"I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse."
I chuckled, "no ploys, no pranks, no skanks." I set my terms.
Trevor leaned back in an over-sized sofa. He folded his arms in front of him. With a wise look set upon his face, he started into his proposal. "I need a thesis paper for my psychology major. I've designed an original sociology experiment guaranteed to earn me my diploma and, given that everything goes well, maybe even some recognition from the American Association for the Advancement of Science."
"You're not going to attach electrodes to my brain and set me down in a gigantic hamster wheel, are you?"
He lunged forward and grabbed my hand, securing it between his own. "This project requires your full cooperation. I need you, Emma. Please?"
I stared into his green, eternally bloodshot eyes. Trevor was a verified, certified genius on the brink of earning a reputation in the scientific world. However, his terrarium always ran short on guinea pigs. I am his one and only rodent accomplice. "Just tell me the details."
He bit his lip. "Just remember that you love me."
Since the age of ten, Trevor had been the Yogi Bear to my Boo Boo without the picnic basket crime sprees. If he honestly believed his sociological tornado could upset our relationship then I needed to fear for my life. "I love you, Trevor. I do, however, draw that line at acrobatics, curtains of fire, cannons propelling people into orbit, and swallowing samurai swords."
"Okay," he thought for a moment. "This is involves none of those things."
"Stop beating around the bush and tell me what it is, Dr. Frankenstein!"
"In layman's terms," he began.
"You'd better not start by insulting my intelligence," I warned.
"Lets be fair Emma, you're not Albert Einstein."
"And neither are you, you pretentious nerd!" I summoned the closest word to a curse in my vocabulary.
He shrugged. "Closer than you are."
"Just spill already!"
"I need to observe your interactions with another person in close corridors for a minimum of two months."
"Like having a roomy?" My fear nearly subsided.
"A little bit closer than that."
"Like having a clingy roomy?"
"You'll be handcuffed together." He spoke then immediately recoiled awaiting my response.
"Handcuffed?" I gaped in disbelief. "Is this an experiment or a sexual fantasy, you pervert!"
"No!" He defended himself. "It's about witnessing the Mere Exposure Effect's ability to dissolute the chronic hatred shared by two adversaries."
"Okay," I considered it for a moment. "Let's go back to the layman's terms."
"I expect to see a change in the interactions of two people because of repeated exposure to each other."
"Do I get to pick my roomy?"
"No," he stopped and anxiety showed on his face. "I already got someone."
"Who?" I asked eagerly. My stress level had already rose ten fold during the course of our conversation.
"Emma, if you do this for me I will pay you one hundred thousand dollars."
"Trevor, I could never accept money from you."
"Emma, it's perfectly common for participates in scientific experiments to receive some sort of pay."
"We both know you need it."
I crossed my arms. "Who is the other person, Trevor?" Though a usually mellow person, my impatience slowly began to get the better of me.
"Jude." He spat out warily.
My brain and heart stopped simultaneously. "No," I whispered. "This is a joke."
"Please, Emma." His sweet eyes bore into me.
I finally gathered the wits to take a breath. "Maybe if you were curing cancer, Trevor. But I will not spend any amount of time within 100 miles of Jude Stewart, much less two months within two inches!"
I stood in the middle of the room, my feet planted firmly on the carpet. My hands balled into fists and the nails on my fingers dug into my palms.
Trevor stood between Jude and I, the referee separating two hostile boxers about to wrestle to the death.
A palpable tension weighed on the room.
"So here's how it works," Trevor said. "The handcuffs are linked to a program on my computer. You can request that the handcuffs be unlocked for a maximum of 30 minutes in one day. All you need to do is page me and I'll deactivate them. Use your time wisely, do not exceed 30 minutes."
"And if we do?" Jude asked.
"Then you upset my variables and I'll-"
"Bludgeon us to death with a calculator," I finished for him.
Trevor ignored me. The wunderkind did not enjoy being reminded that he is, in fact, kind of the nerds.
Jude's friend Daniel sat on a chair that leaned precariously against the wall. He held up a camcorder, the eyepiece perpetually glued to his face. "Smile kids," he joked. "You're going to be twenty feet tall on a projection surface in the Sundance Film Festival. I'll be the one up front caressing an award for best documentary. Just give the camera a friendly wave!"
I frowned. I signed up for a scientific experiment with the purpose of bettering mankind, not a circus act with the purpose of humiliating me for decades to come.
Daniel cleared his throat, "I've set up one two cameras in the living room, one in the kitchen, one in your bedroom-"
"Wait," I needed clarification. "When you say 'your bedroom,' you mean?"
"I mean your bedroom." My statement confused Daniel.
"And is 'your' singular?"
Daniel appeared worried again. "You will be sharing a bedroom. Unless you think you live on 30 minutes of sleep a day."
I uncrossed my arms. With wide steps, I stalked across the room toward the door. "This is not going to work," I told Trevor on the way out. A hand reached out and grasped my arm. Its firm hold stopped me just feet from the door. Jude released me instantly but leaned down to whisper in my ear. "We're both here because Trevor has something we want. Two months is only a blink of time in your cold, heartless little life. Don't ruin this for me." His deep voice neared a growl and chills ran up my spine. Shying away from him, I found myself next to Trevor.
"I'll need my own bed," I said aloud.
Jude scoffed. "What's the point of having your own bed if we're still two inches away from each other?"
"I need my own bed," I repeated myself, intentionally turning my back on Jude.
Trevor laughed, "I forgot."
"Well, you'd better remember," I told him through gritted teeth.
Trevor grinned and looked over my shoulder at Jude. "Emma has terrible nightmares. She sleeps on the floor because otherwise she'd fall out of bed."
I gasped and threw myself at Trevor, trying to clasp a hand over his mouth. I do not like the entire world knowing about my childish night terrors.
Trevor pushed me away. "She'll most likely give you a black eye in her sleep," he laughed.
"She'll most likely give me a black eye while she's awake," Jude said.
I spun around to look him in the eyes for the first time since we last spoke four months earlier. "That's the truth, Jude. Just keep your distance and you should emerge from this experiment with both your legs and your head still attached to your body."
He glared at me. "I'll keep as much distance as one person handcuffed to the another can possibly manage."
Trevor walked over to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and pulled me of into the next room. "I know you hate this," he said.
"That's an understatement."
Trevor smiled. "It's not going to kill you."
"You don't know that!" I threw my arms up into the air in exasperation.
"You want me to stick around for tonight? I'll sleep on the couch."
"No," I said. "I have a paper to write. Let's see if the jerk in the next room can go one night without binge drinking."
"Okay, so you'll cooperate," he asked hesitantly.
I gave in. "Yes, but you owe me."
He smirked. "I'll buy you a Whopper sometime."
"Better be a Double Whopper," I mumbled obstinately. I hated to be bought so easily.
Trevor grasped my hand and pulled me back into the room with Jude.
Jude sat on the arm of a small, brown couch. His unruly black hair swept in different directions. His glowering blue eyes stared at me, emitting a beam of pure hatred that threatened to stop my heart. His muscular shoulders hunched over but failed to conceal his height. The brooding gaze guaranteed to make any other woman swoon, left me wishing I'd never been born.
Trevor released me. He tried to conceal his excitement for my sake but I could see a subtle spring in his step as he retrieved the handcuffs.
He brought our hands together then hesitated briefly. "We are setting the stage for a groundbreaking experiment," he reminded us.
"We're setting the stage for a murder," Jude corrected him.
Trevor looked anxious for a moment. "I can't be charged with anything can I?" He looked to Jude. "An enabler? An accomplice? A conspirator?"
Jude smirked. "Ask Emma. She'll be the one wielding the hatchet."
I glowered at him and snatched my hand out of Trevor's hold. "They can put me in the chair but it'll be worth it."
"Children, need I remind you to smile!" Daniel roared over the growing argument. "Only happy people can be in movies!"
"Then I don't see why Jude is here," I said. "He'll ruin all your footage."
Jude, the bane of my existence, smirked. "I'm here for the sex appeal."
I glared at him.
"Let's not kid ourselves, Emma," he said. "You're the least sexual biotic organism that has ever lived."
"Please," I begged. "Stop this conversation right now."
Daniel lifted himself off the couch. The lens of a state-of-the-art camcorder quickly found its way under my nose, pursuing me into the kitchen. "This resolution is fantastic," Daniel called. "You can actually see her blushing."
I covered the glass eye with my palm. "Let's get this over with," I said forcefully.
In the next instant, Trevor thrust me back into the living room, pushing me into Jude. I groaned with displeasure, shutting my eyes against the cruel world concentrated in townhouse.
"I should say something momentous," Trevor thought aloud.
Jude shifted toward me. He stole the handcuffs from Trevor and in one smooth motion fastened them to both our wrists. "See," he told Trevor, whose pallid face darkened with anger. The quintessential moment of his experiment ruined by an impatient lab rat. "No speech necessary."
I stared at our attached hands and my new Siamese twin in horror. Our arms hand limply at our sides, however, each slight gesture or breath caused one palm to brush against the other. The little hairs on my hand, to which I'd never before been attentive, stood on end. With each touch, I imagined thousands of foreign bacteria springing joyously from his body onto mine. Our phalanges might as well have been involved in some sensuous orgy. I looked up, Trevor rattled on but no noise greeted my ears. As I watched his silent lips move the room shrunk. The air grew dense. A wave of nausea swept over me then a torrent of darkness.