It was just like the morning before. He'd had another bad dream. That was all he could remember. In his dream, Vincent had been chased by a huge monster. The monster was a woman. Vincent, fleeing despite his fear of falling, made it through a door (or something like one), and returned to the real world. That was everything he remembered. Just fragmented memories tickling the back of his mind. He was panting, more exhausted than yesterday. Opening his eyes, he made sure that he was alive.
Above his head was a tobacco-stained ceiling. Letting out the breath that had accumulated in his lungs, he closed his eyes once more. Suddenly, he felt a presence. Someone was lying beside him. Their arms touched lightly.
In an instant, he felt faint. It was like the nightmare was still going on.
It was the girl from yesterday. The young, wild, blonde one... the one he shouldn't be getting involved with. Why was she here? She turned her face towards Vincent, her eyes fluttering open. Her small but full lips moved.
"What did you just say...?"
Oh shit, he'd just said his girlfriend's name. But the girl in front of him didn't know about Katherine. What should he say? How should he cover for himself?
"Sorry. I, uh..."
"It's okay. I'm kind of embarrassed, though..." she said with an amused smile, narrowing her eyes.
"That's the first time you've called me by my name."
"Your name? Wait, your name's..."
"What's up, Vincent?" she asked sweetly.
Could it possibly be a coincidence? Could the woman he was cheating with really just happen to have the same name as his girlfriend?
"Oh, u-uh, it's nothing..."
He swallowed. His sweat felt cold. But suddenly the blood rushed to his head, making his face scarily hot.
"Hey, are you... angry or something?" She - Catherine - propped herself up on the bed on her elbows.
"You can't just intrude on me like that."
The night before, he had drunk until late with Orlando and Jonny. After that, he was supposed to have come home alone. His head swam with thoughts of marriage and cheating and, not feeling ready to sleep, he remembered having drained several cans of beer in bed. He thought he had just gone to sleep after that, but it looked like she'd turned up after he passed out.
"I, uh, I'm not mad, it was just a shock to..."
"I thought you might wanna see me." No sooner were the happy-sounding words out of her mouth than she suddenly leapt onto him.
Catherine leaned over Vincent, holding his head and nestling his cheek against her. His face was flush against her chest. Her form changed shape on his cheek, enveloping it as though melding to him.
"Last night was amazing," she said in a whisper against his ear. "I've never done anything like that before..."
Wild images flooded his mind. Vincent was older, but she clearly appeared to be more experienced in male and female relations. What could she possibly have thought was "amazing"...?
"Hey, Vincent - what do you think of me?" Smiling, she raised her other leg and straddled Vincent's stomach. Sitting on top of him like yesterday, seductively sweeping back some stray hair.
"Oh, I, uh..."
He liked her, of course. From her face to the way she dressed, she embodied Vincent's ideal woman. But Vincent had a girlfriend. Could he really tell her that he liked her? He was confused. He couldn't think straight.
"Uhhhh..." He tried stringing together words as they came to mind. "I think you're c-cute..."
She gave a small, happy laugh. "Just cute?"
"No, how do I put this..."
"I e-envy you I guess. The way you seem to just live the way you want..."
This was an honest impression, too. Vincent could go a whole lifetime without being able to be like her. If she were in Vincent's position right now, she would never be at a loss for how to respond. She would confidently proclaim, "I love you!" How much better would it be to be able to do that...?
"What, is there something strange about that?" This time, her smile was amused. "You..." She put her hands on Vincent's chest, slowly shifting her weight. "...should do whatever it is you want, too." Her whole body was on top of his, covering him. Her blonde hair brushed against Vincent's skin. Her chest, hidden by her underwear, pressed against Vincent's. "But in return..." Catherine said in a low voice, cupping Vincent's cheeks with both hands, "I won't forgive you if you cheat on me."
"Ch-cheat?" In that moment, Vincent was already cheating. "I, uh, there's something I gotta tell..."
He didn't get to finish. She covered his mouth with her lips, poking in her tongue once more. All reason was sucked out of him. A warm feeling spread from his chest across his entire body. Nothing mattered anymore... This time, it was Vincent's turn to ensnare her tongue.
He was summoned by a text message, saying that they would meet that afternoon at the café. Katherine rarely asked him out on weekdays. He felt as though she knew what had really been going on this morning, last night and the night before - about Catherine. About their relationship.
Their seats, by coincidence, were the same ones as they had sat in two days ago. Vincent was wearing cheap-looking sunglasses he had found in a souvenir shop he passed by on the way, having remembered the story he heard from Erica about the owner of the bar. It sounded stupid, but he never knew when and where he was going to see Catherine. He couldn't let her see him with his girlfriend.
Lunch was being served at the café, and a constant stream of customers entered and left the whole time. Each time a woman came in, Vincent reacted excessively, cowering in fear.
He could hear a voice with a stern edge to it. Taking a look, he saw long, slender fingers sweep across his face.
Before he could react, his sunglasses were snatched away.
"Do you really think these suit you?"
His vision now un-obscured, he could see Katherine's face, her brow furrowed. As usual her behaviour was high-handed, her expression even more sullen than last time. What if she really had realised? Maybe she suspected Vincent of cheating, and had been tailing him the whole time...?
It didn't seem possible, but he couldn't look her straight in the eye. He simply forced a smile and avoided her gaze. She tossed down the sunglasses, beginning to drum on the table once more, then let out a long sigh.
"Just listen and don't screw around, okay? There's something important I want to talk to you about."
He was apologising meaninglessly again, like a slave cowering before a despot. But today, no reprimand was shot his way. She drank down her cappuccino in one go, then said thoughtfully, "I'm pretty late this month."
His voice was unintentionally hysterical. Katherine paused momentarily before continuing.
"I might be pregnant," she explained.
He felt like he'd been punched in the forehead. She might be pregnant. She might be having a baby. Had she first realised during the last two days? No, surely not. She said she had been "quite late". That meant it had been on her mind for some time already. Maybe when she brought up marriage the other day she had actually been intending to talk about the pregnancy.
"Come on. Why are you so quiet?"
"What? O-oh, sorry."
Vincent hurriedly looked down. His eyes fell upon his cup and he lifted it, pouring coffee down his throat. It was bitter. He'd forgotten to put sugar in it again. But he ignored it, gulping it down.
"Well? What do you think?"
The question was vague, but its meaning was crystal clear. She was asking if she should keep it; if he was going to take responsibility for it. It had happened because of him, so he was, of course, supposed to say, "I'll take care of you for the rest of my life." But why now? Why only now that she had come into the picture...?
He couldn't stop thinking about Catherine. If he got married, there was no way he would ever be able to see her again, or live freely like she did, or feel the softness of her skin.
"Spit it out!"
Katherine slammed her hand down on the table. Startled by the noise, a couple in the seats next to them turned around to look. Vincent curled up even more tightly.
"Of course I'm happy, but..."
What else was he meant to say?
"Right, I'm happy."
Katherine smiled with relief, leaning back in her seat.
"That's good to hear."
"Yeah... O-of course!" His voice was high-pitched, but she didn't seem to notice.
"To be honest, I was kind of worried. Sometimes I just don't know what you're thinking."
"D-don't say that! I was just shocked, that's all."
What was going to happen now? He couldn't even begin to imagine. Black clouds swirled around inside his head. It was hard to breathe, like there wasn't enough air inside the café.
"B-but you don't know yet, right?" he said with a gasp, as though desperately struggling for air. "Nothing's... decided yet, right?"
"Hmm... I guess not."
Katherine flipped back her long grey hair. Suddenly, his phone began to ring. He jumped, banging his knee on the table. The ringing sound was coming from Vincent's jacket pocket. He hurriedly took it out, looking down at the LCD screen.
The number was unfamiliar to him. Maybe it was an order from work.
"It's okay, you can answer it."
Katherine was being tactful. Maybe she was feeling better after being satisfied by Vincent's response before.
Having obtained permission from his mistress, Vincent pressed the 'call' button and put the phone to his ear.
"Oh, hi. It's me."
The voice was bright, strong and flamboyant. He almost dropped the phone. His heart nearly stopped. No - for a few seconds, it did stop. That voice. He could never forget it. It was the voice of Catherine, who he had only just parted from when he left home that morning. Why did she know his number...? He thought about asking her, before remembering that his girlfriend was sitting opposite. In a fluster he turned towards the aisle, covering his mouth with his hand and speaking in a low voice.
"Ohh, hi there, thanks for calling." He heard laughter on the other end.
"What are you talking about? What's going on?"
"Oh, nothing really..."
It took all of his strength just to respond with a dry laugh. Katherine's gaze seared into his back.
"W-w-w-what are you calling about?"
"I'm just in the area. Wanna meet up?"
He reflexively pushed the power button, and put the phone back in his pocket.