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Excerpt for Our Sick Obsessions by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Our Sick Obsessions


Also by Noëlle McHenry


In the Name of Evil

Don’t Wake Me Up Just Yet

Polarity

Ignore the Camera

Our Sick Obsessions

A short fictional suspenseful romance novel by Noëlle McHenry



This short novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, dialogue, businesses, softwares, websites, locations, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


Text copyright © 2018 Noëlle McHenry

All rights reserved.


Smashwords Edition


ISBN-13: 9781370710270 (Smashwords Edition)


Cover by Noëlle McHenry


First Edition (01 February 2018 – 16 February 2018)





That which is done out of love is always beyond good and evil.” – Friedrich Nietzsche



Table of Contents

No Worries

Our Sick Obsessions

1: Hotel

2: Dinner

3: Restless

4: Introductions

5: Whiskey

6: Zürich

7: Maniac

8: Dominance

9: Submission

10: Shower

11: Ecstasy

12: Midnight

13: Family

14: Love

15: Karma

16: Never

17: Unexpected

18: Endearment

About the Author

Connect with the Author



No Worries


For a moment, Max Aleshire didn’t know what he was doing at the reunion party. It wasn’t as if he was friends with the guests. He knew a handful of them, the ones who were classmates, but he wasn’t friends with them, either. In school, he’d been the odd one out—the one that everyone knew, but no one liked. It wasn’t because he’d antagonized anyone. No, he’d been the quiet student who sat in the back and only spoke when spoken to.

He’d often thought he wanted to get to know his peers. After all, he’d had plenty of friends back in Brisbane. Boston, though, not so much. At first he’d wondered why. Was it his Australian accent? The way he dressed? His surname, which no one could quite figure out how to pronounce? For some reason, everybody avoided him. He’d known they weren’t doing it to upset him, though. When forced to talk, everyone was rather nice to him. So why did they ignore him, even now?

There was one person who, after two years of pretending he didn’t exist, finally had to talk to him for a group assignment. Her name was Stacey Eichel; she was the most popular girl in his grade. He didn’t care much for things like that, though. When he did speak to her, he spoke to her the same way he spoke to anyone else. She must’ve appreciated that, as, to everyone’s surprise, she started sitting by him. Max had both liked and hated this. As much as he wanted to make friends, he liked his solitariness. But who was he to push away the prettiest girl in Boston? Whenever she brushed her black hair behind her ear or her hazel eyes met his, he felt something stir in his chest.

One day, Stacey gave him the answer to his long-lurking question: “You know, I thought you’d be an asshole. No offense. You always look so serious, so I was afraid to approach you.”

Well, he’d thought, that explains it.

By then, though, it’d been too long for him to change. Too awkward. He was a serious guy. Why should he hide it?

Stacey didn’t mind. In fact, she told him, “I think you’re cute when you’re serious.”

They’d started dating on Valentine’s Day of 2014. He was 16, Stacey 17. Now it was New Year’s Eve, 2016, about five minutes from 2017. They’d been together for almost three years and were now both 19 years old . . . yet they’d never even kissed.

In the time that’d passed, they both moved into their own places; Stacey to a small house and Max to an apartment. Stacey, because her parents were over-protective. She wanted to prove she could thrive on her own. Max, because his father was an alcoholic gambler who stole the money he’d earned making digital art. They’d both graduated from high school the previous June. Stacey had started looking for a job. Max, on the other hand, grew more reclusive, preferring to work on commissions rather than go outside. They still went on the occasional date, though.

All this and Max still hadn’t had his first kiss yet. He supposed that was why Stacey invited him to the New Year’s party. She knew the presence of their former classmates meant nothing to him. He’d much rather have stayed at home and worked. Yet, she’d invited him anyway, so he figured it was to hold him down and kiss him when the ball dropped.

The thought alone made him nervous. It wasn’t that he didn’t like her. She was his girlfriend. It was his own damned fault for not working up the nerve to kiss her on his own. Would she make him be the one to lean in? She did have a tendency to be controlling. The argument they’d had back in July, after he’d refused to take out a loan to go to college with her, flashed into his mind. Was it because of that that she’d never gone? Was it to guilt him? Most likely. If being controlling didn’t get Stacey what she wanted, then passive-aggression was her backup plan.

Despite these small character flaws, Max still loved her. He couldn’t explain why he’d never felt any sexual or romantic urges for her. His only thought was that he was asexual. But that couldn’t be right. When he imagined making love to Stacey, it was beautiful and easy. But then they were alone in a room together and she was cracking onto him, and . . . nothing. At least her controlling nature had never carried over into her desires for him. She’d never pressured him for sex; rather, she made subtle suggestions and sighed when he dismissed them.

That has to change, he thought to himself as he stared down into the red solo cup in his hand. I have to show Stacey that I care, because I do! Else she’ll leave me, I know she will. She’ll think I don’t love her. I never show her that I do. That has to change!

He hadn’t seen much of her since they got to the party. There were a lot more people than he’d expected. He stood on his own, tucked away in the corner. As a wallflower he watched his peers like a soap opera. At some point he’d wound up with a drink in his hand, but he’d hardly touched it. Now that he was adamant about pleasing Stacey, though, he brought the cup to his lips and forced himself to drink. As he did, he wondered who’d smuggled the alcohol in. Legal drinking age was 21; no one at the party was, to his knowledge, over 20.

Oh, well. It’s none of my concern, much as I’d like to thank them. He tilted his head back and gulped. Tastes like cat piss, though. The buzz had better be worth it.

“Three minutes!” someone shouted. No one else paid any attention, but Max grew tense. As if on a cue, he saw Stacey’s head through the crowd as she approached. Her high ponytail swayed as she walked. With her hazel eyes, she scanned the crowd as she held her arms close to herself.

She looks as nervous as I am . . .

When she reached him, she looked at him for a beat, but then turned her eyes to the floor without a word.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she replied through an exhale.

“Where’ve you been?” He chuckled and gave her a gentle nudge. “Shame on you, leaving me all alone.”

She made an amused grunt, but her smile didn’t last long.

“What’s wrong?”

“Um . . . Nothing. Never mind it.”

Thirty seconds of silence. Two minutes remaining. Max fidgeted in place. Stacey’s sour mood wasn’t helping him get over his nerves.

Does she want me to kiss her? Should I ask? He gave himself a mental kick. ‘Course not, ya twit! Don’t kill the romance!

“What do you think of the party?” he asked.

“It’s all right, I guess. How about you?”

“Well, I can’t complain. Seems to be goin’ off.”

Stacey shook her head a bit. “Hmm?”

“Goin’ off,” he repeated. “As in, it seems fun? Do you not say that here?”

That got a bit more of a laugh from her, but still she couldn’t hold his gaze for long. “Still having trouble with Australian slang, I see.”

“Ah, I’m an Aussie at heart no matter how long I stay here. Better to teach Strine than drop it, right?”

“I suppose. I do find it cute.”

I’ll give her a kiss at midnight. Give her a real pash. He hesitated. Okay, well, maybe not a pash. I’ll kiss her, though. Might as well. What do I have to lose?

“You aren’t uncomfortable, are you?”

Max gave her his attention. “Pardon?”

“You aren’t uncomfortable? I know you don’t like people that much.”

He scoffed and shrugged, playing it cool. “Me? Nah. I’m a bit of a piker, sure, but I’ve been fine so far.”

“Ah.” If she didn’t understand “piker”, she did a good job hiding it. Though, hiding the discomfort in her voice didn’t come so easy. “You haven’t even taken off your coat, though.”

“It’s chilly in here.” A lie: Max was sweltering, but he didn’t feel comfortable leaving his coat unattended.

“I suppose.”

“One minute left, guys!” shouted someone in the mob.

Oh, boy. Almost time. Am I even ready for this?

The music kept playing, but everyone quieted somewhat, anticipating 2017’s rapid approach. As they did, Max stared at Stacey as she continued gazing at the floor.

All right. Get over yourself, mate. It’s only a kiss. She’s your girlfriend. Don’t be daft about it.

“30!” The mob started to count down, all in unison, but for him and Stacey. “29! 28! 27!”

“Look, babe . . . We need to talk,” mumbled Stacey as she crossed her arms.

“What about?” Max took a sip of his drink.

“I want to break up.”

It took a few seconds for the gravity of those words to weigh on Max. He looked at her in surprise once they did, his gray eyes wide. “What?”

“Look, I’m sorry, I am, but . . . I can’t keep doing this anymore, Max. I want things that you can’t give me, and I just . . . can’t anymore.”

“Stace, what . . . What are you saying?”

“I love you, Max, but let’s face it: we weren’t meant to be together. We should go back to being friends.” In defeat, she waved her hands in front of herself. Her eyes were watering. “I’m sorry.” Then, she hurried away, disappearing into the crowd.

“Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!” The party exploded into cheer, oblivious to Max’s shock.

Did that happen? He wondered, dismayed. Did she break up with me?

He was slow in scanning his eyes over the mob, or was it the world around him that’d slowed? People were holding each other, kissing, cheering . . . and here he was, on his own. Dumped.

Who breaks up with someone during the countdown? She didn’t even let me prove myself!

There was a pain in his chest that he hadn’t expected. He’d always felt that if she broke up with him, he wouldn’t react too much. But it hurt heaps. He wanted to get angry. What would that prove, though? He deserved this. It was his own fault for not showing her the love she wanted sooner.

Whatever. It’s fine. I’m better off alone, anyway. This whole “love” thing wasn’t my bowl of rice.

A bitter stake burrowed its way into his heart. His apartment was a far way away; Stacey had driven him here. She’d disappeared, though, somewhere in the crowd. Was it to hide away from him in shame, or to slink to someone else? The latter seemed more like his luck. Glad that he’d kept his coat on, he set his cup down on a table and headed out.

Man, I really am a piker, leaving the party early. Guess I have a reason to, though. I don’t belong there.

It was colder outside now than it’d been when they got there. All he could hope was that he wouldn’t get mugged or something on the long walk home.

He tried to convince himself that he wasn’t angry. After all, he didn’t feel like he had a reason to be. She’d given him his just deserts. He’d made his bed, now he had to lay in it. Would he ever find love—someone he could reciprocate feelings for?

Nah, I doubt it. I have trouble loving my own parents. I don’t even love myself. So how could I love someone else? I’m too anti-social for love. Didn’t even believe Stacey whenever she showed affection toward me. Guess I was right to doubt her, though, huh?

What was it that made her dump me now? Was it because I never kissed her? Because we never had sex? She’s with someone else who pressured her into dropping me? I’d be willing to bet on the last one. She has been more absorbed in her phone than normal as of late . . .

He pulled up the fur-lined hood of his black parka once he was halfway home. As much as he wanted to check the time on his phone, he was coming up to a bad area now and didn’t want to flaunt any of his possessions. However long it’d been, it felt like it’d been an hour since he left the party. It’d take at least another half hour for him to reach his apartment.

In the meantime, it was difficult for him to describe what he felt. Betrayal? Anger? Sadness? He wasn’t sure. When he stopped on the middle of the street, it was because he realized he was walking past a cemetery. Somehow, it seemed fitting, though he didn’t recognize it. One of the pillars for the main gate had a plaque on it. “Cᴇᴅᴀʀ Gʀᴏᴠᴇ Cᴇᴍᴇᴛᴇʀʏ”, it read in gold. As he took in the name, a sudden sensation of wanderlust came over him. The urge to walk through the cemetery was unbearable. Alas, the gate had a padlock and chain holding it shut.

When Stacey dies, will they bury her here? The obtrusive thought forced its way into his mind. They’ll bury me back in Straya, I reckon. But she’d be here. Or in a different cemetery?

Hold on a tick. Why on earth am I thinking about this? She’s not dead, won’t be for a long time.

But she may as well be dead to me.

He shook his head, disturbed by himself. No! No, that’s fucked up! Christ . . . Never mind. I’m going home.

The cold winter air blew hard against his face as he trudged down the street. It’d never been this cold back in Brisbane. Suddenly, he felt homesick for the great Down Under. As much as snow had amazed him since he was ten, the cold wasn’t worth it. Too bitter. In Australia, December and January had been warm months. Hell, most months were warm when compared to this. Forget about the party—he didn’t belong in Boston.

It’s too late to go back now. There’s nothing there for me anymore . . .

Forty minutes later and he was at last entering his apartment building. In the stairwell, he felt his phone rumble in his back pocket and wondered if it was Stacey. He didn’t check, though. Instead, he took his time clomping up the stairs. Up he went, all the way to the fourth floor. Stopping in front of the door to apartment 409, he pulled out his keys from the front left pocket of his gray jeans.

His apartment was dark, all the lights off and curtains over the windows in the living room. Not even a sliver of moonlight could find its way in, so when Max opened the door, it was like looking into an abyss. As his phone rumbled a few more times, he stepped in and closed the door behind himself. He’d only lived here for a year, but had no difficulty finding the light switch on the wall blind.

With a sigh he dropped his keys down onto the kitchen island. Then he headed further into the apartment, to the living room. He unzipped his coat and slipped it off, dropping it down onto the couch. His head hung as he slunk into his bedroom. From his back right pocket he pulled his phone out before sitting on the bed. He turned it on.

Of course, all the notifications that made it rumble were texts from Stacey. Rather than look at the latest on his wall, he opened one and read them all in order.

1:06 AM: “Did you get home safe?”

1:08 AM: “I’m so sorry, Max. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

1:09 AM: “I hope you can understand. I only broke up with you because I felt like we were awkward as lovers. You never seemed comfortable when I changed our status quo.”

1:10 AM: “I thought we’d be better as friends. Can we still be that?”

Max stared at the message and thought: Friends? With you? You must be off your face! “No”, he typed, but hesitated before pressing send.

Now, hold on a minute. Let’s not be so rash. I mean, she does have a point. I never was comfortable with romance. Should I accept this? Oh, reckon I’ll be bitter about this for a long time, but . . .

He deleted the two letters he’d tapped in. Stacey started to type another text. “Please?” it read when she sent it.

Max sighed. She said she was sorry, mate. Count your blessings. She’s your only friend, and she’s giving you a chance to not lose her for good. Take it!

I’m gonna regret this, he thought, but responded anyway. “Yeah.”

There was a beat before Stacey replied. “Really?”

“Yeah, let’s stay friends.”

“You always were considerate. Thanks.” She ended this text with a smiling emoji.

Chewing his lower lip in a mix of uncertainty and anxiety, Max simply responded, “No worries.”




Our Sick Obsessions


1

Hotel


When Cameron opened the door to his grandparents’ house, the first thing he smelled was blood. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise, then, when he found his grandparents in the living room. They were lying near each other, throats slit—blood making the white carpet seem dark scarlet brown. Dottie, his grandmother, had received especially brutal treatment, face mutilated with stab wounds. Judging by the blood around her body, her trunk was the same. His grandfather, Chandler, though, only had his throat slit.

“Someone doesn’t like women,” Cameron murmured to himself.

He knew their murders were meant to upset him, but they didn’t. As a psychopath, Cameron cared little for anybody but himself. As a result, their deaths to him were only slight annoyances.

“What meaningless violence. Nothing to gain, killing them . . .”

The writer pulled out his cellphone. Max’s text was still open. He read it again.

“I’m at your grandparents’ house. We need to talk.”

Had Max found the bodies? If so, where was he? Better yet, Cameron had to question why he’d come here in the first place. They were supposed to be packing for tomorrow’s flight. Not that they had much to pack . . .

“Max?” Cameron called out. The name echoed through the expensive house without a reply. Only eerie silence. The dark ecru-skinned writer didn’t want to admit that he felt fear beginning to blossom within him.

The Aussie hadn’t been acting quite like himself these past few months. As of late, it’d only become more drastic. Was this the pinnacle of it? Had he driven his innocent Max to sporadic murder? He looked down at his phone. His hand was quivering. Regardless, he pressed the call button.

Deeper into the house, it started: Max’s ringtone. The sound of it here, now, further agitated him. Though he attempted to distance himself from the fear, the slight tremble in his body remained. If it’d been anyone else, he wouldn’t have felt a thing. But it was Max. Max, who he’d studied for almost two years, who’d only two months ago stopped being predictable. Anyone else, he could’ve guessed their next move. Could’ve guessed their motive, their purpose, whether they intended to kill him next. But Max . . . Would Max kill him? Would Max even remember killing his grandparents? He trusted the Aussie; he was the only person he trusted. Was that a mistake?

With slow footsteps, Cameron slunk past his grandparents’ bodies, into the dining room. There was no wall separating it from the kitchen, so the pantry door of foggy glass was visible to him over the island. The ringtone was coming from inside. Cameron felt himself make a dark smirk. The pantry was short and narrow. As the one not cornered inside, he’d have the upper hand.

On the counter beside the pantry door was a wooden knife block. One was missing, so he took one as well. With his fingertip, he tested the sharpness of its edge and point. It would do.

The pantry’s was a sliding door. He reached for the concave handle, knife in his dominant left hand. With force, he tore the door open. Then, he stood there, waiting for something to happen. The ringtone continued, but no one jumped out at him. As he tightened his grip on the knife’s handle, he stepped into the pantry. There was a pile of boxes near the back, tall enough for someone to crouch behind. He raised the knife and stepped closer. When he whipped his head to see who was behind the tower, he saw no one. The ringtone sounded closer still. He raised his eyes; on the edge of the third-lowest shelf sat Max’s phone.

Cameron’s confidence and heart both sank. His mistake only became clearer when he heard someone step into the doorway. The ringtone finally stopped. Cameron dared not move, though it was obvious he’d been seen. Was he afraid, or only disappointed by his own gullibility? He wasn’t sure; hiding in the pantry had seemed like a “Max” thing to do. Though, it seemed that way because he’d forgotten that Max wasn’t quite himself anymore.

The writer let out a small, defeated huff before saying the name of who would now either be his killer or next victim: “Max.”


* * *


The five-star Park Hyatt hotel in Zürich was expensive to stay at. Over 700 U.S. dollars a night, at least. Max knew Cameron would spend more, though. He wouldn’t rent out the most expensive suite, as some sort of unspoken rule, but he’d rent out one of the most expensive. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the money for the most expensive suite. He just never went that far. Was it to seem humble?

Humble my ass. He told me this is one of the most expensive hotels in the city.

The flight to Switzerland had, to Max, come 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, riding a bus to their hotel. Why they hadn’t taken a tram or a taxi was a mystery to Max, but so were a lot of other things Cameron did.

Snow was plentiful outside. Max, who’d been born and raised in Brisbane for the first ten years of his life, wasn’t a fan. He liked to be reminded of home; it never snowed in Brisbane. Though, he supposed he should be used to the cold by now. It’d been eleven years since he moved to America, after all. Before Pittsburgh, he’d lived alone in . . .

As he stared out the window to his left, it took a few seconds for him to realize he’d lost his train of thought. That’d been happening a lot lately, since two months ago to be exact. Getting beaten about the head and falling from a second-storey balcony, only to crack his head on a stair had its side effects.

Boston. I lived in Boston before . . . I think.

It was surreal: the situation he found himself in now. Almost two years ago, he’d lived alone in an apartment in Boston. His only friend had been his ex-girlfriend, Stacey. Now, Stacey was dead—had been for almost two years. And here he was in Zürich, on holiday with her murderer. Helplessly in love with her murderer.

He couldn’t help it: how irresistible he found Cameron. With his silky black hair in a small quiff and his creamy dark ecru skin, eyes of dark caramel and athletic body . . . Despite his psychotic and psychopathic nature, he was delicious. Apparently Cameron liked him too, with his messy brown hair, pasty white skin that didn’t fit an Aussie, and empty gray eyes. Being so scrawny compared to him, Max couldn’t help but see Cameron as his guardian at this point. A guardian whose protection he couldn’t escape even if he wanted to.

Sleep was foreign to Max now, despite his exhaustion. Ever since he started having night terrors in early November, he’d got little of it. Though Cameron didn’t like to admit it, he’d had noticeable bags under his eyes since around that time. Because of Max’s late night screaming fits and tendency to sleepwalk, he didn’t sleep much, either. This trip to Switzerland, then, might’ve been an attempt to return to form. Max hoped he might be able to get some normal sleep in another country, but he doubted it. After all, back on Halloween, Cameron had for the first time killed someone in front of him. The sight haunted him every time he closed his eyes.

The blood . . . God, the brutality of it. Red, white, pink, red, red, red

Cameron’s hand touched his, pulling him from his troubling memory. Though he didn’t look, he knew it was Cameron. So, in response, he turned his hand around to lock fingers with him. He held it tight, as if it’d help to keep him anchored in the present.

“You look so sad,” the writer said. Or, well, former writer; it’d been a little over a year since Cameron wrote a word. When they first met, he’d been a freelance novelist. Now, he was only a rich serial killer.

Max didn’t answer him. People walked down the street as they drove past. He wondered if any of them had lives like his.

Not likely. 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 leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “She’ll be apples.”

Those words made the Aussie narrow his eyes, but he didn’t say anything.

That’s what I thought when I first met him. Back when I was naïve enough to think it was improbable that he’d be a killer. She won’t be apples. I never should’ve thought that.

Today, December 26th of 2018, was a doomsday. While Cameron was always happier on doomsdays, Max was always antsier. If the psychopath was going to kill anyone or do any other crazy things, it would almost always be on a doomsday. This year, doomsday meant every Wednesday. Next year, Thursday, if he had to guess. Cameron’s love of John Conway’s Doomsday rule was something Max would never understand, as was the rule itself. He could cope with it, though. At least it gave him an idea of what days he should panic on.

When the bus stopped again, Cameron elbowed him. Finally, he turned his head. The writer stood as a non-verbal sign that this was their stop, but Max didn’t stand until he grabbed their bags. Cameron handed his to him; he took it without comment. He followed behind him and watched him step off the bus. Once outside, the taller man extended his arms out and took a deep breath.

“It’s been too long,” he exclaimed. “I love this city!” Then he turned to look at Max, who stood hesitating on the bus’ steps. He held out a hand toward him. “Are you coming?”

Max lowered his eyes to the snow. It looked kind of deep, but that wasn’t the problem.

If I step off this bus, it’s like I’m succumbing to him once and for all.

Oh, too right, you twit. It’s only a bus. You’ve already succumbed to him, anyway. You did that two bloody years ago. Get off the fuckin’ bus.

He stepped down, sneaker sinking about an inch into the snow.

What’s done is done. No sense feeling so conflicted about joining him here.

The entrance to the hotel was right in front of them now. As people walked past, entering and exiting, Cameron flashed Max a handsome smile and turned. The Aussie watched him go, but couldn’t bring himself to follow.

I can’t believe it. I’m in a whole new country. I feel so out of my element here. Will I belong any better here than I did in Boston? God, why am I here? Couldn’t we have stayed in Pittsburgh, Cameron?

If he’d thought he had a lot of anxiety before, his late head injuries had only made it 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 had returned to him until he was right in front of him. For a beat, they only stared at each other. Then, Cameron raised his hand and used it to stroke Max’s cheek. The Aussie leaned into it for comfort.

Is it ironic that Cameron might be my only link to sanity? What does that say about me?

“Do you trust me, Max?”

Max’s eyes met Cameron’s as he took in the question. “Despite everything,” he answered in a serious tone, “yes.”

You’re the only person I trust, even though you should be the person I trust the least.

Cameron smiled again and gave his cheek a gentle, assuring smack. Max took it without flinching. “Let’s check in.”

The Aussie nodded. There was a row of rounded bushes in tall black stands. Past them, a set of windows showing them part of the next door art gallery. Cameron approached the windows, turning right in front of them. Max followed him through the rotating doors into the hotel’s entrance.

The hotel’s floors were made of polished black marble, the walls crème-colored. Before them was a long hall; beside that, a set of staircases leading up to the second floor. Cameron started down the hall, so Max followed doggedly behind him.

Deeper into the foyer was a smaller room, connected to two other hallways. The first thing that came to Max’s eyes in the warm-lit entrance area was the gigantic painting on the wall, placed above a black leather couch. As an artist, he appreciated it. As a person, he thought it looked like a portrait of spaghetti. When Cameron made a sharp turn right, Max lagged behind a bit. Everyone he passed was dressed more or less formal. Even Cameron was wearing a dress shirt and tie under his coat. This only made Max, wearing sneakers, jeans, a red hoodie and a baggy beige jacket, feel even more out of his element.

The lounge restaurant was spacious but for a large, spiraling art piece in the center. It caught Max’s eye, so he stared at it as Cameron approached the reception desk.

You know, I wasn’t cut out as an artist, anyway, he thought as he tilted his head in bewilderment. What the fuck is this thing? This is art?

“Reservation for Cameron and Max Fenn,” Cameron told the receptionist. Max shot Cameron 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.

To take his mind off of it, he glanced back at the art piece. As he turned his head, he noticed someone at the far end of the lobby gazing at him, though, so he moved his eyes back to them. That was how his gray eyes locked with ones of 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. If he had to compare him to anyone on the spot, he’d say he looked a bit like a young Zac Efron, but there was something more dapper about him. His face was thin, with large, lashed eyes and a handsome nose. Slim jawline, clean-shaven. 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 an expression like the one he felt himself making. Finally, he looked at the man he was talking to, smiled, said something, 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 had gone. “Where does that lead?”

“One of the conference rooms, I guess,” Cameron answered. “Why?”

“No reason.”

Who was that guy? Is he a businessman? I felt weird, staring at him . . . like I just laid eyes on my soulmate or something. He shook his head clear, but shaking away 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.

“That’d be us,” replied Cameron, sounding chipper.

“How many nights?”

This question wasn’t so simple for the writer. “Uh . . . A week, I suppose. 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 smiled and collected the notes. Then, she handed him a keycard.

“Enjoy your stay, Mr. Fenn,” she said.

“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. When they were inside, Cameron abruptly said, “She forgot to ask if we wanted someone to take our bags for us.”

Max paused for a beat or two before asking, “Did we want someone to?”

“No, but she’s supposed to ask.”

“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.

“Cameron?”

“I’ve never rented this suite before.”

The Aussie sunk his face into his palm. “Let’s try left, then.”

Cameron, chipper as ever, puffed out his chest and started heading down the hall to the left. When they tried the keycard on the first door, it beeped, light for the handle turning green.

“Oh. You were right.” Cameron didn’t sound surprised, rather somewhat pleased. He opened the door, then stood back, holding it open for his smaller lover. “Ladies first.”

“Piss off,” Max muttered and stepped inside as Cameron smirked.

Their suite was cozy-looking with some beige walls and some of dark wood. The carpet was a light sand color, with two yellow leather chairs behind a small, round coffee table of glass. On it was a teardrop-shaped vase with a dark rose sticking out of it. Near the wide window, which was covered by a thin white veil of a curtain, was a work desk. Its chair had a wooden frame matching the walls, with light ecru leather backing and cushion. The desk itself was oval-shaped and had wheels on its bottoms, three on either side. There was a lamp on top.

To the left of the work desk was a king bed with white sheets and pillows. It also had a dark wooden frame, to match the wall it was placed against. Above the two nightstands on either side were lamps. Above the pillows, framed by the wall paneling, was an off-white canvas with browning green leaves scattered about.

Turning his gaze again, Max noticed the two doorways. He took the rightmost one. Inside this tucked away section of the room was a bathroom with a deep white tub. As Max looked at it, he wondered how, exactly, one was intended to use it. It was, to him, so misshapen that it looked like it’d be uncomfortable to sit in, though he knew it likely wasn’t. The bathroom counters were made of black marble like the floors in the foyer. The walls, of white marble. Sets of towels hung from the bar under the sink and laid folded on a shelf under the counter.

When Max finally stepped out of the bathroom, awed by everything, he found Cameron sitting in one of the yellow chairs.

“It’s a bit small, isn’t it?” he griped.

“Shut up, Cameron.” Max smiled, looked around the room again. “This is . . . This is too much.”

“You’ve never been in a hotel like this before?”

“I’ve never been in a hotel period. But this . . .” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Cameron leaned forward in his chair. “I suppose the question I should be asking is: do you like it?”

The emphasis being on “like” threw Max off—returned him to his anxiety.

He sounds upset with me when he says it that way. Is he upset? Should I say yes? No?

Trying hard not to let the fear show on his face, Max attempted to deflect the inquiry. “Do you?”

Cameron smiled, as if he saw through Max’s façade. He didn’t answer, but stood up and approached the bed. He sat down on the rightmost side, closer to the window. As he reached up and loosened the knot of his tie, he patted the other side of the bed. Max felt a chill run down his spine, but stepped closer anyway. With his back to Cameron, he sat on the mattress.

“You seem agitated. Do you want to have sex?” the writer suggested after a moment’s silence.

Max didn’t move. “I’m tired, Cameron.”

“You’ll fall asleep faster.”

“It’s light out. You know I don’t . . .” He trailed off. Talking about his sexual habits was too awkward for him.

“Right, you only fuck when it’s dark outside.” Cameron let out a small huff. “Which is weird, because you don’t mind if the lights are on inside.”

“Look, maybe later, all right?”

That shut Cameron up. He leaned back on the bed and sniffed in intrigue. “Maybe later” was the closest thing to a “yes” he’d received since Halloween. “Do you want to get some breakfast?”

Max looked at him over his shoulder, eyes draped in sardonicism. “I’m tired,” he repeated.

Cameron nodded in acknowledgment. Then, he stood up and stretched. “Well,” he said, “I’m going to take a shower.”

“Bath,” Max corrected as Cameron headed past him, to the doorway.

“Bath, shower. Same general neighborhood.” He entered, then poked his head out. “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, holding up a hand in reluctance. “No thanks.”

Cameron shrugged. “Your loss.” Then, he pulled his head back.

As he heard Cameron start the bath’s faucet, he let out an anxious sigh. He took off his sneakers before moving his legs up onto the bed and laying down on it.

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.

He probably wasn’t even staring at me because he felt the same way. He might’ve been staring because I look so out of place here, not wearing a suit. But then why did he look so . . . surprised? So entranced by me, as I was by him?

It didn’t make sense. Max sighed and turned over onto his side, facing toward the window. There was a pot of white flowers on the ledge; they seemed to glow in the light. Gazing at the glimmering white petals and listening to the steady stream of water in the bathroom, Max closed his eyes and tried to sleep.



2

Dinner


Val Kozel’s screams stayed with Max almost as much as August Lund’s brutal murder. He still remembered—would never forget—the sound of every individual smack against his head. Every crack of his skull as it smashed open, every splat of the cane colliding with his exposed brain. How could one man, with one object, do so much damage to another? Cameron’s inhuman strength was terrifying on its own, never mind the poor Danish man suffering because of it. In trying to stop the writer, all he’d got was a hit across the head himself. August’s blood on his face. Val wouldn’t stop screaming. He’d only sat there, watching. Watching August die in Cameron’s basement. Because of him. Because he’d helped. Because he’d chained August down there himself.

August!”

Max awoke with a jolt. The first thing he saw was the window of their hotel room. It was dark outside now. The lights in the room were on, but dim. As he lay there, panting in a cold sweat, he suddenly wanted to cry.

All my fault. All my fault. It was all my fault. I’m as guilty as Cameron is. I have August’s blood on my hands . . .

“Hey.”

It was Cameron’s voice that made him twitch and flip over. The writer was lying in bed beside him, which made him realize that in his sleep he’d gravitated closer to the middle. He gazed at him for a moment, not bothering to mask his anguished expression. Though he didn’t seem concerned, there was a certain sincerity on his face that he appreciated regardless.

“Nightmares?”

Max nodded, afraid he’d burst into tears if he tried to talk.

“Of August?” The fact that he knew was surprising. To Max, it showed he cared, at least a little. So, he nodded again, then hugged Cameron tight. It felt wrong, to hug August’s murderer while crying over the murder itself, but who else was there to hold? The psychopath didn’t quite return the embrace, but he did place his hand on Max’s back. “I’m just glad you were able to sleep for once.”

“Did I scream?” Max asked, face pressed against Cameron’s bare chest. He was dry, but lying there wearing only a towel around his waist. What to think of that, he didn’t know.

“No, but you started thrashing a bit toward the end there.”

Being held by someone was comfort enough for Max. He’d never cuddled with anyone like this before now, not even with Cameron, who wasn’t big on affection. He hadn’t thought he was either; Stacey had always wanted to cuddle, but it felt too awkward, so he assumed he didn’t like it. But now, lying in Cameron’s arms, he felt so safe . . . which he recognized was sort of ironic. He took a deep breath—took in the writer’s scent.

“Cameron, could you . . . hold me like this more often?”

At first, he gave no answer. Despite this, Max appreciated the silence. Only silence and the sweet smell and warmth of his beloved. Then, out of the blue, a response in the form of a question:

“Does it make you feel better?”

It was a strange question, coming from a psychopath. Max wanted to look up at him, but didn’t, not wanting to alienate him with an unintentional weird look.

Ah, I get it. He’s only asking because if I feel better, then maybe I won’t scream in the night and wake him up. Then, he felt guilty again. He must be exhausted, too.

“Yeah,” he answered.

Again, a beat of silence. When Cameron’s draped arm gripped him into more of an embrace, he wasn’t sure how to react.

“I guess so,” said the writer, answering his original question.

Max smiled a troubled smile. For a few minutes, the two of them remained like this. He never wanted this moment of serenity to end. Cameron’s nose nuzzled into his hair; he felt the air on his scalp as he took a deep, smooth inhale. Therein arose the sexual tension, which made Max’s smile slip. Tentative, he pulled his arm away, ending his half of the embrace. When Cameron leaned in for a kiss, he pulled back further.

“Cameron,” he warned.

The writer didn’t seem too fazed by the rejection. Catching his footing, he gave Max a small grin as he propped himself up on an elbow. “Listen,” he said, “let’s go get dinner.” He got out of bed, holding the towel up as he did. He headed to the closet on the other side of the room and opened it, revealing that he’d unpacked their bags while Max was asleep.

The Aussie sat up in bed. “Where are we going?”

“There’s a restaurant in the hotel. ‘Parkhouse’ or something.”

“Parkhuus?”

“Yeah, whatever. Close enough.”

Max looked at the window—at how dark it was outside. “Is it open right now?”

“It’s only six. I read that it’s open from now until eleven.”

Deciding to believe him, he shrugged and stood. After looking down at what he was wearing, still so casual, he became awkward. “Um . . . I feel like I should—”

“Change? Yes.” Cameron pulled a suit out from the closet and tossed it on the hangar toward Max. It landed on the floor a few inches short, but neither felt compelled to hurry and pick it up. “Put that on.”

Max bent down and grabbed the suit off the floor. As he stepped over to the bed, he heard Cameron’s towel slump to the floor.

Don’t look. Don’t look. Don’t look.

He looked. What greeted his snooping eyes was the sight of Cameron’s firm ass cheeks, shaped much like a heart. He reached into the bottom of the closet and pulled out a pair of briefs to slip on as Max stared. Sensing the eyes on him and unashamed, he turned his upper body to gaze back at him.

“I thought you didn’t want sex.”

Max tore his eyes away. “Just because I check you out doesn’t mean I want sex.”

“Sure, sure.”

Rolling his eyes, the Aussie unzipped his sweater and started to strip. When he got down to his briefs, he felt Cameron step closer all of a sudden. His arms wrapped around him, pelvis close to his backside. The sensation sent a warm chill to Max’s loins, but he attempted to break free anyway.

“Cameron, no.”

“You sure?”

“No!”

“Oh?”

“I mean yes!”

“Yes?”

“Yes, I’m sure I don’t want this!”

Cameron snickered. His tongue slithered across Max’s left cheek.

“Apples.” Max’s safeword was what made the writer finally pull back.

“All right, fine. Get dressed.” He turned back to his suit and started to pull on his pants. Max turned his head to watch him do this before getting dressed himself.

A few minutes later, they’d made their way down to Parkhuus. The centerpiece of the warm-lit restaurant was the open view into the kitchen. Chefs pattered about to and fro, cooking food for the guests. Cameron and Max got a seat nearer to one of the walls. There was only one table behind Cameron, in Max’s line of sight. As was his way, he did his best to avoid looking at the two seated at it.

“What do you want to eat?” Cameron asked him in advance.

Max only shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. The restaurant felt . . . rich. He would’ve felt more comfortable in a fast food restaurant or something. “Um, you know me, Cameron. I’m not, uh, picky.”

What if I pick wrong? Can I pick wrong? What if I ask for something they don’t have or embarrass myself somehow? What if I embarrass Cameron somehow? It’s better if I let him choose for me. I’m not too hungry, anyway.

Right on cue, a waiter appeared to take their orders.

“Two of whatever the chef recommends,” said Cameron, “and a bottle of white wine.”

Even the word “wine” was enough to make Max glare at Cameron.

I thought he was done with wine. The last time he drank wine, he murdered someone. He murdered August. I thought he was done with wine!

As the waiter scurried away to deliver the order and fetch their wine, Cameron flashed him a dark smirk. The Aussie struggled to keep his composure, though he felt he’d die. His muscles, though lax, felt tense. This included his heart. He felt short of breath. It’d been a while since he’d had an anxiety attack on this scale, but he thought he was able to handle it quite well.

“You look scared,” taunted the psychopath. “What’s the matter? It’s only wine. Not even red wine.”

Yes, that much is a comfort. If I ever see red wine again, I might snap.

The waiter returned with a bottle of Riesling, then left them again to tend to other guests. Cameron poured two glasses half-full with the straw-colored liquid. Though he gave one to Max, the Aussie’s immediate response was to put it back down on the table, untouched. As the writer sloshed the wine in his glass, he took a whiff of it.

“I guess we’ll be eating fish,” he observed before taking a sip. “Or beef.”

Max raised a brow. He felt uncultured all of a sudden.

“How are you doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Fair enough.” He gazed off past Max, deeper into the restaurant. “So, I’m thinking of picking up writing again.”

The artist felt a twitch coming on—was unable to stop himself from flinching at nothing. “That’s . . . good.”

“I’m hoping that Zürich can serve as decent inspiration. What do you think?”

What do I think? I haven’t a fuckin’ clue, Cameron. What do you look to as inspiration? Murder?

“You should definitely start writing again,” Max said, deflecting once more.

Cameron held the glass in both hands and looked up dreamily. “See, I had an idea last month. It’s about . . .”

Max watched Cameron’s lips as they moved, but stopped listening. Not because he was bored; no, he was interested to hear Cameron’s idea. Because he was upset. But what about, he wasn’t sure. In his daze, he finally took a glance at the couple at the table behind theirs, only to discover they weren’t a couple at all. Max’s heart flew to his throat.

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding.

There sat the mystery man with the same guy he’d been talking to before. They were also waiting for food, it seemed. He watched them as they chattered, both amused and enjoying themselves. The other guy said something that made the handsome one laugh, then he joined in. Max basked in the sounds, isolating the mystery man’s in his head.

Laughter . . . I’d almost forgotten what that sounded like. I like his. It sounds kind of cute.

The mystery man had cocked his head away during the laugh. When he opened his eyes again, he saw Max; their eyes met once more. The same nervous flutter arose in the Aussie’s stomach. With a glance, the man checked on his partner. Seeing that he was currently gazing down at the table, he returned his eyes to Max. Then, he gave him a soft, coy smile and discreetly raised his glass at him. The gesture made Max’s heart flip in his chest. He couldn’t stop himself from beaming back an awkward, flattered grin.

“Max, are you listening?”

The Aussie tore his eyes away from the man behind Cameron to look at the writer himself. There was a look of obvious displeasure on his face, which made him feel nervous in a different way.

“Yes,” he mumbled.

Please don’t ask me to repeat what you said. Please don’t ask me that.

Suspicion for a few beats more. Then, his face softened. He reached a hand out, placing it over Max’s on the table. Underneath the dangling tablecloth, where no one could see, his foot moved closer and rubbed against his. Again, a warm feeling in the Aussie’s loins. He felt his face starting to flush, so he moved his free hand up to his mouth and leaned against it.

“Your brows furrow when you’re aroused,” crooned Cameron.

“Cameron, could we not?”

“Why?”

“Because we’re in the middle of a restaurant!” the Aussie hissed.

Suddenly, the waiter returned, making Max jump. He put two plates of food down on the table, one in front of him, the other in front of Cameron.

“Oh, never mind. I was wrong,” Cameron said in mild surprise. “It’s chicken.”

The waiter left, then Cameron smirked at Max again. Fork in one hand, knife in the other, he let out on a seductive growl: “Let’s dig in.”

He wasn’t too sure what happened next. They must’ve finished eating and returned to their room, because next thing he knew, they were in bed together. On top of him, the writer kissed at his neck, sucked on his Adam’s apple. Max held him close and let out a low moan as his tongue traced the underside of his chin.

“Cameron . . .”

They’d learned together, almost by accident, that one of Max’s biggest turn-ons was being licked. Of course, for the Aussie, there was always a moral conflict in getting aroused by it. After all, they’d discovered it because Cameron had licked August’s blood off his face moments after the murder. Being able to get off after such a gruesome scene was Max’s first real sign that he was as warped as the killer himself. What he’d yet to determine was whether he’d always been that way, or if Cameron had changed him.

When Cameron unzipped his pants, he realized how out of it he felt. It was like he was having an out-of-body experience, watching this happen to someone else. As if he couldn’t cope with the idea of having sex with Cameron anymore, so he had to project it onto someone else. Watch, he could do. Experience, not so much.

So his eyes watched, but didn’t pay attention, as Cameron rolled on a condom. A few seconds—or more?—later, he zoned back in when he felt a hand on his face.

“Max, are you still with me here?” the writer inquired.

Max stared up at him, tilted his head in mild confusion. He tried to figure out what he’d said. Then came the tears, before he could stop them. Cameron’s tapered brows twisted in what might’ve been concern as the Aussie started making quiet sobs.

“Oh, geez, come on,” he groaned, sounding uncomfortable. “Don’t start crying.”

Max’s lips trembled. He felt a smile coming on.

I don’t even know why I’m crying anymore.

The look of concern on Cameron’s face only intensified when Max started to laugh through his tears. As reassurance, he raised his pale hand to his lover’s dark face and fiddled with his ear.

“Do what you want, Cameron. I’m okay.”

Cameron stayed still. Finally, albeit awkward, he nodded. “If you say so . . .” He grabbed Max’s legs, moved them outward. When he felt him enter, the Aussie choked out a wet, emotional moan. Then he started laughing again. This caused Cameron to pull out, which in turn made him lift his head to look at him. He watched the writer as he stood up, shaking his head.

“I can’t do this,” he said and reached down to remove the condom.

Max felt a surge of panic in his chest.

Release. I need release. This could help me unwind. I need this.

No don’t leave me please.

Rather than say any of these words, he instead opted to lunge up from the bed and grab Cameron’s shirt collar. Pulling him in close, they locked lips. Even despite this, though, he watched from the corner of his eye as Cameron pulled off the condom. He pulled back in concern and searched the writer’s eyes for frustration or anger. Instead, he saw reluctance and . . . worry?

“It can wait,” he said, sounding strangely compassionate.

What’s the catch? How’s he going to punish me?

“Cameron, no,” he stammered in fear. “I-it’s fine, really.”

Again, the dark-skinned writer shook his head. He reached down, pulled up and redid his pants. As he grasped the belt, Max’s fright intensified.


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