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Our Sick Obsessions

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The taxi slid to a halt in front of Cameron’s grandparents’ house. Despite the overcast afternoon sky, common in Zürich, the home seemed to glow. Around it fell a light blanket of snow, giving it an angelic white trim. No doubt its beauty now was a red herring.
         As a writer, Cameron figured he knew what to expect. Now was the part of the story where disaster struck—where love left in a cruel twist of fate. He whipped out his cellphone and looked again at the text his Australian lover, Max, sent less than half an hour ago.
         “I’m at your grandparents’ house. We need to talk.”
         The words “we need to talk” were what drove anxiety deep into his mind. At least in his life, those words never meant anything good. He thought of the last time he’d heard them and what happened afterward: a suicide, he remembered. He could only hope Max didn’t have anything that drastic in mind. If he did, he knew he deserved it for letting the Aussie go somewhere on his own.
         When he noticed the driver eyeing him in the rearview mirror, the dark ecru-skinned writer jolted upright in his seat. He reached blindly for his back pocket, then pulled up his thigh-length shadow-gray coat when he realized it was in the way. Then, at last, he took out his expensive leather wallet and nosed through the many Swiss francs inside.
         “Keep the change,” he snapped as he tossed forward a random amount of colored banknotes.
         The driver hesitated before gathering them without comment. Meanwhile, Cameron pushed open his door and stepped out of the cab, into the mild winter.
         His grandparents’ house, while quaint, always filled him with a nameless dread. During his childhood, he’d pictured the rickety building to better suit a killer from the slasher films his dad let him watch. Now, he saw his childhood’s Jason Voorhees and raised it himself, 20 years later. After all, he’d seen—created—enough violence by now to know from experience how fake those movies looked.
         As Cameron adjusted his coat, the wind blew through his slicked-up black hair, and he took a deep breath of cold air. The taxi rolled away behind him; he gave it no more than a peripheral glance.
         He tried to convince himself that he had no reason to worry. That there was no way Max would leave him, not after everything they’d been through together in the two years since they met. Even before coming to Zürich, they’d dealt with so much more than the average couple. How many halves of those could say, with honesty, that they’d killed for the other? And though he still wasn’t sure he could reciprocate it, he knew Max loved him. With that line of thought driving him, he held his head high and strutted toward the house.
         Under his weight, the worn wooden steps to the veranda’s screen door groaned in protest. Once he was up them, he raised his hand and rang the doorbell.
         One second. Two. Three. Cameron glanced at the slick black watch on his right wrist: half past two. He waited. And waited.
         No answer.
         Finally, sucking in a steady breath, he grabbed the door’s handle and twisted it down. It came as no surprise to him that it was open; his grandparents, Dottie and Chandler, must’ve left it that way for him. Perhaps, he thought, it might be only him and Max inside. But then why wouldn’t Max have come to open the door for him?
         “Max?” Cameron called out, desperate to break the deafening, eerie silence. “Max, I’m here.”
         The veranda contained only its usual furnishings: two wooden rocking chairs facing the door, and a plastic mat in the corner beside them. Atop the mat were shoes; Dottie always asked visitors to take theirs off before entering. There was nothing unusual in that. What Cameron found worrisome, though, were whose shoes were on the mat.
         There, he found not the dirty gray sneakers Max left with. Only the brown leather dress shoes belonging to Chandler, and the low black slip-on heels belonging to Dottie.
         Cameron’s dark caramel eyes, opened wide and unblinking, flew from the mat to the front door. “Max?” he repeated. Every step made with caution, he crept closer to the white door. Then, he gave it a gentle push.
         Without any resistance, the door inched open. While Dottie might’ve left the veranda’s open to give him shelter from the cold, she would never have left the house’s ajar. Her preoccupation with personal safety wouldn’t let her.
         Cameron opened his mouth to speak, to call out for Dottie—for anyone, but didn’t. Instead, he clamped it back shut without another word. He felt something grip his heart, threatening to squeeze until it stopped if he uttered anything more.
         As the main hallway of the house became more and more exposed to him, he swept his gaze over everything as it appeared. The sand-colored carpeted staircase leading to the second floor. The wallpaper, white with vertical pale blue stripes. The framed pictures on the wall of Dottie, Chandler, his mother and himself; none of his father. The doorway into the back area, which led to the basement, to a small bathroom, and to the kitchen. The doorway into the living room, which led to the dining room.
         At last, the door came to a soft halt against the spring door stop. Somehow, it wasn’t until then that Cameron noticed the smell: harsh and of iron. It was a smell all too familiar to him. The smell of blood.

* * *

Max knew how expensive it was to stay at Zürich’s Park Hyatt hotel. Over 700 U.S. dollars a night, bare minimum. It went without saying, though, that Cameron would spend more. But Max also knew he’d never rent out the most expensive suite, only one of the most expensive.
         This predictable detail always confused him. It wasn’t a money problem: Cameron probably had enough in his bottomless pit of a bank account to buy out the entire damn hotel. So why did he settle for less? Was it for Max’s sake? Was it to seem humble?
         Humble my ass. He told me himself that this is one of the most expensive hotels in the city.
         The flight to Switzerland, to Max, came as a surprising Christmas present. Only twelve hours ago, 8 PM on Christmas Day, they’d been in Pittsburgh. Now, half past 8 AM, they were in Zürich, sitting in the back of a limousine together. Max kept his window rolled down; as they drove, the below-zero winds whipped through his brown hair. Every so often, a stray snowflake would hit him, only to melt as fast as it appeared.
         I know: he must do it to complain. If there’s one thing Cameron loves more than anything, it’s finding things to destroy with a critique.
         It seemed to be snowing outside more than it did back in Pittsburgh. Max, born and raised in Brisbane, wasn’t a fan. Already, Zürich was proving to be quite the opposite of his ideal home; it never snowed in Brisbane. Looking outside now and taking in the cold, the snowfall, the overcast sky—it all felt wrong. Though, he supposed he ought to expect all that by now. After all, eleven years had passed since he left Australia for America. Before moving to Pittsburgh with Cameron, he’d lived by himself in . . .
         His gray eyes gazed out at the narrow Swiss street, looking but not seeing. He saw square blurs of de-saturated colors; yellow, blue, red. The dullness of them, he recognized in himself. As if his love of life, assuming it ever existed, was at some point sapped of color. It took him a few seconds to realize he’d lost his train of thought.
         The realization made Max’s heart race. Losing his train of thought started becoming more common two months ago, after he fell from—was pushed over—a second-storey balcony and cracked his head on a stair. Since then, the most important thing he’d lost was the ability to vouch for his own mental health.
         Boston. I lived in Boston before . . . I think.
         It felt surreal, the situation in which he found himself in now. Almost two years ago, he’d lived alone in a run-down Boston apartment. His only friend: his ex-girlfriend, Stacey. Now, Stacey was dead—had been for almost two years. And yet, here he was in Zürich with her murderer. On holiday, and helplessly in love.
         At first, Max tried to deny his feelings. There was no way he could love Cameron: the man was despicable, cruel, narcissistic and psychotic. He cared for no one but himself—would take pleasure murdering anyone else.
         It didn’t take long for Max to realize how futile denial was. Even now, it was difficult to admit his sexuality to himself. But, regardless of that, he found Cameron irresistible. With his silky black hair in a small quiff and his creamy dark ecru skin, his eyes of dark caramel and his athletic body . . . Despite his psychopathy, to Max he put an image to the word “delicious”. Apparently Cameron liked him too, with his messy brown hair, empty gray eyes, and pasty white skin that didn’t fit an Aussie. Being so scrawny, Max couldn’t help but see Cameron as a guardian. His guardian, whose protection he couldn’t escape even if he wanted to.
         With a deep breath, Max leaned his head back against his seat and closed his tired eyes. Ever since the night terrors started in early November, sleep became foreign. Exhaustion, the norm. Cameron didn’t like to admit it, but the bags under his own eyes appeared around that time, too. Every time Max saw them, he felt guilty about keeping him up at night.
         This unexplained trip to Switzerland, then, might’ve been an attempt to return to form. An attempt to get away from everything that weighed on his mind in Pittsburgh. Max only wished release could come so easy. Because every time he closed his eyes, he saw what happened in Cameron’s basement on Halloween night. Always so clear, so detailed and vivid that it could’ve been an HD recording.
         So much blood . . . So much brutality. Red, white, pink, red, red, red
         Something touching Max’s hand made him jolt. His head swung up, resuming gazing out at the city. He didn’t look, but he knew a hand—Cameron’s, no doubt—was holding his. In response, he turned his own up and entwined their fingers. Then, once established, he tightened his grip on Cameron’s digits as if it would anchor him to the present.
         “You look so sad,” lamented the writer. Or, well, the former writer; a little over a year ago was the last time Cameron had written as much as a word. Max recalled how, when they first met, Cameron had been a flourishing horror novelist. Now, he was only a rich serial killer. Why, then, did Max find himself still regarding Cameron as a writer? He assumed it had to do with how little he actually knew about him. Thinking about it now, to his knowledge, Cameron had no other redeeming talents.
         Other than plotting murders, if that’s redeeming.
         Too caught up in his own thoughts, Max left Cameron’s statement hanging, ignored. Cameron said nothing else, instead looking at his watch and rubbing Max’s hand with his thumb.
         People on the street carried on walking down the street as they drove by. Max noticed a man in a suit rushing along, one of many. A woman, too, in business attire, carrying a designer purse over her left shoulder. Everyone looked so formal. Max found himself wondering: did any of these people lead lives like his?
         What a bloody stupid question. How many people accidentally meet a murderous psychopath and fall in love because of it? Nobody, I reckon. Only me. Only me, because I’m sick, as sick as he is. Deep down, am I any better than him?
         “Things will get better, Max. Just you wait and see,” Cameron spoke out of the blue. He leaned over and kissed Max’s cheek with his soft brown lips. Then, moving up to his ear, he whispered, “She’ll be apples.”
         Those words made the Aussie narrow his eyes. Even so, he held his tongue, lashing back only in his head.
         That’s what I thought when I first met you. Back when I was naïve enough to think there was no way you could be a killer. She won’t be apples; it was foolish for me to ever think that.
         Today, December 26th of 2017, happened to fall as a doomsday. On doomsdays, while Cameron was always happier, Max was always antsier. If the psychopath was going to kill anyone or do anything else labeled crazy, he would often do it on a doomsday. This year, that meant every Wednesday. Next year, every Thursday, if he had to guess.
         What caused Cameron’s obsession with John Conway’s Doomsday rule would forever be unknown to Max. Despite his lack of understanding, though, he could cope with knowing about it. It gave Cameron’s otherwise random behavior a somewhat-reliable pattern. Because of it, he had a decent idea of when to panic.
         Max didn’t realize the limousine stopped until Cameron elbowed him. “Max,” the writer said to further get his attention.
         The Aussie at last turned his head, looking at his lover. Words ran through his head, but every time he singled out something to say, it caught in his throat.
         Cameron’s lightly tapered eyebrows raised a bit. With a small smile on his lips, he pulled the handle on his door and stepped out of the limo.
         Realizing that they were now at their destination, Max felt his heart flutter. He felt both anxious and excited, both emotions struggling for control of his mindset. So while half of him wanted to stay in his seat forever, the other soon managed to convince him to follow Cameron.
         Now at the back of the limousine, Cameron stood before the popped-open trunk. From it, he pulled out their luggage; handed Max his.
         Max’s hands were shaking at he accepted his own suitcase. If Cameron noticed, he said nothing. Instead, trunk now empty, he slammed the door closed and moved to the front. Rather than follow, Max turned his eyes onto the Park Hyatt hotel.
         The building was huge, Max noted. Even though it looked a bit like an apartment complex from the outside, knowing how expensive the interior would look made him nervous. He noted the large windows, most revealing undrawn white curtains. If only he could see into one of the rooms from all the way down here. Then, he thought he might be able to adjust in advance.
         That, or it’d only terrify me further.
         When Cameron returned to his side, it startled him. But, unaware of his inner turmoil, the writer only gave him a confident grin.
         “Are you coming?” he asked.
         The entrance to the hotel, made up of rotating doors, was in front of them now. A well-dressed man walked past them and the row of decorative bushes in black stands. He pushed into the hotel, disappearing inside. As more people waltzed in and out, Max noticed how no one gave even a glance to the windows next to the doors; a preview of the next-door art gallery. It felt like he was the only one appreciating the abstract artwork. The gallery reminded him of how, before leaving Boston with Cameron, he wanted to be a digital artist. He missed those days.
         Cameron corrected the front of his coat and started making his way toward the revolving doors. He looked more fashionable, but as well-dressed as everyone else. His dark, thigh-length coat flowed behind him as he walked, ignoring the snowflakes that landed in his slick black hair.
         Max found himself petrified, unable to bring himself to follow his lover. More than anything, he felt out of place, as he realized his own attire wasn’t up to par.  Cameron wore an expensive coat, with a suit under it and nice black dress shoes. Max, on the other hand, was only wearing a beige coat, a red zip-up hoodie, tacky grey jeans, and dirty gray sneakers. He felt like a clueless tourist. Though he figured that was fitting; “clueless tourist” were the exact words he’d use to describe himself.
         I can’t believe it. I’m in a whole new country. Is it possible for me to feel any more out of my element? There’s no way I’ll belong more here than I did in Boston. God, why am I here? Why are we here? Couldn’t we have stayed in Pittsburgh, Cameron?
         If he thought he had anxiety issues before, his late head injuries only made them worse.
         Switzerland will only be temporary, right? At this point, I don’t think I can adjust to a new country . . .
         He didn’t notice that Cameron returned to him again until he stood right in front of him. For a beat, they only stared at each other. Then, the writer raised his hand and used it to stroke Max’s cheek.
         “Do you trust me, Max?” he asked in a low, loving voice.
         As he nuzzled against his hand for comfort, Max’s eyes met Cameron’s. He took a few seconds to digest the question. “Despite everything,” he finally answered, in a serious tone, “yes.”
         I shouldn’t, but I do. I trust you because you’re all I have. What does that say about me: that you’re now my only link to sanity?
         Cameron smiled once more, giving Max’s cheek a gentle smack of assurance as he did.
         Max took it, knowing better than to flinch. Ever since Halloween, a fear of getting on Cameron’s bad side stifled any urges to protest. If he protested, who knew what violence the psychopath might inflict upon him?
         In a friendly tone, Cameron urged, “Let’s check in.”
         The Aussie responded quickly with a meek nod. As Cameron approached the revolving doors, Max remained close behind him.
         What he noticed first about the hotel’s foyer were the polished floors, made up of black marble tiles. Already, there was a rich vibe in the air that weighed on Max like quick-drying cement. There was a warm orange lighting that made the crème-colored walls seem a vibrant shade of goldenrod. In general, Max found it made him feel sort of queasy.
         Before them now was a hallway that was only a few feet long, but to Max seemed to stretch on forever. He’d much rather take one of the two staircases to his right, but a fear of the unknown crippled him. Besides, Cameron mightn’t appreciate him wandering off on his own.
         When Cameron started down the hall, Max felt there was no choice but to follow him. Here, he found a smaller room, which gave him a slight sense of claustrophobia. The first thing to catch his eye was the gigantic painting on the wall, framed in black and placed above a matching leather couch. The painting itself contained long, wavy lines of scarlet, navy, white, and straw-gold. As an artist, he harbored slight appreciation for it, whatever it tried to represent. As a person, he thought it looked like a portrait of moldy spaghetti.
         The definition of “fine art” sure is loose nowadays, isn’t it? I mean, I guess it’s nice . . . -ish, but I could’ve made that blindfolded in a dark room.
         Cameron made a sharp turn right, as did Max. This led them into the spacious lounge restaurant. That is, spacious but for an odd bamboo display and a humongous, spiraling art piece in the center. As Cameron approached the receptionist, Max marveled at the sight of the “artwork”.
         The piece looked like scrap metal shaped in a coil-esque form. It looked a bit like the logo for an old video game company Max recalled from his youth. All in all, it seemed to him much like something found in a junkyard and sold for millions with a hollow, ad-libbed meaning.
         You know, I wasn’t cut out as an artist, anyway, he thought as he tilted his head at it. What the fuck is this thing? This is art?
         “Reservation for Cameron and Max Fenn,” Cameron told the receptionist.
         Max shot him a glance.
         Max Fenn? I guess he can’t give them “Aleshire”, since I’m a missing person, but . . . It sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? Me, with his surname . . .
         He felt himself blushing a little, running his mind over the name once more.
         Max Fenn . . . It doesn’t sound too bad, actually. I could get used to it.
         Deciding he was reading too much into it, he turned to look back at the art piece. In doing so, though, he noticed someone at the far end of the lounge staring at him. So, instead, he shifted his focus to them. That was how his eyes locked with ones of sparkling dark sea foam.
         The man across the lobby was tall, though not as tall as Cameron. His light brown hair went down to the nape of his neck, bangs hanging over his brows as if to hide part of his expression. If Max were to compare him to anyone, he’d say he looked a bit like a young Zac Efron. Yet, that comparison wasn’t able to do him justice; there was something more dapper about him. His face was thin, with large, lashed eyes and a handsome nose. Slim jawline, clean-shaven, like Cameron but somehow nicer. He wore a black suit, as did the man he stood talking to—or, rather, paying half attention to.
         Something about the sight of the mystery man made Max’s heart skip a beat. He couldn’t take his eyes off him. It seemed this was mutual, as the man kept glancing at him with his mouth somewhat agape. Finally, though, he looked at the man talking to him, smiled, said something, and nodded. Then, they disappeared down a hall together.
         Still gazing in that direction, Max blindly reached out and pulled on Cameron’s sleeve. “Hey,” he said, then pointed down to where the mystery man went. “Where does that lead?”
         “One of the conference rooms, I guess,” Cameron answered. “Why?”
         “No reason,” he lied.
         Who was that guy? Is he a businessman? I felt weird staring at him . . . like I laid eyes on my soulmate or something.
         Try as he may to shake his head clear, calming the heavy beating of his heart wasn’t so easy.
         I’d better get my head out of the clouds. The odds of us crossing paths again are slim.
         “Park Junior Suite, yes?” inquired the receptionist at last.
         “That’d be us,” replied Cameron, sounding chipper.
         “And you’re booked for a week?”
         “Yes. I’ll pay by the day.”
         “All right. One night comes to 1,030 francs.”
         Cameron pulled out his wallet, nosing through the banknotes of converted currency. “Two, four, six, eight—thousand.” He slapped five 200 franc notes onto the table, then a twenty and a ten.
         The receptionist, welcoming smile on her slim face, collected the notes. Then, she handed him a keycard. “Enjoy your stay, Mr. Fenn.”
         “Thank you.” He turned and looked at Max, who was still gazing off into the lobby. “Max?”
         The Aussie turned. “Hmm?”
         Cameron held up the keycard.
         “Oh, right. Let’s go.”
         Together they got into an elevator up to the floor their suite was on. While they were inside, Cameron abruptly said, “She forgot to ask if we wanted someone to take our bags.”
         Max paused for a beat or two before asking, “Did we want someone to?”
         “No, but she’s supposed to ask.”
         “It slipped her mind, I guess.”
         “Should be routine by this point.”
         “She must be new, then, Cameron,” Max snapped. “What do you want me to say?”
         “I never asked you to say anything.”
         The elevator doors opened and they exited into the hallway. Cameron looked left, then right, then left again, as if he didn’t know which way they needed to go.
         “I’ve never rented this suite before.”
         The Aussie sunk his face into his palm. “Let’s try left, then.”
         Chipper as ever, the writer puffed out his chest and headed to the left. Max trailed behind him, noting how this floor had the same tiles, wallpaper, and lighting as the foyer. When Cameron tried the keycard on the first door they saw, it beeped, light for the handle turning green.
         “Oh. You were right.” Cameron didn’t sound surprised. Rather, he sounded somewhat pleased. He opened the door, then stood back, holding it open for his smaller lover. “Ladies first.”
         “Piss off,” Max muttered. Cameron smirked, then they stepped inside.
         While most of their suite had the same color walls as the rest of the hotel, some of it had ones of dark brown wood. It gave Max a sense of appreciation: how the bedframe matched and how the sand-colored carpet contrasted. Though, deep down, his major relief was that the carpet made him feel like he could walk without shoes on.
         In the off-center of the room stood a black-framed glass coffee table. Atop it, Max took in the sight of a small, expensive white vase, in the shape of a teardrop. A dark red rose stuck out, catching the Aussie’s eye. It reminded him so much of his current twisted affair that he had to wonder if Cameron requested it.
         He knew from the sight alone that if Cameron were to return to writing here, he’d use the work desk. Erected before a large window veiled by a thin white curtain, it gave the best view of Zürich possible. Max thought that might be distracting, but something told him Cameron would think otherwise.
         On the windowsill was another vase, this one dark burgundy. Sprouting from its neck were a bundle of extravagant white orchids. Max thought their presence ironic; he and Cameron were far from innocent, as the flowers implied. Even so, he found himself drawn to them somehow.
         The king bed had a lamp on either side, one for him and one for Cameron. Above the pillows, the artist discovered an off-white canvas, framed by the wooden wall paneling. On it, scattered clusters of browning leaves; dabs of green and brown paint. This, he thought fitting.
         In turning away from the rest of the room, Max noticed there was another room. He entered through one of the two doorways; this tucked-away section of the suite turned out to be a bathroom.
         Its floors and counters unfortunately re-introduced the black marble tiles, while the deep white bathtub in the middle brought Max deep confusion. As he stared at it, he wondered how, exactly, to use it. It seemed to him so misshaped that it’d be uncomfortable to sit in. But if it was, then what was it doing in such an expensive hotel?
         Enraptured, Max stepped through the other door and back into the suite. He found Cameron sitting in front of him now, in one of the two yellow chairs behind the coffee table. Though the Aussie half-expected his face to glow like his own, instead it looked dull and bored.
         “It’s a bit small, isn’t it?” the writer griped. As he spoke, he dug one of his sharp fingernails into the leather chair arm. Then, he closed his hand into a fist. Max registered the indent his nail left, but didn’t know why.
         “Shut up, Cameron,” he managed to counter. He smiled as he looked around the room once more, eager to drown himself in the room’s artistry. It was so much nicer than he’d expected. “This . . . This is too much.”
         “What, you’ve never been in a hotel like this?” Cameron waved his hand, dismissive. “This is a dime a dozen. Nothing unique here.”
         “Still, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
         With a heavy sigh, the writer leaned forward in his chair and clasped his hands. “I suppose the question I should be asking is: do you like it?”
         At first, the question sat well in Max’s head. Then, his train of thought snagged on the placement of Cameron’s emphasis. It rested on the word “like”. Max couldn’t help but take this to imply there was a right and a wrong answer.
         He sounds upset with me when he says it like that. Is he? What should I say: yes or no? Which does he want to hear?
         Though he felt himself quivering, Max forced a large, friendly grin onto his face. In a desperate effort to deflect the inquiry, he countered with: “Do you?”
         After a moment’s pause, Cameron smiled back. Something in his eyes made it clear he saw right through Max’s façade. He didn’t answer, rather stood up from the chair, lengthening his tall, toned body with the grace of a figure skater. Then, he approached the bed. Taking a seat on the rightmost side, closer to the window, he slicked back his hair. The light from outside almost silhouetted him as he reached up and loosened the knot of his tie. At last, he flicked his dark caramel eyes onto Max and gave the other side of the bed a firm, seductive pat.
         A chill shot down Max’s spine, causing him to tense up. Yet, his body moved closer anyway, as if beyond his control. Turning his back to his lover, he sat on the free side of the mattress, covered by a soft white blanket.
         “You seem agitated,” Cameron spoke in a low voice. His hands moved up to Max’s shoulders, tracing down his arms, taking their time as they did. “Do you want to have sex?”
         Max didn’t move. “I’m tired, Cameron.”
         “You’ll fall asleep faster.”
         “It’s light out. You know I don’t . . .”
         A small huff. “Right. You only fuck when it’s dark outside.” The writer’s lascivious hands pulled away. “Which is weird, because you don’t mind if the lights are on inside.”
         “Look, maybe later, all right?”
         That shut Cameron up. Max felt the bed sink as he laid down on it. The small, intrigued huff he heard didn’t surprise him; “maybe later” was the closest thing to a “yes” he’d given Cameron since Halloween. Whether he’d said it out of generosity or desperation, though, he wasn’t sure.
         “Do you want to get some breakfast?” the writer inquired, tone now softer, yet somehow casual.
         In response, Max looked at him over his shoulder with eyes draped in sardonicism. “I’m tired,” he repeated.
         Cameron pouted his lips, then returned a slow nod of acknowledgement. Then, he sat up, stood back up, and stretched in front of the window. “Well, I’m going to take a shower.”
         “Bath,” Max corrected as he watched Cameron make his way to the bathroom.
         “Bath, shower. Same general neighborhood.” The writer disappeared through the closest door way, but then poked his head back out. His soft lips curled up, shifting his expression into a seductive leer. “You’re welcome to join me.”
         “I don’t think that tub can fit one person, let alone two,” joked the Aussie.
         “Are you kidding? Nah, we can both fit. You’re small enough.”
         Max shook his head and held up a hand in reluctance. “No thanks.”
         Cameron blinked at him, then shrugged. “Your loss.” Again, he disappeared from view. A few seconds later, the bathtub’s faucet started running.
         Max let out a weary, anxious sigh. He kicked off his sneakers before pulling his legs up onto the bed. Then, at last, he allowed himself to lie down.
         Oh, my God. It’s so firm. Comfortable, too. But somehow, I still can’t tell if this is heaven or hell.
         Only a minute or two went by before he found himself thinking about the stranger in the lobby. Try as he may to remove him from his mind, he couldn’t. For some reason, he felt certain they’d see each other again.
         I bet he wasn’t even staring at me because he felt the same way. He might’ve stared because I look out of place here. But then why did he seem so . . . surprised? So entranced by me, as I was by him?
         Defeated and uncertain, he turned onto his side and gazed at the shimmering curtain. The potted orchids seemed to radiate a comforting vibe. It might not be Brisbane, but the gorgeous suite would make a decent place to rest for a while, he figured. So, focusing on the soothing white petals and the steady stream of water in the bathroom, Max let his heavy lids drift shut.