Wendy didn't get out much, especially in the winter. While she liked to get out of the house, especially in the nicer months, she was usually comfortable in the front room, with Jeeves to attend her. Getting out would mean that she would have to leave him behind, and that took away a good deal of her independence. The end of those days was in sight, however; once the two fingers of hers that she could control some were just a little bit better, there was a powered wheelchair with a laptop running a somewhat attenuated version of her personal butler lying in her future. Jeeves Jr. now only existed as a description, drawings, a few parts, and plenty of ideas, but he would be ready when she was – and he promised a considerable change in her life.
Right now, though, it was something of a hassle for her to get out, but this trip would be such a treat for her that everyone was ready to put up with the problems.
Brenda arrived at the Carters at eight on Saturday morning, to find the clan getting Wendy bundled up for the cold, and strapping her into the unpowered wheelchair used for her occasional expeditions beyond the limits of the front room, while the van with a lift and fittings for the wheelchair warmed up outside.
Although Brenda's enthusiasm had been built up on Christmas afternoon by Wendy's intense interest – and Carole's money-back guarantee – made her willing to go along with the idea. In the cold light of morning, it didn't seem like there was a chance that things could work out anywhere near as well as Carole or Wendy insisted that they would, and Brenda wondered if this wasn't sort of a fool's errand. Still, it was a big deal to Wendy to get out and go shopping, so she decided to still go along with the idea, if for no more reason than to help give Wendy a treat. She wasn't sure how much she was going to like being Wendy's living dress-up doll, but under the circumstances she wasn't going to back out, either.
It turned out that Carole's hairdresser, Sheila at Marlin Mane, had a slow morning going – "Everybody got dolled up for Christmas," she'd told Carole on the phone – so the first stop was at the hair salon out near the edge of downtown on Central Avenue. Brenda had never met Sheila before, and she seemed like a nice enough woman, with an elaborate hairdo of her own. She gave Brenda a practiced eye; Brenda could almost hear her thinking, "We got a lot of work here," but what she said was, "All right, what are we doing?"
"Up to them," Brenda said. "The only thing is that I don't want something that's going to take a lot of work to keep up, or where I have to come over here every week. Every month or two is fine."
"We can come up with something, sure," Sheila smiled.
"We had a few ideas," Wendy announced, and Sheila went over to huddle with them. For the next few minutes, there was a three-way conversation that Brenda wasn't a part of. It seemed to start out talking about hair color, but there were a lot of disconnected words that didn't make any sense, words like "body" and "hue" and "flounce" and "luster" and "saturation."
The whole operation sort of reminded Brenda of being in a dentist's chair – and she didn't particularly like dentists; she'd always figured their recreation involved black leather and whips. That had been before she'd heard Carole telling about Frank and Laurel . . . She tried to tune herself out of what was happening, and just basically go along with the conversation wherever it happened to flow. This was really Wendy's treat, after all.
There was washing and dying and clipping and things that Brenda couldn't identify, and after a while she began to wonder just what was happening to her. She was put under a hair dryer for a while, then Sheila came back, did a little more combing and trimming and adjusting. Finally, she stood back, turned to Carole and Wendy, and said, "Well, what do you think?"
"Not bad," Wendy gleamed.
"A little fuller than I expected," Carole grinned. "But that's great!"
"Well, there's a lot of body there to work with," Sheila told them. "That does simplify things a lot." She turned to Brenda. "Have you ever been to a hairdresser before?"
"Yeah, I get a trim every now and then," Brenda said.
"Never a styling, though?"
"Never," Brenda replied. "Well, not since I was a little kid. I'm almost scared to see what this looks like."
"Well, take a look," Sheila said, swinging the chair around so Brenda could take a look in the mirror.
She wasn't expecting the woman that looked back at her. "My God!" she gasped. "Is that my hair?" Up until a couple hours before, her hair had been sort of an indeterminate color between brown and red – but, now, she was clearly a redhead, not a bright carrot top, but a deep, soulful chestnut. And where her hair had before only been parted and fallen off of her head without much to slow it down, it was now a full, lively hairstyle, big hair, full of body. Somehow, it didn't look like her – it was gorgeous!
"Sure is," Sheila grinned.
"But . . . but . . ."
"Like I said, you've got tons of body to work with, it only took working to bring it out," the hairdresser added.
"Isn't it going to take a lot of work to keep up?" Brenda frowned.
"You're going to have to brush it out, probably several times a day," Sheila told her. "But, no, not really a lot. Since the color is pretty close to your natural one, we can go months before we have to touch up the dye. Figure on coming in for a serious touch-up once a month. We're not going to do much clipping, though, just let your hair grow out some more. In three or four months, we ought to be able to do something pretty interesting."
As if this wasn't interesting enough . . . "I like it," Brenda said finally. "I'll have to see how keeping it up goes, but maybe these two are onto something."
"They're planning on a full makeover on you, clothes and all, right? All I can say is, lucky you. Just listen to what they're telling you. Believe me, Wendy knows what she's talking about. Drop by the first of the week. I want to see what else they wind up doing."
As they were picking up and getting ready to take Wendy back out to the van, Brenda kept glancing in the mirror. Was that really her that was looking back? And, Wendy and Carole were only getting started! Maybe they had something there.
It took a while to get Wendy loaded into the van and get everything strapped down and locked in. "I hope you don't think we overdid it," Wendy explained while the process was going on. "We really were thinking of something a little more extreme, but Sheila said you need a little more hair to do it. This should give you a good start, and once you're used to a style like that, you'll be willing to put up with a little more maintenance."
It was a ride of over an hour down to the North Towne Mall in Camden. Brenda spent most of it sideways in the front seat of the van, chatting with Wendy in the back, while Carole drove. Amazingly, they talked little about the shopping trip, or what they had planned.
As expected, the mall was a madhouse. Even with a handicap sticker on the van, they had some difficulty finding a reasonable place to park. One of the limitations Carole faced with her handcuffs was that she couldn't push the wheelchair well, so Brenda did it. They plunged into the mob inside, but, it was as Wendy had said – it went easier with her there; people did give deference to someone in a wheelchair.
Brenda had never been in that particular part of the North Towne Mall before, so she just let Wendy guide her to a fairly large store well inside the mall. As they got close, Brenda began to feel a little reluctant. "Wendy, are you sure we want to go here?" she asked. "I figured just Penney's, or something."
"We'll go to Penney's, and probably do a lot of your shopping there," Wendy told her. "But, Brenda, one of the secrets to looking good is feeling good about yourself. We talked to you a lot about that earlier. Well, to feel good about yourself, it always helps to start at the beginning."
Brenda shrugged uncertainly, but said, "Well, you're running this train," and pushed Wendy into Victoria's Secret.
The next few hours were a serious education for Brenda. They bought a lot in those hours, and not only clothes. They were careful with their money and did a lot of bargain and discount-rack shopping, and there was serious discussion about many of the items. Yes, they went over budget, but not by much. Brenda had received a nice check from her parents for Christmas, and another one, on the sly, from her father, and also had a nice bonus from the Record-Herald. It added up to a fair chunk of change, but Carole and Wendy both agreed that it wouldn't be a good idea to blow through all of it now; in a few months, she was going to have to do another trip for clothes for the warmer months.
Brenda did have some doubts about some of the things that they bought, but every time the doubts rose to the surface, they seemed to get near a mirror – and one look at that hairdo convinced her again that maybe the Carter sisters knew what they were talking about. Wendy clearly did have a heck of an eye for clothing and appearance. Brenda did make a few suggestions, and Wendy even accepted a couple – but Brenda learned far more from what Wendy turned down.
Carole or Brenda had to make several trips out to the van to leave boxes and bags; they seemed to add up quickly, and there was difficulty carrying too much. Finally, Wendy commented, "I guess we pretty much got what we came for, and I'm starting to fade out. Guess we'd better head for home. Brenda, you figure on coming over tomorrow, and Carole and I will show you how all this goes together."
Feeling quite happy and satisfied, Wendy was indeed tired, and fell asleep on the way home – the day had already been longer than her normal wake cycle. She only woke up a little as Brenda and Carole unloaded her from the van, pushed her back inside, stripped her clothes back down to the normal indoor level, and put her back in her normal chair, where Jeeves could again be at her side. Most of the stuff they'd purchased was still in the van; they could deal with it tomorrow.
"That was a pretty good day," Carole said. "She enjoyed that, and I did too. It's fun to get out with her."
"She sure has a lot of enthusiasm about it," Brenda said. "It was good to see her out and around."
"Yeah, we need to do it more," Carole agreed. "Anyway, it's still early. What do you say we go over and get in an hour at the Fitness Center, and then go someplace and have dinner and a drink?"
"Sounds good to me," Brenda said. "I feel like I could use the exercise."
It was quite a bit later when Brenda finally got back to her apartment above the Record-Herald. Brenda wasn't real sure what she was going to be doing with the rest of the evening, but Dragonslayer awaited if nothing else came up. She turned on the computer and went to get a glass of juice – and on the way, stopped to look at the full-length mirror. Again, it was the hair that captured her – she'd had the style all day, now, and it still didn't quite seem like her. The only thing that seemed familiar were her clothes, still her old ones, and now even she could see that they fit badly, after some of the stuff that Wendy and Carole had her try on over the course of the day. She may have lost fifty-two pounds – that was what the Friday weigh-in had showed – but in these baggy old things, it didn't show. On a whim, she stripped, and looked at her naked reflection in the mirror. Yes, she could see the difference, now – it had taken the hair to do it. On a whim, she grabbed a robe, went downstairs, got a digital camera, a Flashpath adapter and a tripod, like she'd done four months before, went back upstairs and took a few "after" shots. The old one-piece swimsuit that she'd worn back then hadn't fit well at the time and looked positively lousy now, so she settled for a few nude shots. Once they were on her computer – and off of the digital camera – she brought up a before and after shot to compare side to side on the computer screen.
In a word, yes! She'd lost weight. Lost a lot! That was a much better looking woman in the after photo than it had been in the before. There had been some other changes in the last four months, too, most of them pretty good, and she was happy with them. Finally, she put the things away, got on her pajamas, and logged onto Dragonslayer, feeling a lot better about herself than the last time she'd done photos like that. She was looking forward to finding out what the results of the day's shopping expedition would look like, along with some of the other things that the girls had indicated they'd do. Whether she liked the end effect or not, she was sure that being Wendy's dress up doll tomorrow was going to be an experience she'd really enjoy. It would be a day to remember.