It was more like playing with dolls the next day, but this was a little different – Brenda really wanted to see where this was going to wind up!
A little to Brenda's surprise, Wendy and Carole started with some basic lessons in makeup, mostly Carole's hands under Wendy's direction. It was really a new experience. Brenda explained to the two Carter sisters that she hadn't learned much about makeup, either from her mother, or from the few girls she'd hung out with a little in school – one of the consequences of being a loner.
"Good makeup isn't about laying it on thick," Wendy told her. "In fact, that's bad makeup. Good makeup consists of highlights, definitions, contrasts – using just enough to make the features you want to define stand out." While they took their time, they did pass along a lot of good information – and it was fun to learn from them.
After a while, they moved on to going over some of the clothes they'd purchased the day before. "Most of the stuff we picked out for you is pretty conservative," Wendy said. "However, worn right, it will make you look good, but it won't be gaudy or flashy – which is what you really need. However, a little mix and match with the right outfits for when you need it, and you've got some real eye candy."
"Stuff that will draw attention, and really make you feel like you're looking good," Wendy grinned. "Sis, what do you say we start with some of that?"
"Might as well make the point," Carole grinned.
Wendy told Brenda what to wear, and she put it on, grinning like a kid. Even she, with her limited sense of taste in clothes, could see that this outfit was going to be interesting. Once she had it on, Wendy had her touch up her hair, and sent her to the full-length mirror down the hall.
Brenda looked at her image in the mirror. She'd suspected it was going to look good – even she conceded that almost anything had to be better than the clothes she'd been wearing every day up till then – but now she barely recognized herself. She smiled, then got a big grin on her face, and finally broke out laughing.
"What's so funny?" Carole asked from Wendy's room.
"You win," Brenda laughed, shaking her head, feeling her hair swish from side to side. "Check out that babe in the mirror."
Brenda felt like a kid playing dress-up again for the next hour or so – it hardly seemed real. All of the outfits she tried on really looked sharp and snappy on that good-looking woman in the mirror. She could hardly believe it was her own reflection she could see there. It wasn't a fat, sloppy, dumpy kid who looked back at her – it was sharp-looking, sophisticated woman with no reason to be ashamed of her appearance. Was that image really her? If it was, wow! That could open a lot of doors she'd never dreamed of before.
Finally, all the new clothes had been tried on and put away, with the exception of one outfit. Wendy had allowed Brenda to get one pair of jeans, mostly so she'd have something to wear on Wednesdays, grubby days at the Record-Herald, when the mailing went out. But, these were not the way-oversized, baggy pants that Brenda had become used to – they were what the country music song called "tight-fittin' jeans" that showed there really was a sexy, shapely woman filling them out. Wendy had also approved one flannel shirt for Wednesdays, but Brenda wasn't wearing that – she had on one of the sweaters they'd picked the day before, and it also showed that there was a nicely-shaped woman filling it out. It felt good, just to be casual, and when Brenda happened to get near the mirror in the hall she still couldn't quite believe the reflection was hers. It was a heady feeling.
"You realize that you two have just cost me a bunch of work, don't you?" Brenda grinned as they started in on a light lunch.
"It shouldn't be very difficult," Wendy said. "None of those are high-maintenance clothes, just good, serviceable outfits. Granted, you will have to put some effort into your appearance, but if you stay at it, you can turn it into a habit."
"That's not what I'm talking about," Brenda grinned. "You realize that I'm going to have to go through my closet and drawers and throw out or donate virtually everything I own? It's going to be a lot of work to haul all that down to the dumpster or Goodwill."
"It'll be work you'll enjoy," Carole told her. "In fact, it's probably a good idea. No turning back, you won't have your old ways to fall back to."
"I've got to keep a few things," Brenda added. "Like gym shorts, till I can get some more, maybe some T-shirts, some of the heavier clothes, and maybe a few cleaning rags, but yeah, the rest of my old stuff takes a hike. Oh, well, just something else I'll have to do this week."
"You sound like you've got a lot planned for the week," Wendy said. "I always thought the week between Christmas and New Year's was kind of slow."
"Normally it would be," Brenda explained. "But Mike has been waiting for a slow week or two to switch over to the digital makeup of the paper we've been working on."
"Everything's going digital, isn't it?" Carole said as she gave Wendy a spoonful of applesauce. It was still something Wendy couldn't do for herself, but everybody had gotten pretty used to it; Brenda had pitched in with helping Wendy eat often enough. "How does this work?"
"Partly it's an extension of what we've been doing all along," Brenda told her, and went on to explain for a few seconds about what would be happening. "We've been using it some the last few weeks," she continued. "In fact, about half the pages from last week's paper were digital. Those of us using the system have been getting plenty of practice, and it works. But, when we do it for real, there's several issues about who does what, and when, that we kind of have to work out under fire. Basically, the problem comes from the fact that we can't have two people working on the same page at the same time. But, we'll make it work."
"More adaptation," Carole grinned, giving Wendy a bite of a sandwich. "More change. There seems to be a lot of that going on around you right now."
"Might as well do it all at once and get it over, with," Brenda laughed. "But, I'll still have all the regular work to do, too, although it'll be light, in comparison to a normal week. And then, on top of everything, I've got to come up with an idea or two for some lead features I can be working on so I'll have them done before we get busy again."
"Got any ideas?" Carole asked.
"A couple of things, nothing real stunning," Brenda said. "I sure wouldn't mind coming up with a good one."
"You know," Wendy said after she'd swallowed her bite of sandwich. "You ought to do a feature on Carole."
"I'd be a liar if I didn't say I thought about that shortly after I met her," Brenda grinned. "In fact, real shortly."
"Why haven't you?"
"Lots of reasons," Brenda said slowly. In fact, she'd dumped the idea long before, mostly when she realized that Carole's continual wearing of the Soliels was probably mixed in with her survivor's guilt over Wendy. It was a psychological minefield that Brenda didn't want to get into now, if for no more reason than she didn't want to blow up the good relations with her friends. But, she didn't want to say any of that.
"Stop and think about it," Wendy said. "You did a good story on me. Even I thought it was sensitively done and interesting, and I really enjoyed looking at myself through your eyes. But, when you think about it, my situation really isn't very unusual. People can understand it a little, and can relate to it. Carole, though – how she gets along, things like that. I don't even understand it all myself."
"Like I said, I've thought about it," Brenda parried. "But it gets into areas that I don't understand, and areas that I don't think Carole would want me to write about." And that was about as far as I intend to go in that direction, she thought. I don't want to have to spell it out much more than that.
"Well, yeah," Carole said. "You wouldn't want to write about the steel wrists, and like that."
"I can avoid some things," Brenda replied. "Like I didn't get into how you can have the J-guy call the cops with one word. I mean, the mechanics of how you get along would be interesting, but pretty soon you start leading to questions that are hard to answer."
"It's possible," Carole shrugged. "I mean, if nothing else, it might clear up a lot of the really stupid questions I get, like how I change clothes, and like that. But, yes, I can see how it could get uncomfortably personal, too."
"Oh, it's a story," Brenda said. "The tricky part is that it's not enough of a story. Readers would want to know more than those things. Stuff like how it feels, how it affects your outlook, what it does to your life."
Carole nodded. "I see your point," she said. "The heck of it is, things have changed so much over the years that I'm not even sure about the answers to some of those questions anymore. Brenda, you know me better than anyone outside my family, and I'm not sure you'd understand some of the things I'd be trying to tell you unless you'd been there."
"Walk a mile in my shoes, huh?" Brenda grinned.
Carole laughed. "More like spend a month in my Soliels."
They all laughed at that. "OK, OK, I give," Wendy snickered finally. "I can see now why it was a dumb idea, and I withdraw my suggestion. I may know clothes, but Brenda, I think you understand presenting stories better. You'd have to be crazy as hell to try something as that. As crazy as Carole, in fact."
Brenda grinned. "Well, in one sense, she's right," she said thoughtfully. "I'm sure it affects her in ways that I've never thought about, and that she probably hasn't thought about in a long time. You get used to things, and they seem normal. I mean, I've probably gotten too close to both of you to write the story on a superficial level. The first month or so I knew Carole, I thought about those kinds of questions a lot, and we talked about it a lot. Now, I've just come to accept that Carole wears her Soliels, that's part of who she is, and the subject doesn't come up in that way anymore. I mean, it affects her life, Wendy, just like your situation affects yours. But, over time, you just get used to it and get on with things, and the oddness fades into the background. So, yes, Carole is right. There are a lot of things that I'd never understand without spending a month in her Soliels."
"Still, it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard," Wendy laughed, then stopped for a moment. "No, it's the second dumbest. The dumbest was when she got the idea in the first place. When I first heard about it, I thought my dear, sweet big sister was out of her mind. Now, I know she is. I mean, I just had to try them on. I couldn't help but wonder what she was setting herself up for. That was before the accident, of course."
"What was it like?" Brenda wondered. She hadn't heard this story before.
"It wasn't real comfortable. It really limits your motion," Wendy replied. "Of course, that was before I knew what limited motion really was, of course, but that's a different story. Anyway, it was real strange. I only wore them around the house for several hours, so I never really had the chance to get used to them like she did, but I was real happy to have them off."
"We went down to the Frostee Freeze," Carole laughed. "I had a hell of a time talking you into that."
"Well, yeah," Wendy grinned. "That actually turned out to be sort of thrilling, or embarrassing, or both. There I was, wearing shorts and a tank top and those heavy damn steel handcuffs, waiting in line for a cone. Everybody was just plain looking at me like I was nuts. I said we were just playing around, it was a dare, and I got some really weird reactions from people. I understand Carole enjoying putting people on. It was kind of fun."
"You did get a charge out of it," Carole laughed. "But you were a show-off then, anyway. Tell me the truth. You'd have done it again, just to yank someone's chain, if you'd had the chance, wouldn't you have?"
"Well, yeah," Wendy grinned. "But that was the day before I locked them on you, so I never got the chance again."
"What was that day like?" Brenda asked, almost in interview mode, now. She wished she had her note pad with her, even if this never turned into a story. They were getting into areas about Carole and her Soliels that they'd never gotten around to discussing before. It was like she'd said a few minutes before – Carole wearing the Soliels had just become a normal thing to Brenda, and the curiosity factor had faded a lot. Now, it was getting her reporter sense going again. Maybe there could be a story here, after all.
"It was kind of fun," Carole grinned. "Bear in mind, I'd been planning the experiment for months, and we'd all talked it around a lot, folks and all. It wasn't something that came out of nowhere. The folks and Wendy knew what I was doing, and why. Not that anybody didn't think it was a little off the wall, but I think everybody could see how it could be something of an adventure, a new way to look at things."
"Yeah," Wendy added. "I mean, I knew it wasn't going to be the easiest thing in the world for her, but at the same time, I kind of envied her for having the guts to do something unusual."
"We just didn't have her lock them on and that was that," Carole explained. "We had a big backyard barbecue, family and friends around, all having a good time, sort of a party. Gary, uh, can't think of his last name, the guy from the Record-Herald, was here too. We all had steak, and there were a few beers floating around. Some underage little sister of mine was waltzing around with a can of Bud in her hand, since she knew she could get away with it for once."
"I was half in the bag when I locked the Soliels on her," Wendy laughed. "I don't know if you've ever seen that picture Gary took, but the goofy expression I had was from all that beer."
"I've seen it," Brenda laughed. "You did look like you were having a good time. Both of you."
"I wasn't half in the bag," Carole shook her head. "In fact, I think I'd had half a beer, and it didn't taste very good. Don't get me wrong, I'd thought about the project a lot, thought about it sixteen ways from Sunday, and I'd been looking forward to it for a long time. I knew it was going to be something really different, probably hard, maybe something interesting, and I was really getting excited to really be doing it. Then, when Wendy picked up the Soliels, it struck me – shit, I really don't want to do this! What the hell am I doing to myself? But, the excitement was up, the enthusiasm was up, and I just held out my wrists and let her put them on me before I could change my mind."
"What happened then?" Brenda inquired.
Carole frowned. "You have to understand it wasn't brand new to me. I'd had those cop handcuffs on for hours back over Christmas break, and then I'd worn the Soliels for the first time down at Frank and Laurel's for several hours after that. After that, there were several more times down at Spearfish Lake Appliance while we were first working on the steel wrists moves. So, at first, it wasn't something unexpected. I mean, there was the thrill of hey, I'm really doing this, you know? And then, over the next few hours, I did get half in the bag, too, while Wendy was getting blitzed. I mean, I had enough of a load on that I really didn't think about it. It wasn't until I woke up with a hangover the next morning that it really hit me in the gut that I was really going to have to go through with this. It got a little ugly there for a while. I really was wearing the goddamn things, I wanted them off, and I didn't have any idea of how in hell I was going to make it through three months of wearing them."
"But, you did."
"Well, I had to," Carole said. "I had a deal with the folks and Wendy, that they wouldn't let me take them off. They locked the keys in the safe deposit box so I couldn't get to them. Accepting the inevitability of it was hard. I had these goddamn steel handcuffs locked on my wrists, they weren't coming off, and after a while I realized I was going to have to accept the fact that they were there and get on with things."
"You know," Brenda said thoughtfully, fully aware that she was near the minefield she'd thought of earlier. "I've heard that statement from you before. I mean, about accepting what's happened and getting on with things."
"It's an easy statement to make," Carole said. "It can be damn hard to learn. Of course, it wasn't totally real. Real came along a couple months later, but I'd picked up just enough understanding, I think, to be able to help out with what happened."
"The jetski accident?"
"Yes," Carole nodded silently. "God, that was a shock. I mean, we were all dazed for months."
She was silent for a moment; Brenda could see that the memory of those days was still hard to face up to. She didn't want to bring up those old pains again, so tactfully drew the discussion away from them. "That first few days, before the accident," she said. "I mean, you'd made it through two months. What was it like? How did you get along? How'd you learn to handle it?"
"It was strange," Carole said, obviously glad that Brenda had changed her course away from those terrible days following Wendy getting hurt. "You name an emotion, I had it. Happy, sad, thrilled, bitter, excited, bummed, curious, bored. I kept a journal, that was part of the project, but somehow, to go back over it now, it seems flat. They were strange, but interesting days, and I can't really describe them, or even fully connect with them now. Brenda, you'd just about have had to have been wearing handcuffs along with me to understand."
"Sometimes I think I understand a little," Brenda said. "Or, at least, I imagine that I can, but I know I can't. I mean, I've never had handcuffs on, even for a few minutes. Not even toys, playing as a kid. I just have difficulty connecting with the experience."
Carole looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know," she said finally. "What I ought to do is go up and get the spare Soliels and lock them on you for a little while. Then you might have a little better idea of what I'm talking about."
"Oooooh, Yeah," Wendy grinned. "More dress-up; something else to try on."
It wasn't the first time the idea had occurred to Brenda; she'd often been curious about what it must feel like. But, like those other times, there'd been a really uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach when she considered it. Well, not the time when she'd had the nude dream where she'd been wearing them, but she didn't know if that meant anything. But, after the way the discussion had been going, her reporter's curiosity was really aroused, and it shoved the discomfort far to the back. "Yeah," she said slowly and thoughtfully. "That might be interesting."