Steve didn't really want to do this. But he didn't really have a choice in the matter, did he? It was Catherine's fault for not being trustworthy.
She walked about twenty metres ahead. Her footsteps were light. Her steps were just like... like someone heading for their lover. That couldn't be true; she must be heading for a relative or friend, Steve thought. But he couldn't stop tailing her. He had seen the contents of her phone.
Dentists often leave their seat during treatment. They treat several patients concurrently whilst they wait for anaesthetic to take effect or plastic to dry. The patients, of course, are also used to it. Because of this, he had been able to sneak her phone from her bag during a treatment and look through it in another room.
Her address book was overflowing with men's names - her sent and received call history, too. Her message folders were bursting with open declarations of love. There were even some messages in her outbox with immodest photos attached. Steve had taken the opportunity to transfer the messages and the data from her address book onto his own phone. Then, he had removed the traces from her call history.
He was in complete shock. She was less than half his age. She would want to mess around. It would be natural for her to have one or two close male friends. However, guessing from the frequency and contents of the messages, too many of these looked like a lot more than friends. Far too many. He felt like he would go mad with jealousy. She'd only done it once with him, but probably many, many times with the others...
She got on the underground. Steve had had to buy a ticket, meaning that he panicked momentarily about losing sight of her, but he had managed to get onto the same train as she did. That day, Steve was wearing a parka and sweatpants, a far cry from his usual get-up. He had the hood up, too, so there was no chance of her spotting him.
She got off at a station four stops down from Steve's clinic. Climbing the stairs, she walked out into the nighttime town with certainty. It was still a comparatively early time, so there were many pedestrians. They were away from the city centre, but he spotted plenty of cafés, restaurants, bars and grocers.
She walked for about two blocks, turned the corner and went inside an old apartment block. Steve followed without hesitation. He passed by an ageing man at the entrance. He was an eerie man, donning oversized sunglasses.
Inside, he found himself in a dimly-lit entrance hall. Steve put as much distance as possible between himself and the central atrium, taking care not to enter her line of sight and ascending the spiral stairs. On the fourth floor she turned off onto the hallway, coming to a stop in front of the second door down. Steve halted midway up the stairs, keeping watch by peeking up from over the floor.
The door opened, blocking his view of the pair, but he was certain that he heard a man's voice. The man and Catherine exchanged words. He couldn't hear the particulars, but he had a pretty good idea of what was being said. The man seemed surprised at Catherine's sudden visit, but happy at the same time. Catherine was worried that she had caused him trouble, but the man refuted this with all his might. There was no way he was just a friend.
Though it wasn't yet late at night, a woman was visiting the house of a man all by herself. There didn't seem to be a crowd of people inside. It was eerily quiet inside the building. The man didn't appear to be gay, either. So there did seem, then, to be something sexual between them. And then...
"Fuck you," Steve spat reflexively in a low voice.
The pair disappeared inside. The door closed completely with an unexpectedly heavy thud. Steve gritted his teeth. Was he really that entrancing of a man? Was it his looks? His youth? Steve couldn't think of any other way in which he was inferior. Knowledge, wealth, social standing... Steve should have had it all.
He wondered whether he should just walk right in; whether he should kick the shit out of the man. Steve was a regular at the gym. He had been captain of the football team in college. Not only that, but a passion for Catherine burned within his chest. There was no way he was going to lose to a man who had only youth on his side.
But a voice inside his heart telling him to wait caused him to stop in his tracks. Maybe Catherine didn't like violence. Not only that, but if Steve were to appear now she would know that he had been tailing her. He wanted to avoid that if at all possible. He didn't want Catherine to hate him.
Wait, Steve thought. Maybe he was selling some kind of special merchandise that couldn't be bought at the town drug store. Maybe she had come here to buy some. She was young. He couldn't blame her for having an interest in such a product. Steve himself had done some pretty crazy things in his youth. If her goal was simply to buy then she should come back out in around five minutes, thought Steve, and waited.
Five minutes. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. An hour...
Several times, residents of the apartments passed him by. They all looked at Steve suspiciously. His fists were clenched the entire time, as were his teeth. Finally, it was time for the last train. Still she did not come out. He had to work tomorrow. He should leave... He knew it. But he didn't want to go. The idea of leaving her there and going home alone - going home to the house where that nagging chicken lived! - was unthinkable.
Steve went down to the first floor, crouching down beside the stairs in a position where he could see the front entrance. The chill from the floor seeped through him. The cold made his teeth chatter. He buried his face in the gap between his legs. Stifling his voice, Steve cried for the first time in about twenty years. Again and again he nodded off, being awoken each time by the cold.
Dawn came eventually, light spilling in through a gap in the front door. He could hear the sounds of residents going about their days and of doors opening and closing. Several people passed by Steve, moving in the opposite direction from last night. After about thirty minutes had passed, Catherine went by him, too. Her gait was light and, naturally, she was wearing the same clothes as yesterday. She didn't seem to realise that Steve was watching her.
Steve stood up. His whole body was stiff. He staggered after Catherine, reaching out his arm and almost touching her shoulder from behind, but changing his mind at the last second. He made an about face and slowly climbed the stairs. With each step he climbed, the feeling returned to his limbs.
He stood in front of the fourth floor room Catherine had visited on the evening prior, then knocked roughly. At first there was no response, but after knocking a few times he finally heard footsteps approaching. The door opened and a small, blond man peered out sullenly. He must have been in his late twenties.
The man had no clothes on. He wore a scruffy-looking dressing gown over his boxer shorts. It was open, exposing his untrained stomach. Why this man...? As if pounding him with a hammer, Steve swung his closed fist down onto the small man's snout.
Afterwards, he led the man back into the room. The man had collapsed onto his back, so for a moment he stood, shutting the door behind him and locking it. He climbed on top of the small, bawling man, raining down blows on him. Steve's hands were slightly busted up, too. He must have made contact with the man's teeth. The man shrieked and sobbed. Steve noticed that he, too, was wailing. He thought that he had run out of tears the night before.
The man pleaded for his life. He also admitted that he had been seeing Catherine, but said that it was Catherine who had approached him. The moment he heard this, Steve decided that he was going to kill the other man, but of course the urge to go that far didn't last long. Rationality stayed his hand.
Steve snapped the small man's phone in half and tossed it out of the window. As he was leaving, the bed in the bedroom caught his eye. The sheets were in disarray. He saw red once more, charging over to them. He stripped them off and threw them aside. He tore up the mattress and threw it aside. Then, he picked up the bed itself. He rushed over to the wall, slamming it against the window.
The glass shattered. Shards crashed down on the other side of the window, but the bed itself slammed into the window frame, breaking into little pieces and remaining inside the room. He surveyed the carnage. Steve's clothes were torn in several places, too. He looked around him, and saw the small man quivering in the corner of the room.
From this day onward, Steve became a disciple of justice. Using the data he had transferred from Catherine's phone, he made calls to any and every man it seemed like Catherine had been dating, threatening them and telling them to break up with her, and if they didn't he would kill them. All of this was necessary. She was more pure than anyone else in the world. As such, she would be easily deceived by corrupt men with their wicked souls. She couldn't turn them down herself, and as a result had been toyed with by many men. What a miserable existence. He was the only one who could set her free from it. This was the destiny that had been entrusted to him as her true lover, her soulmate...
Steve persistently continued making the calls. He tailed Catherine sometimes, too. He would meet in person with any scoundrels who refused to break up with her, beating reason into their bodies. Despite all of this, the frequency with which Catherine met up with men did not decrease. If anything, it seemed to be on the rise. She had even begun relationships with men whom she hadn't known when Steve transferred the data.
Finally, Steve gave up on his fight for justice. There was no point in continuing; it was a waste of time and energy and, more than anything else, his heart couldn't take any more - so he admitted defeat. Now that it had come to this, all he could do was beg her to stop seeing men...
Steve summoned her to the park that afternoon. He used his own afternoon break to head there. The place was near the clinic. It was encircled by tall trees, and the paved plaza in the centre contained several sets of concrete tables and chairs. Elderly Chinese people sat at one, playing go or mahjong. Another elderly man sat at another table, a news programme playing through a radio that sat upon it.
Steve sat down at one of the tables. She arrived almost exactly on time.
"What's got you calling me out here all of a sudden?"
She squinted at the bright light, looking around her at the greenery-engulfed scenery.
"It's kinda refreshing, meeting you in a place like this."
Every time so far they had met in the treatment room, Steve one-sidedly asking her to go out somewhere with him. Up until that point, she had always refused. Yes - this was his first chance to spend time with her outside... and this was what they had to talk about, of all things.
"What is it? You're kinda weirding me out."
He mulled over how to broach the subject. At first, he considered starting off with an inoffensive topic. But no, that was no good. He would have to tell her everything in the end anyway. Might as well get to it, then...
"I wanted to ask you a favour."
"What is it?"
She plopped herself down in the seat opposite him. There wasn't a single hint of gloom, suspicion or guilt in her expression. His heart ached. Steve gazed up at the blue sky, sucking air into his chest, and began.
"I want you to stop seeing other men."
"What do you mean?" There was an ominous hint in her voice. Steve couldn't bring himself to look down.
"I know you've been seeing guys besides me."
"How can you say that?"
"Because I've seen you!"
That day, for the first time, Steve looked Catherine in the eye. She looked back at him, her gaze surprisingly calm - too cool. This wasn't the response he had been expecting, but he couldn't turn back now.
"I've seen you go into another man's house. I've seen you walking around town... holding hands with another man! Linking arms with them, too. Eating together, drinking at bars together... I even saw you talking to a man at the aquarium!"
He wanted her to be flustered. He wanted her to say that it was just a passing fancy. He wanted her to insist through tears that Steve was the only one she truly cared about. But she didn't.
"Ugh. I'm sort of disappointed." Catherine looked down at the ground, letting out a long sigh. "I knew you'd been quietly snooping around, calling other people."
He couldn't believe it. So she had continued her relationships with those men even though she'd realised that Steve knew about it?
"But I couldn't tell you myself, could I? It would all be over if I did, right?"
"Flaunting it in front of me like that... It's too much..."
She folded her arms across her chest, exhaling in irritation.
"I wasn't flaunting anything. I just get a bit carried away sometimes is all. He makes me do it, so..."
She looked like she was about to say something, then suddenly fell silent and shook her head with an "it's nothing".
"Forget what I just said."
"'He'... Did you just say 'he'? Is this your pimp or hanger-on or something? Who the hell is he!?"
"No! It's not like that. It's... how do I put this... not an easy relationship to understand."
"So it's a complicated relationship? An old flame, or a family member...?"
"Just shut up! We won't be seeing each other again, anyway. I had you treat my teeth because you're good at it... I even overlooked the weird things you do in the middle of it. But that's all over now."
"Wait! Please, wait. Fine... If there's some kind of circumstance you're in then fine. I don't care. Do whatever you like. So..."
He was desperate. She was going to leave. He would never see her again. His hunch was strong. No. He didn't want that to happen. He didn't want to lose her.
"I'm telling you - don't follow me, okay?"
She stopped up, patting the sand off of her backside. He wanted to touch it. He wanted her to smack him the way she smacked her ass.
"If you come after me, I'll call the police."
"Please, forgive me... Don't go..."
He reached out to her, but there was a large table between her and Steve. For some reason, his knees were weak. He couldn't stand up. She turned her back to him and strutted past the elderly people who looked at her with curious stares. Her petite ass swayed like a small animal.
For the first time, Steve was conscious of the world that lay outside of Catherine. He heard a voice through the radio at the next table.
"Confirmed deaths alone this past week include Archie Wallace, Morgan Cortez, Daniel Kirsch, Justin Bailey and..."
In a moment, he was drawn back to consciousness. The shabby radio looked like a monster. All of the names he had just heard belonged to people whom Steve had called.