"Wait!" Catherine protested from behind, but Vincent didn't have time to pay attention. He scrambled to the front door, reaching for the doorknob. Just before he made contact the knob turned away, the door slamming open and the resulting bang making the room shake.
The door had only opened about twenty centimetres, then stopped. The chain connecting the door to the door frame was pulled tight. Thank God. He couldn't remember it at all, but he must have put on the chain last night.
"What's going on? Open this door right now!"
Katherine's irritated face peeked through the gap. She was wearing the same head-to-toe suit as always. Normally, if this were a week ago, he would have been happy, but things were totally different now.
"W-wait a moment!"
He closed the door and rested his forehead against it. His entire body dripped with unpleasant sweat. He felt the way he did when he awoke from a nightmare. What should he do? How could he get out of this situation? There was no way he could open the door and let Katherine in. She would run into Catherine, and all that awaited him afterwards was a nightmare full of even more suffering.
"Who is it?" came a youthful voice from inside, followed by approaching footsteps. She seemed to have got out of bed.
Panicking, Vincent took his forehead off of the door. Had her voice been audible outside? It was only a cheap apartment; the door and walls were thin. If Katherine had heard Catherine's voice from the hallway, he was in deep shit.
"M-my landlady stopped by and was trying to get in," he rambled, heading briefly back inside the room. Catherine, in her underwear, stared at him.
"I f-forgot to pay my rent. Managing money is hard, you know?"
Knocking began to echo throughout the room. It was Katherine, knocking from outside. It looked like she had run out of patience.
"Oh. Bo-ring..." Catherine said uninterestedly. "I'm gonna use the bathroom, okay?"
Catherine vanished into the bathroom. He heard the door closing. This was it; he had to do it now. He had to use this chance to get rid of Katherine. Sucking in a breath, Vincent steeled himself and unhooked the chain from the door. Apparently hearing the sound, Katherine pulled the door open herself, trying to push her way inside.
"What took you so long!?"
"S-shh! Please be quiet!"
Vincent covered Katherine's mouth with his hand. She shook her head, freeing herself easily. "What are you trying to say?"
"M-my boss is over!"
"What, really?" A little of the anger faded from her eyes.
"So, today's not really a good time..."
"Maybe I should say hello?"
"No! No, it's okay, you don't have to do that. He's sleeping in the back right now. He gets in a really foul mood if you wake him up."
"Oh, alright. Well then..."
He heard a flush from the bathroom behind him. Vincent wanted to bang his head against the wall. He wanted to lose consciousness right then and there. Katherine raised her eyebrows, peering over Vincent's shoulder.
"I thought you said he was sleeping?"
"Oh, that's weird. Maybe he woke up?"
This time, he heard the sound of hands being washed. Catherine could come out in her underwear at any time. He had to avoid that, at all costs.
He put his arms around Katherine's shoulders, making her turn to the right, and they went out into the hallway together, him closing the door with his other hand.
"Hey, what are you doing!?"
"You can't come in!" he said loudly. He didn't even understand himself, but right now he had no choice but to push through it. "I can't let him see you!"
"Why not? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?"
"Don't be silly. I can't let him see you because..." He thought desperately. She was sharp. She would see through a weak lie in a second. Vincent forced a grim face. "I've not told him about you. My boss doesn't know I've got a girlfriend."
"Then shouldn't you just introduce us now?"
"Nope, can't do that! He's a very jealous person. I don't think he's had a girlfriend in ages, so I avoid the subject. If I told him I was gearing up to marry my girlfriend, and she had the key to my house, he'd kill me. It would affect my work, too."
"Well... I suppose that's that, then." She folded her arms across her chest, letting out a deep sigh. "But you can't keep it a secret forever, right? We're going to have the ceremony someday."
Ceremony. The wedding ceremony. Just the thought of it scared him. And then, he remembered Steve - the one who was quite possibly having an affair with Katherine. Did she plan on going on dating him as well as marrying Vincent?
His heart finally slowed. "I'll look for a good time to tell him. But I told you he's moody in the mornings, right? Now's not a good time."
"Yeah, I understand."
"The café on the corner serves breakfast, too. Could you wait for me there? I'll tell him I'm going to meet a client or something and get away."
"You don't have to do that. I only stopped by because it looked like you were really busy at work."
"It's fine, just wait for me." This time, his words were strong. "This time I have something important to talk to you about."
Katherine sat at a counter facing the window. The café was packed with people in suits who appeared to be on their way to work. Most of them seemed to be holding cups of coffee in one hand as they read the newspaper. Headlines about the series of strange deaths stood out from their front pages.
Vincent sat down in the seat beside Katherine. She turned to him. "Was your boss okay?"
Vincent ordered a coffee from the waitress. Several chairs were set up on a terrace on the pavement outside the window. The people sitting on them had coffee and newspapers too, but also seemed to be enjoying a pre-work smoke.
Vincent waited for his drink to be brought over, then tried to broach the subject he wanted to talk about to his current girlfriend. "Hey. There's something I want to ask you."
"Why are you being so formal all of a sudden?"
"Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Huh?" Katherine frowned. He had anticipated her reaction.
"Is there nothing you want to tell me?"
"Tell you? What are you talking about?"
Katherine looked uncomfortable. Had she guessed that this was about Steve? But she didn't seem to want to say it herself. She was playing innocent, and it made him angry.
"Actually, I happened to overhear a little story."
"Do you know a man named Steve?"
The question was forthright, to draw a reaction out of her. Katherine repeated "Steve?", still looking confused.
"Yeah, that's right. Don't tell me you don't know him."
"I don't, though..."
"Huh?" he said, dumbfounded.
He tried looking Katherine in the eyes, but she looked back suspiciously at him. She didn't seem to be lying.
If it was an act, it was an Oscar-worthy one.
"You mean you don't know a single one?"
"That's what I'm telling you!"
"But... you must know one, right? Steve's a pretty common name."
"Yeah, but..." She closed her eyes in thought, then looked back up at him. "Actually, I think I did meet one yesterday..."
"So you do!"
"I think my friend's kid was called Steve..."
What an anticlimax. The person on the phone really didn't sound like a child.
"No, not him..."
Did Katherine really not know Steve? Then which of the two was his girlfriend? Why had he called? As Vincent sat there in shock, the waitress set a cup of coffee in front of him, Katherine putting in sugar wordlessly. Vincent couldn't even thank her.
"What's going on with you?" Katherine asked.
"What? Uh, um..."
"Just spit it out. Who is Steve? What are you trying to say?"
Katherine started drumming her fingers on the counter. It was a habit of hers she did when she was annoyed.
"If you don't know him, it doesn't matter."
"What? You think I'm just going to accept that?"
If he wasn't careful, she would start suspecting him of cheating. He tried to come up with something in his blank head. "There's a guy at work who said he might know you. His name's Steve. He's really dull, so I'm glad you don't know him."
"Is he your boss from before?"
"Yeah. Oh, wait, maybe someone else."
"You've been acting kind of weirdly lately, you know? You look pale, and sometimes I have no idea what you're talking about," Katherine said. Her tone wasn't accusatory as usual. She looked at Vincent with a meek, extremely concerned expression.
"I guess so."
He agreed with what she was saying. He had begun an affair, but couldn't remember anything concrete, and had even met a man who made no sense. Not just that, either, but he was also afflicted by nightmares every single night. Of course the things he spoke about weren't consistent.
"I don't really know about any of this myself, or what comes next."
"You don't know...?" Katherine faltered, averting her eyes. She gripped her cup in both hands. "What don't you know?"
"What do you mean, you don't know what comes next? You mean you're not going to marry me?" she questioned in rapid-fire.
"No! No, that's not it. I'm just worried about work. I only just started there."
Was he going to have to spend the rest of his life like this, frantically thinking up the replies that would make Katherine happy in conversations?
"It's not going well with my clients, and it's getting to me."
The number of coming and going commuters had dwindled. Katherine would have to go soon, too, or she would be late. The other customers had already started to leave.
"Oh. That's okay, then." She stood from her stool, with more than half the contents of her cup still remaining. "You have work now, right? Weren't you going to see a client?"
"Yeah, sort of."
"I have work now, too. See you later."
She glanced at him with what he knew was a fake smile, then left. Today, she paid the bill.