The hearing in Judge Dieball's court on the following Monday went about as expected – the original request for an injunction was thrown out on its ear, mostly citing tradition and past practice. No one had ever complained about it before, at least in court, and the school had never considered the idea. After all, no one else, even in the girls' district play, had had cheerleaders at the games in question. Of course, every school had a football game that night too.
The outcome was not unexpected: Lisa deLine v. Spearfish Lake Schools, Round 719: Schools 1, deLine 0. The ultimate result, as far as Brenda was concerned, was to turn a perfectly normal but busy Monday morning into a hectic one where she was way behind. Brenda had a few minutes – as few as possible – listening to Lisa rant about the whole thing, and didn't notice James D. Moore leaving the courtroom with an expression on his face that looked like he was planning on ramming his head through a brick wall.
The boys' basketball team took the court that Tuesday night, won easily in their first league game against Blair, and on Friday night prevailed in their state road showdown with Albany River, the next town to the south toward Camden. Then, Christmas break would be on them, and there'd be two weeks without games. Even with losing the two warm-up games by forfeit, they were just as strong as everybody expected, and most people around Spearfish Lake were looking forward to a good season out of them, one that would make up for the ills of the football team.
Things slowed down around Spearfish Lake for a while after that. No one really wanted to start things around the holidays, even lawsuits. The city council cancelled its second meeting of the month, the county commission the same – it was nice that they managed to agree on something useful for once – and the school board met a week early to avoid getting involved with the holidays. A number of other regular meetings were cancelled, as well, so it was a slow time around the news department of the Record-Herald, although the ad salespeople were at their busiest part of the season, and even Brenda got pressed to work at building ads.
Though she wasn't going home for the holidays – more and more, she was beginning to think of Spearfish Lake as home, instead of Camden – Brenda knew she wasn't going to be alone. Although she hadn't asked, or even hinted, as soon as the Carter family found out that she wasn't going to be with her family for the holiday, they asked her to join them for dinner.
It turned out to be something of a Spartan holiday – as at Thanksgiving, there was no sitting around a big table, but everyone was together and sharing a good time. By now, Brenda was familiar with the drill around the Carter residence, and she helped Denise with making dinner and cleaning up afterwards. Best of all, no one bugged her to eat too much.
After Brenda helped Denise with the dishes, she joined Carole and Wendy in the front room, while Dan and Denise went into the den to watch TV, and eventually fall asleep while the three girls chattered out front.
They talked for some time – there always seemed to be plenty to talk about. By now Brenda was used to passing along her adventures in detail to Wendy, just like Carole – and Wendy had a few adventures of her own to talk about, too. Some of that was Dragonslayer; she was getting to high Advanced level now, and Master status was only days away, if things continued like they'd been going. It was easily the quickest rise through the ranks of someone not an experienced on-line gamer that Brenda could remember.
"We haven't talked about it much recently," Wendy said at one point. "But you know Brenda, it's hard to tell what with all those big, sloppy clothes you wear, you look like you've lost a lot of weight."
"You know," Brenda grinned broadly. "I have."
"How close to your goal are you getting?" Carole asked.
"Well, my official weigh-in isn't until tomorrow night," Brenda admitted. "But I weighed this morning, just out of curiosity."
"And?" Wendy grinned.
"And, unless I really overdid the food today, and there's no way I did . . . I hit my goal!"
"Wonderful! Wendy exclaimed. "Oh, Brenda, that's such good news!"
"I'm really proud for you," Carole added. "You really hung in there, Brenda!"
"Hey, I couldn't have done it without you two," Brenda said, a little shyly. "I just did the work. It took the two of you to keep my nose to the grindstone."
"Oh, bullshit," Wendy said. "Even with us nagging you, there's no way you could have done it without wanting to. Fifty pounds in four months is really ripping them off. I don't suppose I have to tell you to watch it pretty hard. Maintaining the loss is going to be almost as big a job as losing the weight in the first place."
"I know," Brenda said. "I've lost weight before, but never this much, and if I don't keep after it, it comes back, little by little, until I'm back where I started."
"That's very true," Carole said. "But you know, you've added some good habits in the last four months, and that should help. In fact, it should help a lot. I mean, the exercise, and watching what you eat. You need to work on more behavior modification, just to burn in those habits. And, you'll need to burn them in, because if you don't, weight is going to be an issue for you all your life."
"That's easy for you to say," Brenda frowned. "You've got the kind of body where weight isn't that much of an issue."
"No, I've got the kind of body where a few extra pounds really shows," Carole protested. "I've been there, admittedly not to your extreme. Why do you think I run and work out, too? I can put it on as easily as you can, but I don't take it off as easily."
"Hey, it wasn't easy," Brenda said. "I worked my ass off."
"I know," Carole said. "That's why I'm so proud of you. I'm just glad I could help you with this huge personal victory."
"You got any plans to celebrate?" Wendy asked.
"Well, I thought about a big box of Christmas chocolates . . . not," Brenda grinned. "No, really, I don't have any big plans. Well an idea, although it's more of a need to, rather than a celebration."
"What's that?" Carole asked.
Brenda shrugged. "Kirsten has been on my ass a little recently. Mike too. Let's face it, I've never been a snappy dresser, and I'm still wearing the clothes I had fifty pounds ago, so nothing fits. They sort of realize it's pointless to buy clothes in the middle of a weight-loss regimen like I've been on, and, well, I wouldn't mind losing a few more pounds. I've been thinking that there's all those big day-after-Christmas sales down in the malls in Camden tomorrow, everything half off. I thought I'd head down there and get something that fits a little better."
"Oh, hitting the malls and shopping! That sounds like a great celebration," Wendy said enthusiastically.
"Oh, I don't know, I'm not much of a shopping head," Brenda told her. "I'll just go down and hit the bargain racks, see what I can find that fits. Like I said, it's not that big a deal with me."
Carole looked thoughtful for a moment. "What would you think if I told you that was the wrong move?" she said finally.
"You mean, not get new clothes?"
"No, just grab the first thing that comes along and say the hell with it," she said. "You need a little motivation to help you modify your behavior to keep the weight off. A little work on the image might be a pretty good move, just to help you feel better about yourself. That kind of motivation can work wonders."
"What do you mean, work on the image? I know I'm not pretty," Brenda protested. "I mean, I've always been the fat, ugly kid."
"That's exactly what I mean," Carole said. "Brenda, you have a lousy self-image of yourself in a personal sense. First off, you have to quit thinking of yourself as fat. Maybe you were once, but you're not now. I thought your goal was a little extreme, but you're pushing past it. Ugly? Hey, that old saw about beauty is in the eye of the beholder is exactly right. If you think of yourself as not good looking, you won't be, no matter how good you really look. I've often thought you let yourself go unnecessarily. Now, I know I'm right, and I know why."
"Brenda," Wendy added, "For what it's worth, what she said. You're really not bad looking, and you could look a hell of a lot better if you worked at it a little – and believed the truth."
"Come on," Brenda said. "I could never be as good looking as Carole, say."
"No, maybe even better," Carole said. "I tend to be a little bony. I'd like to put on a little weight, in the right places. Say, my chest."
"OK, I'll give you that," Brenda said. "But, you always look so good, dress so nice."
"That's learned behavior," Carole said. "Hey, look, you have to work at your writing, don't you? You have to work at your exercise stuff, the martial arts stuff. You have to work at your appearance a little, too. What you need is training, just like the martial arts stuff. Learning how to do things, learning them well enough to where they're a habit – and believing in what they do." She let out a sigh. "Look, I know where I'm coming from on this. Really, I do. If Mom and Dad weren't sleeping in the den, I could go in and get photo albums from back when I was in high school and college, and you'd see that I was at least as crappy a dresser as you are."
"Worse," Wendy said. "Not only sloppy clothes, but no taste to go with them."
"But you always look so neat, so sharp," Brenda protested. "How did you learn to make the change?"
Carole shrugged. "Well, Wendy taught me most of it," she said. "Mostly, in the six months or a year after the accident. I'll admit, I was sort of playing dress-up doll for her, to give her something positive to think about, and it was worth it for that, but I must admit I do like the outcome."
"Yeah," Wendy said. "There were some bad days there. I needed something to think about, something to keep my mind active, and it did help. That was back in the days before I had the J-guy, and I had to have someone around me all the time, and that got a little depressing. Yeah, I guess it was sort of like playing with dolls, but it worked for both of us."
"Wendy, I can't believe your sister ever looked very bad. Not like you say. Not as bad as I do."
"Look, Brenda, believe me," Wendy said. "The big change Carole had with that was the motivation I provided. It wasn't easy, but it was fun. Now, would you indulge me, just a little?"
"What?" Brenda asked suspiciously.
"Take off your shirt," she said. "I can't really tell what's under a flannel shirt that's six sizes too big. I think there's a pretty decently shaped woman under it, but I can't tell."
Brenda felt a little negative, but it was hard to turn Wendy down, in the face of her enthusiasm. As far as that went, Brenda had helped change Wendy's clothes often enough, and she knew damn well that what was under them wasn't a pretty sight. But, Wendy always looked pretty good, from the neck up, anyway. Oh, what the hell, she thought, standing up, and starting to unbutton her shirt. She pulled it off, followed with the oversized T-shirt that was underneath, and dropped both in the chair.
"Yeah, I was right," Wendy said. "There is a woman under there. What do you think, Sis?"
"I knew she was taking some weight off, but I've seen her in the locker room at the Fitness Center." Carole grinned. "Yeah, there's something to work with there. She's never going to be as willowy as I am, not with that bone structure, but she's got some curves to work with."
"Yeah," Wendy said, rolling her head to one side and squinting. "Some nice possibilities. Brenda, the fit of that brassiere is terrible! Doesn't it hurt?"
"That's something I need to do something about," Brenda said. "Like I said, I need to hit the sales tomorrow."
"Hmmm," Wendy said, rolling her head the other way. "Turn to the side for me, will you?"
Brenda was just a little embarrassed at being examined like a piece of meat in the Spearfish Lake Super Market. She realized that she was being examined by a couple of people who had more positive opinions of her than she did herself – and frankly, knew what they were talking about.
"Hair?" Carole smiled.
"Well, she has some," Wendy said. "What's the chances of getting her in to see Sheila?"
"Pretty good, but what would you do with it?"
"Color's not bad, could use a little definition. Given a choice, a little more color saturation would be neat. It really needs some styling. I can see two or three possibilities, but it'd be interesting to see what Sheila thinks."
"Maybe, there's something to work with. Brenda, you run a brush through your hair once a day whether it needs it or not, right? No more maintenance than that?"
"Afraid so," Brenda replied, a little chagrined.
"Would you be up to maybe five minutes a day, a little more brushing than that, and a hairdresser every now and then?" Wendy asked.
"I suppose I could," she replied. "I just basically have someone cut it back every few months. I haven't had it done for a while. Can I put my shirt back on, now?"
"Another couple minutes," Wendy said. "Actually, I'm a little more concerned about the clothing style," she continued to Carole.
"Right. She has to have something practical, but some candy, too, just to help the image."
"Right. Something striking. I wonder . . . yeah, that would probably work pretty good. Brenda, what do you think about skirts?"
"Haven't worn one in years."
"I believe it," Wendy said, a little sarcastically. "But what do you think about skirts?"
"I don't really think I look good in them."
"Maybe you didn't. That was then. This is now."
"She's got to have some casual stuff," Carole cautioned. "Some pants, too. This is winter in Spearfish Lake, after all."
"Well, yeah," Wendy said. "But something that fits, for Pete's sake, and looks good. That shouldn't be much trick. OK, Brenda, you can put your shirt back on."
"You up for it, Wendy?" Carole asked.
"Sure, it's been weeks," she smiled.
"What are you two talking about?" Brenda asked as she reached for her T-shirt.
"Brenda, would you be interested in a little bet?" Carole grinned.
Brenda shrugged, at least as well as she could while she pulled on her T-shirt. "I'm not much of a betting person, you know that."
"You might like this one," Carole told her. "Wendy and I are talking about taking you shopping tomorrow. If I can get you in, we'll stop off at our hair stylist on the way – she comes over and does Wendy's hair. Then, we'll hit the mall, but you'll let us do the deciding about what looks good, and what doesn't, get a few accessories, stuff like that. Then, we'll come back, and do a little makeover."
"It'll be fun," Wendy said. "I don't get to go shopping as much as I'd like, and it'll be fun to have a new project."
"You're going?" Brenda was a little surprised at that.
"Sure," Wendy grinned. "You really need my eye, not Carole's. I mean, look what it did for her."
"Can you handle it? I mean, the crowds are going to be hell."
"Best reason to go," Wendy said. "People will usually make way for someone in a wheelchair. I can look sooo pathetic."
"You're saying you want me to be a dress-up doll for you?"
"Hey, look, there's a part of me that says I'd love to, but there's a part of me that says this could get expensive."
"You were going to be spending the money anyway," Carole said. "We'll set a limit, and if little miss eager here goes over it, I'll pick up the difference. Money doesn't mean much to her anymore, so I'll take it out of her hide in something that means something, like Dragonslayer points."
"Ohhh, that's low," Brenda grinned. "That's evil. But, what's the bet?"
"That's the best part," Carole grinned. "We're going to give you a serious makeover. We'll probably overdo it a little, just to get it through your thick skull that you're not fat and ugly. When we get done, and it probably won't be tomorrow, you can walk down the hall, and look in the mirror, and if you don't think to yourself, 'Wow, check out that babe!' I'll pick up the cost, and you can buy all the goddamn oversized jeans and flannel shirts you can find."