"That's not true," Cheryl said sleepily. She didn't really want to argue with him right after sex, but he had a habit of getting under her skin after he'd gotten off. She wished he'd just fall asleep like more normal guys.
"It is too. Everybody would commit suicide, or try to, with the right motivation." Chris lay beside her propped on his elbow, stroking her bare tummy gently.
She gave up trying to avoid it. He always succeeded in sucking her in somehow. "Honey, you're just thinking everybody is like you. They're not. Everybody has different values. They look at things differently. A lot of people would never do it, no matter what was happening. Torture, terminal disease, whatever. It just wouldn't even occur to them as an option. I know. I'm one of those people." She rolled to lay on her back, resting her head on her hands. He switched to fingering her nipple. She loved their afterplay. If only he'd just shut up.
"I know you are. Or think you are. If I can prove I'm right, will you bow down to me and tell me what a great guy I am?"
She reached out and put a hand behind his head, pulling him towards her. "I already think that." She pulled him closer and kissed him. "You scare me sometimes, but you're very sweet. And you're wrong."
"I am not."
"Can we just assume we've repeated our last two lines a hundred times and say we both won?"
"Don't need to. I can win fair and square."
She sighed. "Okay. Just for the sake of argument -- and of course we never have those -- how would you propose to prove it?"
"I can get you to voluntarily perform an act that you would agree is suicidal, and that could in fact end in your death. Within a thirty minute time period."
"Then it's a bet?"
"No money involved. The winner simply has the satisfaction of being proved right. Can you imagine anything more valuable?"
"Right at this moment? No. I'd love to see you admit you were wrong."
His eyes lit up. "I can guarantee that won't happen."
"Wait... I... you're not talking about torture, are you? I know I'm right, but there are limits to how far I'd go to prove it." She knew about his reading interests, but he'd always been a gentleman with her. A little erotic bondage was all they'd ever tried in that direction.
"There's no physical pain involved. Up to the point of the suicidal act, that is. That'll hurt, but you'd be doing it to yourself."
She looked in his eyes. There was a sparkle there. She was so close to agreeing, just to wipe that smile off his face. "Tell me how it would work."
"Nuh-uh. You've gotta take the bet first."
She looked longer, harder. She wished she knew what that damned sparkle was. The longer she looked, the madder she got at the self-satisfied ass. He was so sweet at any other time. Maybe next time she'd just bolt from the room the second their lovemaking was done. What a male idea, she thought.
"So you'd just set up a situation, without pain, where I'd decide to do something suicidal?"
"You've got it."
She smiled. That was just flat-out impossible. "You're on. Tell me the plan, great one."
"You stand on a stool, with your hands tied behind you, and a noose around your neck. Without touching you, without even being within ten feet of you, I pursuade you to step off the stool and kick it away. Within half an hour, like I said. Would you call that a suicidal act?"
"Would you agree I'd won the bet if you did that?"
"If I stepped off the stool? Completely my own choice? Yeah, I think that would cover it. That'd never happen."
"Wanna try it now?"
"Now??" She stared at him, her mind racing. She'd enjoyed their bondage play, but this went way, way beyond anything they'd tried. Was this an elaborate thrill-snuff plot, to get her to put her life completely in his hands? She felt she could rule that out. Her friends all knew she was seeing him. They didn't know his reading habits, and in fact they all thought he was the sweetest, gentlest guy they'd ever met, but the point was that if she disappeared, the man she'd last been seen with was an obvious suspect. The biggest thing, though, was that if he simply killed her he'd lose the bet. She knew how important it was for him to prove he was right.
And if she refused to do it, she'd lose the bet. She'd be admitting she thought he could really do it, really make her try to kill herself. And dammit, being right about this was important to her too. Her heart pounding in her chest, she said in a husky voice, "Let's do it."
He fingered his limp penis playfully. "So soon? It takes a guy awhile to make a comeback, you know."
"You know what I mean, dumb-ass. I want to see these powers of pursuasion of yours."
She stood on the stool, trembling, not knowing how she could have agreed to this. He stood next to her on another stool, tying her hands behind her. The air in his basement was cool and damp, giving her naked body full-length goose bumps. That's why I'm shivering, she told herself. I trust him, there's nothing to be scared of. "Honey, could you turn on the heat? The cold alone might make me kill myself. Just kidding, just kidding, I'm not admitting you were right. Anyway, you said you wouldn't use pain, so cold is no fair. Turn it up, okay?"
"No problem, hon." He stepped down and fiddled with the thermostat. "Feel better yet?"
"I'm getting some warm air, thanks."
He opened a cabinet, and pulled out a long, thick rope. He stood with it, concentrating, making obviously practiced movements, creating a hangman's knot at one end. She shuddered. Maybe it wasn't the cold.
He walked over to her, and got back up on the footstool. He held the rope up to a thick steel ring embedded in the ceiling straight over her head, letting the noose dangle in front of her face. She shivered more violently. No, definitely not the cold.
Grasping a point on the rope about eight inches down from the ring with his other hand, he pulled the rope back towards him, and busied himself for a few minutes tying a knot at that point in the rope. He took the free end of the rope afterwards, and fed the end through the ring, pulling it through, hand over hand, until the knot he'd just tied bumped up against the ring, too fat to go through. Leaving the noose now hanging down to the top of her head, he pinched a place on the rope about eight inches from the ring, on the other side of the ring from the noose, and tied another knot there. With a slight smile, he pulled the noose back down until the new knot bumped against the ring, the noose once more dangling in front of her.
"You ready, hon?"
"We don't have to do this," he pointed out. "But all you have to do is stand on the stool. Time limit, remember? If you stay there half an hour without stepping off, you've won."
She tried to speak, and stopped, not wanting her voice to be so obviously shaky. She looked at him and nodded.
He took hold of the noose, muttering, "Lemme get the knot on this side," and turned the noose halfway around. As he slipped it down over her head, she opened her mouth and tried to take deep, slow breaths. Calm down, Cheryl, calm down. You just have to stand here. Let him talk. Nothing worth listening to. Half an hour, and he gets to eat everything he said. She squeeked involuntarily as he tightened the noose around her neck. Stay cool, Cheryl. Just stand.
He rubbed her butt softly. "Let's start. See the clock on the wall?" She looked to her side, spotting it. "The half-hour starts now."
He jumped down from his stool and started pulling the stool with him, holding the free end of the rope in one hand, stopping about halfway across the basement floor from her, directly under another ring in the ceiling. Stepping back up onto the stool, he fed the end of the rope through the ring, and let it dangle to the floor. Then he started fashioning another noose.
Hell with it, she thought, let her voice be shaky. "H-honey? What are you doing?"
"Thought I'd join you. No reason you should have all the fun." He jumped down and walked back to the cabinet by the wall, pulling out a pair of handcuffs. He went back to his stool, clicking one end of the handcuffs around his left wrist on the way, and stepped back up. He quickly brought the noose down over his head and cinched it tight.
"Don't be alarmed, hon. I've got a key here." He pulled it out of the handcuff lock and waved it at her, then reinserted it. He put his hands behind his back. She heard the click of the right handcuff closing. He grinned across at her.
"It's really true, hon. It's not a trick. Stand on the stool for thirty minutes. That's all it takes. You're the winner. I'm a pretty bad loser, though. If you win, I'll throw the handcuff key on the floor and kick my own stool away."
"What??" She stared at him, her jaw hanging open.
"Yes, you heard me right. I'll kill myself if you win. Of course, I'm heavier than you..."
She gasped as she caught the implication. If he kicked his stool away, he'd die, of course; there was nobody here that could help him, not himself, not her. But his weight hanging from the rope would pull her up... off the stool... until that knot he'd tied below the ring reached the ring and stopped her. She'd be too high up to reach the stool, even stretching her toes.
If he jumped, she died too.
She forced herself to calmness. "Is that it? Nice try, Christopher. But if you think I believe you'll kill yourself because you lost a damned bet..."
"You need to believe it, hon." His voice stopped her. "I decided a long time ago I'm going to choose my own time to die. I'm not going to spend the last years of my life as a decrepit old man shambling painfully through the corner grocery. I'm not going to die in the back of an ambulance from a heart attack, or in a cancer hospice surrounded by other diseased husks. Or walk around with my mind gone, dazed and confused, my life's memories permanently out of my reach. You're the best thing I've ever had in my life." She blinked. He never said stuff like that. "I've never been happier than when I'm with you. If I died right now, I'd go out on top, with a completed life that has meaning for me. I can't think of a better way to go."
She stared at him wordlessly for several minutes. It fit, it all fit. She remembered watching a movie with him once, on his couch, their arms around each other, nuzzling each other but, somehow, still watching the movie. A character in the movie was desperately encouraging an injured comrade to hang on. "Come on buddy! You've got to live. Don't let this precious thing called life get away from you." Beside her, Chris had snorted, barely perceptably shaking his head. It was such a small thing, she didn't think it was meant for her to see, just an involuntary reaction to something... ridiculous. To him.
Everything. The books he read. The way he talked about people, living or dead. Everything about him. She knew it fit.
And she knew he was telling the truth now.
"B-but... Okay, look: if I kick this stool away, that's not suicide. I'd be doing it to save my life. That's not the same thing at all. I'd win."
"I never said I'd make you commit suicide. I said you'd attempt a suicidal act that could well end in your death. Doesn't this fit that description? Isn't kicking your stool away a suicidal act? You said it was."
"Y-you can't... you won't. Even if you think you mean to do it, you'd never be able to make yourself do it. P-people just... can't do that."
"Is that a side bet? Want to bet your life on it?"
She looked helplessly at the clock. Ten minutes left.
"Okay! Okay, look, you win, you win. I lose the bet, Chris, you were right, are you happy? Get me down from here."
He shook his head. "Not good enough. I haven't made you do what I said I'd get you to do, yet. I don't feel like I've won."
Oh God, oh God, what do I do? What do I do? She looked at the clock. Seven minutes. She found an endless loop of tape replaying in her head. She couldn't stop it, couldn't get away from it. The kind of thing she never thought she'd hear. She had to find out for sure.
"Did............. Did you really mean it when you said I was the best thing you'd ever had in your life?"
He held her eyes with his. "Every word, babe."
God help me, she thought, I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it. I don't want to die. She closed her eyes, feeling rather than seeing the second hand sweep around the clock face once, twice. She opened them and let her feet creep forward, concentrating all her effort on keeping her breathing deep and even, with partial success. With her toes hanging over the edge of the stool, she bent her knees, taking the slack out of the rope, feeling its gentle pressure build around her neck. She looked at Chris. Yes, she thought, I believe every word he said. All of them.
Shakily, she whispered, "You're the best thing too, Chris." She managed a smile. "You win." She bent her knees farther, curled her toes around the edge of the stool, took a deep breath, and pushed off, hard.
She felt the rope cinch itself tight around her neck. She could hear the clatter of the stool falling and skidding, halfway across the room, as she struggled to draw in a breath and failed. She had wanted to watch Chris, to see him coming for her, but the slow untwisting of the rope turned her and took him out of her sight. Her consciousness narrowed to the agony gripping her neck, the pounding, roaring sound in her ears and the dimming, reddening vision of the floor far, too far, beneath her kicking feet. It seemed farther than she had thought, in fact. Maybe she had imagined that feeling of slowly rising during the first few seconds after she jumped.
Chris watched with a mix of satisfaction and sadness. It was hard watching her die, the first woman he had really loved. But things had worked out perfectly. He would have hated to kill her, although he would have done it if he had to -- he couldn't bear the thought of leaving her behind. He had been prepared to finesse the question of whether he was going to rescue her when she jumped, but he wasn't too surprised she had never asked. He knew she would assume it went without saying. Now they could go together, her joining him of her own free will. He watched her instinctive struggles, the kicking feet, the straining biceps as she tried to free her hands. In moments she slipped out of his field of vision as his own rope twisted while he dangled at its end.