Paul didn’t know where she’d gone. He called out as he came home as usual, expecting Steph to reply.
There was only silence.
The house felt empty.
He listened for a moment, expecting her to call from somewhere else in the house, but when she didn’t call back, he strolled into her office, pushing the door wide open.
Steph’s desk was gone. Her computer, the graphics tablet, the drawing board, It was gone, all of it.
It was obviously not a robbery, not only was all Steph’s stuff gone, there wasn’t even a place for it. What had been Steph’s office was now a dining room. The way it was before they’d converted the dining room into Steph’s office when she went freelance.
It looked as though she’d never been there. There was no trace of the desk, not even any marks on the floor where it usually stood. The big black extension tower where she plugged in her equipment was gone too.
Paul turned, circling to examine every inch of the room as his thoughts tumbled over each other in his brain.
Had she left him?
He noticed something. His fingers ran across the surface of the dining table, sitting in the centre of the room. His fingers left a trail of dust. They’d hardly used the dining room before Steph made it into her office; she’d complained about how the table sat there, gathering dust.
Paul wiped his fingers on his trousers.
He turned back, ran up the stairs.
The bedroom was empty of every trace of Steph. There was only his stuff, and no sign that he shared the house with anyone.
It was the same in the bathroom. There was no sign of Steph’s enormous collection of shower gels, hair shampoos and other soaps, perfumes and lotions. There was only his toothbrush, standing alone, next to his razor and shaving gel.
Paul stood on the landing, turning to look back into the bedroom and the wardrobe, its doors flung open, as he’d left it, to reveal only his clothes.
He trudged back down the stairs, trying to make sense of it. He and Steph had lived here for five years, for the last two of them Steph had worked freelance from home. The house should be full of traces of her, everywhere. It was not unusual for her to spend several days at a time in the house, not going out anywhere, especially when she was busy with deadlines to meet.
There was not a trace of her, not even a few of her long black hairs in the bathroom sink.
Paul was in the kitchen now, looking into a fridge bare of all Steph’s favourite foods. He looked up to see Karen from next door out in her garden.
Paul unlocked the back door and stepped out onto the patio.
‘Hello, Karen,’ he called, heading for the wooden fence separating the properties.
‘Hello, Paul. How’s things?’
‘Karen, have you seen Steph?’