"You're saying she might be cheating?" Jonny snorted.
The usual group sat around the table: Vincent, Orlando and Toby. Erica, the waitress, had also stopped by, joining in their conversation.
"There's no way Katherine would do that."
"But a guy called Steve said he was dating someone by that name." Vincent shook his head weakly. "Though, the Catherine I met after her..."
"You mean your mistress?" Orlando said with a grin.
"Shut up! Well, alright, whatever. Anyway, she says she doesn't know any Steve. That means the only possibility is..."
"That's why you think it's Katherine? Our old classmate Katherine?" Jonny picked up his sake cup. "You think she's the kind of girl to have an affair behind your back?"
"How can you be sure? It's not a matter of personality, it's a matter of timing," Orlando said, waving his beer bottle around. "She's away at work every day, and she is hot. The guys will go after her. Not to mention that her boyfriend's a cheating bastard."
"Don't say it like I've been cheating since day one," Vincent grumbled.
"It's not a matter of how long it's been going on for, is it?" Erica pointed out without delay. "Men think it's all about them, don't they? Oh, they can cheat, but as soon as they think their girlfriend might be doing the same thing they suddenly freak out."
"Okay, I get it. But... I don't know what I'd do if she was lying. Then everything I've done so far would have been for nothing..."
"Sounds like you're in pretty deep." Toby frowned.
"Don't be so down. You don't know anything for sure yet, right?"
"I guess. I'll ask her just in case, though..." Vincent muttered in reply, prostrating himself on the table. After that, he didn't look up again.
Jonny exchanged glances with his friends. They all shrugged their shoulders as if to say, "There's nothing we can do." No one could find the right words. In the silence, they could hear the conversation of customers in the adjacent seats.
"...So, he said he broke up with her?"
"Yeah. Those rumours are freaky, huh? He looked so gaunt. What if he dies for real, and then we see him on the morning news?"
"Jesus, give me a break... I mean, I heard about it at work, but..."
They seemed to be talking about the recent series of deaths.
"God..." Jonny put his cup back on the table. "It's so noisy in here these days."
"That might not just be a rumour." Erica wrapped her arms around herself. "You know, the one where you die if you have a dream about falling and don't wake up. Loads of people have been talking about having weird dreams here lately."
"Oh, come on. That's just stupid." The interruption was surprisingly forceful. "You can't talk when you're dead, right? How is anyone meant to know what they were dreaming about beforehand?"
"They're just dreams," Jonny said, looking around for approval from his friends. "Right, Vincent?"
"What if he's already dead?" Toby said jokingly. "Oh Vincent? You'd better wake up before you die!"
"I'm not dead yet," Vincent replied sulkily.
Jonny stared down at him. He wanted to tell him to cheer up. He wanted to tell him that it was all okay, that Katherine wasn't cheating on him. Jonny was sure of it.
It had been about a week ago. Jonny had visited the aquarium by himself. He had no particular reason for doing so; he just liked it. Whenever he got stressed out he would go there, staring into the tanks, making him feel strangely calm.
That day, Jonny spent about an hour in front of a leisurely-swimming whale shark. On the other side of the tank was space. It was covered in glass, making it look from the visitor's position as though the shark were actually floating in space. Visitors were sparse on weeknights, the area deserted. The only person was an ageing man standing nearby. He had thick silver hair combed back, his eyes concealed by large sunglasses. He felt like he had seen him somewhere before, but couldn't remember where.
"You like this fish?" a woman asked, standing beside him.
"That's a shark, not a fish," Jonny said without looking away. "They come from different evolutionary lines."
"You seem to know quite a lot."
"Not really. It's written on the side of the tank."
"Oh." There was a moment's pause, followed by, "I'll go read it then," and the woman walked over to the tank.
Seeing her as she walked away, Jonny's breath was taken away. From her height and style to the reddish grey hair that hung down to her back, she looked just like a woman Jonny knew very well - Katherine, Vincent's girlfriend.
She brought her face to the wall, reading the description enthusiastically. Apparently reading the whole thing quickly, she turned back to Jonny. The moment he saw her smile, his heart almost stopped. It wasn't just from behind that she resembled Katherine - even from the front she looked just like her double. She wasn't wearing her glasses, but her eyes, nose, mouth: everything was the same.
For a moment, he wondered if it was really her. But it couldn't be. She would never have spoken to him the way she did before. Katherine's double approached Jonny again.
"Thanks. I understand now." Even her voice was like Katherine's.
"You look like you've been here for a while now. Are you going to stay much longer?"
"No. I was just thinking that I'd better go home soon."
"Oh, I see. Me too."
He felt like he was going mad. The woman who looked just like Katherine, but was clearly someone else, gave a carefree laugh. She seemed to be so happy about such a modest coincidence. What was going on? What was she thinking?
"What do you say about getting something to eat? I'm hungry."
"Just stop it!" he yelled without thinking. Confused by himself, he reconsidered and immediately apologised. "Sorry."
Looking around, he saw the old man staring right at him. Of course he was. If Jonny was in his place he'd be interested, too. The woman before him was wide-eyed. She was probably shocked by his unexpected reaction. Jonny took a breath.
"But tell me. Who are you?"
"Who...? My name's Catherine..."
This time, he almost fainted.
Calm down. This is some kind of mistake. Or maybe a practical joke.
"You're not Katherine."
He said it word for word as though to himself.
"What do you mean?"
The woman raised her eyebrows as though angry. Even her expression matched the Katherine Jonny knew.
"I don't mean anything... This is the first time we've met. Right?"
"I know someone with that name. She looks just like you!" His voice was high and loud again. She didn't seem to notice, folding her arms across her chest.
"Well, these things happen, right?"
"Of course they don't!"
Don't get emotional; just calm down, he told himself frantically.
"Sharing a name is one thing, but meeting a girl who looks just like her? There's no way."
"It's not possible."
Jonny shook his head. "Okay, who are you really?" he asked pleadingly. "Who did you hear this from? Who told you to come here?"
"Then... shit." He hesitated over whether or not he should say anything. In the end, he couldn't keep it in. "I love Katherine. You showing up like this is too good to be true!"
It was something he had never revealed to anyone before. He of course hadn't even told her or Vincent, even Orlando or Erica. He had nothing to gain from telling people that he was in love with his friend's girlfriend.
"I don't know anything about it. It has nothing to do with me. The important thing is whether not not you want to be with me, right?" After she finished speaking her cheeks suddenly reddened and she looked down. "Sorry for saying such weird things when we only just met. But it's your fault, you know? You were the one who got mad out of nowhere."
Jonny couldn't speak. Was it really just a coincidence? Did she really have nothing to do with Katherine?
"Hey, I..." She looked up, but her eyes were still downcast in embarrassment. "I'm interested in you. Or maybe I should say, I was interested in you. You looked so mysterious, standing there all by yourself staring at the tank." This time she looked at Jonny, watching his face. "How about it? Can we talk for a bit? Let's start over."
It was an appealing suggestion. Jonny loved Katherine. A woman who looked just like her was asking him out. With her, they could have a deeper relationship without having to worry about Vincent or his friends. But...
"No. I'll take a rain check," Jonny announced flatly.
"Do you hate me?" she asked instantly, as though surprised.
"I told you. It's Katherine I love. But you're not her. I can't go along with this."
"But... why? Why are you so serious? Does it really matter if I'm not her?"
"It's not a good idea. It doesn't mean I'm serious."
"I know. She already has a boyfriend, right?"
He felt dizzy. His vision suddenly began to darken. So it was true: she did know about Jonny. She knew, and came to seduce him.
"Who the hell are you really...?"
"I see. In other words, you didn't need me from the start." She ignored Jonny's question. She pointed at her own forehead, narrowing her eyes and smiling faintly. "You already have someone in my place, with a face just like this."
"Hey... What the hell are you up to...?"
"That's a secret. But I suppose I can tell you a little." She slowly retreated, putting distance between them. "We won't meet again. So... I feel kind of bad for you, but you'll probably fall in."
"Fall? Into what?"
"Into the nightmare," she said, turning the corner.
He was taken aback. He hurried after her, but when he turned the corner she was gone. He ran straight for the exit. He couldn't see her anywhere. He felt like he had been dreaming that day.