Her number was the only one missing, both from his incoming and outgoing calls.
"Did Katherine delete it while I was asleep? ...But she's not the kind of person to go to that kind of trouble..."
Had he deleted it himself in his drunken state after breaking up with her the night before, in an attempt to steel his resolve not to see Catherine again?
But he had no recollection of it. And even if he had been drunk enough to forget, he wouldn't have been able to delete only the data relating to her without missing something out.
"I don't get it."
The phone vibrated in his hand. In his surprise, he almost dropped it. He wondered if it was her, but it wasn't. Of course it wasn't. There was no reason for her to call him herself at this stage.
The caller was Orlando. With conditioned reflexes, Vincent pressed the call button and put the phone to his ear.
"Don't give me that. What's up? Why aren't you in?"
He'd completely forgotten - it was a weekday. He had work, of course. Orlando seemed to have been worried when Vincent didn't show up and phoned.
"Your voice is feeble as hell. Are you sick or somethin'?"
"Well, not much you can do about that, but at least phone in and let us know."
"You're right... Sorry."
He was in a real predicament. He felt like throwing up, like he was still going mad. Why had all traces of her vanished?
"Hey. I'm not... dreaming or anything right now, am I?"
"What the hell are you talking about? You must be pretty sick."
"It's all gone. It's disappeared."
"All proof of her. All of it!"
"Your mistress, you mean? The younger Catherine?"
"Yeah. My phone's history is gone..."
Vincent talked through the events in order. When he had finished speaking, Orlando let out a protracted sigh.
"Then she must have deleted it, right? Your mistress, I mean. As an act of revenge."
"No way. This was the phone I used to call her, wasn't it?"
"Then she must have deleted it after you called her, while you were out of it."
"That's not possible!"
He'd had his phone in his jacket pocket, but hadn't taken it out even once last night. Even during the beating he'd taken, he had remained conscious.
"There's no goddamn way she could've taken my phone and put it back without me noticing. It must have deleted itself, or..."
"Hey. Are you..." Orlando said as though fed up. "Are you sure you're not going mad for real?" He made a show of sighing. "What if she was all in your head from the start?"
The words stuck in his head. He had, after all, imagined the bloodshed of this morning. But was it possible that he had been hallucinating like this the entire time - that Catherine herself was a hallucination?
"Hey, talk to me. Don't take it so seriously."
"I-I'm not." He gripped the phone more forcefully. "There's no way I was seeing things, anyway. You met her too, didn't you?"
"Uh, not exactly..."
"You didn't? You're fucking with me."
"It's the truth," Orlando insisted. "Jonny and Toby haven't met her, either, or anyone else. All we know is what we've heard from you. I thought you were doing it on purpose so Katherine wouldn't catch on."
"No... I wasn't..."
It was a coincidence that they hadn't seen her. It had to be.
"But I can't contact her anymore... And no one's seen her..."
He sounded truly concerned. Next, he was going to tell him to go to the hospital for sure. Before he could say it, Vincent replied, "Shut up! I'm not going crazy!" He was pissed off. "How the hell could she never have existed? Stop fucking with me!"
There was a momentary silence. The seconds ticked by on the clock that sat on the shelf.
"Fine. I'm gonna hang up now."
He'd thrown in the towel. He could tell.
"Wait... Erica must've seen her. She works at the bar, after all. She must know." All alone in the room, he dipped his head in the wall's direction. "Come on, please. Just come along with me for tonight."
"It's fine. It's not like it mat-"
"It's not fine!"
Vincent slammed his fist down on the table.
"Okay. If you insist."
He heard a short sigh, and then the line went dead.
It was like he was having a bad dream, except this time it didn't seem like it was ever going to end. He tried slapping himself across the cheek, pinching himself and washing his face with cold water, but it made no difference.
I saw her over and over. Our limbs entwined. I can still faintly feel the touch of her skin on my fingertips and lips. There's no way she can just have been a figment of my imagination.
He searched frantically for some trace of her; whether she had dropped an item of clothing, her bag, a handkerchief, makeup, accessories - anything. He moved his face close to the bed, searching all over for a golden hair. He even sniffed the pillows and mattress.
It was futile. He couldn't find a thing. All that remained on his bedding was the smell of himself and, ironically enough, the scent of Katherine.
He got changed, then left and wandered aimlessly around town. Before he had realised it, afternoon had come and gone. A steady stream of office workers exited the buildings. The smell of delicious food drifted from cafés, restaurants and stands.
His stomach rumbled. Come to think of it, he hadn't eaten anything since yesterday afternoon. He'd only had a drink that night - and yet he had no appetite. Even still, he went inside the café. It was the café he had visited several times with Katherine, and the café where she had almost bumped into the other Catherine. As always, it was packed. He was led to a table for two.
"Do you have a moment?" he asked the female employee, apron around her waist, as he sat down. "I'm looking for Catherine... a girl called Catherine. She's blonde, about the same height as you, pretty slender, and around 20 years old. She came here a few afternoons back, and..." He desperately retraced his memories. "And I think she ordered... some kind of blood orange thing."
"I'm sorry. It's always crowded at lunchtime, so I can't remember the face of every customer."
The female employee looked a couple of years older than Catherine. At first she looked apologetic, before finally adopting a wary expression.
"Exactly how are the two of you acquainted?"
She must have got the wrong end of the stick and assumed that Vincent was stalking her or something. She's not altogether wrong, either, he thought. Why should he care? Even if he was handed over to the police, it didn't matter so long as he got to see Catherine again.
"She's my girlfriend. She stopped taking my calls all of a sudden."
At his words, this time the woman's expression turned pitiful. "I'll try asking the other staff members."
"Yeah, please. Thanks."
"Can I take your order?"
He had to order something.
"Coffee... No, a sandwich or something. You choose."
"How about a pita sandwich set?"
"Huh? O-oh, yeah. Let's go with that."
"Very well." The woman bowed and left.
He could hear the conversations of the customers around him. Vincent stood silently and approached the neighbouring seat.
"Do you know a girl called Catherine?" he asked, fighting to be heard over the surrounding commotion.
A pair of female office workers ceased their conversation, their hands stilling, and gazed up at him with clear suspicion in their eyes.
"I don't, no..."
Vincent repeated his explanation from before. The women, as expected, shook their heads. Vincent moved away from their seats. He made his way around the tables, asking about Catherine, but got the same result wherever he went. A male employee soon hurried over to him.
He grabbed him by the shoulder. Taking a look at him, he saw that he was still young, and looked like he was a hit with the ladies. He thought about hitting him, but didn't have the energy.
"Hey. Have you seen Catherine?"
"What? I have no idea what you're talking about. You're bothering the other customers, so please stop this. Are you going to take your seat and eat, or are you going to leave right now?"
Vincent looked back at his seat. A lone plate of food sat on the unoccupied table. He still wasn't hungry after all. The customers all around sneaked glances at Vincent. Feeling their stares, he sucked in a breath.
"Is there anyone here who knows Catherine!?" he shouted. He was grabbed firmly by the arm.
The male employee jerked his chin in the direction of the exit. Vincent averted his gaze. He looked at the surrounding tables, but no one there seemed to know Catherine.
He shook free from the man's grip and made for the exit, when he realised that he hadn't paid for his meal. He stopped and took a note from his wallet, then folded it in half and thrust it at the employee from before.