goodbye to your mistress."
Vincent brought the sushi to his mouth. He usually loved salmon, but today he could hardly taste it. Breaking up with her for good. He had intended to do so from the start, but even though just being with her at all was an issue, after spending two nights with her he couldn't help but be pained by it. Orlando didn't appear to be very hungry either. He had been doing nothing but drink for a while.
"Your girlfriend's pregnant; there's nothing you can do now. Just accept it."
"Yeah, I know."
He lowered his head, aimlessly stirring soy sauce around on the plate with his chopsticks.
"So what did you say to Katherine? Did you ask if it was really your kid?"
"Don't be stupid. I told her I was happy."
"That doesn't look like the face of a happy man to me."
He should have denied it, but he couldn't.
"I just... I have a lot of weight on my shoulders."
He couldn't imagine himself taking responsibility for a home and a child. Drinking down his green tea, Vincent stood from his stool. Orlando looked up at him.
"Heading home already?"
"Yeah. I'm going to call her... the Catherine you don't know... to the bar we always go to. I want to talk to her about officially going our separate ways."
"Alright. I guess it's not something you can avoid."
"I say 'break up', but I don't know if we were ever dating to begin with. I'll at least tell her that we're not seeing each other again."
"I'm leaving, too. I don't seem to have much of an appetite lately."
"I told you before, right? I have those freaky dreams. Looks like I've caught them, too. I'm sleep deprived."
They called over an employee and paid the bill.
Vincent sat opposite Catherine in a booth. Maybe because it was still so early, there weren't many people in the bar. An unfamiliar tune played from the jukebox. Even Erica wasn't around today. He had made sure to choose a day when she wouldn't be working. There was a good chance that today's exchange would end in trouble. There was no need for a childhood friend to have to see that.
Vincent began by telling Catherine about the phone call from Steve. From there, he intended to go with the flow and say, "We can't do this if you have a boyfriend; let's break up." It wasn't what he wanted, but what else could he do? He couldn't very well just steal someone else's girlfriend, nor could he run away from his pregnant one. But when she heard what Vincent had to say, Catherine cut in, shaking her head.
"I don't know any Steve. I've never even heard of him."
It was completely unexpected. The flow he had imagined crumbled in the blink of an eye.
"Then... What the hell's going on?"
"That's what I wanted to ask you."
Catherine puffed out her cheeks with discontent.
"I don't know what you're talking about. Care to explain!?"
"Actually I, uh, don't really..."
He was getting flustered. The ageing owner brought over their drinks. As always, he couldn't see the eyes behind his sunglasses. Dazed, Vincent stared down at the bubbles popping in his rum and coke.
"I... can't even try to explain. I don't know myself. I just got this call from your boyfriend out of the blue..."
"What are you talking about!?" Catherine said shrilly. "What the hell do you mean, my boyfriend!?"
"Exactly what I told you," Vincent said, overpowered. "He told me he was dating you..."
She rested her chin on her hands, looking at Vincent with half-closed eyes. "For your information, there's no way the one he's dating is me."
"Th-then who? Who is he dating?"
"How the hell should I know!?" she said, displeased, grabbing her tall glass and drinking down the alcohol within noisily. Letting out a breath, she roughly set the glass back down on the table. "How do you know it's not someone you know with the same name?"
Hearing her say this, he considered it for the first time. He did know more than one. There was Catherine, whom he was talking to now, and Katherine, his longtime girlfriend. But would she really have found herself another man besides Vincent? She had brought up the marriage talk herself, and even informed Vincent that she was pregnant. There was no way. Or was there...?
Catherine picked up her glass again, peering at him over the rim. "Wait, do you really know someone else with this name?"
What if... Vincent thought. What if Katherine had been having an affair and hiding it from him? What if she was dating Steve? Did that mean he had the right to move on to Catherine? Could he broach the subject of breaking up with Katherine? So what if she was pregnant; that had nothing to do with it. Steve could raise the kid. Maybe Steve was the father all along.
For now, he would just play along. As long as there was the possibility of him dating Catherine, there was no need to let her know that he had a girlfriend.
"Nothing after all. I've had a think, and I don't know any other girls with that name," Vincent replied, striving to make it sound as natural as possible.
"Really? That's odd."
"M-maybe you have a secret fan?"
"Maybe you've forgotten all about it, but there's a guy who's in love with you and has managed to delude himself into thinking that you're his girlfriend." Even he didn't believe it for a second, but once he'd started he had no choice but to continue. "You're, you know, awful cute and all."
She looked right back at him, turning his whole face red. He had called her "cute" with such enthusiasm, but it wasn't the kind of thing he was meant to say straight to her face. At least, it wasn't something Vincent had ever said to a woman before. Catherine's cheeks flushed too.
Vincent's voice was raised, concealing his inner turmoil.
"Steve might be an alias, anyway. There are loads of weirdos in this world. You should be careful."
"Hey, you're freaking me out here." She scrunched up her petite body, casting her gaze left and right swiftly.
"Right? How about we drop the subject?"
"You started it!"
Her cheeks were puffed out, but she seemed to be in a better mood. She ran her fingertip across the rim of the glass on the table, looking at him with upturned eyes.
"Anyway, about later..." Her voice was both embarrassed-sounding and provocative. "It's okay, right?"
"Sure..." It was only after he absentmindedly answered that he understood the meaning of the question. She wanted to stay the night at Vincent's. "Oh, no, wait!"
As tempted as he was, he had come here today meaning to break up with her. They couldn't spend the night together again. He should at least stay away from her until after he spoke to Katherine to ascertain the nature of her relationship with Steve.
"I don't think tonight is such a great idea."
"Nope. I've already decided I'm coming over."
"Sorry, but tonight's just really... I, uh, have diarrhoea."
I get diarrhoea way too often, he thought with a wince.
"Aww. Okay then," she said boredly, drinking down the last of the alcohol in her glass. "Well, I guess there's nothing I can do if you're not feeling well. Shall we leave it here?"
"Yeah, that's probably for the best."
"Alright. Feel better soon."
Catherine stood, looking sullen again, and made her way towards the exit. As she passed by the counter, the owner bowed his head in a light nod. Vincent waited until he could no longer see her before finally reaching out for his forgotten rum and coke.