"Carole, when we were talking last week, you told me you'd met another woman who had worn handcuffs for years," Brenda commented as the two sat in Rick's Cafe early Saturday afternoon after a long morning workout. It had gone a lot better than the one the week before, and Brenda was tired, but feeling very good about doing well. They'd already eaten, and were just sitting around, enjoying a friendly conversation. "What's the deal with her?"
"Oh, wow, that's a long story," Carole smiled. "I do have to admit that it was one of the more interesting experiences I've had, though."
"I'm listening," Brenda grinned. "I mean, it's either hear a good story, or do laundry."
"Well, all right," Carole laughed. "Where do I start? I guess I told you that I was looking for Darbys, and this handcuff collector pointed me at Soliels and told me about this shop down in Chicago that handled them. Well, at the time the whole idea didn't seem very real to me. It was just something I was thinking about, not real hard. I suppose a month went by before I hit a day that I didn't have anything better to do, so I drove down to Chicago from Athens to check out his lead. It turns out the shop is just a little place in a small strip mall, fairly close in. Nothing in the window except a painting of a black rose with huge thorns, and you couldn't see inside. I mean, Brenda, I didn't have any idea of what to expect. Well, I walked in the front door, and I just about pissed my pants. I mean, everywhere you turn, there's chains and straps and leather and my God, things that I didn't have words for. Most of them I still don't know what they were."
"A S&M shop, right?" Brenda laughed.
"Oh, my, yes," Carole laughed. "Hey, I'm just a simple Spearfish Lake girl, what do I know about places like that? Well, anyway, there's this counter at the front, and this weird guy standing behind it. I mean, not a bad-looking guy, but wearing about seventeen piercings that you could see and God knows how many that you couldn't. He's got on a leather vest, no shirt, and there's this weird-ass tattoo right in the middle of his chest. And he says, just as friendly and as businesslike as you can imagine, 'Can I help you, miss?' So, trying to be cool, I tell him that I'm looking for some handcuffs, and he asks me if they're for me, or my boyfriend. 'For me,' I told him, 'I understand you stock Soliels.' He just nodded and smiled and said, 'Oh, you're looking for some serious handcuffs, then, not just something to play around with.' And I said, well, yes, and explained about my research project a little. He just nodded a couple of times, and finally he asked, 'I take it you're not in the scene, then?'"
Brenda got a big grin on her face, imagining what must have happened. It would have been embarrassing as hell for her, too, just to walk into a place like that.
Carole continued with her story. "I guess I just kind of frowned, and said, 'Scene?' He just pointed toward the store, and I said, 'Oh, no way, this is just a psychology research project.' Then, he asked, 'You're talking three months, 24/7? Yes, you definitely are talking Soliels.' So, well, this guy scared the hell out of me to look at him, but he was all business and frankly, he looked like he knew what he was talking about, if you know what I mean."
"I can imagine," Brenda grinned again. "It would scare the hell out of me, too."
"Well, I was trying to act professional and ignore the atmosphere," Carole shrugged. "So, anyway, I told him about trying out the police cuffs, and how it didn't go well, and asked, 'Look, what do you think? Is this a doable project, or what?' He said, 'Oh, of course it is if you want to do it.' He raised his voice a little, and just as polite as you could ask for he called, 'Laurel, could you come up here for a minute, please?' and this woman's voice answers, 'Yes, Master, coming.' So, in a second this gal comes to the front of the shop, and she's not much less scary than he was. Leather skirt, leather vest, laced up the front with a lot of gap showing she wasn't wearing a bra, long, curly black hair, a lot of piercings again, more tattoos, lots of makeup. But, push all that aside, a pretty woman, rather small. And she says, 'Yes, Master, what is it?' just as sweetly as you please. The guy said, 'This lady was wondering if she would be able to manage wearing Soliels for three months.' I guess, considering everything else, I didn't notice that she was wearing a pair, but she held them up for me to look at and said, 'Oh, sure, you could manage it if you're willing to. I've been wearing these for four years.'"
"So, you figured it was something you could really do, then?"
"It still took some convincing," Carole admitted. "I mean, I had a bunch of stupid questions, I mean, as stupid as anything I ever get asked, but she was real sweet and upfront about the whole thing. OK, it's a bondage thing with her, obviously. I didn't find out right then, but later, she told me she'd been wearing handcuffs off and on for years, never for a long time. When she got serious with this guy, his name turned out to be Frank, she wanted him to put cuffs on her permanently. So, he did."
"Weird," Brenda agreed. "I mean, I know there are people like that, but I've never met one."
"It was the first time I did, too," Carole admitted. "But, you know . . . no, let me tell that part later. Anyway, Laurel and I had a long talk about wearing handcuffs full time, and she was very up front about it. I mean, better than I am, usually. After a while, she got out a pair of Soliels, these, in fact" – she held up her wrists – "And I tried them on. Let me tell you, they're so much better than those Smith and Wessons or whatever it is the cops carry that it's a whole different world. Anyway, Laurel and I talked an awful lot that afternoon, and I picked up a lot of practical knowledge. I mean, you saw how I put this jacket on over at the Fitness Center, didn't you?"
"Sure," Brenda admitted. "I wondered how the hell you changed clothes. I never even thought of that until I saw you do it last week."
"I have to be honest and tell you I never thought about it, either," Carole laughed. "I mean, my original idea was that I was going to do this in the summer, so I could wear halter tops and tie tank tops and strapless bras, and like that, but Laurel showed me that little trick. Lots of other hints and tips, too, and, well, before long she had me convinced that it really was a doable project, maybe not even that big a deal. Frank helped, too. In fact, most of what I told you last week about Soliel and the history of the company came from Frank. Anyway, it was a slow afternoon, and not a lot was happening in the store. Frank was telling me some of that when the door opened and this customer comes in. Real straight-looking guy, middle aged, wearing a business suit, as normal as could be. Laurel looks up, and said, 'Hi, Mr. Jenkins. How may we help you today?' Well, this guy said, 'Frank was telling me that you had some new Singapore canes in.' And, Laurel said, 'Why yes, we do. They have a very interesting and delightful sting,' and she went over to show this guy what she was talking about. I was mostly paying attention to Frank, but I did notice Laurel and this customer having a pretty good discussion about halfway back in the store. I didn't think much about it until I heard Laurel say, 'Master, Mr. Jenkins would like me to demonstrate this cane. May I?' Frank says, 'Of course,' and I looked up to see what the deal was. Well, this guy in the business suit turns around, unbuckles his belt, drops his pants, and bends over this showcase with his bare ass hanging out in the breeze."
Carole stopped for an instant. Brenda had been paying such close attention to her story that she hadn't paid any to what was going on in the cafe, but now she realized that even though the place was half full, the loudest sound in the room was the electric clock. Although they had only been talking in quiet, conversational tones, everyone in the room was straining their ears to hear the story. Brenda shook her head slightly, and rolled it around at the room.
Carole gave her a huge grin, nodded, raised her voice just a touch and continued, "Laurel stepped back, took the cane in both hands, and let go with a swing like Mark McGwire swinging for the cheap seats. There was a helluva loud 'whack', and it raised a red welt across his ass. Well, he stood up, pulled up his pants, and said, very politely, 'Thank you, Laurel. You're right, that has a very sweet sting. I'll take it.'"
Carole stopped again and shook her head. "Look, Brenda, part of me was being professional and nonchalant, observing behavior I'd never seen before."
"And the other part was screaming, 'Scotty, beam me the hell up, right now,'" Brenda giggled.
"Exactly," Carole laughed. "And bear in mind, I've got the Soliels on for the first time, checking them out. But, my professional side took over. Like I said, this whole thing was behavior I'd never observed before, and it was, well, interesting, you know?"
"I can think of other words," Brenda snorted.
"Well, so can I," Carole agreed. "But look, people really do live like this. More of them than we think, in fact, although it's a pretty small percentage of the population. But, let me tell you, there isn't much about it in the psychology textbooks, and most of what there is is patently off base. But, I'm getting away from the story, again. Anyway, I had all these stupid questions, but Laurel and Frank had been real upfront about their answers, knowing I'm not in their scene. And, part of me is saying that whack across the ass that Mr. Jenkins took had to have hurt, and part of me was saying it wasn't real."
"Uh-oh," Brenda grinned. "I think I can see what's coming."
"You're probably guessing right," Carole laughed. "I won't go into the ins and outs of it, but I just couldn't see what sort of fun there was in getting a whack like that. Laurel told me that you have to like it, and that the cane had a really sweet sting to it, and she really enjoyed having it used on her. Well, one thing led to another, and the next thing you know, I'm bent over the counter – not with my pants pulled down, either – and Laurel asked Frank, 'Master, may I?' Frank said, 'Carole, are you sure you want to do this? You don't strike me as a sub-type person.' I said 'What the hell, go for it.'"
"Did it hurt?"
"Like a sonofabitch," Carole laughed. "You ever seen one of those pain charts in the hospital, with a smiley face for no pain, and progressively worse faces until you get down to excruciating, at ten?"
"I'd have to rank it about a seventeen," Carole shook her head. "Remember, I had the cuffs on, and I couldn't even rub my ass!"
Brenda couldn't help but laugh, and Carole laughed along with her. Somewhere in there, Brenda glanced up, and realized that there were a lot of people in the cafe that were doing their best to keep from laughing out loud.
In a moment, Carole continued. "OK, realistically, let's say it was a nine, just because it could have been worse, if for no more reason than that. Five minutes later, it still felt about like a six. It was the next day before it dropped below about a two. And, at that, Laurel later admitted she didn't hit me at full strength. She didn't think I was a sub type, either. Actually, the word she used was 'pain slut.' And, I'll tell you what, thank God I'm not!"
"Uh, yeah, that I can understand," Brenda said thoughtfully. "I don't know how people do that."
"Me either," Carole said. "And I'm supposed to know about this. I'll tell you what, I don't ever want to take a hit like that again unless someone has shot my butt full of Novocain first. Well, anyway, in spite of everything, I'm still being a bit professional, and we got to talking about various types of pain, and frankly, both Laurel and Frank were talking Greek to me. Now, I discounted a little bit of what they were talking about because they both like it, God knows why, and they're used to it, but at the same time, I'm thinking that these two are what we psychologists refer to as 'really sick puppies'."
"Funny, we use the same term around newspapers," Brenda laughed.
Carole shook her head. "The funny thing is that ninety-nine percent of everyone would call either of them out of their minds. I've visited them several times now and I think I know them pretty well, and from every bit of evidence I've ever seen, they are very devoted and in love with each other, and both are very happy with what they're doing and who they are. Brenda, the thing that bothers me is, who am I to say they're wrong?"
"Uh, yeah," Brenda frowned. "That is a little troubling. I mean, if she were being forced into what she does, it would be one thing, but from what you say, she's not."
"Absolutely correct," Carole said. "A lot of the definitions and standards I learned break down when you measure Frank and Laurel with them. From every definition I ever learned, the both of them should be in jail for spouse abuse. My God, women have killed their husbands over what she'd consider a workout that was too light and wanting more. I mean, she's been continually in handcuffs for going on ten years now, wearing a steel chastity belt for as long as I've known her . . ."
"You didn't tell me about that," Brenda said, jaw agape.
"I guess I missed telling you about it, but I sure didn't miss seeing it. It stood out real prominently between the waist of her skirt and the hem of her vest. Two locks, one for the waist belt, one for the crotch strap. I get the impression that the crotch strap gets unlocked frequently for them to have a good time, but the belt only every couple years for liner replacement. She showed me what it looks like with her skirt off one time. She's real happy about it, proud to show it off, proud of the fact that Frank has the keys."
Brenda shook her head. "Good God!"
"Right," Carole nodded. "She is not what you would call your typical liberated woman, but in a way she's more liberated than you and I could ever dream. Like I said, accepted definitions break down with them and their scene. Look, one time, a couple years later, they took me to a S&M club, just to let me look around. By that time, I thought I was up for it, and I'd been wearing these for a while. In fact, it was the trip when I bought the second pair, and Laurel changed them for me. Talk about Scotty, beam me up! I mean, I saw stuff there I won't describe since there's no way you would ever believe me. Did you ever read about the way the Japanese treated prisoners of war? Bridge over the River Kwai, maybe? The Japanese could get humanitarian awards by comparison. I mean, like there was this one gal who was trussed up tight in a position I didn't even think you could even get a body into, nude of course, swinging from the rafters, and she took about thirty or forty shots to the backside like the one I got. This gal was screaming, but I swear to God, it was screams of ecstasy. The damndest endomorphin high I ever saw. It's not like she was forced to do it, she wanted to do it."
"No, I'm toning it down, if anything. Laurel said that was kind of wussy. Frank doesn't let her do stuff like that in club scenes any more, but Laurel said that they do serious stuff in private. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is, here you've got this woman who's been wearing handcuffs for ten years, a chastity belt for God knows how long, she frequently gets tied up or chained up real tight and left for who knows how long, often caned or whipped. Wouldn't you call that spouse abuse?"
"Well, normally, hell yes," Brenda said. "If it was me, I damn sure would. But you're telling me that it's not, at least with them."
"Right," Carole grinned. "To Laurel, spouse abuse would be if Frank didn't do it to her. Brenda, I learned a hell of a lot about psychology that afternoon, and most of it challenged everything I'd been taught, or at least explained how limited it was, and how little we think we know. Look, you can be honest, you probably think I'm crazy to be running around in handcuffs all the time, right?"
"Well, a little," Brenda admitted reluctantly. "I mean, it's not a real normal thing to do."
"I'll admit, it's not," Carole grinned. "But, hey, a lot of people are a little crazy in ways that are just as bad. You've met Mike and Kirsten's daughter, Tiffany, and her husband, Josh, haven't you?"
"Sure, nice people, really wrapped up in their dogs."
"Wrapped up is hardly the word. They work at their jobs to support their dogs, and they work at their dogs. Where they find time to eat, sleep, or make love, I don't know, all for that pinnacle event of spending a couple weeks racing across Alaska in forty below weather in a state of severe sleep deprivation. Now, real quick, is that normal? For that matter, take Kirsten. She spent over twenty years waiting for her true love to come home, living with Mike for sixteen of them, and having three kids along the way. If that's not obsessive, I don't know what is."
"I concede the point," Brenda said. "Yeah, you think about that a bit, and it's more than a little crazy."
"A lot of people are a little crazy under the surface. Mine just shows more. But, if you measure me against Laurel, I'm so damn straight it's pathetic. Hell, I work with people who are worse. I'll give you another example. One of the people I work with is a skydiver."
"Now that's crazy," Brenda laughed.
"I couldn't agree more. But, this guy is worse. He's an acrophobic. You cannot get him on a stepstool, and he has to take a deep breath and get hold of himself to go up a flight of stairs. But, he's jumped out of an airplane over two thousand times. I think he started doing it to confront his fears, but it turns out that he loves it. I think, hell, compared to him, I'm pretty normal."
"Could be," Brenda smiled and stretched. "Hey, I'm starting to get a little stiff from sitting here, and it's a nice day. What do you say we go take a nice easy jog up the lakeshore?"
Carole shook her head and smiled. "Brenda, are you turning into a physical fitness nut on me, or what?"
Brenda shook her head and said sarcastically, "Until twenty minutes ago I could have answered that, but now I don't know what's nuts or not."
There began to be sounds in Rick's as they stood at the register to pay their bill, and Brenda wished that she could be a bug on the wall, or at least have a bug on the wall to hear what was going to be said after they'd left. The stories that were going to be told . . . they had no more than stepped outside when both of them giggled a little, then the giggle turned into a snicker and then a downright laugh. "You realize you're lucky that you didn't kill someone in there, don't you?" Brenda laughed as they walked up the street and waited at the light.
"I know," Carole laughed, shaking her head. "I mean everyone was being so polite. People are almost always pretty polite when they're confronted with something outrageous."
Brenda's face was nonchalant, but all of a sudden, she realized that Carole had been enjoying showing off! Well, it was fun . . . there had been a guy over at the counter whose face was red and rolling with tears as he'd tried to keep from laughing. "You enjoyed that, didn't you?" Brenda accused as the light changed.
"It was fun," Carole grinned. "Everything I said was the dead truth, but it is fun to pull people's legs a little. What do you say we just do a nice brisk walk, rather than jogging? It'll be easier to talk that way."
"Sounds like a good idea," Brenda said. "Do you still see this Frank and Laurel?"
"Oh, yes," the woman in handcuffs smiled. "It's not like we're real close friends, or anything. I don't get down that way very often, but if I have the time I'll drop in and say 'Hi.' I mean, they know I'm not in their scene, but after five years in Soliels, well, it supplies a common bond, so to speak."
"Carole, that was awful!" Brenda laughed.
"Yeah, that was a little low wasn't it? Carole laughed with her. "It was too good to pass up. Yes, I still see them, and really things haven't changed much. She's coming up on ten years in her Soliels. They've introduced me to a couple other long-termers, both bondage freaks, of course. They think I'm weird, for not being into the bondage thing. In fact, a few years ago Laurel accused me of being into it as a closet thing, and I'd heard it from her once too often. You know what I told her?"
"I told her she didn't know what bondage is," Carole said flatly, distantly. Brenda could detect an edge of bitterness, one she hadn't heard before. "I told her all they do is play at it. I asked Laurel how she'd like to be sitting in a wheelchair, unable to move, unable to feel anything below her neck, to have to be fed, to have to have your butt wiped like a baby's, have to depend on someone else for everything, knowing that it'll never, ever, be any better, and knowing you had no choice about winding up like that. I told her that's considerably more cruel than anything she and Frank could come up with. Brenda, that scared her."
"I don't blame her."
"Brenda, that's the people I work with. That's . . . well, not all of them, but a part of it." She paused for a moment, glanced at Brenda, and continued, "I told Laurel that any one of them would give everything they have and everything they dream of having to be able to stand up, bend over, and have her swat them in the ass and be able to feel it."
"I can see how it's got to be very hard on you," Brenda said thoughtfully. "But, I think I understand a little why you keep doing it."
Carole turned and looked at her with a serious expression. "What do you think it is?" she asked quietly.
"Because you're the kind of person who sticks out a hand to those in need," Brenda said, choosing her words carefully. "I mean, it's like the thing with the Bailey kid last week. I've never met him, I wouldn't know him if he came up and slapped me in the face. But my gut told me right from the beginning that here was a kid who needed help. Like I said the other day, I was always the fat, unpopular kid; I knew where he was coming from; I've been there. He needed someone to go to the mat for him. Don't get me wrong, it was a professional thing, too, there was obviously a story there. The jocks just figured he was some sort of subhuman, I guess, but I guess a lot of people considered me some sort of subhuman in high school. But damn it, I knew there was a real person there, because I was a real person, no matter what people thought of me. Damn it, I'm not saying this very well, I can say it better on a keyboard."
"You're saying it just fine, Brenda."
"No, I'm not," she said, knowing that she was being manipulated by a professional again, but not caring as she reached for feelings that were hard to describe. "I mean, it's got to feel good when you can make a difference for somebody, something that will help change their lives, make them better people. It felt good to for me to get Jason's thanks, but I don't want to be too proud about it. That's why I told him to pass the favor on sometime, rather than thanking me. Maybe he can help some other kid and feel good about it, too, and maybe that kid will pass the favor on. We have to take care of each other."
"Yes, we do," Carole said. "You know, you and I are sort of in the same business, in a way."
"Not really," Brenda shook her head. "I'd guess you do it most of the time. I only get to do it once in a while. I guess that makes you the lucky one."
"Yes, you understand," Carole smiled, her mind seemingly far away.
"You know, I've really enjoyed talking with you the last few days," Brenda said, searching for words. "I'll bet most people you meet don't see very far beyond the handcuffs to the really neat person who's wearing them. I'm glad I got a chance to find out. Thanks, Carole."
"That was very insightful," Carole said. "Thanks for looking."
Brenda thought fast before making her next statement. Well, all the signs were there. "You're a little lonely, aren't you?"
"At times," Carole admitted easily. "I mean I have the people I work with, my clients, my parents, my sister, but that's not the same. It's been enjoyable to be able to share a bit of myself with you, and I appreciate your sharing with me."
Brenda smiled. "Carole, it's been a pleasure to have you sharing a bit of yourself with me."
Side by side, the two walked up the sidewalk along the lake, talking about one thing and another, learning about each other. It was a beautiful early fall afternoon, and the leaves were just starting to turn, a brilliant day for two friends to share.