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Where the Wild Roses Grow

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Chris had been sitting on the dock in the afternoon sunshine for an hour and thirty-seven minutes when he was joined by the man who he had met during breakfast that morning.

“Can I have a seat?”

“Sure.”

Silence made Chris slightly uncomfortable, so he attempted conversation. He started with the customary question, the one thing that everyone at The Hotel is curious about.

“Have you decided on what animal you’d like to be?”

The Accented Man sitting to Chris’ left splashed his feet in water and didn’t make eye contact when he answered. “I’d like to be Kiwi bird.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m already a Kiwi,” said the Accented Man. “I figured I would go the extra mile and just make it literal. After all, if I’m to be turned into an animal, I might as well get enjoyment out of it.”

Chris nodded and didn’t respond. Silence fell between two of them again. So he asked the second most common question. “Why are you here? If you don’t mind, that is.”

Shaking his head and kicking his feet, the Accented Man replied, “I don’t mind. I thought I had found another woman, but by the time I made up my mind, my wife had found another Kiwi man she liked more than me.”

“Oh… I’m sorry.” Chris’ apology was sincere. It was always sad to discover that someone’s partner no longer loved them. It was one of the reasons why he never bothered to try to find a partner himself‒ he didn’t want to wake up one morning to find that some aspect about him had become undesirable to someone who had previously found him irresistible. When others heard this, they often looked upon him with pity or, occasionally, disdain. You’ll find a match, they would tell him, You have to.

The Accented Man’s voice drew him out of his thoughts. “What about you? What animal have you chosen?”

“A sea otter,” replied Chris easily. “I just think they’re cute. And they're smart creatures, that's a plus. And I’ve always enjoyed swimming. It would be a nice way to spend my life.”

The Accented Man noded slowly, as if he understood something that Chris hadn’t.

“You know,” he starts. “For someone who thinks so little of love, you’ve chosen quite a loving animal. There’s a lot of togetherness amongst sea otters.”

Chris had no answer for that, and so he said goodbye to the Accented Man, and went inside.

*

Chris met the man from Guest Room 209 during The Hunt, when he was shoved to damp ground in an effort to avoid being hit with a tranquilizer. Chris never got the opportunity to thank him properly, as the man immediately stole two of Chris’ tranquilizer darts and then ran off into the trees. The Hunt ended shortly after that.

That night, sitting alone in his room like he usually did, Chris was given plenty of time to reflect on what he had seen. The man from 209 had very bold eyebrows, similar to Chris’s own, but tamed just enough that they weren’t actually similar at all. His count at the end of The Hunt had been two more than Chris’ own count, no doubt from those two stolen darts. Similar skill level, but again, not a match. There were bound to be things he and the man had in common, and while he was not looking for a partner, he figured that he could always do with a friend.

After this moment of introspection, he decided he would find the Eyebrow Man in the morning, and they would talk.

At breakfast, the Eyebrow Man was sitting at a table by a Red Haired Man, to his right, and a Photographer that Chris had met on his first day, to his left.

“You’re eating an english muffin,” Chris said by way of greeting as he approached them. The Eyebrow Man’s right eyebrow crept up his forehead, which was not a dismissal, so Chris continued. “I like my english muffins to have both butter and jam.”

“You must like all jams, then, because you never specified a favorite. This is my friend,” the Eyebrow Man gestured to the Red Haired Man. “He has red hair. And he does plays. I do plays.”

“I do plays too,” Chris blurts. He hadn’t expected the two men to have a similarity between themselves, and he shuffled his feet against the carpet nervously. It had a very ugly pattern, but he enjoyed it nonetheless. Bringing his eyes back up to meet those of the Eyebrow Man, he asked, “Will you take a walk through the grounds with me? I want to talk about doing plays with you.”

“I would like that, thank you.” The Eyebrow Man stood then, folding his napkin several times into small triangles, pushed in his chair and bid his friends goodbye. He walked out the door without waiting for Chris to accompany him.

Chris said his own goodbyes to the Red Haired Man and the Photographer, but they didn't appear to have heard him. Or to have noticed him at all, actually. He had planned on telling them that he wouldn't keep their friend busy too long, but considering they were ignoring him, he decided he'd keep the Eyebrow Man with him as long as he could.

*

Chris and the Eyebrow Man had walked along the gravel paths for fourteen minutes and eleven seconds in a stiff silence, a foot of distance between them, before they stopped at the edge of the cliffs. The man’s back was to Chris as he stared out at the yachts that bobbed gracefully on the glassy surface of the lake.

“Nice weather,” Chris cringed the moment the words left his mouth. The Eyebrow Man caught his slip up as well and finally turned to face him.

“It is not nice weather‒ it’s overcast and there is a slight wind chill, indications of an impending storm. Look at the choppy surface of the water.”

The call of birds flying overhead drew Chris’ attention from the Eyebrow Man, and he looked skyward towards the neat v cutting through the air. He wondered if he knew any of them. It was quite possible. A week ago, one of his first friends from his arrival at The Hotel hadn’t made the forty-five days, and was turned into a bird– a duck of some sort. A shame, considering he had been so close, too.

“I’ve always wanted to end up on those boats. I wonder what it’s like. Don’t you?”

Chris shook his head and stepped back from the edge of the cliffs. “Can we continue walking? There’s some pristine topiaries I’d like to see in the west garden.”

The Eyebrow Man had nothing further to say about either Chris or the yachts, and so they continued. Chris silently congratulated himself on coming up with such a good deflector line.

Arriving in the west garden, Chris was greeted by several lush and neatly trimmed topiaries. It was no coincidence that most of them were shaped like animals that lead typically solitary lives.

The two men stood together silently. Silence made Chris uncomfortable and for lack of something better to say, he mumbled, “They’ve got beautiful horticultural practices here.”

“You’ve got beautiful eyes,” retorted the Eyebrow Man gesturing towards his face awkwardly.

“Thank you. They’re blue.” The other man’s eyes were a warm inviting brown. Not a match, so Chris couldn’t imagine why that comment was made. It made him feel strange, to be complimented on something that had no relevance. It made him feel good, and very few things these days made him feel good.

“Not just blue. Cerulean. It’s better. Are they your defining characteristic?”

“Yes. Are your eyebrows your defining characteristic? They’ve certainly got character.”

Everyone had been required to introduce themselves with their defining characteristic, and Chris wondered how he could have missed the Eyebrow Man’s turn. Then again, he had spaced out for a while after the story about the man with incredibly white teeth who went to a local animal enclosure and sat on several porcupines, hoping one was his sister, until there were so many spines in his ass that he’d been forced to return home and see a doctor. He had said he had trouble with anal sex, which was unfortunate as he was registered as a homosexual.

The Eyebrow Man sighed heavily and sat down cross legged in the grass, indicating that Chris was to join him. “You invited me out here because you wanted to discuss doing plays. What kind of plays do you do?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Chris said, pulling at blades of grass by his feet and staining his fingers a light green. “Anything that interests me. What kind of plays do you do?”

“Dramas.”

“Oh.” Not a match then. He suddenly remembered a question that he'd been meaning to ask. “The other day, during The Hunt. Why did you steal my tranquilizer darts?”

The Eyebrow Man shrugged indifferently. “I needed to use them, and more than likely you were going to waste them.”

That was unexpectedly sharp, and Chris felt himself getting hurt and he responded in anger. “You know, just because we both happen to do plays, it doesn’t mean we’re a match.”

“I thought you were looking for a friend?” He sounded smug.

“Not one like you.” Chris stood, brushing his grass stained hands on his grass stained trousers. “I’ll see you around.”

Stomping down the hallway to his room, Chris passed number 209 and gave the door a swift sharp kick. The ends of his toes bruised.

*

Chris saw the Eyebrow Man again a few days later, when his friend the Accented Man was turned into a kiwi bird and they said their goodbyes before sending him off to the woods. Chris would miss him– he had a difficult time making friends and this was one less person in his company. For one brief moment, as Chris watched the maids lead the bird away, he contemplated keeping the animal as a companion. But he couldn't keep a kiwi bird with him; he didn't know what they ate. Besides, he wouldn't be able to hold conversation with it. The idea was absurd. And so he dismissed it.

That afternoon, Chris sat alone at one of the cafe tables outside in the sun, reading his favorite book. It was his favorite by default as it was the only one he'd been allowed to bring with him. A shadow suddenly fell over his shoulder and blocked his reading light, which irritated him. He wasn’t missing anything in the text as he’d read this book multiple times, but he didn’t particularly care to be bothered when he was reading. It disrupted his flow.

“Hello again,” said the figure at Chris’ back. He recognized the voice as belonging to the Eyebrow Man. Wonderful, Chris thought. Now he was going to have to formulate an excuse that would be good enough to allow him to escape. It shouldn't be a problem; Chris was good at making excuses.

But right as Chris was about tell the Eyebrow Man that he couldn't stay to talk because he needed to count all the vertical stripes on his room’s wallpaper immediately, very sorry, the other man sat down across from him.

“I want to apologize for what I said to you the other day in the topiary garden,” the Eyebrow Man said. “It was unnecessarily antagonistic of me and I would like to make it up to you. Perhaps you could come back to my room tonight and I could fuck you up the ass. You have the most incredible ass I've ever seen.”

Chris dropped his book to the table in shock, and stared. His mouth seemed to have dried out because he couldn't answer right away. “Um..thank you? I don't– ”

“I appreciate a good ass, and yours is exceptional. My ex-boyfriend used to tell me that I had gorgeous thighs and was one of the best lays he'd ever had, and he was right. But let's not talk about him.”

Chris was only slightly overwhelmed. “So you're registered as a homosexual? I'm just curious.”

“Just curious?”

“No, I took the bisexual option.”

The Eyebrow Man hummed, and sat back in his chair. He ran a hand through his hair, looked up at Chris through his eyelashes and said, “I'm in Room 209 if you're interested.”

“I'll think it over,” Chris mumbled, a good enough dismissal as any. When he picked his book back up to resume his reading, he realized he'd lost his place.

*

Chris sat silently at the long tables in the ballroom as his neighbors chatted aimlessly and those far braver than he danced together out on the floor.

“I assume you've already decided what animal you'd like to be turned into if you don't make it.”

Chris looked up from where he was twisting his hands in his lap nervously. “You again,” he said to the Eyebrow Man. “You're following me.”

“I am not. We're all in such close proximity it's only natural that I continue to see you,” the Eyebrow Man replied, raising his voice to be heard over the sound of the band.

Chris frowned. “I don't believe that. You're purposely seeking me out.”

“I did invite you to come to my room, Room 209, the other day for a truly memorable round of anal sex. And you never showed up.”

“I'm sorry. I was busy counting the vertical stripes on my room’s wallpaper.”

The Eyebrow Man laughed aloud. It had been a long time since Chris had heard anyone laugh at anything, and that laugh was especially pleasant to listen to. He thought to himself that he wouldn't mind hearing the Eyebrow Man’s laugh more often.

“Have you been holding on to that excuse? It's a very good one. I'm impressed,” the Eyebrow Man grinned. “Care to dance with me?”

Chris felt himself blush and he hoped the low lighting hid how red his face grew. “I don't dance. I can't dance, actually.”

The Eyebrow Man pulled up his trouser legs at the knees and took a seat next to Chris. “I'll let you in on a secret,” he said, leaning in. “I can't dance either.”

“We could dance badly together then. It's not so embarrassing with someone else.” Chris’ mouth pulled up into a smile of his own. As he followed the Eyebrow Man out to the dance floor, Chris suddenly stopped dead. “I never caught your name, by the way. I only know you as the Eyebrow Man.”

“Fitting name. I've been calling you the Blue Eyed Man, myself.”

Chris took his hand and felt an arm slide around his waist. “I'm Chris.”

“I’m Zach,” said the Eyebrow Man, eyes sparkling in the ballroom lights.

They swayed together quite awkwardly, stiff as boards and offbeat to the catchy song the band was playing, when Chris was struck with a realization.

“Neither of us can dance and we like to read. I think we’re a match.”

Zach nodded, pulling Chris’ head in to rest against his shoulder. “I think we are. You really should come up to my room, 209, for a blowjob maybe. I like to think that I excel at fellatio. I've got a talented tongue.”

“I’ll consider it.”